Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Diane Kruger wins best actress award at Cannes for 'In the Fade'

By Moira Sullivan

In the Fade by German director Faith Akin is a chilling tale on profiling new Nazi terrorism and hate crimes in Germany. Katja, (Diane Kruger), a young German woman loses her husband and young son in a bombing attack in Hamburg. She met her husband Nuri (Numan Acar), a Kurd of Turkish descent, as a student and bought hash from him. He was later imprisoned for selling drugs and made good use of his time learning business in prison. After his son Roco’s birth he gave up drugs.

In the opening scenes, Katja drops off her Rocco (Rafael Santana) with Nuri who has a small translation and tax business in the city. Moments before the blast, she notices a young white woman who parks her bike close to her husband’s office.

When Katja later learns her family is dead, she goes through a major breakdown. The misery which she endures seems relentless. Faith Akin reverently pays attention to every detail of the grieving process in this tragedy and how it is confronted by Katja with little solace for her pain.

Two Neo Nazi suspects are apprehended, the woman she saw before the blast and her husband. There is a lengthy trial Katja is advised not to testify by her lawyer Danilo (Denis Moschitto). Forensic evidence and clever arguments by the prosecution is weighed by the judge who makes a decision based on legal facts.

The film’s success rests on the performance of Diane Kruger who is able to navigate the shock of the devastation and its aftermath and the trial that determines the verdict for the crime. Katja’s lawyer. convinces her that they will win the case but the defense attorney has other plans. Later she is forced to investigate the married couple on her own which takes her to Greece where a witness for the defense lives.

In the Fade debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May and Faith Akin’s film stands out as one of the best of the Cannes selection. He has made a film close to him whose parents are Turkish and his films are often selected to film festivals such at Berlin and Cannes.

Update January 2018: At the Golden Globes on Jan 7 In the Fade won the best foreign language film of this year and both Akin and Kruger accepted the award. Seated at their table during the awards ceremony was Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival who was instrumental in bring the film to international attention and who Akin acknowledged from the stage for opening the door for this film. 
In the Fade has been nominated for best foreign language film for the 2018 Academy Awards.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/31/17
Movie Magazine International

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Coppola's 'The Beguiled' debuts at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan 

The promise of a new perspective with the remake of The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola caught the attention of film critics at Cannes in May where it debuted. It was a film that pretty much serviced the macho hired gun, San Francisco cop and spaghetti western cowboy Clint Eastwood in the 1971 version directed by Don Siegel.

Wounded Yankee soldier Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is discovered outside a girls boarding school in the South by one of the young women. The sheltered atmosphere of the school in the midst of a civil war gives the impression that these women have never seen a man before, one of the fantasies that is imbedded in the narrative and in the novel. Sofia Coppola claimed she was going to tell the story from the point of view of the women in the school. While it is true that Eastwood commands the screen, Colin Farrell was every much the same kind of character in every scene and everything is about him. He is rescued just like Eastwood and brought into the house and surely makes his way around gathering the attention of not only adolescent girls but the head teacher played by  Kirsten Dunst, school master Nicole Kidman and prize student the young Elle Fanning.

What Sofia Coppola won a best prize for at the Cannes Festival for what in French is called 
Prix de la mise en scène –that is the arrangement of the composition of the frame- the lighting, the setting, the costume and makeup, the movement of the characters and their facial expressions. It is a job that is done by individual people or crews and supervised by the director. Mise en scène  does not mean best director in English although the director is responsible for the entire production including the shots, editing, and sound.  A director in French is known as a réalisateur/réalisatrice. When accepting the award Coppola thanked Stacy Battat, her costume designer who also worked on The Bling Ring. This was televised on video since Coppola could not be at Cannes to pick up her award. The costumes were exceptional in the film and in the darkness are well lit by candlelight. 

The little ladies float graciously as young southern belles and they learned on set how to be gracious and courteous. Their good manners and Christian schooling puts them in the dangerous predicament for instead of being on alert with a wounded soldier in the woods, inviting him into the house. This is no different than in the 1971 version and novel. However, in the older version there is a black female slave employed in the house, Hallie played by Mae Mercer who is not in Coppola’s film. It's perplexing that she wasn’t there for the Civil War was fought over the abolition of slavery. But her presence in this white house with southern belles in white dresses was somehow that Coppola couldn’t afford in making her film. Kimberly Peirce (Boys don’t Cry, Carry) explained in San Francisco when Carrie debuted that in order to develop her main character there is only so much “real estate” –supporting characters - in a film to flesh out the story and reinforce the main character. She would have liked to have included women of color but did not. Coppola explains The Beguiled was a film about gender not about race. This was an obviously ignorant response and at present commands the social media in intense discussion. It is important to remember that this is a Hollywood film that perpetuates a dominant discourse where women are subordinate to men. What Coppola does in The Beguiled is to open this subject to internal contradiction where women have control over the Corporal. It is not without several of the women throwing themselves at his feet and fighting over him though out the film until he can protest no more.


© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/24/17

Movie Magazine International

Ruben Östlund's problematic "The Square" awarded Palme d'Or at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

Terry Notary's problematic ape mimicry 
The Square by Ruben Östlund from Sweden won the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes film festival. It is a film that will work best in Sweden since its provincialism will be better understood. Outside of Sweden it may seem like it is a provocative film because when the dialogue is translated it might make it seem better than it actually is. But I speak Swedish and was disappointed with the film for many reasons.

Let's start with the roles for women. Most of the women wear extremely high heeled shoes, even middle age women, and have minor roles as secretaries or assistants. The female executive director of the museum is ridiculed and called crazy. The major female role of the film, Anne, played by Elisabeth Moss is so ridiculous that it is hard to believe that she agreed to it. She plays a foreign journalist who lives with a chimpanzee shown in one scene applying lipstick to its nose, peripherally reinforcing Östlunds preoccupation with apes elsewhere in the film. Anne interviews the curator of a Swedish art museum, Christian (Claes Bang) and has only one question about the inherent contradictions of the current exhibition. Christian’s answer is over simplified and the example used to illustrate it condescending. Moss is briefly in the film for an acrobatic one night stand and forgotten about after than – an empty sign in a communication system composed of male artists. There is nothing innovative about the male gaze of this scene.

The actual goings on at the museum includes a character with Tourette syndrome who interrupts the face to face with the public and Julian, a visiting artist played by Dominic West, also briefly on screen. The cinematography is theatrical meant for the stage. The current museum run by Christian, called the "X Museum" is actually the Royal Castle of the Kingdom of Sweden. Some of the rooms are used for a heavy drinking party where Christian and Ann hook up, and also for a posh dinner. The second instance of the use of women as exchange objects occurs with the character of Oleg, played by Terry Notary who has done chimpanzee characters in blue screen for films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. You can clearly see Bright Eyes and Rocket in his role as a disturber at the dinner. Oleg hassles the guests such as Julian, but in particular a woman who is dragged by the hair across the floor in neanderthal fashion demonstrating his mastery over the female body, and is then attacked by the men in the room defending the white woman. (Oleg's ape mimicry is part of a video installation at the museum, not unlike the historic collections of apes and gorillas in collections).

The Square is part of an exhibition plan gone wrong where everything is allowed within the parameters of a "square" with "trust and care". The young media technicians hired to promote the exhibition decide to put a blonde child in the square and blow her up on YouTube. It  receives mega hits and causes a public outcry. This way of addressing the internal issues of Sweden by using indigenous Swedes (the young blonde child) to drive home the problems with immigrants is both shoddy and ostentatious. Östlund makes ample use of Rumanian gypsies in Stockholm as minor characters as well.

When Christian’s phone is stolen it is located in a suburb through a trite plot device - a "find my phone" app. To find the actual thief, he puts an accusatory and reprimanding letter in every person’s mailbox in the building demanding it be returned to a "7-11" near the central train station in Stockholm. A young immigrant boy shows up to demand an apology for the letter.

It turns out that The Square is far from the subject of trust and care and is more concerned with breaking boundaries and abuse within a trendy, clichéd art world told through the megamania of modern gadgets such as cell phones apps and YouTube. Östlund's problematic "imperial gazing"  of a culture ("white, Western, male, and heterosexual, privileging the gaze of the 'master subject' over others") looking at its own subcultures, his representation of women and his fascination with apes - Ann's pet, and Terry Notary's ape mimicry - the film's poster icon - is disturbing dramatic filler for a film awarded a Palme d'Or.

Östlund, Bang, Notary and Moss at Cannes in May.

When accepting his award at Cannes on May 28,  Östlund demanded that the cameras be directed toward the audience who he instructed to give a loud cheer.  Neither the cameras nor the audience did as he requested, at which point he announced, "I am the director, you have to do what I say".  They complied, however reluctantly, but it was an uncomfortable moment for many at the final ceremony of the 70th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

Östlund has been incorrectly compared to Bergman by critics who have not done their research,  for the only thing the two have in common is that they are directors from Sweden. However,  a Swedish director that comes to mind is Roy Andersson with his tableaux arrangement of vivid and unique scenes with organic unity. Andersson's  award winning films (Songs from the Second Floor, 2000) come from years of making television commercials. Alas, The Square is an attempt to refine staged scenes within a hubristic facade of thematic development.

Ruben Östlund's fascination with apes
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/16/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

70th Festival de Cannes - a notable showcase

By Moira Sullivan

The 70th Festival de Cannes is notable in one respect, it has a reputation to showcase quality. Of 22 films, only three are made by women who have proven themselves at Cannes by being previously selected and will continue to be accepted. Getting into that revered spot is one of the mysteries of the selective process, and when doing so you must retain the reverence that got you there to begin with.

Quality and equality are two themes that were discussed at seminars on women in film sponsored by the "Swedish Film Institute" and "Women and Hollywood". We have entered the age of Video on Demand (VOD), and streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are now in the competitive market for awards. One of the opening films Wonderstruck by Todd Haynes was produced by Amazon based on the novel by Brian Selznick about two young children growing up in different times that wish their lives had turned out differently. Another early film at the festival is Okja from Korea produced by Netflix about a young girl who takes care of a very large animal until a conglomerate decides to transport it to the New York. 

Jane Campion and Ariel Cliemans’s Top of the Lake China Girl , second season also debuted at Cannes starring Elizabeth Moss. Moss is featured in the official competition film The Square by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, whichs stands out as being one of the top films and prime contenders for the Palme d’Or. The absence of women directors at Cannes paved the way for the inclusion of this television series by Palme d’Or winner Jane Campion, the only woman ever to have done.

I looked forward to seeing Takeshi Miike’s 100th film - Blade of the Immortal, and was sadly disappointed. In order to relate a tale of an immortal male warrior, Miike starts off with a battle scene in black and white cinematography that will later repeat in color – a master swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) single handedly kills a mob of countless warriors led by the dastardly Anotsu – (Sota Fukushi) that have murdered his sister Rin (Hanna Sugisaki. The frequent samurai grunts, sounds of clashing blades and battle scenes almost seem as if they will never end.

Le Redoutable, the name of an historic French submarine, is the title for Michel Hazanavicius film on the gradual drowning of an 11 year relationship that began between Jean Luc Godard when he was 37 and Anne Wiazemsky , who was 17. Louis Garrel plays Godard and Stacy Martin plays Wiazemsky. From the beginning it is clear that Anne worships Godard and is content with being in his shadow but as he surmises in the beginning, she will eventually leave him. The main point of the film is how Godard might have transitioned from a filmmaker who made “fun films” like Breathless,  more intelligible films such as Contempt to the didactic and difficult political tableaux films like Tout Va Bien.

To compensate from some of the theatrical antics or difficult emotional states that films set out to portray this year, iFaces/Places by Agnes VArda and JR- was a delightful out of competition film. The two artists with 50 years between them set out to create open air photography and paste huge photographic murals on edifices such as cargo ship crates, or a condemned housing area where miners used to live in a small village in France. The interaction between the two artists is playful and contemplative. Probably the one mistake Varda makes is in bringing JR to meet Jean Luc Godard, an old friend that unsparingly doesn’t open his door.

There are always surprises at Cannes at this very French film festival that make up for the serious tone of the competition – a musical Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc by French director Bruno Dumont, and another musical comedy on Notre Dame de Paris inspired by the novel by Victor Hugo based on the successful production in the French theatre.

Next week more from the Cannes Film Festival.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/24/17
Movie Magazine International

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rare Noir at the San Francisco Roxie


Silvana Mangano and Doris Dowling in "Bitter Rice"

By Moira Sullivan
The second series of A Rare Noir is Good to Find screens at the Roxie May 5 through 8. Programmer Don Malcolm brings us 11 films on international noir from the 1950’s. Countries include Egypt, Eastern Europe, Latin America the Far East and Western Europe. During this postwar period, there are many commonalities in these films that are evident in classic noir.

On May 5, CAMINO DEL INFIERNO (The Road to Hell - 1951, Mexico) features a femme fatale Mexican actress Leticia Palma as Leticia. She wants expensive jewelry and furs and is lovers with Tony who works for gang boss León. There are many twists to the plot including betrayal, and a missing hand.

No film better addresses the excesses of lawlessness than IN THE NAME OF THE LAW (In Nome Della Legge - 1950, Italy) screening on May 6. Directed by Pietro Germi the film stars Massimo Girotti as the newly installed judge in a small Sicilian village - Guido Schiavi. The people are described as descendants of ancient customs that outsiders don’t understand but several captains patrolling the area with guns on horseback are not hard to figure out. This film surely influenced Coppola’s The Godfather II starring Al Pacino. Pietro Germi is a skilled director and the film is one of the best at this series of noir films.

On May 7, STRANGE ENCOUNTER screens (Estranho Encontro - 1958, Brazil) directed by Walter Hugo Khouri. This is another film that pulls you in instantly. Marcos (Mário Sérgio) driving on a country road is stopped by the figure of a woman, Julia (Andrea Bayard). falling on top of the hood of his car, her heels sliding from underneath her feet. She seems to come from nowhere but is actually the girlfriend of a man with an amputated leg she wants to escape, that she met in the clock shop where she works – Hugo (Luigi Picchi) .

Also on May 7 is BITTER RICE (Riso Amaro - 1949, Italy) directed by Giuseppe De Santis. the most handcrafted and compelling film of the series starring Silvana Mangano as the femme fatale Silvana and Doris Dowling as Francesca. The film is set in the North where every year women arrive to plant rice and take home some of it to their villages. They are paid workers and class differences between paid workers and scabs or the illegals are made clear. Yet the women tend to unify. Silvana refuses the advances of Marco (Raf Vallone), a soldier she grew up with and Francesca has fallen in with the petty thief Walter (Vittorio Gassman.)

On May 8 films from Japan and South Korea known for high quality technical achievements make for excellent noir.

CASH CALLS HELL (Gohiki No Shinshi - 1966, Japan) is directed by Hideo Gosha. Tatsuya Nakadi, plays a broken man who had it all – the boss’s daughter, the company car, a pension, a good salary and a lover who grabs the steering wheel sending him into a swerve that mow down a man and his daughter. While in prison he is contracted to kill three men when he gets out.

THE HOUSEMAID (Hanyo - 1960, Korea) is by Ki-Young Kim. The head of nuclear family reads in the news about a housemaid that seduces the master of the house and brings him to ruin. This foreshadowing continues and puts his family on the edge. 

These and more films at the Roxie 5-8 May.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 05/03/17
Movie Magazine International