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Woman is the Future of Man (Dir. Hong Sang-soo)

The thing I enjoyed most about Woman is the Future of Man is that Sang-Soo has a real gift for the totality of the world in which he is filming.  Even though the film mostly follows from the perspectives of it’s two male leads (Mun-ho, Hyeon-gon) and their shared history with this woman Seon-hwa—at any minute you have the sense that the camera could just take off on a background character, and the movie could just be about them.  In fact, my favorite character in the film, is actually that background character in the above scene.  You watch her wait for a car to pick her up for most of the conversation between the two friends and her whole game out there is really intriguing.

The way that Sang-Soo’s camera will suddenly start following background characters actions, or will have as the focal point a character in the background, while the two main characters are talking is really a wonderful effect.  And I think it speaks to an underlying message in the film that even though the two male leads largely revolve their worlds around themselves, it is short sighted and limited perspective which feeds into a culture of mistreatment of the various women in the world around them.

For women in Sang-Soo’s film, there are these background stalkings, nice guy slow creeps, kidnappings, and rapes—it’s not something that is fixated on because the story is kind of about the ways in which men feel entitled to perpetuate this misery, and largely don’t really care beyond how it affects how others see them.  When Seon-Hwa is raped, the main focus for Hyeon-gon is making himself be able to feel clean.

Kim Hyeon-Gon is a really interesting character who is kind of replicated later on in the charactrer of Minsoo—the actor Kim Tae-Woo, plays him off as a gentle sort of nice guy, against what we initially perceive as the courseness of his friend the teacher, Lee Mun-ho.  He is emotionally passive aggressive, whereas Mun-ho is very direct in the space between his emotions and his words.  And initially your sense is that Hyeon-gon is a nice guy.  But he’s kind of revealed to be the biggest creep of the three.  And his pain that he finally expresses when he finds out that while he had abandoned Seon-Hwa, she had moved on with Mun-ho—seems less like genuine emotional truth, and more his gratification at being able to feel absolved of the various miseries he imparted on Seon-Hwa, particularly after she had been raped.

That point isn’t super overt, but it’s there.  As he runs away from Seon-Hwa, she yells after him how easy it is for him.  He can only laugh.

Mun-ho is no white night either.  His interest in Seon-Hwa seems to largely stem from the emotional damage he can inflict on his friend.  In fact the film ends with a string of decisions by him sexually that show that despite his reputation for course directness, he has an inability to feel sex as anything more than an emotional bargaining chip for bringing things to the fore that he is otherwise uncomfortable saying himself.  He has sex with Seon-Hwa in her apartment, so that he doesn’t have to tell his friend that he had a relationship with her while he was gone, so that it all falls on her, similarly he has sex with a student of his largely because he is unhappy with his wife, but is too cowardly to discuss it directly with her.  Of course that these decisions will all mostly land on the head of the women around him, is of no real consequence to him.

The marvelous thing with Woman is the Future of Man, is that even though it is very insidious in it’s themes—the overall tone of the film is fairly light.  The darkness is under this sort of casual dramatic veneer—and I’ve seen now two Hong Sang-Soo films, and in both of them, they are like…these charming melodramas—the way they are shot, there’s no dark spaces, there’s a lot of sort of communal moments where characters are one thing, disguising another—but there’s a general disguise of this lower gender horror going on beneath these films.  It’s almost like a Douglas Sirk type of thing—in that it feels like Sang-Soo is hiding a lot behind the veneer of melodrama—but what’s hiding there is like…a Bergman film.

This all makes me really happy.  I reaaaaallly loved The Power of Kangwon Province, but then I watched Night and Day—and I actually turned it off.  It’s like an over 2 hour movie like this—and I wasn’t patient enough to let it sort of reveal itself—I was just like “wow.  why is a movie like this 2 hours?”  And I dunno.  I wasn’t in the mood.  But it looks like I’ll be re-renting it. 


09.14.14 12
Young and Beautiful (Dir. François Ozon)

Young and Beautiful is a film by François Ozon that follows a young well-off 17-year old(Marine Vacht) who responds to her awakening as a sexual being straight into prostitution.  Ozon doesn’t play it as any kind of morality tale, and what protestations of Vacht’s double-life are largely minimized in the film’s focus, as Ozon goes out of his way to make sure that we don’t view Vacht as a victim—but instead see her choice in the same way that you might view a rebellious teen discovering drugs.

The film’s not really strictly about any of that—that’s just the setting for the real focus of the film(Vacht) to walk through.  Fundamentally it’s a film that fetishes young beauty—and even though Vacht portrays her character with a teenager’s sneer and desire for upheaval for it’s own sake—the movie’s focus is really that of the old looking at the young covetously for the powers they used to have.  Particularly in terms of female beauty—which is kind of the most societally fickle in how it bestows and removes it’s power(largely because the definitions are based upon patriarchal concepts and desires—so this is what makes them disadvantageous for women vs. men.  It’s why George Clooney will be getting roles as a leading man in steamy romances well into his 50s or 60s—whereas the minute Angelina Jolie starts showing gray, those Mr. and Mrs. Smith roles drop).

The thesis statement of the film really comes in the final few scenes between Vacht and the older Charlotte Rampling.  Rampling is the wife of the john that died while having sex with Vacht—and rather than be angry with Vacht, or judgmental about prostitution—she is very candid in saying that she wished she had done the same thing when she was young—when she still had the juice.  Because in the end what was it even all about—and it’s like this “yeah take them for all their worth” moment which is pretty badass.

The sinister side of the whole female beauty game is that as you reach the age where you could emotionally actually take advantage of the power given to you for your beauty—is also the time that that beauty begins to fade and deteriorate.  Forever 21 yo. 

For the most part as a woman once you look old, it’s exit stage left, and there’s not very much visibility societally.  It puts a crazy ticking time clock in the background and a mad dash to stave off any kind of visible signs of natural aging.  This clock is even crazier for transwomen, because you have the time you start transitioning plus the time it takes to sort of hit some kind of cisgender driven idea of beauty and then that’s subtracted out of the already minimal time you would have already had.  You actually see it a lot too where some transwomen don’t come out just because they feel like it’s too late and they’re already too old. 

I think the humiliation of aging is just the widening distance between the ideal ability to exercise intent, and the malleability of existence being replaced by the torpid rigor mortis of age and then death. 

I think a lot about this thing my photographer friend Ellen Rogers wrote about her role as a photographer in terms of the volume of people trying to hit her up to get her to capture them in their prime, to capture some lasting remnant of beauty that they can take with them into old age: “

You see photographers have something painful and divine, a power to give the vain and beautiful eternal beauty. You need not grow old with as much resentment if you can prove you were once beautiful. “
- See more at: http://ellenrogers.co.uk/posts/portrait-charlotte#sthash.FqHuOd6i.dpuf

You see vanity is the way that we guard ourselves against the reality of our changing state—and it keeps us from ever really realizing ourselves in the moment as we are—but always lenses things in the fear for what we are to become.  Or what we once were.  I think in Ozon’s film of the mother who sees Vacht with her husband, Vacht’s Step-father, and suddenly perceives her daughter as a threat because of her own vanity.  Something like this happens in the film Amer (Dir. Hélène Cattet
Bruno Forzani), where a mother and daughter are walking together, and the daughter suddenly realizes that she is more beautiful than her mother, and her mother also has the realization soon after—and the weird power shift of that dynamic, and the insecurities on both sides is a really fascinating story.  I guess for men, it might be analogous to the time the father finally loses to the son in some sort of game.  There’s this weird thing for the child where they have conquered their parent—and there’s a triumph but also a sadness too.  And for the parent, it is terrifying, because now they are beyond your control and have in fact surpassed you.

I dunno.  Really fascinating to think about.  It’s another feather in the cap for beauty being a horrific concept too.
09.10.14 16
Faust (Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)

So Sokurov’s Faust is on Netflix Instant thesedays, and I’m glad I got to watch it.  Maybe this is a minor film for Sokurov or other people?  I don’t know.  I’ve only seen Russian Ark by Sokurov, and wasn’t that keen on it—so I was interested to see what the deal is—and now that I know, I guess I’ll be watching more of his movies now.

The aesthetics of Faust are really amazing.  The whole film feels like it’s filmed on top of some kind slithering mud, and Sokurov’s camera follows it’s characters half the time, the other half it leaps in front of them and waits for them to catch up, unsteady, impatient.  It has the kind of locomotion that I liked a lot in Szamanka, the Zulawski film—Faust and Mephistopheles pretty much never stop walking, never stop talking—walking is almost a misnomer for what they do—they crawl, stumble, writhe through the film’s nearly three hour run time.

What’s interesting is that even though it’s still the whole Faustian bargain thing—the focus of the film really doesn’t place much value on Faust’s sole.  In fact, by the time Faust signs the contract, the emphasis has been so tilted, that we’re more concerned with the grammar of the contract than what it is for or in exchange for—and by this time in the film, Faust has already been a murderer amongst many other things—so it’s debatable that the Mephisto hadn’t already gotten his soul.

What was interesting to me more though was the depiction of Margarete, basically the pretty girl that Faust decides to creep on for the whole movie.  She never really makes any kind of real emotional decision on anything.  When her brother dies, who Faust has murdered, she doesn’t even know who he is, and her mourning is largely because it’s the role she thinks she has to play.  Similarly, her relationship to Faust is largely on that she is playing an enforced role by both Faust and later Mephisto.  There’s a really wonderful scene where we shift our focus off of Faust and see Margarete walking the street alone and being accosted by Faust’s assistant Wagner—the way Sokoruv shows the imposition of Wagner into her space and how he forces her back into herself, even as he thinks what he is doing is noble, I think is largely there to pantomine what Faust has done for the entire film.  Wagner is the stuttering slimey creepy truth behind Faust, and Sokurov spares no repugnancy in this scene. 

Isolda Dychauk’s performance as Margarete is really fascinating.  There’s a scene at her brother’s funeral where Faust, who again, is her brother’s killer, is rolling up on her while the preacher is doing his thing, and he makes this really creepy move where he starts brushing up against her hand with the outside of his hand, and Dychauk’s reaction starts out at this spot of just twisted repulse, and indeed it looks like she’s about to expose Faust to the rest of the funeral crew right there and then, but that expression morphs into something more mysterious—and she doesn’t say anything.

Later when she’s talking with Faust and he is trying to impress her with all of his scientific knowledge, she catches him on his knowledge of botony and suddenly Faust goes from intellectual to prideful fool.

She’s an interesting character, a woman whose whole world rises and falls on the decisions of powers outside of her agency—but who within that finds space for small mockery.

Which is another thing with Sokurov’s Faust in that there is no distinction between the living and the damned.  Mephisto’s hell if anything is more geographically remarkable than the town Faust and Margarete live in.  Where nobody has any money or food, and where every lives covered in mud waiting, hoping to die—the lack of contrast informs Faust’s reaction to Mephisto, who expects I think a kind of horror or despair from Faust about losing his soul—but he is more intellectually fascinated by the fantastical world he has no moved into, and runs around hell in almost a state of intellectual ecstasy. 

Sokurov’s Hell is incredible too.  A mixture of absurd geographical elements of hot and cold stacked up against each other in front of a beautiful dusk.  It becomes clear, that Faust didn’t trade his soul for a night with Margarete—but he traded it for the wonders of hell.

Which is pretty cool.

09.03.14 20
08.26.14 9
Trying to Reconcile Taiyo Matsumoto’s Sunny…

Taiyo Matsumoto is tough for me to write about in any kind of formal fashion.  Not sure why.  I think maybe some of it may be that he’s such an old influence for me—like I came into his work before Nihei or Daisuke Igarashi—maybe even before Inio Asano-though Asano hasn’t really influenced me artistically—but I think how I got there was I was reading Stray Toasters because when I was first sort of starting to figure out how to draw, I practiced by redrawing Frazetta and BWS, but I was looking at like Sienkiewicz and Ashley Wood—anyways so I was reading Stray Toasters, and my wife of the time saw one of the panels in it, and was like “oh wow, that’s Klimt”—so I went and looked up Klimt and was like “whoa” which led me to Schiele which was a life changing moment.  As soon as I saw Schiele I knew there was something in there that I just FELT, and I wanted to explore that feeling through my own work and find my own expression through it.

So in trying to figure out how to take Schiele into comics I ran into Taiyo Matsumoto’s work.  I think Tekkinkinkreet was the first work of his I read, then No. 5, then Gogo Monster, then Ping Pong, then Takemitsu Zamurai, and now Sunny.  Ping Pong and Takemitsu Zamurai are prolly my fave works by him, with Gogo Monster a close third.  But these works were huge to me, and I mean eventually I found Daisuke Igarashi—and I think Daisuke is even closer to my like platonic ideal of comics than even Taiyo is—but Taiyo was key.  Maybe THE key.  At least after Schiele.  So there’s a lot of emotional investment with Taiyo.

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So I was really ready for Sunny when I first saw the scanulated pages and once I learned it was coming out officially in the US, I stopped reading those pages and just waited.  What excited me with Sunny was that in Takemitsu Zamurai Taiyo really found this incredible dynamic and expressive way to really sort of put his line in the forefront.  And he ditched a lot of the heavier rendering techniques that were kind of holding that line down, and just trusted his brush for textures and tones— and it was amazing.

So when I first saw Sunny, I was like—well this is the logical end point of this like 30 year progression of his style.  So I was crazy for this book.

But when I finally got it, that first volume was really brutal for me.  The dynamism that I expected, and the expressionism was really paired back, and I thought the first book really started to highlight for me Taiyo’s inadequacies as a writer compared to someone like Igarashi, or Inio Asano.

I thought that the over abundance of these water color inks with just a lot of heavy black—and less sort of body bending compared to previous works that it looked like a children’s book almost.  It had this “literary” stuffiness to it that really lacked the psychosis of Taiyo’s older work.  Which was a shame, because Sunny was meant to be such a painful personal story of Taiyo’s own upbringing—but it seemed even the story had a restraint—like the dark corners of what was really going on were very hemmed in and restrained—almost sanitized.  The whole thing had me really down on his work as a whole, and I was really considering how I thought about Taiyo’s work as a whole, and what role it would play for me going forward.

But out of trust I kept up with it, and…oof it was rough for awhile.  It took me four months to read the second volume just because it was so demoralizing to me how much  I didn’t like it—and I was just going to be done with the series there—but the last story of the second volume it finally hit me.  This is the story about Haruo visiting his mother in Tokyo.  And finally, FINALLY I had what I needed to hold on with the story.  Haruo is absolutely the star of this book, and it’s because he is in some ways the most unrestrained character in the book—even as he is the most kind of fucked up and emotional too.  He is a type of character that Taiyo has done really well in a lot of different books—he is kind of a combo of both black and white—because he has the coolness of black, even as he has the manic-ness of white.  And initially Junsuke is kind of set up as the white character of this book—but I don’t think it really works quite the same, and anyways—so this Haruo chapter largely works in the loud unsaid howl of Haruo’s whole way of being. And really after this chapter it feels like Taiyo has finally found his footing with these large cast of characters—because after that there’s the great Megumu chapter, the Makio chapter—he’s figured out that this book is kind of about this kind of emotional frailty of these children, even as they are intensely strong in their abilities to adapt—but that that adaptation has it’s cost, and for as much as the adults around the star kids do their best—the damage of being discarded by your parents is real.

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I also think by the third volume the stylistic choices by Matsumoto are much more in balance.  After all of these styles he can approach a panel in any number of ways—and where the first volume I thought was quite rigid, and maybe it was just about nailing down the baseline style of for the book—there seems to be more of the sense by volume 3 of a master using his whole toolkit and knowing when to kick this kind of style in one panel vs. another.

I think fundamentally the strength of Taiyo’s work for his whole career is that he doesn’t just tell you here is a boy doing this thing—he gives you something more about the boy at that particular time just in the way his line jitters, or the way the shadow will cloud a face—and maybe the shadow will be these impressionistic brush strokes—or maybe it will be more traditional cross hatching techniques?  But the choice always was about communicating something beyond simply what is physically there in the scene.

The Makio chapter in vol. 3 is an excellent showcase for this versatility of skill, and the pointedness of Matsumoto’s choices.  We see this impressionistic jittering of styles that shift and change depending on the role that Makio is performing—so when he is more of an adult with his girlfriend at the restaurant—everything is very stable and adult, makio has his really heavily hatched sports coat which really restrains his form and constricts him.  But later when he is playing baseball with the star kids, the coat is gone, and his form is stretched and bending and has less weight.  That beautiful panel of Makio as a mountain climber.  His face rendered heavily, inside of just these really beautiful loose lines and brush strokes.  We don’t know exactly what he’s thinking in that moment—but it still is the climax of the chapter.  It is the most truthful expression of Makio as the man he has become.  It is his most honest portrayal so far in the book(though the earlier Makio chapter in Sunny is also pretty good).
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It was interesting I started to watch the anime adaption of Ping Pong that Masaaki Yuasa is directing and while it is it’s own weird thing separate from the manga—it’s interesting to see other artists try to duplicate what Matsumoto does, and copy his lines—-and while I’m enjoying it all, and it is gorgeous—it isn’t Taiyo.  When you have a style so hinged on an almost signitory movement of the line—it is uncopyable in that way.  A line like that is so personal and so expressing and so singular.  And it’s different to see the comic where Taiyo is just expressing himself, vs. an anime where others are trying to express Taiyo to others—and the effect is really interesting and bizarre.  But it speaks to my own convictions about the line and how the line is everything.  To really get up close with an artist’s line, it’s like…a fingerprint.  And I love that with Taiyo that element is so up front.  These are stories and they come from a place inside of me and all of my experiences to this point.  That’s on the page.  You don’t need to bring anything outside to glean that.  You look at it and it tells you everything.  It’s the same thing I think that causes some people to not be able to look at Schiele’s work.  Because that line is so disturbing.  There’s a deep psychosis there that can make people really uncomfortable.  But it’s so beautiful to me.  So simple but so beautiful.  So yeah, I’ve come back around on Sunny.

08.26.14 16
Story of My Death (Dir. Albert Serra)

A Story of My Death is a spanish film written and directed by Albert Serra about basically Casanova vs. Dracula, or romance and death—or like…eating.

It’s really more a film about the night, and what people do at night.  Dinner.  Conversation. Fucking.  Defecation.  Death.  Murder.

The composition for the film is largely this classical triangular pattern of threes that every scene kind of orients itself around, and by using natural light and candle light for the lighting sources, it has the quality of like a Rembrandt painting maybe. 

Casanova is always eating, always talking.  He finds everything fascinating, and is amused at his own shit.  This is contrasted by the more silent, brooding, sexuality of Dracula—and there is a dichotomy set up between people’s appetite for pleasure vs. pain  with the conclusion being that people seem to find the latter more alluring.

But that’s not wholey correct, because the jury in this are these three daughters who are basically slaves to their world, and who see its upheaval and destruction as to their advantage—and for them pain is something they already experience with Casanova’s world where their experiences are barely recognized let alone empowered.  Dracula offers them agency and empowerment.  His main selling point to the olderst daughter isn’t actually sex—but her being able to learn to read and paint.

This gives us one of the more stunning images in the film where she flays her father while Dracula watches.  Initially when they are talking about doing this, Dracula proposes leaving him there to bleed like a pig, but Delfina corrects him and says they will leave him there like a calf.  The distinction is important because while a pig is exhorbant and greedy in appetite, which is how Dracula largely views male power—a calf is dumb and naive and innocent of it’s footprint.  And it is this impotent ignorance which most characterizes how the women of the film view Casanova and his son Pompeu.

The film has this twilight at the end of an era feel to it, upheaval is coming, and in fact Casanova IS cognizant that revolution is coming for his kind, and that it will in fact be due to their treatment of women.  He says as much in the opening of the film.

Besides these interesting sort of gender battles going on in the film, it was interesting to see how animalistic Serra’s portrait’s of humans are.  So much of the film is just a long series of days situated around finding exorbitant amounts of food and then eating it to gluttony, and then fucking, and shitting.  The food itself is actually the most erotic element of the film.  We hear the sounds of chewing, slurrping, fluids oozing out onto hands—the sound of bone being pulled apart—the pouring of wine—there’s a scene towards the end where we watch Wolves tear a body apart that mirrors perfectly a scene earlier in the film where Casanova and crew watch as a huge cow is butchered for meat.  The process whereby that happens is really interesting to me, because it is so primordial.  The way they have to remove the skin, chop apart the different parts of the body with axes and then the meat cooking on the huge fires that spire up into the night sky—and just the sense of time that all of this takes—they start in the later afternoon, but it’s midnight by the time every thing is ready to eat—and there is this community around eating there—and I don’t know.  I always find that aspect of food really interesting.  Just the time of many hours of preparation and everyone sitting around drinking while the meat cooks, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking—and then the satiety of feeding.  It’s really sublime to watch—and just the different way that kind of process casts time—your day isn’t really about minutes or hours—it’s in dragging the meat to the place, cutting the meat open, cooking the meat, eating—time pulls apart completely differently there.

To make a movie about these kinds of excesses in a time of world economic downturn, particularly in Spain, the country of the film’s origin, can’t go without passing notice.

This is the aesthetic of the passing of the age of man, and it passes quietly into the evening.

And then it’s also about death, and the shared traits of both oblviousness to our encroaching demise, and constant awareness of it’s possibility.  How when it’s all done, it’s less a thing of expectation, and more a thing without qualitative judgement—that simply happens as it does.  Casanova talks like a man of time, but he pulls for everything on his way down like a man running out of it.  In many scenes here he starts out laughing, and then moves into howling depression. 

Mostly though just pretty pictures.  Lots and lots of pretty pictures.  Sublime images of night, death, and shit.

08.25.14 12
Melancholia (Dir. Lav Diaz)

I had been wanting to see Lav Diaz’s Melancholia for a minute, ever since stills from it came across my tumblr dashboard, and I was like “whoa, that looks like my kind of thing”—it was also my first Diaz film to see.  I pretty much devoted my Tuesday to see the whole movie.  Melancholia is about the search for identity and purpose in the wake of state sponsored trauma as explored through three principal characters: Julian, Rina, and Alberta.

The 8 hour film unfolds like a drowned out howl.  And the depth of the pain and the extent to which these characters will go to try and escape the pain is tremendous.  The film is less a salve for the pain, than the expression of it.  Diaz moves around the edges of ideas—he films complex emotional concepts which you can understand watching, but are difficult to fully explain.  

When you have a longer film, you can allow a shot to build up, and a moment to explore itself fully.  The film here exists both in the macro accumulation of all of it’s shots, and the micro sublime nature of these 5-15 minute shots, where we’re given our surface, and allowed for our appreciation to come to an understanding through the time of our gaze.  So like these massive landscapes you can watch characters slowly move across from the distance to the nearness—the tangibility of space in Melancholia is really wonderful—but it speaks to something larger, that though the Philippines are are small system of islands, they are also vast within that.  Or what’s more the vastness of the depth of the sorrow and loss and meaninglessness that an individual can experience within something that seems small from the outside—can feel without end from the inside.

I said to someone when talking about watching this film…basically that I would watch anything of any kind of length so long as it was beautiful—and I think the base of what Diaz has created here is something aesthetically beautiful.  Whether it’s young filipinos dancing at a concert, or a man crying into a river, or a prostitute with her leg propped up on a gated rail—you can screen capture the film at any moment, and the singular image making at play are things you could lose yourself in regardless.  There is also poetry in how these images are connected, and within the images themselves.  You can lose yourself in just the sounds of the different scenes.  The dogs barking in the distance.  The roosters crowing.  The sound of almost ever present rain—at times there is a musical quality to it and how it feeds itself in and around the spaces these characters take refuge in.

One of the story points that the film hinges itself on is this process that Julian, Rina, Alberta are subjecting themselves to, where they leave their bourgeois life to go immerse themselves in separate lives, so that they can try to find their truth in a greater experience—this is meant to help them deal with the ways in which their identity has been broken by their traumatic loss of friends and family to the state—friends and family who they never really get to have closure on and know for sure whether they are dead or not.  When we first meet the three we don’t know them as Julian, Rina, and Alberta—but as a pimp, a prostitute and a nun.  Rina’s nun is really incredible because she is the one who is least able to handle her role.  Going around the city and ostensibly lying to people who have less than she does, under the auspices of religious charity, while not feeling capable of doing any real thing to help with these people’s lives—drives her insane—and she has psychological breakdown because of it.  Which deeply affects Julian, who developed the process to try and help Rina and Alberta.  His spiraling depression and madness at his inability to help Rina ostensibly through his art is as palpable as the mass delusion that he ends up propogating on the people around him—the kind of hypnotic state of bullshit that he eventually blows the surrounding culture into is remarkable—particularly as you are watching a film that is thematically trying to wrestle with the same notions of what art can do to heal people—and to see it in the end only able to brainwash people to ignore the horror around them places the film’s conclusions in an extremely depressing situation.  We have the image of Alberta’s lost lover, alone and mad in the jungle, death encroaching upon him, writing things furiously down on paper and then throwing them away into the river—the feelings of art’s impotence in the face of crushing horror couldn’t be more beautifully expressed.  Art becomes less the attempt to speak, than the attempt to be simply heard—not even understood, simply heard—even if it is only to oneself—and even in that there is no salvation.

That all of these horrors are also the engines of our greatests expressions as a culture is shown as the kind of perverse joke that it is.  Art here has become more just the measure of pain before death.  Even as all of these ideas spiral together with sound and image to approach the sublime—that kind of beautiful horror that is the drug behind most great art.

I dunno.  Those are my crazy scattered thoughts.  There’s also a fascinating section in here which conflates Filipino history and their film history which I’d love to research more.  But anyways.  An experience like this is one that you kind of months away from it you kind of remember a part—like see something that is maybe elucidated more because of it, and yeah.  Good stuff, hungry for more.

08.20.14 11
Bastards (Dir. Claire Denis)

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The great thing that Claire Denis does in Bastards is that she promises us release through revenge, and then rather than give us release, throws us farther into hell and leaves us there.

In the film’s lead played by Vincent Lindon, we have the highly capable man.  A man who as Denis herself says, when he drives a car, he drives a car, when he washes a dish, he washes a dish.  She said the genesis of the story started with her idea of Lindon and how he reminded her of Toshiro Mifune—and that kind of ease of deadly purpose and focus is ever-present in every motion by Lindon on screen.  His body is an architecture of taut chords wrapped around the notion of the singular thing that he must do in an exact moment. This is not a man who wastes himself in superfluous gesture.  As a character it is interesting to compare him with the more ostentatious Liam Neeson, Taken or Grey character—as with Neeson, there is the functional dismissal of emotion in favor of cold hard process to complete the task at hand, and that the craftsmanship of survival or revenge is a more suitable release than emotions, and indeed my notion watching him was that here was a man who was dependable, who could be relied upon to do the thing that needed to be done, no matter the cost.  But Lindon’s character is flawed because of this, whereas Neeson’s character is heroic because of the same traits.

Lindon’s flaw in Bastards, is that in this manly valor he sees women as something that he also has dominion over, and that do not themselves make choices(sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones—but they make their own choices, without respect to the virile righteousness he feels about his cause).  He doesn’t understand their agency within his worldview.  And this blindness dooms him.  Which is an interesting take on the notion of the femme fatale.  In Bastards, these women make their choices because of their own values and lives—whereas traditionally, the femme fatale is just a mysterious lunatic whose very nature as a woman makes her a threat to the hero.  Here this is flipped because it is Lindon’s nature as a man which is a threat to himself.

It is first his inability to see women as anything but victims which cause him to tragically misread the scale of the situation he has stepped into.  We see this both in his initial misplaced trust in his sister, who he gradually comes to find out is not some blameless princess waiting for rescue.  He repeats this mistake in his dealings with Chiaro Mastroianni’s character.  And it is this inability to see women which also causes him to literally be unable to see his own niece, who he is trying to save(but perhaps for his own honor, rather than hers?)

Weaving through this is a story of recession, bankruptcy, greed—the evil that the greed for money does—and how the rich are rich because they never lose.  It is this incendiary message which twists Bastards through it’s genre pacings into something very much of the now.  Something that speaks to now.  That all of the misery and horror that is perpetuated through society, on top of it is the rich white man who never loses and always gains.

Beyond the themes is another terrific score from The Tindersticks, whose soundtrack album for this film is another in their line of haunting Claire Denis soundtrack albums, highlighted by the brilliantly haunting “Put Your Love In Me”.

The cinemtography from Agnes Godard is again amazing.  I’ve never seen a bad looking Agnes Godard.  She may be one of my very favorite cinemtographers.  Her sense of color in all of her films is really incredible.  From the scene toward the beginning of Bastards with the white road, white silos, and a white truck pulling onto that road, to the rain bathed sickly greens and oranges that she pulls off with a sophistication above others who try to rock out with a similar palette.  There’s a wonderful driving scene which recalls the beauty of Lynch’s Lost HIghway that I could watch on loop.

Bastards is such an incredibly rich film just frame to frame.  It speaks eloquently and at length, with few words.  This is my third Claire Denis film after Trouble Every Day, and 35 Shots of Rum.  She has never once disappointed.  I’m excited at all of the terrific films she has done with Agnes Godard that I still get to see.

Oh yeah, and I don’t think anyone shoots skin better than Agnes Godard.  Which is a weird thing to say, but also true.

08.17.14 23
#97: Possession (Dir. Andrej Zulawski)

I got the excellent Possession Blu-ray release from Mondo that came out recently, which was a substantial upgrade on my South Korean bootleg dvd(which I think was a different cut anyways)—so I took the time to rewatch what is definitely one of my favorite films.  Possession is probably part of a trio of films (Trouble Every Day, Antichrist) that mean a lot to me and are hugely inspirational on how I approach my own art.  Particularly in terms of what I’m into with Horror(with a healthy dollop of Jean Rollin).

Those three films also have my three favorite actors: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Isabelle Adjani, and Beatrice Dalle.  The three muses or whatevs.  I think these three women in particularly these films sort of hit some kind of wild note that I relate to, but feel stifled in personally expressing.  All three in those performances are kind of this revealed darkness.  I think I feel a certain kind of evil through which I lens the world, and somehow makes me a really kind person.  I think this is also the depression that I deal with.  Anyways, what I see with particularly Adjani’s performance in Possession is the struggle to explain this base corruption in words that anyone can understand, and finding language completely inadequate. 

Watching Possession this time, I was actually reminded a lot of Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen documentary film on Vodoun  and some of the scenes in there where humans gyrated and danced and moved into an extra-human state to interact with ideas beyond the mind’s ability to normally perceive or receive. 

Zulawski has crafted a similar sort of ritual as that with Possession(and his film Szamanka has this too) with the constantly moving camera, the actors who are constantly moving—whose every thought or word comes with some attendant twitch or gesture.  The exhausting emotional release between Sam Neil and Isabelle Adjani, just coupled with the sheer athleticism of their perofrmances and that of the cameraman, all who basically start the movie running a race, that never really stops once for a breath.  Zulawski has edited out breaths.  This relentless emotional and physical expulsion by both actors causes both characters(and perhaps the actors) to enter trance states similar to the ones from Divine Horsemen.  Obviously the subway scene with Adjani is the most written about example of this.  But we see this too with Neil’s character and the rocking chair or the phonecall where he loses the ability to speak his thoughts. 

He becomes through the film diabolic.  This demon of course escapes into the doppelganger that Adjani grows through her loss of faith. 

That’s another thing.  Freaking dopplegangers.  The intense constant doubling of this film is very much something I pursue in my own work and a concept I find endlessly interesting.  Dopplegangers are by their nature an intricate dance of repression, negation, and obliteration. 

It’s actually very difficult to talk about a film like Possession well.  I’ve yet to read a singularly great piece on it, and this is most certainly not one.  But the reason is because of how removed Zulawski has positioned the film from language.  This is not a film that can’t be written about adequately, because if it could, it would be a novel as well.  Thematically, and in it’s construction, Possesion is extra-lingual.  It is simply a film, and you can’t write about it anymore than you can write about great music.  At the end of the day, the best you can do is try and funnel the unexplainable through your own words and see what sticks.

It is with Szamanka the most relentless film I’ve ever seen.  There is no wasted space, and every thing screams past.  It’s exhalation not only elevates Adjani and Neill’s characters, but you as the audience as well.  You become overwhelmed, and yourself become possessed which allows you to ebb right up against the higher ideas that the movie is attempting to show.  Zulawski hides nothing.  He wants desperately to show everything.  He wants to look at everything, and almost concurrently.

This is also an amazing film just in terms of body language.  Anna, Heinrich, and Mark are all tied by some kind of invisible field in their scenes together.  Heinrich has that scene with Mark where he’s almost tied into him, and the scene in the kitchen with the meat grinder between Anna and Mark is the kind of things that makes all other depictions of domestic malice seem tame by comparison.  The way mark keeps cutting off Anna’s space, and the way when one turns to talk to the other, the other turns away—you can see this violent push and pull in the space of that small kitchen—it throws you right on edge—and it’s tough to say that that scene climaxes with both parties mutilating each other—because every scene is a climax in Possession.


08.10.14 30
#91: The Stendhal Syndrome (Dir. Dario Argento)

The Stendhal Sydrome is one of the later masterworks in Dario Argento’s career, and to be honest I had no idea what to expect, because I’ve heard so many mixed opinions, but I’m glad I watched it, because it’s really another one of these films that really grows in your mind the days after you’ve seen it.  It was all I could think about all day at work after watching it.  It’s such an interesting film.

The version I saw was this crudded up DVD version that looked like it had been videtaped off of a vhs recording bootleg style or something, which I know the movie is supposed to be kinda ugly, but maybe not as much as the version I saw.  But even so, it was incredible.  The crudd definitely added to the grimy hellishness of it, particularly in the second half of the film. 

I actually ordered the blu-ray online pretty much half way through the movie, because I realized it was a movie I would want to watch and rewatch once Asia Argento kicks her (very hot) rapist off a cliff, and there was still an hour to go in the film. 

It’s really a film in two halves, the first half is largely marked by Argento’s character freaking out over amazing art, and getting kidnapped and raped over and over by Thomas Kretschmann’s character.  Kretschmann’s character also makes Argento watch as he rapes, tortures, and kills other women in front of her.  Argento’s already shaky mental state begins to detoriate rapidly, and after the first rape she cuts her hair short and starts beating up her police partner.  After the second rape, she not only brutally tortures and murders Kretschmann, she dons a blonde wig and basically becomes her own doppleganger. 

The formula from Ms. 45 where the woman sees her rapist in all male threats around her, is inverted,  because Argento’s character carries her rapist inside her, and externalizes him to feed her repressed anger at the patriarchal world around her which is in no small way responsible for the horrific crimes that have been visited on her.  She uses her rapist as a second personality through which she is able to kill the men around her, while simultaneously re-engaging the original trauma and victimization she has experienced.  She becomes both attacker and victim while occluding the men around her from the experience entirely.  Even as they are the ones now being horrifically butchered left and right.

It’s really fascinating to work through, and even though Argento’s performance is somewhat modified by the way Dario Argento dubs his films, so in the english dub it’s not Asia’s voice—but the disconnect only highlights the physicality of her performance to that point.  The way she shapechanges through the film from young innocent girl walking through a musuem—almost as a young student, to nightmare walking, psychopath stalking is really amazing.  And it’s also a template for Argento’s acting career going from this point.  You can see the early genesis of some of her later performances(including the very underrated performance in Land of the Dead). 

This is also an interesting turn for Dario Argento because though this is still a stylish film in it’s own way, it’s guttural in a way that his work preceding it isn’t necessarily. The nightmarish dream logic that powers his best work is here looped through an ever darkening black mud of deteriorating madness.

The final scene where Asia is being pinned down by her fellow officers while she freaks the fuck out in the middle of the street is one of the most creepy and dark things I’ve seen in a minute.  In that final scene Asia’s character incriminates all of them in the culture which has cost her her sanity.  And her father puts us right in her point of view for it.  Tragedy whips around one last time into monstrous horror.  It’s amazing.

08.04.14 14