Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day for Night. 1973

Like most people I have a soft spot for Francois Truffaut films, perhaps one of my favorite characters of all times is Antoine Doinel played by the amazing Jean Pierre Leaud. I am always intrigued by this character as Truffaut's alter ego, his other. 

Day for Night was an audience favorite in the United States at the time of its debut. It is perhaps Truffaut the international director that most respected American Cinema.

La Nuit Americaine which is the title in French, is an exuberant celebration of the joy of film-making, The title refers to the effect of filming night during daylight with a special filter. The film asks a crucial question, "Is Cinema superior to life"? The film is an engaging drama about the people involved in making a film. How insignificant the cinematic stories compare to real life drama as they both unravel in this great story. Truffaut has declared on numerous occasions that real incidents experienced by him were the material for this film. He brings another personal experience which he was noted for. La Nuit Americaine is a meaningful film about the hardships one must endure while making a film. Making a film about a film is a complicated task but Truffaut succeeded with ease in creating an oeuvre of exceptional beauty. Cinema is shown as a big family in which Truffaut as film director Ferrand has to take care of everything including the bad mood of his players. La Nuit Americaine is an honest film which gives you an idea about the fact that personal problems don't matter, if you are taking part in a film. It is the cinema which rules. I love the idea that your profession is the most important part of your life and you will pardon anything for the chance of exercising it. Truffaut wished that the public would love to watch this film as much as he enjoyed making it. It was one of the last films to have been shot at the famous Victorine studios.

I love the scene where he receives a package and as he opens it you see a series of books about his most admired directors from Lubitsch, Bunuel, Goddard to Hitchcock.

The movie has a great cast that perform beautiful roles; from the gorgeous Jacqueline Bisset, the classic actor and well-known in Hollywood Jean Pierre Aumont, the funny and always charming Jean Pierre Leaud, Francois Truffaut himself and her first role ever of the talented Natalie Baye.

If you love films this is the films that you will love. 

The Bakery Girl of Monceau, 1963

I just wrote a note last month about the death of master director Eric Rohmer. A beautiful short film delicate, perfect and inspiring is this masterpiece; simple, and jazzy, the first of the “Moral Tales” shows the basis of what would become the Eric Rohmer style: unfussy naturalistic shooting, ironic first-person voice-over, and the image of the “unknowable” woman. A law student (played by producer and future director Barbet Schroeder) with a roving eye and a large appetite stuffs himself full of sugar cookies and pastries daily in order to garner the attentions of the pretty brunette who works in a quaint Paris bakery.

The film is about the simple and complex decisions a young man has to make like which girl to go out with, the emotional content is perfect no need to dramatize, the process is in a sense a delight. Just like the wonderful scene where the young man asks the pastry girl to join him eating a pastry. This is one  the great scenes I know about eating.

The CD has a wonderful set of interviews with Eric Rohmer that are lessons in cinema as well as great stories about how one of the masters of “French New Wave” started making films, The interviewer is his friend and producer of his movies a great director himself Barbet Schroeder.

Faubuorg 36. 2008

If you are a sucker for French films you will be definitely drawn to this film, however this is not precisely that cool, intellectual film. Paris 36, which the real name is Faubourg 36 in reference to that area of Paris. This movie was directed by Christophe Barratier who directed “Les Choristes”. The movie has the problem of trying to capitalize on the effect and success of of his previous film and got caught in the trap of becoming full of French clichés.

The number in the title refers to 1936, when the left-wing Popular Front government of Léon Blum came to power, initiating a period of intensified class struggle and political antagonism. Lots of critics didn’t care much for this film. I didn’t dislike it as much but I would say you don’t have to try this hard to make a film so cute and warm, something that people all over the world will think is a romanticized version of “French charm”.

But “Paris 36” works so hard to charm you that you may be tempted to end up liking it, let’s face there are much worst American films that we deal with. Its main characters, after all, are such sad, lovable Frenchmen.

Certainly one can’t dislike Pigoil (Gérard Jugnot, also seen in “Les Choristes”), who in the opening scenes loses almost everything: his backstage job at the Chansonia music hall; his wife, who runs off with a fellow performer; and then his beloved son, an accordion prodigy named Jojo (Maxence Perrin), who is taken from Pigoil’s custody by heartless bureaucrats.

The character of Pigoil’s pal Jacky (Kad Merad), who fancies himself “the prince of impressionists” is realy good. Or Milou (Clovis Cornillac), a stagehand, labor agitator and tough ladies’ man. Also to rescue it and a newcomer chanteuse called Douce (Nora Arnezeder) who is really beautiful.

 The film is good to watch at home with your uncomplicated not very judging friends.

The Marc Pease Experience

Perhaps Jason Schwartzman is the coolest American actor, ever since his great film debut in “Rushmore”. But no matter how charming or cool you are if the story is not strong, you can’t rely solely on actors’ charisma. This is a story of a guy named Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman) who flipped out during his high school's production of The Wiz, despite every assurance from his drama teacher, Mr. Gribble (Ben Stiller), that he was incredible fake and manipulative at the very least capable.

Eight years later, Gribble's giving The Wiz another shot, while Pease tries to keep the remaining half of his once mighty a cappella group together and heading towards some modest goal of stardom. The a capella group keeps dwindling down in members and interest. The two of them share a common love with present-day senior Meg (Anna Kendrick), and all three of them have a love for performing.

The story is sort of a comedy, although it is more about some kind of arrested development from the pathetic character of Marc Pease that cannot relinquish his high school traumatic experience until he gets another chance to finish the performance of The Wiz. The other arrested character is Mr. Gribble, he is also stuck in his job as the drama teacher, latching on to his “youth”.  

There is a moment in the film where the two main characters, Marc and Mr. Gribble confront each other and basically tell each other about their pathetic realities. The film is sometimes fun but not consistently, the musical moments are good but then again the movie is not a musical either, the story lacks some punch. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Christmas Tale 2008

This is a very intense and humanly complex film, It rally makes us question several things, specifically how families relate and come together and how unnatural that could be. The film operates in the gap between the things we do and the reasons we supply for doing them, between who we think we are and who we appear, to others.  Arnaud Desplechin’s films are headlong, ardent explorations of failure, misunderstanding and emotional warfare, which turn out to be roughly synonymous with nobility, generosity and love. Everyone in his world is so complicated that it’s a wonder a single house, family, film or planet could contain more than one, and yet his characters only exist, they are only really themselves, in groups, in crowds, in agonized and imperfect relation to one another.

The story takes you through all kinds of emotions and sometimes you understand and agree and others you completely rebel against some bizarre attitudes, positions and behaviors. The main premise is that the family lost their first born son when he was six and ever since that moment all kinds of emotional adjustments and affects unraveled some clearly unbeknown of the characters. The family will reunite after some years of forced separations due to the fact that the matriarch played by Catherine Denueve has a rare form of blood cancer and in order to survive needs a bone marrow transplant.

The family has two brothers and one sister, one of the brothers, Henri is an alcoholic played by the great French actor Mathieu Amalric (“the Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). He was forced out of the family by the frustrated and depressed sister, her arguments for such an act are seriously questionable. She has a son with serious mental problems. The youngest son, Ivan is also played by a great young actor Melvil Poupaud (“Le Divorce”, “Broken English”). He is the more stable one and has a nice family, his wife is played by Chiara Mastroianni. The story unravels when they all get together for Christmas and support their mother and her decision to battle or not the disease. 

Trafic 1971

I have always enjoyed Jacques Tati’s movies. As an architect you always recommend or someone suggests you to watch “Playtime” as the most architectural movie ever. Of course “Mon Oncle” also makes fun of diverse situations of modernity. So I feel we have a special connection with his work and critical comedy. Tati was an admirer of silent film. Therefore, his references, comedic timing and his use of very little dialogue to communicate with the audience come in part from that source and the fact that he is completely brilliant!

“Trafic” was the last film of M. Hulot with his typical outfit. In this particular story he is employed as an auto company’s director of design, and accompanies his new vehicle (a camper tricked out with absurd gadgetry) to an auto show in Amsterdam. Naturally, the road is paved with modern-age mishaps. This late-career delight is a masterful demonstration of the comic genius’s expert timing and sidesplitting visual gags, and a bemused last look at technology. The movie runs almost as a silent film with great situations some of them universal and still contemporary and others intrinsically French that is hard to catch the drift.

As usual it is released by the Criterion collection watch it and check the supplements as well with great interviews with Tati and the cast.

Three Brothers 1980

I have seen this film before but I couldn’t remember some of the plot details, so I decided to watch it once again, I come from a family of three brothers, therefore I could definitely relate to the film. The story is about three brothers summoned home by the news that their mother has died. Upon their return they realize they must come to terms with death and the course of their own lives. Loosely based on the novel The Third Sun by A. Platonov.

'Three Brothers,'' the Italian nominee for the Academy Award as the best foreign language film of 1981, Direcyed by Francesco Rosi is full of such moments of startling clarity and beauty, of the discovery of unexpected reserves of emotion. Filmed in a small color palette of whites, beiges and grays it helps place you in that refrained emotional state. All of them are contained in the film's flashbacks, in the memories and daydreams of Donato and of the three sons who return to their hilltop farm in southern Italy for their mother's funeral.

Unfortunately, nothing in the film's present tense has anything like the force and power of these reveries, possibly because the present-tense narrative is so schematic. Donato's three sons represent a particular family less than a large slice of Italian society. Raffaele (Philippe Noiret), the eldest son and a prominent judge in Rome, spends most of his time at the farm worrying about whether or not to accept a case involving the assassination of one of his colleagues by terrorists. He feels that it's his duty to accept, though he knows that acceptance will put in jeopardy his life and the lives of the members of his family.

Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), the second son, is an idealist. He is unmarried and works for little money as a teacher in a home for delinquent boys in Naples, firm in his conviction that if the world is to be saved from chaos a beginning must be made by guiding the still-unformed minds of the younger generation. Nicola (Michele Placido), the youngest, is a militant leftist who works in a factory in Turin and is flirting with the use of violence to achieve social change.

During their visit to their childhood place they soon realize how far apart they have grown apart from those days, something that could easily happen in the case of three brothers.

Sin Nombre

The film is a sort of a love story with a tragic end. Produced by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal. Written and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. 

“Sin Nombre” means “without name” in Spanish, which I guess refers to the fact that the story could take place anywhere and to people that in the large spectrum of things are nameless faces falling into this particular social cultural trap of either joining a gang or trying to escape your conditions and trying a new life crossing the border of the United States illegally. 

The story follows two parallel journeys that inevitably meet, brought together after a fatal encounter. The first, by far liveliest voyage begins in the chaos of Tapachula in Chiapas, Mexico, where Casper (Edgar Flores), a teenage member of the vicious street gang Mara Salvatrucha, is making a fast run toward an early grave. Casper meets his destiny when his story collides with that of Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a solemn-eyed, extremely naive Honduran teenager who is riding the rails to Texas with her father and uncle. The teenagers meet cute, gangsta style, when another Salvatrucha member attacks her during a heist on the train and is assaulted in turn. As the journey continues they begin to fall for each other avoiding a fellow gang member who has been sent to kill him along the way until destiny reaches Casper and he finds death when he is about to cross the river to the United States.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Girlfriend Experience

I watched another cool film by Steven Soderbergh, who has brought films like “Sex, Lies and Videotape”, “Traffic”, “Full Frontal” and many others, some not so good by the way. The Girlfriend Experience”, his new movie was shot-with-the-4K-Red-digital-camera, and an adult-actress in the lead role. It is largely improvised drama about the life of a New York escort.

A lot of expectation was created when Soderbergh announced this film, and even more was made when he cast adult actress (the polite euphemism for 'porn star,' and that itself a polite euphemism for 'someone who has sex on-camera for money') Sasha Grey in the lead role as a Manhattan call girl who offers not just rushed release but the more refined "girlfriend experience", elegant hotel rooms, fine restaurants, as we see in the opener, fine red wine and Marc Jacobs black dresses, soft kisses and small talk, and many more things, an experience that goes far beyond sex. And yet still includes it.

The film touches deeply on the subject of human relations and how deteriorated they could be. The option for these guys instead of having a “girlfriend” is better for them to actually pay for one. You can see her as frequently as you want, no problems, no commitment, a girlfriend that is a great listener. No tiresome emotions of possession. At the same time the “girlfriend escort” has a real life relationship with a good looking guy that is a “gym trainer”. This guy is kind of nice and just like his girlfriend he is in constant search of how to make more money. He has expectations about the relationship and is committed to it, and he seems to be comfortable with his girlfriend’s line of work. She appears to have more patience and dedication to her clients than to her real relationship.

The situation crashes when she wants to get involved with one of her clients, everything begins to fall apart, which confirms the premise, the conflict of everyday coupling and living together. Very poignant and discusses sex in a real sense.

The International

When “The International” was released, I wasn’t able to go to the theater to see it, finally I had the chance to watch and I was pleasantly surprised. The film is a gripping thriller, the story partly fiction and part reality. The real story took place in the 80’s and 90’s, however the producers decided to make it as a contemporary story. The main character is an Interpol Agent, Louis Salinger, (Clive Owen) and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) who are determined to bring to justice one of the world’s most powerful banks. This bank handled the illegal money from all over the world. Uncovering myriad and reprehensible illegal activities, Salinger and Whitman follow the money from Berlin to Milan to New York to Istanbul. Finding themselves in a high-stakes chase across the globe, their relentless tenacity puts their own lives at risk as their targets will stop at nothing, even murder, to continue financing terror and war.

The cool thing about the movie is that architecture plays a super important role in the movie. Architecture provides an emotional set for every scene. The producers and director searched for significant architecture in every city displaying amazing buildings from Wright’s Guggenheim to Zaha’s Phaeno Science Center in Wofsburg. Germany. Directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) from an original screenplay written by Eric Warren Singer, The International was being shot on location in New York, Germany and throughout Europe. Those architecture lovers would enjoy the film even more.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nightwatching 2007

Peter Greenway is definitely one of my favorite filmmakers. It is hard to tell which one I like the most. With films like the “Draughtsman’s Contract”, ”Belly of an Architect”, Drowning by Numbers”, “The Cook, The Thief, The Wife and Her Lover”, ”Prospero’s Book”, “8 ½ Women” and perhaps now that I think about it “ The Pillow Book”. I haven’t seen a movie of his for a long time. “Nightwatching” is not as intriguing or complex in image and narrative as some of his previous work, not as innovative as 'The Suitcases', 'Nightwatching' is however a little of everything. You feel the sensibility of Greeway for sure.

There are references to the earlier films, most obviously to the ' Draughtsman Contract', the latest are so strong that sometimes one may think it is a deep 'remake' of that earliest Greenways' work.

I think he has a particular interest in Rembrandt, example of that is his more recent documentary film “Rembrandt's J'Accuse” 2008. The historic plot is doubtful however neither naive nor unrealistic. And most likely it is just a canvas to put the ideas on: which present in numbers.
In 1642, Rembrandt reluctantly agrees to paint the Amsterdam Musketeer Militia in a group portrait, a portrait that would become his most celebrated painting - Night Watch. Going about his work, Rembrandt discovers that there is conspiracy afoot after a man is shot dead during routine musket practice. Determined to bring these conspiracies to light, the artist builds his accusation meticulously in the form of the commissioned painting itself, simultaneously uncovering a seamy and hypocritical side to Dutch society in the Golden Age.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The New Year Parade

I often wonder what the true “Independent film” should be about.  However after watching “The New Year Parade”, I realized this is exactly what and “indie” movie is supposed to be. The story develops around the Philadelphia's colorful Mummers' Parade. The story is an honest, non-corny, unsentimental portrait of 21st-century divorce in "The New Year Parade." The film was the winner of the Slamdance grand jury prize 2008. It is Tom Quinn's first feature combines non-professional actors with hundreds of actual marching band participants to yield an almost documentary-like look at this family. At first it takes time to get used to the film, it has a different pace and the cast doesn’t include any the typical cool, hip, cute actors. Quinn possesses a strong artistic sensibility and the confidence to build his story around intimate, sometimes mundane life moments as opposed to melodrama. The story is about two siblings, Jack and Kat struggling with their parents’ separation. I highly recommend this film.


I just watched Adam a movie I’ve heard about and I wanted to see after the good reviews it received at Sundance in 2009. It is the story of a lonely, brilliant young man named Adam played by Hugh Dancy, who has Asperger syndrome, who develops an awkward relationship with his upstairs neighbor, the brainy yet beautiful writer Beth (Rose Byrne). I am always skeptical about actors playing these characters because they can become ridiculous, cartoonish and/or melodramatic, like “Forest Gum” played by Tom Hanks and “I am Sam” played by Sean Penn, both awful performances in spite of the fact that Sean Penn is a magnificent actor, maybe it is the director’s fault.  It is weird love story which ofers a slightly different alternative to all the crap is out there,

Adam is both written and directed by Max Mayer. This movie premiered at Sundance and won the Alfred P. Sloan prize for a feature film with science as a theme.