Criterion Month: How Love Is in the Look in ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, and ‘Frances Ha’

This essay is by our guest writer, Marina Vuotto.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it…but it’s a party, and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining…and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual, but because…that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them.”

Frances Ha’s personal definition of love is so delicately observed, so personal yet universal, so accurate in its specificity, that it has a poetic quality to it; Greta Gerwig’s delivery, as she fumbles for the right words, gesticulates and looks around for validation, gives body to Frances’ attempt to explain something unexplainable, to articulate a feeling that’s powerful yet wordless. Her way of giving the speech has that tone of a friend trying to explain what they mean, only to realize that there’s no need to finish their sentence because you’ve understood it despite their inability to express it precisely; because you know them, because you’ve felt it.

And yet, where words fail, cinema steps in: when it’s truly great, not only does it substitute explaining with showing, but it’s able to recreate a feeling to immerse you in it and make you live it. And as difficult as recreating that particular feeling – that thing – is, three films get pretty close: Before Sunrise, The Royal Tenenbaums, and, of course, Frances Ha. In each one of them, the most powerful love scenes are played out through a quiet exchange of looks, which brings the secret world Frances talks about to life.

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Criterion Month: Françoise Dorléac in ‘The Soft Skin’ and ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’

This essay is written by our guest writer, Carlos Valladares.

One of the most powerful images from the Truffaut adultery drama La Peau Douce (The Soft Skin, 1964) belongs to Françoise Dorléac, whose flight attendant, Nicole, is reduced to uncommon tears by the likes of Pierre, her flabby, academic drip of a lover (Jean Desailly). Pierre, the Balzac expert whose lectures weirdly manage to sell out theaters across France, has just spent the entire night publicly avoiding Nicole in a series of flakes more outrageous and humiliating than the last. When Pierre and Nicole reunite in their clandestine hotel room, the scene is heartbreaking: a two-shot (there are many two-shots in this patient, unjudging study of soured love) in which Raoul Coutard’s camera abandons its neutrality in order to highlight Dorléac’s emotions (anger, disgust, shame) over Desailly’s. Dorléac, who faces the camera and who never once returns Desailly’s gaze, struggles to talk squarely with him, without tears. But she cannot. She tells him she plans to stay in the hotel. “Tonight,” she says, with her sobs now coming in aching staccato bursts, “I realized you were ashamed of me.” It’s hard to watch, since tears do not come easily to the kinds of strong, sometimes zany women Dorléac excelled at playing.

Three years later in 1967, the year of her tragic death, we see peak Dorléac in the role of Solange, the effervescent composer whose music fills the air of Jacques Demy’s pastel-hued Rochefort. In Soft Skin, Dorléac nibbles within the noble edges of an unglamorous film, “an autopsy of adultery” (in Truffaut’s own words). In Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort)Dorléac bursts out in a fit of perfect, fab glamor. Her soft face is dotted with freckles. Her red bob weaves up and down as she takes commands of any space (café, music shop, street) around which she stalks or sulks, but never seems to simply step into. Basically, anyone can be made to look glamorous or beautiful or witty in the hands of a good director/cinematographer/hair-stylist. What’s unique about the glamor of Dorléac is the way in which it is so downplayed, so self-evident that it need not be flaunted. Demy’s Les Demoiselles is a perfect example of Dorléac’s democratic impulses in action: Though she and sister Catherine Deneuve are clearly the stars of the film, they never once seem to dominate or distract from the stories of the other Rochefort lovers (Michel Piccoli, Danielle Darrieux, Jacques Perrin, Gene Kelly) as they all struggle to find The One. This is the result of a stellar collaboration between an open-hearted, generous auteur (Demy was one of the cinema’s greatest directors of ensembles) and a just-as-generous actrice. Whether she’s at the center or near the edges of a scene, Dorléac glows with style, charm, poise. With her quick glances, husky voice, and subtle sashay, she’s always asking the people who pass her by: Why strain yourself, darlings?

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Agnès Varda at the BFI

On Tuesday evening every audience member of the sold out NFT1 screen at the BFI Southbank rose to give 90-year-old Agnès Varda a standing ovation. With astonishing humility, she responded with “I’m so glad there are so many of you. I’m impressed that I’m just coming saying things and you come to listen to me.”

For decades Agnès Varda has been confined to the margins of film history while her French New Wave contemporaries like Godard and Truffaut appear on every film studies syllabus. No more. In the past year, Faces Places screened at Cannes, she received an honorary Academy Award, protested the lack of female directors represented at Cannes, and now is celebrated by a retrospective at the BFI.

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Karlovy Vary 2018: ‘I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians,’ Brilliantly Speaks Truth to Power

This review is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

The Germans have a word for acknowledging their Nazi past. Known as “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” it literally means “coming to terms with the past,” describing the process by which the country tries to learn from the mistakes it made during the 30s and 40s, most significantly the Holocaust. This process makes Germany quite a unique country, as no other major nation-state can claim to have gone through quite the same amount of personal soul-searching.

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This dream of awakening her home country of Romania is the mission of Mariana, an artist who wants to put on a reenactment of the Odessa Massacre of 1941 in which between 25,000 to 34,000 Jews were either shot or burned to death by Romanian troops. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, is named after a quote that was used to justify the process. According to her, its a part of history glossed over by Romanians, who prefer to remember the time they joined the Allies three years into War. A pertinent clip from the Romanian film The Mirror, released in 1994, shows just how deep the distortion of history goes, displaying Ion Antonescu — the Romanian leader — as a sympathetic character who only “deported” non-Romanian Jews, instead of killing them. This is a blatant lie and something that Mariana is determined to deconstruct.

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Karlovy Vary 2018: ‘Jumpman’ is a Very Different Kind of Superhero Movie

The corrupt heart of contemporary Russia is mercilessly exposed in Jumpman, a savage look at a society that has lost its way. Telling the story of a boy who uses his rare ability to feel no pain to jump in front of cars in order to blackmail their owners, Ivan I. Tverdovsky has created a savage exposé of a world in which nothing matters other than the pursuit of capital.

It starts with Denis (Denis Vlasenko) being dumped at an orphanage. As he grows older, he gets diagnosed with congenital analgesia, which means that he doesn’t feel pain in the same way other people do. This ability to withstand intense physical pressure makes him a favourite with the fellow boys, who tie him up with a hose and pull it on from either side to see how long he can last. Then one day, his mother (Anna Slyu) returns to the orphanage and takes him back to Moscow. Once there, they devise their dastardly money-making scheme.

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Karlovy Vary 2018: Tradition is Fatal in Turkish Drama ‘Brothers’

This review is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.

Tradition is meant to bind us together, but when those customs are based in violence, those binds can be a noose, choking us into a cycle of bloodshed. This is certainly the case in Turkish drama Brothers, which displays the devastating effects of living by ancient customs.

It starts with the seventeen-year-old Yusuf (Yiğit Ege Yazar) in a juvenile detention centre near the tail-end of his sentence. He is a quiet and brooding boy, with a constant chip on his shoulder. He seems always on the verge of anger, almost starting a fight over a mistimed football tackle. One day he is released on probation and picked up by his brother Ramazan (Caner Şahin), who believes a good way of celebrating is by buying him a prostitute. This pretty much sums up the perpetual misunderstanding between the two, who cannot find a way to truly relate to one another.

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Karlovy Vary 2018: ‘Profile’ Excellently Depicts the Dangers of the Internet

This piece is written by our guest writer Redmond Bacon.

We all know that being online is dangerous – with sexual predators, fraudsters, and racists on Twitter always waiting around the corner – but have you ever tried signing up to join ISIS? This is the conceit of Profile, which displays what happens when a journalist is willing to risk absolutely everything for the sake of getting a good story. Told entirely from the screen of a British reporter’s laptop, the resultant movie works both as a great thriller and a thematically rich investigation into the nature of ISIS, reporters, and the dangers of social media.

Amy (Valene Kane) is a journalist researching ISIS recruiters who have been known to find women to join their mission online. They look for Western converts as they are seen as sexually desirable by the death cult, and can be sold as sex slaves for a lot of money. To start with, she makes a new Facebook profile. She aptly names herself Melody Nelson after the famous Serge Gainsbourg song, which is famously about a predatory man seducing a young teenager. After sharing videos of ISIS footage on Facebook, she gets a friend request from a man named Abu Bilel Al-Britani (Shazed Letif). Ostensibly using him to get material for her article, she finds herself getting drawn in further and further, until there is a very real possibility she might head off to Syria herself.

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