"Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over."
With an incredible opening that calls to mind the closing shot of Cache, Michael Haneke begins his 2012 film, Amour by placing his camera on an audience as they prepare then start to listen to a piano concert. Showing the crowd as they settle into their seats then watch the performance, Haneke allows his subjects to blend into the crowd without calling attention to them. Masterfully, we are shown everyone without focusing on anyone. This beautiful humanist opening seems to communicate to the audience that we all live our existences, yet, experience the world among a collection of people that are also living individual lives. A brilliant bit of foreshadowing to his most overtly humanist film, Michael Haneke also informs the audience from the opening shot that the movie we are watching is one focused on the act of observation. Not only do we begin the journey by observing, we then continue observing our subjects, observing their life, age, and union.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne, (Emmanuelle Riva) a pair of retired music teachers have enjoyed their long lives together living blissfully for themselves. Their daughter Eva, (Isabelle Huppert) enjoys success as a musician, traveling through Europe while on tour leaving the couple to enjoy the life they have built together. However, an intrusion into their cultivated lives interrupts their well-manicured existences. On the evening of the concert, they arrive home to find their front lock disrupted as it appears someone attempted to break-in. The two take the incident in stride vowing to call someone the next day to fix the lock. The audience watches the couple change their clothes, put their shoes and coats away, and commence their nightly bedtime routine. Likewise the next morning, Anne prepares breakfast as she always does, Georges remarks that the salt shaker is empty before refilling it, and the morning commences, as mundane as any other. That average day comes to a crashing halt when Anne freezes in what she is doing at the table and Georges in unable to get her attention. We soon find out that Anne has suffered a stroke, and just as an unknown intruder interrupted their lives the previous evening, so has another black cloud encroached upon their lives. This unwelcome guest in the form of a stroke takes its toll on Anne as the audience watches her begin a steep decline physically and mentally. Georges shifts his role from partner to caretaker, resolved to keep his wife's wishes to remain in her home. Preserving his wife's dignity in this way also means Georges must lose himself in the helpless observation of being unable to help Anne recover, only able to keep her comfortable through her decline. The close observation Georges experiences of watching Anne's decline reminds the audience that the inevitability of death spares none of us. The film also dispels the notion that there is any death that comes easy. We fool ourselves into believing that the older we are, the more we are accepting of death we become, and as the deterioration of our bodies progresses, accept the end of our lives more so than in our youth. That, of course, may be true for some, but on the whole human beings avoid accepting their mortality at all costs. The idea that it is easier to accept the death of an older person because we can comfort ourselves and say things like "they lived a full life" is a misconception. Georges shows a decline, just as Anne does, but his is from dealing with the heartache and despair of watching his lifelong partner succumb leaving him with an inevitable void. There is no sense of ease in Georges' preparation of the loneliness he will endure in a life without Anne, simply because she's in her 80's. Georges still loves her, and is completely devoted to the life the pair has created. Often in end-of-life care, we neglect the fact that the person responsible for the caretaking is also losing someone and facing the reality of preparing for a life alone. In the most subtle ways, Haneke shows the weariness grow on Georges' face the longer he cares for his dying wife. Still, though, Georges' commitment to his wife's wishes and desire to fulfill them illustrates to the audience that the bonds we form through our relationships make life worth living. Just as Ingmar Bergman is often cited as being too world-weary and bleak, so too is Michael Haneke. Amour stands as proof that Michael Haneke makes his films from a deeply humanist place and cares profoundly for both the characters he creates and the audience that watches his films.
The future and one's mortality has an interesting relationship with the past. Amour does a brilliant job of expressing how comforting it is to reminisce about the past when the future looks bleak or uncertain. As the stroke occurred, Georges was sharing with Anne a story from his past that she had never heard before. The tale Georges shared was one that reminds the audience that observation is the cornerstone of the film, as the story he shares recalls the emotional response he had to seeing a particular film in his youth. Each time that Anne shows a new decline in her health, Georges comforts her with a story about his past. Rather than recounting stories about their marriage, Georges recalls memories of his youth, driving home the point that he is uncertain and uncomfortable with his future and is also finding solace in returning to thoughts of the past. When Georges tells his daughter Eva about her mother's health woes, she immediately recalls a memory from the past, and remarks that it brought her comfort. Repeatedly returning to the past proves a comfort to Georges, Anne, and their family exploring the link between mortality and the past in an interesting way.
I've spent many months marveling at the directorial mastery of Michael Haneke, and I was just as impressed as I have been through this entire project through my viewing of Amour. I am enchanted by the way Haneke revels in the day-to-day life of his subjects, both making them more relatable to the audience and driving home the impression that life is made up of mostly everyday activities that rather than the significant events we often reminisce upon. In Amour, this attention to the small aspects of the day makes the impact of Anne's stroke even more potent as the disruption to their lives is made even more apparent. An element of Michael Haneke's films that I find most absorbing is his limited use of a score. Haneke doesn't rely on music to charge his audience's feelings; instead, he abandons all emotional manipulation, solely using the story for narrative impact. The casting in Amour was brilliant giving the pedigree of the two leads. Jean-Louis Trintignant has been in a number of films that rank among the best, including acting as the male lead in my mon bébé's (François Truffaut) final film Confidentially Yours. Likewise, Emmanuelle Riva has a full resume which includes a starring role in the seminal Alain Resnais film, Hiroshima Mon Amour. Taking such notable actors who have filmed evidence from their prime and placing them in a film about aging, Haneke furthers the reality that aging is universal and even people as radiant as classic actors cannot avoid the cost of aging. Calling to mind the backgrounds of two of the finest French actors of their time was a brilliant addition to the reality of aging in Michael Haneke's Amour. Much like his 2009 film, The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke creates a Tarkovsky inspired film in Amour. Much of Haneke's framing and shots are reminiscent of the extraordinary Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky throughout his entire filmography, but especially so in both of his Palme d'Or winners. Such clear Tarkovsky inspiration works well for both of these films due to their somber look at human malevolence in The White Ribbon, and mortality in Amour. The ways in which Haneke can communicate the themes of his films through such subtle cinematic language is why he stands at the top of the list among the best working directors.
Amour represents a departure from the type of film I've grown to expect from Michael Haneke; it is overtly sentimental, touching and heartwarming, and effortlessly beautiful. Haneke completely disappears, creating almost a documentarian view on end-of-life care and commentary on aging. As someone who has immersed myself in his films, I find all of Haneke's filmography incredibly Humanistic, though, to the average viewer or someone new to Haneke, his humanism is most evident in Amour. The collective conscience Haneke brings to life in the film acts as a stunning reminder that each of us shares our experience in the world with each other, and no matter how upsetting it is to consider, we all will meet the same fate at the end of our lives. Michael Haneke also honors his subjects, revealing that growing old with another person isn't the horror it's made out to be. If only each of us could be so lucky to find a Georges or an Anne to traverse our lives with; someone who could remain so devoted to our wishes even at the most trying times and do anything in their power to stay with us until the end. Beautiful, heartwrenching, and captivating, Amour disproves the notion that Michael Haneke is a cold, emotionless filmmaker.
"Sh!t happens, what are you going to do about it?"
Paul Thomas Anderson is a living, working, current filmmaker who puts him at an extreme disadvantage to being on my radar. I have a proclivity for the work of directors long passed or those with a surrealist bent, neither category would be home to Paul Thomas Anderson. Each year, however, I embark on the quest to see every film nominated for an Academy Award. It was during the journey through last year's nominees that I found myself in a tiny, empty theatre utterly mesmerized by Paul Thomas Anderson's 2017 film Phantom Thread. Anderson weaves a modern-day masterpiece and an instant classic with Phantom Thread. The film is a poetic showcase of the profoundly artistic and challenging dressmaker played by Daniel Day-Lewis in what I refuse to believe is his final acting role before entering retirement, as he says it is. Phantom Thread had such a tremendous impact on me I decided I needed to see everything Paul Thomas Anderson had ever made. Even if the pilgrimage through Anderson's filmography wouldn't produce the emotional connection I experienced with Phantom Thread, it would still be a worthwhile exercise in understanding the development of artistry. Little did I know when the kernel for this idea popped that I would find such fantastic results with Paul Thomas Anderson's debut feature, Hard Eight. Released in 1996, Hard Eight proves that there is humanism even in the hopeless while providing a fascinating contemplation on human suffering and how we are occasionally agents of our misery. The masterful assurance of the character-driven narrative makes Hard Eight not only an impressive debut but a remarkable exploration of humanity.
A slow, deliberately assured camera opens to settle on the face of a downtrodden John (John C. Reilly) sulking outside of a diner as he contemplates his next move after losing all of his money in Las Vegas. A professional gambler, Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) happens upon John, offers to buy him a coffee and teach him how to use the gambling system to take control of his life. After initial reluctance, and a desire to come up with $6,000 for his mother's funeral, John accepts Sydney's offer, and the film advances to show them two years in the future, their partnership going strong leaving the audience to wonder what motivated Sydney to select John in the first place. Throughout the gambling and nights spent at hotels, Sydney meets Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a waitress who moonlights as a prostitute and intends on setting her up with John. The set-up takes so well that Sydney learns the two have eloped when he receives a frantic phone call summoning him to their hotel room. Upon arrival, Sydney discovers that Clementine has not given up prostitution and the two have sloppily taken a hostage, a client who refused to pay Clementine. Despite his unwillingness to get involved, Sydney senses his calm disposition and his steady resolve will get the newlyweds out of their dire situation. After sending John and Clementine out of town, Sydney attends to the mess the two created just before being held up at gunpoint by a friend John made since becoming a gambler. The gunman, Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) threatens to reveal Sydney's motivation for taking John under his wing which would almost certainly end the father-son dynamic their relationship had become. Desperate to keep from losing John the same way he had lost the bond between his biological children, Sydney reveals aspects of his character previously hidden from the audience, divulging the depths some will go to to protect their interests.
There is an element of desperation underlined throughout Hard Eight. John is introduced at what seems to be the lowest point of his life, reeling from both the loss of his money and the loss of his mother. Feeling as though he is failing in his familial duties to provide a decent burial for his mother, John is not only desperate to come up with money but also to develop a surrogate family to accept him. Sydney, who reveals a fractured relationship with his biological children, is desperate to fill the void in his life and foster someone using his natural gifts of nurture. Clementine has somewhat isolated herself from her family, desperate for independence and to survive l on her own, yet also willing to depend upon others, as long as she trusts them. Trust plays a binding role in Hard Eight. At the outset, John is reluctant to accept Sydney's help, because a sense of trust had not been established. John can't imagine why a complete stranger would want to help him discover and live off that which slips through the cracks in the gambling world. The audience is as skeptical as John, and the viewer begins to study Sydney with John to ascertain his ulterior motives. When Sydney teaches John the tricks he has learned over the years while seeming to gain nothing in return, he earns not only John's trust but also his admiration. Each of the three principal characters seeks communal acceptance, trust, and a sense of belonging, aspects of their personalities Paul Thomas Anderson goes to great lengths to communicate and make relatable to the audience.
It's no wonder Paul Thomas Anderson was infuriated after losing the battle over naming his film with the studio distributing it, Rysher Entertainment. Anderson had intended for the film to be titled: 'Sydney,' and the filming techniques of Hard Eight evidenced that intention. Paul Thomas Anderson's camera is always moving throughout the film, though not in a frenetic way to capture the energy of Reno, but rather as a deliberate attempt to illustrate the human mind. Most often through the film, characters are isolated in shots allowing the audience to see them from the vantage point of the character with whom they are interacting. This blocking technique re-affirms Anderson's focus on the human elements of his film. Changing the name from Sydney to Hard Eight, though it makes sense thematically, creates a deception of its subject. This film is about Sydney, and his quest for connection and the connection he can afford to others, Philip Baker Hall carries the film, as intended, with a brilliant performance. Sydney's patient and purposeful disposition are essential to those with whom he chooses to foster a relationship. Both John and Clementine live life day-to-day, barely seeing beyond each moment to build fruitful lives for themselves. The introduction of Sydney, however, instills in them tools they can use to take control of their lives and drive their destinies. More than learning how to cheat the gambling system, however, what Sydney contributes to their lives is a sense of family and connection.
Paul Thomas Anderson provides a brilliant study of human behavior throughout Hard Eight. The way his camera deftly highlights the movement of human beings keeps focus intently on the individuals in the story. There is a long shot showing Sydney maneuvering through the casino towards the craps table and beyond that follows him in such a unique and precise way I was ready to change my religion to that tracking shot if only that were an option. The majority of the shot shows Sydney head on before the camera moves briefly shooting him from the side before settling on his back until he makes it to the table. When he arrives at the table, the camera pans to show the individuals who are also at the table forcing the audience to remember that we share the world with people and that our impact reaches farther than we may always realize. A scene with an obnoxious craps player played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, attempting to rattle Sydney provides another excellent illustration of the starkly different human behavior that we interact with throughout our lives. Another brief emotional outburst overheard by Sydney while he is dining further cement the notion that Paul Thomas Anderson is interested in isolating his characters from each other, in particular shots, without separating them from the outside world. The symmetry and excellent character-focused blocking of Hard Eight have me thoroughly excited to continue this journey through Paul Thomas Anderson's filmography.
"Sh!t happens, what are you going to do about it?" This quote offered by John as a mantra for his life may be, to a slight degree, the essence of the entire film. Without divulging a pivotal plot point, it is revealed by the end of the film that there is less synchronicity than initially assumed as to what brought these individuals together. Hard Eight shows characters who have brought negativity to their lives in one way or another, and how they choose to live their life once they have brought about their negativity. Most often we are shown fallible human beings who gain some redemption from their actions towards others. Sydney helps John as a way to make amends for transgressions from his past; John helps Clementine as a way of making a positive impact on someone else's life the way Sydney impacted John's life. There is another reason John assists Clementine that echoes a theme throughout Hard Eight, and that reason is to create a sense of belonging. Family and the creation of a surrogate family is all throughout Hard Eight, coupled with the notion that a sense of belonging makes life easier. The psychological concept the benefit of close interpersonal relationships and their positive benefit on our lives runs contrary to our quest for complete independence, and to our detriment. Paul Thomas Anderson creates a dazzling glimpse into the lives of human beings, examining how we sabotage our happiness and how we then get it back and the families we create along life's journey.
"The trouble with you is you suffer from self-induced hysteria at the word existentialism."
The godfather of independent cinema and one of the titans of forwarding film as a means of artistic expression, John Cassavetes is a filmmaker, I'm sorry to say, I'm just now diving into. I have been intrigued by the way in which Cassavetes went about his art, acting in films as a means to finance his own and remain independent from the studio system and every creative restriction that brings. Working as few filmmakers have the chance to, Cassavetes was able to take as long as he wanted with each of his films, shooting, editing, and reshooting until he was fully satisfied with the final product. I suppose being involved continuously in another film project coupled with the intimidation to begin watching his work; it's taken me much longer embark on a journey through Cassavetes filmography than I would have liked. In October of last year, I unreservedly fell in love with Brain De Palma's 1978 film THE FURY, and as odd as that bridge is, that film is what pushed me into seeing, at long last, the work made by Cassavetes.
The gracefully imperfect feature film debut of Cassavetes' SHADOWS was, apparently, filmed twice. A nearly extinct version screened in 1957 was refilmed and replaced with the 1959 version which I watched. Completed with a minuscule budget using a crew of novice actors Cassavetes was so displeased with the audience reaction to the initial screening that he filmed the second version known today. A title card at the close of the film reveals that SHADOWS was an experiment in improvisation. The story of a family of musicians involved in the beat scene in Manhattan is told lyrically against a remarkable jazz score, flowing between the three family members brilliantly. Benny (Ben Carruthers) and Hugh (Hugh Hurd) vary in their in their commitment to their music and their belief that they can make it on their musical talents, but not in their love and protective instincts of their sister Lelia. Lelia (Lelia Goldoni) is also going through the motions of life until she meets Tony (Anthony Ray) and allows herself to believe this might be the love of her life. The prospect of beginning an inter-racial relationship scares Tony away, however, and her brothers must heal the hurt in Leila's heart.
Filmed in beat to the music it is scored with; SHADOWS moves between each character in the film in Capriccio, giving the impression that each person is independent of the other, only for the ending to reveal that each is in sync with the other. Each principal has their individual motivation despite working as a unit. Leila seeks love, Benny is searching for purpose, and Hugh is pursuing confidence. Their family bond is strong, yet Cassavetes brilliantly illustrates the agency of each and their separate stories that beg to be told. The improvisational style and the nonprofessional actors lend to the realism and struggle of both racism and what it means to chase a dream. I was reminded throughout the film, especially during its opening, of Louis Malle's heavily jazz-inspired 1958 feature, ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS. The black and white photography of the light-drenched city streets with the dazzling jazz score and frenetic energy of a young filmmaker show just how radiant the debuts of two very different directors can be. Shadows may not have hit every note, but it is a film that acts as a sublime preview of the brilliance that Cassavetes' capability.
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling continues the subject's undying search for truth
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling is an invitation into the mind and heart of one of the most innovative and brilliant comedians to ever live.
Whether you know Garry Shandling from his standup comedy, his brilliant masterpiece in deconstruction, It's Garry Shandling's Show, his groundbreaking examination of ego and interpersonal relationships, The Larry Sanders Show, or even if you don't know of Garry Shandling at all, the documentary detailing the life and rise of the comic is essential viewing for the human experience. As the title would suggest, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling shares entries from Shandling's personal journals, in his own handwriting, accentuated by his constant search for truth often pursued through meditation and reflection. This documentary provides a fascinating glimpse into the complicated private thoughts of a most human and restless individual. Shandling seemed to never be truly satisfied, even at the peak of his career, because there were still so many questions left unanswered. For those who exist on a higher plane, like Garry did, peaks are often only seen as the precursor to life's valleys and a reminder that happiness doesn't last forever. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, directed and produced by Judd Apatow who calls Garry "(for 25 years) the most important mentor that I had", lovingly highlights Garry's comedy brilliance, his deep introspective mind, and the demons that plagued him through all of it. Unlike many documentaries about a subject who has passed away, Apatow never paints Shandling as a perfect individual, but rather, details Shandling's highs and lows while seeming to bridge together fragments of each to make a whole yet prematurely-ended picture of a life. The loving detail and care Apatow has clearly put into this exceptional tribute to his friend and mentor is a gift to each person in the audience. He illustrates how true Garry was to his path and allows his quest to be an inspiration to the millions of people who were never fortunate enough to know him. In the documentary's trailer, Apatow voices that, despite being close to him, Shandling was also a mystery to him. Throughout the documentary, Apatow seems to be searching, just as Garry was searching, to gain a deeper insight into the enigma that Garry Shandling was. The result is an incredibly moving tribute and an immensely illuminating experience.
Presenting unbelievable access to Garry Shandling's early life complete with pictures and videos from his childhood and adolescence the audience learns how deeply impacted Garry was by the death of his 13-year-old brother Barry from cystic fibrosis. Never having a "goodbye" moment or even being allowed to attend his brother's funeral seemed to have left Garry scarred with a pain never attended to, and a fractured sense of trust that seemed to suggest to him that everyone he loved would be gone eventually. Following his brother's death, Garry's mother overcompensated her love and affection toward her living son, smothering Garry and seeming to instill in him an insurmountable internalized pressure and a deeply-rooted sense of guilt. By evaluating such aspects of himself, both through his journals and his comedy, Garry was searching for answers to the human condition and helping others understand that life is much the same as his vision of The Larry Sanders Show "people trying to get love, and shit gets in the way."
Watching The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling allows one to realize, through Garry's humor and being, that we're not as alone in the world as we thought. At our cores, we all want to be our true selves, and often don't know, or never find out, how to live truth. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling teaches us Garry's method, one that can be adopted by anyone, that staying true to yourself, trusting your instincts, and being your true self, are the closest we can ever come to truth and happiness. Hearing Garry's voice and seeing his handwritten words onscreen was a brilliantly powerful decision to bring the audience into Garry's experience. We are not simply invited to view a Garry Shandling photo album, but rather to be immersed in his life and his journey. Just as he was in life, never letting things linger on the surface level and always striving for a deeper truth, Judd Apatow continues Garry's search for truth after his death with the brilliantly reflective The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.
"More stuff in life is out of our control than we'd like to admit."
Wonder Wheel never made it to a theatre near me, to my supreme disappointment. After my Woody Allen retrospective last year, I had seen everything Woody Allen had ever made with the exception of his yet-to-be-released 2017 feature, Wonder Wheel. Better late than never, I suppose, when the glorious blu-ray was finally released this month and I was able to soak in the gorgeous Vittorio Storaro cinematography. The coloration is incredible with the two main characters given starkly different color schemes highlighting their roles in the film. Kate Winslet stars alongside Juno Temple as two women suffocated by Coney Island in the 1950's. The search for one's life purpose and the process of picking up the broken shards of your own existence in an attempt to piece them together and actualize what you've always dreamed of is powerfully realized in Wonder Wheel. The look and period detail are incredible and so specific to the tourist-laden seaside neighborhood and beach destination. It's a Woody Allen film, so it probably goes without saying that the music selection is top-notch, as always, and enhances a film that is already brimming to the top with real and raw emotion. Told in the rich literary stylings of a Tennessee Williams play, Wonder Wheel illustrates the ability we all have to chase a second chance in life and realize our true potential.
Nestled beneath the Ferris wheel of Coney Island lie the wooden boardwalk leading to the lives of the many of people trudging along bringing magic to the attractions. Unlike many carnivals that come and go and leave the various lives of those around them behind, the Coney Island charms are permanent and the people that live there standby to ensure that the wheel keeps on turning. In the middle of the boardwalk is Ginny (Kate Winslet) a perpetually sad, undervalued, underwhelmed former actress-turned waitress. Ginny has never accepted what her life turned into despite early success on stage. Waiting tables and taking care of a pyromaniac son leave little time for her to remember the parts of life she used to enjoy so much. Though she is grateful to her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) for giving her a second chance at life, she can't help but be disappointed by the fact that he would rather go fishing with his friends than a vacation from the island and take Ginny to an art museum or a play. Taken for granted as the matriarch of the home, she receives little affections from her husband. Her son from her first marriage is constantly skipping out on school and his responsibilities in favor of starting fires, adding to the stress of Gunny's day. The one place she finds solace is underneath the boardwalk where on rainy days she can be found having an affair with a lifeguard named Mickey. Mickey (Justin Timberlake) is a college graduate with literary aspirations who hopes to become a playwright, reigniting Ginny's passion for theatre. The affair is an escape for Ginny, whose current circumstances prevent her from leaving her unhappy marriage. It is clear that more than any sexual gratification Ginny is gaining from the affair with Mickey, what Ginny is really after is being validated in her life and feeling as though her life is valued and serves a purpose. The mental stimulation coupled with feeling desired again brings Ginny a new lease on life until her world comes crashing down when Humpty's daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple) comes to town. Carolina has been written off by her father after leaving her family and marrying a mobster. Reeling from the death of his wife and abandonment of his daughter, Humpty and Ginny found each other at the right point in each of their lives and began a life together. When Carolina emerges, however, she is on the run from certain death at the hands of her husband's henchmen seeking refuge with her estranged father. Initially reluctant, Humpty houses his daughter, gets her a job at Ginny's restaurant and is fully supportive of her return to school. Jealous that Carolina is getting a second chance at life, and being paid attention to, Ginny protests at her indefinite stay. Matters only become more complicated when Carolina meets Mickey at the beach and the two begin seeing each other in secret. When Carolina confides in Ginny, Ginny's world shatters and the last glimmer of happiness in her hopeless existence fades. Behind the bright lights of Coney Island lie a sea of broken dreams and betrayal that soon flood the shoreline.
Woody Allen does an exceptional job at peeling away the veneer of tourism workers and exposing how unfulfilled the lives often are of those that bring happiness to so many. In yet another brilliant turn at writing a powerful female character, Kate Winslet brings Ginny to life in a phenomenal way. The depth and raw suffering brought to Winslet's characterization of the fractured yet searching Ginny is one for the ages. Ginny is overflowing with emotion, it is impossible not to relate to her all too human struggle. I think we've all been so overcome with emotion that we lash out at an unsuspecting surprise birthday party or thrown a tape recorder gift across the room. Even if we've never taken our feelings that far, we can recall a time where we wanted to. I've said this before during my month-long Woody Allen retrospective, but it remains, Allen has a gift of harnessing the nuances of human behavior and the artifice of human behavior. Feigning happiness sometimes loses out to putting on a dress at sundown and delivering a speech about what our lives could have been to the one that broke our heart as Winslet did in a career-defining nod to Billy Wilder's Norma Desmond. Her claustrophobic character nestled in a tight living quarter under the thumb of her husband was brilliantly realized in a role that rivals Cate Blanchett's (BLUE) Jasmine. Wonder Wheel, a film poetically told almost in verse, deserves to be praised as the rare treat that it is, a modern-day film so deeply-rooted in the rich literary tradition of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.
Maybe I just saw Wonder Wheel at the perfect moment in my life as I've recently been feeling overwhelmed as a mother and found myself battling the feelings of abandoning my life's purpose, but that's the beauty in the writing of Woody Allen. There is always a character in each of his film's that's ill-equipped or overemotional in regards to handling the complexities of life. The fact that such a character always exists in his films prove the universal struggle we all encounter as we stumble through life, and allow for a sense of comradery not always felt through the screen. Woody Allen interestingly explores nostalgia in a much richer and darker way than through Radio Days, for instance. Radio Days felt like a romp through a family photo album, while Wonder Wheel feels like thumbing through the smile-less pictures with closed eyes that never make the album. Life is full of dark unfulfilling moments but is still filled with moments that make it worth living. Forever exploring the human relationship with impermanence, Woody Allen sparkles with his 2017 film, Wonder Wheel.
"When my love turns to hate you'll be the first to know."
Worldwide critical and commercial success following Francois Truffaut's debut feature The 400 Blows, left him free to tackle almost anything for his sophomore feature.
After being smitten with Charles Aznavour after seeing him perform in a play "The Keepers", Truffaut knew he had to cast him in a feature film to play a version of himself. After making a biographical film covering his youth with his debut film, Truffaut sought to express other aspects of his personality. Truffaut saw himself as "often anxious, pessimistic, a pathologically shy seducer", and thought that Charles Aznavour could embody those personality traits with ease. Truffaut saw Aznavour as being able to provide the character with a vulnerable humility and graciousness that could mirror Truffaut's. It did not go without notice that, once again, Truffaut even cast a person that looked like him in a role playing a version of himself. In the case of Aznavour, he and Truffaut even shared mannerisms, with both being expressive, vivacious, excitable and anxious, elegant, yet iron-willed. Truffaut first became interested in Down There, the novel by David Goodis, because he was intrigued by the story, which read like a fairy tale given the noir treatment. Truffaut saw the text as a detective-like thriller, but also an intimate novel, a blending of themes he felt he could illustrate onscreen. Seeking to test his range as a filmmaker, Truffaut wanted to make a film in stark contrast to The 400 Blows with his second feature which began shooting in November of 1959. With double the budget he had to work with on The 400 Blows, Truffaut was free to be creative and expressive with experimentation on the set of Shoot the Piano Player. Being as the film involves a pianist, Truffaut injected the musical elements of the story into the narrative by often changing tempo to make the film more musical. The initial reviews on Shoot the Piano Player were mixed which greatly depressed Truffaut and began to undermine his confidence. The negative box office draw left Truffaut thinking of the film as a dreadful failure. The years have been kinder to Shoot the Piano Player than Truffaut was, as it is now regarded not only among the best of his films but among the best examples of French New Wave.
At the heart of the film, Shoot the Piano Player is about Charles Aznavour's characterization of a sentimental hero. Feeling culpable after his wife's suicide, Charlie Kohler has given up his life and career as a concert pianist for dive bars and an escape from the world. His commitment to keeping himself isolated works for Charlie, until his brother, Chico (Albert Rémy) quite literally, crashes into his life after getting himself into trouble with two gangsters. Chico is on the run and looking to Charlie for help. Charlie helps Chico escape, but not without turning the attention of the gangsters onto himself. Charlie doesn't mind taking the heat until his younger brother Fido (Richard Kanayan) gets involved. Fido had been under the care of Chico and had adopted many of his delinquent behaviors. When everyone Charlie loves becomes entangled in his brother's criminal affairs, Charlie has to abandon his cautious shyness and take action, to disastrous results.
Who can blend slapstick comedy, a doomed romance, and gangster thriller? The answer is Francois Truffaut, but that combination of such starkly different dramatic tones is what critics responded negatively to upon its initial release. The overwhelming cloud of melancholy hanging over the film makes the audience immediately sympathize with our sentimental hero, Charlie. We're given the impression that he has accepted his life as a depression-filled existence with moments of bliss, not unlike a Woody Allen film. The frenetic energy from the very beginning of the film pulls the audience in and never lets go. All intrigue and sense of mystery is instantly established with the panicked running of Chico through the streets, as the audience is unaware of where he is running to, or who he is running from. After crashing into a light pole, Chico takes the time to have a conversation with a married man to discuss the benefits of marriage. This interaction not only informs the audience of one of the themes in the film, loss and the relationships that enhance human life. In addition to Truffaut offering Shoot the Piano Player as an homage to American gangster films, he also pays tribute to slapstick and silent films. The scene in which Fido and his friends are shown running up the stairs of an apartment building to throw milk out the window on a car below is beautifully sped up and cut in such a way that one is reminded of a Buster Keaton gag. The opening of the film with the camera focusing on the inner workings of Charlie's piano while the beautiful music he plays is heard is a brilliant way to be introduced to the softness of Francois Truffaut, and the loving treatment he gives his characters. The score in itself is amazing and lends itself greatly to the tension building, while also providing an insight into Charlie's life. I purchased the score immediately after finishing the film, and have been blissfully listening to it, practically on repeat. Francois Truffaut was an avid fan of music and took sincere care in crafting his score selections around his films. All innovative aspects of The French New Wave I love are present in Shoot the Piano Player. The jump cuts, the overlays, the freeze-frames, and the experimental editing all come together to prove that Shoot the Piano Player is a dazzling part of The French New Wave despite its initial reception.
If you've been following my trip through Francois Truffaut's filmography this month, you're probably tired of hearing me discuss the amount of heart found in each of his features. The autobiographical elements, coupled with the graceful way Francois depicts his characters shows his deep level of respect for the human condition. Truffaut lays bare his troubles with interpersonal relationships and his longing for love in each of his films. He covers heartbreak, especially, in a touching way. We feel the pain of our sentimental hero as the camera lingers on his face, highlighting his disappointment about his predicament but leaving a glimmer of hope toward the future. Shoot the Piano Player exposes various aspects of Truffaut's own identity; the film is fun and energetic, mysterious, and most importantly richly humanist making clear the fact that Francois Truffaut made this film for no one other than himself, the audience is just lucky enough to be able to experience it, too.
Seeking a sure-fire money maker after a commercial failure, Francois Truffaut reunited with his mascot, Antoine Doinel to help him move past some of the recent negativity he had experienced in his career.
Banking on a fast shoot, only a 28-day filming schedule, Francois Truffaut imagined that a final collaboration with Jean-Pierre Léaud, as his character Antoine Doinel, would perfectly illustrate the "mosaic of life." Truffaut went into Love on the Run needing to make money for his production company after suffering a financial loss with his much later appreciated masterpiece, The Green Room. There were a number of other projects dear to Truffaut's heart that he had wanted to pursue at the time, but as a means to save his company, he put his energy into a previously unplanned Antoine Doinel finale. Truffaut was never happy with the script of Love on the Run, hating it from its earliest conception. Despite his attempts to pivot his energy, he was not happy with being in the situation, feeling forced to take the project on. Love on the Run was a commercial success, but Truffaut was never happy with it. Still, Truffaut was emotionally connected to Antoine Doinel and saddened to say goodbye to the character that launched his career.
After five years of separation and reconciliation, Antoine (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Christine (Claude Jade) have finally decided to divorce. They have reached the decision amicably, and are committed to maintaining a healthy relationship post-divorce. Upon leaving the courtroom, Antoine is seen by his former flame, Colette, (Marie-France Pisier) who now works as a lawyer. Intrigued by her chance glance at Antoine, Colette picks up a copy of his autobiography interested to see what has become of the young man that so desperately chased her heart years before. Antoine has been having a casual relationship with a record store clerk, Sabine Barnerias (Dorothée) contemplating whether or not to become more serious in his intentions with her. Sabine, deeply in love and committed to Antoine was put off by his neutral stance in their relationship and informs him that she may be interested in dating other people. Never one to appreciate being backed into a corner, Antoine leaves Sabine's in an unhappy hurry to pick up his son. While taking Alphonse to the train station to send him off for the summer, Antoine sees Colette and jumps onto the platform eager to be reunited with her. The two have a nice time reminiscing about their adolescent love and telling each other about the relationships they have had since they last saw each other. Finding himself in another dilemma in love, Antoine must decide between pursuing a relationship with one of the women, or remaining alone and focusing on career and fatherhood.
The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, the five-film collection depicting a version of Truffaut, was written by him and inspired by events in his life, making them a personal and deeply affecting anthology. Truffaut's willingness to inject so much of himself into each of his films, but especially those in the Antoine Doinel series, make them endlessly thought-provoking. Driven by Truffaut and his life, the films communicate so well with audiences, in no small part, thanks to the expert casting of Jean-Pierre Léaud. His playful yet searching disposition lent itself well to the perpetually unsatisfied Antoine Doinel. The part of Antoine needed to be brought to life by someone who could embody a boyish charm with immeasurable charisma, and Truffaut found exactly that combination in Jean-Pierre Léaud. Along with the exceptional casting, Truffaut's particular film style created an engaging an extraordinarily fun time with the character closest to his heart. Love on the Run is filled with flashbacks reminding the audience of Antoine's progression and highlighting the ups and downs with the loves of his life. The intercutting of Truffaut's previous films in the series was a brilliant device to use for an anthology wherein many years passed between one film and the next. Many have criticised Love on the Run due to its reliance on flashbacks, but I can't imagine a better way to understand Antoine's growth and development as a person. Seeing the scenes from his troubled relationship with love and his searching for a family and acceptance allows the audience to best understand Antoine as a person. I suppose ones ultimate opinion on Love on the Run will likely depend on how you feel about the number of flashbacks used in the film, for me, they work perfectly and Truffaut works them in perfectly. Not a single scene feels out of place or unnecessary, again proving Truffaut's exceptional intuition as a filmmaker. Even in 1979, long after Truffaut was first accused of abandoning the movement he ushered in and giving up on doing anything different within the medium of cinema, he affirmed he was not done taking chances. His confidence boosted by talking to Colette, Antoine shares with her the premise of his next book, a novel that was inspired by an episode he witnessed while waiting outside of a phone booth. The scene takes place with Antoine and Colette on the train and shows him reminiscing about the incident he saw wherein an angry man ripped apart a photo while yelling at someone on the phone. As Antoine tells the story, the version of himself in the flashback suddenly becomes cognizant that he is in a flashback, and he addresses the camera by brilliantly breaking the fourth wall. The scene is playful, in line with Antoine's character, and done in an experimental way to engage the audience and show that Truffaut had not strayed from his early intentions in filmmaking. That phone booth scene is such a perfectly quirky scene it is my favorite in an already stellar feature.
Forever the humanist, Francois Truffaut beautifully explored love and what it's like to finally accept the end of once-nurtured devotion. Complicated mixed feelings emerge anytime people go through a divorce, especially when they have put so many years into a hopeful reconciliation. Antoine and Christine share a child together and the memories of their life together before their son were born and their elation at bringing him into the world plays into their emotional state, as well. Truffaut takes us, using flashbacks, through the depths of their most committed love, the pain and heartbreak of betrayal, and their eventual decision to leave each other. Just as in Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, Antoine and Christine can't stay hateful or bitter to the other, despite the unfaithfulness that took place. It is clear that the couple has a genuine love for each other that will not be distinguished by divorce. They have a palpable affection, and will always be invested in the best interest of the other. In addition to his humanism, another aspect of Francois Truffaut's filmmaking that I appreciate are the autobiographical elements in each of his films. There is a moment where Antoine confesses that many don't think of him as a true writer because he has only written about experiences from his own life. He goes on to admit that he has faced criticism that suggests he is only capable of drawing from personal experiences in a transparent and conscious way. This seems to be Truffaut addressing those that had attacked him in a similar way for the personal elements found in his own art. Much to the contrary, however, those that so freely open the personal wounds from their own life to the criticisms of the masses are connected to their art in a much deeper way because it is in the truest sense a part of them. Truffaut's commitment to the cinema cannot be questioned and his personal approach in developing a relationship with filmmaking only gives his films a deeper resonance. It's impossible to tire of the individual films provided by Francois Truffaut, I only regret that there are not more to see.
Granting for himself a certain allowance for nostalgia, Francois Truffaut set out to continue his Antoine Doinel series with his 1968 film, Stolen Kisses. This time, Truffaut caught up with his alter ego just as he is being discharged from the army, desperately trying to become part of a family, and attempting to build a relationship.
Stolen Kisses would be an interesting departure for Truffaut, as it would represent a deviation from the tightly worked scripts he had used up to that point. After two highly structured screenplays in a row, Truffaut sought a more improvisational take on small events inspired by his own life including his visits to brothels and the end of his military service. The structure of the film was looser than Truffaut had ever used before, but he was more concentrated on who he wanted Antoine Doinel to be. Up until this point, Doinel represented Truffaut almost entirely, in Stolen Kisses though, Truffaut wanted Doinel to be 50% Truffaut and 50% Jean-Pierre Léaud. Jean-Pierre Léaud had brought to the role his unique spirit, expertly bringing Doinel to life in his previous films in the Doinel series, and Truffaut wanted to insert even more of Léaud into the character of Doinel. Inspired by Honoré de Balzac's The Lily of the Valley and a song by a favorite musician, Charles Trenet (Stolen Kisses) Truffaut attempted to create a blend of his own persona and that of the young man he had developed a mentor-like relationship with, collaborator Jean-Pierre Léaud.
Still drawing heavily from his own life, Truffaut began Stolen Kisses with Antoine Doinel being discharged from the military similar to the way Truffaut was discharged. Truffaut was completely humiliated while facing his superiors, each of them knowing he was only being discharged due to Andre Bazin's influence, and although he was desperate to leave the military, he surely could have done without being talked down to in such a way. Being shot with an almost entirely new crew, Stolen Kisses would mark a new endeavor for Truffaut, perhaps that is the reason there was so much nostalgia drizzled throughout the film. Drawing inspiration from Lubitsch and Renoir, Truffaut made a light and comical, yet touching, continuation of Antoine Doinel. Being inspired by a full page ad for a detective agency, which he incorporated into the film as a means for Antoine to discover his new career, Truffaut decided to have Doinel explore the career of a private eye. Truffaut even collaborated with a private eye throughout filming for added realism. Whimsical music opened Stolen Kisses setting the stage for a more lighthearted tone than was present in Antoine and Colette, and certainly, The 400 Blows. In addition to the music being more light and playful, the acting was also much more physical and comedic than I had previously seen in a Truffaut film. Exaggerated gestures and gags reminiscent of silent film canon gave Stolen Kisses a relaxed, yet experimental feel. The rapid cuts and innovative editing techniques proved Truffaut was staying true to the movement he had ushered in.
Even in the lighthearted and comedic moments of Stolen Kisses, it was obvious that Antoine was still searching, desperate to fill an obvious void in his life. Antoine was repeatedly trying with incredible diligence to be accepted into Christine's (Claude Jade) family. Antoine was more intent on being accepted into Christine's family than he was on being accepted by Christine. In one of the dinners that Antoine shared with Christine's parents, he admitted that he did not have a close relationship with his parents. Sensing his need for familial connection, and understanding of their daughter's uncommitted attitude toward Antoine, the Tabard's, Fabienne (Delphine Seyrig) and Georges (Michael Lonsdale) would nurture Antoine in one way or another. Fabienne would often act motherly toward Antoine, often by encouraging him to eat or address his feelings. Georges, too, would help Antoine by finding him work and teaching him how to dress so as to be taken seriously, especially by prospective employers. The love Antoine received from the Tabard's seemed to be exactly what he was searching for, as he desperately wanted to become part of a family. Romantic love also eluded him, as he was unable to gain the courage necessary to express himself to Christine and be honest with her of his desire to take their friendship to another level. Antoine even struggled with the various prostitutes he would attempt sexual relations with, making it clear that Antoine's longing was for much more than carnal urges. Perpetually lost, we see Antoine's immaturity and longing through the funniest moments in the film. Truffaut expertly shows the emasculation of Antoine bookended with lighthearted comedy in order to better feel the multiplicity of Antoine's pain. Not only does Antoine feel like less of a man because of his difficulties with women sexually, but he also feels like less of a person because of his difficulties with maintaining a job and a relationship. This relates back to Antoine's struggle with his parents and his troubled early life. Antoine has traversed most of his life without someone to guide him and without proper examples of how to grow and foster relationships with people. At this stage of his life, Antoine can be guided, like the Tabard's attempt to guide him, but he will not know what to do at each successive step because he has never seen each step play out. Without a model from which to draw inspiration, Antoine is endlessly meandering throughout existence desperate for someone to take the journey with him and help him learn about life along the way. Love is a driving force for Antoine, he longs for the love in adulthood that he was robbed of through childhood. Antoine seems to possess a romantic conviction that love can overcome the tragedy he has experienced, and by finding someone to love and to love him in return he can change his meandering life into one of purpose. Just as Truffaut struggled to shake his own regretful childhood and to develop the strength to give himself in friendships, love, and cinema, we see Antoine attempt to withstand his upbringing by learning how to develop relationships and navigate the working world, a struggle not unknown to any of us.
Have you ever examined a spool of thread? You follow the thread around its spool, line after line, turn after turn, gazing at its perfect uniformity. The slightest disturbance, a speck of dust perhaps, disrupts the flow of the thread. Each line of the condensed cotton, uniformly following the other with machine-like precision, each strand dependent on the piece next to it to make up the tightly wound collection of cotton. Imagine further, once the spool is destined to be used, how it is laid out in preparation, having been selected to perfectly bring together the garment being made. Then imagine, the spool falls to the floor, maybe tumbling down a flight of stairs or bouncing down on the carpet; the strands explode from their homogeneity becoming tangled as they travel through their unexpected journey. Finally, when the spool hits the baseboard, the thread rests, a disorganized heap of its former self. Eventually, someone who cares enough will wind the thread around the spool once again, twisting and turning until reaching the end of the line. This time, though, the spool won't be as neat or tightly wound, it never could be after such a disturbance. The machine-like quality of the previous configuration now visibly altered by another person, much like the well-orchestrated life of a fastidious dressmaker.
Paul Thomas Anderson weaves a modern-day masterpiece with his 2017 feature Phantom Thread. Showcasing the intimate details of the life of a renowned dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock. Dressing the most elite and prestigious of Britain, Woodcock has every aspect of his life firmly entrenched in routines and order. Balancing between dressing actresses, heiresses, and royalty, Woodcock, with the unwavering support from his sister Cyril, (Lesley Manville) maintains a rigorous schedule, keeping himself in high demand. Maintaining a life as ordered and tightly wound as that spool of thread, Reynolds is used to getting his way in every aspect. A consummate bachelor, Reynolds is used to having muses rather than partners. Muses that can be easily disposed of once Reynolds is through with them being a fixture in his life. One such a muse is what he expected when he met Alma (Vicky Krieps) but for once in his life, Reynolds grossly underestimated who he was dealing with, and actually found the person that would disrupt his carefully commanded life like a falling spool of thread.
Phantom Thread is a perfect film. Clearly wound by a visionary filmmaker, the impact of Phantom Thread only intensifies upon repeat viewings. I drove an hour away to see Paul Thomas Anderson's film, and I couldn't have been more enchanted by what I saw. Well worth the traveling, I have planned to see Phantom Thread again this weekend. The score is a work of art, Daniel-Day Lewis is in usual top form, as are the female co-leads, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville. I saw Phantom Thread five days ago and I'm still on such a high that I won't continue this write up much longer, as I'd simply be babbling on while drooling at my desk. The most emotionally gripping film I've seen all year, Phantom Thread immediately affixed itself near the very top of my list of favorite films of 2017.
Watching The Godfather is an event. Clocking in at five minutes shy of three hours and having some of the most epochal dialogue in the history of film, watching The Godfather is taking part in something that has forever changed the landscape of cinema. Mario Puzo's novel that he himself helped adapt into the 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola offered a groundbreaking insight into the world of an organized crime dynasty. Highlighting the human beings associated with such death and destruction certainly took audiences by storm in the early 70's, and continues to do so today. Seeing the origin of where a number of cinema's most iconic lines came from is a truly magnificent journey, and one certainly worth the three-hour investment.
Opening with a lavish and joyful wedding scene, a certain ominousness lurks beneath the smiles. The Godfather sets its tone exquisitely in its opening moments with the introduction of "Don" Vito Corleone, played excellently by Marlon Brando in arguably his most celebrated role. We learn in just a few minutes from both the body language of those around him and their willingness to please that Don Corleone is an important man with immeasurable influence. His influence is so great that, on this, the day of (his) daughter's wedding, there is a list of those approved to see him. In perhaps one of the most talked about film openings, we see Brando with his oft-imitated manner of speaking and his accidental side-kick of a small cat (a stray that had wondered on the set), delivering a speech that has left an indelible imprint on pop culture since its utterance.
The Godfather came out nearly 20 years before I was even born so I have heard lines from the film repeated for years. Somehow this film has avoided oversaturation and seeing the lines delivered from the characters onscreen was as fresh as hearing them for the first time. I was amazed to learn with this viewing that The Godfather is nearly a three-hour film. It is one of the films I watch with rapt attention every time I see it and is the perfect slow burn, that it has never felt like an overlong film. The coloration achieved is mesmerizing, as I almost feel like I'm watching the intimate home movies of the family onscreen.
A brilliant and elegant score by Nino Rota captivates the audience and informs us of the mood of each scene. In an interesting way, however, it also runs a contrast to the mood onscreen. In a move that has often been imitated, but never to achieve the effect of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola juxtaposed many happy and celebratory scenes with sinister ones. The most discussed example of such juxtaposition is the scene in which Michael Corleone, expertly played by Al Pacino, is becoming a Godfather to his sister Connie's (Talia Shire) baby at the same time that he is becoming the Godfather to the Corleone family. The baptism scene taking place in a brilliant church with beautiful stained glass and a menacing echo is shown between hitmen killing associates and members of the rival families. As Michael's Godfather vows are being read, the murders are taking place to bridge the two ways in which Michael is becoming Godfather. The splicing of that scene marked the phenomenal transition of Michael being the family outsider, to the don of the Corleone family. A number of other scenes use juxtaposition in such a powerful way, most notably the scene in which a man is killed with the Statue of Liberty towering in the background, representing the freedom that was sought, but never obtained. Another such commanding display of juxtaposition is the joy of Christmas filling the air when Vito Corleone was stopping for fruit, only to be paraded with bullets in an attempt on his life. Later, the glistening Christmas trees lining the front of the hospital when the second attempt on his life was made. In an astounding feat, Francis Ford Coppola flanked such opposite compositions together many times throughout The Godfather, with the method never coming off as a stale or forced representation designed to manipulate the audience.
In addition to the powerful scenes Francis Ford Coppola engineered using juxtaposition, he made many more standout scenes. Even though I'm vegan, THAT horse head scenes is among my favorite in cinema. That unassuming Nino Rota tone filling our ears as the camera pans the outside of the lavish home and into the bed where the horse head warning now sits is a truly brilliant example of powerful filmmaking. The tollbooth scene is another nod to the directorial aptitude of Francis Ford Coppola. Despite the fact that we have watched Sonny Corleone (James Caan) act with a quick temper and more than willing to kill any obstacle to his goals, we feel remorse for his massacre as we watch him being led to his death. There is such a bond between the Corleone's and the audience that we want to see them prevail over their troubles, despite the fact that they would be more than willing to consider us as acceptable collateral damage if we happened to walk on the wrong side of the street during one of their hits. That level of audience endearment to cold-blooded murderers proves Francis Ford Coppola's mastery at directing complex human relationships.
The Godfather is, for me, the film with the best opening and closing in the history of cinema. Losing none of its steam throughout its 3-hour runtime, the opening, and closing of the film show the lengths Francis Ford Coppola traveled through his incredible telling of Mario Puzo's story. The framing from the wedding to Michael becoming the Godfather of the family is magical. The framing and use of foreground, middleground, and background of that final scene are mesmerizing and perfectly sets the tone for the continuation of Michael's story for the two sequels that follow. Multiple actors play a role in The Godfather that also serves as my personal favorite roles of theirs including James Caan, Abe Vigoda, and Robert Duvall. In a film that is more tense and terrifying than my favorite horror films, The Godfather is a timeless classic that has more than earned its place on the list of best films ever made.
I rarely rewatch films I don't care for, largely because I rarely rewatch films in general. A movie has to be special or captivating to reel me in for multiple viewings. I usually have the mindset that there are so many films I want to see, I have to constantly tread new ground in order to hopefully see them all. On occasion, however, especially if a film is well-loved, I'll give it another try and attempt to see anything I may have missed. Seldom have I been as rewarded by such a rewatch as I was with Mike Nichols 1967 film, The Graduate. Following the point in time in a young man's life that if often aimless, that time immediately following college graduation, Nichols does an exceptional job at conveying the listlessness of spirit once ones expected education level is completed. Caught between deciding between marriage and graduate school while his parent's expectations pressure him, Benjamin finds avoiding the decision as long as possible to be the option he is most content with. Starring Dustin Hoffman, in a breakout role, and the incomparable Anne Bancroft, The Graduate is a thoughtful look at the expectations of others and the soul-searching one has to contend with throughout their lives.
Just home from college after his recent graduation, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is ready to relax after finishing his studies and fill his days by his parent's pool. With no romantic interests or jobs waiting for him, his father pushes him to go to graduate school, and his mother encourages him to go on more dates. Benjamin comes from an upscale neighborhood, and the parents of his friends, all of whom expect him to further his education, wait to hear of a graduate school announcement, all of them except Mrs. Robinson. A friend of his parents, Mrs. Robinson is a beautiful and lonely woman who has a daughter near Benjamin's age. That doesn't stop her from propositioning him and prompting him to "sow one's wild oats" while he still has the chance. Surprised and startled by her suggestion, the inexperienced Benjamin attempts to avoid the Robinson's all together before eventually giving in to carrying on a tryst with the family's matriarch. Despite the situation remaining strenuous for Benjamin, as he feels bad for keeping something of this magnitude from his parents, the two carry on both seeming to be fulfilled in some way by the other. As time wears on, and Benjamin seems to be no closer to starting graduate school or getting married, his parents set him up with none other than the Robinson's daughter. This clearly throws a wrench into the lives of both Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, leaving the former no other choice but to begin making some decisions about his life.
Perhaps, part of the reason that I didn't initially like The Graduate when I first watched it, is because I don't care for Dustin Hoffman. I can almost never get beyond him to enjoy the characters he creates. Interestingly, Hoffman was initially going to pass on an audition for the film because he was already committed to playing Leo Bloom in the Mel Brooks production, The Producers. So certain that he wouldn't be selected in the role as the suitor of his wife, Anne Bancroft, Mel Brooks released Dustin Hoffman to audition for The Graduate. As much as I may have enjoyed this more the first time with someone besides Hoffman in the lead role, I'm of course thrilled that this paved the way for Gene Wilder's first strong screen role in THe Producers. I appreciated Hoffman's performance much more this time around, as he seemed to embody the character of someone uncomfortably trying to make their way through life, seemingly unsure of anything.
The Graduate begins where Say Anything...ends. Cameron Crowe's excellent directorial debut features a high school senior unsure of what direction to take his life after graduation. The Graduate begins with a long take on a young man with no direction who has just finished college, as he took the route that was expected of him. In my mind, a cinematic universe exists where Lloyd Dobler and Benjamin Braddock are the same person, endlessly wandering through life aimlessly. I anxiously anticipate a post-marriage sequel, perhaps dealing with the pitfalls of a dead-end job or unfulfilling career, I'm flexible. The soundtrack of Graduate is sensational, made up of Simon & Garfunkel songs, perfectly accompanying the mood of Benjamin Braddock. The film was also shot in a powerful way, with Benjamin's face, and the faces of those he communicates with, often obstructed excellently symbolizing the many things that hinder his life and complicate his decision-making.
The character introduction of Mrs. Robinson is beautifully communicated thanks to Anne Bancroft. Embodying the perfect balance of unattainable eminence and fragile regret, Bancroft perfectly exposes both aspects of her character. Making herself at home in Benjamin's room where he retreated to for a moment of quiet introspection, Mrs. Robinson shows her strength and control over the situation. It is instantly clear to see that she knows exactly how her relationship with Benjamin is going to play out. She seems to feed off of his discomfort, never being setback by his initial refusal of her advances. Mrs. Robinson's character is fully fleshed out. She is disappointed in herself for giving up everything she wanted in exchange for the chains of matrimony and motherhood. Benjamin isn't the only one searching for something in life. Mrs. Robinson, who finds her motherly duties nearly complete as her daughter prepares to attend college, and her duties as a wife often ignored by her husband who seems to always be inexplicably absent from their residence. Her character, in conjunction with Benjamin's, goes to show that, as human beings, we are always searching for something just beyond our grasp, and no amount of seeming contentment ever really puts an end to that search.
David Lynch and Mel Brooks sound like a cinematic partnership that teeters on the edge between the surrealism of a Lynch film and a gag from a Brooks film. Nevertheless, these two would work together in 1980 on Lynch's second feature, The Elephant Man. Simultaneously, yet separately, both Brooks and Lynch had interest in seeing The Elephant Man, a script written by Eric Bergren and Christopher De Vore based on the novel by Sir Frederick Treves. Treves book highlights the heartbreaking existence of John Merrick, whose severe disfigurement relegated him to a near imprisonment as a circus freak show exhibit. After making a film as polarizing as Eraserhead, Lynch wasn't exactly having to sift through many offers for work. Thanks to Stuart Cornfeld, a film producer who enjoyed Eraserhead, he picked a project that he thought Lynch might be interested in. After Lynch confirmed interest, Cornfeld, who was also an associate of Mel Brooks, took the idea to him thinking it would be a good venture for his newly founded Brooksfilm production company. Needing to be sold on the relatively unknown David Lynch, Brooks was advised to watch his debut feature, Eraserhead. Perhaps surprisingly, Mel Brooks took enough from his screening of Eraserhead to hire Lynch on the spot and put his full confidence in him to direct The Elephant Man. The chance Brooks took with David Lynch was monumental and put Lynch on the map. The Elephant Man was a huge success, nominated for eight Academy Awards, paving the way for Lynch to be able to continue his career in filmmaking. The partnership with Mel Brooks also allowed Lynch access to such a phenomenal cast including John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, and Anne Bancroft, Lynch had come a long way from selling newspapers to pay his cast. Despite many Hollywood producers being ill-prepared to properly respond to a film like Eraserhead, the artistic integrity was not lost on all, and the opportunity for David Lynch to flourish had just begun.
One of the many positive qualities of David Lynch as a filmmaker is his ability to humanize even the oddest of his protagonists, thereby fostering an emotional connection between the audience and the characters in his film. Even the more minor characters in each of his films are given a human touch by David Lynch. Whether it's a distraught movie director who's casting decisions are being forced upon him, or a lounge singer embroiled in a kidnapping plot, each inhabitant in David Lynch's world is compassionately treated and given such human qualities, it is difficult to not become invested in the worlds he creates. Even in characters with such sparse dialogue as that of his feature film, their emotional essence is beautifully captured by Lynch. The audience is taken through a 14-minute trip before a word of dialogue is heard in Eraserhead, and after that, it's sparse until about the 30-minute mark. We are shown two socially inept individuals that seem to have little contact with the outside world. Despite their handicaps, however, Lynch shines a light on the aspects that make them similar to ourselves. We root for Henry and Mary, or at least want to see their suffering end, and that is credited to Lynch's ability to emotionally commit us to his characters. Lynch's gift of making such introspective cinema that allows the viewer to see at least aspects of themselves, in seemingly unrelatable characters, is invaluable. In The Elephant Man, Lynch's human touch was needed in multitudes to polish the animal-like John Merrick, who was routinely disregarded by those around him.
I often think of The Elephant Man as Lynch's most human film. Perhaps that distinction should be shared with The Straight Story, the other linear oddity of David Lynch's oeuvre. Maybe it had to do with the plot-driven "normal" timeline following of these two films that kept Lynch from going too far out into the weeds. Whether it was due to the structure or perhaps the source material, Lynch didn't seem to hide the fact that he was putting a passionate, deeply moving bend to the story of John Merrick. In the first meaningful experience the audience shares with Merrick, played expertly by John Hurt, we see him isolated and alone, kept from having any interaction with people, only to be gawked at as the imprisoned sideshow oddity. Merrick is treated as property, solely because he looks different. He is completely commodified for someone else's gain because it has been decided for him that he couldn't possibly have anything meaningful to contribute to society. By expressly showing us the disregard of Merrick, Lynch sets the tone for Merrick's retribution that is to come. By the time Anthony Hopkins' Frederick Treves happens upon John Merrick, Merrick has been conditioned not to trust anyone, as every person in his life has abandoned him, beaten him, or gawked at him. Treves, however, is committed to helping Merrick, so committed that he brings him into his family's home to the shock of his wife. Treves creates the most comfortable environment he can for Merrick at his new residence in the Royal London Hospital. Lynch utilizes several long takes, focusing on Treves' face, to show the audience the depth of his humanity, and his desire for Merrick to be treated as a person rather than some sort of freak. This focus on Treves humanizes him, making his character another humanly in-touch addition to the compassionate world Lynch creates. There are a number of key scenes throughout the film where Merrick is seen constructing a model of the cathedral that he can see the top of through his window. As more people that come into contact with him ask about his model, Lynch creates a beautiful moment wherein he highlights the importance of each person's individual perspective. Merrick can only see a portion of the cathedral, just like those who interacted with him could only see a part of John Merrick. No one would have expected that Merrick had the soul of a poet or a depth of feeling that he shared for those important to his life. Each person only saw Merrick's disfigurement and assumed from his appearance that he could not possibly possess a great capacity for thought. Of course, this was wrong, but Lynch exposes the reality that no one knows all parts of anyone else. Just as the window blocked the view of the lower half of the cathedral, there is in each of us aspects of our being that are unable to be seen by others. Creating an opportunity for self-reflection, Lynch again successfully adds a richly human element to his film. In many ways, I was reminded of the ways people would interact with Dougie in Twin Peaks: The Return. Like Dougie, John Merrick was shown heart and affection by those close to him while being blown off or gawked at by strangers. This similarity goes to show that, despite there being 40 years difference between the two works in Lynch's filmography, he has maintained a commitment to highlighting and respecting the emotional elements of humanity.
I have encountered many people who look down on The Elephant Man as "lesser Lynch", due to its coherent storyline and structure. It's not that these people don't care for the film, they just don't see as much of David Lynch's influence as in his other films. I've always been puzzled by this claim, as I see plenty of Lynch's touches throughout the film. The film is full of extreme close-ups of eyes, just like we see in Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive. The opening of The Elephant Man is incredibly similar to that of Eraserhead, both in sound design and sequences of overlaid images. The camera lingers, often longer than the audience thinks it should, which is something Lynch has done in just about everything he's done. What stands out the most as uniquely Lynch, however, is the nightmarish sequences of Merrick's abuse. Lynch is a master of the nightmare, creating terrifying, unnerving sequences that stand from all of cinema. Lynch also cultivates an environment of isolation, of characters that are always, even if slightly, trepidatious of the world around them. Like only he can do, Lynch creates a world that is ugly on the outside, but beautiful within, echoing the mindset David Lynch seems to apply to all of his films, that "people are frightened by what they don't understand."
I had only barely seen Animal House before deciding in the opening hours of 2018 to keep the party going with the 1978 film by John Landis. At a sleepover in high school, my friend's father put in Animal House and encouraged us to watch but having just finished Scrooged hours before (not a fan) I elected to play The Sims with the few others disinterested in the comedy. It's not a decision I regret, The Sims is amazing, and I can say with little certainty that had I watched Animal House that evening I would not have enjoyed it. Over a decade later, however, I can happily report that Animal House was an excellent way to ring in a new year and log my first film of 2018. The film that watches like a perpetual party kept the fun alive in a brilliant way. Boasting an outstanding cast including Tom Hulce, Karen Allen, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Bacon in his film debut, and of course, John Belushi as troublemaking college students in 1962, Animal House captures the familiar time in one's life, college, in a hilariously captivating way.
Every college has to have that one corner of Greek life that has such incredibly low standards that anyone is accepted into their milieu, for Faber College, such distinction belongs to Delta Tau Chi. The members of Delta neglect their classes, they pull pranks on fellow students and faculty alike, and their number one priority is to ensure that there is always a party going on. Delta is the embarrassment of the college, Dean Wormer, and their fellow Faber College fraternity, Omega Theta Pi. The Omegas are comprised of the brightest, most attractive, and wealthiest students on campus, and will stop at nothing along with Dean Wormer to bring an end to the Delta Tau Chi fraternity. When the two forces join together, they finally come up with a plan to have every member of Delta expelled. Refusing to go down without a fight, Delta focuses their energy on sabotaging the lives of the members of their rival fraternity, and Dean Wormer, himself. Along the way, Larry Kroger (Tom Hulce) and Kent Dorfman (Stephen Furst) learn to accept themselves, and others, after being brought into the Delta fraternity. Granted, Delta accepts anyone, including those rejected by all other fraternities, nevertheless, finding acceptance after their worlds have been so expanded by college proves a meaningful experience. Navigating college, and coming into one's own is a relatable occurrence, and one aptly tackled by John Landis's 1978 classic.
I went through a spell last year when I was completely obsessed with Amadeus (1984), I watched it eight times in just as many nights. Before seeing him in Amadeus, I hadn't seen Tom Hulce in anything, so it was fun to see him play a completely different character in Animal House. Another fun casting realization was seeing another film starring Karen Allen and Peter Riegert together. In the middle of 2016, I discovered the film White Irish Drinkers (2011) and completely fell in love with it. The film stars Karen Allen and Peter Riegert, so seeing them as co-stars, love interests no less, in a film more than 30 years prior was a complete joy. The best casting revelation, which was a complete surprise, was realizing that Donald Sutherland had a role in Animal House. Sutherland's part is brief, but there is a scene in which he is seen without his briefs, and if that isn't enough to entice someone to watch, I don't know what it would take. Maybe that would just work for me, actually, or other similar Sutherland obsessives. The late John Belushi stars as John Blutarsky, the standout intro that inspired me to watch Animal House, as it fits in with this month's themes of spectacular film introductions. We meet him in a drunken state as he introduces the two rushes and the audience to the Delta house during a party. Belushi has a number of memorable scenes, most of which are the exact scenes audiences recall when reminiscing about Animal House. In an interesting directorial decision by Landis, Belushi's character is kept out of a number of pivotal scenes to the film, a decision Belushi reportedly was, at least on occasion against. Belushi made the most of his minimal screen presence, shining like he always did in comedic roles and breaking the fourth wall in such a way that would make Jim Halpert swoon. Belushi's entrance set the stage for the rest of the film and the party that would follow until the end credits rolled.
I first saw Disturbia during its initial theatrical release in 2007. I was 18 at the time Disturbia came out, so D.J. Caruso's thriller rife with subplots including the anguish of coming-of-age and teen romance meant that I was part of the target audience. I enjoyed Disturbia a great deal in the theatre and bought the DVD soon after as one of the last Hollywood Video rental stores closed in my area. After not seeing Disturbia for a few years, I was nervous to revisit it, for fear that it would be one of those films I enjoyed once because it fit a particular time in my life that I wouldn't get much out of after more maturation. I can pleasantly affirm my love for Disturbia is just as strong today as it was when I sat in the theatre the first time I saw it. I suppose it makes sense that I enjoyed it, I'm a massive fan of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. In 2010, the copyright holder of the Cornell Woolrich story that Rear Window was based off of, sued producer Steven Spielberg and his film studio DreamWorks for infringement. The lawsuit was dismissed, as the courts rightly recognized that there is much more to Disturbia than simply a Rear Window rip-off. Though the same voyeuristic protagonist and a mystery exist in both, the existence of one far from hampers the other.
After a summer fishing trip ends with 17-year-old Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) behind the wheel of the vehicle transporting he and his father back home when it crashes killing his father, he feels responsible for his death. Kale's entire demeanor changes after his father's death, understandably so. His violent outbursts and increased aggression have led him to a few run-ins with the law. Just before school lets out for summer, Kale is sleeping through his final classes when he is called upon by his Spanish teacher to dictate his summer plans. Unable to do so, the Spanish teacher becomes upset and implores Kale to assess what his father would think of the situation. Triggered by the implied disappointment his father would feel towards him, Kale unleashes his anger and punches his teacher. Given a lenient sentence of 3-months house arrest, Kale is stuck with his internet and video game subscription canceled, left with nothing to do but gaze at his neighborhood through his window. "Reality without the tv", as Kale calls it, is made all the more interesting when a beautiful young girl moves in next door. Determined to get to know her despite his spatial challenges, Kale charms the young girl enough that she begins to spend afternoons with him, giving him a welcome break from his only other visitor, his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo). Kale soon understands that his new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer) has a depth and sense of mystery to her that he has not encountered with any of the girls at his school, making Ashley the perfect partner to investigate his standoffish and private neighbor, Mr. Turner (David Morse). Turner seems to fit the bill of a suspect police have been hunting believed to have killed multiple women. With little else to do but watch the comings and goings of his neighbors all day, Kale appoints himself as the prime investigator tasked to figure out if his neighbor is a cold-blooded killer.
One thing I truly appreciate is when a director shows rather than tells his audience certain aspects of the plot. D.J. Caruso makes a brilliant directorial choice when he shows us the look on Kale's face as he makes his way to his father's side of the vehicle at the opening of the film. Seeing the shock and pain on Kale's face provides much more impact than the makeup and effects required to show a mangled body. The opening moments showing the fishing trip and its aftermath acted as a wonderful introduction to Kale and his personality before his loss and provided wonderful insight to Kale and his father's relationship. Each introduction to the nuances of the neighbors Kale sees from his room was exceptional, and just as uniquely descriptive as the ones in Rear WIndow which the scene brings to mind. The pacing and scares of the thriller side of the film were masterful adeptly creating the mood of intrigue. Shia LaBeouf has one of those yells that turns into a blood-curdling scream a bit too quickly for my liking, and his room was so large it was difficult to believe he couldn't find some new hobby to keep himself busy for the summer, but those complaints do little to detract from my enjoyment of the film. A tightly paced teen drama/mystery/thriller, Disturbia is compelling and a film that always provides a compelling ride with each revisit.
Haneke explores a number of themes that he has kept a constant focus on since the beginning of his career. The idea of familial discontent is thoroughly explored through Cache. Much like in 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, the disconnect of the family is a prevalent in Cache, as well. As in his previous films, Cache also shows a family that shares no meaningful interaction while sharing meals together. In fact, the only time there is any joy expressed at the meal table is when a dinner party takes place in the family home. It is only when people that live outside of the home come into it, that any happiness seems to exist there. The couple and their only child share no affectionate interchanges, nor do they share any deep conversations. They live together, their geographic circumstances dictate that they spend a certain amount of time together since they cohabitate, but they are all but strangers in their existence. The marriage we are invited to witness is also obviously strained. Not simply a situation of comfort that has settled in between two married people who have long ago witnessed their spark snuffed out, but the body language between the couple indicate their relationship is troubled. The subtle ways Haneke expresses their discontent are masterful. One can discern, simply by the way the couple passes each other in their kitchen, that some issue is brewing beneath the surface of their relationship. It is not clear to the audience what has happened between them, but what we are able to recognize is that the couple themselves have not properly worked through the issue themselves. Haneke's audience is shown further familial disconnect when one member of the family, Georges (Daniel Auteuil) visits his mother, whom it is clear he hasn't seen in some time and struggles through conversation with her. Georges is there simply to gain an understanding that he thinks will help him solve the issue facing him currently of the videos being left on his doorstep by an unknown person. Georges believes the key to discovering the identity of the person leaving the tapes lies in his past, leading him to consult his mother about his childhood. In essence, Georges' visit with his mother is akin to that of a business meeting. He doesn't greet his mother especially warmly, he doesn't stay and chat after obtaining the information he sought, he simply leaves, as though the one responsible for his existence is another face in the crowd. What Haneke is especially adept at through Cache, is his ability to expose how disconnected we are from each other, even when one is surrounded by people. The lack of discussion taking place through Cache, even when multiple people shared a space together was especially striking. Haneke's ability to highlight such disconnection, brought to mind instances in my own life wherein several people I knew shared a car ride, or room together and each had little to say to each other. Often such disconnect is due to the overuse of smartphones creating an inability to engage with someone that is, in body, directly in front of you rather than communicating with through a screen. Such disconnect can be caused by a number of things, however, and Haneke's ability to force the audience to examine this truth speaks to his strength as a psychological and philosophical filmmaker.
Still interested in the average person's desensitization to violence, Haneke makes a point of showing the casual ways in which human beings interact with death and destruction on a daily basis. Amidst an argument between Georges and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), a gruesome piece of news comes across their television showing people who were killed in grotesque detail. Not only are Georges and Anne unphased by the images, but they also continue their fighting, only escalating the violence in their own home. Later on, soldiers' deaths and the carnage of war play out on screen for the entire family to see and no one is sickened by the sight. Haneke expertly reminds us that showing such minimal reactions to intense violence is not normal, and only seems as such because it is so often shown. By spending so long showing the mundane daily activities and the repeated mechanic repetition that makes up most of our lives, Haneke reveals the number of things that we do that, when scrutinized, make little sense. We should not be able to watch human beings dying in front of us, yet, due to the 24-hour news cycle and the fact that death is what makes the news, we have grown accustomed to witnessing that which is truly heinous. Cache is unique because it explores many facets of human life that don't make sense if truly given thought. Violence, and its impact on human beings, is a constant idea explored in the films of Michael Haneke. What he also analyzes through Cache is the fear of constant surveillance and the paranoia that brings. As little sense as it makes that every waking moment of life is monitored by cameras, that's exactly the world we are entering into as technology progresses. We carry with us devices that constantly track our location, adapt to our search patterns, and have the capability to record our voice, or the voices of others in an instant. What once seemed illusory is now commonplace, to expect that every movement made outside of your home will be tracked by cameras positioned to never miss a single step. Privacy has gone by the wayside, and largely voluntarily, as the average person has multiple social media platforms they utilize bringing people into their personal lives and openly sharing details strangers would have never before been privy to. Despite the fact that we invite such transparency with our own lives, it is the times we do not invite it that makes us uncomfortable. For instance, Georges is filmed for his work, constantly inviting an audience to view him and offer scrutiny. The tapes he finds on his doorstep, however, when it is made clear that someone knows his comings and goings and films his front porch without George's nor his family's knowledge is unwelcome. Haneke invites fierce introspection here, forcing us to consider that our own relationship with technology may be a hypocritical one.
The nuances of ethnic differences is another mainstay in Haneke's work. In Cache, however, Haneke more fully explores the racial differences among people while simultaneously offering criticism to the class structure and how both influence our relationships with others. There is an intense and thought-provoking scene wherein a disgruntled Georges, crossing the street, is threatened by a person of color on a bicycle whom Georges feels was riding by too close to him. The two share a heated exchange before being goaded by Anne into agreeing that they were both in the wrong, and should each proceed into the street with more caution in the future. Race is never mentioned throughout their argument, which is actually the most poignant statement Haneke could have made. It seems as though Georges selected that encounter in order to blow off some steam, and picked a person he deemed socially beneath him as the target of his abuse. In addition to that troubling probability, Haneke is also making a powerful statement on social liberalism. It is the person that describes themselves as socially liberal that will pride themselves on not describing a person using their race or ethnicity. Who knows, however, what occupies the private thoughts of these social liberals. Does Georges ever think anything racist, and simply refrain from vocalizing it? Haneke also calls the viewers attention to race and how we interact with the racial tension around us by constantly highlighting such issues on the television sets constantly playing in the background. Perhaps Georges' social status and class are all that prevents him from shouting racial obscenities when he engages in altercations on the streets. This focus on this particular snag of social liberalism is one largely ignored but adeptly explored by Michael Haneke.
Michael Haneke is a filmmaker who consistently wants to take his audience to a higher plane. Philosophy and psychology, though governing the human condition, are often overlooked as thematic elements in film. Haneke's direction focuses solely on the larger contemplations of existence in a way that encourages the audience to think about their own place in the world and how they interact with others. Crafting films that provide for such a breadth of self-analysis shows Haneke's fondness for his audience. By so strongly encouraging such self-reflection, watching Haneke's films is always a profoundly meaningful experience. Michael Haneke depicts the most mundane parts of existence, the banal chores, and the least exciting aspects of life. These monotonous moments are not the ones we choose to fill our photo albums with, but they do make up the largest portions of our lives. Inviting such introspection, and spending so thorough a time filming the long takes of the most tedious tasks, Haneke is not a filmmaker visited for a quick thrill. One of my favorite scenes I watched this year was in Twin Peaks: The Return where the audience witnesses a nearly three-long scene wherein someone is sweeping a floor. The only point of interest comes briefly in the scene in which someone makes a phone call in the background, providing little details. I adore this scene so much because it is so unexpected. Watching scenes such as this also requires the audience to slow down and be more present in the moment they are witnessing. Michael Haneke makes entire films based on the notion of slowing an audience's expectations and forcing them to turn the mirror on themselves and examine their collection of items stored in a hidden or inaccessible place, or, their cache.
My twentieth year was the most transformative of my life, so far. The same year that I discovered Mulholland Drive (which led to Eraserhead) and Jules and Jim, I also attended a screening of Federico Fellini's 1963 film, 8 1/2. Seeing two films that still hold top spots on my list of cinematic favorites would have been enough to satisfy me all year. It's a bit unfathomable to me now, knowing how much that one professor exposed me to that have become permanent mainstays in my life, that it all happened in a year. 8 1/2 represented a world that I didn't know existed. The story of a creative, seeking respite after success, only to be met with the immediate expectation that he will bring about another success as there are now a number of other creatives and business personnel that depend on him was instantly intriguing. A filmmaker, played exquisitely by Marcello Mastroianni, unable to come up with a new idea and faced with the possibility that he may be a disappointment to those dependent on him for the first time, he begins to reminisce on the people of his past and imagining the various trajectories his life could have followed. Losing artistic direction for the film at hand, the director retreats completely to his dreams.
Fellini didn't just create a world through 8 1/2, he also created a mood, a feeling, and an appreciation for a side of filmmaking that the average movie-goer will never experience. When considering my favorite worlds of cinema, those places wherein we feel so comfortable entering that provide such genuine enjoyment, 8 1/2 always tops the list. It's not simply the sets and overall production design that make me so eager to revisit Fellini's masterpiece, but it is the exuberance for film that he is able to project. Other filmmakers have made stand-out films about the behind-the-scenes aspects of filmmaking, Francois Truffaut's Day for Night and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain come to mind. Fellini's 8 1/2 embodies the same spirit of honoring the movies while showing the struggles of the creative minds behind the films we love. Fellini invites you to this world anew each time you watch his film. No matter how many times I see 8 1/2, I am forever mesmerized by its power and emotional impact. Much of the humor in the film I missed when I was 20, and many of the situations I couldn't relate to as I can now, making each successive rewatch all the more worthwhile. I had to stop counting the number of perfect shots in the film, shots that I would gladly frame and fill my house with because there are simply too many to highlight. Gorgeous, robust, and spellbinding, 8 1/2 is one of those films I can watch anytime, and still marvel at its existence as if it was the first viewing.
Benny's Video, the 1992 feature from director Michael Haneke, was the second installment in what many have called Haneke's Glaciation Trilogy. His feature debut, The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, and the wordy 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance make up this "Glaciation Trilogy". The trilogy examines the postmodern world and the alienation and isolation of individuals within it. Benny's Video shows a maladjusted 14-year-old boy whose bedroom looks more like a television studio with cameras scattered about catching every possible angle both inside of his room and out. Benny has fully retreated into the screens that surround him, succumbing to the violent images he watches on repeat. Unable to connect or relate to those in the real world, Benny has manufactured a microcosm of his own he can retreat to. The problem is, eventually, Benny's fabricated existence does not prove fulfilling enough for him, and he decides he needs to bring in an outsider. Forever mysticised by a video of a slaughtered pig, Benny gets the idea to replicate the video on a human being. He seems engrossed by the idea of acting out the violence he spends his days watching and even more interested in the idea of dominating a living person. When he acts out this fantasy on an unsuspecting girl his age, the audience is left shocked by his parent's decision to cover-up Benny's crime, leaving us to wonder how isolated the entire family is from the world in which they live.
Michael Haneke makes a frank commentary through Benny's Video about the constant media reporting of violent images and how such reporting leaves the audience desensitized to those images. This desensitization is just as much an issue today as it was 25 years ago when Haneke made his film. We hear about death in all of its explicit detail every day, but once the story is old news, it's on to the next in the endless cycle. Just one month ago in Las Vegas, a man opened fire on a crowd injuring 546 people, killing 58 before turning the gun on himself. Two weeks after the shooting, news outlets were filled with other stories, moved on from the devastation of that evening and covering the next story. Haneke was judicious to see that a 24-hour news cycle brought with it an oversaturation of violence leaving people unable to empathize with those they see through a screen, as they are constantly replaced by the next barrage of victims.
In addition to the assessment on violent imagery, Benny's Video also delivers a heavy critique of the economic system, as well. Just as in his debut feature, Haneke criticizes money and the value placed upon it as he shows Benny, who obviously belongs to a wealthy family, and the flippant way he spends whatever money he comes into. Money is just as dispensable as the people in Benny's life, and he proves that by spending freely and rarely engaging in a meaningful way with the people that he fills his time with. In The Seventh Continent, Haneke exposes how much money we spend simply buying the necessities we need in order to live, conversely, in Benny's Video, Haneke reveals how we waste money on things we don't need in order to fill the time in our days. It is clear Haneke is still thinking about the meaningless of existence when it is so confined to the structure of society's expectations. The impossibility of living right in an unjust world is a theme continuously explored in Haneke's films. The impact of the economic system and its hold on morality is constantly scrutinized by Haneke.
Alienation, isolation, and disconnect are also thoroughly explored throughout Benny's Video. Benny, even by the tender age of fourteen, had already alienated himself from society so much he struggled with meaningful connections when he was around people, a rare event in his life. The question remains, based on the lives of the adults Haneke presents, was Benny an outcast in his society based on his penchant for violent behavior, or had his immaturity simply prevented him from exhibiting such behavior in a more socially acceptable way? Haneke doesn't provide the answers, but by asking the question, he once again forces his audience into a much-needed self-examination. Benny spent most of his life isolated from other human beings. When he was home, he was alone and only viewed the world through the screens he surrounded himself with. When Benny was at school, he largely kept to himself and withdrew from most social interactions. The one friend he does spend a bit of time with, he simply exchanges the expected social niceties, always keeping himself from divulging anything too personal with the boy. Not only does Haneke explore open disconnect among people, but he also reveals how disconnected we are even when we appear to be connected. There is a moment where Benny is seen making plans with a school friend moments after committing murder. He doesn't let on that anything is remiss, exposing the fraud that Benny's social interactions actually are. Haneke, again, subverts the usually communal mealtime. Benny spends most of his time alone at his house while his parents spend most of their time at work. Benny's meals are set aside for him so he can microwave them after school. There exists no familial bonding over meals in Benny's family, revealing, in yet another way, that even the moments typically reserved for human connection can further produce isolation. Seeing the life of the adults in Benny's Video, cold and isolated, one is left to wonder how to thrive in such a society, and if murderous rage lurks beneath the societal expectations in all of us.
From my introduction to Michael Haneke through his 1997 film, Funny Games, I knew he shared an important quality with one of my favorite filmmakers. Like David Lynch, Michael Haneke doesn't care if the audience is comfortable while watching his films. Haneke extends his scenes past the point where the audience watching thinks is necessary, creating a hypnotic trance that one is unable to look away from. This ability of Haneke's to espouse the audience's attention forces the viewer to become an active participant in his films and thrusts us into an often much-needed self-examination. Haneke's feature film debut, The Seventh Continent takes an in-depth look at the lives of a family chained by the shackles of their expected existence willing to go to extreme measures to escape the monotonous confines of their daily existence.
The long takes Haneke favors throughout The Seventh Continent, introduce the audience to a young family living in Europe that live in precisely the way that is expected of them. Georg Schober (Dieter Berner) works diligently at his career, always placing himself in the best possible position to advance through promotions and better situate himself in his profession. Anna Schober (Birgit Doll), an optometrist, steadfastly maintains her family's home, dutifully completing all the tasks and errands to keep the everyday lives of her family running. Anna is also reacting to the death of a parent, which has devastated her brother, assuming the role of the strong focused sibling taxed with the burden of maintaining her parents' business. The youngest member of the family, Evi, fills her time coloring pictures, doing her homework, and occasionally causing mischief at school by feigning blindness. Neither Georg's career advancements, Anna's mourning, nor Evi's misbehavior is consequential to the story--they are simply moments that happen in each of their lives and fills their days. This is precisely Haneke's point; most of what we do in our lives are mundane activities which fill our time until we die. Whether it be a scene filmed in real time at a car wash or listening to someone relay a story during an eye exam, Haneke gives us these moments in as similar a way as they actually occur, removing all sense of grandiose filmmaking, forcing the audience to see themselves in the lives of those depicted on screen. It's hypnotizing they way we can scoff at collective suicide, yet through watching the events that lead up to the act come to understand the universality of the expectations we adhere to. Every move is repetitive, the same food is served every day at breakfast, the same pommel horse is jumped over in gym class, the same filling station is visited when the car is low on fuel. We often live our lives thinking of the future, fooling ourselves into believing that the monotony we serve daily is crucial to our growth until we are shocked to learn that the future we have been striving towards has become the past. We get so lost in the day-to-day that we need Haneke to make clear that the way we actually live our lives doesn't make all that much sense once analyzed.
The cold emotionless state maintained in the Schober home is sobering to watch. No amount of intimacy brings the family closer together. Even after making love, Georg and Anna immediately return to the distance between each other that fills their days. Not only does one hardly see any affection between the members of the Schober family, but we also rarely see them enjoy conversations with each other. The cold, detached atmosphere isn't confined to their home, either. Each time they exchange currency for a service, the audience is afforded a glimpse into the lives of everyone they interact with, each doing their job or performing a service while all vitality seems to have been drained from their being. Through the entire runtime of The Seventh Continent, we don't see a single meaningful human connection. There is even a scene in which a man recently released from his employment with Georg, returns for his things and isn't given a single embrace of encouragement or a kind word. His appearance disrupts the work because he is unexpected, further cementing Haneke's notion that our lives are simply made up of a series of repeated actions, and we are stricken by the break from routine when interrupted. Despite the lack of compassionate connectivity, I would argue that Haneke's feature is one of the most humanistic films I have recently seen, because it gives hope to our existence and alerts us to think critically about our society.
After making it through many of the more well-known Ingmar Bergman films, I've turned my attention to early Bergman. This Ingmar Bergman retrospective has certainly been the one with the loosest viewing schedule, which isn't to the project's detriment. With a filmmaker like Ingmar Bergman, one with pronounced themes to his films, it is interesting to see how he carries out those themes in each period of his work. In his 1948 film, Port of Call, Bergman examined the intricacies of human existence through the eyes of a suicidal factory worker desperate to escape the weight of her overbearing mother. Starring Nine-Christine Jönsson and Bengt Eklund, Ingmar Bergman perfectly explores the struggle of living a life free of the strains of complicated human relationships and the prisons of our own minds that many are often unable to escape from.
Berit (Nine-Christine Jönsson) recently released from reformatory school following an attempted suicide, is back under the thumb of her manipulative and overbearing mother. She sees a way out when she meets Gösta, a man she is able to convince is the first one to experience her passions. Berit, unable to properly experience love, sees Gösta as, not only a way to break free from her mother's influence, but also to escape her laborious job at the factory. A marriage would also prove to Berit's social worker that Berit was establishing a stable foundation for herself and would be free from the threat of returning to the reformatory school. Her plans for freedom with Gösta are foiled, however, when he cannot forgive her past.
Family troubles, especially overbearing or neglectful parents are a constant theme in the films of Ingmar Bergman and apparently have been since his earliest features. The intricacies of familial disconnect are fascinating, and Bergman tunes into those intricacies in a way I have seldom seem from other filmmakers. One of my favorite aspects of Bergman films is how he illustrates the brokenness of people, and how that brokenness contributes to their inabilities to form successful relationships. I continue to be amazed how keenly Bergman tapped into the human spirit. Another mainstay in Bergman's filmography is how often he depicted people working jobs they don't like in order to maintain lives that were personally unfulfilling. Much like in Summer with Monika, our protagonists in Port of Call worked jobs that robbed them of their essential human fulfillment and left them in a constant state of emotional exhaustion. The only place to relieve the stresses of the world is in the cinema. The scene in which Berit has removed herself from every disappointment of existence when she is freely laughing in a crowded theatre was extraordinary. It reminded me of the scene in Louis Malle's Au revoir Les Enfants where the only place everyone was equal and could enjoy themselves was during a screening of Charlie Chaplin's The Immigrant. Cinema as an artistic medium has relieved the pressures of existence since its inception, and Ingmar Bergman films are no exception to this rule.
Ingmar Bergman made the film possibly most associated with his name, Persona, in 1966. The story explores a woman's life and awakening as her personality begins to merge with another woman. Starring Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, Persona opens with disjointed images of camera equipment, animal slaughter, and a boy in a hospital bed next to corpses, which pulls the audience in immediately. Initially, the audience has no idea what's going on, which is precisely my kind of film. The film seemed to have touches of the emerging French New Wave, which was also fun for me, as that is my favorite film genre. Having seen Mulholland Drive before Persona, I couldn't help but see the many similarities the two films share. An experimental romp with Ingmar Bergman, Persona is undoubtedly one of Bergman's most well-known films and it is easy to see why.
Thirst: A penetrating look at a marriage on the brink of failure, a woman evaluates her life and each step along the way that led her to her current position. Another brilliantly humanist look at the lives of others, Ingmar Bergman proves his directorial prowess from the beginning of his career.
Because he was so inspired by Ingmar Bergman, I wish I would have done my Bergman retrospective after my Woody Allen retrospective to better draw comparisons between Allen and his idol. Autumn Sonata, the film directed by Bergman in 1978, reminded me a lot of Woody Allen's 1978 feature, Interiors. Both of the films relied on a deep examination of the family, and the interpersonal relationships of relatives. Allen's film used extreme close-ups to better submerge the audience in the narrative, and Bergman's film used the close-up on a character as they delivered a monologue that I have seen in a few of his films during this project. Autumn Sonata focuses on a daughter determined to win the love of her mother, who she feels has always placed more priority on her career as a concert pianist. An amazing exploration of a multi- layered relationship, Autumn Sonata is not to be missed.
Opening with a church bell, Ingmar Bergman proves his preoccupation with religion as he explores Maria's plight with a summer love as she works on rehearsals for the ballet Swan Lake. Falling in love deeper each day as the summer progresses, the two find themselves at a crossroads as Autumn arrives. A traumatic event causes Maria to reconsider her life at the end of her career and reconsider her summer spent in love. Summer Interlude was a deeply moving story, that needed little else in the way of technical prowess to be compelling.
In 1973, Ingmar Bergman took a less than optimistic look at marriage through his mini-series depicting the lives of a couple, married for a decade, in Scenes from a Marriage. Starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, Scenes from a Marriage takes an almost documentarian eye on the lives of a marriage as it is on the precipice, several times, of either falling apart or falling together. The interactions between the couple are filmed in such a claustrophobic way that the audience becomes voyeurs watching the most intimate details in the lives of others. Despite the audience feeling as though they don't belong in the innermost crevices of these lives, Ingmar Bergman films each moment in such a gentle humanist way that perfectly explores the stages of a relationship.
Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) have been married for ten years when the audience first meets them, and they describe themselves as a happily married couple. Johan works as a college professor and Marianne as a divorce lawyer. They revel in the fact that their marriage is nothing like their friend's Katarina (Bibi Andersson) and Peter (Jan Malmsjö) who they often see carrying on one of their many open arguments. Despite not having an outwardly volatile relationship, there is a clear detachment between Marianne and Johan, and a sense that they are not as happy as they have convinced themselves that they are. The camera checks in with them over the next 10 years as they encounter extramarital affairs, differences in developing the lives of their children, and the constant back and forth about whether or not they will divorce. Throughout each trial and tribulation, what Marianne and Johan truly need to solve is how exactly they feel about each other. Do Marianne and Johan love each other, have they just tolerated with each other out of a level of comfort and routine, or do they actively dislike each other? While attempting to discover their true feelings for each other, they also must figure out how to relate to each other as they continue to navigate their lives and care for their two daughters. As the pieces of their lives are about to fall, it is unclear whether or not they will end up being married, friends, or strangers.
Full disclosure: There was scarce a doubt that I was going to love this. I greatly enjoy slow, dialogue-heavy films with brooding emotions percolating just beneath the surface. Scenes form a Marriage had all of the above characteristics and was carried out in such a sincere way thanks to master director, Ingmar Bergman. The slow, "talky" film perfectly illustrates the idea of marriage. Most of a marriage is what happens in day-to-day life and isn't punctuated by much in the way of grand happenings. Only when we reflect on multiple years spent together do we recount the larger issues that have taken place during a marriage. Those larger issues are few and far between with proximity dictating a married couple sharing the banal existence of everyday life as long as their marriage lasts. It is this preoccupation with daily lives that allow people to see beyond what drew them to their partner in the first place. When two people become comfortable in their unchallenged existence, they begin to look for excitement beyond their homes. Such a quest for excitement may lead to an affair, as was the case for Johan in Scenes from a Marriage. Conversely, close proximity allows us to learn about our partner in a more intimate way than anyone else. Living with someone may also create a bond so strong that partners become devoted to one another and are most taken by an image of their partner in everyday life that reminds them that there is no one else they'd rather be with. As depicted in the final scene when Marianne begins to cry as she watches Johan singing after cleaning up the house, it is often in the moments that our partner is most "themselves" that we find the most alluring. There's something about knowing that no one else gets to see the one we love in this particular way that allows us to look past all of the daily annoyances. Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson give pitch-perfect performances delivering actions and emotions that perfectly allow the viewer to read beyond what they are saying to understand what they are truly feeling. Scenes from a Marriage is an emotional exercise that almost feels voyeuristic to witness, yet is one that we are blessed to experience that will stay in the minds of the audience long after the credits roll.
While deciding whether or not to make a film covering the Algerian War, Francois Truffaut, the French master of cinema, eventually decided not to take on the task because he felt as though "to show something is to ennoble it". Truffaut further claims in a publication in 1960, that an anti-war film is a contradiction in terms, a sentiment which I tend to agree with. Shame, directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1968, challenges that idea. Depicting a couple who attempt to shield themselves from the war being waged around them, Shame is a powerful statement proving there is no winning on either side of a war.
As a civil war has engulfed the area in which they live, Jan Rosenberg (Max von Sydow) and Eva Rosenberg (Liv Ullmann) an apolitical couple who used to earn their living as musicians, grasp at the remnants of what used to be their lives. The war has encroached upon their relationship, as well as their livelihood. Jan is weepy and constantly dealing with the emotional disturbance over the chaos and killing the war has caused. Meanwhile, Eva desperately wants to have children, but her husband can't imagine bringing a child into the anxiety-ridden life they now share. When the war reaches their town, rebels attack killing many of Jan and Eva's neighbors. The couple is continuously harassed and their home eventually destroyed when the two are arrested as collaborators. No matter how far they run, there is no escaping the conflict that has taken over their lives.
Shame shows two people who purposefully don't take either side in a war, yet that very silence and unwillingness to take sides results in their being assumed collaborators. Bergman seems to go to great lengths through this film to not only show the necessity of remaining neutral in times of military conflict but also to expose how dangerous it is to hold such a position. Shame is powerful because it exposes the difficulty in actually living a situation where people are not shielded by the side they chose in a battle because they didn't choose a side at all. The couple only has each other and with a host of marital problems to deal with on their own, their lives are further complicated when life or death problems penetrate their existence. We get a glimpse of the security the two used to share before the horrors of war tore them apart outwardly. Inwardly, however, the two were experiencing difficulties which left their own marriage clouded in as much uncertainty as the world around them. In my viewing of Shame, the neutrality was the most interesting aspect as the audience is able to see clearly that the two had not chosen a dominant side for the future of their marriage, just as they hadn't shown a side to adhere to in the war. Using his trademark humanism, Bergman delves deep into a marriage and reveals that no matter how far we delve into the lives of others, we may still be none the wiser to what will happen to them.