Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach

frances haGeneration X had Reality Bites, the hipster generation has now Frances Ha and of course what’s relevant for the hipster generation can be relevant for one or two earlier generations as well. Generations X and Y can feel totally represented.

Blurring all edges is a hipster ingredient so no hipster should complain that some reaching 40 would call Frances Ha relevant for themselves as well.

Let’s not treat the term hipster as a pejorative but as a pragmatic definition of a life-style, life philosophy or even more, let’s try to treat it with some respect; a new type of person with a new type of social behavior, with new techniques to complete dreams. Not better than the old one, not worst but different.

Frances Ha depicts with a delightful accuracy the new social and moral trend in which the classic recipe for a successful life and career are left behind for a more played-by-the-ear journey to adulthood.

Adulthood should not necessarily be what it used to be. The old-fashioned “let’s get married and have kids” is loosing ground big-time to “let’s keep best friends close forever”. A job is important but more important is to find the job that you love and Frances is ready to sacrifice all comfort and honorability just to try to get close to a job connected to her hobby.

Sexual impulses are definitely not as important as for generation X, the way we saw it in Reality Bites. Sexual relationships seem to be secondary to friendship; that’s somewhat noble, we have to recognize it. And being “undateable” is more like a compliment, a new slang to “really intense” or “crazy” in a rather cool way.

The choice for black-and white, the smart and playful dialogues, the joyous drifting of the characters towards being Somebody but not by all means recalls the French New Wave and when Jean-Pierre Léaud, the face of La Novelle Vague, is mentioned we know this is not a coincidence, this is kinship.

Nymphomaniac vol. II – Lars von Trier

Nymphomaniac_Lars_Von_TrierBeing free is being lonely. Always.

Nymphomaniac is all about freedom. Free sex, free speech and free will versus hypocrisy and bigotry; the nymphomaniac says it clearly. Seligman’s digressions are nothing but digressions; the nymphomaniac says that clearly too. But overall there is still a major digression to her story – the parallel between sex and art.

There is nothing true about sex and art if they’re not free. So ultimately is about the profile of an artist in relation to his own art. It’s reflective, descriptive and didactic. An artist statement we’re learning about while having fun and getting sad, for it implies loneliness, the loneliness of the one who cannot bargain, cannot compromise and cannot lie.

Art is just art (?), words are just words (?) and sex is just sex (?). The question marks only indicate the billions of possibilities to relate to these statements.

The concepts are pure but when human nature is involved purity becomes mere abstraction; art is seen as crap or vice versa, words are never really understood – not by the one uttering them and even less by the one listening to them – and sex is taboo, side dish, religion, sport or anything else you wish to add. And there’s morality to blur it even more and there’s false morality to make it all opaque.

We’re all different, says the nymphomaniac, so there is no possible way to fit the boundaries of morality to protect each individual’s freedom. Some have less freedom to enjoy than others.
The nymphomaniac would erase all rules and morality and would leave us all to be guided by our own consciousness, for those who can refrain themselves from harming others when there’s no punishment in sight deserve an award.

She is both naïve and cynical. An idealist.

And so is the artist who probably feels less free than any other individual in the society. Or the one who feels less free becomes an artist? But the ideal public, who could fully understand and accept the work of art as it is, does not exist, or it exists in a percentage that will always leave the artist unfulfilled and misunderstood.

“Lascia ch’io pianga

mia cruda sorte,

e che sospiri la libertà.

Il duolo infranga queste ritorte

de’ miei martiri sol per pietà.”
G.F Handel

Nymphomaniac Vol. I – Lars von Trier

umaI had never seen such large and mixed crowds in the theater of the city I live in since the early editions of the Transylvania International Film Festival when tickets were cheap and if you still couldn’t afford it you could easily get a fake badge or you could sneak in with the help of a volunteer. Oh, those were the days!

Are we, the public, by any chance subject of an experiment here? After a certain number of screenings will Lars von Trier hold a press conference presenting his conclusions based on the wild frenzy that made hundreds of people rush into the theaters to see Nymphomaniac vol. I? An experience to prove that sex is the catchiest subject is useless, we all know is the best selling item… Than what is it?

Is Nymphomaniac the latest hip movie we’re all to forget sooner or later or is this a spectacular splash that will rock the boat on the long term? Will it be there in the Pantheon? I can’t wait ten years to pass to see how the film historians will remember this.

The most intriguing thing for me is the gap between the wrapping and the content. Lars von Trier spent a lot on a publicity campaign that is, if not misleading, at least more tricky than usual.

Trailers have to be tricky and sometimes they promise a slightly different if not more interesting story than the movie itself. That’s not new.

With Nymphomaniac everybody expects sex scenes. But we get just a few short ones of which I can say they are absolutely relevant though. More sex scenes would not have been too much either, probably, but I think that the pinch of sex scenes used is the perfect ratio. A film about sex should not necessarily contain sex scenes.

The poster is a bit unusual. We can see the characters in photographs that look like excerpts from the movie, but they’re not. I am not saying that this is cheating but it stuck with me.

The title is money in the bank but I am curious if Gainsbourg’s character is really a nymphomaniac or she/we just think she is.

Nymphomaniac vol. I is about sex from the first minute to the last excepting(?) some moments when ash-trees are involved. So there should be no complaint against the publicity campaign.

Yet the contrast is intriguing because what Lars von Trier is actually doing is connecting us through the topic of hyper sexuality to mysterious and delicate abstractions such as music, mathematics, poetry and vice versa.

This is the contrast that makes me so uncertain; the content of this film is so sensitive and the publicity around it is so cynical: “Forget about love” is the triumphant motto.

The conclusion of Volume I is that the secret ingredient to sex is not love. Does sex really need a secret ingredient? Then what is it? Has this secret ingredient anything to do with Bach, Fibonacci, Poe, with the arts?

In case I’m asking the right questions I’ll definitely have the answers in Nymphomaniac volume II, unless I’m not too much of a stupid dilettante to recognize the answers. I’ll soon find out…fuck!

P.S. Of what I’m certain of is that Uma Thurman’s scene is the top of this cake so far.

Only God Forgives – Nicolas Winding Refn

only-god-forgives-786998l“This isn’t about your dead daughter.
It’s about your other living daughters.
This is to make sure you never forget them.”

The narrative has only a main plot there are no B or C stories. The secondary characters’ existence is completely linked to the main protagonist and antagonist characters’ motifs. Some extras are used but not to create a background, an atmosphere of life going on alongside this particular drama but only to raise the conflict’s death toll or to witness its development. Everybody is involved.

This undistracted focus leads inherently to leitmotifs and a kind of static and mannerist mise-en scene, acting and use of color.

The use of such a rigid structure when the story is about the murdering of an under-aged prostitute by an American interloper and the unorthodox way of handling the investigation by a sword-bearing police lieutenant is not very common. If the target audience is the very patient art-house cinemagoer keen on bloodbath à l’asiatique then it becomes a solution.

Therefore Only God Forgives cannot be an action movie Hollywood style or European style. It is not a story about individuals: some crazy brother, his “different” little brother, their unscrupulous mother and a sadistic cop. They are symbols, archetypes, if you like.

Nicolas Winding Refn dedicates this movie to Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky so this must be more than a revenge story in Bangkok. Jodorowsky has made a lot of films denouncing American hegemony, western’s invasive culture and imperialism. So maybe Refn’s is not bowing necessarily in front of Jodorowsky’s artistry but more likely in front of his sociopolitical views.

Refn’s story is about racism, xenophobia, the clash between the white intruder and the local “Chinese nigger”. They ceased a long time ago to be the curious tourist or the bystander ex-pat and the ever-smiling native host obedient to tourist whim. Most probably they never really were in a sincerely friendly relationship. The native is now fed up with the rich, abusive foreigner.

The native cop’s character, Chang (Vithaya Pansringram), is probably the most intriguing. He is the quintessence of fight against acculturation and white man’s abuse. All we know about his personal life is that he has a family but the only family scene we witness is about a conversation with his wife regarding dinner, traditional dish, naturally. He prefers to render justice with a traditional sword and he tortures with objects that can be emblems on sex tourism brochures. The most extraordinary elements are his Karaoke performances in front of his fellow officers, one time with The Great Chinese Wall in the background. Some surrealist political speech!

The little brother, Julian (Ryan Gosling), is stuck between two worlds. The one he viscerally belongs to and the one he mentally wants to be in. But he has not yet escaped his prejudices. He’s still a xenophobic; the reason he dare not touch the native girl is a mixture of that and the guilt of being an intruder. He has not yet escaped homophobia; the emasculation his mother put him through still weighs on him. His sense of guilt is actually what creates the whole atmosphere and guilt is what this story is built on. It haunts him like it haunts Lady Macbeth. He obsessively checks his own hands, the tools of crime. “Out damned spot!” becomes his nightmare too.

The mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), is Lady Macbeth without the guilt part, she is the white superiority complex, Home Country, Uncle Sam, western hegemony, holding all her children by their balls.

To escape from her sultry womb is impossible without a painful cut.

Pieta – Kim Ki Duk

PietaOh, Parenthood! Toughest job on earth! How come the frailest ones are the most courageous ones in taking this job? But once a parent nothing can break them. This is how the legend goes. Reality goes in infinite other ways too.

This is how Pieta goes – motherhood knows no limits in self-sacrifice. All senses are externalized, relocated into the offspring. She feels only what her child feels and she’s numb to anything inflicted on her.

Ah, Money! Fairest offspring we’re all parents of. We pretend that Money has not placed our center of gravity outside ourselves, that we can live without it, that there are other things in the world that matter, our children, our friends etc.

Ah, Poetry. How nobody give’s a f*** about you so you can feel at ease and elegantly leave a blood trail along the highway!

The Golden Globetrotter II

One of the most interesting intelligence service operations made public becomes Ben Affleck’s ticket to Golden Globe, BAFTA and very probably Oscar awards. Argo was a daring rescue operation that probably kept the discussions vivid by the water-coolers and in official meetings in all secret services, around the world, for years.

Ben Affleck sticks to the core of the real story pretty much all the way and in all aspects. The changes he chooses to make along the way that concern details, like the number of children Tony Mendez had at the time or that the fictional Mendez travels alone to Tehran instead of being accompanied by an entire bunch of secret agents, are all really helping the story. Nobody expects a movie based on true events to be more than that; BASED on true events. Even if it sounds incredible, in the movies too less is more and, when it comes to history, simplifying the plot is rewarding and gets you closer to the essence.

The story develops slowly but steadily and we can enjoy and admire the coolness of a secret agent in an extreme situation. The atmosphere is perfect and guarantees that strange restlessness building its way into our hearts. This is the effect of a good thriller hunting us down patiently. Nothing is really happening but we’re nervous. There are some good jokes regarding the movie industry that, in the context, we enjoy even more. So far so good.

But then we get to the airport scene and suddenly standard thriller situations follow each other at suspiciously standard thriller speed giving the audience the standard roller-coaster experience.

The airport scene is a weird choice if we compare it to the real story. It’s weird even in the movie if we use logic but it fits in the thriller recipe that was unwinding and that is what really bugs me about Ben. I cannot blame him for this scene but I cannot take a bow either. Is the artist’s choice to entirely make up the climax scene even in a historical movie too. But, in this case, somehow I cannot find the artistic reasons through all the evidently commercial ones. Not the radical changing of a real event is bothering me but the use of such elementary cliches.

There is a moment in the scene when we’re given a small clue that we’re in complete fiction. Ben Affleck is the only one seeing the police cars on the runway and that look out of the airplane window is the director’s look not the character’s look. Oh, dear! ;)

Django Unchained is the first Tarantino where acting performances exceed the plot. We are used to be terribly spoiled by Tarantino with fascinating stories, unforgettable lines, editing and perfect casting. Is the first time when there’s not much of the director/writer’s wit and genius to be remembered. I have always enjoyed watching his movies several times. No this time.

But let’s talk about the first time I watched it. Untarantinesque(!) things were happening to my reading of Django Unchained. The movie starts out promising and I have my soul prepared for a good ride. The first half an hour I am mesmerized with Christoph Waltz so I don’t pay attention to the fact that I hadn’t really enjoyed anything else. Very soon it becomes clear that there is nothing to remember about the plot, the dialogues and most of the characters. There’s only Waltz graciously waltzing about.

A Tarantino movie used to come with valuable quote supply that sticks for years in decadent social circles. But this time nothing really catches. Then Leonardo DiCaprio shows up and freshens the whole thing up but when he leaves the stage, together with Waltz, everything goes flat. Even though there’s plenty of shooting, blood and fireworks nothing gets me interested, I miss Leo and Wlatz. Tarantino even blows himself up for no better result.

All I can say is that Tarantino correctly checked another genre but is his least interesting movie and it’s only worth watching for DiCaprio and Waltz, they’re great.

Les Misérables – Tom Hooper

les miz
Les Misérables, the novel, is one of the longest novels ever written. Thank God, reading is an activity that permits us to recharge and live a life between attentive reading sessions. Les Misérables, the musical, is almost 3 hours long with one intermission that allows the audience to freshen up with healthy gossip. Les Misérables, the musical drama film, is almost as long as the theatrical musical but without any intermission and obviously cannot keep the viewer’s full attention all the way through.

Starting with these superficial differences I can say the novel is better than the theatrical musical and the latter is better than the musical drama film.

I have to confess I have never read the whole book but as I said this can be a merit of the novel. And I’ve only seen the 10th anniversary dream-cast concert of Les Miz, never the show. But that concert that was mainly about the music with a static cast and chorus tops Tom Hooper’s bombastic approach with all that mad agitation of characters and camera.

The thick onion juice is the main ingredient but one cannot expect to sit through an adaptation of one of the top novels of the romantic era without anointing oneself with a few drops of salty moisture. So nothing’s wrong with the content and Victor Hugo can be proud there, “somewhere beyond the barricade”. But the form, is it really a musical?

As much as I appreciate the actors’ efforts to sing their heart out I think that every compromise regarding vocal score, modulations, amplitude, range and all those details composers stick to like freaks is a step away from the essence.

Les Misérables is a movie with actors who sing their dialogues the best they can. Their acting is good but, honestly, the professional singers from the original musical played their characters better with fewer acting techniques. I don’t’ think they’re better actors than the ones in the movie but I do think that the music was already composed in a way to transmit all the necessary emotions and all you need is to follow the notes, the octave, the key etc to get the wanted effect. Hooper wanted more than that, he wanted suffering to be super-visible and closed in on the actors’ faces so we can perfectly see the emotional whirlpool, so we can witness every tear thus the singing was forced into melodic whispering. Not necessarily a bad thing but, sadly, Hooper did not know when or how to make a highly recommended step back.

When the most intriguing character, Inspector Javert, is at the peak of his own tragedy and so is the orchestra, Russel Crowe is only half way there and that’s not entertainment!! And that’s just one example when the libretto, orchestra and score are off-balance even though they’re correctly tuned according to musical mathematics.

My biggest disillusion was caused by the Thénardiers. I was shocked to see no real conspiracy or any other kind of relation between Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen the two landing far from the novel’s brutal and not close enough to the musical’s successfully comic characters. But is half their fault, they do act and sing poorly but also director, photographer and, I dare say, makeup artist and costume designer are all very chaotic when it comes to Thénardiers scenes.

But the fact that the singing does not meet the perfectionist requirements of a musical that is in fact an opera shouldn’t have been such a major issue if director, photographer and editor would have treated such a complex project with more patience and less over-the-top solutions.


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