The Deep Blue Sea (2011, Terence Davies)

An unusual affair/despair story in that it felt less judgemental of the married woman than most of these. I suppose you could double-feature it with Carol, another beautifully-shot, woman-led affair/despair period drama made by a gay man.

Rachel Weisz is married to rich, older lawyer Simon Beale (of Orlando), is at the end of a formerly-passionate affair with Beale’s club buddy Loki, a hot young pilot who can’t handle settling down now that the action has ended. Rachel contemplates suicide by train and by gas, gets reluctant acceptance by her patient husband, doesn’t actually kill herself (though playwright Terence Rattigan based the story on his lover’s suicide).

Adam Cook:

Although Davies cleverly blends timelines and uses novel scene transitions the film is still, by and large, dogged by the static nature of its source material … The performances, particularly from a never better Rachel Weisz, are all magnificent. They manage to be both heightened and restrained, something only Davies manages to achieve in his work.

Shot by Florian Hoffmeister (Mortdecai, The Prisoner remake). The play has been filmed a few times before. A 1990’s version with Penelope Wilton, Colin Firth and Ian Holm sounds promising. Vivien Leigh starred in a 1950’s Anatole Litvak film. And a strange 1999 version has Samuel L. Jackson getting eaten by a shark.

Life During Wartime (2009, Todd Solondz)

“Are you seeing anyone?”
“No, I’m more focused on China. Everything else is history. It’s just a question of time.”

I don’t remember Happiness very well, but saw it twice and gave it an 8 on IMDB so I suppose I liked it. Things I recall: pervy Philip Seymour Hoffman and pervy child-rapist Dylan Baker and Dylan’s unhappy sister-in-law ironically named Joy. Things internet plot summaries are helping me with: Dylan’s wife is named Trish (Cynthia Stevenson), acts superior to Joy. Their writer sister Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) meets Hoffman then backs out, after which Hoffman meets Kristina, who confesses to murdering their doorman. Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser are Joy’s also-unhappy separated parents. Joy’s ex-boyfriend Jon Lovitz kills himself.

Okay, a decade later… Shirley Henderson as Joy… Paul Reubens as suicidal Jon Lovitz… Michael Kenneth “Omar” Williams as Philip Seymour Hoffman… Ciaran Hinds as the pedophile… Allison Janney as his wife… Ally Sheedy as the writer sister… now I should be caught up and ready to watch.

Shot by Morristown NJ’s own Ed Lachman, following his great work on The Limey, Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion and I’m Not There, the cinematography alone almost makes the movie worth watching. The actors are excellent too… the plot, not so much. More Solondzist miserablism. He must attract Emil Jannings acolytes who think it’ll be a great acting exercise to humiliate themselves onscreen.

Joy is now married to Omar Seymour Hoffman, which I wasn’t expecting, and is still tormented by her ex. I assumed since his character (now Paul Reubens) was in the movie that it wasn’t a straight sequel, but no, turns out he’s a ghost, and is annoyed with Joy for driving him to suicide (“I miss my room, my laserdisc collection”), suggesting that she join him.

Joy with Reubens, moments before she threatens him with one of those awards:

Joy joins her mom in Florida, where she catches up with the writer sister, now a huge horrible celebrity (Sheedy, below). Dylan/Ciaran is just out of prison but can’t visit his family, because his wife has told the kids for the last decade that their father is dead. After sleeping with a cynical Charlotte Rampling (I watched this the day after she was all over the news for making an unwise remark about racism and the oscars), he does track down his oldest son Billy in college, having an awkward reunion which is admittedly still less awkward than most of Happiness.

Ciaran’s wife/Joy’s sister Trish, now Allison Janney, is beginning to date Michael Lerner and things are moving quickly and going well, until her youngest son Timmy misinterprets something he’s been told about not letting adults touch him, and breaks up the relationship. I think the final scene was him apologizing to Lerner’s son Mark. Overall the movie is singlemindedly concerned with forgiveness.

Billy’s wall posters brought to you by Merge Records. I spotted Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, Imperial Teen, The Broken West, Oakley Hall, Daniel Johnston, and I’m Not There – another movie casting multiple actors in the same role.

Rosetta (1999, Dardennes)

Doesn’t seem like my kind of thing, as I assumed it wouldn’t be from seeing L’Enfant, but at least on the HD screen at home it’s easier to take their handheld follow-cam asthetic without feeling ill, and at least now I’ve seen both of their Cannes top-prize-winning films and don’t feel like I’m missing something. I get that it’s empathetic filmmaking, and Rosetta shares with their Two Days, One Night lead character a desperate drive to survive (not some huge success, just to keep a simple, steady job) alternating with bouts of depression – both realistic and moving portrayals. But it’s also just dismal enough (ends with Rosetta unable to commit suicide because she runs out of gas) that I felt more bummed out by the scenario than uplifted by the great humanist filmmaking. Admittedly it grows on you after a few days – and now I’m behind on the blog so it’s been a month, and it has definitely stuck with me.

Rosetta lives in a trailer park with her drunk mom, has stomach pains, and is seriously pissed at having lost her job in the opening scene. Soon she takes another girl’s job making waffle batter, loses it almost immediately when the boss decides to hire his son instead, so she rats on her only friend Riquet (who has been selling his own homemade waffles on the sly) and takes his job. Yes, it’s a Belgian movie with a serious emphasis on waffle making. Being stalked by Riquet, she phones in her resignation and goes home to kill herself and her mom, which she hasn’t managed to do by the time Riquet shows up, so I suppose it’s a happy ending?

Waffler confrontation:

Slant:

What makes Rosetta unique, though, is its lead character’s determination to reveal and destroy any hint of surrounding weakness threatening to subvert her singular direction in life. Rosetta would rather risk Riquet physically retaliating against her than be linked to his illegal operation—or die trying to save her mother from the bottle instead of sticking her head in the sand. Both scenarios prove the character’s fundamental need to exist within a state of hardened reality, not soft fantasy.

Ebert, who mentions Mouchette and Vagabond:

It doesn’t strive for our sympathy or make any effort to portray Rosetta as colorful, winning or sympathetic. It’s a film of economic determinism, the story of a young woman for whom employment equals happiness. Or so she thinks until she has employment and is no happier, perhaps because that is something she has simply never learned to be.

Rosetta: Émilie Dequenne was later in a Téchiné movie and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Her semi-friend Riquet: Fabrizio Rongione has been in most Dardenne movies since, also La Sapienza. As the waffle boss: Olivier Gourmet, which sounds like a French name I’d make up as a joke, who has been in every Dardenne movie since La Promesse, also Time of the Wolf (not Brotherhood of the Wolf). This won the palme and best actress at Cannes (up against All About My Mother, Pola X, Kikujiro, Ghost Dog) but the Césars preferred Venus Beauty Institute.

Those Dardennes:

The documentaries that we used to make, you go to film a reality that exists outside of you and you don’t have control over it — it resists your camera. You have to take it as it is. So we try to keep that aspect of documentary into our fiction, to film something that resists us … We want to remain on the level of the things as they are and not impose on them.

Beyond the Lights (2014, Gina Prince-Bythewood)

Romance between a cop and a singer. Pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Belle) is following the pop-star routine prescribed by her manager/mother (Minnie Driver), her label, her producers and her mandated rapper boyfriend, then is saved from a suicide attempt by local hero cop Kaz (Nate Parker of Red Hook Summer), who’s got his own problems, what with political aspirations and people shooting at him, but nobody at work seems to mind when he and Noni disappear on a beach getaway where she rediscovers what she liked about singing (via Nina Simone songs).

Mostly it’s a decent-enough positive-message romance flick, but low-budget flicks with mostly black casts don’t play Nebraska often, so it seemed worth rooting for. Four stars from The Dissolve, too: “beneath the shiny surface of music-video imagery and true-loveisms lie some provocative ideas and deep truths about how people relate on a private level vs. a public one.” Writer/director also made Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees. Probably nothing to this, but I just realized Minnie Driver’s character is named Macy Jean, and there are singers named Macy Gray and Jean Grae.

Sawdust & Tinsel (1953, Ingmar Bergman)

“A pity people must live. I feel sorry for them.” What is it with the mid-1950’s and depressing circus movies? This obviously aimed to completely bum out anyone who finds joy or delight at a circus, then if cinemagoers weren’t yet convinced, along came La Strada the following year to make sure we’d forever equate the circus with death and disappointment.

A shitty circus sputters into the town where ringmaster Albert (Åke Grönberg of A Lesson in Love) left behind his wife and kids. He’s now with Anna (Harriet Andersson, star of Monika and Through a Glass Darkly), who doesn’t like him visiting the family, so she sneaks off with the pointy-sideburned actor Frans (Hasse Ekman, a writer/director also in Bergman’s Thirst and Prison), whose theater (run by Winter Light star Gunnar Bjornstrand) has lent the circus costumes while they’re in town. Albert and Anna would both desperately like to leave their horrible circus, and Albert even attempts suicide (similar ending to Smiles of a Summer Night) but in the end, they sadly roll back out of town together.

Anna and the actor:

Anna and the ringmaster:

Near the beginning is one of Bergman’s most intense dream/flashback sequences, in which humiliated clown Frost (Anders Ek, a priest in Cries & Whispers) “rescues” his wife (Gudrun Brost, Hour of the Wolf) who is bathing nude at the beach, putting on a show for an army regiment.

Wonderful quote from Catherine Breillat, which could apply to any great film:

All of the images I am describing, more than forty years later, I can see again with the absolute precision of black and white, the light and the specific, almost incandescent definition. But perhaps I am inventing them, perhaps I was able to understand the film only as it related to me, in a selfish and fragmentary manner. Who cares! … What does it matter if I make up stories — the importance of works is not only in their objectivity but even more so in their elemental power.

John Simon:

Fine as the Swedish filmmaker’s earlier outings were, here, in his thirteenth film, Bergman gazed deeper than ever into the human soul, depicting it with greater artistry. The sparring spouses in his 1949 film Thirst have their Strindbergian fascination, but the empathy in Sawdust and Tinsel is more profound, the suffering more shattering, the Pyrrhic victories (such as the film’s ending) more moving. Stylistically, one of the ways Bergman achieved this was by using a greater number of close-ups of the human face, which would continue to fascinate the filmmaker above all else throughout his career.

Surviving Life: Theory and Practice (2010, Jan Svankmajer)

Stop-motion cut-out animation of psychoanalytic dream-imagery.

Yes there’s a story – a married man attempts to carry on an affair with a woman in his dreams – but it’s the imagery and editing tricks and invention and sidetracks (eggs, fruit, flowers, suit-wearing coworker with dog head, fighting Freud and Jung portraits, reptiles, tongues, doppelgangers) that kept us endlessly entertained. Svankmajer’s features tend to feel overlong with their obsessions and repetitions but this one (though it opens with an extended apology from the director) was completely wonderful.

Polyester (1981, John Waters)

Inspired by Douglas Sirk movies, and inspiration of the song “Frontier Psychiatrist”. An extreme example of the normal person pushed-to-the-brink genre, and starring Divine (not even a normal person). Everything that can possibly go wrong does so all at once – she turns to alcohol as her pornographer husband leaves, daughter is pregnant by her delinquent boyfriend (Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys, writer of Sonic Reducer), son is a foot-fetishist sex criminal, and the family is being protested by the neighbors. Divine’s still got her friend Cuddles, her former housekeeper who recently inherited great wealth, and starts to recover in the company a sexy stranger (Tab Hunter of Track of the Cat) – but it turns out he’s actually dating Divine’s mom, and the romance was a plot to get money. After all this pain (even if it’s over-the-top comedy-pain), Waters allows some lightness (even if it’s murdery lightness). The son is reformed, the delinquent is killed, Cuddles’s chauffeur/fiancee Heinz runs down the mom and Tab, and all (who remain) live happily.

Divine’s superpower is her keen sense of smell, hence the Odorama cards (which we didn’t get, alas). The Ross played it off an average-quality DVD, but it’s a good movie to watch with a crowd. My head exploded when the movie had a profitable highbrow drive-theater showing a Marguerite Duras triple-feature. It also featured the same tasteless lawn jockey that my landlords have. Department of Redundancy Department: an imdb user calls it a “mainstream overground non-underground movie.”

Kandahar (2001, Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

Woman returns to Afghanistan to save her suicidal sister, but has trouble finding passage from Iran to Kandahar. Wiki says it’s partly based on true story, and the lead, Nelofer Pazira, played herself – although here she’s called Nafas. She pretends to be part of a large family crossing the border, but they get robbed along the way. She gets a boy called Khak to take her partway, meets an American doctor with a false beard, then tries to follow a wedding party the rest of the way.

Poetic film, sometimes with unconvincing English dialogue but makes up for that with wonderous scenes like the one with guys on crutches racing to catch artificial legs parachuting from above. Makhmalbaf apparently had no trouble finding extras with missing limbs (neither does Jodorowsky). I have a skewed picture of Makhmalbaf – I’ve seen his appearance in Close-Up, a couple of his early documentaries, and a couple by his daughter Samira but this is the first of Mohsen’s features I’ve watched.

Ebert:

Makhmalbaf and his cinematographer, Ebraham Ghafouri, show this desert land as beautiful but remote and forbidding. Roads are tracks from one flat horizon to another. Nafas bounces along in the back of a truck with other women, the burqua amputating her personality.

The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade)

Third screening of Sundance Week, though the posts have been broken up and delayed. I guess if this blog was my real job, I’d have watched the Sundance movies in advance and posted ’em on the week itself, but it’s not, so here we are in mid-March. And with the delays I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say about this, if anything, except that J MASCIS plays a janitor for some reason. Also it’s a remarkably good movie, with an excellent balance between comedy/amusement and mystery/terror, all with super camerawork. Jesse “Social Network” Eisenberg plays a pathetic drip so well that when his confident double (also Eisenberg) shows up they seem like different actors. The drip is obsessed with meeting neighbor Mia “Stoker” Wasikowska, tries to please boss Wallace Shawn and get noticed by head company man James Fox. The double does all this and more with ease, leading the drip to finally assert himself and destroy the other man by attempting suicide (since their bodies are linked). Feels a bit like The Tenant at the end. Three of Ayoade’s Submarine stars also appear.