Posting these out of order, but I watched this right after The Nightingale, making for a 4:3 double-feature – perverse, since no screens are shaped like that anymore. Tim & Eric and Neil Hamburger aren’t in this, so it seemed like a good starting point, and damn, now I need to watch Alverson’s other four features. In fact, I might need to watch this one again, since I suspect Denis Lavant’s big speech at the end should’ve had subtitles.

Doctor Jeff Goldblum tours hospitals, with a former patient’s introverted semi-orphan son (Tye Sheridan of Ready Player One) in tow, performing lobotomies with a seemingly low success rate. Sounds like a real drag, so I can’t explain why I loved it – the squared-off compositions, the bleak period-postcard look, Goldblum, Udo Kier as Tye’s late father, and a seething Lavant are all pluses for sure.

Benjamin Mercer in Reverse Shot:

For our fictionalized lobotomist, the object of the westward-leading circuit is to outrun the strengthening professional headwinds, the first wave of antipsychotic pharmaceuticals having recently been introduced, leaving fewer and fewer institutional decision-makers with an appetite for the operation in question, with its barbaric follow-through and uninspiring “success” rate … Andy learns that sharing a hotel room with Fiennes, not just a reckless physician but an alcoholic skirt chaser to boot, is its own special kind of hell, and he begins to sympathize more and more with the patients he’s charged with photographing for medical posterity.

Lavant’s daughter / Tye’s love interest played young Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime. Cowriters include the guy who made Person to Person and the star of Alverson’s first two features.

A Walker sequel, now costarring Denis Lavant of Holy Motors! Fourteen shots, and four are exceptionally long, beginning with a dim opening close-up of Lavant’s face.

Red Monk climbs stone stairs, walks through immaculately composed frames, with a couple cuts back to Lavant’s immobile head in different poses.

In the longest shot of the movie, Monk slowly (do I need to say “slowly”?) descends a staircase. Most people dodge him, but one girl stops and tries to figure him out.

Finally the big moment, as the Monk walks past a crowded corner followed by Lavant, focusing hard and copying each step (though Lavant leans more, and uses his arms for balance).

Beautiful finale in a square with a mirrored ceiling, the monk arriving belatedly from the side and not able to compete visually with the man blowing giant soap bubbles in the center.

Lee Kang-sheng and Tsai Ming Liang have other recent shorts listed on IMDB, including Walking On Water and Sleepwalk, so I’m guessing there are more Walker movies out there. Bring ’em on.

The ultimate movie-movie, starring Denis Lavant 11 times.

Prologue in a movie theater where he is locked in a room with a secret-panel door to which his metal finger is the key.

“Oscar” leaves a giant house as a banker, gets into limo driven by the great Edith Scob (looking much more lively than she did in Summer Hours – I know it was acting and makeup, but I was concerned), is told he has nine appointments today and starts getting into makeup.

1. He plays a hunched homeless woman begging for change, seeing mostly pavement and shoes.

2. Motion-capture room inside a factory – he is covered in tracking markers like the kind Andy Serkis is always wearing. First he enacts an acrobatic fight scene, then runs on a treadmill firing a machine gun, then is joined by a red-rubber-suited woman for a mutant sex scene.

3. “Merde,” he mutters as he glances at the dossier. And so he is Merde, striding through the cemetery eating flowers until he comes across a photo shoot. He bites a camera assistant’s fingers off then abducts model Eva Mendes (of Bad Lieutenant 2), takes her to the sewer, reconfigures her clothes and lays in her lap naked. Best joke of the movie: the headstones all advertise the deceased’s websites.

4. Beleaguered father picks up daughter Angele from a party where she was too shy to dance and mingle. He takes it badly because she lied and said she had a great time.

5. Musical intermission with accordions, time to reflect on the movie. At some point between scenes Michel Piccoli visits the limo to discuss Oscar’s work. Cameras are mentioned – the fact that they used to be these big things but are now tiny and hidden everywhere. So Oscar is a sort of character film-actor of the future. The first two parts he played couldn’t be more different (old and feeble vs. acrobatic, grim realism vs. stark techno-future), so we’re seeing a range of Oscar’s performance types before the second half gets more personal.

6. A bald guy with facial scars knifes another guy to death in a warehouse, makes that guy up to look like himself, then gets knifed by the dying man, ending in a hilarious visual joke, two Oscars dying side-by-side on the ground. As he staggers back to the limo, helped by Edith, we wonder – which one was Oscar, and were either of the stabbings real?

7. He’s a dying man in bed, having a final conversation with sad niece Lea. Further ruptures in the structure: when the old man is “rambling incoherently” he recites lines from previous episodes, and after he “dies” we watch him get back up and leave, chatting briefly with the actress playing his niece on the way out.

7.5?: He quickly makes Edith stop the limo, throws on a red barbed-wire stocking cap and shoots himself-as-the-banker dining along the sidewalk, then gets shot to death. Edith runs over, apologizes to everyone saying it’s a mistaken identity and collects him (stocking-cap, not banker).

8?: During a limo-driver right-of-way argument he wanders off, seeing a girl he knows (Kylie Minogue). They’re in the same line of work and had major history together – she sings a song to fill us in. He seems to be himself (Oscar) here, and she’s preparing for a role where she’s suicidal, waiting for another man. On his way back to the limo, Oscar runs screaming over her dead body, having performed her scene and jumped to the pavement. If she’s as “dead” as he becomes in his scenes then she’ll be fine in a few seconds – and if this wasn’t a performance but the “real” Oscar then why can’t he see her anymore, and why the extreme reaction to her death?

9. Anyway, Oscar ends up at a house full of chimps, whom he kisses goodnight. Edith parks the limo, puts on her Eyes Without a Face mask and walks off. Then the limos converse, tail lights flashing as they speak.

Need to watch this again – not because I may have missed a scene or listed them out of order, but because the movie (and Lavant) is completely amazing [edit: watched again; Katy didn’t like it]. From skimming the critics’ reports I was prepared for something extremely crazy and nonsensical, but this made plenty of sense, and is a completely unique piece of meta-cinema. Caroline Champetier, cinematographer of this and Merde, also shot Of Gods and Men, Rivette’s Gang of Four and Class Relations.

D. Lim: “… as close as Carax has come to an artistic manifesto: a film about life as cinema and cinema as life.”

A simple story with just a few main characters, which Denis lovingly photographs, obscures and abstracts. Unlike many of her others, it’s almost immediately easy to grasp this one’s character relationships, which may account for its higher reputation than her later films, or probably it’s just this one’s timing, exploding her international festival/critical reputation. Not that I mean to be ungenerous to Beau Travail – it’s terrific, and must have one of the best film endings of the 90’s.

Based on Herman Melville’s story Billy Budd. Commandant Michael Subor (The Intruder) leads a French foreign legion camp in Djibouti. Denis Lavant (Lovers on the Bridge) is training a bunch of men. But Lavant feels that he’s losing authority to new guy Gregoire Colin (35 Shots of Rum), so he looks for an opportunity to strike back. That was my interpretation anyway, but looking through comments of other filmed versions of Billy Budd, it seems that his motivation is never quite clear. Either way, he sends Colin on a doomed hike through the desert. Presumed to have killed the recruit (we later see Colin gettin rescued), Lavant is dismissed from the armed forces and set to be court-martialed. And just when you’re wondering why cast the great Denis Lavant as an immobile authority figure, he breaks out into a crazy awesome fantasy-sequence dance.

Doesn’t seem to follow the novel’s plot too closely – in the book, Budd is executed for accidentally killing a superior officer, while here he saves a man and kills nobody. The book was turned into a famous opera, and Denis uses songs from that instead of her usual Tindersticks. Mostly, she turns the story into an abstract dance of bodies in the desert, with emotions felt rather than explained.

J. Rosenbaum:

The fact that [Subor] is named after the hero of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat and played by the same actor almost 40 years later adds a suggestive thread… Most of all, Denis, who spent part of her childhood in Djibouti, captures the poetry and atmosphere — and, more subtly, the women — of Africa like few filmmakers before her.