Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Life is weird, I keep on writing over and over again about all the movies I watch, following the motto "I review what I rate and I rate what I see"... still, my intent is not to show off my cinematic knowledge (no more or no less impressive than any average movie lover), but to share some thoughts with people who share the same passion.
Isn't that, by the way, the true measure of a passion?
Now, why do I write movie reviews? since I'm not paid for it, since it's not even my central activity, why wasting energy for lengthy texts that a few dozen readers in the best case would read? Well, because I don't believe it's a waste of energy at all ... and actually, I also write about movies because I wish I could work in the movie business. Having graduated in screenwriting and directing, I hope my time will come. If not, this is the closest I can get to my dreams.
According to Woody Allen's ex-girlfriend in Play It Again, Sam (1972), he likes films because he's "one of life's great watchers". To which he retorts: "I'm a doer, I want to participate". Well, as much as I want to participate, to do something, it's not that being one of life's great watchers and share some vets about life through the experience movies and about movies through the experience of life.
I hope some reviews will be insightful for you, convincing enough to discover a film or just enjoyable, and I hope it will simply get you the opportunity to compare your tastes, your appreciations and your dislikes with a fellow movie lover. Please, forgive some language mistakes and take into consideration, I'm not from an English speaking country, I do my best to use the most proper language... but hey, we're only humans.
Have a good read!
Now, how about exploring one of the most defining aspect of his cinematic legacy: quotability. Indeed, Al Pacino is probably one of the most quotable actors of his generation with so many sayings, shouts, warnings, shouts, yells and screams again and last but not least, speeches that forever enriched Pop-Culture.
So, even if you're not a fan of the actor, if you could pick just one, which is your favorite from these 35 Al Pacino's memorable quotes? (one that doesn't come from a speech or a monologue except if it's a conclusion that can be considered a classic quote in its own right?)
Keep your choice close, your vote closer and discuss the poll here
PS: 60% of the list still belongs to his two most legendary roles : 12 quotes from Michael Corleone and 9 from Tony Montana
To overcome Blue Monday and daily morosity in general, which of these cinematic happy-go-lucky optimists and half-full glasses philosophers would most help you to look at the bright side of life?
(the question and answer can be delivered by the same character in one single quote)
The exchange shouldn't exceed four sentences, otherwise we're not talking about quotes but about dialogue, so sorry for the Pulp Fiction (1994) fans but the iconic "What" sequence between Jules and Brett is ineligible for this poll.
Want to discuss it? -It's here my friend."
* FF in the texts ** IMDb exists since 1990
So, from these 12 justice-related films (as in 12 Jurors), ranked in order of IMDb ratings, which one do you plead guilty of liking the most?
Indeed, "MITM" broke many grounds, being one of the first family sitcoms to really set itself apart from the usual clichés and feature a totally unredeemable, dysfunctional family, and get rid (for the first time) of (what used be obligatory) a laugh-track, but I guess most people remember it for being the series that really revived Bryan Cranston's career. Well, if only for that, the series deserves a little tribute.
So, as the title says, were you a fan of "Malcolm in the Middle"?
So, which of these 10 trick to improve your indie film, would you pick? Remember, you have no pretension to make THE film, your masterpiece, or your personal story ... you just want it to be "memorable" enough to launch your career.
Gone Girl (2014)
When the 'weaker' sex is strong enough to play the 'weak' card... and win the game...
Voice-over narration that sounds like post-coital whispers, opening credits the size of an ophthalmology screen, non-linear fuzzy editing "Gone Girl" isn't just a slow starter, it has an irritating tendency to give you the wrong idea. I can say in all frankness that after twenty minutes, I was contemplating the idea of getting to bed and finishing the film at the morning and the 'performance' of Ben Affleck didn't help. But the story grabbed me enough so I could make it as far as the middle section, and then, all the negative vibes were gone.
And not only did I love the film but retrospectively, what I saw as flaws actually made sense and even enhanced the appreciation, and that includes Ben Affleck's performance. We already suspected something was going wrong, quoting Lisa Simpson paraphrasing Churchill, what we had was "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma", if you consider as the "riddle" the little game played by Amy, Rosamund Pike in a gusto performance, consisting on leaving many clues to the Police, and a few incriminating ones in the process to accuse her husband Nick, the mystery about her absence and the enigmatic personality of both Amy and Nick, a couple that had everything to be happy, except the propensity for it. Near the end, Nick's lawyer, played by a scene-stealing Tyler Perry, tells his client that they're the most twisted couple he ever met, that's an understatement.
But this feeling is also the emotional reward after a build-up that needed to be long, to let the viewers make up their own mind, to be suspicious toward Nick who doesn't seem that upset when she shares his feelings with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon), to feel that he's hiding something until you understand why his acting was so subdued. This is a man who obviously doesn't play in the league than his wife, she's an intellectual New-Yorker, an uppity Annie-Hall-like broad without the sweetness, he's your average handsome Joe who wanted to get a girl better than him, that he succeeded was a splendid achievement, but what she saw as a beginning, he saw an ending. She followed him to Missouri and realized that marriage was asking too much in terms of sacrifice and compromises to even indulge to it.
But instead of filing a divorce and getting the hell out, what she did was far worse, but in terms of creative storytelling, far more intelligent. Indeed, there have been stories of vanishing persons in the past but not as twisted and smartly pervert as David Fincher's "Gone Girl". It is twisted almost in the literal sense of the word as there's no plot event to be taken for granted, just when you think this is taking some specific direction, the writers find the right way to derail the plot and increasing your interest. And it is smartly pervert because it highlights some deep and usually repressed aspects of human psyche, to start with the most 'evident' one, giving the film's theme: "haven't we all dreamed to vanish, at least once?". I dare any married people to say they never did.
People get many notions of suicides mixed up because there's no specific word for that, but there should, speaking for my own personal experience (and yes, I was particularly responsive to the film) and from what many friends shared with them, we, humans, do sometimes wish to simply vanish from existence, become someone else and never coming back. It's a way to escape from the burden of the past, the responsibilities, without any harmful self-infliction, a sort of victim-less suicide. "Gone Girl" would have been clever enough to tackle that subject but it goes beyond, this is no victim-less suicide, but a victim-less murder, a woman simulating her disappearance to accuse her husband and earn him a sentence (since this is happening in Missouri). Now, can it get more twisted?
Apparently yes, and I like that, I like that a film is hardcore enough to feature one of the most Machiavellian villains of recent history, in the Amazingly manipulative Amy, but the plot doesn't stop at that. Over the course of her diabolical project, she meets a few obstacles but she always have a trick under her sexy sleeve. And Nick is smartly played by Ben Affleck as the not-so-smart cool easy going guy, who married the wrong girl. It's all about a "He" and a "She" with a "She" too sophisticated, too New York for his Midwestern taste, but he wanted his trophy wife and he had to pay for his treacherous seduction. The thing is that this "He" and "She" don't quite match the general perception of the public and that's how a genius she is. She's strong enough to play the weak card.
She knows it's not just about leaving, it's about leaving marks that clearly accuses the husband, traces of blood, hints of pregnancy, a diary, everything is so neatly elaborate that you wish people could be as organized for benevolent reasons. I don't know if it's a personal fetish from Fincher but his movies have the tendency to feature the most beeped up masterminds, from John Doe to Tyler Durden and even counting "The Game" corporation, the plans are so far-fetched and yet never ruin their effectiveness whatever the effect. But that Amy one is really one of a kind, she looks a darling for feminists, then she's the total antithesis, by using her intelligence and boobs as weapons.
More than ever, our society lies on such polarized perceptions that you can't go beyond what the world wants to see. The woman gets away with everything, which is maybe the way to compensate the blow on feminism it makes, within its own wicked intelligence, it plays fair with the denounced archetypes and I would say about "Gone Girl" what I said about "Indecent Proposal", it's pure subversive brilliance.
L'oeil au beurre noir (1987)
A sadly forgotten gem of the 80's Made-in-France...
A black eye is called in French "eye of black butter" and the word 'butter' sounds exactly the same as the slang for 'Arab'. So, if you translate the title of Serge Meynard's debut film as "The Black Eye", you lose a pleasant and clever satirical pun but that's all that is lost hopefully for the film doesn't lose any ounce of social relevance, not from a foreign perspective, not from a French one of 2017, thirty years after its release. Like many 'social' comedies, the film encompasses the struggle of minorities to get a share of the French 'dream', if you can call it a 'dream' in the mid-80's that were a sort of Nixon era in France, disillusion-wise.
But don't get it the wrong way either, if this is a film that deals with racism, it focuses on one of its less benign forms, one that prevailed before September 11 and the suburbs' riots created definite shifts into French society. The film not only works on stereotypes and perceptions from one community to another but plays with them with tactful fun, the so-called "racism" is only based on suspicion, bigotry and prejudices that are instantly forgiven because they make you laugh. Take one scene where a big Arab family (a "smala" as they say) visits a white upper-class mansion, the host politely points out how numerous they are, to which the father retorts that the little one couldn't come but the big baby-sitting. Later when she unpacks the box cake, she marvels at the sight of a giant 'luqum', we call it a Rum Baba, the Arab mother says.
The intelligence in the humor is that, while it criticizes the way White people are prejudiced against minorities because of some vivid clichés, it mostly points out the failures to communicate ensuing from minor cultural gaps, and it doesn't sugarcoat the stereotypical behavior of the minorities either, or at least their entourage. The two protagonists are rather straight guys, and not influenced by their origins, they speak French very well, they work, they try to fit into society, there's Rachid, the Arab, played by Smaïn and the black man Denis, played by Pascal Legitimus, the third reel of the Unknowns trio. The two men weren't born yesterday, but while Denis is a young and idealistic painter coming from the West Indies, he didn't really grabbed the gravity of the situation, while Rachid had already developed "Rachid System", a version of 'System D'.
System D is a notion deeply rooted in French, the D referring to the slang word "Débrouille" meaning resourcefulness, like during the German Occupation: doing your best with what you've got at hands. French did that when Germans occupied them, Arabs and Blacks when they "occupied" France, fair trade. Fair trade but not the fairest methods; Rachid pushes the concept beyond some ethical appreciations as if the end justified the means, the end being getting the blonde girl in your bed. With the help of his two (white) friends, a big and small guy, conveniently named George and Junior (played by Patrick Braoudé and Jean-Paul Lillenfeld), he makes them fake aggression only to save the girl and get her in the bed. The way they always get more than the expected kicks despite the efforts is one of the film's most delightful running gags.
"An Arab saving a girl from two white guys, the world's gone crazy", is Rachid's conversation starter but the funny thing is that he indirectly nourishes the stereotype of the sneaky and treacherous Arab from our point of view, indeed there's not one community that doesn't get its little slap in the face. But all the stereotypes that involve Blacks, Muslims and French are all dealt with lighthearted and satirical tone, the merit of the script (co-written with Braoudé) is to keep a fair balance, it doesn't speak against racism as much as it explores the struggle of minorities to get a flat or an apartment although they can provide it. A similar story could be made today about people looking for jobs today, it's all about trying to overcome that barrier of suspicion and resentment.But the film isn't just social commentary.
To thicken the plot, there's the character of Virginie (Julie Jezquel) who belongs to a bourgeois uptight family but is clearly more open-minded than her mother (Dominique Lavanant) and her stepfather (Martin Lamotte), two bigots played with charm and even a little something that invites for empathy, even the stepfather, as prejudiced as he is, can't help flirting with a girl dating a Black stud and even his tenderness with his stepdaughter is rather ambiguous. Things get also tricky between Rachid and Denis as they both fall in love with Virginie. It could have been a plot contrivance but it's not, it allows Rachid to be more motivated to help Denis and prevent him from becoming her roommate, it looks and smells like solidarity, but it's still "Rachid" system.
There's like a fresh air of hypocrisy all through the film, and everyone is part of it, there's a moment where George and Junior lamentably disguise as respectable marketing agents to buy an apartment but the stepfather is surprisingly patient and receptive as if not all the prejudices were negative. Under the directing of Serge Meynard (who won the César for best debut) it never confines into cynicism but in a funny, warm comedy and with a satirical wisdom of its own, concluding with the perfect little twist, or call it a punch line, that sums up the honesty about the film. The prejudices aren't meant to turn one community against another but to make us laugh.
Unfortunately, it didn't have the success it deserved, while it's better than many junk movies that grab viewers by the millions and play the 'community' card in a more attention-seeking flag-brandishing way. "The Black Eye" never preaches but it makes you think a lot, and laugh even more.
La chienne (1931)
Putting the 'Noir' in "Renoir"
The film opens with Guignol theater à la "Punch and Judy", the first hand-puppet presents a tale of social relevance, the second interrupts him by stating that this is a story making a moral statement about men's behavior but they're all contradicted by the third one, the master of ceremonies who insists that there's no hero, no villain in this story, it's just a sordid "love" triangle involving a "He", a "She" and "The Other Guy": a streetwalker named Lulu (Janie Marese), her boyfriend-pimp Dédé (George Flamand) and Maurice Legrand, the sucker, played by Michel Simon. What a gallery painted in black and white and infinite shades of human complexity by the great Jean Renoir, son of painter and impressionist pioneer Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Maybe like his father, Renoir cared more for 'impressions' than actual realities, there are no villains not because they don't exist but because the perception is so fuzzy in the first place and the roles are switched as the plot moves forward, Legrand is a meek bookkeeper and Sunday painter of intellectual superiority but mocked by his peers and constantly bullied by his wife, a nagging and controlling shrew reminding him everyday that he's not the soldier hero her late husband was. Legrand has surrendered to mediocrity until he fell in love with Lulu, a light of hope. He took her as a muse while she was a leech, sucking out his love, dignity and money for her domineering pimp. Not personal but strictly business, unless by 'personal' we mean that she did it because she loved Dédé. That everyone is driven either by money or lust foreshadows the dark shortcomings of the film, the notion that everything has a price, and they'll all pay for their actions.
But again, there's no morale. This is just entertainment, a story starting upon the little theater of Paris, like so many others, we're not here to judge anyone but to witness the flow of events that will cause many people to act one against another acting according to their inclination toward greed and lust. This is the year 1931 and while not a revolutionary story, under the confident directing of Jean Renoir, you come to question why it is Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" that is regarded as such a revolutionary film, even Welles would give Renoir the credit he deserves. The French director emphasized that "noir" syllabus in his name, with a main character who's resigned to a life of relative weakness to such a point it could almost pass as courage or wisdom, and that strength could only be expressed in awkward and disastrous ways.
Played by Janie Merese, Lulu is the pioneering femme fatale, a speaking version of the Woman from the City in Murnau's "Sunrise". But Renoir, almost defensively, claimed that all he wanted to do was to explore a film about a Parisian streetwalker, a job as respectable as any other because he was always fascinated by prostitutes, in a sort of naturalistic move à la Zola. And he also wanted a vehicle for Michel Simon who was then the rising star of French cinema. By making "The Bitch", he struck the two birds with the same stone and made a masterpiece for the ages, that would later be adapted by Fritz Lang in "Scarlett Street" with Edward G. Robinson.
But while Lang accentuated the pathos, Renoir conceals the darkness and keeps a certain distance toward the characters, as if he didn't want to overplay the feelings, there's not much pathos in the film, there's even a fair share of comedic moments, as if the whole thing was just tale of tragicomic intensity. He knew the acting of Michel Simon would carry enough emotions not to insist upon them and for his first major talking film, he wanted enough material to explore the actor's versatility. It is ironic that their following would explore the other side of the coin. Indeed, as Boudu, he'll play a larger than life positive man who rises above his modest condition, because he's just too self-confident.That's the power of Michel Simon who defines the most extreme sides of Cinema and can take you from pathetic to sympathetic in a blink of his deformed eyes.
I must admit I enjoyed Boudu a little more maybe because Cinema, for his spectacular debut needed such larger-than-life characterizations, of histrionic waves but "The Bitch" is a superior film, technically and visually. Maybe it is too dark and modern for its own good, no matter how hard Renoir tries to tone it down. Or maybe the knowledge of the tragedy that surrounded the film created an unpleasant bias. Janie Marese died the night of the, in a car accident. In real life, Simon loved the actress who loved Flamand, as lousy a driver as a boyfriend in the film, he wanted to drive his first car and impress his sweetheart, talk about reality being stranger and uglier than fiction.
Michel Simon later fainted in the actress' funeral, threatening to kill Renoir because he killed her. That's how much passion was injected in the film, the people were liars but they were sincere.What a tragic irony that fate revealed itself as ugly and twisted and wicked as the story, working like an antidote against criticism. These things happen and life came to the rescue and give it a taste of tragic credibility, besides cinematic prestige.
Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932)
A Poetic Hymn to Cheerful Vulgarity
In 1931, "City Lights" defied the talkies and proved that the world didn't needs words when you had stories, faces and an iconic tramp. Yet another tramp has emerged the same year and became one of the most emblematic and popular figures of French cinema: his name was Boudu and he was played by the incomparable Michel Simon.
Michel Simon was, like they say in French, a 'gueule', the word, usually referring to an animal's mouth, means a mug, an ugly or intimidating one, nothing really pleasant to look at anyway. But in French Cinema, the word has become a 'term of endearment' describing a face exuding a natural charisma whether. So if Norma Desmonds said, "we had faces," a French nostalgic movie lover would say, "we had some 'gueules' and he would be damn right And Michel Simon was the ultimate 'face'.. But while Desmond insisted on faces as a compensation for the lack of speaking, what a waste it would have had to never hear Simon talking. His voice was as unique as his face because it always reflected his ambiguous mix of vulnerability and confidence, immortalized in "Port of Shadows" with that quote: "better to have my face than no face at all". So, with such a bizarre looks and an expansive physique, Simon was born to play ambiguous men, either tragic or comic, but never comical in terms of belly laughs and never tragic in the heroic sense, he wasn't a Gabin and Fernandel, he was perhaps their missing link.
Simon wasn't born to define a genre, which is why he was the most complete and emblematic actor of his generation. A larger-than-life man who was hiding behind his teddy-bear appearance a big heart, just looking at his reunion with Renoir and you could see the tenderness fusing between these two men.And how couldn't they? Together, they wrote some of the first pages of French cinema and struck big with "La Chienne" in 1931 and one year later, in a more lighthearted tone, they made the story of "Boudu Saved from Drowning", a title that came to usual language and became a synonym of rebirth, although things don't go as planned as Boudu, much to the viewers' delight.
Boudu is as gruff, vulgar and crass as his name suggests but he's got a poetic soul, he's got style and character. He's a proud hobo spotting a shaggy-hippie-like beard, he's an anarchist, he's not scared of cops, he doesn't like getting a paper bill he didn't ask for and he likes to sing colorful songs, he would be an interesting mix between the Tramp, Quint and an Easy Rider, a monument of rebellious unpredictability. And this is the perfect note to play him because if Boudu was more inclined to pathos, and was eager to prove his gratitude to the man who saved him from drowning, there would be no story. But Boudu is that he's an ungrateful prick and that's why we love him.
When Boudu, desperate to find his black dog, jumps from Point des Arts and plunges his large body into the Seine, he's saved by a librarian named Lestinguois (Charles Grandval), a middle-aged liberal, with a devoted wife (Marcelle Hainia) and a naive and lusty servant he's having an affair with. But he's an intellectual and a humanist who walks the walk (and swims the swim) and after saving Boudu, he's developing a liking and keeps him at home, thinking there would be no point in saving him to let him go try another suicide attempt.The relationship between the men is interesting, Boudu recognizes his value as a good man and uses his patience as a shield to be more insolent and hostile toward his wife without it backfiring.
And it works, he knows because he's a bum, things will be forgiven more easily. Boudu is like a free electron that doesn't have the book smarts (hell, he spits on Balzac's book) but knows human nature more profoundly than any other humanist. The film is a splendidly executed confrontation between two schools of thought and behavior where Boudu's rude and dirty manners and dirty habits indirectly highlights the ugly hypocrisy of his host's attitude with his wife. Of course, it's less a social statement that Renoir is making than a little comedy showing that just because you're poor, you can keep your pride and behave like one, and maybe teach one thing or two to the rich one.
Once we understand, that it's Boudu who actually makes the rules in the house and manages to get what he wants, we're transported by the innocent poetry of the film and the idea that sometimes, it's the Boudus of the world that are happy, people who embrace the inner unpredictability of life and take risks. Boudu goes as far as trying to seduce the so cold and reluctant wife, but the outcome reveals a truth about that hidden lust for depravity and vulgarity, something that feels so modern by our own standards, let alone the 30's. Boudu is free, he's a man who doesn't think of the consequences and only for that, things turn out better than what the wise men build on patience and respectability. The best edifices are those built without the fear that they can collapse at any time.
The film wanders between life and fantasy and tries to find the right note to end it, and it does find it, because it is obvious Boudu shouldn't be saved in order to die either, but he must be happy
not as we mean happiness but within his own vision of happiness, that's how we can be happy for him, the fact that we are, at the end, happy for him is a proof, that Renoir and Simon knew his audience and how to surprise them, and how to warm them.
"Real frontiers are within us, and they're the most dangerous ones"
... said Alejandro Inarritu while contemplating the wall between America and Mexico and the human flows circulating from one side to other, legally or not yet all the borders in the world wouldn't amount to a hill of beans if people decided to sit and talk, to take time to understand each other. To quote another director, it was Jean Renoir who thought-provokingly said during a friendly chat with actor Michel Simon that laziness was underrated, because civilized people, rather than acting, preferred talking and make the world a better place, with words as a first step.
And this is how "Babel", as magnificent a title as it is, is misleading; the Biblical episode symbolized the human hubris and its divine punishment: dividing people by languages. However, those who populate the film are ready to overcome these barriers, out of fraternal impulses, curiosity and sometimes, necessity. This hymn for universality is even more powerful because it doesn't ignore the specificity of the ground it walks on, whether Moroccan mountains, the urbane belly of a Japanese metropolis or a small Mexican town across the desert, Inarritu explores each identity, each form of expression, not to say that we're all the same, but so we gather the certitude of our own differences before concluding that we're still the same after all.
There comes a point in "Babel" where we stop seeing the children of a goat shepherd, or the deaf daughter of a Japanese businessman (Rinko Kikuchi) or two big stars playing American tourists (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) or a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barraza) taking her employers' children to her son's wedding. Indeed, we stop labeling them from their origins, we only see two brothers victim of childish temptations, the tragedy of three fathers, deafness as a convenient alibi while there's more to make communication difficult. We see a woman who worked hard all her life and decided to please herself just for once and compromising everything she built, and we see a couple trying to find to overcome a marital crisis before Karma intervenes through an accidental bullet.
Yes, there's a moment where we embrace the poetry of Inarritu, the realization that the air we breathe is the same, the way we break down after seeing a loved one bleeding to death, the way our pain can be either silent or tearful, the way we gaze at the sky with the same amazement, the way we're all humans there's a moment where the Mexican woman, after wandering for hours in the middle of the desert, sees a car and starts running, hysterically shouting, she doesn't scream in Mexican, she's just letting her heart vent the last gasps of desperate energy. The film is full of countless moments where to identify the existence of a universal language: we all nod and shake our head the same, and sometimes, a foreigner is closer than a compatriot. Actually, many tragedies in the film occur because of secrets, silences and misunderstandings within the same culture.
Another marvel of Hyperlink Cinema, "Babel" doesn't rely on a complex non-linear storytelling where you only get everything at the end, the stories are simple and could have made powerful dramas in their own right, but they all converge toward the same recognition of universality. It's a powerful journey into our own humanity, a movie one should watch before stating that there are some countries deserving to be invaded. The day, there'll be "Babel" about North Korea or Iran, maybe people will start to act reasonably. Because like for human relationships, sometimes, more than love, more than respect, understanding is the key element, understanding someone is like learning empathy. You can't bomb a country if you're empathetic, you can't make a terrorist attack either. I called the film universal, it's more than that: it's humanist and it's essential.
And after watching it, I wanted to know more about the project, convinced that the finished result was as fascinating as the journey that made it. And yes, the making-of provided many additional elements to understand the complexity of human language, that could have made a great sequel to the film. There were three moments that stood out and they were set in my country, I loved that Inarritu was surprised to learn that one of the Moroccan extra (playing the old lady) didn't understand one word in Arabic, and they needed a Berber interpret, putting the Palestinian interpret in a tricky situation. Later, during a shootout, I saw the female interpret being upset and I knew it was reminding her of some memories. I didn't need explanation, her eyes said it all. Finally, during a rain, Moroccan crew men were singing under an umbrella and one of the assistants asked them if it was a song to stop the rain, they nodded and kept laughing. It was just a pop song from the 70's, well sometimes; we're entitled to our little private jokes.
Because languages aren't only here to separate us, they reinforce us within a group and allow us to be best prepared to talk to the others, there's no "other" without a strong identity, and the efforts to overcome the languages also allow you to better understand the people, it's all about universal understanding but not at the expense of human diversity. Inarritu must have had troubles with Moroccan language but when he embraced the two kids at the end of the shooting, he didn't need any word to understand their grief, and didn't find any to console them. Understanding, emotion and pain . that image, both sad and beautiful, spoke a thousand words.
Inarritu made a timeless and universal movie, establishing Cinema as an art-form that transcended the barriers of languages and culture. Maybe more than ever, we need movies like "Babel". If the Academy wasn't busy giving a sympathy Oscar for Scorsese, they would have acknowledged the cinematic importance of "Babel" and its incomparable beauty.
There's no business like drug business...
As far as drugs are concerned, every wheel of the machinery gets a shot (no pun intended) users, enforcers, wholesalers, politicians and of course, traffickers, the whole trade has no secrets for you when you finish Steven Soderbergh's Best Picture nominee "Traffic", a Harvard-like school case proving that every business has a specific functioning, and drugs, let's not kid ourselves, is a business.
Two comments before getting back to the film; Soderbergh had the privilege of being one of the few directors with two Best Picture nominees the same year, but I wasn't impressed by "Erin Brockovich" where Julia Roberts played the underdog crusader in the exact cinematic way that could have ruined "Traffic". Secondly, the film was made the same year than another anti-drug movie: "Requiem For a Dream", the two movies complete each other very well, and would have made a better pair of co-nominees; parenthesis closed.
"Traffic" uses a narrative structure popularized by Robert Altman with "Nashville" (and later "Short Cuts") and Fellini with his "Amarcord", the term was coined as "'Hyperlink Cinema" and it defined movies made of different interlocking stories, with no apparent connection, until they all finally converge toward a final realization of informational or existential value. This storytelling method has been popularized by Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson but "Traffic" is less a "Magnolia" meets "Requiem for a Dream" than the true consecration of a form of storytelling, paving the way to many socially-loaded documentary-like dramas like "City of God", "Syriana", "Crash" and "Babel".
"Traffic" is a product of a new time where Internet had emphasized our capacity to process brief, impacting and flashy information at the same time, sometimes at the expense of understanding but most commonly, for the sake of objectivity as today's audiences are less inclined to believe anything shown from one perspective and even in the case of drugs, we need the big picture. And what "Traffic" does is reconciling a new positive mindset with big-scope storytelling, showing how the titular word is handled by Mexican law enforcers, one of them is Rodriguez, played by Benicio Del Toro in his Oscar-winning role, and American cops played by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman.
Many things happen that don't seem to have a connection, but we suspect they are many pieces of jigsaw puzzle. Halfway through the film, we learn that General Salazar (Terri Millian) is fighting the Tijuana cartel lead by the Obregon brothers and get them through the testimony of a local hit man. The Miguel Ferrer character, previously arrested by the American cop, accepts, in exchange for immunity, to give his boss, a civilized 'Tony Montana' played by his sidekick (Steven Bauer). The life of his socialite wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) all falls apart and she receives threats against her son and must find a solution to live up to her imprisoned husband's contract, going against the usual trend of drugs movies that reflect the way it affects impoverished lives, driving people into the corners of dealing and prostitution (and "Traffic" is no exception).
Speaking of the rich, the core of the story is Michael Douglas as Robert Wakefield, appointed as a head the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy against drugs, ignoring that his daughter, a honor student played by Erika Christensen is a drug addict. This story-line is the actual link with "Requiem for a Dream" and it's essential to have the health effect, but not for the reasons that you'd think. Indeed, if the film was a mere denunciation, it would have fallen in the preachy trap. "Traffic" doesn't much denounce drugs than the uselessness of a crusade that actually harms more than it solves, the film pinpoints some aspects that can easily get overlooked in movies where you get your usual bullet-ridden hell storm and you forget that they don't call this organized crime for nothing. It is organized in the scenes that there are prices involved, the higher the danger, the more likely the bloodshed, but echoing a line from "The Godfather", blood is expensive.
For all the stakes involved, the bottom prices are so accessible everyone makes hell of benefits, it's a profitable business no matter what and while drugs kill, war on drugs kills even more. Is it the lesser of two evils? Well, this is what Wakefield realizes. At first, he starts like your spear-raising crusader who lamentably fails when trying to display the same attitude toward his daughter, it's only until he follows her total descent into prostitution and when discovering the reasons his so-called partner in cause, Salazar, was fighting with such zeal the Tijuana cartel (and not the Juarez) that he realizes maybe corruption is so deeply rooted in humanity that crime will always prevail. When asked about the junkies, Salazar answers laconically, we wait till they die. Behind the cynicism the real point is that drugs victims aren't part of the equation, the point is not to have 'more' victims. In a way, it's like tobacco and alcohol.
The film seems to end on a bleak and cynical note but it's actually more positive, because what it says is that you can solve the problem from the start (preventing kids from consuming) and the bottom (health program for addicted). The light of hope is shown through the slow recovery of Wakefield's daughter and a gesture from Rodriguez that says more than any political speech and is more efficient than any war. As a matter of fact, you could make a similar film about the so-called "War on Terror' that made probably more victims than the terror it was fighting.
But who could see any premonition of September 11 aftermath in "Traffic"? Maybe I'm reading too much myself but that's how great "Traffic" is, it's relevant even outside the context of drugs.
Emotionally Volatile and Bizarre Masterpiece...
Either "Birdman" is too simple but tries to make its nervous directing and real-time editing pass for intellectual complexity or if it really flies over these considerations with the insolent confidence of a real birdman. Well, I'm not sure the film is as original as it intended to be, but the treatment is one of a kind and maybe one of these cases where the form and the content redeem each other and contribute to one of these puzzling experiences that look too good not to be intentionally made to impress you, yet the result is so efficient that you almost feel guilty to fall for it.
Again, Inarritu displays some infuriating wizardry, using long takes and transitions from scene to scene, that are nonexistent so that in the end, you have the confusing impression to have endured in less than two hours, a dizzying and mind-bending three-day journey swinging between arguments, confessions, improvisations, outbursts of anger, passions, feelings, reconciliations etc. It is noisy, talkative, the drum beats popping up here and there highlight the torments that can invade an individual's mind like so many hits in the head, but, say what you want about "Birdman", the movie is alive and full of characters with a purpose that goes beyond the simple story-line. Well theoretically, they're all present for the release of an adaptation of Raymond Carver's play, but they're also free electrons moved by their own instinct, pasts and personal issues.
They all have a particular endeavor and they're all tormented enough to pull the blanket in their side when they feel the need. The result is confusing but somewhat exhilarating and that everyone stays dedicated to the play allows the film to keep its common thread, so this mess has a reason to be, and to happen. And there's the central pillar, Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson: the has-been star. Riggan is an alter-ego of Keaton that fools no one, Keaton ensured the transition between the 80's and 90's with his portrayal of Batman, but only to sink into relative oblivion after Burton's "Batman" movies have been relegated to the status of their corny 60's counterpart by Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale. This is not just Riggan but Keaton's comeback and the similarities are so vivid that the performance was probably harder, because it really takes courage to laugh at yourself.
Thankfully, the film isn't devoid from a sense of humor in its constant meta-referential take on showbiz; even actors find the strength to laugh at themselves, like Edward Norton playing Mike Shiner, a very difficult and volatile method actor who's a ticking bomb of unpredictability. Besides Mike Shiner, there's Riggan's daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) who just came from rehab and tries to rebuild her relationship with her Dad, there's his ex-wife (Amy Ryan), a Broadway debutante (Naomi Watts) and the manager (Zach Galifianakis), all these people gravitate around Riggan, who's like the ringmaster and the player of his own bizarre show, trying to find himself while he's not even sure to be worth whatever his conception is, constantly invaded by the voice of "Birdman", like a phoenix awaiting to resurrect from the ashes of the past. The conflict is between Riggan's past and future and structures the film's present made of an attempt to conquer pride and self-esteem.
And it's quite impressive that, in this existential swirl, the film had time to make parallels between Riggan's struggles and the obsessions of going viral, dictated by society and affecting the youth. Speaking of celebrities, there is an important scene, Riggan meets respected critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) who's like a theater 'Pauline Kael', she doesn't take him as an actor but a celebrity, a media phenomenon, a fraud who tries to steal some prestige, he tells her that all she does is labeling things, giving sterile epithets to hide out the fact that she didn't nothing in her life, they're both part of the same hypocrisy but no one deserves resentment who tries at least to stake his life and do something about it, any Youtube commentator could get a taste of Riggan's rant. Yet these comments are relevant because everyone seeks approval and popularity.
I guess what "Birdman" shows is that we're all driven by opposite forces, one that tells you what you're really worth, or that you're a God, or a bum, it's all about perceived, real and felt value, and how we can express any of them. The film is an eye-opening experience about people's inner needs to be accepted, but it's more about reaching the kind of state where a man can master his being and control himself in order to accomplish what he feels he's meant to do. Maybe unconsciously, but it borrows a lot from another stage-themed film about aging, John Cassavetes' underrated "Opening Night" where Gena Rowlands played a character in conflict with her self-perception and yet wanted to make her performance worthwhile for the audience as if the people in the theater were the incarnation of life. There might that idea that there's something in theater that encompasses life, as there are many moments where the line between reality and fantasy gets confusingly thin..
Were these bits pretentious? Well, I don't think one's work wouldn't reflect part of his ego and maybe what we take from pretentiousness is the strong presence of a man's personal vision in his work. In that case, this is a real masterwork, and a dazzling drum-beat driven journey that feels like a good companion to "Whiplash", a co-nominee of the same year. "Birdman" took the Oscar home, maybe because it wasn't as linear as "Whiplash", it tried to go beyond the limits of imagination, or because it fooled the Academy, but maybe the talent it takes to fool the audience deserves an Oscar after all, maybe, it's all about fooling people
as long as you don't make them look like fools.
French Cinema's First Words... With an Accent...
1931 was quite a year for movies, while the talkies started in the late 20's with "The Jazz Singer", it's only in 1931 that directors found better than fluffy Broadway comedies to reach the audiences and made the first classic talking pictures, from seminal gangster movies "Little Caesar" and "The Public Enemy" to horror landmarks "Dracula" and "Frankenstein", each films providing iconic moments and, for the first time, immortal quotes, establishing in the most complete way the different aspects of cinema's appeal: characters, visuals, special effects but also an art-form of the verb. Edward G. Robinson would be one of the first voices with a specific intonation and accent and inevitably, the first to ever be parodied and remembered, see?
And in France, it's only fair that one of the first voices to ever "grace" the screen (so to speak) and to also be imitated would have the singing intonation of that French Provence accent, the Mediterranean South with that "Little Italy" touch, where people display a temperament of histrionic bad faith but ultimately pride and a heart, as big as forty 'Cannebières', all contained in the magnificent baritone voice of Jules Muraire aka Raimu aka César, the bartender of Marseilles. It is very interesting that the film is most remembered for the scene where he plays a French version of pinochle with his friends and to lure his teammate Captain Felix Escaterfigue (Paul Dullac) to play the "heart", he keeps repeating "you break my heart" and it only gets hilarious because the guy can't figure what he means, until it becomes apparent. And in the most childish way, César acts offended when he's finally accused by Panisse (Honoré Chapin) who wasn't the brightest bulb either.
That's what Alexandre Korda's "Marius" is about actually, heart and playing, or cheating, every French people remember the line "You're breaking my heart", and repeats it with the same accent as one would quote Arnie with Austrian robotic tone, but it takes the viewing of "Marius" to see how emblematic to the story this scene is: the film is about people in love, it is a romance, a love triangle between three characters who know as much about love as they know about themselves, and that's exactly what either drives or undermines their momentum. Young César's son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) is in love with little seashell merchant Fanny (Orane Demazis) and daughter of fish store owner Honorine (Alida Rouffe) but after years of wandering in Marseilles' streets and watching ships sailing to the seven seas, the call of the sea got louder and louder.
And there's Panisse who's a widow in his fifties and can only offer his money, he's respectful enough to Fanny that he takes his time to court her, makes no lies about his intention and even approaches her mother Honorine; in the process, he also makes a rival out of young and impetuous Marius. Fanny is torn between a young man she loves but conveniently never admitted her love and one proposes a marriage of convenience. And in the middle of this conflict, César is the (not so) passive observer, acting more like a Greek chorus to a tragicomedy full of such larger-than-life characters that even this two-hour movie couldn't sustain it. That's the power of Pagnol's characters, they didn't wait for the film to begin to be fully developed, the film didn't need any exposition, the characters are here, and when the movie finishes, we're looking forward to the sequel "Fanny".
A few people can create a world that feels realer than the real world, and with a slice of Provence's life, Pagnol made a real "Human Comedy" à la Balzac that would forever enchant French culture and lead to the two-parters "Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring" and "My Father's Glory / My Mother's Castle". But let's get back to the one that started them all: there's a lot to say about "Marius", it provides the first sound to ever reach the hearts and screens of people, the visual quality gets blurry at time, but this is a movie, as complete and professional as any creation and with a little screeching sound that almost resonates like the grasshoppers of the countryside. "Marius" carried the word 'iconic' because of the accent, the landscape but more than anything, the performance of Raimu as César, whom Orson Welles called the "greatest actor alive", and seriously, I've rarely seen such natural and modern performances, in an "old" movie.
It takes you to know French or have subtitles to appreciate the film but even without understanding a word, you can see how authentic everything is. The film is adapted from a successful play, but it doesn't feel theatrical at all, unless you consider the theatrical tantrums of these Mediterranean fellows. Indeed, it brings France to the talkies' era without needing a genre: no horror, no gangster, just a simple but high drama about life and decisions to take. The climax is the culmination of such torments. We are used to see people who must make a choice between heart and reason, but for the first time, we also have the choice of instinct, and the center of the choice if "Marius" who must think of his love for Fanny, her reputation and his all-time dreams. The conflict is so tense that we can even feel the smell of the sea.
Right again, a very specific story with very specific characters but one of universal implication like Marcel Pagnol knows how to craft, and how fitting that the man born the same year than Cinema would contribute to the film that marked the birth of French Cinema. Of course, I mean modern cinema because Cinema was born French already and the first film was the famous train arriving at La Ciotat not far from Pagnol's hometown Aubagne or from Marseilles, the setting (and heart) of the Provence trilogy.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Alan Turing: saved millions of lives through artificial intelligence, and killed by human stupidity...
World War II wasn't won on the battlefields but on the field of intelligence as information was the nerve of the war to the point the Allies not only needed German information but to let false ones leak from "spies" or arrests in order to mislead the Axis. Secret as well as human intelligence were involved but WWII allowed a third form of intelligence to rise.
When Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is applying to a job in Bletchey Park, things don't go as well as expected, his commander Denniston (Charles Dance) opens the door, ready to throw this cocky self-absorbed prick away, Turing utters one word: Enigma, and Denniston closes the door. And I was enthralled already by the premise because Enigma was probably the only name I remembered from a 2000's documentary series about how the world war was (really won) and I knew Enigma was beaten by the ancestor of our modern computers.
I'm a math buff and a real nerd who loves crosswords and plays on words, so I could relate to Turing who took Enigma as an intellectual challenge, on which millions of lives were pending. The Germans had made a machine that could encrypt codes made of complex and apparently random sequences of letters and with a new coding system each day, which makes a combination of billions and billions of possibilities to work on every day and after midnight, having to get back from scratch, over and over again. Even by hiring people working on different codes without stopping, day and night, the amount of time required to break the codes would be counted in millenniums.
Alan Turing leads team that includes a champion chess player Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and later, a crossword prodigy Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), but only he knew it would more than human minds to break Enigma, his project was to create an artificial intelligence, a universal machine to do the job at faster speed than human brain, imitating our brains process, our maybe improving them. The film chronicles the process that allowed him to get to decrypt the code and while it works on the thriller level, there's more to appreciate, "The Imitation Game" is not just a study on math and information but on fascinating man who finally gets his long overdue recognition.
While striking as an individualistic snob, Alan Turing gets progressively more complex as we get hints of his past experiences with bullying and a growing childhood romance that leaves no doubt about Turing's sexuality. In fact, it is very fascinating that his passion for cryptography came from the 'I love you' messages he sent to his friend, as if math wasn't just a passion, but an area of total freedom, a mirror of personal truth where he could express himself to the fullest. He had made math his own world, but only with the value of team-working, he could overcome the obstacles, including the patronizingly antagonistic attitude of Denniston.
But I didn't care much for these 'dramatic' bits that, while not unbelievable, were not worthy of such a complex personality, I doubt that Denniston could really order to destroy the machine or if he submitted that deadline. The film also suffers from similarly doubtful moments: I couldn't believe Joan Clarke wouldn't want to join the team, I mean didn't a MI6 official tell them that they were serving the country? She was just contemptibly dismissed by a nosy clerk who took her for a secretary and now, she wouldn't take part to a project because her parents thought it wasn't correct? The film didn't need these moments, Turing's story was enough good material.
I must admit I was first perplex about the part involving his sexuality but it became apparent that this was a part of Turing's life that couldn't be overlooked because it highlighted the tragedy of a man who saved millions of peoples' lives but never got the credit he deserved, on the contrary, he faced a public indignity because of a sexual scandal, which indirectly lead him to suicide. That a man who saved people, who should be seen as a benefactor of humanity, had his legacy ignored for years made me realize two things: math are too abstract and people believe what they see, virtually, Turning saved people but no one could materialize it, to measure up the glory of his work.
There's a magnificent moment where the code is broken and when his friend is ready to jump at a phone and prevent a ship bombing, Turing stops him. If they change the course of the war right now, Nazis will immediately cancel Enigma and annihilate their years of research. That's a subtlety that is extremely hard to accept, sacrificing thousands of people, to save millions, or to shorten the war, one could say that Turing let British people die, but maybe this act itself has saved millions others. But human intelligence is too blind to see it, what a tragic irony that the man who saved millions of people with artificial intelligence was sacrificed on the altar of human stupidity.
But the film at least respect our intelligence and says a lot without words, two standout moments I got at the first viewing: Alan tells Joan about the machine's name, Christopher, something is odd and she doesn't mention it, and yes, it took me a few seconds to realize that I expected a woman's name. And that was a brilliant hint of Alan's homosexuality before the revelation. A second moment is when he's in London train station with Joan and mothers and soldiers stare at him with disdain, he's obviously seen like a coward. How ironic that they'll never know this man is as heroic as them.
"The Imitation Game" is an imperfect film but from the subject it handles and its importance, it is as highly recommendable as if it was a masterpiece.
Manon des sources (1986)
Water has a taste after all... the Taste of Vengeance...
In my previous review of "Jean de Florette", I mentioned the movie "Chinatown". Well, there's a moment in "Manon of the Spring" where a city council is reunited to discuss the emergency of the recent shortage of water and through the anger and desperate frustration displayed by the farmers, I was reminded of the scene where Nicholson was amusingly looking at the sheep invading the L.A council and farmers protested about the absence of water. Watching Berri's movies before "Chinatown" would be recommended if only to give you the idea of how water is precious which makes Manon's vengeance even more delicious.
Indeed, I expected the beautiful Emmanuelle Béart as the titular goat shepherdess to avenge the death of her father, whose hard work and gentleness was destroyed by the cruel stratagem of an evil Noah-Cross like old man constantly hiding behind the trees while his nephew was doing the dirty job, I got the taste of that vengeance but I didn't expect it to be as emotionally rewarding as what the final act had to offer. This is not just a credit to Marcel Pagnol, the author but of Claude Berri, the storyteller, who trusts enough his material not to try to make it more spectacular than what it is. When you have a good story, there's no need for artifices.
After watching the first opus, Ugolin (Daniel Auteuil) and César (Yves Montand) were all familiar faces, we know the extremes they reached to get the land and grow their carnation, the film opens with these flowers as red as the blood it cost to make that miraculous little possible. But for César, the land was worth a life, because Jean wasn't his blood, he was an outsider. As simple as that, and when the film opens, he approaches his nephew with the same question that in the first film's opening, he tells him it's time to think of having children, it's like a sort of "now, where were we?", after having plotting to the point of death, let's think of life a little.
César explains that the Soubeyrans have worked hard enough to make money, the lineage must go on to make sure there's always a heir, without one, even land loses its value, Jean's death becomes pointless. But we know we're in a Greek tragedy format so no evil can be redeemed and when Ugolin crosses the path of Manon and instantly falls in love with her, he doesn't know It yet, but the punishment has started. Convinced that she doesn't know about their secret, he starts a courting session, harboring a ridiculous hunter's outfit to impress her and in one of the movies' most powerful scenes, starts a small smooth talk that escalates (literally) through a chase and where, finally, out of breath, he ends up declaring his flame, as he has nothing else to provide, except his good fortune.
We have a taste of Karma with this infatuation but the best is yet to come when Manon accidentally eavesdrop a discussion between two villagers who admit that they knew about the spring and didn't help Jean because it was none of their business, and later, she discovers the spring that feeds all the village and stops it, not only Ugolin and his flowers, but the whole town is punished by Manon. That will be their business after all. And when Ugolin takes his mule to go fetch the water, and is obviously exhausted by the heavy barrels, we think of Jean who went through the same nightmare, when all it took was to have a few words. Whoever killed by the water will perish by the water; this is a great tale of vengeance not because the culprits are punished but because they're punished the right way.
The performances of the actors are integral to the film's success, Emmanuelle Béart says a lot without speaking, her eyes are like repressing all the feelings until the final implosion held behind her blond, fiery, almost leonine hair, Auteuil as Ugolin gives a dimension of pathos that goes beyond his ungrateful looks and becomes the collateral but acceptable victim of his uncle's malice. But the best is still from Montand, who as the patriarch, looks like a stubborn man still recluse behind the fortress of his own vileness until a final last revelation comes as the perfect vengeance and the best thing about it is that it doesn't even come from Manon, but life itself which establishes the total failure of all his projects, and he lived long enough to measure up the extent of his cruelty and that's how poetically justice worked, when someone is so cruel he only gets sympathy as his cruelty's victim.
Marcel Pagnol was born the same day than Cinema and not very far from La Ciotat where the train made its iconic entrance, it's like he had this gift for authentically depicting human nature, reminding me this quote from Ebert: the more specific the story is, the more universal it becomes because the more it understands the characters, the better we do. That's the power of Pagnol, Berri and the actors, they created so specific characters that they immediately became real, this is high adult drama about things that happen in real life. Even someone who doesn't know much about farming, about water and love will get the many messages about love, greed, bigotry and karma.
This is tale for the ages, and one of the greatest French movies that earned its commercial and critical success. I couldn't believe I waited so much time to finally see this masterwork, one that says as much about mother nature than human nature and shows that at least, mother nature played fair with men, only they underestimated how evil and greedy they could be, and how destiny could give them a taste of their own medicine.