Selva walks down a hallway in a permanent shift of horror and disbelief that makes her both scream and laugh. She finally ends up at a peaceful wall painting of a forest lit in warm daylight. She is struck by it for a second, then bends back her body to scream into the void. Played by a truly unchained Sofia Boutella who finally gets to showcase her entire range of artistic expression, Selva is a dance choreographer, who agreed to train a small circle of students assembled in a remote school building for some sort of winter dance camp. It seems barely hours prior that she was less existentially disturbed and in possession of severely more chill. The same counts for the rest of the now completely deranged group of dancers.
In perhaps the most striking scene of Claire Denis’ debut Chocolat, we see Proteé – the “houseboy” of a French civil servant in the colonialized Cameroon of the late 50’s – working on a generator in a small hut. After a while, he notices that someone is observing him. It’s France, the infant daughter of the civil servant. There is a somewhat hard emotion palpable in the air. France asks Proteé if one of the parts of the machine is hot. Without stirring an emotion, the man presses his hand on a tube. France tries to do the same but cries out as she realizes the tube is in fact incredibly hot, and leaves her hand burned. Proteé’s hand is burned to a much more severe degree, but he doesn’t flinch. He just looks at her. There is nothing more to say. He leaves into the night and never comes back.
This scene is a crucial component to understanding Claire Denis’ cinema, which has separated itself from the majority of European auteur cinema and moves on its very own heady and uncompromising path.
This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink – here we try to bring films, that have been overlooked during their time, or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to peak your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.
There is that kind of film that I love to return to when I feel like my day is reaching a feel-bad peak, often connected to a still image of my room’s ceiling. These wonderful and yet rarely praised films are light, trope-heavy, easy to follow, inherently dramatic and ready to beat up the tearjerk button – all set for a slightly manipulative and cathartic escape from reality, while always having some sort of honest, emotional thread that connects with you and lifts you up. One of my very favorite films of that genre are the two Mamma Mia! outings, both heavily escapist and yet emotionally compelling at the same time. It’s a very hard task for filmmakers to hit that sweet balance and for many cine-dependents like me, the further search for these films never stops. It was a pleasant surprise when Sunny, a film that was a box office smash hit in Korea, yet in the west was almost exclusively known by the loyal followers of Korean cinema, landed on my radar after a good friend recommended it to me.
After the death of one of her old classmates, Na-Mi, a woman stuck in her unsatisfactory role as a middle-aged housewife, sees a chance to gain a new purpose in fulfilling latter’s dying wish and tries to reunite her old school clique. The film intercuts between the tumultuous school days of these girls and Na-Mi’s quest to convince her old friends to reunite for one more time. It’s a premise that seemingly gets re-interpreted by the month, but Sunny is somehow very distinct from them.
When Andrew Bujalski released his debut Funny Ha Ha in 2002, it was not evident yet that he would forever change the face of an entire subgenre. The film spawned a movement that is often not particularly adored, but whose spirit is undeniably injected into the majority of modern American independent films – the Mumblecore.
Most films of this genre, heavily shaped by their feeling of structural spontaneity, rejection of conventional storytelling beats and DIY-aesthetic (in the same vein as the Berliner Schule and the Dogma movement), focus on creating a feeling of extreme realism and intimacy. Bujalski, less successfully, repeated that formula two more times with Mutual Appreciation (2005) and Beeswax (2009), until he showed his will to experiment with the Mumblecore form. With his refreshingly weird and insanely original Computer Chess (2013), a niche masterpiece that feels somehow isolated (for the lack of a better word) in its attempt at cinematic storytelling, he created a wholly original subversion of the genre – an absurd period piece about a programming tournament with the goal to create a computer, which is able to beat a human being at chess.
In 2015, Bujalski got a shot at Results, a somewhat bigger project, starring Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce. It was the first step of a departure that aimed to reach a broader audience and which finally hit a climax in the newest project of his rich and inventive filmography. Unfolding over about 24 hours in the life of a working-class woman, Support the Girls is a vital, entertaining and accessible film that fits into the rare bridge between auteur filmmaking and mainstream delight.
This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink. Here we try to bring films, that have been overlooked during their time or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to peak your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.
I stumbled over Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Céline per accident on Youtube, soon realizing that its presence online borders on non-existence. The rather small amount of voices that I could find, seemed to show an unusually big admiration for the utterly forgotten 1992 Berlin Film Festival competition entry. Descriptions of the film struck a chord with me and how I felt at the moment, and I took a chance on it.
Cèline (1992) – directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau. All Right Reserved.
There is a rather simple base narrative at play here: A nurse named Geneviéve offers Céline – a young, distraught woman – a drive home. When they arrive there, Céline tries to take the first chance to kill herself. Geneviéve prevents her suicide and starts to take care of Céline. They start a healing process – together, as Geneviéve struggles herself.
German film has been suffering from an utter lack of strong genre films during the past years. With the exception from a few, rare surprises like independent filmmaker AKIZ’s brilliant film Der Nachtmahr (which became a flop that ultimately left the director in debt), there is no real courage to delve back into certain narrative patterns, and when they do, they play it incredibly safe, which dampens the hope for possible investors of such films even more. It’s very strange, especially since turning back time reveals that the brightest lights were of German cinema, where genre films such as Metropolis, Vampyr, and M shaped their successors worldwide into what they are today.
While Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, a film heavily influenced by the filmmaking style of the Berliner Schule–a german filmmaking movement that originated in the 90’s, whose representatives are often formed by a depressive, stakeless atmosphere mirroring both social and humanist grievances–is not a genre film per se, but it shows a surprising amount of flirtation with post-apocalyptic motifs and images. It’s a refreshing change of pace on a visual plane, not only for the Berliner Schule, but the entirety of contemporary german film.
As Megan has been off at BFI Flare, Kareem has kindly taken over the spotlight this month! Read on to hear his thoughts on the wonderful Maren Ade.
It’s a moment of overwhelming helplessness; Ines, an emotionally drained corporate consultant (and human being), lies on a couch of a Bucharestian club. Her body language is equal to, how Germans would say, “einem Schluck Wasser” (a gulp of water) and as the techno remix of “Safe and Sound” enters a phase of temporary tranquility before the beat drops, her eyes well up with tears as the words “I could lift you up” inhabit the entire room for a second – almost like a whispered promise of comfort, directly addressed to her. She looks over at Toni Erdmann, a wigged character with fake teeth, invented by her desperate father. She sees how helpless he himself is – the tears are an expression of the powerlessness against the emotional chasm between them. She knows how hard he tries, despite his feeling of impotence – maybe because he has no one else to turn to at this point. They are both deeply lonely people, torn apart by time, space and societal conventions of emotional self-oppression.
Toni Erdmann is a film about many things, but like German auteur Maren Ade’s entire body of work, especially about how disconnected we can be from each other and ourselves, and thus how lonely.