Lawrence (who made Water For Elephants and the music video for Gone Till November) turns in a much better Hunger Games movie than the last guy did. This movie will, of course, be best remembered for bringing together both mid-2000’s Truman Capotes: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones. New additions to the movie’s revolutionary team include Jeffrey Wright (also in Only Lovers Left Alive this year) and Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman).
Another drag of a Romanian movie making some sort of opaque political statement, this one by 50 Under 50 filmmaker Porumboiu. Won a couple of awards at Cannes the year before 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days had everyone talking about Romania.
A TV studio cameraman says handheld camera is “the new thing” until the presenter tells him “put it on the tripod before I whop you with it!” That might be Porumboiu’s thoughts on the matter, since his film is shot with locked-down cameras, drab framings through doorways. The program within the film is portrayed as pretty half-assed, with focus problems, making the uninteresting-looking main feature look more competent by comparison. Indiewire says the compositions are “elegant” and “lovely,” so they saw something I didn’t.
12:08 is what time president Ceausescu fled the capital by helicopter on 12/22/1989. On the anniversary, TV call-in host Virgil Jderescu invites a couple of guests (beardy prof Manescu and old man Piscoci) to discuss whether their small town participated in the revolution or simply followed it, defined as whether there were people in the square before or after 12:08. No serious conclusions are drawn, and at the end everyone shuts up and watches snow fall.
Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:
This quietly bravura set-piece manages to be narratively torpid and aesthetically flat, but nevertheless conceptually rich; it’s a sublime metaphor for the uses of history, how people make it as much as it makes people, and how received narratives often entail multiple and conflicting views. .. That Porumboiu stages the “action” on live television is surely not coincidental, as impromptu broadcasts from the seized television stations relayed the progress of the revolution, up to and including Ceausescu and his wife’s bloody end.
AV Club says the points are “whether a revolution can happen if nobody risks anything, and whether the long memories of small-town stalwarts can be both a blessing and a curse.”
Already showed up in someone’s top-ten-ever list in Sight & Sound. Completely odd and exceptional movie, everyone acting like they’re in another dimension, standing outside the film. Sleek and cool, starring a blank Robert Pattinson as self-destructive billionaire Packer, Sarah Gadon (Mrs. Jung in A Dangerous Method) as his new wife, Paul Giamatti as his stalker, and a bunch of people who get a single scene each.
Starts with business partners talking shop, health (he gets a prolonged rectal exam while talking with an employee), paintings (he has sex with art dealer Juliette Binoche) and relationships in his silent limousine, but things start to go downhill. It becomes clear that Packer has sunk his fortune into a dying currency, rat-wielding economic protesters fill the streets and attack the car, Packer’s wife is breaking up with him, and his favorite hip-hop musician has died – this is in decreasing order of how much these things seem to matter to him.
Packer’s quest to get a haircut in his old neighborhood is nearly complete when a celebrity-pranker (Mathieu Amalric) hits him with a pie – then, probably unrelated to that, he asks to see his bodyguard Torval’s gun, and shoots Torval to death with it. Down to just Packer and his driver, they have dinner with the barber, who cuts half of Packer’s hair before he wanders off again to confront violent stalker Paul Giamatti, trying to talk reason to him.
The movie is wall-to-wall talk, so to summarize all the conversations, as if I remember them, would take pages and pages. Best to just watch it again. Cinema Scope 51 has a good few pages, with input from Cronenberg and Pattinson, and discussion of what makes this faithful adaptation of a Don DeLillo novel uniquely Cronenbergian.
“A terrible word is the NON”
A film with a stagy, heightened atmosphere in which you plainly see things happening though you somehow come to believe that these things are not happening. It’s a feeling I’ve had before with Oliveira, and with some of my favorites by Ruiz, Bunuel and Resnais, a slippery strangeness which I suppose most critics call surrealism.
Obvious predecessor to A Talking Picture, a movie full of narrated history lessons ending with a moment of violence, history’s revenge on the present. Portuguese soldiers on a troop truck, out defending the colonies, chat about politics. Lt. Cabrita (Luis Miguel Cintra, scary uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue) tells them stories of their country’s past defeats, which are played out for us in full costume using the same actors as in the truck.
Two of my fave soldiers: at left is Manuel, Diogo Doria of Manoel on the Island of Wonders
Flashback, B.C. 130’s: Viriato, a successful defender of Portugal (then Lusitania) against the Romans, an icon of Portuguese independence, killed by his own Roman-bribed men while he slept.
Flashback, early 1470’s: Portugal fights Spain on two fronts. King Afonso V is defeated in a chaotic battle, while his son Prince John fought and won a battle that was apparently tactically brilliant but seemed strange to me. So, “There were neither victors nor vanquished.” Symbol of the battle was “The Mangled Man, who, in his chivalrous ardour, refuses to let the nation’s symbol fall” – a flag-bearer who kept holding the flag after having both hands cut off by the enemy. “King Afonso V’s image is belittled compared to The Mangled Man’s, whose courage the king himself didn’t deserve.”
Flashback, late 1470’s: John of the previous battle is now king, and his son Afonso is married to daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, so the children would have united the Iberian kingdoms, had Afonso not died during a horse race. Zodiac-like, this episode adds up the details of the suspicious/tragic event without drawing clear conclusions.
Time out for Cabrita to speak of Portugal’s discoveries and art, how they are more meaningful than any military achievements. This features a song, baby angels, much nudity, and Leonor Silveira.
Flashback, 1578, Alcazar-Quibir, the War of the Three Kings, a disastrous battle fought in northern Morocco. Cintra/Cabrita plays Alexandre Moreira, head of the adventurers’ regiment, who attacked first, to no avail. Three kings were killed, the nobility slaughtered, the army defeated, and Portugal was taken over by the Spanish government for the next sixty years.
The next day, out on patrol, they’re caught in Portugal’s latest military defeat – Cabrita is shot, taken to a military hospital populated by mutilated men. He dies in the hospital on April 25, 1974, the day of the Carnation Revolution which ended the colonial war.
Acquarello: “By juxtaposing history-based fiction with historical non-fiction, Oliveira illustrates the process of mythologization, where history becomes refracted and idealized in times of crisis and upheaval. However, rather than engendering a romanticism for the past glory, Oliveira dismantles the myth of conquest, reframing history as an elusive (and delusive) quest for fleeting victories and unsustainable empires.”
Oliveira quoted and took inspiration from Portuguese poet Camoes and his Lusiades. When asked to think back on the film: “The NON. . . you don’t have to go back, because the NON goes forward many years, therefore we are late compared to the NON.”
Onscreen text, much talk about the workers, pictures of Hitler and holocaust, calm voiceover and mentions of may 68. Yup, it’s a post-60’s Godard film, alright. Here he takes his textual analysis to new heights, obsessing over the word AND (or ET). It manages a level of interest similar to Tout va bien, significantly higher than Letter to Jane.
No onscreen credits (at least on my copy). The last Godard-Gorin collaboration, Mieville taking over for Gorin. Once again they speak within the film about its own creation and intent.
“In 1970 this film was called Victory. In 1974 it is called Here and Elsewhere.” Looks like Victory was a Palestinian propaganda movie. “Here” they stage scenes of a family watching television, and filmmakers displaying stills one by one before a camera. Lots of talk about the nature and meaning of images. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Jean-Luc Godard’s short feature about the PLO was initially shot with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Middle East in 1970, but when he edited the footage with Anne-Marie Mieville several years later, many of the soldiers that had been filmed were dead. Reflecting on this fact, as well as on the problems of recording history and of making political statements on film, Godard and Mieville produced a thoughtful and provocative essay on the subject. Coming after the mainly arid reaches of Godard’s “Dziga Vertov Group” period (roughly 1968-1973), when his efforts were largely directed toward severing his relation with commercial filmmaking and toward forging new ways to “make films politically,” this film assimilates many of the lessons he learned without the posturing and masochism that marred much of his earlier work. The results are a rare form of lucidity and purity.
“The horror of the bourgeoisie can only be overcome by more horror.”
Godard’s last fiction film (released just a few months after La Chinoise) before May ’68 and the Dziga Vertov Group. It’s an anarchist romp, following an unlikeable couple (who secretly hate each other) on a weekend drive to the girl’s parents’ house to ensure that she gets her inheritance, really an excuse for a series of extended scenes (sometimes using minutes-long shots) of politics and absurdity, all with a bright red/white/blue color scheme that aims to make the film look like an advertisement.
Corinne freaks out:
Before the trip: time out for Corinne (Mireille Darc of some spy movies and commercials) to tell a long, erotic story in a darkened room. I don’t know whether that’s her travel partner Roland in the scene with her – there’s some business I barely got at the beginning where each of them secretly has another partner. Anyway, her story involves a threesome with a married couple featuring a saucer of milk.
“Is this true, or a nightmare?”
“I don’t know.”
Next: the celebrated traffic jam shot, as boorish couple Corinne and Roland (Jean Yanne, star of some Chabrol films) slowly move from left to right, past honking cars stuck in traffic, traveling in the oncoming lane to get ahead. There are cars parked backwards and upside down, a sailboat, animals, a tanker truck, all sorts of absurdity, at the end of which the relieved couple speeds past the huge multiple-fatalities accident that caused it all.
Class Warfare: rich girl (Juliet Berto, a Godard regular before she was a Rivette regular) and peasant tractor driver are in an accident, and she’s just furious that her boyfriend was killed. Corinne and Roland try not to get involved, finally speed away, rich and poor uniting in cursing them (“dirty jews!”).
Almost to her parents’ house, when they pick up a hitchhiker whose boyfriend (Daniel Pommereulle, lead guy’s vacationing buddy in La Collectionneuse) hijacks their car (acting like a lion tamer) and makes them turn around. I already can’t remember what they talk about, but after a bloody car crash, a cool edit causes a hundred sheep to suddenly appear.
Jean-Pierre Leaud is wandering through a field as Saint Just, preaching politics from a book, speaking into the camera more than he’s speaking to the characters. In the next scene he’s a completely different character, a camera-unaware fellow in a phone booth. Roland steals Leaud’s car, and the quest continues.
In a forest now, trying to get directions from Tom Thumb (Yves Alfonso of Made in USA) and Emily Bronte (Blandine Jeanson of La Chinoise), who stick to their fantasy script despite the increasingly violent demands from Roland. Finally he sets Emily on fire.
SHE “It’s rotten of us, isn’t it? We’ve no right to burn even a philosopher”
HE “Can’t you see they’re only imaginary characters?”
SHE “Why is she crying, then?”
HE “No idea. Let’s go.”
SHE: “We’re little more than that ourselves.”
The movie has been self-aware before, and will be again (a passing car asks if they’re in a film or reality). In the forest they walk past “the Italian actors in the co-production.”
“What a rotten film. All we meet are crazy people.”
I lost track of what happened to Leaud’s car, but now they’re hitching rides with trucks. One stops for another extended scene where pianist Paul Gégauff (a screenwriter for Chabrol, Rohmer and Clement) talks about music and plays some Mozart while the couple sits bored in the courtyard.
The music turns very dramatic as they ride with a couple of garbage men (Laszlo Szabo of Passion and Made in USA, and Omar Diop of La Chinoise). Corinne and Roland haul trash as the men eat sandwiches and speak at length, alternately about revolution in Africa and guerrilla race warfare in the west.
Finally home, they kill Corinne’s mom, put her in a car (of course) and set it on fire. It’s a brief scene, showing that the movie has little interest in its makeshift plot-motivator.
But wait, it’s not over. They’re abducted by a machine gun-toting cannibal liberation front (feat. Juliet Berto again) led by Jean-Pierre Kalfon, star of L’Amour Fou. Corinne fits in better than Roland, ends up eating him. End of cinema.
D. Sterritt’s commentary makes me weary with his wall-to-wall sportscaster style, but says some good stuff, that the movie is satirizing consumerism and the manufactured product, the visuals pop-art influenced, the scenes all clearly planned out (not random/improv as some critics suggested). DP Raoul Coutard says: “The driving force behind this film, irrespective of wanting to be innovative in cinema, was to annoy the hell out of the producer.”
The camera is so distant as to almost parody its satiric coolness — from the couple’s balcony, it looks down to the parking lot to see the antlike drivers of a red and a blue-and-white car beat each other savagely after a minor collision. Godard is undisguised in his disgust for what you could call the automotive insulation of contemporary life — a subtle running joke, if you can call it that, is the way that every screaming breakdown ends with Darc and Yanne back in the front seats like nothing happened.
Dramatizing homicidal conflict in the context of inexplicable, matter-of-fact social disaster, Godard’s unrelenting, consistently inventive farrago of grim humor, revolutionary rhetoric, coolly staged hysteria, and universal aggression is pure ’68, an art-house analog to its contemporary, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and one of four new releases forbidden to Catholics by the National Legion of Decency. The Legion condemned a movie; Godard condemned the civilized world.
Even before Weekend opened in New York, Godard condemned his previous work and even repudiated the medium that nourished him. He briefly abandoned filmmaking — by the time he returned, the revolution was over. Godard has made some first-rate movies since Weekend … But after Weekend, he would never again command an audience, let alone a generation.
Jean Eustache was in the movie – who was he?
Lots of onscreen text and people talking for ages – signs of Godardian things to come.
Oh whoops – I planned to watch Weekend first, to go from the end of Godard’s beloved 60’s period, skip over his purely political post-May-’68 work with Gorin as the Dziga Vertov Group, and resume with Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane. But I forgot, and watched this before Weekend. No matter, probably. But as I’d heard, the Godard of the 60’s never returned after ’68. This is so similar to his 60’s movies, despite the bright pop color, the custom-built sets, meta-movie voiceover, married-couple storyline and (especially) major stars. No, it’s as talky as The Owl’s Legacy.
Long-Distance Singer Yves Montand and newly-oscar-winning Jane Fonda were both known to be politically-engaged, and both were hugely popular at the time, so it was perfect casting for Godard and Gorin – plus an opportunity for them to gripe about Montand’s previous “problematic” political films. But G & G really want to polemicize at length, so they note in the voiceover that the stars were cast and given a jaded love story out of commercial necessity.
Unwitting pawns in Godard and Gorin’s political agenda:
Opens with JLG’s most cinematic-illusion-shattering move yet, close-ups on all the checks he’s cutting for the film’s stars, technicians, sets and so on. The juicy center of the film (shot in nice loooong shots, many of them motionless) consists mainly of dudes giving long speeches about union labor, class divisions, the political system.
“Under a calm surface, everything’s changing. Everything’s changing within every class. And She and He, swept up in it, also change.” Yves is a formerly-idealistic filmmaker (“a screenwriter during the New Wave”), now doing commercial work. Jane is a radio news reporter, and the two are at a factory office when the workers hold a major strike and lock the boss in his office for five days. So we get interviews with the boss (Vittorio Caprioli of Il Generale della Rovere): “the glaring injustices of Marx’ and Engels’ day are over,” and the shop steward: “our salaries haven’t kept up with increasing production, and even less with corporate profits.” It’s weird for a leftist, pro-workers movie that I can easily find who played the company manager, but not which actor played Stacquet the shop steward.
Some business in a supermarket that I didn’t understand because I wasn’t paying close attention anymore, but the long back-and-forth dolly shot reminded me of the factory scene in Manufactured Landscapes. Yves and Jane at their day jobs. Scenes of the factory in operation, of struggle in the streets. A token love-story-resolution ending in a cafe, which seems extraneous even as a joke, since the couple never got any development.
Great cross-section of the factory offices:
From an interview with a wide-eyed bathrobe-clad Godard: “It’s quite striking. When workers are interviewed [on TV], these people are given 15 brief seconds when they haven’t opened their mouths all year. We give them 15 seconds, or even three minutes, to speak. ‘What do you think of the strike? What do you think of your lot in life?’ Who can answer when he’s had his mouth sewn shut?”
Letter To Jane (1972)
An hour-long photo-essay posed as a letter to Jane Fonda, analyzing a newspaper photo of her in Vietnam talking (or, as Godard & Gorin rightly point out, listening) to some unidentified men. She’d visited the country after the filming of Tout Va Bien but before its release, starting the ridiculous “Hanoi Jane” controversy, during which the press took the actions of a movie star more seriously than the war itself.
Godard and Gorin take turns narrating (in English), and each takes pains to avoid any interest in their voice, so the movie becomes a didactic lullaby. I got bored almost immediately.
Excerpt from a J. Rosenbaum article, graciously explaining what the film was about:
The first text, read by Huillet, is an excerpt from a letter written by Friedrich Engels to Karl Kautsky describing the impoverished state of the French peasantry on the eve of the French Revolution … we see the various places in France that are described as they appear today … The second part of the film, roughly twice as long, uses a more recent Marxist text about the Egyptian peasants’ resistance to the English occupation prior to the “petit-bourgeois” revolution of Neguib in 1952 – a more journalistic text by Mahmoud Hussein, author of Class Struggles in Egypt. In both sections, it is suggested that the peasants revolt too soon and succeed too late. Once again, the locations cited in the text are filmed by Straub-Huillet … the sites of revolutionary struggle, again mainly rural.
I wish I’d read that right before watching, instead of afterward. But even if I completely missed the filmmakers’ intentions until I researched it later on, I did enjoy the movie. It’s peaceful to watch, and I had fun trying to compare it to other films. I considered Chantal Akerman (From The Other Side) and even Michael Snow (La Region Centrale), but I slowly realized it’s a huge influence on Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind.
After the two long sections, it ends with stock footage and a radio announcer, again bringing to mind Profit Motive with its street-march finale.
Near the beginning, the camera whirls around a traffic circle while we hear something about revolution (get it? circle? revolution?) and the bourgeoisie, then on to other towns and cities. “Out of 130 families there are 60 which are impoverished.” Much space between blocks of narration, giving me time to attempt understanding of the directors’ politics. The narration itself is sometimes not much help – I wish they’d have checked to see if John Hurt had a couple free hours instead of recording it themselves.
Notes I took:
– colonialist readings of Egyptian history
– Peasant revolts vs. French occupiers
– A couple of revolts are put down, old power prevails
– Narration is directly giving us information, but so slowly
– Second narrator is better
– Ferocious repression in Egypt
– Imprisonment, military rounding people up and searching them
At least now I understand the long horizontal-pan establishing shot in Manfred Blank’s documentary that I watched with Class Relations – it’s a reference to this movie.
The longest-held static shot:
After around ninety-five minutes, the camera follows a man with a donkey cart – the first time it’s followed any living thing all movie.
“But it is the reformist petit bourgoise forces sprung from the army who took the initiative of the coup d’etet of 1952”
“And from 1955 to 1967 the mass movement would be dismantled and (courted?) by a new ruling (caste?) inheriting all the vices of the old and betraying the national dignity which had served its ascension.”
More from Rosenbaum – this is excellent:
“The very slow pans, according to Dave Kehr, always move in the same direction as the wind, and it is largely the sense one has of the film’s profound attentiveness to the material world that makes the film so singular a documentary – calling to mind the three living quotations cited by Straub before the screening of the film at the Collective for Living Cinema on April 30, 1983:”
D. W. Griffith at the end of his life: “What modern movies lack is the wind in the trees.”
Rosa Luxembourg: “The fate of insects is not less important than the revolution.”
Cézanne, who painted Mont Saint-Victoire again and again: “Look at this mountain, once it was fire.”
I have no words.