Archive for Olivier Assayas

Star Bright

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2010 by dcairns

Jane Campion’s BRIGHT STAR is easy to underrate because it drifts by quite easily, very lovely to look at and quite nice, making some effort to get the audience to really hear poetry, not always wholly succeeding, not quite managing something which would cross over the arthouse barrier and hit the teen market the way ROMEO + JULIET did (I’ve since come to thoroughly loathe Luhrmann’s style, but seeing that film in a cinema full of sobbing schoolies made me appreciate its brute effectiveness) — but that doubtless wasn’t Campion’s aim anyway.

I would almost compare the effect to somebody like Olivier Assayas, whose films grip with such cushioned gentleness that you’re scarcely aware of being interested at all, except that you can’t look away. And Campion also has a nice rogue element, in the form of Paul Schneider as Keats’s friend, Charles Armitage Brown. Good Ol’ Charlie Brown! Keats groupies seem to be divided between those supporting the poet’s lover, Fanny Brawne, and those who reject Fanny and regard CAB as Keats’s true friend. Campion, of course, is on the side of Fanny.

Schneider plays Brown with a Scottish accent borrowed largely from Mike Myers’ work in SHREK, for which I don’t believe there is much historical evidence. It’s not the worst attempt at a Scots accent I’ve ever heard, but it’s slightly second-hand and certainly not convincing to a native — not as downright weird as Anna Paquin’s in THE PIANO, which deserves some kind of STAR TREK-sponsored reward, but AP had a pretty good alibi in that she was Canadian, shooting in New Zealand, and aged ten. Schneider is American, but at least he was thirty-two and shooting in the UK.

However, despite his linguistic handicap, Schneider is a barrel of smiles (and you can get more of those in a barrel than you can laughs: stack them sideways to avoid breaking a smile) — while the film’s lovers are quite teenaged in their all-or-nothing romanticism, Brown is a peevish little git, emotionally about three years old, an agglomeration of lousy traits packed within a meaty, fundamentally fairly decent personage. Watch him be annoying! It’s great.

The little girl’s great too. Adorable and completely real.

The other real coup in the film is Abbie Cornish’s meltdown at the end, the rawest expression of grief Fiona and I could remember having seen, ever. In a film, anyway. Cornish and Ben Whishaw are both excellent throughout, but this moment of unphotogenic pure trauma was a very considerable feat. Now I want to see IN THE CUT to see if it’s as bad as everyone says.

Loco Parentis

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2010 by dcairns

Off to Glasgow for the Glasgow Film Festival and Frightfest’s screening of SPLICE, Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi drama with Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley. I enjoyed CUBE, Natali’s debut, on the whole (it makes highly inventive use of limited locations and cast, but those limitations seem to close of the possibility of a more interesting ending, somehow) and his follow-up, CYPHER, a good deal. A phildickian tale of industrial espionage with Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu, it really deserved a bit more attention than it got, even if the plot twists and Northam’s pleasingly weird central perf kind of exclude the audience from full engagement.

NOTHING, Natali’s third feature, is a pretty crashing disappointment, even though his visual skills are much in evidence. The movie’s puppyish desire to please drives it into irksome comedy, and the central premise — the main characters wish the world out of existence and find themselves and their house stranded in a featureless white limbo — is ignored in terms of narrative logic and dramatic development, which means the film really has to try and be funny about, literally, nothing.

But that misfire has proven useful in a way, forcing Natali to add a more kinetic series of tricks to his repertoire, out of that need to make something from NOTHING, and he’s able to shuffle between sparky high-speed mode (montages of weird science) and slow, suspenseful creepiness, in the new SPLICE, a dream project he’s been working on for years. Basically a tale of science-meets-parenthood, it deals with a young couple of brilliant geneticists who splice human and animal DNA together to create Dren, played by Delphine Chanéac (and young Abigail Chu, and a bunch of CGI), who develops at an accelerated rate (as these things always do), and falls awkwardly between the status of child and experiment for the hitherto childless couple.

The stylistic and genre trappings that inform the film stem mostly from Cronenberg’s THE FLY and Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, with flashes of exec Guillermo Del Toro’s monster movie maudit MIMIC (things in jars). This splicing of different movie worlds (Sarah Polley plays Elsa Castle, a near-anagram of Elsa Lanchester, and Brody plays Clive, named after Colin Clive, both references to James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN films — this cuteness is sustained but fortunately never intrusive) forces me to recall Cronenberg’s verdict on ALIEN: he loved the evolving monster’s life-cycle (of course he did!) but felt that in the last third the movie plunged wholeheartedly into the least interesting potential direction: monster chases girl.

SPLICE seems to have been hard to get made because Natali was genuinely interested in exploring the disturbing emotional possibilities of his story, and he sends tendrils of interest out in a number of fascinating directions. But the perceived need to climax in a monster holocaust effectively amputates most of those possibilities, and it all comes down to conflict, that Holy Grail of the unimaginative. As Olivier Assayas said, lots of American movies start out with interesting ideas, but they usually wind up with a fight in a warehouse. What worlds of weary derision that phrase contains.

Substitute barn for warehouse and you might have SPLICE. And this is a great shame, because the movie explicitly sets out what it’s supposed to be about early on — this child is aging rapidly and will die of its own accord very soon. The scientists who have created her were unable emotionally to face parenthood, but find it thrust upon them, and in the most painful way. They’re far more unprepared for the struggles ahead than most of us would be, since their “offspring” is a previously unknown species with mysterious dietary, emotional and sexual needs. Which makes the set-up perfect for a satire on both parenting and science. The whole second act is rich in this kind of amusing, and sometimes alarming, material.

(Fiona thought it was a shame Natali couldn’t attend, to hear the collective gasp from the audience when the little girl version of Dren scuttles onscreen for the first time in a cute little dress: her sudden quasi-humanity erects a big sign reading “Welcome to Uncanny Valley.”)

There’s also the scientific ethics side — real-life investigators who have raised chimps as children have faced the dilemmas created by taking responsibility for another living thing, and in a sense robbing it of its birthright as a wild animal, substituting the (uncertain) benefits of civilisation and humanity, but never quite delivering the supposed advantages that come with being human. Again, SPLICE evokes all this pretty well.

It’s rather unfair of me to slam Natali for copping out with an action climax — it’s unlikely the film would ever have been made without one. And he does his best to take us into icky moral terrain immediately after the dust has settled. On the plus side, he has fine perfs from his leads (Polley in particular is more natural than you ever expect anybody to be in this kind of movie) and the combination of effects work and performance is stunningly effective in the creature character — for a fraction of the cost, he’s made something a lot more interesting and beautiful than the artificial population of AVATAR. It’s a little unfortunate that Cameron’s megasplurge uses the same eyes-wide-apart design aesthetic for its creatures, but Natali’s beast actually has a better reason for having that look, and Natali is a lot less squeamish about exploiting the squirmy possibilities of xenophilia. Natali’s mascot, David Hewlett, appears again, this time as a corporate sleaze, a role he essays with unseemly relish. Despite my reservations, SPLICE may be the most wholehearted proper science fiction film we see this year.

Paris Je T’Olerate

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2008 by dcairns

Paris, France 

PARIS JE T’AIME is a compendium film of shorts directed by various international film industry luminaries, on a theme made explicit by the title. If I describe it as a mixed bag, I won’t really be saying anything at all — these things are ALWAYS mixed.

For some reason they’re generally kind of nice though, even if the weak segments outnumber the good. You have the pleasure of knowing that however bad the current bit is, something if not better, at least DIFFERENT will be along soon.

Waiting for Godard

I sort-of enjoyed the typically pointless Coen bros episode with Steve Buscemi committing the fatal error of establishing eye contact in the Tuileries, the Alfonso Cuaron long-take exercise with an extravagantly shambling Nick Nolte, the Gus Van Sant meet-cute (is acceptable to simply recycle romcom cliches only with gay characters? Anyhow it was very nicely directed), the Nobuhiro Suwa yarn with Willem Dafoe as a phantom cowboy in the Place de la Victoires, the usual sort-of aimless but inexplicably compelling Olivier Assayas, and the Richard LaGravanese, which like many of the films was content to rely ENTIRELY on star power rather than actual ideas, but knew how to use its stars (and Fanny Ardant speaking English is a SENSATION! Bob Hoskins speaking French is…weird, but sweet, somehow).

The above segments passed the time, but seemed woefully unambitious if you stopped to think about it. If the filmmakers had had to write, shoot and edit them inside a week, I would have said they’d done a decent job within the restrictions. But I can’t really justify anybody spending any greater amount of time on such lightweight pieces.

I’ve enjoyed Vincenzo Natali’s features CUBE and CYPHER, but his piece was kind of embarrassing. I mean, he achieved a look that was distinct from all the other films (nobody else quite did this) but unfortunately it was a heavily CGI paintbox look, and after the establishing shots he somehow forgot to actually feature Paris.

Isabel Coixet actually achieves something impressive and moving in her section, which suddenly stands out from the preceding episodes as result. It also brings real imagination to its storytelling, as opposed to the mannerisms of Tom Tykwer. That guy’s getting to be like a bad Wim Wenders for the MTV generation.

Depardieu’s co-directed bit irked the hell out of me. It was nice seeing Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands again, but REALLY: filming two people sat at a restaurant table is one of the simpler tasks a director can have, as far as mise en scene goes, unless they choose to make it complicated. Depardieu and his stooge manage to cross the line for no reason almost immediately, and thereafter randomly alternate shot sizes, creating a meaningless jumble of shots that distract from the generally fine performances. What’s irritating is that somebody with no directorial sense whatever has been handed a chance to show off his lack of ability in front of a wide audience, when the job could have been given to a talented short filmmaker or an experienced pro.

Christopher Doyle put together some nice visuals for his episode but forgot to come up with a coherent idea.

I was fairly charmed by the Sylvain Chomet mime story, which I thought bode fairly well for his Tati project: Chomet can do live action, it seems. I was curious as to whether he’d seen my clown movie, though, since he lives just outside Edinburgh. Not that he’s stolen ANYTHING, mind you, but the idea of clowns/mimes as a persecuted minority is a tad close. If I had anything to do with inspiring him I’d be very happy.

Paris Qui Mort

Oliver Schmitz, like Coixet, got some emotional involvement into his story, and it was pretty cleverly constructed. I thought it spelled everything out too carefully at the end, instead of trusting the audience, though.

I loved the Alexander Payne, which makes me feel part of the great mass of humanity since everybody else does too. It manages a real JOURNEY, where the flat, horribly-accented narration of the frowsy middle-aged American tourist, in flat schoolgirl French, suddenly stops being a distanciation device and becomes tremendously affecting.

Several episodes were not really interesting enough to even mention.

But I’m still FURIOUS about episode 2, Gurinder Chadha’s Quais des Seine. Partly it’s because Chadha’s flying the flag for Britain here, so I would’ve liked to see something inspirational. Mainly it’s because her piece manages to encapsulate about half of what I hate about modern British film. Admittedly, she isn’t out to give the audience a hard time for no reason, or rub our noses in gritty realism as “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery” (to use Johnny Lydon’s phrase), but her piece is the very embodiment of the new Tradition of Quality, Social Realism Lite. Visually uninspired to migraine-inducing levels, banal, preachy, inane, actively uninterested in exploring nuance or complexity or ambiguity or shading, this “film” sets out to teach the ignorant masses that (a) boys shouldn’t shout abuse at girls because it isn’t endearing, and (b) Muslims are people too. That’s it. Both messages are prettily illustrated and then spelled out in dialogue form in case we missed it. And while I agree with both statements, neither strikes me as worth dramatising, for reasons that should be perfectly obvious.

Je Deteste

The overall effect is to suggest that British filmmakers are stuck somewhere in the era of Cecil Hepworth, presenting pat homilies and shunning the cinematic in favour of the photogenic. When you compare this piece to what’s being done in practically every other country in the world, it is SHAMEFUL. Chadha had the chance to connect to the great works of British cinema, or Indian cinema, or French cinema. What she’s achieved might just serve to pass the time between highlights on an episode of Eastenders.

Phooey!

BUT! Coming soon, I will have some good news about British cinema…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 435 other followers