Wednesday, September 23, 2015

72nd Venice Film Festival, Report 2

Agnès Varda, moderator, Alice and Alba Rohrwacher ©Moira Sullivan

By Moira Sullivan
72nd Venice Film Festival, Report 2

The Venice Film Festival is one of the oldest in the world yet every festival needs to update to remain vital. This year festival president Alberto Barbera was aware that young people don’t seem to come to the festival enough because there aren’t enough activities for them: parties, mingling opportunities, hangouts. One Italian festival that has successfully enlarged on this concept is the nearby Udine Far East Film Festival in the Veneto region, this year taking out a full-page ad in the pricey daily trades. The average filmgoer in Udine is under 30 and there are quite a few opportunities to attend parties and gatherings.  What does this have to do with a film festival? The party angle of a festival makes it festive. Venice now competes with the Rome Film Festival and the former director of the Venice Fest, Marco Müller , was the first president. He brought an artistic spirit to the Venice festival before he left and held a doctorate in Asian studies. Under his direction Venice featured world premieres and the Orizzonti section of innovative film work was created. And with him, the Veneto region festivals in Udine and Venice became known for presenting quality Asian cinema.

President Barbera, like Mueller has an academic background and is also a film critic. But are artistic directors responsible for the rise and fall of a film festival. This year Muller served out his three-year contract and resigned from Rome while the festival lost thousands of attendees. Each year he tried a new concept under the instruction of this bank financed corporate festival. One larger reason for failing audiences is that festivals now compete with VOD such as Netflix that presented a film in the official selection this year- Beast of Nations. Abraham Attah who played a child soldier in the film won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor. After the world premiere, the film goes to VOD. In the Venice Days parallel section a trailer was shown before each film about the decline of cinema houses with the advancements of VOD. So if young people are the major consumers of cinema today they are indulging in the current ways of screening films.  It was still refreshing to have this message in an innovative trailer encouraging people to go to the cinema just as what happened with the advent of television in the 1950s. International film critics draw attention to the films and have the same interests in the screenings as the festival directors who create the lineups. The rest is commerce with expected visits by the actors and directors of the studios that finance the films.

The festival this year had some nice moments but there were not as many exceptional films as I have experienced in past festivals in Venice. My favorite film of the festival won won best debut film and best director in the Orizzonti section : “Childhood of a Leader” by Brady Corbet. The film had all the distinguishing featues of excellent cinema, acting performances by Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Liam Cunningham, Bérénice Bejo and Tom Sweet, soundtrack by Scott Walker and cinematography by Lol Crawley. This young 26-year-old director chose to film in 35mm and with all the digitalization of film today this was an intriguing decision.

In keeping step with Cannes that introduced the Kering Talks for women in film sponsored by a luxury firm, Venice presented Miu Miu tales for women sponsored by the fashion corporation. Agnès Varda and Alice Rohrwach were special guests who presented short films that were noteworthy for their innovation, and a step above a lot of the films at this festival.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/23/15
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

72nd Venice Film Festival, Report 1

Childhood of a Leader

By Moira Sullivan
72nd Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival runs from 2 – 11 September and this is a first report from Lido where the festival is held every year. For me the highlight of the festival has come and gone and that was meeting Agnès Varda. As part of the "Miu Miu Women's Tale"s seminars, Agnès along with Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher and sister Alba sat on a panel discussing their work. Agnès likes to say that she has an entire zoo of film awards, such as a Berlin Bear, a Golden Lion and now an honorary Palme that she was given at May at the Cannes film Festival. Agnes and Alice both made short films that differ as far as art direction but involve groups of girls. Agnès' 3 bottons is a fairy tale about a young girl who loses three buttons and is given three wishes. The same concept is present in Alice Rohrwacher ‘s De Djess about a woman who tries on dresses that were found in the sea. Both directors don’t want to label themselves as 'women filmmakers' but 'filmmakers' and do not want their work marginalized. Showing films at a big film festival is a way to get known. Agnes mentioned that her films didn't make much money but was honored that so many women know about her work! Best day at Venice Film Festival!

Also one of my favorites at the festival that was screened on Sept 5 "The Danish Girl" debuted as part of the "Venezia 72" official lineup. Alicia Vikander is brilliant in her role. Since she is referred to as "The Danish Girl" in dialogue, Tom Hooper's film also appears to be about her character.

Based on the novel by David Ebershoff with same title, Vikander plays Gerda Marie Fredrikke Gottlieb, a Danish illustrator who marries Einar Wegener, beautifully played by Eddie Redmayne. Einar becomes the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film is set in the 1920's in Copenhagen and Paris.

Vikander's support and dynamic effervescence makes her a scene-stealer even if the transformation of Einar to Lili is all encompassing. Eddie Redmayne convincingly demonstrates the heart-wrenching personal dilemma that leads Lili to evolve. Both Gerda and Lili embark on odysseys ripe with awakenings and their shared journey is deeply felt because of the sensitive nature of the performances by Vikander and Redmayne.

As far as Venice is concerned, a note of interest: Gerda illustrated "Une Aventure d'Amour à Venise di Casanova" in 1927. The gondola porters claim to gullible tourists that Casanova lived in the same house Venice where they have their hotels.

The current frontrunner esteemed by Italian and international film critics also screened on Sept. 4 in the official competition “Venezia 72” - “Francofonia” by Russian director Alexander Sokurov.

The film has an interesting premise but does not live up to its promises either historically or cinematically. Sokurov postulates that WWII France and Germany were akin to two "warring siblings" who remained united on familial obligations, namely for the subject of his film, the preservation of art in “ark like” museums

"Francofonia" begins with spectacular footage of a Russian freighter – an ark-like vessel transporting art over the sea. The container is at peril.The commander of the vessel is communicating with Sokurov via the internet but he loses contact with him. We never learn what happens to this voyage but it parallels what might have happened had all the art in the Louvre been highjacked. Sokurov uses voiceover except during the fictional sections of his film. As in his other films he takes on historical figures. There is Nápoleon (Vincent Nemeth) who filled his 'ark' with looted treasure from campaigns in Egypt for the Louvre spurred on by the red capped Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes), symbol of his triptych for European unification - "liberté, égalité, fraternité".

The "warring siblings" are Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), curator of the Louvre during the war and Nazi Occupation officer Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath). Sokurov advances the idea that without the Louvre, there would be no France

Now to my favorite film of the festival , on Sept 5 "Childhood Of A Leader" was screened a profoundly artistic film by Brady Corbet. It is a strong candidate for a top prize in the Orizzonti competition dedicated to films with the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema. "Childhood of a Leader" is fictional story of an American boy (Tom Sweet) living in France in 1918. His cruel and absent father works for Woodrow Wilson and his mother (Bérénice Bejo) treats servants as commodities. The father (Liam Cunningham) wants to try for a girl because his son won't let him bully him and besides that, sports long hair and wears dresses. The boy later grows up to be one of the emerging dictators of Europe.

The film is divided into three sections basically having to do with the boy's tantrums. Example: "1st Tantrum: Signs of Things to Come", which involves an issue where the boy throws stones at parishioners after an evening of Christmas caroling in the village church. (Corbet read that Mussolini, who also had long hair, had done the same thing as a young boy). He is taken to see the village priest with his mother and asked to apologize. His response is that he didn't hit the priest. The situation degenerates with staff doing unforgivable things to the mistress, merely trifles, but her sternness to them is indication of the blunt and forceful way her husband treats her. He in turn is under the thumb from a lot of politicking that is forging a new Europe. His son disturbs him because of his lack of obedience. But he truly is a remarkable child who shuts himself in his room and studies French on his own, without his tutor, who he dismisses because of not actually needing her.

The new soundtrack by Scott Walker evokes "Mad Max Fury Road" by Junkie XL and is based on Jean-Paul Sartre's short story on the birth of fascism , as is the film’s title. Brady Corbet has made a masterpiece. Next week more from the Venice film festival.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/09/15
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Adele Hasn't Had Her supper Yet/Dinner For Adele

Monica Sullivan

 This charming film from Czechoslovakia, a surprise hit at international film festivals, is inspired by the Nick Carter detective stories which enjoyed a vogue at the turn of the twentieth century. "Adele Hasn't Had Her supper Yet/Dinner For Adele" is about a man-eating plant, some early flying machines, a mad scientist, a sane scientist, a delightful strudel of a girl who makes terrific strawberry dumplings, a fat detective and, last but not least, the famous slender detective Nick Carter whose motto is "Always prepared!" How do they all fit together?  Hopefully, a shrewd American distributor will acquire the video rights, so more viewers will have the fun of discovering Adele all over again. Adele is the animated plant.  The wonderfully capable Czech actor Michal Docolomansky plays Nick Carter.

© 1997 - Monica Sullivan
Movie Magazine International

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Quiz Show - Movie Review

By Monica Sullivan

The world has restored its lost innocence so many times throughout recorded history that I always worry what the hell is meant by that meaningless phrase "a more innocent time".  A more unconscious time, maybe?  A more oblivious time?  In the case of the quiz show scandals of the late fifties, I'm inclined to think so.  Advertisers who had already drummed real or imagined commies out of the television industry, were quick to realize that enormous ratings meant increased sales of their products.  It was a short hop from that realization to their decision to dictate programming content.  What was cheaper to produce or more profitable than a game show?  But you couldn't have just anyone guessing who was the world's fastest land animal, it had to be someone that consumers would tune in to watch week after week.   Big surprise.

The quiz shows were rigged so they would seem like real contests, not scripted entertainment.  Robert Redford's 1994 film "Quiz Show" skillfully recreates the manufactured excitement of that brief era.  The focus of the story is on Herbert Stempel and Charles Van Doren, two contestants who willingly took dive after dive for big bucks.   Even 37 years later Van Doren's fall from grace seems far more poignant.  He came from a large literary family.  He was young, gifted and single.  He was an intellectual role model for kids, as if the makers of Geritol gave a hoot about that.  Redford lovingly focuses on the elegant Van Doren family picnics presided over by the regal Paul Scofield and Elizabeth Wilson.  As played by Ralph Fiennes, young Charles in every way is the ideal heir apparent.  In contrast, John Turturro plays Stempel like a cockroach:  Invasive, sleazy, and in every way an unsightly nuisance.  Even confronted with the reality that both men did essentially the same thing, Van Doren claimed national sympathy then and now.    Of course the world was 99% male then.

Left out of the "Quiz Show" story, even marginally, are the facts that the quiz shows put Dr. Joyce Brothers on the map when she honestly answered every imaginable question about boxing.  Or that a female contestant won nearly twice as much as Van Doren, or that entertainment personalities like Xavier Cugat and Patty Duke admitted that they'd been coached before their game show appearances, too.  Well, you can't say everything in a movie and the acting in this one is splendid, but the film's theme that both bugs and lions alike yield to temptation is a bit thin for its weighty treatment.  Or, maybe we're all too cynical to react to the stunning realization that a monolith like television could ever be dishonest, with anything but a shrug.

© 1994 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 09/14/94
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Raoul Peck drama, 'A German Youth' and Tsui Hark thriller - San Francisco In'tl Film Festival final week

The Taking of Tiger Mountain, Tsui Hark's latest epic

By Moira Sullivan

The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 7 and there are many exceptional films that will be screened in the final week.

Tsui Hark’s “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” on April 30, a political thriller set at the end of World War II.  In this narrative, the mission of People’s Liberation Army Captain Shao Jianbo (Lin Gengxin) is to take Tiger Mountain, once occupied by the Japanese and now the territory of a bandit king named Hawk (played by Tony Leung Ka-fai). The big budget film features 3D and CGI special effects-  

A brilliant documentary “A German Youth” directed by Jean-Gabriel Periot, a French –German-Swiss co-production screens on May 2 and 5th at Sundance Kabuki. It chronicles the conditions in West Germany in the 60’s and 70’s and protests by German youth against the state. Such a time created the Red Army Faction and the Baader Meinhof Gang.  Ulrike Meinhof was an established journalist who later became a spokesman for the left and participated in political violence against the state. She has claimed to have killed herself in a German Women’s Prison. This has since been disputed and is the subject of Uli Edel's “The Baader Meinhof Complex “(2008).

The director uses archival footage extensively for this portrait of the resistance of German youth to an authoritarian state. He begins with showing the efforts of young film students who were accepted to the DFFB - German Film and Television Academy Berlin, which was founded in 1966 as the first film school in West Germany. Thirty students, selected from over 800 applicants were the first students.  This work was produced in the spirit of the work of the Russian revolutionary filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Holger Meins, one of the members of the Baader Meinhof group, was one of the first students. 

"A German Youth" shows the work of these filmmakers who used film as a political tool to chronicle their society, to protest again housing problems, the mass media, and in particular instance the visit of the Shah of Iran to Berlin when the Iranian officials and the German police beat student protestors. It was this particular action which deeply affected Ulrike Meinhof and she later joined with Andreas Baader and Gudrun Esslin. 'A German Youth ' is a fascinating documents and one of the best films at this festival.
"Murder in Pacot" by the renowned Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck will screen on May 2 at the Pacific Film Archives.  Peck’s film is based on the screenplay by Pier Paolo Pasolini for Theorem from 1968.  In the background of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, a well off couple rents out their home and resigns themselves to living in the back of the house in a shed. Their tenant is a European aid worker who comes to Haiti to assist in earthquake rescue operations.  He is soon visited by his vivacious girlfriend. His presence in the house can be likened to the role of Terence Stamp as The Visitor in Theorem, a mysterious houseguest that involves everyone who lives under the roof of his host. 

On Saturday April 25 the epic indie film of the late Barbara Loden was screened at the Castro Theater. The 16 mm film was restored into a 35mm print and is a cinema verité masterpiece– a film shot improvisationally and for Loden a semi biographical portrait of poverty and a woman’s survival. Then film is grainy yet vivid and chronicles the events of a housewife who has lost her husband and kids in a divorce case and becomes a drifter. Dependent on the generosity of anonymous men, she clings to each encounter for survival, including a robber who is going to pull a bank heist. Loden, who plays the main character Wanda, is brilliant and her ability to create such a realistic character is exceptional. The setting of the film is Scranton Pennsylvania and it is mostly a road movie. The San Francisco International Film Festival made a smart choice in screening this film that has been forgotten for years in the US and neglected in film history.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 04/28/15

Movie Magazine International

Saturday, April 25, 2015

San Francisco Int'l Film Festival - classic and new work abounds in 58th edition

Barbara Loden's 'Wanda' (1970)
By Moira Sullivan

The 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival will be held April 23 through May 7. This is the 58th edition of the event and 181 films will be screened—features, documentaries, shorts and special events. Here are some the highlights of this festival organized by the San Francisco Film Society and some of the exceptional films.

This year the "Golden Gate Persistence of Vision" Award honoring the achievements of a filmmaker working in non-narrative film goes to British veteran and documentarian Kim Longinotto. She has an ambitious line of work behind her that chronicles the lives of women. Her latest film "Dreamcatcher" focusses on Chicago’s sex workers and the work of Brenda Myers Powell who counsels and encourages the women to respect themselves. She is shown speaking with teenagers, women on the street and incest survivors. The film will be screened May 2, 2015 in the presence of the filmmaker at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.

On May 3 and 4 the documentary "Deep Web" screens at the Kabuki and focuses on the San Francisco-based Ross Ulbricht, allegedly the creator of the online black market website the Silk Road who is alleged to be "Dread Pirate Roberts". Little known to most of us, roughly 95 % of internet users  surf the interne above another encrypted layer called "The Deep Web "where cyber criminals and anonymous surfers roam. Filmmaker Alex Winter will attend the festival on May 3 and 4 and is an advocate for the free web, and if you think you are free on the net, "Deep Web" will make you think twice.

I would like to also recommend Barbara Loden's 1970 classic "Wanda" which will be screened April 25 at the Castro. The 142-minute 35mm film has been newly restored and is a masterpiece, the story of a divorced woman who hooks up with small time crook and is talked into pulling a bank job with him. The film was shot on 16mm and is an example of the cinema verité style of the time.   Loden who plays Wanda was a notorious anti Hollywood filmmaker  married to the controversial director Elia Kazan.

"Wanda" won the Pasinetti Award for best foreign film at  the 31st  Venice Int'l Film Festival but despite critical acclaim, it opened only for a limited engagement in a NewYork theater the following year. Although forgotten in the US, the flame continued to burn in Europe. Loden was to have appeared at the Deauville American festival in 1980 but died before flying to the event. Film theoretician Gilles Deleuze wrote that a filmmaker is not so much of an artist but a thinker, and Barbara Loden is such an example.

On April 25 and 28 is the documentary "The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution" which takes at look at the Black Panther party of the 60’s and their program of radical change following years of police brutality, poverty and discrimination of the African American community. The film looks at some of the lesser-known members of the organization, many of which were women. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson and members of the Black Panthers will attend the April 25 screening at the Kabuki.

Next week more from the San Francisco International Film Festival!

© 2015- Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/22/15
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Isabella Rossellini is coming to the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival

Isabella Rossellini's new love affair 

By Moira Sullivan

Isabella Rossellini has had a long-term love affair with insects and animals.  She is the daughter of the Swedish screen actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. Isabella went back to school after a successful career as a model for Lancôme and a motion pictures actress. One of her major roles was in David Lynch’s "Blue Velvet" made in 1986. 

Isabella studied animal behavior ecology and conservation after these careers in order to be well acquainted with her subjects.  First she made 40 short films , which she called "Green Porno", then she did theater presentations written with Jean-Claude Carrière. After that she wrote a book about the sex life of animals and finally a film made by Judy Shapiro chronicles this work.
This documentary will be presented at the San Francisco Int'l Film Festival ("Green Porno" Live!) that runs from April 23–May 7. The film will be screened April 26 and April 27 in the presence of Isabella and the filmmaker.

Isabella is Italian but her voice clearly evokes her famous mother. She is an excellent actress and speaker and her projects are engaging, powerful and truly exciting. Shapiro’s film chronicles Rossellini’s  experiences with various creative teams who help her to produce her show, consultants who introduce her to animals, clips for her very successful short films and theatrical presentations of her work. She plays the animals, she plays Darwin, and she plays aspiring mates for elk. She plays a hermaphrodite, a transsexual  and a parthonogenic virgin reproducing female.   How can animals , be all heterosexual, she wonders as her adventures into animal behavior celebrate their diversity.

Above all Isabella Rossellini is an extraordinary teacher who is able to captivate her audiences, especially with her witty intelligent way of expression and brilliant stage performances.
Next week more from the San Francisco International Film Festival.

© 2015 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 04/15/15
Movie Magazine International