Top of the Lake (2013, Jane Campion)

Detective Robin (Elisabeth Moss of Queen of Earth) is visiting her sick mom in the New Zealand small town where she grew up. A 12-year-old girl is discovered to be pregnant then disappears, and Robin takes over the case.

The story sucked me in, and I appreciated the actors, particularly Moss and local drug lord (and missing girl’s dad) Peter Mullan and a too-rarely-seen Holly Hunter as the guru of a makeshift trailer-park of troubled women. I was hoping for a good movie given extra time to deepen and spread out, but it started to feel too television. Each episode develops the main plot a bit more, gives the main character a bit more backstory, and reveals a bit more of the town’s dark secrets. And the big hook at the beginning (pregnant child) and big reveal at the end (child-molesting club run by chief cop), along with Robin’s stories of past abuse and constant present threats and the women’s camp and whatever they’ve been through, all adds an icky air of sexual violence to the show. As the episodes progressed, I started to cynically believe that this isn’t helping anyone, just attempting to give an air of importance to an otherwise standard story, though I suppose the intent was to recognize the sexual violence present, mostly hidden, everywhere. Overall I did like it, the distinct characters in gorgeous settings, but not jonesing for season two.

Bonus subplots: clashes with local law enforcement, occasional stories of the women at the camp, some late revenge on one of Robin’s childhood rapists, a major on/off/again affair with her high school boyfriend (Thomas Wright of The Bridge), adventures of tight-lipped Jamie (Tui’s most trusted friend), threats of incest, a couple of deaths (most horribly Jamie’s) and a late reveal that the drug lord is Robin’s real dad.

Jamie:

Robin’s mom and stepdad:

Cowritten with Gerard Lee (Sweetie) and directed with Garth Davis (Lion). Same cinematographer as True Detective season one – that’s no surprise. I recently saw Peter Mullan as the evil father in Sunset Song – he’s good at being menacing. Local boss cop Al is David Wenham of Public Enemies. Moss won best actress at the golden globes and the show won best cinematography at the emmys, but Behind The Candelabra took best TV movie at both.

Sepinwall liked it:

The character work is rich and devastating, the atmosphere hypnotic, and the overall storytelling so good that even if the mysteries hadn’t been resolved, I wouldn’t have felt like my time was wasted … who done it ultimately isn’t as important as the toll the crime takes on our heroine, and on the community around her.

Dheepan (2015, Jacques Audiard)

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).

The Forbidden Room (2015, Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson)

Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

A Prophet (2009, Jacques Audiard)

Malik (Tahar Rahim) goes to prison, seems way out of his league, becomes a lackey for Italian mobsters led by Cesar (Niels Arestrup), eventually gains knowledge and power, turning on his masters and starting his own drug business. Along the way, the movie illustrated some things I would’ve been better off not knowing, like how to slash a guy’s throat using a mouth-concealed razor.

Strong acting, kinda complicated plot with murders and trips outside and ghosts. I’m bad with names so I liked the movie’s trick of putting new characters’ names on the screen. Ends with the welcome and unexpected sound of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. The last crime movie I watched had Willie Nelson in it – I guess country music works well in prison settings.

Cannes Month continues. This is the first I’ve seen by Audiard, who has been Cannes-nominated four times. He won best screenplay in 1996 for A Self-Made Hero, second place to The White Ribbon with this movie, and finally won the palme last year with Dheepan. This also won nine Césars and was nominated for everything in the world.

Cowritten with Thomas Bidegain (Les Cowboys), Abdel Raouf Dafri (Mesrine) and Nicolas Peufaillit (Les Revenants remake). Tahar Rahim won a ton of awards for this, later played Samir (Berenice’s fiancee with the wife in the coma) in The Past, starred in Day of the Falcon and The Cut, and will apparently costar with Mathieu Amalric in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie but I’ll believe that when I see it. Neils Arestrup also played the father-figure in Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped and played “Il” in Akerman’s Je Tu Il Elle.

R. Porton in Cinema Scope wasn’t a big fan:

Numerous critics have pondered whether the film’s conclusion, which ends with Malik’s release from prison and the promise of life with a new family, is “redemptive.” Yet this prospect ultimately carries little weight in a film that is sabotaged by its own contradictions – contradictions that are the product of authorial sketchiness instead of salutory complexity. Audiard does not have the courage (or the talent) to be either straightforwardly pulpy or an unabashed social realist. Consequently, Un prophète, despite near-universal critical acclaim, languishes in an aesthetic no man’s land.

Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra)

Karamakate in the Amazon is visited by two white men seeking the same herb at different times in his life. As a strong and suspicious young man in 1909 he meets Belgian Theo (Borgman star Jan Bijvoet) who claims he seeks the plant to cure an illness. As a forgetful old man during WWII he meets Evan (Brionne Davis of a recent Wizard of Oz miniseries – IMDB: “ambitious and terrible”), who claims to be a noble scientist but is ultimately seeking materials for military use.

Really beautiful black-and-white jungle/river photography, recreations of native life and its corruption and destruction by so-called Christians. The story about needing to teach the white guys to dream, and the parallel timelines (the latter-day one ending with Karamakate destroying the plant rather than hand it over) were a bit confounding and the heavy symbolism a bit tiresome, but overall I liked it better than Cinema Scope did, and not as much as Reverse Shot did.

Sicario (2015, Denis Villeneuve)

After this and Edge of Tomorrow, Emily Blunt is an action star. Though she was no hero in this one – she’d talk big, but ultimately she’s being used by compromised higher-ups who have no interest in her stupid morals. Josh Brolin is a boss, working with Benicio Del Toro, who turns out to be consolidating cartel power, I think, and/or taking personal revenge, by going all James Bond and assassinating some Mexicans at the end. Blunt and partner Daniel Kaluuya (star of my favorite Black Mirror episode) are forced along for the ride.

Think I like this Villeneuve fella. Storytelling is bizarre (probably plays better the second time around) with some groany dialogue and troop behavior but filming is nice. People said it was tense and scary but I still think El Sicario Room 164 is scarier.

M. D’Angelo:

Kate is incredibly strong in a situation where her strength is useless. This is a deeply pessimistic film about the near-impossibility of overcoming institutional corruption — one that’s honest enough to have its protagonist struggle for a long time about whether what she’s witnessing even is corruption.

Love (2015, Gaspar Noé)

I guess it’s been fifteen years since I watched Gaspar Noé’s I Stand Alone on videotape and didn’t enjoy it, and his name keeps coming up, so as part of my Festifest Quest to become more familiar with the film-festival auteurs of these days, I thought it best to watch a 2d blu-ray of Noé’s 3d porno. And I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe he’s a big screen filmmaker and you need to experience the glory in a proper theater – not that his films ever show where I live – but more likely he is making uninteresting movies that I should avoid in the future.

Salo, hardcore The Defiance of Good, Flesh for Frankenstein:

Okay, I liked the editing a lot. I’m a sucker for good editing, and this thing’s got it. Well-composed shots (though most are horribly lit) and lots of sex, two more things I like. The list ends there. Murphy is a sadsack who hates his blonde wife Omi and his family and his stupid life, so he dreams in flashback of his ex-girlfriend Electra and his stupid life with her. He comes across as a total dick, but once you get to better understand his situation… he’s still a dick, which deflates the sex scenes and the drama.

M, Birth of a Nation:

So Murphy and Electra were together, did drugs and had sex and initiated a threesome with a cute neighbor in their building. Murph fights Electra’s ex-boyfriend art-dealer Noé, played by our director Noé, then the cop arresting Murph tells him about a sex club, where he goes with Electra. He wears one of those Fassbinder shirts in the style of the Metallica logo and tells everyone he’s a filmmaker, though we never see him work. First time his girlfriend’s out of town he cheats with the cute neighbor, condom breaks, bam, two years later he’s stuck with the cute neighbor and their kid (named Gaspar, of course) and Electra’s mom is calling saying she hasn’t heard from her daughter in months, and has anyone seen her, but no they haven’t.

Murphy keeps stereoscopic photos in his I Stand Alone VHS box – self-reference much?

Taxi Driver?

Freaks, Taxi Driver:

Katy saw a single frame of this movie, on pause, and said it “doesn’t look very nice.” Not as stylized as I expected, really an actor’s showcase (and they’re fine, but the English dialogue needs work), though there’s some cool fake-sounding mixing in a couple of club scenes. I dig the music choices – “Maggot Brain” over the threesome.

B. Williams in Cinema Scope:

For a myriad of technological and social reasons, this current 3D wave is the first that’s been sustained long enough for us to get a stereoscopic porno that we have the opportunity to take somewhat seriously. If last year, with Adieu au langage, we were finally able to see 3D’s voice crack, Love might best be taken as its first date: a dumb, awkward, unseasoned, and horny experience that is best forgotten in the long term but serves as a logical and necessary step for now.

American Ultra (2015, Nima Nourizadeh)

Not the masterpiece I was hoping for based on those great posters, but pretty fun. Action-comedy with good dialogue, likeable actors and timeline-shuffling storytelling that actually works. The action scenes could’ve been shot better, but the music is great. Of course, second half kinda falls apart as the standard series of plot-reveals and final-showdowns all come together.

Tony Hale:

Adventures of Apollo Ape:

Coincidentally I watched this the night Jesse Eisenberg made film-critic-site headlines for saying something mean about film critics. He and Kristen Stewart are local losers in love, but he’s actually a CIA experiment, a super-soldier with erased memory, and she’s his CIA handler who chose to stay by his side. They both seem about 10-15 years too young to be retired CIA super-agents, but I guess Spy Kids exists, so nevermind.

Romance:

Secrets:

CIA dickweed Topher Grace sends killers led by “Laugher” Walt Goggins to exterminate all the ex-super-soldiers, so project head Connie Britton (star of two of Katy’s favorite shows) sneaks over and activates Jesse to defend himself. End result is a lotta people get killed, CIA bigwig Bill Pullman gets called in, and Jesse and Kristen are finally left alone. Also featuring John Leguizamo as Jesse’s weed and fireworks connection and Tony Hale as Connie’s flustered assistant. Written by Max Landis (Deer Woman), who seems to have a good knack for combining the awful with the hilarious. Director Nourizadeh made party-out-of-control movie Project X.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel)

Seen this a few times before, and a year or two after watching, I can never remember what I loved about it. The story’s not exciting (similar plot description to The Exterminating Angel) and I recall it being slow and weird, but not weird enough to be memorable. So I watched again, and loved it again, and this time maybe it’ll stick.

Starts out with a bunch of slightly awful people trying to make dinner appointments that never quite work out. They arrive at a house on the wrong night. They walk out of a restaurant whose owner is lying dead in the next room. Their hosts abandon them to have sex in the bushes. Meanwhile, ambassador Fernando Rey is dodging terrorists, and local priest Julien Bertheau wants to be the Senechals’ gardener.

So far a finely-shot, classy-looking film about slightly weird things, then the second half becomes a series of sidetracks. A random officer in a restaurant tells a long ghost story, the ambassador shoots a guy, the dinner table becomes a stage play, the priest takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, the whole group is raided by police and arrested, the whole group is slaughtered, and all these things turn out to be dreams, dreams within dreams, punctuated by shots of the group (minus the priest) walking down a road (recalling a shot in The Milky Way).

Murderous priest:

The sex-in-bushes, priest-employing couple: Jean-Pierre Cassel (Army of Shadows, the king in Lester’s The Three Musketeers) and Stephane Audran (Babette’s Feast, La Rupture). The other couple: Paul Frankeur (The Milky Way, Jour de Fete) and Delphine Seyrig, and her drunk sister is the great Bulle Ogier. So that’s another difference between this viewing and my previous ones: this time I know and love all three lead actresses.

Didn’t realize when I decided to watch this and Day For Night that they won consecutive foreign-film oscars.

Piccoli cameo:

M. D’Angelo:

Hard to quantify the cumulative satirical force this movie brings to bear, as it maintains the same level of genial drollery from start to finish. I always start out mildly amused, wind up gobsmacked… but it seems entirely possible that shuffling the scenes at random would have much the same effect. It’s just a single pointed joke that gets funnier and funnier, abetted by a sextet of actors who refrain from any winking or nudging — Bulle Ogier in particular achieves maximum vacuity without calling attention to herself in any way, but they all embody entitlement with zero fuss.