Lasse Hallström, Michael Haneke, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Hal Hartley, Howard Hawks, Todd Haynes, Monte Hellman, Werner Herzog, Alfred Hitchcock, Hong Sang-soo, Christophe Honoré, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Danièle Huillet,  John Huston



Hackford, Taylor


allmovie ((( Taylor Hackford > Overview )))  bio from Hal Erickson

American producer/director Taylor Hackford was hired by a Los Angeles TV station after his two-year hitch in the Peace Corps. On his own, he created New Visions Productions, which he eventually merged into the New Century Company before giving up producing to concentrate on directing. He won an Academy Award in 1978 for Teenage Father, a short-subject elaboration of a TV news story on which he'd previously worked. Hackford's first feature was The Idolmaker (1980), a jaundiced recreation of the "Philadelphia school" of '50s rock & roll; he later returned to the rarefied world of vintage rock in his Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba and his revelatory documentary Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (both 1987). He also directed Dolores Claiborne (1995), the Al Pacino vehicle The Devil's Advocate (1997), and edited the boxing documentary When We Were Kings (1996). Though Hackford has toted up some impressive credits over his career, few of his films have matched the audience appeal or box-office bankability of his biggest hit, 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman. Hackford married British actress Helen Mirren in 1997, whom he had lived with since 1986.

Helen Mirren Appreciation Society  brief bio, including his wedding to Helen Mirren here:  Helen Mirren Appreciation Society


Filmbug Profile


What is Enlightenment? Interview   Who Is Satan? article and interview by Carter Phipps


Hackford, Taylor  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They



USA  (124 mi)  1982


Time Out

Pace all those swooning fans of gorgeous Gere, but Hackford's hymn to rampant individualism in Reagan's America is an exploitative no-no. While the immaculately garbed and coiffed hero goes through the paces of training under a sadistic black (natch) sergeant to be a US Navy pilot (we all find it admirable to want to drop bombs and kill, don't we?), he discovers that self is the sole person worth bothering about, and that women are really only after men for their status and money. Macho, materialistic, and pro-militarist, it's an objectionable little number made all the more insidious by the way Hackford pulls the strings and turns it into a heart-chilling weepie. (Dale Dobson)

An Officer and a Gentleman stars Richard Gere as Zack Mayo, a talented but selfish young man who enters the Navy's Officer Candidate School to become a pilot. Under the tutelage of his tough drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.), Mayo learns discipline, leadership and compassion, forming a relationship with local girl Paula Pokrifki (Debra Winger) along the way.

To a great extent, this is standard-issue romantic melodrama—boy meets girl, boy grows up, boy gets girl—Set against a patently Hollywood-ized military training environment. The development of Gere's character is predictably inspirational, from a rough boyhood (an absent military officer of a father, early loss of his mother), to his determined, record-setting performance in the Officer program, to his acceptance of responsibility and a love he scarcely recognized. A subplot involving his classmate Sid (David Keith), whose storyline after dropping out of the program only to be rejected by his pilot-chasing girlfriend Lynette (Lisa Blount), is so heavy-handed as to be almost comical, as is some of the exposition early in the film.

Where An Officer and a Gentleman succeeds, almost in spite of itself, is in its casting and performances. Richard Gere as Mayo finds a balance between the character's inner pain and outer bravado that actually works, and even though we all know what's going to happen, his character's growth is still interesting onscreen. Debra Winger does fine work in an underwritten part, communicating a great deal with her eyes and expressions where the script shortchanges her linewise. And Louis Gossett, Jr.'s breakout, Academy Award®-winning turn as Sergeant Foley is consistently riveting—his drill instructor is abrasive and demanding, but visibly human underneath, allowing him to be a tough but fair motivator, not a two-dimensional villain. David Keith and Lisa Blount play their roles with conviction, though they're not given much to work with, and the film benefits from a strong supporting cast, including David Caruso, Harold Sylvester and Lisa Eilbacher as Mayo's classmates, all of whom register as individuals and lend a credible ensemble feel to the film. Grace Zabriskie appears in a small role as Paula's mother, upping the film's coolness factor by her very presence.

In the end, An Officer and a Gentleman is still a predictable early-1980's melodrama, trotting out the conventional plot elements so we can all feel upbeat as the credits roll and the pop single kicks in on the soundtrack. But director Taylor Hackford leads his talented cast with a sure hand, finding more substance in the telling than the tale would seem to merit. A guilty pleasure, perhaps, but a pleasure nonetheless.  Pete Croatto

Most articles about the state of American movies in the 1980s feature writers bitching and moaning about how the era was built on sequels and action-packed, plot-deprived blockbusters. They may have a point. Independent films really didn't become relevant (again) until sex, lies, and videotape, which was released in 1989. Miramax was still growing.

Something good did come out of the decade: a slew of great date movies. Not surprisingly, there was a formula to it. The typical woman would get a love story usually featuring a hunky, emotionally lost male lead. The typical man would get a macho storyline featuring slapstick, sports, violence, or male bonding. Sometimes he got to see bare breasts. It all led to movies that didn't require three days of negotiation: Hoosiers, Witness, Field of Dreams, Tootsie, Say Anything (for the music geek subset), and the John Hughes stuff for the teens.

All of those movies worked because they were entertaining and they went beyond the parts of the equation. One such movie has been re-released on DVD, Taylor Hackford's An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and the timing couldn't be better. I can't remember the last good, to use the popular definition, date movie. This one takes place in and around a Navy officer training school in Washington State, where Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) has decided to break away from his philandering, alcoholic dad (Robert Loggia). Given Zack's pedigree and the demands of the program -- the candidates drop out like Britney Spears at a geography bee -- it's a long haul. It becomes more so when Zack starts a romance with Paula (Debra Winger), a young factory worker who wants more than a blue-collar lifestyle.

Paula could easily trap Zack through pregnancy, a tactic used by other "Puget debs." He's fighting a case of love-and-leave 'em genetics. Plus, he's only in the Pacific Northwest for 13 weeks. Screenwriter Douglas Day Stewart smartly toys with the relationship, having it go back and forth with the characters' burgeoning maturity. You're never quite sure what's going on: the love may last or tradition may undercut it. Gere and Winger are terrific despite the fact they reportedly got along like Cain and Abel. (Note: Winger didn't have nice things to say about Hackford, either.)

Two supporting actors stand out: David Keith as Zack's training school buddy, whose discovery of his true self comes at the worst possible time, and Louis Gossett Jr., who deservedly won an Academy Award for his performance and then did nothing of note afterwards. As the school's drill sergeant, he challenges, insults, and bends Zack to the point of breaking. Both Keith and Gossett play pivotal roles as they help Zack (Keith as the best friend archetype; Gossett as the stoic father figure) become a man.

Zack's time with Paula and his time in officer training lead to a coming of age story featuring adults. And it works because -- like most good romantic comedies -- the emotions on display aren't false. There's a familiarity to these characters and their roles that goes beyond the Hollywood trappings. Its famous ending may be hokey, but in a movie this honest, it couldn't feel more right.

The DVD includes a commentary track, a retrospective featurette, and a handful of additional featurettes about the making of the film.

DVDTalk [Paul Mavis]


DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini)


An Officer And A Gentleman  Male Bonding and Self-Abuse, by Jon Lewis from Jump Cut [Steve Rogers]


Walter Frith


Apollo Movie Guide [Brian Webster]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


Read the New York Times Review »  Janet Maslin


DVDBeaver [Yunda Eddie Feng]


RAY                                                                B                     85

USA  (152)  2004


Certainly better than the Billie Holiday portrait in LADY SINGS THE BLUES, here we have the Ray Charles story, a project that began while Charles was still alive, but unfortunately, he died before the film was completed.  However, Jamie Foxx is brilliant in his physical mannerisms, seamlessly lip synching about 25 songs to the unmistakable voice of Ray Charles, while also capturing the essence of this complicated man.  The film starts out like gangbusters, hitting the road at 17 with the Lowell Fulsom band, mixed with early flashbacks of his childhood, which is filled with some terrible memories before he became blind at the age of 7.  The energy of the early years is not contrived, but is bursting with the joy of making music and being around other musicians, sharing a common love.  Gradually, the love includes womanizing, eventually a heroin addiction, but also includes a marriage to an honest, outspoken country girl who provides him with a home and family while he’s off on the road, always touring somewhere. 


While sharp as a tack in the ways of business, he was the first to own his own record masters, and understanding the public’s music interest better than those in the industry, he mixed genres that had never been done before, blues and jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues, as well as country, showing a perfectionism of true genius.  Charles’ personal life on the other hand was a mess, which is intertwined here with the dirty corruption of the music industry as well as the continuing segregated concert practices of the Jim Crow South, where they spent much of their time touring.  The film fizzles out at the end, as he kicks his heroin habit, and bam – the film is over, hardly what happened in real life, as he had another twenty or thirty years of his life that remained untold. 


But the Ray Charles music is the engine that runs this film, which is so supremely powerful that it renders much of the rest of the film as truly secondary, despite the terrific performances all around, especially Sharon Warren as his mother, Kerry Washington as his wife, and Regina King as Margie Hendricks, one of the original Raylettes, the one that belts out the unforgettable cries of “Baby” on the gospel and rhythm and blues anthem, “The Right Time.”  I had the feeling this might work really well as a play, as it aspires to the best of what August Wilson tries to do, defining people in their time through language and music, and while the musical set pieces come alive, literally bursting off the screen, the rest of the film, particularly his contact with the white record producers and his ultimate break with Atlantic records, fails to match the intimate language needed to balance that raw power.  Instead it deteriorates late in the film into a series of musical montages with very little substantive dialogue.


BFI | Sight & Sound | Ray (2004)  Sam Davies from Sight and Sound, February 2005

Florida, 1948. Seventeen-year-old Ray Charles Robinson (Jamie Foxx) boards a Greyhound bus to Seattle, where a job as a nightclub pianist awaits him. He soon discovers he is being taken advantage of and escapes through a contract with Jack Lauderdale's Swingtime Records, using the name Ray Charles. As a lonely touring musician, haunted by memories of his brother's tragic drowning, he turns to heroin.

Atlantic Records picks Charles up and label bosses Ahmet Ertegun (Curtis Armstrong) and Jerry Wexler (Richard Schiff) nurture him into America's _pre-eminent jazz and R&B musician. He meets and marries Della Bea (Kerry Washington), but though they start a family he continues to use heroin and seduces his co-vocalist Mary Ann Fisher (Aunjanue Ellis). Teenage vocal trio The Cookies are redubbed The Raelettes, and while on the road with Charles, their leader Margie Hendricks (Regina King) replaces Mary Ann in his affections. When rival label ABC/Paramount offers a deal Atlantic cannot match, Charles abandons Ertegun and Wexler.

Armed with unprecedented wealth and clout, he makes an abrupt musical departure, eschewing the raw mix of gospel, blues and R&B which has made his name for country music. The risk pays off with further commercial success, but when Charles refuses to play lucrative segregated shows in Georgia, his principled stand sees him banned from performing in the state. Caught in possession of heroin on a flight from Montreal to Boston, Charles faces federal charges and personal ruin. An emotional showdown with the long-suffering Della Bea leads Charles to undergo rehab and he emerges emotionally as well as physically rehabilitated, freed of the burden of guilt and grief over his brother's death.


Ray clearly and self-consciously aligns itself with a Hollywood sub-genre of films chronicling the lives of black cultural icons, and like Angela Bassett as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It, or Will Smith in the lead role of Ali, Jamie Foxx is bound to receive Oscar consideration. Of course, playing a troubled genius ticks another box beloved of the Academy but, cynicism aside, Foxx's performance is superb in its naturalism and meticulous in its attention to detail. Charles' vocal and physical mannerisms are carefully observed and caricature is eschewed. Without a Charles of this quality, Ray would risk being an unexceptional, if dutiful, contribution to the genre.

Director Taylor Hackford (who filmed Chuck Berry's 60th birthday concert film Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll! before making polished studio dramas such as Dolores Claiborne and The Devil's Advocate) lets the story tell itself, trusting Foxx to bring some charisma and drive to a very familiar format. James L. White's debut screenplay seems to embrace the clichés and broad strokes of biopic form: sound engineers exchange knowing smirks of congratulation as future number ones are laid down; headlines stud the film as historical shorthand; after Charles' move into country music, his manager marvels "You were right again, Ray - they did love it!" Adversity is conquered and the human spirit triumphs. The film's colouring is suitably bold, particularly in the saturated greenery and red earth of Charles' Georgia childhood. There's also a deliberate emphasis on atmosphere, conveyed through the chiaroscuro of natural lighting and smoke, in jazz clubs and hotel rooms.

The element that unsettles the film's otherwise slick and accomplished surface is Ray's memory of his brother's drowning, recalled in fragments whenever the hero is threatened by fear, loneliness or betrayal. Charles recoils as the suitcase he is packing is suddenly filled not with clothes but water and a child's arm; a corridor seems flooded and his reaching hands brush a still foot. These sequences have an economy missed by the bulk of the film, conveying the sensory uncertainty of blindness and the metaphoric seeping of Charles' haunted unconscious. By contrast Charles' heroin addiction is treated almost perfunctorily; in this sense, Ray supports Charles' assertion that it did not hamper his creativity or productivity but it produces a somewhat artificial crisis and resolution within the narrative arc, imposed presumably by the lack of incident in Charles' career after 1966. Interestingly, it does touch on the contractual specifics of Charles' success - interesting because his nous in negotiating favourable deals and claiming ownership of his own master tapes is part of an important narrative within black musical history, from the exploitations of Elvis' black songwriters to the canny franchising of today's rap moguls, who turn their musical identities into consumer brands of all descriptions.

Charles' music of course plays a major role, and Hackford and White seek to write it in as organically as possible. The furious argument that terminates the affair with Margie Hendricks occurs during a rehearsal of Hit the Road Jack and segues immediately into a vicious live performance. The music provides the most straightforward pleasure in an enjoyable and straightforward film, especially when heard through the full sound system of a cinema.   

Hackman, Gene – actor


BFI | Sight & Sound | Gene Hackman: Royal Rapscallion  Andrew Collins from Sight and Sound, November 2005

He was already past his youth when Bonnie and Clyde established his name but Gene Hackman became a byword for all that was authentic about the explosive new American cinema of the late 60s and 70s

Hadjithomas, Joana and Khalil Jorgeige


I WANT TO SEE (Je Veux Voir)

Lebanon  France  (75 mi)  2008


Je Veux Voir (I Want To See)  Howard Feinstein at Cannes from Screendaily

The idea here is surreal: make something akin to a documentary with French icon Catherine Deneuve and well-known Lebanese artist/actor Rabih Mroue making a day trip by car from Beirut to the ruins in South Lebanon left over from the Israeli incursion in 2006. The film-making couple of Hadjithomas and Joreige, who proved their imaginative skills with the 2005 Lebanese-set fiction A Perfect Day, succeeded in making it happen. And brilliantly.

These politically-engaged Lebanese co-directors have broken new ground in the documentary/fiction fusion debate, and not only with their dream cast. Once word gets out that Je Veux Voir is such an original work, it will find playdates large and small across the globe. Deneuve's participation will of course give it a boost.

In the film Deneuve is in Beirut for a glamorous gala, but insists "Je veux voir" ("I want to see") the carnage wrought against innocent civilians in Israel 's pursuit of members of Hezbollah in the summer of 2006."I feel it's impossible to stay on the fringe," she adds. She means it. This is not the classic Hollywood scenario of an up-and-coming star meeting with a facilitator to find the right charity for his or her marketing image. It rings with sincerity and curiosity.

So Hadjithomas and Joreige, who know firsthand the sites Deneuve and Mroue will visit, arrange for a meeting – it is captured on camera - and the two embark on a surprisingly gorgeous two-hour drive to southern Lebanon in time to return to her appointed engagement.

To their credit, the directors are not didactic. The two passengers talk about life and seat belts and Belle De Jour: It almost seems normal. They establish a comfortable intimacy without overdoing it. Occasionally something they encounter will ruffle their feathers: buildings destroyed during the Civil War, low-flying Israeli airplanes, but more than anything, their destination – where there are no exhausted images of homes without roofs, gutted roads, because it is it is all gone.

We see the film crew only occasionally, and that is as it should be. Deneuve does not play the star, although Lebanese men do line up to stare at her. The only false note follows an ellipsis to the gala, where Deneuve eagerly awaits Mroue's presence. Something here smacks of movie fiction, as if a romance might develop out of their shared compassion. Whether it does or not, the actress looks beautiful, but not so beautiful that she overshadows such an important film. This one is for the history books.

Alissa Simon  at Cannes from Variety

What becomes a legend most? Surely not being a figurehead in a self-consciously arty pseudo docu-cum-road movie. Still, Catherine Deneuve's iconic presence lends some commercial appeal to "I Want to See," third feature from Lebanese helmers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige ("Around the Pink House," "Perfect Day"). An uneasy mix of scripted scenario, improvisation and surprising reality, pic professes to want to show destruction wrought during Lebanon's 2006 summer war through the French star's eyes, but seems more concerned with capturing her image as she's trundled about. Fests and Euro tube constitute best market.

Lacking the immediacy of Philippe Aractingi's somewhat similar and more compelling "Under the Bombs," which filmed, in part, during the fighting, "I Want to See" was shot in late 2006. It's structured as a single day's excursion, although in reality filmed over a week.

The helmers' favorite actor Rabih Mroue drives Deneuve south from Beirut through his heavily hit home village of Bint El Jbeil to the border with Israel. Filmmakers (and Deneuve's impressively buff bodyguard) follow closely behind, occasionally inserting themselves into the action while commenting on the dangers and difficulties they face.

Lensing concentrates more on twosome in the car then what's outside. Seeming somewhat uncomfortable, Deneuve makes banal conversation about chaos of Lebanese traffic, hastily fastening her seat belt and repeatedly bidding Mroue to do the same.

Strongest images show a beach site where the rubble from ruined buildings winds up. A striking vision of swirling dust clouds, red trucks, yellow bulldozers, and the blue Mediterranean turning to rust, it makes palpable the broken country disappearing into the sea.

Most interesting moments appear unplanned, such as when an Israeli fighter jet roars overhead at a low altitude, causing Deneuve to jump in her seat. Better yet, Mroue becomes so preoccupied reciting Deneuve's monologue from "Belle du jour" in Arabic, that he accidentally turns onto a road that might be mined, creating intense distress all around.

Mostly as stiff as her perfectly coifed hair, a tired-looking Deneuve appears as if she feels every bump in the road. In contrast, Mroue, is a warm and sympathetic presence, articulate in French and Arabic, as he negotiates the hazardous highways.

Tech credits are pro, although d.p. Julien Hirsch's penchant for shooting reflections through the car's windshield becomes irritating, as does portentous electronica score.

Hadzihalilovic, Lucile

Belgium  France  Great Britain  Japan  (115 mi)  2004


BFI | Sight & Sound | Innocence (2004)  Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound, November 2004

Lucile Hadzihalilovic was until recently best known as the partner and collaborator of Gaspar Noé. But, as I told a colleague recently, her much-awaited debut feature 'Innocence' - which has just won the new director's prize at San Sebastian - has little in common with Noé's work. "What's it about, then?" asked my colleague. "People having picnics in a forest?" Oddly enough, that's exactly what it's about, and nearly all its characters are little girls in pristine white frocks.

Hadzihalilovic - who co-edited Noé's 1998 'Seul contre tous' - showed in her 1996 medium-length film 'La Bouche de Jean-Pierre' (shot by Noé) that she was fascinated by the traumatised perspective of a child's-eye view: that film was about child abuse in a claustrophobic apartment block. The entirely different 'Innocence' bears some marks of the Noé connection in its ruthless establishment of a distinctive style and its play on the viewer's anxious expectations. The overall mood of uncanniness leads us from the start to expect a horror film of sorts; and that's perhaps what it is, but certainly not of the kind we anticipate.

Hadzihalilovic creates a totally self-enclosed imaginative universe, quite literally as her setting is a walled domain with no obviously accessible exit to a known outside world. Based on a story by Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), German theatre's great investigator of sexuality ('Pandora's Box', 'Spring Awakening'), the film unfolds in a girls' boarding school - a collection of houses scattered around a forest - apparently at the start of the 20th century. Each house is home to a group of girls of different ages, and the film begins with the smallest novice arriving, apparently delivered in a wooden coffin.

The new girl's housemates initiate her into a strict but benign world in which there is little adult intervention save for the supervision of two young teachers (Hélène de Fougerolles, Marion Cotillard). Daily life is a pleasant round of lessons, swimming parties and bucolic leisure. But each night the oldest girl in each house makes her way through the dark forest to the main building, the scene of rituals we can only guess at from glimpses of a maze of tunnels filled with ominous rumblings.

Hadzihalilovic's riskiest move in 'Innocence' is to use imagery that at first glance appears to belong to paedophile fantasy. But it soon becomes clear that what in one era immediately suggests sexual taboo is used in another to signify a denial of sexuality: the white frocks in this archaic world connote a fetishised ideal of purity. While investigating the nature and socially conditioned origins of female sexual knowledge, Hadzihalilovic plays with an image that advertises an absence of sexual knowledge. What makes 'Innocence' so unsettling is that everything is in the eye of the beholder - and the beholder's perspective is at once that of the too-knowing present-day adult and of the girls themselves, who perceive the world around them as an infinitely fascinating mystery.

The film draws to uncanny effect on the language of childhood dreams, alluding to fears of adulthood and death. Hadzihalilovic's vision of a republic of little girls may evoke the sexualised imagery of artists such as Hans Bellmer, Balthus and Walerian Borowczyk, but the film also - as shot by Benoît Debie, DoP on Noé's 'Irréversible' - echoes the mise en scène of French photographer Bernard Faucon, whose 1980s 'Les Grandes Vacances' series set shop mannequins of teenage boys in bizarre, ritualistic tableaux vivants. For British viewers especially, 'Innocence' will recall tales of all-female schooling, from 'Mädchen in Uniform' to 'Malory Towers', though its gothic atmosphere brings it closer to Angela Carter than Angela Brazil.

A surreal and unexpectedly euphoric climax makes it clear what 'Innocence' is really about - and the eerie richness of Hadzihalilovic's filmic language, including a chilling use of sound, means nothing can be easily reduced to straightforward allegory. With dazzling performances from a largely pre-pubescent ensemble cast, 'Innocence' is without doubt the most disconcerting French debut of the year.

INNOCENCE   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

If French cinema remains the strongest in Europe, both commercially and aesthetically, part of the reason may be the number of female directors working there. “Innocence” is the latest in a string of memorable debut films by French women.

In the U.S., the indie dream of making a splash at Sundance, getting picked up by a major distributor, and launching a career has been almost exclusively male. Of course, many women have the same goals; they just have far more difficulty achieving them. It’s hard to imagine an American counterpart to Claire Denis. A woman wanting to make a film like “Beau Travail” would probably have to make it on DV for a $50,000 budget, and she would be unlikely to go on working regularly. The one film by an American woman to make a splash this year, Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” exemplifies some of current indie cinema’s worst qualities, especially a rote quirkiness. It seems influenced by Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” but waters down its misanthropy to the point where the characters seem encased in protective bubbles.

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s “Innocence” has been made in an entirely different world—like Denis’ films, it is unique, enigmatic, and visionary.

“Innocence” is based on an 1888 novella by Frank Wedekind entitled “Mine-Haha, or the Corporal Education of Young Girls.” The film opens with a rumbling sound and a series of puzzling images. Eventually, a coffin is transferred through a passageway. It arrives in a house, leading to the “birth” of a nearly naked six-year-old girl, Iris (Zoé Auclair). She’s just entered a strange, isolated boarding school, peopled entirely by young girls; the oldest are just about to enter puberty. They live together in five houses and study dance, gymnastics, and biology. In some respects, it’s liberating for the girls to live apart from adults, but rebellion has lifelong consequences. Anyone who tries escaping from the school will be forced to remain there as a servant, while the others eventually get to leave. Every night, Bianca (Bérangere Haubruge) puzzles the other girls by leaving the house to go to a secret meeting.

At a Q&A after a screening of “Innocence” at the Walter Reade’s “Rendezvous with French Cinema” last spring, an audience member asked whether the film is set in the future. He pointed to several lines referring to evolution, particularly “tomorrow’s children will doubtless be very different,” as evidence. Hadzihalilovic said that she intended to set it in the ‘60s. While an otherworldly ambiance runs through it, “Innocence” takes place in a dingy, slightly run-down universe. The use of natural light makes interiors look rather dim. On the other hand, the forest exteriors are stunning.

The girls dance to crackly albums played on a turntable, not CDs. The soundtrack uses music sparingly––we rarely hear it unless characters are listening to records on-screen. In place of a score, the distant sound of a train and a large clock’s metronome tick-tock are omni-present

The first 75 pages of Kazuo Ishiguro’s recent novel “Never Let Me Go” are so similar to “Innocence” that the writer must have drawn on Wedekind’s novella. However, Ishiguro eventually explains his narrative with a sci-fi conceit, while Hadzihalilovic avoids such devices. “Innocence” isn’t a horror film, but it often plays like one, even though nothing particularly dangerous happens. One other film has been inspired by Wedekind—Italian director Dario Argento’s 1977 “Suspiria,” set at a boarding school that turns out to be a witch’s lair. Argento reveled in gore, loud music, and blazing colors, while “Innocence” strives for subtlety. Nevertheless, its final half hour feels close to “Suspiria,” especially in its depiction of girls ferreting out a world’s hidden dangers and literal secret passages.

Hadzihalilovic films water like Robert Mapplethorpe photographed flowers. Her images of it carry a near-fetishistic charge, especially when she uses extreme close-ups that turn into abstract compositions. “Innocence” begins and ends in water. Rather than a conventional character arc, it’s a story about how a girl gets from an isolated brook to a public fountain. When it was recently released in Britain, several critics suggested that it might inadvertently appeal to pedophiles. However, Hadzihalilovic scrupulously keeps sexuality off-screen; sensual impulses pop up in the film in other forms.

As an outline, “Innocence” might sound like a pat metaphor for childhood. As an experience, it’s genuinely uncanny. Despite the story’s strangeness, the child actors give quite believable, spontaneous-seeming performances that counter its dreamlike feel. However, Hadzihalilovic explains little and resolves nothing. She expresses a worldview derived from the way children often see life—as a maze of mysterious rules and regions from which they’re excluded—while hinting that the film’s story is a Freudian prelude to something much larger and darker.

“Innocence” relies a bit too heavily on creepy portent alone to sustain the viewer’s interest for almost two hours. Otherwise, it stands alone among recent cinema, French, female-directed or otherwise, for its ability to create a beautiful, resonant private world.

School For Scandal   Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound

Dealing with an all-girls' boarding school located in the middle of a dense forest, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence is like Enid Blyton re-written by Kafka

Haggis, Paul

Paul Haggis Publicly Renounces Scientology  Verena von Pfetten from Air America, October 26, 2009


Paul Haggis on Scientology: 'Morally reprehensible'   Patrick Goldstein from The LA Times blog, October 27, 2009


CRASH                                                          C                     75
USA  (107 mi)  2005


An exasperatingly clichéd film that overly accentuates an intentionally turbulent world of racial tensions in Los Angeles by exploiting the use of racial stereotypes, pitting one race against another, and then sitting back and watching what happens, using the imagery of a violent car crash which both begins and ends this film, like the myth of Sisyphus, expected to reoccur over and over again ad infinitum.  But this is all too simplistic, and the dialogue is so predictably obnoxious and lame that within minutes I had the urge to walk out of the theater.  There is nothing in this film that we haven’t seen before and it never rises above the intentional set ups of a mediocre made for television movie, much of it resembling typically condescending, thoroughly manipulative sitcoms, despite a top notch cast that includes Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ryan Philippe, and Thandie Newton, as well as an overly hysterical Sandra Bullock. 
Matt Dillon as a corrupt cop and Thandie Newton as his targeted victim have what amounts to bookend scenes, provocative behavior on the opposite ends of the moral spectrum.  Critics love the dramatic moment where Dillon, who was previously seen patting down Newton, abusively feeling her private areas while making racist taunts of Thandie Newton’s husband, then later rescues her from a burning car about to explode.  For me, however, there were two memorable scenes, one where a locksmith comes home at night and tucks his daughter, who is afraid hiding under her bed, under the covers by telling her a story about an invisible necklace that will offer her protection, and another near the end of the film, a quiet, wordless sequence where Don Cheadle returns to the scene of the crime and snow begins to fall in Los Angeles.  But the rest is all a cops and robber movie revealing a dilemma when each individual goes bad, an indicator how each can have such a negative, unseen consequence on innocent lives, not to mention their own.  People are seen here as battering rams of bad taste, each eventually crashing into another, which leads where?  Like this movie is going to set anyone straight?  The way that people marginalize others, putting them completely off the radar screen, may be an accurate reflection of life in Los Angeles, but this has such a contrived, cynical view of human nature, creating automatic caricatures of racial strife rather than allowing any real life to breathe out of this film. 
Despite winning an Academy award, this is a film that embarrassingly foreshadows its every move, where one would need to be watching with blinders on not to know what was coming, that instead of allowing events to unfold naturally, the film instead tells the viewer what to think and feel at every moment, literally patting themselves on the back along the way in a pretentious display of multi-cultural liberalized arrogance disguised as good will.  The extremeness of each position shown is so artificially contrived in the way this is written, without an ounce of naturalness, that it actually trivializes the seriousness of the subject matter.  As a result, this is a largely heartless film with no spontaneity or sense of authenticity, as every move is forced and subject to an almost mathematical symmetry, the kind that exists only in the world of storybooks, where for every good there is an equal amount of bad, and for every bad there is an equal amount of good.  What we have here is a stalemate of contrived intentions.  


Crash  David Denby from the New Yorker


A brazenly alive and heartbreaking film about the rage and foolishness of intolerance—the mutual abrasions of white, black, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Asian citizens in the great and strange city of Los Angeles. The movie starts off with separate vignettes in which the characters run afoul of each other, say things better left unsaid, and get into terrible trouble. Later, they cross paths again, sometimes in bizarre coincidences that feel exactly right; some of these scenes play out at the edge of insanity, where contentiousness spills over into tragedy or farce. The furiously candid screenplay was written by Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco, and the picture was directed by Haggis, who, in his first time out as director, demonstrates an amazing skill with actors. Don Cheadle, as a withdrawn, melancholy police detective, is the star, and the other players include Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton as an upper-class African-American couple, Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock as an L.A. district attorney and his bitchy wife, Chris (Ludacris) Bridges and Larenz Tate as carjackers, Matt Dillon and Ryan Phillippe as cops, and Shaun Toub as an Iranian shopkeeper who thinks everyone is out to cheat him. The gentle electronic score is by Mark Isham. 


Manohla Dargis - New York Times

How did “Crash,” a somewhat obvious, over-the-top, contrived drama, score so many nominations and now come to be considered as a possible dark horse for best picture?       —Danny, Austin, TX

There are a few obvious reasons why “Crash” connected with the Academy. First, Los Angeles, where most of Academy members live, is a profoundly segregated city, so any movie that makes it seem like its white, black, Asian and Latino inhabitants are constantly tripping over one another has appeal. If nothing else it makes Los Angeles seem as cosmopolitan as, well, New York or at least the Upper West Side. Second, no matter how many times the camera picks out Oprah Winfrey on Oscar night, the Academy is super white. Third, the Academy is, at least in general terms, socially liberal. You see where I’m going, right? What could better soothe the troubled brow of the Academy’s collective white conscious than a movie that says sometimes black men really are muggers (so don’t worry if you engage in racial profiling); your Latina maid really, really loves you (so don’t worry about paying her less than minimum wage); even white racists (even white racist cops) can love their black brothers or at least their hot black sisters; and all answers are basically simple, so don’t even think about politics, policy, the lingering effects of Proposition 13 and Governor Arnold. This is a consummate Hollywood fantasy, no matter how nominally independent the financing and release. I also think it helped the film’s cause that its distributor sent out more than 130,000 DVD's to the industry, ensuring easy viewing.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH                                   B-                    81
USA  (124 mi)  2007  ‘Scope

Another Haggis vehicle, a man who more than anyone else in the business (even Spielberg) utilizes force-fed, contrived situations, writing about things being more than what they seem, exploring dual meanings in the interconnectedness of things.  So of course, this is a film about one thing, a mysterious murder investigation involving an army unit along with unfolding secrets about combat stress and how this affects our society at large, but it’s really a metaphor for the current war in Iraq and how our nation conceals the returning dead bodies from the public as well as the extent of the injuries and maladjustments effecting the survivors over there.  So what the filmmaker is trying to tell us is about what unintended consequences this war is causing, creating a new mutative breed of soldier, one who has become so dehumanized in order to survive the daily trauma in Iraq that he’s grown beyond immoral into a state of being amoral.  And in order to show that Hollywood cares, there’s a few names of organizations and websites over the end credits that help deal with the effects of combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorders, like viewers are going to be jotting down these websites to visit once they get home, apparently incapable of googling these illnesses or agencies on their own.  Just this credit sequence alone reveals a lot about what the filmmaker wants us to think about this movie.  On the other hand, perhaps it’s just a sign of the times similar to the blatant plugs at the end of environmental documentaries.  Everyone has a stake in telling us what to think and believe these days, like we’re fodder for the advertising corporations.  Haggis has never been shy in that regard. 

Haggis may have bit off more then he can chew here as most of us don’t like being told how to feel about this war, particularly since we’re so sick of the government’s mouthpieces spewing their fantasies about fighting for a democracy and making the world a better place.  In this film, the uncannily brilliant Tommy Lee Jones (Has this man ever given anything less than a brilliant performance?) plays Hank Deerfield, the father of a reportedly missing AWOL Iraqi war veteran who turns up dead and dismembered not far from the Fort Rudd US army base in New Mexico where he’s stationed after returning from a tour of duty, never notifying his family that he’d returned.  The film explores the father’s journey to the army base to find out some answers, but when he’s stonewalled by the locals, including both the army and a police detective played by Charleze Theron, both sides continually haggling over jurisdictional issues, he takes matters into his own hands and eventually leads his own investigation.  It doesn’t hurt that he is a long-retired sergeant in the army military police himself.  In the process, his views on the war and what constitutes patriotism undergoes a thorough transformation, leading him to believe that those soldiers, our soldiers, are in dire need of someone’s help.  Jones tries to provide that help for his son, whose own behavior grows more and more complicit in his own crime the more we learn about him, but he arrives too late.  The impact of this tragedy is in nearly every shot of this film, not the least of which is a final photo at the end of the end credits, but also etched onto every crevice of Jones’s world weary face. The scars of his soul represent that of a mournful nation, as his dilemma is ours, a fact this actor makes painfully clear with another astonishing, award-worthy performance.  

There’s an interesting use of blurred, nearly unwatchable video imagery here, as Deerfield’s son filmed combat situations in Iraq on his cell phone, almost like trophy pieces, which the father discovers by decoding the heat corrupted image files from his son’s cell phone, which play repeatedly throughout the film like a modern day version of BLOW UP, as Deerfield is continually seen scrutinizing what scrambled images remain.  At the same time, Theron, who blew him off initially, sympathizes with the man when the graphic horror of his son’s death comes to light, eventually partnering with him to try to unravel the clues.  In the most amusing scene of the film, after having him over for dinner to make amends, Deerfield is asked by Theron to read her son a bedtime story, and can be seen silently thumbing through a copy of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy story The Chronicles of Narnia as the boy grows impatient under the covers, reminding him that it’s customary to read “out loud,” but Deerfield tosses the book aside claiming he can’t make any sense out of it and instead decides to tell him the origins of his name David, which comes from the Biblical story of David and Goliath, each representatives of the Israelites and the Philistines, both positioned high atop mountains separated by the valley of Elah.  This story, of course, comes to signify much more, magnified by its use as the title of the film.  We are forced to decide whether our nation has taken on the role of the lumbering giant Goliath, threatening the potential David’s of this earth.

The actual police procedural search to uncover what happened is intriguing, as the details of the murder are doled out in slow order, seemingly covered up by the son’s own unit for some mysterious reason.  Jones’s use of whisky with soldiers is equivalent to truth serum as he searches for answers, never really getting any, finding only small pieces of the puzzle.  Between Jones and Theron, one or the other is in nearly every shot and both are seen as the real professionals surrounded by a sea of incompetents, where authorities hide behind a blur of prejudice, rumors and red tape.  It’s an odd way of separating the universe, or the good guys from the bad, simply by writing noble heroes surrounded by wretched caricatures for people to play.  Even top billed Susan Sarandon, rock solid as always, was underwritten and underutilized, as she was actually onscreen for all of 5 minutes or so, probably filming her part in two days tops.  One can see how easy it is to pile on the negatives here, but the actual film experience itself is feeling what Tommy Lee Jones feels, sharing his pain, which is considerable, matching what families across America must feel about the oddly twisted circumstances the army offers about their missing or dead or now psychologically challenged children.  The line that keeps reverberating is Theron’s simple acknowledgement, “You’re a good father,” which again has multiple ramifications.  There’s a lot of information here, much of it useful, but hardly anything in this film just happens without the filmmaker later drumming into our heads what it all means, almost with a mathematical certainty.  So in the end this turns out to be just another Paul Haggis flick, whose imprint is all over everything he does.  It’s amazing how his unsubtle approach ruins his own pictures, as this would otherwise be pretty mesmerizing, as it’s a terrific subject matter based on a real life incident and Tommy Lee Jones is nothing less than superb.  This one actually has something to say, but it’s the way he says it that’s troubling.  Who doesn't love a good murder mystery?  Add an army cover up and who wouldn't want to see how Jones, or John Wayne before him, could ride into Dodge and clean up the mess? A word of warning, it's dour and nearly entirely humorless, which is totally in keeping with Jones's character.  

User reviews from imdb Author: Tony43 from Los Angeles

The big movies about the Vietnam war -- Apocalypse Now, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket -- didn't reach the screen until about five years after the war ended. But movies dealing with Iraq and terrorism are cropping up all over even as this war still rages.

What exactly that means is hard to know, but it would seem to indicate that no matter which side of the issue they come down on, the filmmakers are willing to risk alienating about half the potential audience in an America more polarized today than at any point in our history.

"In the Valley of Elah" treads lightly on the politics for most of the movie, concentrating on the unfolding mystery of what happened to a young soldier who vanishes shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Looking for answers are his father, a former sergeant in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, and a young female civilian detective, who gets involved in the case, gets bounced off in a jurisdictional dispute, but winds up back on the case when its determined the crime took place off military property.

While director Paul Haggis gets uniformly good performances out of all the characters, the movie belongs to Tommy Lee Jones as the grieving father and Charlize Theron as the determined detective. Both turn in outstanding performances. Jones shines, playing a man who has spent his life holding in his emotions and can't change now, even as his world falls apart. Theron radiates strength as a woman trying to survive in a sexist police department where all her male colleagues are certain she slept her way into her detective's job. That is somewhat important to the story, because the movie provides a look into the lower class white community that provides the bulk of the recruits in the all volunteer army.

None of this really deals with the politics of the war, though, and it is not until the very end of the film that politics come into play, and even there, it is handled with great care. The message is more about the kind of war America finds itself fighting today and what that type of combat does to the men who engage in it. Unlike world wars one and two, Vietnam and Iraq are not wars between easily recognized enemies. We are not battling the Germans or the Japanese. In both Nam and Iraq, Americans find it is difficult to tell friend from foe. That means they often must make snap decisions that sometimes determine whether they themselves live or die. Needless to say, their decisions also determine the fate of the people in the sights of their weapons..

"In the Valley of Elah" does an excellent job of showing that post traumatic stress syndrome is not an oddity, but rather a growing problem in an army of young men whose job requires them to be quick on the trigger.

Every American should see this movie and then think long and hard about it.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

Paul Haggis doesn't lack for ambition. He tackled no less than the state of race and class in America with his high-minded, Oscar-winning social drama "Crash." Subtlety is another matter. Despite the Oscar win, I find "Crash" equal parts affecting and insufferable, a film where the human drama is swamped by overreaching commentary and glib irony.

The subject of his sophomore feature as a director, "In the Valley of Elah," is no less ambitious -- the psychological toll of the Iraq war on the American soldiers ground down by unending tours and stop-loss extensions -- but he's more focused and his storytelling more honed. And it doesn't hurt to have Tommy Lee Jones driving the film with a beautifully realized performance.

Jones plays Hank Deerfield a taciturn father, husband and long-retired Army MP whose patriotism and ingrained respect for the military becomes secondary to paternal duty when his soldier son goes AWOL after his latest tour of duty in Iraq.

Though inspired by a true events, Haggis structures the drama as a classic detective story with Deerfield as the lone investigator seeking the truth in the face of resistance. Jones plays it stripped to the bone -- he's a man on a single-minded quest, and his responses are primal.

Charlize Theron is his only ally through the slapdash investigation and jurisdictional tug of war. It's a nice turn by Theron but the role is eclipsed by Jones' performance.

Haggis drops exclamation points after his symbolic gestures, but in the rush to drive home his message on the confused mission in Iraq he offers a queasy revisionism that all but denies the legacy of Vietnam. Considering Deerfield is a Vietnam vet, it feels doubly false.

"Elah" works better when Haggis lets the story tell itself: in the tensions between the civilian and military cops brushing up against each other in an arid Texas town, the eloquence of the climactic interrogation, and the weary odyssey of Deerfield to find peace in truth. (Chris Barsanti)

Although Paul Haggis' gut-punch of a story, In the Valley of Elah, is the first truly great narrative film about the Iraq War, it only spends a total of maybe five minutes there. The rest of the time, Elah is back in the U.S., dealing with all the stomach-churning consequences of what the country has sent young men over the sea to do. For this war story, combat -- that terrifying adrenaline high that changes many soldiers forever -- would be a distraction. The film comes at the war elliptically, immersing viewers in a world of soldiers, veterans, military bases, and civilian hangers-on, where President Bush is always pontificating from a nearby radio or television and everyone gets their check, directly or indirectly, from the Pentagon.

Elah is set in late 2004, when previously pro-war segments of the population started seeing cracks in the official flag-waving rhetoric, and ugly rumors started flying about what was actually going on Over There. Haggis' hard-boiled script -- closely based on Mark Boal's harsh, eye-opening article, "Death and Dishonor," published in Playboy in 2004 -- takes the form not of a war film but of a mystery, hiding its disquieting revelations in a familiar structure. Retired military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) finds out that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker, from Haggis' short-lived TV show The Black Donnellys), currently serving in Iraq, went AWOL not long after coming home on R&R. Having already lost his other son to combat in Afghanistan, and convinced he's getting some sort of runaround from the army, Hank hops in his winded old pickup and heads to Mike's base looking for answers.

The structure of what follows could be taken straight from most any televised crime dramas. There's an onion-skin unlayering of truths about Mike and his squad, parsed out with an extra lashing of drama by the slow decoding of some mysterious combat-scene videos recorded on a cell phone Hank finds in Mike's room. The mood is appropriately somber, but leavened with the occasionally stab at humor. We even have a local detective, a tough but vulnerable single mom (played in a straightforward manner by a slightly too-glamorous Charlize Theron) looking to prove herself, to grudgingly help Hank out. The villains are not so clearly defined here, though, with everyone keeping quiet about everything happening in Iraq and the spiritual toll it's taking on the men coming back.

Haggis has come a long way as a filmmaker since 2004's Crash, learning to keep his more sprawling and melodramatic impulses under control; with the possible exception of the portentous title, taken from the Biblical valley where David faced off with Goliath. His script sticks close to the source article, keeping many of its most vivid details of military life, holding fictional additions to a minimum, and focusing on telling the same tough truths about war and soldiers. Even the police investigation scenes feel fresh and original.

There's hardly any fat in Elah, nearly every scene is snapped off with clipped professionalism by a crisply-performing cast and a director who seems to have learned a few tricks from his frequent collaborator in tough minimalism, Clint Eastwood (for whom this film was originally a vehicle). Roger Deakins' wintry, bleached-out cinematography neatly matches Jones' scraped-dry delivery and the generally bleak and unsentimental tone. Needless to say, Jones does titanic work here as the proud, working-class vet with his neatly creased slacks and courteous demeanor who begins to crack as the awful truth becomes clear. His final act in this achingly sad film is one of the most poignant expressions of betrayed patriotism ever to hit American theaters.

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs)

The Army has not released Iraqi casualty reports, but it’s estimated as many as 100 enemy died during this exchange, and bodies were reported to be “piled in the streets.” The hours following the initial gunfight saw such carnage that the men of B Company were calling ambush alley “the midtown massacre.”
—Mark Boal, “Death and Dishonor”

“Freedom is on the march, and we’re safer because of it.” As soon as you hear President Bush on a background TV, during the first moments of In the Valley of Elah, you’ll likely guess what’s at issue. If you don’t know precisely that he first made this pronouncement in September 2004, you understand its use here is ironic. Punctuated throughout by similar bits of commentary and rhetoric, the movie takes the Iraq war as a point of departure, tracing the costs of war both physical and emotional, in Iraq and back home. In fact, the film submits, no one is “safer because of it.”

The most obvious and metaphorical victim is Mike Deerfield (Jonathan Tucker), a young soldier just back from Iraq. At film’s start, his father Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a Vietnam war vet and retired MP, gets word from Fort Rudd that Mike’s gone AWOL. Sure that his son would never run off without a reason, Hank hops in his pickup truck and drives straight through to New Mexico from Tennessee. On arriving in the desert, he learns that Mike is in fact murdered, stabbed 42 times and left by the side of a road late at night. Because the body was found between military and local police jurisdictions, questions come up as to who should investigate. The Army wants the case, the cops don’t much care. But Hank does. And so the movie becomes his investigation—into the murder, the military, and masculinity.

Based on Mark Boal’s “Death and Dishonor,” which first appeared in May 2004’s Playboy magazine, Paul Haggis’ follow-up film to the over-awarded Crash posits Hank as an old-school man of honor, both punished and revered for his traditional “values.” Like Crash, it overstates banal points and overlooks more disturbing insights. It layers blame and guilt upon grief and loss, but reaches exasperatingly superficial conclusions. While the film presents a raft of sad and thoughtful characters—from Hank to his despondent wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) to Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), the hardworking single mom detective who takes up Mike’s case—it remains fixed on its initial assumptions, that the war makes monsters of young men (and the focus here is specifically men, mostly white), then abandons them.

Indeed, the film reveals varieties of abandonment, as means of meeting or avoiding responsibility: a young woman who fears her boyfriend is dismissed by the police; Emily’s young son doesn’t know his father; and Hank leaves Joan to her worry and sorrow back home. Their phone calls are devastating. She sobs and he, also heartbroken, can offer no comfort except to promise to solve the case. Like many a movie hero before him, Hank asserts that if he can only set right what seems askew, he will have done his duty and reset his little piece of the universe. Even if he knows this isn’t what Joan needs, it’s what he needs, to be a man in the most efficient, self-defining, and uncompromising sense.

Almost immediately, Hank confronts disorder extending far beyond the brutal murder. Stealing Mike’s cell phone from his bunk at Fort Rudd, Hank discovers fragmented footage from Baghdad. Hoping for clues to what went wrong for Mike, he enlists the help of a local tech, never named (Rick Gonzalez), who works on the deciphering on his off hours, sending Hank reconstructed bits by email. That these missives arrive irregularly (and also conveniently, when Hank’s quest needs narrative prodding) makes them seem at once crucial and random. What they reveal, little by little, is what you have already guessed: Mike saw and committed atrocities in Iraq. And he was horrified.

It becomes clear in flashbacks that Mike tried to contact Hank while still in country, and his father rebuffed him by phone, essentially urging him to man up. This peek into Hank’s brittle psyche fits with the brief glimpses of his marriage (Joan blames Hank for Mike’s decision to enlist), jarring his concept of paternal and patriotic obligations. Hank’s pursuit of his “truth” is complicated and nuanced by Jones’ singular intensity (a close-up of his deeply creased face does more emotional work than pages of dialogue), but still, he is quite obviously part of the problem, a true believer.

Hank is eventually pushed to question himself, though not by the usual obstructions, the New Mexico cops (whose captain [Josh Brolin] looks shady for the two minutes he’s on screen) and the MPs, headed by Lt. Kirklander (Jason Patric), trying to smooth over what he sees as a burgeoning PR crisis. Hank is instead moved by Emily, herself harassed by the men in her squad precisely because she is a woman. Where the soldiers discuss the excitement of combat and the male detectives share a measure of cynicism, Emily repeatedly appears isolated and lonely, framed in doorways or against the wide New Mexican sky, not “safe” at all. When Hank tells her she can’t understand what it’s like to be part of a unit because she’s never “been to war,” you’ve already seen that she daily faces another kind of trauma at the hands of her so-called unit. Where Hank trusts in the loyalty of masculine, combat-forged company, she sees rupture, competition, and cruelty.

If this difference is instructive, Elah does less well in considering the racism beneath the surface of the “unit.” As Elah focuses on its underdog against the giant storyline (the title taken from the site where David slew Goliath), Hank is shocked to see his son’s malice against “hajiis” in Iraq. And he can’t see his own abuses of a Mexican American soldier he deems “Chico.”

When at last, Hank has a heart-heart minute with the young man, Private Ortiez (Victor Wolf), their faces are turned away from one another, Ortiez’s bruised following a recent run-in with Hank. As the camera frames them as near-mirror images, Hank is suddenly less different from Ortiez than he thinks. The private remembers being in Iraq and wanting only to come home. Now, he says softly, he only wants to go back. While many movie-style military men have voiced this desire, here it seems tragic. The horrors of the war have changed his sense of time and self, he no longer feels “at home” anywhere. And now you see that Hank has never been home either, never at ease with Joan or Mike, that his sense of order is artificial and dissonant. The close shot of Ortiez’s expression, sad and self-knowing, is more effective than the rest of the film’s point-pounding.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein)


indieWIRE   Chris Wisniewski from Reverse Shot


The Arizona Republic   Bill Goodykoontz


The New Yorker (David Denby)


The Valley of Elah is much, much better than The Hurt Locker  zunguzungu May 17, 2009


Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]


Monsters and Critics [Brittany Sims]


Between Productions [Robert Cashill] [Stephanie Zacharek]


Slate (Dana Stevens)


The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin] [Pam Grady]


James Berardinelli's ReelViews (Peter Sobczynski)


Film Journal International (Doris Toumarkine)


Austin Chronicle [Josh Rosenblatt]


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan)


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

Haigh, Andrew
WEEKEND                                                               B+                   91

Great Britain  (97 mi)  2011                   Official site


When I’m alone, I’m happy being gay.                       —Russell (Tom Cullen)


Shot in 16 days with a crew of just 15 people, this is one of the best low budget indie gay films in years, about as authentic a portrait of being gay as you’re going to find, intelligently written by the British director where none of the dialogue feels forced, feeling like something out of the Mumblecore vein, where over the course of a few days two guys spend time together and eventually fall in love.  Meeting in a bar, a one-night stand turns into something more, complicated by the fact one of them is leaving for America the next day and is not expected to ever come back.  Perhaps the most predominate theme is one of solitary isolation, the feeling of always being alone, even in family events, parties, work, public places, friendships, and most love affairs, where more than half end up going their separate ways, like ships passing in the night.  Tom Cullen is superb as Russell, an unpretentious, soft-spoken guy in his twenties living in the tenement housing projects where the sterile atmosphere outside is gray and drab, pictured frequently in near still shots.  However the view from his 14th floor window seems to brighten the mood in his apartment so he doesn’t feel so restricted and confined inside such close quarters, as Russell appears used to spending time there alone.  But he’s a free spirit, seen drinking and getting high with family and straight friends after a Friday evening dinner together, then cruising a gay club afterwards where just the decibel level alone is enough to knock your ears off, where everything is about the look, exploring your territory, zeroing in on your prey, where he wordlessly finds Glenn (Chris New), stumbling home together for drunken sex before they really only discover one another the next day when they actually have a chance to talk and get to know each another. 


What’s immediately clear is this is no Gus Van Sant film, as these guys aren’t models or pretty boys, but just ordinary looking guys with inquisitive minds, where their conversations and sexual experiences together feel comfortable and authentic, where their views on sex are immediately fleshed out, as Glenn is an artist who enjoys recording the voices of his lovers the next morning, asking whether the reality meets their anticipated expectations, suggesting how one approaches an affair is like a blank canvas, where what you end up with may not be what you wished for initially, but how you deal with the difference reveals what kind of person you are.  Russell is shy and embarrassed to talk about such intimate details, while Glenn is developing his thesis that gay people never talk about sex in public because they’re too ashamed.  Russell is out, but not with everybody, where he doesn’t have the fierce determination of Glenn who’s determined to talk loud and graphically about sex as often as possible around straight people, but has no illusions about his art project of a series of morning after voices.  “No one is going to come and see it because it’s about gay sex.  So the gays’ll only come to see some cock and they’ll be disappointed, and the straights won’t come because, well, it’s got nothing to do with their world.  They’ll go and see pictures of refugees, or murder or rape, but gay sex, fuck off.”  It’s hard not to be drawn to these guys because conventionality about sexual preference is thrown out the window, as this is candidly refreshing stuff about whether or not people are happy enough. 


Glenn has to acknowledge, however, that he’s running off to Portland, Oregon to take an art class, but if interested, they can keep seeing each other until it’s time to go, inviting him to a bar that evening for a gathering of many of his friends.  The color scheme of reds and yellows are beautifully blended together in their initial encounters, with closely observed cinematography by Urszula Pontikos, who’s fond of a repeated high overhead shot of Glen leaving the building, walking alone, a stark image of singularity.  Russell works as a lifeguard at a local pool, another example of how isolated people can become in public places, and how only a daring few have the nerve to show affection.  The party is at a straight bar (because it’s more fun!), where Glenn can hold court about his neverending sexual adventures, but the two of them hit the streets and scamper off into the night.  These guys are not bashful about plying themselves with all manner of drugs and alcohol, yet they endearingly struggle to get real, to talk about things that matter, where what the other guy feels makes a difference.  While never evolving into the profound depths of novelistic complexity, these guys simply enjoy spending time together where it’s obvious they’re having an effect on each other, while offscreen the filmmaker allows the sound of catcalls or hate speech to occasionally interrupt moments of intimacy, like an everyday reality.  The writer/director also edits this film with minimalist simplicity, a beautifully conceived day-in-the-life film where there’s not a false step anywhere in the movie, including the choice indie music from James Edward Barker, including John Grant’s “I Wanna Go to Marz” John Grant - I Wanna Go To Marz  YouTube (3:57) which plays over the closing credits, where there’s nothing searingly dramatic or theatrically contrived other than the fact that everything in this quietly registering low key film rings true. 


Review: Weekend - Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Gerald Peary

This appealing gay-themed drama, written and directed with intelligence by Andrew Haigh, is a British cousin to the American mumblecore movement, as two twentysomething guys meet, have sex, talk, have more sex, have much more chat, and get closer and closer over a long weekend. Russell (Tom Cullen) is a lifeguard who is private about his sexuality. Glen (Chris New) is an art student who talks loudly and in graphic detail about what he does in bed, especially around straight people. Their time together is sweet without being sentimental, and they certainly don't meet cute, checking each other out at a gay-bar urinal.

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]

In Andrew Haigh’s gentle and incisive Weekend, two British gay men—Russell (Tom Cullen), an awkward, semi-closeted lifeguard, and Glen (Chris New), a cheeky artist—meet in a club, have sex, and then talk, graphically, about the sex they had, and what they thought when they first saw each other, and why Russell is uncomfortable being out, and Glen’s art project, in which gay men talk about sex, that he thinks no one will come to see: not gays because there won’t be any visible cock, not straights because “it’s got nothing to do with their world.” And just when you’re squirming and thinking there might be a little too much navel-gazing here for one film, the men’s easy intimacy begins to seem like a respite, a time-out from a world in which sex talk is either giggly and salacious or nonexistent. Haigh mixes long shots of high rises, of people held apart by their apartments, with loose, warm scenes of Russell and Glen coming out of themselves. Will they stay together? I hate to damage so fragile a work with overpraise, but, gay or straight, if you don’t see yourself in this movie, you need to get a life.

Village Voice [Eric Hynes]

Naturalistic without being ineloquent, heartfelt yet unsentimental, Weekend is the rarest of birds: a movie romance that rings true. After spending an evening with his domesticated straight friends, Russell (Tom Cullen) goes dancing and then home with the object of his desire. But before they can part on customarily awkward morning-after terms, Glen (Chris New) whips out a tape recorder and asks Russell to narrate the night’s events, from first sight to last sigh. Jump-started by Glen’s impersonal art project, they begin a free-form, increasingly intimate dialogue, exchanging ideas, confessions, and come-ons. Per the title, there’s a proscribed duration to what transpires, but we’re so hooked on the moment that the shape of the affair never plays as structure. Veteran editor Andrew Haigh proves adept at scripting characters with full, compelling personalities, facilitating fearless and beguiling performances from his two young leads, and working with DP Urszula Pontikos to devise a visual scheme that’s both organic and evocative. Perhaps the loveliest film to ever show a jizzed belly, Weekend manages to have universal appeal without muting its gayness. It’s a film in which love and sex aren’t fetish objects but negotiable aspects in a developing relationship. Each man has his limits and is only more appealing for having the wherewithal to know and accept what they are.

Time Out New York [Keith Ulhich]

Love is not necessarily forever. For lifeguard Russell (Cullen) and artist Glen (New)—two gay Britons who have a life-changing weekend tête-à-tête—a couple of days will do. Following a brief prologue, in which a clearly discontented Russell attends a party thrown by some straight friends, writer-director Andrew Haigh’s gentle wisp of a film is quick to get the duo together. They meet late at night in a strobe-lit bar, the pounding music drowning out their dialogue so we’re focused entirely on furtive glances and inebriated body movements (a gorgeous, hypnotic sequence). Glen doesn’t even seem that interested in Russell, and we only find out how they ended up together in bed during some morning hangover chat (it involves a diminutive nuisance hilariously nicknamed “the Hobbit”).

From there, Weekend settles into an intentionally minor-key groove, caught somewhere between bracingly direct honesty and cringingly mumbly pretense. Russell and Glen fuck, take walks and have some drug-addled talk about gay issues ranging from media representation to coming out. And after Glen reveals he’s going to be leaving for the U.S. come Monday, what started as a one-night stand becomes a short-term long-term relationship of the Brief Encounter kind. Cullen and New have an easy chemistry, and their modest good looks are a nice riposte to queer cinema’s tendency to favor the smooth, the muscled and the pillow-lipped. But the consistently hushed palette proves so enervating—even the teary-eyed climax barely rises above a whisper—that Haigh’s good-natured and amiable effort ultimately lapses into inconsequence.

Weekend Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out London  Ben Walters

Andrew Haigh’s 2009 film ‘Greek Pete’ wasn’t the sort of directing debut you’d automatically expect from someone whose CV largely comprised editing work on studio pictures such as ‘Shanghai Knights’ and ‘Hannibal Rising’. Its story of contemporary London rent boys – their charm and sex lives, their fraught relationships, their attempts to make it big – fell somewhere between documentary and drama, drawing on reality without wholly forsaking the tools of fiction.

With ‘Weekend’, Haigh builds tremendously on his debut’s intriguing if frustrating promise. His new film is an engaging and moving romance with its head screwed on and, like its predecessor, a film that mines digital video’s peculiar tendency to blur lines between performative registers; the characters in ‘Weekend’ might not acknowledge the camera as those in ‘Greek Pete’ did, but they do probe the idea of the self as an act of performance.

The story is set in a mid-sized town, unnamed in the film, and takes place over a 48-hour period. Easygoing, open-hearted lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) meets outspoken, sharp-tongued Glen (Chris New), an aspiring artist, at a club on a Friday night. Over the following couple of days, they hang out, talk, have sex, eat, party and possibly fall in love. More or less a two-hander shot in chronological sequence, the result is an elegant and affecting miniature, the slow-burning intensity of its central relationship expressed through potent performances and marshalled through smart framing and lean editing. The chemistry between Cullen and New is made credible not only through intimacy and humour but also curiosity and frustration. Haigh’s filmmaking, meanwhile, demonstrates an editor’s sense of economy and pace but also faith in long takes and moments of quiet.

For all its humour, this is not exactly meet-cute territory: Russell and Glen spend as much time mulling normative behaviour and social conventions as making goo-goo eyes. Serious without being solemn, their encounter prompts questions about the pay-off between gay rights and queer questioning – broadly, assimilation and its discontents. There’s a shrewd sense here of the personal and intellectual challenges facing a generation that grew up after Section 28 – perhaps after ‘Queer as Folk’ – with basic battles for legal recognition won but more insidious forms of alienation very much alive. But the film is of more than niche appeal; sexy, provocative, engrossing and occasionally ornery, it should appeal to anyone whose curiosity about someone new has provoked them to question their own identity.

JWR [S. James Wegg]

Writer/director Andrew Haigh has lovingly crafted a deeply intimate film that looks and feels like theatre at its best.

With just two main characters and minimal set changes, it’s left to the actors to carry the production and deliver Haigh’s bounty of insights into man-to-man relationships that easily spill over into the predominantly straight world.

Tom Cullen gives a superb performance as Russell. The “happy enough” orphan is blessed with loyal friends, cute-as-can be goddaughter and regular work as a lifeguard (framing him in front of the “Deep End” sign is just one example of subliminal, visual underscoring; the sparse use of music adds even more weight to the impact of the dialogues). (Still, John Grant’s “Marz”—reserved for the closing credits—is a welcome tonic to all that came before.) Cullen’s transition from a queer man who can only be himself at home to a menace to bigots (largely off camera, but their presence is felt), able to show his real feelings in public places, is a marvel of nuance and grit. If only so many of the important moments weren’t fuelled by copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, which could be construed as the “mask that dare not be removed.”

Russell’s sudden love interest begins as a pick-up in Nottingham’s Propaganda Bar. A furtive look in the men’s room soon leads to a barely remembered sleepover with a surprise awakening. Glen (Chris New devours the wide-ranging role with equal amounts of in-your-face queer and desperately seeking self through solitude) promptly cues up his portable tape recorder and asks his new bed mate to recount last night’s romp.

At this juncture, the film is eerily reminiscent of Claude Pérès’ Unfaithful: two strangers meet up for sex and agree to film the entire night’s activities (cross-reference below). Fortunately, Haigh soon abandons the narrative prop and goes about his extremely skilful business of mixing scenes of growing lust with pillow talk that deftly rounds out the protagonists’ hopes, fears and frailties.

Before long the elephant in the room emerges: “I’m leaving tomorrow,” confesses Glen after their second steamy/thoughtful encounter. But it’s not for a weekend in the country, the young artist is heading to Portland, Oregon for a two-year course to fine-tune his craft (and abandon his “noose around my neck” friends).

Much is made of the ability for a new relationship to begin as a blank canvas where both parties can—initially—project an extremely limited edition of who they are. That notion is expertly contrasted with just how much longtime friends really know about each other. Where Glen likes to interview his partners (for a vague art project/installation somewhere down the road), Russell opts for journaling—especially mindful of chronicling various coming out stories. Those twin threads intersect for a wonderful climax when the parentless protector of lives is offered a surrogate father to come out to. Anyone who has ever been on either side of those telling moments won’t forget that intimate scene anytime soon.

Living on the 14th floor, the camera (beautifully rendered by Urszula Pontikos—the three tub shots add silent punctuation as Russell cleanses himself prior to leaving the security of his domain) captures a trio of views from on high as Glen heads back to his unsatisfactory existence, having just found something fleetingly special.

Filmmaking as sensitive as this is exceedingly rare these days. See it with a friend or partner of any persuasion: everyone will come away richer and, perhaps, wiser than before.

Andrew Haigh’s triumphant Weekend  Paul Brunick from Film Comment, September, October 2011

Director Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, Audience Award winner in South by Southwest's Emerging Visions section, has a deceptively simple conceit. Working-class Russell (Tom Cullen) goes cruising at a gay bar in a British Midlands town and wakes up next to Glen (Chris New), who is leaving the next day to study in the States. They decide to meet up again (why not?) and a one-night stand becomes a lost weekend. There’s lots of drinking and some recreational drug use; there’s a trip to the fair and a goodbye party with Glen’s closest friends; there are explicit but unsensational scenes of casual sex. But mostly there are long and winding conversations. And then suddenly, unexpectedly, things aren’t so casual anymore.

Like the brief relationship it portrays, Weekend’s gut-punch emotional impact depends on just how unexpected its final trajectory is. Starting from a somberly kitchen-sink setup, the pitch builds slowly but with geometric progression, climaxing in an affective register that almost belongs to another genre entirely. The near-final scene would be a total cliché of tear-jerking romance if it weren’t so entirely earned and so seamlessly, devastatingly perfect.

I’m worried (really quite anxious) not to oversell the film, to create expectations when it depends so much on surprise. It’s not a matter of spoilers. There is a last-act revelation in which Russell and Glen learn they’re connected in a way that neither had realized, but it’s really not that important. The surprise of this film is just how ambitious it is: how unhurried its characterizations are, surreptitiously setting up backstory that it patiently waits to pay off; how little self-regard the actors betray, never playing the subtext in their emotionally complex performances; how totally the script avoids spelling out its themes, staging a dialogue between its leads that’s of such unpretentious philosophical resonance that you don’t quite realize how exacting it is until long after you’ve left the theater.

Cullen’s Russell is guileless without being falsely naïve. We first see him interacting with his mates at a childhood friend’s small house party. Russell seems like the gentlest and most well-adjusted boy you could ever hope to meet. “I got Lois the sweetest little present,” he says of the friend’s daughter, with a smile that just lights up the frame. “That’s why we made you the godfather,” the father responds. The exchange might be cloying if they weren’t both high as kites and passing a pipe back and forth. (That’s called counterpoint.) A drunken friend stumbles over and snatches Russell’s hat. “How do I look?” he asks, putting it on. “You look lovely,” Russell answers without a hint of irony. “Very nice.”

But your impression of Russell as emotionally unguarded and enviably grounded is subtly qualified by his late arrival and early departure in two framing scenes. He uses his job as a lifeguard to explain them away (had to work late, got to get up early) but neither is honest. The film opens on him milling about his house (lingering in the bathtub, staring quietly out the window) and continues with him heading to a gay bar. Disco lights strobing, he knocks back some drinks and cruises the room (followed in a bouncing rack-focus and subtly sloppy camerawork). After a quick tour, he heads to the dance floor. “I’ve got so much love to give” blares on the stereo and he starts to dance: stiffly at first, then closing his eyes as he tries to lose himself in the music. The camera lingers on his face as we try to puzzle out its meaning.

A few brief scenes later he’s offering instant coffee to a boy who had brushed off his advances earlier that night: Glen. They seem like a terrible match. Every line of Glen’s dialogue has an affect of carefully distanced sarcasm. As he gets ready to leave, he insists on claiming his “pound of flesh”: an audio interview for his “art project.” Prompting Russell to narrate their evening together, Glen repeatedly cuts in with shock-effect interruptions (“Then I wanted to lick your pits”) and aggressively intrusive questions. “Are you even out to your friends?” he condescendingly inquires. Russell is out, actually, though we may have wondered ourselves. Unsatisfied, Glen presses on, determined to expose some sexual hypocrisy or self-loathing contempt.

The camera holds on the exchange in near-static tableaux (each scene was filmed in flowing master shots). Russell’s monologue is intensely self-conscious but while he and Glen are so focused on his words, their faces become completely transparent. As Russell meets each provocation with beguiling awkwardness and disarming sincerity (“I just thought we had a really nice time”), we watch Glen’s carefully cultivated persona start to wilt. He can’t help but be moved and is made to feel ashamed. His eyes start to glaze over—then abruptly dart away. He stops recording and visibly shakes it off. In spite of himself, this boy has gotten under his skin, and in that moment of vulnerability years of hurt are made manifest. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that these are some of the most beautifully revelatory close-ups I have ever seen.

Weekend is so delicately lyrical and intuitively direct that it almost comes as a shock to realize, upon reflection, just how philosophically schematic the characters’ positions are: two illustrative embodiments of the assimilationist and radical schools of gay politics. Glen revels in transgression: rearranging Russell’s fridge-magnets to spell FAGGOT, eagerly provoking homophobic reactions in public so he can strike back at them with arguments memorized from Introduction to Queer Theory. Most of his complaints, of course, are absolutely justified: the “boy meets girl” hegemony we’re steadily fed from birth, the gay-bashing violence and casual cruelty so relentlessly meted out, the sexless persona gay men accept so as not to offend. (“Gays never talk about sex. Straight people talk about sex all the time, but with gays it’s just cheap innuendo.”) Yet we see how emotionally deadening it is to be so relentlessly embattled, to turn a gesture of tenderness like holding hands into an act of aggression.

And with a symmetry that’s somehow not schematic, Russell embodies the parallel trap. He’s so eager not to alienate anyone that he neurotically conceals and downplays his sexuality even when he doesn’t have to—even when his reticence itself alienates. His friend, more than accepting, asks questions about his romantic life only to be misdirected and rebuffed. “We never talk about this kind of stuff,” Russell later explains when pressed on the issue. “I know,” the friend responds, visibly hurt by the response. It’s an amazing inversion that makes the psychic costs of our schizophrenically (un)accepting era tangibly real. “I’m not embarrassed,” Russell explains to Glen. “I’m not ashamed. And I don’t want to be straight.” “But…”

But: homophobia has a radioactive half-life. I can’t think of another film about gay boys that so totally spoke to my own generational experience of being queer. But (but…) Weekend is not a “gay movie,” made to be slotted in a special-interest demographic ghetto. As Glen says of his own art project: “The straights will go see pictures of war and refugees. But gay sex? Fuck it.”

Weekend is a work of surpassing emotional insight and artistic accomplishment. It’s about (yes) the human condition—and it’s already one of the best of the year.

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson]


SBS Film [Michelle Orange]


IC Places [Chris Knipp]


Weekend | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Alison Willmore


FilmFracture: What's Your Time Worth? [Kristen Sales]  Chris Barsanti 


Andrew Haigh's Weekend: Sex, No Lies & Audiotape - Time Magazine  Mary Pols


Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]


Cinema de Merde [Scott Telek]


jdbrecords [Jeffery Berg]


IndieWire [Eric Kohn] [Kent Turner]


Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]


The Film Pilgrim [Jodie Hatley]


NextToTheAisle [Jamie Garwood] [Dustin Putman]


The Film Stage [John Fink] [Christopher Kelly]


Weekend — Inside Movies Since 1920 - Box Office Magazine  Kate Erbland


Film – Weekend (2011)  LaSonya Thompson


Screen Comment [Lita Robinson]


Cinema Blend [Matt Patches]


Reeling Reviews [Robin Clifford, Laura Clifford]


EFilmCritic [Jay Seaver]


Weekend review | Screenjabber  Charles Whitting


HeyUGuys [Jamie Neish]


Movie Moxie [Shannon Ridler]


Weekend - Entertainment Weekly  Lisa Schwarzbaum


Variety [Joe Leydon]


SXSW 2011: Andrew Haigh is an emerging talent destined to become the main event   Catherine Shoard from The Guardian, March 21, 2011


Peter Bradshaw's review  The Guardian, November 3, 2011


Philip French's review  The Observer, November 5, 2011


Weekend's a three-day wonder  Charles Grant from The Guardian, November 8, 2011


Weekend -  Wesley Morris from The Boston Globe


TGIF: 'Weekend' worth watching -  Stephen Schaefer


Critic Review for Weekend (2011/II) on  Michael O’Sullivan


'Weekend' review: The thing about ... - Press  Chris Hewitt


Austin Chronicle [James Renovitch]


'Weekend' review: Testing boundaries  David Wiegand from The SF Chronicle


Movie review: 'Weekend' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan


Weekend :: :: Reviews


Movie Review - 'Weekend' - 'Weekend,' Directed by Andrew Haigh ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times


45 YEARS                                                                 B+                   90

Great Britain  (95 mi)  2016                               Official site


Pomp and circumstances, where we have curiously grown into a society that loves to celebrate ourselves, which seems like an excuse to cover up the lengthy periods of emptiness and disenchantment that define our lives, unhappy with our jobs, our nation’s leaders, and the inexplicable violence that continues to erupt around the globe, instead throwing a good party for ourselves, claiming we deserve it.  This is a curiously understated, beautifully acted, slowly developing portrait of a longstanding marriage, where the length of time together would seem to suggest solid footing, but we’re on especially delicate grounds here.  Underneath the storyline is a crumbling dissection of class differentiation covering a veneer of happiness, where settling into the customs and habits of the bourgeoisie isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, where there are longstanding disappointments on the limitations of so-called success.  That being said, the film is set in the rural outlying areas of Norfolk, England, where we’re witness to the established routines of an aging couple that’s been together for nearly half a century, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay), where Kate rises early in the morning to give the dog a nice, long walk through the mostly unpopulated territories of the region, where Geoff is about through with breakfast by the time they arrive back, where she dutifully cleans up afterwards.  We’re privy to the smaller aspects of their day, chatting about nothing in particular before she heads into town to run errands while he sets about performing needed chores around the house, where they each exist in a comfort zone with as little confrontation as possible.  After dinner, having discussed whatever needs to be discussed, they head upstairs where they’re in bed by 10:30, only to do it all over again the very next day.  Living a comfortable existence in retirement, the film itself is a series of collected minutiae, where we’re able to surmise little dissension in the ranks, but within the week they’re expected to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary, an event that’s been planned for weeks and months, where they stand up before a gathering of family and friends and honor their marital stability, performed by the standard bearers of British theater, where Rampling was the recipient of a 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Film Awards, while Courtenay was honored with knighthood in February 2001 for his contribution to the nation’s theater and cinema. 


While on the surface, what could be simpler?  Part of the film’s fascination is that it appears to be driven by offscreen issues, by something we’re never familiar with, which can be an unsettling experience for the audience, as whatever truth there is to be found remains ambiguous.  What sets this apart is the influence of the writer/director, whose acclaimed earlier film Weekend (2011) is considered one of the more naturalistic portrayals of gay romance, where one might expect something altogether different going on underneath the surface of this film.  Adapting a short story by David Constantine called In Another Country, Haigh resets the time period, making the couple a bit younger, where their paths initially meet in the 60’s, a time of social upheaval, changing the overall context of the story, adding the anniversary story at the end while altering the central psychological point of view from the husband to the wife.  Setting the story in motion is the receipt of a letter, where Geoff has to pull out an old foreign-language dictionary just to be able to read it, coming from Swiss authorities announcing the discovery of a dead body in the Swiss Alps they believe is Katya, his former lover before he met Kate, whose frozen body has been perfectly preserved in the glacier ice from a hiking accident that happened in the early 60’s.  While initially this revelation from his past seems to stir little to no reaction at all, by the end of the week, however, the impact has the makings of potentially undermining their marriage.  The film follows the day-by-day developments in their lives as they approach the celebration, where ever so slowly there is a shift in their understanding of one another, where this single event has a way of eroding their trust and confidence, though on the surface things stay primarily the same.  It’s an interesting take on the fragility of relationships, even with long-established couples, where sometimes the least expected thing can cause irrational ebbs and flows, where it may not necessarily even make sense, but it certainly happens.  The premise here is that it’s not supposed to happen, as couples like this are the bedrock of the community, having endured their share of adversity, supposedly setting an example for others.  But even they are susceptible to unexpected surprises, despite having built a good life for themselves, with a dog filling the spaces of children they never had, where there’s a noticeable absence of family photos, no smiling pictures of grandchildren, with most of their personal memorabilia tucked away in the attic somewhere.    


Memories of Katya start infiltrating their lives, where Geoff ruminates over his lost dreams, remembering a time in his life when he still held convictions, associating Katya’s death with his own resurrected youth, where he certainly anticipated a different life, filled with progressive young ideals about social change, while now he finds himself surrounded by people that reflect that status quo, exactly what he once railed against.  When he sneaks into the attic at night to sneak a peek of old photographs, Kate grows concerned by a change in habits, where he starts sneaking cigarettes as well, suddenly viewed as the forbidden fruit, something they both decided long ago to overcome, making a pact to stop smoking.  While distressing, it’s not altogether earthshaking, yet Geoff, it seems, is going through a period of mourning, where remembering the dead is part of the expression of grief.  This is not something Kate sympathizes with, as she is and has always been consumed by bourgeois values, with social expectations suggesting she may be more worried about what others think than the man sitting across from her, where her emotional state of repression and icy reserve is guarded like the national treasury, rarely exhibiting any feelings of spontaneity or even charisma, where her over-controlling manner sets her apart from others, but it’s based on presumed middle class security, where she’s rarely, if ever, been under threat.  Nonetheless, it’s her dog that is seen as her loyal companion, while Geoff continues to surprise her and do the unexpected, which she thinks is getting away from her, where she’s losing all control.  In her mind, her husband’s feelings are borderline infidelity, as he insists on re-experiencing faded memories, where Katya’s spirit is like an unexpected ghost that is now terrorizing and haunting her, allowing doubts to creep in, where Geoff does little to dispel her growing anxiety.  Instead she grows tired of smelling Katya’s perfume, seeing her pictures, the preserved diary with dried flower petals, or feeling the hold she still has on her husband, growing increasingly frustrated, where she’s beginning to think she doesn’t even know the man she’s been married to all these years.  In an impetuous moment, Geoff calls Kate’s best friend a fascist for being a Margaret Thatcher apologist.  Mind you, this is the lady that’s springing for the party, so courtesy suggests a certain amount of gratitude, but it’s symptomatic of a fissure that’s grown between them, where long-frozen secrets are suddenly springing to life.  Who’s more of a domineering Thatcherite than Kate, making an ultimatum about how it’s going to be the night before their anniversary party, adding pressure to a crucial speaking appearance before the distinguished guests, where it’s as if Geoff is delivering a speech before the House of Lords.  Meanwhile Kate, suddenly exposed and vulnerable, reacts angrily, thinking the unthinkable, as love is illusive, subject to unalterable shifts, but only because their unspoken feelings have been left to fester for so long.  Much of the viewer’s take on this film is highly subjective, as it all comes down to how you read the characters, where the real intrigue is how quietly devastating the final sequence becomes. 


TIFF 2015 | 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, UK)—Special ...  Angela Murreda from Cinema Scope

Andrew Haigh branches out from his chronicles of transitory love among gay male urbanites with 45 Years, one of the shrewdest follow-ups to a calling-card picture in recent memory. The filmmaker trades the Nottingham setting of Weekend (2011) and the San Francisco clubs of his HBO series Looking for the flatlands of Norfolk, surveyed in a series of countryside tableaux that announce the arrival of each morning in the course of an increasingly fraught week. Placid though the field looks each time we see it from afar, rot has set in within the household of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), whose marriage begins to unravel on the verge of their 45th anniversary. The catalyst for this disintegration is the re-emergence of the frozen body of Geoff’s long-lost lover Katya from its icy tomb in the Swiss Alps—a literal resurfacing of the dead past that is very much on Geoff’s mind in the lead-up to the party.

Unnervingly quiet and rigorously orchestrated, 45 Years is the work of an accomplished filmmaker who could stand to take more chances. Fluent as he is in the kind of offhanded characterization we tend to see from seasoned realists—Kate and Geoff reveal themselves here and there in wordless gestures and passive-aggressive grumbles of assent—Haigh often seems to be hitting his marks at alarmingly regular intervals, doling out his dramatic beats courtesy of an intravenous drip feed. The result of Haigh’s ostentatiously prosaic aesthetic—best encapsulated by an overdetermined composition that finds a shadowed Kate flanked on her right by a spectral slide-show projection of her deceased, black-clad romantic rival—is often uncanny. Every intimate two-hander becomes an over-scripted one-act; every new scrap of previously concealed information (especially that concerning the couple’s conspicuous childlessness) lands with the brute force of an exclamation mark. 45 Years may be annoyingly precise in its execution, but it’s nuanced enough that it doesn’t always matter, skillfully evoking literary antecedents like James Joyce’s “The Dead” and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway without being too fussy about it, and building to a hell of a coda that stings in spite of its inevitability.

Review: 45 Years - Film Comment  Michael Koresky, November/December 2015

It only takes about two minutes of screen time for Andrew Haigh to establish the comfortable domestic home life of his main characters in 45 Years before he sets about disrupting it. A cozy gray sweater here, a well-cradled coffee cup there, a wife’s quick kiss to her husband’s forehead—Charlotte Rampling’s Kate and Tom Courtenay’s Geoff are enjoying an overcast morning in Norfolk surely much like any other over the course of their nearly half-century together. They are preparing for an overly elaborate 45th wedding anniversary party, discussing the possible music playlist (oldies, of course). Then the letter arrives: the body of Geoff’s former love, who died during a hiking accident in Switzerland way back in 1962 after disappearing into a crevasse, has finally been recovered. The news is swiftly troubling for each of them, but for different reasons: for Geoff it reminds him of a tragic loss he was clearly never able to mourn fully; for Kate it dredges up a terrible thought—that there was a woman her husband loved before her and potentially more than her, and that their entire relationship, however contented, is predicated on the untimely death of another.

It’s a neat, if perhaps too tidy, metaphorical conceit—the past literally surfaces after years of dormancy—and one that makes the film feel very much like the adaptation of a short story (by David Constantine) that it is. As in his 2011 debut, Weekend, Haigh brings crystalline precision to every shot, although here he trades that feature’s more rough-and-tumble working-class Nottingham look for a series of higher-gloss art-film compositions that thankfully stop short of studied airlessness. Working with cinematographer Lol Crawley, Haigh zeroes in on every eyelid twitch and cheek-muscle contraction on Rampling’s reliably nuanced face without getting suffocatingly close; Courtenay, the less knowable of the two because of the screenplay’s increasing focus on Kate’s growing emotional estrangement, is more opaque, although the former Billy Liar is granted space for some lovely moments of unadorned vulnerability. At one tender point, when Geoff is unable to maintain an erection while the couple attempts a bout of makeup sex, Haigh ensures it’s neither humorous nor pitiful, just a momentary technical hitch. Throughout, the film similarly refuses to champion Kate’s perhaps overly anxious behavior (as a more one-sided women’s picture about unappreciated wives might), allowing us to simply observe as her mind grinds away behind the stoic facade.

The circumscribed plot of 45 Years necessitates that we believe that, over the course of less than a week, the sturdy edifice of a marriage between two intelligent, presumably faithful people could be undermined by the reverberations of one distant echo from the past. For some the very premise will seem unlikely, even preposterous; and as in Weekend, which followed two men from casual hookup to teary farewell over the course of two days, it’s possible that Haigh has compressed too much of his characters’ emotional transformation into too short a time frame. (The superb HBO series Looking, which he co-created and frequently directed, avoided this problem by allowing its central relationships to blossom over the course of many episodes and months in the lives of its characters.)

Yet the questions about the couple raised by the film make 45 Years more a provocation to its audience than just another collection of scenes from a marriage. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether this relationship is really in jeopardy at all or whether they will just go on for the remainders of their hopefully happy lives together plagued by the slightest twinge of doubt. 45 Years is ultimately not about the larger forces that tear us apart but the demons that lurk in the backs of our minds while we stay together. The elegant final shot, a single take that lets the Platters’ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” do most of the emotional heavy lifting until the brilliant final coup, will likely mean something different depending on who you talk to—which speaks not to Haigh’s need for artful ambiguity, but to his acknowledgment that human beings are so complicated and fragile that it’s downright scary.

Film of the Week: 45 Years | Andrew Haigh - Film Comment  Jonathan Romney, December 17, 2015

British writer-director Andrew Haigh made his name with his second feature, the realist gay romance Weekend (11), about the beginning of a relationship. His follow-up 45 Years is about the end of a relationship—or, at least, a moment late in a long marriage. It’s also about a relationship’s prehistory—its backstory, if you really must. The terrible event that makes 45 Years so intensely charged has happened long before the action begins—more than 45 years earlier, in fact—and what Haigh shows us is a sort of extended aftershock, following the belated bringing to light of something long forgotten. Haigh established himself in Weekend as a master of understatement; 45 Years confirms that not showing us is absolutely his forte.

The opening shot shows us an unremarkable house in a small quiet fold on a rural horizon. We’re in Norfolk—an eastern county of England that’s generally regarded as somewhat hard to get to from most places, if not actually isolated. In dramatic terms, it’s the kind of locale you might expect to be inhabited by people whose existences haven’t changed for some time. The Mercers, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), have lived here for years: she was a local schoolteacher, he worked in management in a nearby factory. They’re both retired, thoughtful, cultivated, left-wing, and they’re about to throw a party to celebrate 45 years of married life.

We meet Kate returning from her daily morning walk with the dog: the postman has delivered a letter and it contains a bombshell. “They found Katya,” Geoff quietly announces. “I know I told you about my Katya,” he adds—and that quiet “my” is the first of the film’s depth charges. Years ago, in the early Sixties before he and Kate met, he loved a young German woman; while they were out walking in the Swiss Alps, she fell into a chasm and died. Now she has been found, her body perfectly preserved in a glacier. “How strange it would be, though,” muses Geoff in a quiet leap of philosophical fantasy, “if she looked like she did in 1962, and I look like this.” All this emerges in a long take in the couple’s kitchen, during which time a cozy domestic space gradually becomes intensely claustrophobic.

The drama—told chapter by chapter over several days of a single week—traces the process by which the couple’s relationship, and Kate’s sense of their past, are slowly affected by the presence of an invisible intruder, a person possibly not even mentioned for decades, but who suddenly becomes the ghost in the household. Kate senses she suddenly has a threatening rival in this eternally young woman frozen by time and memory; Katya’s name suggests a menacing doppelgänger, or the young Geoff’s desire to find a similarly named woman to replace his lost love. Perhaps Katya is the secret that has played a much larger part in his life than he has ever let on, and that he has perhaps deliberately been keeping under wraps; it’s as if, all along, this marriage has always concealed a lie, even if only a lie of omission. On their trip, it emerges, Geoff and Katya posed as a married couple. He mentioned it to Kate, long ago—or did he? “I’m sure I did,” he hesitates—Courtenay’s delivery, woolly and distracted, gives a wonderfully casual tone to Geoff’s evasion—“and if I didn’t, it’s hardly the sort of thing you tell your beautiful new girlfriend, is it?”

The power of this drama, based on a short story by David Constantine, stems from the discrepancy between, on one hand, the horrific strangeness of Katya’s death and resurgence, and on the other, the mundanity of the world in which this drama unfolds. When Kate goes to look at the venue for their anniversary party—a stately Georgian-era banqueting suite—the manager tells her that the place is “so full of history, like a good marriage.” We don’t learn much about this particular marriage, other than that Kate and Geoff sparked on a dance floor in Leeds—but while they’ve clearly been comfortable together for years, this may well be a marriage without history, without significant events. They have no children, but more importantly, they have no catalog of photographs to document their shared existence. History, it seems, happened before they met—and it happened primarily to Geoff. The film focuses on Kate’s experience as someone who suddenly finds herself radically excluded—the bystander looking on at someone else’s dramatic life event.

In its simplicity, 45 Years is the kind of film that once would routinely have been dismissed as being too much like a TV movie—that is, like the one-off TV dramas that used to get made in the U.K., written by writers of the caliber of Alan Bennett, or directed by the likes of Stephen Frears or Philip Saville. But such single dramas are a thing of the past, while British cinema has almost entirely turned its back on serious treatments of middle-class subject matter, whether because such material isn’t considered sexy at the box office, or because it’s seen as elitist, boring, and fundamentally uncinematic (recent exceptions include Joanna Hogg’s films, and Mike Leigh’s Another Year). In the current climate of UK cinema, 45 Years is a striking anomaly, and a rigorously executed one.

This classic “return of the repressed” story is psychological drama at its most delicate and acute. There are little telling touches of cultural detail that make the couple real—the Sixties pop that Kate chooses for their party, the fact that Geoff listens to Lee Hazlewood in his solitary moods, the upmarket popular history paperback she reads (Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem). But above all, so much is revealed by simple implication. We notice that Kate is the one who drives the car: Geoff seems happy to be dependent on her, and as a man who doesn’t get out much, he seems to have given up on much of life, as if his real life happened before he married.

There’s a wonderful piece of withholding in a crucial scene. When Geoff goes up to the attic to dig out a picture of Katya, Kate angrily insists that he show it to her. She stares at the picture, but Haigh doesn’t let us see it: Kate leaves it resting on the attic steps and walks away, and Haigh just leaves us looking at the steps. We do get to see Katya later, in fact, when Kate looks at Geoff’s old slides of her. Haigh pitches it perfectly, dividing the space of the screen in two so that we’re looking at Kate as she gazes at the projection of  Katya. And this is where we see Rampling’s face register the realization that there’s more to her husband’s youthful romance than she realized; while watching this, I thought of all the other filmmakers, British or otherwise, who would have insisted on lacing the film with young actors in Alpine flashbacks, and appreciated Haigh’s discretion all the more (even if he’d had the budget, I can’t imagine him considering it).

Rampling and Courtenay are superb. He gives us a marvelously cantankerous character study in the beautifully written scene in which, after a works luncheon, the generally diffident Geoff lets rip in the car about how one of his old radical friends has sold out to the system. Courtenay plays Geoff as a bit of a bumbler, somewhat soft and feminized, as if his masculinity had departed long ago; and Geoff clearly carries his advancing age much more heavily than Kate does. She’s svelte, youthful, while Courtenay casts vanity aside to show us Geoff in his Y-fronts, distinctly paunchy and a victim of time and gravity. But there’s a brilliantly counterintuitive streak in the casting. For Geoff is the one who has a led a life, a secret life at that, while Kate’s history remains an unknown to us: maybe she’s never lived, not in a way you’d consider dramatic. Rampling, not someone you would normally cast as a homebody, is an actress whose face and knowing, silky voice (not to mention the louche associations of her filmography) suggest deep dimensions of experience, knowledge, and urbane sophistication. She has the eyes of someone who’s seen the world and figured that world out—but here, she plays a woman who might well be confronting darker realities for the first time. There are wonderful non-verbal moments where Kate’s doubt and pain become eloquently palpable: like a shot of her gazing at him in bed in the dark, or Kate waiting for Geoff in a café, the slight droop of her shoulders, silhouetted against the window, speaking volumes about the sudden seismic shift in their relationship.

The visual detail is perfectly pitched—in Sarah Finlay’s production design, the décor of the Mercers’ home has clearly little changed since the Eighties or thereabouts, suggesting either staleness or their stable contentment with unostentatious comfort. DP Lol Crawley captures an autumnal state of nature and of soul, from the brown unpretty leaves around the cottage windows to the flatness of the Norfolk Broads, with a miniature Mississippi-style riverboat looking absurdly, and resonantly, landlocked on a placid waterway.

There’s telling use of sound, like the impressionistic effect of a distant eerie draught that seems to come from the attic door, as if Alpine winds are blowing through the house, making this a very discreet domestic form of English ghost story. Over the opening credits, the obsolete sound of a photographic slide carousel (now remembered only by people of a certain age, or Mad Men viewers) suggests the years clicking slowly away. And notice the perfect timing with which, right at the end, a certain Moody Blues number kicks in over the end credits—just after an extended, wordless, sublimely choreographed, beautifully painful closing shot that reminds us why the face of Charlotte Rampling is one of the most eloquent signifying surfaces in today’s cinema.

Interview: Andrew Haigh  Paul Dallas interview from Film Comment, December 1, 2015

Every relationship is a story that two people agree to believe. In Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, we witness just how fragile that story can be. The director’s follow-up to Weekend (11) stars Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling as Geoff and Kate, a couple who have spent the better part of their lives together, now comfortably enjoying their twilight years in a small provincial English town where she taught elementary school. Theirs is a happy, childless marriage; the most serious infidelity is the occasional cigarette Geoff sneaks in the backyard, despite his heart surgery, which delayed their anniversary five years earlier. As the film begins, they are getting ready to celebrate their 45th with a party Kate has organized for all their friends.

One morning, a letter arrives in the mail for Geoff. The body of Katya, his former lover, has been found perfectly preserved in a Swiss glacier. She was lost during a hiking accident with him in the early 1960s. The uncanny discovery unsettles Geoff, and as he grapples with this (literal) ghost of his past, Haigh shifts our attention to Kate, who finds the event unexpectedly difficult to get over. Smart and self-aware, she understands that it’s absurd to feel jealousy for her husband’s long-dead ex-lover. And yet she does.

With 45 Years, Haigh has crafted an exquisitely observed, emotionally resonant mystery about the instability of identity. At first, Kate is rattled by the visible effect of Katya on Geoff, who becomes moody and withdrawn. But something larger, a more amorphous anxiety, begins to take hold of her. She finds herself questioning not just the authenticity of their marriage, but the foundations of her own self-image. Who is she? What life has she chosen? This apparently minor bump in their relationship begins to signify a fissure in the smooth shell of her life. A trip to the attic leads Kate to discover a hidden piece of Geoff’s past, further fueling her existential spiral.

The film is remarkable for treating the romantic experiences of 70-year-olds with no less urgency than that of the millennials in Weekend. If that film was about how a fling in your twenties could change the course of your life, 45 Years suggests that certainty in love is an illusion at any age. Shot on 35mm and anchored by sharp dialogue, Haigh’s latest is arguably a richer, more layered work, due in large part to the performances of its two stars, who deliver some of the best work of their careers. Rampling is especially satisfying to watch as she navigates with incredible dexterity Kate’s mixture of sophistication and vulnerability.

FILM COMMENT sat down with the 42-year-old British director, who was jet-lagged but in good spirits, at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel following his film’s North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. 45 Years screens in a sneak preview on December 1 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and opens December 23.

45 Years is based on a short story published this year by the English writer David Constantine. Can you talk about the origins of the project and the process of adapting it for film?

Shortly after making Weekend, I discovered a collection of short stories by David Constantine that included In Another Country, which is really the core of 45 Years. The story is quite short, only about 15 pages long, but it really struck me. I found the central metaphor of a frozen past and a potential stopped short very compelling. On one hand, the premise of finding Katya in the ice seems absurd and illogical. At the same time, it’s also believable. It feels weird in the way real life feels weird. I changed a few details in adapting it for the screenplay. In the original story, Geoff and Kate are much older, in their late eighties and it’s set in the 1990s. This meant that their past occurred during the Second World War. For the film, I made the couple younger, in their late sixties and early seventies. That shifted the backdrop of their past to the 1960s, so the context was different. The time frame of the story also changed. David’s story unfolds over several weeks, but the film takes place over the course of one week, and each day is announced on screen in a title card. I also added the anniversary party, which doesn’t happen in the book. Perhaps more importantly, David wrote the story from Geoff’s perspective, which I changed. I was tired of seeing stories told from the male point of view. I felt that surely women should be able to have romantic and existential crises, too, despite what society says!

Charlotte Rampling won the award for best actress at Berlin for her performance. She’s able to express, with astonishing economy, a whole range of emotions just below the surface. It’s the first time we’ve seen her in a multidimensional role like this for some time.

She’s been absolutely amazing in these smaller roles in films like Melancholia and Life During Wartime, but I feel that she’s become primarily known for this iciness. If you go back and watch Under the Sand, you’re reminded that there’s so much more to her. With 45 Years, I wanted to see her subtlety. The film is so much about what’s unknowable about a person. It’s about what you should and shouldn’t know about the person you’re with, being close and then being pushed away. And Charlotte can just express all of this in her face. She has an incredible sense of both giving you things and keeping things hidden. I also loved the idea of taking someone like her, who has become so iconic, and dropping her in a small provincial town in England, where she has to go down to the shopping center each day!

We see Geoff struggle to come to terms with his past, but as you said, the film really becomes the story of Kate’s inner crisis.

Kate feels threatened by the discovery of Katya. At the same time, she’s also aware that there’s something wrong with this feeling. I mean, Geoff is not having an affair. This is something that happened 50 years ago. So, it’s something else. In a way, it’s like a ghost story. Kate knows it’s not real, but she still feels the presence of this ghost, and it has a profound effect on her. I see Geoff as going through an existential crisis and then getting over it. Kate observes what’s happening to him and has her own crisis, but she’s not able to get over it by the end of the film. It becomes too much for her. Katya is like a fissure that opens up all these other questions. What is my life? What have I done? Could I have done more with it? When they are in bed together, Kate asks Geoff whether he would have married Katya if she hadn’t died. She’s wondering what on earth her life would have been like if that had happened. She wouldn’t be living where she is. She wouldn’t be doing what she is doing. She would be with somebody else. And I actually think Geoff and Kate are happy together as a couple. But this idea that your life could easily have been different is a terrifying idea.

Weekend took place over two days and 45 Years plays out over the course of a week. Each film is structured dramatically by a deadline: a lover’s departure, or in this case, a countdown to the party. Can you talk about time as a subject?

Time obsesses me. It’s very hard for me to articulate why it obsesses me. It appears to stretch onward forever, but of course it doesn’t. There’s a very finite point for everything, especially for us. And things change so rapidly. Our surroundings and our identities are so fragile, so changeable. They can fall apart really quickly and it’s quite terrifying. You can go along very happily in your life, and suddenly it can just crumble away. It’s also the notion that the choices we make are so important. I wish it was possible to realize how important they are while you’re making them, but that’s not usually the case.

Prior to directing, you worked for a number of years as an assistant editor working on some big productions, including the Ridley Scott films Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. I’m wondering how this background influences how you approach making films now that you’re a director.

Working in editing, you learn the mechanics of how to develop a story over an hour and a half. For me, it was especially interesting to see what a director chose to shoot and what actually made it into the final film. In the mainstream film industry, directors tend to shoot a lot of footage and then find the scene in the edit. Even before I made Weekend, I decided that I would work the other way around. I wanted to find what was important in a scene while shooting. If I determined that a scene could be done in one shot, that’s how I would shoot it, and I wouldn’t worry about coverage. In 2009, I made a quasi-docudrama called Greek Pete that was produced very quickly. Basically, I would turn up with a camera and just film two guys improvising. The scenes usually happened in one shot, and I found this process of capturing two people interacting really fascinating. You are better able to see how two people relate when you let the camera roll. It’s the opposite of designing and editing a scene around emotional beats. Instead, it was just happening in front of you, and it was something that I wanted to try to re-create in the romantic relationships in my films.

When I used to make short films, I was always concentrating on how to direct individual scenes. Now, I think in terms of larger sequences. In Weekend, there’s a 15-minute sequence of three scenes that feels like a single scene. The two characters are in bed talking, and we shot it in three shots—wide, mid, and close-up. Shooting it this way with the idea of how the shots would work in sequence made it feel like one big scene. I know that if I shoot a scene one way, the next will likely be shot in contrast. What I am trying to do is make the whole film feel like a piece of music. In 45 Years, we don’t have a musical score to link everything together, so choosing the right shot size and blocking for each scene becomes essential in constructing the larger sequences.

Since there’s a high degree of intentionality and precision in the way you are shooting, I’m wondering whether your scripts change much during the process.

In general, my scripts don’t change dramatically once they’re written. Individual scenes tend to stay the same, but I might add a new scene here or there, if I feel that it’s necessary later on. The challenge is finding the right balance between how much you reveal and how much you withhold from the audience. This is always the hardest thing. I often write scenes that I feel will be necessary to explain things, which I then later remove in the edit.

Both Weekend and 45 Years are two-handers that explore the nature of intimacy. I would imagine that you must rehearse extensively with your actors to be able to create that on screen.

I don’t do any rehearsals. I always meet the actors before the shoot and talk together about the film and the characters. I had three days with Charlotte and a couple days with Tom. We discussed our own interpretations, and about how we feel about the characters and our own lives. This helps everyone get to a very secure point, where we’re all in agreement about what we’re doing. After that, we start shooting. I don’t storyboard, but I’m very clear about what I want the blocking to be. I might take some lines out, add some new ones, or change the blocking. So, I like to work through it when the camera is on because I don’t want to miss something special.

There’s a moment midway through 45 Years when Kate expresses regret that she and Geoff never took many photos of themselves together. Later, during a critical moment in the film, she discovers a photo of Geoff and Katya that entirely changes her relationship to her own past. But it raises an interesting question about why and for whom we need to document our lives.

We can’t escape our own past, and we can’t escape other people’s pasts. It’s about our human weakness, wanting to believe that the person we’re with is dedicated to us and that we are dedicated to them. We don’t like to acknowledge that each person has a past that precedes the relationship. It’s a problem because however truthful you think you are being with someone, you are always keeping things under the surface. But maybe that’s okay as well.

I’m someone who takes lots of photos and I make albums for each year. It’s interesting to try to put your life into perspective. It’s really about my own desire to understand where my life has been and how it’s developing. Because it’s so easy to forget. Suddenly, you wonder where the last 10 years have gone. I used to keep all my letters, photos, and stuff I’d collected in boxes under my bed. But at night, I’d get freaked out thinking about my past being living underneath me. I thought about moving it to the attic, but I was afraid of having all of it above me, falling on me. Instead, I put it all in a storage unit miles away!

45 Years: 'The UK has a blind spot for dramas about middle-class ... - BFI   Joseph Walsh from BFI Sight and Sound, January 13, 2016


45 Years review | Sight & Sound | BFI  September 2015


In Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, a long marriage comes unraveled in a short time  Andrea Gronvall fom The Chicago Reader


Movie Review: Andrew Haigh's 45 Years -- Vulture  David Edelstein


Review: Andrew Haigh's Elegant And Empathetic '45 Years ...  Jessica Kiang from The Playlist


Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, starring Tom Courtenay ... - Slate  Dana Stevens


* 45 Years – Andrew Haig Patronising, Depressing Stereotypes  Zettel Film Reviews


45 Years :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste - Paste Magazine  Tim Grierson


45 Years | Film Review | Tiny Mix Tapes


The Film Stage [Giovanni Marchini Camia]


iNFLUX Magazine [Steve Pulaski]


45 Years: A nightmare on the brain of the living?  David Walsh from The World Socialist Web Site - Movie Review: 45 Years (2015)


Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]


45 Years - Village Voice  Melissa Anderson


Slant Magazine [Matt Brennan]


Exclaim! [Robert Bell]


Movie Review: Charlotte Rampling Dazzles in Andrew Haigh's Oscar-Nominated '45 Years'  David Sims from The Atlantic 


Film Freak Central Review [Walter Chaw]


Film Racket [Paul Brenner]


45 Years · Film Review The devastating 45 Years is as ...  A.A. Dowd from The Onion A.V. Club


Spectrum Culture [Seth Katz]


Digital Spy [Stella Papamichael]


The House Next Door [Kenji Fujishima]


PopOptiq [Lane Scarberry]


45 Years - Little White Lies  Sophie Monks Kaufman [Jeff Nelson] [Dr. Svet Atanasov] [Brian Orndorf] - Blu-ray [Luke Bonanno] - 2016 UK Blu-ray release [Dom Robinson]


Culture Fix [Andrew McArthur]


Cinemablographer [Pat Mullen]


Cinema Axis [Courtney Small] [Luke Shaw]


IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]


Critic's Notebook [Tim Hayes]


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


Filmaluation [Hemanth Kissoon] [Jasper Rees]


The Metropolist [Rob Wallis]


45 Years - The New Yorker  Richard Brody (capsule review)


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


45 Years by Andrew Haigh: Official Film Website


Berlin: Andrew Haigh on Surprising With '45 Years' and the Future of ...  Nigel M. Smith interview from indieWIRE, February 11, 2015


'45 Years': Berlin Review - Hollywood Reporter  Stephen Dalton


'45 Years' Review: Andrew Haigh's Moving Marital Drama ...  Charles Gant from Variety


45 Years review – Tom Courtenay and Charlotte ... - The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw


45 Years review – a very stylish marriage | Film | The Guardian  Mark Kermode


45 Years review: 'Charlotte Rampling has never been better'  Tim Robey from The Telegraph


Irish Film Critic [Alex Saveliev]


South China Morning Post [James Marsh]


Toronto Film Scene [Adam Sidsworth]


Metro US [Matt Prigge]


Charlotte Rampling is quietly devastating in '45 Years' - The ...  Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post


The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]


Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones] [Devin D. O'Leary]


Review: '45 Years' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan


45 Years Movie Review & Film Summary (2015) | Roger Ebert  Susan Wloszczyna


Review: In '45 Years,' a Dead Flame Threatens a Marriage ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times


DVDBeaver Blu-ray [Gary Tooze]


45 Years - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hallström, Lasse


All-Movie Guide   Rebecca Flint Marx


One of Sweden's most renowned directors, Lasse Hallström is best known to international audiences as the maker of such poignant but resolutely unsentimental coming-of-age films as My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. The son of an amateur filmmaker, Hallström was born in Stockholm on June 2, 1946. He began his professional career in high school when, with the assistance of a group of friends, he made a short film about some school mates who had formed a band. The film was shown on Swedish television, and after graduating high school, Hallström went on to do more work for television. His Shall We Dance? was aired in 1969, while The Love Seeker (1972) was Sweden's entry at the Montreux Television Festival. The following year, Hallström's Shall We Go to My or to Your Place or Each Go Home Alone?, a televised film about Swedish youth, was so well received that he was able to make his feature film directorial debut.
Hallström made his debut with the romantic drama En Kille och en tjej (A Guy and a Gal) in 1975. Two years later, he focused his lens on one of Sweden's most famous exports in ABBA - The Movie. He subsequently made a number of romantic comedies, but it was not until 1985, with Mitt Liv Sond Hund (My Life as a Dog), that Hallström had his international breakthrough. A bona fide art-house hit, My Life was the touching and wholly un-patronizing coming-of-age story of a young boy sent to live with relatives when his terminally ill mother can no longer care for him. The film earned a score of international honors, including the Best Foreign Film Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle award, and Hallström received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Following the success of My Life as a Dog, Hallström remained in Sweden, making children's films. In 1991, he came to the U.S. and made his stateside debut with Once Around. A romantic comedy starring Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss, it enjoyed a favorable reception. Two years later, the director's international reputation was further solidified with the film that many regard as one of his best, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Another unsentimental coming-of-age story, it was centered around the travails of the title character (played by Johnny Depp), a young man longing for change from his mundane everyday existence. It featured strong performances all around, particularly from Depp and a then-unknown Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of Gilbert's retarded younger brother.
Hallström's follow-up to Gilbert, Something to Talk About (1995), returned him to the realm of romantic comedy. Starring Julia Roberts as a woman bent on getting revenge on her philandering husband (Dennis Quaid), it earned a less enthusiastic reception than Hallström's previous film, but still managed to be fairly successful. The director did not make another film for four years; when he re-emerged, it was with an adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules. Featuring a script by the author, it starred Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, and Michael Caine, the latter playing his first ever American-accented role as a kindly doctor and occasional abortionist. The following year Hallstrom scored yet another art-house hit with the romantic comedy drama Chocolat, the tale of a small-town candy maker who shakes up her community by staying open on Sundays earned numerous award nominations including four Golden Globe Nominations and five Oscar nominations. Hallstrom's pace showed no signs of lagging with the release of The Shipping News in 2001, and though the film may have not been as universally adored as his previous few films it nevertheless earned positive critical notice and earned a healthy keep at art-house box-offices.
Keeping the drama personal for his next film, An Unfinished Life, audiences eagerly awaited the tale of a down-on-her-luck woman (Jennifer Lopez who moves in with her estranged father in law (Robert Redford) in order to ensure her daughter a safe and sheltered upbringing.
Since 1994, Hallström has been married to actress Lena Olin, with whom he has a daughter.


The Unofficial Website


Filmbug  biography


Film Reference  profile by Robin Wood


Hallström, Lasse  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They



Sweden  Australia  (96 mi)  1977  ‘Scope


Time Out

Unashamed and supremely slick commercial for the group, maintaining a gentle air of self-parody while at the same time being a celebration of all the various apparatuses which make a merchandising phenomenon like ABBA possible. The narrative, without which the film would mostly consist of footage of the band on stage, follows ABBA through an Australian tour pursued by a Sydney deejay. If the idea's spread a bit thin, it's occasionally handled with a humour and panache worthy of Dick Lester's Beatles' movies or ABBA's own Phil Spector/Brian Wilson- inspired studio craftsmanship.

All Movie Guide [Donald Guarisco]

This surprisingly inspired concert documentary is much more than the throwaway quickie one might expect. In fact, ABBA: The Movie functions both as a fun concert movie and a nifty time capsule thanks to some inspired filmmaking. The film's wraparound device of a reporter stalking ABBA might seem fairly stale in concept, but it works here because the script underplays this element, choosing to focus on the real-life hassles the character would deal instead of placing him in a series of contrived slapstick moments (the moments with him recording and editing down his on-the-street interviews are particularly interesting). It's also worth noting that Robert Hughes delivers a surprisingly wry performance as the Disc Jockey that manages to deliver plenty of humor without lapsing into mugging or overtly broad gesticulation. However, the heart of any concert film must lie in its musical numbers, and ABBA: The Movie delivers this element in spades: director Lasse Hallström and cinematographer Paul Onorato capture each song with a variety of angles and flashy moves that Hallström has deftly edited into fast-moving bursts of music and image that anticipate the programming that would soon fill MTV. They also periodically intercut these performances with other moments to ironic effect, the best example being all the shots of ABBA merchandise and vendors that are cut into the performance of "Money, Money, Money." In front of the camera, ABBA deliver their songs with big, bright smiles and plenty of gusto as a string of relentlessly screaming audiences whoop it up. ABBA fans should be especially happy with the film's musical content because it includes both familiar hits like "Dancing Queen" and lesser-known fan favorites like "Eagle." In short, ABBA: The Movie is a slick, fast-paced treat for the group's fans and a fine way for novices to experience this internationally popular group at the height of their fame.

Turner Classic Movies   Pablo Kjolseth

A November 10, 2004 CNN post declared that ABBA, the Swedish pop superstars that disbanded in 1981, would not be getting together for a 30th year re-union. The article also noted that "Four years ago they turned down an offer of $1 billion to re-form" and quoted singer Bjorn Ulvaeus as saying "Just look at our videos - That energy, that drive, that enthusiasm. You just wouldn't see that anymore if the four of us got on stage today. It's just not there." Those willing to take Bjorn up on the challenge of watching ABBA videos will notice one name behind most of these promo clips; Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director behind such films as My Life as a Dog (1985), What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), and The Shipping News (2001), among others, including an early feature called ABBA: The Movie (1977).

ABBA: The Movie is a playful concoction that mixes actual concert footage of ABBA performing around Australia in March of 1977 with a thin narrative that follows a disc jockey by the name of Ashley (played by Robert Hughes, who later worked in various Australian TV shows) working against the clock to secure an interview with the band. Ashley's desperation is fueled by the fact that his job is at stake, and also due to his efforts being repeatedly foiled. Most viewers will probably find the interludes with the persistent disc jockey an irritation and an unnecessary distraction, but it does serve the purpose of providing a medium by which some superficial information about the band and their success can be relayed to the novice.

The film does a few interesting things, beginning with a cramped flat presentation which introduces us to Ashley that is soon thereafter stretched open to reveal a Panavision wide-screen format to introduce ABBA - preceding a similar motif by Douglas Trumbull, used in Brainstorm (1983), where he would switch between different film formats to punch up desired moments. There is also an abundant use of the splitscreen, made popular in Woodstock (1970), and there are even some fantasy and dream sequences tossed in for good measure. While these attempts to spice up the proceedings will do little to convince non-fans that ABBA could rise above a bland stage show that was carried mostly by pleasant vocals and, secondly, by some measure of gloss and frilly white costumes, the overall effect does serve to pump up the seventies time-capsule vibe that saw ABBA at the peak of its career.

ABBA is an acronym derived from the first names of its members Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Agnetha and Bjorn were married in July of 1971 (divorced 1979), while Benny and Anni-Frid were married in October of 1978 (and divorced in 1981). Their initial collaboration began in 1970 with a cabaret act called Festfolk (a word whose double-meaning could be interpreted as either "party people" or "engaged couples"). As the group climbed its way up the ladder and changed its name a few other times it finally got to the 1973 Swedish selections for the Eurovision Song Contest, where their song "Ring Ring" garnered third place. The next year they officially took on ABBA as their name and their song "Waterloo" took them all the way to the Eurovision finals. According to "ABBA - The Site," a good internet repository for band info, "ABBA was also the name of a Swedish canned fish company, which luckily agreed to lending their name to a pop group. The Eurovision Song Contest on April 6, 1974 turned out to be the most famous moment in ABBA history, when the group won the international juries over with 'Waterloo'. " And the rest, as they say, is history.

Aside from the concert footage and back-stage snippets afforded by the film, ABBA fans have another reason to seek out this particular film according to another website titled "The Secret Guide to ABBA: The Movie":

Many ABBA books over the years (starting with ABBA for the Record in 1980) have listed three mysterious instrumental songs that are supposed to be heard in ABBA - The Movie , 'Johan pa snippen', 'Polkan gar', and 'Stoned'. They have often been described as "traditional" tunes¿ 'Johan pa snippen' is the Swedish "polka" tune played in the backstage dressing room¿ 'Polkan gar' is heard very quietly in the background of the very next scene¿ 'Stoned' is heard very quietly during the scene when ABBA are in the hotel room (in "Perth") reading the reviews of the Sydney concert.

The above excerpt puts "Perth" in quotes due to obvious liberties taken while filming the tour. Liberties that included only shooting Agnetha above the neck for most of the film (due to a pregnancy) or strategically obscured newspaper headlines trying to hide the headline "AGNETHA'S BOTTOM TOPS DULL SHOW." Such cynicism is surely easily shrugged off by the kind of avid fan base that sold over 26 million copies of the 1992 compilation CD titled ABBA Gold and that also recently helped make Mama Mia! (based on ABBA songs) one of Broadway's most popular shows. Similarly, while ABBA: The Movie won't make converts out of nonbelievers, it does capture a moment of seventies innocence in amber and is sure to please fans looking for a dose of clean and upbeat music.   spoken (or written) like a true ABBA aficionado


DVD Times [Noel Megahey] [Pat Padua] (Stephen Groenewegen)


Channel 4 Film


MY LIFE AS A DOG (Mitt liv som hund)

Sweden  (101 mi)  1985


Time Out

This charming, bitter-sweet evocation of childhood is something of a minor gem. Set in the Sweden of the 1950s, it describes the 400 blows suffered by a resourceful, twitchy and energetic 12-year-old boy who is farmed out to country relatives when his antics and demands for attention prove too much for his ailing mother. Hallström nurtures from his young star (Glanzelius) a performance of remarkable range and maturity, presenting a poignant picture of youthful tenacity struggling to come to terms with disappointments and events that may be beyond his comprehension, but which he manages to negotiate with his quirky, open-eyed optimism intact. Witty, touching and perceptive as he contrasts the rural village and its strange but generous-hearted eccentrics with the harsher realities of the city, Hallström makes it a seamless mix of tragedy and humour.  David Bezanson

My Life as a Dog is a nostalgic slice of the life of a child in welfare-state Sweden in the 1950s. Young Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) is slightly quiet, slightly troubled, slightly mischievous -- pretty much a typical kid. He has always been close to his mother (Anki Liden, in a very good performance). But now she is dying of TB. So he is sent away to the country to live with his likeable uncle Gunnar (the equally likeable Tomas von Brömssen) in Smaland, amongst a cast of crazy Swedish townspeople and a new bunch of kids.

For some reason, during the 1980s many European directors finally became interested in making technically competent and emotionally involving films -- for the first time. My Life as a Dog is a transitional work in the evolution of continental cinema -- there are still moments of home-movie sloppiness, slow-paced nostalgia, and self-indulgent pseudo-profundity, and enough sex gags to satisfy European audiences. But Lasse Hallström’s film also contains insight, humor, intelligence, and warmth, and his direction is graceful and effective.

Unfortunately, this film brought Hallström international fame and he now directs big-screen adaptations of atrociously bad American fiction (John Irving’s The Cider House Rules and Annie Proulx’s awful The Shipping News).

There are some very nice moments of depth and verisimilitude in this movie -- especially the kids’ fights and games, and the jousting between sexually precocious girls over the oblivious Ingemar. Some things about the movie are a little confusing, like the ending, but life is confusing when you’re a kid. By the end of the movie, you care enough about the characters to want a sequel, even though life probably goes on predictably for them in Smaland.

Like most European films, My Life as a Dog also contains some very bizarre scenes, in which Ingemar barks like a dog and Uncle Gunnar crawls around on the floor trying to bite his wife’s clothes off. Like Falco records, these scenes are a reminder that -- in spite of their moral self-righteousness and two millennia of civilization -- Europeans are still a strange and degenerate people. (P.S. As a French-American, I can say that.) But films like My Life as a Dog give cause for hope.

Turner Classic Movies [Sean Axmaker]


One of the greatest and most sensitive films about children and the turbulence of childhood, My Life as a Dog (1985), Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of Reidar Jonsson's autobiographical novel, was a break-out film for the director. The story of a 12-year-old boy sent to a rural Swedish village full of amiable eccentrics while his seriously ailing mother attempts to convalesce had universal echoes and it became both a local and international hit. It earned Hallstrom Oscar® nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (shared with author Jonsson and two other writers), a Golden Globe award for Best Foreign-Language Film, and entrée to Hollywood, where Hallstrom eventually became a favored in-house director for classy Miramax Oscar®-bait productions like The Cider House Rules (1999) and The Shipping News (2001). None of those films approach the simple joy and poignant pain of My Life as a Dog, a drama that tempers the flights of childhood idyll with an undercurrent of guilt and unease as the puppyish boy blames himself for his mother's declining condition.

Eleven-year-old Anton Glanzelius, a non-actor in one of his only major roles, is an adorable puppy of a spirited kid as Ingemar, a sweetly eccentric boy with a creative sense of mischief that has a tendency to spiral out of control. Father is conspicuously and inexplicably absent (Ingemar's explanation, that he's busy at the equator loading bananas into boats, is fanciful at best) and frail, ailing mother is dying of tuberculosis. Ingemar is a sweetheart but he's also a handful and his antics, often instigated by his equally unrestrained older brother, have a tendency to reduce mom to a screaming, sobbing wreck. In need of peace, she has the boys split up and Ingemar is sent to stay with his goofy uncle and joyously tolerant aunt in one of the cutely offbeat little villages that thrive in European films. This is a place where a bedridden old man has Ingemar secretly read to him from a lingerie catalogue, a maverick sculptor puts erotic touches on the pitchers produced by the local glassworks, a buxom blonde beauty drafts Ingemar to chaperone while she poses nude for the same sculptor, and a soccer-playing tomboy poses as a boy (and the boys go along with the charade). "I have an affinity for eccentrics and outsiders, and portraying them and not being judgmental," Hallstrom admitted in an interview with London's Guardian. Ingemar, who has what can only be described as a drinking problem (for some inexplicable reason, he is physically incapable of lifting a drinking glass to his mouth in public without sloshing the liquid everywhere) and has a tendency to drop to all fours and bark like a dog, is strangely at home here.

Hallstrom was one of the first directors to make his name in the music video world, directing practically every music video for Abba as well as their big screen debut, ABBA: The Movie (1977), and he established his film credentials with a series of autobiographical television films directed from his own original scripts.
My Life as a Dog was his first adaptation of another author's work and he collaborated with author Reidar Jonsson who based the novel on his own childhood; he grew up with a mother who suffered from tuberculosis and terrible fits of violence, but Hallstrom found his own personal connection. "I related to it much more than I realized as I was making the film," reflected Hallstrom in a 2002 interview. "My mom was a writer and needed a lot of that privacy and I do recall that feeling of that closed door, that typewriter that you heard from the other side of the door. I can relate to being shut out like that." Hallstrom was 13 years old in 1959, the year in which the novel is set, and his recollections of the culture and texture of the period helps color Ingemar's experience.

The metaphorical dog of the title is most obviously Laika, the dog that the Russian space program sent up into space in a Sputnik. As Ingemar sees it, the helpless canine was imprisoned in a capsule and sent orbiting around the Earth to die, alone, of starvation, sacrificed to human progress. Closer to home, he distresses over his own beloved pooch, who was kenneled back home when he was sent away (never to be seen again), and has a tendency to bark with unrestrained exuberance when he gets overexcited. It's pure childish play, but it also keeps him from having to expose the feelings and fears bubbling under his alert eyes and adorable smile. For all the joy and laughter in his uncle's home, for all the adventures of his summer of discovery and his winter of acceptance, he's plagued by guilt and unease, terrified that he's responsible for his mother's death. That's a lot of responsibility to be heaped on a 12-year-old boy facing constant rejection as he's shuttled from home to home and Hallstrom never lets us forget the big emotional weight this little boy carries. "I've been lucky compared to others," muses Ingemar in a reflective monologue played out against a view of the night sky, as if he's peering up for a glimpse of Laiki. "You have to compare so you can get a distance on things."

Hallstrom's subsequent Swedish productions – The Children of Bullerby Village (1986) and its sequel, More About the Children of Bullerby Village (1987) – were sweet juvenile productions that continued in the vein of childhood, but without the depth of emotion and bittersweet ache of
My Life as a Dog. Nevertheless, Hollywood was already beckoning. His first American, the offbeat romantic comedy Once Around (1991) and the troubled family drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), are more in tune with the subtlety of feeling and the complicated emotional conflicts at the heart of this career-making film. Hallstrom balances the pleasures and pain of Ingemar's life beautifully: the ephemeral joys of everyday events, the curiosity and mystery of sex and attraction, the confusion of growing up, the helplessness of being a kid in a grown-up world, the fear of abandonment, the comfort of being accepted into a community, and the possibilities that every new day brings.


Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips Jr.]


DVD Times  Anthony Nield


not coming to a theater near you (Rumsey Taylor) (Jeff Ulmer)


Camera Journal [Paul Sutton]  nice use of photos


PopMatters  David Sanjek


The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]


Edwin Jahiel


Movie Reviews UK  Damian Cannon


Turner Classic Movies   Paul Tatara


DVD Talk (Matthew Millheiser)


DVD Savant (Lee Broughton)


Washington Post [Desson Howe]


Washington Post [Hal Hinson]


The New York Times (Vincent Canby) - Graphic Review [Gary W. Tooze]



USA  (115 mi)  1991


All Movie Guide [Michael Hastings]

Swedish director Lasse Hallström's first American picture met with a generally tepid reception from audiences and critics, but it's worth another look in retrospect. Once Around is of a piece with the director's shaggy, gently satirical portraits of tightly knit families and the forces that threaten to break them apart. The plot -- vulnerable Renata Bella (Holly Hunter) takes up with a smarmy condo salesman (Richard Dreyfuss) who alienates the rest of her clan -- is the stuff of television melodrama, but Hallström seizes on the script's ethnic clashes and meandering dialogue to craft a messier, more authentic vision of a proud American family. Despite the two performers' conspicuous lack of chemistry in 1989's Always, here they complement each other well. The over-animated Dreyfuss is used to good effect, as his impulsive, eccentric outbursts are played for tension as opposed to punchlines; it becomes understandable that Hunter's slightly manic Renata would be smitten with him.

Edward Copeland on Film

Dogs can't fulfill their dreams so humans have to do it for them. So goes a Lithuanian proverb that Sam Sharpe likes to recite in Once Around, the American film debut of Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog). Richard Dreyfuss stars as Sam and everyone knows someone like him. He'd do anything for you, but perhaps with ulterior motives. He's as lovable as he is obnoxious and he always has to be "on." He is his own caricature and feels compelled to be the center of attention. In Hallstrom's film, Sam captures the attention of Renata Belle (Holly Hunter) and tries to woo her family as he has her. Renata meets Sam at a real estate seminar, a new business she's pursuing in hopes of healing from her breakup with her boyfriend Rob (Griffin Dunne in an amusing cameo).

Sam masterminded the condominium ploy, demonstrated in a dead-on parody of those half-hour infomercials that inundate the TV airwaves in the wee hours of the morning. Don't be confused into thinking that Once Around exists solely as comedy, because it's much more than that. It takes moviegoers on a life-affirming journey through the lives of a family that teeters between reality and fantasy. Some critics complain that Once Around has an inconsistent tone, that characters -- particularly Sam -- seem realistic one moment, a broad caricature the next. This isn't a weakness -- it's a plus. These dynamic characters, like most real people, seldom stay in the same mood for years. Once Around dares to show these characters in different modes and it deserves applause for that. The performances make the film work on that level. In addition to Dreyfuss and Hunter's work (despite her iffy Boston accent), strong performances come from Danny Aiello, Laura San Giacomo and Gena Rowlands as Renata's family. Aiello gives his usual strong performance as Joe Bella, Renata's concerned father who lives for family and distrusts outsiders. San Giacomo shines as Renata's younger, newly-wed sister. Perhaps the strongest kudos deserve to go to Gena Rowlands' underplayed elegance as Marilyn, Joe's wife. A no-nonsense woman, she usually spots a problem quickly and keeps it in perspective. However, she babies Renata, her oldest daughter and at times seems too intent on being seen as perfect. Malia Scotch Marmo's script consistently rings true with surprises that feel right without being manipulative. It equally balances humor and tension, chaos with calm. Hallstrom keeps the shifting tones of the film moving within the circular motif he follows. Rings and circles and round objects constantly pop up in the visual field and finally it hits home what Once Around aims at being about. This movie is about change and the life cycle itself. In the end, Once Around presents one of the most moving depictions of this classic subject in a long time.

Movie Vault [Arturo Garcia Lasca]


Washington Post [John F. Kelly]


Washington Post [Rita Kempley]


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Janet Maslin)


WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE                  A                     95

USA  (118 mi)  1993


"We're not going anywhere!"


In a small town setting that feels a million miles from anywhere where time has passed this community by decades ago, a big box grocery store called Food Land has opened up by the interstate drawing people away from what was once their downtown charm.  Endora, Iowa is the place, but the opening and closing sequences may as well be a tribute to Jacques Demy’s THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (1967), where people from all over the country driving their shiny silver trailer homes ride past in their annual caravan of people on the move, all traveling from nameless destinations heading somewhere else, not even bothering for a pit stop.  But the spectacle seeing the line of vehicles kicking up a cloud of dust as they rumble through the outskirts of town may as well be a traveling circus passing through carrying elephants and giraffes, as it’s likely the most exciting event that happens all year long, until it happens again the next year.  Adapted by the novelist Peter Hedges for the movie, this is a highly imaginative yet delicate story that suggests big box Wal-Mart’s in their rush for profits are sucking the very souls out of the people who inhabit small rural communities.  This is a veritable ensemble of fresh talent that comes alive onscreen, resembling the emotional realism expressed from the small town characters in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), but what’s unique here is the dysfunctional nature of the family, something akin to Jane Campion’s SWEETIE (1989), where familiarity with what we might otherwise find discomforting and even grotesque breeds tolerance and compassion.  The director’s non-judgmental tone allows the audience room the breathe as they experience these wonderfully crafted characters, whose humor and self-doubts and ultimately their appreciation for one another resemble our own lives, even if the circumstances are not the same.  


A young Leonardo DiCaprio plays Arnie, just days away from his 18th birthday, but a brain damaged boy who’s stuck with the mind of a young four or five-year old child, completely innocent and free, unaware of worldly dangers, but also unable to take care of himself, needing constant supervision or he’s liable to wander off and get lost.  Johnny Depp plays his big brother Gilbert Grape, a warm, gentle soul who has a tendency to retreat from life, a guy in his twenties with his hands full, as he’s expected to support his family all by himself while also looking after Arnie 24 hours a day.  Darlene Cates is his mother Bonnie, but she’s so overweight at 500 pounds that she hasn’t left the house in seven years, literally fixed to the couch.  Gilbert’s two younger sisters are Amy (Laura Harrington), the dutiful older sister who tirelessly and selflessly is at her mother’s side, while Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) is still in the thralls of being a self-centered teenager.  DiCaprio is completely authentic throughout, charming us with his youthful playfulness, where his physical mannerisms and emotional world are astoundingly realistic, but as the title suggests, the story is more about Gilbert, who due to no fault of his own bears the burden of responsibility, and has from an early age, so much so that his own childhood was all but snatched from him, as he’s had to shoulder such a heavy load while working at the town grocery store, much like George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).  But unlike the love that George Bailey was fortunate to have all his life, Gilbert’s family has been all about necessity, leaving him in an uneventful town with no place to go and with little opportunity for personal growth. 


But rather than dwell on these hardships, the film accentuates humor and personal eccentricities, especially Arnie’s charming innocence, yet also the relentless aggravation this causes Gilbert as he continually has to sacrifice his own life to keep rescuing Arnie from his daily round of mishaps and troubles, where all he wants to do is play all the time, even as he continually exposes himself to greater dangers simply out of a playful curiosity.  He’s the kind of kid that would wander out into the middle of a country highway, arms waving furiously in a greeting of friendship, but then get run over by an unsuspecting driver.  Gilbert’s life is an established routine, a steady dose of the same, nothing out of the ordinary, yet his closeness to his brother, who he fiercely protects, and the experiences they share together are like none other, so from an audience’s point of view, these are startlingly unique and offer a different opening into a complex set of emotions.  When Becky (an adorable Juliette Lewis), a young girl passing through with the caravan who’s grandmother’s car is stalled and in need of an engine part that must be ordered, this offers Gilbert an adventure of a different kind, one that has him completely perplexed, where his mind is literally elsewhere all the time, especially considering she’ll be leaving soon.  The beauty of this film is the heartfelt attention to what one might call Truman Capote short story detail and the brilliantly constructed characters, all of whom matter, where each is somehow an extension of Gilbert, and in turn ourselves, stuck in the same dreary place while the world seems to pass them by, but the road beyond leads somewhere, and life is nothing if not a personal journey down that road, where each one of us has to find his or her own way.  What makes this so unconventional is not the degree of dysfunction, but the startling originality on display and the devotion to the idea that we are living in a world where all people matter.  Perhaps no one realizes this better than those isolated in rural communities with limited options, where one might be dazzled by what it must be like in movies or magazines or somewhere else down the road, before coming to the realization that home is really our own sense of purpose and the freedom to determine what is right for ourselves rather than having it forced upon us. 


Time Out review


Hallström's finally struck a chord with the Americans, though it's much the same cocktail of whimsy and worry, the eccentric and the banal, that he's been mixing all along. The frustrated Gilbert (Depp) lives at home in Endora, Iowa, with his two younger sisters, his mentally disabled brother Arnie (DiCaprio), and his sofa-crushing 600lb mother (Cates). Deep in a Midwestern rut, Gilbert holds down a job at the local store, maintains a bored affair with housewife Betty Carver (Steenburgen), and tries to keep Arnie out of trouble, but his patience is running out - it's only when he meets teen traveller Becky (Lewis) that he can really take stock. Cute adolescent poetry with a sentimental kick.


Exclaim! dvd review [Special Collector's Edition]  Ian Mackenzie

For a screenplay with relatively little dialogue, there’s a lot going on in this portrait of small town America and its requisite angst. Obesity, mental illness, death, corporate destruction of rural businesses and the burden of family all figure prominently in Peter Hedges’ screenplay (adapted from his novel). And while the themes tend toward the universal, they are anchored to a small, broken family and their unique struggles. The main reason to revisit this 1993 gem on DVD, however, is in watching the film’s handful of terrific performances. Leonardo DiCaprio is uncanny as the mentally handicapped Arnie Grape — compare this performance to his recent Howard Hughes role in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (and the uneven work in between) for a persuasive case that this is America’s most impressive young film actor. For the role of the obese “Momma,” director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) cast amateur Darlene Cates. It’s an incredibly affecting performance (the word “brave” seems apt but patronising) and it provides the raw core that the film revolves around. There are more strong performances — John C. Reilly, Mary Steenburgen, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Depp as the title character — and all of them bring depth and humanity to their flawed characters. The one clear miss is the criminally underused Crispin Glover in his dispensable supporting role. The DVD contains three recently made “making of” featurettes, with many of the film’s actors looking back with a tangible fondness for the project. These extras are insightful and emotive in their own way and well worth the 20 or so minutes they comprise. Hearing Depp, in full The Pirates of the Caribbean production hair, lauding DiCaprio’s performance and the “dashing young man he has become today” is a graceful example of professional camaraderie. Also included are a writer/director commentary and the original theatrical trailer. (Joel Cunningham) dvd review [Special Edition]

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is trapped in the small town of Endora, Iowa: trapped by his obligations to his mentally-impaired younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio); by his mindless job as a stock boy at the local grocer; by his awkward affair with a local mother (Mary Steenburgen), and most of all, by his mother, a once-beautiful woman who is likewise trapped—she weighs 500 pounds, and hasn't left the house in seven years.

Depp has always gravitated towards oddball characters (he's a favorite of director Tim Burton, an oddball in his own right), and Gilbert is similarly alienated from his surroundings. He's fiercely protective of Arnie, but resents his role, and tires of constantly bailing him out of trouble (Arnie has a tendency to climb the town water-tower when no one is looking). Of course, he's not alone—Endora is populated with a variety of small-town weirdos. Gilbert's best friends, Tucker (John C. Reilly) and Bobby (the always slightly-off Crispin Glover), have their own peculiarities. Tucker's goal in life is to become manager at the newly opened Burger Barn, and Bobby is an under-worked undertaker always on the lookout for a new client ("I haven't seen your mother in a while, how's she doing?" he asks a neighbor, hopefully). But Gilbert is the only one who seems unfulfilled with life.

Everything changes, as things often do, when a stranger rolls into town. This time, it is Becky (Lewis), a young woman as idealistic as Gilbert is cynical, who begins a timid romance with the dissatisfied young man. She opens his eyes to the world around him, disrupts a routine that might have gone on for years. It's not a monumental change, or an easy solution to Gilbert's problems. But she sees the simple beauty of Gilbert's life, and of his brother Arnie. Gilbert, so long asleep, finally awakens to meet his present and contemplate a future he didn't think he had.

Johnny Depp is a fine young actor, and he's perfect for Gilbert; he hits just the right notes of gentleness and angst. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a performance that deserved to earn him the fame that Titanic eventually did, gives the most convincing performance as a mentally-impaired person since Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. He never goes for the obvious, loveable, clichéd "dunce with a heart of gold." His Arnie is equally endearing and exasperating, and it's clear why Gilbert is so devoted to him (and why he drives everyone so crazy). The real standout, though, is newcomer Darlene Cates as Gilbert's mom. She manages to inject humanity into a role that could've been one-note. Yes, she's fat, but she's also human, more than a simple freak show, and once again we see both why she is so difficult for Gilbert to live with and why he sticks around.

Lasse Hallstrom has gained notoriety is recent years for his annual Miramax best-picture bid (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), and his craft is on display in this picture as well. He balances the routine, the dramatic, and the bleakly comic without faltering. Peter Hedges, adapting from his own novel, has crafted an elegant slice-of-life screenplay, one without a traditional, forced narrative. At the end, nothing has changed and everything has, and we've done little more than spend a few hours getting to know a unique cast of characters.

Less a standard, plot-driven film, and more a series of poignant vignettes on the allure and frustration of small town life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a touching character piece that deserves to be seen.

Scott Renshaw

Tone alone cannot sustain a film, but it can go a long way. If I can find myself lost in the time and place of a story, it scores immediate style points. When that tone is backed up by an outstanding story and great acting, the effect can be described best by an adjective I do not use lightly: "literary." WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? is such a film. It's a rich, memorable and stunningly acted story of desire colliding with responsibility, staged in a manner which many viewers might find too prosaic, but which insinuated itself into my imagination with its confidence.

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is a young man living in rural Endora, Iowa, facing incredible responsibilities. As the man of the house since his father's suicide, Gilbert must support the family by working at the local grocery store. He also must watch over his mentally handicapped brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and help care for his extremely overweight mother (Darlene Cates). Gilbert seems destined to spend the rest of his life in the small town until the arrival in Endora of Becky (Juliette Lewis), a free spirit passing through with her grandmother when their truck breaks down. As he spends time with Becky, Gilbert begins to think about all the things he is missing. Slowly his resentment builds, until he realizes that he can no longer live his entire life for other people.

Director Lasse Hallstrom (MY LIFE AS A DOG) and legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist create a magnificent visual backdrop for Peter Hedges' screenplay, based on his own novel. Endora is a town on the edge of the world represented by the giant FoodMart, a tiny insular community where everyone knows everyone else. The midwestern sunsets and sprawling fields are beautifully photographed, and the atmosphere of the town is intensely real. Minor characters, like Crispin Glover as the town's mortician, are vividly realized, and there are echoes of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW in Mary Steenburgen's desperately unhappy housewife. One of the most perfectly realized scenes focuses on the grand opening of a burger franchise, attended by the entire town and accompanied by the off-key high school band. Not a single note in the depiction of Endora rang false.

The same can be said of the character of Gilbert. It's testimony to the precision involved in his creation that he came together completely with one perfectly placed line, when Becky responds to Gilbert's description of his father with, "I knew someone like that once." Gilbert is a man harboring an ever-growing bitterness about where he finds himself in life, a bitterness which reveals itself in moments of surprising cruelty. In one scene, he allows local children to look at his mother through their window, displaying her like a side show attraction. His entire life seems to be mocked by Arnie's repeated chants of, "We're not going anywhere," but instead of expressing his dissatisfaction he lets his anger simmer, and it becomes clear that he is following in his father's footsteps in this regard. Johnny Depp expertly demonstrates the tension central to Gilbert by playing everything below the surface, but he never gives in to one-dimensional blankness or simply regurgitates his naif roles in BENNY & JOON and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

Depp's performance is overshadowed, however, by Leonardo DiCaprio's astonishing Oscar-nominated supporting work as Arnie. He puts to shame such big name actors as John Malkovich and Dustin Hoffman, whose mentally challenged characters never seemed completely real. DiCaprio is perfect to the last twitch and squeal, and anyone who has ever spent time with mentally challenged kids will be hard-pressed to spot a flaw. Darlene Cates, a first-time actor, brings real pain to her scenes as Gilbert's tortured mother, and Laura Harrington and Mary Kate Schellhardt are solid as Gilbert's sisters. Only Juliette Lewis doesn't quite click, playing a critical role with her now familiar dopey drone and too little genuine spark. GILBERT GRAPE does seem to drift into its conclusion, but it never lost me. Thanks to a lovingly created setting and a marvelous cast, this 1993 release proves well worth the wait.

Movieline Magazine dvd review  Michael Atkinson

Few recent films have had as little a chance at finding an audience as What's Eating Gilbert Grape--a small-town "bittersweet comedy" with a thoughtful story and a title that could make a diabetic's teeth ache. Having Johnny Depp as the star helped, as did the eventual Oscar nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio, but still Gilbert Grape had a long row to hoe at the box office. It's a shame, because to my mind it's one of 1993's best movies and something of a quiet miracle--as with live people, you're never sure how any of its characters will behave. The Grapes are as authentic, and as flat-out weird, as any real family I know.

The director is Lasse Hallstroem, whose My Life as a Dog and Once Around are both just as intoxicated with offbeat everydayness. In all of Hallstroem's movies you get a clear sense that the members of a family or community have actually known each other for a long, long time--look at movies like Six Degrees of Separation, Household Saints or Damage if you think that's easy.

Here are some of the Grapes's oddities: Dad committed suicide years before, and the 500-pound Mom (Darlene Cates) hasn't left their collapsing house since she became obese; Gilbert (Depp), easily the sanest person in town, works at the local grocery store, dallies with banana-bread housewife Mary Steenburgen, and works hard at keeping his wacko clan (which includes two sisters) together and happy. And then there's Gilbert's brother, Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Arnie is the center of the Grape cyclone, a mentally retarded teenager who finds trouble like a fly finds dogshit. Keeping Arnie happy and clean is a full-time job, and one Gilbert begins to resent once he strikes up a romance with free-spirit Juliette Lewis, who's passing through town.

DiCaprio, who also won acclaim in last year's This Boy's Life, does the best retarded character I've ever seen in a movie. He does what Dustin Hoffman thought he was doing in Rain Man. I know what I'm talking about, too; my 30-year-old brother was born brain-injured/autistic, and I've been around the mentally handicapped my whole life. As you'd expect, few things piss me off more than movies that can't tell an authentic "special" person from Jerry Lewis--and most can't. DiCaprio is so faultless in his portrayal, especially his stunted body language, that it's easy to forget he's normal. Arnie's not just a handicap, he's a whole character, with a life story you can read in every grin.

In the same way that Arnie is not a fake, tearjerking geek, What's Eating Gilbert Grape is far from a congenital-defect-of-the-week soaper. It regards the whole town with the same genuine affection and healthy sense of humor it holds for Arnie. Unlike most movie locales, the town is full of people who speak in natural cadences and say unpredictable things. Supporting cast members like Steenburgen, who plays a scatterbrained adultress, Kevin Tighe, a bursting-at-the-seams insurance salesman, and Crispin Glover, a content, philosophical mortician, all give uniformly terrific performances. Darlene Cates, a first-time actress whose girth landed her on "Sally Jessy Raphael," delivers a sensitive portrayal of a woman who knows she's spinning out of control. Depp handles the complex and mild-mannered Gilbert beautifully and calmly. Even the often-annoying Lewis is surprisingly relaxed and believable as the wandering love child.

Grape is a strange movie with its own rhythms. The simplest scenes--swimming in a pond, watching a fast-food franchise open, visiting a new supermarket--are fresh, funny and touching. Hardly the kind of movie America takes to with any great gusto, What's Eating Gilbert Grape could easily be overlooked a second time on the video store shelves, and that would be a shame as well. (Yeah, while sleepwalks like The Pelican Brief fly like cheap beer on Saint Patrick's Day.) Gilbert Grape can renew your faith in a movie's ability to be recognizably human. It may seem like a small movie, but it's as big as your neighborhood.

Digesting Gilbert Grape  Gloria Cahill interviews novelist Peter Hedges and actress Darlene Cates from Radiance magazine online, Spring 1995


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Film Freak Central Review [Travis Mackenzie Hoover] eats with Gilbert Grape  Christopher Null


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What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Leonardo Dicaprio - Whats eating Gilbert Grape  YouTube (1:55)


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1993: What's Eating Gilbert Grape Trailer HQ  Trailer (2:10)


Recut Trailer - What's Eating Gilbert Grape  (2:04)


What's Eating Gilbert Grape - Story of my Life Take 2!  (3:55)


What is you watching? #1: What's Eating Gilbert Grape?  (5:05)


Gilbert Grape-Why  (5:26)


Gilbert Grape (characters)  (9:51)  actors talk with the director about the movie



USA  (106 mi)  1995


Tucson Weekly [Zachary Woodruff]

From the screenwriter who gave us Thelma & Louise comes this insightful yet directionless tale of a Southern wife (Julia Roberts) who has to re-think her life when she learns her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been having several affairs. Crisp direction by Lasse Hallestrom, warmly vibrant cinematography and a handful of fun performances (by Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Duvall and Gene Rowlands) keep the film enjoyable long after the story has lost sight of a point. And Roberts is surprisingly good--after years of limited performances in dumb roles, she really seems to be blossoming.

Time Out

After a couple of false starts, Lasse Hallström appears to have found a niche for himself in Hollywood as a purveyor of eccentric character pieces; mellow-dramas with class. Working here from a choice script by Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), he's fashioned a gently caustic soap about adultery, parenthood and independence. Roberts is Grace Bichon, wife, mother, daughter and manager at the family's award-winning stables - not necessarily in that order. Grace has allowed herself to drift into the absent-minded inertia expected of a respectable Southern woman. She's shocked to find out that husband Eddie (Quaid) has been fooling around, but disappointed when the folks (Duvall and Rowlands) try to talk her back into the fold. Only her sister (Sedgwick, very plausible) understands, planting her knee firmly in Eddie's groin. Although the film-makers ill-advisedly saddle themselves with a brattish kid with a speech impediment and a corny-as-Kelloggs show jumping finale, for the most part this is a pleasing, polished affair, honest enough to steer a compassionate middle course without succumbing to caricature or conservative sentimentality.

Austin Chronicle (Alison Macor)

In this film by Swedish director Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) , a family is laid bare, warts and all, and made to seem ideal, ugly, weak, and strong all at the same time. Screenwriter Callie (Thelma & Louise). Khouri's dialogue contains some sweet surprises. Just when you think you've got a handle on Grace (Roberts), a young Southern wife estranged from her philandering husband Eddie (Quaid), she utters some line that reveals a little more depth than is at first apparent. Grace spends the movie trying to address her emotions and needs. Battling not only her husband but her domineering, horse-breeding father (expertly played by Duvall), Grace struggles against expectations and years of tradition to pinpoint her own goals. Roberts and Quaid work well together onscreen. The luminous Gena Rowlands, Sedgwick, and Aull round out a well-chosen cast. And the inimitable cinematography of Sven Nykvist captures all of the natural beauty of South Carolina and Georgia. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this film is its lack of tidy closure. As in life, compromises are reached and battles continue. The characters react to one another with love, anger, subtle manipulation, and generosity. While the film does have its overwrought moments and Southern clichés, Something to Talk About is a pleasant surprise amidst a summer of big hype and little payoff.

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CIDER HOUSE RULES                                         A-                    93

USA  (125 mi)  1999  ‘Scope


The Cider House Rules  Anthony Lane from the New Yorker


The director Lasse Hallström has come to specialize in grownup movies about kids and teen-agers, especially of the luckless variety. This new picture, adapted by John Irving from his own novel, teems with scores of the little beggars; the tale begins at a snowbound orphanage in Maine, where Dr. Larch (Michael Caine) tends to the bodies and souls of the unwanted, even extending his skills to an illegal abortion practice. His protégé is Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), who is set to follow in Larch's footsteps until those of Candy (Charlize Theron) appear. Homer departs for the wide world, where he learns about apples and sex, in that order. As an older and wiser man, he returns to his destiny, although the getting of that wisdom has been oddly unengaging. The orphan scenes have an imaginative solidity that fades as the film proceeds, and you can't work out whether the gruelling social issues, like incest and abortion, are the subject of the movie or simply ballast. As apple movies go, this one lacks a core. 


Nashville Scene [Noel Murray]


Director Lasse Hallstrom's thoughtful adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules has been accused of being "pro-choice," and if the accusers are talking about the right to safe and legal abortion, then Hallstrom's film is guilty as charged. But abortion (as an alternative to unwanted children) is only one theme that Hallstrom illuminates from Irving's rich text. The Cider House Rules could be more rightly described as a film about the pain of choice--about what we're supposed to do with all our free will.
Tobey Maguire stars as Homer Wells, a passive, cheerful adult orphan who learns obstetrics and gynecology from his institutional guardian Dr. Larch (played by Michael Caine). Troubled by the doctor's constant rule-bending and law-breaking (including serving as an abortionist), Homer leaves the orphanage to work at an orchard, following a whim and a glimpse of a lovely apple-picker named Candy (Charlize Theron). At the apple orchard--no small biblical symbolism there--Homer learns that his fear of making bad moral choices has led him to do nothing in the face of evil. And inaction is itself a choice.
Hallstrom--who made two of the best sleepers of the '90s, Once Around and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?--worked from Irving's own script, and it's hard to imagine who could've done a better job. Hallstrom's understated naturalism combines with stellar performances across the board, especially by the amiable Maguire, and by Delroy Lindo as the troubled (and troubling) boss of a migrant worker team. The film is so sunny and soft that it's not until after the closing credits--while the viewer tries to make sense of a too-ambiguous ending--that the deft layering of potent religious metaphors begins to weigh heavily.
What holds The Cider House Rules back is the virtual impossibility of filming Irving's quirky plot twists. A couple of whopper revelations late in the story shatter the mood, no matter how hard Hallstrom and his cast fight to sustain it. (The same problem plagued George Roy Hill's otherwise fine adaptation of Irving's The World According to Garp).
But despite the rough road, the film's breathtaking demonstrations of how theoretical problems resonate in the real world are never less than invigorating. Hallstrom and Irving bite to the core of our sins; as the creed says, it's about what we have done, and what we have left undone.


BFI | Sight & Sound | The Cider House Rules (1999)  Peter Matthews from Sight and Sound, February 2000

Maine, 1943. Abandoned by his parents in infancy, Homer Wells grows up at St Clouds orphanage. Unofficially trained in obstetrics by resident doctor Wilbur Larch, Homer helps deliver unwanted babies, but refuses to assist at the illegal abortions Larch does at St Clouds.

One day, fighter pilot Wally Worthington and his pregnant girlfriend Candy Kendall show up for a termination. After the operation, Homer impulsively decides to leave with the couple. He is hired as an apple picker at the orchard run by Wally's mother in a nearby coastal town. Wally ships off to war, and Homer gets acquainted with the farm's migrant workers, including crew boss Mr Rose and his daughter Rose Rose. In Wally's absence, Homer and Candy fall in love. The governors of St Clouds want to replace Larch with a more orthodox physician. Hoping Homer will succeed him, Larch trumps up a phoney medical career for him, but Homer declines the post to stay with Candy.

Rose Rose confesses to Candy she's pregnant by her own father. Homer performs an abortion assisted by Mr Rose, who later kills himself. News arrives that Wally was shot down over Burma and is now paralysed. Candy elects to take care of him and ends the affair with Homer. Larch dies from an overdose of ether. Homer returns to St Clouds, where he is joyfully greeted by the orphans.


If you never quite got over Annie and long for another batch of whimsically forlorn moppets, make haste to The Cider House Rules. It's true the orphans here don't sing or dance, but they compensate by occasioning more syrupy bathos than the screen has witnessed in decades. Just for starters, there's an irresistible tyke named Curly, who delivers the plaintive refrain "I'm the best!" whenever browsers drop round the asylum. Then there's Fuzzy, confined to an oxygen tent and gasping his last with a heart-tugging blatancy that would have embarrassed Little Nell. Clearly John Irving, who adapted the script from his mammoth 1985 novel, intends a cunning pastiche of Victorian sentimentality - he wants to kid the clichés and reactivate them at the same time. The shamelessness works to the extent that you can't help choking up a little even while you're giggling. But such are the twists of the author's baroque imagination that the orphanage doubles as an undercover abortion clinic - and what's bizarre about the movie is how it grafts greeting-card schmaltz on to a muckraking liberal agenda.

The fusion is broadly reminiscent of Dickens, and there are scattered hints that Irving fancies himself the heir apparent. Every night before bedtime, embattled pro-choicer Dr Wilbur Larch reads to the enraptured tots another installment from David Copperfield. Pretty soon, Homer Wells, who decides against performing abortions himself, is caught up in his own thrilling Bildungsroman. Eventually required to perform an illegal abortion on an incest victim, our priggish hero learns abstract moral codes don't answer to the messiness of human reality.

At least I guess that's what the story is about, since once Homer enters the big wide world, the film becomes a masterpiece of dithering. Crammed with picaresque incident, quirky caricature, conceits and philosophising, the book is an unwieldy juggernaut that rolls along on pure pop energy. It must have been a bitch to condense, and Irving strains to locate a functional dramatic arc somewhere inside his loose, baggy monster. The screen version devolves into a parade of amorphous scenes that drift by without gathering emotional weight. Practically Teflon-coated, the movie raises a raft of momentous issues that refuse to stick. Not just abortion, but sexual abuse, race relations and women's independence get floated at sundry times, each theme limping off apologetically in turn. Even the titular rules are so hazily signposted their ultimate defiance holds scarcely any symbolic resonance.

There may be an additional reason for the curious lack of focus. As he proved in My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Lasse Hallström has a wry, delicate touch - and that's exactly wrong for a hard-sell contraption like The Cider House Rules. The director's sensitivity here serves merely to undercut the book's aggressive showmanship, leaving little more than a texture of undifferentiated blandness. What's probably needed is the outré stylisation that Tony Richardson brought to Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire or the commercial zing of George Roy Hill's approach to The World According to Garp. As it stands, the unholy marriage of two disparate sensibilities ends up cancelling out the movie. 

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CHOCOLAT                                                             B+                   92

USA  Great Britain  (121 mi)  2000


A whimsical little story resembling the tone, but not the fast-paced frenetic camerawork of AMELIE (2001), where strange goings on in a small conservative French town change with the arrival of some newcomers, Juliette Binoche and Victoire Thivosol (from 1996’s PONETTE), Vianne and Anouk, a mother and daughter in red hoods who appear as if by apparition carried in on a northern wind.  Immediately their presence changes the dynamic of the all-Catholic town, where everybody knows everybody else’s business, and where Alfred Molina as the Comte de Reynaud, the mayor, is the voice of morality as well as the biggest busy body in town representing centuries of rules and repression, spreading gossip and ill rumors when needed, controlling his town by the content of the Sunday sermons, which he rewrites and revises from week to week.   His stern secretary, Caroline, (Carrie-Ann Moss), admires his strict principles, but wouldn’t dare show even an ounce of affection, which seems to be the overall mood of the town.  Vianne uses a centuries old family recipe to open a chocolatiere in the main town square directly across from the church, which the mayor takes as a personal affront, as if a shot across the bow from Satan himself, especially since she doesn’t go to church and since it opened during the week of Lent.  Despite his avowed threats to close her down, she befriends most everyone in town.  


The brilliant ensemble cast makes this amusingly lightweight, especially the use of secondary characters, where Anouk’s world of children and imaginary playthings intersect with reality, while also dealing with some rather weighty issues, like spouse abuse, moral conformism, elderly care, family banishment, and xenophobia.  Judi Dench is delightful as the grumpy, free speaking grandmother who refuses to be sent to an old folk’s home, despite the constant nagging from her daughter Caroline, who forbids her son Luc (Aurèlien Parent Koenig) to see her, believing she’s a bad influence.  Lena Olin as Josephine is getting the snot beat out of her by the local barkeep, Serge (Peter Stormare), a guy who believes he owns his wife.  Another couple looks like they haven’t touched one another for years, a lonely man walks his 14-year old dog, while a triad of old women walk everywhere together, one of whom is none other than Leslie Caron.  Vianne conspires to bring people together by freedom of choice, offering them some of her finest chocolates, which she uses as an elixir of love, working a little supernatural magic in this otherwise sleepy community.  Reynaud feels like his family has already run the Huguenots out of town centuries ago, so why not a woman who runs a chocolatiere?  Everyone is allowed to somehow transcend their initial character. 


Dench, especially, steals nearly every scene she’s in, as her quick witted use of language is simply unsurpassed, and though shot on location in France and England, using a variety of French actors, the film is surprisingly shot in English.  When Johnny Depp arrives with a group of bohemians called river rats traveling down the river by boats, the town wants nothing to do with them, believing they are Godless creatures.  But Depp and Binoche have a good deal of chemistry together, both feel very much at ease, which is pretty much the point, to enjoy life while you can and not get too concerned with all the things in life that you feel you’re supposed to do.  The film loses a bit of its quirky originality near the end, slowing down, feeling overly contrived, making sure all the loose ends fit together, but what it really feels like is that it stops taking chances with the characters.  Much of this is presented like a bedtime story with a “Once upon a time” into, using a child narration, where the film is entirely a what if scenario.  There’s a brief story within a story scenario that reveals the family history, but it’s fairly tame with an exotic touch, and like the general tone of the movie, it’s more suggestive than real. 


The overall contempt of “Hollywood” Hallström by many in the indie community of three films in a row starting with CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999), is unwarranted, in my view, as they believe he’s overly moralistic, contemptuous, saccharinely sweet, and highly overrated, especially come Academy Award time when his films get a big financial boost.  I just find that he uses exquisite locations, excellent ensemble casts, and some unusual character and story development instead of camera theatrics, which a lot of indie lovers like.  Delroy Lindo’s character in CIDER HOUSE RULES, for instance, is startlingly original, especially in contrast to the lovably eccentric Michael Caine.  Dench is superb in this film, while the contrast between Depp and Molina is pretty close to comic farce, but both represent legitimate trains of thought, while the locations in THE SHIPPING NEWS (2001), once again featuring Judi Dench, are nothing short of phenomenal.  I love the fact that in CHOCOLAT, Hallström utilizes the exceptional talents of a young Victoire Thivisol who deserves to be seen right alongside the ageless beauty of Leslie Caron.    


Time Out

The 1950s. Lent in the Gascony village of Lansquenet. A red-hooded woman (Binoche) and child (Thivosol) boldly set about converting the old bakery into a chocolate shop which offers delights so tempting that hyper-conservative mayor Reynaud (Molina), fearing for the moral and religious health of the villagers, determines to eject her from the community. Well, what with Vianne's witchlike knowledge of their hearts' desires, the effrontery of her fashionable dress, her friendship with the despised 'river rats', led by handsome, Irish-accented Roux (Depp), she does stir some dangerous emotions in this backwater. Even so, the villagers rally to her life-affirming cause. From the start, Hallström's soft adaptation of Joanne Harris's popular novel-cum-magical fable smoothly proceeds to construct a 'feminist' parable about the role of courage, support and pleasure in personal transformation. But, however excellent the performances, their relevance is diminished by the historical bubble in which they're situated. Roger Pratt's 'period' cinematography preserves the whole in aspic.

Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) review

Chocolat is a clever movie about what it means to question traditional or dogmatic beliefs.

The film focuses on the traditions in the small rural French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tanne. Here, the Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the mayor, is the supreme arbiter of morals. Like his predecessors before him, he takes the view that morality is preserved by resisting change, instead of encouraging people to think for themselves about what is right and wrong.

Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) are veritable flies in Reynaud's ointment when they set up a chocolate shop in his little town during Lent. A iconoclast herself, Vianne ends up tempting the others in the town who would question Reynaud's ways and ends up being a positive influence for the abused Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), the lonely Armande Voizin (Judi Dench), and the mischaracterised river rat, Roux (Johnny Depp). However, her crusade also has its own toll on Anouk's development when it turns out that Vianne herself has a set of traditions that she blindly follows.

The cinematography and pacing are very good and pangs of desire for something sweet are sure to be felt seeing the delicacies prepared by Vianne. The story is told effectively by creating an aura of enchantment in the way Vianne works: Is she just offering chocolate or is there something more? The actors do an amazing job and give Chocolat its sweetness.

A lot of religion is based on the notion that something pleasurable must be wrong. Chocolat makes the point that something as good as chocolate can't be bad. Or perhaps it can be, but that choice should be left to individuals since consuming it doesn't cause harm to others. This is a message I wholly endorse, since I reject tradition for the sake of tradition. In fact, I believe that anything that doesn't cause harm to others shouldn't be considered wrong. While this is subjective, it is clear in the case of the traditions targeted by Chocolat that not only does ignoring tradition not cause harm, but that following it can be harmful.

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [2.5/5]

Like its title implies, Chocolat tastes good in the moment but leaves behind little nutritional substance. This English-language movie is set in a provincial French village in 1959 and deals with the pressing question of whether the seductive and mysterious powers of chocolate can soothe the priggish tendencies of the local townsfolk— and during Lent, no less. Lasse Hallström, the director of My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and last year’s The Cider House Rules, has a recurring affinity for stories about small-town eccentrics, and Chocolat also falls into this category. The movie has almost a fairy-tale quality that sets it apart from the demands of strict realism and also packages a tidy moral lesson made easy to swallow by its lush chocolate coating.

Beautifully cast, the performances are all delectable, especially that of lead Juliette Binoche. However, the characters are all bogged down with traits that telegraph their entire personalities in a matter of seconds and leave little to further discovery as the film progresses. It begins as Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk, attired in two red hooded capes, arrive in the sleepy village of Lansquenet and rent a storefront and the living space above it. Vianne opens a chocolaterie filled with irresistible confections of her own making, based on secret recipes handed down to her from her mother.

Vianne has a mysterious knack for being able to guess each person’s favorite chocolate treat, and also makes no secret of her never-married status. Her behavior and her temptations are the whispered buzz of the town. Appetites become aroused and desires piqued. The order of traditional life in the village soon becomes threatened. A crotchety old woman melts her armor with a bite of chocolate, the new parish priest resists the sanctimonious piety of the all-controlling local nobleman (Alfred Molina), another man works up the courage to ask out the town’s career widow (Leslie Caron, in a practically wordless performance), and a long-suffering woman finds solace in Vianne’s kitchen. But when a group of riverboat vagabonds (led by the dreamily seductive Johnny Depp) dock, the town is whipped into a frenzy of xenophobic fervor. Can chocolate save the day? Do you have to ask? [Charles Taylor]


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THE SHIPPING NEWS                                          B+                   91

USA  (111 mi)  2001  ‘Scope


Time Out

There's a significant scene in Hallström's adaptation of E Annie Proulx's bestseller. Friends of an eccentric English adventurer (Ifans) gather on the rugged Newfoundland shore for an all night party to mark his imminent departure, and boozily destroy his boat while he looks stoically on. Tough love. This is the close, windswept ancestral home - full of cruel ironies, ghostly secrets, inherited superstitions and harsh realities - to which the timorous Quoyle (Spacey) returns, child in tow, formidable aunt (Dench) in support, after the traumatising death of his wild, selfish wife (Blanchett). The task facing Hallström is credibly to chart the course Quoyle takes from mouse to man, under the hardening inclemency of this environment. The movie has its frontiersman pleasures. It's fun to see the gradual refurbishment of the Quoyles' exposed 'salt-box' family house, as its ghouls and harboured secrets are whitewashed with the industry of new life. But Quoyle's early moral victories are hard to take unless you forget the docile no-hoper Spacey presents in his New York incarnation. Holding his head sideways like a little boy as he's kissed by fellow outsider Wavey (Moore), he takes 'low key' close to the edge of self-consciousness. Still, he generally succeeds. So does the director, but it's a pretty, shallow victory.

Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

The best thing than can be said about Lasse Hallström's The Shipping News is that it's considerably less brow-beating than The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. Robert Nelson Jacobs is loyal to E. Annie Proulx's original text: Petal (Cate Blanchett) still can't make an Alabama Slammer; hubbie Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) is the poster child for the pussy-whipped; and closeted skeletons are raring to cut loose. The film's first quarter is virtually unwatchable. Proulx's hell-fire harpy Petal is transformed into a gum-smacking student of the Marisa Tomei My Cousin Vinny kind. The once ghoulish witch takes the town by slut-storm while the pathetic Quoyle stays home with their baby Bunny. Spacey can do pathetic—usually intentional—but Hallström's Quoyle is nothing more than a child who confuses sex for love. Seemingly stripped of Proulx's sad stoicism, Quoyle is now a mere victim to Hallström's heavy-handed water imagery. Silly special-effects morphing give way to egregious flashbacks that set up Quoyle's hydrophobia (his father was an unconventional swimming instructor). Petal goes to sleep with the angels, Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) comes to town and Quoyle decides to find his family roots in Newfoundland. Hallström is best when quirky; there's a sweet-natured, matter-of-fact humanism to the film's more oddball scenarios. Quoyle snags a job as a reporter at the local newspaper, The Gammy Bird, covering the shipping news. Ghoulish discoveries (a headless body, its rolling head) are played for laughs while the film's learning lessons are never ham-fisted. Hallström's characters are helpless and disconnected; all are in need of human contact though victims to a land that seems to portend only death. Hallström deftly free-floats between his stories: Quoyle moves up the occupational ladder; finds love with Wavey (Julianne Moore), mother of a mentally-challenged Harry Potter; and a creepy uncle blabbermouths the Quoyle past. Agnis is a relatively loose cannon, a shining example of Hallström's awkward jitterbug between the quirky and flat-out melodramatic. When skeletons fall out of their closets, explanatory flashbacks become difficult to swallow. Hallström is an obvious visualist. Quoyle's computer screensaver is underwater-themed while car accidents turn into bloody Petal spottings. The score and accents conjure images of Leprechauns searching for Enya and her Lucky Charms but Hallström's rendering of place and time is quaint and evocative even if the film, as a whole, moves at the speed of a glacial ice flow.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

"The Shipping News" moves at a glacial pace, thawing as gradually as its protagonist, a middle-aged loser who has been frozen in fear since his abusive childhood. This strangely hypnotic adaptation of E. Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel chronicles his brooding journey toward self-recovery.

Although there are rays of hope, the melancholy drama takes on the characteristics of the story's chilly setting of Newfoundland, island of weathered faces and blustery skies. Director Lasse Hallstrom captures the landscape's stark, stormy beauty as well as its impact on its people.

Quoyle (Kevin Spacey), a hapless city boy, is a descendant of the pirates who first raided and then settled the Atlantic island. His ancestors' blood still burned in his battering father's veins and, though less brightly, in his own. Ultimately he will learn that he inherited strength and determination enough to rebuild his world.

The movie opens with a quick synopsis of Quoyle's résumé of underachievement, culminating in his current post as an inker with a daily newspaper in Upstate New York. He has accepted his uneventful routine, even wallowed in it, when the brazen, tarty Petal (Cate Blanchett) bursts into his life, and Quoyle is smitten by this man-eating hothouse flower. They are married, she becomes pregnant with a daughter, Bunny, and after the delivery, she takes up with a series of lovers.

When she is killed in a car accident, Quoyle and Bunny, now 6, are rescued by his flinty aunt Agnis Hamm (reliable Judi Dench), who drags them with her to Newfoundland, their ancestral home. The battered family house still perches above the sea cliffs, though surely it would have blown away had it not been anchored there by braids of thick, creaking cables.

Bunny's psychic talents, or maybe only her imagination, are fueled by the noises of the house settling in for the night. On stormy nights, the cables seem to moan in pain. And the place is haunted by the family's perverse past – and, if Bunny is right, by a ghost and his white dog. Apparently psychic powers come with the territory, encouraged by the Zen rhythms of the fishing village of Killick-Claw.

Though his only newspaper experience involves the presses, Quoyle is hired to write a shipping column for the local newspaper. His quirky colleagues quickly hone his writing skills, such as they are, and with each article, Quoyle grows a little bit taller.

There's also love on the horizon – a widowed schoolteacher, Wavey Prouse (Julianne Moore in a sweet performance). Initially they are drawn together by mutual loss, though their relationship becomes more complex and conflicted as their hesitant courtship progresses.

Moore and Spacey's affair doesn't throw off a lot of heat. That's okay, because they have been hurt before, and they have to trust before they can love. Blanchett, on the other hand, is as steamy as a sauna, and what a convincing witch she makes, too. She, along with Pete Postlethwaite, Scott Glenn and Rhys Ifans as newspapermen, adds a splash of fun to the proceedings.

Spacey, with his plodding gait and apologetic air, doesn't bring Quoyle to life. He resuscitates him, teaches him to stand up straighter and look other people in the eye. It's a solid performance, if a stolid one, and the same can be said for the movie.

Hallstrom, who previously directed Oscar nominees "Chocolat" and "The Cider House Rules," has carved a niche for himself adapting small-town family dramas. He ably brings the communities to life, though this film has neither the tastiness of the one nor the bite of the other. For better or worse, it smells of salt air, squid burgers and fishing boats. It's worth seeing at the very least because it is so different from standard Hollywood fare.

Nitrate Online (KJ Doughton)


Film Freak Central   Walter Chaw


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias] [Charles Taylor]


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Halperin, Victor



USA  (69 mi)  1932


Time Out

A dream-like encounter between Gothic romance and 'primitive' mythology, with an American innocent (Bellamy) plucked from her wedding feast and consigned to walk with the Haitian living dead by voodoo master Lugosi. Halperin shoots this poetic melodrama as trance; insinuating ideas and images of possession, defloration, and necrophilia into a perfectly stylised design, with the atmospherics conjuring echoes of countless resonant fairytales. The unique result constitutes a virtual bridge between classic Universal horror and the later Val Lewton productions.

DVDTalk's Review by John Sinnott


White Zombie is a small, poverty row film that was shot in 11 days for a mere $50,000 in 1932. Staring Bela Lugosi (in his first roll following the success of Dracula ,) it was the very first movie about zombies, and is now remembered as a classic.
The movie concerns two young lovers, Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron) who have arrived on the island of Haiti to be married. Monsieur Beaumont (Robert Frazer) has offered to let them use his plantation for their wedding, but Beaumont has ulterior motives. He has fallen in love with Madeleine, and is hoping to steal her away. When that does not work, he turns to Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi.) Legendre is the owner of a sugar plantation, and voodoo master. Murder informs Beaumont that there is only one way to possess the fair Madeleine, and that is to turn her into a lifeless zombie. Aghast, Beaumont at first refuses to allow it, but the thought of his love marring another is too much for him, and he makes a bargain with Murder.
Coming at the beginning of the sound era, White Zombie has the look and feel of a silent picture. That's actually a good thing. When sound came to the movies, most directors filled their scenes with dialog, even when none was needed. White Zombie does not do that. There are many scenes where director Victor Halperin lets the atmosphere and action carry the scene, with little or no talking. The scene where Legendre carves Madeleine's image out of wax and then melts it is much enhanced because of it's lack of dialog. The sugar mill manned entirely with zombies is another eerie scene where little is spoken.
One thing that was lost from films in the early days of sound was camera movement. Used to great effect in silent pictures the advent of sound saw directors locking the camera down and shooting mostly medium and long shots. (They were afraid that the microphone would pick up the sound of the camera moving.) Halperin did not seem to fear that. In one scene where Neil is talking with a friend, Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) the camera starts out stationary, then moves out and circles the entire room and ends up near where it started. Not just that shot, but all of the cinematography in this film is absolutely wonderful. Each shot is crafted to give the movie a spooky atmosphere. Shadows and close-ups are used as are super impositions and matte shots, creating many images the stay in you mind long after the film ends.
That is not to say the movie is perfect. The pacing is rather slow, with many scenes lasting longer than the ought to. It is has more melodrama than most horror movies, even those of the 30's. The acting on the whole is not of a high quality. Madge Bellamy acts like a zombie even before she is turned into one. She shows little emotion during any part of the film, and John Harron is never convincing as the groom. The picture is redeemed by the wonderful acting of Bela Lugosi. He really steals the picture as the evil Murder Legendre. His hand movements and facial expressions broadcast his evil intent perfectly. He is even better here than he was in Dracula. Lugosi's best performance of his career.

Roan has included some great extras on this disc. First, there is a trailer from the 1952 re-release of the film. Then, there is a full length commentary provided by Gary Don Rhodes, the author of White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. The commentary is insightful and for the most part interesting, even though many of the things he points out are fairly obvious, many are not. (Watch for the "dead" man holding his nose as he is thrown into a river.)

There is also a 1932 short Intimate Interviews. This is a scripted "interview" where a female reporter goes to Lugosi's house to talk to him, and ends up running away scared due to Lugosi's spooky nature. An entertaining novelty even if it doesn't provide any insight into Bela Lugosi.

The final extra is an excerpt from a 50's television show, or possibly a news segment Ship's Reporter. A reporter interviews Bela (a real interview this time!) as he arrives in New York after spending some time in England. The most interesting extra on the disc, this shows Bela after his star has faded, yet still hopeful of making a comeback.

Though rather slow at points, White Zombie is a good film. Bela Lugosi at his prime, more than makes up for the other actors, and the wonderful camera work and composition make this enjoyable to watch. Having this movie presented with a clean print is reason enough to buy this disc, but the extras make this DVD one that belongs in every classic horror collection.


Turner Classic Movies   Jeff Stafford

Following his sucess in Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), Bela Lugosi surprised some of his film industry colleagues by agreeing to star in White Zombie (1932), a low-budget production which exploited the country's current interest in voodoo. The Halperin Brothers, who produced White Zombie, were independents with no proven track record in Hollywood and they offered Lugosi a low salary for a week's work on the film (Reports vary on the actual salary, ranging from $500 to $5,000). Why Lugosi agreed to this arrangement is open to speculation. Perhaps he didn't want to turn down another leading role, as he did for the part of the monster in Frankenstein, a role that made Boris Karloff a star and his chief rival in the horror genre. Perhaps he simply couldn't turn down any offer of work or money. Whatever the case, White Zombie is one of Bela Lugosi's most distinctive roles and one that captures his mysterious, hypnotic allure.

As Murder Legendre, Lugosi is evil personified. He plays the owner of a sugar mill in Haiti who controls an army of zombie workers. When he becomes enarmored of a young bride-to-be (Madge Bellamy) who is visiting a neighboring estate, Legendre resorts to black magic to make her his own. The apparent model for this role and his dramatic interpretation of Count Dracula was a character Lugosi had portrayed in his first German film, Slave of a Foreign Will (Sklaven Fremdes Willens) in 1919. In it, he played a hypnotist with the mesmerizing power of Svengali.

Long considered the first Hollywood production to feature zombies, White Zombie was inspired by The Magic Island, William B. Seabrook's 1929 book on Haitian voodoo. The Halperin Brothers (Victor directed, Edward produced) also borrowed elements from Kenneth Webb's 1932 New York stage play, Zombie. (In fact, Webb tried, unsuccessfully, to sue the brothers for copyright infringement.) Besides the coup of casting Lugosi in the lead, the Halperin Brothers also hoped to revive the career of former silent star Madge Bellamy in the role of the female lead, Madeline Short.

The film was shot on the RKO-Pathe lot in Culver City and at Universal City. One of the sets from Cecil B. DeMille's epic, The King of Kings (1927), was used for Legendre's mountaintop veranda and castle interiors were assembled from parts of the Dracula and Frankenstein sets. The creepy zombie makeup was devised by Carl Axcelle and Jack Pierce of Universal who transformed Boris Karloff into The Mummy (1933) and other famous monsters. Another unique contribution was the innovative use of music arranged by silent picture maestro Abe Meyer. Some terrifically weird effects are achieved using native drumming, chants, and natural sounds. Even a Spanish jota composed by Xavier Cugat is used for one haunting sequence where John Harron (Neil Parker) pursues an apparition that looks like his bride.

The critics were particularly hard on White Zombie during its initial release and found it embarrassingly outdated and old-fashioned by current standards, citing the silent-era style of acting and Victorian era dialogue as examples. Seen today, White Zombie has the look of a gothic fairytale and can be viewed as a precursor to the works of Val Lewton with its heavy emphasis on atmosphere and sound. What most people don't realize is how much creative control Lugosi had over the project. His co-star, Clarence Muse, later stated that Lugosi rewrote, restaged and even directed some scenes making it unclear how much of the finished film reflects his influence.

And You Call Yourself a Scientist!


Cold Fusion Video Reviews (Nathan Shumate)


White Zombie   White Zombie, Haitian Horror, by Tony Williams from Jump Cut


Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips, Jr.]  also seen here under code name Kairo:  Classic-Horror


Mondo Digital  Zombie Master Lee Roberts, calling it arguably the first zombie film


Cinescape  Steve Biodrowski  Fernando F. Croce


Cinema de Merde


Hamaguchi, Ryûsuke



Japan  (115 mi)  2008


J-Film Pow-Wow [Chris MaGee]

So many people come to Japanese film through such violent films as Kinji Fukasaku's "Battle Royale" and Takashi Miike's "Audition" and "Ichi the Killer". If you were to ask a random selection of film fans what they think of when they hear "contemporary Japanese cinema" most would name check these titles and their infinitely ingenious ways of depicting man's inhumanity to man. There couldn't be a film that is further from "Battle Royale" and "Ichi the Killer" than Ryusuke Hamaguchi's debut feature "Passion", or at least on the surface it bears no resemblance to these hyper-violent spectacles, but if you look past the polite faces and domestic interiors of this quiet relationship drama you'll find just as much, if not more, cruelty than anything Fukasaku or Miike could or can muster, albeit cruelty of the emotional variety. "Passion" should, and hopefully will, become just as well known in the coming years as these other more flashy explorations of violence as it is easily one of the best Japanese films I've had the pleasure of seeing in the past decade.

"Passion" begins with very little passion. Math teacher Kaho (Aoba Kawai) and her boyfriend Tomoya (Ryuta Okamoto), a handsome academic are going to a dinner to celebrate Kaho's 29th birthday. At the restaurant they meet their friends Kenichiro (Nao Okabe) and his girlfriend Sanae and Takeshi (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) and his pregnant wife Marie. It's all smiles and cake, a little bit of trepidation about nearing the Big 3-0, but mostly it's the kind of pleasant night out that we've all shared at one time or another with our close friends... that is until Kaho and Tomoya make an announcement. The two plan to marry and the reactions of those around the table are the first indication that things aren't entirely right with this group. While Takeshi and his wife seem happy for their friends the colour drains out of Kenichiro's face when he hears the news. His girlfriend breaks into tears and leaves the tabel, but the most interesting reactions come from Kaho and Tomoya themselves. Neither seem convinced of or comforatable with their decision to be man and wife. The emotional tremors following their announcement give way to more merrymaking though and soon Tomoya, Takeshi and Kenichiro head out for some male-bonding while their wives and girlfriends head home. They end up at the apartment of Kenichiro's msitress Takako (Fusako Urabe) and her roommate Hana. It seems that there's not just Kenichiro's affair with Takako at play here as Tomoya was once involved with her as well and Takeshi's idea of himself as a happy husband and expectant father are shaken when he meets the bohemian Hana.

What appears to be the set up to a fine domestic drama, one of the many that was released in 2008 (Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata", Ryosuke Hashiguchi's "All Around Us" and Hirokazu Koreeda's "Still Walking" being the best known of these) takes a dark psychological turn after Tomoya, Takeshi, and Kenichiro stumble home after their night out. Hamaguchi cuts to a scene of Kaho standing in front of her class of junior high school students. One space is empty and a vase of flowers sits on its desktop. It turns out that a student has committed suicide after suffering from prolonged bullying. Kaho goes on an extended lecture about "violence" that occurs between people, but she's not just talking about punching, kicking and general bodily injury. While her example of raising her hand to one of her students and nearly slapping him across the face is shocking it's "People are not transparent. We can't see through them." She explains that it's the opaqueness of people, their hidden intentions and feelings, that are the root cause of violence. Does her student think his teacher will slap him? He says he doesn't, but how can he be sure when he it is impossible to be inside the head of this "other" and see what their true intentions are?

Kaho's lecture to her students is delivered by actress Aoba Kawai in fascinatingly brittle and nearly panicked way, and once Hamaguchi takes us back to her life and the lives of Tomoya, Kenichiro, Takeshi and Takako all the unspoken tensions, the hidden desires, the petty grievances and the cruel slips in fidelity all become magnified. It's revealed that Kenichiro has loved Kaho for years, but his feelings have never been reciprocated, and that Takako dreams that Kenichiro could lover her the way she does him. Takeshi's meeting with Hana makes him question just how good a husband, father and person he really is. As for Tomoya, well, is this handsome, socially distinguished man capable of loving Kaho or anyone at all? Hamaguchi, who also wrote the screenplay for "Passion", expertly weaves these webs of love and deceit together and ends up creating a film unlike any coming out of Japan at the moment.

While there is cruelty and violence around every corner in "Passion" it isn't, as I mentioned at the top, the kind that has been celebrated in bloody displays in the films of Fukasaku, Miike or Takeshi Kitano and Shinya Tsukamoto. It seems Hamaguchi isn't concerned with the visual pyrotechnics and arterial spray utilized by these filmmakers, but instead hearkens back to the masters of social tragedy like Kenji Mizoguchi and Mikio Naruse. I could easily see the scene where Kaho and Kenichiro quietly walk along the waterfront at dawn as coming directly from a Naruse film of the late 50's. But there's an added sting mixed in with all these classic elements. Any fan of the films of John Cassavetes, a filmmaker who Hamaguchi has called one of his cinematic heroes in interviews, and most especially Mike Nichols screen adaptation of Patrick Marber's vicious stage play "Closer" will easily be able to draw comparisons with "Passion". One need only watch as Tomoya, Takeshi and Takako indulge in one hour of pure honesty to see the near Roman Coliseum level of emotional savagery that Cassavetes and Nichols brought to their films.

There are times when the conversations go on a bit too long during "Passion", times when the camera stares a hole through his characters a few seconds longer than maybe it should, although the long unbroken wide angle landscape that slowly morph into intimate close-ups are indeed something to see. If you consider that this was the graduating film by writer/ director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who graduated from Tokyo's School of the Arts in 2008, then these technical and narrative missteps end up being minor quibbles in what is a genuinely remarkable film. I can only hope that despite the fact that it is already a couple of years old at this point that "Passion" gets some form of North American exposure (festival screenings, DVD release) as it's as this emotionally violent tale is as close to a classic Japanese film as has been released in the past few years.

HAPPY HOUR (Happî Awâ)                                 A                     97

Japan  (317 mi)  2015                            Official site


Brilliantly co-written by director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, but also Tadashi Nohara and Tomoyuki Takahashi, this more-than-five-hours, expansive work may be among the best films ever written about women, where it has a novelistic reach of Edward Yang, but also reaches into the revelatory, searingly confessional outpourings of Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (La Maman et la Putain) (1973), where characters continually examine the depths of their souls, discovering they are surprisingly unhappy with the limits of their expression, where they are given no voice in modern society and are instead routinely ignored even by those closest to them.  More than anything, the film examines the failures of conventional marriages, which in Japanese society also includes traditionally arranged marriages from the prewar generation, where women are expected to stay in their place, largely confined to the duties of home, while their husbands, who control all the money, have the freedom to earn a living and do pretty much whatever they please.  Women are not expected to raise their voice and complain, but to accept their place in society, as this is simply handed down from ancient traditions, largely reinforced by religious practices.  This film is surprisingly resonant in the modern world, as it reveals how well intentioned men, without ever meaning to do so, actually choke the life out of their marriages due to neglect and psychological abuse, where prolonged disinterest only makes matters worse for their wives, as they haven’t a clue how to act any other way, as there are no societal examples to draw upon, as the entire nation is promulgated on laws written totally and exclusively by men, where there is no precedent to include the views of women.  While Kenji Mizoguchi is arguably the most fiercely critical Japanese filmmaker, actively exposing the plight of women throughout his legendary film career, where the oppression and subjugation of women are at the center of nearly all his films, gender equality was never incorporated into Japanese law until the postwar Constitution of 1947, which abolished the previously existing patriarchal authority and re-established marriage (including divorce) on the grounds of equality and choice, where women consequently received the right to vote.  Nonetheless, old habits are hard to break, and divorce remains a social stigma in Japan, associated with a loss of face and honor, where elite private schools are said to reject children from single-parent homes, while many companies are reluctant to hire divorced women or promote employees who have divorced.  Among the more remarkable statistics, only about 15 percent of divorced fathers in Japan pay child support.  From columnist Todd Jay Leonard, Divorce in Japan varies greatly from that in the United States:   


No upstanding family wants their child to marry someone from a divorced family, as if it were something contagious. So, they live in misery, putting on a happy façade until the children marry, then they divorce. […]


Also, traditionally, with the father working outside the home — often married to his career and spending most days, evenings and weekends with work colleagues — the wife feels her personal space is invaded when he retires and sometimes decides not to spend the rest of her life serving him. So, she seeks a divorce from him. […]


In my opinion, women in Japan certainly get the short end of the stick in divorces.  There are a number of derogatory terms used toward women, such as “demodori” which refers to a woman who goes back to her parents’ home after the divorce.  Another term, “kizumono,” means “damaged goods” like those that are on a discount table because they likely cannot be sold again — “seconds,” in other words.  A more modern term used for both men and women is “batsu ichi” meaning “one failure,” like the English term “one strike.” 


These terms are quite harsh, so it is understandable why people here are hesitant to divorce — even those who desperately need to — because of the stigma associated with them afterwards by society.  


Divorce remains a sticky issue in Japan, for families as well as couples, as unless both parties consent, divorce proceedings are long, protracted, and difficult, while women have a hard time getting alimony and child-support payments.  A woman’s financial dependence on her husband is the most persuasive argument for continuing an unhappy marriage.  More and more, however, Japan sees in-house divorces, called “katei-nai-rikon,” loveless marriages that often end in stalemate rather than separation, where married couples continue to live under the same roof, but separately, leading their own individual lives, having little to no contact with the other.  While Hamaguchi’s film is not specifically about divorce per se, but it has an explosive impact on the lives of four women, all in their mid to late 30’s who happen to be best friends, Akari (Sachie Tanaka), the lone divorcée of the group, yet the most bluntly honest while arguably the most outgoing, who works as a professional nurse, under considerable pressure because of the grim realities of Japan’s large aging population, Sakurako (Hazuki Kikuchi), a shy, in-home housewife raising her teenage son Daiki, with her mother-in-law in the home, subject to the whims of her stoic, overworked husband Yoshihiko (Yoshio Shin), Fumi (Maiko Mihara), perhaps the most reserved of all, the curator of an art center named PORTO, living with her husband Takuya (Hiroyuki Miura), a distant and emotionally unreachable literary editor, and Jun (Rira Kawamura), a kitchen assistant who inadvertently sets the gears in motion by revealing she is seeking a divorce from her husband Kohei (Yoshitaka Zahana), an impassive yet overly rational biologist who specializes in fertilized egg development, the kind of guy who can’t begin to understand the complexities of his wife, yet insists upon having his way.  While these are the main characters who seem to appear before the audience like revolving doors, each sequence providing more insight into their gradually unfolding lives, the origins of the narrative actually began in twenty-three theater workshops, much like the methods of Mike Leigh, where the cast is made up entirely of nonprofessional participants, using improvisatory sessions to flesh out the characters and their motivations, starting under the working title Brides.  Driven by seemingly organic exchanges between characters, an extraordinary authenticity is established by reaching profoundly personal depths of discussion, often using question and answer techniques, where this is the truly unique characteristic of the film, even more than the unusual length.  Premiering at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, Hamaguchi won a prize for Best Screenplay, while all four actresses shared a prize for Best Actress. 


The setting is the port city of Kobe, as the introductory shot reveals the four women riding inside a tram heading up the side of a mountain, as their destination is a gazebo picnic site overlooking the city.  While normally this is a beautiful panoramic vista, on this particular day it is dismally cloudy, engulfed in a fog bank, where they can’t see but just a few feet in front of them.  “This resembles our future,” Jen suggests, but overall the spirited group has too much fun together to take the comment seriously, already planning their next outing.  Fumi invites her friends to an upcoming New-Age meditative workshop at her art center, which turns into an exercise class in search of their inner balance.  Led by Ukai (Shuhei Shibata), a conceptual artist who made a name for himself balancing large pieces of debris left on the beach from the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011, he guides a class of about ten participants through a series of group exercises designed to increase trust and understanding of their own bodies in connection to the group at large, often partnering up to enhance the experience, devoting an extensive amount of time establishing a collective rhythm, reminiscent of the intricate detail established in Rivette’s legendary Out 1 and Jacques Rivette R.I.P.  (1971), itself a mammoth 12-hour film, as both reflect the organic improvisatory rehearsal process as a lead-in to discovering the true voices of the characters in the film.  Shot by cinematographer Yoshio Kitagawa, the intimacy of these scenes involves the audience as well, setting the tone from the outset, identifying the characters, sharpening their senses, eliminating all skepticism and negativity, establishing the concept of a group dynamic as the central focus of the film, acting as a gateway to a new and unique discovery, preparing for a different kind of honesty, opening the floodgates for what’s to come, both literally and symbolically.  Ukai is an unusual facilitator, as outside the classroom setting he’s a completely different guy, much more direct and confrontational, asking blunt, even awkwardly personal questions, a trait that is more in keeping with his personality, according to those who have known him since childhood, which comes into play in a group meal after the classes are over.  Asked about their personal lives, it’s here that Jun reveals to the group that she’s involved in a particularly grueling divorce procedure, acknowledging having an affair outside the marriage, which comes as a surprise to her friends, except for Sakurako, who has known her since childhood, so they have a closer relationship.  Akira in particular, who reveals her own growing fears about legal liabilities in the nursing profession, is incensed to have been left out until now, believing they shared everything with each other, but Jun flatly states no one ever asked her before.  This emotional bombshell has a way of reverberating throughout their group for the remainder of the picture, as they each have their own way of displaying understanding and support, which, at least initially, isn’t fully understood.             


Hamaguchi, like Edward Yang, is interested in human relationships and how narratives unfold in naturalistic settings, told without a trace of sentiment or melodrama, with much of it having the feel of documentary realism, edited in such a way as to allow a kind of clinical detachment, as it never allows too much time with a single character, but clearly is interested in delving into psychological realism through each evolving character, as they are vividly better understood by the audience over time, as what we know about them undergoes a transformation, where by the end each one is in a substantially different place from the outset, largely developed through shared experiences, intensive dialogue, and our ability to gain psychological insights out of ordinary moments.  What seems to set them in motion is a court scene, as they support Jun in her “ugly” divorce proceedings, but she is clearly on the losing side of the court battle, caught up in a deeply sexist, male-dominated Japanese society, where Jun’s real intent is to be free of her husband, not based on salacious details, as he’s never been violent or overly hostile, but simply based on the oppressive nature of the relationship, where she believes he’s all but killed her inner spirit through a boring period of continual neglect and disinterest, where she needs to be free of him to liberate what’s left of her spirit.  The court however, is looking for a different kind of evidence than simply breaking her spirit, so it’s set up for the male partner to prevail, and he’s not interested in divorce, but instead insists upon holding onto her, like his possession, as otherwise he will be viewed with disgrace.  So he’s worried about his personal reputation, not the feelings of his wife.  Try as he may, the more he insists, the farther she wants to be away from him.  While the husband Kohei, the court system, and Japanese society at large haven’t a clue why Jun would be demanding a divorce, as Kohei is an accredited working professional, viewed by society as a success, it’s clear by her personal testimony that she’s the harmed party suffering years of emotional abuse, and it’s well past the point of reconciliation, yet that’s what the court recommends.  Each of her three friends witnesses the casual yet derisive manner that Jun’s feelings are completely disregarded, where because of her admitted affair the law remains on her husband’s side, but he’s too insistent on getting his way to even care what Jun’s going through.  This forces them all to reexamine more closely their own marriages and relationships, where things are not as they seem, as an underlying tension is hidden in politeness and social grace.  Hamaguchi scrutinizes each one more closely, yet with deceptive simplicity, where clearly he demonstrates sympathy for the other men involved, yet when faced with a moment of truth, tested by a fierce wave of feminine independence, they behave in an expected manner, unable or unwilling to see beyond their own interests.  This becomes the modern era battleground, all taking place behind closed doors, but women are simply speaking up for themselves, taking control of their own lives, yet it’s clear men prefer their traditional muted expressions.  Much of this plays out with an extraordinary degree of tenderness, accentuated by astonishing music by Umitarô Abe, which shifts from classical symphonic to traditional Japanese to a gorgeously melancholic piano score, all lending credibility to the achievement of sublime moments.             


Sometime later, the four friends take an overnight trip to the Arima hot springs, given another layer of interest when Takuya decides to drive them there, as he intends to meet with a budding young novelist who’s only 25, a female writer he’s editing, Yuzuki Nose (Ayaka Shibutani), which gives the others a chance to needle Fumi about her marriage, suggesting Takuya looks more relaxed in the cute young writer’s company.  In fact, they all feel a new attitude about the solidarity of their friendships, discovering something changing and anew, where each one faces the camera and re-introduces themselves, with Sakurako, who’s known Jun since childhood, confessing, “ I’ve known you a long time.  But it’s like I’m meeting you for the first time.”  These personal shifts are a key to understanding the film, as the film probes under the surface in revealing how the thoughtless and self-absorbed behavior of men places such internalized pressures on women, where it has an extraordinary influence on their existing relationships as well, as women are forced to seek emotional fulfillment outside the bonds of marriage.  Interestingly, as if to prove this point, the other three women return home but Jun stays behind, presumably to see more sights, meeting another woman on a bus, who unexpectedly reveals her entire family history before getting off, where this flurry of interior exploration comes to represent what this film is all about, showing how easily our lives are affected by external events.  With that, reminiscent of Antonioni’s L’AVVENTURA (1960), Jun suddenly disappears, never to be seen again, heading off into a network of protected support groups where confidentiality protections prevent her husband from locating her, though it’s not for lack of trying, literally stalking her, as he hires a private detective in the process.  But she’s also missing from her friends, who probably suffer more severely than her husband, as they rely upon her friendship in an everyday manner, as she’s important to them.  As if to mirror the earlier extended exercise session at PORTO, Fumi’s art center, Yuzuki Nose gives a reading of her latest work, introduced by Takuya, where she reads an extended passage about her experience at the hot springs, which becomes a sensuous expression of nude body shapes and repressed emotional longing, suggesting the unspoken object of her affection is probably Takuya, which certainly makes Fumi, as well as the audience, exceedingly uncomfortable.  This leads to a series of random events where Ukai resurfaces and reveals himself to be something of a snake, though he was expected to lead a Q & A with the author, but his strange disappearance creates a last-minute substitution, none other than Kohei, who goes on a diversionary speech about his research into molecular cell division that is excruciatingly off-topic, yet somehow he pulls it together to make a few cogent observations about her story, which, by all accounts, is little more than a shallow, coming-of-age story that seems fueled by feelings she’s afraid to express.  In an ill-advised dinner afterwards, Fumi and Sakurako are placed in the awkward position of having to confront Kohei about the negative impact he’s having on their lives, as his refusal to accept a divorce is preventing Jun’s return, where her absence is a glaring omission, as she was the one that brought them all together.  Predictably, Kohei is unmoved, thinking only of himself, where the dinner ends in disaster, reaching extraordinary levels of tension.  A chaotic series of events occurs changing the trajectories of each relationship, mysteriously moving from optimism to tragedy and back to optimism again, where the story becomes increasingly fragmented into dark twists and detours that contrast against the previously existing harmony, but has a transformative effect overall, ultimately revealing how dramatically lives are changed, becoming an immersive, intensely moving, cinematic experience.  


Slant: Chuck Bowen   #3 from 25 Best Films of 2016

In Happy Hour, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi follows four intelligent Japanese women in their 30s as they discover that their dialectal beliefs are no longer adequate compensations for their emotional estrangement. Hamaguchi mounts an epic film of intimate gestures that unfolds in great lapping movements containing minute stanzas of heartbreak, in which a meditation class, a post-workshop happy hour, a divorce hearing, and a book reading are allowed to exist both as worlds onto themselves as well as links in chains comprising larger existences. The women debate with themselves, resenting and reaching out to the equally miserable husbands and lovers who disappoint them, attempting to rediscover the healing primacy of touch in the film's overarching sequences. Hamaguchi is that rarity: a tough, exacting humanist who puts his characters through their paces, relentlessly pointing and counterpointing their actions, his elegantly tensile imagery serving to render them wholly explicable and mysterious in seemingly equal measure.

MoMA Presents: Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Happy Hour | MoMA

MoMA presents a weeklong theatrical run of one of the great revelations of New Directors/New Films 2016. “Four thirtysomething female friends in the misty seaside city of Kobe navigate the unsteady currents of their work, domestic, and romantic lives. They seek solace in one another’s company, but a sudden revelation creates a rift, and rouses each woman to take stock. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s wise, precisely observed, compulsively watchable drama of friendship and midlife awakening runs over five hours, yet the leisurely duration is not an indulgence but a careful strategy—to show what other films leave out, to create a space for everyday moments that is nonetheless charged with possibility, and to yield an emotional density rarely available to a feature-length movie. Developed through workshops with a cast of mostly newcomers (the extraordinary lead quartet shared the Best Actress award at the Locarno Film Festival), and filled with absorbing sequences that flow almost in real time, Happy Hour has a novelistic depth and texture. But it’s also the kind of immersive, intensely moving experience that remains unique to cinema” (New Directors/New Films 2016 screening notes).

Review: Happy Hour | Ryusuke Hamaguchi - Film Comment  Dan Sullivan, August 26, 2016

Few recent art-house films have been saddled with a reputation for being long more than Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour has. Yet Hamaguchi, compared to established marathoners like Lav Diaz and Wang Bing, is a relative unknown, with a number of films under his belt but until now a low profile outside his native Japan. Viewers intimidated by the film’s 317-minute runtime will be pacified by the familiar grammar with which Hamaguchi composes his longhand drama—which isn’t to say that Happy Hour is merely a kinder, gentler take on the Very Long Movie.

Friends Jun (Rira Kawamura), Sakurako (Hazuki Kikuchi), Fumi (Maiko Mihara), and Akari (Sachie Tanaka) are all thirty-something bourgeois women in Kobe just trying to get by, obtaining a quantum of comfort from their friendship while the world proves underwhelming, disappointing, and at times outright hostile. Akari is a nurse categorically unwilling to suffer fools (least of all her subordinates on the job). Timid Sakurako leads a life of quiet desperation as a housewife with an overbearing live-in mother-in-law, a doctor husband who is nearly devoid of qualities, and an adolescent son who’s starting to discover his inner horn-dog. Fumi valiantly manages a nonprofit arts space while fretting over whether her editor husband, Takuya (Hiroyuki Miura), might have eyes for a young female author he’s working with. And Jun is entering a nasty divorce from her emotionally dead biologist husband, Kohei (Yoshitaka Zahana), after confessing to a past affair.

Jun’s divorce, which she keeps on the down-low too long for hyper-sensitive Akari’s liking, serves as the catalyst for the women to begin reevaluating the state of their lives, their relations with one another, and their senses of themselves. What follows is a rhythmically varied and consistently moving succession of episodes in which secrets accidentally surface at awkward group dinners, couples bicker behind closed doors, and day trips together function as essential reprieves.

The first act of Happy Hour contains a long scene that’s among the very best in recent movies: a workshop (think team-building seminar meets Happening) organized by Fumi and led by an enigmatic artist who goes by Ukai (Shuhei Shibata). This scene has drawn apt comparisons to the rehearsal scenes in Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 and L’Amour fou, but what makes this digressive foray into real-time cinema so rich is where Hamaguchi winds up taking Ukai later in the film. He’s first presented as a handsome guru-type who became famous for fashioning gravity-defying sculptures of debris after an earthquake. But the full scope of Ukai’s personality emerges piecemeal across various interactions with the four protagonists, and he comes to more closely resemble the mind-controlling amnesiac villain from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure than some sort of benevolent land artist. (It seems relevant to note here that Hamaguchi studied under Kurosawa at Tokyo University of the Arts.) What’s more, the fact that the script of Happy Hour was the product of extensive improvisational workshopping by Hamaguchi and an assortment of amateur thespians slyly implies a knotty point of identification between the director and this strange, sometimes menacing figure.

Another long scene in the film confounds our narrative expectations profoundly: a reading at Fumi’s arts space by the author she suspects her husband of lusting after, followed by a Q&A that winds up being led by Kohei, an improbably sensitive and capable moderator. The scene is nearly as audacious in its use of eventful duration as the workshop sequence with Ukai, and the subtle ways in which it distorts what we thought we knew about the film’s supporting players are as exhilarating as the attendees’ feedback is plausibly interminable.

Buoyed by four captivating performances from its unheralded actresses, Happy Hour is a fascinating, towering confection of contradictions: a modest epic; a work that simultaneously resembles both contemporary television drama and art cinema at its airiest; a film you feel like you’ve seen before but that somehow never ceases to surprise. I suspect we’ll be talking about this one for some time to come—and not because of its length.

Film of the Week: Happy Hour - Film Comment  Jonathan Romney, August 26, 2016

According to Octave, the character played by Jean Renoir in The Rules of the Game, “The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.” Whether viewed as awful or otherwise, the insight has become emblematic of a certain kind of observational humanistic cinema, and the proposition has rarely been explored so assiduously or at such calm length as in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s 316-minute Happy Hour.

We often associate extremely long fiction films either with a sort of expansive fabulism (as in Béla Tarr’s work) or with experimental dramas that seek their own forms as they go along (Lav Diaz, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1). Happy Hour could be described without too much distortion as a relatively conventional piece of psychological realism, about the emotional lives of four women and the people around them: as a sort of ensemble melodrama. But the film’s unusual running time, and the leisurely pace at which Hamaguchi allows his characters to unfold on screen—to become themselves, as it were—causes the film to evolve slowly and subtly into something else. It becomes a very delicate piece of anti-melodrama, in a sense, insofar as all the powerful emotions it addresses are exposed with a somewhat scientific analytical detachment, so that the “reasons” that drive everyone become vividly understood by us—not 100 percent clear, transparent, or consistent, but certainly comprehended with a certain depth and immediacy. If this makes Happy Hour sound like a chilly exercise in emotional forensics, rest assured you’ll feel moved at certain points—all the more so because Hamaguchi consistently resists yanking our heartstrings. In fact, in the way it patiently teases minor-key emotional and psychological insights out of ostensibly mundane moments studied at length, the film this most reminds me of is Edward Yang’s Yi Yi.

Happy Hour begins by introducing us to four women living in Kobe, friends all approaching 40, who set out for a picnic at the top of a hill. At the summit, they sit surrounded by heavy mist, and one jokes, “This resembles our future.” In fact, it rather resembles the hours that will follow, in which we watch the four navigate themselves out of their own personal mists, while trying to make our own way through the sometimes elusive complexities of their lives. As the film moves along, we meet the women either singly or in different combinations, at home, at work, or socializing. Akari (Sachie Tanaka) is a hospital nurse, divorced, of the four women the one with the hardest exterior, who spends much of her work time showing a kind of pitiless tough love to a clueless novice assistant. Fumi (Maiko Mihara)—who for me remained the least readable of the four—is elegant, self-possessed, somewhat taciturn. She runs an arts center called PORTO—although it seems to be little more than a drab office-type space—where her publisher husband Takuya is organizing a series of events. Sakurako (Hazuki Kikuchi, her nervous, watchful demeanor irresistibly reminiscent of the young Shelley Duvall) is a housewife with a teenage son, a bluff but affable mother-in-law, and a glum, bossy salaryman husband, the sort who comes home and instantly demands rice and tea. Then there’s Jun (Rira Kawamura), seemingly slightly older, who later lands a surprise on the group which will, directly or indirectly, catalyze changes in all their lives.

The first part of the film, as the title suggests, is largely to do with moments where the characters attain glimmers of happiness—not least, as in so many films about groups of female friends, through relaxed moments of comradeship. Bonding or—as one character earnestly puts it, “communication”—is a key theme throughout. The star guest at Takuya’s first event is a man named Ukai, supposedly an artist, although his claim to that title seems to hinge on his bizarre ability to set pieces of earthquake debris standing on end (the film’s only hint of the oddball or uncanny), a talent he briefly demonstrates with a chair. Otherwise, Ukai’s “art” manifests itself here in a sort of mindfulness seminar, during which he encourages participants to listen to each other’s bellies, place their foreheads together and make stabs at experimental telepathy. In reality, his techniques seem harmless fun, although they also allow certain male and female characters to size each other up for later potential romance.

But, played out at considerable length, together with a post-session get-together in which participants talk about themselves, the workshop offers a wonderful method to discover the nuances of the ways these characters exist on screen. Hamaguchi’s actors, largely first-timers from Kobe who rehearsed through extended workshop sessions, seem incredibly at ease throughout, and the relaxed tone of the film, even when it’s at its most formal, allows for a sort of extended bonding process between cast and viewers. As a result, you may not understand these characters better by the end of the film, but you will feel you know them: which is how we often feel about people we get to spend time with in real life, a kind of intimate knowledge that may not be deep but that’s certainly more than superficial.

The event that sets the film spinning on a new orbit comes during the post-session drinks, when Jun announces that she’s going through divorce proceedings, having had an affair with a younger man. Akari is furious that Jun has never confided in her about it before, but Jun’s friends agree to join her in court, where her husband Kohei (Yoshitaka Zahana), a molecular biologist, is doggedly opposing her application for a divorce. Throughout the court scene, shot very formally with many a symmetrical frontal composition, Kohei is seen glaring silently and expressionlessly in a pale suit: he looks like a chilly bastard, and we’re inclined to dislike him from the start. But it’s typical of Happy Hour’s nuanced approach to human behavior that Kohei later reveals an unsuspected sensitivity. Called on to stand in as host of a Q&A with a young writer, he offers some surprisingly perceptive insights into artistic creativity. Similarly, while the film has us rooting for Jun against Kohei, her own behavior isn’t obviously admirable. When Kohei shyly visits her at home, she phones her lawyer and claims he’s acting aggressively, before nearly pushing him out of the window—all the potential for melodrama quietly defused by the scene being shot in silhouette against the daylight outside. People in Happy Hour behave inconsistently, unpredictably, not always sympathetically, and that’s the film’s richness.

The narrative increasingly fragments into subplots and digressions, but it all holds together with the cohesion of a well-structured novel. Jun meets a woman on a bus, who tells her own family history; the thread stops there, as the woman gets off, but the episode feels integral to the overall drift. Sakurako’s teenage son gets his girlfriend pregnant, but her husband is too busy to do the expected thing and apologize to the girl’s parents; that’s left to Sakurako and her mother-in-law, who afterward cuts through the business of decorum by noting that the two kids are probably in love. Elsewhere, the four friends head off for a break at a hot springs resort, where Takuya is accompanying a young female writer he’s editing, Yuzuki Nose; the story Yuzuki later reads at PORTO inescapably suggests that she has a thing for Takuya. In fact, at the spa town, Fumi’s friends—most untactfully, you can’t help thinking—keep pressing Fumi on her marriage. “It’s like there’s a thin veil between you two, like you’re both trying not to touch it,” says Akari—then adds, “That veil didn’t exist when he was walking with Miss Nose.” The friends all question Fumi, but it’s all done so quietly, with such calm analytical seriousness, that it never feels intrusive. There is indeed something scientific, as well as philosophical, in these characters’ considered contemplation of human mores. Kohei himself makes the connection clear when quizzing Yuzuki on her fiction and describing his own work on egg development: “Putting it at its simplest, I scrutinize how things happen.” And that, at its simplest, is Hamaguchi’s game too.

It’s perhaps for that reason that the film’s look cultivates an effect of undemonstrative spareness. Shot by Yoshio Kitagawa, the restricted color palette of beiges, grays, and dull maroons, and the use of bland, even antiseptic urban spaces—courtrooms, cafés, PORTO itself—suggest a sort of laboratory situation in which emotions can reveal themselves uninflected by externals. The seemingly understylized execution is in fact deceptive: there are distinct but discreet touches of visual rhetoric throughout, including a number of shots in which characters seem to speak directly to camera, a number of Ozu-style compositions and certain minor-key flourishes like the shot in which, after Jun gets out of a car, the camera holds on her seat’s headrest. There are odd narrative flourishes too, breaking up the everyday realism of the narrative: a leitmotif that increasingly resembles a running joke involves characters fainting or falling down staircases at times of stress.

Hamaguchi—whose previous features include Intimacies (12) and Touching the Skin of Eeriness (13)—has done an amazing job in assembling this cast and getting them to breathe as easily as they do. Shuhei Shibata excels as the charismatic, slightly creepy Ukai, his boho flakiness accentuated by the actor’s facial and vocal resemblance to Adam Driver. The film especially represents an astonishing debut for Sachie Tanaka as Akari, whose toughness and prickly complexity are mesmerizing. It’s an especially strong performance given that the character is so acutely self-aware, especially when it comes to the problematics of her work and private life (Akari has avoided finding too much excitement in sex, she says, because it would blunt the sharpness she requires for nursing); when Akari has a rapturous moment of self-release on a dance floor, you feel Tanaka has truly earned that moment for her.

There are a number of such moments throughout—moments of feel-good release, if you must, but the film’s detachment allows us to understand that it’s the characters who feel good and that we shouldn’t expect to vicariously cash in on their catharsis. Even so, when some of the women finally achieve personal breakthroughs, while we might not get the easy glow a comparable Hollywood BFFs dramedy might award us, we feel we know everyone in this story well enough to share in their triumph. And yes, you do rather feel that you’d like to see Hamaguchi revisit these people five years from now, to see where they went next—for old acquaintance’s sake, as it were.

Happy Hour (Hamaguchi Ryusuke, Japan) - Cinema Scope  Michael Sicinski

It’s a strange film that calls to mind both Out 1 (1971) and Sex and the City. But Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Happy Hour is defined by that odd tug between spacious, undirected improvisation on the one hand, and an incident-driven examination of the ups and downs of four women friends on the other. The resulting mix, worked out by Hamaguchi with mostly first-time actors through workshops in Kobe, oscillates between poles that reasonably seasoned viewers might be prompted to consider “cinematic” and “televisual,” even though the very nature of the Happy Hour project makes these descriptors rather inadequate.

One of the key themes of Hamaguchi’s film—and a word that not only features prominently in the dialogue, but jumps out as the Japanese characters use its English-language cognate—is “communication,” and Happy Hour explores several different ways that audiovisual media can depict or describe this basic act. People talk, they fight, and have domestic dramas in a conventional sense, but they also touch, listen, observe, and create. By allowing for space in Happy Hour for these more passive forms of social interaction, Hamaguchi shows what both art cinema and TV dramedies omit, yielding a highly unusual, upper-middlebrow atmosphere for the reception of new ideas.

Happy Hour is a fascinating anomaly. In the Competition lineup at Locarno, it was the longest film by some distance at five hours and 17 minutes. But also, when seen alongside the other more stylized, formally assertive works in the Competition, Happy Hour certainly seems more like high-minded television, perhaps an experimental variation on a conventional Asian soap. Happy Hour is indeed long. But last year’s Golden Leopard went to Lav Diaz for his epic From What Is Before, which is only 21 minutes longer than Happy Hour. If Diaz’s film “feels longer,” this is not only because of Diaz’s preference for extended, fixed-frame shots and Hamaguchi’s more conventional decoupage, but also because of Happy Hour’s tendency to emphasize human psychology and incident, as opposed to Diaz’s more marked interest in the structural determinants of human existence.

In this light, what makes Happy Hour more “like TV” is its patient elaboration of character, and, in particular, its slow but in-depth explication of patterns of relationship and history among its chief protagonists. From the opening scene of a foggy hilltop picnic, Happy Hour quite deliberately introduces its four key characters. Jun (Kawamura Rira) is a quiet, somewhat serious woman, who, even in this early scene, exerts a subtle pull as de facto group leader; Sakurako (Kikuchi Hazuki) is a demure housewife, deferential and nervous; Akari (Tanaka Sachie), a nurse, is the gruff, sardonic, slightly butch member of the group; and Fumi (Mihara Maiko), a manager of an arts space, is the sophisticated, generous, but perhaps silently judgmental friend.

Over the course of the film, we learn a great deal more about them, especially marriages past and present. To Hamaguchi’s great credit, none of these initial impressions ever becomes the sum total of the women’s personalities, nor are the early intimations entirely off-base. Given the depth and seriousness of Happy Hour as an endeavour, the women are not types à la Sex and the City (“I’m such a Charlotte”). But this is partly due to the fact that, unlike popular TV, this film uses its expanded length to propose shared experiences for the four friends that are simultaneously touchstones for later interactions and metaphors for the crises they are facing in their everyday lives.

Though it seems that many of the women’s social events are somewhat standard bourgeois vacation outings, such as a trip to a hot-springs spa resort (the film’s second major event), Fumi’s art shows also serve as a primary anchor. Although Happy Hour doesn’t let us know the extent to which we are witnessing a typical span of time among the women, Hamaguchi structures Happy Hour around three key activities, two of which are events at Fumi’s downtown Kobe venue, interestingly named PORTO. The first and third are highly uncharacteristic of what we usually think of as cinematic material, at least outside the confines of artist-centred documentary. The fact that Hamaguchi devotes so much time to them, and the manner in which he does so, speaks to the filmmaker’s rare and intriguing representation of the place of aesthetic engagement within otherwise ordinary lives.

The first section of Happy Hour is organized around a movement workshop led by Ukai (Shibata Shuhai), an artist-activist who first gained notoriety for unorthodox arrangements of rubble following an earthquake three years prior. His seminar is called “Finding Your Centre,” and begins by balancing a chair on a single fulcrum of its leg at a diagonal pitch. As it turns out, Ukai became a “sculptor” by balancing large pieces of flotsam in similarly confounding ways. For Hamaguchi’s part, he realizes that Ukai’s description of his work will evoke inevitable memories of the Kobe earthquake of 1995, even as it goes understandably unmentioned. Although it would be a crass simplification to think of Happy Hour as a kind of extended, metaphorical observation of the 20th anniversary of the Grand Hanshin quake, all of the film’s characters, from various points in their adulthood, find themselves taking stock, realigning their respective “centres” and finding old interpersonal rifts only worsening in the course of time.

The movement workshop is in some senses a lovely combination of Rivette-style theatrical inquiry and the gentler explorations one might find in the academically inflected self-help projects of Brené Brown. Ukai emphasizes physical communication and group dynamics, with exercises such as having small, and then increasingly larger numbers sit back-to-back, using the others’ weight to stand or, in one of the most significant for Sakurako and Akari, placing one’s head on the other’s abdomen so as to “listen to their guts.” In description, such behaviours sound silly, characteristic of standard theatre trust games, and in reality they aren’t so far removed from this. But Hamaguchi permits the seminar to take up nearly an hour of screen time. His organization of space, his intimacy, and, in particular, his articulation of small, private reactions of performers with the broader group dynamic, suggests a strange hybrid of Rivette and Rohmer, without ever settling down into the lock-groove rigour of either one.

We are even privy to the dinner afterward, where Fumi and her PORTO associate take guest artist Ukai out for an obligatory meal. Akari, Jun, and Sakurako come along, as do several of Ukai’s old school friends. We see that the Zen guru is a bit of a cad, and learn more about Akari’s job (she’s hamstrung by bureaucracy and fear of malpractice) and Jun reveals that she is in the process of divorcing her cellular-biologist husband Kohei (Zahana Yoshitaka), a fact only Sakurako already knows. As usual, Fumi is taciturn, but Akari feels betrayed by the deception-by-omission.

Earlier in the scene we learn that Akari is a divorcée whose husband cheated on her; Jun explains that by way of planning her split from Kohei, she’s hooked up with a younger guy. Jun’s divorce court hearing, which they all attend shortly after the dinner, creates further group disruption. The camera is fixed on Jun in the witness box, her friends behind her in the gallery in deep focus. She explains that Kohei never hit her or psychologically abused her, but through his coldness “murdered the best part of her.” Kohei is contesting the divorce, and since Jun has admitted to adultery, her petition has little chance of succeeding. Hamaguchi’s centrality of Jun in this section—the emotional fulcrum of Happy Hour—will serve as a pivotal formal moment as well.

The second section at the hot springs becomes the final moment of closeness between the foursome. Each of the women is experiencing problems in her own private life. A key sequence in this central section of Happy Hour involves the four friends sitting in robes playing mahjong. There is an openness among them during this shared moment, as a general bitch session about work and husbands gives way to a more nuanced, wistful reflection on their lives. As women in their 30s, they have many years ahead of them, and yet none are satisfied. But Jun’s decisive action to intervene in her own unhappiness creates a kind of shockwave through the group, forcing each of them to take account of their own resignation and passivity. Jun offers a feminist consciousness-raising by example.

And so, at the mahjong table, the women find themselves wanting to assert new identities, or to somehow break with their past selves. The friends take turns introducing themselves to one another as if they are meeting for the first time. In a lovely formal coup, Hamaguchi departs from the casual editing that has up to now characterized the mahjong scene. Here, he moves to direct address, frontal close-ups, and straight cuts—the cinematic language of Ozu. If Jun, Akari, Fumi, and Sakurako are indeed stripping their identities down to their core, or trying to begin again, Hamaguchi accompanies this starting over with a return to one of the fundamental syntactic moves of Japanese cinema. But these straight-on close-ups also recall the frontal isolation of Jun in the witness box during the divorce hearing. Now, each of the women is similarly isolated, subject to her own “trial.”

Key to Happy Hour’s conclusion is the fact that Jun, claiming to want to stay on longer at the hot springs, separates from the other women when they head home. Hamaguchi’s tracking shot from the back of the bus, with Akari, Fumi, and Sakurako disappearing from view, provides a hint of what’s to come. Since Kohei will not grant her the divorce, Jun has decided to move away without telling anyone where she’s going. This provokes the expected strain on the remaining three women, all of whom originally met through Jun. But to make matters worse, Kohei calls them together to press them for information. He informs them that Jun is pregnant, and makes it clear that he will search for and essentially stalk Jun. Fumi and Sakurako, meanwhile, suspect one another of knowing more about Jun’s whereabouts than they’re letting on (they don’t), while Akari feels sufficiently betrayed as to want to wash her hands of Jun, and the others.

As the foursome dissolves, alliances break down and the fallout of Jun’s divorce results in ruptures in the friends’ identities, well beyond what they might have anticipated at the hot springs. The central event in this third act is a fiction reading by Yuzuki Nose, co-organized by Fumi and Takuya. While this is the extended art event that brings most of the principal characters together, most of the bonds between them have already been stretched to the breaking point. Fumi resents having to listen to Yuzuki’s rather precious, impressionistic writing, and is consumed with watching Takuya for signs of attraction to the demure young author. Ukai has been scheduled to conduct the Q&A following Yuzuki’s reading but bails. He hits on Fumi in the hall and, striking out, uses the exact same line on Akari outside while smoking. She goes for it, and off they go. In a bizarre twist, Kohei, having been involved with a minor literary event of Takuya’s, comes up from the audience to conduct the Q&A on the spot. Even more improbably, he does a fantastic job, drawing out the latent phenomenological elements in Yuzuki’s jejune, self-involved prose.

Like Ukai’s movement seminar, Yuzuki’s reading is a highly unusual cinematic event. Hamaguchi allows it to play out in nearly real time, and it zeroes in on the fundamental crises facing the women of Happy Hour. More importantly, it does so in oblique ways. Yuzuki’s short fiction is comprised of a series of portraits of spas and hot springs, detailing both her immediate responses to the environment and her sense of her own body in relation to those around her. While the descriptions Yuzuki provides are unspectacular, they speak to the ongoing theme of communication that Hamaguchi explored as a sidelong metaphor, with Ukai’s demand for expanded touch or the women’s desire at the hot spring to shed old self-conceptions and emerge renewed.

When I characterized Happy Hour as perhaps being an upper-middlebrow work of art, I was trying to make an effort to reconcile some of its seemingly incompatible impulses. However, these impulses are only at odds based on our standard assumptions about how art functions, or even what might count as a transformative aesthetic experience. A movement-based seminar promising to help us “find our centre” should in fact realign our way of being in the world; spa treatments at natural hot springs are supposed to be “revitalizing;” fiction about the experience of female embodiment ought to provide “a new way of seeing,” as Kohei says of Yuzuki’s work. In fact, most of the time art lets us down. But in Happy Hour—which is based on a series of experiments with non-professionals—Hamaguchi proposes a life-world in which the experiences that are really supposed to rearrange our daily identities actually do.

After all, by the end of the film, Jun is but a memory, Fumi and Sakurako are both requesting divorces from their useless husbands, and Akari appears to be less bitter and lonely, fully embracing the primacy of her career. Admittedly, there is something a bit pat in these concluding scenes. Happy Hour’s final 45 minutes are too incident-driven, a squaring of accounts. But ultimately Hamaguchi’s long-haul approach yields surprising emotional dividends. That’s because we are seeing the gradual accumulation of pressure along active interpersonal faults and, despite their genuine resistance—comfort, shame, depression, self-doubt—something must give. These women simply have to move.

Sister to Sister, Friend to Friend: On "Happy Hour ... - Movie Mezzanine  Alex Engquist, August 24, 2016, also seen here:  Movie Mezzanine: Alex Engquist   


Happy Hour ハッピーアワー (2015) – Genkinahito  Genki Jason, October 19, 2015


Reverse Shot: Nick Pinkerton   August 26, 2016


Happy Hour | 4:3  Jaymes Durante, September 2, 2016


The Reality Hunger of Happy Hour | New Republic  Ryu Spaeth, September 1, 2016


A Five-Hour Japanese Film Captures the Agonizing Intimacies of Daily Life  Richard Brody from The New Yorker


Happy Hour ハッピーアワー ( Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2015) – Windows ...  Hayley Scanlon from Windows on Worlds


Happy Hour, The Best 317 Minutes of New Directors/New Films 2016 ...  Vadim Rizov from Filmmaker magazine, March 25, 2016, also seen here:  Filmmaker: Vadim Rizov


Review: HAPPY HOUR, An Absorbing Long-Form Masterwork  Christopher Bourne from Screen Anarchy


Is Happy Hour Japan's epic answer to Sex and the City? - Little White ...  Bella McNeill from Little White Lies


MIFF 2016 Review: Happy Hour - Filmed in Ether  film discussion between Hieu Chau and Natalie Ng


Review: Happy Hour - The Pantograph Punch  Brannavan Gnanalingam


Happy Hour | 2015 | Film Review | Slant Magazine  Carson Lund


Chris Knipp • View topic - Ryusuke Hamaguchi: Happy Hour (2015 ...  Chris Knipp


"Pen! Pad! Action!" @The Michigan Theater – Latest News about ...  Michigan Theater Pen Press


Happy Hour |  Wai Lu Yin, October 20, 2015


Happy Hour |  James Mudge, November 9, 2015


Right Here, Right Now: On Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour  Daniel Nava from Chicago Cinema Circuit


Locarno 2015. Day 9 on Notebook | MUBI  Daniel Kasman, also seen here:  MUBI's Notebook: Daniel Kasman


Locarno Film Festival Review • Senses of Cinema  Jaimey Fisher, September 7, 2015


A Monumental Film From Japan Finds Majesty in the Mundane  Melissa Anderson from The Village Voice


The Film “Happy Hour” is Five Hours—And Worth It  Dan Piepenbring from The Paris Review


Happy Hour (2015) Movie Review from Eye for Film  Jennie Kermode


Screen Slate [Jon Auman]


Cancel Everything and Make 'Happy Hour' Plans - Brooklyn Magazine  Forrest Cardamenis, also seen here:  Brooklyn Magazine: Forrest Cardamenis


Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Happy Hour - Harvard Film Archive  Haden Guest


Review: Happy Hour - The Reel Bits  Richard Gray


Happy Hour (ND/NF Review) Movie, Review - Way Too Indie  Blair Hoyle


Happy Hour – LFF Review | Mild Concern  Tim


New Directors/New Films Offers a Bounty of Possible ... - Village Voice  Calum Marsh


Happy Hour • New Zealand International Film Festival


HAPPY HOUR, a film by Ryusuke HAMAGUCHI - ハッピーアワー - fictive


Happy Hour Screening with Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi | Things to ...  Ivy McNally from Time Out


Ryusuke Hamaguchi's study of human love, loss and trust | The Japan ...  Mark  Schilling from The Japan Times


New Directors/New Films 2016: The Power of Understated Feminism ...  Tina Hassania from the Ebert site


Review: In 'Happy Hour,' the Effects of One Divorce on Four Women  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, also seen here:  Review: In 'Happy Hour,' the Effects of One Divorce on Four Women ...


The New York Times: Ben Kenigsberg


Hamer, Bent



Norway  Sweden  (95 mi)  2004


Kitchen Stories  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

A sturdy work of Scandinavian craftsmanship worthy of being projected on the far wall of an IKEA showroom, and not just because of its household-related subject matter.  Like the basic shape of an ironing board or a dinette set, Kitchen Stories feels vaguely inevitable.  It plunges into certain intellectual strains (male stoicism as a barrier to bonding; uptight Swedes vs. laid-back Norwegians; the postwar interest in domestic science; the quixotic hilarity of Taylorization; the collapse of the observer / observed dichotomy as the end of modernist anthropology) and fully commits to them, braiding them through to their logical conclusions.  Part of why this relative predictability feels comforting rather than irksome is Hamer's strong visual sense.  Compositions are unerring, adopting the static high and low vantage points dictated by the story, with minimal fuss.  This, combined with a color palette borrowed from Oster and West Bend (taupe, almond, and especially avocado), give the impression of a lovingly assembled light comedy gently mocking its own antiseptic organization.  (For contrast, as you watch the film, you can imagine what a skull-thumping megalomaniac like Terry Gilliam would have done with the material, and heave a sigh of relief as Hamer refrains from slapping you silly.)

FACTOTUM                                                 A-                    93

USA  Norway  Germany  Sweden  France  (94 mi)  2005


If you’re going to try, go all the way. 

There is no other feeling like that.

You will be alone with the gods,

and the nights will flame with fire.

You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

It’s the only good fight there is.  

Charles Bukowski, excerpt from his 1992 poem Roll the Dice


The film is about fucking and drinking


There is an alluring Norweigan influence to this slow, perfectly paced, moody autobiographical adaptation of the life of Charles Bukowski based on his 1975 novel by the same name, a man whose sole desire seemed to be to stay drunk all the time, but who also had a strange fascination with words that kept bubbling out of his head, writing two or three short stories a week at one point, sending them off to would-be publishers (the Black Sparrow Press and The New Yorker) despite never hearing from them, supporting himself by finding a multitude of menial, dead-end odd jobs (Factotum – a man who performs many jobs) that held little interest, some that did not even last a day, the kind that blue collar workers and day laborers around the world are forced to take every day in order to survive, but here they provide a pay check to buy a drink.  Shot largely in a bleak, factory district of Minneapolis/St.Paul, there’s a terrific scene where he’s ordered not to smoke on the job, then immediately pulls out a cigarette and blows smoke out a window, where the camera pulls back until eventually Bukowski is a tiny speck in a vast expanse of brick and industrial waste.  Matt Dillon plays Bukowski (whose parents moved to Los Angeles from Germany when he was age 3), as a man with inner confidence and a quiet swagger, yet he narrates in a calm, steady tone, always shown at a very leisurely pace, at times barely able to get up off the barstool, mumbling, always polite, never as a man possessed, instead as a man who knows what lies within, who has utter faith in his abilities.  At one point, when reflecting on moments when doubts enter his head about his ability to write, all he has to do is read somebody else’s writing and he has no more doubts.


Lili Taylor is exceptional as his drunken girl friend, matching him drink for drink, who is completely in love with this unpretentious lowlife who does nothing but lay around and screw her up to 4 times a day.  After a few lucky runs at the race track, he starts dressing in style and buying more expensive booze, but she finds him a shell of his former self, a complete phony that has lost all appeal for her, as she prefers lowlifes, the lower the better.  There’s a wonderful scene as they both awake one at a time in the morning, each separately wretches in the toilet, he immediately grabs a beer, she a cigarette, and within this realm of shifting orientation, with a minimum of words, they inexplicably separate.  Penniless, spending his last dollar buying a drink for a girl in a bar (Marisa Tomei in her first onscreen nudity), she leads him to a temporary alcoholic promised land, where the drinks and lodging are all on the house, paid for by a sugar daddy who has younger lady interests to keep him company.  This vision of happiness is a temporary oasis, a mirage in a lifetime of facing up to the hauntingly grim realities that lie under each and every phony facade.  This is a film that exposes life on the edges, where he even returns home at one point, where mom shovels out a meal, but dad thinks he’s a worthless swine, so Bukowski offers to take dad out for a few cocktails, but he admits he’s looking to find a “piece of ass,” whereupon he’s thrown out on his ass, a wonderful scene that acknowledges how far he’s come from the world of decency.  He hooks up again with Taylor, but they shortly realize why they split up, and they soon meander off again into their wretchedly pitiful lives. 


There’s a highly personalized allure to this film, beautifully photographed by John Christian Rosenlund, capturing the poetic beauty of being alone with your thoughts in a dingy bar, with mesmerizing music by Kristen Asbjørnsen that couldn’t possibly sound more like solitude, where we come to accept the languorous pace of the film as a natural extension of  Bukowski’s imagination, which edges forward in small cinematic portraits, like sketches, offering precise language and details, much like the exquisite flavor of short stories, made more powerfully intense by the superlative performances of the 3 major players who are always inviting, who continually add a measure of interest and authenticity to the material.  By the end of the film, as Bukowski is a solitary customer watching a stripper in a surreal neon-lit landscape, you have a feel for the dreary ennui, for days that extend into nights, which could easily pass into an endless haze that stretches to infinity.   


Time Out London review  Geoff Andrew


The first English-language feature from Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer may be an unlikely follow-up to ‘Kitchen Stories’, but it’s no less wise, warm and wonderful. An updated adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s novel, it centres on a terrific, possibly career-best performance from Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s largely autobiographical hero Henry Chinaski, a slob of a man who’s hired and fired from one undemanding job after another because of his inability to focus long on anything but bouts of boozing, gambling and sex with women as libidinous and devoted to hooch as himself. Between times he occasionally works on becoming a writer – he’s forever sending short stories to publishers, and equally often receiving rejection notes – but mostly he’s in a bar, in a brawl, at the track or in the sack with dames as different and determined as Jan (Lili Taylor) and Laura (Marisa Tomei).

The first half of Hamer’s film is near-perfect: the dry visual and verbal gags, the unsentimental acknowledgement of life’s hardships and injustices, the tender generosity to characters are all virtues in themselves, but also ensure an unusually pleasing fidelity to the peculiar spirit of Bukowski’s writing and world-view. Appropriately, the movie’s blessed with a real love of language, evident not only in some deliciously absurd dialogue (an interviewer asks Chinaski, ‘Why do you want to work in a pickle factory?’), but also in the protagonist’s reflective voice-over. And though the second half has minor flaws (the strangely brisk curtailment of the fling with Laura, for example), it’s still marvellously funny and perceptive. The interplay between Dillon and Taylor really comes into its own here, and the narrative, hitherto so wondrously laidback as to feel a little episodic, begins to tighten into something vaguely resembling a manifesto illustrating Chinaski’s existential desire to go all the way. The film may be more modest in its ambitions – but achieves just as much anyway. Just terrific. (Jay Antani) review [3.5/5]

While Bent Hamer's Factotum isn't equal to the source material, it's a must-see for all of us fascinated by Charles Bukowski, by his persona as much as his words. Adapted from the namesake novel by Hamer and Jim Stark, Factotum's central character is Henry Chinaski, Bukowski's fictional alter ego who, like its author, is a shambling, hard-drinking writer, slumming away at odd jobs, quartering in hole-in-the-wall apartments, while he scrawls away at poems and stories every chance he gets.

To watch Matt Dillon personify Chinaski/Bukowski is thrilling: At least from outward appearance, the actor has nailed the role, and, at times, he seems to be channeling Bukowski from the grave. It's an eerie simulacrum: Dillon skulks about the screen, slouch-shouldered, sporting a scruffy beard, a mane of combed-back hair, wearing the short-sleeves and slacks that was Bukowski's standard wardrobe, regarding the world with hangdog eyes and a jaw jutting outward in a subtle show of defiance.

Equally arresting is the always-fantastic Lili Taylor, playing Chinaski's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Jan. She's his kindred spirit, which means the two get along best with a jug of wine between them. As Jan, Taylor projects a mannish energy. Wearing a perpetual sneer, keeping her frayed hair and shoulders tossed back, she enters any room like she's spoiling for a fight. Jan is also fiercely possessive of Chinaski and panics whenever any windfall threatens their low-rent, booze-sodden lifestyle. She's also the only person who can push the bearish Chinaski's buttons. When they break up, their trails lead back to each other and entwine, as before, then wind apart again, exactly like twin DNA strands.

Chinaski's search for work and his rocky relationship with Jan form Factotum's nominal narrative thread. No sooner does Chinaski land a job that he gets bored with it or chafes under the authority of white-collar boobs, and leaves. He hates them so much -- in the same way he hates his father (as one scene implies) -- that he defies their authority in ways both direct and passive-aggressive: After one boss, finding him at a local dive instead of on the job, fires him, Chinaski calmly replies by offering him a drink. Midway through Factotum, we get a romantic interlude of sorts involving Laura (Marisa Tomei), a gold-digging floozy. Laura's got her hands in the pockets of a moneyed, European eccentric (Didier Flamand) who offers wayward women asylum in his morgue-like home. Chinaski's sojourn with Laura and her ilk takes Factotum into outer David Lynch territory, and, somehow, we're glad when Chinaski breaks free of them and returns to his sunnier, native habitat of the urban jungle.

Like Post Office and Ham on Rye, Factotum is ultimately a chronicle of its author's anxious, unconquerable desire to write, to transcribe his toils, obsessions, and pains into the stuff of art. Beneath Bukowski's reticent surface, fires raged -- stoked by the man's angry, lustful, transgressive emotions. Words plucked from those fires were then hammered into shape and branded onto the page. It's that smoldering quality in the prose that missing in Stark and Hamer's handling -- the contradiction between the inner and outer dimensions of the writer. Rather than finding an expressive style that rendered the world as grotesquely as Chinaski sees it, a style to counterpoint the character's calm, composed exterior, the material settles for a safe, neutered approach. This Factotum is more eager and willing to put Bukowski's words in prettily composed frames. Hamer and Stark only get the outlines of Chinaski's life right -- the hand-to-mouth living and boozing in which all that spiritually sustains the writer are the hours spent hunched over his notepad with a ballpoint pen. Finally, Dillon and Taylor are the sources of Factotum's vitriol and sharpness. They seem willing to delve where Hamer's direction dare not go.

Chicago Reader [J.R. Jones] (Chris Panzner) review


DVD Talk - Theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]


Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web and Tuna


Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw


The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review


sneersnipe (David Perilli) review, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Les Wright


ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2.5/4]


Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Leeds Film Festival report review [3/4]  James Emanuel Shapiro (Scott Weinberg) review [4/5]


Pajiba (Dustin Rowles) review  Fernando F. Croce


Slant Magazine review  Jeremiah Kipp


The Village Voice [Melissa Levine]


DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini) dvd review [Jeremy Heilman]


Edward Copeland on Film


Boston Globe review [2.5/4]  Ty Burr


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Sean Axmaker


Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [4/5]


San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]


Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review (Jim Emerson) review [2.5/4]


The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review



Norway  (90 mi)  2008


O' Horten  Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily

Bent Hamer's unique blend of absurdist humour and aching melancholy has never worked better than in O' Horten, an arthouse charmer which should duplicate a similar sales and distribution pattern to his last Norwegian film Kitchen Stories (2003) and win over a new legion of specialised fans.

Hamer, who scored a minor international ripple with his first English language venture Factotum in 2005, is nevertheless more comfortable working in his native Norwegian and employing his wonderfully deadpan sense of comedy which is somewhere between Aki Kaurismaki and Monty Python.

Central to O'Horten's success is Bard Owe, a veteran Norwegian actor based in Copenhagen who has worked with everyone from Carl Theodor Dreyer to Lars Von Trier (most memorably as Dr Bondo in The Kingdom series). Owe plays Odd Horten, a 67 year-old train driver and engineer who has spent his life on the railways and is facing retirement.

His existence is one of comfortable old routines – he devotedly feeds the birds in his apartment, he owns a boat which he has always refused to sell, he regularly goes to see a lady friend Mrs Thogersen (Norby) on one of his train stop-offs. He visits his senile old mother, a former ski-jumper, in a retirement home, lamenting the fact that he was too afraid to jump himself in his youth.

But his calm life is unsettled the moment he retires. At his retirement party, he is locked out of his friend's apartment, climbs up a scaffold and walks into the house of a young family where he falls asleep keeping a young boy company.

When he decides to sell his boat to his friend Flo (Floberg), he goes out to Olso airport where Flo works, but gets lost and ends up smoking his pipe on a runway. When he gets locked in at the local swimming pool, he loses his shoes and ends up walking home in stolen red high-heeled boots.

On the same night, as he strides along the snowy streets of Oslo in his heels, he meets an aging man called Trygve Sissener (Skjonberg) lying on the sidewalk and accompanies him home. The oddball Sissener serves him drinks and suggests that he takes Horten out blindfold driving the following morning. Sure enough, Sissener covers his eyes at the wheel but then pulls over and dies.

Left with Sissener's dog and a newfound desire to live life to the full, Horten decides to attempt the ski jump that would make his mother proud.

Underneath the whackiness and crisp visual imagery runs a vein of wistful sadness which infuses all Hamer's works. In this case, the sorrow derives from Horten's quest for identity once his professional career is at an end, the onset of old age and death.

But even a lovely scene in a shop when he finds out that his friend and lifelong tobacconist has died is peppered with laughs. Hamer can never quite plumb the depths, his natural optimism shining through in the ending and in some laugh-out-loud sequences like the railway engineers' choo-choo song chanted in tribute at Horten's retirement party or the chef being ejected from a restaurant while Horten and the other patrons look on unfazed.

Hamer, Robert



Great Britain  (106 mi)  1949


BFI Screen Online  Mark Duguid

Louis is shunned by his family, the noble and snobbish d'Ascoynes, as a result of his mother's marriage to a foreign commoner. After his mother's death, Louis becomes determined to inherit the family title, even if he has to murder his entire family in the process.  Show full synopsis

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) was the only Ealing comedy directed by Robert Hamer, and the critical and commercial highpoint of Hamer's troubled but often brilliant career. Adapted by Hamer and John Dighton from Israel Rank, a relatively little-known (but not as obscure as some have claimed) Edwardian novel by Roy Horniman, the film brilliantly taps a rich vein of black humour largely neglected in British films since Hitchcock.

Alec Guinness's attention-grabbing performance - as all eight members of the doomed aristocratic d'Ascoyne family - tends to overshadow the masterful playing of Dennis Price as the frustrated lower middle-class Louis Mazzini (and, briefly, as Louis's father), who coolly murders his way to the dukedom denied him by the D'Ascoynes' snobbery and rejection of his mother. Similarly impressive is Joan Greenwood as Sibella, whose self-serving deviousness matches Louis's own.

The story is narrated in flashback by Louis, in a letter written from his prison cell. Far from undermining the visual storytelling, the conceit shows us the world as Louis sees it, with detached self-justification, allowing us to share the joy of each successive murder, while not blinding us to Louis's own callousness.

Hamer later listed among his aims, "that of using the English language, which I love, in a more varied and, to me, more interesting way than I had previously had the chance of doing in a film", and Kind Hearts abounds with clever wordplay and literary allusion. Louis' wry comment, after puncturing Lady Agatha d'Ascoyne's hot-air balloon, wittily appropriates Longfellow: "I shot an arrow in the air / She fell to earth in Berkeley Square." Elsewhere, the film alludes to Shakespeare, Chaucer and Tennyson, whose lines "Kind hearts are more than coronets / And simple faith than Norman blood" provide its title.

The film has barely dated, despite being the only period piece among the Ealing comedies, thanks to its cynical wit, its radical criticism of England's stifling class system, the subtle eroticism of Louis and Sibella's relationship and the brilliantly ambiguous ending (which was too much for the American censor, who demanded changes).

Although Ealing boss Michael Balcon later listed the film among his favourites, his attitude at the time was apparently more hostile, and Hamer was denied the chance to follow up with a long-cherished project set in the West Indies. He directed only one more film at Ealing, the disappointing His Excellency (1952).

Robert Hamer: Kind Hearts and Coronets  Derek Malcolm from the Guardian


Of all those involved with the British film industry in the 40s and 50s, Robert Hamer was perhaps the most intelligent and talented. He was arguably Ealing Studios' brightest star, yet his career was short and ultimately tragic. He made his directing debut in 1945 and died largely unfulfilled at the age of 52 in 1963. His descent into alcoholism was one of the great tragedies of cinema. But at least it could be said that he made one masterpiece. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is not only one of the best British films, but also one of the most extraordinary black comedies cinema has known.
To call it an Ealing comedy is really a misnomer. Kind Hearts was much cooler, darker and more aware of sexual irony than most of the genre.
Hamer wanted to do three things: make a film that was totally different from what had gone before, use the English language in a more interesting way, and pay as little regard as possible to moral conventions. People have said that his style was a combination of Wildean wit and the pessimism of such post-war French directors as Marcel Carné.
That he succeeded, in spite of working for the puritanical Michael Balcon, was a minor miracle. Another was that the film was a success, making the reputation of Alec Guinness, confirming that of Dennis Price and reaching the status of a classic that could be viewed simply as funny and clever entertainment if its serious undertones were ignored.
It is revived so often that it seems hardly necessary to detail the plot, most of it told in flashback. Price plays Louis Mancini, condemned to hang for a murder of which he is innocent, and writing his memoirs about all those he actually committed. His mother had been disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying a singer and left to live in poverty.
Louis vows vengeance and slowly eliminates those who stand between him and the dukedom he is deter mined to claim for her sake. In doing so he becomes as cold and calculating as the horrid d'Ascoyne family itself. But the film's major trick was to have Guinness playing every one of them.
Guinness's performance is a tour de force. Nine characters in one film has to be, and most of them are a superb mixture of disguise and parodic vigour. But Price's Louis ought not to be underestimated. A homosexual at a time when it was virtually impossible to admit it, he put a whole slice of himself into his performance.
Hamer worked against all the rules. He allowed the suppressed passion of the story full rein, getting near a particularly English kind of eroticism. His ambiguous feelings about the family life Balcon espoused were made clear. And all the time, he let people laugh as if he were merely making a well-honed comedy.
It seems almost unbelievable that Hamer's career went downhill after this. Perhaps Kind Hearts was a giant fluke. But there is little doubt English good taste closed in on Hamer and most of British cinema until the 60s reignited the spirit of revolt.


Kind Hearts and Coronets: Ealing’s Shadow Side  Criterion essay by Philip Kemp, February 21, 2006


Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - The Criterion Collection


The Film Journal (Simon Justice)


Kind Hearts and Coronets -  Felicia Feaster


Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - Articles -


Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]




The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]


DVD Verdict [Steve Evans] - Criterion Collection DVD review [Ken Dubois]  Criterion Edition


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)   Criterion Edition, also seen here:  Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - Home Video Reviews - (Mark Zimmer)   Criterion Edition


The QNetwork Film Desk [James Kendrick]


Epinions [metalluk]  David Bezanson


DVD Talk - Criterion Collection [Preston Jones]


DVD Savant [Glenn Erickson]   The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection


The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]  The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection


DVD Verdict - The Alec Guinness Collection   Barrie Maxwell DVD review [Mary Kalin-Casey]  The Alec Guinness 5-DVD Collection


Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) [Gary W. Tooze]


Hamilton, Tanya


NIGHT CATCHES US                                            B                     86

USA  (90 mi)  2010        Official site


Mama’s in the kitchen feeding the entire neighborhood.         —Iris (Jamara Griffin)


This plays out like a movie of the week Black Panther melodrama, a nostalgic-tinged reminder of the Panther presence in black urban neighborhoods in the late 60’s to middle 70’s, now a faded and distant memory that a few of the former participants rarely if ever speak of any more.  The lingering memories, however, hover over this picture like a dark cloud.  Using original black and white archival footage of the Black Panthers, including images of Fred Hampton and Bobby Seale, these serve as a reminder of the hopes and aspirations of blacks no longer being intimidated by police brutality which typically reserved its harshest treatment for the black community.  The whole gist of the story is told like the return of the prodigal son, where Anthony Mackie as Marcus, a former Panther, returns after a mysterious four year absence to Philadelphia in 1976 for his father’s funeral.  His brother, a devout Muslim, immediately treats him like an outsider who has abandoned his righteous place in the family, and basically thinks of him as a non-entity, and is already in the process of selling the family home, giving Marcus an ultimatum to move out as soon as possible.  Simultaneously, a young 9-year old girl Iris (Jamara Griffin) grows curious about a family photograph showing her mother Patricia, Kerry Washington, another former Panther member alongside several other Panthers, in particular the man next to her deceased father, as she’s seen him recently parked nearby in his car.  Iris spends a good deal of her time on the front porch where the people are constantly passing by, but she senses something different about this man. 


Marcus actually pays them a visit, where Patricia has continued to stay active with community organizing and is the face of the always needed legal defense funds, an everpresent force in getting people out of jail for minor or trumped up charges with the police, a common occurrence in black neighborhoods.  And in turn, Patricia invites Marcus to a pot luck backyard fundraiser, where his presence causes a commotion, as people who were apparently happy that he was gone are not thrilled to see him back.  A neighborhood thug even spray paints the word “snitch” on his car, as word on the street is that he snitched to the FBI, which got Patricia’s husband shot, where the mythology is that he took a good many cops with him.  Of interest is the discovery of a Black Panther comic book which portrays the police as pigs, where Panthers are routinely attacking the pigs.  Patricia has a mentally challenged 19-year old cousin Jimmy (Amari Cheatom) who idolizes the comic book perception and continues to preach black nationalism and “offing the pigs” even after Marcus informs him the comics were printed by the FBI and were intended to incite violence in order to justify a heavy police response, which was basically to shoot first and leave no prisoners.  This complex police informer mythology continues to plague the community to this day.  This film doesn’t examine the historical roots of the problem, which is entrenched in an era of police corruption protecting its hold on a white majority police force, just acknowledges its existence in the black community, creating a fictional story using this history as a backdrop, where the period funk music by the Roots is nothing less than revelatory, especially the use of Syl Johnson’s anguishing lament “Is It Because I’m Black” (7:40 on YouTube).


Though it’s not mentioned in the film, those in Chicago are well aware of what happened to Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, who on a tip from an informant was assassinated by a morning police raid into his apartment, where according to a forensics report, 99 bullets were found entering the apartment from the outside, while only 1 bullet was ever fired from inside, hardly the barrage reported by the police to justify their actions.  All police officers were exonerated, while the FBI informant, William O'Neal, later committed suicide after his court testimony admitting his involvement in setting up the raid, actually placing a barbiturate in Hampton’s Kool-Aid so he would not awake in the morning.  Anyone with any knowledge of the police treatment of Panthers is aware of similar stories, where in Philadelphia, police commissioner Frank Rizzo raided the offices of the Philadelphia Panther Party, and later as Mayor evicted a house of black nationalists known as MOVE, an action escalating into violence.  Despite his heavy handed and racially divisive police tactics, he had a statue built for him, like Rocky, which stands in front of the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia Center City. 


This racially divided history where truth rarely finds the light of day still conjures up ghosts of the dead, where few speak for those original dreams and ideals which quickly got lost, misrepresented, and demonized when a new era of law and order was ushered in.  One’s view about the Panthers still seems to depend on which side you’re on, which makes a film like this get zero financial backing, so few will ever see it.  If truth be told, however, despite the presence of the rare archival Panther footage, this film does not match the sparks and intensity of the times, or examine its turbulence, but instead builds a quiet and somber story which reflects the vacuum left in the wake of the Panthers, an era of confusion and disillusionment where black males in particular get caught up in gangs and having to fight over every piece of turf and every last crumb in their ravaged neighborhoods, all too often resorting to crime, hopelessly thinking the odds are stacked against them so this is the only means left to survive.  The thought of getting out for better schools and better neighborhoods in the suburbs becomes just as appealing to blacks as whites, so the connection to one’s neighborhood is tenuous and filled with uncertainty, which is certainly the mindset of the film.  It’s basically a rekindled love story where the performances are adequate at best, with the exception of Anthony Mackie who is riveting throughout, always a standout performer, and here he is wise beyond his years, showing maturity and restraint, but also taking responsibility for his present day actions even as those around him harbor grudges and continue to repudiate him for what they perceive as the tragic mistakes of the past.  


Chicago Reader  Andrea Gronvall

Deliberately paced and artfully framed, this pensive drama about an African-American community takes place in Philadelphia in 1976, four years after the police have gunned down a cop-killing Black Panther. His widow (Kerry Washington), a lawyer and activist, has moved beyond her past extremism, and when an old flame suspected of being an informant (Anthony Mackie) resurfaces, both their lives are threatened. The two leads are excellent, but as Washington's unstable, impressionable cousin, stage actor Amari Cheatom telegraphs with his every movement the tragedy to come. Tanya Hamilton directed her own script, and though her ending leaves loose ends dangling, the movie is refreshing for its seriousness and originality.

TimeOut Chicago  Joshua Land

The past 40 years are littered with films about the travails of ex-radicals, the vast majority of them white and at least middle-class. Set in Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, Night Catches Us reminds us that the stakes were always higher in the inner city. The story centers on a group of former Black Panthers including Marcus (Mackie), recently returned to the city to bury his father following a mysterious four-year absence, and Patricia (Washington), now continuing the struggle by other means as a defense lawyer while raising her daughter, Iris (Griffin)—who’s just getting old enough to wonder what exactly happened to her father, another Panther, killed by the police under clouded circumstances.

Sober but never despairing and smart enough to know that retrenching isn’t the same as giving in, Night Catches Us is ultimately about how life tempers the heightened ambitions—and emotions—of youth. The film is appropriately small in scale, playing out largely in one-on-one encounters between the characters—the getting-to-know-each-other scenes featuring Mackie and Griffin are especially fine. Periodic flashbacks intercut black-and-white footage of ’60s-era protests, sealing off the world of grand political action from the everyday concerns of the characters. First-timer Hamilton directs with a great eye for the details of ’70s décor and gets some help from a terrific funk-soul score by the Roots.

Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]

Surely the gentlest American film ever made about home-grown revolutionaries, writer-director Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" is not long (88 minutes), but its rhythm forces audiences to pay attention to what its superb actors express non-verbally, and to measure the weight of the characters' past lives. In other words it is not a commercial picture. It is merely a good one.

The flag-strewn iconography of the nation's bicentennial year, 1976, establishes the atmosphere for this North Philadelphia-set story. Anthony Mackie, the still water at the center of "The Hurt Locker," plays the mysterious Marcus, a former Black Panther who has been away (for a while we don't know where, or why) for four years. He has returned to the old neighborhood for his father's funeral; his brother (Tariq Trotter of the Philadelphia band The Roots), now a Muslim, says he's no longer welcome. Before long someone spray-paints the word "SNITCH" on Marcus' black Cadillac.

The film explains that label in due course. Hamilton fixes most of her narrative on Patricia (Kerry Washington, never better, more beautiful or more relaxed), herself an ex-Panther, now a civil-rights attorney raising a 10-year-old daughter. Marcus and Patricia share a history, and as "Night" fills us in regarding the specific relationships between the characters, the film becomes an supple portrait of a community.

Mackie's one of the shrewdest actors in movies today, and while his character is dangerously recessive in dramatic terms, Mackie and Washington make the most of their courtship dance. Hamilton's location work presents a neighborhood out of time, still unsteady from the shock of the 1960s. Racist cops have their version of "keeping the peace"; the residents, meanwhile, have other ideas. Hamilton's script is not quite up to her visual sense, but this is a strong calling card of a feature, photographed by David Tumblety. I'd see it again for the shot of the fireflies in the grass, while the lights of a squad car flash in the background and the slow trudge of a cop's feet is captured in the foreground.

Night Catches Us  Jeffrey M. Anderson from Cumbustible Celluloid

Tanya Hamilton makes her feature writing and directing debut with this exceptional character study; it veers perilously close to message mongering and smugness, but instead it focuses on some surprising character traits. Anthony Mackie plays Marcus Washington, who suddenly returns home to 1976 Philadelphia after some mysterious time away, for his father's funeral.

It's a rough-and-tumble time, with the remains of the Black Panther movement still evident in the streets. Marcus tries to fix up the family home in exchange for a place to sleep, but his brother wants nothing to do with him. Instead he ends up staying with an old flame, Patricia Wilson (Kerry Washington), a do-gooder with the habit of taking in stray souls.

Of course, there's a secret, shameful history here, and Hamilton keeps it from us until the third act, as a good screenwriter should. But when the scene comes, it's powerful... not because of the content, but because Marcus and Patricia simply tell their story to Patricia's daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin). Trying to explain their motivations, the politics and the times to a youngster, makes the tale all the more dramatic.

Arguably, Washington has never had a better role, and she comes across all the more sensual for it; Mackie likewise proves himself one of the top actors of his generation for his willingness to play Marcus as defensive. He has the opportunity to engage in several fights and skirmishes, but he often shuts down, leaving a strange, unfinished quality. He has his reasons, of course, but it's still a brave move for an actor to play such a non-heroic role. (Washington and Mackie both previously appeared in Spike Lee's awful She Hate Me; this is a huge step up.)

Hamilton includes the Black Panther lore as a backdrop, but also manages to portray its good and noble side, as well as its mutated, bad, angry side. Meanwhile, characters run the gamut from ne'er-do-wells who pick up cans for a living, to well-to-do African American white collars. If Hamilton had enjoyed a bit more room to stretch out her themes, this could have been even better, but it's an excellent achievement for its ability to weave so many complex themes and shades of gray with such poise.

Village Voice  Melissa Anderson

Writer-director Tanya Hamilton’s striking debut is the rare recent American-independent film that goes beyond the private dramas of its protagonists, imagining them as players in broader historical moments. Set in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, Night Catches Us examines the failed hopes of ’60s liberation struggles through former Black Panthers Patricia (Kerry Washington), now a lawyer, and Marcus (Anthony Mackie, mesmerizing as always), returning to Philly after a mysterious four-year absence. Interspersing snippets of iconic Black Panther footage from the docs Murder of Fred Hampton, Off the Pig, and Mayday, though resolutely opposed to easy nostalgia (unlike Mario Van Peebles’s 1995 film Panther), Hamilton considers the near-impossibility of disentangling the personal from the political.

As the film opens, Jimmy Carter’s campaign promises are heard on the radio. Nine-year-old Iris (an impressive Jamara Griffin) observes the world from her porch, filling the hours of another unstructured summer day, the season’s shifts in light and texture beautifully captured by Hamilton, who trained as a painter at Cooper Union, and cinematographer David Tumblety. (The film’s expert look is matched by the Roots’ hypnotic, propulsive original score.) Her life nothing but commitments to others, Iris's mother, Patricia, a dedicated community activist, grows disenchanted with her older, squarer boyfriend, also an attorney; contends with her troubled 19-year-old, can-collecting cousin, Jimmy (Amari Cheatom); and faces Iris’s persistent questions about what really happened to her father, Neal, a Panther who was killed by the police when she was eight months old. A few streets away, Neal's old friend, Marcus, returns with nothing but an overstuffed duffel, bickering with his Muslim brother over their recently deceased reverend father and the fate of the family home.

Patricia and Marcus have been guarding for nearly a decade the secret of what really happened the night of Neal’s death: “We don’t talk about the past. It’s too painful,” Patricia reminds him. But the neighborhood’s former Panthers, led by bar owner Dwayne (Jamie Hector, joined by fellow Wire alum Wendell Pierce as a corrupt detective in a strong supporting cast), continue to believe that Marcus snitched to the police about Neal’s involvement in an earlier cop killing.

Dwayne and his pals still favor the uniform of black-male militancy: berets, leather jackets, and vests—attire that seems, in the bicentennial summer, outmoded, desperate, and empty. Yet a misinformed next generation, represented by Jimmy, will mimic the Panthers' get-ups and bravado, lionize their history, and fetishize their violence.

Refusing to romanticize Black Power, Hamilton chooses the riskier path of examining its emotional and political fallout. The bullet holes and bloodstains that Iris uncovers after peeling away a strip of wallpaper at home suggest that her father died not as a martyr for the cause but as yet another senseless casualty in an endless conflict, with police harassment of African-Americans by the nearly all-white Philly force still continuing in ’76. Jimmy’s parroting of black macho, in turn, leads only to more spilled blood.

“They’re all around us—ghosts,” Iris mournfully admits to Marcus, who’s come back home to make amends with his own phantom menaces. In doing so, he and Patricia will act on long simmering desires in an effort to leave the bloody past behind. But the more important relationship is the one between Marcus, a soldier disillusioned by the struggle but not without hope, and Iris, a wise, melancholic child whose innocence has been protected by her mother’s necessary lies. Tenuously forming a bond with Iris while watching Popeye cartoons, Marcus is the first adult to honor her wish for answers—and to seek her out when she’s hurting the most. Theirs is the most touching adult-child relationship in a film this year, with Marcus’s temporary surrogate fatherhood a model of manhood far more complex than the rock-hard Panthers Jimmy is so desperate to emulate.

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]


PopMatters [Chris Barsanti]


REVIEW: For Better and Worse, Night Catches Us Lives a Little Too ...  Michelle Orange from Movieline


Night Catches Us | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Sam Adams  Andrew O’Hehir


NPR  Mark Jenkins


Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]  also seen here:  IC Places [Chris Knipp]


Black Swan, I Love You Phillip Morris, Night Catches Us | Film ...  Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal


Slant Magazine  Nick Schager


Night Catches Us — Inside Movies Since 1920  Pam Grady from Box Office magazine


Film Threat   Mark Fulton


Rolling Stone  Peter Travers


NIGHT CATCHES US  Facets Multi Media  Kent Turner


Black Panther Party Profiled In 'Night Catches Us'   Michel Martin interviews the director for NPR, Dec. 2, 2010  Audio version (17:22)


NPR: filmmaker interview  December 7, 2010  Audio version (17:29)


Variety Reviews - Night Catches Us - Film Reviews - - Review by ...  John Anderson


A deft debut film, set in the Phila. of '76 -  Carrie Rickey from the Philadelphia Inquirer


San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]


Movie review: 'Night Catches Us' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan


Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]


New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott


Frank Rizzo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Fred Hampton - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


"The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago ...  Democracy Now, December 4, 2009


Hamilton, William and Edward Killy


SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE                            C-                    67

USA  (80 mi)  1935


I’m not a reasonable person. I’m a woman and I’m tired and I’m nervous, and I want to cry.  —Mary Norton (Margaret Callahan) 


A fairly routine whodunit story about a writer seeking the quiet refuge of a hotel that is closed for the winter, urged on by a bet with the hotel owner that he can’t write a novel in 24 hours, that is interesting only because this is the origin of the real Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado (, which opened in 1917, an old-fashioned inn at the foot of the Rocky Mountains that is now home of the world’s largest key collection, the website claims over 20,000, where customers are urged to donate some of their own keys to add to the collection, which now takes up an entire room.  The mystery novel The Seven Keys to Baldpate was among the most popular novels of its day, written by Earl Derr Biggers in 1913 long before he invented his most famous character, Chinese detective Charlie Chan, which led subsequently to seven movies, and interestingly enough seven years before women were given the right to vote.  Almost the entire film takes place inside a 2-story hotel, with a centrally located staircase off the main lobby, but also a secret staircase as well, along with hidden rooms.  While supposedly given the “only key” to the hotel, mystery writer Billy Magee (Gene Raymond) discovers a host of mystery guests that secretly arrive with their own keys, each one adding to the intrigue and allure of an ongoing mystery, as all are interested in the $200,000 hidden in the hotel safe. 


One by one, Magee politely introduces himself to each of the new arrivals, supposedly seven in all, that range from gangsters, girl friends, ghostly groundskeepers, to women in distress, all seeking something and all suspicious of everyone else’s motives.  While there is never even a hint that this might all be a staged diversion by the publishers to guarantee they’ll win the bet, Magee appears to be the only one capable of maintaining any coherency about what’s going on, as otherwise clues are flying fast and furious.  Adapted from the George M. Cohan play, the dialogue is rapid and oftentimes comic, used mostly to advance the plot which includes shootings and people jumping out windows, while the characters are overly stereotyped, especially the dumb gangsters, and the acting is abhorrent, with Raymond, who seems to speak with a foreign accent, always tilting his head like a puppy dog whenever something important registers.  No one in the entire cast stands out except a brief early appearance by Walter Brennan as a desk clerk at the train station.  There’s absolutely no directional flair exhibited whatsoever in this fairly standard and mediocre rendition of a house detective mystery, as there’s no building of any suspense and no expression of any fear or terror.  It’s all too nonchalant, though one does appreciate the director’s love of characters peeking through ice frosted windows.  By the time the police actually arrive on the scene, more bumbling even than the gangsters, they have a hard time finding the supposed missing corpse, but everything wraps up quickly and cleanly in about two minutes time, showing little more complexity than if this was a Silent era film.   


User reviews  from imdb Author: the_bernie (

There are several film versions of this George M. Cohan play based on a novel by Earl Derr Biggers the writer of Charlie Chan novels.

I only read part of the book but this play starts out with much of the book thrown in. as we see a lady (Margaret Callahan) crying in the waiting room and being discussed by a male passenger (Gene Raymond) and the station agent (Walter Brennan.) The story is of a writer who picks Baldpate Inn, a quiet place, closed for the winter, as an ideal place for writing a quick novel. He is given the "only key" to the Inn. The film slowly unfolds and makes you wonder why you are watching. Soon it picks up the pace as we find "Seven Keys to Baldpate" and discover who has them both the characters and the familiar actors of the time. It takes time getting used to the cavalier attitude of the writer.

Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings  Dave Sindelar

A writer moves into Baldpate Inn to wirte a novel under the belief he has the only key to the establishment. However, when several other people show up (including gangsters, women and a professor), he realizes that there are several keys. He then gets embroiled in a struggle over a big wad of money.

I suppose I could complain about how many versions of this story are out there, but this is only the second one I've seen; compare than to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", of which I've seen at least nine versions to date. Also, since the story is only marginally fantastic (in this one, a decidedly non-ectoplasmic hermit is the "ghost" haunting the house, and he does precious little of that), most reference books omit them. I've already seen the 1929 version, and even though i don't remember it very well, I get the impression that this version makes a number of changes to the story. Its play version by George M. Cohan must have been phenomenally successful to have this many versions of it made, but I suspect that its magic doesn't quite translate to the screen; it's only mildly funny at best, and the fact that the wise-guy writer refuses to be frightened by anything somewhat short-circuits its ability to build much in the way of suspense. Ultimately, it's a somewhat confusing rehash of "old dark house" mystery elements. Still, the movie is enlivened by some fun performances including Henry Travers as the misogynistic ghost/hermit and a cameo by Walter Brennan as a station agent. It's only a matter of time before the other versions show up in this series as well.

User reviews  from imdb Author: F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from Minffordd, North Wales

George M Cohan's success as a songwriter and performer has obscured the fact that he also wrote or co-wrote many plays, most of which were very successful in their day. But Cohan's plays have dated badly. He relied heavily on one very contrived device. Most of Cohan's plays feature a wide assortment of very old-fashioned stock characters, contrasted with a wise-cracking slang-slinging protagonist (often played by Cohan himself) who speaks directly to the audience, and who comments on the stiffness of all the other characters in the cast.

'Seven Keys to Baldpate', which Cohan adapted from a novel by Earl Derr Biggers -- now remembered as the creator of Charlie Chan -- is the only Cohan play which is still revived with any frequency. Even this one is squeaky and creaky. The story has been filmed (to date) *seven* times under its original title, with some disguised remakes such as 'House of Long Shadows' and Gene Wilder's wretched 'Haunted Honeymoon' (which ripped off its one and only funny gag from the unjustly obscure comedy 'Murder, He Says').

This 1935 edition is probably the best film version, which isn't saying much. It modernises the material somewhat, deviating significantly from Cohan's original play. Gene Raymond portrays a novelist who comes to the old abandoned Baldpate Inn so as to get some peace and quiet while he writes a novel. He expects to be left alone because he possesses the one and only key to Baldpate ... so nobody else can get in. But then a succession of oddball characters show up, each one weirder than the last ... and each one possesses what he or she claims is the one and only key to Baldpate.

There's a 'surprise' ending that's quite obvious, especially if you've seen 'Haunted Honeymoon'. The best performance in this 1935 movie is by Henry Travers, as a crusty hermit who's misogynistic with it, and who is busy writing a manuscript denouncing womankind. 'Hey, mister!' he shouts, interrupting just as Gene Raymond is about to smooch bland leading lady Margaret Callahan. 'If I start a sentence with the word 'women', do I *hafta* use a capital W?' That's a typical example of the weak humour on offer here.

Cohan's original play ended with a startling piece of meta-fiction, a coup de theatre in which we learn that the events we've just witnessed are actually the contents of the novelist's manuscript, which he has already written. It would have been an improvement if this 1935 film version had attempted something like that, instead of the flat obvious ending which this movie has. I'll rate it 3 out of 10, mostly for its fine cast of supporting actors.

User reviews  from imdb Author: tedg ( from Virginia Beach


Movie Mirror (spoilers included)  Sanderson Beck


Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935) - Overview -


At the RKO Albee. - Movies - New York Times  T.M.P.


Hammer, Barbara


Barbara Hammer | The website of visual artist and filmmaker ...


Barbara Hammer Biography


Barbara Hammer Films | Barbara Hammer Filmography ...


Barbara Hammer | Experimental Cinema


Films of Barbara Hammer   Jacquelyn Zita from Jump Cut, March 1981                      


Lesbian Feminism, editorial   Doug Eisenstark, John Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, and Peter Steven from Jump Cut, March 1981                  


Recent work of Barbara Hammer  Claudia Gorbman reviews Hammer’s 1980’s films from Jump Cut, April 1987


Time is an Emotional Muscle BARBARA HAMMER with ...  Jarrett Earnest interview from The Brooklyn Rail, December 10, 2012


Inside Out 2015 Women Directors: Meet Barbara Hammer ...  Laura Berger from indieWIRE, May 22, 2015


Barbara Hammer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (4 mi)  1974


User reviews from imdb Author: Kieran Kenney from California

Barbara Hammer, one of the most powerful voices in independant lesbian cinema, crafted this home-movie-like production with her friends in 1974. Nearly thirty years later, it's still wonderfully entertaining, if not as shocking as it was when it was first shown.

I'm very glad I got to see it. It's the same energetic, frisky, dykie stuff that I assume it always was, brought togeather with a lot of humor and tenderness. Soundtrack includes the les-folk classics "Loving a Woman" and "Any Woman Can Be A Lesbian."


USA  (25 mi)  1976



USA  (16 mi)  1978 


Women I Love and Double Strength   Lesbian Cinema and Romantic Love, by Andrea Weiss from Jump Cut, March 1981                    

Barbara Hammer and her work have contributed significantly to the growing field of lesbian cinema. Yet as much as there is a need for more lesbian filmmakers and films, so is there the need for a lesbian feminist criticism that continually demands more of each work. Without a challenging forum on lesbian art, the work will lack vitality, urgency, and clarity.

Both intentionally and naively, Barbara Hammer rejects the major developments of film history, aesthetics, and theory on the basis of the patriarchal values they reflect. She instead opts for what she would like to be an intuitive, feminine, and emotional approach to film, with an emphasis on subjective content rather than on structure and form. Yet ironically, while Barbara rejects film theory as masculine and "left brained," for some reason she does not reject traditional oppressive notions of romantic love (1), on which her films' content is based.

Within the literary tradition of Romanticism, the validity of emotion and subjective experience overshadows formal concerns. "Good" Romantic poetry according to Wordsworth was defined as the spontaneous overflow of feeling. Nature imagery became the primary poetic subject, and woman, the traditional Muse, was usually objectified as a passive flower.(2)

In Barbara Hammer's WOMEN I LOVE, a series of lesbian relationships is depicted by natural environments. In the style of Judy Chicago's central core imagery, each lover is compared with a colorful flower, or a fruit or vegetable peeling open from its core in animated pixilation. It's become fashionable for women's bodies to be represented by pieces of fruit, not too differently from how it once was fashionable (and still is) to compare women with pieces of meat. Basically though, these images are more tiresome to me than they are objectifying.

Using double-exposure, out-of-date stock, and what Barbara names country vegetable garden living without cultural distractions, the relationships are portrayed with a strong sense of the romantic. The lovers' identities are never presented; rather the women are objectified and idealized. The film form tells us much about "lesbian lifestyle." But this information is rooted in the weaknesses of both the film and the lifestyle. The relationships are clearly delineated (with black leader), yet the traces of one relationship's failure are repeated in the next. Rather than progression, Barbara sets up a system of displacements. This is the basic problem of a lesbian lifestyle based on romantic love and its consequence, serial monogamy. Likewise, the film is linear, lacking both visual depth and the understanding of the past that would enable it to move forward.

Far more successful is Barbara Hammer's newer film, DOUBLE STRENGTH. The film intelligently explores new sound-image and image-image relations as it acknowledges and confronts the old problems of woman-to-woman relationships (specifically one between the filmmaker and a trapeze artist). The film parallels the different stages of the relationship, offering abstract views on the rewards of a longterm love while the actual communication between the two women is in process of breaking down. All the audio and visual clues for the demise are strong: busy signals and voices that say the number is disconnected, still photographs expressing rage, dissonant chords, a pulsating black-and-white face of one lover as a shocking backdrop for the movements of the other. Yet each time I've seen the film, audiences have stated that they missed all these signs, had no idea that the relationship was deteriorating. This response can be attributed to the film's inability to break down the romanticism that permeates it.

In DOUBLE STRENGTH, the lovers' idealization of each other is both moving and disturbing. The voice-over narration in the beginning of the film is filled with story-book fantasies of love and the "you-complete — me/I-complete-you" syndrome. Toward the end of the voice-over narration, we find that the relationship in real time is only two months old. Yet so much attention is given to this section (and because it is so visually engrossing), we come to mistake the early fantasy for the actual relationship. Then the relationship's decline, when perceived at all, is perceived as the other, tragic side of the same romantic picture.

Not only during the Romantic period of the 19th century but throughout all Western culture, the male artist has called upon and romanticized the female Muse. From Plato to Jung to Stan Brakhage, the Muse has played the role of servant and angel in men's imaginations. Set off against the artist as the Other, the anima, the traditional Muse is passive, distanced, and cloaked in fantasy. Barbara Hammer is not alone in adopting the masculine romanticized view of woman. Even Emily Dickinson, unaware of a female/ lesbian tradition but in shrewd recognition of the literary and artistic significance of her love for women, identified with the male romantic view:

"We remind Susan (3) we love her. Unimportant fact, though Dante didn't think so, nor Swift, nor Mirabeau."

Yet it is improbable that Susan Dickinson became for Emily what the traditional female Muse, Beatrice, Stella, or Sophie, signifies for men, although such an assumption raises new questions about women and creative process. Women's lives, specifically lesbians' lives, are too interwoven for the kind of objectification male writers and artists enjoy. It is time that lesbians/ women stopped shaping our visions of ourselves on men's literary and artistic conventions.


1. By this I refer not (directly) to a political analysis of romantic love and its role in the institutions of the family and heterosexuality, but to the literary traditions of romantic love and Romanticism, so eloquently espoused by such poets as Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, and Coleridge.

2. Especially true in the "Lucy Poems" of Wordsworth, who, incidentally, borrowed freely and verbatim from the diaries of his loving sister Dorothy, his servant and his Muse, who devoted her life to serving his genius.

3. Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Emily's brother's wife, was the subject and recipient of many of Emily's love poems and love letters. This quotation is from one such letter.

MoMA | Barbara Hammer


Women I Love - MUBI



USA  (9 mi)  1986


User reviews from imdb Author: teleboy from Atlanta, GA

Hammer combines MTV-style quick cut montage with text and sound bites for an unconventional and highly stylized documentary on the media's treatment of AIDS in the early years of the epidemic. The experimental format is the most interesting aspect of the piece, forgoing traditional documentary voice-over and linear structure for the disconnected juxstaposition of multi-media archival material to communicate it's message. With this technique, it effectively mirrors the expanding media landscape of the time, a pre-internet barrage of sound bites and video snippets, a scattergun blast of infotainment and an indictment of the mainstream press's early reaction to the growing AIDS crisis.


USA  (67 mi)  1992


PopcornQ Review  Randy Turoff

Taking the updraft on the current wave of lesbian archivism, Barbara Hammer does in film what Lillian Faderman did in her book Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers. She presents a narrative history of queer life (including an extensive gay male section) from the `20s to the voices of people beginning to speak for themselves against the backdrop of queer cultural history.
In this nonlinear film, Hammer makes a point of showing how history comes from fragments which are left to us to interpret. She holds to the theory that this approach comes closer to the truth of life, which is experienced in disjointed images, symbols, and processes that only verge on being meaningful after we assign meaning to them. She knows how nonnarrative film makes most people uncomfortable, and this film seems more than her others to take her audience into consideration. She is, after all, working on creating a collective, rather than a personal, vision of queer cultural history.
The impulse to archive begins with a quotation from Adrienne Rich, who warns us that whatever is left out, ignored, or censored about a people will become not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. Hammer underscores her project as an attempt to uncover hidden history with a view toward a future that will give credence to queers and which will exhibit a strong lesbian visibility. Artifacts live longer than the people who create them, and works of art, like films, continue to have a life of their own through time.
Hammer interweaves images from the past and the present in a viable way. Traveling to Willa Cather's final resting place, we see a monument erected to her, and hear a tour guide speaking about the house where she wrote and lived. Not once is her lesbianism mentioned. Before her death, Cather and her female lover burned all of her letters. She didn't want anything of her personal life to be revealed. And so, except for the work of the lesbian decoders, Cather would have remained invisible as a lesbian role model. Since not all lesbians are writers or artists, lesbian visibility is often perpetuated through oral history and a shared secret iconography. Hammer shows us the icons, and the people in her film speak about the preliberation days and the decoys involved in living "in the life."
Since sexuality is a major defining characteristic of a lesbian identity, Hammer doesn't shirk in presenting this reality. Unlike other cultural documentaries, Hammer displays graphic sex in her film. The sex she shows is not run-of-the-mill titillation. Her first sex partners are old lesbians, quite wrinkled and beyond the prime. They tongue-kiss, caress, and then go full boogie with cunnilingus and manual penetration. It's something we don't often see on screen. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it on screen.
While searching through archives for her film, Hammer came across a large number of outtakes from the 35mm nitrate film, Lot in Sodom (1933), which now has the distinction of being the first queer film made in America. Most of the men in it were filmed seductively, either naked or in posing straps, or in very effeminate drag. Hammer uses lots of footage from this film, and she intercuts it with present-day erotic scenes of lovemaking between a black/white young male couple. While the narrator explains the Hollywood Film Code 1934-1961, which prohibited same-sex eroticism and outlawed miscegenation, we see the white guy putting a condom over his partner's erect cock.
Nitrate Kisses continues unveiling transgressions with political bravado. There is a quotation from Pat Califia about denied eroticism. We hear a woman with a heavy German accent speaking about lesbians held in World War II concentration camps. The few accounts we have, she says, come from straight women who have written about the two types of lesbianism in the camps. There was the "disgusting" kind: physical sex between those who were seen as criminals, prostitutes, asocial perverts. And then there was the idealistic kind between Jewish women and political types, which was seen to be "orderly," platonic. Essentially, there are no accounts by lesbians themselves of life in the camps, and so it remains as a hidden history. On screen, between shots of rubble and steel gratings, we see two dykes making love, one with a leather harness strap on, penetrating her companion. A voice speaks about how fluid sexual categories are and how no specific sexual identity should be denied.
The film ends with a reflection of Barbara Hammer, with her camera in hand, looking through a window and waving at two punk lesbians who've just been having sex. The last words are from a speech given at the Lesbian History Archives about how lesbians have shared a long history of discrimination by the various medial establishments which have used arguments of "biology" to prove that we're less than human. "Never again," is the message.



USA  (58 mi)  1996 [Emanuel Levy]

Considering the rich, interesting life she has lived, Barbara Hammer's new, highly personal documentary, "Tender Fictions," is a frustrating experience, a densely textured film that doesn't especially illuminate the artist or the woman. This one-hour collage of sounds, images and quotations is best suited for gay and lesbian festivals.

A subjective memoir about what it has meant to be a lesbian-feminist filmmaker in the U.S. over the past three decades, docu juxtaposes autobiographical material about Hammer's conservative, middle-class background with observations on the emergence of a candidly politicized artist.

Born into a Jewish Ukrainian family, the loquacious Hammer was almost predetermined to pursue a showbiz career, encouraged by her mother to take dance and elocution lessons during the Depression, and introduced by her grandmother, who worked as a cook for Lillian Gish in Hollywood, to D.W. Griffith.

The sequence detailing her marriage and subsequent coming out in the '70s is interesting, capturing the fermenting political milieu that fostered anti-establishment protests by, among others, feminist and gay liberation movements.

But there is too much narration, which is not always revelatory, and quotes from intellectuals on the order of Roland Barthes and Audre Lordes are often interwoven into the personal narrative in a rather arbitrary manner, giving the work a disjointed feel. Stylistically, the film relies heavily on montage of brief images and sounds that creates a busily thick texture but undercuts its emotional resonance. Pic isn't boring, but is exhausting and not much fun to watch.


USA  (65 mi)  2000


The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]

Starting off by envisioning Eleanor Roosevelt as the honored guest at a pioneering lesbian-rights conference, Barbara Hammer's collage of homophilic pre-Stonewall imagery, History Lessons, decodes its footage through cut-and-paste juxtaposition and knowingly clumsy, Forrest Gump-like synching. The spirit of cheeky subversion is dampened and soon snuffed out by glib repetition—here Hammer betrays a tiresome attachment to cross-cutting ladyporn with antiquated educational filmstrips, to no real end but snarky giggles.

PopcornQ   Brandon Judell


Barbara Hammer, who's responsible for "Superdyke Meets Madame X" (1978) and "No No Nooky T.V." (1987), has returned to theaters with an often very funny documentary you might as well label a "revolutionary comedy."
What this in-your-face filmmaker has done is take historical newsreel footage, music, and vintage lesbian porn and cut it into a hard-hitting, visually enchanting, clitorally stimulating art piece that makes you think every woman who ever walked down an American avenue was a dyke, a potential dyke, or just damned wished she could be a dyke.
To get her celluloid thesis off to a striking start, Hammer doctors a speech to make you think Eleanor Roosevelt is holding a meeting for same-sex rights. Then there's footage of military women washing their hair and cooking in their army helmets, lady golfers putting, gymnasts leaping, and lots of gals just getting down and dirty. Yes, there's even some feisty majorette baton action.
Consequently, the whole film, which happily includes ample footage of women of color, is a constant hoot except for two episodes that Hammer seems to have shot herself. In one, a gaggle of women dressed as men and their honeys are being photographed by a tabloid magazine, and in another a doctor is measuring a butch and a femme to see if their physical attributes predict their sexuality. These are great popcorn buying moments or junctures to make-out during if you're not alone.
Otherwise, the wry Hammer is consistently on target, aggressively uprooting the word "invisible" from any phrase that deals with "lesbians." As she herself has noted: "Anyone can be left out of history. I am compelled to reveal and celebrate marginalized peoples who stories have not been told." She succeeds here valiantly -- and wickedly.

Film Threat  Merle Bertrand

There's good news and bad news about veteran filmmaker Barbara Hammer's "History Lessons." The good news is, the film is full of what my colleague Anthony Miele might refer to as, "hot lesbian chicks." (Oh, grow up. I bet Ms. Hammer would agree.) The bad news is, most of these "chicks" are long-since dead.

"History Lessons," you see, is an experimental documentary comprised primarily of archival lesbian-oriented footage dating back to the days of Edison and Melies. If nothing else, this is an impressive collection of stuff. Clips of vintage lesbian melodramas, sepia-tinged peep show loops, and tacky lesbian adult films all combine with other, not necessarily lesbian oriented items such as military propaganda films, sports clips, and sex-education films from the 1950s.

Hammer also mixes in some vintage erotic lesbian artwork, photos from exploitative tabloid articles, and the covers of adult paperback novels. Occasionally, she alters her imagery, over-dubbing audio on an Eleanor Roosevelt speech, for example; nicely comic touches that combine with the overall context of the film to plant the subliminal message that all women have at least a touch of lesbianism at their core. Once Hammer plants this seed, the audience fills in the blanks, giving a humorous double-entendre to even the most innocent comment in a military film.

The end result is an offbeat look at lesbianism prior to the Stonewall uprising. This film is at its strongest when it depicts, not only the sexism rampant in "Leave It To Beaver"-era America, but the paranoia bordering on hysteria concerning lesbianism and other "unnatural" such behavior. Had it stuck to its archival footage to drive this theme home a little more forcefully, it would have been a much stronger film. As it is, Hammer stages and shoots scenes, including one long and tedious gangster tangent that completely disrupts her film's flow. Such sequences muddy the waters on a film that has little natural story arc to begin with.

Lacking this central driving theme, one tends to tune out the movie after a while; the novelty of watching vintage lesbian footage just for the sake of watching eventually wears off. This underscores the idea that there is such a concept as too much of a good thing.

Even cool lesbian chicks. takes its History Lessons  Rachel Gordon

History Lessons gives a unique glimpse into the background of lesbian relations -- by putting it through a historical lens. It effectively dispels any idea that being a lesbian is some kind of trend that emerged from Stonewall, as some of its footage dates back 50 years or more. And more than most films that deal with the subject of lesbianism, this film brightly takes into account the fact that there is more than one form of women sleeping with her own gender.

Some of the images are shockingly graphic, but they also force the viewer to accept how natural it is for women to enjoy one another. From displaying fully-clothed women frolicking during the war effort to showing oral sex acts, Barbara Hammer wisely chooses to look at the subject from every angle. It’s not about empowering women or degrading them, but simply cataloging the wide variety of lesbians and their behaviors.

That’s not to say that History doesn’t have a general feeling of inner female power. In shot after shot we see women doing what they want and enjoying themselves. When they are hindered, it is by some laughably naïve, intruding character that has no real impact on their lives. So even when the world at large becomes a challenge, they find strength and enjoyment in one another. Just like heterosexual women, they endure and find a way to live life to the fullest.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of archival footage, sometimes the images have too much of a scrappy, thrown-together look. And when these old reels get repeated, the result is not as effective. Another difficulty, especially for a film with a documentary feel, is that there is no rhyme or reason to how or when scenes are placed together. There are no datelines provided, so we don't really understand if any progress has been made. It’s impossible to guess why one scene follows another. Though just over an hour in length, stylings like this make the viewing experience feel longer. The basic premise of the film is ever-present, instead of building to any kind of climax.

Still, History is also an intelligent, satirical presentation of how misdirected the media is in defining lesbians. Often the music and sarcastic narration are more interesting than the pictures they are matched to. The altered historical voices provide enjoyable commentary instead of spouting some moralistic, heavy-hitting speech about injustice. It’s a clear, unique voice that allows you to think for yourself, and even sometimes laugh in the face of sadness.

Film Journal International (Doris Toumarkine)


New York Times (registration req'd)  Dave Kehr



USA  France  (90 mi)  2003 [Dennis Harvey]

Given an artist residency grant in 1999, noted U.S. experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer intended to make a film about the famous Southern France-on-the-Mediterranean light that inspired so many great painters. But war's breakout in Kosovo instead turned her attention to political matters, resulting in a docu more concerned with refugees and Resistance fighters in this area of Southern France during WWII, as well as the role of art and artists under enemy occupation. Somewhat peculiar mix of personal and historical inquiry makes for an intriguing, absorbing hybrid that's especially apt for Jewish fests and intellectually adventuresome educational tube slots.

Principal thread is the correspondence between contemporary painting giants Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, which as excerpted here paints a portrait of the celebrated artist as apolitical, self-absorbed and oblivious to all save the inconveniences wrought by distasteful "war and politics." Matisse's closest relatives felt differently: His wife, son and daughter Marguerite risked their lives in service of the Resistance, with Marguerite narrowly avoiding a concentration camp.

Stories of German antifascist Lisa Fittko, French mayoral secretary Marie-Ange Allibert (who helped Jews get false identity cards) and brilliant philosopher Walter Benjamin's unsuccessful attempt to flee Nazi Europe (he committed suicide in 1940 Spain) are woven in via survivor interviews and archival materials.

Asking how war effects the creation of art, not to mention the artist's own social responsibility, Hammer -- whose films have frequently spoken more specifically from her roots in '70s radical lesbian feminism -- clearly has scant sympathy for those who abstain from taking a stand under crisis. Her view doesn't permit acknowledgement that much great art is apolitical -- and many great artists have, for better or worse, been incapable of seeing past their own obsessive art and ego.

Seemingly tenuous connection between various themes is granted strong stylistic unification by helmer's imaginative deployment of layered multiple images, occasional impressionistic animation and brief staged sequences using actors as historical figures.


aka:  The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

USA  (55 mi)  2006 [Ronnie Scheib]


Veteran experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer's newest docu, "Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marvel Moore," focuses on two Jewish stepsisters living together as lovers, artists and resisters on the Channel Islands off of Normandy during the German Occupation. Intermingling the surrealist photographic self-portraits of Cahun, texts and illustrations by Moore, interviews with their contemporaries and accounts of the stepsisters' arrest and trial, docu shows their jointly created lesbian identity, lifestyle and activism. Weaving together more hooks than a drunken angler, docu could lure the entire spectrum of specialized fests.
Part of the extraordinary flowering of avant-garde art in Paris in the '20s, the self-styled Claude and Marcel virtually interiorized that milieu in their villa on the isle of Jersey. Though they were certainly judged to be eccentric, what with Claude's shaved head and Marcel's masculine attire, the stepsisters seemed to have been accepted by the locals, and even to have enjoyed a certain cachet, later enhanced by their anti-Nazi activities.
Though many Jews on the Islands were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, the stepsisters were largely left alone, for reasons that Hammer never fully makes clear.
But, this uneasy tolerance stopped cold once the duo started writing subversive, often illustrated pamphlets in German and Croatian encouraging the Axis soldiers to mutiny.
The sisters were condemned to death by the Gestapo, a sentence later commuted through the intervention of the local authorities. Liberated in 1945, Cahun never fully recovered and died in 1954, almost two decades before her partner/sister.
In "Lover," Hammer reprises the question of the artist's political role posed in her 2003 "Resisting Paradise," also about French artists during the Occupation, but here she gives it photographic (and lesbian) specificity.
The context of the war provides pic with a satisfying dramatic curve, as former fellow-resisters, neighbors and cellmates fondly bear witness to the pair's courage and uniqueness. But, it is the women's artwork (only some of which survived the Nazis' confiscatory ravages) that gives shape to Hammer's more lyrical imagery.
Cahun's startling black-and-white still photography, shown straight on or fancifully kaleidoscopic, dominates the film, strangely echoed in segments of a thinly disguised autobiographical text written by Moore and performed by look-alike actors Kathleen Chalfant and Marty Pottenger.

Hammer, Lance


BALLAST                                                                 B                     89       

USA (96 mi)  2008  ‘Scope


The only film seen so far with the director present, this is a small, minimalist film shot in the Mississippi Delta that depicts the hardships of rural life for a group of blacks living next door to one another, but at times barely speak to one another.  Two brothers live in the blue house, former radio deejays who now operate a run down gas station/mini mart, while a single mother and teenage son live in the green house, separated only by a light at the top of a tall pole that shines on each house at night.  One of the brothers is the child’s father, but the mother wants to keep him at an arm’s distance, believing he’s a terrible influence on her son James (JimMyron Ross) who has all but dropped out of school due to the prevalence of drugs and constant fighting.  James is a hard-headed kid who listens to no one and can be seen bolting out the door from time to time whenever his mother calls for him.  His life is a prototype of many other kids from the area who drop out early or find school a complete waste of time, so they sit around with nothing to do and eventually wind up in trouble.  In James’s case, hard as it is for him to believe, people are thankfully paying attention to him, even during the worst of times.    


Using a non-professional black cast from the region, the white director indicated he would only show them the day’s script on the day of shooting, that otherwise he kept the script completely to himself.  His aim was believability and regional authenticity, including elements of dire poverty, the beauty of the landscape, any regional dialect they use, all creating what was primarily designed to be a feature length tone poem.  Narrative content (which is barely there) is considered secondary to emotional content, which is intensely thrust upon the audience from the outset of the film.  There isn’t a single musical note anywhere to speak of, so natural sound or a shift to complete silence adds a hushed element to this film which refuses to sentimentalize or overdramatize the bleak elements that comprise this world.  The performances are surprisingly powerful, though slow in developing, where the pace of the film may be infuriorating to some, yet despite a few hysterics, there’s a distinguishable note of calm throughout this picture that’s hard to resist. Shot on real locations by cinematographer Lol Crawley, the Christmas season has rarely felt this brutally harsh, but to the director’s credit, the wintry atmosphere and the ghostly lives depicted here are the real deal. 


George Christensen at Cannes:


It was a stark contrast to "Ballast," an American independent whose African American cast in a small southern town all looked as if they could have been playing themselves, and with passion.  A 40 year old guy who has just lost his twin brother and business partner to suicide can't find the will to get up and tend to their business--a small gas station and market.  He doesnt even care when his brother's 11 year old son comes around with a gun demanding money for his crack habit.  The boy's mother loses her job when she is beat up by the drug dealers her son owes money to.  These three lost souls struggle to get their lives back on track.

BALLAST  Ken Rudolph

This is a wide screen, but mostly hand-held and rudimentary American indie film which is a contemporary slice-of-life story of a struggling, broken African-American family unit in the Mississippi delta.  It starts with a suicide, and an attempted suicide by thirty-something identical twin shop owner men, and then tells the meandering story of the ex-girlfriend and teenage, crack addicted son of one of them.  The film is strongly reminiscent of a much better film, David Gordon Green's George Washington, and has the same deliberate pacing and impoverishment of that film, though not the superb beauty of the director's vision.  Apparently this film won the director and cameraman prize at Sundance; but for the life of me I don't know why.  It was so unremittingly depressing and despairing, so choppy and unsatisfying technically, that I left the theater feeling I was totally movied out for the day.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Berlin Film Festival 2008

Low-key, no-frills American "indie" is quiet to the point of occasional inaudibility, but repays the close attention it demands. It's a notably well-observed tale of family dysfunction, set in a notably bleak and flat corner of the Mississippi delta - the colour-palette a thing of greys, cobalts, dunnish, brackish browns. The travails of cash-strapped African-Americans are all too seldom tackled in any kind of US cinema at the moment, though the family in question in Ballast are, as joint owners of a small (if struggling) roadside business, hardly representative of the wider socio-economic issues which the film tries to deal with. Nevertheless, writer-director Hammer executes proceedings with a steady, serious, absorbing austerity that's entirely appropriate for the stoic doggedness displayed by his characters, eliciting believable performances from his small cast, and it's also to his credit that he carefully avoids the kind of melodramatic denouement which often mars this kind of fare.

Time Out New York (Joshua Rothkopf) review [4/6]

We’ve seen the Deep South onscreen before, in caricature (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), stridency (Mississippi Burning) and gauzy loveliness (Undertow). But boy, don’t it look blue in Lance Hammer’s subtle Ballast? Literally: Hammer’s indie, shot on the cheap in rural Mississippi during wintertime, has the denatured feel of bruised Bergman—rainy, depressed and lacking the merest hint of orangey sunlight. You might say an apocalypse has happened here, and you wouldn’t be wrong: Lawrence (Smith), a shopkeeper, shivers in the dimness of his trailer, unable to function, his twin brother a suicide in the next room.

Darius’s death, perhaps of a broken heart, sends echoes throughout the rest of Ballast, which balances its welcome strain of healing against the presence of ghosts. Lawrence, who tries to take his own life, is roused from his post-hospital stupor by a friendly neighbor who cooks him a steak, then by a gun-waving teen (Ross, extraordinary) pinned in by tense circumstances. The boy, James, is actually Lawrence’s nephew; his mother, Marlee (Riggs), is a former drug addict and hard worker who has only difficult memories of Darius. Gang activities loiter on the periphery of the movie, as do workplace indignities; front and center is desperation and real-world poverty.

So it comes as a gift, one of Ballast’s most praiseworthy, that these three characters grow together in ways that are totally unsentimental. There is virtue in industriousness: in the rituals of the store, the stocking of shelves, the keeping of hours. If anything holds Hammer’s slice of life back, it’s that the movie is just getting started when things cut to black. Young James hasn’t made his stand yet, nor have Marlee and Lawrence gotten beyond a tenable peace. But Ballast has a potential that few Sundance movies even approach.

Movies into (N.P. Thompson) review

Lance Hammer’s Ballast, gorgeously photographed in the blue mists of a Mississippi Delta winter, put me in mind of Jeff Nichols’s Shotgun Stories. Both films were shot in the Deep South, in corners rarely, if ever, explored by movies, and both owe so much to the landscape. (In fact, I would have been happier with Shotgun Stories had Nichols included more Malick-esque shots of rural east Arkansas and less of the feuding brothers—a topic for another occasion.) Both take as their subject violence within families and those tentative first steps toward healing. And both films—I say this with the ear of a Georgian—get the Southern accents, without exaggeration, exactly right.

Ballast, although flawlessly acted, isn’t a great movie; it’s a singularly idiosyncratic vision of life in and around Canton, Mississippi, and that’s enough, in these impoverished days, to make a film worth seeing. Near the end, Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith, Sr.), who begins the movie in a catatonic state and glacially reemerges into humanity, stands outside a one-room shack that once housed a radio station, the lettering on its façade, “RADIO 960 KC,” still visible against the peeling paint. The place—and the memory of the place from an earlier time—clearly means something to him. I hadn’t any notion of what, but the acting by Smith and the direction by Hammer are rich in implication.

The cinematographer Lol Crawley deservedly won a prize at Sundance this year. He achieves a number of superb wide-angle shots of frond-topped marshes and of azure twilights crisscrossed by the dark silhouettes of spindly tree trunks and finger-thin branches—an atmosphere no less lovely for being slightly forbidding and forlorn. Yet my favorite moment, visually, belongs to a sensuous aerial vertical over a pink/fuchsia carpet: Juneau, a beautiful wolfhound, lies outstretched on the left; on the right, lies James (JimMyron Ross), a troubled little punk with a history of holding at least one relative of his at gunpoint. In this moment, James serenely, gently strokes Juneau’s fur. The color and texture of the dog’s whitish coat against the shaggy carpet, and the ebony skin, the youthfulness of James, the way their reclined figures are positioned opposite each other along the full length of the frame—it’s a transcendent image of peace. (Unlike the poor, snake-bitten canine in Shotgun Stories, this Juneau is no one’s victim.)

Hammer’s screenplay realistically delves into family bitterness, into the “fucked-up kind of love,” one character accuses another of proliferating. As Marlee, the loving and initially unsuspecting mother of James (she tucks her gun-toting, drug addict pre-teen into bed with such tenderness), Tarra Riggs shows tremendous range. She makes Marlee’s rage—and the character’s need to get beyond it—palpable. And I’m awed by how skillfully Hammer and the actors portray Lawrence and James’s relationship changing over time, an unsentimental journey from the brutal to somewhere better. Hammer stumbles a bit on the subject of how James quits drugs after his money sources dry up—how the boy eases off smoking whatever was in his pipe is left unaddressed.

Even so, the low-key black people in Hammer’s film are real blacks—a (welcome) far cry from the glib, hyperbolic caricatures who overpopulate Craig Brewer, Tyler Perry, Denzel Washington, and Wayans Brothers movies.

The Village Voice [Elena Oumano]

Unhurried rhythms and spare, beautifully composed shots infuse Lance Hammer's Ballast with the sweet, dark melancholy of a Delta blues. This remarkable, unfailingly intelligent debut film, rooted in the Mississippi Delta's vanishing way of life, tells of the fall-out from one man's suicide on three people.

Ballast doesn't portray the sensual Delta of popular imagination, the one drenched in sunshine and teeming with fecundity and song. Instead, the film's haunting tableaus of loss and healing are photographed against a wintry gray sky that casts a chill, bluish pall over the endless vista of bare, resting fields. Ballast's opening alternates between James (JimMyron Ross), a 12-year-old African-American boy roaming the vast flatscape, and Lawrence (Micheal J. Smith Sr.), a big, stony-faced man sitting in his small, dark house, frozen with grief. In a typically evocative shot, James approaches a dense flock of migrating geese as it lifts off, crowding the air with beating wings and honking cries. Like the trains that periodically race by, the flock is only passing through, but the middle-aged Lawrence, James, and his valiant, struggling mom, Marlee (Tarra Riggs), are trapped, each one in a bubble of increasingly desperate loneliness.

Whether wandering outside, planted in front of his TV, or attending a school we never see (but that is evidently plagued by violence and adult indifference), James is alone and in trouble. He makes drug runs for a group of older teens to support his burgeoning coke habit and is fascinated with guns. His loving mother slaves in a night-time cleaning job and is too anxious and exhausted to see the clues. James owes the gang money, and soon mother and son take refuge with Lawrence, whom Marlee hates with an old and bitter passion.

The conflicts, truths, and, ultimately, grace and dignity that bind these three together are brought to authentic life, without Hollywood-style exaggeration, through the quiet little miracles of performance that Hammer coaxes from his non-actors, especially the heartrending Riggs—and all save one are Delta residents that he found through local community centers and churches.

This writer-director is also bravely unafraid of silence—at least human silence—for his images are continuously awash in the sounds of the wintertime Delta: the wind, the rain, the wet crunch of boots on bare, sodden ground. Hammer cleaves to the stripped-down reality of Dogma filmmaking, but there's no theoretical preciousness to drag down Ballast's clear, spare lyricism or muddy the pleasures of its ambiguities. British cinematographer Lol Crawley moves his camera so intuitively within this world that, at times, it seems to express the consciousness of the viewer. And Hammer's artful jump cuts between scenes, as well as the film's abrupt ending, create just enough tension to draw you in, but leave just enough mystery to let you create your own understanding of what's happening between Lawrence, James, and Marlee, and to form your own insights into the psyches of these people trying to survive with their souls intact.

The film's characters aren't the only ones confronting challenges: The sky continues to cave in for independent American filmmakers trying to survive with their financing intact. Ballast won several festival prizes this year, including the Sundance awards for cinematography and dramatic directing, and was snapped up for distribution by IFC Films. But even this supposedly plum arrangement would've required Hammer to forfeit the rights to his film for 20 years, with no guarantee of recouping his expenses. So, instead, he's distributing Ballast on his own—theater by theater, town by town. Like his fictional characters, he's doing it for himself. [Andrew O'Hehir]


indieWire[Anthony Kaufman]


The House Next Door [Zachary Wigon]


SpoutBlog [Karina Longworth]


ShortEnd Magazine [Noralil Ryan Fores]


The New York Sun (S. James Snyder) review


PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review


Cinematical (James Rocchi) review  also see here:   interview with Lance Hammer review [3/4]  Chris Cabin, also seen here: (Chris Cabin) review [4/5]


Screen International review  David D’Arcy at Sundance from Screendaily


Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]


Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [4.5/5]  Jeremy C. Fox


CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review


Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review


The Hollywood Reporter review  Kirk Honeycutt [Robert Koehler]


The New York Times review  Manohla Dargis  


Hamri, Sanaa


SOMETHING NEW                                     B+                   90

USA  (100 mi)  2005


A film that has coined the new phrase for interracial love, no longer “Jungle Fever,” but now called “Something New.” Formulaic, but ultimately successful look at a segment of black society rarely taken seriously, the urban professional class, that has knowledge, style and money, but the difficulty, just like anyone else, to make good decisions in love.  The film resembles LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER, instead showing the upper crust of black society, replacing the hard-core sex with romantic notions of love, where in this film a beautiful overworked black woman dabbles with her salt-of-the-earth white landscaper.  This is an interesting take on an age-old problem, but with a twist.  Financially successful black men have historically had white women on their arms, instead of black women.  In this story, the financially successful black woman, beautifully personified by the immensely appealing Sanaa Lathan, a fast rising star and soon to be partner in a prestigious all-white law firm, is set up by a friend on a blind date with a white guy (Simon Baker), a disastrous awkward moment in an impersonalized crowded Starbucks that comes back to haunt her later when she realizes she rejected the man she has just hired to be her back yard landscaper for her newly purchased first home. Talk about awkward moments. 


Despite the fact we know where this is going, and the film never establishes anything new style-wise, it is basically a retread in the movie of the week formula, there is actually some interesting material to digest here, which is presented naturally within the storyline, with terrific performances by the entire crew.  The film effectively shows the conflict within her soul at the thought of dating outside the black race, and the considerable pressures amounted on top of the already existing pressures reserved exclusively for black women.  Her family dynamic, where she is torn at the thought of not pleasing her parents, the community pressure for a black woman to stand by black men, expressed at a comedy club where she is accompanied by a white guy, the object of several sharp scornful jokes, the work pressure, having to work that much harder than the others to prove herself worthy, having her work double checked, leaving her always feeling inadequate in the eyes of her customers and her employer, and the failure to find the man of her dreams, that perfect guy that she’s been looking for since childhood.  In her dreams, it never “looked” like a white guy.  So this film effectively shows her constant inner turmoil, such as how defensive and hurt she becomes when someone comments on her hair, but in particular, when witnessing a black modern dance performance, accompanied by her family, projecting her own thoughts onto the dancers interpretation of black on black love.    


What works is the guys she finds aren’t perfect, despite being good-looking, ultra nice and considerate guys.  They screw up in ways that make perfect sense, and aren’t at all beyond what most of us would do.  So the film doesn’t exaggerate into stereotypes, at least not the main performances, which are kept smart and all-too real, especially a scene in a grocery store where the young lovers have an exposed moment where they clearly aren’t on the same page, but no one really crosses the line of bad taste, it’s all kept extremely respectful of the characters.  This continues in the next phase where she has a brief fling with Blair Underwood, the perfect black guy, good looking, successful, rich, very polite and well-spoken, but there’s no sizzle between them.  Everything comes together in an old-fashioned cotillion dance, ultra formal, where she’s initially ashamed to bring a white guy, as he doesn’t fit society’s image, so she flirts with the idea of a successful black guy, the right guy to be seen with, where they have everything more in common, but she’s again undermined and taken for granted in a wonderful moment, a single moment, that ends their relationship.  The film can be silly, but also dead on when it comes to societal pressures, some artificially placed, and some our own.  These are barriers that we are all faced with sooner or later, and in mixed race company, the objection is immediate, where “only the strong survive.”   


Handke, Peter


THE LEFT-HANDED WOMAN (Die linkshändige Frau)                    A                     95

Germany  (119 mi)  1978


adapted from his own novel, a gorgeous, remarkably beautiful film, with a haunting performance by Edith Cleaver


Channel 4 Film

Wenders produced this film, and his bleak outlook on life is very much in evidence here. It is directed by Handke, also one of Germany's finest authors, who turns in a wonderfully crafted and intellectually flawless work. Wenders would only match it with Wings of Desire, which was co-written by Handke. Clever is the wife who tells her husband Ganz to leave; he obliges, setting off on a journey of discovery on her behalf. It sheds new light on each and every aspect of her existence. Not much happens here, but the quiet inner voyage is perfectly judged.

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)

Peter Handke's 1977 film of his novel is a remarkably assured work for a first-time director, shot with almost no dialogue and relying on concise, enigmatic, and sometimes sinister vignettes to tell its story of a housewife (Edith Clever in a brilliantly minimalist performance) leaving her husband and grasping at selfhood. It's An Unmarried Woman as it might have been filmed by Yasujiro Ozu (who is duly credited in a brief hommage sequence), finding a metaphysical thrust in images that seem placid on the surface but contain an inexpressible tension. The photography is by Robby Müller, Wim Wenders's right-hand man, who creates expressionist effects out of deceptively natural lighting. With Bruno Ganz and, in a funny, small bit, Gerard Depardieu. In German with subtitles. 113 min.


User comments  from imdb Author: robert burton from United Kingdom

Peter Handke was best known as a novelist,playwright and screenwriter of many of Wenders' early films (he went on to write "Wings of desire" nine years later) when he made this,his debut feature. Few novelists make the transition to director easily but this film is remarkably assured for a first effort. Edith Clever, the German actress who starred very memorably for Eric Rohmer as "The Marquise of O" plays the housewife who one day announces that she wants a divorce from her husband. No reasons or explanations are ever given; the viewer can only speculate about her state of mind as the film proceeds in a series of beautifully shot, reflective scenes photographed by Wenders' usual cameraman Robby Mueller. The static camera-work and long takes are reminiscent of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu.

Time Out

A train shatters the stillness of a Paris suburb, leaves a puddle on the station platform quivering with some unsolicited, mysterious, moving energy. This Romantic metaphor is at the very centre of Handke's grave, laconic film, produced by Wim Wenders, which begins where The American Friend left off: in the ringing void of Roissy airport. Here, the Woman (Edith Clever, superb in the role) meets her husband (Ganz) and, for no apparent reason, rejects him in favour of a solitary voyage through her own private void. In her house, with her child, the film records a double flight of escape and exploration, her rediscovery of the world, her relocation of body, home and landscape. This emotional labour makes its own economy: silence, an edge of solemnity, an overwhelming painterly grace. Self-effacement is made the paradoxical means of self-discovery, and the film becomes a hymn to a woman's liberating private growth, a moving, deceptively fragile contemplation of a world almost beyond words.

User comments  from imdb Author: emgasulla

Of the many films by Peter Handke (either alone or with his partner Wim Wenders) this may be the most appealing. It is also not recommended for modern viewers accustomed to Hollywood's rhythm -it is long, slow paced and even difficult to follow sometimes. I strongly recommend viewers to read the book too, although they may not find too many additional clues there, for Handke's style is to reflect the character's actions rather than their thoughts (which, by the way, should be the perfect cinematic approach). Some people have wasted their time especulating about the woman's reasons to divorce her husband: the french essayist Gilles Lipovetsky even said that her "lack of good reasons" is a sign of modern life's emptiness. In fact, we can not say she does not have reasons: only we are not allowed to see them on the screen. One might even think that Handke himself did not care to build the woman's inner thoughts (and if he did, he sure did not share them with us). The movie, and the book, are about communication between us, or at least this is one of its possible readings. Do we really know what is on other people's mind, even people real close to us? The answer is no: we can only talk of what they tell us, or what we might hint, but how many times had we been completely wrong about somebody? The movie defies the usual assumption of an omniscient camera: the woman would not share her thoughts with the viewers, and this leaves us with a sense of discomfort. We feel compelled to find motivations that are just not there. Just the fact that the movie makes us think about it would be enough to qualify it as a masterpiece.

On Peter Handke's The Left-Handed Woman (1978) an analysis  Jacqueline Valencia from These Girls On Film

Books on German film   New German Film: The Displaced Image by Timothy Corrigan (213 pages) and West German Film in the Course of Time by Eric Rentschler (260 pages), reviewed by Jan Mouton from Jump Cut, February 1988

Handler, Mario


MESTIZO                                                                  C+                   79

Venezuela  Cuba  (82 mi)  1988


While this is a Venezuelan film shot in the late 80’s, it feels more like a 60’s film, an era of more radical experimentation, where due to the repressive and conservative element of the 50’s, the content of many 60’s films often explodes off the screen, where sex is more freely expressed and nakedness exposed unlike any other era.  But this film, something of a raw and sensationalist adaptation of the modernist Venezuelan novel El Mestizo José Vargas (1942) by Guillermo Meneses that attempts to graphically express the prevalent influence of racial discrimination, unfortunately ends up unintentionally expressing an egregiously misogynous view of women, which may actually be a worse crime.  Feminist social development is slow in coming to the machismo based Latn American societies where men exclusively control the ruling power, though women's presence in politics has grown steadily over the last decade, with Brazil and Chile electing female Presidents, where in the past five years, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago have also elected women leaders.  Today Latin America has four of the world's 19 female heads of state, and while gender equity is key to achieving social justice, none of the women were elected on a feminist platform, and their inclusion in politics has not led to policy proposals advocating women’s issues.  MESTIZO, unfortunately, while radical on one front, is regressive on another, as its characterization of women is deplorable, where literally every female character is viewed as a willing seductress or whore, where women are entirely defined by having an insatiable sexual appetite, which despite an attempt to express an unbalanced power dynamic more likely reflects the male fantasy view.  This unreality affects one’s view overall, as it taints any other serious social comment the film may offer. 


Part of the continuing story of the effects of slavery, this film reflects the colonial mentality where white landowners once proudly owned black slaves, a view that hasn’t evolved in the modern era.  The title and subject of the film refer to mulatto people of mixed race, where historically landowners and rulers of power have been exclusively white, though they typically have sexual relations with the black subservient class, often with the domestic help they hire, so when white aristocrats produce dark-skinned babies, these children have a curse on their heads, as they’re not perceived as white.  This film follows one such child, José Ramon Vargas (Marcos Moreno), the illegitimate son of a wealthy white landowner Don Aquiles Vargas (Aldo Tulian) and a poor black fisherwoman, Cruz Guaregua (Zezé Motta).  While the father can be seen beating his mistress once he learns she’s carrying his child, he can also be seen swearing and cursing at everything this mestizo child represents in his eyes, a stain on white civilization and a mixture of “Indians, blacks, whores, and bums!”  The film advances 18 years where Don Aquiles has raised his son strictly within white society, and while José Ramon has aspirations to be a poet, inspired by his layabout Uncle Ramon, his father scoffs at that sissy stuff and insists that he learn to be a man and hold a respectable job.  When his father takes him by the hand and drops him off at the door of a young black girl in a brothel, it’s supposed to be his introduction to sex, but José Ramon is too naïve to understand.  In his determined quest to civilize his young son, he takes him to the courthouse and places him under the care of the Judge (Omar Gonzalo), another mestizo who has risen to a position of authority and respectability.  In a modernist expression of theater of the absurd, José Ramon learns to be civilized while prisoners are dragged to the back of the courthouse and soundly beaten and tortured, where their disturbing offscreen cries are routinely ignored by the judge, as all the court employees display this same air of nonchalance.   


The Judge’s peculiar fascination with José Ramon is to first get him stinking drunk in a bar before taking him home and proudly introducing him to his voluptuous white wife Gregorina (Nancy González), who allows herself to be seduced for pleasure as the impotent Judge lecherously watches.  Afterwards, despite the apparent awkwardness, José Ramon goes back for more, away from the prowling eyes of the Judge, becoming helplessly driven by his sexual appetite, where Gregorina is more than willing, so long as her lovers are black.  Easily the most pronounced effect is the offscreen use of sound, simulating wild jungle animals and the screeching and wailing sound of her pet parrot, all accentuating the animalistic aspect of what we’re watching.  In an extended sequence that plays out more like fantasy than reality, Gregorina, along with 3 other culturally privileged white girlfriends. spend the night on the beach having sex with mestizo men, where this system of racial sexual exploitation literally defines the status quo, so long as no one upsets the balance.  José Ramon becomes so enraptured, however, that he falls in love, proposing they run away together, which, of course, Gregorina refuses, as she has all she wants at her fingertips.  When Don Aquiles gets word, he chastises the kid for failing to find a (white) civilized and reputable path, as he instructed, and for instead falling victim to his (black) lustful desires.  Afraid and thoroughly disappointed, José Ramon runs off to the fishing community with his mother, where he’s despised and immediately disowned as an unwelcome outsider, seen as an over-privileged white boy taking food out of the mouths of those that need it, becoming even further discouraged when he discovers that the only way his mother was able to buy her house was sleeping with rich white clients.  Using an attractive black housemaid to sexually lure him back to his father’s home, Don Aquiles decides his future lies elsewhere, sending him off to Caracas to study law.  Thoroughly disillusioned by the moral and racial hypocrisy of both worlds, where in each José Ramon is viewed as damaged goods, ominous city sounds dance in his restless head as he embarks upon his uncertain future.   




The action takes place in a village on the Venezuelan coast, a place of fishermen and big haciendas. Jose Ramon, son of a white aristocrat and a humble black fisher-women, is trying to define his own identity while dealing with social and sexual conflicts, power, culture, the law, and the impossible relationship he has with both his parents. Based on the novel El Mestizo Jose Vargas by Guillermo Meneses.


User reviews from imdb Author: zetes from Saint Paul, MN

It begins with a scene without context, and then proceeds for a good quarter of an hour somewhat randomly, but then it pulls itself together and ends up being very good. Actually, I now have an inkling that, if I were to see it again, those opening 20 minutes or so would seem a lot better and the film would be nearly a masterpiece.

Mestizo (a word that I don't remember ever being defined, by the way) is a Venezuelan film about the son of a wealthy, white man and a poor black woman whose people are fishermen. This boy is named Jose Ramon, and he lives in an extremely confusing society. He is brought up as a white man, though he is visibly mulatto. The aristocratic community, with whom his father is trying to assimilate him, does not entirely trust him. Later in the film, when he tries to live amongst the community of black fishermen, they trust him even less.

SPOILERS: Eventually, Jose's boss, a judge, leads his wife, Gregorina, into sleeping with Jose, which arouses the judge. This is Jose's first sexual experience, and from that point on sex runs his life. He believes that he loves Gregorina, and he convinces her and three other white women, daughters and wives of rich, white men, to take a boat ride with him and another black man. The sequence in the boat, where the six of them play a game where they similize the moon convinced me that the film was very good; it's a brilliantly edited sequence.

Soon, Jose figures out that Gregorina and the other white women were only slumming. And because he took his relationship with her so far, his boss fires him. His father, who wants to mold him into a respectable aristocrat despite his African roots, verbally assaults him over the affair. Jose runs away to his mother, who also kicks him out of the fishing village when he allows the other fishermen to rip off his share of the profits. He does this, obviously, because he has never needed money. Now he does, and he won't take it. His mother is offended that her son is just a chump, and that he is treating the fisherman's life as only a game.

With both of his potential homes off limits, he becomes a homeless man on the beach. It's an idyllic life, but he misses people, well, more specifically, sex with women. In the film's most amusing scene, he builds a woman out of sand. When the scene opens, you see Jose resting in the sun, but there's an odd lump of sand closer to the camera with some bits of driftwood or seaweed on top of it. Then Jose begins to caress the sand, and we realize that he has sculpted a woman (we only see it from the hips down). He has used driftwood and seaweed as pubic hair! He brushes his hand and fingers over the faux crotch, but he sharply pulls his hand off of it. The pubes fall off, and under them is a crippled tarantula, pushing itself along with its few working legs. It is a spectacular scene, lasting only a minute, if even that long.

Eventually, he is convinced to come home (by sex), and his father apologizes. He has planned to send Jose to Caracas (I can't remember the name of their town (maybe it's Mestizo!), but it's a rather small fishing village) to learn law. Before Jose leaves, he visits his mother, who also forgives him and wishes him good luck. As he stands on the ship to Caracas (which is contrasted with the small fisherman's boat that he has used so often elsewhere in the film, including the preceding scene), his racial conflict has been solved: he is now a white man, in a white suit and smoking a cigar. He tips a black man for helping him. But the solution has rough edges: he begins to hear the sounds of the city in his head, and they disturb him greatly. We end with this notion.

END SPOILER: The style and rhythm of the film is akin to French New Wave films, which means it's quite choppy. Some shots are on and off so quickly that they never have time to register, which is a problem a few times during the film. The acting is exquisite. Marcos Moreno plays Jose Ramon Vargas to perfection, and everyone else is as good. The direction, by Mario Handler, is quite good, especially during the boat ride I mentioned and the sex scenes that follow it. Perhaps someday others will have a chance to see it. I implore you to do so. I myself really want to see it once more, to see if the beginning was as bad as I perceived it to be. My guess is that the previous film that I had watched, the awful Natal da Portelo from Brazil, was still influencing my mind for the first 20 or 30 minutes of Mestizo, because I had a lot of the same criticisms. To think, I nearly left the theater (it was a double feature) after Natal da Portelo ended! Thank God I was too lazy to get up off my butt! I give it a 9/10.

The 25-year-old Mestizo: the freshest movie in town  Ben Sachs from The Reader

Last year the African Diaspora Film Festival presented two important rediscoveries, Lionel Rogosin's quasi-documentary Come Back, Africa (1959) and the Dutch-Surinamese coproduction One People (1976). This year the major rediscovery of the fest is the Venezuelan feature Mestizo, which screens tomorrow at Facets at 6:30 PM. The movie was made in 1988, but it feels like a lost film of the 1960s. Director Mario Handler employs a playful, exploratory style to consider complex political ideas, a strategy reminiscent of the late-60s films of Jean-Luc Godard (La Chinoise) and Glauber Rocha (Terra em Transe); as in near-contemporaneous films by Dusan Makavejev (W.R. Mysteries of the Organism) or Nagisa Oshima (Sing a Song of Sex), he employs frank sexual content to political effect, presenting sexual relationships to characterize power dynamics in society at large.

Not surprisingly, Handler entered filmmaking in the mid-60s, directing a series of verite-style documentaries about marginalized people. These films were rather contentious in Handler's native Uruguay—he claims to have been harassed for years by government authorities before he left the country around 1970. For a few years he produced television in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile (briefly crossing paths with the young Raul Ruiz) before settling in Venezuela in 1973. He directed or codirected a few movies there before returning to TV production in the 80s, working mainly on political documentaries. Mestizo was the only narrative film he directed in that decade (as well as his last one to date); the confidence and overall authority of the filmmaking suggests the movie had been gestating within him for some time.

The film is an adaptation of the novel El Mestizo José Vargas, whose author, Guillermo Meneses, is considered one of the first modern Venezuelan writers. The hero is the illegitimate son of a white colonial administrator and a black woman who lives in his rural district; the story centers on his struggle to reconcile his split identity upon entering adulthood. Handler introduces this struggle in no subtle terms. Mestizo opens to intense symphonic music and a handheld shot of the administrator, Don Aquiles, beating his black mistress. He's just found out she's carrying his child. Cut to Don Aquiles holding his newborn son on a turbulent beach, crying out at the society the boy's been born into. "Damn mixture of Indians, blacks, whores, and bums!" he says of the native population, defining his son as an embodiment of everything respectable society loathes. The style here is sensationalist with a purpose, illustrating the brutality at the root of the national culture.

Moments later, another hard cut brings us 18 years into the future. Don Aquiles has raised the boy as his own—which is to say, as white—within elite colonial society. José Ramon wants to become a poet, but his father wants him to be "respectable." He gets the boy a job as secretary to a district judge, a Mestizo who has risen to a position of colonial authority. The introduction of the judge is one of the film's most New Wavish moments, a Brechtian tableau about the nature of power. A little man with Trotsky glasses and a thick, well-groomed mustache that conveys desperation to be taken seriously, the judge is a caricature of power. "Human beings must be governed," he recites to José Ramon while pacing his office. "The subconscious, the loss of will, passions which take control of our instincts must be governed by our authority, which is conscious, legitimate, repressive, and corrective." Offscreen, a prisoner howls in pain as interrogators torture him.

Naturally, the judge is impotent—he derives sexual pleasure exclusively from watching other men ravish his beautiful wife. José Ramon soon discovers that a big part of his job is assisting his boss in such a manner. There's a snag to the arrangement, though. The wife, who's white, enjoys the transgression only if her paramours are black. And so, the Mestizo's rise in white society depends on exploiting the parts of his self (black, whore, bum) that his father always wanted to suppress.

In the film's lengthy centerpiece, the judge's wife and three of her girlfriends spend a night on the beach to carry out their extramarital affairs with Mestizo men. (This part of the movie anticipates Ulrich Seidl's recent Paradise: Love in its sexual relationships between privileged white women and underprivileged native men. It arrives at the same discomforting insight: that a society based on exploitation still allows the exploited to experience moments of genuine pleasure, provided they work within the system rather than against it.) José Ramon and the judge's wife have such great sex that he believes she's fallen in love with him. He proposes the next day that she run away with him, but she refuses. To make matters worse, Don Aquiles threatens to disown him when he finds out about the affair. (He's most upset that José Ramon submitted to the desires of that "half-breed judge.")

Disgusted with the hypocrisy of white society, José Ramon leaves town and goes to live with his mother in her beachside village. Predictably he can't relate to any of the poor fishermen in her community, and they in turn view him with suspicion. He discovers that the natives are no more principled than the whites he left behind; his mother freely admits that she built her house and sponsored community projects with the money she earned by sleeping with wealthy white men. Handler foreshadows this revelation in earlier parts of the movie, cutting to shots of José Ramon entering the village when he experiences a rude awakening at home.

Though the source novel was published in 1942, it's hard to tell when Mestizo takes place. Handler makes almost no effort to ground the movie in a particular period, suggesting that its conflicts are timeless. As a result, it doesn't feel particularly like a movie of the 1980s either. Impassioned filmmaking like this has a way of staying young.

Hanefjord, Per


THE HIDDEN CHILD (Tyskungen)                    B-                    81

Sweden  Germany  (105 mi)  2013 


Some footprints can never be erased.


Ever since the death of Swedish author Stieg Larsson in 2004, a highly regarded journalist known for investigating right-wing extremism, author of the immensely popular Millennium series that was published posthumously, and the first author to sell a million electronic copies on Amazon’s Kindle, Nordic literature has become extremely popular around the world.  Larsson’s heir apparent is Swedish crime-writer Camilla Läckberg, who has become the best-selling author in Sweden, whose work has been translated into more than thirty languages, including Tyskungen (The Hidden Child), first published in 2007, translated into English in 2011.  Swedish television is planning on turning Läckberg’s series of novels into twelve films, known as The Fjällbacka Murders, with two for general release, and ten 90-minute made-for-TV films, all featuring the same lead actors taking place in and around the Swedish town of Fjällbacka, (1,280 × 472 pixels), the author’s birthplace.  Tyskungen (The Hidden Child) is the first of a series of six episodes that were shot in 2011 and released on DVD (Camilla Läckberg - THE FJÄLLBACKA MURDERS | dvd) in October 2013, but the filming stopped when director Daniel Lind Lagerlöf disappeared in late 2011 while scouting out a film location for the third episode, where it’s believed he fell off a cliff just north of the village.  When he was presumed dead, Rickard Petrelius assumed the new director duties of episodes #3 and #4 of the TV series, while Per Hanefjord, in his first feature film, was chosen to direct the first of the intended international releases.  The Season One made-for-TV lineup looks like this:


Fjällbackamorden morden 1 - Tyskungen (The Hidden Child)  (105 mi)  2013  d:  Per Hanefjord, originally aired October 9, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 2 - Havet ger, Havet tar (The Sea Gives, The Sea Takes)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Marcus Olsson, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 3 - Strandridaren (The Coast Rider)  (88 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 22, 2013
Fjällbackamorden 4 - Ljusets Drottning (The Queen of LIghts)  (89 mi)  2013  d:  Rickard Petrelius, originally aired September 29, 2013 
Fjällbackamorden 5 - Vänner för livet (Friends for Life)  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Richard Holm, originally aired January 2, 2013  
Fjällbackamorden 6 - I betraktarens öga (In the Eye of the Beholder)  (88 mi)  2012  d:  Jörgen Bergmark, originally aired September 29, 2013   


Claudia Galli stars as successful author Erica Falck, who has just recently given birth and whose parents are killed afterwards in a tragic car accident.  A few weeks later she’s moved into her parent’s home along with her husband Patrik Hedström (Richard Ulfsäter), when she’s suddenly surprised by a mysterious man in her home, Göran (Björn Andersson), claiming they have the same mother.  His awkward intrusion may be the actions of a stalker, a rabid fan, so she asks him to leave.  However, when the man is subsequently murdered a few days later, Erica starts taking his claim seriously, especially when her husband, a local police officer, confirms the DNA is a match.  So she starts making inquiries, delving headlong into an investigation of her family past where she’s forced to unravel mysteries that date back to World War II.  She begins by exploring her mother’s belongings, going through her diary, finding old newspaper clippings, searching for any evidence of having a brother, and interviewing several of her mother’s old friends mentioned in the journal.  What she does turn up is a Nazi medallion, consulting a local World War II historian who claims they were quite common in the region.  But as several bodies begin to pile up, all friends of her mother, the deaths suggest unfinished business connected to her mother’s past.  The intersection of her own investigation and her husband’s policework creates internal conflict, as her husband is worried about her safety, wondering if she could be next, and also doesn’t need police evidence compromised by her snooping around.  In most detective stories, the police may drive the investigation, but not here, as the focus of the entire film is on Erica and her discoveries, where the viewer is drawn into her search, which probes her own interior world as well, where undiscovered mysteries of the past continually haunt the present.    


While the film opens with a great deal of promise, given a sleek look and excellent production design, using a film-within-a film technique with flashback sequences back to her mother’s youth where a band of friends help each other survive during the war, but it is ultimately undone by an unending series of convoluted plot twists, each one more preposterous than the last, where it all gets so ridiculous after awhile that we hardly care anymore who did what or why.  While this may work in the novel, adding an underlying historical tension through a kind of memory play of the characters Erica interviews, but in the film all the twists and turns interrupt any rhythm or flow and have the effect of slowing everything down to a dead crawl, literally taking all the suspense out of the film.  The movie exposes hidden secrets, suggesting Norwegian collaborators assisted the Nazi’s in running the Grini concentration camp, while also suggesting there were Nazi infiltrators passing themselves off as regular citizens, some of whom collected information from within Grini while pretending to be fellow prisoners.  In this way, the Gestapo identified the leaders of the resistance movement, who were shipped off to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany.  When all of this plays out, however, suggesting there may still be a collaborator in their midst, someone with designs on keeping the truth hidden, rather than amping up the tension by unraveling the clues, it becomes all too predictable, told in a fragmented narrative structure where the secondary characters are never fleshed out but are only used in the advancement of the story.  That’s the real disappointment in the film, especially coming from a novel, as there’s barely any hint of character development, while history is used more for exploitive purposes than a natural part of the story, never really establishing any emotional connection to the past.  The most glaring deficiency is the copycat similarity to the Stieg Larsson movies, especially the historical treatment of Nazi’s in the midst, where the storyline follows the investigations of a journalist who is uncovering dark secrets of the past.  The success of the Millennium series movies, which were also made-for-Swedish TV, was largely due to the novelesque detail of integrating an ugly part of history into a detective thriller along with extraordinary lead performances, where tension literally fills the air.  Here there is wonderful use of local scenery, but the direction lacks the flair to bring any energy and life to this drama, making it a safe and stereotyped movie that actually feels much longer than it is, where there are no harrowing scenes, instead becoming a rather conventional whodunit that won’t surprise anybody. 


The Hidden Child at Gene Siskel Film Center , Chicago on The   Marty Rubin

With Claudia Galli, Richard Ulfsäter THE HIDDEN CHILD is the first film adapted from the work of mystery writer Camilla Läckberg, who outsells Stieg Larsson in their native Sweden. Erica Falck, a best-selling author married to a policeman, has just had her first baby when her parents (in a hair-raising scene) are killed in an auto accident. Soon afterward, a man shows up claiming to be Erica’s half-brother and is found murdered a few days later. Discovering her mother’s diary, Erica follows an increasingly dangerous trail that points toward a 1943 gathering of Nazi collaborators, some of whom are still very much alive. Stunningly photographed in coastal locations, Per Hanefjord’s film weaves multiple perspectives and different time-frames into an intricate web that keeps us guessing up to the very end. In Swedish , Norwegian, German, and English with English subtitles. DCP digital courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.


The Nordic thriller is turning out to be one of Sweden’s finest exports and THE HIDDEN CHILD is no exception. Based on a true story  adapted from Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka novels, this is Swedish helmer Per Hanefjord’s second feature finely shot in the bleak seascape of  Västra Götelands Iän. Marek Wieser’s atmospheric widescreen visuals and strong performances from leads Claudia Galli Concha (Erica) and Jan Malmsjo (Axel) will appeal to fans of ‘Borgen’ and ‘Wallander’.

It opens with a cosy family scene where young writer Erica Falck has just given birth to her first child surrounded by her policer officer husband Patrick and loving parents. Minutes later they are killed in a tragic car crash leaving the couple free to move into their Ikea-furnished home with its attractive seaside setting.  But not everything in this garden is rosy:  a middle-aged man named Göran turns up claiming to be her brother. Erica later discovers a Nazi medallion in the attic, along with wartime newspaper cuttings prompting her to investigate her mother’s mysterious past and a group of wartime friends who may have also been enemies.

Per Hanefjord’s good-looking but sombre thriller moves along as speedily as a SAAB; almost losing control of its pacing but confidently handling a fractured narrative told from various viewpoints with well-crafted wartime flashbacks punctuated by Magnus Jarlbo’s suspenseful, original score.

Enfused with popular themes of Nazism and the Holocaust, THE HIDDEN CHILD is a gripping and immersive insight into Swedish and Norwegian wartime history and the concentration camps of Grini and Sachsenhausen, set against the life of a modern couple in current-day Sweden. MT

The Hidden Child - Nordic Film Festival | www.filmjuice.comww  Dan Clay

Though the likes of Apt Pupil and The Debt are keen to hint that the most ordinary seeming of people could be former Nazi war criminals, that hasn’t stopped others from pursuing the same theme. This time, Swedish screenwriter and director Per Hanefjord brings Camilla Läckberg’s novel to life, hinting that the most troubling of secrets can emerge after you’ve gone.

When her parents are killed in a car crash, author and new mother herself Erica (Claudia Galli) gets a visit from a man claiming to be her brother. When he’s murdered not long after she discovers her mother’s diary, some Nazi memorabilia and secrets which had been kept hidden away for decades.

It’s only as Erica begins to investigate her mother’s past and a group of friends she associated with back then, that some of those friends, now aged start turning up dead. Clearly something that happened in the past has repercussions for the present.

A shame then that this rather workmanlike thriller never really intrigues or excites as much as its premise might suggest. Saddled with a frankly humourless and dull lead, The Hidden Child never leaps off the screen in much the same manner as Ron Howard’s lengthy and expository Da Vinci Code.

The plot may zip between the present and the past (helpfully signposted with a sun-kissed brown sepia-like haze) but too often it sags, only coming to life when another character and potential lead kicks the bucket in Erica’s presence. Why no-one suspects her then remains a mystery of course; although Jessica Fletcher, Morse and co all evaded suspicion for their ‘grim reaper’ presence too.

So while all the pieces of a decent murder-mystery are there – including a suitably grey-palette Nordic landscape – and the performances generally solid, Hanefjord’s rather pedestrian pacing means that come the finale we’ve either lost track of who we’re rooting for or the desire to find out who did it and why anyway.

My Movie Reviews: My Review: The Hidden Child (5/10)  Esteban Gonzalez

The Hidden Child is a Swedish film directed by Per Hanefjord based on Camilla Lackberg's 2007 best selling crime novel. It is actually Lackberg's fifth novel in the series based on Erika Falck and Patrik Hedstrom's crime investigations in their native Swedish town of Fjallbacka. I have personally never read any of these novels, but the tone and style of the film reminded me a lot of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy because they both try to uncover a crime that occurred several decades ago. The story and the mystery worked well, but the major problem I had with this film had to do with the characters that had no depth to them whatsoever. Every character was simply introduced to move the story forward and even the main character had no personal trait other than that of a detective. The story was gripping and engaging, but the characters I could care less for. The Hidden Child is a decent film, but one that I wouldn't recommend.

When Erika's (Claudia Galli Concha) parents pass away after a tragic car accident, a mysterious man shows up at their home claiming to be Erika's half-brother. Erika's mother never mentioned anything about having another son, so she doesn't believe him and asks him to leave. The next day the man is found dead in his hotel room and Erika decides to investigate more about her mother's past. She discovers her journal and finds some secrets about her past. Patrik (Richard Ulfsater), Erika's husband, is a police officer who confirms the DNA results that in fact this man was Erika's half-brother. Together they begin trying to find leads as to who might have murdered this man, and Erika begins by interviewing some of her mother's old friends that she mentioned in her journal. While the investigation continues several bodies begin to pile up as everything seems to be connected to her mother's past during the Second World War. Apparently someone is trying to keep the past hidden in the dark and doesn't want Erika to uncover the past. 

Claudia Galli gives a strong lead performance despite not having much to work with. She simply does her detective work without any distinct personality and gets the story moving forward in a rather fast pace. The film is told in flashbacks through the memory of the characters she interviews. The rest of the characters are all pretty much flat as well and there is nothing memorable about them. The story is gripping and engaging, but the characters are far from it. Half way through the film it becomes rather predictable as to how the mystery is going to unfold so that was a bit of  letdown. The scenery in this film was quite beautiful as it was filmed almost entirely on location. This could have been a better film if the characters were given some more depth and not just introduced to move along the story.

The Hidden Child | Peace & Love Film Festival


Thrill Me Softly [Stefan Hedmark]


THE HIDDEN CHILD presented by Nordic Film Festival (UK)


Fjallbacka, Sweden: The quiet town that inspired Camilla Lackber  Steve Vickers from The Washington Post, June 1, 2012


The Hidden Child - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Camilla Läckberg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Fjällbacka Murders - Wikipedia


Haneke, Michael

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]  (excerpt) 

There's no better filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke—no one more rigorous, no one more provocative, and certainly no one more in command of an audience's emotions—yet for these very reasons, respect and gravitas haven't always been forthcoming. A prude among sensualists on the film-festival circuit, Haneke is an unsparing moralist who dares to criticize viewers while offering them a singularly unpleasant moviegoing experience. His recent hit Caché may be his most accessible work to date, perhaps because its mysteries are more conventionally inviting, but even it left behind a residue of shock and puzzlement. More common are films like The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, and Funny Games, four disquieting early efforts about the atrocities that occur when people become detached from their own humanity. (edit. –this entire article may be seen below under 71 FRAGMENTS)

Haneke, Michael  from World Cinema

Austrian director and scriptwriter. A stage director, scriptwriter and director of television films since 1970, Haneke emerged in the 1990s as Austrian cinema's most significant talent internationally, with his bleak but compelling vision of the end of civilization. He made his mark early on with a number of television films which portray isolated individuals and understated relationships in a style reminiscent of Robert Bresson—such as Sperrmüll (1976), Lemminge (1979, two parts) and Wer war Edgar Allen? (1984). In 1989, he introduced a new aesthetic paradigm in Austrian cinema with his first feature Der Siebte Kontinent / The Seventh Continent (1989), which depicts with relentless logic the journey to collective suicide of a middle-class Viennese family. It was followed by Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (1994), forming a trilogy around the theme of narcissism, abjection and the coldness of personal contacts in the age of video, and portraying—through a disciplined, sparse style—what he has called "my country's emotional glaciation." 

— Andrea Lang, Encylopedia of European Cinema

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Michael Haneke likes to see you squirm. The Austrian cineaste's Caché (Hidden) was a surprise art-house hit earlier this year, and it's a textbook demonstration of Haneke's skills. The story of a haughty TV intellectual (Daniel Auteuil) who is terrorized by a series of surveillance videotapes, the movie expertly manipulates the audience's uncertainty. From the first shot onward, it's hard, and sometimes impossible, to tell if we're watching an ordinary scene or one of Auteuil's tapes, and so we often don't know how we're supposed to react to what we're watching. Are we supposed to imagine Auteuil and his wife (Juliette Binoche, in an appalling series of sack dresses) somewhere outside the frame, looking on with mounting horror as they realize how much of their life has been observed unawares? Or are we supposed to assume our habitual position, looking on unobserved, guiltlessly?

As the new DVDs of his first four features demonstrate, Haneke has been putting audiences uncomfortably face to face with such questions since the very beginning. In Benny's Video (1992), a teenage boy obsessed with horror movies and video equipment passionlessly murders a young girl while the camera looks on unblinking, while Funny Games (1997) follows an even more horrific crime with an unbroken, practically unending shot, in which the surviving victims of a horrific home invasion limp to their feet and wail out their grief. These are things no sane person would wish to see, and yet it's impossible to tear yourself away.

If Haneke can't be said to make horror movies, it's only because he rigorously rids his movies of the escape valves that make butchery easy to watch; there's no self-referential humor, little or no musical score, and none of the Pavlovian editing that pushes our reponses this way and that. Make no mistake: Haneke wants to manipulate our emotions. He just doesn't want to get caught doing it.

The Seventh Continent (1989), Haneke's first theatrical feature, is a formidable, assured and chilling depiction of middle-class anomie. The director's desire to alienate audience from subject couldn't be more plain: It's nearly 10 minutes before we get the first identifiable glimpse of any of the characters' faces. Instead, Haneke carves disassociated tableaux from their daily routine: hands working a coffeemaker or cereal spilling into a bowl. The effect is at once mundane and unbearably intense, an unbroken rhythm that becomes dizzyingly uncomfortable. (Sustained rhythm is critical to Haneke's art, so if you're watching these at home, I suggest turning off the phone and hiding the remote.) Moving forward a year, Haneke repeats the same events, and repeats them again, until the family's explosive response to their circle of tedium starts to seem like a natural conclusion.

Boredom produces equally violent results in Benny's Video, in which a teenage boy murders a young girl with a pig-killing gun because he wants "to see what it feels like." Again, Haneke keeps his distance. The central murder is filmed at a double remove, with a stationary camera focused on a video monitor, although Haneke encourages us to use our imagination. Benny confidently proclaims that movie violence is only "ketchup and plastic," but Haneke's largely bloodless approach (at least, until after the fact) is far more wrenching.

Still, the worst is yet to come. Funny Games is utterly brutal and entirely unnerving, the story of a family (as always, the statutory minimum of two parents and a single child) are held hostage by two soft-spoken, well-kept psychopaths (one of whom played the young murderer in Benny's Video). The two young men, who go by the names of various pop culture duos (Beavis and Butt-head, Tom and Jerry) insinuate their way into the family's lakefront house, and promptly shatter the father's leg with a golf club. What follows is nearly an hour of excruciating physical and psychological torture, culminating in the most devastating act in any of Haneke's films.

Unfortunately, Haneke squanders the blistering intensity of the movie's climax on a protracted final act. The killers start to address the audience, and the movie, which up to now has been Haneke's most conventionally suspenseful, consumes itself in a fit of self-referential smugness. The movie actively starts to attack its audience, as if to say, "What kind of asshole is still watching this thing?" Haneke himself seems to think there's something wrong with people who don't walk out. "Those who watch this movie until the end are the ones who need it," he says in an interview on the DVD.

The trouble with Haneke is that as biting (or, at least, as vicious) as his critiques of bourgeois complacency can be, he rarely turns that criticism on himself. There's no "we" in his movies, and when he tries to force one, as in the collective patchwork 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), the result is an abstract jigsaw puzzle whose pieces never fit together. Haneke is happy to exploit his audience's fascination with violence, and its desire to rationalize compulsive behavior, but he rarely seems to confront his own longings. It's why he could so blithely dismiss the question of who sent Caché's mysterious videotapes, leaving only an easy-to-miss hint that poses more questions than it answers. To him, it's all a game, and any sucker who plays deserves what he gets.

More Than a Master of Everyday Horror  Bronwyn Jones from the High Hat


The French call Michael Haneke “Le Cineaste d’Horreur Ordinaire”: the master of everyday horror. While this is true in a large sense, it fails to capture the nuances of his work. Many people would compare him to discomfort-inducing filmmakers like Lars von Trier, whose subversion of film conventions to provoke and often anger the audience seems quite like Haneke’s attempts in movies like Funny Games and Benny’s Videos. However, Haneke’s targets tend to be more complex than von Trier’s (at least until von Trier’s Dogville), and have not gone for a blithe deconstruction of easy targets. Rather, what makes Haneke’s films compelling but disturbing are their deconstruction of societal mores and politesse. He pulls back the curtain on these tropes and allows us to see what really holds them up and what we really think. In a world where rebellion and taboo have become clichés and, worse yet, marketing terms, Haneke shows us what honest rebellion and taboo-breaking really mean and what the consequences of those acts really are. He avoids the easy road of complete and utter cynicism seen in many films today.
Lately, Haneke has become an even more complex thinker in his films. As a director, he is similar to Polanski in the way he allows his films to unfold seductively, naturally and smoothly. He allows his actors to carry the most difficult emotional aspects, and recently, in films like The Piano Teacher and The Time of The Wolf, Isabelle Huppert has become his muse.
At the same time, he experiments with conventions to make a cogent point. In Funny Games, a family is under siege from a couple of boys who want to kill them for fun. When the mother shoots one of her attackers, the act is immediately undercut by the other attacker, who grabs a TV remote and “rewinds” the film we’re watching, giving himself a chance to reorder events and reclaim the upper hand. He overpowers her and continues his torture of her and her family, taking any sense of comfort and relief away from the audience. It’s one of Haneke’s cruelest moments; he inflicts a taste of the family’s torture on the audience not through the violence, which in his films is always off-screen, but through the sense of emotional horrors that the protagonists are suffering. Why do these boys decide to torture and kill this particular family? The irrationality is terrifying. The viewer, like the family, is at the mercy of the senseless.
In The Piano Teacher, Isabelle Huppert plays a Viennese piano instructor who has emotionally repressed herself to the extent that only the most violent and abusive acts can bring an emotional response out of her. She embarks on a disastrous relationship with a student. While the novel on which this film is a critique of the Viennese middle class and the class structure in Austria as a whole, Haneke, as in many of his films, avoids the political and remains focused on the emotional. He recognizes that emotions drive the body politic rather than the other way around. As a result, The Piano Teacher is less a suspense or horror show than it is an expression of humanity desperately screaming out to be recognized. When it is not, it is destroyed.
Code Inconnu (“Code Unknown”) is his most sociological picture. Where his other films remained within the personal, this film critiques Western European society as racist and unfulfilling. Lives intersect and move in and out of each other, almost anonymously, but the film asks whether, separated from the travails of its eastern and southern neighbors by the luck of rich capitalism and relative stability, Western Europeans can afford to live deeply inside Fortress Europe. The infidels have already arrived. Even the liberal, tolerant and open Juliette Binoche is forced to face her own demons when attacked by Arab youths on the Metro.
The code that is unknown is the code not spoken, one that drives our differences and similarities: the lack of acknowledgement of basic humanity in others. In other words, we hide behind societal mores, politesse and manners rather than confront realities. When Binoche’s character’s husband returns home from covering the conflict in Kosovo, he cannot feel comfortable anymore, because all he sees now are the hypocrisies of Western society. His dip into a torn-down society has spoiled him in a sense, because humanity and reality are all explicit and upfront. Life in a state of chaos is about the basics and it has a thrill, a sense of meaning and purpose. His life in Paris has no such purpose; it is all hidden by lies.
The Time of The Wolf is Haneke’s latest film, and it continues his development as an observer of the political upon the personal. A horrible event has happened, but the movie never shows exactly what it is. A family goes to their country retreat and finds another family living there; the patriarch of the interlopers holds a gun upon them. From this premise, Haneke imposes a complete societal breakdown and a stripping away of all that keeps us rational. He asks whether we can keep our humanity under such circumstances, and what kind of humanity can emerge. As society is being destroyed, all of its demons, specifically class and racism, rise up again — even though rationally, at this point, they no longer matter. Clearly, these events are not new, and societal implosions of the kind that Haneke depicts happen every day in many countries (though usually not in the West), but, at the same time, senseless acts of kindness occur as well. It is Haneke’s most optimistic film, even if it seems to be advocating a kind of complete destruction of society in order to rebuild something that is fair and honest.
It’s this sense of optimism that keeps Haneke from falling into the all too familiar role of the cynical filmmaker, merely breaking the dishes for the sound of it. He truly loves his characters, despite how flawed or predatory they may be, and imbues them with strength and beauty, giving them all a complexity and depth that belies their faults and allows the audience to appreciate the complete character even more.
Ultimately, Haneke’s message comes down to this: in The Time of The Wolf, a young girl writes a letter to her dead father, communicating her hopes, dreams, loneliness, and fears in the midst of what can only be described as hell. Her letter carries such emotional clarity and beauty that the viewer knows the gorgeous fullness of the human spirit will rise above the senseless, irrational and baser parts of ourselves.


All-Movie Guide  Jason Buchanan


Central Europe Review - Film: Michael Haneke - Transitions Online   De-icing the Emotions, Michael Haneke’s retrospective in London by Andrew J. Horton, October 26, 1998, also seen here:  Central Europe Review - Film: Michael Haneke


BFI | Sight & Sound | Code Unknown (2000)  Richard Falcon from BFI Sight and Sound, May 2001


CER | Austrian Film: Michael Haneke's Code inconnu   Locked Out!  Michael Haneke’s Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (2000), by Andrew James Horton from Central Europe Review, May 28, 2001


Funny Games   Stefan Herrmann, December 7, 2001


Undoing Oedipus: Feminism and Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher   John Champagne from Bright Lights Film Journal, April 1, 2002


Alienation and Perversion: Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher ...     Maria van Dijk from Bright Lights Film Journal, April 1, 2002


The French Connection to Michael Haneke's Benny's Video - Cinetext   Supermodernity, Capital, and Narcissus: The French Connection to Michael Haneke’s Benny's Video, by Mattias Frey, September 28, 2002


RealTime Arts - Magazine - issue 53 - Visions, illusions and delusions    Visions, illusions and delusions by Peter Sainsbury, February/March 2003


Do the Right Thing: the Films of Michael Haneke • Senses of Cinema   Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema, May 22, 2003


Between Action and Repression: The Piano Teacher • Senses of ...   Nina Hutchison from Senses of Cinema, May 22, 2003


Kinoeye | Vol 4.01, 8 Mar 2004 | Michael Haneke    A slap in the face, The films and philosophy of Michael Haneke from Kinoeye, March 1, 2004  


Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Seventh Continent   Michael Haneke’s Der siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent, 1989), by Adam Binham from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Benny's Video   Michael Haneke’s Benny’s Video (1993), by Brigitte Peucker from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Funny Games   Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), by Tarja Laine from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


The horror of the middle class - Kinoeye    Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001), by Christopher Sharrett from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Le Temps du loup    Long night’s journey into day, Michael Haneke’s Le Temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf, 2003) by Adam Binham from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


The Seventh Continent • Senses of Cinema  Christopher Starrett, February 8, 2005


Modern Times: Notes Toward a Reading of Michael Haneke's 71 ...   Modern Times: Notes Toward a Reading of Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), by Adam Bingham from Senses of Cinema, February 8, 2005


The Time of the Wolf • Senses of Cinema  William “Bill” Blick from Senses of Cinema, February 8, 2005


Funny Games • Senses of Cinema   Chris Justice from Senses of Cinema, February 8, 2005


Endgame: Michael Haneke's Cache - Film Comment   The paranoid universe of Michael Haneke, by Paul Arthur from Film Comment, November/December 2005


A. O. Scott, 'A Nice Middle Class Couple with their own Stalker [on Caché]', New York Times, December 23, 2005


BFI | Sight & Sound | Secrets, Lies & Videotape  Catherine Wheatley, February 2006


A Crumpled Piece of Paper - Like Anna Karina's Sweater  A Crumpled Piece of Paper: Scattered & Inconsequential Musings on Code Unknown, by Filmbrain, February 12, 2006


Zach Campbell, 'Blog-a-thon: Code Inconnu', Elusive Lucidity, February 12, 2006


Dipanjan's Random Muses: Haneke's optimism   February 13, 2006


The Evening Class: Blogathon No. 2: Michael Haneke's Code Unknown  Michael Guillen, February 13, 2006


Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule: CODE UNKNOWN and CRASH ...   Dennis Cozzalio, February 13, 2006


Code Unknown (2000) – Long Pauses  Darren Hughes, February 13, 2006


February 13, 2006 - Drifting: A Director's Log:   Following [On Code Unknown], by David Lowery, February 13, 2006


Christine Evans, 'Cache', UBCinephile, Volume 2, March 2006  (pdf)


Cache | Film Quarterly   Ara Osterweil, June 1, 2006


RealTime Arts - Magazine - issue 75 - Hidden: a film for our time   Hamish Ford, October/November 2006


the current state of Austrian cinema Trouble in the Hothouse, by Christoph Huber from Fipresci magazine, November 2006


Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006, also seen here:  Films of Michael Haneke by Justin Vicari - Jump Cut


Lost World: Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf Reconsidered - Bright ...   Ian Johnston from Bright Lights Film Journal, May 1, 2007


Minister of Fear  Michael Haneke has built a career out of making violent movies with an unexpected victim — the audience, by John Wray from The New York Times, September 23, 2007


Downcast Eyes. Michael Haneke and the Cinema of ... - Nordicom  12-page essay, Downcast Eyes, Michael Haneke and the Cinema of Intrusion, by Asbjørn Grønstad, 2008 (pdf


The New Order: Madness in Cinema of Michael Haneke  18-page essay by Oliver Speck from Crime and Madness in Modern Austria: Myth, Metaphor and Cultural Realities, 2008 (pdf)


How Do you Think it Feels  Lee Hill from Vertigo magazine, March 2008


Fun and Games: On Michael Haneke's 2007 Remake of His 1997 ...  Daniel Hui from Bright Lights Film Journal, July 31, 2008


Caché - Videoed roundtable discussion of Michael Haneke's film with Roy Grundman, Edward Nersessian, Brigitte Peucker, Brian Price, and Garrett Stewart (1hr25), Philoctetes Center   November 19, 2008, Video (85:15)


CACHÉ AND THE SECRET IMAGE KARTIK NAIR - Wide Screen Journ   5-page essay, Kartik Nair from Wide Screen Journal, April 2009  (pdf)


Cannes 2009: Portrait of a Small Town on the Eve of World War I in ...   Cannes 2009: Portrait of a Small Town on the Eve of World War I in Germany ("White Ribbon," Haneke), by Daniel Kasman from Mubi Notebook, May 22, 2009


Cahiers2Cinéma: Michael Haneke: A Ribbon of Links  articles and links, October 6, 2009


Funny Games Funny Games | Spectacular Attractions  Dan North, October 15, 2009


Hari Kunzru assesses the films of Michael Haneke | Film | The Guardian   Hari Kunzru, October 30, 2009


What Michael Haneke owes to Kafka | Peter Bradshaw - The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw, November 5, 2009


Thomas Elsaesser, "Performative Self-Contradictions Michael Haneke's Mind Games," in Roy Grundmann (ed), A Companion to Michael Haneke (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) 22-page essay by Thomas Elsaesser, 2010  (pdf)


The Mumpsimus: Robin Wood on Michael Haneke   January 17, 2010


Algeria Deferred: The Logic of Trauma in Muriel and Caché  15-page essay by Matthew Croombs, February 2010 (pdf)


Mutable Sound » Michael Haneke's Perverse Cinema   Luther Phillips, April 13, 2010


Film Studies For Free: Michael Haneke Studies: videos, podcasts and ...  various articles and links, June 26, 2010


Catherine Grant, "True Likeness: Peeping Tom and Code Unknown", Filmanalytical, June 26, 2010 


Michael Haneke • Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema  Mattias Frey from Senses of Cinema, originally August 2003, updated and revised December 20, 2010  


Michael Haneke | Code inconnu: Récit incomplete de divers voyages  Douglas Messerli from International Cinema Review, February 4, 2011


La Pianiste: Michael Haneke's Aesthetic of Disavowal - Bright Lights ...   Mark Chapman from Bright Lights Film Journal, October 31, 2011


A Post-Humanist Moralist? Michael Haneke's Cinematic Critique ...  16-page essay by Robert Sinnerbrink, January 4, 2012 (pdf)


Caché: The Specter of Colonialism and the Politics of Guilt in Mich…    The Return of the Other: The Specter of Colonialism and the Politics of Guilt in Michael Haneke’s Caché, by Rachel Victoria Richmond, April 29, 2012   (pdf)


1 Ambivalence and Displacement in Michael Haneke's Caché Mary ...   Ambivalence and Displacement in Michael Haneke’s Caché, 12-page essay by Mary Caputi, October 2012  (pdf)


The Cinema of Michael Haneke, Ben McCann & David Sorfa • book ...  Richard Martin book review of The Uses of Guilt: The Cinema of Michael Haneke: Europe Utopia, edited by Ben McCann and David Sorfa from Senses of Cinema, November 3,  2012


Love, Death, Truth – Amour - Senses of Cinema   Roy Grundmann, December 10, 2012


The Brooklyn Rail: Jaap Verheul   December 10, 2012


Amour and the Fate of the European Film Industry | New Republic   James Farago, February 22, 2013 


The Quietus | Film | Film Reviews | Challenge Haneke: Amour ...   Tony McKiver, March 18, 2013


Serious Film: Cavell, Automatism and Michael Haneke's <em>Caché ...   Lisa Trahair from Screening the Past, December 2013


Haneke, Michael  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They


Director Michael Haneke talks sadomasochism | Film | The Guardian   Stuartt Jeffries interview, May 24, 2001


indieWIRE Interview  by Scott Foundas, December 4, 2001


Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke interviewed  The World That Is Known, Christopher Sharrett interviews Haneke from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


Karin Badt, 'Family Is Hell and So Is the World: Talking to Michael Haneke at Cannes 2005', Bright Lights Films Journal, Issue 50, November 2005  Karin Badt interview, November 1, 2005


Dominik Kamalzadeh for Die Tageszeitung, 'Interview "Cowardly and comfortable" Michael Haneke's new film "Cache" on France's colonial history investigates the point where private and collective guilt spill over into each other', Signand, January 2006


The Eisenman-Haneke Tapes - Icon Magazine   Peter Eisenman interview with Haneke, January 2008


The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke interviewed | Film | The Guardian  Elizabeth Day interview, October 24, 2009


Michael Haneke Interview: Uncut - Film Comment  Alexander Horwath interview from Film Comment, November/December 2009


Ranked 22nd on The Guardian's 2004 List of the World's 40 Best Directors


THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (Der Siebente Kontinent)

Austria  (90 mi)  1989


Talking Pictures [Howard Schumann]

"For what possible end to these wastes where true light never was, nor any upright thing, nor any true foundation, but only these leaning things, forever lapsing and crumbling away, beneath a sky without memory of morning or hope of night."  Samuel Beckett

Arguably, no greater cinematic interpreter of alienation exists in the world today than Austrian director Michael Haneke. Haneke shows us characters whose response to the world around them has deadened, people who have forgotten how to feel, how to love, how to care. The Seventh Continent, the first film of the trilogy that, with Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), depicts what Haneke has called "my country's emotional glaciation." Based on a true story of the disintegration of a middle class Austrian family, the film has little plot, only incident and observation. Divided into three parts and shot in episodic fragments, as in his 2002 film Code Unknown, each fragment is tenuously connected by fadeouts in which scenes start and end abruptly. A mood of banality is established early in an extended sequence in which a car moves through a car wash showing all the details of detergent sprays, high-pressure washers, and rotating brushes. At the end of the car wash is a travel poster beckoning tourists to visit Australia with a peaceful scene of sand and water, a motif that is repeated periodically during the film.

The Schobers, husband George (Dieter Berner), wife Anna (Birgit Doll), and daughter Eva (Leni Tanzer), are the happily married family living next door. George is an engineer and Anna an optician. Eva is a bright child of about eight with deep, expressive eyes. The family moves through their morning ritual with precision -- brushing their teeth, feeding the fish, and eating breakfast with little conversation or emotional interaction. The camera avoids their faces, focusing on mundane objects such as a bowl of cereal, an alarm clock, a fish tank, a package of congealed broccoli. This preoccupation with objects underscores the lack of connection between the characters and the things they have acquired. We get our first hint that something is not right when Eva pretends to her teacher that she has lost her eyesight. Anna questions her about the incident, promising not to harm her if she tells the truth but, when Eva admits to the lie, suddenly slaps her across the face ignoring the fact that she is a very troubled little girl. It is from here that the cracks begin to widen. 

Depicting ritualistic actions like counting of money at a supermarket, the distractions of television, the meaninglessness of work, the film reflects the powerlessness and isolation of people in modern society. Haneke chronicles a family enslaved to the structures they have created, operating in a morass of emotional vacuity. The first hour may seem slow but it builds considerable tension until it reaches a shattering climax. Little by little the family disengages. George quits his job and writes letters to his parents hinting of something dark about to happen. In the absence of a spiritual core, without the possibility of meaningful action, the family sinks deeper into an abyss, unraveling and discarding the tightly woven structures of their life. Similar in theme to Todd Haynes' 1995 film Safe but with three times the power, The Seventh Continent is a ruthlessly intelligent film that burns its way into your psyche, leaving an indelible mark that will forever haunt your dreams. 

Cinematic Reflections (Derek Smith)

SPOILER WARNING: Important events occurring in the third act will be mentioned in this review.  In this case, I don't feel that knowing the outcome beforehand would, in any way, effect how one views the film, but if you'd rather not know, please do not read until after seeing it.

Michael Haneke's debut film The Seventh Continent, the first of his "emotional glaciation" trilogy,  is a stunning examination of the effects of emotional isolation and the inability to communicate in the modern age.  Here Haneke focuses on the family unit, using a true story he read in a newspaper about a families group suicide as the springboard for his structuralist study of modernity.  The opening shot of the man and his wife sitting still and silent in their car as it passes through an automated car wash is one of the film's many recurring images of cleansing and routine.  For the first 10 minutes or so, we see no character's face straight-on as they are either obscured or framed to show only arms and torsos.  The effect of this technique, reminiscent of Robert Bresson (one of Haneke's major influences), is disorienting at first, but is extremely effective at presenting the characters as the sum total of their routines and interactions with technology.  It's a cold and clinical approach that strips the characters of all individuality outside of their actions and while this doesn't present "the whole story", the film's first act manages to inform us about the process of dehumanization that eventually leads to the horrific finale without explicitly trying to explain it.

The Bressonian style is incredibly effective in forming abstractions in the domestic space, where freedom to roam or congregate with the family is eliminated and people are confined to areas where they perform their daily tasks.  Haneke isolates these instances of repetition throughout, both in the home and in the couple's respective workplaces, in order to stress their tyranny not in one instance, but of the pattern over the course of time.  The framing of segmented bodies suggests a constant detachment while performing these actions - everything from feeding fish to making coffee and eating dinner takes on a similar quality to the automated car wash.  Existence for this family consists of numerous involuntary, yet seemingly necessary actions, that despite their efforts to reform and escape after their daughter pretending to be blind at school brings about an unwelcome fit of self-reflectivity, they find destruction to be their only logical route.  Just as their inability to cope with modern living is expressed by the cumulative dehumanization of senseless repetition and routine, their demise occurs in the same frighteningly methodical way.  It is here, in the final act, that it becomes truly sickening that the events are based on an actual occurrence.  The husband quits his job and after removing all of their money from the bank, they begin destroying everything they own.  The destruction of possessions is clearly a catharsis for the family - less so for the daughter who seems to perform her tasks as an automaton out of pure duty to obey her parents, until she lets out one final shriek when she finds her fish flopping helplessly on the floor - but also a form of rebellion against the restrictions of their bourgeois life.  Haneke has said that the image of all their cash being flushed down the toilet was one of the parts which most disturbed audiences upon it's release and it still remains potent today.  Such an action can only be seen as a blatant attack on the moral bankruptcy (no pun intended) of the capitalist system and more than food, water and air, money is the crucial element of survival in the modern world.  By highlighting the horror of seeing the family destroy their home and possessions, the value society places on material things is stressed to the point that these actions are nearly as disturbing as the suicides themselves.  The objective approach to the story helps to avoid any preachiness, yet the cumulative effect of the film, especially the gut-wrenching final act, is one that is nothing short of frightening.

Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Seventh Continent   Michael Haneke’s Der siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent, 1989), by Adam Binham from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


The Seventh Continent • Senses of Cinema  Christopher Starrett, February 8, 2005


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]


Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Ian Johnston]


Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce] DVD review [Pam Grady]


DVD Outsider  Slarek


DVD Times  Noel Megahey


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]


The Seventh Continent   Acquarello from Strictly Film School


The New York Times (Caryn James)



Austria  Switzerland  (105 mi)  1992
Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

People seem divided by the second film (1992) in Michael Haneke's deadpan, low-key Austrian trilogy (after The Seventh Continent, before 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance), about affectless contemporary violence. Some consider it an essential document of our time, while others (myself included) regard it as a letdown after its predecessor--overly familiar in its themes, though still somewhat potent in its depiction of an alienated 14-year-old boy from a well-to-do family who's preoccupied with video technology and winds up commiting a monstrous act. In some ways, the portrait of his parents is even more chilling. In German with subtitles. 105 min. (Chuck Aliaga)

One of the more difficult directors to fully grasp, Michael Haneke, is, nevertheless, one of the most interesting auteurs in the international film circuit. His most recent movies (The Piano Teacher, Caché) have really put him on the map, in a global sense, but it's his earlier works where the filmmaker truly shines. Beginning with his first feature, The Seventh Continent, Haneke has given us some of the most haunting moments on film. His unique, meticulously paced films can be very difficult to sit through, as they often feature extremely realistic, brutal imagery. 1992's Benny's Video, only Haneke's second feature, is no different, and raised the bar for what he could accomplish.

It's a stirring portrait of the title character (Arno Frisch), a young boy who spends most of his time watching his enormous, very odd videotape collection. One video features a pig being killed by an electroshock gun. Benny can't get enough of this footage, slowing it down to watch the pig's final moments over and over again. He also frequents the local video store, where he invites an unnamed girl (Ingrid Stassner) back to his place. While the two are getting to know each other (and Benny's video collection), they decide to take a closer look at the same electroshock gun that felled the pig. If what I've told you about the director made any impression, you won't be surprised that it doesn't go well from there.

The above only describes about the first 20 minutes, but any further plot description would give away far too much. Haneke's intimate filmmaking style practically has us in the room with Benny at all times, experiencing the dramatic turn that his life takes right along with him. Again, this is extremely tough material to experience, even in the comfort of your living room, but those of us who have been around the bend with Michael Haneke before know what we're getting ourselves into.

While not as downright shocking as many of the moments in Haneke's brilliant Funny Games, the critical event near the beginning will stay with the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Much of this sequence takes place out of frame, but what we can see comes via Benny's video camera, and what we hear is even more unsettling. The consequences of this event, as well as the viewer's memories of its specifics, resonate throughout the rest of the story. Part of Haneke's genius is his ability to place such a powerful, life-changing event at the beginning of the film, when such a thing is usually reserved for the finale, or, at the latest, the half-way point. Where many filmmakers would have struggled to make the rest of their film competent, let alone entertaining, Benny's Video gets better as it goes on, becoming a tight study in potential madness and the lengths that parents will go to for their children.

A young Arno Frisch (one of the intruders in Funny Games) is well beyond his years as Benny. It's amazing how a role requiring so little dialogue can be so powerful, especially from such a youngster. While Benny's parents, played by Angela Winkler and Ulrich Mühe, stay mostly in the background and are arguably part of the protagonist's underlying problem, they eventually play a huge part in the story's outcome. Winkler plays vulnerable and motherly as well as any top-notch Hollywood actress, while Mühe takes his white collar character and turns convention on its head. I'm eager to see if Haneke has done it again with Caché, but after his masterpiece, Funny Games, Benny's Video runs a close second in his amazing body of work.

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson]

Benny's Video is a smug, contemptuous, passive-aggressive attack on the dehumanizing effects of media, without even the common decency to offer shrill sensationalism to punch up its subsequently feckless, reactionary, pomo assertions. Benny is a young, slate-faced neo-Nazi-to-be who checks out at least one violent video from the corner rental outlet every day. The desk in his room (in his parents' swank high-rise condo) is so completely covered with a makeshift video-editing bay that he does his homework lying in bed while blankly watching Hollywood carnage. His favorite video, though, is a nasty piece of piggy snuff he shot himself while on holiday with his parents at their country ranch: a jumpy one-shot affair in which farmhands lead a hog out into the open and terminate it with what seems to be a .30 caliber pellet gun.

Maybe it's the cold-blooded efficiency of the slaughter that appeals to Benny and causes him to hypnotically rewind the footage over and over again, and maybe it's the blunt force of the murder instrument that gives him a case of sticky fingers, but eventually the time comes for him to film a sequel. Having no pigs available back in the city, he invites a pudgy, pink young girl he often spies frequenting the video store up to his room, trains the camera on a master shot and shows her the losing end of the tube-shaped gun's barrel. Haneke films the scene as he subsequently would most of Caché and The Time of the Wolf, both infinitely more intriguing films that tiptoe tipsily along the eschatological line between nihilism and a liberating sort of insane hope. That is to say, he films it with the sort of poker face that Jonathan Rosenbaum once wrote about observing in Brian De Palma as he watched an audience ride out Dressed to Kill's museum chase scene. It's a face that keeps its composure even as it all but gushes, "My, aren't we amused!" (Preferably in the voice of latter day Vincent Price, with "aren't" coming out as two syllables.)

I know that I wrestle with the question of being amused against being abused constantly when trying to reconcile my affection for the likes of De Palma (or, more to the point, Cannibal Holocaust), but Haneke's early works, climaxing with the utterly reprehensible albeit cathartic Funny Games, deploy both amusement and abuse in one-two fashion, usually at the precise moment where a little bit of the opposite effect would've gone a long way. What the fuck are we supposed to do with a polemical screed against the numbing effects of violence-saturated media that insistently keeps its captive audience as numb as its characters? Are they expected to learn from Benny's example? Probably not. More than likely they're expected to empathize with Benny's shell-shocked parents as they attempt to clean up their pathological son's mess. Which, in the film's final scenes, reveals Haneke's undiluted bad faith in anyone stupid enough to take Benny's Video seriously. My advice to those up for the challenge is to repeatedly knock on your own skull and exclaim, "Think, McFly, think!" Otherwise risk a thousand paper cuts from the binding of Haneke's antiseptic dissertation.

Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Benny's Video   Michael Haneke’s Benny’s Video (1993), by Brigitte Peucker from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]


DVD Times  Noel Megahey


DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)


DVD Outsider  Slarek DVD review [Ken Dubois]


Cinematic Reflections (Derek Smith)


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]


Benny's Video   Acquarello from Strictly Film School 


VideoVista   Paul Higson


The New York Times (Stephen Holden)


71 FRAGMENTS OF A CHRONOLOGY OF CHANCE (71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls)

Austria  Germany  (96 mi)  1994


Time Out

As cool, cerebral and painstaking as Haneke's earlier Benny's Video, this fragmented account of numerous events leading up to or loosely linked with a seemingly motiveless murder never really gets very far beyond images of alienation, anxiety and frustration, but thanks to its awareness of how time's very passing affects us, the film weaves a persuasively hypnotic spell. Oddly, the structure, which unexpectedly makes for considerable suspense, suggests not chance but destiny, while the final news collage is a corrosive statement on how even the most extraordinary events are packaged and trivialised by the media.

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

A hot property since the success of Caché, Austrian director Michael Haneke enjoys a retro buttering up at Anthology, where this 1994 assault gets its long-lost U.S. theatrical release. (Kino DVD'd it and three other earlier Hanekes this year.) A weave narrative foreshadowing of the magisterial Code Unknown, 71 Frags states flat-out that it will culminate with an impromptu public massacre (based, like other Haneke scenarios, on a news item). The movie's structure is not coyly serendipitous, but mercilessly and unironically matter-of-fact—we glimpse, in simple setups bookended by blackouts, a couple attempting a disastrous adoption, an old pensioner resigning himself to an empty life, a refugee boy surviving on the street, sallow parents coping with a sick infant, a student buying a stolen gun. (As with Caché, the world's televised news haunts the background.) The film's Endsville, when we reach it, is almost an anticlimax, thanks to the masterfully orchestrated ensemble acting and the countless dramatic mini-explosions unleashed along the way.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

There's no better filmmaker in the world than Michael Haneke—no one more rigorous, no one more provocative, and certainly no one more in command of an audience's emotions—yet for these very reasons, respect and gravitas haven't always been forthcoming. A prude among sensualists on the film-festival circuit, Haneke is an unsparing moralist who dares to criticize viewers while offering them a singularly unpleasant moviegoing experience. His recent hit Caché may be his most accessible work to date, perhaps because its mysteries are more conventionally inviting, but even it left behind a residue of shock and puzzlement. More common are films like The Seventh Continent, Benny's Video, 71 Fragments Of A Chronology Of Chance, and Funny Games, four disquieting early efforts about the atrocities that occur when people become detached from their own humanity.

New to DVD, the first three comprise Haneke's so-called "glaciation trilogy." Each one negotiates the fine line between civilization and barbarism, which is breached when society's rules break down. Inspired by a true story, Haneke's frighteningly assured 1989 film-feature debut The Seventh Continent deals with the deterioration of an average middle-class family by focusing obsessively on mundane life details. As images and actions start repeating themselves, it becomes clear to the family (and to us) that their lives are little more than a collection of routines, without joy or meaning. The conclusion they reach is better left as a surprise, but suffice to say, the third act shifts gears completely.

Haneke's schoolmarm tendencies come to the surface in 1992's Benny's Video, which implicates the media for desensitizing people to violence. The film opens with home video of a pig getting shot by a butcher's gun, perhaps the most cherished footage in the sizeable collection of teenager Arno Frisch. What follows when Frisch shows the tape to an unknown girl isn't terribly surprising, but the unexpected aftermath deepens what might have been a Joe Lieberman speech writ large. The trilogy's conclusion, 1994's 71 Fragments, doesn't quite fit the "glaciation" theme, but it does show Haneke's willingness to experiment with the form and challenge the way audiences receive information. Though basically a warm-up to 2000's superior Code Unknown, the film's radical deconstruction of various narrative strands questions the way such information is delivered and received.

Though not officially part of the trilogy, 1998's Funny Games could be its summation; it's a masterful home-invasion thriller that's designed to drive people out of the theater. Failing that, it punishes them for staying. Haneke's relentlessly sadistic story of a bourgeois family tormented by two young psychos goes to extreme lengths to take the sensationalism out of violence. It succeeds by being deeply unsatisfying.

Modern Times: Notes Toward a Reading of Michael Haneke's 71 ...   Modern Times: Notes Toward a Reading of Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), by Adam Bingham from Senses of Cinema, February 8, 2005


Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Ian Johnston]


DVD Times  Noel Magahey


Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce] DVD review [Pam Grady]


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]


VideoVista      Jonathan McCalmont


DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)


New York Times (registration req'd)  Manohla Dargis

THE CASTLE (Das Schloß) – made for TV

Germany  Austria  (123 mi)  1997

User reviews from imdb Author: vicentiugarbacea from Bucharest, Romania

Michael Haneke illustrates Franz Kafka's manuscript for the novel bearing the same name, in his film 'Das Schloss'. We can call it a cinematic rendition of the plot. The film begins with the scene of K. entering the door of the inn, which commences with the still image of a mountain village posted on the door. Consequently the film ends unexpectedly in the middle of a scene which presents K. walking to the horse stables waiting to find Gerstäcker's mother reading. It's like you read a text and you stop where it stops. This illusion is perfectly staged by Haneke.

However, it is a film and not a novel. You cannot control the point where you would like to stop. You cannot read again a paragraph; everything is rendered linearly, in a narrative form. Basically, in this instance the film as a medium encompasses the novel. It would feel inappropriate to say just that about this film.

What is remarkable in Haneke's work is the way he recreates the absurd universe of Franz Kafka: by using long static shots, lack of conversation, abrupt ending of scenes and arranging all narrative elements to express in every moment a state of insecure and temporary state of facts.

The image is outstanding in terms of expressiveness, at least. There are lots of nuances of blue and brown and the light is used very carefully to create special types of dark settings resembling Rembrandt's paintings.

The actors' performance must be highly credited, especially in the case of Ulrich Mühe and Sussane Lothar who are playing K. and Frieda, respectively.

If making films is about relying on other artistic forms, especially on the novel and if you believe in the concepts of mimetic and cathartic art, then at least you have to come up with something outstanding in these terms. Michael Haneke manages to do this because his very own approach of film-making.

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

Made for Austrian television in 1997 - the same year that he would make his feature Funny Games - Michael Haneke’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘Das Schloss’ sees the director working with adapted material that chimes entirely with a personal worldview we have come to know from films like The Seventh Continent, Code Unknown and Hidden (Caché), depicting individuals buckling under the increasingly cold and uncaring mechanical progress of modern society. Using many of the same actors who feature in Funny Games, it presents an intriguing parallel to the director’s breakthrough feature film.

Kafka’s unfinished novel ‘Das Schloss’, follows the activity of one such alienated individual trying to make sense of the innumerable and unfathomable levels of bureaucracy to find his own place and position in the world. K. (Ulrich Mühe) arrives in the village that surrounds the Castle as a stranger. Finding an inn, he is unable to obtain a room, but the innkeeper allows him to sleep on a mattress in the parlour of the bar. His intrusion is seen as unwelcome and Schwarzer, the son of the under-Castellan, challenges him, regarding him as a vagabond. A quick call however reveals that K. has been engaged by the Castle as a Land  Surveyor.

K.’s assistants Jeremias and Artur (Felix Eitner and Frank Giering) arrive the next day, but rather than assist K., who finds them indistinguishable, the incompetent duo, arriving without his apparatus, seem to hamper his every attempt to make contact with the Castle, and always seem to be following him around. Even when K. attempts to gain the influence of Frieda (Susanne Lothar), a barmaid who tells him she is the mistress of a prominent Castle official called Klamm, the hapless duo spy on him as he makes love to her behind the bar.

As a consequence, Frieda loses her position at the Herrenhof bar, and K., under pressure from his landlady, finds he has no option but to support her while he tries to find out what work he has been engaged by the Castle to carry out. Those instructions never seem to arrive, and indeed the Castle continually refuses, via letters and messages that Klamm’s assistant Barnabas (André Eisermann) communicates to K., to allow him entrance to the Castle. Frustrated, K. finds out from the Superintendent that the summoning of a Land Surveyor was an administrative error, and his services are no longer required. As no-one however is in a position to confirm his appointment or admit the error, K. finds himself in a curious position of having status but no position. With no other option – particularly as he is under pressure from Frieda and his landlady - K. accepts a lowly position as a janitor at the local school. His troubles with various women continually distract him from his task, and any attempt to approach and appeal to the Castle continue to be met with indifference, obstinacy and bodded down in bureaucratic red-tape.

As would be expected from the director at this point in his career, Haneke’s now familiar style is appropriate to the subject, adopting a neutral approach marked out by jump cuts to black screens. The gaps however are not Kafka’s - The Castle is perhaps the writer’s most fluid and consistent work, and only incomplete in that it never reached a conclusion. Haneke however makes use of his trademark method here rather to cut back on the length of certain scenes, excising a number of minor characters and reducing others - the landlady’s role is greatly reduced and it removes many of her and K.’s cross-purpose confrontations - but it matches the curious elliptical rhythms and the dreamlike passing of immeasurable periods of time in Kafka’s novel. Haneke of course fully exploits the fact that the novel is open and unfinished – as most of his own films are – taking pleasure in bringing the film to an unexpected conclusion as the end of the manuscript, even though it is not the one (again featuring the landlady) that finishes the novel. Haneke’s way of showing K. attempting to make headway against the constant grind of the machinery of bureaucracy and the petty social hierarchy, is to show him trudging repeatedly back and forth through the snow and howling winds, often in the dark – waiting for the smallest scrap of information or news from the Castle, that they have need of him or at least recognition of him.

It’s a perfectly adequate way to depict Kafka’s struggle of the individual to find their place in society, but it’s also a failure, as is any attempt to capture the essence of Kafka on the screen. The best any director can do with Kafka’s absurd, nightmarish and unfilmable works is find elements from them to incorporate into their own worldview - as in Soderbergh’s fun-but-missing-the-point Kafka – or vice-versa, as in Orson Welles’ ambitious, often impressive, but ultimately doomed adaptation and re-writing of The Trial. Haneke’s adaptation of The Castle is more literal and faithful to Kafka than either of those films, but he never makes it come alive or personal in the way that he can usually lift a storyline off the screen and into your own life. A narrator is used to maintain some of the authorial musings on the characters and their behaviour, but more often Haneke depicts events with neutrality and lack of comment, which allows him to capture Kafka’s sense of the absurdity of social behaviour, but fails to capture the complexity of the characters’ deeper striving for belonging and spiritual meaning. Haneke would achieve this element of humanity much more successfully in Time Of The Wolf, but, perhaps through the necessity of adaptation and simplification for television, he fails to do so here.

FUNNY GAMES                                          A                     95

Austria  (108 mi)  1997


A gruesome, punishing, sadistic and brutal film about 2 merciless psychopaths, Peter and Paul, Frank Giering and Arno Frisch, who have nothing better to do than torture a middle class family, toying with them, ultimately murdering them for sport, hideously ugly to watch, but provocative to think about as the filmmaker is questioning the audience’s motives with direct asides to the audience, potentially changing the outcome, rewinding the film, and making it even more gruesome.  No happy ending here, the enjoyment of this film begins only when it ends.  No matter how many films you’ll see in a lifetime, this one is unforgettable. 


Filmed by Fassbinder cameraman Jürgen Jürges, this is a film that wears the viewer down initially with the nauseatingly precise use of controlled tone and language, forcing a safe, comfortable wealthy white family at random to be victimized by a pair of overly apologetic, excessively polite home invaders in white gloves playing what they characterize as a “funny game” on them, a series of random acts of violence that couldn’t be more sadistically cruel.  Designed to make the audience uncomfortable and expose the true nature of violence, Haneke uses a static camera, the most essential living room shot is held for ten minutes, also natural sound to heighten the tension and dread.  The relentless psychological torture using words is only the introductory course, however, where in the original, as opposed to the American remake, the cruel preciseness of the Germanic language associated with demonic Nazi atrocities actually feeds into the horror, as eventually horrible brutality awaits each of them, as the invaders through punishment and pain require strict and absolute obedience, subject to a blitzkrieg assault of instant pain and horrors for violating the rules. 


This is a completely unsettling and unnerving movie, reducing one’s nerve to mush, leaving one quivering with dread at having to endure this unique piece of what feels like live theater, where at brief moments, the audience is put on notice that this is just a game, no one really gets hurt, it’s only a film, as one of the invaders speaks directly to the audience, beginning with a wink, but eventually testing our willingness to be done with this nightmare, to simply put an end to it, no matter the cost, thinking for a single moment that we might be spared.  But of course, the audience doesn’t really have a say, we are just being tested before the punishment continues even more viciously brutal than before.  That’s all part of the game, which forces us to sit passively as we helplessly witness the insanity of unrelenting terror, where no one is rescued until the film is over.  This film stands alone in the provocateur department, as Haneke is returning in spades to American theaters what it willingly exports around the world as mindless Hollywood entertainment.  No one could possibly enjoy the experience without also hating being victimized by the game, but no one is likely to forget this film either, as it will remain imprinted in the deep recesses of our consciousness, which makes it an essential work. 

TIFF 2005: Days Five And Six  more Scott Tobias from the Onion

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Michael Haneke film in a theater. The film was Funny Games, an unsparing critique of movie violence in the form of a sadistic home invasion thriller. It was shown in front of a huge audience at the Miami Film Festival, which functions a lot like the New York Film Festival in that only a select two dozen or so films are chosen and screened at the Gusman Center, a venue with a seating capacity of well over 1,500. After spending much of the film watching two young men torture a bourgeois family held captive in a lakehouse, there’s a moment when it appears that the tables have finally turned—as thriller conventions dictate—and the audience let out a burst of applause, relieved that this unbearable tension had been relieved. Then, just as the applause died down, Haneke completely pulls out the rug, and the audience gasped in unison, as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.

City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul    Rob Nelson

One of the things that you said, which I've used in different interviews because it was so right on the money, was that as a film-maker, when you deal with violence, you're actually penalized for doing a good job.  Quentin Tarantino to Brian De Palma, 1994

Tarantino's words are true enough: To criticize a horror film such as the family-under-siege thriller Funny Games for making you sick is in some way to acknowledge its achievement. Conversely, the comic-book carnage of Con Air et al. too rarely comes under our attack for failing to disturb--the implication being that scenes of nameless, faceless hordes being mowed down video-game-style simply represent the natural business of slam-bang entertainment delivered in good taste. In fact, according to Austrian director Michael Haneke, it's precisely this anesthetizing depiction of horror by Hollywood that inspired him to stage his raw, brutal, unbelievably grueling Funny Games. "I would like the audience to view violence differently," he declared at a press conference in Cannes. Suffice it to say Haneke succeeds on that count--which, in the post-Natural Born Killers era, is no small feat. Among its many distinctions, Funny Games provides a measure of just how much it takes to shock and appall us these days.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Austrian auteur Michael Haneke introduced his relentlessly cruel but brilliantly conceived and executed Funny Games as an "anti-Tarantino film." Given Haneke's similar penchant for long takes, off-screen violence, and sadism, this statement is essentially bogus, except to imply that his brutality is meant to punish the audience, not to entertain it. An affluent young family, expecting a nice vacation in its lakeside summer home, is instead subjected to a night of torture and humiliation at the hands of two politely demented neo-Nazi types. When asked why they're doing it, the suave leader responds, "Why not?" The airtight simplicity of Funny Games' set-up is echoed in the purity of its style, as Haneke uses a static camera (one shot is held for 10 minutes) and natural sound to casually heighten the tension and dread. Rather than engage in the satisfying tension/payoff cycles of most modern horror films, Funny Games joins Last House On The Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer in a disturbing sub-genre designed to expose the true nature of violence. Haneke implicates everyone but himself: The sadists are presumably desensitized by the media (they call each other Beavis and Butt-Head); the victims' symbols of wealth (golf clubs, a cell phone, a high-tech security system) are turned against them; and, most pointedly, the audience is indicted for its bloodlust. There's perversity in paying admission to get harshly scolded, and Funny Games is not for the squeamish, but this may be one time to step up and take the licking you deserve.

Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)  Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled

Funny Games, a tightly wound Teutonic exercise in sadism from Michael Haneke in which a sterilized, rich, single-child family finds their home invaded by two pranksters-cum-murderers who place a bet they won’t survive twelve hours, is like Lars Von Trier at his least controlled trying to fashion a Marxist grindhouse homage. And, no matter how many times Haneke winks at the camera through his deviant protagonists-by-proxy, it has no more to say about the audience’s relationship to the on-screen violence and emotional abuse than the two separate previews slapped together to sell Fight for Your Life: one of them stressing valiance (the one aimed at white audiences) and the other stressing salty-quipped retribution (the one aimed at black audiences, for whom that particular piece-of-shit film was helpfully re-titled I Hate Your Guts). In fact, at its deluded molten cortex, Funny Games (probably inadvertently) encourages the same brand of fascination with cheap social rifts (at the expense of its loftier aims of self-reflectivity, et al), only to pull the rug out from under the intelligentsia. It succeeds in inciting anger and forcing viewers to consider their own relationship to violence, but it makes the fatal error of assuming that audiences, like the central affluent family unit, are too privileged and comfortable to be either capable of or considerate enough to be initiated into a class dialogue without someone sticking a gun into their puckerhole. This is an obscene suggestion, and one which reveals a complete lack of faith in audiences of any stripe other than utter, nerve-fried nihilists, much less the sort of understandable, healthy bad faith to be found in something like Cannibal Holocaust or Dogville. Because Haneke’s bourgeoisie-crashing crusaders aren’t particularly intelligent, nor are their games particularly funny, any sort of social significance to their otherwise aimless brutality ends up getting sabotaged, skewing all concern against their representation of the supposed underclass’s rage (embodied, here, by the two assailants’ status as disaffected youths… not to mention, given all that queerish lip-pursing from the more dominant of the two, their latent hetero-cidal bent). Like the onslaught of cruel parlor games the family, particularly the wife, have to endure -- “which would you rather lose, your son or your husband?” type stuff -- Funny Games is frustrating, effective in its streamlined shock quotient and, in the end, adds little to your understanding of cinematic violence other than maybe the desire to return to the naiveté of cheap kicks rather than have to suffer through another half-baked dissertation.

De-icing the emotions  Andrew J. Horton from Kinoeye

When a director announces "I wish you a disturbing evening" before the showing of his latest film, you probably are not in for an easy ride. If he says it with cheerful abandon, you have all the more reason to take him seriously, or so discovered Londoners attending the recent retrospective of five films by the controversial existentialist director Michael Haneke, part of the Festival of Central European Culture.

Haneke, who studied philosophy at Vienna University, talks about his films using long barely translatable German words that make you wonder if discussing his work in English is at all possible: Entfremdung (alienation from oneself), emotionale Vergletscherung (emotional glaciation) and Entwirklichung (reality losing its sense of realness).

Behind these fearsome expressions, Haneke's films are very immediate and comprehensible, although by no means simplistic. He is concerned with a society that no longer knows how to love - or for that matter how to hate. His films are an attempt to resharpen our feelings and responses to the world around us, which have been blunted, especially by the media. Rejecting standard conventions of timing , build up of suspense and logical plotting, he is not worried about inducing boredom, irritation and frustration. Haneke repeatedly draws us into the cinematic medium, as any film seeks to do, but then breaks the illusion to show us how we have been seduced and tricked, and what willing accomplices to it we were.

Although he had been writing television scripts since 1974, Haneke first hit cinema screens in 1989 with part one of his trilogy on "emotional glaciation," Der Siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent, 1989). This leisurely but intricate study, inspired by the real-life suicide of a middle-class Viennese family, immediately established Haneke as a unique director. The critic Alexander Howarth has suggested that the film should bear the subtitle "How strict thinking, writing and viewing found how to love each other." The trilogy, which followed with Benny's Video (1992) and 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments in a Chronology of Chance, 1994), is permeated with a crushing absence of passion. Apologies are monotonously murmured unmeant, a man's "I love you" is addressed more to his beer than his wife and a father's reproaches to his son for murdering a girl are little different from those for staying up too late. This makes bleak viewing, but Haneke insists he is an optimist. "The people who make entertainment movies are the pessimists," he explains, "the optimist tries to shake people out of their apathy."

His latest film, Funny Games (1997), sees a return to form, and it will, if nothing else, do much to bolster Haneke's notoriety. Whilst Hollywood is spending millions of dollars on marauding aliens, city-sized dinosaurs and icebergs to convey fear and terror, Haneke has realised that the people from the house next door who drop in for some eggs can do the job far more effectively. Especially if they bet that by nine o'clock the following morning their hosts will all be dead. Such is the case when two charming lads, Peter and Paul, pop over to sadistically torture and psychologically terrorise a family for what could well prove to be their last twelve hours alive - unless they can escape. Why all the needless brutality? It turns out the well-mannered funsters have an altruistic urge to provide the cinema audience, who they address directly, with what they have come to see in the film - mindless violence.

As the duo try to entertain us by playing their games with the family, Haneke plays games with us in order to awaken us to the senselessness of the increasing lust audiences have for blood on the cinema screens. He builds up tension and then destroys it. He gives us what we want and then takes it away. He pulls us out of our comfortable cinema seats and forces us to recognise our role as protagonists in the film and de facto initiators of the bloodshed. The ultimate object is to restore to violence its real properties, as opposed to its cinematic ones, and to faithfully represent the very real suffering and distress that actual violence causes.

The focus is therefore far more on the after-effects than the actions themselves, which, with one deliberate exception, are not shown. Haneke skilfully lets us create the violence in our own minds, and stresses the agony, terror and humiliation through unimportant actions, a device he used so well in his trilogy. Doubtless many will disapprove of Haneke using violence to criticise violence (as censors in several countries have), but he sees no other way. In a post-screening discussion with a rather vocal audience, he expressed his reservations about the efficacy of Wim Wenders's The End of Violence, which just talked about the subject.

Funny Games is a genuinely shocking and discomforting film. In shattering preconceptions and by confronting you with your darker, more bloodthirsty nature as a cinema viewer, it goes much further than other films tackling the issue of violence, such as Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. This is not a film to be easily dismissed, particularly since it is currently making its way around Europe and could well be appearing at a cinema near you shortly. I, too, wish you a disturbing evening.

Kinoeye | Austrian film: Michael Haneke's Funny Games   Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), by Tarja Laine from Kinoeye, March 8, 2004


Funny Games   Stefan Herrmann, December 7, 2001


Funny Games • Senses of Cinema   Chris Justice from Senses of Cinema, February 8, 2005


Funny Games Funny Games | Spectacular Attractions  Dan North, October 15, 2009


Films of Michael Haneke: the utopia of fear   Justin Vicari from Jump Cut, Winter 2006, also seen here:  Films of Michael Haneke by Justin Vicari - Jump Cut


The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]


Reverse Shot [Nick Pinkerton]


DVD Times  Noel Megahey


Chicago Reader (Lisa Alspector)


Deep Focus (Bryant Frazer)


Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young)


Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]


DVDActive [Scott McKenzie] (Mike Bracken)   also seen here: (Mike Bracken)


The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib


Reverse Shot [Adam Nayman]


Classic-Horror  Rob Wrigley


Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Rumsey Taylor]


Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]


Nitrate Online (Capsule)  Eddie Cockrell  Jeremy Heilman (Chris Cabin)


DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)


Film Journal International (David Bartholomew) (Rich Rosell)


Karin Badt, 'Family Is Hell and So Is the World: Talking to Michael Haneke at Cannes 2005', Bright Lights Films Journal, Issue 50, November 2005  Karin Badt interview, November 1, 2005


Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]


The Boston Phoenix   Peg Aloi


New York Times (registration req'd)   Stephen Holden


CODE UNKNOWN  (Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages)                                   A-                        94       

aka:  Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys

France  Germany  Romania  (117 mi)  2000
An intense, ravishingly beautiful film, a mixed, cross cultural integration of personal experiences that is unlike any other film seen this year, using, in my view, completely original cinematic methods, as the director's style here is to film, with utter clarity and a brilliant sense of being exact and concise, what appears to be random sequences, incomplete fragments from people's lives that, without any explanation at all, produces such a depth of emotion from an audience that is forced to unseal the secret to this madness. 

In Review: Best of the Decade  Marc Raymond from One One Four, November 19, 2009 (excerpt)

Another strong contender for director of the decade is Haneke, with CACHE (2005), his recent Cannes winner THE WHITE RIBBON (2009), and perhaps his most underrated work, 2000’s CODE UNKNOWN. This is Haneke’s first film in France following his career in Austria, and it is a remarkable study of the contemporary French society. It is similar in some ways to one of my least favorite films of the decade, Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning CRASH (2005), and shows how a talented director can shape material that could be completely mishandled into a work that is both formally adventurous and politically uncompromising. Like most of Haneke, it is very bleak, but there is less overt moralizing than some of his other films, and Haneke seems more invested in his characters than usual. The best film of arguably the greatest European auteur since Robert Bresson.

The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]
Austrian director Michael Haneke is a ruthless anthropologist of domestic nihilism, but his first French-language feature, Code Unknown, is also his most humane. It's less eager to implicate the audience in its exhibitions of motiveless savagery—as with the amiable psychopath's to-camera asides in Funny Games—and more inclined to arrange ordinary people not as isolated terrorist cells but as a frail, knotty web held together by selfish interdependence and clashing grievances. A bravura tracking shot establishes the fragile latticework of Code Unknown's universe: A sullen white youth (Alexandre Hamidi) tosses a crumpled bakery bag into a beggar woman's lap, setting off a volatile chain reaction—a streetside scuffle, the arrest of well-meaning African French teacher of deaf children (Ona Lu Yenke), and the deportation of the woman, a Romanian refugee (Luminita Gheorghiu).
The film then branches off into the multiform narrative of its subtitle, Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys, centering on yet another miserable Hanekean couple named Anne and Georges (Juliette Binoche and Thierry Neuvic). They work as actress and war photographer—fitting on-screen vocations for a director so endlessly fixated on questions of representation and translation. This obsession arguably becomes self-interrogatory in Code Unknown, since Anne is glimpsed shooting scenes that could be outtakes from several of Haneke's earlier, crueller outings. Here it's Binoche's naked, disbelieving face staring into the camera as an unseen actor intones, "I have nothing against you . . . I merely want to watch you die." Then the screen goes black, and another world within the world takes hold: a bittersweet homecoming to Romania, a crying mother in a Parisian apartment, a ghastly series of stills from the Kosovo war. Code Unknown is Haneke's most expansive and, oddly, hopeful work—not a gaze into the void, but a fierce attempt to scramble out of it.
Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) : "conscience and consequence"

When exactly? You can’t quite remember. You add it all up, there is always something missing somewhere. A few seconds unaccounted for. A missing factor in any equation. The invisible mould of what is not that inexorably determines what is…

William S Burroughs

Code Unknown – Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys is a bit of a mouthful. ‘Conscience and consequence’ would perhaps be a more economic alternative, with its appropriately Jane Austen-ish air. Because, like so many 19th-century novels, Code Unknown is essentially an attempt to extend the circumference of its audience’s sympathy, with a special focus on a slightly over-sensitive artistic youngish female: here, actress Anne (Binoche). But Haneke’s techniques are aggressively modern: his film is as much a product of Jean-Luc Godard as George Eliot. There is a narrative, and there are stories, but they exist only as fragments, and the audience must work to piece them together – these are ‘incomplete tales,’ according to the subtitle. And, as the main title indicates, the film deliberately aims to be difficult, impenetrable: perhaps, even, indecipherable.

Haneke’s last picture, 1997’s Funny Games, was a darkly comic masterpiece of excruciating claustrophobia: with Code Unknown, he widens his canvas, aiming for nothing less than a panoramic snapshot of Europe today. He takes an apparently innocuous, everyday event, then traces the ripples of consequence that spread out over time and space. An intriguing idea - although it doesn’t quite come off, this is still a very original, absorbing kind of near miss.

On a Paris street, actress Anne (Binoche) buys a sandwich for Jean, the young brother of her boyfriend Georges (Neuvic), a war photographer away in Kosovo. After he’s finished eating, Jean casually drops the paper bag in the lap of  Maria (Georghiu), a street beggar, outraging passer-by Amadou (Yenke), who demands an apology from Jean. The ensuing scuffle attracts the attention of the police: Amadou is arrested,  Maria deported to Romania. The narrative follows each of the characters and stories, switching between Paris, rural France, Romania, and even further afield.

This ‘mosaic’ technique is often popular among ambitious directors, as it gives them carte blanche to chuck in pretty much anything they feel like, especially when, as here, their theme is the mysterious impenetrability of everyday life, and how hard it is for modern, isolated invididuals to communicate. There are times when Haneke strays into the trap of self-indulgence, and it’s up to Binoche to hold things together. She’s seldom looked so unglamorous on screen, but, if anything this emphasises her appeal – her vulnerability warms up an otherwise chilly, though always fascinating, cinematic exercise.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Code Unknown (2000)  Richard Falcon from BFI Sight and Sound, May 2001

Paris, the present. Anne (Juliette Binoche), an actress, meets Jean (Alexandre Hamidi), the younger brother of her war-photographer boyfriend Georges (Thierry Neuvic). Jean has run away from his father's farm and asks her for the new entry code to her apartment; he then discards a crumpled paper bag into the lap of Maria (Luminita Gheorghiu), a Romanian illegal immigrant who is begging on the street. Amadou (Ona Lu Yenke), a teacher of deaf children, remonstrates with him. In the ensuing scuffle, policemen arrest Maria and Amadou. Maria is deported. Amadou's West African mother expresses her grief at the treatment of her son. Anne performs a scene from the thriller she is filming, in which she is imprisoned in a soundproof room by a killer.

Georges returns from Kosovo, where he has been photographing atrocities. In Romania, Maria returns to her husband Dragos (Bob Nicolescu) and her family, with whom she moves into a small flat. She is ashamed of having had to beg in Paris, although she did send money home. Jean disappears from his father's farm. His father responds by killing his livestock, telling Anne and Georges that he is unable to run the farm without Jean's help. Anne hears sounds of distress coming from an adjoining apartment but is unsure what to do. She confronts an elderly neighbour who, she believes, pushed a note through her door purporting to be from an abused child in the other apartment; the old woman denies it. Antagonised by Georges' inability to settle, Anne starts a scene with him in a supermarket, claiming that she aborted their child while he was away. Georges surreptitiously photographs passengers on the Métro. Maria pays to be smuggled back to Paris. Anne, travelling home on the Métro, is tormented by an Arab youth who spits in her face before being challenged by a middle-aged Arab man. As Maria starts to beg on the street, Georges finds the code to the apartment changed and Amadou's students perform a piece for massed drums.


"Morality," Cahiers du cinéma critic Luc Moullet famously said in 1959,"is a question of tracking shots." Michael Haneke's first — predominantly- French-language film begins with an exquisitely realised nine-minute tracking shot initially following Juliette Binoche's Anne as she walks along the street. Were this not a Haneke film, it would be tempting to view these opening moments as a homage to the nouvelle vague film-makers' fondness for long-take sequences that juxtapose a beautiful actress with a Parisian boulevard caught in real time. But as in Haneke's earlier 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance and The Seventh Continent, both of which introduce the fragmented, episodic narrative structure employed in Code Unknown, Haneke is concerned here with philosophical first principles rather than referentiality. As this sequence-shot bears witness to the sudden street incident that links the disparate experiences of Maria (a Romanian immigrant), Amadou (the son of West African refugees), Anne, and Jean (the brother of Anne's boyfriend Georges), the film offers the first of a number of scenes which use the multicultural public spaces of Paris, not for their fashionability (Haneke points out he could as easily have filmed his script in London) but as a laboratory for testing the relationship between representation and reality. The results confirm Haneke's reputation as one of cinema's most accomplished moralists.

Both Benny's Video and Funny Games tended to didacticism and indulged Haneke's perverse modernist desire to punish us for our collusion with the commodified- and thus, for Haneke at least, mendacious- narrative certainties of dominant cinema. Code Unknown, on the other hand, furthers Haneke's project of countering what he sees as the degradation of our sense of the real by modulating with true virtuosity between various realisms. The opening sequence is by turns manipulative- stoking our indignation at the policemen's casually insensitive and implicitly racist handling of the confrontation between Jean and Amadou- and naturalistic, artfully thwarting our desire to reach easy judgement. In a later sequence in the Métro, a static camera observes in neutral long shot- again with an unbroken take- as Anne is tormented by an aggressive Arab youth who, incensed by her lack of reaction to his unprovoked taunts, spits in her face. In between the film presents us with fragments- interspersed with Brechtian fades and sudden Godardian sound edits- which turn on the difficulty of relating in a moral fashion to others in a world in which any communication seems fraught with the dangers of victimisation. Anne, while ironing, turns down the television when she hears screams coming from another apartment and this too is left unexplained and unresolved. Alongside this quotidian malaise are the characters' attempts to achieve contact through dissimulation, such as when Anne challenges her elderly neighbour, who may or may not have written a letter purporting to be from an abused child in the adjoining apartment, or when Anne, during an argument with Georges, claims- we don't know whether it's true or not- to have aborted his child when he was in Kosovo. Georges' own subterfuge, his surreptitious photographing of people on the Métro- a form of surveillance that leads to a marvellous montage of portraits (the work of war photographer Luc Delahaye)- further complicates the film's insistent thematic build-up around responsibility to others and the unbridgeable glacial distance between people.

As Haneke has suggested in interviews, all of this would merely be a reiteration of various modernist clichés about the impossibility of communication were the film not to comprise one superb sequence after another. Rather than dryly demonstrating a thesis, each scene conveys a deeply affecting sense of authenticity and immediacy. The performance of the deglamorised- but still luminescent- Juliette Binoche, whose approach to Haneke initiated the film, contributes immeasurably to the success of Code Unknown. A sequence from the film she is shooting (she plays an actress), in which she is interrogated- one of two startling scenes that reveal Haneke's grasp of the strength of our desire to be manipulated (the other- at first deliberately confusing levels of reality - involves a toddler crawling on the edge of a tall building)- is a masterclass in close-up acting. That amid all these heavy-duty moral/aesthetic preoccupations Haneke manages to offer powerfully understated images of the lot of economic migrants- Maria's silent deportation and return to Paris- adds to the sense of Code Unknown as a major achievement. Orchestrating his long takes, his superb use of off-screen space and chilly long shots, Haneke sets about if not reinventing, then reinvigorating a non-naive realism for the 21st century. In the process, he gives us the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally provocative piece of European cinema of recent times. 

CER | Austrian Film: Michael Haneke's Code inconnu   Locked Out!  Michael Haneke’s Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (2000), by Andrew James Horton from Central Europe Review, May 28, 2001

Austrian film was having something of a quiet life, bumbling along and not being watched by too many people, when suddenly in 1997 Michael Haneke's film Funny Games convinced people that watchable Austrian cinema was not perhaps an oxymoron after all.

And suddenly not only was a new star of European cinema born but a whole country's film industry was given a new wave of optimism. Turning to Haneke's previous works, film buffs found a richly philosophical oeuvre, tackling some of the most compelling moral questions of our day in a noticeably filmic form.

Now that Haneke has grabbed hold of international attention, he clearly wants to keep it, and his film Code inconnu: Récit incomplet de divers voyages (Code Unknown: Incomplete tales of several journeys, 2000) again tackles a Big Question in the framework of a consciously art house film. Instead of just merely tackling the problems of Austrian society, here he takes on a wider theme to match the new scale of his audience—immigration in a multicultural Europe—and shifts the action away from his favoured middle-class Austrian settings to a famously cosmopolitan environment: Paris.

Diverging threads

In contrast to Funny Games, Code inconnu consists of a fragmented mosaic of only semi-related events (or in more blunt terms: it has little or no plot). It tracks a group of people linked by one chance encounter: an argument on a street corner which blows up when an young man, Jean, contemptuously throws a screwed-up piece of paper at a woman who is begging on a street corner. From this one point, the characters' lives follow—as the subtitle alludes to—different paths.

Anne is trying to make it as a film actress while her boyfriend, Georges, tries to make sense of his profession as a photographer (we are presented first with his stark images of war, taken in Kosovo, and then with an arresting series of shots taken of unsuspecting passengers on the Paris Metro). Georges' brother, Jean, is meanwhile trying to escape from the influence of his father who wants him to take over the family farming business.

Maria, the Romanian beggar at whom Jean callously discards his rubbish, is caught without papers and deported. Back at home she boasts she had a good job as a teacher in Paris and, unphased by the ignominy of the experiences she has gone through, pays money to be smuggled back into fortress Europe again.

The other main protagonist is Amadou, an angry young man of African origin, whom we meet when he takes offence at Jean's treatment of Maria. Aside from this street fight, we see him talking to a friend explaining who his father arrived in France and also to his younger sister, who is deaf, in sign language about why their father left.

Finally, these paths converge again for the film's ending, with its prosaic action dramatically set against drumming music being played by the children at the deaf school where Amadou teaches.

In a mirror of the film's main opening sequence, Georges arrives at Anne's flat to find that he no longer knows the security code (presumably the source of the film's title) and is thus denied entry to the sanctuary he requires—a metaphor for the film's wider concerns. Meanwhile, Maria is back on her old street corner.

Alienating fragmentation

Code inconnu is in some ways related to the third film of Haneke's "emotional glaciation" trilogy, 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, 1994) which also uses a dislocated mosaic structure to link characters to a single event (a motiveless killing spree in a Vienna bank by a disaffected student). The return to this style is intriguing. 71 Fragmente is by far the least successful of Haneke's trilogy, not in box office terms but in its ability to challenge us intellectually.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the criticisms that could be levelled at 71 Fragmente also resonate with Code inconnu. Both are horribly dry exercises in intellectualism and lack what might be termed the "intellectually visceral" quality of Funny Games or the second of Haneke's trilogy, Benny's Video (1992), both of which challenge our gut instincts rather than our most abstract thoughts. Moreover, Haneke seems so wrapped up in the formal qualities of Code inconnu that the very human message he is trying to give out is totally lost.

Even discounting this alienating factor, the film somehow fails to work, it sitting uncomfortably in the shadow of 71 Fragmente trying hard not to look like a derivative work. "I'm playing with the public, and I make them fall into all kinds of traps and show them they've fallen into the trap," the director explained in the May edition of Sight and Sound.