Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June Film Roundup

Been about a month since the last round-up, so time for another. NOthing fancy, just capsules:

Stories We Tell - 12/15 - story of Sarah Polley and her family. They had a secret: was she really her father's daughter? they treat it as a joke, she pokes around, and finally, almost out of the blue, she finds her biological father. When this, in turn, threatens to come out in public, she has to work it out with her family - and ends up filming it. The film approaches the story through all the people around the story - she uses interviews with her family and people they knew, home movies, fake home movies (presented as real home movies, until the end, when she reveals the crew filming them), and, given a central place, her father's account of his marriage, and their family. The title tells you what the film is: it's about the stories we tell, how we construct the meaning of our lives, and how everyone around you has their own version, and how they are all, somehow, to some extent, brought together. Life itself as a kind of collaborative improvisation. Very clever and moving film.

Deceptive Practices: Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay - 10/15 - very enjoyable documentary about Ricky Jay - his mentors, his connection to the past of magicians, as well as plenty of magic. Might be lightweight in the end, never really digging into the material, but since it consists mostly of Jay talking, it is inherently fascinating and very entertaining, because, in the end, he is.

Frances Ha - 11/15 - Noah Baumbach's latest, co-written with Greta Gerwig. GG is Frances, who lives in NY, is a dancer, though only an apprentice, shares an apt with her best friend, has a boyfriend - and proceeds to shed these impedimenta... She breaks up with the boyfriend rather than move in with him; her friend decides to move to Tribeca, gets engaged, moves to Japan; the dancing business slowly fades. Frances, meanwhile, drifts around New York - spends some time with a pair of rich brats (one beds a string of women, though not her; the other has an odd passive aggressive friendship with her ("undatable")), until the money runs out. She lives with another dancer for a while, who doesn't like her - though Frances manages to get a weekend in Paris out of it. Goes back to her old school for the summer, and then, I suppose, finally, faces the facts a bit... All through - she is flighty and friendly and a bit weird, and not very good at anything, but cheerful and deluded and inclined to lie to cover up her inadequacy, until the end. She takes a plain office job, she manages to stage a piece of choreography, she gets an actual apartment of her own. It is a nice little film, entirely built around Gerwig, and carried by Gerwig, who is, after all, a nearly infinitely charming actress when she gets the chance.

Before Midnight - 11/15 - Linklater, Hawke and Delpy are back, 9 years after the last one. Now, Jesse and Celine are together, with twins, live in Paris, but spending the summer in Greece. Starts with Jesse taking his son to the airport, to fly home - the boy's fate, and Jesse's relationship to him and his mother, becomes the plot engine of the film. They drive back to the place they are staying, have a nice dinner party with friends, who are as talkative as they are - then are sent on a romantic night alone at the hotel. But things unravel.... This one is different from the previous two. Not just that they start the film as a couple; the film is not about this couple, by themselves - from the start, they are plunged into the world. It starts with Jesse and his son; then the family; then with their friends - through the first half of the film, they are constantly surrounded by other people. They are alone in the second half - but not really alone. The boy calls; they start arguing, about the boy, the ex-wife, the twins, jobs and cities and where to live - they are, now, as a couple, completely entangled with the rest of the world, with all those other people, and can't get out of it for love or money.... It is, then, another fine movie, part of a very impressive series of films - so impressive, I'm tempted to note, that Julie Delpy has a parallel franchise of her own running on more or less exactly the same theme... Indeed, this one feels a bit more like Two Days in New York than the other Linklater films - fraught relationships and inescapable relatives....

Post Tenebras Lux - 12/15 - New Carlos Reygadas film, and for me, his best to date. (Though I haven't seen Silent Light, one of those films that got a fleeting screening somewhere and was gone, and seems, somehow, not quite right to watch on DVD.) Very fragmentary, hallucinatory film. The story, roughly, is about a rich family living in the country - man, beautiful wife, 2 adorable kids, a bunch of dogs. They have their troubles - he is addicted to porn, and some other hints of the couple's malaise come out; the man, in particular, interacts with the workers around him in ways that hint at trouble - he acts friendly, but is condescending, and carries a streak of violence and exploitation with him... The family heads off on vacation, but leaves something behind, so he goes back alone, to a Major Plot Point.... Talking about it that way doesn't come close to describing it, of course. The film consists of scenes arranged without obvious connections, isoolated from one another, though usually fairly stable inside them - long takes, usually with a mobile camera; lush scenery - jungles, rain, exteriors shot with a doctored lens that looks like vaseline, though apparently it isn't. We see the family together at different points in their lives; we see the workers in their town, mostly "Seven" who cuts down trees, does handiwork, and runs a kind of AA program; we see a family reunion of appalling rich people, kids playing rugby, and an orgy in a steam bath with things like the Duchamps room and the Hegel room. Throughout, much is made of class differences, class and race; there are many animals of all kinds, and trees, and landscapes and weather; there is, as well, of course, sin and redemption. It flirts, I suppose, with the worst kinds of Art Film Smugness - but it's too beautiful to succumb to it, and stays too close, most of the time, to something solid - the earth, and faces and bodies, and light. I liked it: I don't trust Reygadas, and had to talk myself into seeing this - but was caught up in it. It felt, somehow, like other films - Lisandro Alonso at times; Raoul Ruiz at times - I can't say it's as good as either, but it works.

An Oversimplification of her Beauty - 10/15 - interesting essay, love story, something, directed by Terance Nance. All of it loops around an incident - a young man who likes a young woman, expects to see her one night, but she calls and says she can't come over - "how would you feel?" The story loops around this, expanding the set up, his bad day, his history of love affairs, and so on... And loops around a short film (Called How Would U Feel) that he made of it. A girl he half loves, a friend, an ambiguous relationship; where will it go? With this as an anchor for his musings on his life, his other lovers, also lost, and on his career, his art, and art, memory, what have you.... It is very clever, and might end up being too clever - it does seem to get stuck in that initial conceit, and though the expansion on it is also very well done, it bogs down... Still: a very interesting film, an essay film, of the kind people did on video 25 years ago. A very interesting debut.

1 comment:

Sam Juliano said...

Thoughtful writing as always Weeping Sam! I am also a big fan of FRANCES HA and of Baumbach's work in general. I still need to see BEFORE MIDNIGHT, though I am in a serious minority as far as Linklater's other BEFORE films are concerned. Have never been an advocate. I will see Sarah Polley's film again, but I thought some of the family issues are more difficult to appreciate from the outside. But she's a talented woman all told, I know.