Saturday, March 26, 2011
The last third of the film Match Point is one of the only good things Woody Allen has ever done.
I tend to fall in the Rosenbaum school on the Woody weigh ins: that he is good only at copying other ideas and at amassing groups of talented collaborators.
Here is the first point in the film when i felt any measure of pathos. A verifiable tennis match has commenced. It is one based more on sound than on image. To get rid of sound, one attacks the opponent and achieves silence. A pregnant noise, one that intimates an image that will also have to be hidden, but has not yet grown visible. Yes, Johansson's 'Lola' is hysterical, mocked and morally judged for her sexuality.
That said, she, and Allen's portrayal of her, is honest. She is louder and more forward because she has been injured, and "she" includes more than herself. Rhys-Myers' character may regret his transgression, but Johansson's owns hers and is now morally committed to living for two. Rhys -Myers and Allen's solution is to commit to erase what is in the process of loudly becoming unignorable. What is a man to with such a loud problem?
Smash that noisemaker until it breaks.
I've also just watched Manon 70, a film where Jean -Claude Brialy 's character comments, to Sami Frey's character, about a room of beautiful women, that "They've all been cheated on. They all have been...and they'll all continue to be. Unless they die. They've all been cheated on. So unless you live on another planet, everybody gets cheated on. That's the 20th century for you. But you, the difference between you and them, is that you haven't been cheated on." The issue of betrayal seems less notable for its temporal and planetary occurence and more striking as a crime that men are still free to commit against women. Gendered tennis ... Men: score. Women: love.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Having just rewatched what i view as Maren Ade's masterpiece, Forest for the Trees ( Der Wald vorlauter baumen), I'm reflecting on the thin line a filmmaker must walk in depicting self harming protagonists. Is it situational or inescapable psychological pain that continually brings these figures into situations worthy of private shame and our shared, spied pity?
As viewers are we invited to pass judgment? Do we, as witnesses, become the tape that seals up these lost memories that made these characters blind to the path of love and pride?
I'm reading John Ward's 1968 book Alain Resnais or the theme of time, and in describing Seyrig in Muriel, Ward writes of the gaps in time that painful memories wall us into. "She has no durational sense and in fact, is not free....she does not live as she would in conformity with a continuous view of her past and present... As Bergson says: 'We are free when our acts spring from our whole personality...'" (p. 74)
Ade's film, surprisingly akin to Resnais', denies analysis yet engrosses us with a pitiful female protag through it's provocative sense of duration, memory denied, and of one's personally turbulent experience of time.
Forest for the Trees provides no psychological causality. Our focus is what we sense as immediate, we are denied access to Melanie's past. The pity the viewer feels for Melanie has separated us from her, preceding her own shame. Following her blind descent down a rabbit hole, our sense of Melanie is an isolated series of incidents, with increasingly awkward moments and Melanie's escalating reactions. A singular path cleared in the forest; excluding anything but the general trajectory that pummels Melanie towards disaster's way.
But in this movement towards intensification, the film has now gained the shape of a circle, inviting a clear figure with which to witness which point is the birth and which point is the death.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Sunday, March 13, 2011
I've just left Walter Reade at Lincoln Center, and for the time i was there, a pin perfect sound system exploded the room with an incessant yet backgrounded guttural throb. I felt the seats vibrate the entire 86 minutes of the film, much like the surge of energy that coincides with the ignition of a motor at the start of a road trip. I've come from a screening of Ange Leccia's Nuit Bleue, billed as a view from the current avant garde French Cinema, in a special experimental section (curated by the unparalleled Nicole Brenez) of Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual "Rendez Vous with French Cinema" series.
The film opens with a shot framed just above a small island off Corsica. It looks like a giant green hill stuck smack dab into an endless blue sea. An almost eerily organic image, except the island has one major road going straight down the middle, another one off to the right-hand side. A car drives down the road in the center, and then there is a major explosion.
Cut to Paris, France. We follow a beautiful female tour guide in the Louvre. The onscreen action intimates she's received upsetting news of a loved one, and then she is off to this island, one we seem to encounter from her travels and her perspective, but this is actually untrue. We experience the filmmaker's closely controlled idea of her perspective, an exteriorized view of emotional impressions and visions, and this is the duality that is the greatest sense the film has left me with. (For better and for worse.) It seems that this protagonist of ours is not just journeying, but also returning, as we later see her reunited with island people who know her. I came across a clear sense of both being foreign and familiar, and the uncanniness of this position.
There is a major aural component to Nuit Bleue, a film which illustrates romance, mourning, familial identity and nationalist politics by way of clear yet elusive visuals and a restless, complicated soundtrack. The film is both agricultural and post industrial, like "the plant of a factory" it is supported by metal; an industrialized score completes the core structure and sonic layering; in explosive moments actual songs come out of its pipe-- their range covers the following: ethnic dirges, an erotic video set to a sexy dancey pop song and the retro romance of Serge Gainsbourg (a la his Anna Karina duet- Ne Dis Rien, "Don't Say a Word"...)
This experience of SENSE, a major part of what it is to sit and watch and hear Nuit Bleue, is unique in its distraction as both the strength and weakness of Leccia's film. It can account for the most singularly experienced moments; political or cereberally aesthetic in idea, yet physically emotional in their reception. There is a sequence in the film, almost romantic in its visual economy and silent poetry, where our female protagonist is traveling, on a ship, out to the island. The sequence is made up of carefully framed shots of the sea and its waves, a painstaking color palette that showcases every type of blue in the water and any bit of orange and yellow in the woman's hair as it's lit by the sun off the sea. Shortly after these scenes, another wordless sequence follows her as she explores onland, slow and ethereal, her progress is suddenly impeded by a bomb exploding. The force of it's fire suddenly thrusting her down off a hill, returning closer to the water. This is the film at its best.
At its worst, a single frame or a single sequence goes for the overlay of images or ideas with the painstakingly planned approach of Late Career Godard, but without the rich well of cinema history that Godard is able to draw from.
There are moments of intense material beauty; stemming from elegantly controlled images and a soundscape to accompany it. Our gaze is most often focused on images of faces, the sea and the natural terrain of the Island. There is little to no dialogue spoken by or between the characters. There are moments that allude to a direct history between these characters, but they are bookended by moments of these characters observing or being caught off guard by (a la the handful of missile/bombed explosions we witness) other narratives-- those of soccer games watched on old computers, classical Italian b+ w romantic films on the t.v., and by footage of the silhouette of a sexy female, in what is likely online porn. These disruptions of plot are stories that split off before they follow any straight line, broken branches that will never continue to grow, yet still hanging on the tree. The way they zigzag through the film is not unlike the way the cliffs and shrubs create the uneven terrain of the island, nor unlike the undulations in the sea that surrounds it. Tensions abound and this is the physical, emotional and wordless story of this island, one held in awkward limbo between pre modern tradition and contemporary revolt. The charged nature of the songs complement our sense of the film much like how all of the missiles drive our view, and the characters, off of the land and into the water.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
"The faces have changed. They've floated away. The faces were gone a long time ago. But they were definitely there, if only for a few minutes. Nog too has lined up, his face smashed up against the window. But it doesn't work with him. He rushes up too fast, throws himself down, forgets himself and then, when you least expect it, he's gone. I don't know what to do about him. I've obviously goofed. But I'm stuck. ...."
(p. 120, nog by Rudolph Wurlitzer . 1968, Two Dollar Radio Movement.)
nog : my recent reading of this 1968 existentialist riff on detachment and the mystery of "Self" informed my recent revisit of JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME. The novel, like the film, came out in 1968. Both are counter culturally rich yet primarily centered in a first person interior journey (though both play out as physical journeys as well: nog through space, JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME through time) into the destruction and confusion of memory, invention and the SELF. Resnais ' film is even more straight forwardly melancholic, focusing on romance and an individual recollection and subsequent decimation of it.
Watching JE T'AIME JE T'AIME, I feel both involved and purposefully separate, journeying through time with Claude, but also stuck against the window, going nowhere fast. Aligned with our protagonist, we both journey and remain trapped, falling against the window, mired in pace as if wearing the webbed footgear he has for his scuba dive; stuck in a Past that increasingly is infecting and becoming our Present; keeping us all from any hope of a Future.
There's a framing device in Resnais' sci fi treatment of romantic loss and introspection.
Both at the end and beginning of our journey we are given: Scientists, clear exposition, and a trajectory for our protagonist, the lovelorn and recently suicide failing Claude Ridder (Claude Rich.) In between, chronology collides against itself. Moments of romance may have meant to begin at the beginning, but the very act of journeying in the past and trying to make sense of it seems to cause multiplied beginnings, stymied discoveries, disorder and confusion. As the film progresses and Claude's self directed search accelerates, the very romance and figure of his attachment seems to implode and erase before our very eyes.
Bearing witness to the past is a different idea then trying to relive and explore a beginning or an end to a romantic attachment. Just as in nog, the search for meaning begins internally with the subject, but then radiates outward, causality and order becoming less attached to logic. Claude interrogates himself for culpability. At first, Je T'Aime, je t'aime seems like a beautiful love story that ran it's course. As the film progresses, time and storyline grow in complexity. It appears Claude is exploring his responsbility in a greater crime--the suicide or possible murder of his love interest, Catrine (Olga Georges-Picot.) Or was the actual crime (or death) merely that the relationship ended?
Is there much of a difference ? Claude's suicide, real or imagined..is he not already dead during the course of this film?
The framing adds a sense of logic to a film that folds back on itself endlessly, perfect in its dubiousness as real or imagined.
Claude's entire exploration into the affair plays more like a poetic dream then a real sci fi journey. Seeming to last 91 minutes, as in actual dreams, it lasts only one minute but feels distended, haunting, cathartic and unclear. Logic and action is motivated by fear, guilt, attachment, and perhaps even love.
This is one half of a love story revisited. A ghost story, a dream, a journey back in time. The potential readings are endless and yet are all the same: Claude is doomed from the start, but of course we have not even heard from Catrine.
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