4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle (1987)

26 05 2011

I’m sure many of my followers/reading (if there are any) are more than familiar with my disdain for Eric Rohmer. While calling his films unwatchable would be a bit too dramatic, there is something about his work that always has and always will irk me. At least that’s what I gathered from the handful of films I’ve seen from him, the most notable being My Night at Maud’s, but this is a bit different. It’s not like he’s going in a completely different direction either. This is still a movie with a lot of talking in this movie and it still displays everything I generally dislike about Rohmer’s style of filmmaking. For whatever reason, though, it hits a chord that his other films by pass.

In an almost ironic occurrence, Rohmer’s best looking movie ends up being an extremely grainy one. It kind of helps support the film’s rather effortless pace and almost whimsical tone. The events that happen in the movie are all rather frivolous in a way and, at the risk of sounding cheap, act as something of a launching point for discussions between the two characters. This is how a lot of Rohmer’s films work, but here it doesn’t seem so stilted. Credit should go to Joëlle Miquel and Jessica Forde who are nothing but a joy to watch. Even when it seems like the film is shoving their difference down one’s throat (one lives in the country, one lives in the city!) they still have a very natural tone to their conversations. Their relationship seems more like something out of a Jacques Rivette film than another Rohmer venture.

Also, for as enjoyable as this film is as just a snapshot of a friendship, it actually looks good. Sure, as I said earlier, it’s grainy as all hell, but this is one of few times it seems like Rohmer placed some emphasis on the visuals. Surely, his shot/reverse shot technique is nothing if not conventional, but he does manage to capture something special from time to time. Certainly nothing earth-shattering, unless you measure it by his own standards. Maybe it’s something as simple as not being so visually inept, but it seems like the dialogue here is much tighter here than it is in any other Rohmer film. Sure, it trails off from time to time (the conversation about morals following the shoplifting incident is particularly eye-rolling) but it never really separates itself from being more than just a couple of incidents.

Maybe a re-evaluation of Rohmer is due on my part (don’t hold your breath, fans) but it definitely seems like he was able here to make a film that is undeniably Rohmer-esque but also accessible to those outside of his taste in cinema. It’s a simple movie, but a very good one and considering how complicated Rohmer likes to make things, that’s quite the accomplishment. I couldn’t care less about the political or economical circumstances of the friendship like I am probably suppose to, but thankfully Rohmer makes the friendship playful and entertaining enough to be enjoyed on a more literal level.

Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma (1975)

26 05 2011

In all honesty, it is difficult, if not impossible for a movie like Salo to live up to its reputation. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing rests with the viewer alone, but having spent the past few months exploring Pasolini’s filmography, while intentionally saving this one for last, I made the simple mistake of getting my hopes up for this. That’s right, the movie that is so often billed as the most disgusting and vile endeavor in the history was beginning to sound enticing to me. Why? Well, Pasolini has become a favorite of mine in spite of the fact that I have yet to find that one film of his that encapsulates his best attributes as a filmmaker and balances them with something personal. Salo is a personal film, no doubt, but it’s far from being the definitive personal statement for Pasolini.

For whatever it is worth, Salo was never intended to be Pasolini’s last film. It seems that because of its reputation as being “nauseating” (and for the record, it certainly is) it has been misconstrued as being his ultimate statement, but he was already busy on his next project. Salo is ultimately an update of Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, but the reorganization of the context is key: Salo, at its core, is a political film. Without getting into the details, it is easy to see the connection between the power held by the individuals in the movie and the Fascist power of Italy in the 1940s. In other words, Salo is not a subtle film at all.

Pasolini was never really recognized for his subtlety, though. While I held out hope for a film that contained all that I loved about Pasolini, I ended up with one that contained all that makes my cinematic ideology (so to speak) clash with his. Not only are we beaten over the head with the “abuse of power” angle, we’re practically lectured on it for the entire running time. Combine with what is physically being represented on screen, Salo should be anything but enjoyable but there’s still something in Pasolini’s photographing of the scenes that makes thing oddly poignant. The film’s final shot, for example, is extremely effective. After a endless barrage of violent acts (including eye-gouging and tongue-slicing) the camera refocuses to two guards, both still young boys who decide to dance together. It’s haunting when juxtaposed with the terrifying images that came before it, but it’s also kind of beautiful.

One element of Salo that is easy to overlook what with all the subversive vices and whatnot, is the fact that, along with Teorema, it is his most formally accomplished film. The camera keeps it’s distance and remains still almost always, which makes the horrifying circumstances even more palpable than if it was compiled in a more “spontaneous” manner – just compare with the Saw movies. It’s sort of like the Jean-Pierre Leaud story in Porcile taken to its technical extreme. It’s fascinating to watch, even when the actors are doing things that should evoke nothing but utter nausea. Salo isn’t really a masterpiece, it’s hard to watch and for some probably not worth the effort, but those who are fascinated by Pasolini the way I am, it is absolutely essential.

Liverpool (2008)

14 05 2011

A nice, low-key enough film that doesn’t really pack much of a punch beyond some extraordinary shots. It’s very much in the mold of the new European minimalism, which means there isn’t really enough unique to elevate it beyond similar minded movies. On the other hand, I’ve been away from this kind of filmmaking long enough that it’s become difficult to separate it from your typical film of this sort. It’s a nice enough story, but never really enough there to make it truly earth-shattering. It looks really nice, has some heart to it, but never goes into the territory of Dumont or Tsai or any other director that has transformed such an aesthetic into something beyond just long static shots.

I will give credit to director Lisandro Alonso for picking out some fantastic landscapes, all of which seem to conflict with whatever images one thinks of when they think of Argentina. Not to discredit Alonso’s originality, but I definitely saw shades of Alain Tanner’s gorgeous vision of rural Switzerland or Claude Jutra’s illustration of small-town Quebec. There’s always something positive to be said about photographing what hasn’t been photographed before. If that sounds cryptic, then excuse me, but it’s hard to give credit to Alonso for his film’s greatest strength: the power of his photography.

The story, what little there is of one, is actually quite nice too. The main protagonist, Farrel, returns home after abandoning it (we presume) at a very early age. The homecoming element is really subdued, as the lack of dialogue is compounded by the fact that Farrel’s family doesn’t do much to acknowledge him. When they do, there is an overt sense of resentment. I don’t mind the lack of explanation, in fact I applaud it, but there is a fine line between brevity and clarity, and it just seems like there is too much of a tilt towards the former. Ultimately it plays off like much of the film: the intentions are good, but there’s just a little too much “nothing” going on. That’s never a problem to let the camera discover the story rather than force it down the audience’s throat, but when it is something as personal as this is, perhaps the audience deserve a little more than just being reminded that the main character is an alcoholic?

Again, I think my distance from the style (as of late) is kind of clouding my view of it. The ending is actually quite effective, although the film seems to climb towards the finish line. Farrel, who we spend 90% of the movie with, is completely absent from the last five minutes. It’s an awkward stretch for the movie, as we’re left with the family that we know little to nothing about and then Alonso expects the emotional climax to hit more than it really should. The impact Farrel had on his family should not be reduced to a memento (which lends the film its title) but instead have it manifest by observing the interruption of their daily rituals. It’s not a huge loss really as the film never really attempts to be bigger than itself. It’s a nice slice of rural Argentina, and I respect it as such, but from this film, I’m far from declaring Alonso as the cornerstone of the minimalism scene.