Friday, March 29, 2013

M. Night Shyamalan in Cahiers du Cinéma lists

These Cahiers critic's lists are from the Les meilleurs films des années 2000 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma (January ’10, N.652). I’ve included the Cahiers list and that of its other prominent writers, along with some other note worthy contributors, in the comment section of this post. – D.D.
Bill Krohn
-      Ces rencontres avec eux (Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, 2006)
-       En avant jeunesse (Pedro Costa, 2006)
-       Éloge de l'amour (Jean-Luc Godard, 2001)
-       La Vierge mise à nu par ses prétendants (Hong Sang-soo, 2000)
-      Coeurs (Alain Renais, 2006)
-      Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005)
-       Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)
-       Platform (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2000)
-       Lady in the Water (M. Night Shyamalan, 2006)
-       Femme Fatale (Brian de Palma, 2001) 

Jean-Philippe Tessé
1)    Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
4) A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)
Stuck on You (Farrelly brothers, 2003)
Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
Kairo (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
Time and Tide (Tsui Hark, 2000)
The Village (M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)

Vincent Malausa:
-       A.I. (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
-       Ali (Michael Mann, 2002)
-       2046 (Wong Kar-wai, 2004)
-       Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)
-       Les Harmonies Werckmeister (Bela Tarr, 2000)
-       The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
-       Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, 2004)
-       Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
-       Time and Tide (Tsui Hark, 2000)
-       The Village (M. Night Shyamalan, 2004)
-       The Yards (James Gray, 2000)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cahiers du Cinéma and M. Night Shyamalan

How can a film magazine be challenging? Who is their readership and what do they want to hear? How to fulfill a demand without getting trapped in a schema? What movies should be emphasized and how to write about them? Should there be a fidelity to what has already been published? What should their relation to film history be? And how should print media correspond with digital websites?

These are some pertinent questions for any film magazine and to try to answer some of them I’m going to address how they are treated at Cahiers du Cinéma.

Some thoughts about Cahiers from their own past writers include: Antoine de Baecque in his books about the history of Cahiers proposes that the magazine has always been a place for writers to praise the filmmakers that they admire. Jean Douchet emphasized in the book French New Wave that Cahiers “is a magazine by, about, and for the youth,” and that “It’s strange today to hear these attacks that it is obscure, intellectual, and boring.”

In the great Spielberg - Face A Face issue (N.675), Delorme in the editorial, Le témoin, discusses the responses that they've received due to their inclusion of Spielberg’s War of Worlds in their Top Ten of the 00’s, “a lot of readers, especially Anglo-Saxons, let us know about their incomprehension.” And he goes on about Spielberg,
“It’s strange that a filmmaker like Spielberg still divides. His oeuvre, 40 years and 29 feature films, which is as coherent as it is varied, has a rare consistency. If we can complain about some of his bad films, we can’t discredit that Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I., Minority Report, and War of the Worlds trace one of the best trajectories of that period in American cinema.”
It is this difference in reception, between English reviewers and the Cahiers critics, that Jim Hillier, in his great anthology collections on Cahiers, is able to succinctly highlight,
“In other words, the closer Cahiers moved to what had been traditionally conceived the ‘conveyor belt’ end of the cinema spectrum, the more their ‘serious’ discussion of film-makers seemed outrageously inappropriate. As it happens (even if Cahiers did not see it in quite these terms at the time), the more they outraged in this way, the more acutely they raised crucial questions, however unsystematically, about the status and criticism appropriate to film as an art form in which unsystematic divisions were constantly being made between art and commerce.”
What are the reasons people have expressed a skepticism and aversion towards Cahiers? Emilie Bickerton in A Short History of Cahiers du Cinéma writes that Cahiers has become a “consumer guide,” “another banal mouthpiece for the spectacle” and finally that “whatever the precise date of its demise, Cahiers now is dead.” This is outrageously wrong. But Bickerton’s thesis isn’t an isolated example. Jonathan Rosenbaum remarks about "the overall dumbing down" of Cahiers in the otherwise excellent Movie Wars (2002). And to discredit them has become a general short-hand for uninformed critics to assert an air of superiority. 

All of the above criticisms are simply false. The only problem that I can think of when the magazine changed its format in the early 00’s is that the page layout was clunky and perhaps lacked an editorialized mise en page, which has long been resolved.

The innocent answer to why people are unfamiliar with Cahiers, which is the obvious explanation, is that most North Americans who are even interested in film (those who have gone through a university film studies program) usually identify the magazine with the New Wave directors and aren’t even aware that the magazine is still active. There are others who are interested in it but the obvious thing stopping them from reading it is the language barrier.

To offer a few hypotheses on why some people discredit the magazine: since Cahiers is a magazine that routinely re-invents itself, I think, that the current group of writers might have received some unfair animosity from the old-guard critics whose alliance are with its past members.

This perspective on the magazine does not reflect the many editorial changes that have taken place as the magazine’s chief editor has changed, and would not be a fair assessment to describe the Delorme years. Stéphane Delorme, who became the chief-editor in late 2009 (cf. Programmer, the last paragraph of my Coppola review), has been publishing some of the most interesting film writing today: a strong emphasis on unique cover stories, insightful reviews of the major films, polemics, cinephile-oriented journalism (cf. Cahiers and Gray), an engagement with film history, and a fidelity to the spirit of the magazine. The magazine in recent years has been of such high quality that some long-time Positif subscribers have admitted to have changed their subscription to Cahiers.

In Delorme’s response to the Bickerton book, Une sale histoire, he speaks about the glory days of the post-‘81 Cahiers years, “It’s the moment of perfect equilibrium between theoretical texts, a firm defense of auteur films, and the return of American cinema. Where we can read essential texts by Chion, Bergala, Schefer, Tesson, Bonitzer, Assayas and Narboni. And on the covers we can find L’Enfant secret by Garrel and Les Enfants by Duras.” And that another problem with the book is that it is too vague and full of generalizations, “The different theoretical and aesthetic approaches that are quite obvious between the years Jousse, de Baecque, Tesson, Lalanne, Frodon were editors aren’t even perceived.”

Another challenge the magazines reputation has faced in North America has been the overexposure of their defense of certain disreputable directors without them being able to elaborate their reasoning for championing them.

So far, to counter this, here at Toronto Film Review, I’ve provided translations of their recent assessments of the filmmakers Brian de Palma and Paul Verhoeven. To add to this list here is a new survey of the complete films of M. Night Shyamalan. 
Unbreakable (Cahiers, Jan ’01, N.553), w/ Cahier Critique by Emmanuel Burdeau, Mon père ce héros.

The first review of a Shyamalan film in Cahiers was for Sixth Sense, which was rated negatively and relagated to the Critiques section. The review by Olivier Joyard talks about the platitudes of Bruce Willis, the film's dullness, its inferiority to the work of his contemporaries (Resnais and Egoyan are brought up), and its lack of intellectual merit. This is not a good start for creating a rapport with Shyamalan.

Emmanuel Burdeau, on the other hand, in his review of Unbreakable praises the director. “It is of no use anymore to asks what is cinema (to answer this question, simply: the domain of ghosts) but instead one should ask what can cinema achieve: what is the destiny that it can reserve to these already-deads, to these still-living people whose troubles are on the screen.” And that, “In Unbreakable we find the same religiosity that we found in Sixth Sense. But here it slowly takes on one of the greatest subjects: progressive disbelief by someone whom the belief comes from.” Burdeau revises the opinions of Joyard’s original review: “Sixth Sense, already, is a response against those that say cinema is dead. Unbreakable takes up this argument and refines it. First proposition: cinema isn’t dead, because death is spreading everywhere. Second proposition: it isn’t dead because this death (life, actually) doesn’t even recognize itself; ghosts in fact still think they're alive (Sixth Sense) and the heroes are already dead (Unbreakable).” And because of the film's emphasis on the body, Burdeau compares Unbreakable to New Rose Hotel, Matrix and Mission to Mars.

With this review Burdeau confirmed that Shyamalan is a filmmaker to look out for and to defend at Cahiers, and which he would write about on a couple more occasions at the magazine.
Signs (Cahiers, Oct. ’02, N.572), w/ Cahier Critique by Charles Tesson, Sainte trinité.

Like Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host and J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, Shyamalan's Signs is a film in the shadow of Spielberg’s E.T.. But where with E.T. the alien came to befriend (at the time, Spielberg expressed that aliens would not harm), in these films and in Spielberg’s own War of the Worlds aliens are not only unfriendly but dangerous and violent. Where in E.T. the alien can be viewed as a cinematic metaphor for growing up and dealing with the sadness of divorced parents, the presence of vicious aliens in the recent films reflects a darker post-9/11 mood.
Signs is about Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), a former priest who lives on a farm with his younger brother and two children. He is widowed, his wife having died in a tragic car crash. There is something supernatural in the air at his Pennsylvania farm; crop circles appearing late at night in the surrounding cornfields.

Charles Tesson, the reviewer of Signs, is one of the rare older generation Cahiers writers who still contributes today (eg. Naissances du Cinéma Indien, N.686) and who is also now the Artistic Director of the Semaine de la Critique at Cannes. There is also a great article by Burdeau about Signs in the Shyamalan book, Critical Approaches to the Films of M. Night Shyamalan: Spoiler Warnings.

Tesson begins his review, “The latest film of M. Night Shyamalan, unlike Unbreakable, is a movie that is on dangerous grounds, which is about to rupture.” Tesson describes the filmmaker, “a cineaste rather gullible, skilllful, and blessed in regards to showing our proposed universe. Shyamalan is the opposite of a naïf in regards to his usage of special effects and especially that of his mise en scéne. He believes in cinema’s ability to create tricks and their capacity to fabricate frights.” Tesson continues, “This great alliance between a real talent of mise en scene and a theoretical understanding of American cinema’s fictional ability contributes to what makes Shyamalan’s cinema so unique.”

Tesson speaks about the use of the television in Signs,
“The television is the primary character in Signs: at the beginning of the film, the little girl complains that the TV is not working, without understanding that all of the channels are playing the same image – September 11th. In front of these flaming towers, any child could have had the same reaction. […] This presence reveals the starting point of Shyamalan’s project: after 9/11, the new cinematic fictions are to be created in the reflections of a turned-off television screen; this is when cinema will be able to regain all of its rights."
Tesson compares Shyamalan to Spielberg, “Shyamalan’s universe, like that of Spielberg’s (in this respect, his twin brother), relies on the denial of sexuality. We have to believe in these characters that no real libido.” Tesson concludes,
“So what are the signs are sign of? A first step towards sexuality. A new trinity in the name of the father, the son and the extraterrestrial where the family can recompose itself and the paternal function can regenerate. And where are the women in all of this? Between the daughter who places her glasses of water all over the place and the mother who dies and looses all of her blood, the liquid hypotheses is quickly consumed.”
The Village (Cahiers, Sept. ’04, N.593) w/ Cahiers Critique by Jean-Pierre Rehm, Le village est-il damné?, and a Contrechamp by Emmanuel Burdeau, Stupeur et enchatement.

There was a documentary that came out to accompany The Village, which is The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan. It is strange because one are never quite sure if it is meant to be taken at face value (the press material makes it especially confusing), but either way, it highlight many themes that are apparent throughout Shyamalan’s films, and brings up relevant biographical points.

The Village of the film's title is a nineteenth century community whose inhabitants are horrified by a murderous monster living in the surrounding forest. There is something about the production design and its isolated community that is haunted by mysterious spirits, which is similar to Lars von Trier’s Antichrist and Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light and Post Tenebras Lux.

Jean-Pierre Rehm, like Tesson, is another old Cahieriste who now programs at the FIDMarseille film festival. In his close reading of the film, which references the Greek classics, he sees the film as a work of social criticism.
“To be a professor of American history, what filmmaker’s ambition today is to do that?” Rehm asks at the start of his review, “The one, as it seems, who claims it the least.” The Village with its love story, production design, costumes, casting, and cinematography is, “evidently and slyly, grand and understated, Shyamalan’s latest fairy tale.”

On the use of horror in the film Rehm writes,“The Village is economic when it comes to creating terror: no special effects, little is hidden, nor does the narrative stall, in it the Grand Guignol remains in the background, and the story reveals itself in scenes of expeditious explanations.” Rehm continues,
“The origin of the fear, which is revealed to the audience simultaneously as it is revealed to the blind heroine, is fear itself. It is the red berries that are part of this conspiracy theory, that bring about this danger which is a creation of the Ancients, these Amish actors, as a way to preserve their project: to isolate themselves in a clearing of innocence and to isolate themselves from the world and its corrupt cities.”
The Village's setting is a fictionalized spatial and temporal one that becomes a “lesson in dramaturgy.” For Rehm, “Brecht, has finally landed in the American culture industry, and teaches about the necessary critical distance.” And he continues,
“Here it is, placed at the heart of suspense, that he tells us: the tale the most sober and poignant is only an illusion destined to create a change. To substitute a real violence for a fabricated changes everything. Because to substitute an uncontrollable violence for another one, real and controllable, that is why the Ancients decided to escape. The real world that is discovered at the security booth when the chief is reading the newspaper is even more violent.”
For Rehm,
“The fiction is an enclosure, not because it is real but because it is presented as the actuality. But do we know this? Since Aristotle this has been said. Does it scare people? Not necessarily. If it is like the difference between The Manuscript Found in Saragossa or Brigadoon or other baroque novels, the fiction is less menaced by the commonplace violence of the surrounding world, but instead comes from the suffocation of its utopia, the falsity of its magic, and the disintegration of faith itself.”
Rehm brings up the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben to speak about the politics of the film,
“This is why even though the village is supposed to be a model of the real, as the chief security speaks about, there are no planes allowed to fly over the forest, this is nothing but a zone of non-rights. This territory has become an invisible backstage and with its surveillance it becomes a sort-of Guantanamo in the rural country. It is no longer against the exceptional, but a territory constantly in a state of exception. A state that ceases, like is written by Agamben, “d’être ramené à une situation extérieure et provisoire de danger réel et tend à se confondre avec la norme même.””
Rehm brings up contemporary events in relation to his reading of the film,
The Village is a bittersweet account of an American seized within its origins mythology that is completely artificial and that is trying to understand the reasons why the state incarcerates. Where someone like Michael Moore heavily plays the Zorro character, Shyamalan prefers the plasticity of a strong fable: set in 1897 (which can be seen on the tombstone in the opening sequence) to today, from the stories to its origins, from the western to the pitiful scenario created to invade Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. These arms, each spectator must understand are their own and it is the world outside of the village.”
In Rehm’s conclusion he tries to tie everything together (admittedly, in a complex way, and I’m not sure if I’m doing his rhetoric justice),
“What kind of boss is then the filmmaker? Here like before, Shyamalan needs to mystify the options to then pick an intermediate location. His chief security character, a modest role but an important one, puts a sense of scale to what Jacob is doing. The Walker professor teaches history and all of the children listen to him. But there is a troubling wind that is abounded. The wind continues to agitate the trees of this Pennsylvania forest where the leaves on their branches can no longer grow. This troubling atmosphere blows with it a renewed complexity, and where the particulars are in front of us to see.”
Burdeau in Stupeur et enchantement begins, “A major filmmaker: M. Night Shyamalan, revealed himself to be when he released The Sixth Sense. Since then this evidence is evidently confirmed in Unbreakable, Signs and now The Village.” 

“In four films, Shyamalan has reignited the beauty, which has for a long time has been neglected, of decoupage,” writes Burdeau, “But if this was it, grammar and story-board, Night would only be a master of an art, which isn’t that important, that of a competent craftsman. But, to our surprise and happiness, there are two elements that are important to the logic of his “pure cinema.”” These two qualities are, “wild comedy and dry irony but which is understated and where the summit of this is the jeweler scene in Sixth Sense,” and, “an extreme slowness. In Shy’s films there is a petrified burlesque, a terrible weight that belongs to his creatures and somnambulist, more so than his ghost […] These are films that are dressed in heavy cotton, and it is a cinema which is slowed down. The suspense is decomposed with each new image.”
What is the function of the comic and the slowness? “It is to highlight but to wrong, accentuate and to delay revealing its complex mystery. We have learnt that with Shy, especially when his films are starting to reveal themselves, and then when they start to shine, that he organizes each shot like a clue within a larger enigma where only the outcome will reveal its true purpose.” Burdeau continues, “Let’s call what he does stupor, a word that brings together his comic tendencies and the slow-burn. Double stupor: a camera that lingers upon a devastated landscape, the people that are looking out at it: eyes wide open, standing still, in awe.”

Burdeau’s great conclusion,
“With Shy, this stupor is everywhere, and it is with it that his cinema carries the promise of being about more than just mise en scene. It renders the viewer weak as a way to save them; we can feel it as we watch the screen. And just like the fake costume-drama of The Village this common interest, which asphyxiate and seduces, which brings us closer and farther apart, talks about something extremely precise: this weird gathering, talks about the intimate trouble that connects us today to images."
Lady in the Water (Cahiers, Sept. ’06, N.615) w/ Événement Cahiers Critique by Jean-Philippe Tessé, Rire et ravissement.

Lady in the Water is perhaps the most clear and unpolluted Shyamalanesque vision and the most representative of his imagination and burlesque. Inspired by a childhood fairy tale he invented for his daughter (and which he would also produce into a book) it is perhaps his funnest and most entertaining film. And amongst the impressive special features on his DVDs (which includes his early teenager short films, and lengthy making-of docs) the behind the scenes of Lady in the Water is maybe his best (with Sixth Sense, The Village and The Happening following).
Lady in the Water is the only Shyamalan film to make it onto Cahiers’cover page and its review by Jean-Philippe Tessé, who is now the joint chief-editor, clearly articulates what the magazine admires in Night's films. Tessé contextualizes Shyamalan’s place in the magazine in his intro:
“The enthusiasm we have at Cahiers for the cinema of M. Night Shyamalan since his breakthrough into Hollywood will not diminish with Lady in the Water. The laughing at it by some people will not change what we think.  Simply because it confirms the certitude of finding in Night’s films a cinema of constant action. Just because it places this within a grotesque fable with crazy theories, we can’t help but be ecstatic because we place Shyamalan as the cineaste le plus farfelu de son temps. His use of comedy is the key to enter into his films.”
In the review the impressive set (the swimming pool motif which was anticipated in Unbreakable) and décor are acknowledged. But more importantly Tessé writes, 
“The encounter with an entity that is so radically strange is for the filmmaker the privileged motivation for him to make these fictions. That which comes does not bring with it order, but comes in the marvel of itself to create these new connections, they are strange unknowns. Shyamalan films this encounter like nobody else, the moment of pure newness, and he does it in the most simple of ways, by letting things just be there, framing the shot in its after-moments.”
For Shyamalan, “there is something that you need to be ready for his films, which is that of amazement, if you want to enter his game.” Tessé continues, 
“It is by replaying indefinitively this primitive scene of amazement that Shyamalan was able to find a style. He hasn’t really reinvented storytelling (though his storytelling grammar is unique to him alone) but instead he has redefined the fantastical. To say it differently: there is a pact between the spectator of a Tourneur film, that believes in supernatural forces, and the person who doesn’t, or who hasn’t adjusted their belief system to allow for it [...] Nothing else interests Shyamalan, not the ravaging twists that end some of his films, nor metaphors that we want to read into some others, nor the ways that the fantastic is manifested: Nothing else interests him then this opening, this brutal change of coordinates, a total upheaval of perspective.”

Tessé also writes about how “the scene captures this stunned response, that dictates everything: these scenes of action, that go in unexpected new directions, time which is standstill, and the tone of the scene is infinitively comic.” And after bringing up some farfetched scenes in the film, Tessé acknowledges their ludicrousness, “You would be right, they are aberrant. Welcome to M. Night Shyamalan, cineaste and joker.” And this combination, as Burdeau also elaborated on, Tessé sees as “the alliance stunned-comic can be described in one word: burlesque.” Tessé expands, “Shy is a burlesque, which is a primitive category, who dreams of being a fabulist full of humor and that is when he is at his best: when he is being comic.”

To also note about Lady in the Water, the book The Cookbook by the Night character in the film which he describes as “it is actually about my thoughts about all of our cultural problems,” and along with the child psychiatrist character in Sixth Sense, seems to anticipate the book Shyamalan is about to publish Schooled: The Five Keys to Closing America's Education Gap about the high-school educational institutions in Philadelphia.
There are some other think pieces about Shyamalan that have appeared in Cahiers aside from their reviews. The important piece is Années Hollywood: Shyamalan, Sodergergh, Penn, Mann, Spielberg, Eastwood (July-August ’06, N.614). In this issue the editor of the time Jean-Michel Frodon has a good editorial, Bouger les lignes, Stéphane Delorme has a good overview of contemporary Hollywood, Sur Les Auteurs d’Hollywood, and Hervé Aubron has an article, Shy en miroir avec Mann, which compares the films of M. Night Shyamalan with the films of Michael Mann.

Another good article appeared in their Les Meilleurs Films des années 2000 issue (Jan ’10, N.652) in the Cinq cineaste pour les années 2000 section and it is written by Bill Krohn (I will hopefully translate that in its entirety at a later date).

I’m not going to discuss the films that Shyamalan only contributed the story too, or screenplay, since he did not direct them so they do not reflect accurately his temperament. Stuart Little has Shyamalan’s water motif and his outsider figure is literalized as a mouse, and Devil has elements of the supernatural and family trauma (and a great Joshua Peace performance as Detective Markowitz) but they are minor works and Cahiers sees them as such.
The Happening (Cahiers, June ’08, N.635), w/ Cahier Critique by Emmanuel Burdeau, Tombée de la nuit.

Each time a new film by a director the review in Cahiers reevaluates them by highlighting what made their prior films good, evaluating the new film, and criticizing their flaws. They are building upon the earlier reviews written about the director in the magazine and the writer's review is distinct for their own unique writing style.

In Burdeau’s review he acknowledges that Cahiers is a minority when it comes to appreciating Shyamalan. He then brings up the difficulty Cahiers had to watch in advance The Happening so that they could review the movie. There was an interview with Shyamalan that fell through, the film was not playing in the US, so Burdeau ended up having to catch a plane to Spain to watch it.

And the film deceived him… But regardless, Burdeau still found interesting things to say about it, 
“The spectator is warned, this new film is another exercise in reading: less an explanation of a text then a favorable plea for the never-ending activating of reading […] The films of Shyamalan have no other concerns. Nor other messages. The mysteries in them cannot be resolved, only translated and retranslated to no end from one language to another, now in the thickness and within the oscillation of so many voices.”
“The tone is Shyamalian,” says Burdeau, “which means that it is hard to pronounce with usual language. Wonderful and cryptic. Exotic and comic. Cryptic and spiritual. Mischievous and furiously intellectual. This is a weird kind of structuralism: the film does not construct an intrigue, it’s happy to measure an advance towards dread and also the pleasure that goes into action when there is an intelligence to the happenings that are put forth into action.”

Burdeau: “I insist: this isn’t a spectacle, it’s a lecture; it isn’t about the action, it’s about thought; it isn’t a screenplay, it is a fable.” And, “like in The Birds which is the inspiration for all of Shyamalan’s films, the catastrophe is like the magical resuscitation for the dysfunctional family.” Burdeau also compares the haunted house scene to Indiana Jones.
But Burdeau sees a fault in the film, “The decision to not give an explanation to the happening as anything but nature is the films biggest problem, the biggest rupture with Shyamalan’s other films.” He goes on, “What is lacking in The Happening is not an explanation or even more action scenes. What is lacking is dialogue that would resonate with the smallest of detail and the whole. Shyamalan is a grand painter of the everyday because he saw the larger picture, the text of all the other texts.” And that the environmentalist message of the film is simple.

Burdeau gives Shyamalan the benefit of the doubt, “This disaster of a disaster film might have something to do with its production that went through several producers.” Burdeau hopes that Shyamalan’s next film will be better, and as the little girl on the bus turns around, her backpack reveals a graphic for Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The Last Airbender (Cahiers, Sept. ’10, N.659) w/ Répliques by Vincent Malausa, Une Page Blanche, and an interview, Air Shyamalan, by Malausa and Jean-Sébastien Chauvin.

This is an important issue in the development of Cahiers since its new chief editor took the role late in 2009. There was at first an uncertainty of how to direct the magazine (e.g. small polemics: an anti-Fellini stance, destroying Funny People etc) but with each passing year the magazine's positions became stronger. The most vocal stance is perhaps their railling against the petrification of severity in contemporary art-house films,but they are also known for their championing of American films and world cinema.
What makes Cahiers N.659 so special, with a still of Antony Cordier’s Happy Few on its cover, is its Événement, Nouvelles utopies du cinema francais. In the issue Delorme speaks of and is critical of the trend in French cinema of “mettre en scene des utopie.” Where he sees in these idealist utopias an escape of the urban and its realities, which for a long time has been the emphasis of French cinema. Delorme asks, “What direction are these fictions going in? Why a closure, which takes place in the form of a denial, to substitute for another closure, that of the social?”  Delorme prefers Des homes et des dieux against Homme au bain and Happy Few.

This idea of the utopia of French cinema is going to be something the magazine will return to. The idea of taking a position and then being commited to it will start to be more important in Cahiers after this issue. This is articulated through the magazines stronger emphasis on their use of meta-textual references. By referencing other articles and other issues there is a stronger interconnection between each issue and this bond is making the magazine more dense with connections, more clear and thorough with its argument, and more convincing and interesting.

In Cahiers N.659 the magazine praises Uncle Boonme by Apichatpong that would make it on their Top Ten Films of 2010. There are also similarities between the Apichatpong film and Shyamalan's The Last Airbender with their use of nature and spirituality. Apichatpong has also acknowledge his admiration of Shyamalan. Through how the directors in them present folliage there is a connection between Boonme, The Happening and John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest.

To return to The Last Airbender: Malausa isn’t necessarily convinced that it is a major work and describes the film as a “visual kitsch cocktail that mixes the wuxia with the teenage film and Lord of Rings to create a digital cosmologic folly.” Some highlights of the film include: “its opening in the radiating clarity of Greenland that can be seen as the blank canvas that Shyamalan will unleash his imagination,” and Malausa compares the energy of the child to that of Tintin. The film has some other interesting qualities like the dichotomy between Aang and the son of the fire god, which can be seen as two sides of Shyamalan’s character: one wants to create magic and mystery while the other wants to fulfill his duties (ie. commercial imperatives). Malausa ends the pieces by highlighting Airbenders tragic quality that connects it to Shyamalan’s other films, “The Last Airbenders articulates around this idea of tragedy which is that of children, who are condemned to carry the weight of the world of their shoulders, and have to start acting like adults.”

Air Shyamalan is the first interview with Shyamalan in Cahiers. The interview is interesting as Shyamalan talks about the minimalism of filming nature, how The Happening was inspired by Village of the Damned (“I saw this film when I was twenty and it has never left me.”), about the special effects in the film, faith in the medium, his multiculturalism, that his favorite filmmakers are Hitchcock, Kubrick and Kurosawa; talks about courage and terror, and his admiration for Agatha Christie and Planet of the Apes.

Even though Night is a championed director at Cahiers they acknowledge the flaws in some of his films, when they deserve it. What is the big difference between Cahiers and how most other critics view Shyamalan’s work is that Cahiers approach his films with a generosity instead of condescension. Shyamalan's films necessitate the viewer to take a leap a faith to best appreciate their unique and mysterious vision.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rotterdam Report

"Early on in the 2013 edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, at about the third or fourth appearance of its distinctive, looming tiger logo that preceded every screening, I began to feel fairly confident that I’d encounter more rewarding surprises than outright disappointments over the next few days. There was certainly an abundance of attractive opportunities for me to play catch-up with some of the past year’s more prominent and talked-about titles that had been previously shown in Toronto (among them The Master, Reality and Blancanieves, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed), but the most common delights I encountered came from lesser-known works scattered throughout the newcomer-oriented Bright Future and Hivos Tiger Awards programs. The famed scope of the festival’s selection all but guaranteed an endless variety of unique personal experiences attendees could potentially leave with, whether they chose three films or thirty, whether they craved avant-garde or genre fare. Speaking for myself, either luck, intuition, or a mix of both brought me to the other side of the eleven-day run with a veritable bounty of positive viewing experiences culled from cinematic shores as far-flung as Mexico, Cuba, Thailand, India, Iran and, fittingly, the Netherlands. Sampling grim tragedy, nourishing contemplation, therapeutic comedy, and refined suspense, my first visit to Rotterdam gave me an exhilarating introduction to a festival very much concerned with both pushing the boundaries of an all-encompassing definition of cinema (through means as varied as installation pieces, mash-ups, experimental shorts, mold-breaking genre pieces, and television and web series) and celebrating its most intrinsic qualities."
 To read Marc Saint-Cyr's entire Rotterdam Film Festival report check out the new issue of Senses of Cinema.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trinh Minh-hà and Michael Wallin at EMS

For the 4th anniversary of Early Monthly Segments there is going to be a projection of Michael Wallin's Decodings and Trinh Minh-hà's Reassemblage. It will be tonight, Monday March 18th at 8pm at the Art Bar in the Gladstone Hotel.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Festival Premiere: The Oxbow Cure

The 15th edition of the Sarasota Film Festival recently unveiled their line up for this year's edition, which will take place from April 5th to the 14th. It includes many great films, most notably The Oxbow Cure.

The festival has a good reputation amongst cinephiles as they play the latest acclaimed independant and international films. The festival director Tom Hall says of the lineup that it "is really diverse, we're trying to bring the best films to the community." For example, in the Narrative Feature Competition there is Matthew Porterfield's new film I Used to be Darker

The Independent Visions Competition is presented by Factory 25, the New York based specialty DVD company, and the section's jurors are Matt Grady, Alex Ross Perry, Michael Tully, and C. Mason Wells.

The Toronto directors Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas's sophomore feature The Oxbow Cure will have its world premiere in the Independent Visions Competition. The film stars Claudia Dey (the mother from Amy George) and the program describes the film as, "a portrait of isolation that is at once riveting as it is beautiful. Using the frozen landscape of the Canadian winter as a cinematic backdrop for Lena’s slow road to forgiveness, C&Y have created a poetic portrait of a women seeking to heal herself." This is one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Cahiers du Cinéma and Paul Verhoeven

There is no way to know if the critics at the French film criticism magazine Cahiers du Cinéma will like or hate a movie. Even though there are certain filmmakers that they regularly champion this not excuse them if they make a bad film. Just as they can sing the highest praise for some films they can easily tear a film apart. For example, in their review of the new Malick they write, "It was largely due to the mise en scène that Cahiers championed The Tree of Life. But it is also the fault of the mise en scène that we have to admit the failure of To the Wonder." Though this might sound vague and confusing, but throughout Cyril Béghin's two-page review of the film, Un coup en l'air, he further elaborates on his main points, making a convincing argument.

This uncertainty of how the magazine will evaluate a film is one of its trademarks and makes it exciting to read. In the hierarchy of their reviews there is the Événement, then Cahiers Critique and then Notes sur d’autres films; and depending on the films importance they can publish several pieces on it. The magazine has over twenty writers and they have a committee of writers reserved to write the more significant reviews and the other periphery and guest writers are designated for the other pieces.

To cite some examples from their recent February 2013 issue: to accompany Jean-Philippe Tessé’s great review of Lincoln there is an article by Jean-Sébastien Chauvin, Dans un fauteil, where he focuses on Spielberg’s first senior hero (“this new Spielbergien character has a better understanding of the world and the power to change it.”), Joachim Lepastier reviews Zero Dark Thirty and there is an interesting interview with Kathryn Bigelow by Clementine Gallot, and there are two great essays on Django. As well many of the magazine's positions are expressed in their Notes sur d'autres film section: Tessé continues the magazines attack against serious art films in his review of Sergei Loznitsa’s Dans la brume [“Ruptures de ton, surprises, collisions semblent bannies de ce cinéma au profit d’une pétrification volontariste de tout (mise en scène, montage, jeu d’acteur, etc.), destinée à répondre aux attentes préconcues d’un spectateur fantasmé en receptacle masochiste.”],  Nicolas Azalbert reviews some Latin American films La demora, Elefante blanco, Ici et l’à-bas; Vincent Malausa highlights the savagery of Maniac; while many other films in the section are dismissed.

Some of their recent assessments, that were surprising and unique to them, include: regarding French cinema, they thought that the newest Alain Resnais’ Vous n’avez encore rien vu was only OK and they hated the Audiard (two films that were very admired at Positif), they liked the Twilight franchise (“The saga has given a definitive image to wild abstinence and the pure and puritan desires of adolescence.”), and Chloë Sevigny was recently interviewed and they emphasised her TV work and films with M. Blash.

The Événement cover story of their newest March issue is on two films: Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine, which includes four articles: a biography/interview Spring Break a Nashville by Nicholas Elliott, a review of the film Fluo et Sang by Tessé, a feature on the films producer Megan Ellison by Gallot, and Korine en Morceaux an article on Korine's short films, experimental films and music videos by Lepastier. Camille Claudel 1915 by Bruno Dumont, which includes a ten-page interview Dans un Champ Sauvage by Jean-Sébastien Chauvin and Stéphane Delorme, a review of the film Les illuminés by Delorme, who also interviews Juliette Binoche, Un chemin d'aveugle.
The local film critic Adam Nayman is currently writing his first book and it is on Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic Showgirls where he will “suggests that Showgirls is not so bad it’s good, it’s so good it’s mistaken for bad.” It is for the new Pop Classics series for ECW Press.

Since Black Book in 2007 where he left Hollywood to return to shoot in the Nederlands, Verhoeven’s filmmaking has become more interesting and there is a renewal of critical interest. The film magazine Cinema Scope put Black Book on its cover (N.30) with the feature review/interview by Robert Koehler Vulgar Moralism, Jonathan Rosenbaum in his book Movie Wars (2000) champions Verhoeven (by way of a Jacques Rivette interview in Les Inrockuptibles, which can be read on Senses of Cinema), and in The 100 Best Films of the 1990s for Slant, Showgirls was number fourteen on the list and Eric Henderson says it best when he writes, “We at Slant Magazine were clearly feigning our love for Showgirls solely because it was disreputable to admit fandom.”

But what has Cahiers written about Showgirls, in specific, and Verhoeven, in general? Going through the reviews there is a similar appraisal as the aforementioned reviews with a more positive reception in the more recent years, with the big turning point being Black Book. From ambivalent earlier reviews like, for example, Frédéric Strauss on Basic Instinct (N.457), to a better understanding of Verhoeven working constraints through interviews with him, all the way to Nicolas Azalbert describing his newest film Tricked as an “original experience” in his Rome Film Festival coverage (N.685). Even though Verhoeven has never made the cover of the magazine, his films are respected and he is treated as an auteur.
Showgirls (Cahiers, Jan ’96, N.498) w/ Notes sur d'autres film by Bill Krohn.

Krohn has been writing at Cahiers since the seventies and his idiosyncratic taste can best be understood through his championing of horror and science fiction films, his writing style verges on the paranoid, and his critiques can be scathing. Here is Krohn’s review of Showgirls in its entirety:
“After loosing the battle with the censors on Basic Instinct, the auteur of Showgirls worried that his passionate Las Vegas story would be restricted to those over eighteen years old. His gained artistic liberty allowed him to project his rancid ideas about sex and power, which can best be seen in one key scene: Crystal, star of Las Vegas, pays Nomi, up and coming stripper, to dance naked in front of Zack, the boyfriend of Crystal; Nomi returns the favor by sending Crystal winks of complicity all the while getting Zack to ejaculate. What is shocking in the scene is not its frank sexuality, which one could find in plenty small budget pornos all over cable or on VHS, but the pedantry of its mise en scène which uses the venerable grammar of classical cinema to make sure that the dumbest spectator would understand it. Like how Verhoeven with touching sincerity in the preface of Portrait of a Film: Showgirls writes that “the layers of meanings in this scene and the interactions between the three principal characters is very complex.” One has to, on the other hand, admire Verhoeven for his aesthetic courage and his one unique manifestation: Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon, who play Nomi and Crystal, respectively, are truly vulgar.”
Starship Troopers (Cahiers, Jan ’98. N.520), w/ Cahiers Critique by Emmanuel Burdeau, A good bug is a dead bug. 

Starship Troopers takes place in a futuristic society where American high school students are recruited off to join a fascistic army to go to war against CGI arachnoids. Burdeau writes about it,
“We feel uncomfortable watching Starship Troopers because it is so aggressive and oppressive. This has to do with principally two things. By organizing the intersection between the teenage-fiction of sitcoms and the war film, Verhoeven reveals a larger truth which is so evident that we might have looked over it: the plasticity of sitcoms, with their ideal beauty, energy and cleanliness; an ideal that is also used by the film, which is just as sterile, cold and flawless as a propaganda poster (or a clip from 2B3) has always been a military plasticity, which is supposed to be fascinating.”
Burdeau, who has written a lot about war films (cf. his review of Redacted), elaborates more on the subject,
“Ten years ago, the slogan of Platoon said it all, “The first casualty of war is innocence,” which is a good resume of the law of the war film. […] Here in Starship Troopers, it is the inverse that is true, where it is more like the war is the victim of innocence, and a large part of our being uncomfortable as viewers comes from that.”
Burdeau continues,
“So is Starship Troopers a Nazi film? Maybe not. But, watching it for over an hour, with its wars between man and arachnids, we are stunned more by how a film like this is even possible, and how were there producers that let Verhoeven make it. Never does the machine crack, rare are the films, so full of action and war, where the argument is so thin, and that have so little auto-justification.”
Burdeau concludes,
“There is definitively a critique in Starship Troopers, or it’s more like the movie allows for there to be a critique. But nonetheless it is still a gigantic identification machine, which devastates us. Nazi, maybe not, but reactionary for sure.”
Hollow Man (Cahiers, Sept. ’00, N.549) /w Cahiers Critique by Jérôme Larcher, Trop Visible.

 “Hollow Man puts into perspective in a way so pronounced the process of Paul Verhoeven within the American industry that it ends up revealing its limits,” begins Jérôme Larcher review of the film.
“The subject isn’t anything new for Verhoeven who has made the dialectic visible/invisible the essential motor of his cinema. In Starship Troopers, by force of showing to excess, the cineaste delivered a fearsome critique of the representation of Americans that we’ve previously refused to see. In Hollow Man, the same principal is there, but this time, through an invisible figure, he shows us what we are refusing to see while we desire it. The large subject of this film is then voyeurism, and especially that of the spectators.”
Even though Larcher cites an interview with Verhoeven by Nicole Brenez (Cahiers, Aux frontières du cinéma, April 2000) who calls him “un grand cineaste de l’ironie,” for Larcher, “his work rest essentially on vulgarity,” and that the film’s “beginning had a lot of promise, but gets weighed down as it proceeds.” For Larcher,
Starship Troopers was a gesture of large force but that can’t be repeated without its schematics standing out; while Hollow Man on the contrary reveals at what point Verhoeven cinema rests on principals that are slight and heavy handed, at heart a little brat (see the disappointing references to Rear Window).”
For Larcher, the action scenes are not as good as those in James Cameron’s Aliens or is the moral question as in depth like in Cronenberg’s The Fly, but he concludes on a positive note,
“It is the invisible man that reveals the hidden meaning in the film, by showing us all of the horror and intense strangeness of invisibility, that is where Verhoeven throws the dynamite inside Hollywood, a more than visible sign than what he can find in a dead end.”
Black Book (Cahiers, Dec. ’06. N.618) w/ Cahiers Critique by Stéphane Delorme, Showgirl, and an interview with Verhoeven by Emmanuel Burdeau and Antoine Thirion.

The current chief-editor of Cahiers Stéphane Delorme with this review places Verhoeven in Cahiers territory and since this review his films have earned more respectability in the magazine. For example, in Delorme's review of Darren Arenofsky’s Black Swan, which he really liked, he argued that the film is like a hybrid between Showgirls and Dirty Dancing.

Delorme opens his review, “This is showtime. We’ve been anticipating Verhoeven’s return to Holland in the realist lineage which made his reputation (Soldier of Orange, already a WWII story), and then he went to America to pursue his work at once spectacular and critical as he works within the industry (Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Showgirls).” He further expands on this dichotomy within Verhoeven’s work, “Spectacular and critical, this is pairing has gotten him denounced by the intellectuals and contempt from the critics.”

Black Book is an entertaining WWII film set in the Haye during the Occupation as the Jewish woman Rachel tries to survive amidst the chaos and inhumanity around her. About it Delorme writes, “Black Book is then a stylistic film which sacrifices verisimilitude to the imperatives of the mise en scene ; and at the same time it contains a ravage charge against humanity as with it Verhoeven settles the account he has with the detested Holland.”

“Grand style: Verhoeven slides into a Hitchcockian tradition (Black Book and Black Dahlia, same thing), into the primacy of the scene,” writes Delorme who also compares some scenes to ones from Alfred Hitchcok presents. He also compares the film to the work of De Palma, especially as meditations on systems of power and in regards to style, “If there is a perversity to be the judge regarding a general amorality, Verhoeven wins nonetheless on a different level: one has to be skeptical about those that are pulling the strings (like with De Palma), because all deciders have personal biases. The person with the black book controls all. The strings are heavy, but nonetheless, its all theater.”

Where Larcher in his review of Hollow Man did not accept Verhoeven's irony as an end in itself, Delorme explores it, “Verhoeven is a great director of irony. Not a cynic. What interest him is less that of being disinterested without a reason then the constant balancing between emotion and its doubt, between truth and criticism, and between horror and laughter.”

“We are tossed around by the perseverance of a filmmaker who, like his character, never stops, who never needs to sleep,” writes Delorme, and he focuses on the actress Carice van Houten that plays Rachel, “We accept all of the shake-ups because Rachel is going through them with us. This is the success of Black Book that of creating a character in the center of all of these twists and turns.”

Out of the blue (or at least it appears that way), Delorme compares Black Book to Miami Vice,
“This is why Verhoeven is finally better than Michael Mann. The stories are similar – in Miami Vice a cop infiltrates a gang and falls in love with its boss -, but with Mann the reversibility functions because everyone is identical. The cops infiltrate without an effort because in Miami everyone resembles one another because everyone is a hyper pro. It’s the hypothesis of professionalism, a cinema of Ray-Bans that slide from one world to another without bothering going through anything, because it takes itself so seriously. While with the showman Verhoeven, to change is never natural, and it is the terrain of monstrous and laughable changes, as masks drop like, in the theater. […] It’s the inverse of professionalism: it is a heroine.”
This feminine criticism of anxious masculinity is the emphasis in the review, and also something that is broached more in depth throughout Cahiers. Delorme concludes,
“Rachel/Ellis isn’t the first feminist heroine of Verhoeven who places courageous women (Katie Tippel, Showgirls) conquering women (Basic Instinct) over virile dominance and confusion. But it’s perhaps the most successful.”
While in the interview Verhoeven talks about an unrealized Rasputin project, being unsatisfied with Hollow Man, a Victoria Woodhall story, and a book on Jesus in collaboration with his biographer Rob Van Scheers. Some good quotes include,
“In the nineties, with Basic Instinct, I thought that I could change peoples perception of me, but the commercial failure of Showgirls brought me back. Hollow Man, in regards to its cost, with special effect, so discouraged me that I could not put into it, like in Robocop or Starship Troopers, a political aspect.”
Verhoeven speaks about the difference between Showgirls and Black Book, “With Black Book, it’s the first time that I’m interested in an altruistic character,” and “Nomi is an opportunist, Rachel is an altruist. In Showgirls, everything revolves around Nomi, everything she does is to get higher up in Hollywood. The both of them are strong, definitively: all of my women characters are.”

Nayman on the Coen brothers (Media Mondays at the Miles Nadal JCC)

Adam Nayman's film lectures on the Coen brothers continue on Mondays from March 11th to April 29th at 7pm at the Miles Nadal JCC. Tonight's (March 11th) class is on the Coen brother's pastiche of screwball comedies with a focus on The Hudsucker Proxy and Intolerable Cruelty.  

See the TFR interview with Nayman for more information about the series.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Music Video: Metz's "Wasted"

Music video directed by Scott Cudmore and shot by Cabot McNenly.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Toronto DIY Filmmakers

When Denis Côté (Vic et Flo ont vu un ours) was asked in 24 Images if he felt that he was part of a ‘New Wave of Quebec Filmmakers’ along with Stéphane Lafleur, Maxime Giroux, Rafaël Ouellet and Sophie Desrape; he responded:
“We are all cinephiles, and we are all looking for formalist, signature filming styles. We all know that the international festival circuit can be a great niche for our work and reputations, and we know that we don’t make box office miracles and our films are not easy to digest. We have strong personalities and ambitions. So, I guess, I do feel comfortable sharing these ideals with the aforementioned directors.”
So who are the Toronto DIY filmmakers? They include the MDFF guys Kazik Radwanski (Tower) and Antoine Bourges (East Hastings Pharmacy), Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis (Amy George, and the much anticipated The Oxbow Cure), Igor Drljaca (Krivina), Simon Ennis (Lunarcy!), Cabot McNenly (Poopsie Dries Out), Blake Williams (Many A Swan), and Sofia Bohdanowicz (Dundas Street). Similar to how Côté characterizes his relationship with his peers, the Toronto DIY label is defined more by a shared do it yourself attitude towards production. Though one qualifier is that the film are filmed in Toronto, which separates them from the First Generation filmmakers like Luo Li, Chris Chong Chan Fui and Nicolás Pereda. Also of note, as brought up by Adam Nayman in my recent interview with him about his Coen brothers class at the JCC, he highlighted Ingrid Veninger's $1,000 feature film challenge as a significant initiative that fostered interesting films like Nadia Litz's Hotel Congress.

What makes these filmmakers so vital is that not only are they making work that reflect a certain local temperament and continues in a national film tradition, but that the films themselves speak about larger thoughts and feelings regarding the human condition. In a great interview Unexpected Textures: A Conversation Between Nicolas Pereda and Kazik Radwanski (Cinema Scope, N.52), Radwanski speaks about the potential of cinema and his affinity for the close-up,
“I always liked Powers of Ten (1977), that Eames film set in Michigan that starts above Detroit and zooms down all the way. It became infinitely smaller. I’ve always felt that way, in people’s faces, that you can be going smaller infinitely. The camera can capture something there that I can’t articulate. On a bigger scale it’s the idea of happening upon real people and learning about them. It sounds basic, but it’s more the richness of textures that are unexpected.”
Similar to their New York City peers like Alex Ross Perry, Ronald Bronstein and the Safdie brothers or the independent spirit of Joe Swanberg or Matthew Porterfield; the Toronto DIY have to hustle to make these small-scale films. Inspired by the independent tradition of John Cassavetes, there is a lot of work that goes into getting funding to make the pictures, communal work to get them made, and promotional work to get people to see them. 

Just like how in the late eighties there emerged, what some people would call, a New Wave of Toronto filmmakers (Egoyan, Rozema, McDonald, McKellar, Mettler, Mann), the Toronto DIY represent a significant new voice in the Toronto film landscape. And people are noticing.

At the festivals: Tower premiered at the Locarno Film Festival and then did the rounds of the festival circuit, had a successful theatrical run at The Royal, and got selected for the New Directors/New Film series in New York where Luo Li's Emperor Visits the Hell is also playing. Krivina is playing at the MoMA as part of the Canadian Front 2013. And Lunarcy! is playing at South by Southwest.

There were also some great articles published recently about the films and filmmakers. John Semley focused on the legacy of the Revue Cinema on some of the directors in Video store confidential in Now Toronto, Angelo Murreda highlights College Street Pictures in his article Toronto’s Next Generation of Filmmakers Gets a Friend in the Business in the Torontoist, and Jason Anderson hypothesizes a new film movement in Toronto film’s next generation in The Grid.