Bergman Island seemed to be a very fragile movie to me although it was not uninteresting, well at least most of the time. It is by French director Mia Hansen-Løve but is a Franco-Belgian-German-Swedish-Mexican coproduction which would seem to indicate that finding financing was not a simple matter.
It is about an English-German filmmaking couple working on different projects and attending "Bergman Week" on Fårö, the island where Ingmar Bergman had a house and where a number of his movies were made. There is even a "Bergman Safari" to visit all of the locations.
The man is forging ahead with his script but the woman is stuck. She starts telling him her plot and then the movie shifts into a movie within the movie, but it mixes some of the people with whom they have been associating into this new fiction. And in the final portion, it appears that a movie was being filmed at the same time (but which one?). It is not a movie for people who are afraid of overworking their brain.
Last night I went to a premiere of Bonne Mère, directed by Hafsia Herzi who rose to prominence (and won a César) for the amazing The Secret of the Grain. She grew up in the "bad" part of Marseille and was determined to make this movie exactly where she grew up. She used only non professional actors recruited on the spot, and the result is amazing.
"Bonne Mère" is the nickname of the church that dominates Marseille from the heights (Notre Dame de la Garde) and is revered not just by Christians but also by Muslims and Jews of Marseille as the symbol of the city, particularly because of the statue of the Madonna and child at the summit. Mothers are sacred in southern cities of the Mediterranean basic, perhaps even more than mothers elsewhere, and the mother in this movie is incredible. She works as a pre-dawn airplane cleaner, she takes care of an old woman, she visits her son in prison, and she takes care of her children and grandchildren full time. She is an absolute saint but a believable one, since so many of these amazing women really exist.
I went to see Old by M. Night Shyamalan. It is creepy, distressing, ridiculous like just about all of his movies. Basically, a couple of families on a tropical holiday get taken to a secluded beach by the resort that has invited them. The children start aging super fast, the adults a bit less so, people die (and a dog). It is impossible to escape because they pass out the moment they try to get away. I can't recommend it, but I will not warn anybody away who likes this kind of movie.
I am a Karen Gillan fan and this led me to make the mistake of going to see Gunpowder Milkshake (or Bloody Milkshake in certain countries like France). "Bloody" is a more appropirate name because not only is the milkshake quickly bloody, but so is the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the doorknobs, the furniture, the people, the cars, the library, the underground car park, the hospital and any other place where any of the characters set foot.
One is reminded of the Guy Ritchie movies and the John Wick stuff. There is excellent set decoration, all the better to blow it to bits and cover it with blood. Not really my kind of movie. Karen, why did you do this?
The Suicide Squad is so totally insane that I can't even call it a piece of shit. More decapitations, bodies split in two, exploding bodies, faces blow off than I have ever seen. And that's just the classic stuff. It gets much much worse, but of course they can't show any of that stuff in the trailer. The Polka Dot Man was my favourite. He kills people with polka dots.
Well, actually you can see some of the nasty stuff if you accept the age verification by YouTube:
Luxor is a British-Egyptian film starring British actress Andrea Riseborough and French actor Karim Saleh and absolutely nothing happens in it. But nothing happens very gently and pleasantly in stunning surroundings, and that's good enough for me.
Babyteeth (titled Milla in a number of countries including France and Milla Meets Moses in a number of other countries) is a definitely non-standard Australian movie with non-standard construction. It's about a dying teenage girl (Milla) who meets a rather unhinged homeless druggie (Moses) a number of years older. Her parents are so desperate to allow anything that makes their daughter happy that before long Moses is as good as living in their house. In fact he just crawls in through the window when necessary. First it is to stock up on food, but since Milla's father is a psychiatrist and Milla's mother is also extremely medicated, he is quickly stocking up on all the drugs he can find in the house.
He sounds terrible, but he grows on you after awhile (hard to believe). Little by little, the situation advances to its inevitable conclusion, but it is not at all a tearjerker ending, which is very much to the movie's credit.
Change of pace today because I went to see Disney's Jungle Cruise. I wasn't expecting much and did not get much but it did not tire out my remaining brain cells. In the pre-titles they actually dared to work in every element of the ride at Disneyland including the awful jokes that the boat captains have to receite 50 times a day. But then we get down to the real plot which isn't much better although I will not fault the actors. The minor controversy about the gay character is all the more ridiculous because hardly any child will even understand the coming out scene. But I'm sure that it will cause some people to boycott the movie just to make a stand about the radical leftists running Disney. No need for any logic in the plot -- they are navigating the Amazon upstream and yet end up going down dangerous rapids and almost going over a waterful. I guess the Amazon changes direction from time to time. It was a bit annoying to see the movie in 2D when it was so full of 3D effects with spiders, teeth, clows and swinging dangers, but none of it really mattered.
The Iranian movie Just 6.5 (French title La Loi de Ténéran) is extraordinary. The title refers to the fact that there are 6.5 million drug addicts in Iran and it follows the work of an anti-drug unit of the Iranian police, or at least one case from start to finish. It begins with rounding up hundreds of crackheads at a dump and little by little to police find out who the main dealer is, where he gets his product from and slowing putting pressure on everybody in the chain. What really struck me was that it could have taken place anywhere -- France, the United States, China, Brazil, India... the same families in distress, bad men making easy money, tensions in the police force with both sides lying as much as possible.
It could have been slow moving like Iranian films often are, but it wasn't at all. It was extremely fast-paced even though there were no car chases or gunfights. The police do things that police always do, like arriving with search warrants, but I was completely fascinated to see what was in Iranian refrigerators and freezers and drawers and beneath their mattresses. And the holding cells of Iranian prisons are just as awful as has always been reported -- 50 people all squeezed together in a small stinky room with just one squat toilet that doubles as the phone booth for mobile phones hidden in anuses. And when the drug kingpin is finally found, it is a completely different world -- a huge modern apartment with a bar that looks like a hotel bar, backlit bottles on shelves waiting to be enjoyed.
There is a meth lab hidden under a barnyard, people living in sections of concrete sewer pipes. And after the trials, you get to see how they check the trapdoors under the gallows just before the execution, a line of ten nooses waiting to be used, but you can see that the ropes have been used many times before... And after the executions, there are as many drug addicts in the streets as ever, and you can't tell the difference...
The Japanese movie The Man from the Sea (French title -- Le soupir des vagues = The sigh of the waves) is already a few years old, but this is its first release outside of Asia. It is a very gentle movie about a Japanese woman who moved as an aid worker to Aceh, Indonesia after the tsunami and stayed there permanently. Her son was born there and feels more Indonesian than Japanese. Anyway, a mystery man washes ashore one day. It is decided that he must be Japanese, but he doesn't speak. However, he reacts to things said in Japanese.
The Japanese woman's young adult niece arrives from Japan for a visit. She wants to scatter her father's ashes. Both the niece and the castaway end of staying in the house, and other young friends are also there a lot. What I found interesting was that the movie concentrates more on the marivaudage (idle flirting) of the young people than the mysterious guy who stays in the background but whom they take everywhere because they don't want to leave him alone.
But the mystery man appears to have some discreet supernatural powers, both good and bad...
I am not a big fan of action movies, and I had not really planned to see The Ice Road, but I had a 2-hour gap in my day and this fit perfectly into it. As usual, the plot is preposterous but I will be the first to admit that the production values were excellent and at least this had a more unusual setting, even if all of the plot elements were the same old shit. I have a bit of difficulty believing that when there is a mine accident that requires super heavy equipment to save the survivors that any company in the world will send out three sets of identical equipment "just in case" not everybody gets through. Yeah, really. So that gives away two thirds of the plot already since obviously only one truck will get through, of course in the last ten seconds or so. But it was all appropriately stressful because it wasn't enough to drive on a thawing frozen river, go across a collapsing bridge and be hit by an avalanche, there were also a bunch of baddies to make sure they never made it, including one guy who just wouldn't die no matter if you crashed his snowmobile, ran his car over an embankmwent and threw him under the wheels of your truck -- he was always back for fistfights and strangulations in the cab of the truck, a sort of snowy Canadian Terminator. Oh well...
I saw two extremely minor French movies this week.
Yassine Qnia's De bas étage was vry well done, but it is box office poison. First of all, the French title means "inferior quality" but the brilliant English language title is "A Brighter Tomorrow." It takes place in a mostly unattractive suburb of Paris (Aubervilliers) where Mehdi is a mediocre safecracker who targets relatively minor companies without a fortune in the safe. On top of that, he doesn't always succeed. He had a kid with Sarah, but she left him because she didn't want to live in the flat with him and his mother (although the mother is quite nice -- but Arab and Jewish mothers have similar personality traits). She works as a hairdresser in a small salon. They are on speaking terms and he takes care of the kid regularly and appears to do a good job. He realy wants to get back with Sarah, but no dice. He spent all of his ill gained money on a house back in the Maghreb, but his mother has no intention of leaving France although his hope was that she would leave and he would have the apartment for his family. Sarah is irritated by his persistence, which verges on stalking. And as the movie ends... nothing has been resolved.
Meanwhile, Tom Medina by Tony Gatlif, who always makes interesting but sloppy films, is visually fascinating because it shows so many aspects of the Camargue -- the horses, the bulls, the swamps, the flamingos, the eels, the owls and the gypsy town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. All of Tony Gatlif's films are about gypsies of all kinds -- Roma, Spanish, French, eastern European, Tzigane... As you all know, the term 'gypsy' comes from 'Egyptian' which can lead to a whole new level of speculation.
What make this movie special is that it is Tony Gatlif's autobiographical movie (now that he is 72 years old). He was born in Algiers and grew up there with a Kabyle father and a gypsy mother. He arrived in France during the war of independence. As for Tom Medina, he is placed in a ranch that accepts young people for rehabilitation. He is wild and undisciplined and dreams of becoming a torero. But he is also very motivated and does his best to fit in. We see all sorts of aspects of Camargue ranch work from cleaning and trimming muddy hooves to taking tourists around. But Tom is haunted in his dreams by a white bull and haunted in his waking hours by a homeless young woman who sells little bundles of rosemary alongside the church in Les-Saintes-Maries.
Once again, the movie ends with just about everything unresolved, a trait that I enjoy in French movies but which infuriates most people just about everywhere else in the world.
Passion Simple with Laetitia Dosch and Ukrainian ballet star Sergei Polunin is just a non-stop fuckathon with every bodily orifice put to use. It's based on a woman's novel and filmed by a woman director. Anybody unfamiliar with women could easily believe that women's minds are constantly in the gutter. They located enough scenes where they are wearing a bit of clothing to make the trailer look almost as though it is a normal movie. Frankly I was bored.
Rouge is an interesting movie by Farid Bentoumi, delayed a couple of years by covid. It is part of the relatively recent genre of "toxic waste scandal" movies. Nour is a nurse who was hired by a big aluminium factory after losing her hospital job due to a medical error which may or may not have been her fault.
Her great advantage in the new job is that her father is a top technician there, so he got her in. But she quickly discovers that everything there is preventing her from doing her job as head infirmary person. They don't want any accidents to be declared, and a lot of files have disappeared, not to mention all of the employees who have not undergone their obligtory medical visit for a decade or more.
Nour quickly becomes suspicious, but everybody tells her to shut up, particularly her father. Things go downhill. Based on true events, of course.
Sentimental is a Spanish movie by Cesc Gay based on his play Els veïns de dalt. The English language title is The People Upstairs.
The "downstairs" couple have invited the others on a pretense. They are tired of hearing the sexual frenzy upstairs while their own sex life is stalled. But how can they bring up the subject? The reason for the invitation finally comes out and it is revealed that the upstairs noise is produced by sex visitors, swingers nights and orgies, and "we'd really like to try it with you. You seem so nice. I've brought condoms."
You can figure out the rest of the conversation for yourself. But that's the problem. As a filmed play, it was just a total static event that went on and on and never even left the room or at least never went farther than the elevator, from which the neighbours returned at least twice. There was tension, there were funny moments, there was a lot of wit, and there were many true things about couples that have been together for at least 15 years.
I could see that the play was brilliant, but it absolutely did not work as a movie.
I went to see BAC Nord (English title: The Stronghold) which takes place in the bad part of Marseille. The very very bad part with the highest crime rate in the country. It's about those police (who exist everywhere) who don't mind breaking every rule in the book to achieve their goal. So in this movie, they achieve their goal... and then they pay for it. It is all extremely grim and distressing. The trailer only depicts about 10% of what happens.
I was charmed by the minor French movie Louloute. It is about a woman who runs into a boy she liked when they were both 10 years old. This takes her 25 years into the past and the dairy farm where she grew up, her siblings, the music and TV shows back then, her parents... and also the struggles of a small farm, the mud, the constant disappointments. There is no major drama, but it paints a very realistic picture of life in the 1980s and its effects on the present.
I went to see the Japanese film Drive My Car today after hesitating for the stupidest of reasons -- the fact that it lasts 3 hours. It was predicted to win the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes festival before losing to the more controversial (and groundbreaking?) Titane.
It's about an actor and theatrical director performing in Waiting for Godot and preparing a production of Uncle Vanya. He works with his wife who is a scriptwriter and with whom he has plenty of hot sex. Unfortunately, he discovers that he is not the only person with whom she is having hot sex. He keeps his mouth shut and anyway she suddenly dies of meningitis. He attends her funeral of course and after about half an hour, the opening credits finally appear on the screen along with "two years later..."
And then the movie can really start. He has been invited to a theatre festival in Hiroshima to present his version of Uncle Vanya, which is not exactly tradtional. He recruits actors from all over Asia, and they all perform in their native language -- Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Filipino and Korean sign language. Most of the movie is about the rehearsals, which are obviously fascinating with such a group.
And as for the title? It is because the Hiroshima festival had a traffic accident drama in the past, and they now impose that some of the participants can no longer drive themselves around -- it is forbidden for insurance reasons. Bring in the mystery chauffeur woman...
3 hours were barely enough for all of the stories that needed to be told, and even though the film did not win the Palme d'Or, it at least won the prize for best scenario. It was really excellent.
The French trailer delves into totally different matters...
I was completely charmed by the very minor movie Fragile. It is about Aziz, a young oyster worker in Sète in love with Jessica, an actress in a local soap opera. She spurns him, so he turns to his friends to console and advise him. He also discreetly cries a lot (fragile). The girl in the group, Lila, consoles him quite a bit, but this isn't enough -- it is Jessica that he wants. But it is mentioned that he and Lila are going to a dance party, even though he doesn't know how to dance. Jessica is clearly interested when she hears this, so there is only one thing left to do...
I liked how messy and amateurish it all was, which just made it more authentic. The activing was superb, and I think the two leads will have brilliant careers, although I noticed on ImDb that they have already done quite a few things.
Reminiscence is total crap of course with beautiful special effects. Even with the recent real images of New Orleans and New York, it is amazing to see Miami partially submerged (actually there are a few images of submerged New Orleans as well). They want us to believe that people would continue living there, splashing around the streets with allegrity or driving through submerged roads. For the visual needs of the film (but not really to advance the plot), there are other areas where the ground floors are completely underwater and people get into boats on the floor above. There are also huge submerged places like a theatre with underwater chandeliers still in place and (maybe) a luxurious hotel lobby complete with grand piano and other décor sitting there as though no such items would have been evacuated. And this whole city is not even rotting and collapsing. Give me a break. I don't even remember the plot. Oh yes, the machine to replay memories because nobody wants to live in the present.
More to my taste was the charming but frustrating movie Une histoire d'amour et de désir (A Tale of Love and Desire) by Leila Bouzid, a Tunisian director. She of course tells a love story from a woman's point of view, and it starts with a shower scene, but it is the guy in the shower instead of a women in all of the other movies. Ahmed is a first year university student, a major accomplishment for someone from the poor suburbs. In a class devoted to Arab literature, he meets Farah, a much more worldly girl from Tunis. They are attracted to each other, but he keeps holding back, which frustrates Farah immensely. He even manages to invite her to Christmas dinner with his parents (since Maghrebi families in Paris tend to celebrate Christmas in most cases). But all he can do to get relief is to masturbate to porn in his room at home. So the whole point of the movie is damn, are they finally going to do it or not?