Monday, March 31, 2014

New Cinema Scope (Spring 2014)


The Seventh Art: Mark Peranson Interview

Make sure to check out the nineteenth issue of the Toronto video film-magazine The Seventh Art. In it there are great interviews with Mark Peranson (La última película), Ramon Zürcher (The Strange Little Cat), Frank Pavich (Jodorowsky’s Dune) and Ben Wheatley (A Field in England). Some other recent highlights include their interviews with Denis Côté, the Ross Brothers, and Hirokazu Kore-eda. And make sure to get a subscription to watch the entire interviews!

Matías Piñeiro at the Cinematheque (April 3 - 6)

The TIFF Cinematheque will be presenting Divertimentos: The Films of Matías Piñeiro on the Argentine filmmaker (Viola) from April 3rd to the 6th. Piñeiro will be introducing each screening along with a carte blanche.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

True/False 2014 - The Critical Takedown*

*Also make sure to check Adam Nayman's new book It Doesn't Suck on Showgirls and his article 'Hardbodies and Soul: The Professional Wrestler as Actor' in the new issue of Cinema Scope.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Everything and More: Jean-Marc Vallée's American films

«Les petits films indépendants ne se retrouvent pas aux Oscars avec six nominations. La vie est étrange et nous réserve de belles surprises comme celle-ci!» - Jean-Marc Vallée

Jean-Marc Vallée is too underrated. Why was there no footage of him from the Oscars? How come 24 Images and Cahiers du Cinéma still haven’t championed him? He’s one of the most original directors of the Twenty First century but he’s still accused of making télé-films! Something is wrong about that! And it does not help that he’s probably too modest to acknowledge the importance of his singularity, so like Spielberg and the directors of the Classical Hollywood studio era, he just describes himself as having a ‘style’ and dutifully acknowledges the work of his collaborators. But deep down he’s a personal artist who radically experiments with form and has something to say, which is rare in an industry that favors homogeneity.

Vallée especially stands out in the context of Canadian cinema. He is similar to other recent Québécois directors like Denis Villeneuve and Philippe Falardeau who, through the help of new funding and production bodies, have gone to the United States to make films with the major studios. This comes with the potential concern that it might water-down his individual style or make them less "Québécois" (whatever that means). But it's the benefits that are more important like bigger stars and higher production values but most importantly a wider audience.

Vallée speaks about his ambitions in a discussion of C.R.A.Z.Y.,
“I didn't censor myself. I didn't hold myself from writing something with fantasy and magic. This is what we do in Quebec, is we know we don't have big budgets and we write ourselves more realistic stories. They're not wild, they're not crazy, they're not magical. So I didn't want to do that and I said, 'Fuck it, I'll write myself a big story and a big film and I'll do it in English.'”
Vallée's use of imagination, creativity and scope with C.R.A.Z.Y. and then his following films broke the mold of what could be considered a Québécois, as well as a Canadian, film. Going to Hollywood, which has been a regular practice during his career, was just the logical conclusion of what Vallée has been doing. The cinema’s wide-screen is the director’s white canvas and Vallée uses it to its fullest effect to speak to the widest audience. And with his two most recent films Café de Flore and Dallas Buyers Club he has reached a peak in his style of aesthetic expressivity.

Another important thing is that it is not an empty style in favor of visual tricks nor a depersonalized approach of well-crafted storytelling nor is he pursuing the traditional qualities of how a film is typically judged like representation, characters, narrative etc. Vallée is pushing cinema into a place that it has never gone before as he accentuates its abstraction and pathos. Just watch the children in Café as they're guided by such strong feelings or Ron Woodroof's fight for survival to see how Vallée creates these unreconcilable spirits.

Vallée is like a termite who, through editing and sound design, can get into the infrastructure of his film’s style and the DNA of its characters. As Robert Koehler writing for arts meme nicely highlights, “Vallée directs with Ron’s brand of chutzpah, immersing himself in American rebelliousness much like his previous three features were branded with Québécois (C.R.A.Z.Y.), British (The Young Victoria) and French (Café de Flore) flavor.” But his work is still personal and its focus on specific human experiences has wide universal appeal.

In the past one of the greatest filmmakers of the Twentieth Century the Québécois director Gilles Carle showed in his films how Québec can sometimes be trapped behind road-blocks. This applies equally to the director, and to a lot of Québécois cinema in general, whose important place in film history has unfortunately been forgotten and whose films are regrettably still not even available on English DVDs. So how does Vallée then respond to this? What then is one of the key motifs in his cinema? Crossing borders.

Whether it is by car or plane in Vallée’s cinema there are no restrictions, geographical or even temporal, as his characters demonstrate a willingness to explore and to push boundaries. Whether it is personal, sexual or political Vallée consistently deconstructs social norms to show that the old ways of doing things is over and that there needs to be the creation of a new world. And if there are biblical references tucked away in his films it is because for Vallée life is worth fighting for and redemption is possible.

What it means to fight!


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Jean-Marc Vallée sur Télé-Québec

Follow the link to watch a mid-career Jean-Marc Vallée talk about his films and motives as well as clips from his rare short-films Les fleurs magiques and Les mots magiques :

Monday, March 17, 2014

Jean-Marc Vallée’s Early Films

- “People don’t remember that fifteen-twenty years ago you made Liste noire, and then you went to the states, and made Los Locos, and Loser Love,Daniel Pennac.
- “Yeah, let’s talk more about those,” Jean-Marc Vallée.

Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) was the artistic breakthrough of his career, for himself and his public, and it seems to have overshadowed his first three feature films: Liste noire (1995), Los Locos: Posse Rides Again (1997), and Loser Love (1999). Since then these hard-to-find titles have only gotten even more lost in obscurity. But if Vallée is an auteur (as I contend) what do these earlier films have to say about the director and his posterior films? What are they even about? Are they even filmed interestingly?

As much as I would love to claim their brilliance, to further validate Vallée’s importance, especially against his unfair critical neglect, these films are rougher works, that are not up to par with his more recent films. They are more in line with failed ambitious early films by other major directors like Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (1953), Spielberg’s Amblin’ (1968), Solondz’ Fear, Anxiety & Depression (1989) and Shyamalan’s Praying with Anger (1992). But they still offer microcosms of themes and stylistics that Vallée would later refine which for that reason makes them worthy of analysis for a better understanding of his career.

Vallée graduated in film from the Université of Québec in Montréal.  Liste noire is his first full-length feature. Unlike the American term ‘blacklist’, which has its connotations of McCarthyism, in French liste noire is a judicial document listing individuals that are judged to be undesirable. The film is set in present-day Montreal and it opens with a judge having sex with a notorious call girl and then the police busting them. In court, against her lawyer’s council, she hands the judge Jacques Savard (Michel Côté) a list of all her clients, which includes some of his peers and influential politicians. The family-man Jacques is up for a promotion and there is a lot at stake in this case. His choice to reveal the circumstantial list is made even more complicated when threats start arriving and his peers start getting killed. But it’s never really clear who is responsible for these crimes and as it turns out Jacques actually might have a dark side.

The re-working of a classic genre, the murder intrigue, in a low-budget financial model makes Liste noire similar to the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple (1984). Its theme of alienation is reminiscent of Atom Egoyan's early films. The film was a big commercial success and was nominated for several Genies, as later on C.R.A.Z.Y. would be. The success of Liste noire would allow Vallée to go to Hollywood for the first time, where he would make his next two films. Liste noire would be remade in English by Sylvain Guy as The List (2000) with Ryan O’Neil and Ben Gazzara. As well Vallée’s collaboration with Michel Côté would lead to their future collaboration on C.R.A.Z.Y., which Côté would convince Vallée to film in Montreal and which he would help get financed.

The original Posse (1993) by and starring Mario Van Peebles tells the story of an African-American posse in the post-Civil War American West who are being unfairly chased by their racist ex-Colonel and his troops. It ends with a showdown in a town between its new black settlers and the racist capitalist that wants to tear it down to profit from the building of a new train route. The follow-up to Posse, Los Locos, which is not as good, focuses on Chance (Van Peebles) who gets recruited to help a Sister move a closing convent’s developmentally-challenged residents. On the website René’s Page there is an impressive lengthy review of Los Locos by Marguerite Krause who highlights the humanity of its main characters and its “gritty realism” while having caveats about its weak structure and lack of character back-story. A subsequent influence Los Locos would have on Vallée is that the characters with Down syndrome in Café de flore was sparked by an interest he had working with an actor with the condition from it.

One wonders what could have attracted Vallée to the project of Los Locos after Liste noire? There are two possible answers: it is his attempt to infiltrate the film industry, as well as as an exercise to test his skills at directing, working with actors and editing. This transition from Québécois cinema to Hollywood, which recalls the career of Ted Kotcheff, would become a regular working practice for Vallée. For example, he would go make The Young Victoria (2009) for Martin Scorsese in England after C.R.A.Z.Y, and then Dallas Buyers Club (2013) with Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto after making the more personal Café de flore (2011).

Loser Love is probably the most interesting film out of Vallée’s early three (and the only one accessible on DVD) for the professionalism of its direction, high production values and the actor’s performances (Laurel Holloman, Andy Davoli). It’s about a woman, who after getting fed up of her emotionally abusive boyfriend, plans, with her best friend, to kill him and to make it look like it was her father that did it. Loser Love along with Liste noire, and maybe less so in Los Locos, shows Vallée’s interest in personal desires manifested through love and sex, the changing norms of interpersonal relations and their social acceptance, and an interest in judiciary procedures (e.g. the trial in Liste, the psychiatrist appointments in Loser) and their limiting use value. But the problem with all of these films is that they’re not personal and Vallée seems to be working for hire.

It’s not until C.R.A.Z.Y., working with an autobiographically shared screenplay by Vallée and François Boulay, that he would implement his signature mark, that of a personal fresco cinematographically rendered, which would then guide his following films. At first C.R.A.Z.Y. was going to be set in Boston, partly influenced by Gus van Sant’s Good Will Hunting (1997), but through convincing and financing, Vallée was able to set it in Montreal to tell his story, without any compromises. It is this personal impulse, in contrast to being told what to do, that differentiates Vallée’s early films from his later ones. He’s now keeping a fast working pace as he is in post-production on Wild and then is planning another American, French and Québécois film. You just know that they’re going to be good!

Liste noire ☻ Los Locos ☻ Loser Love



Luo Li's Emperor Visits the Hell (March 19th @ Double Double Land)

MDFF will be presenting Luo Li's Emperor Visits the Hell on Wednesday, March 19th at 8PM at Double Double Land.

Baltimore Based (March 18, 8PM @ Videofag)

Regional Support Network presents: BALTIMORE-BASED
Co-presented by The Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT) and VideoFag

 for w.g. sebald (travel without travel), Stephanie Barber, 2011, DV
The Human Body Part 1, Jon Bevers, 2012, DV
Self-tending, Catherine Borg, 2010, DV
Discuss Winter, Mark Brown, 2009, DV
Centralia, PA, Nick Clasing, 2013, DV
TITLE 17, Skizz Cyzyk, 1990, DV
Play Nice, Liz Donadio, 2010, DV
Belson Blues, Max Eilbacher, 2013, DV
REVLON/CLINIQUE/OPI REDUX, Kate Ewald, 2013, 16mm
The Enchanted Forest, Lorenzo Gattorna, 2011, 16mm-to-DV
Smoke & Fire, Dina Kelberman, 2013, DV
Nascar study 1, Justin Kelly, 2011, DV
8===>~~~~( . )( . ), Alan Resnick, 2012, DV
Beam Splitter, Jimmy Joe Roche, 2011, DV
Gowanus Haze, Meg Rorison, 2012, 16mm
Entropy, Branden Rush, 2012, DV
All or Nothing, Fred Worden, 2013, DV
Life is an Opinion, Fire a Fact, Karen Yasinsky, 2013, DV

Short films and videos by Baltimore moving image artists curated by Kate Ewald (who will be in attendance), Lorenzo Gattorna and Meg Rorison of Sight Unseen.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pierre Eisenreich sur Dallas Buyers Club (Positif, N.636)

Oriane Sidre sur Dallas Buyers Club

 "Porté par quelques tâtonnements et certains poncifs du genre, Dallas Buyers Club demeure cependant un excellent film, notamment grâce à son dynamisme et le caractère assumé de son personnage. Tout le titre le livre, c'est la mise en place de ce club, cette association atypique fournissant des médicaments illicites permettant aux personnes atteintes du sida de calmer leur douleur, qui va constituer le sujet central."

Follow the link to read Oriane Sidre's great review of Dallas Buyers Club, Passer un deal avec la maladie, at her blog Lysao.

It Doesn't Suck!

The local film-critic Adam Nayman will be having a launch for his new monograph It Doesn't Suck on Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls on Friday, March 14th at 9PM at the TIFF Bell Lightbox before he introduces the film. It Doesn't Suck is one of the best recent film books for the spirit of Nayman's endeavor to redeem Showgirls from its disreputable reputation through the erudition of his research and the passion and thoughtfulness of his analysis. To give one example Nayman cites that the French director Mia Hansen-Løve is a big fan of the film and that the discussion of the film will play a key role in her upcoming film Eden (I, II). There are many other great revelations regarding Showgirls to be had. A must read!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Michel Ciment on The Trial

Michel Ciment is one of the most influential film critics and is the chief editor of one of the most important film magazines Positif. Here is his legendary first contribution to it, in an original Toronto Film Review translation, on Orson Welles’ The Trial (June 1963, N.53). – D.D.
Citizen K: Amerika

Welles adapted The Trial as an artist and a poet; this is sufficiently rare that it deserves to be studied closely. All cinematographic adaptations are by necessity an interpretation. Kafka for the first time inspired a film. So far there has been sociologist, theoreticians, psychoanalysts, and philosophers that have searched in Kafka’s oeuvre the confirmation of their theories, having interpreted him to find what they desired, without bothering to analyze what Kafka truly did: the art of the novelist and the poet. Welles offers us a work that is one of interpretation, one potential extension of The Trial, but he does not either cease to be Welles, that is to say as a man that expresses himself by a certain plastic conception of the world and by a sense of the relationship between beings, that comes across through the art of the screen. The path that leads most surely to the fidelity to a work by way of a fidelity to oneself, a rare conjunction, but here that takes place. The path that is here traced avoids at once a faithful illustration, a reproduction that would be both sterile and illusory, that Therese Desqueyroux by Franju is the latest example, and an outright treason, which is more frequent and probably even more deplorable.

Kafka's novel paradoxically offered guarantees for such an enterprise. The action of the novel seemed to me to be potentially boring, since The Trial stands precisely in this well defined genre that emerged in the 18th century and that found its fullest development in the psychological works of the 19th century. In this one here, in effect, the volition for realism, the attention to characterization, and the logical articulation of intrigue offers to the commentators an ample matter of analysis, with a small margin of false interpretation. The Trial, instead, like all of Kafka’s stories, seems singularly open. Not that all interpretations are possible, but its symbolism doesn’t freeze its meaning (like any true symbolism) and it offers the viewer a multiplicity of interpretations. It relates curiously to the great American novels by an unquestionable power of poetic evocation, an undeclared philosophical intention, a Manichaeism vision of the world but not without an ambiguity, in short a deep unrealism at the level of the narrative’s structure that belongs to the fable or to the symbolic narrative. Just think of Moby Dick or The Scarlet Letter or Light in August or The Great Gatsby to see what these works that are bare of European influences have in common, which are able to find a mythical grandeur proper to works of young civilizations.

The Trial therefore lent itself to a poetic interpretation and also had the potential to be restricting like all other major literary works. Welles was naturally brought to give it a cinematographic form. First of all, his undoubted genius assured us that the film would be of high quality and ambition. The nature of his earlier films belonged to this tradition that we’ve discussed, the deepest the American art has to offer us (this does not, of course, exclude a European influence, although the most obvious one is that of Shakespeare, which is precisely anterior to the bourgeois art of the last few cycles). Mr. Arkadin, Touch of Evil, The Lady from Shanghai, Citizen Kane (which made ​​me think at times irresistibly to Fitzgerald’s novels), in their melodrama, had the symbolic richness of a fable and only delivered their most profound meaning at the level of the poetic and philosophical interpretation. As well his volition (partly realized) to bring to the screen Moby Dick and Don Quixote, well stated the nature of his artistic and moral concerns.

It was five years ago that Welles stated that he was interested in, "victims of police and State abuse than towards those with money, because today the State is more powerful than money." The coordinates for the birth of this work were in place. We must now look at it as the fulfillment of the most beautiful promise, this being the biggest exception. It’s at the level of forms, its poetic reverie, that Welles and the consistency of his vision is located. The Trial is a film and it is as a film that it should be judged. We’ll thus avoid the pitfall, that a lot of critics fall, of comparing it to one detail of their book and their personnel conception of Kafka.

The film is constructed like a long descent into hell where progressively the hero loses ground. The exacerbation gets more and more intense up to the final suicide: this construction recalls Maldoror’s songs in Dante. Like for Lautréamont, there is a delirious progression that affects the character and the spectator; but a delirium that is organized and methodological. The long-shots of the beginning (the scenes with the two men, then with Mrs. Grubach and Miss Bürstner) contrast with the precipitation of the final scenes that are organized through a montage really quickly or by endless tracking shots like the one that follows K as he is being chased in the gallery by the girls.

This circular construction or rather this spiral journey towards a center is accentuated by the camera movements by Welles that surround the characters and never leave them space to stabilize. The entire progression is also comparable to a huge spider we where progressively K will be trapped and where the center would be Titorelli’s place with the slates as the limits. This cage works with the court and the city, abolishing the notion of space that had gradually disappeared since the beginning of the film. And K’s housing is clearly differentiated from his office, itself distanced from the courts. Yet the spectator, slowly as the film develops, loses all spatial sense and the painter's house, the Tribunal and the church henceforth communicate with each other.

In this undividable space is superimposed an infinite time. There are no references to time given during The Trial. The unsettling noise from the ticking alarm that indicates its 6:14AM in the beginning scene is the first and last measurement of time.  

Marthe Robert, in his magisterial essay on Kafka*, notes that K is the only character in the novel and what is happening in him constitutes the story that is happening around him. Welles understood that the very nature of cinema was incompatible with the specifically literary success of a book like The Trial, where the illusion of objectivity came from the absolute subjectivity of the narrative. Unable to play on two levels like Kafka, Welles knew to not place unusual events in a otherwise deliberately realistic narrative, which would have been the solution that would have corresponded to the first impressions of the reader, but which would have prevented any profound interpretation of the fable. True to himself and by the same occasion Kafka (and in agreement with Marthe Robert, and no offense to Bernard Dort**), Welles deliberately projected into the decor and in the details of the narrative that phantasms and obsessions of the hero. This rejoins him to what Kafka wrote in his journal:  "Far from oneself there takes place history's story, the history of the world of your soul." The narrow parallelism between the world and the self, the fantasy universe disturbs and haunts what we contemplate, a faithful reflection of the problems of K, which is conveyed to us through this voluntarily unreal style. The decor and the world of the film are formed by figures created by K, "and for this reason it is why they would not appear in his absence. "*** The spectator may be shocked by this apparent betrayal of the spirit Kafka and attack Welles for this deviation, but it is actually a profound interpretation, perhaps un-loyal to the letter, which he is contemplating.  

The Imaginary Prisons 

Just like for each new film by Welles, people did not fail to mention gratuitous virtuosity, calls that it is a masterpiece, and describe it as part of an anthology. More than ever, yet, the coherence of its vision and the perfect adequacy of its themes and style, give this work by Welles its most convincing quality. It is vain to repeat the impressive continuity in the expression of Welles since Citizen Kane that can prevent any accusations of maniérisme, and to prove on the contrary the persistence of his unique search for a moral and an aesthetic, authentic and personal.

In the world of cinema where fluff is increasingly placed on the viewer, it creates suspicion in the spectator, and if, moreover, they are French, he is wearied of excess and grandiosity because, "we don’t do that." Also it should be noted how the Wellesien stylistic is appropriate to its theme. The low ceilings make the choking sensation, the claustrophobia that K regularly suffers from and that leads him to near fainting. The intensity of the decor that weighs on the hero translates in plastic terms the physical anguish that K feels. It attains in one of its culminating high points in the too brief sequence where the two employers that have stopped K are tortured with whips in the miniature of his office. The camera swings, searching in vain for a place to sit - this blurriness invades the screen – and the dark lighting succeeds in creating shadows to create a hallucinatory impression. It is clearly evident here that Welles, whose supreme at creating artifice, utilizes all the technical resources, and yet, through this artifice, he finds the strength of the material that is drawn from life, and this impression is undeniable and truthful. This bronze door, these tortured men suddenly remind us, along with another scene in the film, of hiding places and of death camps.

This makes Welles in his constant pursuit of truth very close to Kafka. Have we remarked enough that the film by Welles doesn’t testify to the pursuit of beauty, like it is in the sense for Antonioni, Visconti or Murnau. The beauty of his oeuvre is that of a great inspiration, of a seer in the pursuit of a veritable metaphysics. In Kafka, people flee K’s gaze in the search for a truth; everyone slips away to better protect themselves. This world that escapes in front of the quest of the hero finds expression in Welles in its famous chiaroscuro, a mock object for many people. Yet it is essentially the plastic equivalent of this suspension of time that we’ve discussing, or again of this impression of the condemned, this expectation of death. The grays that envades the film splendidly restores this moment of awakening, "between waking and sleeping, where reality is still unstable, fragmented, and where anything is possible. "****

The Trial would then also be a nightmare of an awakening. Welles does not exclude this ironic dimension of The Trial, but he does not let it be the key to the film, like as some have accused it for. He simply imagines Kafka's work in its complexity. The English commentators have said, in effect, that some have compared the logic of the book to that of a dream; and to say nothing more. Welles opens the film with a shot of K waking up, and it is interesting to note that by an artifice of mise en scene, there is the impression of a doubling that is coarse and superimposed. We see the chamber through the eyes of K, and then K rises, moves around in the chamber, while the point of view of the camera is still and then is at the same height and place where K was just at, as if he was looking at himself. Several times in the film, this impression is felt by the spectator, emphasizing the reflexive character of the narrative, there being distance from the hero by himself, just like it is in Kafka.

The impression of loneliness that we have seen, made ​​by the overwhelming décor, is reinforced by another aspect of the decor, even more striking than the latter and not less Wellesien: the immensity of the space. In these huge locations where voices repeat in echoes, with all of these innumerable metal stairs, horizons that recede, ceiling with their hanging pulleys and ropes, these scaffolding, these are sets where the visions of men are lost, irresistibly remind us of Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons, the black chambers of a visionary mind.***** K, in effect, is and is not in prison and these places that seem to be a huge cell and which are not, are the perfect architectural frame to render his interior experience. We also saw in Piranesi an immanent justice, just like in Dante's Inferno, and the absence of links between the parties and the characters bring us closer to the world of The Trial, like also it’s ominous atmosphere and absence of any plant life. Not one flower, not even one plant from Welles, if not then one of its final shots, so poignant, where a tree reflected in the water gives the death of the fugitive, the first and last image of nature, the sense of a terrible lost for man. One must just remember the Thatcher memorial and the palace in Citizen Kane, to understand the attention and obsession Welles brings to this.

This unusual ensemble is reinforced by a multiplicity of surprising details aimed at creating a "dislocating feeling" in the spectator. The wife of the official washes her clothes in a huge hall of the Tribunal, where this gigantic door, that K can’t close since the handle is so high. We could cite an infinity of examples, but it is more interesting to look into, for a specific example, the way Welles accentuates this unreal atmosphere. At the lawyer’s there are thousands of lit candles that give the huge space the appearance of a Renaissance palace, and the unreasonably large bed which occupies the center supports this belief. The stranger would not go further, if suddenly a reference to common sense would provide him with this realization. The uncle speaks of a failure, where the explanation is spoken normally, even with the orgies which would be impossible in terms of the number of people. This short sentence makes one conscious of that any explanation of common sense is impossible and that we are in fact facing a lack of meaning.

The normal customs, at this point, don’t exist for Welles and instead there is only two forms of architecture; one, futuristic, with these huge termite-like mounts, rows of severe-looking balconies, this endless hall where the typewriters crackle and the busy ant-like humans work, where the camera slowly rises; and, the other, pre-diluvian, as we have already evoked, and that Welles has been using since the action in Macbeth. Neither one nor the other are contemporary and are not made ​​for the measure of man.

Description of Combat

The man isn’t necessarily absent. The care with which Welles develops the décor might suggest a dehumanization of his art. This is to accuse the artist of a fault that the universe is responsible for. Welles is simply testifying to a loss of integrity in the modern man. The décor, a parallel physical universe to the mental universe of the hero, is the frame of his existence and of his evolution, and is always seen in function of K. This is what is so central to the work for Welles the humanist. It was in K’s engagement with the world and with others that we find as in Kafka, the Heart of the film.

There are many characters that remain unknown to the spectator, and the totality of them only exists in relation to the presence of K. Once they leave, they vanish. This lack of secondary characters leads to their nature having a dimension that is rendered solely by the point of view of the narrative. Therefore Miss Bürstner’s friend is characterized by only a single physical detail, the sound of her mechanical leg, and her unique appearance is presented in an extremely slow traveling-shot that keeps her at a distance from us, not showing us her face. It is that for K, she will remain unknowable, "the friend of Miss Bürstner." It is that the man is for for others only a name, a label. Like in all of Welles’ films, the name of the hero is repeated a lot by those he meets. “Mr. K, Mr. K,” that nagging call reminds the hero how arbitrary his name is for him since for him he’s an “I” and not a name. It is bureaucracy that imposes civility as a given state to all existence.

This void that separates humanity finds itself confirmed by the conversations, which perpetually overlap without ever coming together, a cacophony where K tries in vain to find himself. In their joint work, the uncle suddenly leaves K, then re-joins him, a perpetual and absurd back and forth. Just think of the similar scenes in Kane and Arkadin in particular to see how this proliferation of quick verbal dialogue alienates human relations. It is interesting to note in this regard how Welles is different than the most modern pursuits like that of Antonioni that aims to interrupt suddenly the scenes before they become dramatic, adding to the contrary this relational dimension, and to stretch the scene towards infinity, to the threshold of exasperation, leaving his actors exasperated.

There is in Welles, home de cinéma par excellence, a sense of drama that is itself theatrical: the scene and not the shot is the filmic unifier in The Trial. This stretching of scenes is not incompatible with a sense of ellipses, that Welles possesses to the highest degree, and that accentuates the arbitrary character of the events that abruptly occur in the life of K. If we add the frequent use of depth of field that allows for two or three simultaneous actions, and that sometimes superimposes off-screen conversation, like in the long scene at the lawyers, we would have an idea of the condensation that Welles achieves and that allows him in a two hour of film, to give the equivalent of a three hundred page book, while remaining faithful to the events and the dialogue: a challenge that has never before been fulfilled by such a rich work.

Welles studied under another angel the nature of relationships between the characters. Because of the absence of connections as we’ve evoked is juxtaposed an equally cruel alienation. In the relationship between Block and the lawyer, we have, like in Les bonnes or Le balcon by Genet, lighting that compels and constrains certain social functions. Block needs the lawyer, and the reverse-shot that gets him noticed by Mr. Huld shows his enslavement. But the attention by Mr. Huld of Block if it indicates his dominance, also shows that for Huld, as he says himself, that all of the accused have something fascinating about themselves. While K is dissected at the lawyers, this character here seems to be amputated by himself.

It is this moral sense that the lawyer can’t live without his clients; there is like a sadomasochistic relationship that we find here in these love scenes, which are treated often, in a register, like the aquarium scene in The Lady from Shanghai and where the woman gives free rein to her expressed desires.

It is by now clear that the abstract society that K runs away from is incomprehensible. This court and trial recall, even in its expressions, Lang’s M, which itself was a prophet of, as was the work of Kafka, Nazism. The little boy who introduces himself by hand, like all the girls at Titorellis, testifies a lost innocence. The long lines of people with lost looks to them, to the skeletal bodies, with hurt necks, posed and ready to die, scare the spectator and give them troubling shivers. The end captures the novels profound essence that for Kafka was captured by the suicide, that of a suffocation. That Welles had wanted to finish with a dynamite explosion that transforms into an atomic cloud, how could one blame him, since he’s getting at the most profound anxiety of modern man and the collective responsibility. The individual who searches in vain to learn the truth about the law dies as a victim of a resigned world, long before him, to let oneself be destroyed, slowly, from the inside.

The Welles film is then the description of a combat, the lost battle, this isn’t even questionable it’s necessary. This is his first work where there is a conflict that contributes to its greatest richness. In his previous films, his characters threw themselves with an amazing violence force against... Nothing. His heroes were the demagogues, the world organized against them, and contributed to their death. Here, it remains terrifying for all.

It is no wonder that he man who started his first film by citing Coleridge and Kubla Khan, has pursued in his later works these mysterious correspondences that mix reality with dreams. Welles’ oeuvre reveals a deep imagination. It might appear to be paradoxical to say this, that as with Kafka, his desire is to “decipher the indecipherable and to give order to chaos," since it seems he takes so much joy to throw out red herrings and to give free rein to his tumultuous genius. Yet Welles’ vision is so totally chaotic. When he states that he spends a lot more time editing than filming, it is that Welles carries within him, the montage, it is the organizing of chaos, the transformation of the work into art within the limits of his voluntary and to not betray his more intimate dreams.

Doesn’t what the Surrealist Gracq said apply more to Welles than to any other filmmaker? “There was this essential virtue to claim that at all instances the expression of totality of man, of a mixture of acceptation and refusal, a constant separation and reintegration, and he was able to maintain within the heart of this contradiction, to maintain at its most extreme point the tension of the two simultaneous attitudes that make this fascinating and unlivable world ours. The glare and fury.”****** The Trial leads us to one of these poles, in stages where this search aims for equilibrium that is against what is apparently the work of Welles.

P.S. – It seems to me that three dominating films by their stature of this cinematographic year are: L'Eclisse, Viridiana, The Trial. The quality of their success probably comes from the shared volition of their authors of not sacrificing any of the constituent elements of their oeuvre and their relationship to the world, their creators and to art. André Breton defined, in an article on the ‘Minotaur’, the duties of the modern artist, and it is sufficient to necessarily transpose them to see how these ideas remain valid today to explain the enchanting power of these works that concern all of us.

“At the hour where Barcelona is falling apart due to deprivation under a hellish sky, or where the days of liberty seem to be counting down, the work of the artist reflect nothing tragic in their apprehension of their times, they obstinate to render the world as it is... To believe in the subjects that they choose and the way that they treat them, it would be only sensible to the amenities the table, as an intimidate attractions designed only for those that can afford such luxury... While less than ever to do depend closely on contemporary realities than that of the artistic themes, that we continue to believe are artistic, that above all, must be about love rather than anger or pity. We refuse at least as tendentious, as reactionary, all images that the painter or poet propose to us today of a stable universe, where the menu is that of a sensory pleasure, not only of taste but also of but exaltation. They pretend that art is already ahistorical; while the problem is no longer whether a a work of art “holds together” for example in its frame, but if it stands aside the social realities of its day.”*******

Michel Ciment

* Gallimard, 1960.
** In France/Observateur, 27 December 1962, N.660.
*** Marthe Robert (op cit).
**** Marthe Robert.
***** Marguerite Yourcenar: “Sur Piranese, NFR-January. 1961.
****** Julien Gracq: Pourqoui la literature respire mal, in Preferences, Jose Corti, 1960.
******* Cited by J.-F. Revel in L’Oeil, May, 1962. Article from 1939.

L’amour du cinema: 50 ans de la revue Positif

Similar to what I wrote about the Actes Sud description of Positif; the best descriptions of the magazine usually comes from its home base whether it is in its editorials, table of contents, reviews etc. Just like how on the Actes Sud website Positif's different generational writers emphasizes its diversity: “This coexistence of generations creates a perpetual dialogue, lively and sometimes contradictory, which makes Positif a magazine that we can truly say has a "spirit" or "tone" that has evolved with its new writers, rather than replacing one group by the direction of an other.” 
Another good description of Positif comes from the back-jacket of their collection of fifty years of their writing (Gallimard, 2002), which is a more thorough overview than the American edition. The book consists of fifty essays that have concise contextualized introductions that place the review within the director’s career and its place within the magazine's history. There are also great introductory text by Stéphane Goudet, Michel Ciment and Alain Masson. In an unsigned text, though the anthology was put together by Goudet, the back-cover highlights another important aspect of Positif, “how to best express and convey one's love for the seventh art?” - D.D

Known by cinephiles around the entire world, the magazine  Positif is celebrating its fifty year anniversary. One of the best ways to celebrate this anniversary consists of republishing some of the articles that have marked its history. This anthology tries to best reflect the tastes the aesthetic and political positions of the magazine. Fifty years of film criticism all the way to the present, but all of the texts were contemporary of when these films came out. Without excluding its polemics (like on the New Wave or Rossellini), the priority was accorded to the analyses that were founded on enthusiasm and to the directors that represent the singular indentity of Positif. The ensemble of around fifty films composes a rich and varied panorama of half-a-century of world cinema, all the while trying to answer the fundamental question of all criticism: how to best express and convey one's love for the seventh art?

Recommended Tumblr: Les Cahiers Positifs

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

A forgotten Canadian “genius” subject of new documentary film

He toiled in obscurity for years, producing genius. No one knew his name. It drove him mad. He cut his ear off. He died in an institute. Today, Van Gogh’s art is priceless.

Here’s another. Moby Dick was panned by critics. Melville passed away alone in a dilapidated flat somewhere cold, and miserable in New York state, with pennies in his pockets. Today, of course, the quest for the Great White is a crucial member in our collective story-telling repertoire.

Over-looked genius is one of those storylines we simply can’t get enough of – it’s probably the reason, one of them anyway, why Searching for Sugarman snapped up its Oscar. It was the story of forgotten genius made right. We found him. He got his chance, after all. It felt damn good to see.

And then there’s the story of Carol Dunlop. Dunlop is the subject of a new documentary coming out this year, called Julio and Carol, which details her life’s work, and the tragic struggle she endured to create it. It’s a breath-taking, larger than life story. And no one knows a thing about it.

But here’s what we’ll find out: She was a Canadian. She was married to Julio Cortazar, one of the most important writers of the last century. She was only 36 when she died. And it was a death that came only a few months after completing arguably one of the most romantic, tragic modern adventure novels of our time.

For the last 11 months I’ve made it my mission to get her story told.

It all started after I had finished reading her book Autonauts of The Cosmoroute, the absurdly epic road trip story which she co-wrote with Cortazar. They would spend 33 days living in a VW camper van, traveling from Paris to Marseille without ever leaving the freeway, detailing their adventures as if they were great explorers. The novel is humorous. It’s mystical – revealing the power of slowing down life. And most of all, it’s damn sad. Both characters – and the real life authors, incidentally – were dying when they wrote it. This was their last big hupla together, their last hope at finding whatever truths they were looking for during their short time on this planet.

That angle right there was enough of a hook to get me to quit my job in marketing and hit the road, to start to make my first documentary. I had done radio stories and years of print journalism before, but never anything like this. I went to France. I encountered all their old friends. I traveled on the same path they did, and after that, went to two more continents, all to piece together this unbelievable adventure.

What surprised me along the way was seeing just how much work – and so much of it stunning, beautiful, timeless – Carol was able to accomplish in a very short time. One interview in particular, with Marie Clair Blais – the award-winning Quebec novelist – stands out for me. “Carol was a miracle,” she told me. “Her life was miraculous. Truly, genius. It’s truly a shame no one knows anything about her work. It deserves to be out there.”

Toronto Film Review was kind enough to give me the chance to share this story with you, now. We’re still a few months away from completing the film but we aim to release it in major festivals in the Fall of 2014.

It would mean a lot to me – and would make a huge difference – if you took a look at the teasers and read the synopsis of the film, which are available here:

As you can see, we are crowdfunding it right now. If you think this is the kind of story that should get told, please leave us a comment, share it with your friends, and if you’re really feeling generous, pick out a reward and help us tell this story, and save one more genius from being forgotten, for good. - Tobin Dalrymple

About the Directors:

Tobin Dalrymple is the writer behind Love Drive, a collection of literary travel and short stories syndicated by Filler Magazine with over 200,000 monthly readers. He came across this story last year after picking up the Cosmoroute book, and quit his job in marketing in order to tell it.

Poll Pebe Pueyrredon is an Argentine filmmaker living in Paris, with over seven years of professional film production and teaching experience. He has a expansive filmography, as seen below.

Image credit:
Poll Pebe Pueyrredon investigates Carol Dunlop in Paris.