Better than Creepy, this is K.K. in arthouse French festival mode.

Stéphane (Olivier Gourmet of all the Dardenne movies) is an eccentric whose giant glass plate photographs are only still in demand by a few connoisseurs, so he spends most of his time in the basement photographing his daughter Marie (Constance Rousseau of Simon Killer) in uncomfortable poses for increasingly long exposures, trying to capture the ineffable. He hires Jean (Tahar Rahim, main dude in A Prophet) as a new assistant, which may have been a bad move – don’t hire someone who’s gonna covertly call an auction house to appraise all your belongings.

For the most part, the film follows Jean as he falls for Marie, who wants to move away from the lonely basement photo sessions and start her own life working at a botanical garden. Jean is a bit of a scam artist, and helps her out by scheming to coerce her dad into selling his estate, for which Jean will get a commission that they can live on together. But the schemes don’t totally make sense, and time goes by and things get weird. It’s not a tight Chabrolian thriller, but something more diffuse. Eventually Marie appears to have died in two separate incidents (a stairs tumble, a car crash), but she still appears real to Jean, and Stéphane’s long-dead wife reappears as a Pulse-referencing slow-motion spirit.

Originally titled Le secret de la chambre noire, I watched this right after Creepy. Since Before We Vanish, K.K. has already released its extended semi-remake Foreboding. The others I missed since Tokyo Sonata include Real (Inception-y romance), Seventh Code (an hourlong paranoid thriller), and Penance (a murder-guilt anthology miniseries).

Agnès Varda goes on one of her journeys around France, looking up old friends and making new ones, but this time she’s got JR, a photographer who likes to make gigantic portraits and paste them onto walls and other surfaces. This is pretty much the best thing in the world. Photographed: a mechanized farmer who enjoys his solitude, factory workers, dock workers’ wives, a shy waitress, the last remaining resident of row houses for miners, one of Agnès’s late friends, a whole town picnic. Agnès tries to introduce JR to his sunglasses style predecessor, some ex-filmmaker, but they get stood up. Besides that one hiccup, it’s a magical trip.

Optimally, this should be watched directly after The Rise of Louis XIV by Rossellini. I’m such an idiot about royalty and history that I’d forgotten it was the same king until I looked it up after watching this. I do hope Serra makes films about the deaths of every Louis, so we can keep them all straight.

The King has an infected leg, but everyone’s too deferential to insist he get help or to suggest anything drastic like amputation, so he just lays there and slowly dies. Serra has finally decided that if nothing’s going to happen in his movies, at least they could stand to look nice, which is a huge step forward for him after the last one, but I’m not sure why I keep watching them. It’s attractively underlit, thanks to new cinematographer Jonathan Ricquebourg (The Challenge). Long takes, with an intriguing performance by Jean-Pierre Leaud, who’s like an overdressed baby. And it’s probably worth watching the entire movie for the great final line, which was also the title of Cinema Scope’s Cannes roundup article.

I didn’t recognize Patrick d’Assumçao (the guy who isn’t naked in Stranger by the Lake) as lead doctor Fagon, and IMDB is unenlightening about the other two guys who are always in the room, Marechal and servant Blouin.

Opens with Etaix introducing the idea, explaining the sheer amount of film that was shot for this project, then being attacked by a giant flowing mass of unruly film stock. Unfortunately this turned out to be the best part.

The rest is an interview film, gauging the man on the street’s attitudes on sex and violence, entertainment and celebrity, TV and advertising, world events, personal relationships, and Pierre Etaix. Interviewees are French people on holiday, just after May ’68, which doesn’t really come up. He spends longer than necessary at some kind of open-mic festival. It’s all like the least interesting aspects of Chronicle of a Summer and À propos de Nice mixed together, with some fun/ironic editing, but not enough to make it worth sitting through all the amateur singing performances.

Ensemble drama about the actions and endless meetings of ACT UP in Paris, led by Adèle Haenel (Nocturama, The Unknown Girl) and Antoine Reinartz, which settles down in the second half to stick with one of the group’s most energetic members Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart of Could See a Puma) with his hunky boyfriend Nathan as Sean is dying of AIDS. It’s a bit long and talky, but moving.

Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd:

The relationship, and Sean’s death, may be “something we’ve seen before” in the movies. But I would argue that this relationship means something unique in context, coming as it does after the meticulous examination of the organization, function, and direct actions of ACT UP Paris. It is literally a love that has been won through struggle, something these men fought for to the very last.

or Gazing at Women in Cafes: The Movie

Our Hero, who looks like a shirt model, stares at girls in an outdoor cafe while accordion music plays.

In the middle third, he follows a woman through the city, past some conspicuous “Laure, je t’aime” graffiti, finally confronting her on a bus to ask if she’s Sylvie, who me met six years ago at the Aviators bar. But she’s not, and she’s less than thrilled that he’s been stalking her across the city.

An hour in, he goes to the Aviators and stares at more women while Heart of Glass plays.

He is Xavier Lafitte of the recent Saint Laurent movie which was not by Bonello, and she Pilar López de Ayala, Angélica herself. This played Venice in a packed year with Redacted, Mad Detective, The Assassination of Jesse James and I’m Not There.

Patrick Devitt in Letterboxd: “All of the imagery depicted has to do with memory in some shape or form.” Kenji Fujishima has a good writeup in Movie Mezzanine, calling it “alternately enchanting and disturbing.”


Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín)

Shot in summer and winter 2004, this is the documentary(?) version of the previous film, in which our unseen photographer revisits the city (Strasbourg, France) where he met Sylvie 22 years before, distracting himself along the way with other women and wall graffiti.

He visits hospitals since his Sylvie was a nurse. No luck.

Besides his faded memory of this woman, he also follows the paths of Dante and Goethe and Petrarque, who all spent time in the city.

Silent and composed entirely of still photographs, cut and cross-faded. This was released a few months before the other, and maybe it would’ve made more sense to watch this first.

I listened to The Mysteries by John Zorn, which I believe was the Director’s True Intent – I called him and asked if Some Photos is supposed to be silent, and he said he’d rather it was scored by John Zorn’s The Mysteries, so there you have it. He didn’t say what to do when the album ended, so I put on some Boards of Canada.

“Let’s quit everything”

Made around the time of Tout va Bien and We Maintain It Is Possible, a few years after La Chinoise, which also takes anti-capitalism to bizarre, somewhat comic extremes. This imagines the “Year 01” in which everyone decides to quit their corporate jobs and disband capitalist society and live as people did before machines, growing crops with their bare hands, which doesn’t sound like fun to me, but I’ve been corrupted by capitalist propaganda I suppose.

“Now I take care of the cows. Milking isn’t much nicer than typing, but it’s direct work … if I want to eat, I have to do it.”

“98% vote to abolish property” – it’s convenient for the plot that everyone living in France is a good-natured, 28-year-old communist. They rebuild society in a pointedly uneducated way, going on instict and vague desire, which sounds like how the U.S. government is operating today. Neighbors and strangers open up to each other, jewel thievery becomes a respectable hobby, and everyone acts like they’re going on a huge vacation.

Mouseover to see this hippie get an idea:
image

Another great idea:

Watched this as part of my quest to see everything Alain Resnais made – he did a few-minute episode set in New York, where bankers leap from Wall Street buildings en masse as the people on the streets excitedly read the Euro news in the papers. The dialogue acting here isn’t great, but it opens with a cool series of quick zoom-outs on imposing buildings. Jean Rouch also contributes a Niger scene, which was short and forgettable but featured a reference to “Petit à petit, Inc.”

New York:

Closes with the title “Fin du premier film de reportage sur L’AN 01,” but after 85 long minutes, there was no more to say. I don’t know much about Doillon, but this came near the start of a long, still-ongoing career. Writer Gébé was editing a satirical magazine at the time, which would later transform into Charlie Hebdo.

I suppose the first half is more tense if you’ve read beforehand that the movie involves a terrorist bombing plot – there’s little backstory or explanation as our young heroes walk briskly around Paris, check into hotels, take the subway, looking very serious as they drop off packages into vehicles and trash bins. After a half hour of this, an older-looking mustache guy shoots a dude in his apartment, breaking the simmering tension. Then we see the results of their efforts:

The long second half has our bombers gathered in a department store after hours waiting out the night, for some unexplained reason, instead of going home their separate ways. They blast some Willow Smith on the high-end stereos, shop amongst the high-end toys and expensive clothes, lounge in the designer living spaces, invite a homeless couple inside (Hermine Karagheuz!) and watch the news of their own exploits on TV until it starts to show the outside of the building they’re in. It ends the only way it could, the cops storming the store and killing everyone (even Hermine).

Not sure who everyone was, but our gang included Finnegan Oldfield (Les Cowboys) and Vincent Rottiers (lead baddie of Dheepan). Omar, their inside man at the department store who murdered the other security personnel, was Rabah Nait Oufella of Raw and Girlhood. There’s some fractured chronology, hard to follow even though the current time keeps appearing on screen. This and House of Tolerance were so slick-looking, it’s not surprising he made a fashion film in between them.

Ehrlich calls it “intriguingly inert”:

Bonello’s camera tracks behind each of the kids as they go about their shady business, emulating Elephant as the tactic conjures the same sickening momentum that made Gus Van Sant’s film about homicidal youths so vague and disquieting … It’s fine that Bonello would rather raise unsettling questions than provide unhelpful answers, but his inquiry often feels every bit as confused as his characters.

It does seem confused and perverse, and possibly even offensively wrongheaded (after the Bataclan attack, Nocturama was denied festival appearances and distribution). Why make this film, and what did the characters hope to achieve (in either the first or second half)? Only Blake Williams in Cinema Scope seems to have a convincing, incisive explanation – though you’ve really gotta read the whole thing, so I’m only excerpting his description of the movie’s timeline:

[Nocturama] presents time as indefinite, opposing conceptions of the present as concrete or ahistorical even as it works to augment the gravity of the present happening. Bonello’s choice method for achieving this is through shaping the film’s timeline into something that, were it to be graphed out, might resemble a lightning bolt — working through narrative events from one vantage only to fold back and re-show the same temporal moment again (and again). Many of his time warps are accompanied by either the reappearance of an onscreen time stamp or a repeated music cue, but many others arrive unmarked — especially when Bonello moves us further back in time, such as an extended detour through the initial planning stages for the attack — destabilizing our footing on already tremulous turf.

Parisian Rocky (director Amalric) is taking an American burlesque show on tour through France (but not Paris, because he can’t get a venue). It’s not the most sharply defined storyline, so you just have to enjoy hanging out with this crew, which I did.

Amalric gives himself a weird character tic, always asking hotels and bars to turn off their TVs and music, and stealing handfuls of candies and matchbooks from sample bowls. He drags his kids to a couple of tour stops, and everyone sings a Radiohead song in a hotel lobby.

It’s a warm-hearted movie, nothing amazing until the (amazing) last few seconds. I’ll watch Amalric in almost anything (not Quantum of Solace), and I gradually became able to tell the women apart and get a sense of who they were, but really need another couple of hours.