Monday, January 31, 2011

Michael Madsen (Nordic version) explores nuclear waste going INTO ETERNITY

A gliding camera, together with a narrator's peaceful voice, moves us slowly underground as that voice quietly explains, "You are now at a place where we have buried something from you to protect you. And we have taken great pains to be sure that you are protected. We also need you to know that this place should not be disturbed. This is not a place for you to live. Stay away from this place and you will be safe."

Oh, those Scandinavians!  Is there another culture that could bring us a subject like this is such a cool (in both meanings of the world) thoughtful (again, in both meanings of the word) artistic, beautiful, scarifying way? I doubt it. An artist such as Ingmar Bergman could only have hailed from Scandinavia. He was Swedish, and the man -- Michael Madsen -- who made this new and unique documentary INTO ETERNITY is Danish, but I think there's plenty of spillover in terms of content, style, state of mind and even artistic ability.

Mr. Madsen, shown at left, proves a fine narrator and host. A conceptual artist and now a filmmaker, he appears kindly but strong, intelligent, insightful, serious but with full ironic capabilities, and even rather sexy under those horn-rims. Where the filmmaker has led us is Finland's burial ground for its nuclear waste, called Onkalo, which means hiding place in Finnish. This forward looking little country plans ahead, farther ahead, in fact, than just about any other country in the world, it seems. As one scientist tells us along the way, we cannot have nuclear energy without having the nuclear waste that attends it. Think of this is the final solution for this waste -- one that has not been implemented anywhere else so far, and in fact will not even be implemented in Finland until the next century, for it will take that long to create the proper burial ground.

If recent documentaries Countdown to Zero (the threat of nuclear war) and Plastic Planet (the threat to our world from plastic) determined to scare our pants off, Mr. Madsen instead wants us to consider nuclear waste from several angles: the waste itself, the burying of it, what that burying means to the future -- and finally the future itself, and how very far away it is. Thousand of years from now, the waste will still be a danger to the living -- if indeed there are any living left.

Into Eternity works surprisingly well on so many levels and as so many different things that its pleasures are nearly non-stop. It's both an art film and art itself: The photography, pristine and playful, is often stunningly beautiful, featuring some gorgeous images of machinery and water and some wonderful effects (ghostlike figures blending, disappearing into their environment). It's a meditation on time and eternity, for the lifespan of the waste forces us to go farther in the future than we've had or wanted to consider. It's a profile of some wonderful Scandinavian scientists, forced to consider the very worst possible scenarios and then somehow heading each of these off.

Along the way we learn why Finland was chosen ("Its bedrock is the most stable environment we know of!"), why the final resting place of the waste must be a "fully passive" site, and perhaps most important, what kind of "markers" should be left to explain to future generations why they must never unearth what is buried below. This last provides the film with its philosophical conundrum.

Will future generations (hello: future species!) even understand what we have "written" out for them. Would visuals be better than words? And knowing humanity as we should, wouldn't saying "Don't go there" simply ensure that they will?  Might no marker be best of all, since the waste will be buried so deep and sealed so tight that, it's unlikely to ever be unearthed.

Using any markers, as with the pyramids of Egypt, one scientist notes, might induce attempts at robbery, for nuclear waste contains elements within it that are valuable and that people might want to steal: copper, uranium, plutonium. Wow -- think of it as the more immense version of that little, lighted, lead box on the beach at the end of Kiss Me Deadly!

The wonder of the film is that you see these scientists, these smart but fallible humans, thinking hard about all this and giving the best answers and advice that they can.  The film's funniest -- or is it saddest? -- moment comes with Madsen's question to one of them, "Do you trust future generations?" This reduces the fellow who tries to answer to confusion and near apoplexy, and then to an impossible silence. Yet a few moments later he rallies and goes on.

The movie is best seen, perhaps, as Mr. Madsen's own marker: a filmed letter to those who may be living hundreds, even thousands of years from now and who might need or want a little guidance. I suppose, then, the best question might be: What kind of signifier can we leave that cockroaches will appreciate and understand?

Into Eternity (from International Film Circuit), the new year's first must-see documentary, opens Wednesday, February 2, in New York City at Film Forum for a two-week run. Click here for further playdates and cities in the U.S. and Canada.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

BAMcinématek & ActNow Foundation join forces for NEW VOICES IN BLACK CINEMA

A five-day film festival, being thrown by and at BAMcinématek, together with the Fort Greene, Brooklyn-based ActNow Foundation and titled ActNow: New Voices in Black Cinema, opens this Friday, February 4. According to the BAM press release, the series reflects the wide spectrum of views and themes within the African diasporan communities in Brooklyn and beyond. Home to five ActNow screenings since August 2009, BAMcinématek continues this partnership, providing exposure to new and existing voices in black independent cinema.

The series highlights both new narrative works such as Coming Back For More (2010), a documentary about Sly Stone’s long-awaited return to the stage; SUS (2010) set entirely in a British interrogation room on election night in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher first came to power; and Heart of Stone (2009), which focuses on the rise, fall, and rise of a Newark high school; and "classics" such as Wendell B. Harris’ newly restored American independent, the 22-year-old Chameleon Street (1989), which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize.  There's more, and you can find the entire series listed here.

New Voices in Black Cinema got TrustMovies to thinking about the long history of blacks in film -- in front of the camera and (not often enough) behind it. Mr. Harris, shown above, after this big Sundance win, has pretty much disappeared from the film scene. As an actor he did a small role in the now-famous but hardly ground-breaking Road Trip (which gave Todd Phillips his first big hit). According to his Wikipedia entry, Harris is is "currently in post-production for the forthcoming documentary, Arbiter Roswell, a 14-year project that chronicles the relationship between public opinion, the media, and the military-industrial complex." Sounds good, but who knows when this entry was actually written. The IMDB makes no mention of Arbiter Roswell, though it sounds worth seeing.

Speaking of Chameleon Street (below), consider this little piece that appeared in the NY Times on January 29, 1990, after the film walked away with the top Sundance prize, while To Sleep With Anger by Charles Burnett, another whatever-happened-to black filmmaker, was awarded "special recognition" from the jury (Burnett has been working a lot in the meantime, but on projects -- TV Movies, shorts, etc. -- that appear to be off the critical radar.). The article ends with the sentence: "If there was a statement implicit in the awards this year, it was the diversity and growing strength of black film makers." Yeah, right. We hear this periodically about new black filmmakers. And then...?  Very little. Or nothing. Or nothing for awhile. Despite the continuing work of Spike Lee and Tyler Perry, the cupboard seems pretty bare.

Remember Carl Franklin, who gave us the terrific One False Move and the very good Devil in a Blue Dress way back when? He's done a few so-so to OK films since then, plus quite a bit of even better television and cable. At least he's been working, and in a relatively mainstream manner.  I sometimes wonder if there is an expectation from film critics and perhaps the industry in general that black directors should work primarily on "black films."  (Franklin, for instance, did the film version of the Anna Quindlen novel One True Thing, which is about as far from "the black experience" as you can get.) Working from an expectation like that, Gregg Araki would have to concentrate only on Japanese American movies.  As has been pointed out elsewhere, there is not a single black nominated for anything in the major categories (maybe the minor ones, too) for this year's Academy Awards. I guess it just wasn't much of a "black experience" year. But why should that keep black filmmakers from making films about any and every subject?

Back to the BAM fest: TrustMovies has seen four of the films on display and found them of varying quality. Having viewed Chameleon Street upon its debut two decades ago and found it interesting, more from a philosophical/content standpoint than from any visual/cinematic experience, it would be interesting to view it again. What it has to say about the difficulty if being black and American is anything but the usual straight-forward racism, and what the film most interestingly calls to mind in term of black identity is John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, the play of which appeared one year after Chameleon Street and the movie version four years later. It should be most interesting to see how Mr. Harris' film holds up -- and why or why not.

An excellent documentary not by a black filmmaker (Beth Kruvant) but about a black man who helps change a school, its students, faculty and board of advisers is very much worth a look if you have not already seen it. Heart of Stone is a surprising movie, rich in history and possibilities, about a principal of a school in Newark and how he practically single-handedly turns it around into its former days of glory. When the DVD appeared last year, I covered it and did a short interview with the filmmaker. You can find that post here. See this one and be enriched, amazed, surprised and moved.

When NIGHT CATCHES US opened just two or three months back, I was gratified by the generally fine reviews it received and, though I was not invited to see the film prior to its release, I immediately stuck it on my must-see list.  Now that I've seen it (it arrives on DVD next week, February 1), I have to admit to some disappointment. It's not a bad film at all, but in terms of moviemaking skill, it is somewhat slow and obvious. Set back in two time frames -- that of the rise of the Black Panther/Black Power movement in the 60s and then some years later in the 70s, when a "disgraced" member of the group returns home for his father's funeral and must face the ire of his ex-companions -- this is the first full-length features from female black filmmaker Tanya Hamilton.  It certainly shows promise, and Hamilton managed to get two fine actors Kerry Washington (above, right) and Anthony Mackie (above, left) into her fold.

The story has its hook -- of course, we want to know what happened and why -- and the lead performances are fine, as are those of the supporting actors.  But Hamilton's film technique is only adequate and the writing pretty prosaic. The period is captured well enough, and this should take some of us older folk back to the days of Bobby Seale, Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis -- forcing us to remember those times, what we thought then, and what we think and feel now. I am a little surprised at the better-than-average reviews for the film. Perhaps critics were so pleased simply to see these days a black film that was not made by Tyler Perry --  whose work I try to appreciate -- god knows, I try! -- but which drives me up the f-ing wall with its combination of cornball cliché and idiotic religious fervor. I'll stick with Hamilton and watch her grow.

The last film of the films in the fest that I've viewed is a British walk down memory lane called SUS. Based on the play by prolific playwright Barrie Keefe, first produced back in 1979 (when both the play and its subsequent film are set), the film (also written by Keefe) takes place on the night of the 1979 General Election in Britain, which put Margaret Thatcher into the Prime Minister power slot for the first time. The movie's no sweet nostalgia trip, however, as it never at all swerves from its theatrical roots. It takes place in a police station where two white detectives (Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall) have brought in a black man (Clint Dyer, shown below) for questioning in the death of his wife earlier that evening. Are they racist pigs? Will they give it to their poor prisoner in verbal and physical spades? And will we hear speech after puny, lying speech from Mrs Thatcher, underscoring what the irony of what this election will mean for minorities and the underclass?

Yes, yes, and yes again -- which makes the movie a bit of a slough. To his credit Keefe wrote the play at the beginning of the Thatch's reign, even though the film itself was made years later. Prescience is a virtue, and so are the three performances here, all of a thorough, realistic, unhappy piece. Brown is old school nasty, Spall (Timothy's boy) is new school vicious, and poor Dyer is put-upon badly. Initially he holds his own, but the physical and verbal brutality of his adversaries, along with their complete and nearly unconscious racism is unending and just about unbearable. You want to scream, pull out a knife and kill both these pigs -- which is exactly what the filmmakers want. Director Robert Heath does a good job of blocking and keeping things moving, but the film is finally far too schematic not to seem like agitprop, truthful or not.

I'd like to see more of what's in store in this festival, but as time is limited, I probably won't. Don't let that stop you, however. ActNow: New Voices in Black Cinema begins this Friday, February 4 and plays Saturday, Feb. 5; Sunday, Feb. 6; Tuesday, Feb. 8 and Wed, Feb. 9.

Note: various filmmakers will appear in person at selected screenings, so check the complete program here for the where and when you can see them.

The Wall Street Journal is the BAMcinématek and BAM Rose Cinemas sponsor.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bidding adieu to Fehner-SILENT VOICES/Elbé-TURK'S HEAD

TrustMovies is only sorry that he did not watch these two very fine films sooner. There remain only two days in which to view (it closes on Saturday January 29), but since, once you order a film for download, you have two days in which to view it, that actually leaves you a full four days to catch up. And since both films under consideration here are too good to miss, I hope you'll take advantage of, as Elia Suleiman might put it, the time that remains.

Léa Fehner's eloquent SILENT VOICES is an exceptional imagining of the lives of others. Most films attempt this leap but few have done it with the skill of Ms Fehner -- all the more surprising because this is her first full-length feature. As director and co-writer (with Catherine Paille), she chooses her scenes and her dialog carefully, pulling us into her stories (there are three of them) with a visual immediacy that is rare.

We don't always know what is going on, but so specific are the intentions of the actors at each moment and in each of her equally specific scenes, that we have no trouble maintaining interest until slowly all the characters -- who they are and what they want -- come together.

It is prison that links these stories. Ms Fehner (shown at right) is not afraid to let her camera scans many inmates and their visitors, in addition to those we come to know best, and from the short sharp "takes" she gives us, it is clear that she probably could have devoted her story to any of these people and come up with a movie worth watching.

The three tales Fehner does tell -- and well -- involve an Algerian woman (Farida Rahouadj, above), who receives her son's casket-bourne body sent from France and so goes there to learn what happened to him.

Another has a sixteen-year-old girl, Pauline Etienne (above, right: seen in Restless at last year's Rendez-vous with French Cinema) meeting a young, strange but quite enticing  "Russian" immigrant (Vincent Rottiers, above, left, and seen in last year's In the Beginning and I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive, both at Rendez-vous).

The third and by far the strangest (that Fehner is able to pull this one off is only a millimeter short of miraculous) involves a sad fellow (Reda Kateb, above, right, from A Prophet) and his angry girlfriend (Dinara Droukarova, above, left of Since Otar Left) and the fellow (fine French standby Marc Barbé, shown below, right), whom they meet perhaps by chance.

These characters are all connected (or will be) in ways they may not know or understand, but their lives bounce off each other, sometimes with major results, so that we come to care about all these people, no matter what. Ms Fehner carries this off with such aplomb that I am in awe. Silent Voices -- which, in the original Qu'un seul tienne et les autres suivront translates something like "Let one person hold on (or maybe "dig in") and the others will follow" -- is a splendid, don't-miss movie. With no US release in sight, try to catch it in this last two days of the festival. Click here for where and how.


Pascal Elbé has been a noted actor in France for a decade or more, but because he tends to make mainstream movies, we don't see much of him on the festival/
arthouse circuit. Too bad, because he's a good-looking and talented guy who may just now be coming into his own. Over the past few years he's co-written some films, and in 2010 -- with the new movie TURK'S HEAD (Tête de turc), he's gone solo in the writing department, taken a lead role in the film and directed it, too.
A sudden triple threat, as it were.

The good news is that Elbé (shown at right and on the poster, right, as well) has done a competent-or-better job in all three departments and chosen as his topic and theme life in the banlieues outside of Paris. This could hardly be more timely and important just now, given the off-and-on crime and riots that bedevil the areas, together with accusations of police brutality.

This writer/filmmaker covers it all, packing it in and wrapping it up in a fast-paced 87 minutes (including credits) that are awash in irony. These are neither simple-minded nor heavy-handed ironies: They're as pointed as most of the events shown are believable.

From the beginning, when a doctor who ministers to the banlieue treats a very ill woman, whose husband, played by the usually fine Simon Abkarian, waits for the medical services to arrive. They don't because, as the doctor sits in his car phoning for help, banlieue kids atop a nearby building start pelting his auto with rocks -- large ones -- and finally a molotov cocktail. At that point, they take off, except for the cocktail tosser who realizes that the occupant of the auto is not moving and will die (if he isn't already dead) once the fire reaches the gas tank.

At this point, the film speeds from irony to irony, gathering steam and anger in every direction -- from the  husband whose sick wife is now dead; from the doctor's brother (the ubiquitous Roschdy Zem), a police officer clearly of eastern descent who already hated the kids even before his brother went into a coma; and from the kids themselves who are beginning to suspect one of them own is a turncoat.

Elbé has a sense of history ("Since when does a Turk save an Armenian?" asks one character in some amazement over a certain event) and in his story introduces a very interesting Turkish family: a single mom (Ronit Elkabetz, above and below, left) and her two sons, Bora, that cocktail tosser (Samir Makhlouf, at left, two photos above) and his little brother. The filmmaker does not tie up everything into neat bows, though I wish he had left the Akbarian character to stew in his own juices, rather than becoming the official boogey man who must have vengeance but is too strupid or grief-stricken to manage it properly.

Turk's Head is melodrama, but for the most part good melodrama with a point. France had better make inroads toward the solution to the banlieues before the country thoroughly divides against itself. The movie, most definitely worth a watch, is still downloadable until just before midnight, Saturday, January 29. Click here to learn how to download it.
And that's it for this festival, a surprisingly excellent one, over all. Except for French Kissers (not my cup of French roast), there wasn't a ringer in the entire bunch, and a half dozen of the films were as good -- and as varied -- as anything Hollywood or most American independents are turning out. I hope that the fest's sponsors Unifrance and Allocine will do this again next year. And start earlier with the PR and announcements so that we'll have time to gear up, check in and put ourselves in order.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Araki's KABOOM opens -- at Sundance, in theaters & via Sundance Selects; plus a very short Q&A with Master Gregg

Be still my heart (and certain other body appendages)! KABOOM is upon us, and a funnier, sexier, goofier, goosier good time, TrustMovies has not had since... last year's delight, Women in Trouble. I wonder, in fact, if Kaboom's writer/director Gregg Araki sees, as do I, any similarities in the two films. (That's one of the questions I had hoped to ask him during the roundtable Q&A a couple of weeks back. But then the roundtable was delayed and I had to leave the Q&A early, so I learned only a portion of what I hoped for. (My short interview appears at the end of this review.) The styles of the two films are certainly different, and while Women's filmmaker Sebastian Gutierrez concentrates on the gals, the porn industry and some lesbian fun, Araki gives us gals and guys -- and though he makes certain you know his main boy is at least accidentally ambi-sexual, this kid's fantasies always seem to go gay.

What unites the films for me is the state they put the viewer in by the end of the experience: A kind of joyful, giddy, beaming pleasure. Watching them is like taking a vacation -- not just from life but from most other movies. They're not guilty pleasures because -- stylish, smart, and very well-written, -directed and -acted -- they're guilt-free. Araki, that sly guy (pictured at right), is also quite transgressive. I should think even a lot of gays find his work "difficult."  You don't get feel-good, coming-out movies in which friends and family finally see the light and embrace the "Why-he's-just-like-us!" protagonist. The triumph of the human spirit is -- sadly but gladly -- nowhere to be found.

What is to be found is a randy-dandy embrace of sexuality in whatever form pleasures you -- from a mere (but hot) fantasy about roommate Thor (Chris Zylka, above) to a threesome with a fantasy who suddenly becomes a realty. The filmaker is happy to give sex lessons, too -- as when one of his heroines, London (the sublime Juno Temple, shown with red cap in the penultimate photo, below) diagnoses to a "t" the performance problems of studly Rex (Andy Fischer-Price).

The plot, such as it is, is mostly about the getting laid -- in any and every manner possible -- of Araki's young hero Smith (Thomas Dekker, above, looking very much like a little boy with a beard).

But before, during and after said sex, all sorts of odd happenings occur: Men in animal masks kidnap and kill; a young woman barfs on our hero's shoes; his mom (Kelly Lynch) can't keep one quick phone call going; and a "witch" (Roxanne Mesquida, above, right) seduces then stalks his best gal pal (Haley Bennett, above, center, who, along with Ms Temple, gives the film's standout performance). Oh, yes: and our hero's been having some weird apocalyptic nightmares....

While Araki's style grows ever more commercial (don't worry his content is anything but), Kaboom seems like a cross between his first relatively good-looking movie Splendor and the charm and humor of Smiley Face. Full of inventive, fun visual effects, the film looks like a million bucks (but probably cost much less).

At the screening I attended, laughter was near-constant thing -- but on an individual, rather than a group, basis: It never came from a large portion of the audience at the same time. Instead, it seemed as though, every few moments, something struck someone in the audience as hilarious, so there would be a sudden and very audible hoot or snort. That's the sneaky, Araki way: Even the laughs aren't mainstream. By the time you've been doing this kind of guffawing and chuckling throughout an entire movie, you may find yourself in a very good mood.

Kaboom,via IFC Films, made its Sundance debut this week in the Spotlight section of the festival (where all four of its screenings sold out), had its On-Demand Sundance Selects debut yesterday and will open theatrically in New York City at the IFC Center this Friday, January 28 -- with a national rollout beginning in February.


An unusually large table of bloggers met with Gregg Araki on an afternoon earlier this winter at the IFC headquarters at Eleven Penn Plaza. The meeting took place about a half-hour later than originally scheduled so yours truly had to beat, all too soon, a hasty retreat. But the group allowed me to ask my couple of questions first. Here they are, in boldface, along with those of a couple of other bloggers that found their way into the early discussion. Araki's answers are in standard type:

Because we're starting late, Gregg, I have to leave early, so the group has allowed me to ask you a question or two first.

Oh -- good: You're right by the door, too.

Yes, I planned it that way.

That's better. Do you ever notice that, when people leave in the middle of a screening, it seems like they're always seated in the front row!

Maybe they didn't expect to be leaving early?  Anyway, your movie gave me more fun than I have had in a theater in ages.  It left me almost high.

Oh, thank you-- that's awesome! It was intended to be that. I think of the movie as just a really fun ride that sort of  starts and then takes you away into this new world. A couple of weeks ago I was in London for the film festival, and I was supposed to introduce the film and then go out with the festival organizers for dinner. Once the film started, I wanted to sit there for a couple of minutes to make sure it was going OK. But then I got sucked back into to it and it was like 15 minutes, and I was still sitting there. Then the whole first reel had played and they were like, "Well, are you coming to dinner?"

I can understand that. How many times have you actually seen your film?

Maybe a hundred. (The whole table gasps.) Well, you know, I edited it, too. And I've seen all the different cuts of it. I literally designed it to be a movie that you can watch over and over and over again and maybe get something new out of it every time you view it.  Lots of times I don't intend to watch it, but it'll start and I just get sucked in. Thomas -- the kid who stars in the movie -- is the same way. We've been at several film festival together with it, and I think he's now seen it seven or eight times. I actually made it, hoping  it might be one of those cult movies where you get the DVD and watch it over and over. That's why it's short, to the point, and just fun to watch.

In some ways, your movies seem to me to be growing -- well, not that you'd ever get to be mainstream -- but your production values in this film look like a million dollars.  Everything in it looks great.  It reminded me of something where you maybe took some ideas from Splendor and the humor of Smiley Face and then added the theme of a movie of yours I have not seen -- but the IMDB says you've made -- a TV movie called This Is How the World Ends. Do you find that it is getting easier to make movies, the more of them you make?  Because it seems that each one you do includes more and makes use of more moviemaking skills. 

I actually do think this is true.  The actual making of a film almost gets harder -- the financing, that whole aspect of it -- but I do feel that with each film I make I am just a better filmmaker. You learn so much every time you make a movie. Kaboom is by now my tenth film. You learn so much. With Kaboom in particular, it was a very ambitious project, a very big movie on a very tight budget and a very tight schedule, so I had to really use every trick in the book to pull it off and make it all happen on the budget we had. So it is.... Really -- I do feel like technically, as a filmmaker, I am much better than I was ten or 20 years ago. But that's just natural: The more you do something, the better you should get at it.

At this point, another blogger chimes in. 

I feel like there is a lot of social criticism in your film: sexual tabloos broken -- like the threesome -- and then the fantasy element, like the witch. So I am not sure, but did you have to create this world in order to tackle these subjects. They are so heightened. Are you recreating this "high," or are you tackling these social things? 

My films have always been interested in creating this kind of thing. They always exist in their own world. There is sort of a subjective nature to the universe, and Kaboom is one in which this is most pronounced. The movie sort of takes you away into another place. Like a sort of Utopian place -- where the light is better, the colors are richer, the people are prettier. And there's more sex.  Of course there's a bad conspiracy and the world is going to end, but aside from that....
(We all laugh)

There is something about the world of Kaboom that is so intoxicating that it almost casts a spell over you, and that is one of the things I wanted to do -- create a world where anything can happen. But I didn't want to create a world that was just quirky and weird to be quirky and weird -- but instead could be this kind of universe of not boring mundane reality, but an escape. While we were shooting it, we all called it Kaboom World, When the shoot was over Thomas was really upset: "I don't to leave this, I don't want this to end," he told us. 

One of the most exciting things is when you can let go and just surprise yourself.

Yes, and Kaboom was sort of just a surprise. That's the way it was created. I wanted it to be coming from a place of creative freedom. To do and be its own thing -- not have to be constrained by expectations of more conventional genres. That way, it has the supernatural elements like the cult, the witch, the animal guys, Everything just sort of had a life of its own. When I was writing, I sometimes wondered, Where did this come from? Like the dumpster. Where did that come from?! That was one of the most exciting things for me about making the movie. Where everything came from.

Do you think you get more or less transgressive as you get older?

It depends, I guess, on how you define transgressive. I feel that I am getting lighter as I get older. Definitely. I think my films are getting more optimistic. Not as angry or dark as my early films like The Doom Generation. If you are talking about transgressive --and the idea of it as being sort of a liberation from taboo -- I actually think that Kaboom is one of my most transgressive. Because it is really rare for American movies, and even my own movies, to see sex as having no negative consequences, to see it totally in a positive light. When the kids have sex in this film, nothing bad comes from this. There is bad stuff, but it is not related to the sex. The sex is seen as a very sort of positive force in terms of these kids' lives and their adventures and what they are learning about themselves. Like the London character, when she talks about sex., through her sexuality she is discovering stuff about herself and about other opepple.  That point of view in itself is extremely transgressive, particular in America, which is such a hypocritical and puritanical society.

(At this point I had to leave, but I wish I could have remained. Araki is as well-spoken and to the point as his films are off-the-wall and entertaining. Well, next time, next film....) 

The photos above are the film itself, 
with the exception of those of Mr.Araki -- 
the second of which (he's in a white polo shirt) 
was taken by Sara De Boer, courtesy of Retna.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Germany's entry for Best Foreign Language Film: Feo Aladag's sloppy WHEN WE LEAVE

In the what-were-they-thinking? department concerning submissions to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film, Germany's choice must have raised a few eyebrows. In addition to raising those of TrustMovies, it also dropped his jaw. He finds it difficult to believe that this major European nation, a country who makes a consider-able number of films each year (unlike, say, Iceland, whose choice was a bit more circumscribed), could come up with nothing better than WHEN WE LEAVE.

This poorly conceived, Turk-bashing melodrama (posing as a plea for Turkish families living in Germany to come into the 21st Century) begins well enough, if relying heavily on the tried-and-true. Step by step, however, it uses the schlockiest conventions of soap-opera -- overheard conversations, chance encounters, coincidence-times-ten -- until the real slap-in-the-face arrives: the climax that provides a coup de grâce of stunning stupidity.

A first feature written and directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Feo Aladag (shown at left), When We Leave has such possibilities and, even within its present state, a number of fine performances and intelligent, well-directed scenes that most aware and mature viewers will probably feel, as the end credits roll, an acute sense of opportunity lost.

While I call the film a Turk-basher, I have no ax to grind here. I am no fan of the country of Turkey -- due to its refusal to admit to a history that includes Armenian genocide and because the Muslim religion, even though the country is taking pains to secularize itself, still holds its women down, and by virtue of that, holds its men down, too. Turkey is another of those eastern countries in which the nonsensical sense of "god and his will" continues to hold sway, while holding the population back at a time when the world, as we know it, may not have that much time left.

Like last year's film Bliss (a much better one -- and from Turkey!), Aladag's movie involves honor-killing, this time centered around a pretty young woman named Umay, played by Sibel Kekilli (shown above, right) of Head -On, whose husband is so abusive and full of male-entitlement that her only option, as she sees it, is to return to her own family in Germany, bringing her young son (Nizam Schiller, above, left) with her. When her family members understand her plans, however, they want no part of them. A good wife, after all, belongs with (under?) her husband, no matter how big an asshole he may be. End of story.

Our heroine does not see things that way and so, striking out on her own, she soon has a job (above), a new place to live, a boyfriend (played by Florian Lukas, below): the works! But, oh, how she misses that wonderful family of hers -- which leads to the film's most foolish scene, taking place at her sister's wedding shown at bottom). Sure, I can understand a girl's need for family, but around this point, I began questioning her sanity.

The melodrama increases as the film proceeds but, truthfully, the movie may have lost you by now. If not, the ending will certainly do the trick. In The Last Circus, a Spanish film set to open here soon, a protagonist and antagonist vie for the prize and in the process manage to destroy it. While the two films have almost nothing else in common -- in style, content or time period -- only this idea unites them. Despite its over-the-top comic bloodshed and craziness, "Circus" brings its theme to fruition, while When We Leave, despite its would-be seriousness and timeliness, reduces it to shambles.

The movie, from Olive Films, opens this Friday, January 28, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3. To view further showings around the country, click here and scroll down.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011 the sweet, small GOOD-BYE GARY from Nassim Amaouche

One of three films that overlapped both of the recent French film fests here in NY -- In-French-With-English-Subtitles from last Novem-ber and now MyFrenchFilm -- is a the generous, sweet-spirited wisp of a work called GOOD-BYE GARY (Adieu Gary), the first full-length film by writer/director Nassim Amaouche. Winner of the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes 2009, the little movie (all of 75 minutes) ambles along, as do its characters, experiencing the heat of the summer in a small town in France where the factory that  for decades employed most of the populace has now closed.

This may sound like a recipe for depression, if not disaster.  But no. France remains a country that cares -- to some extent, at least -- for her unem-ployed, and so the townspeople are rallying as best they can, each in his/her own way. From learning a new skill or taking an extended vacation on-the-dole to finding whatever work there is (the local supermarket is a going concern) or simply leaving for what might be gree-ner pastures back in Africa (the majority of the town seems to have Algerian roots), these people, under the caring, watchful eyes of  M. Amaouche (pictured above), persevere.

They squabble, complain, grow annoyed and get on each other's nerves, but through it all they rally when necessary. While this is a movie with a group hero -- the whole town -- certain characters still stand out.  The father (recently out of a job) and son (just out of prison) played respectively by Jean-Pierre Bacri (above) and the late Yasmine Belmadi (below), while clashing over subjects such as the value of work and unions, remain close. Each actor gives a full performance, even with the relatively small amount of dialog dished out by Amaouche.

Dad's lady love, the indispensable Dominique Reymond (below), lives with her son, too: a heavy-set kid with absentee-father problems of his own, who watches Gary Cooper movies daily, from which he jumps into a richer fantasy life. (The film's titles takes off from this character and his fantasies.)

Little is resolved by the quiet finish, but much has happened, both on the film's sunny, slowly-turning surface and below it. Unemployment effects everyone, we notice, in this short slice-of-provincial-life movie, yet where things are headed -- into a more Muslim territory -- might just be pretty healthy. Except for the religious angle. Especially if France can further westernize its immigrants. We shall see.

Meanwhile, you should try to see Adieu Gary.  No other U.S. release seems in sight for the film, which you can download for just $2.63 until the end of Saturday, January 29, via