Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is raped by a home invader at the start of the movie, and downplays the incident. It appears at first that she’s trying to stay strong and not feel victimized, but her intense sex/power issues (and reasons for not calling the police) are increasingly revealed – along with the somewhat lesser sex/power issues of every single person in her inner circle. An ensemble piece of perversion swirling around Huppert’s mighty center, it’s like a Chabrol thriller written by Todd Solondz (but better, obvs).

Was looking up articles online and deciding what to say and found a really nice writeup by Aaron on Letterboxd. So instead of bothering to repeat him, I’m gonna have fun looking up actors on the ol’ imdb. Need to watch this again anyway. Premiered at Cannes with The Handmaiden and a bunch more I’m hoping to see soon.

Michele’s son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) has awful pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz), Michele’s ex Richard (Charles Berling of Demonlover, another sex-and-videogames thriller) has new girl Helene (Vimala Pons of In the Shadow of Women), her “botoxed cougar of a mother” (per Aaron) Irene (Judith Magre of Malle’s The Lovers) is dating weird Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet), and the new neighbors are Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his very Christian wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira, star of last year’s Victoria). Michele is sleeping with the bald husband Robert (Christian Berkel, returning from Black Book) of her business partner Anna (Anne Consigny, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly transcriber), also has fawning employee Kevin (Arthur Mazet, young Jean Reno in 22 Bullets) and disgruntled tattooed employee Kurt (Lucas Prisor). I think the mom dies (and Ralf turned out to be trolling her), her mass-murderer dad dies in prison, Kevin is caught creating pornographic automata videos with his boss’s face, Michele admits the affair to Anna, and she has a complicated revenge/affair thing with the rapist neighbor, before he’s killed by her son.

A. Nayman:

It’s not necessarily confidence that drives her so much as a flinty inscrutability that is by turns amusing, disturbing, admirable, and absurd … she’s not a pathological case, nor is she any sort of symbolic figure. Michèle evinces a variety of post-feminist stereotypes … without fully inhabiting any of them, and her ability to take in stride both serious trauma and workaday annoyance feels like its own form of bristling defiance.

Verhoeven:

I’m much more interested in people than I was before. I look more at people, and the way that characters treat each other, and betray each other — it was all in my movies before anyhow, but more so now. I would love to move in that direction, and I would love to stay there … I won’t sit for ten years until something like this comes again.

Devout priests Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver convince Ciaran Hinds to send them to Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed, to covertly spread the good word and to locate their teacher Liam Neeson. I’ve seen this story told before, in Masahiro Shinoda’s film, so I knew the general outline and some of the characters. I liked Scorsese’s three-hour remake (with a new epilogue) a hell of a lot better – even if I still can’t comprehend some of the characters’ actions, it’s an intense, awe-inspiring film. Would’ve been cool if it had hung around in theaters, since I would’ve liked to watch again after a few weeks or a month, but I guess America wasn’t interested in sacrifice and devotion this holiday season because it only lasted a week.

I couldn’t resist stealing a couple of screenshots from Film Comment:

In Japan, our white saviors meet interpreter Tadanobu Asano (lead ghost in Journey to the Shore), Shinya Tsukamoto himself (tortured to death by being tied to a cross and pounded by the surf for days), drunken traitor Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka of Tokyo Tribe), and eventually, toothy torturer Issei Ogata (extremely different from his gentle software developer in Yi Yi and twitchy emperor in The Sun).

J. Cabrita:

There is an essential balance to Silence, subverting a colonizer’s prejudices while also considering the prospect that Rodrigues’ missionary work is disseminating objective truth; one does not reduce the other, but enlivens it, makes it meaningful, potent and mysterious. Adapted from a novel by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic persecuted for his religious values at home and discriminated against for his race abroad, Scorsese’s film also occupies the novel’s ambiguous middle ground.

N. Bahadur, who also makes good connections with The Age of Innocence:

In terms of the film’s critical distance from Rodrigues, what is important is that it is not Christianity which is being critiqued but rather perspective. The moral fundamentals of both religions in the film do not include concepts of pride and glory which both Rodrigues & the Inquisitor demonstrate. Both men are completely invested in their way of viewing the world – fully formed yet opposing views which make sense – and by watching their debates we can already see Scorsese’s perspective: does moral righteousness negate a moral perspective? A colleague mentioned: “they talk about faith needing to take root, but it only becomes faith after becoming rootless.” Perhaps on a moral and ideological level, Rodrigues and the Christians are right: advocation for a Universal truth, yet they fail on a political level because of the failure to see the colonial implications of their actions. While the Japanese in the film prove to be far more selfless and with rather more reason or martyrdom, yet on a moral level the Inquisitor is despicable and inhumane.

G. Kenny:

The opening title, with its sounds of nature followed by absence of sound, constitutes an arguably almost literal-minded demonstration of the movie’s theme, but that plainness is purposeful … And of course the most virtuoso filmmaking of the piece, the scene where Rodrigues comes to his most crucial decision. It’s just crushing, not least for the way it’s set up. Liam Neeson’s Ferreira, speaking to his former student of “a suffering only you can end,” tells Rodrigues his sacrifice will be “the greatest act of love ever performed,” and Rodrigues’ Japanese interpreter (Tadanobu Asano, great) tells the priest, “It’s just a formality.” Which is it, for God’s sake? And then the soundtrack drops out for the second time.

Bilge, from his great Voice article about Scorsese’s holy trilogy:

There’s a vanity behind Rodrigues’s sense of responsibility, too, and Silence slowly interrogates this earnest man of the cloth. Once he gets separated from fellow priest Garrpe (Adam Driver), Rodrigues is accompanied through the film by … the unchanging, ever-present face of Jesus, about whom he dreams at night. The priest even sees Christ’s visage replacing his own reflection in a pool of water, and he giggles maniacally at the thought that he might be headed for a fate similar to his messiah’s; he exults in the glory of a martyr’s death … Rodrigues will not die a martyr. He will not become a saint. His sacrifice will not be written about in the annals of his faith; if anything, he will be a shameful footnote. But he will, finally, achieve true compassion for another man [Kichijiro], the two of them united in their weakness. And in this, who’s to say that he has not found the divine?

I watched the director’s Goodbye First Love and missed one in between, but it seems she’s trying to get as subtle as possible here without losing the thread. The following week we watched the kid in 20th Century Women confront his mom about how it feels to be middle-aged by quoting poetry at her – a fine scene within that film, which was full of characters trying to figure each other out through dialogue, but which would have stuck out sorely in this movie, which is similarly about a woman dealing with aging and changes within her family, taking the more contemplative approach.

Edith Scob (last seen in Holy Motors) is philosophy professor Isabelle Huppert’s mom, losing her sense, André Marcon (a lead in Up, Down, Fragile, an Assayas regular) is Huppert’s husband Heinz, who leaves her for a younger woman, and Roman Kolinka (Jean-Louis Trintignant’s grandson) is the ex-student who writes for her prestigious (but financially struggling) line of philosophy books. Huppert stays strong through a series of major and minor indignities, figuring out what to do with herself, presumably in the hopes that she doesn’t end up as clingy and delusional as her mother.

D. Ehrlich:

Hansen-Løve’s latest (and most layered) protagonist is a strong person for whom change does not come naturally. “I thought you’d love me forever,” she flatly tells Heinz on his way out the door, less angry at him for leaving her than she is at herself for being wrong … [Huppert has] been so many different people since her early twenties that it’s compellingly strange to watch her play someone who’s lost between parts, infinite and adrift. As if to ensure that the effect is not lost on us, Nathalie goes to a screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film consumed by the notion of people performing who they are.

A. Nayman:

The waning of hardline radical values is a running motif here, as Nathalie ruefully recalls a pre-marital sojourn in Russia .. and is preoccupied more generally by the problem of adaptability, i.e., if it’s synonymous with compromise.

The movie is also unexpectedly full of good pop and folk songs. Hansen-Løve closely based the story on her own mother’s life. IMDB: “The one thing her mother had her change was the name of the cat. In the original script it was called Desdemona, after the cat it was based on, but her mother had her change it to Pandora to respect the cat’s privacy.” Won best director at Berlin, where it premiered with Fire at Sea, Midnight Special and Boris Without Béatrice.

Cristina Álvarez López, comparing a new film to an old one:

Make Way for Tomorrow is a harsh, angrily ironic critique that takes the form of a comedy with a very sad ending; Things to Come is a serene drama portraying a philosophical attitude towards life, ending on a note of hope. But both films are pierced by a sense of helplessness (more or less graciously endured) in the face of a cruel and unstoppable reality often referred to as progress (historical, economic, social, intellectual, or otherwise), and depicted through an insurmountable generational gap. And both films deal with the painful realization of what it means to become expendable in a world whose clock is no longer in tune with us, a world that once moved in tandem with our lives and is now forcing us to step aside, to jump to the margins — allowing us to participate in it only as observers, looking back at us as if we were a nagging annoyance or, in the best of the cases, occasional guests.

Another beautifully composed and assembled cavalcade of sweet sadness. I’d been over-adequately warned about all the sadness, so had to feel bad about myself afterwards for not feeling sad enough. Somehow I’d not been warned at all about the awful music – maybe it’s an acquired taste for over-loud choral arrangements – nor about the warm humor that weaves around all the sadness.

Casey Affleck (I know who he is now, thanks to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is Lee, who lives a life of lonely bar fights in self-imposed exile after accidentally killing his three kids in a fire years earlier (revealed gradually in flashback). His big brother Kyle Chandler dies of heart failure, leaving teenage Lucas Hedges (The Zero Theorem) to Casey, who acts properly responsible towards his beloved nephew, but also tries to rid himself of the responsibility as fast as possible and return to his basement-dwelling solitude.

All the actors are terribly, achingly good, each experiencing their own version of grief. Especially terrible is the scene where Casey’s ex Michelle Williams confronts him, and he responds with quietly stuttering denial. Reading this back it sounds like I don’t love the movie, but I mean “terrible” in a good way, and I hope all the attention it’s getting (best actor at the globes, six oscar nominations) makes up for Margaret‘s mistreatment.

First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

Rodrigues:
“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”


Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

Kind of Maddin’s most difficult film and his most purely comic one at the same time. Behind the scenes on the filming of great Canadian war epic Hyena Road, Guy reflects on being an extra (dead body in the desert) and subverts his other job as EPK flunky, while the effects-minded Johnsons toy and screw with the footage. I happened to watch Cuadecuc Vampir a few days earlier, one of this film’s most obvious predecessors.

N. Rapold in Film Comment:

The closest these flagrantly uninformative digressions come to a standard featurette is a couple of outtakes of a producer doing a walk-and-talk TV-ad bumper. While earning Maddin some needed cash, this supposed promotional project burlesques the look of a seamless studio-grade war movie — and its very notion. It’s like any number of subversive reappropriations of mainstream genre cinema, except with the added nose-thumbing of having been done with full permission, during the production. But if Maddin expresses some frustration or resentment about Gross’s comparatively big-budget illusionism, he also can’t help but see the playful, bizarre, and beautiful possibilities in these expensive toys.

Denzel goes all-in on his performance of an oversized, talkative, opinionated garbage collector and family man who speaks mainly in baseball metaphors. I wondered near the beginning why his wife Viola Davis, who barely gets a word in, was getting awards talk for this. Then after Denzel grabs a couple of major personal victories – demanding and winning a promotion from his employer, and succeeding in crushing his son’s dreams of playing football – he reveals that he’s gotten another woman pregnant. And after that woman dies in childbirth, the long-suffering Viola steps up. “This child got a mother, but you a womanless man.” So for the second time in a row (Blackhat: “Am I being tangible… Gary?”) Viola has the year’s best line delivery.

The movie retains most of the cast from a recent stage production – and you can tell it’s based on a stage production. M. D’Angelo explains better than I can:

Really hammers home the fundamental difference between theater and cinema, showing that the difficulty in translation is more than just a matter of “staginess.” Washington uses the camera expressively, in an appropriately subdued way; every shot and cut has been carefully thought out, accentuating the performances while giving full weight to the environment surrounding them … Formally, this is very much a film. Nonetheless, it still feels like a play, because Wilson’s magnificent, musical dialogue is expressly designed for that particular medium.

Denzel’s best friend since his prison days (long story) and his trashman coworker until Denzel’s promotion leaves him behind is Stephen Henderson (a church guy in Red Hook Summer). Denzel and Viola’s high-school son is Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers) and Denzel’s older son, a jazz musician, is Russell Hornsby (Grimm and Eater). His highly symbolic trumpeter brother Gabriel with a plate in his head from WWII is Mykelti Williamson (Don King in Ali). Set in the mid-1950’s with an early 60’s postscript after the shell-of-his-former-self Denzel has passed away and the family reunites for his funeral.

I appreciate Ehrlich’s continuation of the baseball metaphors: “If Fences doesn’t quite knock it out of the park, it’s still a clutch double at a time when black stories are struggling to even get on base.”

Troy is at once both a disposable member of the underclass and a category five hurricane of humanity. His only way of reconciling those two wildly different feelings is to transmute his deficiencies and regrets into the stuff of myth — he might be the picture of the American everyman, but he’s also locked in a duel with Death, itself.

Hard to believe I haven’t seen a new Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie since the great Tokyo Sonata. Starting to catch up, but I hope that’s worth doing. I enjoy a slow-boil movie, but this one just kinda stayed lukewarm. Interesting stylistic choices for a 2013 ghost movie – from a director who has sometimes over-relied on horrid digital effects, this uses none. Ghosts appear as regular people, no indications of who is living or dead, and their appearances or other otherworldly happenings are signaled by slow lighting changes.

Lonely piano teacher Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu of Atlanta Boogie) is visited by her long-missing husband Yûsuke (Tadanobu Asano of Bright Future and Last Life in the Universe) who explains that he drowned at sea three years ago. He says it was a long trip back to her, and people helped him along the way, and he’d like them to revisit those people together.

At Shimakage’s house, pre-collapse:

Yûsuke in teacher mode:

First is Mr. Shimakage, who is dead and does not realize this. Yûsuke’s visit with Mizuki brings back memories of his wife, which allow him to let go and disappear, his house becoming decrepit overnight. Next, the Jinnai family, who are alive but have a sad ghostly relative psychically tied to their piano. Then Mizuki meets Tomoko, with whom Yûsuke was having an affair while alive. Then at a village where Yûsuke had been a teacher, Mizuki briefly meets her dead father, and their host Kaoru briefly meets her dead husband (who was flown in from a darker, more interesting movie).

Mizuki and the Dead Father:

I’m pleased that a shy Japanese piano teacher would listen to Sonic Youth:

M. D’Angelo:

I’d planned to write at least a few words about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s almost surreally boring Journey to the Shore, which multiple critics here have dubbed Journey to the Snore. Trouble is, just thinking about the film makes me nod off, making it difficult to formulate any thoughts.

I wasn’t thinking of anything when I rewatched Mulholland Dr. the same week we saw La La Land, another movie with great songs in which a girl follows her dreams to Hollywood. Emma Stone’s Mia eventually becomes the star that Betty only dreams of being, after a casting agent sees her one-woman show. Her man Ryan Gosling sets aside his own dreams of running a jazz club to tour with his friend John Legend’s band Jazzhammer. Everyone acts like this is a tragic move on Ryan’s part, but he was broke, so how was he gonna afford his own club without building up cash from those lucrative Jazzhammer tours? Either way, Emma thinks he’s selling out his dreams, and their jobs mean they have to spend months apart, and there’s a fight, and suddenly it’s five years later and Emma and her husband duck into Ryan’s successful new club for a bittersweet Umbrellas of Cherbourg-style ending (noticed a suspicious Parapluies shop on the studio backlot, too), but not before indulging in a (shared?) musical fantasy of how their relationship might have worked out.

Nice to see a strong musical with dancing and singing and Rebel Without a Cause references on the big scope-letterboxed cinema screen. Katy thinks all couples should always end up together at the end of movies, but otherwise she liked it.

J. Rosenbaum:

If the movie’s opening and closing production numbers are by far the most impressive and powerful, this is because they’re both responses to realities perceived as unbearable — which becomes all the more unbearable in the latter case by being disguised as a phony happy ending … La La Land is far more about the death of cinema and the death of jazz than it is about their rebirth or survival. It’s about boarded-up movie houses, antiquated analog recordings, and artistic aspirations that can only be fulfilled (as well as fueled) by fantasy.