Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Are the Delorme years Cahiers du Cinéma's Yeezus?

The massive gray U.S.S. Enterprise is crashing towards earth. Its fate is unsure. It’s on fire and smoking. Behind it there is a blue sky filled with white clouds. This is the cover of the June 2013 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma and its title reads, Galaxie – J.J. Abrams.

Have they lost it? Why is Cahiers, one of the world’s best film magazines, championing such a mainstream production?

This is obviously a stupid question, because, if anyone knows anything about their history, let alone their recent years, would know that they’ve always championed mainstream films, and this cover continues to illustrate their youthfulness and iconoclasm.

In the last few years, under Stéphane Delorme, Cahiers also championed Abrams' Super 8, being probably the only magazine to take it seriously. A large "8" adorned that cover to correspond with the Événement Abrams and many of their critics considered Super 8 a Masterpiece (cf. J.J. Abrams est-il le nouveau Spielberg?), which is a rare evaluation for them.

In this new issue the Événement is La galaxie J.J. Abrams (18 pages). It includes Cyril Béghin’s great essay J.J. Abrams, which mixes biography with film analysis and elaborates on Abrams' career as far back as his early screenplays and television work (e.g. Forever Young, Felicity and Lost) highlighting his unique position of creating non-pretentious joyous pop fictions, his unique style that is part post-Spielberg and part pastiche, and his independence through his production company Bad Robot. Béghin also interviews Abrams “Design, inevitability and resolution,” and provides an annotated filmography, La boîte à fictions.

“For Abrams, experimenter of all forms of contemporary storytelling, the Stark Trek mission more than fulfilled all expectations,” begins Vincent Malausa’s review of Star Trek: Into Darkness, La tête dans les étoiles. After describing the films aesthetic, tone, work in genre, rhythm, politics, homages etc., Malausa brilliantly concludes by describing what makes Abrams important:
“Abrams renews with an idealism, innocence and a filmmaking finesse something that is particularly precious in the context of the actualities of Hollywood […] In light of the recent John Carter by Andrew Stanton, which was a box-office catastrophe for Disney, the smallest mistake that these super-auteurs make reinforces the zero-risk policy of the major studios. In this situation, J.J. Abrams is a major filmmaker, because, in fact, he links the Marvel system (by way of building his films within a dynamic franchise) and that of an auteur cinema, which is problematic in Hollywood.”
Malausa contributes a lot to the Cahiers ethos. In this issue Malausa also has a great Voyage article, Sur les traces de John McTiernan: McT le Disparu. (cf. Comment John MacTiernan a-t-il réinventé le cinéma d'action hollywoodien?) and has previously done one with Hong Sang-Soo. Malausa regularly has one Cahiers Critique in each issue, among other pieces, and, to cite examples from the last few years, he writes about action films (e.g. Django Unchained, Scream 4), an alternative mainstream cinema that has both style and depth (e.g. Monster University, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Meek's Cutoff, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol), auteur films (Cronenberg, Nichols, Hark), and certain art-films (e.g. Mystery, The Island, Avé, Habemus Papam).

This interest in mainstream Hollywood for Cahiers is in reaction to an academicism of certain art films and the state of French cinema. One could easily cite Truffaut's famous article Une certaine tendance du cinéma français as a general precursor.  To strengthen the reasoning behind this point, Cahiers' Cannes coverage illustrates their multifaceted thoughts on the current state of affairs regarding cinema.

Since Frédéric Boyer was fired from the head programmer at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes in 2011 after serving there for two years, Delorme, who also programs there, went from being supportive and optimistic about the festival (“Every year, there are the same laments: Cannes does not look to good this year. While they play the best movies that will come out in the following year.”) to using their coverage as an outlet to critique the academicism of certain art films, along with the negative effects of the curation of them -  joining the Cinema Scope editorial line of institutional critique. This, in short, describes their Cannes 2013 Événement, which includes 8 pages of critiques, from a variety of their writers, to 10 pages of stylish photographs of the actors and directors that they liked from the festival (e.g. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos, Kore-eda and Zhang-ke, Novak etc.).

The Cahiers Critique section in this issue is used as a side-bar to their Cannes coverage as it highlights some films that premiered there. It includes Frances Ha, L’Inconnus du lac, The Congress (all of which are, review + interview), Only God Forgives, People Mountain People Sea and Before Midnight. All of the other films released that month in Paris, which are worth reviewing, were included in their Notes sur d’autres films section. In their Le Journal section there is their standard Variety style highlight of industry news and a partial film-history section through the reviews of old Cahiers films (e.g. DVDs, exhibitions etc.).

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