Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy

By Moira Sullivan
Gary Oldman

I don’t pretend to have enjoyed Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy based on a spy thriller by octogenarian John le Carré, who co-produced the film featured at the 68th Venice Film Festival. The cast features dozens of men and few women – but thank the goddess for Kathy Burke from the cult TV series French and Saunders and Absolutely Fabulous as Connie Sach. Colin Firth seems lost and veteran actors John Hurt and Gary Oldman spend most of the time delivering their lines in ultra slow motion cued by the director. Action? No, there is no action in this spy thriller. Director Tomas Alfredson was behind the Swedish vampire box office smash Let the Right One In. The success initiated an American remake - Let Me In by Mat Reeves. The Swedish director is out of his element in adapting this novel to screen in that the large project consumes him, like a predator. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema from Let the Right One In is on board and there is nothing flawed in his work. But 20 minutes into the film comes the disappointing realization that the film is just not going to happen.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is about George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a spy who sets out to find a Soviet mole in British Intelligence. The film opens in the present returns to the past to discover the identity of the mole. This doesn’t, however, engage us so I wonder if Tomas Alfredson thought of the film as a "Kindle" novel of John le Carré’s tale. The code names of the spy scene may be enchanting on the page, but the screen adaptation is not able to convey this. By the time we discover the Soviet mole, the wait isn’t worth it. One conclusion is to stop trying to make films of literary novels and stick with the ones that are truly cinematic and not staged plays or readings from a book.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has won awards for technical achievement but I wonder what the San Francisco Film Critics Association was thinking when it awarded best adapted screenplay to Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor. This is because the script is what really holds the film back, in particular the actors and the cinematographer.

To the art director’s credit is a rich mise en scène in this narrative set in 1974– the arrangement of the sets with the actors, clothing, props and lighting in front of the camera. The artefacts from the time period are all there – electronic gadgets and cars of the era, clothing, interior design and ambience. Hoyte Van Hotema gives it all a brownish hue making the objects and scenes really vintage.



© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/21/11
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Outrage

By Moira Sullivan
Takeshi Kitano, Japanese actor turned director, otherwise known as Beat Takeshi, brings us what he is best at – yakuza or Japanese organized crime films with all their blood and gore. Outrage was part of last year’s Cannes Film Festival’s official selection.
In what can be seen as a Japanese Reservoir Dogs, rival bosses with hidden body tattoos take turns at offing each other to impress the head family.  It seems like every second someone has their face bashed in, or their mouth worked on in the dentist office without Novocain. Takeshi Kitano is a deadpan actor that barely needs to move but instills fear with his cunning style. His motley face is enough to conjure up impending doom, along with the coiled snake energy of some of the other bosses in this film.
 Outrage is predictable but with enough gore to make any yakuza enthusiast satisfied. This is the kind of film that is screened late at night or dead in the middle of winter at film festivals when vicious violence seems to light up the screen and bring the spectator into a secret world of intrigue and cloak and dagger vengeance.
Takeshi Kitano returns with this yakuza tale after a decade absence from the genre. People missed him, and he’s back. He is known for serving up violence with impressive timing—but even after a 10-year vacation. It’s just a manner of who gets sliced and diced first. It is actually Kitano’s goal to make us feel pain.
The yakuza of this film hails back to the time when the bosses tried to control bars and pubs, but Kitano figures that today’s yakuza would be interested in an extortion and revenge scene in information technology.
Outrage gives us our fair share of knife plunging, gun firing adrenalin, all in a cool slick style.  It’s just a movie but Kitano makes you squirm every time there is an impending violent transaction between the bosses. There is no rest until the 90 minute ordeal is over.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/7/11  Movie Magazine International

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Skin I Live In

By Moira Sullivan
*SPOILERS*
Vera Cruz: Larger than Life
The Skin I Live In is Pedro Almodóvar’s latest freaky venture into dressing and undressing women. This time his cross dressing fetish involves Male to Female gender reassignment –forced reassignment as punishment for the attempted rape and later suicide of a surgeon's daughter.

There is much to be admired in the art direction of this film - in a sinister way: the Petri dishes that grow skin from fresh animal blood, the surgical gowns and dressings, and other accouterments of the operating room, and another room - a room where a young woman is kept prisoner who can not look out but is gazed upon - who uses mascara to create a living diary with tiny writing and small images, and fashions Louise Bourgeois creations of tattered torn up doll carcasses.

The glass wall that separates surgeon from patient is enlarged like a wide screen cinema. A remote camera is projected into the kitchen where the surgeons mother Marilia (Marisa Paredes) monitors the young woman’s activity and sends up food to her on a dumb waiter. 
All pieces of this story are shot in inverted order in different time sequences and this is clever work.  A young man who works in a woman’s clothing store - in keeping with Amodóvar’s fetish of course - Vicente (Jan Cornet) is kidnapped by the Frankenstein type surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas. It is strange to have to point this out but in this case, gender reassignment takes on the form of a Frankenstein experiment. Not the Mary Shelley Frankenstein but the evil doers of the Boris Karloff lot. What can be worse than waking up with a woman’s body when you adore your body as a man? This puts The Skin I Live In on par with the Almodovar's controversial film Talk to Me about an orderly who rapes a young girl in a coma and brings her back to life and awakens her. Only in this case the relatives of the victim do not thank the perpetrator as they did the young ballet student raped by the orderly in Talk to Her. 

Vicente’s mother and friends are worried sick about his disappearance. In this case, the perpetrator played by a side of Banderas we have not met previously eventually allows himself to be seduced by Vera Cruz with huge glassy doll eyes played by the talented (Elena Anaya).

Almodóvar was worried that Talk to Her would not do well in America, and it needs to be said that it is not sure this one will fare well here either. Ever since its introduction at Cannes in May, The Skin I Live in has gotten more than minor criticism. The ironical and comical melodramas of Almodóvar’s previous work do not show any signs of life in The Skin I Live In. It is a somber and uncomfortable story but intriguing in a perfectly bizarre sense.

Almodovar ‘s penchant for ladies clothing, jewelry handbags, makeup, and wardrobe are all all on display and the product tie in for this film must have paid for it.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/3/11
Movie Magazine International

Monday, October 31, 2011

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

By Moira Sullivan
  Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino) with Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta)
The late French singer songwriter Serge Gainsbourg has received a renaissance of tributes in French culture since his death in 1991.  His life was cut short due to drug and alcohol addiction but that did not interfere with the love affair he had with the French people.The premise of Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life seems to rest on his origins in a poor Jewish family in Nazi occupied Paris where his father forced him to play the piano.

Young Serge suffered from an inferiority complex and as the story goes he developed an alter ego that made him more dashing and debonair than he felt inside. He cannot be considered handsome but he had outstanding charisma and charm that endeared him to primarily women, but he also served as a hero to men because of that success. As far as I can see this is why he is deserving of the title of the film. 

Joann Sfar who made a graphic novel that concentrates on this alter ego directs the film. Obviously, this helped Serge survive who quickly became an accomplished songwriter and made several women famous with his lyrics such as Juliette Greco and Brigitte Bardot. 

The insertion of animation in the live action film from the graphic novel does not take the narrative to a higher level, but it does force us to take into account the fragility of Serge throughout the film. His arrogance and disregard for his wife Jane Birkin included a string of affairs and irresponsibility, such as allowing his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in a room with a loaded gun in his possession. It is also controversial that he made a duet with Charlotte that many consider disturbing entitled "Lemon Incest". The frequency of incidents with women that were not positive include raw remarks made on the air to Whitney Houston on French TV and the erotic lyrics he wrote for Bob Marley’s wife Rita that infuriated the Jamaican musician. 

When Serge was younger, his charm and bad boy image pushed him to fame but as his career imploded with scandals,his sex addiction became more obvious. There are many legends about Serge Gainsbourg that the film takes up and Joann Sfar keeps the story pitched at the musician’s luck with women, as do many biographical accounts. Ironically, the actress who plays Jane Birkin, British actress Lucy Gordon, committed suicide before the release of the film.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 10/26/11
Movie Magazine International

The Women on the 6th Floor

By Moira Sullivan
 
The Spanish maids : Carmen Maura, second from right and Natalia Verberke, far right
The Women on the 6th Floor (Les femmes du 6ème étage, France 2010) was part of this year’s out of competition selection at the Berlin Film Festival and opens in San Francisco this week. Directed by Philippe Le Guay, the film is partly autobiographical inspired by his family’s Spanish maid, Lourdes. In this film on the sixth floor of a stockbroker’s family house live several Spanish maids who serve affluent French households. The setting is Paris in 1982.
Jean-Louis Joubert played by Fabrice Luchini lives a predictable life with his wife Sandra (Sandrine Kiberlain) who has her toenails painted, her dresses fitted and enjoys tea with other French housewives. The maid of the family for 25 years quits but actually is just let go when Joubert’s mother dies, and a young Spanish woman is employed in the household to serve Mrs. Joubert. As might be expected Mr. Joubert is smitten by not only Maria but also all the Spanish maids upstairs. He seems to take a genuine interest in their livelihood, such as having their plumbing fixed, and drives them to mass in the countryside.
The film clearly stakes its claim in revealing the stuffiness of the French upper class and its bourgeois lifestyle. The Joubert kids go to boarding school and there seems little room for the passion of life. The Women on the 6th floor is clearly stereotypical where the Spanish women provide the spice to the French bland diet and for that reason the plot is something that must be endured. One wonders what the director’s real life experience was. 
Several powerful actresses make up the ensemble of Spanish maids:  Spanish actresses Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver), as Conception and Lola Duenas as Carmen and Argentinean actress Natalia Verbeke who plays Maria. The class differences between the servants and the owners are transparent, lacking any real subtleties in this commercial French narrative. Carmen sells papers for workers’ rights in the town square and has to educate Mr Joubert on the atrocities of Franco who murdered her two parents.   
Having one benevolent Frenchman cater to the Spanish women is the major superficiality of the film, especially since Mr. Joubert not only owns the home but also lays real claims to Maria. His sense of entitlement includes moving upstairs with all the maids when his marriage goes sour. It is fatiguing to see Fabrice Luchini once again as an aging middle age man falling for younger women. It is hard to imagine Maria with Mr. Joubert or as the center of attention with the enamored Spanish maids. Still the film had definite charm and nice touches which saves it from the script’s lack of ambition.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/26/11 Movie Magazine International

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Afternoons with Margueritte

By Moira Sullivan 
Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle Casadesus

My Afternoons with Margueritte stars French actor Gérard Depardieu, who plays Germain Chazes, a man with a scarred childhood. Because of his weight problem, he has been teased and ridiculed all his life in the provincial French village where he was raised by a single mother. Despite these emotional setbacks he has a beautiful young girlfriend played by Sophie Guillemin – somewhat unrealistic because he is twice her age, yet twice his age is a kindly, elderly woman whom he truly enjoys conversations with – Margueritte, played by the 96 year old veteran French actress Gisèle Casadesus. Margueritte is a well-read scientist and she opens doors to this illiterate adult man who has been the butt of jokes all his life. He lives in a trailer in the garden behind the house where he grew up with his mother. The emphasis on the film is the friendship that develops between Germain and Margueritte -  not your usual on screen relationship, and for that reason the film has a warm feel.
The film flashbacks to painful experiences the young Germain endures by a snotty teacher, but there are also scenes of humiliation with his mother who also is vicious in her insults. But when she has a boyfriend who hits both her and Germain she is quick to set him straight to not hit her boy, and stabs the boyfriend’s thighs with a pitchfork, who goes limping away. Later Germain is able to make sense of his mean mother and learns to love her. But his biggest attachment is to Margueritte, who is going blind and is kept in an expensive nursing home by her relatives. The contact is mutual especially when tough decisions have to be made when Margueritte is moved to Belgium by her family.
The film is directed by veteran French director Jean Becker who is known for his handcrafted films with charm about memorable meetings in life, such as The Children of the Marshland  from 1994 set during WW1 where a young officer stumbles upon a cottage owned by a 92 year old man.
 
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/21/11 Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

68th Venice Film Festival, Report 1

By Moira Sullivan

Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Todd Solondz at premiere of Dark Horse at 68th Venice Film Festival
The Venice Film Festival now in its 68th year is in progress with 10 days of what many critics, including myself, regard as the most artistic film festival of them all. The festival attracts veteran directors who present their latest creations and there are several out of competition mainstream films with major stars who are chauffeured by a corporate sponsor to the red carpet and into the Grande Salle. Before the gala screening, the critics attend morning press screenings and in the afternoons, the festival is upon to young students and cineastes.

The festival issues screening passes to university students and with some new screening venues this year, there is more room at the inn. There is usually only one day for each film and it is a hectic caffeine-driven event on the island of Lido, a tiny boat ride from Venice. On the first day of the festival, Madonna’s new film W.E. on Wallace Simpson was screened followed by a jam-packed press conference. After years of living in England, Madonna no longer sounds like an American girl from Illinois and has chosen a project about the woman who King Edward VIII abdicated the thrown for Wallis Simpson. Madonna was asked if she would give up her throne for a man or a woman and she said she could have both or all three. The critics heavily criticized the film, and the reviews from this festival can make or break a film. But remember The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther blasted Bonnie and Clyde when it was released in 1968 and called its violence 'pointless', but colleague Pauline Kael liked it. Crowley was pushed aside and Kael launched her career. Its safe to say that Madonna’s W.E, starring Andrea Riseborough as the historic Wallace Simpson, and Abie Cornish as a modern New Yorker who is fascinated by her life, will enjoy a positive review out there somewhere along the line.

More to the Venice critics taste was David Cronenberg’s new film on Sigmund Freud, and Carl Jung, starring Keira Knightly as one of Freud’s patients in a powerful performance, and Viggo Mortensen as Freud and Michael Fassbender as Jung. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson who made the Swedish version of  Let the Right One In brings to the Venetian screen a John Le Carre adaptation Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Colin Firth, that has garnished positive reviews.

Also on the critics radar is Dark Horse by Todd Solondz, which is considered one of his upbeat films. Bear in mind that Solondz told Movie Magazine International in a recent exclusive interview that he culls his subjects from the daily news and its nothing we haven’t seen or heard. The film is about a mismatched couple starring Selma Blair as Miranda and Jordan Gelber as Abe.

Other veteran directors at the festival include Roman Polanski who has made a film about two couples whose child has been involved in a brawl called Carnage—starring John C Reilly, Christoph Walz, Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet. Winslet is also in the HBO series Mildred Pierce directed by Todd Haynes that is being screened in Venice and Steven Soderberg's Contagion opposite Mat Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow.  The official jury is presided over by Darren Aronofsky this year and a special Golden Lion will be given to Italian director Marco Bellocchio.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/07/11
Movie Magazine International

Friday, August 19, 2011

Griff the Invisible

Maeve Dermody and Ryan Kwanten

It is unusual to see Ryan Kwanten in a role other than Jason Stackhouse in True Blood but its only fair to him as an actor that we let go of the typecasting a bit to see him not only in films with different characters, but in his own country. I understand that Kwanten must want to expand and show his acting abilities. His most recent projects in filmography, which you can count on your finger during the last decade, features him date in two Australian films. In Red Hill, he plays a policeman in a small town who stumbles on to some bad guys with a sordid past. In Griff the Invisible, he plays a nerdy office worker who likes to dress up in a rubber suit and fight crime. 

The character is the complete opposite of Jason Stackhouse, of course. Griff the Invisible evokes the character Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) in Kick Ass who also dreams of being a superhero. However, the dark, brown haired Ryan seems to be swallowed up in this film, and not because we are used to seeing him in a completely different light. Do you know that he is going to play the serial murderer Charles Manson in an upcoming film slated for next year, The Family

Griff the Invisible may have packed the house at the Toronto Film Festival where it had its international debut last September, and no doubt it will attract the same Jason Stackhouse fans here in San Francisco. The problem with the film directed by Leon Ford is the slow pace with a script that seems to go nowhere and though the director really, tries that are only moments of screen entertainment, Most of the office scenes in the film fall flat. One of Griff's friends is Tim (Patrick Brammall) who is attracted to the young scientist Melody (Maeve Dermody). The director will have us believe that like-minded nerds attract one another and so it is just a matter of time until Griff and Melody lock horns. But just as Griff refuses to betray his childhood friend Hoyt in True Blood and act out his attraction to Jessica, he is equally loyal to Tim. Melody fantasizes about Griff and says things like ”You be the rhythm and I’ll be the beat” but Griff sticks to his agenda of rejecting her advances - at least initially. His rubber suit empowers him to a certain degree and he is seen beating up the street thug bad guys. In real life, however, he is unable to pull off his daredevil stunts and he beaten up by co-workers on the street. Maeve Dermody fairs better as Melody who eventually makes her intentions perfectly clear to Tim and Griff - a  good actress. 

The film is billed as a romantic comedy but there is little chemistry between Melody and Griff, even if we are led to believe that the charge between the two of them is so powerful that light bulbs explode or doors melt when they are near. Maybe the film loses something in translation as a popular Aussie film. There is a hollowness that seems almost artistic but Griff the Invisible is just too transparent.
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 8/17/11 Movie Magazine International

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One Day

By Moira Sullivan

Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway
Lone Scherfig’s One Day is a film that spans 20 years involving two young people who are first friends and then brief lovers and then friends and then lovers and finally spouses. Anne Hathaway plays Emma Morley, a young college student who sees herself as a wallflower when in truth she is dynamic, funny and brilliant. She hooks up with the playful Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) who goes for all the cute girls that are nowhere close to the charm and depth of Emma. Emma indeed is Dexter’s best friend and she always wants more than he is capable of. In the novel by the same name written by David Nicholls, part of the antagonism between the two is based on class differences. Emma seems reconciled to the fact that she never will make enough money and will have to settle on men that are far less exciting than Dexter. 

Blue Blooded Dexter could have anything he wants but decides against his mother's wishes played by Patricia Clarkson to do something useful. Instead, he goes on an airhead TV show, which works fine while he is young, but in time he is too old to play the part and his life starts to unravel. His good fortune turns into personal disaster. But there is always Emma he can rely on, and they manage to stay in touch through the years. Whereas the physical changes that Emma goes through seem upbeat, Dexter’s changes have a lot to do with gaining or losing hair. Indeed the couple makes a splendid pair, but we can only admire them as spectators. Of course, much is there in the book that the film is based on and one suspects this when there is more to the story than meets the eye.

A film based on a novel is a special breed and yet we have no right to demand that a film be faithful to the original source to be a superior product. Witness the Potter films that never seemed to disappoint fans, but The Golden Compass angered others so that there was only one film made based on the novels of Phillip Pullman. It is hard to make a film that spans two decades, so cars, hairstyles, music and fashion speak the loudest.

Danish director Lone Scherfig who made An Education (2009) has taken on another English property and shows with skill how to tell a moving story with just the right touches. And Anne Hathaway shows once against what a talented actress she is and she pretty much steals every scene she is in.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - 8/18/11
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Attack the Block

By Moira Sullivan
Attack the Block screened in June at the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in San Francisco.  It was a good venue for it, due to its oddball quaintness. In addition, the film was at Comic-Con last month.  Who would have thought that a pack of teens roaming around South London would be in for so much drama after mugging a woman and taking her cell phone? The gang is mostly black, and they all live in the hood of Wyndam Towers. After the holdup, a meteor falls from the sky and hits a VW bug. As Moses (John Boyega), the oldest boy of the pack goes to investigate he is suddenly attacked by a wild creature, which turns out to be an alien. He shoots it dead. From there, a cascade of black furry aliens begin descending to earth. They kill two cops and follow Moses and company around. 
Back in their hood, Biggz (Simon Howard) is chomped on by one of the hairballs, and soon after they run into the girl they mugged, Sam (Jodie Whittaker). They are surprised to see her in their building and claim they never would have mugged her if they knew she lived in the same block. This doesn’t wash with her, but there isn’t time to negotiate this, as the black creatures with luminous green teeth are chomping at the bit and scaling Wyndam Towers like cockroaches.  
Attack the Block, is an intriguing film because it shows how closely connected the gang is and how finely tuned they are with the survival of the pack. There are other characters that flesh out the story such as a corpulent marijuana dealer played by Nick Frost and one of his main customers, the young Brewis (Luke Steadaway). Brewis is able to make sense of the nature of the invasion, despite being in a constant stupor. 
The gang has not escaped the eye of the local young women, including Dimples (Page Mead). These girls are annoyed with how juvenile the gang is but still are ready to standby and lend a hand to the defense plan.This is a bizarre tale about an epidemic that has psychic origins, a visit from outer space that puts into motion a survival plan in which the hood gets closer, cleaner, and wiser. The South London dialect is easy enough to follow with a riveting sound track including a tune by director Joe Cornish.
Attack the Block is also insightful for it shows how quickly the blame is put on the young black teens for the gruesome deaths in the hood and how they fight against this racial profiling in order to save their neighborhood.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/03/11
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

QWOCMAP discusses social justice feminism in 7th film festival edition

By Moira Sullivan
Pratibha Parmar
The Queer Women of Color Film Festival, otherwise known as QWOCMAP, now in its 7th year continues to be an exceptional venue and one of the best festivals of women’s film I have attended. There are many reasons for this. For starters, it is free to the public with no admission charge. The organizers provide scrumptious food for the audience too in the cinema lounge. The entire festival is predicated on turning out a program of short films made by women, who have been trained to create a story and develop a script, shoot the film and edit it. These films are then presented at the festival for the public. The enthusiasm for the work is intoxicating and the support for these filmmakers is genuine.

Festival organizer T. Kebo Drew and Madeleine Lim report that this year’s festival was the same, even after many years of organizing it. Madeline Lim has held workshops since 2000 using film as an art form and tool for social change. About 120 films have been created for the QWOCMAP festival. Whereas other festivals charge admission and recruit corporate sponsors to pay for the event, this festival does not and remains a grassroots community forum for queer women of color.

This year there were 38 films presented with a Q& A with the filmmakers. Some of the films this year include La Petite Salon by Caroline Le (2010) on a Vietnamese mother’s expectations for her daughter, Making it Home on a woman who discovers that coming out to her mother helps her to be more of a part of the LGBT community and AIN'T I A WOMAN by Kebo Drew about black femmes and transgender women.

The festival included a panel discussion with writer/play write Jewelle Gomez, British South East Asian Filmmaker Pratibha Parmer, Dr Ericka Huggins, women’s studies professor, performance artist and writer Canyon Sam, Olga Talamante, the Executive Director of the Chicana/Latina Foundation. A roundtable discussion with queer women of color activists discussed social justice feminism. A selection of the films was presented at the Frameline Film Festival. 

Next year the organizers plan to take the festival to the YBCA Center in downtown San Francisco. The festival this year was full to the brim, and over 300 women waited to get in for one of the coveted seats. So, the 8th festival will be held in a spacious forum and is sure to be an exciting venue.


© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/29/12
Movie Magazine International

Friday, June 10, 2011

Medea, Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy 1969).

By Moira Sullivan
Maria Callas as Medea.
Medea by Pier Paolo Pasolini was made in 1969. The scenography was done is by Dante Ferretti, and it was his first movie. And I mention this because Ferretti not only did the scenography for a few other Pasolini films, but also for Interview with a Vampire, Shutter Island, Sweeney Todd and The Aviator. For the last two films he received Oscars.

To see Medea is a rare treat, because of the art direction but also because of the direction and script by the late director Pasolini. It stars one of his long-term friends Maria Callas as Medea, who is just brilliant.  Nothing is usual in a Pasolini film from the quaint costumes, which consist of elaborate costumes with jewelry and intricate cloth,  to the special way he tells stories.  The film was shot in Italy, Syria and Turkey.

The story begins with a centaur (played by the late French actor Laurent Terzieff) who speaks to a young boy at age 5, 13 and as a young man. He is not his father or mother, says the centaur in his final speech before he sends the boy named Jason on his way, played by Giuseppe Gentile.
 “All is sacred. There is nothing natural in Nature, my lad, remember that!”  
The speech is an allegory for modern life in which contact with our mythical roots is vanishing. But for this Pasolini gives no credit to any higher power “In fact, there is no god!” says the centaur. He is told to go to a distant land where which has been usurped by his uncle King Kresus. He sends him on a mission to recover the Golden Fleece. It is in the possession of Medea, a priestess who he convinces to come with him and marry him, after she kills her brother. Her land is one where human sacrifices are used to improve the crops. On return, he tells his uncle that the Fleece is worthless in his land. 


Medea turns out to be too old fashioned for Jason who is soon betrothed to the King’s daughter. Medea’s handmaidens implore her to use her magic to take revenge on Jason, and she kills their two children, his new wife and her father the king.  Though this should come as no surprise to Jason since this is the way of her land and the way of Medea. 

There is nothing subtle about the film. It is crude and powerful.  The story is shown rather than told, and the longest spoken dialogue is that of the centaur. 

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 06/10/11
Movie Magazine International

MERRY GO ROUND, Jacques Rivette (France 1981).

By Moira Sullivan 
Joe Dallesandro and Maria Schneider at dinner.
Merry Go Round by Jacques Rivette is a film that uses the instrument of the camera and editing to create a mystical thriller. In this film we see the young Maria Schneider as she actually looked in real life without the artificial clothing and makeup she is known for in Last Tango in Paris. Maria is a tiny, thin woman, with lots of wavy brown hair, dressed in jeans, t-shirts and moccasins, the kind with fringe on the sides from the 70’s. Schneider picked her leading man for the film, Joe Dallesandro, who reported that Maria in real life was his friend. But according to Jacques Rivette, the relationship between the two on the set became increasingly hostile. 
Merry Go Round has a short scene with the present French Minister of Culture and Communication Frederic Mitterrand who plays a courier. Later Mitterrand would present Schneider with an outstanding tribute when she was inducted in the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et Lettres) six months before her death this February. 
The totally improvisational story has a loosely constructed plot about how Leó, played by Maria and Ben (Dallesandro) meet in a hotel—a rendezvous pre- arranged by Leó’s sister Elisabeth (Danièle Gegauff) who never shows up. To the story is that Leó and Elizabeth’s father has died and four million dollars of his estate is unaccounted for. Now and then throughout the film there are cutaways to a sax player and bassist playing improvisational music. Leó and Ben then wander through the French countryside looking for Elisabeth and the missing money.  Ben tries to seduce Leó but she is immune. So there is no romance between the two. Instead they find an abandoned house and eat a lot of gourmet canned goods from the absent owner. They assemble the goods on a long dinner table. The dinner party is one of the most visually stunning scenes of the film where the two actors both at opposite ends of the table with a huge candelabrum in the center, peering at one another. 

In the course of the film an unknown woman pursues Ben through the forest, not to mention a knight in shining armor. Later we see Ben trying to shoot at the women on sand dunes. The woman at first looks like Leo with shorter hair. Elisabeth is kidnapped then rescued by Leo and later shot. It is not clear what happens to the money or if the father is actually dead.  The entire premise of the films is to dispense with the conventional use of plot, yet there is a random pattern that you can’t help trying to assemble as a spectator. 

Maria and Dallesandro totally steal the film and the rest of the cast serve as distractions of little substance. If Maria Schneider had had her way Merry Go Round would have been the kind of film she would have liked as her first to give her a softer start in art cinema.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/10/11
Movie Magazine International

Monday, April 25, 2011

Interview with Maria Schneider (re-broadcast from March 2001).

By Moira Sullivan


Movie Magazine International      Interview
A Transcript

Maria Schneider
Interview By Moira Sullivan

©Moira Sullivan 2001
Maria Schneider was the Guest of Honor at the Créteil Films de Femmes International Women's Film Festival, March 23-April 2, 2001 and honored with a retrospective of her work. Schneider was the star of the riveting Last Tango in Paris (Italy, 1972), a film New York film critic Pauline Kael loved and defended and whose 6,000 word review was used as an ad to promote the film. In Italy director Bernardo Bertolucci and actors Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando were brought to court for making an 'indecent' film. The charges were later dropped. In several cities in the US, the film was banned. Schneider's career after that was always equated with this cardinal work. She starred in over 40 films and is presented here in a personal interview at the Créteil festival.

Q: Maria you were the 'cause celebre' of the '70s art house films and worked with directors such as Antonioni and Bertolucci. You had a very interesting career and did a lot for women's roles and many people remember you for that. What are you doing now?


A: I'm still struggling for the image of women in film and I'm still working, not as much as I would like to because for a woman in her late forties, it's hard to find work. Not only in France. I had a chat with Angelica Houston last year.We spoke about the same problem, you know. I don't know where it comes from? The writers, the producers, or the directors. But I think it's a pity even for the public. We get a response to see a mature woman in film. We see many, many macho men in film. An actress like Meryl Streep doesn't work as much as Bob DeNiro. That's a struggle that's still going on for many, many years.


Q: Lauren Bacall who was guest at the recent Stockholm International Film Festival said the same thing. She said that the film in which she was Oscar nominated 'The Mirror has Two Faces' was the first good part she had got in a long time.


A: Yeah, yeah yeah. It still goes on.


Q: You did a lot for women's roles in the 1970s and were way out there. You say you don't like the theater; you think its boring and are a real cineaste. Did you find art house cinema or did it find you?


A: I was a student and I wanted to be a painter and I studied Greek and Latin. I wasn't planning to be an actress but was a cinephile and saw two, three,four movies a week and that was a great time for movies because you could see all the neorealism, you could see Bergman, Visconti, Antonioni, and because of destiny I had to stop school. I had a fight with my mother. So I was living alone and did little parts in film to just earn some money. And in one of these films I met Birgitte Bardot. And she took me under her wing and I lived with her for two years and with her I met the movie business and her agents and they said 'you should do movies'. So it was well, just destiny. And then I started right away.


Q: How do you feel about being honored by the Créteil Films de Femmes festival for your work this year?


A: Very touched because I have followed this festival for 23 years. I was on the jury in Sceaux (original site of Films de Femmes in the late 1970s) 20 years ago. And I discovered films at this festival which you couldn't see anywhere. The German school, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Margaretha Von Trotta-films that you couldn't see elsewhere. It still exists because we still have to fight, me as an actress, even if we have more women directors today, it's still difficult, more difficult for women. We are not in the production as much as men. An event like this is important and useful. And plus the girls (organisers) told me, I could show five of my movies, that I could choose-that was interesting.


Q: Because you have made over 40 films?


A: Yeah, (laughter).


Q: What do you think about art house cinema today?....Artistic films that use film language instead of having rising action, falling action and resolution?


A: I've seen the Julian Schnabel film (Before Night Falls) with Javiar Bardem. I saw it privately, because I met Julian and he showed me the film three weeks ago and I think it's a beautiful film. Poetic, lyrical and it says something, but not heavily. Its very fine: I'm glad that there are still films like that today. And I think of 'Straight Story' by David Lynch. A film which I love which is more like a John Ford film. But the message is eternal. And that's important.


Q: That is what you mentioned about Last Tango not being--the way that it was made was that it did not age well as 'The Passenger' (Antonioni, 1975).


A: Yes, Last Tango is typically 70s and the style is a little kitsch today. And it got old. 'The Passenger', no, it still stands. I don't know what do you think?br>
Q: It was great. It was also nostalgic to look back at that time.


A: Me too. (laughter)


Q: How do you feel about the response to you-there is a lot of press in France about you being honored at Créteil? How do you feel you've been received?


A: Very interesting. Because finally after I've been doing this now for thirty years, finally I find some cheerful articles, and you know people kind of understand me better now today than they used to. Because the media threw stones at me. When you read the articles back in the 70s they were terrible back then. And now seeing the kind of choices I made, they kind of understand me better. And respect me better, maybe it's the age, I don't know. (laughter)


Q: Adjectives that come up about you in some of the recent press are 'mysterious' and 'difficult to get to know'. Would you say that's true?


A: No, I don't live around show business. I have a simple life. And maybe that's why. I don't go on television often unless I have something to say. And if you're not in the media today and you don't work, you don't exist which is not true. Many people aren't in the media. But they work and do art.


Q: To get back to Lauren Bacall, she is constantly asked questions about Humphrey Bogart despite the fact she had a life after him. The public has this icon in their mind.


A: I have the same with Last Tango.


Q: If you could write your own legend rather then the legend that has been generated about you what would you write?


A: I will tell you in about 20 years even later on.


Q: There is something very tricky about this word legend-it's kind of like a story. But everyone has a story of their life and sometimes we have our own stories of ourselves that don't get told.


A: Movies are a mirror of society and I'm just an interpreter of that. And I love movies because they are the memory of our time.


Q: Thankyou very much for speaking with us Maria. Do you have any imminent projects coming up?


A: I'm going to shoot in May and play the sister of Isabelle Adjani made by Laetitia Masson, a woman director (The Repentant). Isabelle is interesting. It's Mediterranean, and we're playing two sisters and it's quite tragic.

© 2001 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 4/01

 
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan  - Air Date: 3/11
Movie Magazine International

Friday, April 22, 2011

The 33rd Créteil International Film Festival Report 3

By Moira Sullivan
Teresa Villaverde

The 33rd Créteil International Film Festival which ran from March 23 to April 3 was topped off in the final days by a visit from Portuguese filmmaker Teresa Villaverde.  The filmmaker was present at the screenings of her work such as Mutantes and Transe. It is fair to say that Teresa Villaverde who became a filmmaker in her 20s is probably one of the best filmmakers in the world today. There is nothing random about the way Villaverde frames each scene in her films. Her creative use of the camera and editing  is a  brilliant picture language Her stories are concise and vivid and create emotional empathy without  forced manipulation.
In Mutantes, young Portuguese boys and girls with problems at home and with themselves are incarcerated in juvenile detention homes. They long for the love of their parents and their freedom but don’t know about boundaries without the foundation of a loving upbringing. They turn to each other to make up their lack. Some break out of the center to enjoy short lived freedom but life is so tough they eventually wind up coming back. 
Anna Moreira
Anna Moreira plays a tough girl who tries to make it on her own. She winds up getting pregnant and gives birth to the baby in a gas station toilet. Afterwards, shaking she walks inside to have a cup of coffee. The grimness of the lives of these youngsters is shot from a variety of perspectives that are visceral and brutal.
In Transe , Anna Moreira is back as a young Russian woman in a bleak narrative about human trafficking. When giant trees fall in the forest at a road stop for the young woman in transit, the beginning of the loss of self is profoundly foreshadowed. After the trees hit the ground, the images are blurred; this begins Sonia's (Ana Moreira) trance as a young victim of trafficking. Sonia is exposed to the most vicious degradation and loss of personal freedom one can experience. Trafficking is a huge problem today and young women are doubly at risk for being sex slaves but also illegal aliens and thereby are not free to speak out against their captivity.
Throughout the film one asks why does Sonia not resist? Why did she allow herself to be put in the trunk of a car because of a supposed raid by immigration authorities in Germany in a factory where she is temporarily working?  We witness the seduction and entrapment . Why does she not run? The loss of self is so complete in this film that it is difficult to watch. But it alerts us to the huge problem of trafficking today for young people. Is it a dream that Sonia envisions a young boy with a rifle in the room aiming at her, where she is forced to service buyers of sex? There are many facets of her trance to reconcile and Villaverde does not make this easy for us.
It was a privilege to meet the director at this festival. Here now is an exclusive interview with Teresa Villaverde.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan Paris

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/11/11
Movie Magazine International

33rd Créteil Films de Femmes Film Festival, Report 2

By Moira Sullivan

At the 33rd Créteil Films de Femmes Film Festival, the daughters of Italian film editor Suso D’Amico were present at a special screening of La Notti Bianche (The White Nights, 1957), by Luchino Visconti. The film that was written and edited by D’Amico stars Marcello Mastroianni as Mario, a young man hopelessly in love with Natalia, a young Italian woman played by Maria Schell. She has waited one year for her lover to return, "L'inquilino" - the tenant, played by Jean Marais, and is desperately in love. 
D'Amico, Jackie Buet, director of Créteil festival  ©Moira Sullivan
Pilar Miro's The Cuenca Crime (Spain 1980) was screened at the festival about the shepherd Grimaldos who was murdered at the turn of the century. Two of his workers are falsely accused of his death by the police and a corrupt judge and are tortured for committing this crime. The men who are savagely broken down and made out to be savages.

Maria Schneider 2001© Moira Sullivan
The late actress Maria Schneider was honored on March 29th with a short tribute. A short film from 2005 and an interview when she was the guest of honor at Créteil in 2001 was screened. Due to the marketing power of the distributors of Last Tango in Paris, the film was widely seen, and indeed the only film that journalists wrote about after her early death. But Schneider’s career went on after her debut in a film that she did not like. Last Tango can also be seen as a fascist expose about the tyranny of power in human relationships where the 19-year-old Jeanne played by Schneider endures a series of physical and emotional assaults by the sadist Paul, played by Marlon Brando. As Schneider said "shooting Paul did me good". Her choices after being cast in Last Tango were wise, and she resisted Lolita roles offered to her by directors such as Luis Bunuel and Joseph Losey


Next week, more from the Créteil festival.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Paris. 
© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/04/11
Movie Magazine International

The 33rd International Créteil Films de Femmes Festival

By Moira Sullivan
The 33rd International Créteil Films de Femmes Festival in Paris continues to produce one of the highest quality panoramas in the world on the images of women in cinema.
Cecilia Mangini
This year, the focus of the festival is on the work of women who have explored the theme of fascism in Europe. The films of Italian director Cecilia Mangini were shown including short films set to the texts of the late filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, such as Ignoti Alla Citta, from 1958, (Unknown to the city) where excerpts from Pasolini’s controversial novel Ragazzi di vita (Hustlers) shocked Italians in 1955 with his depiction of the decadence of youth, and families in the suburbs of Rome. Another film entitled Stendali (1960) is a funeral song in Griko, the dialect of those of Greek origin in southern Italy. 
Mangini was co director with Lino Del Fra and Lino Miccichè in the brilliant 1962 documentary All’Armi Saim Fascista (To arms, we are fascists) assembles films from the archives of the 20th century through 1960 on the origins of fascism up to the anti fascist strikes of July 1960 in Genoa, Rome, Reggio Emilia, Palermo and Catania.  The film was blocked by censors for one year and presented out of competition at the Venice Film Festival that year but it was not until the 1970’s that the film was widely shown in Italy.  Mangini’s film takes up the rise of Benito Mussolini, his union with Hitler and the emergence of Franco and Stalin. 


Present at the screening was the Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros, director of April Captains made in Portugal in 2001. It is a film about the military coup in Portugal in 1974 and the Portuguese revolution. Mangini’s film was packed with the history of fascism in Europe but when asked why Portugal was not a part of the film, it was Maria de Medeiros who explained that there were different historical factors to the political history in Portugal that would not have fit with Mangini’s film.  Cecilia Mangini who is now 84 was present for all the screenings of her work at Creteil this week. 

Carmen Maura
The Spanish actress Carmen Maura who has made films for directors such as Carlos Saura and Pedro Almodóvar was the guest of honor this year at Créteil.  The film Ay Carmela starring Maura was screened about a group of artists, a married couple Paulino (Andrés Pajares) and Carmela, played by Carmen Maura and the young mute Gustavete Gabino Diego. They find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when they stumble on to soldiers loyal to Franco on the road. In order to save themselves they agree to put on a Pro Franco cabaret, something that Carmela has an increasingly hard timed doing. 
Carmen Maura told the audience that she never thought she could sing or dance very well even though it was clear that she is a first class performer endeared to the public. Ay Carmela was made in 1990 and although Pedro Almodóvar is credited with renewing Spanish cinema after Franco, Carlos Saura was more direct about pointing out the atrocities of the Spanish dictator and his supporters.
We are just on the 4th day of this festival. Other highlights include the screening of a film on Greece by Alida Dimitriou -  Birds in the Mire from 2008. It is a documentary about women who joined the Greek resistance during WWII. Athens had the strongest anti war resistance in Europe at the time. Unfortunately after the war these women were exiled or put in prison when Britain demanded that the Greek resistance movements be disbanded enlisted secret agents from the war for help. 
Next week, more from the Créteil festival.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Paris.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 03/29/11
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, March 31, 2011

64 Festival de Cannes


 By Moira Sullivan


The 64th Cannes Film Festival ended last Sunday night with the awards ceremony. The Mistress of Ceremonies who both opened and closed the festival Mélanie Laurent who starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds brought out the official jury again to announce the winning films. Robert De Niro was "Mr Presidente" of a jury composed of writers, actors, directors and producers. Among them, Uma Thurman, Jude Law and the daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman  - Lin Ullmann

It was fun to hear De Niro call his jury companions - compagnons  - mushrooms (champignons) in French. Some years ago when Michael Moore won the Palme d’Or for Fahrenheit 9/11 there was some controversy over the jury decision headed by Quentin Tarantino. So the jury met with the press to discuss their choice.  This had never been done before. The jury process had always been private. The tradition has continued since then. 

This time it was regarding why The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick won the Palme d’Or. And as it turns out, according to De Niro, the film had "the size, and importance".  I wonder about the size part, because it reads like industry-produced films. 

The Tree of Life was "big" and more about that in my review of the movie in this week's show.  Lars Von Trier’s film Melancholia was a strong contender, a leaner film, but certainly more realistic and not riddled with religious overtones as The Tree of Life. But one could not expect that the film would win the highest honor and so the producers of his film had to be content after the directors offensive remarks at his press conference with awarding Kirsten Dunst the best actress award.  In fact the part that Dunst plays carries the entire film and that makes it a good choice.  

There were four women in the official competition of 20 films - Lynne Ramsey for We Need to Talk about Kevin, Japanese director Naomi Kawase who directed "Hanezu no tsuki," Julia Leigh directing "Sleeping Beauty." And Maïwenn LeBesco who won the jury prize for her film Polisse about a section of French law enforcement officers who work with troubled youth. The director told the press that her parents abused her when she was young and had not supported her at all but still invited them to the festival.

Although the big celebrities command the attention of the press there are other venues at the festival such as the Director’s Fortnight, and the Critics Week. There is also a Cannes market. According to one producer I spoke with, Von Trier really screwed it up for the Nordic film companies since many countries had backed out of sales because of his offensive remarks about women, German Nazi’s and Jews.  The event tainted the festival, which is why awarding the prize to a grandiose project about life complete with angels and dinosaurs--starring Brad Pitt could only be seen as filling the space with a better vision. Terrence Malik did not pick up his award did not make a fool of himself at the press conference, did not walk up the carpet giving out autographs left and right like Angelina Jolie and what’s his name, but he snuck in to see his own movie. 

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06 /01/11
Movie Magazine International