Capsule Collection: Summer/Fall 2011 Viewing, < 2011 Part 1

Here I go again, making up for lost time and late entries. I was doing so well, too. What follows is the first in a series of short capsule reviews of films I’ve seen since my last post so long ago. To make things easier on myself – I hope – I’ll be breaking the entries up into smaller, five film, entries so that I can claw my way back to now. The capsules will be broken into groups of films either from 2011, or prior to this year, and listed alphabetically for the purpose of making things a little easier on me. I’ll also try to keep things under 200 words, again, for my own sake and the sake of anyone unfortunate to have to wade through this jumble.

 



Badlands (1973)

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek

Badlands PosterTerrence Malick’s first film contains in it the seeds for much of his future oeuvre: a fascination with nature and the transgression of social boundaries, the strangeness of romance and attraction, a thoughtful engagement with violence and the ideologies behind it, etc. Accordingly, his interpretation of the Starkweathers likewise asserts images that recur in future films: Kit and Holly bury small tokens in cloth before leaving a tree house in much the same way that the middle O’Brien child buries tokens in the back yard of their house before leaving. Malick exhibits his strong sense for visual compositions and questioning stance toward character even in his first film. The film works to demonstrate the ease with which America mythologizes even the darkest facets of its history; Spacek and Sheen are endearingly aloof from the violence of their actions, their reverie contagiously subsuming the reality left in their wake. Even upon his capture, Sheen’s Kit charms the men charged to guard him with his ease and genial nature. Hard not to read Kit as an allegorical figure for Malick’s own habit of charming many of his detractors with the slow immersive grace of his films.

 

 

Hand-in-Hand

Bande à part (1964)

Written by Jean-Luc Godard based on the novel Fool’s Gold by Dolores Hitchens
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Starring Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, and Sami Frey

The key to Godard’s heist-cum-romance film, and indeed much of his later filmography, lies in an early scene wherein the English instructor of the class attended by Odile, Arthur, and Franz quizzes Odile on the statement by T.S. Eliot that everything avant-garde, or modern, is also implicitly traditional; though Godard’s later films take on a structure and style far more avant-garde than Bande à part, they are no less in dialogue with classical film-making strategies. Even this film’s “moment of silence”, where the soundtrack completely drops out to observe a moment of silence –  for 36 seconds, foreshadowing Godard’s later, more explicit, soundtrack manipulations – is built around classical film elements and conventions, their re-framing or re-purposing. Easily one of Godard’s more linear and accessible films, Bande plays out as his decidedly gangster-inflected take on Truffaut’s Jules et Jim‘s (1962) love triangle scenario, buoyed by Karina’s luminous eyes and his own easy playfulness, apparent even in the film’s darker moments. Bande captures Godard in a moment where his insouciance with cinematic form had not yet found its later political footing.

 

 

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Written by Jean Cocteau from a story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Directed by Jean Cocteau
Starring Jean Marais and Josette Day

The classic story is brought to life, or something maybe more ephemerally dream-like, in Cocteau’s aptly fantastical film. Cocteau employs his usual, and always surprisingly convincing, camera tricks of reversing and perspective manipulation and mirrors to evoke a world wherein the fantastic is real. The Beast’s home is constructed by living arms and eyes and body parts, shifting organically in an eerie disembodied state, opulent and perhaps a little absurd. Marais carries himself with nobility, even under the heavy mask and makeup required for the part, his Beast a being simultaneously of immense pride and sorrow. The film functions allegorically for the manner in which viewers are transported into the reality of a cinematic world; through sleight of image a fantasy world is created, populated by fantastical tableaus, constructed at the whim of a director whose presence manifests only through this illusory facade. This orchestration of image posits the film as the Beast, the audience as the ingenue Belle. The closing of the film marks the point where the journey begins for the Beast and Belle in narrative terms, and also the point of departure for the viewer, entering into dialogue with film’s crafted reality.

 

 

Beginners (2010)

Written and Directed by Mike Mills
Starring Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer

Beginners PosterNot a fan of Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker, I was pleasantly surprised by Beginners. A substantially more mature film than his previous – which came about in the middle of the mid-2000’s glut of suburban-teen ennui films – Beginners has an eminently likable cast and a thoughtful premise that speaks to interesting and contemporary problems. Christopher Plummer draws a compelling portrait of an older man, coming to terms with his internal life as he passes away, and Ewan McGregor is, well, Ewan McGregor’s usual sturdy and enjoyable self. The film, at times, still dips into overly twee territory, with the sometimes existentially sub-titled terrier, affected biographical montages delivered to flesh out the history of McGregor’s character, and – we’ll call them unrealistically heightened – interactions and meet-cute premise of Laurent and McGregor’s characters. That said, Mills elicits such warm performances that the heart of the film is not subsumed by its ornamental embellishments; the film proves to be both charming and genuinely effecting, most accutely when focusing on Plummer’s character and his journey. McGregor’s character’s struggle for happiness seems a little diminished in the wake of his father’s more complex struggle; perhaps speaks to a deeper plight of contemporary young men?

 

 

The Fall (2006)

Written by Tarsem, Dan Gilroy, and Nico Soultanakis
Directed by Tarsem
Starring Catinca Untaru, Lee Pace, and Justine Waddell

Like the love-child of Baraka (1992) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), Tarsem’s The Fall grafts a familiar – perhaps even boring – narrative skeleton onto images often as viscerally bracing as those found in Baraka. Tarsem contrasts the sepia-toned old-California sections in a hospital against the intensely vivid colours and dramatic landscapes of his narrators’ stories. The reality of the hospital sections where Lee Pace’s Roy manipulates a young girl, Catinca Untaru, into procuring morphine for him is augmented in Oz-esque style, as characters from her hospital life re-emerge as heroic figures and villains in Roy’s tale. Where the fantasy tale is completely engaging due to the audacity, skill, and, sometimes, magnitude of Tarsem’s visuals, the hospital reality is imbued with what charm it has by the innocence and guilelessness of Untaru’s performance; the real here serves as little more than an excuse to generate a purpose for the fantasy sequences, and it feels as such. Much to Tarsem’s credit, he deploys his cameras, costumes, and compositions with such craft that this weaker aspect of the film recedes in recollection behind the strikingly bold visuals he offers. One suspects that reality, much as in the film, exists solely to generate magnificent images for Tarsem.

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  1. […] – that he has crossed oceans of time to find her. Coppola borrows a moment from Cocteau’s La belle et la bête where Dracula collects Mina’s tears and fashions them into diamonds; this connection further […]



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