2006:
The first time I was too blown away by how wonderful this movie is, so entranced by its beauty and mesmerized by the entirely-sung dialogue to quite believe what I was seeing and hearing. Knew I’d have to see it again soon to make sure the dream was true. Still a nearly perfect movie… even more so now that I understand the singing and the flow and the story, and can just get caught up in it.

2016:
Finally looking perfect on blu-ray – I wasn’t thrilled how some colors on the 1990’s film print restoration jittered like a Nintendo game with too many enemies onscreen. Also I’m watching this for the first time since seeing Lola, so that movie’s lead character Roland Cassard as the jeweler who marries Deneuve and his brief Lola-flashback scene are new sources of wonder.

Meeting Roland at Mr. Dubourg’s place – he’s back there quietly gazing at Geneviève.

Other things noticed: how depressed and sullen Guy is after returning from the Algerian war… the crazy wallpaper in the movie and how it clashes and blends with the brightly colored clothing… and the auto mechanic male lead, from Demy who grew up in an auto garage.

When visibly pregnant Geneviève breaks down and agrees to marry Roland: “If he refuses me as I am, it means he doesn’t have deep feelings for me. If, by some extraordinary chance, he accepts me, I’ll have no reason to doubt him, and I’d be a fool to turn him away.”

And on Guy: “I would have died for him…”

Rosalie Varda played the lovers’ daughter in the final gas station scene – I saw Rosalie again in Uncle Yanco the same day.

Didn’t expect to find a 1954 photo of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais holding a Fernand Léger print in the blu-ray extras:

At first I thought Audiard seems influenced by the Godfather movies, from the young enforcer who takes over a crime business in A Prophet to this movie’s immigrant stories (dunno how Rust & Bone would fit in), but after it became clear that Dheepan was heading towards rage and revenge, I thought of it as a more currently-fashionable Harry Brown (others are saying Straw Dogs).

The most interesting twist: Dheepan and his “family” are only pretending to be a family in order to get refugee status and flee Sri Lanka, where Dheepan was a Tamil Tiger. They live together like strangers, only playing the family role for outside observers, but gradually begin to respect and protect each other. Meanwhile, the block of apartments where they live and work is a drug hub which turns violent when lead dealer Vincent Rottiers (young Jean in the Renoir biopic) returns from prison. With these pieces in place, the movie gets to create a crowd-pleasing finale where Dheepan draws on his violent past to protect his makeshift family. M. D’Angelo: “After nearly two hours of depicting the improvised family’s patient adjustments, negotiations, and compromises, Audiard abruptly switches to Hollywood fantasy, and there’s no sign that he’s doing so ironically, metatextually, or with any other subversive purpose in mind.”

Still a pretty good movie. I’m not as upset about this winning the palme d’or (or Loach winning in 2016) as others are. Regardless of the winner, I’m still seeking out as many of the acclaimed competition films as possible (so far: Carol, The Assassin, The Lobster, Sicario).

Seems like a semi-remake of A Very Long Engagement. There’s a specific scene where Veronika says if she can count to fifty before the postman arrives at the door she’ll get a letter from Boris. Then there’s the overall story, a woman looking for her man who went to war, not even stopping after she hears that he’s died. Jeunet gave his film a happy ending, but Russia in the 50’s was still mourning the millions killed a decade earlier. So, not a simply fairy tale, Veronika does not get a letter from her Boris, because he did die in the war.

It opens with the two lovers happy together, and ends with her alone, smiling but heartbroken, handing out flowers to returning soldiers. In between it’s mostly her story. She loses her family in a bombing raid and stays with Boris’s parents, then is soon coerced into marrying his brother who dodged the war. Very impressively (for 1957) mobile camera, with always excellent, careful framing, none of the indifferent framing that characterizes most handheld today (ugh, I hate saying things like that). It seems like every shot in this film has more than one purpose, making the simple close-ups that much more powerful. No surprise that the director and cinematographer went on to make the great I Am Cuba, or that this won the golden palm (over Bergman, Satyajit Ray and Mon Oncle)

C. Fujiwara for Criterion:

The film is also exceptional in refusing to condemn Veronica for her involuntary infidelity to Boris while he is at the front. In Tatiana Samoilova, The Cranes Are Flying unveiled a magnificent screen personality: expressive, sexy, dynamic. Veronica is far from a traditional war-movie heroine (not only by the standard of Soviet war movies), and Feodor’s impassioned denunciation of faithless women is clearly meant to be taken as more than just the party line, but Samoilova makes her character completely sympathetic, down to her bittersweet apotheosis in the moving final sequence. The Georgian-born Kalatozov, who began his directing career in the silent era, spent several years in Los Angeles during the war on a diplomatic assignment, and seems to have been marked by Hollywood cinema. In The Cranes Are Flying, he treats melodrama with a formal complexity worthy of Frank Borzage, King Vidor, and Vincente Minnelli – finding, with no fear of excess, potent visual correlatives to emotional states.

I read very little about this, conscious of spoilers, but certain things, as with Antichrist, were unavoidably overheard (or given away in the trailer). So I knew it was set near the start of WWI and that the evil children in the trailer represent the birth of fascism, but I didn’t realize how subtly that point is made. There are unexplained events, the children increasingly seem responsible, then some major characters disappear and the narrator leaves town, with no ends neatly tied up.

Two things for sure: it’s an excellent movie and the camerawork (DP Christian Berger, his fifth with Haneke) is perfect, beating Cache by a mile. Apparently was shot digitally, in color, then post-processed. Very classic feel to the entire production, except to the acting, especially of the children, which is better than anything from the WWI or WWII eras (sorry, Wild Boys of the Road). Won awards almost everywhere (the BAFTAs preferred A Prophet and oscars preferred something from Argentina), beating out Basterds, Antichrist and Wild Grass at Cannes.

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Interesting to have a non-omniscient narrator, schoolteacher Christian Friedel, who goes on long sidetracks from the town mysteries to chase after a girl, nanny of the baron’s young twins. Town authority figures are painted as corrupt. The doctor (Rainer Bock, small role in Inglorious Basterds) is abusive and perverse to his daughter and to his girlfriend (Susanne Lothar, lead in Funny Games). The pastor (Burghart Klaussner, was just in The Reader) is a tyrannical father. The baron (Ulrich Tukur, The Lives of Others) exercises his power to throw families into poverty at will. The children don’t exhibit the usual responses of sullenness, fighting and petty power games, but band together to commit acts of planned vengeance, terrifying the town. Their crimes go officially undiscovered and unpunished at the end, Haneke’s point, I suppose, being that they grew into fascists and nazis.

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There is, of course, an absolute ton written about this movie already. The Times says “it lacks the intellectual and emotional nuance that would make this largely joyless world come to life,” but that’s just the common criticism that Haneke’s films are cold and unfeeling, which applies less to this film than to his others so I don’t see the point in bringing it up.

Indiewire: “With this detailed exploration of anonymous retribution, Haneke returns to the haunting terrain he last explored in Cache, although in this case, the retribution expands from a personal level to a larger critique of religious zealotry. … However, these events remain notably off-screen. Absence in The White Ribbon is the quality that makes it a harrowing work of art, rather than a historical soap opera.”

Salon: “It definitely can’t be reduced to a fable about the roots of fascism. The White Ribbon is a dense account of childhood, courtship, family and class relations in a painfully repressed and repressive society, which seems to channel both early Ingmar Bergman and the Bad Seed/Children of the Corn evil-tot tradition.”

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Haneke:

The film opens with the narrator saying, “I’m not sure if the story I’m about to tell you corresponds to what actually took place. I can only remember it dimly. I know a lot of the events only through hearsay.” So both those elements, then, raise mistrust in the audience as to the accuracy of what they’re going to be seeing, and the reality of what they’re going to be seeing. Both the black-and-white and the use of a narrator lead the audience to see the film as an artifact, and not as something that claims to be an accurate depiction of reality.

It’s only in mainstream cinema that films explain everything, and claim to have answers for anything that happens. In reality, we know so little about what happens. It’s far more productive for me to confront the audience with a complex reality that mirrors the contradictory nature of human experience.

I remember with my first film that was shown in Cannes, The Seventh Continent, there was a screening and afterward we had a discussion. The first question came from a woman who stood up and asked, “Is life in Austria as awful as that?” She didn’t want to accept the difficult questions being raised in the film, so she tried to limit them to a specific place and say, “That’s not my problem.” You could make the same mistake with this film, if you see it as only being about a specific period.

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Looking over the decade list and reading up on Va Savoir, I realized I’ve seen eight of the ten top prize winners at the Cannes Film Festival from the last decade, and all in theaters, no less. I only missed The Class and The Son’s Room.

Other Cannes winners I should check out sometime:

Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopoulos)
Rosetta (even though I didn’t love L’Enfant)
Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh)
The Best Intentions (3-hour film written by Ingmar Bergman)
Pelle the Conqueror (same director as The Best Intentions)
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat)
The Mission (follow-up to The Killing Fields)
When Father was Away on Business (Kusturica)
The Ballad of Narayama (Imamura)
Missing
Yol (from Turkey)
All That Jazz
Kagemusha
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi)
Padre Padrone
Chronicle of the Years of Fire (Algerian)
Scarecrow (Hackman/Pacino)
The Hireling
The Mattei Affair
The Working Class Goes to Heaven
The Go-Between (Losey)
Signore & Signori
A Man and a Woman (Lelouch)
The Knack… and How to Get it
Payer of Promises
The Long Absence (written by Marguerite Duras)
Friendly Persuasion
The Silent World
Marty
Gate of Hell
Two Cents Worth of Hope
Miss Julie
Miracle in Milan

Why have I only even heard of fewer than half of these?

“Racism was rife in the public school system then, as were silly uniforms”

Rented this back when it came out – so about two years ago. More intense than I’d thought. Sets up a miserable, oppressive hierarchical school system, a couple rebel friends in the middle of it, and ends with them on the rooftop merrily blowing everybody away.

Malcolm’s conspicuous entrance, three years before A Clockwork Orange:
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Divided into numbered and titled sections, each with one or two scenes in black and white for reasons I never figured out. Turns out cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (who worked with Milos Forman a bunch of times, earning oscar nominations in the 80’s) used it for budget and simplicity in one scene, then Anderson would request that other scenes at random be shot b/w as well. Gave critics something to talk about, anyway.
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D. Ehrenstein:

When it was first released, it was impossible to look at If…. without thinking of Zero for Conduct, Jean Vigo’s classic 1932 featurette about a schoolboy revolt. But Vigo’s rebels pelted their hated teachers with vegetables. Anderson’s are armed with bullets. And more than teachers and school officials, it is their fellow students—the senior classmates who truly rule their lives, treating them not as equals but as prison inmates they’re guarding—who are the real targets. Consequently, it is impossible to look at If…. today without thinking of the Columbine massacre of 1991 … Still, that was real, and Anderson’s slaughter is clearly meant to be metaphoric. Why else end the film with McDowell firing straight into the camera like the nameless bandit in Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903)? By doing so, If…., like so much else of sixties culture, poses a challenging question rather than offers a glib and easy answer.

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Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

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Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

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Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

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Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

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“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”

Holy intense movie, gave me a major headache. Or maybe that was dehydration. Very good cast (IMDB links them all to the other 3-4 Romanian movies I’ve heard of). Some nice looong takes. Awesome dinner table scene plays out in a single take with just a ton of dialogue, mounting tension from both onscreen and off. An impressive movie for sure, glad I saw it.

NPR gives some background:

In 1966, Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu sought to boost his nation’s population by criminalizing abortion, declaring, “The fetus is the property of the entire society… anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity.” 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a new film by director Cristian Mungiu, explores the ramifications of Ceausescu’s ban two decades later. … Mungiu won’t go into personal details but says his film is based on the experience of someone he knows. He says half a million women died getting illegal abortions during the reign of [Ceausescu].

Practically a horror movie, in fact it builds tension and suspense better than almost any horror movie I’ve seen. Almost lands in the Lars Von Trier / Gaspar Noe camp of terrifying movies that you feel worse for having watched and never want to watch again… but not quite. Stays on the Michael Haneke side of the fence with the movies that make you feel upset but interested. I mean, it has a happy ending, I’m not saying it’s Last House on the Left. The horror isn’t from having evil characters (the abortionist is the worst of the bunch), and their behavior (unlike most by Haneke, Noe, Trier) isn’t just movie-believable, it’s completely convincing. These are real people in a tense situation in a totalitarian state, in the same situation that many Americans would be in if abortion was illegalized.

A rarity in this movie: a weapon (the switchblade) picked up but never used.

Reverse Shot makes the point that this is not simply “the Romanian abortion movie,” in part because “Otilia [the blonde woman] — and not Gabita — occupies the film’s narrative and moral center.” Instead they call it “a tense, riveting thriller (of a sort) that subtly evokes the experiences of women in a society that fiercely regulates their lives and bodies, often reducing them to commodities to be bought, sold, and bartered, no different at the extreme from the Kent cigarettes and orange Tic Tacs traded on the Bucharest black market.”

From an interview with the director:

Whenever you have to live in a period that is complicated, you have to learn your way. Nothing is very clear or simple or on the surface. You have to understand how things [work]. This kind of generates the feeling of negotiation. It’s difficult to say, by the end of the film, which of these two girls is better served by this society: the girl who apparently makes the decisions and negotiates with everybody, or the girl who doesn’t seem to do much, but will have her problem solved by the end of the day. It was a way of talking about compromise. When you live in a closed society and don’t expect this society will come to an end — people never thought the communist system would end — you tend to compromise more. They don’t anticipate any kind of judgment. They naturally think, “This system is abusing all the time, so I can be abusing with some other people because of this.”

The beginning of the film [is about] the ability to find your way over there by compromising and negotiating your way out of things. There’s another scene which is related to this — the dinner scene where you see a different generation of people who are not guilty of anything else but adapting to the system. They had to survive, they had to raise children. They are people who adapt to that society. For me it’s the meaning of all these objects. It’s about what it meant [to have] that symbol of a free world: bar soap, a pack of cigarettes. They represented much more than you can see.

Kind of ruins the Atlanta Film Festival to take a break from their offerings and watch a movie this good.

I don’t know much about Ireland vs. England but it looks like a bad scene. Bros Cillian and Teddy turn to rebellion after being terrorized by brits, then when their guy signs a peace agreement, Teddy joins the new government while Cillian keeps fighting. ‘ventually Ted kills his own brother.

Family vs. country / neighbor vs. neighbor thing plays out very effectively. Movie leaves me with my stomach burning. All shots of countryside are heartbreakingly wonderful. No death is taken lightly. Loach takes his “socialist realism” to a Serious Historical Topic and succeeds hilariously. Best picture at Cannes no duh. I’m only writing so little because I waited too long and have lost some details.