‘Transit’ is one of those movies that challenge me. I was mesmerized by it, but I have to be honest, there were parts that I did nto understand at first, and while some of them made more sense as the film went on, there were also some that were still puzzling after. Directed by Christian Petzold, the film probably warrants a second viewing. But life is too short and I have so much on my to-be-watched plate that I want to do it, but at the same time I don’t have the patience.
But what I got is good. I know it is based on Anna Sagher’s 1944 novel, but is set on present day France (first Paris, then Marseilles) This Paris is not the city of lights, it’s a turbulent one, with chaos and police activity. A man (Franz Rogowski) assumes another man’s identity, then goes to the port city of Marseilles, facing emotional, and political complications. Some of it doesn’t make common sense, but I don’t think Petzold is too concerned about that – the narrative is fluid, combining past, present, 1944, and 2019. It is supposed to be seamless, but it’s messy – perhaps to elevate the chaos of the story. Rogowski, looking like a German River Phoenix, is perfect for the role of a man confused, determined, obsessed. He is mesmerizing to look at. But as I said earlier, this is a tough watch. I cope to having unanswered questions that make me feel slightly dumb. For sure, though, this movie stayed with me. I just don’t know what to do with the fragmented pieces I got.
‘Godard Mon Amour,’ as a film, is pretty to look at, with an ode to Godard’s primary-colors theme as in ‘A Married Woman.’ But pretty only goes so far. Perhaps this film, directed by Michael Hazanavicius (of ‘the Artist’) is meant for people who know Godard and his films well, because a lot of times I am lost, when funny scenes are supposed to be funny I am not laughing. And even though Louis Garrell tries hard, there seems to be me no meat in the character of Jean Luc Godard here, and I knew not much more about him after the film ended. Yes, I know the film is not an exact biography, but more a slice of life representation of the years when he was married to Anne Wiazemsky, his second wife. But still, context might have helped me. I found myself thoroughly bored by the film and couldn’t wait for it to end.
‘Faces Places’ was very renowned during the awards season, and although it did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture, a lot of people feel that it should have. I am just catching up to it now, and I like it fine. It is directed by Agnes Varda, along with the artist JR, and it also starts the two of them. They go through the French countryside provinces and talk to regular folks, take their pictures, and blow these pictures up and paste them on large surfaces, like the sides of buildings or expansive farm houses. I honestly wish I were more interested in them, but city folks appeal to me more. But I do respect the work, as I know Agnes Varda is one of the key proponents of French New Wave Cinema. That is referenced in the touching last part of the film. I don’t know if I would want to ever see this film again, but it was fun watching.
I know French Director Arnaud Desplechin has a huge fan base, and his new film ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ cater to that. I am only finding this out because I absolutely loathed his new film ‘Ismael’s Ghost” and I just did not get why the film was garnering raves, even opening Cannes Film festival last year. Sure enough, a lot of what is in the film are nods to some of his earlier films and are ‘inside jokes’ of sorts. Obviously, I did not get most of them, as I don’t even know if I have even seen any of his other films. I can’t say I am an expert on French Cinema, as I only see what is accessible to us here in the States.
Needless to say, I thought ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ is a hot mess. Stories and characters weave in and out and ten minutes into the film, i was already exhausted by it. They say if a film doesn’t engage you after a certain number of time, then you will never get it. I never got this. I know that the director character here is supposed to mirror Desplechin, and I guess that metaphor works that way: there is too much going on here, as if ideas have exploded in his head, and I just don’t have the patience for it. The version I saw was the ‘Director’s Cut,’ which is the version longer than the one shown in Cannes. Perhaps I would like that version better, although some reviews have indicated that this ‘fuller’ version makes more sense. Well, it still did not make sense to me, and I really have no interest in finding out more.
Laurent Cantet’s ‘The Workshop’ (L’Atelier) is set in La Ciotat in Southern France, near Marseilles. The shipping town has seen better days, and now the town sees itself catering to rich folks who park their yachts in their marinas. We see a group of young people taking a writing workshop, under the tutelage of Olivia, a famous novelist who leads them to write a collaborative story. Marina Fois’ Olivia is a city girl, a Parisian, and in the beginning we see the kids making fun of the way she speaks – fast, urgent, cosmopolitan. These kids are a cross-section of kids nowadays : of different ethnic descent, liberal, slightly bitter about the hands they are dealt with. One of the young men in the group, Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) is a provocateur – he disagrees with the other kids maybe for just the sake of being a contrarian, or maybe he really does believe what he is spouting? We don’t really get to find out exactly how he feels until the end, and even then I wasn’t so sure. This is a kid who watches alt-right speeches while doing sit ups, so I don’t really know whether to take him that seriously.
This is a thought provoking film, and curiously could be a story about anywhere in the world, as we see society getting more and more divided by the day. I thought the character of Antoine was fascinating, and Lucci is appealing in that dangerous/sexy/scary/infuriating kind of way. I bet he becomes a big star. There’s enough talk here that will make you pause and ponder, and may want to question what you think you believe in.
I am one of the generation who ‘grew up’ with ACT-UP. I remember once going to one of its meetings by mistake. It was at the “Keith Haring Room’ at The Center in New York City in the Mid 80s, and I thought I was going to a group meeting of some sort, and walked in to ACT UP. And I was scared, I was trembling. It was a whole group of very militant people, all garbed in black. of course, I knew what they were fighting for, but seeing their faces and their hostility face to face was an affront i didn’t expect. I ran out of there right away. I couldn’t handle it – their intensity weakened me. I look back at that now and think, can you imagine being on the receiving end of all that energy? Well, darn right, I could, and it was that rage that spurred the action that was needed at the time. I often saw the news reports of their activism, and then I would kind of shake my hand, but with my eyes now, knowing what I know, and after time has passed, I can only view all of as great bravery – hand battle in the war that is still on going.
BPM captures the Parisian energy of the time. Directed by Robin Campillo from his screenplay (with Phillippe Mangeot) this film is a depiction of a war, in the same vein as one would see ‘Schindler’s List,’ for example. While we are fortunate to be living now in a time where much of what was discussed here as battles won, it is good to see how we got to this place. This film tells the story of the activism in Paris that went on, and the loves and battles they lived through. It has the great performance of Nahuel Perez Biscayat as Sean, who is one of the activists who got the disease from his teacher, and his unlikely partner in Nathan (Arnaud Valois) who is negative. They form a bond that is unflinching in its honesty.
But, like all war films, it’s too exhausting to watch for me. In these times where we see resistance in form everyday, it is a reminder that we never do stop fighting in life. This is the opposite of the feel good movie, and I spent the evening after seeing this in deep solitude. I thought about the friends I have lost, the friends still affected by this. I thought about my life – how I survived all of this, and how I still do not feel completely safe from it. I slept with these thoughts, and this morning still could not figure out how to feel, how to write. I think this film is a great representation of the war a lot of people had to go through, and I hope people see it.
‘Madame’ is some sort of Cinderella story, but most things about it don’t really connect. In Amanda Sther’s first feature, a dinner party is almost disrupted when Anne realizes she has thirteen guests. Seeing that as some sort of bad luck, she makes her maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) join the table. Maria is instructed to be quiet and unobstructive, but she catches the eye of David (Michael Smiley) a rich art consultant. Some kind of romance follows, but Anne feels threatened and tries to thwart it.
The film and story is a good idea, but this film is marred by a couple of things. First of all, Colette’s Anne is such an unformed character that we do not understand why she does what she does. De Palma is great here, though, and gives Maria enough pathos and joy that you do feel for her, but everything around here seems wooden. The film is pretty to look at, and I appreciated the shots of modern day Paris and its suburbs. But to be honest, I got bored most of the time.