Cannes Month continues. Hong has two new films premiering at this year’s fest, and another one premiered just a few months ago in Berlin, so it’s catchup time… this is from way back in 2012, so, ten movies ago. In framing story, girl at a hotel, hiding out with her mom while her uncle is up to no good, kills time by writing a series of stories, similar scenarios which all play out in the same hotel with the same actors playing (usually) different characters. Well, each time there’s a French woman named Anne (Isabelle Huppert, same year she was in Amour and Lines of Wellington) and a lifeguard who also works part-time at the hotel (Joon-sang Yoo, lead of The Day He Arrives), but Anne has different identities each time, and the lifeguard doesn’t seem to remember her from previous visits.

1. Anne is a visiting film director and the lifeguard is stalkerish in this one. Won-ju (Yu-mi Jung, title star of both Oki’s Movie and Our Sunhi) is pregnant and jealous of Anne, since her man Jongsoo (Hae-hyo Kwon of all the 2017 Hong movies) knows Anne from way back. Everyone wants Anne, and she is gracious about it, but really just wants to see the local lighthouse, have some grilled squid and be off.

2. Anne is “a rich housewife,” cheating on her Hong Kong husband with filmmaker Soo (Seong-kun Mun, the professor in Oki’s Movie). The lifeguard is somewhat helpful here, finding Anne’s phone – and she locates the lighthouse (and brays at some goats), but later she doesn’t – maybe a dream sequence or alternate version (it wouldn’t be the first), but anyway it’s quickly interrupted by…

3. Anne has been left by her husband (a different husband, since this is a different Anne), is vacationing with her friend Park (Yeo-jeong Yoon, maybe one of the girl’s friends in Right Now, Wrong Then) and they meet a film director (Jongsoo from #1). Everyone gets drunk on soju of course. The framing-story screenwriter is obsessed with visiting filmmaker characters drinking soju, as is Hong. Anyway, Anne wants to meet a local monk in order to find wisdom, but he talks her in circles, so she goes off and sleeps with the lifeguard, failing once more to find the lighthouse.

Peter Labuza on Letterboxd:

Certainly the MVP here is the lifeguard whose declarations (“I will protect you!!!”) and wonderfully dopey song are probably the closest to broad comedy I’ve seen from Hong so far. Huppert plays three different versions of a cipher (cold, needy, mourning) who all get men attracted to her no matter how she acts … Foreignness is certainly an interesting element; here Huppert’s various roles acting as the exotic figure as if a twist on the usual Western perspective of exotic women.

Perhaps I picked a strange week to finally watch Amour, having just returned from a funeral, or perhaps I picked the perfect time. After all, I hear that it’s an emotionally wrecking movie, but the experiences in the movie seem brief and merciful compared to what a couple of my relatives recently went through.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are tasteful and educated, have lived together for decades in their quiet apartment where she gives piano lessons. One day she has a minor stroke, then a corrective operation doesn’t go well, and she slides further away every week while her husband watches, helping as much as he can, but desperately unable to keep her mind from deteriorating, until she’s almost completely gone and he finishes her off with a pillow. In a typically quizzical Haneke ending, their daughter Isabelle Huppert comes home at the end looking for them – we’ve seen police find the body in an opening flash-forward, but we don’t know where Jean-Louis has disappeared to.

I thought it an excellent movie despite how dismissive I’m sounding here, and it’s encouraging that Haneke seems to have learned empathy. It’s also much, much better than the last movie I watched called Love. The movie (and Haneke and Riva) won all the awards, from césars and oscars to the Cannes palme d’or, but the AARP “movies for grownups” award went to Flight instead.

Adam Cook:

The couple’s apartment, full of their memories and long collected items (paintings, books etc.), slowly shifts from a haven to a prison, both physically (the camera rarely ventures outside the confines of their flat) and in the objects that fill the cavernous rooms. Music, once the loves of their lives, becomes a painful reminder of their pasts and what will never be again. Haneke, in the use of long static shots allows the audience to soak in these all important details and help to understand who these people were before the debilitating illness systematically destroyed their world.

Ouch from C. Huber:

Haneke, meanwhile, adhered demonstratively to the world of his polite, bourgeois couple, tactful even in the “provocations,” making Amour the ultimate in art-house art: a film that comfortably ushers its dwindling target audience towards its eventual demise.

Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is raped by a home invader at the start of the movie, and downplays the incident. It appears at first that she’s trying to stay strong and not feel victimized, but her intense sex/power issues (and reasons for not calling the police) are increasingly revealed – along with the somewhat lesser sex/power issues of every single person in her inner circle. An ensemble piece of perversion swirling around Huppert’s mighty center, it’s like a Chabrol thriller written by Todd Solondz (but better, obvs).

Was looking up articles online and deciding what to say and found a really nice writeup by Aaron on Letterboxd. So instead of bothering to repeat him, I’m gonna have fun looking up actors on the ol’ imdb. Need to watch this again anyway. Premiered at Cannes with The Handmaiden and a bunch more I’m hoping to see soon.

Michele’s son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) has awful pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz), Michele’s ex Richard (Charles Berling of Demonlover, another sex-and-videogames thriller) has new girl Helene (Vimala Pons of In the Shadow of Women), her “botoxed cougar of a mother” (per Aaron) Irene (Judith Magre of Malle’s The Lovers) is dating weird Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet), and the new neighbors are Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his very Christian wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira, star of last year’s Victoria). Michele is sleeping with the bald husband Robert (Christian Berkel, returning from Black Book) of her business partner Anna (Anne Consigny, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly transcriber), also has fawning employee Kevin (Arthur Mazet, young Jean Reno in 22 Bullets) and disgruntled tattooed employee Kurt (Lucas Prisor). I think the mom dies (and Ralf turned out to be trolling her), her mass-murderer dad dies in prison, Kevin is caught creating pornographic automata videos with his boss’s face, Michele admits the affair to Anna, and she has a complicated revenge/affair thing with the rapist neighbor, before he’s killed by her son.

A. Nayman:

It’s not necessarily confidence that drives her so much as a flinty inscrutability that is by turns amusing, disturbing, admirable, and absurd … she’s not a pathological case, nor is she any sort of symbolic figure. Michèle evinces a variety of post-feminist stereotypes … without fully inhabiting any of them, and her ability to take in stride both serious trauma and workaday annoyance feels like its own form of bristling defiance.

Verhoeven:

I’m much more interested in people than I was before. I look more at people, and the way that characters treat each other, and betray each other — it was all in my movies before anyhow, but more so now. I would love to move in that direction, and I would love to stay there … I won’t sit for ten years until something like this comes again.

I watched the director’s Goodbye First Love and missed one in between, but it seems she’s trying to get as subtle as possible here without losing the thread. The following week we watched the kid in 20th Century Women confront his mom about how it feels to be middle-aged by quoting poetry at her – a fine scene within that film, which was full of characters trying to figure each other out through dialogue, but which would have stuck out sorely in this movie, which is similarly about a woman dealing with aging and changes within her family, taking the more contemplative approach.

Edith Scob (last seen in Holy Motors) is philosophy professor Isabelle Huppert’s mom, losing her sense, André Marcon (a lead in Up, Down, Fragile, an Assayas regular) is Huppert’s husband Heinz, who leaves her for a younger woman, and Roman Kolinka (Jean-Louis Trintignant’s grandson) is the ex-student who writes for her prestigious (but financially struggling) line of philosophy books. Huppert stays strong through a series of major and minor indignities, figuring out what to do with herself, presumably in the hopes that she doesn’t end up as clingy and delusional as her mother.

D. Ehrlich:

Hansen-Løve’s latest (and most layered) protagonist is a strong person for whom change does not come naturally. “I thought you’d love me forever,” she flatly tells Heinz on his way out the door, less angry at him for leaving her than she is at herself for being wrong … [Huppert has] been so many different people since her early twenties that it’s compellingly strange to watch her play someone who’s lost between parts, infinite and adrift. As if to ensure that the effect is not lost on us, Nathalie goes to a screening of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, a film consumed by the notion of people performing who they are.

A. Nayman:

The waning of hardline radical values is a running motif here, as Nathalie ruefully recalls a pre-marital sojourn in Russia .. and is preoccupied more generally by the problem of adaptability, i.e., if it’s synonymous with compromise.

The movie is also unexpectedly full of good pop and folk songs. Hansen-Løve closely based the story on her own mother’s life. IMDB: “The one thing her mother had her change was the name of the cat. In the original script it was called Desdemona, after the cat it was based on, but her mother had her change it to Pandora to respect the cat’s privacy.” Won best director at Berlin, where it premiered with Fire at Sea, Midnight Special and Boris Without Béatrice.

Cristina Álvarez López, comparing a new film to an old one:

Make Way for Tomorrow is a harsh, angrily ironic critique that takes the form of a comedy with a very sad ending; Things to Come is a serene drama portraying a philosophical attitude towards life, ending on a note of hope. But both films are pierced by a sense of helplessness (more or less graciously endured) in the face of a cruel and unstoppable reality often referred to as progress (historical, economic, social, intellectual, or otherwise), and depicted through an insurmountable generational gap. And both films deal with the painful realization of what it means to become expendable in a world whose clock is no longer in tune with us, a world that once moved in tandem with our lives and is now forcing us to step aside, to jump to the margins — allowing us to participate in it only as observers, looking back at us as if we were a nagging annoyance or, in the best of the cases, occasional guests.

More of a narrative than in 35 Shots of Rum, and more clearly defined than in The Intruder, but still with the shuffled chronology. It’s kind of an action thriller, though it undercuts the tension by showing us the fates of certain characters at the beginning. So, will Huppert make it to the village? Yes, because we’ve seen her future, days later catching a bus to the plantation. Will the boy with the spear kill her son Manuel as he floats in the pool? No, because we’ve seen his future, burning to death in a building. Not as softly sensual as some other Denis movies, the handheld motion-blur offering more eyestrain than intimacy.

The great Isabelle Huppert is Marie, who runs her aged father-in-law’s coffee plantation (he is Michel Subor, star of The Intruder) along with her relative (brother?) Christophe Lambert (who looks a lot like Christopher Lambert from Highlander and Mortal Kombat, only this guy is pretty good and speaks French) and her son Manuel – although I’m not saying Manuel helps run anything. He stays in bed all day, slowly going nuts. She’s strong and self-sufficient, works very hard for her coffee crop, but hers is the only white family for miles around their gated house with leather sofas, while the field workers live in a hot bunkhouse with a shared flashlight. So when rebels and military forces collide in town, neither is on her side. Isaach De Bankolé (Limits of Control, Casa de Lava) plays the most mysterious character, “The Boxer”, an inspiration to the rebels who is wounded from the start of the movie, arrives in secret at the coffee plantation and dies there of his wounds a day or two later.

Shot in Cameroon but set in an unnamed African country. I appreciated some of the similarities between this and other African-made films I’ve seen, such as portable radios being an important story element. Katy didn’t join me, somehow uninterested in a film featuring African children taking arms against colonialism. It’s probably my fault for spoiling her on Isabelle Huppert with Merci pour le chocolat and on Claire Denis with Friday Night, though I still don’t see why either of those should be disliked. I have a hard time finding serious foreign movies that she’ll enjoy. Nominated for the top prize at Venice, while 35 Shots of Rum, which I liked much better, wasn’t nominated for a damn thing.

Denis, asked why Huppert kills elder Subor with a machete at the end: “They’re both left, and I think she feels someone is responsible for letting everything happen. Maybe it’s weakness, or everyone’s blindness. But she needs to do something terrifying.”

Mubi: “Denis is too sexy to be considered disjunctive, but White Material is certainly her most jolting movie, since it traces the impression of a person experiencing nothing but breakdown—in bonds, in society, in people themselves—but somehow cannot see what is happening right in front of her. … Things like relationships and motivation all seem under-defined within such a clear-cut plot, but that may be because Marie’s fate is inescapable precisely because she can’t feel or see the nuance and meaning below the surface of her life. White Material keeps it on the surface precisely because that is the quintessential failure of its colonial heroine.”

First of three Chabrol memorial screenings in September. I remember liking his Le Beau Serge and L’Enfer from the dark pre-blog days, and since then I’ve greatly enjoyed La Rupture and been slightly disappointed in A Girl Cut In Two. Obviously for such a Rivette/Truffaut/Varda/Rohmer/Marker/Godard (not to mention Hitchcock) fan as myself, that’s not enough attention paid to a founding New Waver with over 50 films to his name.

The Guardian’s headline the day Chabrol’s death was announced read “Claude Chabrol anatomised the French middle class with a twist of the scalpel,” which could almost be a poster description of this movie, but maybe changed to “with a blast of the shotgun.” Immediately after watching it was impossible to avoid comparing it to Funny Games – they’re not similar in plot so much as in impact.

The great Isabelle Huppert (I wonder if Haneke had felt the Funny Games connection when he cast her in The Piano Teacher) got much attention and acclaim for this movie, but younger Sandrine Bonnaire (just off Joan the Maid) is the central character. She takes a housekeeper job for the Lelievre family (Jacqueline Bisset of Day for Night and Under the Volcano and Jean-Pierre Cassel, the amoral baddie in La Rupture), which she performs dutifully and quietly, keeping her personal life to herself, until she starts spending more time with fiery friend Huppert, a postal clerk long suspected by Cassel to be reading the family’s mail.

The two women egg each other on, growing more defiant in the faces of authority (Bonnaire’s employers, the church where Huppert volunteers) and more disturbingly, finding out about each others’ dark, possibly murderous pasts. Seems like a hard place to keep secrets, and Bonnaire’s past has managed to follow her into these distant suburbs. But the one thing she doesn’t want discovered is her illiteracy, so when the family daughter (Virginie Ledoyen of Cold Water & 8 Women) finds out and threatens to tell, it’s the beginning of the end.

Possibly dyslexic Bonnaire trying to read a note… filmed in a mirror (nice touch)

Sure I noticed the blatant introduction of shotguns into the movie earlier (Cassel cleans them in prep for a hunting outing) but I didn’t quite think it would come to this: Bonnaire and Huppert sneak into the house after Bonnaire has been fired for threatening the daughter, and they quietly trash the place while the family watches opera on television, each pretending to enjoy the opera for the sake of the others (that’s how it seemed to me anyway – and I think Cassel really does enjoy it). Then, when discovered stalking the kitchen with shotguns in hand, they blow away the entire family. Also didn’t see coming, despite the blatant early introduction of Huppert’s car troubles, that her getaway stalls in the middle of the road and she’s killed by oncoming traffic (her former employer the priest drove the other vehicle). Killer finale: as Bonnaire walks past the accident scene, emergency workers play the tape machine recovered from Huppert’s car, which was set up by the family son to record the opera but instead faithfully recorded the entire crime.

NY Times: “When Sophie arrives by train to begin her new job, she turns up on the wrong side of the tracks. This film takes quiet, devilish pleasure in every such hint of something awry. For instance, there is the impassive way that Sophie behaves around the Lelievres, and how it contrasts with her coarse, ravenous manner when she’s eating alone.” Senses of Cinema: “In crime fiction, criminal behaviour is often not so much a result of free agency as something determined by psychological and social factors. However, in Chabrol, the urge to explain crime is undermined by the competing view that evil itself is unexplainable. Sophie and Jeanne’s illicit behaviour is not simply a compulsive backlash against class inequality but a curiously ordained ritual.”

Bonnaire likes to watch movies on the TV in her room – I recognized Stéphane Audran from La Rupture in one of them, and sure enough it’s 1970’s Chabrol film Wedding In Blood they are viewing.

Only my second feature by Ruiz, as much as I’m always talking about the guy – and it’s kinda what I’d expected. Good movie with some weird craziness in the plot, but at the same time, it’s a French film, a classy drama about restrained rich people.

Camille’s dad is out of town – his mom (Isabelle Huppert, the year before The Piano Teacher), uncle Serge (Charles Berling of Summer Hours) and maid Helene are taking care of him until one day he announces that his real name is Paul and he wants to go home to his real mom. He guides Huppert to another woman’s apartment – she’s not home but creepy neighbor Edith Scob (also Summer Hours) shows them around.

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When beautiful Jeanne Balibar (the Duchess of Langeais herself) gets home, she tells Huppert about her son Paul who drowned two years ago, but also acts as if Camille is her Paul in the present tense. There’s no sense of paradox or surprise, nothing unusual, just these facts: Paul died and Paul is here. It’s not the kind of thing that could be done in an American movie without some character shrieking “how can that be? how can you say he died if you’re saying he is here in front of you?!” Huppert plays it cool though – invites Balibar to stay at her house so they can figure it out together.

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In the climax, Balibar kidnaps Camille/Paul and takes him to the barge where Paul had drowned. Huppert shows up and Balibar surrenders and apologizes, everything back to normal.

Ruiz uses a Sam Raimi anamorphic-lens-twisting effect:
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Is it pertinent that the maid might be having an affair with the uncle? That Balibar is after the uncle as well? That Huppert’s grandmother died of sorrow because of some incest incident? That Balibar’s neighbor Edith Scob is just as creepy and mysterious as Balibar herself? That a family acquaintance dies in a car crash near the end? That Camille has a businesslike 10-year-old friend who everyone had assumed was imaginary? All combines into an overall sense of mystery about identity, parentage, relationships, and what can be known.

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I thought I’d heard of Denis Podalydès who played Isabelle Huppert’s husband, but it’s actually his brother Bruno I’d heard of.

Unnerving, noticeable music by loyal Chilean Jorge Arriagada and not extremely impressive cinematography by Jacques Bouquin (The Film To Come, Life is a Dream) – he does that thing where the camera is always gliding slowly past the action an awful lot. Overall I dug the movie… looking forward to Ruiz’s other 99 features.

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