AKA Journey to Agartha… anime adventure story, which gets into some grand life-and-death mythology and re-enacts Orpheus… it didn’t exactly pull all of its component parts into a coherent whole, and it lacked the emotional impact of Your Name, but was full of incident and beautiful light and backdrops and fantastical beasts, so I have no major complaints.

Asuna has a pet cat, working mom, dead father, and no particular characteristics. One day she meets an underworld boy who saves her from a giant creature then promptly dies. Soon she travels to his land along with her cat, the dead boy’s twin brother, and her homicidally bereaved super-soldier substitute teacher, who plans to descend into the land of the dead with a magic crystal and a submachine gun and demand the resurrection of his late wife. It’s kind of a crazypants movie.

Also, the cat dies and is eaten by a Quetzalcoatl. And so are our heroes.

Shinkai’s third feature (Your Name is his fifth). Our copy was English dubbed, which seemed just fine, but the commentary is in subtitled Japanese, so I can’t really play it while working.

Oscar Isaac (Carey Mulligan’s loser husband in Drive) is a folk singer who gets by on his earnest music and pity over the suicide of his ex-partner, not on his abilities to make or keep friends or smoothly adapt to change. He sleeps at fellow folkies Jean & Jim’s place (cutie couple Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan) or arts patrons The Gorfeins. Llewyn may have gotten Jean pregnant, and he accidentally receives (then loses) the Gorfeins’ cat. He’s running out of career options and hastily plans a last-ditch trip to Chicago in the company of sullen actor Garrett Hedlund and grotesque blues man John Goodman, to (unsuccessfully) audition at a major club.

R. Brody: “The symbolic aspect of this sidebar is clear. The jazzman is a hardened cynic with a wound, a habit—and a career; the young actor is a self-deluding purist trapped in humiliating servitude; and for Davis, both options appear unbearable.”

Interesting how the end of Llewyn Davis is similar/opposite to the end of The Grandmaster. In Grandmaster, Ip Man has suffered and ended up alone, but we see a young guy who is obviously Bruce Lee, and the movie is telling us that Ip’s legacy and teachings will live on gloriously. In the Coen movie, Llewyn has suffered and ended up alone getting his ass kicked in an alley, but we see a young guy who is obviously Bob Dylan, and the movie is telling us Llewyn has run out of time, than his whole genre is about to be transformed and move on without him.

B. Ebiri:

The film fades to black, and the Dylan song, victorious, plays over the end credits. Somewhere along the way, you figure Dylan has been on his own, significantly luckier trajectory – maybe like the Incredible Journey that Ulysses the cat must have been on. But we didn’t see that journey. We saw the other journey — the one with some loser named Llewyn and a nameless, wounded cat. In many ways, that’s the journey the rest of us are also on.

M. Koresky:

It ought to be rather clear by now that the Coens’ body of work constitutes the closest we have to a consistent existential American cinema. This helps explain that sense of detachment in their films, often misread as condescension. Theirs is admittedly not an open-arms type of filmmaking, but no one could accuse Inside Llewyn Davis, at once their warmest and most fragile film, of treating its complicated, imperfect protagonist with disdain. From its opening shot, the camera caresses Llewyn (Oscar Isaac), who enters from frame right to meet a microphone in wait.

From the start it’s got similarly great cinematography and sound-effect-punctuated music as Onibaba, so this is already a winner. It’s another sometimes-erotic ghost story featuring a woman and her daughter-in-law left behind when the men all go to war – was this a running theme in Shindo’s movies? But this time the son/husband returns, and the women themselves don’t fare so well.

Gintoki’s mother (Nobuko Otowa, Shindo’s main mother figure in Onibaba, Naked Island and Mother) and young wife (Kiwako Taichi of the 24th Zatoichi movie) are raped and killed by soldiers, their house burned to the ground, the only witness their black cat.

A year or two later, soldier Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura of Double Suicide) is sent by his boss to defeat the vengeful feline spirits that have been killing his compatriots – the girl luring them to a phantom house in the woods, serving up hot love after the mother serves hot tea. Then the men appear the next morning with their throats torn out.

Gintoki as a ragged warrior, displaying the head of an enemy warlord:

He cleans up nice:

When Gintoki visits the house and discovers the identity of the spirits, he travels to the forest night after night to spend time with them. The wife breaks her vow to drink the blood of all samurai, spending a few nights of love with her husband before disappearing to hell. Mom keeps going out and killing guys though, and Lord Raiko (Kei Sato, Hachi in Onibaba) is demanding results, so Gintoki finally attacks his mother, cutting off her arm, and brings the arm to Raiko as proof of his triumph. But ghost-mom retrieves her cat-arm, and Gintoki goes somewhat insane trying to catch her, falls dead in the ruins of their old house as snow begins to fall and a cat meows.

The visual effects are more complicated than Onibaba‘s. The mother’s hair twitches like a cat’s tail (can the girls turn into cats?), and the movie shows us the unreality of their forest home via a split-screen sky in constant motion through the trees, so that they always seem to be moving while standing still.

M. McDonagh:

Gintoki’s psychologically charged cat-and-mouse game with the spectral women is Kuroneko’s darkly seductive heart. He both recognizes Shige and Yone and knows they aren’t the Shige and Yone he left behind; given the place and time, it seems entirely reasonable for him to suspect they’re demons who’ve cruelly appropriated the appearance of the most important women in his life. That said, the newly minted samurai understands how much a few years can change a person. The ghost women, meanwhile, are wrestling with their own dilemma: they know perfectly well that under the warrior finery, their guest is Hachi, and wish they didn’t. There’s no real winning here, just infinite degrees of losing—losing one’s soul, life, honor, or humanity.

Oops, I told Jimmy this was made in 1988. I was a decade off, but we didn’t see any technology that would’ve proved me wrong. Another anarchic exuberant junkpile Yugoslavic film full of accordian music from Kusturica, but this one is a pure comedy (romantic, even) so the only person who dies and stays dead is a bad guy, and in the end everyone is married and the gangsters, scammers, rich old men, dwarf women and everyone else is dancing and happy.

Two who died but did not stay dead:
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The main character for the first half hour – is that Matko? – gets scammed by some Russians, borrows money from his dad and from rich (?) Grga and from dangerous coke-fiend party gangster Dadan, buys a train full of oil (?) and loses that along with the money. So as payment for his debts he agrees to have his son marry Dadan’s laughably short daughter.

This guy stayed dead, but his body was used in a Keatonesque comedy bit so it’s allowed:
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Smurfette and big Grga:
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The son’s grandfather hides his cash in an accordian and keels over – a calculated death to stop the wedding – but Dadan will have none of that, and stashes him in the attic so nobody starts mourning until the wedding is done. The tiny bride flees, runs into Grga’s giant son, and it’s love at first sight followed by a gunfight with her dad. Son marries his crush (below), the giant marries the tiny girl, the two dead old men (I didn’t mention Grga’s dad died a few minutes ago) come back to life, and Dadan falls into a toilet, grossing out Katy who came in to watch the ending.

One of the actresses, possibly this one, was later in Big Love and Public Enemies:
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Pitbull! (Terrier!)
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Not just cats – movie’s got a pig eating a car, a shrieking peacock, a goose used as a towel, and cute goats. I thought the whole thing was a riot, and excellently filmed & edited, but maybe too silly for the others in the room. There’s no pleasing some people!

Black cat, white cat:
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This page from the Catherine Lupton book gives a good intro to this post on three Chris Marker movies I just watched, and this other post on some Chris Marker movies I did not watch.

Marker has also continued to engage directly with contemporary political events and debates. In The Last Bolshevik and in Berliner Ballade (1990), a report produced for a French television current affairs strand, Marker reflects on the political ideals that collapsed at a stroke with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communist rule over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and attempts to hold open a space for those who still believe in the founding principles of Socialism. Coinciding with this abrupt shift in the political landscape of Europe, the welter of savage inter-ethnic conflicts triggered by ultra-nationalist movements in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s (and again more recently in Kosovo) has focused Marker’s attention through a series of candid engagements with people caught up in the long drawn-out war. Les 20 heures dans les camps (1993, Prime Time in the Camps) focuses on a group of Bosnian refugees who are producing their own television broadcasts. Casque bleu (1996, Blue Helmet) is an extended interview with a French soldier who served with the UN peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia, and now voices his disillusion with UN policy towards the region. Two as yet unreleased works, Un Maire au Kosovo (2000, A Mayor in Kosovo) and Avril inquiet (2001, currently unfinished, Worried April), are built around interviews with Kosovans involved in the most recent stage of the conflict. This cluster of short, pointed, interview-driven videos is the direct descendant of Marker’s unsigned political films of the 1960s and ’70s, and retains the same ambition: to give a voice to people who are spoken about, but never heard, in mainstream news reporting.

Tokyo Days, 1986

Twenty minutes long, seems very much like outtakes from Sans Soleil. We watch people dreaming on the subway, check out Japanese television… all very familiar. Of course I’m not complaining. There’s always room for more Sans Soleil. Wish this had been an extra on its DVD, instead of a hyper-obscure oddity on a bittorrent site.

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No dialogue except in this part – French, of course, so I’m not sure what she said. This girl is Arielle Dombasle – an actress in the films of Raoul Ruiz, Eric Rohmer and Alain Robbe-Grillet (she’s the one labeled “one goofy actress” in my La Belle Captive entry), who also appeared in Sans Soleil and The Owl’s Legacy. I think we hear Marker himself talking to her in this segment.

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Berlin ’90
I thought this was the same film as Berliner Ballade but apparently this is its sequel which accompanied Tokyo Days in the installation project Zapping Zone. I wasn’t always sure what was going on… yeah, the Berlin Wall and elections, but I didn’t get as much out of it as other viewers have. Nothing wrong with it, just some news/reportage footage.

EAI:
Berlin 1990 travels the streets and the political landscape of the recently re-unified Berlin. In the tumultuous atmosphere of 1990, we watch Berliners walk through check points manned by soldiers, past street vendors selling sausages and “actual” pieces of the Berlin Wall, and watch as they watch the election results come in for another “new” Germany.”

Frieze:
Berlin (1990) records daily life by the Berlin wall during its dismantling. Formerly capitalism’s outer limit and the most striking emblem of world economic division, the wall itself became just another commodity, as pieces of it sprayed with fake graffiti were sold next to East German police uniforms and frankfurters. Though Marker documents the optimism of the first East German elections, a stunning montage to the lilting melody I Can Hardly Wait for Spring suddenly evokes the darker memories hiding behind German reunification: flowers strewn along the streets for Hitler, and the burning of Berlin.”

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Prime Time in the Camps, 1993

In the Bosnian refugee camps during the war in Sarajevo, some amateurs take over a TV station, dedicated to collecting the news, sorting out the truth and re-broadcasting along with their own reportage to fellow refugees. “They are young people who never imagined that one day they’d be behind a television camera or holding a microphone.” One of the reporters: “People had a particular model in their heads of what television was. So we had to make the news look like the news, which meant making it look like what people are used to seeing. It was then that it became credible.”

At the end we see people watching the show that their neighbors had just finished assembling, a la Medvedkin on his train. If there was a topic in ’93 more custom-made for the interests of Chris Marker, I can’t think of it. Peter Watkins should have been there too (see Frieze quote below).

Wikipedia: “The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, conducted by the Serb forces of self-proclaimed Republika Srpska and Yugoslav People’s Army (later transformed to the Army of Serbia and Montenegro), lasting from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996.”

BFI: “Documentary on the Ruska refugee camp in Ljubliana (Slovenia), where a group of Bosnian refugees present news every night on VHS video. Documentary on the making of the news.”

Frieze Magazine: “The amateur journalists sift information from three or four news sources: ‘I ask myself who might want to lie, and who might have the ability.’ Ordinary people, they have slowly come to realise that television news is a vast form of manipulation.”

Frieze 2: “Marker was Resnais’ assistant on Night and Fog (1955), one of the first films to document the Nazi death camps. This early moral imperative to remember is echoed in the Bosnian conflict. News, for those who live within violent struggle, is part of the work of mourning.”

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Katy asked why I like Chris Marker movies so much. I told her that Sans Soleil is one of my very favorite movies, and that everything else he has made connects with it in some way, that more than most other filmmakers he seems to be making one long work, rather than a bunch of disconnected movies, and I hope to see as much of that work as possible.

Songs heard:
Tokyo Days: Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain
Prime Time in the Camps: Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows
Berlin ’90: The Air That I Breathe

A different kind of movie than the other Marker works I’ve seen. Really this is what I’d been waiting for: the politically-engaged street filmmaking of the 60’s and 70’s combined with the travelogue gaze and personal essay style (with distancing commentary) of Sans Soleil. Didn’t fill me with joy like most of Marker’s movies do, however… more contemplative and sadder, takes more time to think about each section and let them all sink in. Uses public artwork of cats to weave from Sept. 11th reactions to political situations in France to the death and imprisonment of friends and entertainers in such a way that, like Sans Soleil, I don’t realize what the film is about until I watch it again. Two versions of the film… first time I played it with English narration, then a couple weeks later I ran the French version with live sound and no narration, just scattered intertitles. Shockingly (since I usually love Marker’s narrations) I liked the second way better. But then, I got more out of it having just seen the English version. So I’d recommend both as a double-feature!
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Quotes below are from the English commentary.

Opens with a flash mob in Paris. People mill around opening and closing umbrellas, to music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
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November 2001 Paris. September 2001 New York.
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Cats on a roof, on buildings high and low, hidden in a tree.
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The metro, a bridge, signs of Paris from long ago. Presidential election at the end of year… the left is split, so the far-right candidate Le Pen comes close to challenging the incumbent Chirac, who is defensively re-elected after protests in the streets against Le Pen.
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“Let’s face it: these girls with their war paint are lovely, but the fascist legions are not besieging our gates. And if Le Pen is a dictator, it’s mainly against his own people. Yet what we see here coming onstage is an entire generation that was spoken of as being apolitical.”
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More about the cat, appearing in the evening news and all over the internet.
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March 19th, Bush (backed by Blair) declares war on Iraq, but UN inspectors find no weapons. More street protests in Paris, but as with the American protests of the time, they’ve splintered into hundreds of mini-demonstrations. “Why should the streets of Paris be less chaotic than the rest of the world.”
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The plundering of Iraqi museums in April, a “die-in” for the victims of AIDS in June. “In these times, we the people gathered to watch eleven billionaires kicking a ball. What about the French team? Stalinesque-sized posters, as we had never seen the like of in Paris – and not one goal recorded.” More about street demonstrations with “a certain fuzziness in the symbols.” “It’s a great asset in life, not to know what you’re talking about. Marker follows political and popular developments with great interest but without total enthusiasm, removed from it all. Seems like he’s either saying “it’s nice that they’re trying, but their struggles are shadows of the struggles I lived through” or “this is what I was once like, with the same futility and wasted energy.”
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Sees a personal friend (below) in a street crowd, then records news footage relaying that friend’s death at age 79 soon afterwards. Flashback to 1999, at a concert benefitting a cause that same activist friend had supported, Marker had filmed a young singer, who five years later had become famous for accidentally killing his actress girlfriend. “And you wonder why the Cats abandon us?”
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What if they left us for good?”
‘We were the Freedom Cats. If you didn’t catch the message, just move on!’
And then – comes a sign.
The same unknown hand has painted circles of Cats on the sidewalk, to watch over our sleep.
Thank you, Cats.
We will badly need you…
…wherever we go.

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This film is dedicated to M. Chat and those who, like him, are creating a new culture.
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Apr 2008:
——————-
Watched again with a very small, mildly unhappy audience. Oh how will I meet some fellow Rivette fanatics in my town if not at a public Celine & Julie screening? Love love love the last twenty minutes or so when they attack the fiction house, but the parts in the middle where they interfere in each other’s lives (Celine driving away Julie’s lover, Julie wrecking Celine’s job) are great fun also. Still don’t know what to make of Julie meeting her grandmother at the house next door to the fiction house.

Catching up with the cast: “Julie” had not-huge parts in Renoir and Fellini films, was recently in Ruiz’s Time Regained with La Belle noiseuse star Emmanuelle Béart. Marie-France Pisier played the dark-haired flower-fearing woman in the fiction house, also appeared in Time Regained, as well as Phantom of Liberty, Trans-Europ Express and got her start starring in Truffaut’s short Antoine & Collette.

Remembering the cat in the final shot, I paid attention to all the cats in the movie this time. Not much to say about that, though.

Feb 2007:
——————-
Incredible movie. Been thinking about it a lot. Lived up to expectations after I’d been wanting to see it for 6-7 years. Delightful to watch for all three of its hours, playful in every sense.

Dark-haired Celine meets red-head Julie, and they goof around for a long time, then…

James Crawford in Reverse Shot:

From the outset, Céline’s been on the run from a mysterious mansion with a gruesome secret. And so, just as the title predicts—in French, ‘aller en bateau,’ literally translated as ‘to go boating’ has a colloquial meaning of approximately ‘to get taken for a ride’ or ‘get caught up in a story’—Céline and Julie get wrapped up in discovering said secret.

The two take turns entering this house and comparing their experiences, trying to change the outcome and learn the secrets within. They mess with each other’s personal lives (jobs and friends), experiment with spells and legends and memory, and seem to never stop enjoying themselves. A big ol’ metaphor for movie watching, filmmaking, audience participation, getting caught up in the action. Out 1 is at the theater and Celine & Julie is at the movies.

Released the same year as another movie to blow my mind on video lately, Edvard Munch.

Will have to see this again and again.

Celine & Julie:
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Feuillade-ing through town:
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Bulle Ogier (Out 1’s Pauline/Emilie)
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Director Barbet Schroeder as the guy in the fiction house:
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The girl from the house, rescued:
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Going boating:
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Late into SHOCKtober (Oct. 18th), I have finally unpacked my office enough to uncover the disc holding season two of “Masters of Horror”. Katy’s little brother is joining me for the celebratory kickoff screening, so I choose episode eleven, Stuart Gordon’s entry. It’s been a Gordon-filled month and his stuff is always either effective (“Dagon”) or entertaining (“Dolls”) or more usually both (“From Beyond”). Disappointingly, what we’ve got here is a slow-moving period piece that failed to impress or entertain.

The movie is supposedly based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”, but it’s actually an “Edgar Allen Poe In Love”, where we watch Poe’s visions and dreams that inspire him to write “The Black Cat”. Poe fans on the IMDB comment board enthusiastically rave about all the references to Poe’s life and stories scattered throughout the movie. Sort of a condensed look at Poe, implying that Gordon and usual co-writer Dennis Paoli will not be exploring each Poe work in-depth (this is the second after “Pit and the Pendulum”) as they have been doing for HP Lovecraft (seven films and counting).

Never heard of most of these actors and the only thing that turns up on IMDB is that half of them have been in the “Highlander” series for some reason. MoH trademark eye-gouging is here, but no nudity and I suppose an enthusiastic Jeffrey Combs will have to be our token celebrity casting.

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