Publisher Guillaume Canet (writer/director of Tell No One) is married to TV actress Juliette Binoche, but we know she’s having an affair with writer Vincent Macaigne (The Innocents) because when her husband says the writer’s new book is about his affairs she perks up and asks if they’re recent affairs, and we know Guillaume is having an affair with his digital media director Christa Théret (a recent Man Who Laughs remake) because he’s gung ho about his company going fully digital even though this seems at odds with everything else he values. There’s a minor subplot about the publishing company being sold, which turns out a false rumor, or a power play by Guillaume’s boss.

“The blogosphere is heated”
“Tweets are modern day haiku”
“Now we have algorithms”

Assayas has made at least two incisive movies focusing on then-current technologies with Demonlover and Personal Shopper, and he’s covered inter-generational difference and relevance beautifully in Summer Hours and Clouds of Sils Maria, so it’s strange that this one feels so dated and inconsequential. IMDB says he began writing it in the mid-2000’s, so maybe that’s part of it. At the end they’re trying to get the “real” Juliette Binoche to voice their audiobook, then the writer’s girl announces she’s pregnant and Jonathan Richman’s “Here Come the Martian Martians” plays, and suddenly I’m wondering if the movie was meant to be a comedy.

Some movies watched before, during, and soon after the China trip:


The Illinois Parables (2016 Deborah Stratman)

I know I watched it late at night, in Alpharetta, and somehow took no notes, and enjoyed it. Landscapes and history lessons. Sure sounds interesting from the letterboxd writeups! Maybe kinda if General Orders No. 9 was much better, and had been highly influenced by Profit Motive.


Widows (2018 Steve McQueen)

After all the hype – the follow-up to his best-picture winner with an outstanding cast – somehow I lost interest in this by the time it came out, and caught up months later on the seat-back of a plane. It’s overwrought and overstuffed, but undeniably pleasurable in its performances and genre plotting.

I wonder if the male actors were sabotaged in an attempt to draw attention to the heist-gone-bad widows Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez – or if they just misjudged the tone of the movie. Colin Farrell overacts as a cartoon-villain politician, Daniel Kaluuya plays a basic enforcer of a crime boss/politician stalking Viola Davis, and Liam Neeson goes from sympathetic victim to archvillain when he’s discovered by wife Viola (in the movie’s best scene) to be shacking up with the fourth widow after arranging the deaths of his buddies to get away with all the money. Does Viola throw aside spousal emotion for the sake of sweet revenge, killing Liams herself at the end? She does!


Transit (2018 Christian Petzold)

Watched at the Tara, huge, alone. Sicinski’s review says it all.


High Life (2018 Claire Denis)

I took no notes about this, mostly remember the ending of Robert Pattinson and daughter alone on the ship hurtling towards a black hole, and the haunting Pattinson-sung Tindersticks song. These two most recent Claire Denis features have helped offset the brutal unpleasantness of her previous two, and even though this one has its share of rape and murder, it also has beauty and wonder and general strangeness… and that song…


Us (2019 Jordan Peele)

Watched with Pro at Atlantic Station – on the secret screen with its own bar, not that this mattered. I don’t have a firm handle on the symbolism, but it’s a hell of a thriller regardless. See smart articles by Kyle, Monica, Mike, and Carol.


In Fabric (2018 Peter Strickland)

Watched at the glorious Plaza as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies) visits a creepy clothing store during sales week, is talked into buying a cursed red dress by a cheerfully coercive saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed, speaking in retail-poetry). Marianne dates Barry Adamson (a Bad Seed!), gets chastised by boss Julian Barratt, and keeps getting injured until she’s finally killed in a car crash. It’s a strange tone overall, kind of a creeping dread mixed with splashes of comedy – but Marianne is a sympathetic character stuck in a crappy job, being intimidated in her own house by her son’s new girl (Gwendoline Christie of Top of the Lake season 2), so the campy horror-comedy gets overwhelmed by sadness. The dress survives, and gets shared by another guy with a crappy job (Leo Bill) and his girlfriend Hayley Squires (of the latest Wheatley and second-latest Loach), misfortune and death follow, but this time the department store burns down during a consumer brawl.

Strickland:

A lot of us filmmakers have had to do the kinds of jobs these characters do: temping, retail. The challenge is to usher those experiences into one’s films without it feeling like a vendetta, because a lot of those experiences are quite ball breaking. It’s more desirable to find humor there, to take characters like [Sheila’s employers] Stash and Clive and make them funny.


Election 1 & 2 (2005/06 Johnnie To)

Watched a couple of HK double-features on the long flight back from HK – on the iPad, tragically, so no screenshots. These are Hong Kong underworld power struggle movies – Lok (Simon Yam, star of at least six other To films) wins the election that Big D (Tony Leung 2: Evil East) thought he’d bought, so Big D revolts and threatens to start a war. Lok placates the dude, offering him the chairman position after Lok’s two years are up, and the two become friends – until the moment Big D lets his guard down and gets murdered.

Part two is more complicated, starring Jimmy (Louis Koo, the movie star in Romancing in Thin Air) as a businessman using his gangster ties to get ahead, but with plans to go straight – until he’s arrested and forced by the mainland government to run as their puppet chairman. Lok attempts to run a second time, which is against the rules, Kun (Ka Tung Lam, a cop in some of the Infernal Affairs movies) kidnaps some of the elders to get ahead, and Jet (Nick Cheung of Exiled) attempts to eliminate the competition. In both movies, the baton signaling the chairman’s power is hidden as a strategic move, then the baton is recovered through scheming and brutality.


A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 (1986/87 John Woo)

I alternated these with the Election movies, and they’re either good indicators that John Woo is no Johnnie To, or that the 1980’s were a horrible decade for filmmaking. Gangster Ho (Ti Lung of a ton of Shaw Brothers movies) is protective of his cop little brother Kit (Leslie Cheung). He tries to get out, but they pull him back in! A few years later, Kit and Ho and his best friend Mark (Chow Yun-fat) sort-of team up to take down the gangster boss. The movie’s main attractions are guessing where the shifting loyalties will land, and watching Chow Yun-fat overplay his part as the super-cool guy, a schtik that nobody would fall for (jk, he became a massive star from this role and won the best actor award). At least he definitively dies at the end of the movie, so he won’t be in the sequel.

Part two is pretty much the same movie, Ho and Kit versus new gangster Lung (Dean Shek of Drunken Master), but it turns out Lung is being set up, so they all team up against the new superboss. Kit is killed as his baby is being born across town (by Emily Chu, also Cheung’s costar in Rouge the following year). The movie suffers from the lack of Chow Yun-fat’s stupid energy… ahhhh kidding, he appears as Mark’s identical twin brother, a non-gangster who transforms into a Mark-like badass after about twenty minutes.

Alternate prequels were filmed – producer Tsui Hark made the official A Better Tomorrow III, and Woo adapted his own prequel script into Bullet in the Head (in which Simon Yam played a character named Lok, an unexpectin’ Election connection).


Lu Over The Wall (2017 Masaaki Yuasa)

Schoolkid meets a manic pixie dream mermaid – sort of a Walk On Girl-distorted version of Ponyo. Not as thrillingly nuts as Walk On Girl – surprising, since that’s a teen drinking drama and this one’s about a rock music-loving mermaid. She gets discovered, captured, rescued, etc., less interesting for the story than the wavy-jumbly animation style.


Diamantino (2018 Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)

Loopy, extremely fun cult flick about a massive soccer star manipulated by his scheming sisters, a mad scientist, and a cop who masquerades as his adoptive daughter. Everyone spends the movie trying to catch him out, but Diamantino is too simply sweet to be scheming.

Lead actor Carloto Cotta also starred in Tabu, and appears in Mysteries of Lisbon and all three of the Arabian Nights. I’ve been rooting for Abrantes since his Brief History of Princess X, so glad this was wonderful. I haven’t watched many movies at the Plaza since getting back, but between this and In Fabric, they’ve been extremely Plaza-appropriate.

A series of episodes of Juliette Binoche at various stages of breaking up and getting together with different men, trying to find something that works – mostly conversations shot in longish takes, with one musical exception in the middle. It feels strangely plotted for a conventional movie, and strangely conventional for a Claire Denis movie.

Juliette is breaking up with a banker who wants to continue having an affair and won’t leave his wife – the movie opens with a sex scene between them, and a few scenes later she’s kicking him out of her studio, telling him to never come back. Then there’s a false start with an actor (Denis film veteran Nicolas Duvauchelle), the relationship ending before it really kicked off. Her ex-husband comes over for afternoon sex, then later she tries (and fails) to get back his keys to her apartment (they have a daughter together whom we barely see).

Juliette and the banker:

I think we get an increase in the quality of men as the movie goes on. In the second half, mysterious stranger Sylvain appears at a party, they dance to “At Last” by Etta James and start dating. Juliette is an artist who works with art gallery people – she stands out from them at times, curses their snobbery when on a walk in the country, but they’re still her people and she listens to their bad advice. Terrible wavy-haired Fabrice says she needs to dump Sylvain and date “within her milieu,” she takes this to heart and the lovers argue. She finds out Alex Descas is interested in her (though we’ve seen him with Maxine from the art gallery), and finally there are too many guys with unclear statuses, so she visits a psychic for advice.

Juliette and Sylvain:

Alex and Maxine:

The psychic is Gérard Depardieu, shown in the previous scene breaking up with a girl in a car. Juliette shows him pictures, describes her current possibilities, asks Gérard with whom she can find happiness – and he hilariously adds himself into the mix, describing the kind of man she truly needs with all his own traits. In maybe the movie’s most unusual stylistic quirk, the entire closing credits roll over this scene, so it can cut to black and end after Juliette’s final smile.

Denis fills the supporting cast with fellow filmmakers. The banker from the opening scene is Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men, and before this movie we saw a preview for his The Guardians). Maxine is Josiane Balasko, who has directed movies starring Isaach de Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Lonsdale, and so on. Bruno Podalydès is the guy who insists Binoche date within her milieu, has directed nine or ten movies including a remake of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who got dumped by Gerard Depardieu) was in Cannes five years ago having written/directed/starred in A Castle in Italy.

Great opening titles, the credits created from an array of redacted documents. I took a note when pausing to grab snacks: “no way will the movie live up to these opening titles” – and it didn’t!

but it’s thrilling when G’s laser-breath is finally unleashed:

It doesn’t go the full Cloverfield, but sticks close to the ground, glimpsing giant monster battles from a panicked human perspective, much of the action unreadably dark on my screen. Bomb disposal expert Col. Witwicky must be cursed, he and each of his family members getting right in the path of monster attacks, until he breaks the curse at the end by torching the bad-guy monsters’ eggs before they can overrun the planet. And oh yeah there are evil monsters here, and Godzilla’s the good guy. And Juliette Binoche dies horribly after only 15 minutes, and Bryan Cranston is the star but he dies too, and Sally Hawkins gets three lines, and Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese scientist, and David Strathairn plays the serious military one, but mostly we’re left with Witwicky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, lead rapist of Nocturnal Animals) trying to get home to his Olsen wife before the world ends.

Evil Mantis Monster:

Hidden Mothra reference on a fishtank:

Gareth made this between indie alien thriller Monsters and a Star Wars spinoff. I was planning to double-feature this with the even newer Godzilla movie from the creator of Evangelion, but after two disappointing action flicks in a row (this and Alien: Covenant) I couldn’t risk a third, so rewatched Fury Road instead. Normally I’d say “argh, why did I watch this bland multiplex junk,” not recalling why it ended up on my must-see list, but now thanks to Letterboxd I can look up exactly who recommended it… aha, Ehrlich with 4.5 stars. “One of the most satisfying, well-paced & beautifully directed blockbusters since Jurassic Park… genuinely registers as the first post-human blockbuster.” And MZ Seitz listed it as one of the century’s best. They are high.

Dumont goes even wackier than Lil Quinquin, though this one seemed more coherent, story-wise. I thought it’d be hard to top Quinquin‘s twitchy detective and dullard assistant, but now he’s dressed his lead detectives like Laurel & Hardy, the head cop (the fat one) rolling himself down hills when he’s too tired to walk, and simply inflating and floating away at the end.

Just like Quinquin was named after the lead rapscallion from a poor, possibly criminal family, the French title of this movie was Ma Loute – the nickname of the young man from the only family that seems to live in this picturesque rural town. I suppose they fish, though when a wealthy family arrives at their palatial summer home, we discover what else they do; they kidnap, murder, and eat the rich. The richies are so ludicrously over-the-top (and inbred, it turns out) that it’s tempting to root for the local brutes, except the richies also have ringers in Juliette Binoche and a beautiful/mysterious transgender girl who has a short-lived romance with Ma Loute. Also they’re just too damned silly to wish death upon.

Sicinski describes the richies:

Descending upon the bay for the summer are upper-class cityfolk, bizarre caricatures of humanity sprung from some Gallic division of Monty Python. The Van Peteghems are “led” by spastic, bumbling André (Fabrice Luchini), his prim, lachrymose wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), brother / cousin Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent), a sort of lacquered descendent of brain-addled mystic Johannes from Dreyer’s Ordet; and eventually, Aunt Aude (Juliette Binoche), a wailing, flailing hysteric whose behavior resembles that of a regional dinner theatre actress on nitrous oxide.

I never would’ve guessed that the richie paterfamilias had been in Rohmer films, but there you go: he played the lead in Perceval. Tedeschi is lately known as a director, was also in Nenette & Boni and Saint Laurent. Vincent and Binoche costarred in Dumont’s much more serious Camille Claudel 1915. Ma Loute, his dad The Eternal, his mom, his almost-girlfriend Raph and the two cops just came out of nowhere.

Juliette Binoche is at a crossroads. She started her career with the younger role in a two-hander drama and still identifies with that role, but a new director wants to stunt-cast her as the older role opposite a young Hollywood celebrity. The play’s author, her mentor, has just died. At least her personal life is well-managed by assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), but as Binoche starts rehearsing scenes with her, playing the pathetic, delusional actress to Valentine’s cynical manipulator, the lines take on multiple meanings.

Binoche is as great as she’s ever been, and Stewart nearly matches her. Chloe Moretz doesn’t have enough screen time for greatness, but is at least given an amazing introduction within a fake sci-fi film. On top of the overwhelming performances, the actresses’ own stories and celebrity are beautifully woven into the characters, as a major plot point is casting young action-movie stars in serious productions. Moretz plays the self-assured, paparazzi-hunted superstar and Stewart gets to be more reigned-in, gradually asserting herself then suddenly vanishing.

Assayas admits this:

It’s a movie where you never lose consciousness of who the actresses are, and in the end that’s a very important element of the film. But that’s something I only realized gradually.

but also:

It’s not a meta movie, it’s not a movie about cinema — it’s not even a movie about theater. It’s a movie about very basic human emotions, which have to do with time passing, the perspective you have on your past.

English folk singer Johnny Flynn (he looks convincingly like a Johnny Flynn) plays Chloe’s girlfriend whose wife attempts suicide, Angela Winkler (star of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, The Tin Drum and Benny’s Video) is the original play director’s widow and Lars Eidinger (Goltzius and the Pelican Company) is directing the new version.

S. Tobias mentions Bergman and D. Ehrlich mentions All About Eve. Played Cannes last year – and since Cannes 2015 was just beginning when I watched this at the Ross, this was supposed to kick off Cannes Month, in which I watch movies I missed from this decade’s fests – but it’s a busy month, so we’ll see. Nominated for everything at the Cesars, mostly beaten by Timbuktu but Kristen Stewart won for supporting.

Pure cinema! Young, wired Denis Lavant flees girlfriend Julie Delpy to help Hans and Marc (Michel Piccoli) on a heist in place of Lavant’s murdered father, and falls for Piccoli’s girl Juliette Binoche. Camera races Lavant down the street. Amazing skydiving scene (the editing, the parachute’s-eye top-down shot, the sheer audacity). It’s a spare story, and Lavant dies at the end, mourned by both girls. Delpy and Binoche had both previously appeared in Godard films, were later the stars of White and Blue, respectively.

Juliette Binoche takes her impatient son to a reading by an author (opera singer William Shimell), though she doesn’t seem to like his book much. Then she goes out with the author, just a couple of strangers on a tour of historic Tuscany for a couple hours. A shop keeper talks to Binoche as if the author was her husband, and Binoche plays along and then – in a disturbing Lynchian shift – he is her husband. It’s a bit of playful make-believe between them at first, but it quickly turns real.

A perfect story for Kiarostami, who loves to blend fact with fiction. I’m glad that I read a little bit about this beforehand, had been told about the movie’s many “copies”, so I knew to look for them from the beginning – for instance, when Shimell first appears at the reading he tells the crowd a variation on the same lame joke that the man introducing him had just told. And there’s a breathtaking edit towards the end of the movie, a shot of the couple leaving a church, a copy of the shot preceding it. Funny that Kiarostami’s first feature outside his home country (was Tickets also shot in Italy?) is a copy of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first foreign feature – a mixture of playful fantasy and domestic drama starring Binoche as a mother. Even though he’s making a marketable narrative film for the first time in a decade or so, Kiarostami still has some recognizable signature elements. The most comfortable conversation between our characters takes place in a moving car (below) and there are some good shots of trees, hills, roads, just enough to be recognizable if you’re looking for them, maybe even inserted slyly as a self-conscious trademark for the auteurists to hang onto.

Some of the writings online seem to think that the two were actually married, that the author may in fact be Binoche’s son’s father, and that it’s not as mysterious as all that… suppose I need to watch again.

New Yorker:

It’s … a tribute to the freedoms that Kiarostami considers essential yet also a warning to those who might consider political and social freedom to be a self-fulfilling and self-sufficient liberation. The film breathes the air of freedom from outer constraints … suggests a range of romantic and erotic options that can’t be depicted in Iran. Yet other constraints are at the core of the film—there’s the bond of marriage, which the couple may or may not have undertaken, and which a host of other newlywed couples seen in the village (famed for bringing good luck) hopefully choose. And there’s the bond of the self, the inescapable and apparently immutable force of character, which seems to compel the free-spirited, unconstrained man, out on a spree, to choose as a mistress the same woman as the one he was, or is, married to.

NY Times:

… such a conspicuous leap from neo-Realism to European modernism, it sometimes feels like a dry comic parody. As the movie goes along, it begins to deconstruct itself by posing as a cinematic homage, or copy, if you will, of European art films of the 1950s and ’60s, with contemporary echoes. Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, in which a couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman travel to Naples to sell a house, is the most obvious forerunner. Also alluded to are Michelangelo Antonioni’s Avventura, with its stark juxtapositions of ancient and modern images, and Alain Resnais’s elegant, memory-obsessed mind bender, Last Year at Marienbad. It has also been suggested that more recent antecedents like Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are role models. In any case, Certified Copy virtually announces itself as a deliberate stylistic composite.

Watched again with Katy in September. She thought I was showing it as a comment on the state of our relationship, which doesn’t even make sense. Anyway, movies about couples fighting make Katy sad, so she didn’t enjoy it much. Second time through I was thinking about the two ellipses in the movie. The opening sequence during the author’s reading is real-time, as is the entire rest of the movie beginning when he visits her shop, and an unknown amount of time passes between those segments (probably no more than a few hours). Then there’s the character ellipsis, when suddenly they change from a couple who has just met into one who has been married fifteen years.

My third feature by the celebrated Hou. I only half enjoyed/understood the other two, Goodbye South, Goodbye and Flowers of Shanghai, both seen on video, but I appreciated his short The Electric Princess Picture House. So I didn’t know what to think going into this, and neither did anyone, probably, seeing how it’s in French and a semi-remake of a 30-minute children’s classic. Hou’s pacing seems more suited to the big screen than home viewing, so I’m glad it played the Landmark, and Jimmy and I (who saw The Red Balloon together in the same theater earlier this year) both enjoyed it.

Juliette Binoche is a harried puppeteer mother, Simon Iteanu is her son, Hippolyte Girardot (Lady Chatterley, La Moustache) is the downstairs neighbor, and Fang Song is the kid’s new nanny. Song is an aspiring filmmaker with a handicam who loves the film The Red Balloon. Bleach-haired Binoche once worked as an au pair, feels abandoned by her husband, wants to kick out her downstairs neighbor so her older daughter can visit this summer (but can’t find the lease contract), and does marvelous voices for the Chinese puppet show she is directing. Simon seems like a happy kid, takes piano lessons, plays pinball, has a loving relationship with his absent older sister (seen in flashback, she cancels her annual summer trip to Paris late in the movie).

Then there’s the balloon. Simon sees it at the beginning and it follows him on the subway, then to his home and on a class field trip. Song sees it at one point, also… but neither of them ever touches it. It may just be a symbol of imagination, and not a real balloon at all. The camera moves slowly, fluidly, always seeming to hover balloon-like instead of resting, and blobs of red (clothing hanging to dry, a lamp) are often hanging in the frame when the balloon itself is absent.

Just as I was noticing the long length of the shots, a bus with a large Children of Men advertisement drove by – nice. Shot by the cinematographer of most Hou films, Pin Bing Lee, who also did In The Mood For Love with Chris Doyle. Score is light piano music (all staticky on our print), and it closes with the Bobby McFerrin-sounding song from the trailer.

None of these descriptions do justice to the film, which I’m starting to think is one of the few great films I’ve seen this year. Peaceful and calming to watch despite being set mostly in a cluttered, loud, claustrophobic apartment, there’s just enough story/character/action to play upon every emotion in the book without leaning too hard on any of them, leaving me feeling like I’ve experienced & felt so much within such a minimal framework. The characters aren’t desperate, but they don’t have an easy time either. One review described Binoche as a mother under siege, and with all that’s going on around him, Simon’s childhood is under siege too. But even while portraying conflict, the movie manages to ooze joy – so much joy that it’s put a major dent in my plans to watch all the commerce-driven Hollywood product out this summer. How could The Incredible Hulk compare?