On his first day at TIFF 2013, Alex Ramon applauds two startling French features, the latest works from Claire Denis and Alain Guiraudie, that both twist the suspense thriller into fresh territory.
France, 2013—dir. Claire Denis
Heaps of high heels. A naked girl wandering through a city street. A blood-stained corn on the cob. A pulsing, tensing Tindersticks soundtrack… Yes, you’ve guessed it: here’s the latest impeccably brooding enigma from the imagination of Claire Denis. Though less confounding than some of Denis’s work (2004’s The Intruder still takes that particular prize), the none-too-invitingly titled Bastards (Les Salauds) certainly takes its place as one of Denis’s darkest and most disturbing offerings to date.
Stories about the ordinary lives of young women have abounded at film festivals this year. As we look at two of the most popular at SFIFF, we ask whether or not these films are as interesting as they're made out to be.
Some of the most powerful films making the rounds at festivals this year elevate everyday experience to the level of art. Reminiscent of the driving philosophy behind happenings, these films allow viewers to see themselves reflected on the big screen and to value the craft of their everyday lives.
When done well, these films can be more touching than even the most weighty, deftly plotted dramas and thrillers. Among the most anticipated of these ‘mundane’ movies at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival are Frances Ha and Everyday Objects. These films celebrate daily life and the process of finding one’s self with varied levels of success.
The Slowest Vacation: Everyday Objects
Director Nicolas Wackerbarth’s film about Merle, a young German woman planning to meet her lover at his vacation home on the hills of Nice, is an interesting look at the absolute dullness of so many romantic struggles. Devoid of emotional fights and drawn-out relationship negotiations, the film reminds us that love is generally a lot more boring than the big movie studios would have us believe.
We watch Merle as she awaits the arrival of her lover, Romuald. His two children, Felix and Emma, have already arrived at the vacation villa. The relationship between the mistress and the kids is full of tense complexity and is no doubt the film’s grounding strength. As Merle works to find her place with the kids, she comes to realize that her relationship may not be what it seems.
A lot happens in Everyday Objects, even as nothing much seems to be happening. The audience at the screening I attended responded to the film either very positively or very negatively. It’s not a film that one will think is just okay or decent; it’s a film to love or hate. This, too, is part of its beauty.
Laughter or Not: Frances Ha
Noah Baumbach’s latest movie is described in SFIFF’s festival programming as somewhat akin to Woody Allen. Frances Ha is simply the story of a young woman (played by Greta Gerwig) who doesn’t really have a career or an apartment or any particular drive in life. The story, which is set primarily in New York City, has shades of Girls but doesn’t approach either the comedy or art of Woody Allen.
Like Everday Objects, this is a love-it-or-hate-it movie. Either you’ll fall in love with the protagonist or you’ll feel, as I do, that her ineptness and self pity is not worth your time. Though Baumbach co-wrote the script with Gerwig, it still has the distinct flavor of a man’s imagining of what it is like to be an irresponsible, somewhat dumb twenty-something woman. The character of Frances is dull and intolerable, as is (unintentionally) reflected in the film’s all black and white composition.
Mike Ott's Pearblossom Hwy is meant as a film about a generation of lost youth. Unfortunately, it just can't engage with the concerns that it raises, leaving viewers with no real way to empathize with the film's main characters.
Pearblossom Hwy, director Mike Ott’s follow-up to Littlerock, is billed as a movie that champions downtrodden, aimless youth trying to survive in suburban desert communities north of Los Angeles. The film raises many important issues, from the abuse of nitrous oxide to the sorrow of not knowing one’s father to the tragedy of prostitution as a last-ditch employment option for immigrants who are awaiting citizenship exams and the right to work in the U.S. without restrictions. While actors Atsuko Okatsuka (Atsuko) and Cory Zacharia (Cory) turn in strong performances, the film leaves too many serious questions unanswered.
As we watch Pearblossom Hwy, we are either immediately drawn to or repulsed by Cory. A jobless young man who dreams of making it big with his punk band, Cory is the epitome of an aimless drifter. In the beginning of the film he says that he always wanted to be “a rebel without a cause,” but we have to confront the fact that he can never attain this romantic vision of self. This is actually one of the more problematic aspects of the movie precisely because we sense that Ott wants us to empathize with Cory, but we have a hard time doing so because he just isn’t all that likable. He has no interest in taking responsibility for himself as a human being, so why should we be interested?
The 2013 NYIFF is holding screenings at Tribeca Cinemas and NYU's Skirball Center through May 4th.
The 13th Annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) is underway, having begun on April 30th with the film Dekh Tamasha Dekh by director Feroz Abbas Khan. To celebrate the opening night, the NYIFF organizers invited Indian filmmakers, actors and more to partake in the red carpet and gala dinner following the film screening. PopMatters has the schedule of screenings below some red carpet photos. To see the slate and to purchase tickets for any of the remaining NYIFF movies, please visit their website.
Atiq Rahimi's new movie is a powerful portrait of a woman struggling to care for her comatose husband and protect her two young daughters in war-torn Afghanistan.
Atiq Rahimi’s second film, The Passion Stone, explores the meetings and divergences of duty and love in an almost folkloric fashion. The director was present for the first showing of the film at the San Francisco Film Festival on Monday. The film is based on the book of the same name, which Rahimi also wrote. Before the screening, he talked a bit about the syngué sabour (patience stone) that lies at the heart of the film. According to Persian myth, this mystical stone sometimes appears to individuals who are burdened. They tell their worries to the stone, unburdening their hearts in full. One day, the stone simply shatters. As it falls out of existence, so do the burdens and worries of the individual who has confided in the stone.