Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Créteil Films de Femmes Palmarès 2018

By Moira Sullivan
Joanna Scanlan and Lily Newmark in "Pin Cushion"

The 40th edition of the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival ended on March 18 after a 10-day run that began on March 9. The palmarès - awards - were given out on March 17. This festival was outstanding in many ways. The films selected by programmer Norma Guevara were excellent and nearly every screening contained a film of high quality. One of my favorites was The Road Forward, an innovative musical documentary directed by Marie Clements, on Canada's First Nations activism and history going back to the 1930’s. The stories are told by Native brothers and sisters who are artists and performers that reveal their strength and experience in a dynamic film form.

The Prix du Public - "Public Prize" went to Pin Cushion by Deborah Haywood from the UK –a story about a teenage girl and her mother Lyn. They both move to a new town for a fresh start, but Iona falls in with the wrong crowd - a group of snobbish teens that treat her with disrespect. Lyn is called the town freak because of her eccentric homespun clothing and also is desperate to make new friends. The art direction of the film is brilliant, and the story is one that is endearing and tragic, based in part on the life experiences of the filmmaker.

The Polish film Birds are Singing in Kigali by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze (2017) built around the Rwanda genocide of 1994, received special mention from the Jury. The Jury Prize went to Medea by Alexandra Latishev Salazar, a film about 25-year Maria Josée is 25 who grows up with parents who don’t care about her and  takes a special interest in a young boy. Unbeknownst to all she is pregnant and from the title it is clear that her relationship to the unborn will fateful.

On the occasion of the 40th film festival two filmmakers Chris Lagg and Sophie Nogier made an excellent documentary - Chroniques d'un festival" Partie 1 and 2 that chronicles the history of the festival with interviews with director Jackie Buet and the former co-director Elizabeth Trehard. The festival originated in the Parisian suburb of Sceaux in 1978 and later moved to Créteil where the prefecture government took a great interest in the event and helped sponsor it. The film shows how many filmmakers and actresses have guested the festival through the years – such as Mira Nair, Anna Karina, Catherine Deneuve, Bernadette LaFont, Dominic Blanc, Julie Dash, Kimberley Peirce, Susanne Osten, Ulrika Ottinger and countless others. The film has a good tempo with excellent editing – a fitting testimony to this retrospective of 40 years of women behind the camera and on screen. If there is any doubt that there are women behind the camera in droves, this film proves it.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/21/18
Movie Magazine International


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

40:e Créteil Films de Femmes Festival opens!

By Moira Sullivan
Delphine Seyrig in "Jeanne Dielman"
The 40th edition of the Créteil International Women's film festival opened on March 9 for a 10-day run. Guest of honor is the German director Margarethe von Trotta whose films have been extremely important to feminists and have screened at Créteil in the past years - such as The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum  (1975) with co-director Volker Schlöndorff , The Second Awakening of Christa Klages  (1978), Marianne & Juliane  (1981).  Rosa Luxemburg (1986) wasn nominated for a Palme d’Or and winner of the best actress award for Barbara Sukowa and Trois soeurs  (1988) was also nominated for the Palme d’Or.

More recent films by von Trotta include Rosenstrasse  (2003) - and Vision (2009) - on the German nun Hildegard von Bingen. Her most recent film  Hannah Arendt (2012) is about the political theorist. Both von Bingen and Hanna Arendt were played by Barbara Sukowa. At the Cannes film festival this year von Trotta will present a documentary on the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman but in an entirely different light.

Von Trotta’s films have strong female characters and provocative political content in the aftermath of the Nazi regime in Germany. She was on hand for a Master Class, and present at several screenings of her films.

Some of the other highlights of the festival include an homage to the late Lebanese- French actress Delphine Seyrig. Together with Carole Roussopoulos she made Sois belle et tais-toi  (Be Pretty and Shut Up) in 1976. The film archived at the Simone de Beauvoir Audiovisual center in Paris was shot on 16mm film with handwritten credits and dubbing of English language speakers. It has not been digitally remastered, so its date is directly experienced. However, Seyrig interviewed 26 actresses on working in film - including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Maria Schneider and Warhol actress Viva. They reveal how the conditions for women in the industry predates the activism in Hollywood today – Schneider revealed how when making Last Tango in Paris (1971) that Bernardo Bertolucci was not interested in her other than her physical attire and planned the film solely with Marlon Brando. This information predates the recent media frenzy about the film and Bertolucci's secret planning with scenes with Brando that excluded Maria – but she  told the story all along and no one listened to her in corporate media. 

Roussopoulos and Seyrig  also worked on the French version of the SCUM manifesto by Valerie Solanas where Roussopoulos dictates the text and Seyrig types - both wearing bandanas. Seyrig has been featured in many important art house films such as the famous Jeanne Dielman in 1975 by the late Chantal Akerman, India Song by Marguerite Duras (1977).  Freak Orlando in 1981,  and Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia  (from 1988) were both by Ulrike Ottinger.

The opening night film was Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts,  directed by Mouly Surya from Indonésia (2017) about a young woman living on an Indonesian island raising cattle. She is visited by bandits who assault her, but plans a brutal revenge. Marsha Timothy won best actress at the Sitges Film Festival in Germany last year for her daring role.

Also of interest at the festival was the Polish film Birds are Singing in Kigali by Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzysztof Krauze (2017). Krzysztof Krauze died in 2014 and his wife Joanna finished this amazing film built around the Rwanda genocide of 1994. A Polish ornithologist is in the country at the time and rescues a Rwandan woman whose family has been massacred - Ann Keller Jowita Budnik and Claudine Mugambira played by Elaine Umuhire. Their re-entry in Poland is wrought with turmoil and painful memories. The cinematography,  elliptical editing and non- linearity make this one of the best films of 2017.

Another film of special mention at the festival is the documentary Orione by Toia Bonino from Argentina- which won first prize at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema. This is a fragmented document about Alejandro "Ale" Robles , a young gang member shot to death by the police, whose life is retold in a mosaic of images . His mother tells part of the story while making several luscious cakes.

Next week more from Créteil.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/14/18
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Double trouble for women in Ozon's psychopathic twin tale

One of the twins comforts Chloé in 'Double Lover'
By Moira Sullivan

Double Lover premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, a narrative by François Ozon starring Jérémie Renier who doubles as twins and Marine Vacth as his lover. In the space of 30 years two films with the same premise based on novels written by women have captured the public imagination. As Godard says, we don’t create for ourselves but for consumers. Since one of the twins is a misogynist and psychopath and the other "a kind of nice guy", were these two novels trying to create a perfect man by taking the bad boy out?

Two famous male directors have selected this theme,  "twins" – one from Canada and the other from France who are delighted that there is a bad boy to be discovered which makes for a perfect thriller. It does not matter that women are deceived,  intimidated and physically assaulted, it’s part of why this kind of suspense thriller works. But is it a film that you want to see on Valentine’s Day when it opens in the US, or any day for that matter?

Claire ( Genevieve Bujold) comforts one of the twins in Dead Ringers

David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988) was a screenplay adaption of Killing Gift by Bari Wood (1975). Genevieve Bujold plays Claire Niveau, a famous actress who falls for one of the famous gynecologists - Bev and Elly Mantle played by Jeremy Irons, who have been deceiving women they trade off with each other. The mystery is based on an intrigue that no one can tell them apart – not the man nor the behavior.  Double Lover has a similar premise with screenplay adaption by Ozon of the novel Lives of the Twins written by Joyce Carol Oates in 1987.

Although Claire Nieveau can figure out which twin is which, 25 year old Chloé Fortin (Marine Vacth) can not. Jérémie Renier plays Paul Meyer, a successful psychiatrist whose patient becomes Chloé. Breaking all professional ethics, he allows her to fall in love and move in. She later discovers he has an alter ego Lois Delord, who is the bad boy of the two. She figures this out primarily because Paul hates cats and Louis does not (!) A love hate relationship ensues to add to her trouble to be worked out by her psychiatrist husband which includes physical assault by his twin.

There is a gynecologist angle in the film as well in Double Lover.  Dr Agnès Wexler (Dominique Reymond) encourages Chloe to start seeing Paul for therapy to cure her of her imaginary stomach pains. While it is perhaps better with a woman gynecologist in this film than lecherous males in Dead Ringers, what business does she have of making recommendations for dating to a patient in an exam. The subtext is that all Chloé needs is a man to take away her pains. Veteran actress Jacqueline Bissett who plays Chloé’s mother does not have much to do in this film, who like Vacth started off by modeling and then playing roles about beautiful women, who are naive or femme fatales. Nowadays she gets roles as monstrous females.

Marine Vacth worked with Ozon five years ago in “Young and Beautiful”. Today at 26 she still is young and beautiful as well as a model and the script calls for a young model who needs therapy.

Double Lover is framed with slick art direction in a film about beautiful people who need perversion and assault to make their flawless physiques believable. Neither Cronenberg or Ozon seem to think well about women where double lovers are only double trouble for them.

© 2018 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 02/14/18
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird from Sacramento, California

By Moira Sullivan

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in LadyBird

Saoirse Ronan gives an unforgettable performance as a young Sacramento woman from valley Catholic high school about to graduate and go on to college. The film directed and written by Greta Gerwig is nominated for best picture and screenplay at the Golden Globes next month. Lady Bird film has inventive and realistic dialogue with an engaging plot development. Credit must be given to the outstanding ensemble cast of the principle character Saoirse Ronan as Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, and Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson and Tracy Letts as Larry McPherson, Lady Bird’s parents. Both Ronan and Metcalf have received Golden Globe nominations for their acting roles. It is their relationship that provides a dramatic tension that gives the film its luster.

The opening scene shows Lady Bird and Marion on the way home from a trip where they were scouting colleges which demonstrates growing tension in their relationship. Pushed to the edge by her mother’s comments, Lady Bird ends her discussion by jumping out the car much to her mother’s horror. Only a broken arm to mend, this is a coming of age film for Lady Bird who is at odds with many of the values of her teachers and classmates except for her best friend.

The opening citation in the film from Joan Didion proclaims that anyone extolling the hedonism of California has not spent a Christmas in Sacramento. From the point of view of a Catholic high school, that is certainly the case but what is also obvious are the class differences of the students. Lady Bird’s father has just been left go of his job and her mother works as a nurse. The capital of California has the reputation of being out of step with the progressive nearby Bay Area and is regarded as provincial and claustrophobic. Lady Bird longs to escape from this and go to school back east, much to the dismay of her mother who wants her to live close by and attend a college in Davis renowned for animal husbandry.

Gerwig’s film is rich with these kinds of details and characters. that paint a colorful picture of the town and young girl trying to find her way. Lady Bird candidly wonders when would be the right time to engage in premarital sex and gets counsel from her mother. Her teachers try to guide her suggesting she try dramatic arts and also help her with her college applications with her aptitudes in mind. What the film foremost shows is despite her restlessness with being in a nuclear family which includes an adopted son and his girlfriend she still has fondness for Sacramento. Her brother’s bedroom is also the computer room that Lady Bird must share and certainly reveals how cramped her family’s living situation is. She aspires to live in a big house and even tells one of her classmates that she does.

Lady Bird is a feel-good feature with an actress turned director from Sacramento that has made an excellent second feature.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Airdate 12/27/17
Movie Magazine International

'Molly's Game' Jessica Chastain as high stakes captain

By Moira Sullivan
Jessica Chastain holds her own in a sea of male gamblers.
Based on the memoirs of by Molly Bloom and screenplay written by director Aaron Sorskin, Molly’s Game is one the best films of 2017 with two nominations for the Golden Globes next month as, best adapted screenplay, and best actress Jessica Chastain. Incidentally along with the report on Lady Bird set in California’s capital on this week's show - Chastain is from Sacramento California. Although she has recently been playing films as a woman in the midst of powerful men that can hold her own as in Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Miss Sloan from last year, Molly’s Game is her most virtuous effort.

When Molly Bloom took a serious tumble in competitive skiing, her career as a professional athlete came to an end. With her name and reputation, she went on to create a high stakes poker game under her own rules and conditions. We discover this at the beginning of the film when she has been arrested and is being prosecuted by the FBI for illegal gambling. Acquiring a good lawyer is part of her plan to vindicate herself, and she is able to convince the brilliant defense attorney Charles Jaffey (Idris Elba) to take on her case as an innocent clean and sober client. He is most persuaded however by his teenage daughter who has read about Molly Bloom’s games and considers her a feminist hero. The uncredited role of Jaffey’s daughter is important as it was at about this age Molly Bloom was forced to take a turn in a promising career. This young girl remains throughout the film with flashbacks and the process of coming to restitution with her formative years.

Kevin Costner plays a father who pushes Molly to excel beyond her abilities yet she is a worthy adversary to his browbeating demeanor. The script is brilliant in replicating past and present not only through images but engaging and thought-provoking dialogue. The rapport between Chastain and Elba is brilliant.

The cast of poker players in positions of power and wealth that Molly directs confirms why Jaffey's daughter holds her in such high esteem. The poker game turns out to be illegal although Molly is careful about operating within the scope of the law. Her access to large sums of money makes her a target later for underworld criminals and there is no one to protect her except her own wits fueled by copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. It is at this point after a vicious attack that she realizes she is over her head. Molly is an unattached woman who is desired and eventually used exploited and assaulted by men. When she resorts to counsel she is still the brilliant and astute woman she has always been, the woman her father could not bully or intimidate along with the other players except when she is criminally assaulted. Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom is a smart, vulnerable and humble player who comes to terms with her life in film that gives us reasons and explanations, illustrating numerous aspects of her game and how she is able to navigate a group of men including the FBI and stay in control.
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Airdate 12/27/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

French yuletide noir at San Francisco Roxie

By Moira Sullivan

Henry Baur as Père Noel
In Italy, December 13 is the day St. Lucia is celebrated who was murdered in 304 AD for refusing to be married. Her death on the Julian calendar was closer to the Winter Solstice on the darkest day of the year, but the Nordic countries kept the date when the Gregorian calendar was later adopted and solstice fell on the 20th of December. Lucia has long been celebrated in Sweden with a tradition of selecting a woman with candles in her hair to lead a procession of maidens, star boys and gingerbread children who bring forth the light.

In San Francisco, a French noir Yuletide double feature is being shown at the Roxie Theatre on December 13– L’ASSASSINAT DU PÈRE NOEL (Who Killed Santa Claus - 1941) by Christian-Jaque and LE MONTE-CHARGE by Marcel Bluwal (1962). Both films could hardly be claimed to be light entertainment and as crime fiction are associated with noir. The films do not evoke warm fuzzy feelings for Christmas but are dark and brooding plots involving intrigue, deception and murder. There are children in these films and Santa Claus but little joy for the them or the adults that try to make the best of the holiday.
L’ASSASSINAT DU PÈRE NOEL (Who Killed Santa Claus - 1941) has none of the stylistic of noir in terms of lighting. Most of the dark heavy gothic scenes without light are filmed indoors or are shot in the super bright snow on sunny days in the French Alps. The setting is a village near Grenoble where the town pharmacist Ricomet (Jean Brochard) goes to order medicine for the village, one of the many threads of the plot. 

Gaspard Cornusse dons his Father Christmas costume every year for the children played by Henry Baur, a rotund, jovial character with heavy drawn eyebrows in his early 60s. Gaspard makes toys such as world globes that light up. His acting style is steeped in a classical theatrical tradition. At times Gaspard's makeup seems like he will peel it off and another person will emerge. In the corner of his living room is a shrunken head of an Asian man, and as it is hanging he tells the village children the story of the bandit Fu-Xiyu who robbed for his daughter Princess Aurora. 

Henry Baur and René Faure
Meanwhile upstairs his daughter Catherine (Renée Faure) lives in a world of fantasy, raised on her father’s stories waiting for a romantic hero to carry her off on a white horse. Elsewhere in the film is a poor woman referred to as Mother Michel  (Marie-Hélène Dasté) who searches the village looking for her cat and was formerly married to Ricomet. Both of these female characters are not noir femme fatales but evocative women who are deeply disturbed because of the influence of the men in their life. Women serve the men of the village who wear large black berets and spend time drinking or gambling.  True to fairy tales, Catherine falls for a man she believes to be a prince with a hand covered by a black glove he claims has been deformed by leprosy, Baron Roland de la Faille (Raymond Rouleau). She is being courted by an annoying village teacher who threatens to punish wayward students by having them write about their grievances over and over. After meeting the Baron Catherine only has eyes for him. 

The film includes a Tiny Tim character, a young boy, who lies sickly in bed waiting for the gift he ordered from Santa Claus. There is also a thief in town who has taken St Nicolas’ ring from the village church and Santa Claus is found shot in the head in the Alps. Getting to the bottom of the mysteries in play involves calling in the territorial police and the townspeople and officials. 

Director Jaque brings out staid acting performances which border on overacting –children and adults alike, following the fiddle of Henry Baur, Father Christmas. During the time the film was made, France was under German occupation and the film was produced by the Nazi film company Continental Film. Director Christian- Jaque and screenwriter Charles Spaak were able to create a subtext to the film with subversive themes with allegories to the political realities. In real life Baur’s wife who was Jewish was taken away by the Gestapo and he was tortured and arrested the year after the film was made. After being released from prison he died in mysterious circumstances. 

LE MONTE-CHARGE by Marcel Bluwal (1962) starring Robert Hossein and Lea Massari has a noir stylistic with trains emitting billowy white smoke as they charge up a dark railway. It is set in a seedy looking Paris suburb - Courbevoie with notable signs pointing to and from Argenteuil on the other side of the Seine. Films featuring Hossein are often populated by districts of Paris, fictitious or real. On Christmas Eve, Robert Herbin (Hossein) has just gotten out of prison after seven years for murdering his boss’s wife. On his first night out, he takes notice of Marthe and her little daughter Nicole (Pascale Brouillard in a restaurant. Nearby is a movie theater and Robert follows Marthe and Nicole inside. During the screening Marthe allows him to put his hand on her shoulder and later to follow her home and come in for a drink. The apartment is big and spacious on top of her husband’s factory, nicely furnished with a sparsely decorated Christmas tree. In a series of attempts at passion followed by rejection, Marthe has the upper hand of Robert. She leaves with him to go to his apartment leaving Nicole alone, and then changes her mind and returns to her apartment again only to discover her husband dead. Robert must leave because he can’t be found anywhere near Courbevoie but is obsessed with Marthe. He follows her to Midnight mass where she faints, and then takes her home again assisted by another man who sells American cars.

Lea Massari, Pascale Brouillard and Robert Hossein
Christmas eve is robustly celebrated with last minute Christmas shopping, family get togethers in restaurants, fights in bars and a packed church of worshippers. Le Monte is a somber thriller involving murder, deception and a little girl dressed in a white fur parka whose step father hates her. Marthe’s attempt to leave a loveless marriage is well-planned where she uses men to help free her from her entrapment. Everything about the set design conveys this feeling of confinement from dark, shabby apartment houses to desolate streets of loneliness. Robert and Marthe cling to each other to free themselves from their circumstances yet wind up creating a complicated relationship that frightens them both.

Robert Hossein
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 12/13/17
Movie Magazine International
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Romance in the Cold War, against insurmountable odds - The Shape of Water

By Moira Sullivan

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule from the American/Russian Cold War set in a US government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy:The Golden Army (2008). The sadistic, predatory, misogynist and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both 'Hellboys' (played also by Doug Jones) and attacks in self-defense. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies at the lab takes an interest.

Del Toro has written and directed several magical films besides the two 'Hellboys' including Pan Labyrinth (2006) and the bizarre television production The Strain. The largesse of the budget for The Shape of Water went to set design, which consists of a laboratory and an apartment over a movie theater and parts of the town that surround the government complex.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman and the victim of an unknown criminal assault that left her scarred. She works together with Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spenser) at the government lab. Elisa lives alone and has an interesting gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is a commercial artist out of regular work. In their adjoining apartments, she looks out for him while Zelda looks out for her. Zelda’s commitment to Elisa is stronger than to her lazy ungrateful husband.

'Amphibian Man' is kept in one of the laboratory tanks and Elisa entices him out with eggs and music. The interiors of the lab are exceptionally created as well as Elisa and Giles’ apartments, a diner with a homophobic and racist owner, and Richard’s home with his dutiful high-heeled hairsprayed wife. All environments are filled with artefacts from the 1960’s – finned Cadillacs, trinkets and bric a brac, and clothing and vintage furniture. Television programs and film excerpts are displayed on TV consoles: a variety of Hollywood musicals, newsreel footage of police brutality against blacks, Henry Koster’s The Story of Ruth, Shirley Temple, Mr Ed - the talking horse and speeches by JFK. At Venice, the film received the Golden Lion for best film, and its visual effects, mise en scène and stunning cinematography have been praised ever since.

'Amphibian Man' is worshipped in the Amazons just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Both humanoids are of interest to science and more importantly form an attachment to a woman. In The Shape of Water, the romance accompanied to French love songs eventually consumes the narrative. Elisa is crazy about Amphibian man who does not see her imperfection, whereas the perfect Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon was horrified at the prospect of the match.

Richard Strickland is antagonistic and cruel towards the creature who is in the care of the military. The employees of the lab are harassed with racist, misogynist and xenophobic comments. Strickland knows how to badger Eliza and her past as a survivor and makes references to 'Samson and Delilah' to humiliate Zelda.

The weakness and strength of The Shape of Water is its narrative evolution through the magic of discovery of this new environment, this time period, and the characters that live during this time. "The Creature"and Elisa and their passion ultimately guide the film towards its end . Romance and dance numbers from Golden age Hollywood movies eclipse the misogyny, homosexuality, racial discrimination , the brutality of the military industrial complex, the space race, class differences, and the vapid consumerism. Brushing this all aside for romance is not unique to film, since there is nothing new about 'Amphibian Man' since The Creature in the Black Lagoon other than a woman who is willing to follow him. However, in such a dark period of history, romantic love is a potent force, and as intoxicating as the dreams of Hollywood.

* Was Guillermo Del Toro's  Shape of Water influenced by the bathroom scene flooded with water in Paddington (2014) featuring Sally Hawkins?

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/05/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

'I Love You Daddy' will not be released in a theater near you

China (Chloe Grace Moretz) sits on 'Daddy's ( Louis CK)  lap. 
By Moira Sullivan

I Love You Daddy is a film by Louis CK that unless you saw it in Toronto at the festival in September or are traveling to Denmark in January, you probably won’t see it. The film’s popularity has plummeted in a downward spinning spiral since allegations were waged by actresses against Louis CK for sexual harassment and distribution has been scrapped.

There is an ongoing discussion about if it is possible to separate the artist from the art, the filmmaker from the film, as in the case of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, two directors criticized for sexual misconduct. How to enjoy the art, not the artist predator? Is all that art lost, tainted? Ironically, it is Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow's father and Roman Polanski, the director of his mother Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby that have dodged accountability for the questions that are now acutely relevant  Ronan Farrow’s exposé in the New Yorker on November 6, compels us to put the artist in front of the "art", art which in many cases is riddled with obvious themes of sexual harassment and violence.

I Love You Daddy's film style is a refurbished Manhattan, a black and white film set in New York City only the young 17 year old Tracy is not Mariel Hemingway but Chloe Grace Moretz as China. Hemingway has since gone public that Woody Allen tried to seduce her when she was a teenager after making Manhattan.

I Love You Daddy has a cast of strong women that all bow to the award winning character of the film, Glen Topher, played by Louis CK. China, his daughter,  comes to live with him after living with her mother and Glen’s exwife played by Helen Hunt. "Daddy" fails to provide substantial guidance for his daughter, letting her go on vacations after spring break, and eventually to Paris with the 70 year film director Lewis Goodwin who Glen reveres. The well dressed Lewis is played by John Malkovich and is alleged to have molested children.

Glen's comedy writer Ralph (Charlie Day) feigns playing with himself when Glen is about to cast Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) in his film, regarded as a sex goddess. (Louis CK's specific sexual misconduct reported by five women is evident in Ralph's masturbatory ritual). Glen’s ex-girlfriend played by Pamela Adlon, and his production assistant played by Edie Falco try to whip Glen into a state of moral panic about his sophomoric judgment. All mistakes and improprieties fall on "poor Glen", who is characterized by self-loathing and insecurity, just like Woody Allen's characters in his early films. Glen is propped up by smart, talented women and his daughter China who eventually stops calling him "Daddy" when she grows up, somewhere between the age of 17 and 18 in the film. (The ensemble cast is excellent, especially Grace Moretz in a short shelf life production riddled with recurrent sexual innuendos)

When I Love You Daddy was shown in Toronto,  the news about Louis CK had not broke, but now that it has, here is a clear case of a film where it is impossible to separate the art from the artist. I Love You Daddy will never be released in a theater near you or any time streaming. Its virtue was based on a transparent imitation of Manhattan, but now we know that Woody Allen isn’t really anyone worth imitating.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/29/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grass: Untold Stories -- the background to 1926 Iranian documentary

By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou, an Iranian American who is a film scholar film critic and filmmaker wrote Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison in Iran in 1924. The documentary is about the Bakhtiari migration in search of grass from Angora to their lands in Persia. The Bakhtiari migration in search of Grass is an arduous trek that took place in Persia. The filmmakers followed the trip in particular the young Lufta and his father Haidar Khan – with 50,000 of his people and animals that crossed the Karun River – some on blown up goatskins, others on rafts, particularly the goats

Grass: Untold Stories
is an extraordinary document about Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison and how their lives intersect. Cooper was a combat pilot in France who was shot down and captured in a Russian prison. He reached out for help to a woman he had briefly danced with before in Poland, Marguerite Harrison who sent him food, and supplies and helped him to get out of prison. Harrison enlisted in intelligence service operations and lived in Russia

Cooper and Schoedsack, an army cameraman had previously made a film on Ras Tafari (also known as Haile Selassie) and “Grass” became their next project which was in part funded by Harrison. Shoedsack did not like that Cooper allowed Harrison on the trip but Bahman Maghsoudlou finds her an extraordinary person, a woman who inspired the character of Anne Darrow in King Kong from 1933 played by Faye Wray.  Harrison is often seen mounted on a donkey being led by a Persian, dressed in Western clothing and often posing for the camera. Cooper and Shoedsack remained behind the scenes in film that was physically exhausting and moved through difficult terrain.

The biography of the making of the film and its makers goes into great detail about each of these historical figures and is based largely on the writings of Harrison, the only one to keep an extensive written record of the film which she chronicles in There’s Always Tomorrow from 1938. Segments of Maghsoudlou's book is based on her memoirs.

Shoedsack left no memoirs but Cooper was working on his autobiography I’m King Kong, which is now part of the DVD box set of the King Kong films released in 2005. It is co-directed by Kevin Brownlow with archival footage of Cooper, Shoedsack and Harrison.

Merian Cooper has said that he wanted to make a film like Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty) though was unaware of that film until after he returned from Persia, which was what Iran was called until 1938 when Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the name. Pahlavi was a progressive head of state that allowed women to act in films and lifted restrictions on wearing the hijab.

The film premiered in March 1925 and the wording of the advertisement in New York World sounds like some of the dialogue in Kong for example the buildup of the area in Persia where the film is set : "the blood red sun withered the grass – seared the souls of 50,000 people and half a million beasts and –we started our epic".

Here now is Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou speaking about his book Grass: Untold Stories (interview follows the report).

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/07/17
Movie Magazine International


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"The French Had a Name for It" celebrates 4th edition in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan

Beginning right after Halloween is the continuation of the by now legendary series in San Francisco
at the Roxie Theatre: The French Had a Name for It - 4,  with 13 examples of film noir from France.The series is presented by Midcentury Productions and curated by programmer Don Malcolm. That is 4 days of Noir from November 3-6, 2017.

Malcolm is interviewed later in the show for the noir series he has brought to life lauding the laurels of forgotten French films – films that were absorbed and cast aside when the French new wave came along with film critics turned filmmakers, such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

Malcolm tells us about how this was a hybrid period where the noir predecessors influenced the new wave who used some of their style – their mise en scène – lighting, setting, characters, sound and camera angles. France did not have a blacklist period as in America so a director like Joseph Losey associated with the American film noir made films on the seedy side of life. In his remake of M (1951) a lunatic played by David Wayne preys on young girls because he was made to feel rotten and was punished as a child. An organized crime syndicate led by Luther Adler, Martin Gabel and Raymond Burr becomes a vigilante groups to stamp out the vermin that preys on society without giving them a fair trial - a film whose seediness emanates from the treachery of the blacklist inquiries. But  French Noir had its own dark side.

The centerpiece program poster of the The French Had a Name for It - 4, the fourth year of programs at the Roxie. features the beloved Jeanne Moreau who died July 31. She stars in Mademoiselle in a role that was one of her darker portraits, directed by Tony Richardson after a play by Jean Genet, made in 1966. The British director, father of Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson fell in love with Moreau while still married to Vanessa Redgrave a year before they divorced. The film is a salty tale of a sultry seductress who sets fires in a little French village. Suspicions are cast on a few Italian guest workers who come to cut timber. Mademoiselle is a school teacher from Paris and the young son of one of the workers is her student who she chastises for wearing short pants to school. She humiliates him mercilessly and at the same time has the little village in her grasp – educating the young, the femme fatale of the town setting fires with black lace gloves, ringing the fire bell, and all because of her repressed passion. It’s a project that Tony Richardson felt suiting for his mistress that never married him. 

A second film paying tribute to Jeanne Moreau is The Strange Mister Steve / L'étrange Monsieur Steve from 1957 who play the mistress of a gangster. Another impossible couple up to no good is Jean Gabin featured as a truck driver in Hi-Jack Highway / Gas-Oil Oil from 1955 with Jeanne Moreau as his girlfriend directed by Gilles Grangier. Gabin returns with, Danielle Darrieux, who lived to be 100 and just passed away October 17 in a film  made in 1958, The Night Affair / Le Désordre Et La Nuit also directed by Grangier.

Stéphane Audran and Bernadette Lafont in Les Bonnes Femmes

Veteran film director Claude Chabrol is featured in the program with Les Bonnes Femmes/ The Good Time Girls, starring the late Bernadette La Font from 1960. Together with Stéphane Audran, Clotilde Joana, and Lucile Saint-Simon, the women work in an appliance shop with a lecherous boss by day and take to the streets of Paris for good times after hours at night clubs. They are rey for the men at the clubs and somehow manage to get to work on time at 9am in the morning. The film shows that women are stuck in meaningless jobs and becomes a morality lesson on their loose morals at night. The predatory males are not held accountable in the male gaze of the film.

Bernadette La Font is also featured in Le Beau Serge ("Handsome Serge") directed by Claude Chabrol. One again La Font plays a go between for two young men in a small French town. François (Jean-Claude Brialy) has returned home after an absence and resumes his friendship with his friend who hates his wife and has become an alcoholic. These two films can be said to be clear predecessors of the New Wave. 

Also noteworthy in the program is the brilliant Maria Casares, who plays the immortal figure of death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1951) is featured in The Ladies Of Boulogne Wood / Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne (1945)  directed by Robert Bresson.

Maria Casares in Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 11/01/17
Movie Magazine International