Monday, September 30, 2013

Lincoln in France (Cahiers du cinéma, Positif, Trafic)

Lincoln (Cahiers, Feb. ’13, N.686) w/ Événement Critique by Jean-Philippe Tessé, L'impossible, and a Réplique by Jean-Sébastien Chauvin, Dans un fauteuil.

Lincoln (Positif, Feb. ’13, N.624) w/ Actualité Critique by Christian Viviani, Les Moyens de la Fin.

Lincoln (Trafic, June ’13, N.86) w/ an Essay by Bernard Benoliel, Lincoln center. À propos du film de Spielberg et de quelques autres.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Burning Bush" review by Oded Aronson

In the midst of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, one man fell to his death; his body was charred from head to toe.  Thousands dispersed, unwilling to approach the body for fear of the fire.  Police discovered a note attached to his body; it stated that he would burn himself alive as a form of protest against the Russian invasion of his country.  His name was Jan Palach; he was only the first of many, the note said, and if the Russians did not immediately exit Czechoslovakia, more people from his group would burn themselves alive until they did.
The note was intentionally vague about the specifics of the group; the police were concerned about keeping the citizens of Czechoslovakia as far out of reach of this group as possible, but they had no information to go on.  After weighing various alternatives, they decided to ask Jan’s family, as they were the people police believed would have been closest to him.
The only issue was that none of them had anything to do with the group mentioned by Jan’s note.  At a loss as to how to proceed, the police then continued to conduct their investigation internally.  After a long period of time in which no progress seemed to be made, they sent an astonishing report to various newspapers.  According to the reports, Jan had never intended to kill himself; the group that he was part of had coerced him to take part in a massive demonstration by pouring himself with a newly created compound that would simulate the appearance of fire while keeping his body temperate; the reports dubbed it “cold fire”.  Unfortunately, a random terrorist had switched the chemical with a more toxic substance, and thus, Jan burned himself to death.
          Despite making these claims, the article never cited any sources other than to mention that the article was a result of the writers’ own research.  Jan’s family smelled a rat, but how would they find out the truth?  They knew Jan was too intelligent to fall for the trick detailed in the reports.  It was understandable that their fury and grief would cause them to lash out, but beyond that, an answer was officially on record; not necessarily a plausible answer, but an answer nonetheless.  How would they find anyone who would take their questions seriously? 
            Eventually they found a lawyer willing to take their case and sue for defamation of Jan’s character, but it took a lot of subtle pressure from her colleague’s daughter, who was secretly empathetic towards the Palachs.
            What follows is an excoriating critique of police states and governmental sanctions of media and news, made even more potent by the fact that this film is based on a true story.
            The acting is uniformly of high calibre.  Vilém Novy plays Martin Huba, the corrupt editor responsible for the fake story spread throughout Czechoslovakian news. Novy’s interpretation of Huba is  a man who you can tell has bad intentions from the mere look in his eye, yet his character goes through some interesting changes.  The lines on his face change into something very interesting, and the gradual morphing of his sensibilities is believable and fascinating to watch.
            As Dagmar Burešová, the lawyer who took on the case, Tatiana Pauhofová sells each scene, and makes a completely convincing and engaging figure.  Although Mrs. Burešová performed a courageous deed and did a great public service, Burning Bush doesn’t show her as a straight heroic figure.  The stress of representing such a complicated case takes a toll on her, and she often treats her family coldly because she is so frustrated at her lack of progress on the case.  Over the course of the series, after witnessing what Jan Palach’s mother goes through, she gradually becomes more appreciative of the close bond her family shares and she starts becoming a better mom as well as a fierce crusader for the rights of individuals.
            Libuše Palachová is a veteran actress, and she astonishes with a potent, depressing and emotional portrayal of Jaroslava Pokorná, Jan’s mother.  She communicates the loss and pain experienced by mothers who have outlived at least one of their own children so effectively that it caused many people in the audience to cry.  I was not the only one. 
            The best thing to be said about Burning Bush is that its nearly four hour running time feels shorter than it is.  I wanted to spend more time with these characters, and the shift from day to night outside the theatre was shocking.  Agnieszka Holland is a master director with a long filmography, and she has directed another masterpiece with Burning Bush.

Oded Aronson 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Unfuckable: Waiting for Sancho, La última película

Waiting for Sancho is the making of Albert Serra’s Birdsong. It’s comprised of footage from the set, the cast in preparation to be filmed, and thoughts from the director. The documentary by Mark Peranson shows the amount of work that goes into the making of a small-scale independent film. Peranson, who has a small role in Birdsong, has a privileged position within the crew, and his personal footage attest to this friendly relationship. By making this documentary he’s emphasizing the importance and value of this kind of radical filmmaking, which is a world away from the norms of commercial Hollywood storytelling, and it also provides first-hand access to the artistic ambitions of its director.

Waiting for Sancho is, in some ways, similar to other ambitious making-of documentaries like Chris Marker’s A.K., Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha. The Los Angeles film critic Robert Koehler suggested at the recent MDFF screening of Waiting for Sancho that it would be an apt centerpiece to any potential “making-of” film festivals.

But Waiting for Sancho is different than these other films.  In these other making-of documentaries, one gets the impression that their whole raison d'être is the problems that arise on the sets and to see familiar directors trying to overcome them. As well, since these documentaries are not created in the publicity mold, their third-party perspective usually offer an implicit critique of these megalomaniac projects and the hubris of the directors and the industry that sustains them.

How is Waiting for Sancho different? First off: it’s very funny. What makes it stand out are the eccentric personalities of the actors and how they all get along with each other, along with the larger-than-life personality of its director Albert Serra.

Waiting for Sancho is more like a Serra film with its focus on characters and their gestures. There isn’t the typical over-exposition that one might find elsewhere. The cast and crew are just there, and Waiting for Sancho attests to this egalitarian spirit. This emphasis on the people and gestures can be illustrated by a quote from Serra about his most recent film Story of my Death,
“It was simply easier for me to work with historical and literary figures … so I could focus on atmosphere, on details, on things I love better than just showing the plot or trying to give information about the characters. With these characters you have more or less all the information and, well, then I can do whatever I want, I am free and I don’t care about being more or less faithful to the original source or character that comes from literature or history.” (The Beauty of Horror and the Horror of Beauty, Cinema Scope N.56).
But Waiting for Sancho is different then Serra’s films. In Serra’s cinema the framing is incredibly precise and, like with Bresson, he aims to get at the essential of the characters. The settings that Serra films, whether it is a forest, desert or castle; becomes a sparse canvas for this essential of the characters to emerge out of and for them to react against. The historical specificity of Serra’s films, which evolves with each new film, are also really unique as they provide a context for the character’s spiritual crisis as well as they provide a unique and captivating “look” in regards to the film’s costume and production design.

All of this to say that it is really interesting to see how Serra brings all of these filmmaking elements together in Waiting for Sancho.

The digital image of Peranson’s hand-held video frames the cast in long shots, which emphasizes the scale of the filmmaking.  As well Waiting for Sancho is in color and uses natural sounds which differs from the black and white cinematography and non-diegetic sounds of Birdsong. This access to the original location provides a better understanding of the final film’s artistic manipulations. The regular casting of Serra’s friends Lluis Carbo, Lluis Serrat Masanellas, and Lluis Serrat Batlle provide Waiting for Sancho with its primary subjects: they are all great together, and continue, though in a different register, the dynamics that they have in Birdsong and Serra’s other films. There is something intrinsically interesting about these guys being together, and watching them respond to the world around them, brings to mind what makes Serra’s films so interesting: life, people and the world itself.
The filmmaker in La última película is played by Alex Ross Perry, who at times recalls the sarcastic Paul Rudd (Role Models), and his accompanying guide is played by Gabino Rodríguez, the lead of Nicolás Pereda's films. In it the filmmaker goes to Yucatán, Mexico to make the last film on film-stock, and he suggests that it might be the last film ever made since the Mayan apocalypse is around the corner.

Isn't this a beautiful and romantic prospect? To finish everything off with this one last gesture: to give back to cinema everything that it has ever meant: pleasure, humor, melancholy, friendship, beauty, violence. This epic finale is symbolically similar to Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, where Tyrone Slothrop is in a movie theater waiting for the world to end, and Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, where the destruction of film stock in a movie theater can rid history of Hitler.

La última película is ostensibly a remake of the Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie with hints of that film's making-of, The American Dreamer. But similarities to other films come to mind: Godard’s Contempt, Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (two films by other film-critics turned filmmakers) and iMDb lists many other possible movie connections. La última película is similar to Contempt as they are both about a director abroad who is trying to make, what seems to be, an unrealizable film; and it’s similar to Celine and Julie for its use of self-referential and distancing effects. But these effects aren't necessarily Brechtian as much as they call into question ideas of medium specificity, narrative illusion, and the creative impetus.

The Adieu 35 issue of Cahiers (N.672) announced that the digital revolution is over.  What more does the future of cinema have to give us? Is film going to become solely a historical artifact in a world of digital cinema projections? What's going to happen to the production and distribution platforms which even has Spielberg confused?  Has Carax given cinema its last breath with Holy Motors?

A great counter-example to these claims is La última película, which recent premiere in 35mm is one of this year's important film events. La última película affirms cinema's capabilities to reinvent itself.  It's directors are worth mentioning: the lauded Filipino auteur Raya Martin and the Canadian film-critic turned filmmaker Mark Peranson. What they create reflects a mixture of their two individual styles (more on this below) and its a brilliant piece of alchemy. It's an ode to film that simultaneously burns the last film strips. It's shot with a variety of film stocks that in a way calls attention to itself.

The film is a hybrid of both Martin and Peranson’s filming styles. There are some similarities between La última película and Martin’s Buenas noches, España, which in a experimental register, with shifting film stock and industrial music, a young couple go off on a road trip, where they experience some really intimidate moments, as they go deeper into nature and visit some local tourist sights. The Peranson qualities come across by the film-within-the-film's director who speaks at length about his lofty aims (though presented in a self-critical register), and the making-of quality of La última película that recalls Waiting for Sancho.

This making-of quality of La última película is important because now with it contemporary festival cinema has its Singin' in the Rain. Just like how in Cinema Scope they publish great director interviews, which are lengthy conversations about the filmmaking process, now with La última película this rarely shown aspect of filmmaking has returned into the construction of the film, which is in some ways similar to what Singin' in the Rain did by bringing a reflexivity to its presentation of cinema's transition to the talkies.

In Phil Coldiron’s review of La última película, The End of Cinema (Cinema Scope N.56) he speaks about the kinds of films that the free-form of La última película is reacting against,
“World cinema today finds itself in much the same place: films must dress up their culture of origin in the same ways that will most appeal to the cultural elite who make up film festival selection committees and audiences, a situation which has hardened into a set of rules that are every bit as dogmatic as those kept in place to ensure Hollywood blockbuster turn appropriate profits on their nine-figure investments.”
Olivier Père in his review of La última película also elaborates on the aesthetic rewards of these Cinema Scope films (my translation),
“Those that lament about the death of cinema, decry its rigid formatting and lack of audacity and freedom, ignore or refuse to see the films and the methods of Miguel Gomes, Albert Serra and Lisandro Alonso and a few other young cinéastes who for them the cinema is a collective experience that is vivifying and intrepid. Mark Peranson knows this. In his role as a film critic he has followed and brilliantly commented upon this fringe «jeune, pure et dure» of the cinema for these last ten years in his magazine Cinema Scope, which is actually the best one in the world. It's a sign-post for the creation and defense of these of new cinematographic forms."
Since Peranson’s Cinema Scope editorials are usually critical of current practices around cinema, it is a breath of fresh air to see how in the newest issue, Film is Dead, Long Live Film (N.56), it includes solely three screen grabs of La última película. It is a beautiful, passionate and modest gift to the world of cinephilia.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Media Mondays Panel: Altman, Lynch, Spielberg (Sept 23, 7PM)

To kick off their new season of the Film Director series, Media Mondays will be having a panel with its guest lecturers to discuss these filmmakers.

The classes include: Kevin Courrier's The Enigmatic Genius of Robert Altman (Oct-Dec), Shlomo Schwartzberg Defining Greatness: Director Steven Spielberg (Jan-March), and Adam Nayman's David Lynch in Nayman's Terms (Spring 2014).

The panel is free and it's on Monday, September 23rd at 7pm at the Miles Nadal JCC.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pendant les Travaux, Le Cinéma Reste Ouvert: John Milius

With the continuation of Jean-Baptiste Thoret et Stéphane Bou's excellent French film podcast Pendant les Travaux, Le Cinéma Reste Ouvert (France Inter) into the Fall season, its loyal listeners can keep listening to these great one-hour lessons in esoteric film history. The episodes are always fascinating as they get hyper-cinephilic guests, along with important contemporary French filmmakers, to speak about a variety of films and film-related subjects. One of the great new episodes is the one John Milius est-il vraiment un cinéaste fasciste? with its guest the Positif critic and screenwriter, Laurent Vachaud.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Time is the Sun & Everything Is Embarrassing (the La Di Da Film Festival)

The La Di Da Film Festival in New York, this year at the Anthology Film Archieves, has a great line up. Its impressive premiere's includes Raya Martin's How to Disappear Completely and Joe Swanberg's 24 Exposures along with some older films like Frederick Wiseman's The Store and Josh and Benny Safdie's John's Gone. But the highlight is its program of shorts that includes a few works by some internet film figures: Kurt Walker with his Everything Is Embarrassing and Isiah Medina's Semi Auto Colours and his newest work Time is the Sun. They sound really good and the reviews have been enthusiastic. We're really looking forward to seeing these eventually coming to Toronto!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Saturday, September 7, 2013

JIMBO and PARADISE FALLS (Canadian Short Films)

See Ryan Flowers new short-film Jimbo that is playing in the Short Cuts Canada section on Monday, September 9th at 10pm in Lightbox 3 and Tuesday, September 10th at 2:45pm in Lightbox 4.
See Fantavious Fritz' new short-film Paradise Falls that is playing in the Short Cuts Canada section on Tuesday, September 10th at 6:30pm in Lightbox 2 and Wednesday, September 11th at 1:45pm in Lightbox 4.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Waiting for Sancho at The Coffin Factory (Friday, September 6)

In anticipation for Raya Martin and Mark Peranson's La última película, on Friday September 6th at 9:45pm MDFF is presenting at The Coffin Factory a special screening  of Peranson's Waiting for Sancho, a making-of documentary of Albert Serra's Birdsong (who also has a new film, Story of my Death)

And while you are it, to read while you are waiting in lines, might as well pick up the great new issue of Cinema Scope!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

New Issue of The Seventh Art

Make sure to check out The Seventh Art for live streaming interviews with some of the coolest directors and soon their new issue where you can find great new interviews with the likes of Christopher Doyle and Xavier Dolan. As well they also have a great new interview with Brad Deane about his upcoming Cinematheque program. And they will be putting on a special screening of Last Night with its director Don McKellar in attendance on Wednesday September 11th at 7:30 at the OCADU Gallery.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wavelengths 2013

Follow the link to read an interview between Andréa Picard and Blake Williams about this year's Wavelengths program.