Watched for Cannes Month before the actual festival began… this is from the year of The White Ribbon and Broken Embraces, A Prophet and Antichrist. Another story of a doomed poet, this time from the perspective of a girl who loved him, and maybe that’s what made the difference, because I liked A Quiet Passion a fair bit, but fell for this one completely.

Lovely, sensitive Abbie Cornish (Somersault) is in love with frail poet Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Nathan Barley, Ariel in The Tempest), and I’m sure that due to social class difference this is a terrible scandal, because it always is in movies, but I appreciate that they downplayed that element. We vaguely recognized Ben’s sardonic friend Paul Schneider, but didn’t realize who he was, since we haven’t thought about him since Water for Elephants. He was great, and indeed he won fourth place in the Skandies that year. Abbie’s mom, Kerry Fox, starred in Shallow Grave, which I guess I haven’t seen in twenty years. Really nice music, and the Australian Film Institute thought so too, but apparently not as nice as the music in Animal Kingdom. The writeup in Film Quarterly is good, so maybe come back to that, since I took poor notes on the story and characters myself.

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.

I took advantage of the huge weekend snowfall in Atlanta by huddling on the couch with a pile of DVDs of short films which I’ve long delayed watching, followed by two obscure features, totaling eight newly-seen titles on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hallowed list of 1,000 favorite movies. At this rate of eight per day, I’ll be through the list in no time, so anyone else can feel free to send me their own thousand-faves list and I’ll get to it shortly.


First off, two by Jane Campion. I wasn’t too kind to Sweetie or The Piano, was hoping I’d enjoy the early shorts more. A Girl’s Own Story (1984) is a vaguely Terence Davies-reminiscent period piece about two sisters and a friend one winter in the 60’s – having fun, going to school, singing Beatles songs and dealing with family trauma. The parents only speak to each other through their children, and dad brings his girlfriend to Pam’s birthday dinner… meanwhile friend Gloria leaves school because she is pregnant by her brother. Passionless Moments (1983) is a series of humorous sketches (each with its own title: “Clear Up Sleepy Jeans”, “No Woodpeckers In Australia”) with an ethnographic narrator telling us somebody’s mostly-insignificant stray thoughts (misheard lyrics to “Daydream Believer”, identifying a strange sound outdoors).

A Girl’s Own Story:
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These were two of the most enjoyable shorts I watched all day, so hooray for Jane Campion. Both were worked on by Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, whose new Nic Cage movie opens this month, and Passionless was made in collaboration with Gerard Lee, who wrote/directed a comedy in 1995 involving marital strife because of a sold piano, hmmmm.

Passionless Moments:
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Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993, Peter Capaldi)
I’d always admired the title of this and assumed it to be blending of Kafka’s and Capra’s sensibilities, but no such luck… it’s more of a Franz Kafka In Love, as the writer struggles to complete the first line to The Metamorphosis. Might’ve been nicer if I’d watched it earlier then, since by now every known artist’s inspiration has been illustrated by the movies, either as a serious drama or a light fantasy. Richard Grant (same year as The Age of Innocence) is Kafka, and his work-interrupting neighbors include Ken Stott (who’d soon play the lead detective in Shallow Grave) as a knife seller with a missing pet cockroach, and Phyllis Logan (a Michael Radford regular) as a novelty salesman. Our director is better known as an actor (Local Hero, Lair of the White Worm). My favorite detail: being friendly to a neighbor Kafka says “call me F.”

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There’s time in any shorts program for some Norman McLaren. I checked out a section on the DVDs of work he did with Grant Munro, one of the few men strong and patient enough to animate himself with stop-motion. A piece I’ve seen before called Two Bagatelles (1953) has Grant zooming around to music (Katy came in from the other room to express disapproval at the music), a fun exploration of their live-stop-motion ideas. An unreleased set of sketches and experiments called either On The Farm or Pixillation adds slow-mo, film-reversal and mattes into the mix. Canon (1964) features a blippy electronic version of “Frere Jacques” and has four Grant Munroes at once, moving across a stage and interacting. And A Christmas Cracker (1962), for which McLaren/Munro did great dis/appearing stop-motion jester titles and transitions, is a compilation of short holiday cartoons.

On The Farm/Pixillation:
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A Christmas Cracker:
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One of the non-McLaren segments of A Christmas Cracker, in which an inventor travels to space to retrieve a real star to top his Christmas tree:
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Wong Kar-Wai’s Hua yang de nian hua (2000) is a montage of rotting nitrate footage from newly-discovered vintage Hong Kong films. Two minutes long, fast-paced and wordless, set to a song used in In The Mood For Love.
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Two by Santiago Alvarez. Now! (1965) is a montage of upsetting footage, still and moving images, as Lena Horne belts out the title song, and Hasta La Victoria Siempre (1967) is twenty looong minutes of music and stock footage focusing on Che Guevara and other revolutions and revolutionaries. A chore to sit through – I’m gonna stop watching Alvarez movies for a while now.

Now!
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Hasta la victoria siempre
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Two early shorts by D.W. Griffith… although he made about 200 films in the two years between them (those were the days!) so maybe only the first one can be called “early.”

A Corner In Wheat (1909)
Wealthy trader corners the market in wheat, meaning less money for the farmer and higher prices at the market. As unrest grows and the cops are called to protect a bakery, the now even richer trader and some classy women tour the grain elevator to symbolically survey their fortune. He slips and is buried in grain, an ending stolen by Vampyr a couple decades later.
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Tom Gunning via Erik Ulman says: “the editing has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.'” Based on a book by the novelist who wrote McTeague (Greed). Actor who played the farmer appeared 45 years later in Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.
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Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
A musician, just back in town after some weeks away working, gets all his money stolen by the titular gang. A rival crime gang fights the musketeers, and during the fracas our man gets his money back. When the rival gangleader is about to be arrested, the musician and his girl vouch for him, lying that he’d been with them the whole time, as thanks for his help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
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Wikipedia claims this “probably the first ever film about organized crime” and an influence on Gangs of New York – as if Scorsese’s first exposure to crime was in DW Griffith films. Lillian Gish, star of many Griffith movies, plays the girl.
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Report (1967, Bruce Conner)
Recording of radio broadcasts from when JFK was shot. Sometimes the visuals are robotically repeated loops of newsreels, sometimes film countdown leader, sometimes all white and black flash flickers, which do not translate well to medium-grade internet video. The second half is excellent, still the radio announcers but with shock associative visual editing from all manner of sources: a bullfight, advertisements, war movies and so on.
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Tunneling the English Channel (1907, Georges Méliès) has long bothered me because it’s the earliest film on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 100 favorite films list but hasn’t been available anywhere on video. Fortunately the new Flicker Alley set remedied that, and I could finally see it, in fine condition with wonderful hand-coloring. It’s a cute story and a technically superior film, with the color and the combination of animation, live action and Melies’ usual fun effects. Story goes that the leaders of France and England agree to build a tunnel under the channel, and all goes well until the train crashes. As the tunnel fills with water undoing months of work and drowning the prime minister, they wake up – it was all a dream and they decide not to build the tunnel after all.
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LMNO (1978, Robert Breer)
A hammer, a faucet, a headless naked woman. Rapid-fire comic-book situations. Mainly-irritating soundtrack of running people, running water, and running tape static. Next time I’ll feel free to see how it works with a couple Kinks songs instead. Not my favorite Breer, but I’ve actually seen his films projected in a theater before, so this one obviously suffers from being a bootleg download watched on a laptop.
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Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center in Columbus, says (out of context): “The thing that has always drawn me the most to avant-garde cinema is that it is intended for an individual viewer, not a mass audience. The individual has to complete the work. To go back to the idea of seeing cinema anew, the viewer often has to figure out how to watch the particular film or video and then from that process of learning how to watch, meaning and interpretation can follow.”

Thought I was supposed to be impressed with Jane Campion. I’ve liked her movies that I’ve seen – this, Sweetie and Holy Smoke – but I can’t say I love ’em to death. Very capably-made dramas with unique performances, nothing especially transcendent though. Maybe my expectations were too high… I’ve been hearing that this is a must-see classic important film for a decade and a half now.

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Local Georgia girl Holly Hunter, who I haven’t seen since O Brother Where Art Thou, is a mute pianist come to secluded New Zealand in the mid-1800’s with her daughter (10-year-old Anna Paquin) to marry landowner Sam Neill (the year before his finest hour: In the Mouth of Madness). Right away, Holly meets brutish tattooed native-wrangler Harvey Keitel (on a roll, in between Bad Lieutenant and Pulp Fiction). He takes ownership of her precious piano and invites her over to play, offering her it back in trade if she’ll let him touch her. Harvey is obsessed with her and a music lover, which is more than Sam Neill’s got going for him, being impatient with Holly’s muteness, her music and her daughter, so eventually Holly is sleeping with Harvey. Sam finds out and chops off her finger, then apologizes and lets her go away with Harvey to live happily as a piano teacher with a Harvey-made false finger.

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I didn’t mean to watch a bunch of oscar-nominated films from 1993 all in a row, it just worked out that way. So now I can look at the list of nominees and see how this stacked up to Orlando and The Age of Innocence, while cursing Schindler’s List and Philadelphia. At least it’s good to see that Dave and Farewell My Concubine each got a chance, and can’t argue with Nick Park winning for a Wallace & Gromit movie. Personally, in ’93 I was more psyched about Jurassic Park, In the Line of Fire, Groundhog Day, A Perfect World and Wayne’s World 2.

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So this movie, The Piano Teacher and The Pianist all contain scenes of horror and mutilation, and Shoot The Piano Player has a perfectly unhappy ending. I wonder what awful things lie in wait with The Page Turner, The Tuner and The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.

A program of shorts that played at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to mark its 60th anniversary. Pretty terrific bunch of 3-5 minute shorts by possibly the best group of directors ever assembled… worth watching more than once. Each is about the cinema in some way or another, with a few recurring themes (blind people and darkness, flashbacks and personal stories). Katy watched/liked it too!

First half of shorts (second half is here):

Open-Air Cinema by Raymond Depardon
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One Fine Day by Takeshi Kitano, continuing his self-referential streak.
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Three Minutes by Theo Angelopolous is a Marcello Mastroianni tribute starring the great Jeanne Moreau.
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In The Dark by Andrei Konchalovsky
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Diary of a Moviegoer by Nanni Moretti
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The Electric Princess Picture House by Hou Hsiao-hsien
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Darkness by the bros. Dardenne
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Anna by Alejandro González Iñárritu
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Movie Night, the first of two gorgeously-shot outdoor movie starring chinese children, by Zhang Yimou.
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Dibbouk de Haifa, annoying business by Amos Gitai.
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The Lady Bug by Jane Campion.
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Artaud Double Bill by Atom Egoyan.
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The Foundry, comic greatness by Aki Kaurismäki.
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Recrudescence, stolen cell-phone bit by Olivier Assayas.
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47 Years Later very self-indulgent by Youssef Chahine.
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I guess a movie about a quirky dysfunctional family seemed new in 1989, but while I was watching this, Little Miss Sunshine, the umpteenth quirky dysfuctional family drama/comedy this year alone, was playing across the street. I don’t want to see that, so why should I want to see this?

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The myth of Jane Campion, for one. The myth of Dayton and Faris at Sundance has got nothing on the myth of Jane Campion. Shots like the one above and story quirks like the one below (the question mark on his forehead foretold by a fortune teller leads Kay to go after him) redeem it for the most part, but overall it feels lightweight and obvious (the final death of Sweetie, who falls from the treehouse, naked and painted black, is an easy ending for this type of movie).

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Kay hasn’t much to say for herself, Bob (below, buried in sand with Sweetie) is a red herring, only the parents are interesting as having allowed Sweetie to get to the point where she ends up. Even Kay’s relationship with Question Mark and her fear of trees seemed to mean little, but I guess Sweetie fell from a tree so there’s that. A little commentary-tracking should clear up a lot, but I don’t think I’ll put the time in. Maybe watching the short films or renting An Angel At My Table or The Piano would be more rewarding.

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Shouldn’t be hard on the movie… I enjoyed it for the most part, liked all the scenes Sweetie was in especially. Katy didn’t watch, but would’ve been frustrated by the ineffectual dad character. Or is that only in sitcoms?