Indie-drama story of loss, as widow decides to live in hometown of her deceased husband. But then after rumors spread of her buying valuable property, her son is kidnapped for real estate money she doesn’t have, then he’s killed and we get a more traumatic story of loss and the indie-drama template goes off the rails. I wasn’t crazy about it but I appreciate its unique message – religion is crap and major trauma can’t be overcome in the span of a movie.

Do-yeon Jeon of the recent Housemaid remake won best actress at Cannes, and the great Kang-ho Song (the year after starring in The Host) plays a subdued local guy who’s interested in her, becomes a Christian when she starts attending church meetings and stays with the church even after it’s clear that she won’t be dating him and she turns against the church. It’s a good portrayal of despair, if that’s what you’re after.

D. Lim:

He has said that before he starts a movie, he always asks himself, “What is cinema for?” Secret Sunshine is a work of visceral emotions and abstract notions; a study of faith in all its power, strangeness, and cruelty; a look at the particularities of human nature and experience that account for the existence, perhaps even the inevitability, of religion — all of which is to say that it’s an attempt to depict the invisible in what is foremost a visual medium … Put simply, Secret Sunshine shows how religion uses us and how we use religion. A film about the lies we tell ourselves in order to live, it suggests that there may be no bigger lie than religion — but also acknowledges that sometimes lies are necessary.

I’ve watched this before, and both times I knew the general idea (documentary footage is being faked, people involved in real events are restaging them for the camera), but I was noticing this time how in some movies Kiarostami never tips his metafictional hand. We know from interviews and DVD extras that the movie theater (and the movie) never existed in Shirin, that the drivers and riders of Ten were never in the car at the same time, and that everyone in Close-Up is performing the role of themselves, but you can’t necessarily tell these things when watching the films.

Farazmand is a reporter who hears about a man (Sabzian) impersonating Mohsen Makhmalbaf, receiving money from a middle-class family while acting like he’s prepping a film shoot. He arranges to get Zabzian arrested for this, after which AK visits the man in jail and records his court date, discussing his intentions in pretending to be a filmmaker.

When Sabzian is interviewed by Kiarostami, realizing AK knows the real Makhmalbaf:

In the commentary, Rosenbaum calls it “a film about impersonation” right as Farazmand is telling the taxi driver and policemen that he aspires to be a famous journalist while he’s clearly unprepared (can’t find the house, not enough cash for the cab, didn’t bring a tape recorder). They discuss how the film is called Close-Up when Kiarostami loves to film in long-shot.

Asking directions from turkey man while looking for the Ahankhah house:

They also discuss the dead time and story distractions, how the film spends time in turn with almost every character.

JR: “Most people would agree that the members of the family come off overall less sympathetically than Sabzian does … they’re more defensive.” His co-commentarian Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa says the rumor is the family originally did not withdraw their complaint against Sabzian, but later agreed to do so for the film. She also says that Sabzian points out that because of Close-Up, the family did in fact get to be in a film as he promised them. Even these experts don’t know whether the filmed trial is real or staged.

The Complainants:

I get the two sons confused, but can you blame me?

JR: Many of Kiarostami’s films from here on are “about the unequal relationship between filmmakers and the people they’re filming who are much poorer and are relatively powerless”.

Two Makhmalbafs:

JR: “I think the real subject of this film … is not impersonation or fraud, it’s the social importance of cinema and how it affects everything – how it affects things socially, how it affects people’s sense of power, their sense of ethics, their sense of identity … and their sense of truth, and perhaps truth is the thing that gets the most severe unpacking in this film.”

Mesmerising footage using slow-motion and time-lapse to make ordinary things (clouds, a night drive, video games, stock exchange) look wonderous.

Glass:

Several generations have grown up looking at those images, but in ’78 they were extremely startling and it was like looking at the world for the first time.

Reggio: “It’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.”

Rebaixes!

I knew what Reggio was going for with the images, but was pondering how, until the final title cards (defining the title as life in turmoil / disintegrating / out of balance), it’d be possible to see most of the movie as a positive celebration of technological progress. Reggio apparently meant it to be ambiguous in this way.

Set to a rightly celebrated Philip Glass score (reminded me at times of the latest Tortoise album), shot by Ron Fricke (Baraka, Chronos), played in competition in Berlin (with La Belle Captive and Pauline at the Beach). But most importantly, someone at IMDB has figured out how many frames of this film contain topless footage of Marilyn Chambers (four).

Pruitt-Igoe:

From the extras it looks like the movie could’ve become a hippie happening, with staged art events and an Allen Ginsberg spoken-word response soundtrack, before the concept was reworked. Reggio was inspired to filmmaking by Los Olvidados and there’s a good segment on his ACLU-sponsored anti-surveillance campaign.

A tired-looking Robert Mitchum is a crook trying to stay out of jail by making deals to give up his friends. His fellow crooks are suspicious of him, and the cops owe him no particular loyalty, so it looks increasingly (to us, if not to Mitchum) that there’s no way out. Shortly after the cops get the drop on Eddie’s bank robber friends, Eddie is unceremoniously executed by the bartender he thinks is his friend (Peter Boyle of Taxi Driver). At least they had a nice night out at a hockey game beforehand.

I especially dig the general atmosphere (and the funk guitar soundtrack). Everyone acts cool but threatening. C. Stebbins called it a “relentlessly melancholic film where chess pieces are moved through quiet back-dealings and dialogue exchanges infused with ever-maneuvering fatalism.”

Mitchum, unamused:

Kent Jones:

There’s not a punch thrown, and only two fatal shots are fired, but this seemingly artless film leaves a deeper impression of dog-eat-dog brutality than many of the blood-soaked extravaganzas that preceded it and have come in its wake … Two crisply executed bank heists and a logistically complex parking-lot arrest aside, the kinetic excitement here is sparked by the verbal and gestural rhythms between the actors as they plead for their lives across dingy Beantown tabletops.

Boyle and Jordan:

Laughs: Katy told me Peter Bogdanovich was in the TV show she’s watching, and I was seeing him everywhere in this movie – turns out most men in 1973 looked like Peter Bogdanovich. I also got chuckles from the lead cop (Richard Jordan of Logan’s Run and Interiors) being named Dave Foley, and another character called Jackie Brown.

A long, complicated movie – Criterion summary:

The film follows the exploits of pristine British soldier Clive Candy as he battles to maintain his honor and proud gentlemanly conduct through romance, three wars, and a changing world. Vibrant and controversial, it is at once a romantic portrait of a career soldier and a pointed investigation into the nature of aging, friendship, and obsolescence.

Blimp in WWI with John Laurie:

I wrote in 2006: “Oops, I thought this was a comedy. I’d somehow convinced myself that Powell makes comedies and I’m never right.”

At the beginning, the movie seems to be about fiery young soldier Spud, then he disappears for 2.5 hours while Candy goes into a “when I was your age” story. This threw me off the first time I saw the movie, as did Deborah Kerr’s various roles. Throwing me this time: Roger Livesey, handsome romantic lead of I Know Where I’m Going, so convincing as a blowhard old man.

Not covered by the summary above: Candy’s lifelong friendship with German soldier Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook). Candy provokes an international incident in the early 1900’s (during the Boer War) and gets himself into a duel with Theo, then they recover together, both in love with Deborah Kerr #1, who marries Theo. In WWI, Candy meets Deborah #2, a nurse, and marries her. And in WWII, Theo has moved to England and Deborah #3 is dating young Spud, is a favorite assistant of Candy’s for obvious reasons.

Deborah Kerr thinks highly of me:

No character in the film is named Col. Blimp – he was a political cartoon character, a blustery old officer who proclaims his dated ideas in a Turkish bath, the WWII version of Candy. The movie’s a bit long and rambling, but a total pleasure to watch, with color cinematography that is beyond excellent. One of my very favorites.

Duelist Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff:

Powell sounds soooo tired on the commentary.
On Kerr: “I got enthusiastic about her hats.”

Scorsese is more fun. I like when he appreciates the visual design while also saying that you don’t have to care about this stuff if you don’t want to:

Look at the use of red in the menus … These are things I kind of enjoy. I don’t say that as you’re watching the film you should be pointing out where the red is. I think you should just look at the movie and enjoy it, hopefully, and probably you shouldn’t be even listening to this narration, you should be watching the film.

I follow a lotta must-see movie lists, and supposedly one of my core interests is the Criterion Collection. Movies that are generally accepted as great, released in pristine quality with valuable extras – it’s a no-brainer. At the halfway point of every month I reload their site all day until the new disc announcements appear, and I agonize over which titles I need to buy during the next half-price sale and which are okay to rent from netflix (in the increasingly rare case that they’re actually carried).

And yet it’s not unusual for a month to go by where I watch no Criterion blu-rays, and I think I’ve figured out why that is. I think in the back of my mind, when the Criterion discs come out they lose their sense of urgency. This movie is now readily available in a near-ideal form, so no need to worry about that. Perhaps the wealth of extras is actually hurting as well – I know when I watch Red I’m gonna have to watch another hour’s worth of (really great!) bonus material, which takes up extra time. I’m always threatening a Criterion Month to catch up, but somehow that never happens, while Shocktober and Cannes Month and the Shorts Project and Rock Docs and TV shows and my random decision this month to watch six adaptations of Crime & Punishment go off without a hitch.

So damn it, I’m declaring that from now until Shocktober is Criterion Month.

I watched a fair number of Polanski films in the last couple years, and am starting to make sense of his style. The Apartment Trilogy is dark and weird, but at least two of the three films have bits of heightened silliness. Carnage and Fearless Vampire Killers are ridiculous, and I thought I was supposed to take Ghost Writer seriously as a drama, but perhaps not. I wouldn’t say Cul-de-sac is one of my favorites, but I get its mood: a hostage thriller with the tension constantly undercut by comic situations and performances.

After a robbery gone wrong, gorilla thug Lionel Stander and mortally wounded Jack MacGowran (the nutty Professor in the following year’s Fearless Vampire Killers) hole up at a castle on the shore, not realizing that the tide would trap them there for the next day. The castle dwellers include insecure author Donald Pleasence, introduced being dressed as a woman by young wife Francoise Dorléac (Catherine Deneuve’s sister in life and in The Young Girls of Rochefort). Lionel alternates between seeming quite menacing and seeming like a dumb guy with nowhere else to go, after he’s disowned by his crime bosses via phone and his partner dies, lumbering into scenes of marital discord like a disfigured remake of Knife in the Water. Stressed, Pleasance alienates his wife and the friends who come to visit while Lionel is still waiting for word from the bosses (pretending to be a drunk uncle or something). Pleasance does finally transform from emasculated dress-up doll to heroic man of violence, shooting a marauding Lionel, but it doesn’t last – he’s freezing up moments later, and Francoise flees, leaving him to his freakouts.

Won the golden bear in Berlin, playing with Lord Love a Duck and Masculin Feminin. First film appearance by Jacqueline Bisset (Day For Night, Under The Volcano) as one of the visitors. Donald Pleasence is campy here, but to be fair, it seems like he’s supposed to be. I only know him as the least-convincing part of such realist films as Halloween, Phenomena, Mr. Freedom and The Pumaman. If only I knew a Pleasence expert who could explain this guy’s methods. Lionel Stander is an actor with an interesting history. He worked throughout the 1930’s and 40’s (Hangmen Also Die, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, A Star is Born). His Eugene Pallette-like voice endeared him to Preston Sturges in the late 1940’s, then he was blacklisted for many years before showing up here.

David Thompson:

What Polanski created with Cul-de-sac was a cinema of the absurd, delving into situations of humiliation, role-playing, and betrayal, and evoking an unsettling atmosphere quite unlike anything else on the big screen. This is underlined by his then favorite composer Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting music, a nagging cross-mix of cool jazz and early pop electronica that continuously twists back on itself in repetitive phrases — even to the point where, when Teresa plays a gramophone record of the main theme, the needle becomes stuck … Polanski had previously approached the august Beckett about making a cinema version of his revolutionary Waiting for Godot. But the author saw no reason for something conceived for the stage to be adapted into a film and refused the rights. Nevertheless, Beckett’s exploration of universal human experience through a pair of philosophical bums had a great influence on the young Polanski, as did the disturbing plays of his contemporary Pinter, with their theme of, yes, imposition, laced with menace and black humor. Although he would downplay it, Polanski’s eventual casting of Jack MacGowran, who had acted in Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s Endgame, and Donald Pleasence, who was in both the stage and film versions of Pinter’s The Caretaker, suggests more than pure coincidence.

Taking Cannes Month way back to 1981, this played in competition alongside Possession, Excalibur, Heaven’s Gate and winner Man of Iron. Mann’s first theatrical feature, though he’d already made TV prison/sports movie The Jericho Mile and written/created the series Vega$. Frank (James Caan, best known as Mr. Henry in Bottle Rocket) gets out of prison and has a clear plan for the rest of his life and the safecracking skills to fund this plan. All he needs is a girl (Tuesday Weld of Lord Love a Duck) and to reunite with his friend (Willie Nelson)

Tuesday is along for the ride but other things start going wrong. Willie dies his first day out of prison, and gangster Leo (Robert Prosky of Broadcast News, a priest in The Keep) offers to help Frank line up a big job and get him and Tuesday a fast-track adoption, and somehow professional criminal Frank isn’t savvy enough to realize that Leo’s not gonna let him do a couple jobs then walk away.

I’m fortunate to be watching this for the first time in the mid-2010’s. The movie’s keyboardy Tangerine Dream soundtrack went from a cool experiment to a long-lasting embarrassment, staying that way for decades until post-Drive it became cool again. Drive seems indebted to this movie’s ending as well, when the hero leaves the girl behind to go on a potentially suicidal rampage against the guys who wronged him – or maybe that’s just how all crime movies end.

I love the bizarre, against-type casting of Willie Nelson and Jim Belushi (pre-SNL, his first movie) as Frank’s partners – wish Mann had kept doing that. Of course it’s Mann-stylish, all slick streets and street lights, but what seemed stylish in the early 1980’s looks pretty subdued today.

The two Jims:

The movie’s one De Palma shot:

“Are you seeing anyone?”
“No, I’m more focused on China. Everything else is history. It’s just a question of time.”

I don’t remember Happiness very well, but saw it twice and gave it an 8 on IMDB so I suppose I liked it. Things I recall: pervy Philip Seymour Hoffman and pervy child-rapist Dylan Baker and Dylan’s unhappy sister-in-law ironically named Joy. Things internet plot summaries are helping me with: Dylan’s wife is named Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), acts superior to Joy. Their writer sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) meets Hoffman then backs out, after which Hoffman meets Kristina, who confesses to murdering their doorman. Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser are Joy’s also-unhappy separated parents. Joy’s ex-boyfriend Jon Lovitz kills himself.

Okay, a decade later… Shirley Henderson as Joy… Paul Reubens as suicidal Jon Lovitz… Michael Kenneth “Omar” Williams as Philip Seymour Hoffman… Ciaran Hinds as the pedophile… Allison Janney as his wife… Ally Sheedy as the writer sister… now I should be caught up and ready to watch.

Shot by Morristown NJ’s own Ed Lachman, following his great work on The Limey, Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion and I’m Not There, the cinematography alone almost makes the movie worth watching. The actors are excellent too… the plot, not so much. More Solondzist miserablism. He must attract Emil Jannings acolytes who think it’ll be a great acting exercise to humiliate themselves onscreen.

Joy is now married to Omar Seymour Hoffman, which I wasn’t expecting, and is still tormented by her ex. I assumed since his character (now Paul Reubens) was in the movie that it wasn’t a straight sequel, but no, turns out he’s a ghost, and is annoyed with Joy for driving him to suicide (“I miss my room, my laserdisc collection”), suggesting that she join him.

Joy with Reubens, moments before she threatens him with one of those awards:

Joy joins her mom in Florida, where she catches up with the writer sister, now a huge horrible celebrity (Sheedy, below). Dylan/Ciaran is just out of prison but can’t visit his family, because his wife has told the kids for the last decade that their father is dead. After sleeping with a cynical Charlotte Rampling (I watched this the day after she was all over the news for making an unwise remark about racism and the oscars), he does track down his oldest son Billy in college, having an awkward reunion which is admittedly still less awkward than most of Happiness.

Ciaran’s wife/Joy’s sister Trish, now Allison Janney, is beginning to date Michael Lerner and things are moving quickly and going well, until her youngest son Timmy misinterprets something he’s been told about not letting adults touch him, and breaks up the relationship. I think the final scene was him apologizing to Lerner’s son Mark. Overall the movie is singlemindedly concerned with forgiveness.

Billy’s wall posters brought to you by Merge Records. I spotted Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Imperial Teen, The Broken West, Oakley Hall, Daniel Johnston, and I’m Not There – another movie casting multiple actors in the same role.

Movie about chaos and joys of filmmaking, with producers and director, love affairs, on-set PR/media crew, interfering locals, rumor monging, old friends, unexpectedly pregnant actors, stunt doubles, lab mistakes, uncooperative animals, movie references, flashbacks, breakdowns, and an Italian actress who can’t deal with sync sound.

The torture of sync sound!

Real director playing fake director fake-showing his real actors how to act:

Truffaut plays a director and Leaud plays his lead actor – imagine that. The film-within’s plot is that Leaud’s young wife Jacqueline Bisset (Albert Finney’s ex-wife in Under The Volcano) runs off with his dad Jean-Pierre Aumont (Hotel du Nord). Meanwhile on set, Leaud’s girlfriend Dani leaves him (and abandons the film), Leaud goes a bit nuts, then nearly breaks up Bisset’s new marriage with her doctor.

Bisset and her doctor:

Leaud’s film-in-film mom is unstable Italian Valentina Cortese (star of Thieves’ Highway, a friend in Juliet of the Spirits), buzzing around set is script-girl Nathalie Baye (star of La Mémoire Courte), and in his only acting role, author Graham Greene plays the film’s insurer.

My favorite bit: Truffaut, who has brought his experiences on other films into this one, stealing from real life to create fiction, has his director-character write his lead actress some last-minute dialogue stealing from something she’d said earlier.

Equipage equipage equipage…

This was the movie that Godard wrote a nasty letter over, ending his friendship with Truffaut. Godard thought Day For Night was dishonest – M. D’Angelo only accuses it of being slight: “Truffaut shoots for amiable, and achieves it.”