Friday, December 6, 2013

The Punk Singer: a film about Kathleen Hanna

By Moira Sullivan
Director Sini Anderson with Kathleen Hanna at SXSW Film Festival

Kathleen Hanna’s message written on Kurt Cobain’s wall "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became the actual title of his successful album in the 90s. He was definitely a fan of hers and his song gained him entrance into the MTV world. Whereas Kathleen Hanna, founder of Riot Grrrl admitted in the new doc "The Punk Singer: a film about Kathleen Hanna" by Sini Anderson that her band used to have to spend the night on the floor, on the road, and that their van was a gasket away from ruin. "Bikini Kill" was big in the eight years they existed. Their hectic band life prevented personal time and it was a factor to the breakup. Sounds like what happens in any relationship. But Hanna kept going with a new band "Le Tigre"  whose members included filmmaker Sadie Benning and currently "Julie Ruin", which was completely sold out at Slims in September.

Sini Anderson has made a brilliant film that follows the trajectory of Hanna’s career and why the music groups she was involved with were so successful. First of all "Bikini Kill" was founded after 14 women were assaulted at a rock concert. The band asked the women come to the front and the guys to the back and gave young women the band they deserved. If they were hassled they were allowed to sit on the side of the stage. The music industry is not easy for women even with the greatness of Hanna’s band, Joan Jett and Lynn Breedlove and Tribe 8.

Kathleen Hanna with her killer lyrics and great sound was inspirational for many women especially her devil may care attitude and feminist message. Hanna admits that it isn’t easy for women to tell the truth because there is always someone who doubts it. This may have come from her upbringing were here mother stepped back as she told Kathleen to fall back and she would catch her but didn’t, revealed by the vocalist in the doc.

Hanna worked hard on catching herself, and after "Bikini Kill" started "Le Tigre". In 2005 she stopped performing when she discovered she had Lyme disease. This is the subject of Sini Anderson’s new doc "Sick" now in production.

"The Punk Singer" is artfully edited in an explosion of sound; music and creative touches that makes it stand out from the crowd of music docs. At a tribute show to Kathleen Hanna many women showed up to play including Joan Jett and Sini interviewed them in a van in the parking lot.

 Sini Anderson follows this review in an interview with Movie Magazine

For MMI this is Moira Sullivan

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date:12/03/13

Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

12 Years a Slave

By Moira Sullivan

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is one of the most brutal narratives on slavery that has been made to date. The 44-year-old British filmmaker has been turning out exceptional provocative films such as Shame on sex addition and Hunger on the IRA leader Bobby Sands who conducted a hunger strike and died in prison.

12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is abducted in Washington DC in 1841 on a short trip from his home in Saratoga Springs New York. The purpose is  to accompany musicians on his violin but he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south leaving behind his wife and children. During these long hard years, this educated man who was an engineer has to endure the worst kind of treatment where he is beaten for being too clever and is forced to dumb down to prevent further abuse. This film makes you realize how racism continues and today’s modern atrocities mirror the early history of slavery.

Solomon is first sold to the benevolent plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) but a fight with one his hired hands soon finds him hanging from a tree near death. It is not uncommon to encounter hangings by white man of slaves in the nearby woods. Billie Holliday’s somber ballad "Strange Fruit" speaks of 20th century hangings in the 1939 protest song she sang, written by Abel Meeropol aka Lewis Allen,  the adoptive father of the children of the executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, 

The next plantation owner Solomon is sent to is worse than before, the vicious sociopathic alcoholic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) with an equally abusive wife (Sarah Paulson).  We see her throwing a whiskey bottle at the young slave girl Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) for arousing her husband’s interest when the plantation slaves are invited into the manor to eat and dance.

The history of slavery is well known but to see scenes of torture degradation and abuse is almost too much. It is important to encounter this atrocity vividly, as it was, with nothing spared and this is McQueen’s ambition.

12 Years a Slave has to be one of the most important films of the year because of its depiction of slavery. Nothing is spared in gruesome details of the cruelty towards African Americans.  The treatment of the Jews during WWII has some similarities- the transportation of people against their will to another place, discrimination, murder, rape, enforced labor, atrocities,  experiments and torment.

Although there are several outstanding actors in the film it is Chiwetel Ejiofor  and Lupita Nyong'o that are the center of the film. What happens to both of them crystallizes the experience of slavery.

Brad Pitt who co-produced the film has a pivotal role as a southern man who sees Solomon as a man and who through his efforts helps to reunite him with his family. Even this reunion is extremely sad given what he has had to endure. 

12 Years a Slave puts the history of slavery in perspective and makes you understand that racial slurs by cooking TV hostesses are one and the same of the annihilation of the soul of the African slave.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/06/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fun and Games at " The Institute"'

By Moira Sullivan

The Enigmatic Octavio Coleman

The Institute is a feature-length documentary directed by Spencer McCall featured at the 2012 Mill Valley Film Festival about the Games of Nonchalance, the San Francisco-based alternate reality game known as the The Jejune Institute which existed from 2008 to 2011 and closed due to lack of funds.

The film consists of interviews with the players who wind up following the trail of posters around the city to a downtown office on 580 California Street. Here is the headquarters for Nonchalance, a Situational Design Agency. The game as a whole is actually an emergent new art form where everyday messages in the real world have unforeseen consequences, some of which make absolutely no sense according to some of the participants and others which lead to enlightenment.

At first the recruits feel like the moonie devotees to the Unification Church created by Sun Myung Moon, or the Scientologist devotees to Dianetics and L Ron Hubbard. And there is a bizarre creator with a weird name like Ron Hubbard, a creator with a lot of money that drives around in a stretch limo -  "OCTAVIO COLEMAN ESQUIRE" - who lures participants to California St. with this challenge: "To those dark horses
with the spirit to look up and see, 
a recondite family awaits". But it turns out that "The Institute" has nothing to do with religion at all and is more Situationist and performance art oriented than anything.

Octavio Coleman claims that young people in the 70s knew how to connect with each other , the time when he was young, and when you consider today’s interfaces such as social media and digital electronics it makes sense. 40% of young people today consider their closest friends virtual friends they have never even met.

However, absolutely nothing makes sense in the film. It is if everyone is speaking a foreign language about a system that seems unintelligible unless you go through the induction. Participants claim that everything becomes magical and unexpected when they do.

One thing is for sure— video games and virtual reality and the fantasy levels that can be experienced by them pale in comparison to a living game where participants, including children are instructed to play games or listen to a bizarre radio station, answer phones and go to various destinations on scavenger hunts. They can be instructed to engage in activities like street dancing where other dancers show up with a boom box. It seems like a lot of fun for people who want to experience a new reality out of everyday life.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/09/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


By Moira Sullivan
Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour has the distinction of being the first feature film by a woman from Saudi Arabia and one of the Kingdoms most celebrated filmmakers. The film has won multiple international awards such as Scandinavia and Rotterdam and special awards at the Venice Film Festival. Haifaa Al-Mansour was selected as the president of the Opera Prima jury at the 70th Venice Film Festival in September. The jury chooses the best debut film  for the the Lion of the Future Award.
It is surprising how much liberty Al Mansour takes with her subject about a young girl who is bound by strict devotion to Muslim practice. All the young Wadjda dreams of is owning a green bicycle and to earn the money for it she enters a contest at school in which she has to memorize and recite parts of the Koran in the traditional fashion. This is not an easy task, and to study for it she buys an interactive video game on the Koran with money she earns by selling her own hand made crafts and audiocassettes. This is not enough for the bicycle but if she wins the contest she will have the funds. The school she attends grooms young girls in their education as future wives. There are daily messages about being clean, about being chaste, about covering their heads, about not having men see them, of not reading fashion magazines or painting their nails, and of not riding a bicycle which they are told can prevent pregnancy.  The headmistress of the school is strict and pounds these rules into the heads of the girls, who are taught to tattle on each other since many break the rules. Punishment is severe if girls and women are discovered by the Religious Police roaming the villages and cities.
Wadjda lives with her mother who is the one of the wives of her husband she married when she was young. Wadjda too has a young admirer, Abdullah played by Abdullrahman Al Gohani , who is taking his time to marry her and seems supportive and appreciative of her independence.
Al Mansour ‘s film is technically proficient and shows the small and intricate parts of Wadjda’s daily life, her interaction with her classmates and her headmistress. Without being didactic the film shows the indoctrination of Saudi women as a way of life. Wadjda is played by Waad Mohammed in a debut role. The protest and rebellion this girl must feel is softly contained and her spirit is never broken although Western spectators may have difficulties in understanding this very different way of life. The older women such as her mother played by Reem Abdullah and the head mistress Ms Hussa, played by Saudi short filmmaker Ahd have learned the cultural and religious ways and perhaps because of experiencing the restrictions as young girls seem especially harsh on the girls. They have grown up under a religious patriarchy and perpetuate the traditions. Perhaps as the film seems to show, there is hope for Abdullah and Wadja who are a new generation of Saudis.

© 2013 - Moira Date: 09/25/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, September 19, 2013

You Will Be My Son

Niels Arestrup, Nicolas Bridet and Lorànt Deutsch

It has taken two years for You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils, France 2011) by Gilles Legrand to find its way to San Francisco and the film opens on Sept 20 at Landmark Theatre. The film stars Niels Arestrup as Paul de Marseul, the head of a winery in France who wants to leave his estate to Phillipe Amelot the son of his manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) who is dying of cancer. This does not set well with his own son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) who wants to take over some day. Nicolas Bridet as Philippe was nominated for an acting award at the French national awards, the César, for his portrayal of a young man with ambition and questionable morals. This film is on the order of a Greek tragedy with a power struggle that contrasts father and son as abuser and abused.

You Are My Son is technically proficient with many intriguing layers including dream states. You grow to hate Paul,  and that is to the credit of the French Danish veteran actor Nils Arestrup. But you also grow to dislike Martin, who fits the role his father has carved for him as a sniveling, self-destructive man, falling into the traps laid by his cruel father. Not everyone is on the level in this film either. Francois is jealous and resentful, and like Paul has control over his son Nicolas. Neither son is free to act alone and even when they do threaten to leave remain in this wine estate, whose owner has received the distinction of the French government for his work. 

Anne Marivan and Lorànt Deutsch
Apart from all these sons and fathers is a standout acting performance by Anne Marivin as Alice, Martin’s wife, who not only loves her father in law’s sniveling son, but stands up to the father and keeps Philippe in place. Anne alone brings sanity to the entire cloak and dagger scenario.

There are reasons however why Paul has turned into a twisted man, but even in his twists we learn that he has never learned how to straighten out the kinks and share his gifts with his employees and family. His bitterness makes you think that wealth is often in the hands of the undeserving, especially those whose trials have forced them to succeed but the success is meaningless since there is no love involved in the pursuit.

The acting performances are commendable and although the character contrasts are stereotypical, the beautiful French wine country is breathtaking. Wine tasting is included for the connoisseur, something I have never understood, since it seems like a waste of energy to detect if there is peach or rose in the yearly wine crop. But this does make sense in the closure of the film that those who have learned how to mix elements always appreciate the right combinations.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/18/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

White Material - Claire Denis

By Moira Sullivan

In Claire Denis White Material set in an unknown period in an unknown country we could believe that it is Cameroun  in the midst of winning its independence with a long war that dragged out for 10 more years of civil strife. Rebel soldiers roam the lands of the French and steal their possessions. The French are leaving, and those remaining are unprotected. Marie Duval (Isabelle Hubert) insists on staying. She is oblivious to the dangers, and puts her family and her workers and servants at risk for refusing to leave.
A local DJ gives news to the rebels in veiled language, and everywhere in the film , a transistor radio updates the ongoing strife. In general, the news of everything from  marriage, to weather conditions is transmitted by radio. White Material is told in a smooth fragmented narrative style . Its chronology is inverted with the present at the apex of the film and frequent flashbacks to the days when the colonial presence was intact and secure. Among the secrets of this French colonial family is the affair that Marie has had with the corruptible town mayor.
The Duval plantation is a source of employment, and later a target for pilfering  the possessions of the French, called “white material” by child rebels, boys and girls, wielding machetes and spears.  The leader of the rebels is “The Boxer”, played by  Isaach De Bankolé, Their hero who has been wounded takes shelter in a shack on the Duval’s property.
The French military have warned Duval to leave, and her husband (Christian Lambert) secretly sells the plantation to the town mayor. Meanwhile her rather unambitious and depressed son, André is attacked by the young rebels and in a style reminiscent of when Robert De Niro snaps in Taxi Driver, he proves himself of some value after all and follows the children’s army with a shaved head and a loaded gun with many rounds of ammunition. The secrets of this plantation family convince us that French knew what was going on in Africa but tried to maintain its lifestyle as a colonial exporter and remain in the country. Marie claims that Africa is all she really known, and complains that by returning to France she would be lost.
President Thomas Sankara (21 December 1949 to 15 October 1987) was a young captain in the Burkina Faso army who was assassinated and who inspired the youth in Cameroon and neighboring African countries.  The reactions to the white presence in this film resembles the insurrections in the Ivory Coast (home country of Issack de Bankolé) where whites were executed, raped and forced to flee the country during the civil war. The Boxer according to Denis is the memory of Sankara in the film, whose arm bears the tattoo “jamais k.o”.
Denis’ long-standing cinematographer Agnès Godard couldn’t work on the film because her mother was ill. Godard said in an interview with Movie Magazine that although she wasn’t close to her mother she was glad that she remained in France for her final days. Yves Cape was selected instead who worked on Bruno Dumont’s films. (L’Humanité 1999, Flanders 2006, which both won the Grand Prix in Cannes).
White Material was made with the absence of lighting since the equipment had been held up one month in customs after the team arrived. Cape was afraid that Denis was too used to working with Godard but that was ironed out as she reported to him that she wouldn’t be sitting watching his work on a monitor. The script by Marie N’Diaye is followed but the final edit does not, which Huppert says is Denis’ way of working. Violence creates violence says Huppert which is the theme of the film.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/21/13

Movie Magazine International

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Still - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan
David Shields’ new book “Still” looks at the past as if it were a fresh, undiscovered country.  His viewpoint is that a pristine still is more evocative of its era than a scratchy dupey print of the same period.  By that logic, a remark I once heard about Theda Bara (“She works better in stills”) would eliminate most of her work from scholarly consideration.  So…the pictures in “Stills” are breathtakingly gorgeous but try to see the movies anyway, flawed though they may be. 

After seeing a still of Elsie Ferguson from her heyday, I finally was able to watch “Scarlet Pages” from 1930, which was not her heyday, but well worth a look.  For a very long time I waited for 1929’s Jeanne Eagles “The Letter” to crop up sometime, anytime, somewhere, anywhere.  When it finally did, it was worth waiting for.  The print quality was not the best, but to see and hear 1929’s best performance (sorry Miss Pickford, but “Coquette' wasn’t it) was unforgettable.  Eagles played a woman filled with passion & rage.  Miss Eagles looked old, young, wild, broken, duplicitous one moment and so brutally honest the next, it made me hurt to listen to her. 

So drown yourself in the 160 stills in Mr. Shields’ book but do try to find the treasures which have not yet disintegrated.  Movies like “A Fool There Was” or ‘Sunrise” made the audiences of their own time laugh, cry or sometimes they chilled them to the bone.  Let “Still” be your ticket to these treasures from long ago.

© 2013 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 08/07/14
Movie Magazine International

Friday, August 9, 2013

Chocolat - Claire Denis

By Moira Sullivan

Isaach De Bankolé and Cécile Ducasse in Chocolat.

The League of Nations mandated 91% of Cameroun to France after World War 1. It was not until 1960 that it became independent. Clair Denis' film Chocolat concerns a young French girl’s upbringing in Cameroun during the mandate. She lives on a manor where her father Marc Dalens (François Cluzet) is a captain in a colonial outpost and her mother Aimée Dalens  (Giulia Boschi) is head of the household. Assisting her are black servants, and the most prominent and dutiful one is Protée (Isaach De Bankolé). His upbringing in the Christian church and his pride as a black man have contributed to his impeccable sense of morality, and according to de Bankolé who plays him, the hope for the future of Africa.

The grown France (Mireille Perrier) in many ways like Claire Denis who grew up in Dijbouti, returns in the beginning of the film to Cameroun. She is alone and observes a father and his son swimming on the beach. Later the father, Mungo, insists that he give her a ride to the bus stop at least.  Then in a long flashback we are invited into France’s (appropriately named) character and her early life; this is the history of France in Cameroun.

Claire Denis is a master at elliptical editing, avoidance of music in many scenes, and the absence of action in scenes where life is as it is often uneventful and calm. Everything in the film suggests from our indoctrination from dramatic films that something horrible is going to happen, because it is so calm. Instead of overt violence, the kind of violence shown in the film is subtle, the language of the colonizers against Africa.

Daily life consists of Marc going to his military post, and coming home in the evening to be with his family. During the day France (Cécile Ducasse in her one and only role) accompanies Protée on his goings about who is a kind and loving guardian to her. At the same time there is a repressed tension between Aimée and Protée whose names almost seem like they belong together. However the racial lines cannot be crossed except as colonizer and colonized.

When Marc is away, Protée becomes the man of the house, and in one scene Aimée commands him to sit in front of the door to her bedroom with rifle in hand to frighten off a prowling hyena. He is clearly disturbed by the dissolution of private and public space in being forced to sit as she sleeps.

One day a plane flies over the country manor and not long after a pilot, his first mate, an officer and his wife and the gruff coffee plantation owner Joseph Delpich (Jacques Denis), and his servant who is his concubine, arrive by foot. The stranded visitors will need to stay for a while with the Dalens until a landing strip is built for their takeoff and engine parts arrive to repair the plane after its rough landing.
Their presence in the house brings the colonial oppression of Cameroun to the surface more overtly. Whereas the Dalens’ have treated the servants benevolently, the new guests treat them as inferior beings. 

Friends of the Dalens come visiting when the airstrip is to be built and bring with them laborers, including the young white French Luc (Jean-Claude Adelin). Not long after that Luc tries to prey on Aimée Dalens. Protée is aware of this and throws him out of the house where he has taken root on the porch. When Aimée then makes advances towards Protée as gratitude for standing up to the oafish Luc he stands her up to shake sense into her and also to make it clear that there is a boundary between them. For this he is banished from the house and put to work in the garage.
France visits him and he is longer is the kind guardian she knew.

The colonial presence in Africa has often been historically glamorized in film but Chocolate shows how the French were tolerated and despised. When the visiting officer’s wife takes ill Marc sends for medical assistance. The assistant is picked up at a school were several men are gathered. This raises Marc’s suspicion but Protée claims they are only talking. Yet it seems like rebellion is brewing. It must be another four years before the country became independent through armed struggle.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/07/13
Movie Magazine International

The Attack

By Moira Sullivan
Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) finds a poster of his wife in Palestine's
' 'Ground Zero' in The Attack
The Attack is an unexpectedly shocking film about a Palestinian and Israeli national whose wife turns out to be a suicide bomber.  In the opening scenes of the film Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman) receives a prize for his distinguished service as a surgeon at an Israeli hospital, the first Arab  to be honored. In his acceptance speech he thanks his adopted country for making his career possible. During the ceremony he receives a phone call that he doesn’t take and we learn of the consequences of that aborted call later. 

Amin is soon visited the Israeli secret police who accuse him of being involved in the bombing attack, something that he hears from his balcony at the hospital a few hours earlier. Nearly 20 Israelis are killed and the injured are admitted for emergency treatment, most of them children, who he attends to. To his astonishment his wife is implicated and his home is searched for evidence.

The film is adapted from the international best seller by Yasmina Khadra of the same name who worked on the screenplay together with the director of the film Ziad Doueiri. The Attack calls into play the delicate and brutal relationship between Israel and Palestine. Amin discovers that because of his wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem) he becomes a suspicious outsider except to his friends. Her political ties were unknown to him during their entire marriage. He tries to piece together how this could have happened and look for clues for how his wife could have been involved in this attack. 

Amin travels to Palestine where he is shunned at the mosque where he believes his wife was brainwashed by the leader. The film begins as a conventional narrative but after the attack the narrative flow is interrupted with fragmented pieces of Amin’s life with his wife. Together these pieces start to form a mosaic where Amin finds himself in the center of the larger conflict of Palestine and Israel. The great love of his life has kept her life so separate from him turns out to be a heroine for the Palestinians. Amin in time learns that it is actually not his accomplishments, which contributed to his award as an esteemed surgeon but the benevolence of his adopted country who gave him the honor. There can be no greater incongruity then an Israeli national who loves his new homeland to be living with a woman who hates what has happened to Palestine so much that she destroys herself and several innocent Israelis.

Doeriri allows the spectator to unravel the mystery in his use of cinematic language just as Amin does which makes this a brilliant film. It was the centerpiece of the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival that ended last month.

© 2013- Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/07/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Danish thriller 'A Hijacking' by Tobias Lindholm

Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk)
"A Hijacking" (Kapringen, Denmark 2012) )  is a film about a Danish cargo ship that is hijacked by Somalian pirates in the middle of the Indian ocean, directed by Tobias Lindholm. On board are seven men who are held captive. Three of the men are allowed on deck: the cook, the captain and the mechanic.

Most of the film concerns the negotiations made by the owner of the ship, a Danish multimillion-dollar concern. The CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen  (Søren Malling) is a very rigid and controlled Danish man in his 50’s. We learn about his emotionless negotiation power in a deal selling with Japanese businessman at the beginning of the film. He’s a hard bargainer and maybe that makes sense when you are dealing with another corporate entity, but not with the lives of seven men. These men are onboard a ship with sordid and unsanitary conditions for almost 4 months.  The Somalian negotiations are conducted through an interpreter named Omar. All negotiations are done by telephone or fax machine.

The Danish firm calls in an Australian consultant who suggests that the negotiations be done with someone not personally involved with the firm. It’s hard to believe that Peter is more than remotely interested in his men, but more in parting with the companies hard earned money. He does not take the consultant’s advice that it will be hard for him emotionally to negotiate with the Somalians. But in two scenes he shows what he really has under wrap – when he yells at his wife who brings him clean shirts and tells her to go home, and when he gets stressed out once during the negotiations which elicits gunshot on the end of the line. 

The Danes first offer is 250 thousand dollars whittled down from a demand of 15 million dollars from the pirates. Even with the Japanese they at least kept themselves in the million dollar range to match their demands. The cool CEO and corporate headquarters with black and white office design contrasts with the sordid conditions of the boat at sea where it is hot with swarming flies and sweaty men held at gunpoint for most of their journey. 

The cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) is the heart of the film whose care for his daughter and wife, his crewmates and his captain are obvious. We get to see very little of the other men held captive, one who seems to be a young teenage boy.

The Somalians are portrayed as ruthless and trigger-happy. It is a difficult tightrope for the filmmaker to walk through with not only contrasts between the parent company and the cargo ship but between the pirates and the captives but the result is masterly. "A Hijacking" is extremely engaging and the suspense is relentless.
At Landmark Theatres Embarcadero Center, San Francisco

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/26/13
Movie Magazine International

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Agnès Godard at the Pacific Film Archives

Agnès Godard in San Francisco ©Moira Sullivan
By Moira Sullivan

Agnès Godard has been a cinematographer since the 1970s when she started out as first assistant cameraperson for Wim Wenders in Paris Texas (1984). She worked alongside the assistant director Claire Denis, a woman that Godard would later be working with for more than two decades years. She is the special guest of the Pacific Film Archives program "Dancing with Light: The Cinematography of Agnès Godard"

In the special interview with Godard that follows for Movie Magazine, Godard reveals some of her thoughts that she presented in a special lecture on June 13 about her work as a cinematographer – especially the process in finding the right image. Six of her films as cinematographer were selected for the program and all directed by Denis except one. Beau Travail from 1999 is a homoerotic narrative about French legionnaires. Trouble Every Day from 2001 is about two men who keep their woman captive in the throes of sex addiction; one of them is the controversial Vincent Gallo. You know there is always a film at Cannes that makes someone faint or nauseous, and this was the film screened in 2001 that had that effect.

The Dreamlife of Angels (1998) is a portrait of two women on the edge of society. Compare that with Sister (2012)  about a brother and sister at the bottom of society that is who live at the bottom of a Swiss resort, directed by Ursula Meier and made last year.

Next Wednesday and Friday are the last two films in the program. 

On June 26 Nenette and Boni from 1996 will screen about two young teenagers amidst their sexual debuts and on Friday June 28 Shots of Rum, from 2008 is about a widower who is a conductor for the commuter train in Paris raising his daughter who is on her way out of the nest.  
This year at Cannes, Claire Denis film Bastards was presented in competition and behind the camera was Agnès Godard. It is Denis’ first digital film with the same artistic quality of her previous films. The erotic film noir features a tale of suicide and sexual abuse which Godard calls one of the director’s darker pieces. A loan shark has caused a family to go bankrupt, the father commits suicide and his daughter roams through Paris naked after a sexual assault. Lola’s mother calls her brother Marco to put things in place, and instead he falls in love with the girlfriend of the loan shark. 

Denis' last feature White Material (2009) stars Isabelle Huppert and is set in an undescribed African village, where pretty much the same kinds of intrigues take place on a plantation owned by a French family for centuries that unwittingly becomes the target of young rebel renegades involved a revolution. Godard who said she attended to her ailing mother during the time did not work on this picture.

Godard and Denis work together with a unified vision and after thirteen pictures together have arrived at a complicity that is impossible to separate. All of the films show the inseparable mastery of director and cameraperson.

Here now is Agnès Godard in an exclusive interview with Movie Magazine.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/17/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Frameline 37 Highlights

By Moira Sullivan
Opening film 'Concussion'

The Frameline LGBT film festival, the largest in the world.  will be held June 20 to 30 in San Francisco at the Castro, Victoria and Roxie Theaters and also in the Elmwood in Berkeley.

After the triumph of two gay films at the Cannes film Festival in May,  Frameline will screen romances, coming out stories, documentaries on the LGBT scene and films on the different LGBT populations, predominately gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender populations. This means that the film categories are divided into sexual preferences. 

There is a first feature and best documentary competition, to entice filmmakers; this is not only an audience award based public festival The best first feature brings with a cash prize of 7500. Two films have debuted at other festivals –Concussion at Berlin and Beyond the Walls at Cannes last year, a candidate for the Queer Palm Award.

Films that screen here are shown all around the world and this several films are from 2013. But, there is a caveat to this –some filmmakers do not want their films labeled as queer or gay and want their films to be just “films”. For example the winning Palme d’or film was made this year by director, Abdel Kerchiche, La Vie d'Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color) who said it was not a gay film, but "a love story". So in this respect Frameline is radical and necessary for LGBT affirmation. But we can have it all.

The opening night film , CONCUSSION , by Stacie Passon  is an example of a film that could might have started out at Frameline, if it was a festival that wanted to be a competitive in the festival arena. The film is about a woman in a same sex relationship that suffers a concussion and buys a condo where she begins a new life away from the routine of monogamy and a safe predictable job.

Here are some highlights for this year’s festival

Queer Asian Cinema

Frameline37 presents a showcase of queer Asian feature film cinema and program of shorts from China Nepal, Pakistan, The Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand---two films compete for the first feature award -  Two Weddings and a Funeral by Kim Jho and Gwang –Soo and Soongava – dance of the Orchids – directed by Subarna Tharpe. Don’t miss also the QWOCMAP – Queer women of color short program June 23 the best of that festival which will be held this weekend (June 14-16)  at the Brava Theater in San Francisco.

Also up this year are retrospective screenings of Jamie Babbit's 'But I'm a Cheerleader' 1999 and a 20th anniversary screening of Last Call at Maud's from 2013.

Babbitt’s 'Cheerleader' film is an amazing explosion of color and kitsch and a classic that takes up religious groups that try to reeducate gay people to become straight.

Jamie Babbit will also be honored as this year’s guest of honor with her latest film, a lesbian thriller Breaking the Girls (2012).

Maud’s was a famous San Francisco lesbian bar, and the city had several that closed and it’s just hard to figure out why there are so few bars for women anymore. After all it is San Francisco.

Don’t miss the documentary by Academy award winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman --The Battle of AmFAr on June 26, which focuses on the efforts of the late Elizabeth Taylor and Dr Mathilde Krim who founded Amfar in 1985 to empower the scientific community to fund Aids research.

Avant-garde filmmaker James Broughton is featured in a documentary by Stephen Silh, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon entitled Big Joy, the adventures of James Broughton. A native of Modesto, Broughton was a maverick of underground films and was in a long-term relationship for 25 years. Also of interest is The New Black about changing attitudes in the African American community about same sex marriage, an initiative that was not majorly supported in 2008 by the African American church when Prop 8 passed, directed by Yoruba Richen.

Next week more from the Frameline festival.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 06/12/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cannes Report 2 - 66th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

The least important aspect of the Cannes Film Festival for me is the parade of stars up the red carpet, and the parties in the beach tents at night. These events are however what pays for Cannes, in order to offer to film critics the very best of the year’s best films for review.  It takes some time to avoid all of this, but if you really try you can wind up sitting in one of the coveted seats of a new screening. This is because there is a division of badges for seating according to the quality of the venue you represent. This quality is measured in number of readers of your venue, and most important, corporate media status. The critics can make or break a film and the outreach of the corporate dailies attract readers. But I know how to be selective, and listen to the opinions of colleagues standing in line. Their opinions certainly steered me away from some films I had planned on attending.

There are 4,000 journalists and 12,000 buyers , who fill the coffers of this luxury beach town with an immaculate blue sea dotted by colossal yachts. I am glad the mayor of Cannes understands our importance  and invited accredited journalists of this year’s jury  to a traditional luncheon with fish and aioli . The jury was cordoned off and attended to my beefy guards and police who did not hesitate to shove anyone a millimeter from the staked out lunch table seating Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Christoph Walz and even veteran documentary filmmkaer Claude Lanzmann who was at Cannes with an out of competition film (The Last Unjust). The mayor and the Jury did not speak to us, but there was a photo op with a over 50 competing photogtaphera.  All of this competitives is what stresses out journalists—long lines, avoiding the fans who are there for the stars, cordoned off streets for  guests with invitations to the Red Carpet and premieres, and the line to get espresso inside the Palais de Festival. Celebrity news is exported by corporate media, however Cannes is so much more for the true cineaste.
At the event I met Dr. Christian Jungen whose doctorate is in cinema studies, the second doctor of philosophy I met among journalists in Cannes and there are certainly more. Jungen has written a book "Hollywood in Canne$, a love-hate relationship"that was considered one of the top 100 books on cinema studies in 2012 by the Association of International Film critics FIPRESCI. Christian Jungen, a leading Swiss film critic,wrote his thesis on the role of Hollywood in the foundation of the Cannes Film Festival, especially how later it orchestrated with the organizers to launch its blockbusters.  This is true to present day, as witnessed by the opening film "The Great Gatsby". But not only has Hollywood contributed to the festival but film critics, which is also discussed in Jungen’s book.

This year’s films were exceptionally good, and I will start off with the film that won the Palme d’or - La Vie d’Adèle - Blue is the Warmest Color  by the Franco tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche and actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Erachnopolous. In an unprecedented step, Jury President Steven Spielberg and his jury awarded not only the director but the actresses the Palme d’or. Of course this makes sense, and the jury had the intelligence to see that the craftsman of the film who created the composition of the frame could only have done so with the ambition and excellence of the actresses that put their raw emotions into the film. So director and actors were put in the same class as creators. 

Bravo to the 66th Cannes Jury. I was deeply  moved  by this film and saw that this was something different right from the initial scenes. For starters the director uses mostly medium closeups to tell his story about young people who march for educational reform, workers rights and gay pride. How they are impacted by their teachers and important philsophers and writers such as Satre, Pierre Canslet de Mirivaux, and Francis Ponge. How a good teacher engages students with dynamic lessons, the mobbing and romances outside of the classrorom, and the homophobia. In the middle of all this, are the incredible two young actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopolous who share an immediate attraction and embark on a passionate romance that includes explicit joyful love making on screen.  The expanse of their relatively short romance is slowly built up but  the is shown with frequent ellipses that lead to quick denoument or resolution and end. Its sad yet refreshing to note that it takes two people to make and break a relationship. But until the roller coaster ride hits reality bumps, this is one fantastic piece of cinema. 

The framing and use of the camera make it an exceptional piece and for myself, this film made the Cannes film Festival. It has been lauded by critics, who did not just cruise with a voyeur fantasty of two lesbians in bed but took notice that just as  heterosexuals, there is a lifestyle that is in the middle of the same kind of life we all share - meals, schools, friends, parents, children love. The director and actresses made this all possible. Not only the Palm d’Or but the FIRPESCI jury awarded this film best of all. 

Kechiche said that the film is not about homosexuality but love, echoed by Sedoux and Exarchopolous. Clearly they need to look at their own film again. Perhaps Kechiche is afraid of the film only playing to LGBT festivals but given the award from the hands of Spielberg and the overwhelming enthusiam in the Grand Lumiere Theatre when the award was announced, he had better rethink the message of his film.

Last week I interviewed the actors from "Stranger by the Lake" for Movie Magazine International  that won this year’s Queer Palm award, and also best directing by Alain Guiraudie. One exceptional review in Ecran Noir compares his work to the French direcotrs to Jean Eustache, Luc Moullet and Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu. French has a fantastic word that is seldom used in English :
'dithyrambique' or dithrambic  - a Dionysian tribute lauded on this French director , used in this review. Meaning France is the birthplace of cinema and the work of the masters are a blueprint by which each newcomer is judged. 

The short film directors are tomorrow’s leading auteur. When guest of honor Kim Novak awarded the Grand Prix to Llewyn Davis she said beforehand whoever one that prize would be standing behind an exceptional film, just as she did with Vertigo.

© 2013 - Your Name - Air Date: MM/DD/YY
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cannes Report 3 - 66th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

Opium directed by Arielle Dombasle

For the 50th anniversary of the death of Jean Cocteau, who was twice the president of the festival, a newly restored digitalization of Cocteau's beloved La Belle et Le Bête was screened as part of the Cannes Classics sidebar of the festival, followed by a dramatization of a party of his life. It is difficult to make a biopic about a legend such as Jean Cocteau who spent time in Côte d’Azur and painted frescos in a museum in nearby Villefranche sur Mer. To their credit, the ensemble cast tried to breathe life into a short history of the film poet in a creative assemblage of Cocteau’s life and words when he was an opium addict. The title of the film is therefore to the point: Opium. The film is directed by Arielle Dombasle with an excellent Grégoire Colin as Cocteau.

“Opium” focuses on Cocteau’s short relationship with the French author Raymond Radiguet (Sam Mercer), a young bon vivant with Arthur Rimbaud like behavior: wild, playful and promiscuous. The film suggests that Cocteau became an opium addict after Radiguet’s tragic death at age 20 from eating shellfish, but according to Radiguet’s biographer, he died of typhoid fever.

The beautiful actress Marisa Berensen as “La Marquise Casati” (from Cabaret 1972) is part of the elite crowd who surrounds Cocteau. One of Cocteau’s patrons, Marie-Laure de Noailles is played by Hèléne Filliéres, and Arielle Dombasle plays “Mnémosyne”. Other characters brought to life include Nijinski, Man Ray, Coco Chanel, Tristan Tzara, André Breton and Serge Diaghilev.  At this event I met the remarkable journalist, Nicole Gabriel for Jeune Cinema, a journal that began in 1964 to accompany the Jean Vigo Cinema Society for youth– The form is unique today –a large format in black and white, with no ads, which is rare in film criticism.

Another formidable side event at the festival is Cinéma de la Plage: Cinema on the Beach
Tippi Hedren in "The Birds"

A series of classic films are shown in open air on the Croisette and on closing night it was Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. This event must be attended on time, since once it starts no one is allowed to enter once the film starts but patrons huddle in the sand on the adjoining beachfronts and above on the sidewalk.

The immense size of the screen and the amplification of sound makes it an event that attracted regular patrons and pedestrians. The girders that support the screen are partly submerged in water close to the shore so it is an amazing screening.  It was comforting to hear the lines of Melanie Tippi Hedren informing Annie (Susanne Pleshette) that she just drove up from San Francisco and to see the beautiful nature of Bodega Bay, unencumbered at the time in 1960s by land development- This is an area that Hitchcock loved and his reverence shows. From the beach one could hear party music from the palatial beach tents on the Croisette and nearby docked yachts, all to disperse the morning after.

Cannes is a chaotic blend of stardom and opulence, commercial cinema and arthouse with moguls and cineastes and  devoted to both. For myself, It is truly a festival where it is possible to see great film and meet colleagues from around the world who join to celebrate cinema – what the Italian film theoretician Ricciotta Canudo  called the seventh art in a manifesto from 1911- an amalgamation of spatial arts architecture sculpture and painting with temporal arts dance music poetry. It is clear to me that all this can be experienced in Cannes.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Cannes

© 2013 - Movie Magazine International - Air Date:06/05/13
Movie Magazine International

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cannes Report 2013 - The Hunt

By Moira Sullivan 
Denmark has certainly become a conservative country of late with required language tests for foreigners and an ultra nationalist party in the parliament. Worse yet is the provincialism in the smaller islands, and The Hunt (Jagten in Danish) directed by Thomas Vinterberg is one of those areas. 
Maads Mikelsson plays Lucas, a man who has lost his job and who takes a position as a preschool teacher. In Sweden, male employees are not allowed with children, but in this Danish childcare center, they are. 
In a complicated set of circumstances involving Lucas’ school  and hunting buddies he finds himself the hero of a young preschooler who makes up the story that he has touched her improperly. Almost no one wants to believe him, especially his old friends. His relationship with his son is strained as a result. He becomes involved with Nadja, a woman of Polish descent (Alexandra Rappaport), before he is fired and although she believes his innocence there is still doubt. 
The film shows the systematic ostracization of Lucas from the community and his zapped energy in dealing with the torment and persecution. This escalates to the point of Lucas being assaulted in a market. What is amazing about this character is his endurance and even when he finds support he must always watch over his shoulder. 
Maads Mikelsson won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of Lucas. Thomas Vinterberg has succeeded in telling a convincing story with many facets without losing momentum. Dark secrets are common themes in his films and child abuse is one of his particular interests.  In Festen (The Celebration) from 1998  a son of a child molester confronts his father at a wedding. In The Hunt, the situation is reversed for although Lucas son must come to terms with the accusations against his father , Lucas must look inside himself for strength to stand up to his accusers.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 05/25/13
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cannes Report 1 - 66th Festival de Cannes

By Moira Sullivan 
Nearly 4,000 accredited journalists descend upon the city of Cannes for a week and a half of cinema magic and what looks like heavy rain for the first few days. The opening festivities for the 66th Cannes Film Festival revolved around the out of competition The Great Gatsby.

On May 20, the independent film company Troma, the oldest in the US with over 40 years of “reel experience”, proposes a manifestation outside the Carlton Hotel for the “Occupy Cannes team” to fight for the rights of independent filmmakers. Then, on May 21 there will be a mass demonstration in front of the Palais at 5.30 pm.

According to founder Lloyd Kaufman: “Troma’s goal is to spotlight the opportunity disparity between independent artists and mega-media corporations as it plays out at the Cannes Film Festival”. 
Today Troma sponsored a lesbian wedding on the beach as a gesture of celebrating marriage equality, an important issue for Occupy Cannes. Two actresses from “Return to Nuke ‘em High”- Catherine Corcoran and Asta Paredes tied the knot. The film will be screened in Marché du Film on May 21.

With some irony the Director’s Fortnight world premiere of “The Congress” directed by Ari Folman was screened tonight to an audience bearing umbrellas. It looks at the transformation of acting roles in the film business, particularly for women over 30. Robin Wright, who produced and stars in the film, plays a women in her forties whose only option is to allow her face and body to be scanned for use in synthetically created films, an advanced stage of motion capture.

Robin Wright, who plays herself in the film, is forced to choose between being scanned for motion capture for any conceivable future project or becoming obsolete in the film business. As a condition of her contract, she is forbidden from acting anywhere else. She signs, nudged by her agent played by Harvey Keitel. Wright’s decision to raise her children during her acting career angered the head of Miramount Theatres (Danny Huston). Twenty years in the future people either live as their “avatar” or age and experience natural death - “on the other side” of the fantasy world. Wright appears at a “Miramount -Nagasaki Congress” and confirms that her children are foremost in her life. The foreboding futuristic message of “The Congress” is created through animation and live action.

Earlier on the Croisette, Jennifer Lawrence appeared to promote “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, for Marché du Film, a film with another alarming futuristic message.

The Last of the Unjust was screened Out of competition by veteran documentary filmmaker Claude Lantzmann. His 3,5 hour epic documentary on the last Jewish elder of a town given by Hitler to the Jews, the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, was an important and challenging film to watch.  Lantzmann refuses to simplify his work and make it comfortable for his audience and so the length of the film was the time necessary to go back into this history. Lantzmann also revisits the Theresienstadt ghetto nearly 40 years later to present this account.

Most of the documentary consists of interviews from 1975 during one weekend in Rome with Lantzmann and Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. The rabbi worked for Adolf Eichmann from 1938 and was the person who did the logistics of the Final Solution, and the forced emigration of Austrian Jews from Vienna.

Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Inside Llewyn Davis has so far garnished the most points from selected journalists for “Screen”, the market journal that is most relied on at Cannes for film ratings. It is one of their least ambitious projects with the least to say, so it is unsettling that the film has become so popular. One reason could be the short scenes with punchy dialogue delivered by some excellent actors: Oscar Issac as Llewyn Davis and Carey Mulligan as Jean Berkey. But the substance of the dialogue is empty such as what a horrible man Llewyn is for getting Jean pregnant, and how there is no money in his music. Many scenes have to do with a cat that escapes from one of the sofas he crashes on as an underemployed musician. His life as a folk singer is unrewarding and he is about to escape to the Merchants Marine and pack it in. In the end, the emergence of Bob Dylan as a young folk singer with a ratchety voice and profound lyrics eclipses his career. 

Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw was also one of his least ambitious projects. He has made several films about serial killers, such as Ichi the Killer (2001), and Audition (1999) so he has a good background in presenting the psychology of the criminally insane assassin. Based on a novel by Kazuhiro Kiuch, a billionaire offers a huge reward for the execution of Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tesuya Fujiwara), the murderer of his granddaughter. The offer appeals to many low income and down on luck Japanese. Several attempts on the killer are made while police try to escort him to trial, including attempts by the police themselves. In this respect the film has something to say:  how far can someone go to defy the justice system with a vigilante reward, with more dead as a result. No one can be trusted and orders come from high up to execute the killer, since a condition for collecting the reward is that the government sanctions the execution. Fujiwara is excellent as the killer but in general there is far too much dramatic screaming going on in the film. Takashi was in attendance with his two actors Nanako Matsushima and Takao Osawa who play the two cops who try to bring in Kiyomaru for sentencing in defiance of the billionaire’s offer.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/21/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby'

By Moira Sullivan

Leonardo DiCaprio on the Red Carpet at Cannes (Anne-Christine Poujoulat (AFP)

The Great Gatsby belongs to America’s folklore. Is it any wonder that we are protective of it when it is recreated on film? Baz Luhrmann’s production is shot in Sydney all the way through and most of the actors are Australian, but it doesn’t matter, really, since most of the film is the result of elaborate special effects and the dialogue coaches did a great job. Fortunately Ziegfeld Follies in Times Square is spelled right in the film, though not in the trailer.

There is one aerial shot of New York, but mostly it’s a Sydney set.  In the beginning and even middle of the film, the cardboard city works, but towards the end it feels confining to be so far away from home. The ingenuity recreating this classic story by F. Scott Fitzgerald is enchanting – the mansions, New York and Long Island.  But the journey from Long Island to NYC and back is two black roads with a make believe Big Apple in the background. The artifice is heavy and faithfulness to the plot means that the ride back and forth from NYC is followed like a trail of breadcrumbs.  In between the Big Apple and the Long Island mansions is a run down little town where some of the more serious decadence of the film takes place.

The beauty of location shooting in Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 Gatsby is that it was filmed on Fifth Avenue, the Waldorf Astoria, Manhattan, New York and Rhode Island.  The beauty of Luhrmann’s production is that he had the fantasy and vision to recreate something without even being there. It is clear that his art direction staff will win awards for their inventiveness. Coppola based his script on Fitzgerald and Luhrmann’s Gatsby script is penned by himself and Guy Pierce based on the novel.

As for casting, most of the leads stand out especially Leonardo Di Caprio as Gatsby. His commanding performance will win over the audience as the poor suitor who believed he was God and whose destiny for being in the right place to rescue a rich sea captain was one of many fortuitous happenings. Even when fortune eluded him bootlegging put him in the right direction. It was however all done for one girl, Daisy, who he met before going off to war. Carrie Mulligan plays the girl and her acting is brilliant. Less convincing is Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway, the narrator of the story in voice over. He is supposed to be the guy in the wings as far as a character but he makes a dull impression gathering together the threads of the plot.

The direction of the film is captivating mostly in the beginning since audiences will love the spare no expense expanse of the set. As Fitzgerald wrote, it was a time when liquor flowed freely without restriction and all classes participated in its consumption.  Dialogue from the novel is of course a bit clichéd for example when Nick Carraway declares he is "going to get royally drunk". And there are just too many "old sport" comments by Leonardo’s Gatsby

Alcohol is a main character in the story—it is the impetus behind the wild parties, the infidelity, the free love and in the end a car accident and murder and of course how Gatsby acquired his wealth.

The Great Gatsby for the uninitiated is about a simple man from South Dakota with dreams. The class structure of the American society weighs heavily on anyone wanting to climb ahead even that is what so many wealthy citizens did, from everywhere, and lot of them through bootlegging such as John F Kennedy’s father and grandfather. But the disgrace of being poor is what keeps the Gatsby in place and defines his actions.

The segregation of whites and blacks is a minor point of the film where African Americans are used rather exotically to complete the setting: a trumpeter across the way in a small town, a carload of partiers off to New York, a woman hanging out of a window gazing at the city and dancing girls at clubs. These characters catch the eye of Nick Carraway but are not narrated. Segregation is known through dialogue not voice over, whereas class is given ample space.

The pull of Gatsby is in part because the alcoholic writer Fitzgerald spent time in Hollywood at lavish parties like the ones in the film. He called himself a Hollywood "hack" and here you can appreciate the irony of the title The Great Gatsby with "Great" added as an afterthought. In the end, the story teases about a wild life that looks exciting but is full of undercover crime, broken dreams and ruined lives. 

Baz Luhrmann's film opens the Cannes film festival on May 15 out of competition. The Great Gatsby will command the box office for its promises and inventiveness.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/15/13
Movie Magazine International