Friday, January 30, 2009

One Class you do not want to miss

This was published in the Volume 69, Issue 20, Feb. 5-11, 2009 issue of the Fulcrum. —D.D.

Entre Les Murs (Lauren Cantet, 2008)

LAUREN CANTET'S THE CLASS, winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, is an engrossingly entertaining classroom drama. Written by François Bégaudeau and based on his semi-autobiographical novel Entre Les Murs. The line between documentary and fiction in The Class is often blurred. François Bégaudeau, autobiographical performance as the teacher, and the junior high students, all non-professional actors, bring an unmatched authenticity to their roles.Based on his own experiences, Bégaudeau's screenplay has a real life ear for classroom chatter and dynamics. His character is firm, charming and understanding and his outgoing approach, he ask the students to write up self-portraits, tries to bring out the inner-self of his students. The students are seen solely in the classroom and during recess but through their reflections, attitudes, style, appearance and clothing emerge three-dimensional characters. The students vary from being are smart, soft-spoken, ignorant, rude, contemptuous and aggressive. Consisting largely of foreigners they represent the country multi-ethnicity. Begaudeau struggles as he tries to teach them over a year. Begaudeau’s performance is endearing, as his persistence and hope that he can honestly help his students and change their lives is laudably idealistic. This idealism forces him to confront his moral standards. He has to choose between potential classroom hardships and overreaching. The films deep belief in the power of teaching comes through in teacher meetings where they express their concern and argue the multifaceted consequences of their decisions. Cantet’s direction sits you down within the classroom through his use of the steadicam he is able to close up each student and their peculiarities. His zooms are slight and perfectly used to increase the size of the speaker in the frame making everything more personal. The original French title Entre les Murs, an appropriate English translation would be Between the Walls is more appropriate as Cantet’s starts and ends his scenes in empty rooms. Focusing on the setting and its temporality with the foreseeable future when there will be a whole new set of student in between those walls. This is one class you do not want to miss.

In French with English subtitles.

—David Davidson

Sunday, January 25, 2009

outside established procedures

Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008)
** (worth seeing)

Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road, based on the novel by Richard Yates, is a period drama about divorce that's tense, tragic and might make you want to cry as it frankly deals with how two people come to terms with their unfulfilled expectations in marriage. The film tries to expose the underlining motivations of modern day society by examining its roots in 1955 post-war America. A great adaptation of the book that was trying expres the restraints that the Eisenhower society had on individuals and the people that went along or against it. April [Kate Winslet] has a romantic encounter with Frank [Leonardo DiCaprio] at a party that spirals them into a heady marriage. She starts off as a struggling actress that eventually becomes a house wife. He goes from working measly small job to a boring office job he hates. But before the melancholy settles in when they first met he confesses to her that he has high hopes but is unsure of what he wants to do in life. She is led to believe a life with him would
be full of excitement, perceiving him as ambitious and different, while in reality this blasé statement describes his idle approach to life and his uncertainty. They start out truly happy together, for a while at least, and you can see it in their enjoyment in the time they spend together alone. After getting a routine job and two children and settling down in a nice house on Revolutionary Road they make plans to sell the house and car to move to Paris. There April will support them while Frank will figure out what he really wants to do with his life. But through dumb luck Frank is offered an up and coming position at Knox Business Machines. Then the new job, social pressures, a baby on the way and the fright of trying something new creates a rift between them. April strong unfulfilled desire to move to Paris prods her to re-evaluate her life. She is no longer her fresh and capricious self. Her responses become a mere formality, a social reaction to meaningless words and statements. As their friends mentally ill son Jon Givings [Michael Shannon] poignantly puts it their lives are both hopelessness and empty. April, after a terrible fight between her and Frank, goes off into the woods for solitude and contemplation, she realizes she is trapped in this suffocating society and decides to reevaluate her fate. The film is worth seeing for the intense performances from both Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the complexity of the characters, and the charm of the 1950's.—David Davidson

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


“I’ll refrain from pursuing the theme of auteurism as a religious faith, probably heretical.”

The main difference is that auteurism depends upon the ability to amass a large amount of evidence…the very opposite of religious belief, which exists on pure ‘faith’. Indeed, it seems to me that auteurism has more in common with Darwinism, as an unarguable explanation of how films/people come into existence, and why they look the way they do. And, as with Darwinism, it constantly astonishes me that there are still individuals who deny all the evidence and insist that films are delivered by the stork.

Comment by Brad Stevens 01.21.09 @ 6:26 am

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

wrestling with the wrestler

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
* (Has redeeming facets)

The Wrestler is an example of vulnerable film making. The film depends on a repetitive formula of short establishing shot, close up, close up. The images have a lackluster quality to them with no manipulation of light and colour which residing effect is a very monotonous look and the long shots have a sense of imbalanced composition. Long handheld tracking scenes following Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, Mickey Rourke, on his way to the ring as the camera is placed looking at his back and follows him for a considerable amount of time. This same preparation and rituals are shown and constrasted when Randy is getting ready for his duties at his part time job working at a grocery store. This creates a unaesthetic slow paced scene which distracts from the narrative. The Wrestler follows Randys plight from being a washed up wrestler, to him learning of his hazardous condition, getting a deli job, attempt to rekindle a family life, realize all he has left is the legacy of 'The Ram', and in the end decides to partake in his ultimate match.-David Davidson

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Film as an emerging exciting art form

I picked up The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson with an insightful foreword by Andrew Sarris, who argues that Otis Ferguson was a precursor to André Bazin and early advocate of the Auteur theory, at the University of Ottawa library. The majority of the reviews are of esoteric films, many of which are not even available on dvd. But I managed to find a few interesting reviews for films I have seen that I decided to transcribe here. Mr. Ferguson passion for film art came out in his writing through his has apt ability to synopsize a film, describe the physical characteristics of actors and contextually provide an interesting perspective on pantheon directors.-David Davidson


The movies are always wonderful, but don’t say I sent you.
-Otis Ferguson

Otis Ferguson, 1907-1943, was a film critic for The New Republic during the 1930s and 1940s. The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson compiles his reviews, capsules and essays from his stint at the paper.

On Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)

It is about what happens to people-three French captives in particular, and the German commandant, and later the young German widow-in country behind the German lines; finally of the escape of two of the men... There is nothing to live for any longer, except to live-which becomes the main business of a strange, twisted world... But the truth is that in the special liquid form of pictures, an audience confused even for a moment is an audience losing altitude and that much heavier to get back up. A little more art (always as opposed to artifice or the arty) could have heightened the beauty and truth of this film, which already has as much as we've seen anywhere this year

On The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938)

The Lady Vanishes is a typical work of that genius in the art of motion pictures, Alfred Hitchcock, the overstuffed and delightful gentlemen from London. But Hitchcock chooses to use his genius where it will do the least harm to the most effect, and so while everything he does has such speed and clarity it's a pleasure to sit there over and over and watch him work, he works frankly in surface motion. There are human interest and sympathy because his people are always right; but the action is violent, the need for it somehow unreal and emotion does not mature... But it's just the thing for Hitchcock, who has more fun with the people on that train than a barrel of monkeys-the fun compartments, drugs, guns, and evil. It's as much comedy as straight plot, in fact, and some of the exploration of the English mind is as neat as you'll see, done with relish and droll good humor, planted not only in dialogue and perfect delivery but in the concept of type and situation. The acting here, too, is all of a piece with the mood of the thing; but more than any of the English-speaking film men, Hitchcock is a one-man show, getting every detail straight in his head and the way he wants it before the first camera starts rolling. He is almost an academy, too, because no one can study the deceptive effortlessness with which one thing leads to another without learning where the true beauty of this medium is to be mined.

On The Birth of a Nation (The Birth of a Nation, 1915)

Although D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is practically a celluloid shrine in American art, the social hopers, busy as ever with line and page of text, have found its ideology to be not ideal and gone to work on it accordingly. Protests. Picket lines. Grave noddings of the head like a roostful of penguins. It doesn’t really matter that outside of some magnificent large-action scenes, The Birth of a Nation is more like an early primitive than a classic.

On The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

The Maltese Falcon is the first crime melodrama with finish, speed, and bang to come along in what seems ages, and since its pattern is one of the best things Hollywood does, we have been missing it… Scene by scene, the picture has many good services-first of all those of the director, who has a genuine sense of suggestion and picture motion. Peter Lorre is never dull though much too often typed. There are Ward Bond, Barton MacLane, Gadys George, and Jerome Cowan, but the key man in the supporting cast is Sydney Greestreet, who does a marvelous and veteran creation, solid in the center of each scene, as the genial and menacing fat man. There is character in the picture and this, as well as the swift succession of its contrived excitements and very shrewd dialogue, is what gives the temporary but sufficient meaning required by its violent fantasy. And outside of the writer-director, the chief character influence in the story is Humphrey Bogart, a man of explosive action in an iron mask. He is not a villain here, though a pretty hard type; but it doesn’t make any difference: he has some of that magnetism you can feel through the screen; he is a villain with appeal. He has a good part here, a steady outlet for that authority and decision and hard level talk of his. But he fills it without trying and you’re with him.

Otis Ferguson, The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson, Ed. Robert Wilson, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1971, pp. 236-238, 260, 304, 390

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steam Room Sequence

T-Men (1947)

Director - Anthony Mann
Director of Photography - John Alton

Wallace Ford - The Schemer
Charles McGraw - Moxie

The Schemer : Hiya Moxie…Hot ain’t it… I didn’t know you took these steam baths Moxie.
Moxie : I don’t… Count If anything happened to these pipes a guy can kick off.
The Schemer : Yeah… Huh… I never thought of that…
The Schemer : Moxie… Im glad you came, I need to talk to you. This new guy Tony, today at the farmers market he bumped into a dame I think it was his wife, but Tony says he ain’t married… Listen Moxie, Tony even propositioned me, he’s double shuffling on the plates.
Moxie : Oh he did, did he.
The Schemer : He’s trying to rig me on the deal… Imagine… Moxie… We were friends… Moxie remember when I was up I used to help you, remember… Moxie, lets work out a scheme…
The Schemer : Moxie… Moxie… Moxie…

individualism, pronouncement and america

Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

cinephilic delights

Archangel (Guy Maddin, 1990)

(National Archives Auditorium, 395 Wellington Street, Saturday, March 7th, 7:00PM)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

a family at odds

The Godfather: Part III (Francis Ford Coppola, 1990)

The concluding film of The Godfather trilogy released 16 years after the second film does not recreate many of the original thrills. The earlier films seemed to take the best from the pulp gangster films of Howard Hawks with the developed traditionalist mise-en-scene of Jean Renoir to create the perfect hybrid between art and entertainment. The film is interesting to observe through an auteurial point of view, considering many Coppola themes. These themes include moral ambivalence, motivation for success and family conflicts. Like the other films in the trilogy, The Godfather III evokes a feeling of moral ambivalence in the audience: the audience both savors and regrets the on-going crime and violence. Where the former films emphasized the role of Italian culture of tradition, honor and strength the third is grounded on the yuppie movement that emerged in the 80s with Vincent Mancini, Andy Garcia, desire for personal advancement founded on ownership and consumption of material goods. Its concern on the conflicts that emerge in a family with so many strong individuals reached an epoch in this film where all the Corleone family members are all pursuing their own goals. If you follow the series their are many identifiable traits of Francis Ford Coppola imposed on Micheal Corleone. As the first film begins Micheal as a outsider who eventually returns to his family. This outsider personality was Mr. Coppola world view of the time. Prior to The Godfather he was making personal and independent films with his movie-production company Zoetrope. Only in dire time when faced with bankruptcy was he forced to make a commercial ganster picture. By the time of The Godfather: Part 3, he has turned his attention from making personel films to business, a wineyard, a hotel resort and still produced and directed. His family has then fully emerged in the film industry with his daughter Sofia Coppola was an actress and is now a filmmaker, Roman Coppola is a filmmaker and music video director, and his eldest son Gian-Carlo Coppola helped with Francis Coppola films until he was killed in a boating accident at the age of 26. It is this strong indepedent family that he is trying to recreate in the film. He gets his daughter Sofia Coppola to continue her role of Mary Corleone, she was uncredited in the formers, and he gets his friend, Martin Scorsese, mother Catherine Scorsese, one of the sweetest old ladys, to play the role of a woman in a cafe. Their are narrative and psychological gaps throught out the film that seem unbeleivable. Why would Micheal bring this quasi-stranger Vincent into his family and in such a short period of time make him the residing Godfather? Why are Vincent and Mary starting a inter-family relationship? Where are the police in all of this and what are their roles in the epic helicopter massacre? and why is Sofia Coppola such a terrible actress? There are many characterizations, stereotypes and situations that have been a tremendous influence on the gangster film genre, many of which can be seen in the successful television show The Sopranos. One memorable quote takes place when Micheal Corleone is brought back into the life of organized crime and he says "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." The latter films looked heavily forethought with a strong sense of mise-en-valeur while the former film scenes are usually bare of visual elements. Which itself seems more suited for a soap-opera melodrama. As a whole the film is interesting and insightful in the psychology and life of a strong individual and his interactions with family, friends and business partners. The film ends with a lonely vulnerable Micheal Corleone. He has has lost all the women in his life he has loved through his perceverance in the life he chose and all he has left is his thoughts and memories. What would have happened if Micheal had never decided to not go to Vito Corleone aid.-David Davidson

to flee or fight

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle, 2008)

Danny Boyles Slumdog Millionaire concerns are twofold: there is an emotionally engaging love story and an insightful cultural study on India. Jamal Malik from early on in his life growing up in Mumbai with his older brother, Salim, are portraits of the ever-present poverty of the city in which 60% of the population lives in slums. At an early age the two boys are brutally made aware of the necessity to fend for themselves when their mother is murdered during a riot. Through fleeing and fighting both brothers decide what path they are going to choose. The film takes on these same kinetic qualities having the actors in motion with fast-paced camera movement and intense editing. They experience exploitation from local thugs as children to go out to the streets and beg for money. This path will be followed by Salim as he later takes up arms and will be working for a criminal organization which seems to be responsible or at least have a hand in the urbanization of the city. Through the exposition to the high rates of unemployment and the trivialities of low-income jobs, such as working at fast food restaurants and serving tea, Jamal represents the everyman approach to the living conditions. Through savoring his memories of his childhood crush, Latika, instead of the emphasized 20 million rupees he can win participating on India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire the film remains humanistic in its approach and a statement on the importance of close relationships.-David Davidson