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