Friday, October 20, 2017

Top of the Lake: China Girl (Jane Campion, 2017)




Jane Campion’s most recent project, Top of the Lake: China Girl, a follow-up to Top of the Lake (2013), is a 6-hour, episodic journey that premiered, variously, at Cannes, on the Sundance channel, and, played, most recently, at the Vancouver Film International Festival. It is, as its length and as its screening venues suggest, difficult to pin neatly into a category. Is it a gorgeously shot TV show? A very long film? Campion and her work, as usual, resist tidy classifications of all sorts.


Does her work represent “female annihilation in bonnets,” as BBC Radio 5 film critic Mark Kermode once suggested, or is she definitely a feminist director, her work “emphasiz[ing] and almost perverse figuration of female strength” as Professor of Film Studies at University of East Anglia, Yvonne Trasker has said? Campion herself has championed women and women filmmakers, quoted as saying in an 1993 Cahiers du Cinema piece, “I think I know things about women that men cannot express.” And yet she “bridles” Virginia Wright Wexman notes in Jane Campion: Interviews, “at being narrowly identified as a feminist filmmaker,” and Wexman cites Campion as saying, “‘I think it’s quite clear in my work that my orientation isn’t political or doesn’t come out of modern politics.’”


Ultimately, it’s Campion’s work’s resistance to all kinds of categories, feminist and otherwise, that thrills me most. She does feature vibrant, strongly characterized women and female relationships in all of her films – sisters, mothers, daughters, friends – but her women are messy, often complicit in their own oppression, often loving men that oppress them. She often, too, defines, examines, and explores the patriarchal structures that surround her female characters, exposing those structures as destructive and abusive, and yet her men are messy, too, rarely simply openly misogynist without also being one some level complex and sympathetic. . . . 


Read the rest over at Seattle Screen Scene.

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, 2017)




The frame holds me.
Straining to see beyond,
I sleep,
caught between
tension & peace.


In the sleep, I dream,
The dream, a window
into what is
and what could be.

     –(Adapted from the original tweet, 9/29/2017)


An inevitable sort of melancholy hangs over a beloved filmmaker’s last film, and one feels a certain pressure to love it, whatever it is. Going into the screening of the final film of Abbas Kiarostami (1940-2016), 24 Frames, I couldn’t ignore the nostalgia associated with the endeavor. I am not sure, ultimately, if it will ever be possible for me to disassociate the film from the cinema experience of sitting in the dark, grieving a film lover’s grief and thinking, “This 120 minutes will be the last new footage I will ever see.” But sitting there, even so intensely aware of the experience as a memento mori, Kiarostami’s film–flickering relentlessly forward through those precious minutes–took on its own weight. Like all of his films have done for me, it slowly removed me from self-consciousness and immersed me in itself.


24 Frames is certainly unique within Kiarostami’s oeuvre. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to find in an exhibition at the MoMA, where you can study an art piece for a while and then wander away. It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to sit in the dark and watch for two hours. But then, Kiarostami has always been playing with the idea of cinema, his films so often reflecting back on themselves and on the act of filmmaking, and in these reflections, he has continually made his audiences consider again what cinema is and what it could be. . . . 


Read the rest over at Seattle Screen Scene

Landline (Gillian Robespierre, 2017)



Early in Gillian Robespierre’s new film, Landline, Dana (Jenny Slate), compulsively scratching a poison ivy rash contracted in a not-so-romantic encounter in the woods with her fiancé, sits across a desk from a co-worker discussing their dates from the previous night. Effusively, the co-worker describes a romantic, hours’ long “epic conversation on the rooftop.” Dana, pausing, responds that she and her fiancé, in contrast, had spent “three hours at Blockbuster.” “We got Curly Sue,” she adds. It’s the kind of specific, funny, and evocative moment that punctuates and defines Robespierre’s work, a moment that deftly situates us in the time and space of the film’s 1995 setting, in a character’s emotional landscape, and in the thematic framework. . . .

Read the rest over at Seattle Screen Scene.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

August 2016-February 2017: My reviews for Seattle Screen Scene

The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015): Review


Ixcanul (Jayro Bustamante, 2015): Review


Kensho at the Bedfellow (Brad Raider, 2016): Review


Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015): Review 
(full review, updated and expanded from the earlier capsule review)


Monday, July 25, 2016

April-June 2016: My reviews for Seattle Screen Scene

Knight of Cups (Terence Malick, 2015): Review 




Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier, 2015): Review



Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015): Capsule review



Long Way North (Remi Chaye, 2015): Review



Under the Sun (Vitaly Mansky, 2015): Capsule review


Sunset Song (Terence Davies, 2015): Review


Neon Demon (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2016): Review


Swiss Army Man (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert, 2016): Review




Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Text and Self: The Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)


"The text is like an object. It's going to change perspective depending on where you're standing."

And as the director, Klaus Diesterweg (played by Lars Eidinger), tells the journalist, the experience of the play, Maloja Snake, will be different for every audience member, each bringing his or her own personal subjective weight to bear on that elusive textual object.

So, I have to ask, would this film have played differently for me were I 20-something, instead of 40-something? Would I, perhaps, be more interested in Valentine (Kristen Stewart) or Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), than Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a woman confronted by youth - as something startlingly distant from herself - at every turn? I am drawn to Valentine, particularly, of course, and Stewart's performance is as good as they say, but in her, I am startled, like Maria, to see a projection of what I thought I was, not what I am.

I am confronted, week to week, in my capacity as a professor, by 17-22 year old college students, living a moment in their lives that I remember so vividly: that passion for new ideas, that excitement in throwing off perceived tradition, that confident sense of self and one's own "barbaric yawping." For them, the Transcendentalists make the most sense: "Trust thyself"? Of course. "Speak the rude truth"? What other way of speaking can there be? "Absolve [me] to [my]self"? Oh, yes, indeed, they know they shall "have the suffrage of the world."

It is, truly, a thrill to watch such bold living and speaking, but there is, too, as time crawls every more quickly on, an increasingly bitter sting at the end of each quarter, when these bold young beings leave me without a backward glance. Some, it is true, stop to thank me, to wish me goodbye, but most do not think the life of a 40-something professor is truly of much interest - not with their own lives, stretching before them. They simply cannot imagine what mine is and can't really care. And it is right that it should be so. I cannot, as Maria does of Jo-Ann, ask them to pause, for just a few seconds more, as they walk out the door. The poignancy in those seconds would be only for me. No, it is a "little life," after all, "rounded with a sleep," and I see, more and more, as only one of the "players," I cannot take more than my fair share of "exits and . . . entrances."

I am not of their moment, not anymore. Someday, they shall be in mine though that is not really a thought that brings much comfort. They, surely, just as I am now, will be looking backwards to their own youth, not forwards to wherever I am.

Maria, so viscerally and vulnerably performed by Binoche, for me, then, embodies, with an almost unbearable truth, something of the journey of age I feel and resist and give in to and resist and give in to every day, the "rag[ing] against the dying of the light" and the sighing in acquiescence taking almost equal turns. She is someone learning that the narrative isn't really about her - or at least, it is her narrative, she is in it, but her part may not be very important to anyone else. She may cry out in excited questioning, as the rolling clouds and mist stream into the distant valley, "Is that the Snake? Is that the Snake?" but as she turns to the expected audience, she'll find no one is watching, no one listening. Only the still, looming mountain remains, unmoved by the little drama.

I wonder. Next time I watch this, will Rosa Melchior, mostly off-stage, forgotten by most, be the figure who inhabits my mind?