Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)

Had to see this since I also just watched Obsession, another semi-remake of Vertigo. Nina Hoss (star of Petzold’s Barbara and Jerichow), of a rich family, escaped the holocaust but is presumed dead. She has actually had reconstructive facial surgery and looks like a different person, but still obsesses over her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld of Beloved Sisters and The Pasta Detectives) even though he may have saved himself by giving her up to the nazis.

Most of the movie is the tension of wondering how she could be so stupid to return to Johnny, leading to the very satisfying ending when she reveals her true self, thus claiming her family’s fortune while rejecting Johnny, who has been a slimeball the entire movie.

Petzold also made my second-favorite of the Dreileben trilogy (what’s Dominik Graf up to these days?). The final film by late cowriter Harun Farocki – my only previous experience with him was an essay film better talked about than watched.

A. Nayman:

What’s remarkable about Phoenix is how its Farockian didacticism – the fact that Nelly would rather try to reclaim her place and her identity in a German society that tried to exterminate her rather than go with Lene to settle in Palestine – is blended into its drama so that it becomes a film of ideas that is also a film of emotions.

The Loneliest Planet (2011, Julia Loktev)

Enjoyable to watch but with less of a game-changing twist than I expected from the reviews, which I didn’t actually read, because I was warned that they might give away the movie’s game-changing twist. Anyway it sounds like the same twist as Force Majeure, which I’m hoping will be even better.

Engaged American couple is on a mountain trip through eastern Europe. She is Hani Fursternberg (Yossi & Jagger), and has a terrific naked introduction scene, and he is Gael Garcia Bernal (between The Limits of Control and No), without a whole lot to do except for one scene. At least I think this is the big twist: when some motherfucker pulls a gun and Gael’s instinct is to hide, thrusting his girlfriend into the line of fire – then almost immediately realizes what he’s doing and switches their positions. They go from being carefree, lovey hikers before that scene, to trudging unhappily in opposite corners of the frame afterwards.

Also on the trip, their Georgian guide Dato (played by an actual guide), who starts to become more important after the incident, opening up to Hani about his past since she’s barely speaking to Gael anymore.

Language lessons: “I take my biiitch to the beeeach”

J. Kuehner: “Loktev persistently evokes a mysterious feeling that courses through us, at home and abroad, of beauty and dread pulsing in equal measure.”

Won an award at AFI Fest, played Locarno alongside Terri, Another Earth, Goodbye First Love and Policeman. Loktev made the acclaimed Day Night Day Night, which came out among a flurry of other terrorist dramas that I skipped. Cinematographer Inti Briones worked with Ruiz, shot Days in the Country and Night Across The Street. The best parts are between story scenes, massive wide shots of the scenery as our tiny heroes walk along and Richard Skelton’s crazy string music takes over the soundtrack.

White (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

Still my least favorite of the trilogy, though it’s less mean-spirited than I remember it (final image of Julie Delpy seeking reconciliation after her ex has her falsely imprisoned is mostly what I’ve remembered). Delpy’s in the movie for about five minutes – it’s mostly about her ex-husband Karol trying to get back on his feet after their divorce. She (maliciously) leaves him homeless and unemployed, but he befriends a fellow Pole while begging in the Paris metro, gets back to Poland, earns a fortune in a realty scheme, starts a shady import business, then frames Delpy for his own faked murder. The plot description sounds worse than the film itself, and the character described in paragraph form sounds like a total dick, while Karol seems more cuddly in person.

Karol is Zbigniew Zamachowski, who starred with his hairdresser brother Jerzy Stuhr in the final Decalogue segment, in which they also played brothers. Karol’s Gabriel Byrne-looking Polish friend is Janusz Gajos, a lead in the fourth Decalogue. This won best director in Berlin (vs. Philadelphia and Smoking/No Smoking)

K.K.: “The subject of the film is humiliation – men are not, and do not want to be, equal. The film is also about equality.” His cowriter Piesiewicz: “I knew very well that people in fact didn’t want to be free. All consumerism and advertising is based on us not being equal. Equality of opportunity, yes. But what does that mean? What’s needed most is empathy…”

Also watched the great Talking Heads short again, and…

Seven Women of Different Ages (1979, Kieslowski)

Dancers at different stages. First: young girls being pulled into position by a patient teacher, then older girls being screamed at by an abusive teacher. Rehearsal, then on stage, then a terrified-looking woman doing a routine. An understudy, watching closely but not actually practicing the moves. Finally an instructor of young girls the age of the first segment – I wondered if it’s the actual teacher from that segment, but it’s not. Fits in well with Talking Heads, obviously.

Misc Shorts, Q2 2015

World of Tomorrow (2015, Don Hertzfeldt)

Emily Prime is contacted by her third-generation clone, discussing memory, robots, love and life in the outernet of the future.

Only 16 minutes long but I watched it seven times.

Choose You (2013, Spike Jonze & Chris Milk)

Written by Lena Dunham and directed by Spike Jonze – and yet it’s terrible? I think that’s because it’s a corporate-sponsored short made for a music video awards show. Anyway, subtitled and censored, club dude’s ex-gf is now dating DJ Michael Shannon, some girl he doesn’t even know freaks out about this, then Jason Schwartzmann hosts a choose-your-own-adventure ending and double suicide is chosen.

The Discontented Canary (1934, Rudolf Ising)

A sad caged canary gets his chance to escape, but nature beats the hell out of him, so he returns home, learning to appreciate his captivity. At least he wasn’t hit by lightning like the feral cat. Moral: life is just horrible.

The Alphabet (1968, David Lynch)

Now in high-def!

Les jeux des anges (1965, Walerian Borowczyk)

Heads roll.
Pipe organ becomes firing squad.
Angel wings.
Infinite scrolling.

Mouseover for decay:
image

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, Winsor McCay)

Didn’t realize this was a WWI propaganda film. “Germany, once a great and powerful nation, had done a dastardly deed in a dastardly way.”

Intro explaining how difficult the movie was to create, and plenty of title cards, so the nine minute short has maybe four minutes of animation. But the animation is real good stuff, all water and smoke.

We Give Pink Stamps (1965, Friz Freleng)

Absurd fun in a department store as the Pink Panther torments the night janitor.

Closed Mondays (1974, Will Vinton & Bob Gardiner)

Great claymation. Wino wanders into an art gallery, hallucinates (?) all the paintings and sculptures coming to life.

Night Mail (1936 Wright & Watt)

I’ve heard this is one of the greatest short documentaries. True, it’s admirably put together, showing all the moving parts in a great, manned machine that moves the mail across England and Scotland really damn fast. And it makes you marvel at the heights of human endeavor. And it ends with a post office rap song. So yeah I was gonna say it’s just a doc about a mail train, but I guess I see their point.

Monster (2005 Jennifer Kent)

Beginnings of The Babadook (there’s a pop-up book and everything). Monster-doll grows into full monster and attacks son, mom screams at it, tells it to go to its room.

Fears (2015, Nata Metlukh)

Terrific 2-minute animated short linked by Primal.
A man literally embraces his fears.

Restaurant Dogs (1994, Eli Roth)

Student film in which an evil brigade of fast-food restaurant mascots is bloodily defeated by a young dude who’s given a mission from the Burger King himself to save his daughter the Dairy Queen. Something like that, anyway. I thought the guy only wanted to buy a milkshake, and suspected he was drunk, so I’m surprised he signed up for the murderous mission so quickly.

Given all the trademarked properties being mixed with nazi images via Terry Gilliam-style cut-out animation, I thought I’d better watch this as soon as I heard about it, rather than wait until our corporate overlords remove it from the internet like they did the Soderbergh cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey which I’d been meaning to watch. Besides Reservoir Dogs, there’s some Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now in the grimace/hamburglar flashback scene.

Ritual (1979, Joseph Bernard)

Under three minutes, viewed online as a trailer for the new Bernard blu-ray, which I obviously need. Drawings, figures, people and scenes and stuttering colors cut together into changing rhythms and overlays. My favorite bit has an overlay of two scenes, one of which is cutting, an effect I don’t see often.

The Passing (1992, Bill Viola)

Soundtrack is the heavy breathing of a person trying to fall asleep, so the movie segments are dreams, I suppose. Lights, cloth, water, children, landscapes. Some movies are described as journeys, but this is one of the few that actually feels like one.

Some of the low-light video is great. It has a very different look from film, and is something you don’t see often, even though video technology has been everywhere for decades.

Official description says it “juxtaposes personal pictures of his mother’s death with images of his own son’s birth to explore foundational and potent themes of beginnings and endings, the cycle of life and the movement of generations” – I can buy that.

Bergman Island (2004, Marie Nyenröd)

“I’m actually scared of everything.”

This is the source of the short introductions and DVD extras that begin with video of Bergman’s car arriving at his house. Filmed interview segment is just okay, but Bergman tells good stories and the editing of stock footage and his own films into the interviews is done well.

This was originally three one-hour episodes with more focus on the theater, later recut into a single, cinema-focused feature. The director: “I was the first and only journalist who was ever allowed to step into the world of Bergman on its lonely cape on Fårö.”

Asked about his conscience after abandoning so many families: “I had a bad conscience until I discovered that having a bad conscience about something so gravely serious as leaving your children is mere affectation. It’s a way of achieving a little suffering that can’t for a moment be equated to the suffering you’ve caused.”

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher)

Fincher brings his sleek style to an exasperating, overlong, coincidence-filled thriller. If I was a proper auteurist the story wouldn’t matter and I’d go on about the great technique – but I’m not, so I was bored.

A Man Without a Country:

Disgraced journalist Daniel Craig is hired by Christopher Plummer of a rich nazi family to discover who killed Plummer’s granddaughter forty years ago – and since there’s no body, we already know that Racer X is really Speed’s bro… I mean that the girl is still alive. Halfway through the movie Craig meets (hooks up with) antisocial goth hacker Rooney Mara. First part of the movie sets up horrible, dangerous people: the businessman who sues Craig, Rooney’s rapist parole officer, Plummer’s evil nephew Stellan Skarsgard, then in the end our heroes take bloody revenge on all of them.

Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck:

Stellan’s fiery end:

I love that everyone knows all about Craig’s life and work – for an investigative journalist he’s quite bad at keeping secrets. A few amusing parts: most of the dragon-tattoo hackery-fakery, and Stellan soundtracking his torture chamber with an Enya song. Rooney Mara won best actress at Cannes (for Carol) the same day I watched this.

You and the Night (2013, Yann Gonzalez)

Fully bizarre and exceptional movie, which I think I need to watch again before attempting to say anything about it. Immortal couple with their undead “maid” hosts orgy which never quite gets off the ground, as participants exchange (hi)stories, then one host sneaks off and kills himself. Great lighting and imagery, action taking place in a stylish, dream-logic void.

Kate Moran (Goltzius and the Pelican Company) and Neils Schneider (Heartbeats, I Killed My Mother) are the hosts, Nicolas Maury (Regular Lovers) the “maid”. Guests include The Stallion (former soccer star Eric Cantona), The Star (Fabienne Babe of Rivette’s Hurlevent), The Teenager (Alain-Fabein Delon) and The Bitch (Julie Bremond).

Special appearance by whip enthusiast Beatrice Dalle (The Intruder, Inside):

Surprising restraint on use of music considering the director is a member of M83.

Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Patricio Guzman)

All I knew from Guzmán was The Battle of Chile, which is newsreel documentary with explanatory postscript. I heard this was another doc about Pinochet horrors made forty years later and thought ah, more of the same. But this is something very different: a poetic, visual doc encompassing early man, human history and the cosmos, past and present colliding in beauty and horror.

One of the movie’s subjects, Lautaro Núñez, explains:

The astronomers created an enormous telescope … They are in the present recording a past which they have to reconstruct. They have only minute clues. They are archaeologists like us. … Why are there archaeologists and astronomers in the same place? The answer is simple. Here, the past is more accessible than elsewhere. The translucency of the sky is, for the archaeologists of space, what the dry climate is for us. It facilitates our access to evidence from the past.

Guzmán: “And yet, this country has not yet considered its past. It is held in the grasp of the coup d’etat which seems to immobilise it.”

Guzmán slowly brings the focus from ancient archaeology to more recent, focusing on a group of women who have combed the desert for decades looking for the graves of their relatives who were murdered and disappeared by Pinochet’s men. Then he connects even this to the cosmic, all with beautiful photography.

Astronomer Valentina Rodríguez’s parents are among the dead. “Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle… we are all part of a current… like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born… nothing really comes to an end.”