LILY AND GENEROSO’S 2017 TOP TEN FILM LIST, SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS, BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, AND BEST REP FILM EXPERIENCE

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We dedicate this top ten list to David Pendleton, the brilliant and lovely co-curator of the Harvard Film Archive, who passed away on November 6th at the age of 53. We wholeheartedly feel that our education as cinephiles was enhanced greatly by not only the quality of programming that he presented to us at the archive, but also from the film knowledge that we gleaned from him before each screening from the podium and after the screenings in the hallway. We miss you.  


In 2017, we were fortunate to have had a greater access to international film screenings than ever before, thanks in large part to the efforts of a few organizations here in Los Angeles who were committed to bringing the finest titles that they could find to the film community here from abroad, and it was this unprecedented ability to see foreign titles that became a large reason as to why our list is so heavily weighted towards international cinema. We would like to thank the good people at Acropolis Cinema, AFI Fest, the South East European Film Festival, Cinema Italian Style, Canada Now, Cambodian Town Film Festival, and Recent Spanish Cinema Los Angeles for their diligent work in bringing the best contemporary world cinema to our city.

If we had to isolate two major themes that were indicative of this year’s selections, they would the creative process and the suffocating nature of modern industrialization. This year there are multiple films that capture the experience of artistic experimentation and creation. And, there are multiple films that contrast nature to modern civilization. Appearing at the top of our list this year is a film that excelled in incorporating and expanding on these two themes, an exceptionally ambitious and complex work that immediately set the standard for exceptional film for this year.  


1. By the Time it Gets Dark (Dao khanong) / Thailand / dir. Anocha Suwichakornpong
Countering the current banal trend towards overly self-aware film referencing that many consider viable postmodernist cinema is Anocha Suwichakornpong’s By The Time it Gets Dark, which has no novelty in its allusions to the history of cinema and yet, manages to maintain a lightness throughout its discourse on the role of cinema in capturing and retelling collective memories and realities. The film begins with a scene set in 1976, and a real event that is currently being suppressed in history books by the Thai government, Bangkok’s Thammasat University massacre, where a large number of student protesters were executed by the Thai military. This piece of history comes to the attention of Ann (Visra Vichit-Vadakan), a filmmaker who locates a survivor of the killings, a writer named Taew (Rassami Paoluengton), who Ann has invited to a secluded country home for an extended conversation. In this setting, we encounter another woman, who becomes a recurring character throughout the film, who drifts from job to job. After Ann interviews Taew, we are introduced to an handsome actor named Peter (Arak Amornsupasiri) who is filming a more commercial film than the one that Ann is currently creating about the Thammasat University killings. With each of these characters’ stories, Suwichakornpong shows a different perspective and context of film history and its motivations. There is an ode to cinema and a chance for transformation there is also an undercurrent of how film was viewed during different political and social climates within the timeline of the progression of cinema itself. The director, in order to accomplish this ambitious dissection of cinema, blurs the reality of what is in the film or to be specific, the films within the films, to stress what is most likely a change of character or outcome that has been mandated for purposes of entertainment or sadly because of the failing of a nation’s collective memory about a real event that has been altered by media itself.

 



2. Loveless (Nelyubov) / Russia / dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev
We have been fans of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s work since his 2003 feature film debut, The Return, and since that feature, he has continued surpassing each previous work in quality. It has been three years since his previous, highly regarded film, Leviathan, so we were beyond excited to see his new film, Loveless, the 2017 Jury Prize winner at the Cannes Film Festival. In Loveless, Zvyagintsev follows Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), a soon to be divorced couple, whose constant battling has caused severe emotional trauma to their young son Alexey, who in the midst of his parents’ other ongoing dalliances has gone missing, which is not even noticed by his parents until days later. Loveless then becomes a film that plays with its audience by putting you in the position of the argumentative couple, who seem more concerned with their anger towards one another and seemingly unfulfilling affairs than the welfare of their own child. During the AFI Fest screening’s question and answer session with Zvyagintsev, the director deflected assertions that were made by the moderator that his film is political and clarified that his feature is one that intends to shine light on the social and moral imperatives of a modern Russia that is quickly on the verge of breakdown. Alexey, who only occupies a tiny percentage of the film’s running time, becomes a brilliantly conceived symbol of a generation of Russian citizens who are fanatically striving to retain their own youth, which is the most precious commodity in the face of an uncertain future.

 

 

3. Sieranevada / Romania / dir. Cristi Puiu
Lary (Mimi Branescu) and his wife, Laura (Catalina Moga) begin Cristi Puiu’s film trying to get out of a traffic situation on a busy street in Bucharest. This all too familiar scene of urban misery deliberately plays out slowly so that you can take in every single moment of frustration that this situation can provide. Once Lary and Laura are freed from the car trap, you learn that they are off to mourn the passing of Lary’s father with his family, who will now become the human version of traffic jam they couple just escaped. The predominance of Puiu’s stiflingly grand film takes place in the apartment where Lary’s family has congregated, and over the next few hours you will witness their rants on political situations that have been gleaned through personal experiences and to a greater degree, various nefarious websites. You will then see the seemingly trapped guests drag in their friends with their miseries into the fray, whist all await the priest who will consecrate this beleaguered affair before dinner can be served. Puiu has reimagined contemporary Romania in Sieranevada as an ant farm where the inhabitants disgustedly move around their glass cage, expelling their frustrations with neither truth or faith serving as a guiding force to lessen their anger. No real answers are given to any of the concerns of our grieving clan, except perhaps during one short scene when Lary and Laura are accosted by neighbors when they venture outside to try to move their car. It is at this very moment that you begin to understand that at least the dysfunction they see at home, as oppressive as it is there, is infinitely better than the conflicts that exist outside of the familiar familial box. For the almost three hour running time, you are transfixed by every conversation that occurs in Sieranevada, and you watch, sometimes in disbelief, at how these frenetic moments are sewn together by Puiu.

 

 

4. The Workshop (L’Atelier) / France / dir. Laurent Cantet
In The Workshop, longtime collaborators Laurent Cantet and Robin Campillo deceptively set up a scenario where you expect a beneficent teacher to help needy adolescents understand themselves through the beauty of writing, which could potentially be extremely sanguine and unrealistic like so many “teacher changing student movies” à la Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers. However, Cantet and Campillo weave together a film that gets to the essence of writing. Here, writing is not a lofty art form that brings some level of dramatic catharsis, but rather a way to explore and accept one’s own motivations and flaws. Cantet and Campillo use a bait and switch technique that plays on established cinematic clichés in the order to create an interesting narrative, but more so to illustrate the flaws in Hollywood’s films, which stress unreal expectations for a saccharine ending. Cantet and Campillo purposefully lead the viewer through their main character Antoine (Matthieu Lucci), a highly intelligent but brash and combative young man, on several potential clichéd thriller endings in line with the thriller that the students in the workshop are tasked to write. The selection of any of these potential thriller endings for the film is irrelevant, as each ending option only goes as far as to clarify the true purpose of the film: the self-realization that comes through in writing is more important than the craft of writing itself. The Workshop is an expertly conceived film that deftly builds its thesis by confronting the assumptions made by audiences, who might project their own expectations about the beneficence and motivations of teachers and students based on Cantet’s 2008 Palme d’Or winning film, The Class.

 

 

5. Personal Shopper / France / dir. Olivier Assayas
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a young American woman living in France who seems adrift as she goes through the day to day tasks of her titular position, working for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) a vulgar parody of an American actress. We see Maureen in a state of perpetual limbo due to recent passing of her twin brother, Lewis, who has promised his sister a sign from beyond, which Maureen eagerly awaits for, and witnesses early in the film while staying at the abandoned house of her deceased brother. Maureen’s supernatural connections with Lewis do little for Maureen in terms of coming to grips with her loss, and so she continues to glide through her life with no connection to both her boyfriend Ingo (Lars Eidinger), a computer programmer working abroad in Oman, who Maureen communicates with only through Skype, and Kyra, who sends purchasing requests to Maureen via phone. The aforementioned detached voices, including a new one in the form of an unknown text-messenger, add to this state of lifelessness we see in Maureen, who becomes somewhat of an apparition herself, a phantom who secretly parades around the apartment of her employer whilst wearing her bosses new expensive garments. Though some elements exist, Personal Shopper never operates on the level of standard genre horror film, though the film does contain moments of suspense through Maureen’s reactions to the mysterious and threatening texts that she receives. Assayas uses the combination of the unreal and real to solidify his thesis, a thesis that does more than simply examine the grief associated with physical death: it’s a look at not only the emptiness that coincides with that loss, but also the loss of physical connection due to global economics and subsequent distance between people in their methods of communication in our digital age.


6. Western / Germany | Bulgaria / dir. Valeska Grisebach
Valeska Grisebach’s first film in over a decade, Western, which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, is a surprising examination of the conflicting attitudes towards and evolving definitions of masculinity that are derived from predetermined notions of contrasting cultures. In the film, a team of German workers is sent to the outskirts of a small village in Bulgaria to build a hydroelectric power plant. Amongst the team, we are immediately introduced to Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), who is said to have been a French Foreign Legionnaire who has grown tired of war. Even though he does have some camaraderie with his German colleagues, Meinhard gravitates towards the villagers near his worksite, and he attempts to gain favor within the village as to earn a place there for some semblance of permanence, but perhaps even more so to exist within a community that eschews the trappings of self-serving aggression that historically is attached to Western practices of conquest and expansion. Through the use of a primarily non-professional group of actors, Western accomplishes its ambitious conceptual goals with a documentary style that allows the viewer seemingly unfettered access to Meinhard and the world around him. Grisebach has created, for the central character of her film, a complex and compelling study, as Meinhard’s former existence as a Legionnaire is an excellent device to explain his innate ability to acclimate to different interpretations of masculinity because of the international participation that exists within the French Foreign Legion. Given Meinhard’s desire to be part of a new community, combined with his ability as a Legionnaire to adapt to foreign cultures, will he be able to establish his value, which he believes comes from his ability to commit violence, but, in doing so, will his actions go against acceptable levels of aggression within the community he wishes to serve?

 



7. A Ciambra / Italy / dir. Jonas Carpignano
In the final scene of Mediterranea, Jonas Carpignano’s impressive feature film debut, we see the protagonist of the film, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), an African refugee who, since arriving in southern Italy, has tried to play it straight, entering a party at the home of his connected orange orchard boss. This simple act of entry by Ayiva, symbolizes his acceptance of the criminal code that governs his region. When we begin Carpignano’s follow up film, A Ciambra, we are reintroduced to Ayiva’s young friend from Mediterranea, Pio (Pio Amato), an illiterate adolescent from a Romani community who peddles stolen items. In A Ciambra, Pio lives with his family and does what he can to help out, including the aforementioned small-time thievery and stealing electricity for his home so that his family can dodge bills they cannot afford. As for Pio and Ayiva, despite their ethnic allegiances, they have become close friends with Ayiva assuming a protective role over Pio, as Pio’s older brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) begins serving time in prison, a place where he begins to look at the ethnic divide in a different way. What we admire the most about A Ciambra is the film’s unwillingness to compromise its realistic vision of a Romani community in contemporary southern Italy and how that community functions in a static environment between established Italian nationals and a new migrant group, African immigrants, who draw some of the ire away from the Romanis. Though by genre definition, this is a crime film, we have come to realize that A Ciambra is more of a film about the stigma attached to immigrant groups from outside and from inside of their communities. We see three groups in the film: the Calabrians, the Romani, and the Africans, and we learn their perceptions of each other and themselves from their interactions.

 

 

8. Bright Sunshine In ( Un beau soleil intérieur) / France / dir. Claire Denis
In Bright Sunshine In, Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, an older visual artist whose success in her career fails to translate into her inter-personal relationships. On the surface, Bright Sunshine In looks like an exploration on fleeting and turbulent love, an exercise on a quintessentially French premise, but Claire Denis uses love and relationships to form an intricate conceit about the life, interactions, and career of an aging female creator. On one level, Bright Sunshine In is about how an older female actress presents herself to the people and characters she meets in life, on stage, or in cinema impacts the course of her interactions. Throughout the film, Binoche comedically dresses as a caricature of a young French woman. She’s always in a miniskirt that barely meets the top of her audacious thigh-high boots, and whenever we see Isabelle’s outfits in Bright Sunshine In, we see a manifestation of Binoche the actress’s and Isabelle the artist’s need to prove to outside eyes that they still can carry the energy, beauty, and vitality of their youth. As much as the film is about the aging actress, it is also about Claire Denis herself as a female director navigating through the archetypal male characters in French cinema and the male actors who play them, which is why the film must end with scenes from Denis’s longtime collaborator Alex Descas and the iconic Gérard Depardieu. Bright Sunshine In appears like a lighter film for Denis, but it is a completely exemplary one because of its ability to show the creative process and experience for aging women in cinema who have seen the past and contributed their own work to it, but want to continue to progress, and for that it is a film that only Denis can present because her grace, honesty, and perceptiveness are evident throughout.

 

 

9. Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres) / France | Belgium / dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Before we say anything else about Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan, let us say this: it’s not perfect by any means, but it is one of the most conceptually and visually daring films we saw at AFI Fest 2017. Cattet and Forzani’s latest blood-soaked feature is, at times, an outstanding display of ideas that draws visual and aural conventions from everything from low budget Euro-crime films of the 1970s to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo. Based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s landmark novel of the same name that re-defined police stories, Let the Corpses Tan uses a violent heist as the galvanizing moment in the narrative, but the film is less about why the crime was committed and more about what each character sees, feels (in a tactile way rather than an emotional way), and hears as he or she has to deal with the consequences. As thus, there is an overwhelmingly impressive dedication by Cattet and Forzani to construct meticulous shots of the actions, big and small, of each character, which makes every scene in the film palpable. We can hear and see the paint that Luce (Elina Löwensohn), the owner of the home that doubles as the film’s stage, shoots onto a canvas. We can feel the sun beating down on the characters as they move around Luce’s sparse and desert-like property in Corsica. We see and hear shots fired from each perspective. We can even smell the pee that is part of Luce’s performance art. This action-focused approach bypasses any character development and exploration, but keeps you fully engaged because you would like to see, hear, and feel what is next, especially because Cattet and Forzani never present a less than intriguing scene. As part of the sensory explosion in Let the Corpses Tan, the directors include scenes from surreal performance artwork from Luce, and these moments emphasize why you should see the film: Let the Corpses Tan is a showcase of how the motifs that we know from genre cinema, when included and expanded in similar and contrasting contexts, can form their own kind of performance that is analogous to Luce’s strange, but also reference heavy, performances.

Let the Corpses Tan is a dazzling spectacle, and even if there are no characters and no firm narrative to hold onto, you’ll be mesmerized by all the sounds and images of liquid gold slathered on bodies, lamb meat being grabbed, bodies being beaten, and gunshots fired in close range and through windows interspersed with close ups of sweaty, furtive glances. As you can tell from that description, some of the scenes in the collage of Let the Corpses Tan may be overly masturbatory or fetishistic, which without key characters are made even more so, but as long as you give up trying to understand why this is all happening before you, you’ll have fun, too much fun experiencing this film.



 

10. On The Beach At Night Alone (Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja) / South Korea / dir. Hong Sang-soo
There were three features directed by Hong Sang-soo this year, which is a fairly standard output by the prolific auteur, who uses a different method in each film to examine his own personal issues, which has also been a mark of his career. One of the most candid talents working in cinema, his 2017 output, Claire’s Camera, The Day After, and On The Beach At Night Alone, are all different artistic treatments of Hong’s much-publicized affair with actress, Kim Min-hee, who, like her married paramour Hong, has been vilified by the South Korean press, in a similar way that Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini had been demonized some seventy years ago after their affair became public, and also as Bergman and Rossellini were able to do, Hong and Kim’s collaboration has led to some magnificent pieces of art, which brings us to On The Beach At Night Alone. The most structurally ambitious and affecting of Hong’s films this year, On The Beach at Night Alone begins in Hamburg, where Kim portrays Young-hee, an actress who has just departed South Korea after having an affair with a famous director. Kim is in Germany visiting a divorced friend, Jee-young (Seo Young-hwa), and the pair peacefully wander through the streets, shops, and parks of Hamburg, and in one funny scene, they even dine with a German friend where they engage painful conversation of poorly spoken English. Though this scene of misspoken words, combined with the redundancy of phrases is seemingly there for comic relief, it mostly exists as a harbinger for the final two thirds of the film that take place in South Korea, where a reunion of sorts with Kim’s director-lover occurs that stresses the power of language and the brutal honesty contained within words to convey pain. As strong as the construction is for On the Beach at Night Alone, its power primarily comes the emotionally complex performance by Kim Min-hee, who seems to have channeled all of the negativity that has been directed at her by people responding to the real-life controversy connected to her off-screen affair with Hong into her impressive range of abilities as an actress.  

 

 

SUPPLEMENTAL LIST

My Father’s Wings (Babamin Kanatlari) / Turkey/ dir. Kıvanç Sezer
An impressive debut feature from the Turkish-born, but Italian-educated Kivanç Sezer about his country’s worker safety issues that have been worsened by earthquakes in Turkey and subsequent shortages of properly built homes, My Father’s Wings uses as its narrative engine the story of master builder İbrahim (Menderes Samancilar), who labors at a construction site where payments have become nebulous and is in dire need of funds to support his family. İbrahim works at the site with his nephew Yusuf (Musab Ekici), a brash young man who is eager to climb the ladder of success and become his own boss. A pensive drama that is framed in the Italian neorealist tradition, My Father’s Wings provides the viewer with a glimpse into the growing crisis of housing demand leading to an exploitative situation for low wage builders who are trying to maintain a balance between survival and dignity. The flawless performances by Samancilar and Ekici create complementary perspectives on life for two different generations, and combined they form characters that express our own concerns and sometimes naïve optimism in our changing society. This is the first part of a projected trilogy that Sezer hopes to make that centers around the building of this property in the suburbs of Istanbul. We sat down with the director for an interview that you can read here.

 

 

Pendular / Brazil / dir. Júlia Murat
Whereas Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition is solely focused on what it means to see and show art from a creator’s and an audience’s perspective, Pendular is more self-contained in its discourse on the reconciliation between space and body. At the start of the film, we see a couple, the woman, a dancer, and the man, a sculptor, forming a line of separation in an abandoned factory that doubles as their home and studio. From this image of the line that splits the man and the woman’s working spaces, we immediately understand that invasion of space will become an issue—for him, the space needed to build his sculptures, and for her, the physical space of her body, the key tool of her work. As Pendular proceeds, the dancer and the sculptor battle to expand their respective physical spaces of performance/creation, and as a result, we see what happens when their need for expansion and creation in their work bleeds into the confines of their human relationship. Beyond our sculptor and dancer, there is a third creator who also wants space: the filmmaker. In conversations in Pendular, there are constant references to mainstream cinematic language and video game play. Then, in one brief moment, we see the dancer move towards the couple’s personal collection of films, which contains multiple works from Tsai Ming-liang and Claire Denis. All of these references to external media serve to try to relate the experience of the sculptor and dancer to known properties for the audience, but all of these references are interruptive and brief, almost in a jarring way, showing the filmmaker’s own battle for narrative space in the film itself in order to set cinematic language anchors for the viewer. Thus, Pendular emerges as an exploration into the experimentation and the struggle to find harmony between three artists: dancer, sculptor, and filmmaker, and in the closing, when the three finally come together, the outcome is a hypnotizing visual exhibit of space, body, and movement. Given the intricacy required to convey the concepts in Pendular, the film de-personalizes its central characters, but more moments of their personal interactions would have given more fluidity and spontaneity to the film. Regardless, Pendular ranks high on this list because it underscores the ability of cinema to provide a dialogue about art, of multiple forms, with time, images, and sound.

 


Hermia and Helena / Argentina / dir. Matías Piñeiro
The latest of Piñeiro’s ongoing “Shakespeareads” series of films based on The Bard’s heroines, Hermia and Helena is a charming, but no less poignant repurposing of the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream taken over international borders. We begin our film with Carmen (María Villar) who is nearing the end of her arts fellowship in New York City and is giving practical academic, and not so practical romantic advice to her friend in Argentina, Camilla (Agustina Muñoz), who will shortly be switching places with Carmen at the university, a switch that may be packaged with the added bonus of an administrator named Lukas (Keith Poulson), a hipster doofus and notorious lothario, who has been spending time with Carmen during her appointment. Once Camilla arrives in New York, she takes advantage of the always amourous Lukas, while she attempts to balance a precarious mix of translating A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a search for her biological father and her long lost lover, and a preoccupation with whomever has been sending postcards during a cross-country roadtrip to Carmen’s apartment. The scenes contained in Hermia and Helena bounce freely from the stories going on in both Buenos Aires and New York, so in one way, Piñeiro’s film has a formal structure, but it is not necessarily a chronological one, which allows for the individual parts of the film to have impact on their own, like the scene where Camilla meets her father, yet at the same time they reflect on one another’s importance in the narrative. The effect allows you to delve into any part of the film without having to rationalize its place in the story. You can also view the film after digging up and digesting your Cliff Notes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from junior year of high school to refresh your memory of the play’s characters to draw comparisons, but it is not necessarily needed to enjoy this refreshingly alive film, which is as much about distance as it is about star crossed lovers.

 


Hello Destroyer / Canada / dir. Kevan Funk
One of the most impressive films in quite a while on the systematic cultivation of violence and the pervasive nature of sports on a society, Kevan Funk’s unrelentingly merciless feature debut, Hello Destroyer, features a powerful performance from Jared Abrahamson as Tyson Burr, a rookie forward for the imaginary Prince George Warriors junior team. Funk painstakingly follows Tyler’s horrific journey through an athletic system where he is first encouraged to by coaches and teammates to be aggressive on the ice, which then becomes a story of infamy as Tyler is subsequently ostracized for his actions during a game that lead to him permanently injuring an opposing team’s player. The film exposes the deep flaws of a sports culture that consistently enforces an ideal of teamwork, an idea that crumbles easily once the unspoken rules of the sport are broken. The structure and tone of Hello Destroyer is courageously uncompromised as director Funk never allows for even one positive moment to distract you away from the film’s dour central message, one that stresses the pressures that are internalized by a young person when they enter the arena to play their country’s most coveted sport and the life-changing ramifications that arise once the public feels that their beloved institution has been violated. Given the realistic treatment of the subject matter, combined with the raw performances in Funk’s film, it was impossible not to think of real-life NHL players Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley, whose entire careers and lives were forever altered by their one moment on the ice where their aggression went too far past the normally prescribed violence that is expected by the fans and management of their sport.

 

 

The Girl Without Hands (La jeune fille sans mains) / France / dir. Sébastien Laudenbach
Amazingly for the second year in a row, we have been presented with a impressed feature that has been written, directed, and animated by one person alone. In 2016, director Nick DiLiberto released the film that he labored over for four years to hand-illustrate over 60,000 frames for, Nova Seed, his homage to the 2-D animated sci-fi/fantasy films of the 1980s, and this year, celebrated animator Sébastien Laudenbach wore as many hats as DiLiberto and faithfully adapted the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, The Girl Without Hands. The girl (Anaïs Demoustier) has chosen the pastoral setting of an apple tree near her father’s mill as her place of rest, but that place is forsaken when her father (Olivier Broche) makes a Faustian deal with the Devil (Philippe Laudenbach), which costs him not only his apple tree, but his daughter as well. The Devil further instructs the greedy father to cut off his own daughter’s hands, which he is heartbroken to do, but he obliges in fear of further retaliation. Without her hands, the girl slowly crawls into the woods where she is saved from drowning by an earth mother spirit (Elina Löwensöhn) who subsequently shows the girl to a castle where our wounded heroine meets a prince (Jéremie Elkaïm) who falls in with her and who makes for his new love, a pair of golden hands, but our story is far from over. Utilizing a flowing impressionistic style of watercolor strokes that form more than just a pretty effect on the visuals, Sébastien Laudenbach achieves a softness that impeccably compliments the naturalistic elements of the story, as this particular adaptation of the Grimm fairytale is indeed more than a simplistic hero versus villain story, as it becomes a parable about the pure redemptive power of the natural state against man’s need to be in conflict with that state.

 

 

Turn Left Turn Right (បត់ឆ្វេងបត់ស្តាំ) / Cambodia | USA / dir. Douglas Seok

When Turn Left Turn Right begins, we see Kanitha (Kanitha Tith), a quintessentially modern looking woman, decked out in her royal blue cocktail dress. Kanitha has a raw, almost childlike intensity to her stare and stance as she wanders quietly through the ruins of Angkor Wat while Khmer era music plays in the background. As the screen fades to black, the song continues, and you are presented with a title card announcing the beginning of “Track Two” and then the image of actress Dy Saveth, the star of the international 1970 fantasy hit, The Snake Man, and one of the few stars remaining from the Golden Age of Khmer Cinema, dancing to the same song that introduced us to Kanitha, who we now see watching the video of Saveth. Kanitha is taking a break from her unglamorous job as a waitress in a rock club, where she slightly bobs her head to the music while going through the motions of work, before ending her shift and riding home to fall asleep in her work clothes on a mat next to her sleeping grandfather. End of track two. Kanitha has two jobs: one as a waitress in the aforementioned nightclub and another as a hotel clerk, but she must still live with her grandfather and mother, who continue to badger Kanitha about her unmarried status and her lack of desire to create a family of her own. In the eyes of her family, Kanitha’s lifestyle may appear selfish, but her desire to remain outside of traditional roles appears justified when we witness the economic struggles of her friends and their lives in the marketplace. When her grandfather becomes ill, Kanitha and her mother discuss using their small amount of savings just so Kanitha’s grandfather can be treated in a hospital. Faced with such a grim financial future, Kanitha continues to work her jobs, but the dancing that once only occurred in her dreams, begins to find an unwelcome home in the reality of her day to day urban existence. It is only through her trips into the natural settings of waterways and her friend’s farm that Kanitha can finally feel unencumbered by the world around her enough to share her desire for freedom with others. In his short, but complete sixty-eight minute second feature, director Douglas Seok creates a compelling and elegant visual narrative that intertwines scenes from a rapidly changing modern life with glimpses into an era of Cambodia that has long since passed. Seok also mixes in contemporary and Khmer era vintage songs, minimal dialog, and physical expression, which altogether with the images, allows his protagonist to delve deeply into a dream state without ever losing focus of the film’s essential central construct of creating a character whose choices are influenced by the conflict between her own desire to live a simpler life because of the complexity of today and the expectations and needs of the people she loves who are fundamentally connected to traditional values from a time that no longer exists.

 

                        MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica) / Chile / dir. Sebastián Lelio
During the Q&A with lead actress, Daniela Vega, after the AFI screening of Sebastián Lelio’s ultimately disappointing new feature, A Fantastic Woman, a clue was given as to why the film failed to create an emotional connection with us, despite an intense performance from the newcomer Vega. As she described her feelings towards reading the script that Lelio sent her for A Fantastic Woman, Vega uttered the following line, “I was fifty pages into the script, and it was all about my character Marina’s love interest, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), so, I had some second thoughts.” In the cut of the film that we saw, the character of Orlando barely has ten minutes of screentime, so we have to wonder if Lelio once intended to create a much more thorough portrait of the relationship between Vega’s character, Marina Vidal, and Orlando so that the audience would better understand Marina feelings for her partner and her state of mind when he passes away. Instead of witnessing that relationship first hand to empathize with Marina, we only see scenes where Marina is upset by Orlando’s family as they deny her the right to mourn Orlando and where she practices boxing to vent her frustration. In A Fantastic Woman, we only get dramatic devices to represent Marina; we get no character examination, which Lelio is more than capable of, as seen in his widely celebrated film Gloria. Another rift between the viewer and any emotional connection comes by way of the failing of the editing style, which removes space during scenes where Marina’s emotions could be absorbed by the audience in favor of a cut to the next scene. Much respect has to go to Vega in her first lead role in a motion picture, and we feel that the worst failing of A Fantastic Woman was its missed opportunity to capitalize on the actress’s raw talent. Because of the film’s shallow character construction and rapid editing, we only get glimpses of Vega’s abilities—we never see them fully exhibited. We both highly regard Lelio’s previous feature, Gloria, which was a top ten film for us in 2014, and we were very disappointed that A Fantastic Woman was not given the same level of breathing room and character development that made Lelio’s previous film so affecting.

 

                                         
                   BEST REPERTORY FILM EXPERIENCE   

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 2015, we attended a screening of a bizarre 70s exploitation film called, The Sexorcists. That night we got in line early as we had never been to the Silent Film Theater on Fairfax, and it was there where we met Monty Lewis, a gregarious and epically knowledgeable lover of cinema (and comicbooks). Monty was the first person to actually welcome us to the city, and that night at Cinefamily, he ran down a list of the numerous locations in L.A. where one could see great rep house fare, and for that we are eternally grateful. Sadly, Monty unexpectedly passed away on July 2nd at the age of 45. We both miss our chats in line with Monty before the films, and his booming laugh from the back row of the theater. So, before we offer up our favorite experiences in the rep houses in Los Angeles from 2017, we just want say thanks again to Monty for extending his knowledge and humor to us.

We are now midway through our third year as cinephiles here in Los Angeles, a city that up until the last few years was never widely regarded as being a real competitor to New York City in terms of its ability to present as eclectic an array of older titles on the big screen in repertory houses. These days though, on any given night in Los Angeles, you have not only the potential of seeing lost gems that you may have never seen before, but also the fortune of seeing them with the film’s director and stars, who are more than happy to regale you with stories from the film’s production, issues with certain prima donnas, or why some suit thought that a revisionist western starring a young Robert Duvall as Jesse James wouldn’t be worth a real ad push. We were so fortunate to have had a wealth of such moments in 2017 that choosing just one is almost impossible as we are not only judging the film, but that experience combining the film screening with hearing from these legendary talents.  

There was the night when the great Czech New Wave director Ivan Passer, who was as sharp as ever at 84 years old, showed up at the New Beverly to discuss his role in Fireman’s Ball, which he co-wrote with director, Milos Forman, or the Saturday evening double feature of La Vallée and More at The Aero in Santa Monica with director Barbet Schroeder and actress Bulle Ogier, whom Generoso has admired since seeing her decades earlier in Jacques Rivette’s 1969 masterpiece, L’ Amour Fou. We also spent a brilliant summer afternoon, again at the Aero, with director Bertrand Tavernier after he screened his massively underrated 2002 film, Safe Conduct. That day he spoke openly about his admiration for the filmmakers who worked for the French Resistance in World War Two. We loved seeing and hearing Jacqueline Bisset at the UCLA Film Archive discuss her bizarre experiences, most notably her being taken by boat to a deserted island, which led to her being cast in John Huston’s Under The Volcano. There’s also the time when actor Bruce Davison’s gave the crowd a spot-on imitation of Burt Lancaster, who Davison starred with in Ulzana’s Raid, which screened at the New Bev, or the lovely way that director Philip Kaufman thanked film critic Stephen Farber for championing Kaufman’s woefully underappreciated revisionist western, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, when the film was released to lukewarm reviews after its initial release in 1972. We were so taken by that conversation that we transcribed the entire talk, and it was published on Ink 19.   

So, if it has to come down to one repertory moment for us this year, that would have to be when screen legend, Martin Landau, appeared at the Egyptian Theater after a screening of North By Northwest back in January, which was only a few months before he passed away at the age of 88. The actor arrived directly from a meeting held at the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio, which Landau headed until his passing. Landau seemed so excited to address the crowd and was in rare form that afternoon, as he gleefully explained in detail his process when working with the late Mr. Hitchcock. Landau went into detail on his reasoning that went into his interpretation of the character of Leonard, whom he portrayed in the film as gay at a time when such things were simply not done in Hollywood. The actor then spoke of his unique preparation for his multi-faceted performance in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, Generoso’s favorite film of Landau’s long career. The conversation never felt rushed that day, as it sometimes does when conversations of this type are done on a day when the venue has multiple screenings—no, Landau took complete advantage of that moment at the Egyptian as he was so giving with his answers. Even though he was in his late 80s, the actor spoke enthusiastically about his craft, and we will forever appreciate the knowledge dispensed to us from such a fine actor who enjoyed a such a long and distinguished career.

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GENEROSO AND LILY’S 2016 TOP TEN FILM LIST, SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS, BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, AND BEST REP FILM EXPERIENCE

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There is a consistent theme that runs through many of the films on our best of list for 2016, and allow us to start this year’s reflection by emphasizing that this seemingly unifying theme emerged organically without any set political agenda whatsoever. We simply began the year by purchasing a notebook, which permanently lived in the front left pocket of Generoso’s man-bag and housed our chronicles of our favorite films that we saw throughout the year with a numerical rating and a short review. That was the strategy for the collection, and we stuck with it as we had in previous years, but by the middle of the year, we realized that the current desperate state of the world’s economy and the governmental response to that failing economy were becoming the central message of many of the works that had connected with us. We are decades past the “cause films” of the 70s and 80s, the eras that generated films such as The China Syndrome and Coming Home that were produced in a realist, albeit somewhat melodramatic style to make you empathize with a particular societal issue of the day like nuclear waste or the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans. We have a more sophisticated film language now, and although most the films on our list draw do attention to current issues, we chose them based on their artistic merit and ability to innovate cinema in the process of approaching today’s complex world.  

And away we go…

1. Arabian Nights (As Mil e uma Noites) / Portugal / Dir: Miguel Gomes
Back in 2013, we placed Miguel Gomes’ Tabu at number two on our best of list of the year. That magnificent, romantic mess disguised as a postcolonial statement that featured snippets of The Ramones and a sad crocodile was the most confusing yet artistically satisfying film that we had seen that year. We had patiently waited for Arabian Nights to be released here, almost a year after it had debuted at Cannes, and three years after Tabu came to our local theater, it arrived, and it was well worth the wait. To prepare for the film, Gomes sent out reporters throughout Portugal to acquire stories, and these people returned with tales from everyday life, some quiet and nuanced and others so absurd, and ultimately heartbreaking, that for Gomes, the question of making anything remotely near a traditional narrative became impossible for him to do as evidenced in the first twenty minutes alone when we witness the director actually running away from his own film crew when faced with the task making a narrative film under the overwhelming presence of Portugal’s economic crisis that has been brought on through brutal austerity measures. That funny but honest moment is soon followed by the sumptuous image of Scheherazade crossing your screen with the sound of Phyllis Dillon’s rocksteady version of Alberto Domínguez’s “Perfedia” in the background, which is followed by “The Men With Hard-Ons,” a Bertrand Blier-esque comical scene where bankers and government officials appear to be sexually revelling in the work of financially screwing over humanity. As jarring as these moments are in their depiction and sequencing, they only serve to better set up the gut-punching reality of stories such as “The Bath of the Magnificents,” which centers on the an annual trip to the ice cold ocean of for the unemployed, Portuguese version of the Polar Bear Swim Club.

Gomes borrowed/stole Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom to lens Arabian Nights, and the combined efforts of Mukdeeprom and Gomes lead to an outcome that is years ahead of what we saw this year in terms of where the visual language of cinema should be in 2016. Gomes’ never loses sight of the fact that he gets to make art for a living while those around him are suffering, and in turn he has made an epic work that is multifaceted, audacious, and even wild in its approach but is ultimately clear in its urgency to tell the stories of people who are living in a desperate situation. Be prepared to ask yourself: “Why am I looking at this?” repeatedly through viewings, and each time, you will find a better answer, especially when you see the chaffinches of the third volume or the ghosts in the second volume. Gomes understands the full range of every human emotion in times of strife, and the stories in Arabian Nights collectively capture how strong, weak, happy, sad, insane, and reasonable we can be.



2. The Woman Who Left (Ang Babaeng Humayo) / Philippines / Dir: Lav Diaz
Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s short story, God Sees the Truth, But Waits, this exceptionally realized, nearly four-hour long drama (a short one for Lav Diaz, actually) is set in the director’s native Philippines during a kidnapping epidemic that took place in the year of 1997, the year of Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from Great Britain to China. The Woman Who Left follows the story of Horacia Somorostro (Charo Santos-Concio, our best actress pick for this year), a self-educated, forceful, and righteous woman who is released from prison after serving thirty years for a crime that she did not commit. Upon leaving prison, she seeks revenge on the man who framed her, an ex-lover and a wealthy crime kingpin who hides in his home in fear of being kidnapped himself. Despite this setup that seems more suitable for an action blockbuster, Diaz’s film slowly and gracefully unfolds into a final statement on fate and forgiveness through interactions with people who must live and try to survive in the face of corruption led by the government and the Catholic Church, who together appear in league against the basic needs of the common people. And though The Woman Who Left takes place in a Philippines of twenty years ago, you cannot divorce yourself from the relevance of the statements on the strangling arms of corruption raised in Diaz’s film when you see the devastation caused by the anti-drug bloodshed happening on the streets of Manila today.



3. The Wailing (Goksung) / Korea / Dir: Na Hong-jin
The Wailing is the first horror film since Neil Marshall’s 2005 scare, The Descent, that has ranked this high on our top ten list, and like The Descent, Na’s film transcends the genre. Na masterfully uses some fairly grotesque visuals and concepts as diversionary elements in The Wailing to throw you off the trail of not only the cause of evil in the film but also his core social critique of a nepotistic Korean society that chooses to direct anger towards ancient enemies while rotting from within due to outdated familial imperatives that keep people from forming the necessary communities to battle evil as a whole, united front. Na’s striking visuals and moments of intense suffering may cause you to feel a level of confusion due to your own empathy for individual characters and may also distract you from the director’s thesis detailed above, but that is indeed Na’s intention for his beautifully executed allegory. The Wailing will most likely go down as one of the finest uses of the horror genre as metaphor for a society’s woes, meeting (and maybe even surpassing by a tiny bit) the high standard set by George Romero’s use of the zombie trope in Night of the Living Dead to examine America’s issues during the civil rights movement.



4. Cemetery Of Splendour (Rak ti Khon Kaen) / Thailand / Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Much has happened in Thailand since Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2006 film, Syndromes and a Century, which articulates the director’s reflections on his country’s shift in attitudes from the time of his birth to the present day as seen through the daily activities of a Bangkok hospital staff. In 2014, the Thai army launched a coup d’état and established a junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to govern the nation, and to emphasize the contrast in his society from a decade ago, Weerasethakul has again chosen a hospital of sorts as the setting to reflect the current state of his nation—a nation that now sees an importance of the military as its first concern, leaving its citizens to fend for themselves and look towards the west for a means of survival during the military state that is the prevailing government. In Cemetery of Splendour, a ward of soldiers suffering from a sleeping sickness are being treated with the latest in medical technology in a makeshift clinic housed in a school that was built on an ancient site. We meet a volunteer named Jenjira (longtime collaborator Jenjira Pongpas), who watches over a soldier without a family and then starts up a friendship with a young medium named Keng who uses her abilities to assist the unconscious soldiers communicate with their loved ones. In Syndromes and a Century, we see a country that is steadily favoriting western attitudes, whereas Cemetery Of Splendour shows a Thailand that has been put into a position where it must struggle to simply preserve its beliefs and identity as they are being rewritten by a military force that has its influence everywhere. Cemetery of Splendour is a masterfully realized film composed of understated performances and sublime visuals that have become the standard of Weerasethakul’s work these last twenty years. We were fortunate enough to discuss Cemetery Of Splendour with the director in an interview we conducted at the UCLA Film and Television Archive back in October of this year.



5. Elle / France | Germany | Belgium / Dir: Paul Verhoeven
Issues of hypocrisy within the Catholic Church and the devastation that it causes are also the subject of another one of our favorites from AFI Fest 2016, Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Philippe Djian’s controversial 2012 novel, Oh…. Isabelle Huppert delivers her always brilliant performance as Michèle LeBlanc, the CEO of a videogame company who bears the shame of being the daughter of one of France’s most infamous mass murderers, a Catholic zealot who, during a crisis of faith, decides to brutally slaughter a neighborhood of parents and children. Early in Elle, Michèle is brutally raped but refuses to report the crime and allows for further transgressions against her as part of a self-imposed penance brought on by Catholic guilt. As the violent atonement proceeds, the identity of the rapist and his relationship with Michèle emerge as an allegory for the unholy alliance between the traditionally vilified Semitic participation in banking and the pious and benevolent public appearance of the Roman Catholic Church. More volatile than anything released this year so far, Elle, has been selected as France’s entry into the 2017 Academy Awards and rises as one of the finest films of Paul Verhoeven’s long, turbulent career.



6. Kaili Blues (Lu bian ye can) / China / Dir: Gan Bi
Gan Bi’s Kaili Blues was the most impressive debut feature that we saw in 2016. Though Gan’s film borrows a small portion of its narrative and visual style from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, its uniquely constructed, forty-minute long, single take scene on a motorbike is so clever that it demands to be on this list. At the beginning of the film, Gan displays the following Buddhist text from the Diamond Sutra: “the past mind cannot be attained, the present mind cannot be attained, the future mind cannot be attained.” The reasoning behind these words remains elusive through the first half of the film as we follow the story of a formerly incarcerated doctor who goes on a journey through the countryside of Guizhou in search of his nephew who has been sold to a watchmaker, but, when the aforementioned gorgeous single take on the bike occurs, Gan conveys the meaning of the words in the Sutra by defying the restrictions of time itself in the storytelling process, allowing for a freedom in movement and image to ascend past conventional narrative and structure. Gan challenges the medium of film in a bold and compelling way that even few master directors dare to, and for that, Kaili Blues earns its spot at number six on the best of 2016.



7. Graduation (Bacalaureat) / Romania / Dir: Cristian Mungiu
Cristian Mungiu, who along with Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu, represents the leading force behind the Romanian New Wave of the last decade. Both Puiu and Porumboiu have released features over the last few years to varying levels of acclaim, but Mungiu has been oddly silent since his 2012 film, Beyond The Hills, which earned the Best Screenplay prize that year at Cannes. Arguably the most revered of his Romanian peers, Mungiu returned to AFI Fest this year with his Palme d’Or nominated and Best Director at Cannes winning family drama, Graduation. Adrian Titieni portrays philandering surgeon, Romeo Aldea, who is trying to balance relations between his wife, his mistress, and the one person he truly loves, his college-aged daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). Even though Romeo is a ranking surgeon at the local hospital, his distinguished career doesn’t pay him enough to afford to send Eliza abroad to Cambridge University, a dream that he desires for her seemingly more than she does for herself. When Eliza is violently attacked on the street the day before her state exams, she performs poorly on the first of the exam series, which puts her scholarship in jeopardy. Left with few options, Romeo must engage in unethical favor peddling in order to secure his daughter a high grade on the second and final exam. Cristian Mungiu’s talents in encapsulating larger issues within his country into a small personal drama are in full display in Graduation, a film that does not strive for the sense of frenetic tragedy of his previous film, Beyond The Hills, yet it is no less gripping due to the moral struggles behind the decisions that his characters need to make.



8. High Rise / UK / Dir: Ben Wheatley
If you were expecting a verbatim adaptation of the J.G. Ballard book that the 2016 film, High Rise, is based on, then you will be gravely disappointed, but if you look at the craft of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s interpretation of Ballard’s ideas for modern day sensibilities, you’ll realize that High Rise is an outstanding adaptation. Wheatley and Jump understand today’s society, and they mold the Ballard tale to reflect the passiveness and dangerousness of the contemporary creative class. In the original novel, Ballard warned of this upper middle class, but Wheatley and Jump have seen and experienced it in their lifetimes, and that perspective is the strong suit of the film. Consequently, High Rise (the film) then becomes not a class struggle between the rich and the poor, but a conflict of small differences between people of the upper classes alone. No one is truly suffering in Wheatley’s High Rise, but the building’s failures make the residents believe that they are actually suffering, which causes the occupants to blame each other before daring to question the structure itself—a perfect metaphor for the tunnel-visioned creative class of today.



9. Buster’s Mal Heart / USA / Dir: Sarah Adina Smith
One of the biggest surprises of this year’s AFI Fest came via the New Auteurs programming section with Buster’s Mal Heart, the second feature by Sarah Adina Smith, who directed the unique and regrettably overlooked 2014 film, The Midnight Swim. Much will be made of the layered performance of Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as Jonah in Buster’s Mal Heart, and this praise is indeed deserved, but much credit has to be given to Smith for making an exceptional drama that, although set in and around the Y2K panic of 1999, presents an excellent allegory for disenfranchised people today who find themselves economically and racially out of sync with the current version of a successful society. Smith deftly balances the present and past through memories and dream logic to create an antihero who in appearance seems insane but in reality may have the key to survival. Generoso sat down with Sarah Adina Smith at AFI Fest for a thorough discussion about her film.



10. Interruption / Greece | France | Croatia / Dir: Dir: Yorgos Zois
Set in a theater in Athens, Zois’ daring film, Interruption, uses a post-modernist adaptation of Aeschylus’ classic Greek tragedy, Oresteia, as the center of his meditation on the Dubrovka Theatre incident. While a performance of the play is taking place, the armed Chorus, consisting of seven people, forcibly takes the stage and apologizes for the “interruption” and then soon calls out for a group of audience members to take the stage so that they can establish an order for the remaining narrative. Now, several more members of the audience mount the stage, which prompts the leader of the Chorus, who takes a seat in the front row, to interview this new assortment of audience volunteers one after another, asking about their professions and even going as far as asking some of them personal questions regarding their romantic relationships. In this group of audience volunteers is one professional actor whom the Chorus leader casts in the role of Orestes, who, based on the original text, has the intention to murder his own mother, Clytemnestra. Now onstage are two people portraying Orestes, and the line further blurs between spectator and actor, and with it, a debate that argues the necessity to carry out Orestes’ act of matricide from a moral standpoint against the original narrative of the play, further breaking down the structure between the intended goal of the author and the role of the spectator as passive observer. So, what role does the filming of this event serve in this adaptation? As Zois explained: “I wanted to create a cinematic world where the viewer could use all his senses and experience a voyage to a world that blends the limits between life and art, fiction and reality, logic and absurdity. A cinematic enigma that offers no single solution but offers you the chance to see a different view each time you look through a different view. This film is about the art of viewing and what does viewing mean and the point of view, and no one sees the same thing in the same way.”

SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS FOR 2016

Certain Women / USA / Dir: Kelly Reichardt 
Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Reichardt nimbly interweaves three stories of women who are employed in traditionally male occupations. In a slight reversal of Altman’s use of a city setting that seemingly conspires to add to the misery to the lives of its inhabitants, Reichardt uses the natural, present day Montana setting of Certain Women to further exemplify the unnatural impediments that contemporary women have to endure in order to succeed. Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams are exceptionally strong in their roles, but much has to said about newcomer and Montana native, Lily Gladstone, and her beautifully understated and heartbreaking performance as Jamie, a lonely ranch hand who develops an attraction for her education law teacher Beth, (Kristen Stewart) who herself is struggling to find acceptance as a young attorney in a town several miles away from where she is recruited to teach her class. One of the best American dramas of this year, Certain Women gives a more restrained and less cynical treatment of the societal criticism in its central thesis than the director’s previous effort, Night Moves, but still, Reichardt has still created an important film for this generation that is seeing its gender roles in the workplace change on a daily basis with varying degrees of acceptance.



Yo / Mexico / Dir: Matías Meyer
Yo refers to the title character (played by Raúl Silva Gómez), a large man in his early twenties who we soon realize is functional, yet developmentally challenged, and as thus, he remains in a state of perpetual adolescence. Yo is under the care of his mother (Elizabeth Mendoza), and they both live and work at the family restaurant where Yo has the unenviable task of slaughtering and plucking the chickens that they serve. Also residing with Yo is his mother’s lover Pady (Ignacio Rojas Nieto), a brutish man in his fifties who has a tendency towards being abusive towards Yo, which seems to have become so commonplace that no one in the house raises any concern, including Yo, who seems content with his menial tasks and chances to play with his coins on the floor of the restaurant and goes unnoticed to the patrons as though he is a piece of furniture, a trivial part of the restaurant setting. This is one of the earliest moments that we notice humans’ interactions with their surroundings, a key element in most of Meyer’s previous work and the primary way that we come to understand Yo throughout the film. As opposed to Meyer’s previous feature, the Zapata-era film,
Los Últimos Cristeros, Yo is a fairly modest production that involves a small amount of actors, the usual use of the set, one-camera shot for most scenes, and a few locations, but like his previous feature, it utilizes the spacious natural terrain of Mexico to cleverly further the development of the film’s central characters. The tension that Meyer creates with his character of Yo and his disenfranchisement with his surroundings is palpable throughout the film in the same eerily quiet and ominous way that Iranian director Jafar Panahi presents in his equally marginalized central character of Hussein, the beleaguered and impoverished pizza delivery man who wanders through an unwelcoming Tehran, in his 2003 film, Crimson Gold. As in Crimson Gold, the excellently crafted level of tension in Yo drives the narrative even during the most tranquil of scenes, which provided the main reason why we were so completely engaged with the film. We discussed Yo at length with Matías early in 2016 at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.



Yourself and Yours / South Korea / Dir: Hong Sang-soo
Hong Sang-soo has built a body of work based on a formula that relies on his main character’s self-destruction. In most of Hong’s films, we see a relationship fall apart; sometimes we see it begin; sometimes we see it repair, and all of these activities occur in a warped sense of time where the present is never the present, and the past is not the only past.
Yourself and Yours is true to the purest of this signature Hong form. In this most recent film, Youngsoo (Kim Joohyuck) struggles to trust his beautiful girlfriend Minjung (Lee Youyoung), and as a result, the two part ways. As he attempts to recover from the breakup, we, as the audience, see Minjung take on multiple personas as she spends time with various men. We gradually get a sense that these personas represent all of the ways that Youngsoo and his meddling friends look at her, and quickly, we realize that in all of these different versions of Minjung, we have lost the true Minjung, or we may have never known her at all because she might have never existed. This confusion surrounding the truest form of Minjung amplifies because all of the men who show affection for Minjung in her different states are creators who may also look at her in some idealized form. Youngsoo himself is an artist. One man (Hong favorite Kwon Haehyo) is a writer. Another (Yu Junsang) is a director. So, we must ask: is Minjung just a muse that cannot be reached for all of these men? Is the real Minjung not Minjung at all because “Minjung” is just the name of a heightened representation of a woman of another name who exists in reality? Hong does not provide a direct answer to the identity of Minjung, for what is most important in the film is the shedding of all of the perceptions of Minjung (or not Minjung) in order to allow Youngsoo to love unconditionally. Yourself and Yours could have benefitted from a more cinematically expansive visual style (it looks more like 2010’s Oki’s Movie than 2015’s Right Now, Wrong Then or 2011’s The Day He Arrives), but its small screen look does help the film feel like a derailed soap opera romance that is steering wildly through no clear path into a place where no soap opera has gone before.



I, Daniel Blake / UK / Dir: Ken Loach
For the entirety of his fifty-plus year career, Ken Loach has called out the woes of society, whether it is the racism that falls upon the schoolteacher in 2004’s Ae Fond Kiss…, the dangers of privatizing British Rail in his 2001 film The Navigators, and everything in between that befalls the working-class protagonists in the episodes of his own BBC series that aired back in the 1960s, The Wednesday Play. In I, Daniel Blake, veteran BBC actor Dave Johns plays the titular character, Daniel, a middle-aged carpenter who has suffered a heart attack and has been ordered by his doctor to remain unemployed to heal. After a poorly performed physical incorrectly classifies him as being fit for work, Daniel is forced to systematically hunt for a job so that he can be become eligible for unemployment insurance. One day while asking for assistance at the unemployment office, Daniel meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two children who is also getting the bureaucratic runaround. These two marginalized people soon become platonic friends who try and help each other survive while the broken system that is supposed to assist them begins to miserably fail. There is no silver lining here, as Loach clearly lays on all of the tragedy stemming from globalization combined with a government that is woefully inadequate in compensating for the failing economy. Our packed screening of I, Daniel Blake was eerily silent with the only exception being the sound of crying from the audience, which was most likely composed of many people who, given the Monday early afternoon time slot, had a lot in common with our film’s heroes.



The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies) / Finland / Dir: Juho Kuosmanen
On a lighter but no less contemporarily-relevant front is the Finnish film based on a real-life event,
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies), the second feature from director Juho Kuosmanen. Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) is about to become the 1962 World Featherweight Boxing Champion, a title predicted and desired by everyone in Finland except for Olli Mäki himself. Olli has just met Raija (Oona Airola), the love of his life, so the fact that the current champion from the United States, Davey Moore, is flying in for a title fight, which will be seen by thousands of his countrymen at the stadium in Helsinki, now seems of lesser importance. Are his love for Raija and the manager-mandated absence of her causing this doubt in Olli? Is his doubt about fighting against a proven champion or the non-stop commercial hype machine around him that makes the whole event seem like a long con making him nihilistic about winning? Expertly shot in glorious black and white by cinematographer J.P. Passi, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is a cynical, albeit sweet retelling of this small moment in Finnish sports history that meant more to people away from the ring than those inside of it. We sat down with film’s director, Juho Kuosmanen and DP, J.P. Passi at AFI Fest 2016 to discuss their film.


HONORABLE MENTION

Nova Seed / Canada / Dir: Nick DiLiberto
It almost seems too hard to believe that one man could animate, direct, and edit a full-length film as impressive as Nova Seed, a film that could easily fit into the catalog of Canadian-based Nelvana Limited animated film work prior to 3-D animation coming into vogue. Again, without knowing anything about DiLiberto’s Canadian background, you could see elements in Nova Seed hearkening back to the classic Nelvana style seen in films such as Heavy Metal and Rock N Rule, movies that were near and dear to Generoso’s heart during the 1980s when he was, as most boys of his generation, a rock and fantasy obsessed, pop-rock eating machine. Besides the look of Nova Seed, the premise, complete with Live-Aid era earth-saving do-gooders also seems to be an homage to 1980s 2-D animated films and television shows. Our hero NAC (neo-animal combatant), a freed warrior-slave, gets his freedom and searches for the “Nova Seed,” a being similar to the Loc-Nar in the 1981 film, Heavy Metal, in that it possesses the potential of great evil or good depending on who is controlling it. In Nova Seed, the titular being can either be a restorative or degenerative force of the ecosystem of the environmentally ravaged planet. Is that premise 1980s save-the-world-at-all-costs enough for you?! Nova Seed is not perfect: the voice-acting could have benefitted from the employment of some experienced talent to give the characters more life, but that is only one strike against a truly enjoyable animated feature that is as entertaining as it is nostalgic.



The Little Man (Malý Pán) / Czech Republic / Dir: Radek Beran
Any children’s film that has the desire to make Captain Beefheart a character can’t be bad can it? We’ll take our praise even further by admitting that
The Little Man was our absolute favorite of the features that we caught at this year’s Czech That Film Festival. This wildly imaginative and borderline existentialist puppet film ponders the question: Is being lonely worse than having friends and plunging yourself into constant peril? The titular character, Malý Pán (voiced by Saša Rašilov) seems quite content to live alone in his forest home with only visits from the postman and the local fireworks vendor to break up his day, but his dreams suggest that something is missing from his life which sends our hero on a quest to discover the message contained in his nocturnal imagination. This journey leads Malý Pán to a mystic being in a stone who requires a special sparkling water to decipher the meaning of dreams. That special sparkling water is guarded by a very evil witch, who can only be defeated with a special book that can only be read with special glasses. Along the way, our Malý Pán runs into a plethora of extremely psychedelic characters who seem to have been created in the mind of someone who has been licking way too many stamps and listening to an awful lot of Beefheart’s records. In fact, Beran’s film is packed with so many bizarre creations that even when the dialog slips a bit, you remain fascinated by what you are seeing. As is the case with the best children’s works, Malý Pán features an endless amount of whimsical ideas to thoroughly entertain the kids and a hefty share of abstract references to thrill adults. Also, let us make this perfectly clear, Captain Beefheart in any form, is an awesome thing.


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

The Handmaiden / South Korea / Dir: Park Chan-wook
Allow me to quote Maximilian “Max” Bercovicz, the gangster that James Woods portrayed in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America: “You’ll live with the stink of the streets all your life.” The same can be said of the stink that Hollywood leaves on your talent whenever you are foolish enough to leave your homeland for the chance to work for the film industry housed in that crap factory. Leone found out how true that statement is when the legendary director of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly came to America in the 1980s to make an underworld masterpiece, only to have his brilliant work chopped into a million incomprehensible pieces by oafish, untalented editors. Leone sadly never directed again. Park Chan-wook left his Korean homeland in 2013 so that he could work in Tinseltown where he made the embarrassingly bad psycho-sexual drama, Stoker, which was created from only the second screenplay written by the hunky star of the overly-sweaty television drama, Prison Break. We were elated to hear that after the failure of Stoker, Park decided to go back to South Korea to make movies again, but sadly, the stink came with him. I won’t to go into the tedious sexual plot of The Handmaiden, but what transpires feels like a laughably clumsy version of an early Park Chan-wook film made by someone who really wants a job in Hollywood. The Handmaiden fails to capture even the slightest aspects of what made Park one of the most exciting filmmakers of the last twenty years. We so wish that the director of Oldboy had picked up a phone to talk to Wong Kar-wai before buying his plane ticket here, or perhaps Park should’ve at least taken a look at My Blueberry Nights before ever stepping foot anywhere near Sunset Boulevard.



Toni Erdmann / Germany | Austria | Romania / Dir: Maren Ade
We were massively underwhelmed by Maren Ade’s previous directorial effort, 2009’s
Everyone Else, a toothless romantic drama that was utterly flat in its concept and execution. Since then, Ade has thankfully stayed away from directing, concentrating her efforts on production, which have resulted in two of our favorite films of this decade, both by Miguel Gomes—2012’s Tabu, and our favorite film of this year, the three-part masterpiece that is Arabian Nights. Given these production successes with Gomes combined with unparalleled positive reviews, we were indeed excited to see Ade’s nearly three-hour, father-daughter comedy, Toni Erdmann, that unfortunately we will now refer to as the biggest disappointment of this year’s AFI Fest. Inspired by Andy Kaufman’s audacious alter-ego Tony Clifton, Toni Erdmann is just a slightly ruder Capra-esque father-daughter story about an uptight, cutthroat businesswoman named Ines (Sandra Hüller), who is brought back to humanity by her wild and crazy dad Toni, who poses as a “consultant and coach” for the chief executive of Ines’s company in an attempt to teach his child a lesson. I suppose that brandishing Austin Powers-styled fake teeth qualifies as great German comedy these days, which in and of itself is quite sad, but Toni Erdmann’s ham-handed attempts at social commentary are even more clichéd and painful to watch than its attempts at humor.


BEST REPERTORY FILM EXPERIENCE

The Underground U.S.A. Series at Cinefamily
Over a three month period this year, The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles launched into a massive undertaking by honoring the rich traditions held in American Independent Cinema from the 1980s. The series kicked off with a three-night tribute to John Sayles, which featured screenings with appearances from Sayles himself, his partner and producer, Maggie Renzi, David Strathairn, and a cast of Sayles’ regular players and partners including everyone from Vincent Spano to the all-time king of indie cinema, Roger Corman. A few days after Sayles appearance, maverick producer John Pierson arrived with one of the many iconic 80s films that he helped bring to screens, She’s Gotta Have It. Susan Seidelman and Rosanna Arquette accompanied their hit indie, Desperately Seeking Susan, and soon after, Allison Anders arrived with her gritty noirish gem, Border Radio. Director Alex Cox brought his punk masterpiece, Repo Man, and then the next night, he presented his film, Walker, which was followed by a midnight screening of the ultimate LA cult movie, Forbidden Zone, that director Richard Elfman introduced after marching into the theater clad only in underwear with a full band of instrument-playing freaks in tow. Not to be outdone, director Robert Townsend brought a soul band with him to perform when he showed his credit card funded comedy classic, Hollywood Shuffle. Steering the series back to the cult, the Friday Night Frights folks screened Eating Raoul and brought with them cast members Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Susan Saiger. Directors Slava Tsukerman, Billy Woodbury, Sara Driver, Penelope Spheeris, and Ross McElwee all brought their quintessential works to The Silent Film Theater on Fairfax, which was our home from February to May as we could not have imagined missing a moment of one of most ambitious and exciting series of films and filmmaker appearances that we have experienced in ages.
http://www.cinefamily.org/films/underground-usa-indie-cinema-of-the-80s/

Generoso’s 2015 Top Ten Film List, Supplemental Films, Biggest Disappointments, Worst Film Of The Year and, Best Rep Film Experience

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2015 was a transition year as Lily and I moved west, leaving behind some great friends, WMBR, and some of the best theaters in America. I send much love, thanks, and respect to all of the wonderful programmers out in Boston, to the many years that the blessed Harvard Film Archive in the basement of the Carpenter Center saw our shadows, to Saul Levine’s Film Society screenings that changed our view of experimental cinema forever, to the staff and films at the Coolidge Corner and the Brattle for always trying to make seeing a film a better experience, and extra respect to the small runs of films you would never see otherwise at The Museum of Fine Arts as well as all of the hard working and underpaid staff of the Independent Film Festival of Boston who put on another great festival this year, leaving no doubt as to what is the preeminent film festival in the city.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, we have been astounded by the amount of vital new and repertory cinema happening here. We are members of Cinefamily now, and through them, we have seen our favorite film of the year and met the director as well and have had the opportunity to view so many small indies and rep films that have long since been forgotten. The Cinefamily also supplied us with the best 4th of July that we can ever remember in the form of a barbeque, jazz combo, and a chance to see a print of Jazz On A Summer’s Day. We have loved our evenings at the majestic Egyptian and the Aero theatres as well. The small Music Hall and Fine Arts Theaters on Wilshire have shown films we would have missed if they had not picked them up, and all the goodly people at the American Film Institute put on a beautifully curated/free for everyone festival that helped populate this list. Films that we have waited for all year from world-class directors such as Arnaud Desplechin, Jacques Audiard, Cornelieu Porumbiou, and unfortunately Paolo Sorrentino, were on display at the Chinese Theater for one amazing week that will now be a part of every fall for Lily and myself.  

Of the 250 plus films we saw this year, some films went beyond expectations; a few from proven directors underwhelmed and disappointed, and our favorite film, Güeros, emerged as the winner, which is the the first time a debut effort has risen to the top in the twenty plus years that I have put out this list.  Thanks to my darling Lily for watching these films with me throughout 2015 and for editing this massive document while graciously adding her fantastic thoughts in along the way.   

Here we go….

My Top Ten Films for 2015

1) Güeros (Alonso Ruizpalacios) Mexico

Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) is a teenage malcontent who lives in Veracruz with his mother. After pulling one nasty prank too many, mom sends Tomás to live with his layabout college student brother Federico/Sombra (Tenoch Huerta), who lives in a miserable apartment in Mexico City with another slack named Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris). Neither is actually in school because they are sitting out the “student strike” at their university caused by a change in policy that will now charge students for tuition for the first time in history. Shortly after arriving, Tomás tells his new roommates that his and Sombra’s favorite rock singer, Epigmeneo Cruz is dying in a hospital, and they have to see him before he goes, which is fine for the boys, since their large downstairs neighbor is about to kill them for stealing electricity. Set in 1999, their comedic voyage through the streets of Mexico City leads them to encounters with protests and freaks on their quest to find a rock hero, and all of the adventure is styled with sometimes funny and poignant nods to the pop culture and French New Wave style that serve to remind you of what we have lost since the 1960s. This film possesses a daring and rare combination of frenetic raw energy and a reverence of film history that I have not seen in many years, and it left me astonished. To say that this is an impressive film debut from Alonso Ruizpalacios is a massive understatement, and I cannot wait for his next film. All I ask is that you stay away from Hollywood Alonso, please. I’m sure you can do more good where you are away from the hipster starlets who descended on you after the Cinefamily screening because Güeros has far more than just denim, distressed tees, and navel-gazing politics and philosophy.

2) Dheepan (Jacques Audiard) France

Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) is a Tamil Tiger soldier in Sri Lanka whose side has lost the civil war. To gain political asylum in France, he must have a convincing story, so he pretends to be Dheepan, the dead man of the passport he receives. In order to achieve the identity of Dheepan, Sivadhasan is also given a wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a 9-year-old daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), to make his story more accurate and sympathetic to secure a visa. This new “family” goes through the motions of being a real family while Sivadhasan works as maintenance man for a housing project that is going through a gang war, making his desire to start anew and away from war pretty impossible. In some ways, Dheepan is a reversal of character of the small time hood to crimelord protagonist of Audiard’s magnificent 2009 film, The Prophet; Dheepan tries to veer away from crime and violence, which were integral to his past as a Tamil Tiger. Different in pace than Audiard’s other films, Dheepan is no less intense and heartfelt. What drives this film so high on my list is the naturalist performance from Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who himself was one of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and also used fake passports to escape to France. Kalieaswari Srinivasan equally shines as Yalini, who has less desire to remain in her new violent home. Dheepan was the surprise winner of the Palm D’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and deservedly so.

3) Right Now, Wrong Then (Sang-soo Hong) Korea  

Directors Sang-soo Hong and Nuri Bilge Ceylan seem to genuinely appreciate how vile and brilliant they are as human beings. Their films consistently take their worst intentions to task with the difference being that Sang-soo has a lot of fun pointing out the more lascivious aspects of his persona. Utilizing the same Jungian structure as his previous two films, The Hill Of Freedom and The Day He Arrives, where the outcome of one’s life comes down to small decisions, the protagonist of Right Now, Wrong Then plays out alternative courses of a day on screen in different segments prompted by contrasting neurotic interactions. Right Now Wrong Then’s fill in for Hong’s alter ego is Han Chun-su (Jung Jae-young), an art house filmmaker who visits a small mountain town where he proceeds to spend the day trying to bed a beautiful but shy former model turned painter named Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee). The film is divided into two segments where Han uses opposite but similarly insincere techniques, one “self-effacing” and the other “brutally honest,” to get Hee-jung to love or at least sleep with him. Awkwardly painful in a way that a young Woody Allen would be proud of, Right Now, Wrong Then (which is actually reminiscent to Allen’s Melinda Melinda) is perfectly executed by the cast and Hong. You leave hating yourself for spending even one second hoping that Han and Hee-jung will hit it off, but you admire Hong for getting you to that point of recoil.

4) Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) USA/Australia

I love George Miller, and he has never let me down (yes, I even like Happy Feet), but even my expectations were ridiculously high for this, the fourth installment of Mad Max, a series that helped define an era of post-apocalyptic films. I did start to worry though; it had been thirty years since Mel and Tina smashed around Thunderdome, and since then there were a couple of superb talking pig films, an entertaining adaptation of a witchy John Updike novel, and the aforementioned dancing penguin films, which all had me concerned that George had lost some lust for the fuelless ravaged wasteland. My concerns were somewhat quelled once I heard about the casting of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, two actors I have admired for years, and then, the first visuals finally convinced me that Mad Max: Fury Road was to be the big blow up film that I was not going to miss this year, and I am glad I didn’t. A brilliant decision by George to make Theron’s Imperator Furiosa the main character, relegating Hardy and virtually all of the men in the film as bystanders in the futuristic allegory that sees the passing of the male dominated film landscape through one hundred and twenty minutes of nonstop action. Maybe a bit more time with formulating some kind of dialog would’ve put this higher on the list, but all in all, this has too much explosive visual candy to not to roll around in over and over again.

5) The Assassin (Hou Hsiou Hsien) Taiwan/China

Sometime in the spring of 2000, The Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston ran a complete retrospective of Taiwan’s greatest living filmmaker, and I gladly watched all of his films to that point, ending with the period piece, Flowers of Shanghai. With each film, I grew in appreciation of his oeuvre; before the series started, I had only seen Hou’s Goodbye South Goodbye, and by the end, I saw the drastic transformation of his style. Over the last fifteen years Hou Hsiou Hsien’s work has concentrated more on contemporary settings and acknowledgments to key players in film history, as seen with his tribute to Ozu in 2003’s Cafe Lumiere. Hou has also relied on the talents of actress Qi Shu, who has starred in two of the director’s films since 2000, Three Times and Millennium Mambo, and now they have teamed up again in Hou’s first wuxia or historical martial-arts genre film, The Assassin. Needless to say that after thirty five years of directing dialog driven narrative film, Hou Hsiou Hsien was not going to direct anything that the genre has seen in the past. Qi plays Yinniang, who had been abducted by a nun as a child and has learned the martial arts of the convent to perfection and is now charged with killing her estranged cousin, a nobleman whom she was once promised to wed. Given the way that premise sounds, you may be thinking Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here, but think again. Hou eschews a formal wuxia narrative and allows the visuals and mood to tell the story more than a tedious, clearly spelled out plot, leaving the viewer to draw all of their attention to Yinniang, whom Hou presents as a sympathetic but fierce protagonist who rivals Imperator Furiosa of Fury Road. With The Assassin, Hou Hsiou Hsien has created a sumptuously realized character study that proves that so much more can be done with the wuxia film than ever before.    

6) Blind (Eskil Vogt) Norway

The second best debut film this year comes from the writer of the painfully underrated 2011 drama, Oslo, August 31st, Eskil Vogt. Blind features a phenomenal performance from actress Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Ingrid, who has recently been gone blind when we first meet her, and we spend much of the film inside of her head as the story unfolds. Ingrid lost her vision suddenly from an unknown condition and now spends her days at home and rarely leaves, even when she is accompanied by her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen), who works during the day as an architect. Vogt structures the film on the line between objective and subjective reality, as Ingrid believes that Morten sometimes heads home when he should be at work to spy on his wife, and maybe he is, but we are never sure if all of this is real or just Ingrid’s psychological projections. Blind triumphs due to Vogt’s ability to delicately balance comedy and tragedy as the film eventually becomes a bold statement about trust for people in love, and that never ceases to surprise the viewer.

7) The Duke Of Burgundy (Peter Strickland) England

Since his 2009 debut, Katalin Varga, English director Peter Strickland has been on a roll. In his last film, Strickland took the nebbishy Toby Jones to Italy to record foley splatters for giallos in the clever 2012 film, The Berberian Sound System. Strickland’s love of sound design comes to the forefront again early in The Duke Of Burgundy as does his affinity for the mid-1960s brown hues you would recognize from British fare like The Collector. The Duke Of Burgundy follows a housemaid named Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) who is sexually subjugated by a butterfly scholar and collector named Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Is Cynthia actually in charge? We cannot be too sure based on the sexual role playing and alternating dominatrix play that occurs in their home. The Duke of Burgundy  bears down on Evelyn and Cynthia’s idiosyncratic tendencies within their relationship and, in turn, what the pair is willing to do in order to maintain their myth of togetherness. This isn’t the worthless pap that is Fifty Shades Of Grey, which was essentially written to make middle American housewives rebel at their pathetic lifelong aversion of sexuality. Strickland expertly weaves two characters together who are constantly redefining themselves both intellectually and sexually through what they view as growth. Both Cynthia and Evelyn strive to distance themselves away from developing into domicile, “bedroom and kitchen” women, but through their feigned intellectual study and trite sexual endeavors in role playing, the two, especially Cynthia, travel closer to what they are trying so hard to run away from. The Duke Of Burgundy left me content with the thought that between Ben Wheatley, Joanna Hogg, and Peter Strickland, you can finally have some hope for a bright new wave of British filmmakers.

8) The Clouds Of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) France

Assayas has always been able to get amazing performances by his lead actresses: From Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep and Clean to Virginie Ledoyen in Late August Early September and Cold Water, Assayas writes beautifully for women and his actresses respond to the words. Such is the case with his latest film, The Clouds Of Sils Maria, where the brilliant Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a veteran actress who learns that her mentor Wilhelm Melchior, a theater and film director, has passed away while she is en route to receive an award for him. When they hear of Melchoir’s death, Maria and her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) were traveling to Wilhelm’s home in Sils Maria, an area in the Swiss Alps known for its haunting cloud formations and where the idea of eternal recurrence came to Nietzsche at “6,000 feet beyond man and time.” At the award ceremony, Maria is given the chance to star in a revival of Melchior’s play that made her famous twenty years earlier, but this time around, she will play the role of the older woman, turning over her original part as the older woman’s wily and tempestuous young lover to a rising Hollywood actress played by Chloë Grace Moretz, which forces Maria to ruminate about her career as an actress, her current friends and rivals, and her future. Much notoriety for this film exists because of Stewart as Valentine, who turns in an acceptable performance at best (giving Stewart a César for playing a one-dimensional uppity hipster is like giving Robert Blake an award for playing a psychotic ladykiller), but it is Stewart’s star power that allows Binoche more freedom with her role, and she takes complete advantage of that freedom to turn in another bravura performance in this contemplative character study.   

9) Afirim! (Rude Jude) Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France

Radu Jude’s 2015 film, Aferim!, a stunning depiction of early 19th century class and moral struggles, is not an exception to that Romanian film talent surge. Aferim! follows Costandin, a policeman, and his son, who have been hired by a boyar to find Carfin, a gypsy slave who has run away after having an affair with the boyar’s wife, Sultana. Teodor Corban plays Constandin with a grotesque and comical swagger as he doles out unsavory tidbits of wisdom to his son while debating the ethics of potentially releasing his captured gypsy slave, who he knows will suffer an atrocious fate when returned to his owner. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white but with an ugliness similar to a Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Western, Aferim!’s story plays out in an uncompromising and illuminating way, provoking questions about Romanian history and how moral dilemmas are handled across time. With Aferim!, Radu Jude establishes a distinct perspective on the concept of a period piece, which offers great promise for his work in the future (it is believed that Jude will next adapt Max Blecher’s 1937 book Scarred Hearts).

10) Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands (Christian Braad Thomsen) Germany

It is amazing to me that director Christian Thomsen has been sitting on this footage of his friend, the prolific, and by all accounts, disturbingly fucked up German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, for this long. Thomsen fills Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands with archival footage and interviews with his friend beginning with their first encounter at the 1969 Berlinale, when Rainer was booed off of the stage for Love Is Colder Than Death, and closing with footage that Thomsen himself shot of an almost too drunk Fassbinder (even by his normal standard) just a few weeks before the untimely passing of the director of the acclaimed Ali: Fears Eats The Soul. Also in the mix is footage of Rainer flipping out on set and various interviews from a plethora of former actresses/lovers and collaborators who describe the director with a small amount of love and a whole lotta “whew, am I glad that he can’t hurt me anymore” looks. Though I am enjoying writing this review, Thomsen mostly eschews the sentimentality and platitudes while deftly glueing together the archival footage and interviews to create a clear profile of a furiously talented and tormented man, who despite his self-destructive tendencies, was also able to become one the finest directors of his generation. I must admit my own bias here that even if Thomsen had just showed his final interview with Fassbinder uncut, I probably would’ve appreciated that alone, but I am glad that the director added a calmer contemporary viewpoint to all of the madness that gives a more objective perspective on a man whose notoriety as a human has historically rivaled his career accomplishments in capturing the attention of the public.  



SUPPLEMENTAL LIST

Catch Me Daddy (Daniel Wolfe) England

This nasty piece of UK filmmaking that seems to have been directed by Alan Clarke from beyond the grave is actually the debut film of music video director Daniel Wolfe and centers its narrative on the steady rise of “honour killings,” a trend that has gotten so out of hand in England that it now has an official memorial day for the victims of these crimes. “Honour killings” are acts committed to defend the supposed honour or reputation of a family and community. The crimes, usually aimed at Muslim women, can include emotional abuse, abduction, beatings and murder. Director Wolfe informs us of this crisis through Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed), a British-Asian teen who has runaway from home with her caucasian boyfriend Aaron (Conor McCarron) to a trailer park in Yorkshire. Laila’s father wants her dead and hires two gangs to find her: one gang lead by a white Muslim-hating cocaine addict who is in it just for the fix and another by Laila’s brother. This will not end well and for two hours, Wolfe doesn’t let you off the ropes. This is ugly business without any sentiment, and like Clarke’s Made In Britain, which was made over thirty years ago, Catch Me Daddy hollows you out with its real-life inspired story of senseless intolerance.  

Heaven Knows What (Ben and Joshua Safdie) USA

Though many compare this harrowing and impressive film from the Safdie brothers that follows a junkie named Harley and her band of fellow addicts on the streets of New York to Jerry Schatzberg’s 1971 feature, The Panic in Needle Park, to me, it more closely resembles a film that came out a year earlier than Schatzberg’s film, Barbara Loden’s Wanda. Though the protagonist of Loden’s film is not an addict, the titular Wanda, like the Safdie’s Harley, begins the film defiantly alone after leaving their significant other and soon becomes as desperate for connection to anyone while trying to survive. Both films feature naturalist performances from their leads who also wrote the story that they perform, with the notable exception that Arielle Holmes was actually a homeless heroin addict who lived many of the experiences that were transferred to her character. Arielle Holmes is the reason to watch Heaven Knows What as she tears you up as she falls again and again and her performance transcends the dialog during much of the narrative. I rarely add spoilers to my reviews but I applaud the Safdies for ending their film exactly the same way as the landmark film by Loden. It is a smart nod that reminds us that even after forty years, when the bottom falls out, it falls lower for the woman.

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa) USA

So, imagine if Superbad’s smart, nebbishy Evan was not a white suburban kid but instead a smart, nebbishy African-American kid from Compton. What would happen during those final days of high school if Evan messed up to the degree he did in Superbad but without being white and possessing middle class privilege? Well, whatever life-threatening disaster that you think would ensue happens to Dope’s protagonist, Malcolm (a star-making performance from Shameik Moore), a smart young man who dreams of Harvard and whose father left him with one thing before taking off, a VHS of Superfly that will come in handy once he becomes the guy who gets the bag from the guy at a bullet-ridden club party. Malcolm has only his brain and pulls from every source possible to gnaw his way out of the mess he has fallen into. Dope is somewhat of a mess and would’ve been on the top ten if not for the muddled middle third, but director Famuyiwa pulls it together in the end and makes it a fun watch that delivers a strong message for those outside of privilege who just want to get over. The soundtrack cannot boast a Curtis Mayfield track, but it does throw in some impressive early 1990s hip hop that locks in a man lost in his time for most of the film.

In The Shadow Of Women (Phillippe Garrel) France

2015 marks the 51st year of Philippe Garrel’s magnificent career as a director. Garrel has always prided himself on making deeply personal and economically budgeted films, and In the Shadow of Women follows his signature style. His best work since 2008’s Frontier of the Dawn, In the Shadow of Women is a story of Pierre and Manon, two down and out documentary filmmakers who are barely getting by but on the surface seem to care for each other greatly. Things begin to change when Pierre meets Elisabeth at the film conservatory and begins to have an affair with her. As Elisabeth’s love for Pierre grows stronger, a conflict arises as Pierre chooses to maintain his relationship with Manon, even though Manon may have eyes for another. This simple and comedic film is a bit of a departure from the usually intense Garrel relationship examination, but Clotilde Courau and Stanislas Merhar are wonderful as the emotionally confused leads, making this small, new film by Garrel a triumphant one.



MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

Youth (Paolo Sorrentino) Italy/USA

There had been some advanced press regarding the newest film by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) as somewhat of a disappointment, but disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe the painfully overstated and poorly acted 2015 film by the Italian director, Youth. A clumsily executed allegory, Youth places veteran actors Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in a Swiss resort where the young and the old (both of whom are quite haggard looking through Sorrentino’s overly elegant lens) strive to preserve their glory days while suppressing their worst memories and past acquaintances. With the success of The Great Beauty and the anticipated HBO series, The Young Pope, Sorrentino now has an American audience that he wants to continue to cultivate, and Youth is tailor-made to what he believes Americans want from an “Italian film.” As a result, it is a diluted, nearly insultingly dumbed down version of the style of his previous Italian films; Youth is a caricature of what Sorrentino believes the Oscar-following American audiences want, specifically those who herald films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which Sorrentino mentioned as an inspiration for commercial success during the Q&A). To add further injury, as made apparent in the post-screening conversation at AFI Fest between Caine and the director, Sorrentino does not have mastery of the English language, and this inability seems to have played a part in the facile dialog, especially between Michael Caine and his daughter in the film played by Rachel Weisz. Unlike his 2013’s The Great Beauty, Youth never fully grabs its central theme, leaving a morass of pandering images and dialog meant to impress rather than to complete a story.

The Club (Pablo Larraín) Chile

Second on our list of disappointments is The Club, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s first feature film since completing his Pinochet trilogy with the highly acclaimed 2012 film, No. Having seen the predominance of Larraín’s work, it is clear that he is a bit of a hammer when it comes to making a political or social statement in his films. But whereas his earlier films, Tony Manero and Post Mortem, bring the level of symbolism to borderline surreal, The Club mires itself in a predictable story and thinly drawn up characters that cannot substantiate the severity of its best intentions to showcase the excesses and transgressions of the Roman Catholic Church. Much was made prior to the screening about Larraín’s choice to film with 40 year old Russian lenses similar to those used by Andrei Tarkovsky in Stalker, but unlike his choice of using early 1980s camcorders for No, which places you into the time period of that film set during the famed Pinochet “Yes/No” vote, the over diffused lens of The Club fails to enhance the mood or setting of the film, rendering it down to a trivial visual style detail. Alejandro Goic, who portrays Padre Ortega in The Club, explained after our screening that the film was shot in twelve days, and we’re sad to say it looks and feels that way.


 

       WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz) Austria

I love horror films; though I wouldn’t consider myself a fanatic by any means, I am always glad to hear about a new film from the genre that has piqued a friend’s interest. Unfortunately over the last few years, I have been besieged with not necessarily bad horror films but bland ones that have been presented to me as “game changers” that turn out to be the same tired premises in a new visual wrapper. Such was the case last year with the painfully bland Jennifer Kent film, The Babadook, which took its tired familial allegory into horror genre in an attempt to make it more interesting but ended up being neither frightening or innovative in any way. This year was David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which loses steam quickly despite its clever premise by betraying its own mythology and adding lame CGI effects where they weren’t necessary. Now that I have made my peace with the two films that I just mentioned, let me say that It Follows and The Babadook look like The Exorcist compared to the putrid slop that is this year’s overhyped horror film, Goodnight Mommy. Two worthless bratty, yuppie larvae who play with huge roaches in their pristine country home become suspicious that their recently surgically altered mommy, who has just returned home, is not actually their mommy. The boys hogtie their mom and proceed to torture her while Funny Games styled illusions of potential freedom for mom are danced in front of you to add tension or something like tension. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s lame allegory here is that mom values appearance and status over her adorable yet subhuman children. Needless cruelty and creepy crawlies do not constitute horror nor do trite attempts to place pretentious vile crap like this into a sterile horror wrapper to sell to the States as high art.


BEST REPERTORY EXPERIENCE

Get Mean (Ferdinando Baldi)  1975 Italy/USA at Cinefamily

Shortly after arriving to Los Angeles and becoming members of Cinefamily, we had a blast attending a screening with cast included of a rarely seen spaghetti/time travel western from 1975 entitled Get Mean. Once Asian cinema began to overwhelm the action film landscape in the 1970s, the days of the spaghetti western were numbered, and thus the genre had to get crafty or else ride quickly into the sunset. To the rescue comes actor Tony Anthony, an American living in Italy at the time of Leone, who was well known for The Stranger character that first appeared in 1967’s A Dollar Between The Teeth. That film was successful, but Anthony was one of the first to see the writing on a wall in realizing that the genre needed some fresh ideas, so a year after that film debuted, Anthony and director Luigi Vanzi took The Stranger way east for The Silent Stranger (aka A Stranger In Japan), mixing the western with the samurai film. Tony wasn’t done yet with the Japanese sword epic, as he teamed up with veteran sword and sandal director Ferdinando Baldi and brought in ex-Beatle Ringo Starr to play the heavy for a spaghetti treatment of the blind swordsman, Zatoichi, in 1971 called Blindman, about you guessed it, a blind gunfighter. For years Blindman was next to impossible to get here in the States, and for that reason, it was pushed into cult film status alongside Anthony’s fourth entry into the Stranger series: a bizarre, genre-bending spaghetti from 1975 called Get Mean.

For Get Mean, Tony Anthony reunited with director Baldi and his co-star from Blindman, Lloyd Battista for this fantasy western where The Stranger, shortly after being dragged for a few miles by his dying horse past an ominous Phantasmesque silver orb, is offered fifty grand by a witch to escort a Princess back to Spain where she can regain her throne from the hundreds of Vikings and Moors who are battling it out back home. As bizarre as all of this sounds, Get Mean is an outrageously entertaining film which set up an even more entertaining Q&A between Anthony, Battista, and executive producer Ronald Schneider. They regaled the audience with bizarre stories from the making of the film that defied anything that I have ever heard coming from an independent production. There were also stories of weird financial transactions that kept Anthony on location while everyone else bailed in fear of retribution from investors and stories of close call money deliveries such a tale when twelve thousand dollars came just in time to feed Get Mean’s enormous cast before things “got ugly.” The outrageously charming cast stayed afterwards to sign posters and tell more stories to fans in the Silent Film Theater courtyard. Quite an evening.

A clip from the Get Mean Q&A at Cinefamily:


Original trailer for Get Mean  

 

 











 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

Generoso’s 2014 Top Ten Film List, Supplemental Films, Biggest Disappointments, Worst Film Of The Year and, Best Rep Film Experience

Standard

2014…Another excellent year of cinema has passed.   Much love to my dearest Lily who watched all but two of these films with me.  Romania and Chile continue to pour out excellent new work and my favorite is by the great Arnaud Desplechin, who can do no wrong in my book.

Note; At the time of the final edit, I regrettably have not seen the new Mike Leigh film “Mr. Turner,which I hear is sensational or the new one by Bruno Dumont or Hong Sang-soo but I did just see the new Paul Thomas Anderson film “Inherent Vice” and Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” and both did not make the cut.  


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MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2014

1) Jimmy P: The Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian-Arnaud Desplechin (France)

There is much that went into my selection of this film for my pick as the best of 2014.  We have all seen the films based on psychological case studies but Desplechin offers no quick solution to this very complex case of a World War Two Native American who is suffering from catatonia and severe headaches.  Benecio Del Toro turns in the best performance of his career as Jimmy P, a Plains Indian who is treated and becomes friends with a psychoanalyst named Georges Devereux (Mathieu Alamaric) who is one of the few people in his field that understand the culture of the Plains Indian .  There is no buildup to a melodramatic breakthrough as it blends this very particular psychological trauma while fostering a compelling friendship between its leads.  As with all work by Desplechin, “Jimmy P” is masterful storytelling on a level that few directors can accomplish these days.

2) Norte: The End of History-Lav Diaz (Philippines)

Cast in the same mold as the films of Bela Tarr and Jacques Rivette, Lav Diaz’s approach to narrative storytelling relies heavily on the duration of scenes to set up mood than most directors working today.  A brilliant re-working of the Dostoyevsky’s classic “Crime and Punishment” with a length of 250 minutes, Diaz nuances that classic of Russian literature with the changing social imperatives that have resulted from the political nightmare in his native Philippines.  Diaz supplants Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov with Fabian, a law school dropout who quotes Neitzsche and radical philosophies to his friends until he must deliver on his threats of revolution.  What truly distinguishes this adaptation of Crime and Punishment from other previous versions is the creation of “Joaquin,” a simple farmer who is sentenced for Fabian’s crime.  The story then becomes Fabian’s eventual self-destruction from guilt, but without pressure and fear from a detective like Porfiry; Instead the guilt comes only from what Fabian’s crime has done to Joaquin and his family which causes their lives to descend into a sad hell, which then parallels Fabian’s journey into madness.   An epic adaptation that never feels it’s running time.  Despite the unrelenting tone of the film, you remain transfixed until the very end.

3) Winter Sleep-Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)

For almost two decades, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has set a standard for filmmaking that few directors can live up to.  In fact, Nuri’s major competition has been Nuri himself.  With the increasing high standards that he has set for himself with his last three films, all better than the last, it would take a miracle for him to surpass the genius of his 2011 film “Once Upon a Time In Anatolia.”  Winter Sleep is a semi-autobiographical sequel of sorts to the wretched character he created in his own image in “Climates.” Here we have Mr. Aydin, a vile egoist who sits like a king inside his mountainside hotel, pontificating about his epic thespian past while his local business interests stifle the village below.  Mr. Aydin is married to the beautiful Nihal, who is eyeing the door, and they both live with Aydin’s sister Necla, who tears at Mr. Aydin with sharp, sometimes hysterical barbs throughout the first half of the film.  Funnier than any previous Ceylan outing, “Winter Sleep” does not have the complex plot or transcendence of “Once Upon a Time In Anatolia” but it is no less daring and intense on its bold attack of its villain (a Ceylan in the future perhaps?).


4) Under The Skin-Jonathan Glazer (England)

Before I make one single comment about this sensational film from Jonathan Glazer, I would just like to apologize to our director for the hideous Q&A that he endured at the hands of the audience at the Coolidge Corner.  Pretentious twats they all were, and I truly feel sorry for the onslaught of the usual Boston, “I must ask a question so you know that I am smart” question/statement: “Why didn’t you adapt the better novel by Michael Faber?” Asked one consistently irritating audience member who should have met the end of many of Scarlett Johansson’s victims in Under The Skin.  Now, let’s talk about the film…Glazer took one of the most desirable women the world, Scarlett Johansson, donned her in a black wig to not only hide her celebrity but to enhance her inner femme fatale, and set her lose in Scotland to lure actual unsuspecting men on the street into her van as to then bring them into the eventual destination of her alien abattoir to become a food product back on her world.  What remains is a clever essay on what makes us desirable and ultimately human in the same way that Roeg’s “Performance” would challenge our ideas of gender and sexuality.

5) Night Moves-Kelly Reichardt (USA)

To me, Kelly Reichardt, is one of the few great voices left in American independent cinema.  Since her debut film, River of Grass, some twenty years ago, Reichardt has established herself as the queen of minimalist filmmaking here in the States.  She has been noticeable absent since her last gem, 2010s “Meek’s Cutoff” and she has come back with her best film to date, “Night Moves.”  Less the pure observational construction of her earlier films such as “Oldjoy”, “Night Moves” is a critical indictment of the modern eco movement. Here, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) live among the faux-liberal collective farms, ignoring their own privilege as they plot to destroy a seemingly unimportant hydroelectric dam with the help of Harmon (Peter Saarsgard), a hypocritical and marginalized Gulf War veteran.  Josh and Dena seem to be existing in an era that no longer exists, and only plot to prove themselves as true believers in the cause as suggested by the title of the film which is drawn from a boat they use in their terrorist action.  The boat is interestingly named after the long lost Arthur Penn film from the 1970s when such actions were still relevant.   Reichardt skillfully attacks their belief system and methods by getting top performances from the films three leads.

6) Exhibition-Joanna Hogg (England)

Hogg casts Viv Albertine of The Slits as “D” and artist Liam Gillick as “H,” a childless couple who live in their gorgeous modernist London apartment sans children.  They are both quite successful, sexually dead, and obsessive over their splendid home, which for some unknown reason, they are dying to unload.  While alone, “D” roams about and eroticses her surrounding with a masturbatory array of poses and grindings.  As ridiculous as it all seems, Hogg’s purpose it seems is not to humiliate this couple, but to have the audience almost revel in their perverse bourgeois tendencies to find a impossible explanation for their erratic behavior.   Are they simply falling apart?  Or are “D” and “H” finally understanding that this amount of comfortable living may in conflict with their own creative and intellectual growth?  Hogg leaves that decision for you.

7) A Field In England-Ben Wheatley (England)

I might be alone here in my adoration of this psychedelic history piece set during the English Civil War, written and directed by the always surprising Ben Wheatley.   Here Wheatley takes a group of war deserters on a whimsical path through the countryside until they meet with the brutal necromancer, O’Neil (Michael Smiley) who doses our deserters with magic mushrooms in order for them to help him on his quest to find a proverbial pot of gold.  Shot handheld and  in black and white,  Wheatley creates a disturbing environment that is unnerving, clumsy, but ultimately victorious as his (Wheatley) determination to tell a story in a way that has never been done before wins out over any small shortcomings that this film possess.  All of this culminating in the best three minutes of experimental imagery and sound  that I have witnessed from a pseudo mainstream director this year.   This may not be for all, but it did make me excited for every scene in a way that only a handful of films have done in this decade.

8) Child’s Pose- Calin Peter Netzer (Romania)

And the winner of this year’s overbearing mother award goes to Cornelia Keneres (amazing performance from veteran actress, Luminita Gheorghiu).  Like many films of this Romanian New Wave that we have been graced with over the last decade, older characters such as our Cornelia, represent the old Ceausescu led Romania, a slightly more corrupt world of bribes and favors that still has not died off to this day.  Cornelia is a well-off and successful architect who is not pleased at her son Barbu’s (Bogdan Dumitrache) choice of partners, a fact that she makes very clear to her sister early in the film.  When Barbu causes a major incident, mom comes to the rescue but not in the intense, unconditional loving way that Kim Hye-ja modest matriarch does in Boon Joon Ho’s.”Mother.” No, Cornelia is packing misery in the form of backroom deals to get her son off, and she is thoroughly despised for her actions by all parties.  A critical, mean film from the country that loves a dour moment and a film that also contains one powerhouse performance from Gheorghiu.  A phenomenal sour punch in the gut.

9) The Overnighters-Jesse Moss (USA)

It has been said that some documentaries connect an audience simply due to its subject matter now matter how it’s presented (Marc Singer’s excellent 2000 film, “Dark Days” is a fine example) and some receive notice  to its production value alone, amounting to little more than eye candy (like 2010s Detropia).  Given the subject matter and editing of Jesse Moss’ fine documentary, “The Overnighters,” I would still be impressed if the doc were shot on a 2004 flip phone.   Since the controversial technique of “fracking” arrived in North Dakota in 2008, the state has had an employment boom and has also become the second largest oil producing state behind Texas.  So, what is there to do with a town like Wiliston, North Dakota, a town that has been besieged by workers from all over America who are looking for a chance to make good money during this dead economy. Considering that there is absolutely no housing available, and that it is illegal to sleep in your car, where will all of these incoming workers sleep?   Here enters our hero, Pastor Jay Reinke, who much to the outrage of his fellow neighbors is allowing these workers to sleep in his church and in the church’s parking lot.  Herein lies the conflict of the documentary, but the answer to this problem is much more complicated than anyone had ever imagined.  Hopeful and heartbreaking, this non-glamourous documentary clearly shows the modern ramifications that result from an act of charity towards desperate group of strangers by a flawed but very good man.

10) When Evening Falls On Bucharest or Metabolism-Corneliu Porumbiou (Romania)

Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) , the protagonist and possibly the alter-ego of Romanian director, Corneliu Porumbiou, is faking an ulcer during the filming of his new movie so he could have some extra romantic time with his lead actress Alina (Diana Avramut).  This may sound like the beginning of some “rom com” but fans of Pourumbiou’s work fully know that these two characters words and actions will be picked apart clean by the time the credits roll.  This film has little to do with their actual relationship but more about how that relationship plays out in the form of cinema.  If they speak about nudity for example, the visuals will follow suit and every action will either affirm or condemn the statements that were previously made.  Like Porumbiou’s last film, the dark and comedic, “Police Adjective” there is an analysis of the medium and language that occurs here in “When Evening Falls…” that allows the viewer a chance to connect dialog and visuals in a way that only Porumbiou can do.  Also, never has there been a funnier colonoscopy scene and if that doesn’t pull you in, I don’t know what will.


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SUPPLEMENTAL LIST

1) Gloria-Sebastian Leilo (Chile)

Since the fall of Pinoche, Chile has been experiencing an exciting  new wave of film production.  Pablo Larraín, Patricio Guzmán, and Sebastian Leilo have all looked back at the days during Pinoche and have also shown us a modern Chile that is both full of hope and promise but sometimes regret for what occurred there between 1973 and 1990.  “Gloria,” Leilo’s fourth feature film since 2006 is a sometimes sad and heart wrenching story of two divorced people who are trying to bury a past that never seems to leave them. Wonderful performances from Paulina García and Sergio Hernández in the lead roles make this a can’t miss film.

2) Super Duper Alice Cooper-Sam Dunn (Canada)

Admittedly, I am a huge Alice Cooper fan so my expectations were very high for this biopic on everyone’s favorite horror madman from Detroit.  Sure, there are the usual moments of “Behind The Music drug use and abuse” that would be in almost any biopic centered around a musician from the 1970s, right?  What does propels this story; Is the absolutely daring use of no on-screen interviews.  Yes, all of your information is transmitted through over-narration and a dazzling array of animated photos and graphics, as well as rarely seen archival footage and although I normally repel from such slick documentaries, this particular time the unique presentation of information gives the narrative a timeless effect.  Like Alice himself, this doc has a lot of flash and viscera, but inside there is a compelling story of a very entertaining preacher’s son who got very weird, was widely adored, and became a music legend while still being a pretty nice guy.

3) Me and You-Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy)

To be frank, Bertolucci has been on quite a bad tear since “The Last Emperor” won every award possible in 1987.  To be blunt, as much as I admire his early work, from “Le Commare Secca” in 1962 to “The Last Emperor,” I am as repelled by most of his output since.  To make matters worse, a few of these films during this time have been a kind of clumsy apology for some of Bertolucci’s earlier beliefs and artistic mistakes such as Bernardo’s awful 1993 film, “Little Buddha”,  which is clearly an apology for his previously held Marxist beliefs.  That said,  I truly feel that his superb film from this year, “Me and You” is an on-point correction of all of the mistakes that Bertolucci made with his controversial 1979 film, “Luna”, a film that wasted a superb performance from the late Jill Clayburgh as an opera singing mother who has an incestuous relationship with her junkie son.  “Me and You” is the story of Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), the discontented son of a wealthy overbearing mother who is so attached to her son that he schemes to go on a school trip so that he can simply hide in the basement of his apartment building to get a few days of peace and freedom.  All is well until Lorenzo’s gorgeous junkie half-sister, Olivia (Tea Falco), shows up with a ton of attitude and crashes Lorenzo’s hideout because she has no place to go. Over the next few days, Olivia begins to fascinate Lorenzo, but where an older Bertolucci would have infused an awkward sexuality, here their relationship turns into several small conversations that help Lorenzo figure out why their parents divorced in the first place.  Though not in the realm of his earlier masterworks, “Me and You” is a  modest film with real things to say about urban young people in today’s Italy and unlike the pointless nostalgic bore that was Linklater’s “Boyhood,”  “Me and You” is a concise film that goes deep into the thought process of its two main characters and is never concerned with just feeding you slices of nostalgia.

4) Jodorowsky’s Dune– Frank Pavich (USA)

The story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at producing a film version of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, “Dune,” has been bandied about for years in film circles.  The legend had it that in 1973, Jodorowsky, fresh off the cult successes of his films “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” had spent considerable time and resources to assemble a group of some of the hottest young talent in Hollywood to come up with storyboards and a script to make a pitch for funds from Hollywood to make “Dune.”  His bizarre selection of actors from Orson Welles, to Salvadore Dali was part of this insane plan, which according to this very entertaining doc was completely true.  Jodorowsky himself fuels the narrative of this documentary by regaling sometimes hysterical stories of how he lured in talents like Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor, H.R. Giger and young special effects guru, Dan O’Bannon, to work on this adaptation of a book that Jodorowsky had never bothered to read in the first place!  After years of pitches, the job of filming “Dune” went to David Lynch who we all know really made a humongous mess out of the project;  A fact that still seems to bring Jodorowsky much joy to this day.  A incredibly entertaining documentary, that not only clears up the myths of this attempted version of “Dune,” but also gives you a glimpse into what Hollywood can fiendishly do with the creative remnants of projects that are sent to the scrap bin.

5) Closed Curtain-Jafar Panahi (Iran)

This is Jafar Panahi’s second film that he has made while under house arrest.  The sentence carried out a couple of years ago also stated that Panahi could not make any films for the next two decades, so this film was actually directed by Kambuzia Partovi (not really).  Unlike his last outing, “This Is Not A Film,”  “Closed Curtain” is a sort-of narrative piece that tells the story of  a famed writer who arrives at his beautiful home on the shore with a very interesting piece of contraband in tow, a dog named “Boy.” I say “contraband” because the act of walking or owning a dog will soon cost you 74 lashes in the country of Iran because these animals have been deemed “unclean” and a symbol of decadent influence from the West.  While our protagonist covers his windows to keep the eyes of the government off of his new friend, “Boy” watches a real television report that shows the grotesque execution of dogs.  Our writer then hopes to rest quietly but is awoken late into the night by a brother and sister who are being hunted by the police.  Our hero offers to hide the sister who behaves erratically and she is soon tearing down the writer’s curtains.  Soon after that, the real Jafar Panahi appears and interacts with neighbors and it is at this point that the narrative of the film gets thrown away.  The brother, sister, and the writer occasionally reappear in the film, but these moments are fragmented and this new structure suggests that Panahi does not see a point in making a film under these conditions.  As to not give spoilers, I feel that the pervasive tone and structure of “Closed Curtain”  is there solely to makes the viewer wonder as to how long Panahi will continue to make films given these circumstances. If Panahi’s  “This Is Not a Film” was an act of rebellion, “Closed Curtain” may be his waving of the white flag.

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MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

Ida-Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland)

After watching two of his previous films, “Summer of Love” and “Last Resort,” I did not have any desire to see more work from director Pawel Pawlikowski until I read astonishing reviews of his new film, “Ida”  in both Film Comment and Cinemascope.  Sadly, as I believed about his film “Last Resort” which I found to be an almost shot for shot rip off of Victor Nuñez’s superior 1993 film,  “Ruby In Paradise,” “Ida” is an watered down “homage” that carelessly references other masterworks of Polish cinema (here he borrows from Kawalerowicz and Wajda) to tell the story of a novice nun who is met by her Jewish aunt before she is to take her final vows.  What follows in this brief throwaway of a film is a kind of road movie where our novice nun is exposed to the hideous truth of her Jewish parents demise during World War Two, which has little dramatic impact given the speed of the narrative.  After her aunt’s suicide, our novice then begins an immediate and almost surrealistic transformation (Or is it a dream? Dear Lord, save me)  that includes wild jazz musicians, parties, and promiscuity that borders on the comical.   A hack job of a film.

The Grand Budapest-Hotel-Wes Anderson (USA)

Everyone’s white hope of direction, Wes Anderson, had been shooting little adorable blanks since his 1999 masterpiece, “Rushmore.” Based on my love for his first two films, I also admit to being as guilty as every other American male of my generation who kept seeing each subsequent film in the hopes that Wes would regain his form. So, when “Moonrise Kingdom” was released to much deserved critical praise in 2012, it reminded all of us that maybe Wes should have possibly slowed down a bit during the last decade so that he could have made something that was a worthy followup to the aforementioned “Rushmore.”  That is why I am saddened to say that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” can be tossed into the woodpile along with the other trite Anderson efforts in the 2000s.  This star heavy mess neither excels through its leads or its story, a Marx Brothers styled farce whose allegory suggests a condensed World War One style conflict centered around the titular hotel.  Ralph Fiennes is the only redeemable thing about this tired, frenetic mess that seemed to wow the audience more with its star power more than any other aspect it tried to present.  Let’s just call it “A Mad Mad Mad Mad World Part Two” and file this ornate phone cozy in a cute hand-painted box.

Boyhood –Richard Linklater (USA)

I have been assassinating this film from about a thousand directions since I saw it a few months back, so let me try and take a new angle on this overlong farce..So, if “Boyhood” is just an observational film about a boy and his family with no direct political slant infused into the narrative (or at least that is how it has been explained than Mr. Linklater) then please explain how this “working poor” or even “lower middle class” family can exist in cities like Houston or San Marcos, Texas without one Hispanic or Latino person in their inner circle?   I have never pulled the race card in a review, but if this film has no intended statement and it is just a honest look at a boy growing up in this geographic region with those socioeconomic levels, than explain how that could possibly happen?  Also, your main character’s celebratory journey to whitebread Austin to hunt for colleges must be the bee’s knees for the milquetoast set who need to escape the world of hard working brown people, but to me it is another reminder that your films have almost consistently been made for the upper class Johnsons and Smiths of this world so if its OK with you, I’ll sit out your next few films.

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WORST FILM OF THE YEAR (TIED)

Memphis-Tim Sutton (USA)

Hi Tim Sutton, it is so awesome that you love African American culture, but here’s the problem; After seeing your film, I am fairly confident that you are another useless over privileged Brooklyn hipster who has never really known any African Americans.  At least known them  in a profound enough way that would have given you the confidence to make a film about their world like you done and failed with here.  So your hackneyed, done a million times, sketch of a story which just seems to be the framework for a bevy of Instagram-style imagery to make other sad talent-less children like you think that they are seeing “art,” is actually doing immense disservice to the people and community whom you are trying to lovingly represent.  Feel better?  Your finished film comes across as one of those mid 1960s well-intentioned, but hopelessly clueless liberal trifles like 1965s “A Patch of Blue”  that bored me to tears then so believe me that your little “musical drama” put me into an expensive coma ($13 at the IFC Center in NYC to watch this on a screen the size of a card table).  Couldn’t you have just have easily asked mom and dad for less money and made a film about your true roots, like a hard-hitting documentary about your favorite Williamsburg ukulele or cronut shop?

Snowpiercer-Bong Jo Hong (Korea-US/France)

I had feared that this mess would happen last year not soon after seeing Bong Joon-ho’s fellow countryman Park Chan-wook flounder in his American film debut “Stoker,”  To make matters worse, Bong Joon-ho has suffered an even worse fate than Park, as he has tried to adapt French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jean-Marc Rochette, into English (a language Bong does not speak) with the help of the meager talent that is playwright Kelly Masterson (who speaks no Korean, of course).  You got all that, right?  “Snowpiercer” is a dreadful, heavy handed, pandering political “science fiction” film that contains the funniest (not intentional) moment of dialog in cinema this year; The line occurs when our hero played by Chris Evans utters the following line, “I hate them because they forced me to find out what a baby tastes like,” during the supposed dramatic climax of the film.  You want more?  Tilda Swinton with fake teeth, playing comically spastic (I’m done with her now BTW), a bunch of unsympathetic extras from the “occupy movement,” and a clairvoyant who can predict the future but not what’s through the door in front of her.  Also, I cannot count the amount of internet and print media crybabies who posted about upset they were that “the Weinstein’s shuffled the film off to suburban theaters after Bong refused to edit the film down to two hours.”  Well, you know what makes me upset?  The fact that this film made me agree for the first time in my life with that talentless enemy of the people, Harvey Weinstein.  Well, not completely, as I think that “Snowpiercer” isn’t even good enough for the mall theaters that it was forced into and should have been sent directly to North Korea in the hopes that they wouldn’t take the USA (or South Korea for that matter) seriously enough to invade.  Lastly, as a loyal devotee of graphic novels for my entire life, I have this message for all of you who have not yet learned from awful graphic novel adaptations like;  “Scott Pilgrim,” “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” or this hunk of crap..Just because it was adapted from an indie comic book, it does not make it cutting edge.  And before you say anything else..Yes, film adaptations of video games are a much worse proposition.

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BEST REPERTORY EXPERIENCE (TIED)

Fat City (1972) Director: John Huston.  Novelist/Screenwriter Leonard Gardner’s Q&A

Former boxer turned screenwriter Leonard Gardner’s March 31st, 2014 appearance at the Harvard Film Archive will go down as one of the best experiences that I have ever had at the Carpenter Center.  Still as sharp as a tack, Gardner had a bottomless bag of stories about his experiences working with legendary director John Huston on set in Stockton, California during the filming of “Fat City.”  To me, the simple fact that Huston allowed Gardner to amend the script during shooting tells me why the film has a brilliant looseness of dialog that is on par with any film made during that period by much younger, more “hip” directors.  The only thing that I regret about that night was that I didn’t try to shake Gardner’s hand in fear that I might accidentally kiss his cheek in gratitude for his appearance, and thus possibly me getting a mouth full of fist. Still, that would have been worth it for me.

Killer Joe (2012) Director: William Friedkin

William Friedkin, is a scholar and a gentleman who the evening before the screening of his film “Killer Joe” had stayed at the Harvard Film Archive until almost midnight to speak with film students and fans alike after the screening of his ignored masterpiece, “Sorcerer.”.  So, when his brutal, 2012 film, “Killer Joe” screened the next night, I didn’t expect Mr. Friedkin to be as insanely hysterical as he was, culminating with a response to my friend Sean Burn’s question about Friedkin’s choice to use Clarence Carter’s suggestive song “Strokin,” during the credits of what was a very nasty film.  Friedkin retorted that “every film and play, even “Hamlet” would be drastically improved with “Strokin” at the end.”  The next five minutes of his response were a blur due to my laughter.   Somewhere lost in this was Friedkin, whom my wife Lily and I had met the night before, began his Q&A by waving at us and saying; “Hey guys, great to see you again.”  All I have to say is; “Wow, what a guy.”

See you next year!