All posts tagged “france

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Bande de filles (Girlhood), Céline Sciamma (2014) and La haine, Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)

Ah the banlieue, city of fluorescent lights in drab office buildings, mercury vapor lights in the courtyards of the projects, police flashlights shining on dark faces. I just watched Sciamma’s movie, and it led me to go back to Kassovitz’s, which I hadn’t seen since it came out — more than twenty years ago now! While Girlhood is pretty depressing (though not depressing enough; see below), I have to say that if we’re getting our news solely from these two movies, things seem to be a bit less dire in 2014 than they were in 1995.

There’s good reason not to trust that narrative, though; both of these films about the experiences of poor French of color from the projects by les honkies from film school. Be that as it may. If you categorically disapprove of privileged people writing disadvantaged characters, you’ll want to skip both these movies.

Sciamma creates a convincing world for a while, but then starts exoticizing and goes off the rails. She’s so enraptured by the beauty of these girls as they work their hustles and dance and party and catfight that she forgets to show us just how truly dangerous and dire their situations really are. A black teenager living on her own dealing drugs at street level is going to get hurt, and this movie’s fantasy that she’ll instead turn into some kind of inspired and empowered super hero is, in my view, irresponsible. But maybe I’m being too rough; check it out for yourself. And remember to watch Kassovitz’s movie, too, if you’ve never seen it. It’s like if Spike Lee was French. Sort of.

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Amour, Michael Haneke (2012)

Haneke is one of my favorite directors, but he is mighty intense, and it’s not at all surprising that it’s taken me five years to get to this. In fact this DVD has been sitting on my shelf for well over a month as I avoided watching it!

It’s a masterpiece. The actors are superb. The light is out of the most melancholy Vermeer ever. The script is crisp and nuanced, pellucid and mysterious, relentlessly denotative and playfully connotative. I think Robert Frost would have appreciated it.

Beyond the movie’s particular accomplishments, it’s in principle just so moving — and so rare — to see aging and dying represented with clarity and honesty.

There’s a sub-theme which I think concerns the possibility that art is not a consolation in the face of mortality. I don’t really want to think about it.

So many amazing moments, and such terrific editing. At one point, we cut to a young woman housekeeper vigorously vacuuming the rug, and the shock of her energy, her vitality, after we’ve been watching old people struggle with their failing bodies, is just incredible. Never thought fifteen seconds of watching someone vacuum a rug could make me cry.

I finished this several days ago and I feel like I’m still living in its aftershadow. Shouldn’t have waited so long!

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Zootopia, Byron Howard & Rich Moore (2016). April and the Extraordinary World, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci (2015)

I swear, sometimes I can’t tell if I’m a total snob or a total goat. My standards are on the one hand absurdly high; on the other hand it appears I’ll put just about anything into my eyes. Cartoons (or “animated films”) are an interesting test. I can be and have been persuaded equally by the assertion that they are only for children and the assertion that people who think they are only for children are myopic snobs. Anyway.

Zootopia strikes me as very American and very much of the moment. It’s super preoccupied with proffering a morality, but it’s so desperate not to get anything wrong or offend anyone that its moral message becomes garbled beyond comprehension. It seems to be against discrimination, graft, prejudice, biological determinism, anti-intellectualism, unfair drug crime sentencing, racism, the police state, urban blight, and all sorts of other bad things, but the categories of who’s supposed to be bad, and who good, and who’s being represented as bad but is actually good only society has made him bad, etc., get totally out of hand. This fellow parses out the problems well and in detail. I’ll only add that the happy ending is that the bunny and the fox, supposedly blood enemies, become best friends. But they’re also both cops. I don’t get it.

April and the Extraordinary World is French to the core. Twilit, melancholy, witty, fanciful, open-ended. It’s concerned with utopia and dystopia too, but far less concerned with determining tidy moral categories, which ironically opens a path to a far stronger sense of moral imperative. There’s also an abundance of historical consciousness here, which I love. Not least, it’s a lot more fun to look at the spiky, messy, impressionistic world of this cartoon than the uncannily smooth and bright world of Hollywood animation. I like that there are a lot of pratfalls in this, too. One thing that makes a cartoon good for grownups is a certain enforcement of silliness.

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What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus (2015)

nina-reelgoodGreat documentary about an absolutely fascinating character — I’m not going to say “tragic” because I’m not sure that’s exactly true. Simone was a preacher’s daughter in the Jim Crow south who very early in childhood showed such intense capacity at the piano that a white piano teacher on the right side of the tracks took her on as a project. She practiced the repertoire at the expense of all other childhood activities, as is expected of prodigies, and got herself up north to attend conservatory, but the money ran out, and she started gigging at bars and clubs. Playing pop tunes for drunks was as easy for her as it would have been for Picasso to draw caricatures for tourists on the boardwalk, and when a bar owner told her to go ahead and sing, too, she went ahead and sang. No one, least of all Simone, could have guessed those sounds were in her, waiting to come out.

From there the story starts moving much more quickly, as Simone’s career explodes. I’m not going to recount all the twists and turns — you’re going to watch this on Netflix yourself soon, I hope. I will say that the movie got me thinking a great deal about the artist’s relationship to her historical moment. Shall she seek to evade it? Engage it? Change it? I think sometimes none of these choices are really available, and history just engulfs the artist, has its way with her, and I think that’s what happened to Miss Simone.