Sunday, May 31, 2015

Roy Andersson completes The Living Trilogy with another profound, deadpan winner: A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

Whether or not you already know the work of Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson, his latest very dark and often very funny foray into humanity and our foibles, A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, will be a must-see. There is literally no moviemaker anything like our Mr. Andersson (shown below) whose work is singular --
and then some.

His compositions are painterly -- they may remind you of Edward Hopper (with much brighter lighting) -- while his theme is about as weighty as they get: humanity in all its sad, silly, horrible glory. His style is deadpan in the extreme and runs the risk of eventually allowing a certain sameness to set in. And yet the combination of all this remains provocative, funny, moving and quietly horrifying throughout.

What is missing, perhaps, once you have seen the first or second film in this trilogy -- respectively Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living -- is any element of surprise. You'll pretty much know what you are getting, and it will be mostly more of the same. And yet, when "the same" is as good as what Andersson dishes out, you'll probably line up for seconds. (And thirds: This is a trilogy, after all).

As weighty as are his themes and ideas, they are brought to life in the most quiet, nearly routine fashion.  This film begins with three encounters with death (one of which is shown above) -- as though we're getting the beginnings of several Six Feet Under episodes all at once, but in Andersson's inimitable style.

From there we go to a dance class in Flamenco, in which the teacher clearly has a untoward (and unreturned) attraction to one of her students. We meet a few of these characters again, along with many others with their special problems, especially two middle aged men (below) whose job it is to sell novelty products to their peers. (Yes, those vampire fangs are supposedly very big sellers!) This will no doubt bring to mind the fellow from Songs from the Second Floor who hawks crucifixes.

We come to know these two fellows pretty well, and take sorrow, as well as some laughs, from their economic predicament (and especially from their pretty awful living quarters, run by a particularly unfeeling bureaucrat). The film also moves back in time to the days of WWII, below, to give us a memorable scene in a bar, which we also visit in more modern days.

Barrooms and drinking play an important part in all Andersson's movies, offering characters a respite from their troubles but not, unfortunately any real connection to each other. Among the movie's several  pièces de résistance are one scene in which dark-skinned people are force marched into a very odd looking object (below) and then.... This manages to combine slavery with The Holocaust in such a way that we watch open-mouthed and spellbound in horror -- and yet not a drop of blood is shed, within our purview, at least.

Another fine few moments occurs while a lab technician chats on the phone even as her subject -- a petrified, imprisoned monkey -- is given grueling electric shocks. At many points along the way, the rather standard phrase, "I'm happy to hear you're dong fine!" is repeated by one person to another. It is especially shocking during that monkey moment, in which it is used to to underscore our habit of animal abuse, just as, elsewhere, it offers up the abuse of humans by other humans.

It is a dark and ugly world Mr. Andersson inhabits and films -- in often brightly lit scenes of great depth (in terms of both what the camera takes in and its message to our soul). In what may be the most bizarre and hypnotically fervid section, a local bar is invaded by soldiers (shown below) who are clearly from another era. They sweep all the women from the bar and then bully the remaining men.

Who they are and why they are here matters less than what they do and want. A later scene offers up the results of their visit, showing us war's defeat, along with the utter uselessness of "royalty." If arthouse audiences can be coaxed out of their too-mainstream shell to take a look at Andersson's work, I suspect many of them will be converted. What they will see is simply too strange and amazing to be easily shrugged off.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is probably as good a place to begin as any in this trilogy. My favorite by far is Songs from the Second Floor, but that may be because it was the first I encountered. Andersson's themes do not change, only the individual scenes by which he brings them to life (or death). That is plenty.

The movie, from Magnolia Pictures and running 100 minutes (the longest of Andersson's three, but the other two are only 98 and 95), opens this Wednesday in New York City at Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and will hit another 23 cities/theaters in the weeks to come. (Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.) I noted with surprise and dismay that none of these theaters is in the Los Angeles area (Angelenos will have to travel to Santa Barbara to see this one). Surely there might be one single theater in all of L.A. willing to offer its clientele an edifying challenge like this? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Free French cinema--all over NYC--as FILMS ON THE GREEN returns for its eighth annual series

Films on the Green, New York City's favorite outdoor film festival -- of free French movies all summer long -- opens its eighth annual series this Friday evening, May 29, in Central Park with a landmark film that lifted a certain French sexpot named Brigitte Bardot (below and above, right, with a very young Jean-Louis Trintignant) to international acclaim, while taking her director, Roger Vadim, along for the ride -- for awhile.

Here's a film that should make clear to today's youth audience what something sexy looked like in the mid 1950s, when the poor old USA was getting damned little of it and so had to turn to France for a good turn-on. Interestingly enough, this film is now rated only PG -- which indicates, among other things, how very G-rated (if we'd actually had a rating system way back then) were most American films of the 1950s.

TrustMovies has a particular soft spot for the annual Films on the Green fest because he's been covering it since its inception: first, for the late, lamented, and then yearly on this blog. Each summer the festival -- hosted by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, FACE Foundation and the City of New York Parks & Recreation -- chooses a wide array of films from various decades (this year's includes the 1930s, 50s, 60s, and post-Millennium, of quite varied content and styles that show off French cinema to fine advantage. The dates are Friday evenings, beginning May 29 through July 31, with a final screening on September 10. Locations range from Central Park to Riverside Park, Tompkins Square Park, Washington Square Park, Columbia University, and Transmitter Park (in Brooklyn).

All the screenings are absolutely free and viewers are invited to bring their own food and drink and enjoy an evening of film culture al fresco. This year's films includes classics like the Vadim and Duvivier's Pepe Le Moko, as well as one of the great French comedies of recent years -- Priceless (above) by the ever under-valued Pierre Salvadori -- plus three movies completely new to me that I can't wait to view: Goha (1958), La Derive (1963) and Zarafa (2012). And that's only little more than half of what's in store.There's a Rohmer (two photos up), Sandrine Bonnaire (below) in one of her best roles, and some first-class animation.

You can see the entire program below, along with the proper park locations and descriptions of the films via the press office of the French Embassy. Mark your calendar now, and don't miss a single screening. What with all the dry weather we've been having of late, there may not even occur any rain interference, as in some former years.



Friday, May 29 | 8:30 pm - Central Park (79th street and Fifth Avenue)
…AND GOD CREATED WOMAN (Et Dieu créa la Femme)
Directed by Roger Vadim with Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Curt Jürgens
1956 | Romance | PG | 1h35
Juliette is a seductive young woman with an unbridled appetite for pleasure. She attracts the attention of all of St. Tropez, including the wealthy Eric Carradine, Antoine Tardieu, and his sweet yet naïve brother, Michel, who all fight for her indecisive heart.

Friday, June 5 | 8:30 pm - Washington Square Park
By Nadine Labaki with Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Massri, Joanna Moukarzel
2007 | Comedy | PG | 1h35 | France-Lebanon
Presented in partnership with the Fondation Liban Cinéma
In a colorful and sensual Beirut beauty salon, five women meet regularly to talk and confide in each other. Between haircuts and caramel sugar waxes, the friends share intimate stories about men, sex, motherhood, and their personal liberation. 

Friday, June 12 | 8:30 pm - Washington Square Park
By Julien Duvivier with Jean Gabin, Mireille Balin, Marcel Dalio
1937 | Crime | UR | 1h33
The notorious Pépé le Moko is a wanted man. In the labyrinthine Casbah of Algiers, Pépé is safe from the clutches of the police. But his clandestine life is unveiled when Gaby, a Parisian playgirl, compels him to risk his life and leave his past behind.

Friday, June 19 | 8:30 pm - Tompkins Square Park
PRICELESS (Hors de Prix)
By Pierre Salvadori with Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh
2006 | Comedy | PG-13 | 1h46 
Irène, an attractive young woman, is on vacation at a French Riviera resort with Jacques, an older and very wealthy man. One night, while celebrating her birthday alone, she meets the handsome and intriguing Jean, who claims to be a millionaire and ad-venturer. However, unbeknownst to 
Irène, Jean isn’t everything he appears to be… 

Friday, June 26 | 8:30 pm - Tompkins Square Park
Rémi Bezançon & Jean-Christophe Lie
2012 | Animation | Ages 7 & up | 1h18
Presented in partnership with the Poitou-Charentes Region and the New York International Children’s Film Festival. Beneath a baobab tree, an old man tells the story of Maki, a young boy who crosses the desert with his giraffe and a Bedouin nomad named Hassan. During the epic journey from Africa to Paris, which takes them through Alexandria and the bustling port of Marseilles, Maki and his companions meet countless exotic characters.

Friday, July 10 | 8:30 pm - River-side Park, Pier I
By Jacques Baratier with Omar Sharif, Claudia Cardinale, Daniel Emilfork 
1958 | Drama | UR | 1h21 | France-Tunisia
Goha, a poor, ignorant, and naïve boy, wanders around with his donkey all day long in a small Tunisian town. Taj El-Ulum, a wise old man who is respected and admired by all, soon remarries and chooses the pretty Fulla. But, bored 
in her new home, the young bride falls in love with Goha, and to no surprise, chaos ensues.

Friday, July 17 | 8:30 pm - Riverside Park, Pier I
By Caroline Bottaro with Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline
2009 | Drama | UR | 1h37
Presented in partnership with the Collectivité Territoriale de Corse, Institut Français and Corsica Pôle Tournages.
The lovely, repressed and quietly intelligent chambermaid Hélène comes upon a couple engaging in an intense chess match, and discovers she has a knack for the game. This obsession–much to the chagrin of her family– leads her to seek the clandestine tutelage of a reclusive American doctor, a liaison that radically transforms both of their lackluster lives.

Friday, July 24 | 8:30 pm - Transmitter Park
By Paula Delsol with Jacqueline Vandal, Pierre Barouh, Paulette Dubost
1963 | Romance | UR | 1h30 
Jacquie, a beautiful young girl, returns home in the South of France. There, she regretfully re-assimilates to a life with her childhood friends, stay-at-home mother and unhappily married sister. She drifts from lover to lover in the process of shredding the social conventions that dictate a life of submission and resignation.

Friday, July 31 | 8:30 pm - Transmitter Park
By Eric Rohmer with Patrick Bauchau, Haydée Politoff, Daniel Pommereulle
1967 | Romance | UR | 1h29
Adrien, a bombastic, womanizing art dealer and Daniel, his painter friend, go to a seventeenth-century villa on the French Riviera for a relaxing summer getaway. But their idyll is disturbed by the presence of the bohemian temptress Haydée.

Thurs., Sept. 10 | 7:30 pm - Columbia University
THE RABBI’S CAT (Le Chat du Rabbin)
By Joann Sfar & Antoine Delesvaux
2011 | Animation | UR | 1h29
Presented in partnership with the Columbia Maison Française.
Algiers, 1920s: Rabbi Sfar has more than one problem. His beautiful daughter Zlabya is transforming into a teenager, and even worse, his parrot-killing cat has just started talking. The Rabbi’s life grows all the more complicated when a box arrives from Russia with a painter inside. Ultimately Rabbi Sfar ends up on a quest for a hidden tribe and its mythical city of origin in Africa.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fontaine and Luchini are back with GEMMA BOVERY-- and our Emma is all the better for it

That endlessly bored bourgeois young woman, Emma Bovary, returns to the screen this week in the first of two new incarnations. While the second, starring Mia Wasikowska, opens mid-June and is said to hew much closer to the Flaubert novel on which it is based, Anne Fontaine's new comedic twist on the tale has given me and my spouse the most enjoyable time we've had at the movies so far this year.

Fontaine, shown at right, both directed and co-wrote (with Pascal Bonitzer, from the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds) the film, and her surprising and engaging stamp is all over this delectable little movie. This is a filmmaker who loves to tease her audience, setting us and our bourgeois notions up for a fall, often in the most hilarious and provocative ways (see Adore, My Worst Nightmare, The Girl from Monaco, and Dry Cleaning for a nicely varied taste of Fontaine's offerings).

Here she takes a number of Flaubert's notions about character, class, women, men, economics and sexuality, and whips them into a frothy, bubbling delight. What's particularly new and wonderful is how she uses the novels (Simmonds' and Flaubert's) to hold a mirror up to some of the differences between British and French society.

In Fontaine's tale Madame Bovary becomes Gemma Bovery (note the change of an "a" to "e"), an English lass recently married to a man who restores antiques (how nice to see Jason Flemyng, above, in a big, solid role again), with the two of them now coming to live in the charming French countryside.

As Gemma, British actress Gemma Arterton (above) does yet another bang-up job in a role that seems absolutely made for her. From St. Trinian's through Tamara Drewe to the more recent Byzantium and The Voices, this fine, young and very beautiful actress keeps using her major skills and looks in increasingly diverse roles. This, along with Tamara Drewe, may be her best performances to date. The actress seems looser, freer, yet much more complex here than most of her roles have so far allowed.

Ms Fontaine's other ace-in-the-hole, as often of late, is the performance of her ex-main-squeeze, Fabrice Luchini, shown above and below, in the film's actual leading role. Luchini plays a local baker so smitten with Flaubert's masterpiece that he finds himself falling in love with Gemma, even as he himself becomes a kind of Bovary character --bored with his own provincial life and struggling to latch on something better.

One of the France's finest actors and always a joy to watch, I would say that Luchini outdoes himself here -- except that you could say that about every one of his performances, from Claire's Knee onwards to the more recent Paris, The Women on the Sixth Floor, In the House and Bicycling With Moliere. To name but a few.

As bubbly, fun and funny as the film consistently is, there of course remains that dark side (as there always is in a Fontaine film, as well as -- in spades -- the original Flaubert). We know from the beginning that Gemma is deceased. How and why, however, remain a mystery that is solved -- wonderfully, wackily, sadly, ironically -- only at the finale.

Meantime, we get a supporting cast made up of some terrific performers, chosen and directed with superb flair and finesse. Look for Elsa Zylberstein, Pip Torrens, Isabelle Candelier, Niels Schneider (above, left), Edith Scob and Mel Raido, each of whom does a fine job of bringing to life, often with very little screen time, the character in question.

Lots of ideas scatter and fly from the screen as the movie unfurls, chief amongst them, perhaps, is that of woman as sacrificial lamb to male desire. But don't let me turn you off with too much weighty theme, for that is but an added inducement in a film that has everything: romance, sex, intelligence, charm, humor and sublime deftness. Ms Fontaine maintains a tone here -- light, satiric, tricky and consistently surprising -- that could hardly be bettered.

Gemma Bovery, from Music Box Films and running a sleek 99 minutes, open this Friday, May 29. In New York City, you'll find it at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Landmark's Sunshine Cinema. In Los Angeles, look for it at The Landmark in West L.A, as well as at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5.  Soon it will be playing all around the country. Click here and scroll down to see currently scheduled playdates, with cities and  theaters.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Daniel Peddle's SUNSET EDGE: Don't let this precious narrative debut get lost in the shuffle

Another of those small, no-budget indie films likely to appear in theaters and then disappear before film buffs get the chance to view it, SUNSET EDGE -- the first narrative venture from Daniel Peddle, who has also made a couple of well-received-if-little-seen documentaries -- heralds the debut of someone I'd call a born filmmaker. Nowhere near perfect in terms of a story that attempts to fuse dream and reality, it nonetheless marks a writer/director (Peddle) and cameraman/editor (Karim López) cons-tantly alert to color & space, objects & mood, motion & stasis.

Because the movie Misters Peddle (shown at left) and López (shown below) have made is about a group of teenagers spending a day in an abandoned trailer park, and is also being publicized as a kind of thriller complete with Hitchcockian overtones, you might expect something quite different from what you get. Yet I think this difference ought to be apparent from the film's first few moments. While the initial shot -- full of promise and perhaps something more -- together with the first words we hear (one character telling another, "I don't think you should do it") indicate that
something may be (or go) wrong, because the teens we see and hear seem so real and actually rather likeable, and the camera-work so fluid and aware -- of nature, of humanity, of connection -- it is difficult to imagine some-thing too awful coming up. Anything can happen, of course, but given these kids and their decent and interesting behavior, would we want it to?

Our quartet (above) -- picnicking on the asphalt with Cheetos and a very weird drink -- kibbitz and carry on, with a bit of jealousy developing between boy and girl, then go their more-or-less separate ways for a time, which leads up to some problems: a missing cell phone, getting lost in the woods, and a possible interloper.

Then suddenly we're introduced to a whole new set of characters, which brings us to the "other" of this tale -- the interloper, or maybe the immigrant. Initially I imagined this character (richly brought to life by newcomer Gilberto Padilla, above) to be a Native American, but instead, it seems his roots are in Mexico. Set in North Carolina, from where I'm assuming the director hails, the film is so full of a sense of place you can practically touch and smell the locale.

Over the course of the movie we see youth and age, past and present and a good deal of memory-maybe-fantasy at work. The sound design and musical score -- both by Ian Hatton -- prove distinctive and lovely, adding immeasurably to the film's success.

As does the first-rate cast of novices chosen to act out the roles. Chief among these, and certainly the best (along with Padilla) of the actors is a lovely young woman named Haley Anne McKnight (two photos above). Her boyfriend is played by William Dickerson (above), and the remaining members of the quartet by Jacob Kristian Ingle (below)

and Blaine Edward Pugh (below). All of them are acquainted in real life, and they are able to bring this friendship to excellent and very believable ends on film -- or video, most likely, in this particular no-budget endeavor.

Also in the cast are three more impressive performers: Alex-Padilla-Maya as the younger version of our "other," Jack Horn (shown at bottom) as his father, and Lilianne Gillenwater (below) as the old woman we see in that transfixing opening shot, who proves to be all kinds of things to this movie.

Memory -- along with a bit of a ghost story -- plays at least as important a place in this film as does present-time action. The movie takes places in what seems like four distinct chapters, with the last connecting to the first in a way that makes dream and fantasy top reality. But whose dream is this? The characters'? Ours? Obviously, it is that of the filmmaker. The beauty and surprise of Sunset Edge reside in how remarkably he has instilled his dream into us. Mr. Peddle and his cast and crew are clearly a group from whom we'll expect more.

The movie, released by CAVU Pictures and running just 83 minutes, opens this Friday, May 29, in New York City (at the Cinema Village), in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Playhouse 7, and in Irvine at Regal's Westpark 8.

Friday, May 22, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD? Another case of misplaced, if not imbecilic, critical hosannas

If you're a fan of nearly non-stop action, you'll probably go for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, the third in a fortunately not-so-swift (the last one hit theaters in 1981) series of post-apocalyptic action movies about a taciturn non-hero who keeps saving the day. The first two films starred a much younger Mel Gibson; the mantle has now passed to Tom Hardy. The director of all three is Australian George Miller, whose best work is the under-rated but simply terrific Babe: Pig in the City.

Garnering a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, most of the plaudits seem to come from critics who are impressed that filmmaker Miller didn't go the constant CGI/green-screen route but used "reality" in his filming. Yeah, right. There's plenty of CGI here, folk, so don't imagine you're going to see amazing stunt work above all else. What you do see is lots of action and scenes of it that go on and on and on. They're impressive. For awhile. Mr. Hardy, above (and still seemingly wearing that mouthpiece from The Dark Knight Rises), has a nice face. So what's the point in keeping it covered, as it is through about half of this film? In any case, Hardy proves properly gruff with, of course, the required, caring interior.

Along for the ride -- she initiates it, in fact -- is Charlize Theron, above, complete with CGI-effected robotic wrist and hand, along with a flock of young ladies, below, who appear to be brides of

the weird-assed (and faced), power-mad -- gosh, aren't they all? -- dictator, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne (below), who gets to wear his own rather nonsensical facial mask throughout the film.

Tagging along, off and on, and with a very off-and-on sense of loyalty is a bizarre character played surprisingly well by Nicholas Hoult, below, who -- though covered in white paint -- does not have to wear any mask and thus provides the film's most compelling performance. In thrall to his crazy leader, as seem to be the entire populace, Mr. Hoult makes us care a bit about who he is what he is going through, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the film.

The problem here, for viewers who insists on more than mere action, is that the world depicted seems utterly free of  logic. How do these people we spend our two hours with (and the movie is at lest 30 minutes too long: the earlier Mad Maxes clocked in at around 90 minutes) manage to exist? We never see them eating (save a moment featuring a small surprise beetle), and only once does our hero take a drink of water. Mother's milk appears to be the meal of choice -- for the bad guys, at least -- but it that really enough to fully nourish a grown man?

The movie spends its first two thirds with the good guys running away from the bad guys toward some "greener" spot called home. The last third has them running back again toward their original and ghastly location, followed once more by the bad guys. That's the plot. The climactic chase, for all its ferocious action and death, is barely believable, while the result of that chase and the requisite toppling-of-the-villain is so ridiculously simple and easy as to approach camp.

Let me be clear: The movie isn't horrible; it's simply stunted. Sure, the action is well-executed, but a good movie, just like a good life, requires something more. Mad Max: Fury Road -- a B-movie raised, thanks to its multi-million-dollar budget, to something beyond its grasp -- arrived to surprisingly small box-office, considering its hype. I would expect a steep decline in its second week grosses, as well, once word-of-mouth sets in (the cinema we frequented had maybe a dozen in attendance at a late afternoon showing), so if you plan to see the film in theaters, better do it soon. Or wait for the Blu-ray/DVD.

Oh, yes: one more thing. Here's another 3D movie being shown in theaters that don't bother to get the projection right (we saw it at AMC's Kips Bay in NYC). Consequently the 3D looked dark and muddy throughout. And don't use the "Yes-but-this-is-post-apocalyptic" excuse, either, since most the movie takes place in the bright and sunny desert. Theaters are charging us more for 3D (which did not used to be the case), while giving us a third-rate viewing experience: One more reason why box-office grosses continues to decline, even as admission prices go up.