A ridiculous documentary. A pair of twins got into the news because they preferred speaking in their own invented language to English. After TV and newspaper reporters are done with the story, Gorin (a Godard collaborator in the 1970’s, codirecting Tout va bien and Ici et ailleurs) shows up to make a movie about the twins, seeming the whole time to be out of his element. My favorite scene was at a library, with cameraman Les Blank (the same year as Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe) following the twins as they run around acting like themselves, while Gorin stands by impotently trying to get them to pose for him. Finally at the end does a linguist get some input, as the story and the movie peter out. Katy hated it so much.
Precocious children with parental issues, highly-organized secret plans and old-fashioned craftsy props surrounded by superstar actors including Bill Murray – so yes, it’s like any Wes Anderson movie, but it’s a good one. He has a unique talent for collapsing different locations into one hermetic snowglobe of a film. The visual/conceptual unity is helped by the soft, grainy 16mm cinematography, and that fact that all the action takes place on an island.
In the celeb-actor world, Frances McDormand is cheating on husband Bill Murray with local cop Bruce Willis. Edward Norton leads a troop of scouts, hopes to join his idol, scout commander Harvey Keitel, at the big convention where Jason Schwartzman is some kinda mercenary merchant. And Bob Balaban is a sort-of-present character/narrator.
But one of the movie’s strengths is that it focuses primarily on its young heroes, Sam and Suzy, who run off together and camp on the beach, leaving the celeb-actors as background players. Willis and Norton lead search parties as two threats approach: an epic storm, and Tilda Swinton of Social Services, coming to take Sam to a home.
Katy liked it more than she thought she would.
Adam Scott and writer/director/producer Westfeldt are good people, good friends, but unlucky in love. Will they end up together? Of course they will, but hold on a sec. Their friends (madly-in-lust couple Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig, and more laid-back couple Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd) are having kids, and Scott and Westfeldt also want kids – everybody does! So they decide to have a kid, but as friends, since they’re not in love obviously, and share parenting duties. And they’re very good at it. Will they end up together? Of course they will, but hold just a sec, movie would only be 40 minutes long.
Scott likes Megan Fox, who doesn’t like kids because she must be some kind of sexy sociopath. And Westfeldt likes Edward Burns, who loves kids and already has a couple of ‘em. Things are getting serious, but wait a sec, weren’t Scott and Westfeldt supposed to end up together? Well, they do.
Lightly likeable movie, better than Bridesmaids, with which it shares half its cast. Our writer/producer/director/star also wrote/produced/directed/starred in Kissing Jessica Stein and Ira & Abby.
All three films ask intriguing questions about whether it’s really necessary to stand by familiar models of romance, and whether people are better off writing their own rules. And all three use comedy to avoid getting message-heavy, and emotional stakes to avoid being empty fluff. But Westfeldt has a tendency to go over the top, and Friends With Kids in particular has a shrill, smug edge that kills the comedy and the drama alike. …
The film’s biggest weakness is that their logic is ludicrous, and the script doesn’t justify it, except by depicting them as right at every turn. Nonsensically, and without explanation, their lack of romantic expectations for each other lets them juggle ambitious careers, busy dating lives, and parenthood with the grace and ease that’s escaped all their disintegrating friends.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I was planning to watch this anyway, but not as a memorial screening. Low-quality copy of this three-episode miniseries. You can see through the dubbed videotape murk and the MPEG blocks that much of the lighting and composition is probably wonderful (and the music score too good to be consigned to a lost TV-movie) – hope there will be an official release some day. This shows no compromise to the commercial requirements of television, just as twisty as the great City of Pirates, and similarly featuring featuring ships, pirate ghosts, islands, children, plot paradoxes and murder.
Part 1: Manoel’s Destinies
A narrator sets up the time-travel theme right away.
“I’m called ‘long ago.’ This story took place in the past, but I’m sure it will happen again soon. That’s why I chose to tell it to you in the present.”
Seven-year-old Manoel is on his way to school the morning after his family’s jewelry was stolen in the night, when he hears whispered voices, sidetracks into a courtyard and meets himself, six years older. Older Manoel says six years ago he was on his way to school, sidetracked into the courtyard and met a fisherman in a cave, went boating with him, came home and his life changed. His parents’ hopes in their son were shattered, his mother died, and he went off to work after dropping out of school. But he sidetracked into a courtyard, met the fisherman again, and boated backwards through time, retrieved his family’s jewels from the sea, and met his seven-year-old self.
So, young Manoel continues to school, follows the advice of older Manoel, becomes an extreme overachiever, and a few years later his father dies. So he visits the fisherman, goes back and yells his young self. “This time he chooses caution: he must ignore the fisherman’s call, but he mustn’t succeed at school.” At the end of the day, his parents are fine, but the townspeople find a dead boy on the beach: older Manoel.
Part 2: The Picnic of Dreams
More tense-twisting from the narrator, and Manoel’s class is on a field trip, literally to a field, where the teacher wants them to attempt to fall asleep and dream a hospital, which might become real. This doesn’t work, and Manoel walks through the dream forest and meets a large man who talks to trees.
The giant takes a coin from Manoel, and with it they swap bodies. Now Manoel in the man’s body must reclaim the coin, breaks into his own house at night and grabs it from his piggybank. A more straightforward story than the other parts.
Part 3: The Little Chess Champion
After his mother dies (guess he failed to save her through time-travel) Manoel is sent to live with his aunt, who lives with her son and two nephews in a museum. “The staff had moved out because of ghosts.”
Manoel plays violent games with the servant’s sons Pedro and Paulo, and visits the funhouse on Elephant Island with his cousins and a mysterious sea captain – but that may have been a dream. He meets seven-year-old Marylina, a genetically-engineered super-child who’s now the world chess champion and has a fiancee named Rock who has exchanged brains with a famed pianist.
There’s levitation, shadow plays, and my favorite visual effect, a bit of perspective-play with a hand coming through a keyhole. The captain takes Pedro into the shadow world, so Manoel visits the chess girl for help. But she and her fiancee have been discovering secret codes hidden in the structures of things. My favorite: “The Eiffel Tower is an iron code that translates French body odor into perfume.” The Captain comes and steals more children into his shadow world. It’s a completely insane episode.
The Captain and his demise:
“Now after all these years, when I remember my childhood, I think these things were just my imagination.”
This has played in different forms (a four-episode version, a theatrical film) in different places, including at Cannes. The acting credits are listed without character names, but someone figured out that Teresa Madruga (of Joao Monteiro’s Silvestre) plays Manoel’s mother. Fernando Heitor and Diogo Doria (an Oliveira regular, also in Love Torn in Dream) may play his father and teacher. The rest is a mystery to me.
Writing or filming for children can sometimes bring a person straight to the source of their art. Having to perceptibly adapt their style confronts them with what must be included. Manoel leaves us with the essential Ruiz, the audio-visual companion to his extraordinary book Poetics of Cinema. Its dizzying narrative fold-over-fold methodology creates a labyrinthine temporal structure.
Also watched a TV episode called Exiles from 1988, which provides a nice career summary, focusing on Ruiz’s relationship with Chile and identity as an exile within his film stories.
The Great Man:
And something called Screen Pioneers (episode 3) from 1985 – an eccentric biography program, purporting to be from the future (like Time Trumpet) looking back on our present, and on this semi-unknown character named Raoul Ruiz. Written by Michael Powell expert Ian Christie – I’ve listened to some of his Criterion audio commentaries.
It’s only ten minutes long, plays like an extended intro to…
Return of a Library Lover (1983)
A first-person travel essay about Ruiz’s first return to Chile in ten years. Everything seems the same as when he left (it’s first-person narrated), except he notices a single pink book is missing from his shelf, a book he decides holds “the key to what happened on that night of Pinochet’s coup.” He interviews friends (including a “renowned library constructor”), and checks the bars. He talks to a bookseller. “I deduced that he couldn’t speak Spanish anymore and constantly had to check his own subtitles and translate them laboriously back.” What started out as a personal slideshow has turned into a full-fledged Ruiz movie. The book is discovered at the end, by contemporary Chilean poet Juan Uribe Echevarria.
My favorite line, a casual, matter-of-fact note on subjective memory: “Apart from having shrunk a little, the house was still intact.”
“From the Mayans I’ve inherited the knack of changing my childhood
just as one changes one’s native country.”
Qassem is always late for school, never does his homework, slacks off to play soccer. Things get out of hand when he decides to attend a big game in Tehran (about four hours northeast of his town – thanks, google maps). He steals money from his mother, borrows a non-working camera from his friend and scams every kid at school, claiming to be taking their portraits, then sells his soccer gear and hits the city.
Once there, he has to buy a ticket from scalpers, but he gets into the stadium. Realizing the game won’t start for hours, he goes walking in the city, finds a grassy spot and takes a nap. He dreams of getting caught cheating at school, of all the kids in town ganging up and beating his ass. Wakes up at dusk, having slept through the game – last shot is him running through the empty stadium.
You can almost hear the narrator from Two Solutions to One Problem asking us whether Qassem deserved to see the game. The movie puts some fun hidden commentaries on Qassem’s state of mind in his schoolwork – another kid reciting a story in class might as well be narrating Qassem’s daydreams (“Kuzat had just one thought: to escape with all his might”), and a vocabulary drill hits on “outlaw, discipline, ambition,” and on the final word he gets inspired to sell his soccer goals for the last bit of money he needs to make his trip.
Criterion calls this Kiarostami’s first feature – it’s 74 minutes, while Experience the previous year was 60 – but Senses of Cinema calls them both “short features.” Semantics! It’s funny that SoC talks of Kiarostami leading the Iranian New Wave, since I couldn’t stop thinking of The 400 Blows during this movie.
Qassem with his parents:
Also watched some early shorts…
Breaktime / In Between Class (1972)
More elliptical story than Bread and Alley or Two Solutions for One Problem. Dara kicks a ball through a window at school, gets punished. He kicks another kid’s ball out of play, escapes punishment. Then he goes for a walk to the highway. There must be something I missed. Sharply photographed, with some tricks you don’t see much in Kiarostami films: a moving crane shot and a slow-motion effect. No dialogue except for the written intro.
The Chorus (1982)
Oh my god, this one is my favorite. Opens with guy in a horse cart galloping through the alleys, but our hero is the old man with a hearing aid who slows him down. Good to see that even in Iran a favorite past time of elderly men is throwing crumbs to flocks of pigeons. Our guy goes home and removes his hearing aid due to obnoxious road work outside, then can’t hear when his granddaughter is at the door. More and more kids gather outside to help her shout to be let in, until finally he looks out the window.
Buy from Amazon:
Close-Up/The Traveler: Criterion Blu-ray
The end of the War Trilogy, and the one I’d seen once before in a mega-depressing Italian Neorealism night programmed by TCM, which included Ossessione and Umberto D.
No Fellini involvement this time, just R.R. in a foreign land with unknown actors. Being an Italian, foreign pictures were no problem – doesn’t matter what anybody is saying because they’ll be dubbed later. A fairly active and mobile camera for 1948, with plenty of exteriors of course, by D.P. Robert Juillard, who’d later shoot René Clément’s Forbidden Games. Big noisy music by brother Renzo.
Little Edmund is being pulled in all directions. He lives with his family, who board with a cranky other family. The elders complain that Edmund is made to go out and work for them, but they barely lift a finger to help – father is ill, brother is a nazi soldier in hiding, and sister dances with men at night for cigarettes. Edmund even picks up tasks for the landlords, who then bitch and moan if he doesn’t do them right. He’s not extremely street smart (Hitler Youth underprepared him for ruinous defeat), is taken advantage of wherever he goes. He falls in with a nazi (and very likely pedophile, extremely creepy, touchy dude who loves hanging out with boys) ex-schoolteacher who plants the idea in Edmund’s mind to poison his father and lessen the burden around the house. But doing this only makes Ed feel worse, and he throws himself off a building.
“This movie, filmed in Berlin in the summer of 1947,” [Rossellini] declared …, is “an objective and faithful portrait,” not “an accusation or even a defense of the German people.” Yet objectivity was clearly (and thankfully) the last thing Rossellini had in mind. Even the doom-ridden modernist score by his brother Renzo participates in the sense of unfolding disbelief and horror by suggesting some of the mood of science fiction. And the directive later in the preface to care about these Germans rather than call for any further retribution is actually more consistent with Rossellini’s aims than any “objective assessment” could be. This was a brave and principled stance for him to take at the time, and it still places Germany Year Zero well in advance of most films about war made even today.
That ending (Rossellini says the ending was the only part of this film that interested him) is so powerful that although it’s one of the all-time most depressing movie finales, I could watch it over and over. Ed allows himself to be more of a kid here, playing games that get increasingly war-like and suicidal – he pretends that a bit of metal is a gun, and his first instinct is to shoot himself with it. The final pan up to the ruined city skyline (one of many majestic shots of bombed-out Berlin) reminds me of that final skyline shot as the kids walk away from the murdered priest at the end of Rome Open City.
Buy from Amazon:
Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy DVD
Watching at my usual slow pace. Ten months to watch thirteen episodes, oh my. At this point I’m probably willing to agree with people who’ve been saying this is the best show ever on television. Still one season to go.
New directors: Anthony Hemingway, who also worked on The Corner, steps up from being a longtime assistant director, David Platt (a Law & Order guy), Jim McKay (R.E.M.’s Tourfilm) and TV’s Seith Mann.
Low body count this season. Careers after death: Fruit, shot in the head in the first episode – Brandon Fobbs, who went on to appear in an Uwe Boll movie. Tyrell Baker (Little Kevin) starred in The Barbershop Chronicles, which is not a sequel to Barbershop. Cyrus Farmer (tough kid Michael’s stepdad), also of Oz, appeared in a Notorious B.I.G. bio-pic. And J.D. Williams (personable drug dealer Bodie Broadus, a regular since season 1), was in a short-lived show called The Kill Point.
It’s like Sweetgrass, only instead of sheep there are babies. And there aren’t so many of them. And the camerawork is better. That was surprising, that a doc about babies (from just-been-born to just-learning-to-stand) looked better than the Cinema Scope-acclaimed doc about sheep herding. But neither movie transcended expectations. If you are into sheep (or, in this case, babies), we’ve got your movie here. Bonus feature of the movie: pretty vistas of Mongolia.
Baby in his Searchers pose:
Scenes with kids in town and school, episodic with a couple more-central characters (I’m thinking of the poor boy with abusive parents who gets rescued by social services at the end). Katy’s favorite part was the girl whose parents went out for dinner without her so she yelled “I’m hungry, I’m hungry” through a bullhorn out her window until the neighbors sent a picnic basket to her window using ropes and pulleys. I liked the double date at the movies, where the meek boy loses out and his friend takes both girls. Also wonderful, an Antichrist-recalling scene with a toddler chasing a cat slooowly out a tenth-floor window, finally falling and bouncing harmlessly upon the ground. It’s frightening at first until I realized (and assured Katy) that Truffaut doesn’t kill children, especially not in a comedy. Ebert liked “the painful earnestness that goes into the recitation of a dirty joke that neither the teller nor the listeners quite understand.”
Ebert again: “He correctly remembers that childhood itself is episodic: Each day seems separate from any other, each new experience is sharply etched, and important discoveries and revelations become great events surrounded by a void. It’s the accumulation of all those separate moments that create, at last, a person.”
Of all the kids, how many went on to further acting careers? Only Eva Truffaut, unsurprisingly. More unexpected is that only a few of the adult actors have any other acting credits. Hairdresser Mrs. Riffle (Tania Torrens) was in The Lover, Lydie Richet (Virginie Thevenet) was in Chabrol’s Cry of the Owl, and new father Mr. Richet the schoolteacher (Jean-Francois Stevenin) played Marlon in Out 1 and more recently appeared in The Limits of Control. Same cowriter (Suzanne Schiffman) and cinematographer as Out 1, too.
Oddly, the U.S. poster I found online says “Roger Corman presents…”
Should’ve been called Pocket Money (French is L’argent de poche) but the name was taken by a Lee Marvin/Paul Newman flick a couple years before. The Truffaut movie plus the Tom Waits “Small Change” album released the same year (the two are unrelated; nobody in the film gets rained on with his own thirty-eight) effectively wiped the Lee Marvin film’s title from the English language… now we wouldn’t dream of naming a movie Pocket Money.
Nominated for a Golden Globe (remember those?) but beaten by Bergman. It’s nice to see shouts-out to Bergman and Truffaut in a year when every actress in Freaky Friday was nominated.
I’ve started an Amazon account to see if I can get any kickback money out of my sucker readers’ online spending. I hate to commercialize, but could use a few bucks, so please click and buy to support cinephilia on the internet.
Actually, the Truffaut DVD is out of print (let’s hope for a cleaner image on the next release), but here’s the just-as-good Tom Waits album: Small Change