Monday, April 1, 2013

Cahiers du Cinéma and M. Night Shyamalan - Part II

To accompany my recent post on the reception of M. Night Shyamalan’s films at Cahiers du Cinema, here are two more smaller pieces from the magazine about Shyamalan. Where the last post consisted of selecting the ostensible reviews of his films as they were being released in Paris, instead here the two pieces are brief overviews and critical evaluations.

After Cahiers acknowledges the importance of a filmmaker this position then becomes integrated into the magazine. For example, Steven Spielberg, who is a championed Cahiers director (e.g. War of the Worlds was voted as one of the 10 best films of the 00s), his legacy is rearticulated by Cahiers through their championing of films that have been inspired by his (J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, which made their cover) as well as by comparison. So like how in their review of The Tree of Life they compare the dinosaurs to those in Jurassic Park and in their review of Moonrise Kingdom they compare its coming of age tale with E.T..

To offer another example on a different topic, in Jean-Philippe Tessé’s review of Spring Breakers, Fluo et sang (N.687), he writes that “Spring Breakers is like Film Socialisme and Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which described a terminal state of the contemporary capitalist civilization. With these three films we have a kind an irreconcilable triptych of our times.” This judgment by an important Cahiers critic cements the importance of these films at the magazine. So you can now expect that these films (and perhaps also Holy Motors and Lincoln, which were also deemed important) to reappear in later writing at Cahiers and perhaps also in their highlights of important films from the first decade of the 21st century.
100 Cinéastes Americains (Cahiers, May 2003, N.579)

The opening essay Les nouvelles têtes du cinéma américain is by Olivier Joyard and Jean-Marc Lalanne (and is accompanied by a photo of Shyamalan on the set of Unbreakable). To accompany a previous issue that had interviews with people from the American film industry, this unique feature is a critical biographical dictionary of 100 directors, “An exercise to clearly articulate our relationship with these American cineastes.” The emphasis is on new directors of the last decade (starting in ’92) instead of a reevaluation of the perennials (Lynch, De Palma, Carpenter, Van Sant etc). After acknowledging a disappointment with the quality of many new American films, they note, “Some new names by emerging directors show us that auteurs are still being made: the Farrelly brothers, Sofia Coppola, James Gray, M. Night Shyamalan and Larry Clark count for some of the best new discoveries from America.” The survey is also interested in less singular authorial figures so people like Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro) as a way to hypothesize what makes some of their films good or bad. The selection is full of interesting choices. The evaluations are varied from standard observations to eccentric readings: curiosity with Albert and Allen Hughes, appreciation for E.H. Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, fascination with Joseph McGinty Nichol (McG), interest in Jim KcKay, admiration for Raphael Nadjari, skepticism regarding Christopher Nolan, reserved admiration for Andrew Niccol, interest in Peter Sollet and Stephen Sommers, fondness for Barry Sonnenfeld etc.
M. Night Shyamalan
How to rank the Indian of Hollywood, Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan? People are talking about this everywhere and especially here. Those that are against him accuse his films of an integral range of stylish disguises, that they are awful post mortems of recanned goods, gray scenarios about bereavement, a cinema for old people. The people that are on his side are praising a totally different Shy. He is less the juvenile genius that he rapidly became known for with one (Sixth Sense), two (Unbreakable) and then three (Signs) films. But instead his cinema is that of the X mark, which is the exact spot, where a well-constructed story and a doubt of today’s cinema can be found. X, crossed at least three times. One: the return of the heroic father (Bruce, Mel) isn’t separated from the tropes of the genre – terror, action, fantastic – which reinvents it. This is closer to the narrative science of David Lynch with his dry irony, allegory and mystery. Two: the apparent classicism of the process – frontality, framing, shot-reverseshot, unrivaled fluidity of editing – radicalize the actuality of the evolution of its images. It fuses bodies in familiar spaces and creates an incorporation of domestication. Three and go: Shyamalan is sneaky and with him there is something cooking. Look at his films that are so smooth and so cryptic. Look at him, there, with his cameos and in the interviews. What a bizarre mixture of seriousness and buffoonery. In America, like elsewhere, the range of postures for filmmakers is never like this. Those of the 21st century might be like the nice Manoj, which is a little charming and a bit of a swindler. At this hour, it is too early to say. – Emmanuel Burdeau
Les meilleurs films des années 2000 (Cahiers Jan ’10, N.652)

This is from the Cinq cineaste pour les années 2000 section, which also included short-takes on Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Gus Van Sant, Wes Anderson (written by Miguel Gomes) and Pedro Costa (written by Olivier Père).
M. Night Shyamalan
Born in France at the end of the 19th century, cinema relived the history of the narrative arts that preceded it: myths, epics, tragedies, comedies, realism and satire. In one century, that of the cinema, they have been degraded to the point that they have now been deteriorated into an irreversible irony. The heroes of the 2000 years, a synthetic hero, have been invented by Stan Lee and his blood relative Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of Mad magazine. They have our neuroses and our powerlessness. The only “marvel” that the cinema can produce is those from “Marvel.”
            Born in Indian in 1970, M. Night Shyamalan incarnates more or less his own role in his first full-length feature (Praying with Anger, 1992), returning to India from America where he learns to pray to the Hindi divinity. This film has barely been seen. The next one, Wide Awake (1998), tells the story of a boy that is searching for God in a catholic school that Shyamalan went to during his childhood in Philadelphia. His difficult school year relies on the discovery that his friend that has been helping him survive remains invisible to everyone except himself. Shyamalan directed a remake of Wide Awake – a cataclysmic commercial failure – and entitled it Sixth Sense, a commercial success so enormous that he has never bee able to live up to or forget it.
            Then mounting criticisms and commercial failures has handicapped him in the 2000s, despite his decision to remain with the fantastical which has been nourishing Hollywood during this decade: ghosts stories, comic books, science-fiction, gothic, fairy tales, and animation. There have been many sublime moments that have been reached through the descent into the grotesque and profound confusion. But this parallel search for the treasure chest, today is pilled against much more inferior works (toys, video games), which ends up deceiving the public that made Shyamalan “bankable.” Someone must have misread the instructions on the back of the cereal box…
            The characters in the story of Lady in the Water are trying to find their place (which isn’t even a story but a game – this film really anticipates The Last Airbender: cinema as virtual reality) but don’t know their significance, just like the stories that are told between the eccentric and comic tenants of this apartment building (like quirky characters from an unmade TV pilot). The experts talk about a “Grand Narratives” of the American national cinema, which is a contested term; but Lady in the Water is the story of these stories.
            Shyamalan, like Joe Dante two generations before him, is the anti-Spielberg of his generation. He is a make believe prophet whose capacity to find in an animated TV cartoon an eschatological has always been his strongest asset (he is about to film Avatar: The Last Airbender). A force that is revealed at the spot where for Spielberg is a weakness, where everything is inevitably revealed: at the end of the film. The end of Lady in the Water, when the residents of the apartment see the young women being picked up into the sky by the eagle, is as beautiful as that of The Space Children (Jack Arnold, 1958): it is a poetry of recycled religiosity. By daring to speculate onto the screen a message of salvation, the importance of his body of work will only be revealed when he will be dead or killed. This makes M. Night Shyamalan the last rock star of the 60s. – Bill Krohn

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