Iris is brought to a spooky boarding school by coffin (it’s actually not that spooky, except for the fact that it appears in a strange movie called Innocence and people are brought there via coffin), is given a schedule and a colored-ribbon hierarchy, dance lessons, play time and a series of rules to never break, then we wait to see what happens when each rule is broken.

The instructors, including Marion Cotillard, the same year she was so good in A Very Long Engagement, and Hélène de Fougerolles of Va Savoir, are businesslike with a vague sadness – rumor is they’re former students who tried to escape and are punished by remaining here forever. Normal students take dance classes for a few years, then in their final year they perform in front of a paying audience in an underground theater that seems like it’s going to be more sinister than turns out, but the movie sticks to its title until its final images when the graduated students are released into the world, and we see our first glimpse of masculinity for 110 minutes.

“Obedience is the only path to happiness.”

Based on a 1903 story from the author of Pandora’s Box and shot with all natural light by Benoît Debie (Calvaire, Irreversible). Supposed to be less story-driven than a sumptuous sensual experience, so it’s a shame I watched in SD. But I had it on my mind since her new movie is being released and since I was just looking at greatest-film polls (somehow wrongly thinking that this one appeared on the BBC list), so was anxious to watch.

A runaway:

M. D’Angelo:

Another disappointingly blatant allegory — they’re back in fashion, it seems — but in this case it doesn’t matter so much, as Hadzihalilovic’s unnervingly precise direction kept me thoroughly engrossed … the opening sequence of “establishing shots” alone is so exquisitely judged, in terms of composition and juxtaposition and even duration, that it more than compensates for the jejune content.

Marion Cotillard has been on sick leave with the depression, returns to her solar-panel factory where the boss has decided that they got along just fine without her, so he’s eliminating her job and giving everyone a bonus. If she can convince half of ’em to give up their bonus over the weekend, she gets her job back. Cruel setup, and she’s not up for the task, decides to overdose on sleeping pills instead, but then her husband (Fabrizio Rongione of half their other films) and a couple sympathetic coworkers help get her back on track.

Those Dardennes keep the pace moving, don’t follow-cam the back of Marion’s head for extended periods like they did the star of L’Enfant. Overall more believable that the earlier film too, all conversational realism. Ending is a win for Marion’s self-esteem, at least. She’s a vote short, so the boss, impressed by the effort, offers to give her the job of an immigrant coworker whose contract is up for renewal, and she takes the high road and refuses, says she’ll find a job elsewhere.

R. Collin:

If the Dardennes’ last film, The Kid with a Bike, was their modern-day reworking of Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves, consider this their Umberto D. It’s a film about the dignity that meaningful work confers; and the way in which an economic downturn can effect other equally ruinous slumps, both social and emotional.

Luc Dardenne:

The question or dilemma posed in the film is the same as the other [Dardenne] films, in essence. Someone has been ostracized, excluded, or forcefully removed from the community, and is trying to re-enter. The moral dilemma is not hers initially, but it falls to the others. In the end, it’s a similar situation, no more or less urgent, but complicated by new forms of labor.

On the surface this was terrific, an expertly plotted thriller, more tensely captivating than any of the Ocean’s movies, with terrific music and excellent editing. But after giving it some thought and pitting it against Super 8, Contagion is starting to feel like slimy propaganda. The bad guy in the movie is Jude Law’s blogger, supposedly a whistleblowing, truth-seeking outsider but actually a treasonous scam-artist, eager to sell out. Government agents working for the CDC (headed by Laurence Fishburne) and some local labs (headed by Elliott Gould) are the good guys – not just good but angelic. They sacrifice themselves, working extremely hard and always putting others ahead – Fishburne gives his own dose of the long-awaited vaccine to the child of poor CDC janitor John Hawkes (because in Atlanta all our janitors are white guys), Jennier Ehle uses herself as a vaccine test subject to speed the process, and Kate Winslet dies trying to discover the virus’s source. So most of the way through the movie when some anti-government protesters appear outside the CDC, the viewer has automatic hatred for them. What sort of mindless malcontents would protest against these selfless public servants?

Heroes behind the scenes, Ehle and Martin:

Hero Fishburne with regular non-hero Hawkes:

The emotional Minnesota civilian center of the movie is Matt Damon, whose dead cheatin’ wife Gwynyth Paltrow was patient zero (as amusingly illustrated at the end of the movie). Marion Cotillard is a CDC researcher gently kidnapped in China by Chin Han, held for (fake) vaccine ransom. Bryan “Malcolm’s Dad” Cranston works for FBI I think. Demetri Martin, strangely, is Jennifer Ehle’s coworker. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns (The Informant, Bourne Ultimatum) should’ve been hired for those 9/11 movies, or some kind of corporate response film to the Occupy movement (if anyone in power felt that Occupy required a response).

Jude Law in puffy suit:

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer (1974, Chris Marker)

It’s not a short (an hour long), but I have little to say about it, so this is a short entry. The movie’s probably of more interest to fans of Yves Montand’s singing career than of Marker’s filmmaking or their shared politics. Marker focuses on Montand’s rehearsals for an upcoming concert benefitting Chilean refugees and he cuts to clips from the concert itself, and clips from Montand’s political films (Z, The Confession, The War Is Over).

Shot by the IMDB-credited Pierre Lhomme (Mr. Freedom, Army of Shadows) as well as Jacques Renard (Celine & Julie Go Boating) and Yann Le Masson. A nicely put-together little movie, but more like your standard fly-on-wall doc mixed with a celebrity personality piece than Marker’s usual style. Montand is passionate about the details, but it’s not my kind of music so I’m not sure what he’s going for. M. Legrand was involved somehow.

Some dude on the sidelines sports a Flo & Eddie shirt:

Lady Blue Shanghai (2010, David Lynch)

Plays like a total Inland Empire outtake (or Darkened Room 2). A confused Marion Cotillard calls security on an expensive handbag (the short was commissioned as a handbag advertisement) found in her room. She grabs it and half-remembers some alternate-existence romantic rooftop chase scene, featuring herself, an attractive man from Shanghai, and an expensive handbag.

My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002, Chris Morris)

An unstable Paddy Considine is left in charge of the dog, but can’t manage it. Dog dies, Paddy ends up at the pond screaming at ducks. Nice Warp-sounding music from the director. I enjoyed it.

Mermaid (1964, Osamu Tezuka)

Katy likes when I show her movies I haven’t already watched, then criticizes this one for being depressing and My Wrongs for being unfunny. None of Tezuka’s shorts have been sad before (well, Male has a murder scene), so how was I to know? A re-run of Haanstra’s Glas was better-received. This one’s a 1984/freedom-of-thought parable about a boy who catches a fish and imagines its a mermaid, until the thought police imprison him and try to brainwash away his imagination so he’ll see the fish as a fish. Naturally it ends with the boy freeing his fish and either becoming a merman or drowning himself.

The Uneasy Three (1925, Leo McCarey)

A Hal Roach short starring Charley Chase as a wannabe thief who, with his girl and her brother, pretends to be a musical trio to gain entry to a high-society party and steal a valuable brooch. That’s such a generic-sounding description that now I can’t recall if I wrote it or I copy/pasted it from somewhere. Anyway, they successfully fake being musician/entertainers and frame the real musicians for the crime.

Bull Montana, harpist:

Winston Tong en studio (1984, Olivier Assayas)

A studio recording of a silly-sounding song. I missed the vocalist’s interview in French, but enjoyed Jah Wobble’s rant against commercialism. Also liked the filmmakers’ sound mix, keeping bits of the last take in the mix over the interview, dialing up and down the backing music while Tong is singing. Besides Assayas it’s got Nicolas Klotz (La Blessure, La Question Humaine) editing.

Hokusai: An Animated Sketchbook (1978, Tony White)

Tony, an assistant on Richard Williams’ A Christmas Carol brings acclaimed Japanese woodcut artist Hokusai’s drawings wonderfully to life for a five-minute short. Not having any previous Hokusai exposure myself, I can’t tell which drawings are his and which are interpreted by White. Teshigahara had also made a short doc on Hokusai, and a few years after this Kaneto Shindo would make a feature with the great English-language title Edo Porn.

Endangered Species (2006, Tony White)

I found Tony’s other short on YouTube – a eulogy for the lost art of hand-drawn animation, made in collaboration with Roy Disney. So ol’ Walt is championed at the expense of his competitors at Warner Bros. Also parodied: Roger Rabbit, Fritz the Cat, Beavis & Butthead, artistic diversity, and corporations that would cruelly try to control independent animators and diminish their freedom. Seems weird that a pro-Disney film would be against huge companies. Seems to have mixed feelings about Pixar, and tags Hayao Miyazaki as animation’s hope for the future.