Saturday, January 08, 2005

Short Cuts: January '05

The Dreamers
d. Bernardo Bertolucci, 2004

A set of twins: him looking like Jean-Pierre Leaud, her like Anna Karina. A young American boy arrives - blond hair, blue eyes, and an interminable appetite for film. Films are referenced (Breathless, Top Hate, Queen Christina, Band of Outsiders), a discussion about Chaplin v. Keaton ensues, and the plot - a troika of lust, love, and shame - echoes Jules et Jim and Les Enfants Terribles while taking place against the backdrop of Henri Langlois mandated exit from the Cinematheque Francaise. For the first twenty minutes I thought I was watching a bona fide personal Top 100 Film. So many references (with purpose) make a cinemaphile drool (and possibly convulse from time to time.) Rather, I was watching a film that - from the opening credits to the fantastic soundtrack - makes an admirable, but muddled attempt at conveying the atmosphere of late-60's France. Ideas such as communism, love, and peace are hinted at, but never fully mined. The NC-17 rating is used to full effect, but in an artistic manner that, if anything, is tasteful. Michael Pitt, as the American, is hardly convincing, and his monotone narration leaves much to be desired. But the visuals and the overall feeling of wandering youth lend a quality to the film that helps it to overcome (to some extent) the sullied thematic landscape.

d. Neil Young, er...Bernard Shakey, 2004

Another one of those What To Make Of This? films. The first 20 minutes had me thinking: ok, a decent soundtrack, not Young & Crazy Horse's best, but good. But wait: the songs are the words of the film? Like a...rock opera? No no...this is like a pastiche of music videos. Oh ok. Pretty terrible acting though, huh? Yeah, this isn't very good a'tall. And then Young turns the thing into a political piece. And, by God, it works. Amazingly well, actually. Go to almost any era sans the current and Art almost always directly relates to Politics. Today (despite the growing number of political artists), that is the exception to the rule. And when art is political, it is also pretty bad. Usually. Young avoids the vitriol of Moore, et al by clinging to his hippy ideas of love and peace. He avoids the schmaltz by making the film so utterly banal. The events seem...real. But then the end: a big music number with Monsieur Young shown in several shots and lines akin to "the government sucks" volleyed upon mine ears. It breaks this beautifully fragile film right in two. In the place of a political piece of value we get a stand-in: a johnny-come-lately coterie member of Mr. Moore himself. Or, I don't know, Neil Young's heart isn't in that same place - his intentions seems pure, his filmic talent is just lacking. Rather than a coterie member, he can be the troubador.

Son Frere
d. Patrice Chereau, 2004

I cannot quite figure out why I like this one as much as I do. A "typical" (in the MTV-Diet sense of the word) foreign film - slow pacing, pensive dialogue, no explosions. The essence is that a man is dying. He deals with his sickness (some form of a blood disease causing a low-platelet count) as best he can on his own. Then he contacts his (estranged, it would seem) family, specifically his brother. It isn't a film so much about sickness, or homosexuality (the contacted brother is gay), but about the love lost - and found - between two brothers. Their love is pure, the type of love that allows physical contact without any hint at incestual homoeroticism. It's touching, really. Two lives begin together, and then they go their separate ways. They happen upon each other again, only to be ripped apart one last time. An old man says, "The weather will be better tomorrow. Even if it's fine today, it will always be better tomorrow."

d. David Mamet, 2004

Mmmm: a deeply satisfying, contemplative thriller from the increasingly important Mamet. His plays mine the themes of trust, power, and aging. Here, on film, Mamet tackles the aforementioned power, along with loyalty and dignity. Val Kilmer (surprisingly) is fantastic as our Spartan hero - an army of one. Both Kilmer and the film are Spartan in more ways than one - brutal, unflinching, and streamlined in form and manner. The supporting cast is whittled down (by bullets, naturally) as the narrative unspools. Left in the end is the core of the film: our Spartan hero - Kilmer - and a realization of the inverse relationship between power and honor.

Tent City
d. Rick Charnoski & Coan Nichols, 2004

More than just another skate vid, but not because of its pseudo-philosophizing re: the "energy" of skating. The Anti-Hero team forms a tight-knit unit; more like a brotherhood, really. They sleep, eat, and, most importantly, skate together. It transcends the usual skate vid genre because of a) the really keen 8mm photography b) the aforementioned brotherhood. The latter is quite refreshing - here we have a unity - a team - in place of the ubiquitous 'I' found in most sports these days. Damn refreshing, I say.

Twentynine Palms
d. Bruno Dumont, 2004

A man and a woman go to the desert near L.A. They sleep and then have sex. They have an argument and then have sex. They go swimming and then have sex. She gives him a blowjob, he throws her out, he beats the crap out of her, and they have sex. Then they go back out to the desert proper - some Deliverance extras beat the crap out of, and proceed to rape, the man (while derobing the woman.) Not to ruin the ending, but, after making it back to the hotel she nurses his wounds and he kills her. It would be great if there were something - anything - said of importance. Something worthwhile about gender roles, something beyond perversions to spit about the perversions of sex. A terrible, terrible film - one of the worst I've seen, ever.