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Winter Sleep

Kış Uykusu

Saw this masterpiece of a film yesterday, directed by the great Nuri Bilge Ceylan and the well-deserved winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes this year. A 3¼ hour Turkish film d’auteur with not a dull moment. At no point did it drag or tax my patience. Variety critic Justin Chang got it exactly right

Don’t be daunted by the running time: This character study from Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a richly engrossing experience.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan is at the peak of his powers with “Winter Sleep,” a richly engrossing and ravishingly beautiful magnum opus that surely qualifies as the least boring 196-minute movie ever made. Following Ceylan’s sublime 2011 drama “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” this equally assured but considerably more accessible character study tunnels into the everyday existence of a middle-aged former actor turned comfortably situated hotel owner — and emerges with a multifaceted study of human frailty whose moral implications resonate far beyond its remote Turkish setting. Simultaneously vast and intimate, sprawling and incisive, and talky in the best possible sense, the film will be confined to the ultra-discerning end of the arthouse market thanks to its daunting running time and deceptively snoozy title, but abundant rewards lie in wait for those who seek it out at festivals and beyond.

For the rest of Chang’s review, go here (also see the reviews in Screen Daily and Indiewire; French reviews are naturally tops). As one learns in the closing credits, the film is inspired by “several short stories” by Chekhov (and there’s also some Shakespeare in there). The acting is excellent all around—particularly the protags Haluk Bilginer (Aydın) and the beautiful Melisa Sözen (Nihal)—, the dialogue is intense, and the cinematography spectacular (the film is entirely set in Cappadocia, which is one of the most breathtaking corners of the world I’ve seen). No release date yet for the US but it will make it there. Those who live in France and have the slightest interest in cinema (or Turkey) should see it ASAP. Trailer is here.

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Islam for Dummies

Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak in 'Four Lions' (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak in ‘Four Lions’ (credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Huffington Post UK political director Medhi Hasan has a delicious piece (August 21st) on two 22-year-old British jihadists, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, who were convicted on terrorism charges in Birmingham last month—after Yusuf’s mum alerted the police about her son’s activities. As was revealed during the trial, they had purchased copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies (en français: L’Islam et le Coran pour les nuls) on Amazon before setting off to Syria to wage jihad. Sans blague.

In his post Hasan mentions the 2010 comedy satire ‘Four Lions‘, which spoofs a gang of low IQ jihadist wannabes from the English Midlands. The film, which I saw when it came out, is very funny and also spot on. There are certainly many dangerous, violent jihadists from immigrant communities in the West—recent ones including Mohamed Merah, Mehdi Nemmouche, and the psychopath who murdered James Foley—who are out there, but for all of these there are no doubt as many, if not more, of the whack job losers depicted in ‘Four Lions’—and the two just convicted in Birmingham. If one is interested in the jihadist phenomenon and has not seen the movie, one should do so. Trailer with French subtitles (though English ones would also help) is here, NYT review is here, NPR interview with director Chris Morris is here.

4lions_poster

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Boyhood

Boyhood

I assume that anyone who checks out AWAV even occasionally and is cinematically inclined has seen this movie by now, or at least heard about it. If one has not, it is the cinematic event of the summer (I am not including here ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, that I have not seen and have absolutely no plans to). Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is an absolute must. The reviews have been stellar on both sides of the Atlantic: a perfect 100 score on Metacritic—c’est du jamais vu—and a 4.0 on Allociné (and with the spectateurs ranking average a 4.3, which corresponds to very good to excellent). This bit from Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper’s review sums up the pic

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a film that captures the arc of a young life perhaps better than any previous American movie. Ever. Once in a great while I see a movie I know I’ll be listing as one of my all-time favorites for the rest of my days. So it is with this remarkable, unforgettable, elegant epic that is about one family — and millions of families. It’s a pinpoint-specific and yet universal story.

You may have heard about Linklater’s audacious tightrope walk of an experiment. “Boyhood” was filmed in 39 days over the course of 12 years [2001-2013] with the same core cast. The actors playing the young children at the beginning of the film are the same actors playing those characters as adolescents and young adults. The result is a living time capsule so pitch-perfect, the experience of watching it is almost unsettling.

No movie like this has ever been made, needless to say. It was a totally original idea on Linklater’s part and a risky one, as, entre autres, no contracts could be signed with the cast for such an open-ended commitment and one could not be sure what kind of older child, and then teenager, the central character, Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane)—who began the film at age six—, would turn out to be (and if he would want to continue with the project). But Linklater and the cast pulled it off. There were no dull moments or scenes that dragged on too long, which is saying something for a 2 hour 45 minute film with no plot to speak of. The acting is first-rate—the casting is impeccable—and one cares about the characters and relates to their conversations and interactions (I did, at least). E.g. the father-son dynamics—between Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) and Jr—were on the money, as was the discussion in the restaurant Mason Sr initiated with the kids, now in their early teens, about the facts of life (Mason Jr’s older sister, Samantha, was played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei). A lot of this rang true. And I loved the scenes about politics, e.g. the one during the 2008 presidential campaign (the lawn signs), plus the one where Mason Sr takes the kids to meet the parents of his second-wife-to-be somewhere in rural Texas. Linklater, who hails from Austin, did something quite singular in the film—for me, at least—, which was to present Texas in a positive light, as a fine place to be a kid and grow up in (I have a lifelong prejudice against Texas—a state in which I have admittedly spent practically no time at all—but, being an open-minded person, am striving to overcome). And it’s as good a film as one will see about the resilience of kids growing up with divorced parents who love them but have their dysfunctionalities—here, a working mother trying to get ahead but who serially falls for men who are jerks—and whose jerkiness directly affects the kids—, a father who’s cool but irresponsible. When I left the theater I called the film a chef d’œuvre, definitely one of the best of the year, and announced it on social media.

But upon reflection the following day, I began to see a few small flaws… E.g.—spoiler alert! if you haven’t seen the pic, skip to the next paragraph—, there is a problem with the parcours of the mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who goes back to school to finish her B.A.—when Mason Jr is six or seven—and then gets a Master’s degree (there is no mention of a Ph.D.), all in six or seven years, which would have been tough to do full-time while raising two kids and having to work (she was only married to the jerk alcoholic prof—who would have supported her financially—for two or three years), and then landing a job at Texas State University in San Marcos (not specifically named but that’s what it is), which, one supposes, would have required a Ph.D. in hand or nearly one. But if she were an adjunct with merely an M.A., she wouldn’t have made nearly enough to provide even for herself, let alone her kids. And at one point she mentioned a sabbatical year, which, in fact, wouldn’t have made sense even if she were a full-time assistant professor, not at that early stage in her career. This all seemed implausible and I ran it by some academics—who all loved the film—on a social media comments thread, and the consensus was that I was right, that Linklater got the higher education part of the story wrong (I also thought—and this is admittedly a minor detail—that a bright, free spirit high school senior like Mason Jr would have aimed higher for college than UT-El Paso…). Another point, this one mentioned by a family member who saw the film with me: There was no indication that Mason Sr was paying alimony to support his kids while they were growing up. He had no legal obligation to provide for them—and didn’t for much of their childhood. But at the parents’ divorce hearing—prior to the film—the judge would have presumably imposed alimony on the father. A couple of friends also had a problem with the Latino-waiter-in-restaurant scene, which struck them as false (it didn’t bother me), plus Olivia’s relationship with the Iraqi war vet (which I didn’t think was a problem, though one did wonder what she saw in the douchebag…).

But none of these quibbles detracts from the film’s overall quality. All that my next day reflections caused me to do was downgrade the pic from a masterpiece to merely excellent. I simply loved this movie. It is one of the best coming of age films ever made, and certainly about coming of age in America. And the soundtrack is great (this song—from my late teen years—played over and over in my head over the subsequent days). So thumbs way up! If you haven’t seen it, do so. Trailer is here.

As it happens, this was the first film I’d ever seen by Richard Linklater. I like to think of myself as knowledgeable about cinema but there are gaps—some yawning—in this knowledge. In the case of Linklater, not only had I seen nothing of his before ‘Boyhood’ but knew practically nothing about him. And, as I learned over the past couple of weeks, various stateside friends and family members were not only familiar with Linklater’s œuvre but fans of it. I had no idea. In my defense, I have the excuse of having lived in France for the past two decades, where, as Le Monde film critic Thomas Sotinel informed the reader in the July 26th issue, Linklater’s films have been underexposed and (unjustifiably) underappreciated. So being in the US at the present time—and thanks to Netflix—I decided to fill my Linklater gap, starting with his “Before” trilogy—’Before Sunrise’ (1995), ‘Before Sunset’ (2004), and ‘Before Midnight’ (2013)—, which follows the love affair of the French Céline (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who—in ‘Sunrise’—meet in their early 20s on the Budapest-Vienna train, are immediately attracted to one another—particularly he to her (and she is indeed quite attractive)—, spend some 18 hours together wandering the streets of Vienna and talking—and talking and talking—, during which time they develop sentiments, but their paths have to part; jump to nine years later—and ‘Sunset’—, they fortuitously reconnect in Paris—he’s an up-and-coming novelist, she an aspiring NGO écolo activist—, the spark is still there, they walk the streets, parks, and riverbanks of the 5th arrondissement and talk—and talk and talk and talk—for a couple of hours before a fateful decision is made (implied at the end of the film); jump nine years—and ‘Midnight’—, they’re now in their early 40s and cohabiting (in Paris) with twin daughters—he has a 12-year-old son from divorced American wife—, and are on a marvelous-looking vacation in Greece (southern Peloponnese), where, over the course of a day, they talk and talk and talk, take stock of their relationship and where it goes from here, and have a scène de ménage. Three short days of an eighteen year romance compressed into three films of less than five hours total. An interesting idea and very Linklater.

I saw the three within a week and cannot imagine how one could have gone nine years between each—during which time one would have possibly forgotten details and/or lost interest—, or seen the last one but not the first two (which was apparently the case for a certain number of movie-goers). The three films really need to be seen in sequence and within a relatively short period of time, or else the trilogy doesn’t make total sense. Or, to put it another way, it all comes together in the third film. I was not immediately taken with the first two, though decided to reserve judgment until seeing the third. Céline and Jesse are interesting characters—Delpy and Hawke, who wrote the script with Linklater, are fine actors—and good looking. The kind of people one wants to be friends with. They love to talk, about the meaning of life and just about everything. They have so much to say to one another. The trilogy is one big talk fest. I was initially not convinced by some of the dialogue and situations, which I thought did not ring true, but, upon reflection, revised my view. There are countless permutations of how the partners of a couple interact with one another and what can transpire in their relationship. Every couple is unique. So, sure, the dynamics between Céline and Jesse were real for them. And for others. E.g. a friend of mine—and who is one of the most interesting conversationalists one will ever meet—told me that he strongly identified with the Céline-Jesse couple and their talking (my friend is of the same general Gen X age as Delpy and Hawke and saw each film when it came out). And then my mother told me that Céline and Jesse’s gabfest reminded her of how she and my father were when they met in their early 20s some six decades back (which I can absolutely, totally believe; and it didn’t end in their 20s, believe me). (Pour l’info, I like to talk too, though maybe not about the same things as Céline & Jesse.) So, yes, I will finally give the trilogy the thumbs up. It’s extremely well-written—the script was long and complex—and, as mentioned above, very well acted. And there are scenes in ‘Midnight’ that rang so true, e.g. the parting scene of Jesse and his son at the airport and, above all, the very last one, in the seaside restaurant, with Jesse and Céline.

On the complexity of the script and shooting the movie—where Delpy and Hawke had to get it right in the first take—, one learns in an NYT Magazine profile of Delpy last year that the nine-year lag between the films was not planned; Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy were so exhausted after making the first two that they “needed nine years to recover”…

I’ve seen a couple of other Linklater films of late, which I’ll post on separately.

richard_linklater_before_triptych

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Fruitvale Station

fruitvale station

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson MO over the past week like everyone and, like everyone with a conscience and who knows how to think—and which even includes certain conservatives—, have been appalled by its only-in-America character. In following the events—which, being in the US at present, I’ve been able to do on cable TV—I have been reminded of this pertinent film, directed by the 26-year-old Ryan Coogler, that I saw last January, when it opened in Paris. It’s about the shooting and killing by a police officer of a 22-year-old black male named Oscar Grant III—who did absolutely nothing to merit being shot and killed—in Oakland CA on New Year’s Eve 2008-09, at the Fruitvale BART station, and which led to civil disturbances over the subsequent days (for details of what happened, go here). [UPDATE: Here are mobile phone videos taken of the actual incident by passengers on the BART train (h/t Ellis Goldberg)]. The film, taking some dramatic license, reconstructs the day of Oscar’s life that preceded his killing, of his somewhat unstable life relationship and employment-wise, but depicting him as a basically good guy who strove to lead a normal life and absolutely did not deserve to suffer violent death. It all goes to show that merely being a young black male in America and going about your life can get you shot and killed by the police, and even in the deepest of blue states. So if you want to see a movie that is both good—reviews were tops—and topical, see this one (which should have, by all rights, received Oscar nominations but did not). Trailer is here.

BTW, when I wrote above that the Ferguson events presently underway were “only-in-America,” I did not mean to imply that America is exceptional when it comes to racist cops behaving badly toward members of visible minority groups. This happens in many countries, including France, of course (I’ve had so many posts on this that they need not be linked to). What is only-in-America—among advanced Western democracies, at least—is the trigger-happiness of the police, of the sheer number of unarmed visible minority young men they kill. À propos, here’s a commentary in The Economist magazine I just read on the militarized “Trigger happ[iness]” of the American police, which so contrasts from its counterparts in Great Britain. And contrasting with another major Western democracy, here’s an item from two years ago on how “German police fired just 85 bullets total in 2011,” compared with the

84 shots [that] were fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, and another 90 at an unarmed man in Los Angeles.

In France the police are thoroughly racist and odious. And their behavior regularly provokes riots by youthful members of visible minorities. So how many people do the police kill during such occurrences? In the biggest recent riots of all—over three weeks in October-November 2005—the number of persons killed was exactly two (and neither by bullets). Case closed.

theconcourse.deadspin.comamerica-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

In the interests of fairness and balance—and not to make the police look all bad—, I saw a quite good indy pic back in late ’12, ‘End of Watch’, directed by David Ayer, of a couple of buddy cops in East L.A. trying to do their job and who have to deal with, entre autres, Mexican criminal gangs whose proclivity for violence far exceeds anything any US police department would be capable of. Roger Ebert’s four-star review thus began

“End of Watch” is one of the best police movies in recent years, a virtuoso fusion of performances and often startling action. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are Taylor and Zavala, two Los Angeles street cops who bend a few rules but must be acknowledged as heroes. After too many police movies about officers who essentially use their badges as licenses to run wild, it’s inspiring to realize that these men take their mission — to serve and protect — with such seriousness they’re willing to risk their lives.

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who called the pic “An all-time cop-movie classic,” also got it right. It’s a violent film, that’s for sure, be may absolutely be seen. Trailer is here.

end of watch

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Bobby Womack R.I.P.

bobby womack

I listened to him as a kid and teen, in the late ’60s-early ’70s. His best song—and there is likely a consensus on this—was “Across 110th Street”—which got a second life in Quentin Tarantino’s great ‘Jackie Brown’, in one of the greatest ever opening movie scenes (watch here).

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Two Days, One Night

Deux jours une nuit - Affiche

The Cannes film festival ended on Saturday night. Congratulations to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for winning the Palme d’or for his 3¼-hour ‘Kış Uykusu’ (Winter Sleep). He’s a fine director—I’ve seen five of his previous six feature-length films (the last I had a post on)—and will look forward to this one when it opens in the summer.

One film that was in competition at Cannes, but which came away with nothing, was Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne’s ‘Deux jours, une nuit’ (Two Days, One Night). This is too bad, as it’s an excellent film. It opened in France on Wednesday and I, of course, had to see it illico. I will see anything and everything by the Dardenne brothers. The subject of this one is a 40-ish woman named Sandra—played by the always excellent and sublime Marion Cotillard—, a mother of two with devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione), who’s coming off a bout of depression that got her onto sick leave for a few months, and who is suddenly being laid off from her job at a small company (in the greater Liège area, where all the Dardenne brothers’ films are set) that makes solar panels. The procedure for her layoff—the Belgian Code du travail is clearly different from the French—was a voice vote by the personnel, the choice being for her to be laid off in return for each of them receiving a bonus of €1,000, or her not being laid off but then no bonus—and, apparently, with not-so-subtle pressure from the plant’s foreman (Olivier Gourmet) for the personnel to opt for the former. So she was canned, though with the boss, after entreaties from her and a colleague friend in the parking lot after work on Friday, agreeing to do the vote over on Monday morning and by secret ballot. So Sandra, desperate to keep her job—the unemployment rate in Belgium’s Wallonia being around 13% these days—, had the weekend to find each of her sixteen co-workers and try to persuade them to vote to retain her, but thereby foregoing their bonuses. And that’s the movie, of her, in a defeatist mood, but prodded by her supportive husband, tracking down her colleagues one-by-one, at their homes, in cafés, at their places of work in their second jobs, and putting them on the spot… It’s the best film I’ve seen in some time on the world of work for those in the lower half of the 99%, who live from paycheck to paycheck, need every last euro they make—not just to survive but also to realize their middling class consumption dreams—, and for whom the prospect of unemployment, always looming, is something that cannot be contemplated. If one wishes to be convinced of the necessity of strong trade unions and/or robust labor law—neither of which is mentioned in the pic, BTW—, see this movie. The acting is first-rate—which may be seen in range of the reactions of Sandra’s co-workers, and, of course, Marion Cotillard, who’s in almost every frame. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (tops) are here, trailer is here. Don’t miss it!

I’ve seen two other films in the past week that premiered at Cannes. One was David Cronenberg’s ‘Maps to the Stars’—for which Julianne Moore won the best actress award—, which delivers a biting critique, to put it mildly, of the us et coutumes of the amoral—when not immoral—, superficial, cynical world of Hollywood and its obsession with money and fame. Not an original theme but one that can always be approached from unique angles. The pic is definitely more watchable than Cronenberg’s last one, ‘Cosmopolis’—which was the worst film I saw in 2012—, but left me somewhat cold, as every last character is so loathsome and odious. And while I am quite sure that many in Hollywood are like those in the movie, I have a hard time believing that most are. It is not an essential film IMO but may be seen. Reviews so far are good (e.g. here, here, and here). Trailer is here.

maps-to-the-stars-poster

The other Cannes film seen was ‘The Homesman’, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. I like Tommy Lee Jones and will a priori see anything he directs. This one is a sort of road movie on the high plains, set in mid 1850s Nebraska—though mostly shot in New Mexico—, with the Jones character, named George Briggs, accompanying a headstrong, independent, no-nonsense unmarried woman—but who is actively seeking a man—, named Mary Bee Cuddy, played by a fine Hillary Swank, who has volunteered to transport three mentally disturbed plains women to Iowa. Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter called it “[a]n absorbing, melancholy look at the hard lot of women in the Old West.” I was absorbed enough, I suppose, but won’t say it’s an essential film. I mean, it was okay. It may certainly be seen. One criticism: I was not convinced by the act Mary Bee committed fifteen minutes from the end—of why she did it; I didn’t like the scene too much—or by the film’s ending. Variety’s review is here and French reviews (good) are here. Trailer is here.

The-Homesman-affiche

Another film seen lately, that premiered at the Berlinale in Febrary, and which, like the above, was shot in New Mexico, was Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s ‘Two Men in Town’ (French title: La Voie de l’ennemi). It’s a remake of Franco-Swiss director José Giovanni’s 1973 film of the same title—which I have not seen—, entirely set in a New Mexico border county (it’s not the first film Bouchareb has shot in the US and in English) and with the kind of Western vistas that French/European audiences like. The cast—Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Brenda Blethyn—is great. The pic is well-acted and absorbing. But it has a few implausibilities and an unsatisfying ending. So I really can’t give it the thumbs up (though it is far superior to Bouchareb’s calamitous 2010 ‘Hors-la-loi’, which is the worst movie ever made on the Algerian war of independence). Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety got it right. See also Deborah Young’s review in THR. French reviews were good overall. Trailer is here.

la voie de lennemi

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The Immigrant

The Immigrant

I note that this film has just opened in the US and to decent reviews. I saw it late last year here in Paris, where the reviews were also decent. And I’ll see just about any film with an immigration theme if the reviews are even half-way decent. Here’s a description by Variety’s Peter Debruge, who saw the pic last year at Cannes

Cementing himself as the great classicist of his generation, James Gray turns back the clock to 1921 in “The Immigrant,” a romantic tale that cuts to the very soul of the American experience. This rich, beautifully rendered film boasts an arrestingly soulful performance from Marion Cotillard as a Polish nurse-turned-prostitute for whom the symbolic promise of Ellis Island presents only hardship. (…)

From the American canon, novels like Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie” offer charitable accounts of the lures and snares big-city life posed on single working women of the early 20th century. Such influences suggest a radical shift from the male-driven concerns of Gray’s strong but underappreciated oeuvre (which includes “The Yards” and “We Own the Night”). No doubt, the director’s newfound female focus owes an equal or greater debt to Tolstoy and Flaubert, as he follows their lead in crafting the picture’s strong, well-rounded tragic heroine. (Never fear: No one swallows arsenic or throws herself in front of a train here.)

Meeting with a naturalization officer upon her arrival in New York, one year after the U.S. ratified women’s suffrage, Ewa (Cotillard) discovers that American immigration policy bars unescorted females from entering the country — a judgment compounded, in her case, by reports from the ship manifest that she may be a woman of low morals. What Ewa doesn’t realize is that she’s being auditioned by “immigration aid” worker and part-time pimp Bruno (an uneasy Joaquin Phoenix), who manages a burlesque theater not far from the seedy Five Points neighborhood where “Gangs of New York” was set a few decades earlier.

But Ewa and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) didn’t escape war and cross the Atlantic to be turned away at the front stoop of their destination. Though the film ultimately concerns the heartbreaking compromises Ewa makes to adapt to this better life, Gray depicts these transgressions as magnanimously as possible: A scene vital to the film’s tragic tone takes place in the confessional of a Catholic church, where, even as Ewa sounds convinced of her own damnation, the film makes clear that however low her behavior may have sunk, her moral center remains pure. (…)

The film is melodramatic in parts and rather depressing overall, but I thought it was pretty good. And Marion Cotillard—who learned Polish for the role—was sensational. She’s one great actress. So: recommended.

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