Carlos Saura,  John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Ulrich Seidl, Seijun Suzuki, Ousmane Sembène, Douglas Sirk, Abderrahane Sissako, Jerzy Skolimowski, Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Sokurov, Paolo Sorrentino, Steven Spielberg, Preston Sturges, Jan Svankmajer



Saada, Nicolas


SPY(IES)                                                                   B                     86

France  Great Britain  (99 mi)  2009


This first time feature director indicated he wanted to make a genre picture, but one that highlighted the personal relationships.  While he admits to a love of 40’s and 50’s Hitchcock, like NOTORIOUS (1946), VERTIGO (1958), and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), while also American 1970’s paranoid thrillers like KLUTE (1971), THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974), or THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), among others, what he’s really made is a Michael Mann urban thriller, written specifically to star the leading lady Géraldine Pailhas, reportedly rejecting his initial producer who insisted on a bigger named star only to find another producer in order to make the film he wanted.  Originally a film critic for Cahiers du Cinéma magazine, he also gained notoriety on a Parisian radio show “Nova at the Movies” which is devoted to music in films.  This film wastes no time as Guillaume Canet works with a friend as a baggage handler, where they typically steal easy to reach items for profit.  When they reach onto a bag protected by Syrian diplomatic immunity, what his friend thought was cologne turns into an explosion of flames, killing him shortly afterwards.  Arrested immediately by the Parisian police authorities, they discover he’s amazingly smart but has been wasting his time with dead end jobs, and under threat of a lengthy prison term, not to mention a knife attack in his apartment, he agrees to work with the police in an attempt to arrest two men he saw exchange packages in a restricted airport zone.  The outlandish plot works like a James Bond movie, only here the story is told a little bit differently.


Vincent (Canet) is sent to London, where the two suspected men have traveled, and assigned to work under the authority of Stephen Rea, a veteran officer of the British military intelligence who is continually baffled by the young recruit’s lack of protocol.  As improbable as this sounds, pulling a guy out of baggage handling and employing him in the nation’s secret service, that’s the kind of film this is—improbable happenings in a film saturated in the gloss of an urban landscape.  He’s given a new identity as a foreign aid physician helping to improve third world services and ordered to tail Claire, the beautiful wife (Pailhas) of a wealthy businessman who has Middle East ties in Damascus, including the personal services of one of the men Vincent saw at the airport.  Their initial encounters are amusing in their awkward moments, but he’s encouraged to seduce her in order to obtain her cooperation in building a case against her husband.  Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine makes the streets of London come alive as they initially meet in high end shopping establishments, local coffee shops or even an art museum before finally agreeing to meet at his hotel.  Showing a sophisticated reserve and quiet restraint, their growing friendship mirrors the danger and mounting tension of getting closer to the husband’s connections, which include a pharmaceutical expert who may be trafficking the explosive device to terrorist groups.  While there are many close calls, including the possibility that Vincent could easily be drugged or poisoned, Canet and Pailhas really have a wonderful screen chemistry together, their sensuous romance accentuated by the lush musical score by Cliff Martinez.  Interestingly, the final sequence was choreographed to the music of Benjamin Britten’s “Moonlight” from his Peter Grimes Sea Interludes, Op. 33a, which the director played on the set so the actors would feel engulfed in the dramatic allure of the score. 

User comments  from imdb Author: Siamois from Canada

This nice little European thriller offers a mix of romance, drama and even some bits of action. The premise is simple. Vincent (Guillaume Canet) is a smart, educated young man who has a history of "illicit activities". One day, at his job at the airport, he and another corrupt colleague look at diplomatic luggage in the hope of scoring some valuable. Instead, Vincent is catapulted in an international terrorist conspiracy that will change the course of his life.

Espion(s) features an international-flavored cast and takes place in the UK and France. The movie features dialogs both in French and English and will be best enjoyed by those fluent in both languages since it switches so often. I think this gives an air of authenticity to this movie that I would like to see more often but those who aren't bilingual or hate subtitles might not appreciate it as much.

Nicolas Saada's direction is effective. There is an air of big budget movie, yet firmly European feel. The music of composer Cliff Martinez is punchy, effective yet elegant. The photography is crisp and clean if a little uninspired at times. We wish for more memorable shots and more glimpses of the cities, of the sets, of the action. But Saada mostly concentrate on the characters. Vincent is thrown in this world of agents, high rollers, opportunists, innocents and terrorists. A world he doesn't know much about but that seems to give him a second life.

Vincent is a classic underachiever and is Claire (played by beautiful Géraldine Pailhas), the disenchanted wife of a rich businessman who simply took the easiest way to security. Their relationship, their romance, is somewhat understated yet pleasant to see unfold. Veteran star Stephen Rea gives his usual solid performance but it feels like he was underused. It was also nice to see the talented Archie Panjabi do the best she could with her smaller but important role. If there was a disappointment, it was with the antagonist Alexander Siddig, who mails his performance despite having perceivable charisma and magnetism. He has very little to work with and we never care much for him, which makes the movie's main threat less palpable.

Where this movie shines is as a drama. Guillaume Canet gives yet another solid performance. He's been consistently proving that he is leading man material in whatever he is featured in. He gives multi-dimensionality to a sparsely written character. Where the movie lacks the most is action scenes. Not the number of them, but the execution. They do fall a little flat and uninspired. As everything else, the golden rule is that if you are going to do something, do it well. The knife fight scene and the final airport scene were not essential to the story and the script could have been reworked to avoid those. If they are kept, a director must inject more conviction and character in there.

This is a recommended movie and very enjoyable, although repeat viewings are not very likely.

Plume Noire [Fred Thom]

French writer/director Nicolas Saada's debut film might be called Spy(ies) but the world he describes here is at the opposite of the glamour clichés usually associated with the genre. His film is slow paced, enveloped in gray tones — the London weather might obviously have something to do with this — and is more of a psychological character study than a big adventure full of intrigue.

Guillaume Canet (Love me if you dare, The Beach) plays Vincent, a baggage handler who, after being involved in an accident involving a diplomatic suitcase he's trying to steal, is recruited by the French secret service to seduce Claire (Géraldine Pailhas — Don Juan Demarco), the wife of a man who might be linked to a terrorist network.

What follows is a game of seduction where love will intervene, and Mr. Saada's script mostly delivers the portrait of a confused man, a non-professional spy who struggles to find balance between his duty and his feelings. As a result, Spy(ies) unfolds as a typical French love drama and, if you're looking for thrills, you'll need to wait until the end to remember you were watching a spy film.

With Spy(ies), Mr. Saada aims at debunking the myth of the spy profession by giving us a realistic look at its mechanism. What he shows us is pretty simple and unspectacular, secret services manipulating civilians into getting them the information they need, work which is mostly done through the use of blackmail, seduction — a prostitution subtheme which was curiously also the center of the recent and mediocre spy French film Secrets of State — and usb keys rather than usual guns and gadgets.

Contrary to the recent Secrets of State, which shared the same premise by giving us a realistic look at modern counterintelligence, Spy(ies) succeeds by adopting a monochromatic realism, while the former couldn't find its mark between realism and blockbuster entertainment. The right tone of the script and the self-restraint of the direction are the sign of quality cinema, which might be surprising here as this is Mr. Saada's debut work as a writer/director. However, when you know that he used to work as a critic for emblematic film magazine Les Cahiers du Cinéma, this might give you an idea about the standards of quality he imposed himself.

But Spy(ies) also works finely because of its casting choice and there is something intriguing about leading man Guillaume Canet, as the versatile actor seems comfortable and believable whether he embodies a clean-cut yuppie or a messed-up and marginal character. Hiding his good looks under s scruffy beard, he carries the film, supported by a couple of strong performances by Géraldine Pailhas and Stephen Rea (V For Vendetta). Ms. Pailhas showcases both strength and fragility here, while keeping her French charm — but I arguably might not be very objective here as I've always been under the spell of the Marseille-born actress.

Getting back to the rules of the genre, Spy(ies) ends on with action but a final image captures the two lovers facing each other; it becomes clear that what you just watched was a love story with a spy intrigue in the background rather than vice-versa. This is certainly what you should expect from French cinema, which masters the art of turning any genre into an intimate drama — one need only recall Film Noir…

Reeling Reviews [Robin Clifford, Laura Clifford] [Jordan Mintzer]


review  Brendan Kelly from The Montreal Gazette


Saalfield, Catherine



USA  (45 mi)  1989


PopcornQ Movies  Cecilia Dougherty


Simply stated, Arroe is a black fashion model, a lesbian, who deals with issues of racism in an industry that is intolerant of variation from either the passive Anglo ideal, or that of the exoticized, primitivized woman of color. There is nothing simple about Catherine Saalfield's Infidel, however, as the film uncovers and repositions layers of myth about female beauty, the function of racism in standardizing our ideals, and the necessity oof female self-consciousness in a scheme that demands both conformity and uniqueness. Partly autobiographical, partly extracted from collective experience, this jumpy, tightly crafted narrative reconstructs the process behind the formulation of self-image.


Lesbian viewing and perversity   Jennifer Montgomery from Jump Cut, July 1992 (excerpt)

Catherine Saalfield's INFIDEL is deeply invested in the issues of the lesbian look and desire. The central characters of INFIDEL are a black woman who was once a fashion model and her lover, a white woman. The white woman is played by the filmmaker and her sister. Actually, whether Saalfield and her sister are supposed to be a unified character is up for grabs: Saalfield is heard instructing her sister on how to play the role (i.e. how to be a lesbian), and there are moments when the two appear on screen at once.

The black woman recounts some of her experiences of racism in the modeling industry. The problems of body image and ethnicity are brought up not only by the black woman but a host of other women, all white, who talk about modeling, their looks, and appear nude or clothed looking at themselves and sometimes touching one another.

The clearest voice in the film is that of a woman with a large, wine-colored birthmark on her face, who discusses her family's attempt to get rid of it and the lore of birthmarks. TV and magazine imagery of models of all races are interspersed throughout. The lesbian relationship, and the entire film, in fact, takes place in a series of dorm room interiors. Consequently, while the issues under discussion are disturbing and the characters evidently in some conflict with themselves, an air of privilege, safety, and leisure pervades the film. Everyone spends a great deal of time looking at themselves, at each other, and looking at themselves looking at the camera. Sometimes their looks are pained and unresolved, such as when the black woman regards herself in the minor, draws in blue grease pencil eyes where her own brown eyes are reflected, and then turns over the mirror to reveal a collection of disturbed, child-like scribbles of idealized ladies. But, by and large, the looks exchanged are more about girlish self-consciousness and a benign narcissism.

The split subject, the complexities of women desiring and criticizing each other, exoticism, and racism are all factors that diffuse our vision. In INFIDEL the problems of the specular gaze are subsumed in the pleasures of lesbian looking. I think that Saalfield intended the black woman's story of escape from the modeling industry to be the central theme of her film, and a metaphor for all women's self reclamation. There are moments when the black woman's identity overflows the bounds of metaphor and she occupies a strong position in the film. In one section she is seen lounging on her bed watching a Phil Donahue show about modeling. While an emaciated black woman, the most celebrated model of the day, parades down the runway, and Donahue and a male fashion designer discuss the problem of how to disguise big butts, the woman viewing languorously devours spaghetti with her hands. The camera moves up her body caressingly, like an ad for Levis 501 jeans. Here the subject's sensual existence and her autonomy from TV's oppressive emanations are complete.

But most of the film strays from this woman's personal power, and subsumes her in the voracious desires of the white lesbian behind the camera. The black woman is surrounded by the pleasures and desires of white women in a white environment. The harem-like ambiance overwhelms and trivializes the very issues that INFIDEL purports to address. The sexual attentions that the white women shower on themselves and the black woman are truly seductive. But if this is what it means for lesbians to reclaim visual pleasure, then I'm not sure I'm ready for pleasure yet. INFIDEL could have been really powerful if Saalfield had not mitigated the film's sexual pleasures with the false consciousness of a racial issue that isn't given the attention it deserves.



D-A-N-G-A-N RUNNER                              B                     87

aka:  Non-Stop

Japan  (82 mi)  1996


modern, quick-cutting style on the edge of humor – different


Non-Stop   Mike D’Angelo from Time Out New York (link lost)

Hyperventilation hasn't been a subject much explored in the movies, but filmmakers are doing their damndest to correct that glaring oversight. Hard on the concrete-slapping heels of last year's Run Lola Run—though shot two years prior to that arthouse hit—arrives Non-Stop (previously known on the festival circuit as D.A.N.G.A.N. Runner), the sixth and final film in the Shooting Gallery's latest series of overlooked foreign and independent flicks. If you wondered how the hell Lola made it to the closing credits without bursting a lung or going into cardiac arrest, prepare to feel triply exhausted watching this film's three protagonists chase one another on foot through the streets of Tokyo...for the entire movie.

Or just about, anyway. A brief prologue depicts hapless Yasuda (Taguchi) casing a bank he's planning to rob, but before long he's desperately fleeing the drug-fueled wrath of convenience-store cashier Aizawa (Yukai), from whose aisles he'd attempted to shoplift a mask. When the pair bumps into yakuza thug Takeda (Tsutsumi), to whom Aizawa owes money, the chase takes on a third dimension, and time eventually contributes a fourth. What began as pursuit gradually metamorphoses into escape; by the end, the trio are running not single file but side by side, laughing like oxygen-depleted hyenas at the sheer joy of still being conscious and ambulatory after hours in motion.

By sheer coincidence, I happened to catch 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner at Film Forum just a few days before seeing Non-Stop, and while it's unlikely that Sabu was influenced by Tony Richardson's seminal work of Britgrit, both films depict the marathon runner's brain as a hotbed of memories and reveries. The difference is that Loneliness, as its title suggests, is actually about something, whereas Non-Stop, as its title suggests, is mostly about its own sense of momentum. Not that kinetic abstraction is necessarily a terrible thing, but Sabu doesn't demonstrate much conceptual flair; compared to the forthcoming Korean action flick Nowhere to Hide, Non-Stop looks positively inert. (In fact, there's a brief chase scene in that movie that's far more visually inventive than anything seen here.) After a while, the title began to feel like a threat.

DANGAN Runner / Dangan ranna   Aaron Gerow from The Daily Yomiuri

World cinema has rarely seen such a trio of losers as on display in DANGAN Runner. The wimpy Yasuda (Tetsuo's Tomoro Taguchi) tries to prove his manhood by holding up a bank after his girlfriend jilts him, only to miserably fail because he forgot his mask at home. Aizawa (Diamond Yukai) struts around on stage as a rock singer, but in his real life is a drug-addicted convenience store clerk who can't live up to his girlfriend's love. The tough-looking yakuza Takeda (Tsutsumi Shin'ichi) swears he will die to save his boss, but when the time comes, blithely steps aside and lets his mentor bite the dust.

The actor-turned-first-time-director Sabu (no, not the star of Thief of Baghdad, but Hiroyuki Tanaka from World Apartment Horror) uses these human failures to hilariously parody the macho vanity brandished by the male sex.

Realizing he has forgotten his mask, Yasuda runs into a convenience store by the bank only to realize he doesn't have any money. He tries to shoplift it, but is stopped by the store clerk--Aizawa, of course--and tries to shoot his way out.

Slightly grazed, Aizawa chases Yasuda all around the neighborhood until the two collide with a passerby--whom we are not surprised to see is Takeda, the two-bit gangster from whom Yasuda bought the gun and Aizawa his drugs. He, too, joins in the escalating pursuit.

This chain of coincidences prompts a seemingly never-ending chase throughout Tokyo. In the meantime, the cops, Takeda's gang (bent on revenge), and the rival mob (who offed Takeda's chief) swing into action until all the participants violently converge in an absurd, culminating showdown.

DANGAN Runner's delightfully parodic excess is epitomized by this chase. Unlike most action movies, where the requisite chase scene takes up a few minutes at best, the three stooges' marathon continues for 80 percent of the film, supported neither by adrenaline (as in Speed) nor terror (Marathon Man), but by rhythmic editing and the sheer kinetic stupidity of the participants.

Sabu's film almost seems to be a return to the origins of cinema, recalling classic chase comedies such as those of the Keystone Cops, but in a more postmodern context, with a complex, though skillfully related narrative style.

With cinematic references ranging from yakuza films to Kurosawa, DANGAN (which means "bullet" in Japanese) is a farce about the construction of (self-)images.

Each of the three runners is determined to play a role for an audience in order to prove his manhood. Yasuda, in particular, rehearses and repeatedly looks at himself in the mirror as if to confirm his performance is effective (this "feminine" trait is another sign of his inability to assume the macho mask).

In one of Sabu's bag of effective tricks, almost all of the characters are allowed an imaginary sequence, a chance to construct their own "film" inside their heads with themselves as the star. One yakuza's fantasy is even presented as a movie which ends when a fellow yakuza, interviewed after the daydreamer's imagined Takakura Ken-like demise, shoves the annoying camera away.

It is precisely this macho bravado, this mistaking of image for reality, that inevitably leads to humiliation and even destruction. But Sabu, who also wrote the script, in the end takes pity on his idiotic threesome.

As they run themselves to exhaustion, the purpose of their chase begins to change. No longer are they trying to catch someone, to win this masculine test of strength and endurance. They are running simply to run--for the mere pleasure of it.

It is as if by being utterly humiliated and stripped bare of costuming by their own blunders, this trio of schleps has found meaning to their own lives, an ounce of authenticity to their otherwise pitiful existence.

And through this quite enjoyable movie, maybe we have found another hope to watch out for on the Japanese film scene.


Japan  (110 mi)  1997


Postman Blues / Posutoman burusu   Aaron Gerow from The Daily Yomiuri


"Does your heart ever thump with excitement like it did when you were a kid?" The yakuza Noguchi (Horibe Keisuke) poses this question to his childhood friend Sawaki (Tsutsumi Shin'ichi) at the beginning of Postman Blues, but it could equally be directed at the audience. How long has it been since a Japanese movie really made your adrenaline flow?

If it has been a while, the Postman Blues signals the end to your long wait. Just as Sawaki, a bored postman stung by Noguchi's query, in the end opts to get off the beaten path of postal delivery to seek his own thrills, director Sabu veers from a conventional Japanese cinema defined by either cheap diversions or dolorous art to deliver his own wonderful package of movie excitement.

The content we get is not exactly new: Sabu's entertainment strategy does not involve dumping convention out the window, but rather wittily playing with and parodying it. Part of the fun is just to sit back and spot movie citations ranging from old Nikkatsu action films and Takakura Ken to Chungking Express and Jean Reno.

The problem of convention is, in fact, the center of Sabu's comedic world. Last year's hilarious Dangan Runner, which played to great applause at the Berlin Film Festival, featured three idiot heroes and a cast of bungling characters almost fatally in love with macho stereotypes. This time, however, Sawaki is less an admirer of these constraining images than their unknowing victim.

Emerging from Noguchi's apartment, Sawaki is spotted by cops staking out the young gangster. Wondering why a postman would enter the apartment, they figure Sawaki must be some kind of delivery man and begin following him. After a few twists and turns involving drugs, a severed finger (cut by Noguchi in yakuza style), and some other details too absurd to explain here, the cops and their criminal profiler become certain that this postman is really a sexually peverted, drug-addicted, mass murdering gang kingpin who likes to dismember his victims.

In reality, Sawaki just wants to be something more than a postman, since that's how everyone seems to define him. His break from the routine is to pursue a love affair with Kyoko (Toyama Kyoko), a terminally-ill cancer patient whose letter he finds in his bag.

That romance is probably the most conventional and cloying part of Postman Blues, but it indicates how kindly Sabu looks upon characters with even the most cliched dreams if they are romantically hopeless. Beyond Sawaki, another such dreamer is the hitman Joe (Osugi Ren), whom Sawaki befriends at Kyoko's hospital, would win the Killer of Killers competition if it wasn't for the presence of a more powerful rival - the fatal killer inside his body.

Just as the mad dash in Dangan Runner enabled its heroes to transcend their categorized existence, it is Sawaki's frentic bike ride against the clock to meet Kyoko - all undertaken without knowledge of the police's high-tech pursuit - that gives him his thrills and us ours. The decision of Noguchi and Joe to help him also gives meaning to their lives.

But it is the cops with their roadblocks and blocked minds that makes them representative of all that is stifling about modern society. Despite their own bungling stupidity and a few good eggs, they are more formidable than the self-destructive fools in Dangan Runner. Their power drives up the ante and makes the smashing conclusion to Postman Blues that much more potent and adrenaline-filled. Postman Blues is an action comedy, one of the better ones in years. But as the "blues" in the title indicates, its world view is ultimately pessimistic. For Sabu, escape from this world must inevitably involve the most extreme forms of transcendence. Yet it is lucky for us that Sabu's own effort to rise above the dull clouds of tired Japanese film entertainment, through raucous and wonderfully radical, need not go that far.

THE BLESSING BELL                              B                     86                   

Japan  (87 mi)  2002


A Chicago world premiere!  Using a similar Tsai Ming-liang style, only without the meditative and reflective tone, a lone man who never speaks, Susumu Terajima, simply wanders aimlessly down the street and bears witness to strange occurrences, all are very slowly developing comedic sketches.  Strangers befriend him and reveal in utmost confidence their innermost secrets.  He seems always trying to help someone in need, but rarely are his efforts noticed or appreciated.  The entire film is largely plotless, piecing together bits of human interaction, improbabilities, usually leading to a humorous payoff. The film was slow, but amusing; none in the home run category.  Sabu was present, calls himself a genius, believes all his films are masterpieces, and took a picture of himself in front of the audience. While he did not claim influence, he did pay utmost respect to Akira Kurosawa. 


BUNNY DROP  (Usagi doroppu)            B                     86

Japan  (115 mi)  2011  ‘Scope


Taking a page out of Takeshi Kitano’s endearing KIKUJIRO (1999), where an adorable young child hooks up with an improbable gangster yakuza on a road journey across Japan, where their diametrically opposite impulses keep the viewers on their toes and the film from sinking into familiar territory, Sabu on the other hand instead chooses a more formulaic style, a single man raising a child, told in a rather straightforward manner but then enhances the experience by for the most part avoiding cheap sentiment.  Once more, the centerpiece is an enchanting child, in this case 6-year old Rin (Mana Ashida), who resembles the daughter Sachiko (Maya Banno) in Katsuhito Ishii’s THE TASTE OF TEA (2004), noticeably off to the side with no one paying attention to her during a grandfather funeral service, where it turns out she is his illegitimate child.  Everyone is too involved with their own affairs to worry about this child, believing child services would eventually intervene—everyone, that is, except the deceased’s grandson, 30-year old Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama) who asks if the child would like to come home with him where he gets a quick refresher course on parenthood, knowing next to nothing, but stubbornly refusing the help from his sister (Mirei Kiritani) who indicated he would crack within a few days.  Adapted from a manga comic by Yumi Unita, the point of view is clever enough to include Rin’s views throughout the film, feeling very much like a Miyazaki children’s film, as Rin has to make her way through this terrifying experience virtually alone, where Daikichi is more of her sidekick than the other way around.  Rin is firmly the centerpiece of this film.   


What is clear from the outset is that the two are perfectly matched, as both are a bit mature for their age, but Daikichi’s refusal to patronize the young girl helps considerably, as they work as a team, where she offers him advice on parenting skills, which are needed, as he quickly finds a child care center, but it’s unnerving having to carry this new girl through rush hour commuter trains and the swarms of pedestrian foot traffic in order to eventually find a center which is nowhere near his job, where he has to sprint the entire way if he expects to make it to work on time.  It’s evident no one could keep up that hectic schedule, where he’s forced to transfer to a lower paying position in order to avoid the late night mandatory overtime, arriving much too late to pick up Rin.  It’s amusing to discover none of his original coworkers had children, but all of his new coworkers do, where they’re quick to compare photos of their kids.  But the heart of the film is the interpersonal relationship between Daikichi and Rin, as it’s a sweet and warmhearted duo, told realistically and intelligently, where they both earn every bit of love and affection that they offer and receive.  Rin, for instance, occasionally asks profound questions, developing a complex inner life of her own. 


The first variance from the tone of realism are Daikichi’s daydream sequences, where he sees gorgeous women in magazine photo shoots and instantly fantasizes dancing an ultra-sensual tango, where the two sizzle with sexual intoxication, which are delightfully amusing moments, nothing kinky about them, but adds a suave and debonair step to Daikichi’s character.  He’s no super parent, as his many mistakes only make him more endearing and vulnerable, where he’s helped along the way by another single mom (Karina, one of the dazzling women in his fantasies) whose son and Rin become fast friends.  They are apparently the only two kids at the childcare center without two parents, as they are deeply affected by an assignment to draw many different pictures of their two parents, which sends them bolting out the door on a journey alone through the city.  Reported missing, there is a frantic citywide search for them, which has a familiar tone with Miyazaki’s MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), especially the way the search brings everyone closer together, an effective use of unforced realism, where a child’s world is not patronized or embellished by cheap narrative tricks, but is fully captivating by the attention to small details that capsulizes what matters the most, where their whole world is present in these everyday moments, often enhanced by Masayuki Iwakura's quietly effective score.  One of the best sequences of the film is a parallel alternative to Daikichi’s fantasy sequences, a children’s theatrical spectacle where they’re all dressed up in costumes and where the universe of children couldn’t be more magical and alive. 


a page of madness [Nicholas Vroman]

Adapting the bland, but popular manga, Usagi Drop, the insubstantial, but usually visually stylish director, SABU has created a particularly bland movie. Usagi Drop chronicles the 30-year old Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama) who becomes the surrogate single father for his deceased grandfather’s illegitimate 6 year-old daughter, Rin (Mana Ashida). Dwelling on the quotidian hassles of a busy salaryman stuck with an impossibly cute little girl and the comedic and/or semi-tragic situations that arise, SABU dispatches them summarily and formulaically. For SABU lovers, there’s a subplot dropping our hero working into a factory production line, buddying up to a bunch of working class male fetish objects. There’s also a single mother love interest subplot for the romance set. Machan gets a few scene-chewing moments, but little chance of character development. Mana Ashida is darling. With Bunny Drop one gets the impression that movies may be beginning to catch up with what society has pretty much put behind many years ago. Tales of child rearing and growing up are timeless, but Usagi Drop adds little to the genre.

Variety Reviews - Bunny Drop - Film Reviews - Shanghai Fest ...  Russell Edwards

Japanese helmer Sabu masterfully pulls a rabbit out of a cliched hat with "Bunny Drop," a joyful variation on the normally cloying adult-saddled-with-a-kid genre. Devoid of pretension and perfectly cast, pic has a gentle simplicity and takes a direct approach to parenthood's emotional riches. Given that Sabu is already a festival fave, this heartwarming confection will have no trouble hopping around the circuit. The source manga's huge following alone will help the film leap high at the Nipponese B.O. when it's released in August; beyond Asia, it will be a tougher sell.

Ever since "Little Miss Marker" in 1934, films have enjoyed forcing unlikely single men to look out for abandoned tots. Japanese films visit this setup repeatedly -- the original manga of "Bunny Drop" has already twice been made into an anime since it started in 2005 -- and the culture's sometimes queasy-making preoccupation with ingenues can make such films look morally suspect. Sabu circumvents all such obstacles here to deliver a film that is remarkable, despite its mostly unremarkable content.

Twenty-seven-year-old salaryman Daikichi (Kenichi Matsuyama, "Gantz," "Death Note") returns to his family home after a long, unexplained absence to attend his grandfather's funeral. Six-year-old Rin (Mana Ashida), the grandfather's deplored love child, is also there, although her mother is nowhere to be seen, and the rest of the family ignores her. Though it takes a while for Daikichi to adjust to the idea that this doe-eyed tyke is his aunt, he is appalled that his relatives want to dump her in an orphanage; in a flash of nobility, he offers to take care of Rin himself.

Back in Tokyo, Daikichi puts Rin in day-care but, like any single parent, still has to juggle his extensive work commitments, a grueling Tokyo train commute and increased home duties. Rin complicates matters further with the usual childhood problems: wetting the bed, not making friends, then making friends, becoming sick, experiencing feelings of abandonment and posing tricky questions about death. Still, all in all, cynics may decry Daikichi's relatively easy run as a single male parent in rigid, conservative Japan.

Sabu's pics ("Monday," "Hard Luck Hero") often generate comedy by upping the what-else-could-possibly-go-wrong ante, but here he plays against fans' expectations by keeping the wackiness to a minimum. Early on, a couple of hilarious, fashion magazine-inspired romantic fantasy sequences soften auds in preparation for the more mundane drama ahead, but the pic's familiarity and adherence to everyday trials and tribulations turn out to be its true strength. A dramatic climax that might have provoked shrugs of indifference is instead delivered with sweet perfection, though Sabu never administers too much sugar at once.

Matsuyama is sublimely deadpan as the loving single dad, and distaff thesp Karina does a lot with a little as the single mom who gives Daikichi parenting tips and provides a possible love interest. But the pic's main motor is the cuteness of tyke Ashida, who was only 6 when "Bunny Drop" was filmed but already had nine feature films on her resume. Clearly she's no amateur, and her high-quality perf is well supported by her co-stars and Sabu's judicious direction.

Lensing by Hiroo Yanagida has the soft-focus look favored by Japanese independent cinema. Like the script, Masayuki Iwakura's upbeat score flirts with treacle, but brings a great sense of fun to the film when it underlines the romantic fantasies of its male protag. Other tech credits are solid.

Camera (color, widescreen), Hiroo Yanagida; editor, Naoya Bando; music, Masayuki Iwakura; art director, Etsuko Akiba. Reviewed at Shanghai Film Festival (competing), June 15, 2011. Running time: 108 MIN.

The Japan Times [Mark Schilling]


Sachs Ira


Ira Sachs Changes Filmmaking • Vanichi Magazine  July 19, 2016

The Museum of Modern Art presents a complete, mid-career retrospective on how Ira Sachs changes filmmaking with his singular voice in America cinema. In the course of seven features and five short films, filmmaker Ira Sachs has established himself as preeminent storyteller.

From July 22 to August 3, Thank You for Being Honest: The Films of Ira Sachs will showcase the complete range of Sachs’s intimate work, from experimental shorts to insightful social comedies to piercing autobiographical dramas, in the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters. The series begins and ends with films that premiered with Sundance. Forty Shades of Blue (2005), which won the Sundance 2005 U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, will open the retrospective. The film is the emotionally gripping story of an aging Memphis record producer, hard drinker, and cad (Rip Torn), and his relationships with his Russian girlfriend (Dina Korzun) and his son Michael (Darren Burrows). The July 22 screening will be followed by a Q&A with Sachs, conducted by Rajendra Roy, Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at MoMA. The exhibition is organized by the Department of Film.

The series closes with Sachs’s most recent film, Little Men (2016), starring Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Ehle, and Paulina Garcia, and featuring breakout performances by two extraordinary 12-year-olds, Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz. The film explores the lives of two Brooklyn families and how their relationships are impacted when one inherits a brownstone containing a storefront rented by the other. As their sons become fast friends, tensions erupt among the adults over a rent hike, putting the boys’ friendship in peril. The August 3 screening will also include a Q&A with Sachs, conducted by Roy.

In Sachs’s early films—The Delta (1997), Forty Shades of Blue, and Married Life (2008)—the protagonists find themselves in their own very isolated and painful processes of self-discovery. In these three very different, but closely aligned works, the central relationships are either fueled or destroyed by secrets. Keep the Lights On (2012), Sachs’s most autobiographical film, is a “bridge” between his earlier work and the present since it shows characters hiding important parts of themselves from each other. Inspired by Sachs’s own troubled 10-year relationship with a charismatic—and drug-addicted—male partner, the film is a significant re-certification of Sachs’s position as a leading voice in New Queer Cinema.

In Sachs’s later films, Love Is Strange (2014) and Little Men (2016), there is a new lightness that revels in the comedy of everyday life. For the first time, the central relationships that drive the films have an integrity and honesty that was absent in his previous stories. The much-lauded Love Is Strange, which was nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards in 2014, stars Alfred Molina and John Lithgow as a long-time gay couple whose marriage ironically leads to their separation. In Little Men, it is the intimate bond of two friends that is threatened by the enmity and limitations of the adult world around them.

The series also includes Sachs’s first film, Vaudeville (1992), which follows a traveling theatrical troupe consisting primarily of gay and lesbian performers. The tensions within the tight-knit troupe mirror the troubles of larger political and social communities. In the short Lady (1994), the exact identity of the redhead at the center of the film is impossible to pin down. Is she a woman playing a man playing a woman or, more specifically, a lesbian playing a gay man playing a heterosexual woman? This purposeful ambiguity invites the audience to question the blurred parameters of sexuality, desire, and female identity. In Last Address (2009), Sachs, who first moved to New York City in 1984, uses images of the exteriors of the houses, apartment buildings, and lofts where New York artists (and others) who died of AIDS over the last 30 years were living at the time of their deaths to mark the disappearance of a generation. The elegiac film is both a remembrance of that loss and an evocation of the continued presence of their work in our lives and culture. Sachs arrived in New York in the heart of the AIDS epidemic, and a mood of political anger and sorrow—and a deep understanding of the impact of social forces on the lives of the individual—suffuses his work.

Ira Sachs  website


Ira Sachs - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia  brief bio


Ira Sachs - Movies, Bio and Lists on MUBI


Talking About the Space Between Us All: On Forty Shades of Blue ...  Dan Callahan from Bright Lights Film Journal, November 1, 2005


Forty Shades of Blue - Reviews - Reverse Shot  A Lack of Color, by Chris Wisniewski, September 28, 2005


Regular Lovers: Ira Sachs' Keep the Lights On - Cinema Scope  Adam Nayman from Cinema Scope, 2012


Keep the Lights On - Film Comment  Nathan Lee, September/October 2012


Fassbinder and His Friends: Ira Sachs | Filmmaker Magazine  Ira Sachs, May 31, 2014


'Love is Strange' teaches respect to gay elders | Out Magazine  Armond White, August 21, 2014 


'Love Is Strange,' the Most Unexpectedly Important Gay Film of the Year  Nick Romano from Screencrush, August 22, 2014


What I Love | Ira Sachs -  September 7, 2014


Thank You for Being Honest: The Films of Ira Sachs | MoMA  August 3, 2016


Latest feature by New York filmmaker Ira Sachs explores gentrification ...  Addie Morfoot from Crains New York Business, August 8, 2016


Ira Sachs's Closet Picks - From the Current - The Criterion Collection  video of Ira Sach’s Criterion DVD picks, August 10, 2016  (3:42 mi)


Art and Film: Ira Sachs on art and growing up - Two Coats of Paint  Sharon Butler, August 18, 2016


For writer-director Ira Sachs, it's all about the real estate | Movie ...  JR Jones from The Chicago Reader, September 1, 2016


Six Questions For Ira Sachs, Director Of "The Delta" | IndieWire  Cheri Barner interview, January 25, 1997


The Many Shades of Ira Sachs | Independent Magazine  Rick Harrison interview, October 1, 2005


Love and Death - Ira Sachs on 'Married Life' - Parallax View  Sean Axmaker interview, September 1, 2008


“THE BLUEPRINT” – Ira Sachs and Mike Ryan on FORTY SHADES ...  Mike S. Ryan interview from Hammer to Nail, March 6, 2009


Ira Sachs: I think having an honest relationship is not something that ...   Gregg Shapiro interview from Chicago Pride, Summer 2012


Ira Sachs: Everything is Illuminated - Page - Interview Magazine  Alexandria Symonds interview from Interview magazine, September 7, 2012


Filmmaker Ira Sachs on LOVE IS STRANGE – Film Journey  Patrick Z. McGavin interview, August 22, 2015


MoMA Retrospective Shows Filmmaker Ira Sachs's Very Personal ...   Felipe de la Hoz interview from The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2016


Voyeurs to Adult Life: Ira Sachs on “Little Men” | Interviews | Roger Ebert  Matt Fagerholm interview, August 3, 2016


The Tender 'Little Men' Finds Ira Sachs At His Best - Huffington Post  Matthew Jacobs interview, August 4, 2016


Ira Sachs Interview – How Director Ira Sachs Is Making Our ... - Esquire  Manuel Betancourt interview, August 5, 2016


Director Ira Sachs On Little Men -- Vulture  Kyle Buchanon interview, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs on 'Little Men,' Boyhood, and Telling Authentic New York ...  Erin Whitney interview from Screencrush, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs on Little Men, Gentrification, and the Value of a Movie That "Doesn't Work Economically”  Rich Juzwlak interview from Gawker, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs Discusses Remaking Ozu and Authentically Capturing ...  Jose Solis interview from The Film Stage, August 8, 2016


Ira Sachs and 'Little Men': What It's Like to Be Indie Film's Most ...   Ira Sachs and ‘Little Men’: What It’s Like to Be Indie Film’s Most Celebrated ‘Queer Filmmaker,’ Kevin Fallon interview from The Daily Beast, August 9, 2016


The Big-City Drama of 'Little Men': An Interview With Ira Sachs ...  Bernard Boo interview from Pop Matters, August 19, 2016


'Little Men' Q&A | Ira Sachs & Michael Barbieri - YouTube  Video interview of director Ira Sachs and actor Michael Barbieri at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, August 24, 2016  (17:31 mi)


Little Men's Ira Sachs on the Creation of His New York Stories ...  Bilge Ebiri interview from Westword, August 31, 2016


Filmmaker Ira Sachs worries about the right questions - Chicago Tribune  Michael Phillips interview, September 2, 2016


Ira Sachs - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (85 mi)  1996


The Delta, directed by Ira Sachs | Film review - Time Out  Tony Rayns

No less striking than Gus Van Sant's debut Mala Noche, this low-budget first feature by the assistant director of Longtime Companion offers a completely fresh perspective on life in Memphis, Tennessee. Lincoln (Gray) is a cute, 17-year-old kid from a good Jewish family with a nice girlfriend and plenty of straight buddies. But something draws him to the city's gay subculture - and into a dangerous relationship with the disturbed and unreliable Minh (Chan), child of a Vietnamese mother and a black GI, victim of every prejudice going. Sachs allowed his actors to develop situations and dialogue through improvisation, giving the film a meandering, naturalistic feel. When plot does assert itself, in the abrupt closing scenes, the effect is truly disconcerting.

The Onion A.V. Club [Joshua Klein]

Shayne Gray is an affluent white teen coming to grips with his closeted homosexuality. He has a girlfriend and a nice life, but at night he can't resist the pull of the cruising strips and adult-video parlors. Thang Chan is the half-Vietnamese, half-black young man Gray meets while cruising. The two embark on a short-lived, ill-fated love affair that consists mostly of talking before heading their separate ways. An ultra-low-budget film written and directed by Ira Sachs, The Delta tackles a lot of red-flag issues: sexuality, class, race. Unfortunately, what it neglects to address is the psychology of its characters. Both Gray and Chan harbor deep and, in one case, shocking secrets, but it's never made clear what made these two who they are. Unfortunately, Sachs never bothers to try. While the Huck Finn parallels of a boat trip the two take down the Mississippi has potential, Sachs just as quickly abandons that tack. The naturalistic performances are just that: Neither Gray nor Chan had acted before this film, and they both do a fine job in tough roles. But amateur actors and warts-and-all camerawork can't distract from the limitations of a simple script. While the structure of The Delta—sort of a tag-team narrative that begins with Gray and switches to Chan halfway through—is an intriguing touch, this gritty film never follows through on the issues it raises.

Hot Ink  Jesse Walker

In the 23rd annual Seattle Film Festival, there was one film that narrowly edged out every other as the best new movie: Ira Sachs' The Delta. Among the films that didn't make my cut are Julio Medem's earth (a fine Spanish fantasy hampered only by an excess of false endings) and Jan Svankmajer's Conspirators of Pleasure (a barely describable helping of Czech surrealism). I don't have room to describe all the pictures I saw at the festival -- to express how much I enjoyed Temptress Moon and Irma Vep, for example, or how much I hated Between Marx and a Naked Woman and One Summer in La Goulette, or how Lilies had merit but couldn't quite make the transition from stage to screen. Among all these partial failures, The Delta deserves special praise.

A superficially simple story of Lincoln (Shayne Gray), a Memphis teenager caught between heterosexual and homosexual identities, and Minh (Thang Chan), the half-black, half-Vietnamese man with whom he has a brief affair, The Delta features a depth of character and sense of place that is almost never seen in American cinema, independent or mainstream. It is a coming-of-age movie in which no one really comes of age; a brilliantly acted movie with a cast of nonactors; a film that depicts interlocking cultural worlds with none of the P.C. superficiality of John Sayles' wildly overpraised Lone Star. The only movie I've seen that's remotely like it is John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, which similarly plays with narrative conventions and mixes naturalism with suspense.

Why was "The Delta" so good? It was not just the breaking of generic conventions. Mere deviation from formula does not guarantee a good film. Diane Bertrand's A Saturday on Earth, for example, takes an admirably fresh approach to narrative: showing events out of order, mixing in documentary-style scenes, spending long periods with minor characters. But I never cared about the characters or the story, and soon grew bored as the pieces of the puzzle fell all too predictably into place. Too many films in this year's festival failed to match the richness and depth of The Delta.

Movie Magazine International [Andrea Chase]

What "The Delta" captures so perfectly is the monotony of life lived in the anything but fast lane of Memphis, Tennessee. It's boredom punctuated with desperation. Add gay, or at least sexually confused as our hero, Lincoln is and the constant hum of mosquitoes and endless chatter about nothing in particular transcends unbearable. When he tell someone that his mother ran off with a freak from California, you can't help but sense the envy there.

A night in Lincoln's life goes like this. He fights with his girlfriend over nothing during a painfully dull party, gets picked up by an unctuous businessman from out of town, and ends up at a sex arcade. There he's latched onto by Minh. They're slightly acquainted after having indulged in a roadside grope the night before. Minh, half african-american, half vietnamese and gay is an outsider everywhere he goes. Lincoln himself, dabbling in bisexuality is also an outsider of sorts. And in a place where being blunt is bad manners, Minh is refreshingly direct. Lincoln is fascinated. It's enough of a common ground to start a relationship.

The two depart for a weekend boat ride down the Mississippi where the black and white communities are both confused by the sight of this unlikely pair. It's only later, when Lincoln returns to his comfortable middle-class hetero life and Minh to his sinkhole of an existence that the true gulf between them becomes apparent. And their reactions to returning to those lives are interesting, but not really surprising.

This is a film that is deliberately slow and deliberately unglamorous. The camera observes without commenting on action that takes its own sweet time to unfold. The stars, Shayne Gray and Thang Chan are both first-time performers. They're natural and unstudied yet comfortable in front of the camera.

"The Delta" is a disturbing, sad idyll about alienation and casual bigotry. No one's too happy to begin with and there's precious little hope of any improvement - real southern gothic for the nineties.

THE DELTA (Ira Sachs, 1996) | Dennis Grunes


The Delta - Glass Eye Pix


Six Questions For Ira Sachs, Director Of "The Delta" | IndieWire  Cheri Barner interview, January 25, 1997


The Delta | Variety  Emanuel Levy


Austin Chronicle [Russell Smith]


San Francisco Chronicle [Peter Stack]


New York Times  Stephen Holden, also seen here:  Movie Review - - Unlikely Companions Fleeing Down River - NYTimes ...


The Delta (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (108 mi)  2005                  Official site


Forty Shades of Blue | Chicago Reader  Jonathan Rosenbaum

Ira Sachs likes to approach his hometown of Memphis through an alien perspective: his previous feature, The Delta (1996), was about the son of a Vietnamese woman and a black American soldier, and this new one, which won the grand jury prize at Sundance, is about a young Russian woman (Dina Korzun of Last Resort) who's moved in with an aging and neglectful rock star (Rip Torn), the father of her three-year-old son. The star's grown son (Darren Burrows) comes home for a visit, throwing various oedipal issues into relief, and Sachs, who wrote the script with Michael Rohatyn, creates a fresh and unpredictable portrait of the mother. But the narrative doesn't keep building on what it starts out with and stalls toward the end.

Forty Shades of Blue - Salon  Andrew O’Hehir

What American film once was, and could be again

In any other week of the year, pretty much, I’d have significantly more love available to lavish on Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blue,” a compelling family melodrama somewhat in the manner of late John Cassavetes or early Robert Altman. The story of a legendary Memphis soul-music producer (played by the great Rip Torn) who’s gradually losing his ice-blonde Russian girlfriend (a knockout performance by Dina Korzun), the film combines high production values, terrific acting and a distinctively American lyricism in a combination you hardly ever see these days.

Now a craggy, blocky man in late middle age, Torn is predictably terrific as Alan, a blustery tycoon who has built an empire but barely notices the emotions of those around him. But “Forty Shades of Blue” really belongs to Korzun, an extraordinary beauty who can also look, when conditions demand, like an angry, vulnerable child. At first, her Laura seems like the archetypal Moscow trophy wife: alcoholic, shopaholic, vain and perennially distracted, with her emotions never quite under control. When she brings home a random guy and then kicks him out (while Alan is boffing one of his singers), the house isn’t empty: Alan’s adult son Michael (Darren Burrows) has just gotten to town and is watching from the next room.

So Laura and Michael don’t exactly start off on the right foot, but that soon changes. Michael’s stuck in an unhappy marriage with a pregnant wife, and he and Laura of course have the larger-than-life Alan in common, as the source of both material well-being and numerous emotional wounds. There’s nothing terribly daring or unconventional about the way Michael and Laura move from emotional intimacy into something more, but the film’s combination of lustrous surface and surprising depth belongs to another time — the past, yes, but maybe also the future.

If Michael is revealed as more his father’s son than he wants to admit, Laura blossoms into a tragic heroine worthy of Tolstoy. She has cashed in on her beauty but now dares to want more; despite all the evidence around her, in the country she came from and the one where she wound up, she believes in love. As she and Michael sit in a parked car in a rainy diner lot, with her toddler son asleep in the back seat, she tells him that she has more than anyone she has ever known. The real discovery is that it still isn’t enough. “Forty Shades of Blue” is a breakthrough work by a major new talent in American film. If audiences beyond the big coastal cities don’t get to see this, shame on all of us.

The Village Voice: Michael Atkinson

A rare serving of adept regional indie cinema, Ira Sachs's Forty Shades of Blue uses its Memphis milieu as setting and as character—the film is waist-deep in country-blues insouciance humming with nostalgia for itself and disdain for early-millennium consumer homogenization. But Sachs, a talented realist whose previous feature was The Delta (1997), doesn't cartoon it up; the local fauna lives its own life at the film's edges. At its center is a graver family implosion fueled by Alan James (Rip Torn), a legendary record producer as tyrannical as he is magnetic, enjoying the autumnal awards-ceremony phase of his career. In his closest orbit coasts Laura (Dina Korzun), his Muscovite girlfriend, and at first blush the sort of bottle-blonde, fastidiously sexed-up trophy mate who walks so that her lank hair will properly catch the breeze.

The mother of Alan's three-year-old son, Laura is a Lucy Jordan waiting to happen—we first see her searching for relevance in a department store's perfume aisles, and Sachs shoots her so that she looks less like a confident fashion plate than a child lost in a new city. Korzun, unforgettable as the single-mom émigré in Pawel Pawlikowski's Last Resort, is perfectly cast—Laura is pretty but also plain, dedicated to beauty-shop artifice yet fiercely intelligent enough to lend her every gesture a sense of dissatisfied helplessness. Her trial comes, more or less, with the unheralded return to Alan's chintzy but opulent showbiz home of his grown son Michael (Darren Burrows), restively struggling whether he should divorce his wife now that she's pregnant. Naturally, the two searchers fall in together under Alan's radar.

The map of Sachs's story, co-written with soundtrack composer Michael Rohatyn, is far from original or unpredictable, and suffers through more than one unearned ker-blam of melodrama (Burrows's unhappy, Dad-shadowed hunk goes all heartbroken and swoony for Laura far too quickly). But the film's rhythms are seductively improv-y and off-kilter, dallying on passing details and often framing the actors as if they're being surveilled by an invisible camera. Half-heard conversations and inferred backstory are the rule. Sachs, a Memphis native, has cited Ken Loach as an influence; I kept thinking of the last decade of French films, by Assayas, Desplechin, Jacquot, and Doillon. But the difference may be negligible—call it ultranaturalism, lingering in the culture water table from the '70s of Cassavetes, Rafelson, and Schatzberg, and now a universal aesthetic too rarely achieved in the States. Actors tend to respond to this approach like flowers to sun, and the cast is uniformly genuine, with Torn making an utterly life-size (as opposed to movie-size) egomaniac, blustery and ass-kissed and still holding faith with free love and celebrity privilege.

But it's Korzun's film, and she is in complete control of her character, never divulging too much of the haunted woman under the studied facade of American hotsiness. Astounded by her affluent lifestyle, and hyperaware of how easily she could lose it, Laura tiptoes on eggshells in virtually every scene, even as she breaks down into tears after sex and explains it away with an instant and believable lie about her son's school and her own social discomfiture. It's a stunning scene, crafted moment to moment like a glasswork, backlighting Laura's essence as a walking duplicity, self-deluded into believing in the inherent value of modern America.

BFI | Sight & Sound | Forty Shades of Blue (2004)  Ryan Gilbey, July 2006

Memphis, the present. Alan James, a white music producer who made his name in black soul, lives with Laura, a Russian woman many years his junior, and their three-year-old son, Sam. Alan's adult son, Michael, fails to arrive from Los Angeles in time for an industry ceremony honouring Alan.

After the ceremony, Alan disappears with another woman and Laura accepts a lift from a stranger. At home, Laura has an altercation with the stranger, witnessed secretly by Michael. While waiting for Alan at lunch the next day, Michael tells Laura what he saw, and she leaves. Later, he apologises, and they become close, eventually having sex.

At a nightclub, Michael attacks the stranger who harassed Laura. After sex with Alan, Laura cries uncontrollably; Alan suspects it is because he hasn't married her. April, Michael's girlfriend, arrives from LA. At a garden party, Alan proposes to Laura in front of their guests. Michael gives a bitter speech. That night, Laura has sex with one of Alan's friends in the woods. The next morning, she demands to speak with Michael moments before he and April leave for the airport. He refuses to reveal to Laura whether or not he loves April. Alan and Laura go out that evening, but Laura gets out of the car and disappears into the night.


The surging soul music of Memphis rings out too infrequently in Forty Shades of Blue to provide more than a passing optimistic counterpoint to the muted agony of the film's characters. Included on the soundtrack are numbers by the city's legendary

writer-producer Bert Russell Berns, who died in 1967; the screenplay also grafts details from Berns' background onto the fictional Alan James, a gruff titan living on his reputation as the key figure behind 1960s and 1970s Memphis soul. Alan is played by Rip Torn, though the word "play" doesn't do justice to the way the actor assaults the role. The baggage that he brings from his part as the bullying Artie on the HBO series The Larry Sanders Show makes each outburst increasingly fraught, each flash of vulnerability that bit more unnerving.

Alan communicates largely in speeches; he flounders when he's not holding court. Early in the film he delivers a précis of his career at a music-industry ceremony honouring his achievements. When his adult son, Michael, comes to stay, Alan can't resist quantifying his shortcomings in a monologue that might have been honed over many hungover mornings in front of the bathroom mirror. Michael has developed his own coping mechanisms: sitting in a studio control booth while his father harangues an engineer, he presses a mute button on the mixing desk, reducing Alan to a wildly gesticulating mime artist trapped behind the glass.

By the time Alan delivers his last speech of the film, proposing to his Russian girlfriend Laura over the PA system at a garden party, his bluster has subsided. Laura has found a temporary escape from her partner in the arms of his own son. Writer-director Ira Sachs is not so crude as to engineer soap-opera showdowns, but the incriminating looks and wounded reaction shots tell us that Alan is as cognisant of Laura's betrayals as she has been, throughout the film, of his. Playing Laura, Dina Korzun, scarcely seen since Paul Pawlikowski's /six years ago, looks so frail it seems Torn could snap her like a twig. But the alertness she brings to Laura reveals the character to be tougher than she first appears. Even through helpless tears, as she retreats from sex with Alan, she fabricates a reason for her distress that is so plausible even the audience is likely to be momentarily suckered despite knowing the truth.

Sachs, who brought sensuality and menace to his 1996 debut The Delta, makes an uncharacteristic error during that garden party scene: as Alan clutches Laura in a slow dance following his marriage proposal, Sachs replaces the music of the on-screen soul band with Dickon Hinchliffe's plangent score, undercutting the partygoers' merriment and translating Alan and Laura's woes needlessly into music.

The misjudgement seems glaring only because the movie has observed at all other times the rule of 'show, not tell' - and sometimes there isn't even any showing. Events that would feature far more prominently in a more conventional narrative - the reconciliation between Michael and Alan, Laura confronting Alan over his infidelities, Michael and Laura agonising over their affair - are treated fleetingly, or not at all. The picture concentrates instead on the moments of intimacy or isolation that these characters experience in their compartmentalised lives.

The sense of alienation is evoked perfectly by production designer Teresa Mastropierro. She transforms Laura's bathroom into a science-fiction hall of mirrors worthy of Barbarella, and turns her home into an unfriendly complex of hallways and split-levels, with shadows into which a person might stray and never be seen again. Also well-conceived is the recording studio where Laura, Michael and Alan are segregated most explicitly from one another. Laura is in one booth with her three-year-old son, who bashes a drum kit. In the main studio area, Alan plays the piano, apparently for his own amusement. A cut to the control booth reveals that his light-fingered solo is only one part of a percussive dance track; notes that previously floated in isolation are now part of a tidal wave of sound. From the control booth, Michael catches Laura's eye; they wave at each other from their soundproofed sanctuaries, with Alan still attending to the keys between them. It's a delicate, highly charged little ballet, staged without undue irony or emphasis. In this scene, as with so much else in Forty Shades of Blue, Sachs keeps the tone tentative, the camera and cutting fluid, and the motives tantalisingly oblique.

Talking About the Space Between Us All: On Forty Shades of Blue ...  Dan Callahan from Bright Lights Film Journal, November 1, 2005


Forty Shades of Blue - Reviews - Reverse Shot  A Lack of Color, by Chris Wisniewski, September 28, 2005


Forty Shades of Blue | Film Review | Slant Magazine  Keith Uhlich


Tell Laura We Love Her: Ira Sachs' “Forty Shades of Blue” | IndieWire  three takes on the same film, September 26, 2005


Sandro Matosevic - Stylus Magazine - Deep South - Antonio Pasolini


Shades of Globalisation: The 24th Sundance Film ... - Senses of Cinema  Bérénice Reynaud, April 15, 2005


Cine Outsider [Slarek]


Film @ The Digital Fix - Forty Shades Of Blue  Noel Megahey


The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]


DVD Talk [Preston Jones]


FORTY SHADES OF BLUE | Film Journal International  Doris Toumarkine


The Year in Film – 2005 – AMC  Jeremiah Kipp


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]  Marie Lida


Cinema Crazed [Felix Vasquez Jr.]


The Many Shades of Ira Sachs | Independent Magazine  Rick Harrison interview, October 1, 2005


“THE BLUEPRINT” – Ira Sachs and Mike Ryan on FORTY SHADES ...  Mike S. Ryan interview from Hammer to Nail, March 6, 2009


Sundance paints 'Blue' | Variety  Todd McCarthy


Ira Sachs | Variety  Anthony Kaufman


Forty Shades of Blue (2006), directed by Ira Sachs | Film ... - Time Out  Dave Calhoun


BBCi - Films  Matthew Leyland


Forty Shades of Blue (15) | Reviews | Culture | The Independent  Anthony Quinn


Forty Shades of Blue | Film | The Guardian  Rob Mackie


Forty Shades of Blue | Film | The Guardian  Steve Rose


Forty Shades of Blue | Film | The Guardian  Mark Kermode


Slow, sad, restrained - and remarkable - Telegraph  David Gritten


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


Brilliant Blue | Nashville Scene  Dan Sallitt


Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]


San Francisco Chronicle [Ruthe Stein] [Roger Ebert]


Forty Shades of Blue - The New York Times  A.O. Scott


Forty Shades of Blue - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (101 mi)  2012                              Official site


Keep the Lights On (2012), directed by Ira Sachs | Film review - Time Out  Dave Calhoun

‘Keep the Lights On’ opens with a guy-on-guy phone-sex hook-up in 1998 Manhattan, and its direct, intimate attitude to examining couplings continues from there as it studies a troubled, eight-year, on-off gay relationship. Erik (Thure Lindhardt) is a filmmaker and a dreamy soul, while his partner, Paul (Zachary Booth, playing an alter ego of a former partner of writer-director Ira Sachs), is a publisher with barely disguised edges and hang-ups that soon make themselves known. Physically, the two connect, but Paul’s drug habit comes with a fear of commitment and an instinct to cheat or disappear.

The way Sachs examines a relationship over a few years recalls Bergman’s ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ (1973), while the fictionalisation of his life, with deliberate distancing decisions (such as Erik being Dutch; Sachs is from Memphis) brings to mind the work of Mia Hansen-Løve. This is a cool, interior work (emotionally and literally – Sachs delights in half-lit, moody rooms), and we share the distance Erik experiences between him and Paul, who remains a mystery. This is a painful drama, but its pain is more studied than emotive, and it demands that we think just as much as it makes us feel.

Exclaim! [Daniel Pratt]

One would think a film that chronicles a decade-long gay relationship would be cute and cozy, romanticizing the idea of protracted companionship, yet Ira Sachs's Keep the Lights On is a haunting tale that isn't so much about the ups and downs of a romance, but the analysis of deterioration between two people.

Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a sex-obsessed man that enjoys masturbating while talking to strangers on a phone sex hotline, first encounters Paul (Zachary Booth) in 1998 during what was intended to be an anonymous tryst. Paul claims to be with a girlfriend at the time yet a relationship between the two develops, eventually leading to the two men moving in together. The contrast between the men is evident: Erik is a fledgling documentary filmmaker trying to incorporate stability in his life, while Paul is a literary lawyer that goes off on crack binges to lose himself.

Continuing to follow the men over the years, we watch as they navigate intimacy and coldness, never maintaining an organic narrative, but dropping in on isolated moments of their relationship. It's no coincidence that these moments play like flashbacks, seeing as this is a semi-autobiographical tale of Sachs and his stormy relationship with literary agent Bill Clegg (author of Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man).

As the tale unfolds, you begin to feel as though you're viewing something that wasn't intended for you to see. Sachs frequently shoots from awkward angles or close-up on the actors to hone in on the smallest of details, while the sex scenes are a mixed bag of tenderness, clumsiness and sheer lust, which brings an air of authenticity to a gay relationship that has long been absent in mainstream cinema. The entire film is shot with a deliberately grainy aesthetic and thoughtful, inexact composition, as though appearing as if we're viewing the actual memories in Sachs's mind.

Keep the Lights On is a story of a relationship that brings out the best and the worst in two people, which is something any adult can relate to. This is a confessional platform for Sachs and it's a marvel that he was willing to share such a deeply personal story with the world, making this a liberating experience for not only him, but the many viewers that can relate to issues of co-dependence and fear of abandonment.

Village Voice [Eric Hynes]

Ira Sachs wants to start at the beginning. We meet on the corner of Delancey and Kenmare, where the filmmaker's New York story started in 1985. This is where he worked as an assistant to Eric Bogosian while a Yale sophomore, poised between the suburban Memphis of his childhood and big-city adulthood. On a warm August morning walk up through Soho to the Village and Chelsea, past the work spaces and restaurants and apartment vestibules that have defined his adult life, it becomes apparent how important memory and physical return are to both Sachs's life and work, and how effectively subjective recollection can evolve into objectively rendered art.

Two and a half decades after his arrival, Sachs has finally made his New York movie. Keep the Lights On, which opens this Friday, tells the autobiographical story of a tumultuous 10-year relationship between Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a documentary filmmaker, and Paul (Zachary Booth), an attorney who spirals into drug addiction.

The film focuses on Erik and Paul and the cramped apartments and crowded cafés where their drama unfurls, closely mimicking the real-life relationship between Sachs and literary agent Bill Clegg (whom, through mutual agreement, Sachs only refers to as "my ex," and whose own story was published as a memoir this year). Yet the city feels like a third character to both the film and the relationship it depicts. In Keep the Lights On, lives are defined by sidewalk encounters and changed over the course of three-block walks to the subway.

Zigzagging up Lafayette Street, Sachs talked of how his films about Memphis—The Delta and Forty Shades of Blue—flowed from the confidence of someone who could tell stories from "right in the center of that city." "It's taken me 25 years to feel like I was ready to do that here," the 46-year-old filmmaker says. He points out the former location of a restaurant where he once waited tables. "I was struggling with myself enough that I didn't have any distance from my own experience. New York grabbed me too hard, as did adulthood."

That struggle made its way into Keep the Lights On, which spans a professionally unproductive period from the late '90s to the mid '00s when he dedicated himself to a doomed, co-dependent love affair. "He couldn't get on a plane without me holding the tickets, and I couldn't write an e-mail without him reading it and improving it," he recalls, before pointing to a window above Petrosino Square in Soho behind which he once shared an office with filmmakers Kelly Reichardt and Larry Fessenden. Like many postgrads, he tried to create stability during an unstable time of life. "I think of it as the struggle between bohemian and bourgeois. Most of us are somewhere in between—we want both."

Keep the Lights On directly references late-20th-century downtown art and gay culture, from its Arthur Russell soundtrack to a film within a film about queer-scenester photographer Avery Willard. For Sachs, it was about acknowledging the history of this community of artists, many of whose apartments we pass—as well as owning up to who he is. "Most simply but profoundly, I chose to live an honest life," he says. "Which I think as a gay person is not a given." With its naked but never self-indulgent depictions of sex and all manner of addiction, Keep the Lights On is disarmingly, at times exhilaratingly, human. When Erik holds Paul's hand through an act that directly betrays him, you're invited not to judge but, thanks to our complete access to the characters, to empathize and identify. It's a drama of hidden things brought to light.

The Knickerbocker Bar and Grill on University Place is one of several homes away from home Sachs winds past. He points out two tables: one up front where he used to sit with his ex, and another in back where he now sits with his husband, the artist Boris Torres. Across the street—in the film and Sachs's own life—is where an explosive fight helped point toward an eventual breakup. "This block is the past, is the present, is the movie," he says. Over on 15th Street, we visit the row of apartment buildings where Sachs's doomed affair both began and ended, which is also where the director shot his film's finale. Although he describes grueling nights circling the block waiting for his bingeing ex to come home, he does so less as divulgement than testament, as someone whose experience has fully transformed into narrative.

"All of my films have been autobiographical—it's all I've got to go on," he says. "But on no level do I think that this is a confessional film. The process of talking allows me to voice the story," a story that can have value, and be owned, by others—just as the New York of his memory is lapped by the New York of his film, both of which we've just lapped on our morning stroll. "You're going to take what we just did, and you're going to define it. You're going to narrate it, you're going to create the chronology, and I'm not going to be able to read it before you publish it," he tells me, sounding both wary of and excited by the prospect. "And at that point, you will disappear from it."

Regular Lovers: Ira Sachs' Keep the Lights On - Cinema Scope  Adam Nayman from Cinema Scope, 2012

Keep the Lights On begins with a very modern kind of masquerade: from his single bed in a Brooklyn apartment, Erik (Thure Lindhart) tries to sell himself as a sneering stud to a series of strangers on a gay-sex party line. Yet while this opening creates an expectation that the film will be an account of a man with a mutable personality, Erik turns out to be a steadfast figure, whether resolutely editing his under-funded documentary or supporting his boyfriend Paul (Zachary Booth)—first introduced as merely the hottest of Erik’s chat-line hookups—for nearly ten years as the latter struggles with drug addiction. Though by all accounts based on writer-director Ira Sachs’ relationship with literary agent Bill Clegg (who previously detailed the couple’s experiences in his 2010 memoir Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man), Keep the Lights On is not a case of he-said/he-said; it’s no more a hatchet job of its Clegg stand-in than it is a valorization of its authorial surrogate. Rather, both Erik and Paul are perceived (and acted) with the combination of curiosity, surprise and indulgence that has become Sachs’ signature across four uneven but unmistakably humane features.

It’s Erik, however (and perhaps unsurprisingly), who really comes into focus. Endowed with an intriguingly ambivalent edge by Lindhart—making a left turn from his swashbuckling shtick in the 2008 resistance drama Flame & Citron and cutting an engagingly strange figure with his sharp features and large, soft eyes—Erik seems to regard Paul’s self-destructive behaviour as simultaneously an affront, a betrayal, a challenge, and, maybe, an escape hatch. Keep the Lights On is at its best when it foregrounds Erik’s contradictory impulses towards a life partner who disappears for days at a time, and at its weakest when he and Paul are doing well—though that’s arguably part of the overall design. The title cards that indicate the duration of the relationship, starting in 1998 and ending in 2008, are deployed somewhat ironically, since for all of the big-time upheavals—fights, revelations, an intervention, and at least one devastating relapse—neither Erik nor Paul ever really changes. Paul is aloof and guarded, Erik is aggressively clingy, and in both cases these traits are a cover for deeply rooted fears: Paul’s detachment masks the extent to which he is at the mercy of his addiction, while Erik devotes himself to a damaged man in order to deny an innately promiscuous spirit that has clearly been a source of troubles big and small for most of his life.

While the characterizations are rich, the film’s style is rather blank. Sachs says that he studied Maurice Pialat’s work before shooting, but the compositions feel more indebted to Philippe Garrel (although maybe that’s just because of all the moping and drug-taking). Largely to his benefit, Sachs has never been an especially ostentatious directorial presence, and Keep the Lights On duly stumbles with its one overdetermined sequence, a dark-hotel-room-of-the-soul interlude where Erik punishes himself by bearing grimacing witness to Paul at his lowest point; the resultant tableaux of debasement is a little too consciously “powerful,” in the manner of the Other Steve McQueen. This misstep aside, the film is quite skillfully engineered underneath the omnipresent soundtrack cues by Arthur Russell. Sachs’ canny choice of Athina Rachel Tsangari’s regular DP Thimios Bakatakis (who most recently shot the high-gloss, high-fashion hijinks of Tsangari’s The Capsule) proves a boon when it comes to shooting the film’s realistically fleshy sex scenes—most notably Paul and Erik’s first coupling, which is filmed in an intimate, appreciative long take that leaves the choreography to the actors. Reverse Shot’s Michael Koresky has smartly observed how the opening credits, which unfold over male nudes drawn by Sachs’ husband Boris Torres, rhyme with the erotic thrust of this first hookup, and also how that charge gets progressively dimmer as unbridled passion mutates into something at once homier and comfortably numb over the course of the film. Even more commendably subtle than these finely detailed emotional gradations is Sachs’ use of New York, which by forgoing familiar markers both locational and historical (September 11 comes and goes without mention) prevents the film from becoming a contemporary time capsule and keeps the focus on Erik and Paul’s turbulent situation.

Sachs’ lack of interest in the changing tides of fashion dovetails nicely with the documentary that Erik is working on, a biographical portrait of queer-art axiom Avery Willard which features a lot of wizened old scenesters reminiscing about their salad days in the New York underground—a narrative conceit that both implies a marked distance between artistic generations (Erik, Paul and their friends all orbit the establishment) and places Erik’s earnest, cash-strapped endeavours within a longer cultural continuum. (Interestingly, In Search of Avery Willard is a real documentary; director Cary Kehayan let Sachs piggyback on his shoot to give the impression that his characters were behind the cameras.) Prefiguring Sachs’ own Berlinale citation earlier this year, Erik eventually wins a Teddy Award (in a scene that gains in authenticity both by being shot at the festival and for the cameo by a certain unmistakable NYC publicist), and his stricken expression when he can’t reach Paul on the phone to inform him of his triumph is one of the film’s most lasting images: a crystallization of Erik’s concern and exasperation that portends the likely collapse of the relationship.

A couple of scenes later, drunkenly walking back to his (empty) apartment from a nightclub with a Latino art student incongruously named Igor (Miguel del Toro), Erik is, if not recovered, rebounding—he’s a coyly charming mess, sorely tempted both by circumstance and the attractiveness of his pickup. As with the opening phone-Lothario business, the point is not that the character is some sort of shape-shifter or put-on artist, nor that he is callowly avoiding his worries about a lover who may be lost to him once and for all. What we’re seeing are not signs of  inconstancy, but rather the behaviour of someone trying to do right not only by his absent partner, but also by the seriously divided urges left in his wake. Keep the Lights On never quite succeeds as a portrait of two people in passionate thrall to each other, partly because we know (or can at least easily infer) where things are going—the film’s whole reason for being is that it is based on a relationship that didn’t work out. But it’s extremely effective (and affecting) as a character study of a man coming to realize that he’d rather be his whole self than somebody else’s better half.

Keep the Lights On - Film Comment  Nathan Lee, September/October 2012

1998: They meet on a phone-sex number of the old-school landline  type, a carnal technology as obsolete as the hanky code. You never know with these things. Negotiating anonymous sex with a stranger is risky imaginative business, and sometimes the vision you’ve constructed of a hot, well-built jerk-off buddy turns out to be an egregious condo-dwelling muscle queen hopped up on meth. But on a good night you walk across town, ring the buzzer, climb the stairs, and are greeted by just the right guy. Hello! Trim and boyish, with an easy smile, tight ass, and closet full of preppy basics, Paul (Zachary Booth) is a nearly perfect specimen of the clean-cut post-twink power bottom. Erik (Thure Lindhardt), a scruffy East Village horndog and self-described dominant top, has no sooner grunted hello and disengaged from a kiss than he’s deep inside him.

Beyond locating us in a specific sexual culture—downtown New York in the late Nineties—the random hookup that opens Keep the Lights On establishes a number of themes that will resonate across its 10-year chronicle of Erik and Paul’s relationship. Directed by Ira Sachs (sharing screenplay credit with Mauricio Zacharias), the movie begins on a note of contingency that will haunt, in powerful but subtle ways, all to come. By showing us the poses and personas required to pull such seductions off, Keep the Lights On acknowledges (without belaboring) the performative nature of identity; how each of our claims to selfhood, be it sexual, romantic, or professional, are staged on a shifting terrain of habit, fantasy, and desire. Erik’s studiously butch telephone manner is only a heightened case of the more generalized projections that shape all of our psychic and social bonds. Keep the Lights On is sharply attuned to the resentments that undergird couples whose shared lives must negotiate wildly different career structures and claims on their attention. Paul, a documentary filmmaker partly funded by his family, is more than once reminded by Erik, a literary agent, that “some of us have real jobs.” And it’s characteristic of the film’s emotional economy that we’re made to see, without it being explicitly pointed out, how the maintenance of a day job assists Paul in masking—from himself and others—a serious crack cocaine habit. That’s the real meaning of his parting words to Erik on their first night: “I have a girlfriend, by the way, so don’t get your hopes up.”

2000: Keep the Lights On is structured by abrupt leaps through time marked by title cards identifying the year, with each subsequent chapter bringing us to a more fucked-up place than the last. Erik and Paul now share an apartment, but only nominally; Paul repeatedly vanishes into weeklong sex-and-drugs binges. The movie’s title will come to mean something much different later on, after all the cycles of desperation, hurt, anger, and rehab have played themselves out, and more than love—life and death—depends on the vigilant illumination of shadows. For now it signifies Erik in his lighthouse, maintaining a beacon for Paul.

One night in bed, Erik literally fucks the shit out of him. Admirably matter-of-fact, if perilously blunt as a metaphor for uncorked emotional messiness, the scene deftly stages the pragmatics of buttsex etiquette. The cleanup routine: apologies en route to the shower and the stripping of sheets, undertaken with a crisp efficiency that telegraphs the event as one of those grown-up things you just deal with, albeit with a certain amount of unavoidable embarrassment. Followed, as such things often are, by either the outright neutralizing of horniness or at least a period of Downy-fresh regrouping and pillow talk.

Sachs orchestrates the sequence with his typical acumen for the nuances of gay sexual experience, and uses it to flesh out the core dramatic problem of the film. Keep the Lights On is not the story of why Paul is Paul, what motivates and triggers his addiction, whether or not he’ll pull through—all that messy shit. It is, instead, almost entirely concerned with Erik’s addiction to the highs and lows of an all-consuming attachment. I don’t mean to be callous, or to suggest that Paul isn’t worth the trouble. But the very design of the movie renders the question beside the point. There’s something illogical about all relationships, some degree-zero of pure contingency under all the various “compatibilities” and “mutual interests” and “amazing blow jobs.” Sometimes people hook up by phone, and they like it, so they fuck some more, and start hanging out, and stay together for 10 miserable years.

We see very few scenes of happiness between them, all localized at the start of the picture, after which, and relentlessly, there is little but hurt. In a different kind of movie this would constitute a flaw in the structure of investments (for both Erik and the viewer), and even here the distance kept from Paul, the almost total lack of access to his interiority, needs to be accounted for. Sachs, I would argue, is less interested in the reasons we care about things than in the mechanics of care itself—what it looks like, how it feels, its ardors and torments. Keep the Lights On is not a portrait of love’s object, but a study of love’s zealous procedures.

1996: “The distance between two men is…” The Delta. Sachs’s 1996 debut film—and still his best—expands on the neorealist technique of situating a drama in, and through, a real- time flow of context and milieu. The film evokes an amazingly vivid image of Memphis and environs as experienced through the intersection of two alienated lives: Lincoln (Shayne Gray), a diffident middle-class white kid who cruises porn shops and pickup spots; and Minh (Thang Chan), a gregarious Vietnamese immigrant whose avid sexuality bears complex ties to his socioeconomic marginalization. Sachs decimates two of queer cinema’s most persistent clichés here: the closet-case coming-of-age yarn, featuring some hairless all-American type; and the hustler psychodrama, with its trapped-animal erotics and tortured subalternity. Anchored, like all of Sachs’s work, by exceptionally intelligent casting and the privileging of behavior over psychology, The Delta stakes out a vantage from these characters that allows for indeterminacies of feeling, atmosphere, and motive to be captured with great precision.

Historically aligned with the New Queer Cinema, the film’s energies feel closer to Garrel or the Apichatpong of Tropical Malady, and it would be remembered as sui generis if Sachs hadn’t reworked the template in Forty Shades of Blue (05) and Keep the Lights On. You could track any number of consistencies across them, starting with the trope of the stranger in a strange land, tied up with themes of estrangement and the couple. Forty Shades of Blue, like The Delta, displaces a foreigner to the South then doubly displaces her in an alienated relationship. (Married Life, the anomaly of the Sachs oeuvre, totalizes this procedure in genre terms: the mid-century Hitchcockian domestic thriller transplanted to 2007 Indiewood.) Throughout his films, Sachs  has leveraged this conceit to open perspectives on class and cultural difference, but its persistence in the case of Erik (a Dane in New York) suggests a deeper strategy for articulating his own experiences by proxy.

2012: Keep the Lights On is based on Sachs’s relationship with Bill Clegg, a well-known New York literary agent whose outrageous drug and sex addictions were parlayed into the 2010 memoir Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. I haven’t read it, and don’t much care to: I have my own distances to calibrate. Autobiography is an eternal problem of critique, since all critique founds itself, explicitly or not, on some relationship (embraced or disavowed) to autobiography. Does it matter that these things “really” happened to Sachs? Does it account for any special effect? I feel, intensely, the stakes of Sachs’s project, his effort to analyze the past, to locate memories and appraise their texture, to weigh their resistance, and embark on the delicate, dangerous work of prying them out and folding them into the material of a film. Does it matter that any of this presses on the bruise of my own recent breakup? Everything matters to someone.

1992: The year arthur Russell Died. His music—aching ballads, experimental disco, downtown classical—blankets from start to finish. More than the lighting or cinematography, though nicely keyed to their moody grain, it is Russell’s gorgeous melancholy that establishes a tone. It’s almost too apt and too much, a minor case of excessive enthusiasm born from the recognition of one artist’s project reflected, with great lucidity, in the practice of another.

Russell died at the age of 40 while living in an apartment at 437 East 12th Street. Sachs filmed the exterior of this building, and many others once home to those lost to AIDS, in his 2010 short film Last Address. Here is a memorial of absolute simplicity and complex witness, folding, in one gesture, memory and its capture, desire and distance, shadows and light.

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]


PopMatters [Jose Solis]


The House Next Door [Michal Oleszczyk]


Movie Review: Keep the Lights On -- Vulture  Bilge Ebiri


“Keep the Lights On”: A gay breakthrough, and a great movie - Salon ...  Andrew O’Hehir, September 6, 2012


Sundance: A great gay film, or just a great film? -  Andrew O’Hehir, January 27, 2012


Cinescene [Chris Knipp]


Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]


The Playlist [Simon Abrams]


The A.V. Club [Sam Adams]


Slant Magazine [Chuck Bowen]


Film Freak Central Review [Angelo Muredda]


ArtsHub [Sarah Ward] - keep the lights on  Michael D. Klemm


[Review] Keep the Lights On - The Film Stage  Danny King [Tom Birchenough] [Tim Isaac]


indieWIRE [Eric Kohn]


ReelTalk [Donald Levit]


Dog And Wolf [Mark Wilshin]


Sound On Sight [Lane Scarberry]


Eye For Film [Owen Van Spall] [Jeffrey Kauffman]


DVD Talk - Blu-ray [Christopher McQuain]


HeyUGuys [Jamie Neish]


SBS Film [Craig Mathieson]


NPR [Bob Mondello]


Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus] [William Goss]


Fin de cinéma [Joe Bowman]  reviewed with Xavier Dolan’s LAURENCE ANYWAYS, not really liking either one


Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]


Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]


Grolsch Film Works [Joseph Walsh]




NextToTheAisle [Jamie Garwood]


Way Too Indie [CJ Prince] [David Hall]


The Arts Desk [Karen Krizanovich] (DVD)


Screen Comment [Eric Isaac]


Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]  (capsule)


Keep the Lights On - The New Yorker  David Denby (capsule)


Sundance ‘12: A Conversation with Zachary Booth and Thure Lindhardt  Kee Chang interview from Anthem magazine, January 18, 2012


Entertainment Weekly [Owen Gleiberman]


Hollywood Reporter [David Rooney]


Variety [Justin Chang]


Time Out New York [Joshua Rothkopf]


Keep the Lights On – review | Film | The Guardian  Mike McCahill


Intimate drama garners best reviews yet for Ira Sachs  John Beifuss from USA Today


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]


San Francisco Chronicle [David Lewis]


Keep the Lights On Movie Review (2012) | Roger Ebert


New York Times [A.O. Scott]  also seen here:  Ira Sachs Directs 'Keep the Lights On' - The New York Times


Keep the Lights On - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



USA  (94 mi)  2014                    Official site


Short Takes: Love Is Strange - Film Comment  Eric Hynes

Working again with a DP borrowed from the Greek new wave and favoring an elliptical, lower-case strategy that evokes the likes of Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas, Memphis-born Ira Sachs has become one of our most European filmmakers. But he also understands the purpose and power of old-fashioned Hollywood high concept, of delicately detailing within well-worn grooves.

Love Is Strange invokes McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow to craft a contemporary fable of separation: aging West Villagers Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) marry after several decades of cohabitation, only to find themselves without a home when the Catholic school at which George works as a music teacher fires him for making his homosexuality public. Since none of their friends have spare bedrooms, they have to separate whilst searching for a new apartment, with George crashing on a neighbor’s couch and Ben sharing a bedroom with his niece’s teenaged son.

Sachs doesn’t subvert his tearjerker enterprise so much as soften and parcel out emotion, empathizing no more with the distraught couple than with their hosts, whose lives are no less inconvenienced, or interesting. And though the conceit would seem to invite overplaying by its headlining hams, Sachs instead elicits their finest work in years, with Lithgow mining deepening fragility, and Molina displaying the somber comportment of a man unrepentantly in love.

Movie Review: 'Love Is Strange' | Observer  Matthew Kassel

Love is strange, according to the title of Ira Sachs’ winsome new feature—and, of course, the Mickey and Sylvia tune from 1956. But for this film about an elderly gay couple confronted with loss, the phrase is a bit of a misnomer. The most striking thing about the love between Ben and George, the two men the movie focuses on, is how natural it seems.

That is a credit to Mr. Sachs’ unobtrusive style—the film wasn’t rehearsed—and a sweet script he co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias, his writing partner on his previous endeavor, Keep the Lights On. But mostly it is due to John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, who play the leading couple, partners of 39 years.

The film begins, basically, in medias res, as Ben (Mr. Lithgow) and George (Mr. Molina) scramble about their New York apartment, making their way to their own wedding. There is an air of merriment as Ben’s niece, Kate (Marisa Tomei), gives a heartfelt toast. But things quickly go wrong. George, who works as a music instructor at a Catholic school, is summarily fired when word gets out about his marriage. He and Ben are then forced to give up their co-op, which they can no longer afford.

While they look for a new home, Ben moves in with Kate and her family in their Brooklyn apartment, and George crashes with a pair of gay male police friends (he calls them the “policewomen”). Initially this feels gimmicky: Ben, a painter who often looks as if he’s crawled out of bed, constantly distracts Kate, a novelist, as she’s working at her computer. “I can’t really work if there’s someone else around,” he says, obliviously. And George suffers through a number of rowdy parties he is too old to enjoy.

But Mr. Sachs thankfully shirks the schtick, settling instead on a more mellow and meandering narrative, with pockets of humor and heartbreak, giving Love Is Strange its casual, welcoming feel. Although the circumstances in which Ben and George find themselves certainly test their endurance, it becomes clear their commitment is unbreakable.

An obvious precedent for Love Is Strange, whose delicate score features a series of contemplative Chopin études, is Amour, Michael Haneke’s beautiful yet devastating take on the prospect of death in old age. But if Mr. Haneke’s 2012 film, which followed the slow and painful degeneration of a stroke victim, drained you of hope, Love Is Strange will leave you in no such condition, even if its outcome is not what you may have wished for and a melancholic undercurrent runs through it.

Not much happens in the film, which seems to be the point. If love is strange, it isn’t because it’s action-packed. As much as the movie is a tender portrait of lasting commitment, it is also a lovingly unembellished snapshot of New York that Nora Ephron would be proud of. A Metro newspaper box sitting idly on a city corner. A shot of the Waverly Diner, its green and orange neon lights illuminated at night. A rooftop view of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn. Ben and George attempting to hail a cab at a busy intersection. All of these moments conspire to give Love Is Strange its weirdly authentic aura.

Love Is Strange - The New Yorker  Anthony Lane

The new Ira Sachs movie, “Love Is Strange,” begins where many stories used to end, on a wedding day. There are no bells, but we get an open-air ceremony, a few speeches, a sing-along around a piano, and a deep, smacking kiss between groom and groom. Ben (John Lithgow), a painter, and his British partner, George (Alfred Molina), have been together for decades. Now they set the seal on their affection.

That simple gesture, however, has repercussions. George is the music director at a Catholic church in Manhattan, where his sexuality has never been a secret; by marrying, though, he falls foul of diocesan rules and loses his job. The lack of fuss that he makes, when faced with dismissal, is our first clue to the shading of his character and to the temper of Sachs’s film. We prepare ourselves for outrage, and it never comes. Instead, as George accepts his fate, his features and his heavy frame subside into a doleful, if courteous, despair. Invited by the priest to join him in prayer, George declines: “I think I’d like to pray on my own.”

To an extent, all this is the mark of Molina, perhaps the leading melancholic of our age. Even as the villain of “Spider-Man 2,” armed with killer tentacles, he managed to inject a dose of the rueful. But the snapping ferocity that is also his to command—as anyone who saw him onstage, as Mark Rothko, in “Red,” can testify—is hushed here, and his only outburst, in the whole movie, is a sudden tempest of tears, as he shuffles through the door, on a rainy night, into the arms of Ben. We could be watching a small boy, plump and bullied, seeking a parent’s embrace. Such sorrow makes an ideal foil for Lithgow, who is blessed with more natural upswing, in his demeanor and in the rising curve of his voice; he can flip from petulant to avuncular in a heartbeat. They make a lovely couple.

“Love Is Strange,” however, is not about gay marriage. It is about a marriage that happens to be gay. If the film grows slightly boring, even that can be construed as an advance. In the dramatizing of gay rights, somebody needed to include the right of same-sex partners to be as bogged down in moping and pettiness as anyone else, and Sachs has shouldered the task. He has made things easy for himself, you could argue, by setting the story in a state and a town where two guys getting hitched is no big deal, but, by way of compensation, choosing New York City does provide him with a source of genuine anguish: not sex (we see a quick cuddle on the lower deck of a bunk bed, and that’s it); not religion (George affirms his faith once, then never refers to it again); but real estate. The loss of one income forces the newlyweds to give up their place and, unable to afford an apartment big enough for both of them, find separate refuges. And the moral is: Those whom God has joined together let rents and co-op boards put asunder.

So George moves in with friends downstairs—a pair of gay cops—sleeps on their couch, and tries not to mind the rumpus of their gregarious lives. Ben, meanwhile, goes to the Brooklyn home of his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), who struck me as increasingly creepy; Elliot’s wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei); and their teen-age son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). Tomei’s performance is, as usual, alert and unvain, and there is a fine scene in which Kate—a novelist by trade, presumably one of dozens living on her street—tries and fails to write while Ben peppers her with specks of annoying conversation. For his part, Ben goes up to the roof to paint, looking for all the world like Matisse, with his white beard, spectacles, and scruffy summer hat. There are tranquil shots of the city as it breathes the afternoon light, yet I felt like shaking him and saying: Haven’t you heard about the country? It’s calmer and cheaper, with even better light. So why stay here, torn from your beloved, when you could pack up your easel, take his hand, and go? 

Love Is Strange review | Sight & Sound | BFI  Roger Clarke, February 13, 2015, also seen here:  Sight & Sound [Roger Clarke]

Writer-director Ira Sachs continues his semi-autobiographical streak after the career highlight of Keep the Lights On (2012). Love Is Strange is a perfectly poised 90-minute portrait of an ageing gay couple who find themselves not so much thrown out of their own apartment as thrown out of their own lives. Unlike the drug-addled obsessions of Keep the Lights On, however, this is a film you could take your grandparents to see, in the nicest possible sense of that proposition.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a couple who have been together for decades. At the beginning of the film they get married, and it’s a communal and celebratory Manhattan affair: the reception at their modest apartment is full of love, with friends and family telling them what an inspiration they are.

But because of this public declaration, George finds that he has fallen foul of his conditions of employment at the conservative Catholic college where he is a music teacher, and is summarily sacked. He and Ben can no longer afford to live where they do. They sell up, get almost nothing in cash terms, and have to stay with different households.

There then follows a painful portrait of Ben living with his nephew and family, and George perching in the apartment of some gay cop neighbours, whose late-night socialising means he can’t go to bed on the couch. Forlorn telephone conversations follow. “Sometimes when you live with people you know them better than you care to,” observes Ben.

Lithgow and Molina have known each other for years, and fall easily into a sense of advanced brotherliness that is entirely convincing. But this is really Lithgow’s film and we dwell most in his company; his Ben is a penniless artist (apparently based on someone known to Sachs) with a good heart, albeit one riddled with cardiovascular disease.

His gentle mentoring of Joey, the teenager he is obliged to share a room with, is one of the film’s focus points; the boy is played by Charlie Tahan, who was Zac Efron’s ghostly brother in Charlie St Cloud (2010) and, more amusingly, Victor in Frankenweenie (2012). Joey is a grumpy teen who can spout a touch of unthinking homophobia – he hates Ben occupying his room; and he disapproves when Ben, returning to art as an escape and as an affirmation of who he is, paints a portrait of his friend Vlad on the roof.

The film’s colours are warm and summery, and the music plays a central part, from the Chopin piano at the start to the lessons conducted by George: one very precise scene in which he teaches a little girl seems to unlock his own voice – in voiceover he reads a letter about tolerance to the parents of the school. The editing is crisp and spare without being brutal, and serves best purpose, removing a whole skein of unnecessary detail without harming the emotional core of the story.

Interestingly, Sachs has talked about this film as a kind of comedy, and there are gently funny scenes, such as when the couple pretend to be Stonewall veterans and get free drinks in a bar; there’s a deft cinephile mix of the personal and a tribute to 1940s ‘married then separated’ movies such as The Philadelphia Story.

Sachs has also talked of it as a film about education “with a small ‘e’”. That seems most evident in the ultimately benign and helpful effect Ben has on George. Sachs, who has recently married his long-term partner and lives in Manhattan, has based some of the film on real-life characters – the gay cops, for example – and real places he has recently got to know, such as the city’s small public parks.

There are so many good things about this film. It’s a Manhattan romance. It’s a love letter to the rapidly vanishing bohemian and artistic milieu of New York, now priced out of town. It’s a wise description of the ‘make your own family’ culture of some modern lives. It’s a gentle anatomy of the horrors of outstaying your welcome, of being poor, sick and old. And it’s simply one of the best films about a long-term gay relationship ever made.

Most of all it’s a film about love – love that’s a little frayed around the edges sometimes but straightforward, funny and true.

'Love Is Strange,' the Most Unexpectedly Important Gay Film of the Year  Nick Romano from Screencrush, August 22, 2014                         


'Love is Strange' teaches respect to gay elders | Out Magazine  Armond White, August 21, 2014  


“Love Is Strange”: More than a gay-marriage story, a gorgeous fable of ...  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon


Lithgow, Molina, and Manhattan All Move in Love Is Strange | Village ...  Stephanie Zacharek from The Village Voice


Love Is Strange Movie Review: Beautiful Gay Drama - Alt Film Guide  Tim Cogshell


'Love Is Strange' review by Kenji Fujishima • Letterboxd


PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]


Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]


Slant Magazine [Jesse Cataldo]


Sundance Review: Ira Sachs' 'Love Is Strange' Is A Brilliantly ...  James Rocci from indieWIRE


Love Is Strange / The Dissolve  Keith Phipps


Love is Strange / Film Reviews / The Essential  Lisa Thatcher


Movie Mezzanine [Anna Tatarska]


Paste [Mark Rabinowitz]


Surrender to the Void [Steven Flores]


Movie Review: Love Is Strange -- Vulture  David Edelstein


Love Is Strange review: John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a ... - Slate  Dana Stevens


Love Is Strange · Film Review Love Is Strange updates Make Way For ...  A.A. Dowd from The Onion A.V. Club


Love Is Strange - Little White Lies  David Jenkins


Movie Mezzanine [Christopher Runyon]


FilmSchoolRejects [Daniel Walber]


Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]


ScreenAnarchy [Peter Martin]  also seen here:  Twitch [Peter Martin]


IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]


Sound On Sight (J.R. Kinnard)


Cinema Romantico [Nick Prigge]


Can't Stop the Movies [Andrew Hathaway] - theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]


Real Movie News - DVD [Ryan Russell Izay] [Brian Orndorf] [Martin Liebman]


'Love Is Strange.' And Beautiful. But No One Warned Us It ... - Pajiba  Vivian Kane


Sound On Sight [Lane Scarberry]


Concrete Playground [Sarah Ward]


Spectrum Culture [David Harris]


Dog And Wolf [Mark Wilshin]


Grolsch Film Works [Ashley Clark]


Collider [Matt Goldberg]  sort of misses what intimate filmmaking is all about, then offers a grade of F [Erik Lundegaard]


[Review] Love is Strange - The Film Stage  John Fink [Mike Martin]


FilmFracture [James Jay Edwards]


The Lumière Reader [Nathan Joe]


HeyUGuys [Stefan Pape]


jdbrecords [Jeffery Berg]


Georgia Straight [Craig Takeuchi]


StageBuddy [Jose Solis]


The Coops Review (Freda Cooper) [Karen Krizanovich]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Love Is Strange review | Den of Geek  Simon Brew


Love Is Strange review | GamesRadar+  Kate Stables


Artsforum Magazine [John Arkelian]


Wylie Writes [Addison Wylie]


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner] [Michael Lee]  (capsule) [Angus Wolfe Murray]


Filmmaker Ira Sachs on LOVE IS STRANGE – Film Journey  Patrick Z. McGavin interview, August 22, 2015


Love Is Strange Movie Trailer, Reviews and More |


Love Is Strange: Sundance Review | Hollywood Reporter   Boyd van Hoeij


'Love Is Strange' Review: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina ... - Variety  Peter Debruge


Love Is Strange review – a same-sex marriage sucker-punched by ...  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian


Love is Strange review – 'quietly beguiling' | Film | The Guardian  Mark Kermode


Love is Strange: John Lithgow delivers a subtle tour de force – first ...  Emma Brockes from The Guardian


Love Is Strange, film review: Streetwise romance reveals New York's ...  Geoffrey Macnab from The Independent


Love is Strange review - The Telegraph Robbie Collin


Love Is Strange review: a same sex marriage torn apart - The Irish Times  Tara Brady


The Japan Times [Kaori Shoji] [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson]


Love Is Strange - The Boston Globe  Ty Burr


'Love Is Strange' movie review: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina love and ...  Ann Hornaday from The Washington Post


The Cleveland Movie Blog [Pamela Zoslov] [Devin D. O'Leary]


'Love Is Strange' review: Lithgow, Molina are endearing - SFGate  Walter Addiego


Review: 'Love Is Strange' and profound with Lithgow, Molina paired up ...  Betsy Sharkey from The LA Times [Sheila O'Malley]


Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]  also seen here:  Love Is Strange review - Chicago Tribune


New York Times [A. O. Scott]


New York Times [Tim Murphy]


Love Is Strange (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


LITTLE MEN                                                            A-                    93

USA  Greece  (85 mi)  2016                   Official site


Our parents are involved in a business matter, and it’s getting ugly, so they’re taking it out on us.

—Tony Calvelli (Michael Barbieri)


Ira Sachs has been described as a New York City filmmaker, where like many who have come before him, the city is used as a backdrop throughout the film, highlighting the scintillating streets of New York, feeding off the thriving neighborhood energy, where diversity in the population goes almost unnoticed, viewed as part of the changing landscape, yet has a major impact in his intimate dramas.  Quoting Bilge Ebiri, Sundance Review: Little Men -- Vulture:  If Martin Scorsese was the quintessential auteur of New York in the 1970’s and 80’s — with its wise guys and street toughs — and Spike Lee that of New York in the late 80’s and 90’s — with its Balkanized enclaves and attitudes — then Ira Sachs is gradually becoming the quintessential auteur of today’s New York — the one of class inequality, and of relationships transformed by the changing city around them.”  Offering expansive ideas in a small film, the drama is concise, yet very powerful, feeling like a follow up to Fred Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights (2015), highlighting the ethnic diversity that exists within this New York City neighborhood in north-central Queens that’s being driven out by real estate prices and gentrification, yet while Wiseman’s is filled with detail and minutiae, this film provides all the heart that is missing in that film.  New York is increasingly just for the rich, with entire neighborhoods driven out of existence by rising costs.  Specializing in stories about people in crisis, this film focuses on two different families living in the same building where common interests unite them and bring them together, only to eventually be separated by class distinctions, where the exorbitant price of real estate in New York City ultimately becomes a wedge that becomes more powerful than existing bonds of friendship.  It’s a traumatizing story filled with heartache, yet offers a distinct view of how urban neighborhoods drive out the minorities through supposed economic concerns, never admitting to any prejudicial views, yet the racial component is unmistakable.  The future in each case is uniquely different depending on whose shoes you happen to be in, where white privilege and a sense of yuppie entitlement aggravates existing tensions, creating an anxious divide of class hypocrisy where there was once harmony, or at least tolerance.  The gentrification conflict is one most urban residents can recognize, as few neighborhoods are spared, where tense Brooklyn real estate dilemmas have been seen in movies before, including Hal Ashby’s THE LANDLORD (1970), Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989), and Noah Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005), but this is one of the few that cares to explore the personal impact.  Lest we forget, cities across America were formed by an influx of people migrating from different parts of the country and from around the globe all seeking work, where the postwar generation after WW II felt a special obligation to shelter those that were driven from their homelands during the war, where a welcoming spirit was synonymous with the American spirit, where the Statue of Liberty reads, in part:


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


But generational shifts have changed that sentiment, with greed playing its part, where people only care about themselves.  This film is like a time capsule into the mindset of the modern era revealing how once revered values have been excoriated and tossed aside to make way for more selfish concerns.  This is the changing face of America, where minorities are once again excluded, but this time there’s no redlining, no mention of housing discrimination, no need to establish malicious intent, as it’s all done legally, where the competitive market drives the jacked up prices, and those on the economic fringe are sent away in droves.  Whites left the inner cities in the 50’s and 60’s for safety concerns, superior schools, and the promise of a better life in the mostly white suburbs, but now, with newly attained wealth, they’re moving back into the cities building million dollar mansions that drive up the real estate prices.  While this film never provides any political backstory, it clearly shows the drastic human impact of gentrification on ordinary families.  The film was shot in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, though it’s never mentioned by name.  “You’re gonna like this neighborhood, it’s become a very…bohemian area.”  Meet Tony (Michael Barbieri), a charismatic and wildly precocious 13-year old as he introduces himself to Jake (Theo Tapitz), a contemplative, aspiring artist who likes to draw but keeps to himself most of the time and doesn’t make friends easily.  These two are the titular heroes of the film, snubbed and socially excluded around others, yet easygoing and likeable with each other where they instantly flourish, becoming inseparable over time, probably the best thing that ever happened to either one of them, as they’re simply on the same wavelength.  Like a shelter from the storm, protected by the innocence of childhood, the two remain immune to the various problems of the adult world, which strike at the opening with the death of Jake’s grandfather, where a memorial service is held in his behalf.  We are quickly introduced to Jake’s parents, an Upper West Side couple from Manhattan that includes Brian (Greg Kinnear), an actor on the fringe doing scantily paid non-profit works, and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), a psychotherapist who supports the family, often called away for emergency medical situations.  In order to help make ends meet, they move to their grandfather’s home in Brooklyn, something he left for his family, where one of the first things we hear from Brian, “You know, I grew up in this house.”  While they live on the second floor, the first floor has a dress shop, a small boutique with handmade dresses made and designed by Leonor, Paulina García from Gloria (2013) , almost always seen working tirelessly at her sewing machine, a single Chilean immigrant mother who lives with her son Tony, the same age as Jake.  By some apparent oversight that seems benign at the time, Leonor was not even invited to the funeral services, yet both sets of parents seem thrilled that their children have taken an instant liking to one another, apparently filling a previously existing social void. 


The rhythm of the film is established by the brash energy of the two kids, who also carry the dramatic weight of the film, often seen careening around the sidewalks of the city, Tony on his kick scooter with Jake on rollerblades, accompanied by long musical interludes composed by Dickon Hinchliffe, known for his poetic music in Claire Denis films, where the kids discover the city around them at the same time they explore their developing relationship.  Stylistically, shot by cinematographer Óscar Durán, these are among the best scenes of the film, as they broaden the compositions to include a wider canvas of New York City in flux, often seen in painterly images, like views of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge expressed with a liberating fluidity of movement, where it’s as if the kids are clearing their heads of any and all emotional baggage, leaving them open and more receptive for something new.   Both decide they want to attend the LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts, the same one, Tony notes, attended by Al Pacino and Nicki Minaj, though apparently Pacino dropped out.  Tony, the true revelation in this film, wants to be an actor, while Jake draws and paints.  One of the scenes of the film is an acting exercise with Tony mimicking his screaming instructor (Mauricio Bustamante), each trying to gain the upper hand, with the kid holding his own throughout, Little Men CLIP - You Did it Again (2016) - Michael Barbieri Movie YouTube (1:49).  But reality intrudes, where flamboyance is replaced by the claustrophobic inertia of the adult world, reflected by Brian’s performance in Chekhov’s The Seagull, and a decision made to restructure their finances.  With the intervention of Brian’s sister Audrey (Talia Balsam), who has also inherited a share of the home, they have come to realize that the downstairs apartment is worth five times more than the current rent, which hasn’t been raised since the neighborhood changed.  When Brian personally delivers a new lease tripling the rent (“still below market value” according to Audrey), Leonor doesn’t even have to look at it, as she knows the message being delivered.  Relations grow tense, as a seething Leonor refuses to respond, knowing she can’t pay what they demand, so Kathy intervenes, claiming she’s an expert in conflict resolution, but it feels a lot like bullying, as the point of view is one way only, as Leonor’s position is completely ignored, blocked from reality, as it’s all about dollars and cents.  While Brian tries to be a decent guy, it’s clear he’s not at all like his father, who was the epitome of a decent guy, willing to overlook financial concerns as he felt the neighborhood benefited from the presence of Leonor’s one-of-a-kind boutique.  Their talks grow colder and more personally hurtful, where Leonor suggests she was actually closer to his father than Brian, speaking every day for years, where she tended to him when he grew sick and frail, reminding Brian that he was never there.  None of that matters, however, even after the kids give their parents the silent treatment, knowing something poisonous is in the air, but they are thunderstruck to learn Leonor is getting evicted, with Jake breaking the silence, offering a tearful, desperate final plea that is also ignored.  So much for conflict resolution, or the best interests of your kids, who end up being pawns in a grown-up battle, where class and country of origin are never mentioned, as only money matters.  The unseen emotional toll in this film is reminiscent of Baumbach’s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005), with divorced parents fighting to supposedly maintain the best interests of their children, but only end up inflicting further harm.  The final epilogue sequence has an air of inevitability around it, filmed inside the Brooklyn Museum, offering a tragic sense of something lost.


Sundance 2016 | Amy Taubin - Film Comment  March 3, 2016

Other disappointments by Sundance favorites: John Carney’s Sing Street and Ira Sachs’s potentially more interesting Little Men, both focused on adolescent boys. Sachs’s young actors, Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri, are wonderfully at ease, but the connection between their characters and the film’s framing story—gentrification and Brooklyn real estate—is, at best, understated.

Sundance Dispatch #3 - Film Comment  Eugene Hernandez, January 29, 2016

A handful of new films ascended at Sundance at the festival’s midpoint. Earlier this week in Park City, Ira Sachs’s strikingly observant and powerfully insightful new film, Little Men, along with Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson and Sara Jordenö’s Kiki emerged as highlights of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Sachs has been coming to the festival since he was a kid. The son of a local, he attended his first Sundance at the young age of 14. Since he started making movies back in the Nineties, nearly every single film Sachs has directed (including The Delta, Keep the Lights On, and Love Is Strange) has premiered here. His latest, Little Men, is the quietly poignant study of the lives of a pair of teenaged boys. Besties in Brooklyn, the kids spend a lot of time bonding and hanging out at each other’s apartments, all the while imagining that they will go soon attend LaGuardia High School together to pursue their respective arts. The young Anglo kid, Jake (Theo Taplitz), is a burgeoning painter while the Latino teen, Tony (Michael Barbieri), hopes to pursue acting.

As in other recent films by Sachs, real estate and gentrification play a key role. In this case, Jake’s family has inherited a building in which Tony’s mother, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), has a small dress shop. The harsh realities of modern New York City life confront the families when Jake’s landlord parents realize that they will be forced to evict the other family’s business unless the struggling shopkeeper can commit to a higher monthly rent.

Sachs said this week that he was thinking about films such as Mes Petites Amoureuses by Jean Eustache, George Roy Hill’s The World of Henry Orient, and Ken Loach’s Kes when imagining how the teens in his new movie might resonate with viewers.

“I tried to find kids who would stick in your memory and somehow remind you of being young,” Sachs expressed thoughtfully during a post-premiere Q&A.

“This film was very personal,” he elaborated, noting its intention to explore how New Yorkers live together today. The father of young twins, Sachs noted that while conceiving of the film, he was thinking a lot about the ideals and complicated choices that can come with raising a family and the pressing question: “How to be good parents and how to take care of the people we actually love.”

Film of the Week: Little Men - Film Comment  Jonathan Romney, August 5, 2016

When I interviewed Pedro Almodóvar a while ago about his latest feature Julieta, he told me why he liked the writing of Alice Munro, whose short stories the film is based on. It was because somehow he found himself knowing less about the characters at the end than he did at the beginning. Whatever you might call this strange quality—mystery? obliqueness? discretion?—there’s much of it to be found in Little Men, the new film by writer-director Ira Sachs.

Little Men is a subtle, low-key, somewhat delicate film—and I mean “delicate” also in the sense that it’s a classically precarious box-office prospect. That is, Sachs offers us a stylistically low-key drama about the ordinary intimacies of life, without a “big issue” thematic hanger of the sort that gives a film such as, say, Still Alice a more overt claim on our attention. This is one of those movies in which the narrative strokes are so finely drawn that it isn’t easy, even while you’re watching, to say exactly what the film is about—friendship, gentrification, territorial dispute, disillusionment, coming of age, all of the above… That’s another reason why Munro comes to mind: you feel that, in the course of Little Men, you simply pass through a complex moment in the lives of a number of people, then pass out of it again, finally wondering whether you know them any better than you did at first (and on reflection, you realise that yes, of course you do). It’s the sort of film that is more substantial than a short story, less obviously all-engrossing than a novel. It is, if you like, “novella cinema,” and it’s a form or a style that Sachs—Love Is Strange, Forty Shades of Blue—is remarkably adept at.

The little men are two boys at the start of their teens. Jacob (Theo Taplitz) is the son of a middle-class Manhattan couple, the Jardines—psychotherapist Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and Brian (Greg Kinnear), an actor whose career isn’t exactly on the skids but isn’t making him either famous or rich. Jacob is a polite, reticent boy, clearly brought up to be stiffly genteel (“Jardine residence, good evening,” he answers the phone), but with an individualistic talent for art; presented with his picture of a green sky with yellow stars, his art teacher cautions, “Van Gogh ended up cutting off his own ear.”

When Brian’s father Max dies, the couple decide that it makes financial sense to downsize, and move into the old man’s apartment in Brooklyn. Based downstairs, where she has a shop, is a dressmaker—Chilean immigrant and single mother Leonor (Paulina García), who lives with her son Antonio or Tony (Michael Barbieri). Tony—Jacob’s age, but far more confident—instantly takes to Jacob and his drawings based on Rick Riordan’s mythology-themed Percy Jackson books (a nice change from Harry Potter). Tony, already brashly heterosexual, especially likes Jacob’s drawing of a female character (“I got a thing for redheads, don’t you?”), and the two become best friends.

Much of the film is simply about the effect the two have on each as they start spending time together. Tony’s looser domestic regime proves to be liberating for Jacob, whose parents have tight rules about computer games, while having the other boy as a confidant allows Tony to open up about his aspirations, both professional (he wants to be an actor) and romantic (he’s crazy for one of the girls in his acting class). Much of the film dwells fruitfully on the interplay between these impressive young newcomers, with their very differently relaxed screen presences. Taplitz brings Jacob a very specific kind of cautious stiffness, the insecurity of a 13-year-old boy in an unfamiliar world, with an angular face that is watchful and somehow, touchingly, not yet fully formed. As for Barbieri, he rather more obviously fits the streetwise Brooklyn archetype, with his bullish drawl and broad gestures, but one reason his manner works so well is because we realize how much Tony is acting a role: he wants to attend LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts not least because Al Pacino went there.

For a good stretch, we get to spend time with the boys, separately and apart. There’s a nice scene, allowed to take on its own ferocious momentum, where Tony does an exercise with his acting teacher (Mauricio Bustamante)—basically a shouting match, but just the sort of thing that will free up a 13-year-old boy to let rip. And there’s a scene following a night out that the boys spend at a club night for kids, when the pair return home on the subway and chat away enthusiastically. We can’t hear a word they say, but you can see by looking at them just how much Sachs has succeeded in making his actors bond.

It’s about 40 minutes in that a narrative crisis emerges, although at first it barely seems of an earth-shattering kind. Brian and his lawyer sister Audrey (Talia Balsam) feel that the nominal rent that Max let Leonor enjoy is no longer realistic, and needs to be raised. The boys are caught in the crossfire, and eventually respond to the crisis by refusing to talk to their parents. But once the crisis develops, the meat of the film—scripted by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias—is in its mapping of the uncomfortable negotiations and assumptions between the two households. From the start, the Manhattanites have treated Leonor with courteous but dismissive condescension, as irreducibly Other; what they haven’t been able to imagine is how much she counted for the late Max (there’s at least the suggestion that they may have been lovers). That she was far closer to the old man than they ever were is something that she eventually comes out and says straight.

Little Men is very much a drama about territory. Shots of Manhattan at a distance remind us that the Jardines have left their home ground but brought their uptown sense of privilege with them. The territory at stake is Leonor’s shop, and there are superbly shaded touches of passive aggression in the way that Brian and Kathy smilingly, cautiously open the door and slip in (by contrast, Brian later walks in with undisguised proprietorial brashness). There’s a comic moment—excruciating, but in a lovely minor key—where Kathy comes in, speaks some pious cant about being trained in conflict resolution, then leans on Leonor’s work surface in a mock-submissive position that fools no one.

At the center of the film—in a way that you don’t quite see coming, because she seems at first to be a subsidiary character—is Leonor. The drama increasingly comes to be about the way that her life is torn apart by callous, if ostensibly friendly invaders. Chilean actress Paulina García, so brilliant as the lead in Sebastían Lelio’s Gloria, is this film’s big surprise, and makes Leonor exactly the sort of character that we feel we know less about than at the end. Leonor’s friendliness gradually erodes the more she comes under threat, and she reveals her own deliciously aggressive side, coolly giving Brian some home truths about his failings as a son; in a wonderfully tart moment, Leonor, learning that Brian is currently acting in Chekhov’s The Seagull, comments, “Oh. That must be very popular.” García’s careworn languor and her unusual delivery—a measured inflection that gives her words calm, detached weight—are among the great pleasures of the film. In the testy interplay with Kinnear, García makes it clear that Leonor is in her own way elegantly an actor too, and certainly far better than Brian.

Little Men doesn’t entirely eschew obviousness. The film does invoke certain familiar ideas, notably the pairing of the stiff bourgeois boy and the mouthy street-smart Brooklynite. And there’s some overemphasis on the unwitting harshness of the Jardines, not least towards their own son: I couldn’t quite buy the brusqueness of Brian’s comments when some of Jacob’s drawings go missing in the move. And a scene of Brian and Kathy on their sofa with big wine glasses and a backwash of discreet jazz piano feels too neat a piece of social pigeonholing.

Yet throughout, any such overstatement is counterweighted by the finesse of the execution, particularly in the acting; you really become aware of Sachs as a director who works with actors to calibrate small, seemingly throwaway and tics of body language for the truths they can reveal. When Brian interrogates an unresponsive Jacob about some routine matters, he nods and shakes his head in the way adults do sometimes when they’re talking to very small children, as if he simply hasn’t realised that his son has grown up.

Little Men doesn’t tell a neatly packaged story: a single cut towards the end shows us that something critical has happened, and that a moment has passed. In an obvious way, the film is about friendship and those certain intense spells in childhood that never quite last; the final scenes, unglossed by any unnecessary narrative commentary, make a poignantly eloquent coda. Superbly acted, this is a quietly perceptive film that focuses on a transient moment at which lives come together, change, and move apart. There’s a certain no-big-deal quality to Little Men and to Sachs’s intentions which is immensely appealing. And at this point in the commercial fortunes of mainstream cinema, it’s worth being reminded that—given the current pressures to be demonstrative, sometimes wildly overdemonstrative—taking the no-big-deal approach can be quite a significant deal in itself.

Mayukh Sen - Archive - Reverse Shot  Both Sides Now, by Mayukh Sen, August 4, 2016


Sundance Review: Little Men -- Vulture  Bilge Ebiri


Director Ira Sachs Invents Gay Social Realism in Latest Film  Armond White from Out magazine, August 5, 2016


'Little Men' Review: A Low-Key Drama That Packs An Emotional Wallop  Scott Tobias from Uproxx


Acting Out: Ira Sachs's Little Men | Filmmaker Magazine  Howard Feinstein


Little Men Review: Ira Sachs' Smallest Movie Might Also Be His Best ...  David Ehrlich from indieWIRE


Every Movie Has a Lesson [Don Shanahan]


Little Men :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste - Paste Magazine  Tim Grierson


Ira Sachs' 'Little Men' Displays A Rare Understanding Of ... - The Playlist  Noel Murray from The Playlist


For writer-director Ira Sachs, it's all about the real estate  J.R. Jones from The Chicago Reader


PopMatters [Bernard Boo]


Slant Magazine [Matt Brennan]


Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]


Little Men · Film Review Ira Sachs' Little Men is more affecting on ...  Jesse Hassenger from The Onion A.V. Club


Ira Sachs's 'Little Men' Is a Don't-Miss Look at Growing ... - Village Voice  Alan Scherstuhl


Spectrum Culture [Jesse Cataldo]


'Little Men': Review | Reviews | Screen - ScreenDaily  Fionnuala Halligan


Review: Ira Sachs' 'Little Men' – Vague Visages  Aaron Boalick


Movie Review: Little Men (2016) - The Critical Movie Critics  Howard Schumann


“Jason Bourne” and “Little Men” - The New Yorker  Anthony Lane


Movie Review: Little Men -- Vulture  David Edelstein


'Little Men' Features a Pair of Boys Fighting to Preserve a Friendship ...  Rex Reed from The New York Observer


Ira Sachs' Little Men tracks the human drama in real estate - Seventh ...  Alex Heeney from Seventh Row


It Was Brooklyn, But… | Newcity Film  Ray Pride


Film Review: Little Men | Film Journal International  Kevin Lally [Brian Orndorf]


New film 'Little Men' clumsily tackles Williamsburg gentrification  Virginia K. Smith from Brick Undergeround, August 11, 2016


'Little Men' Review: Ira Sachs Pits Kids v Parents, Tenants v ... - TheWrap  Sam Adams [Kyle Mustain]


Art and Film: Ira Sachs on art and growing up - Two Coats of Paint  Sharon Butler, August 18, 2016 (Roger Walker-Dack)


The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]


LITTLE MEN – Hammer to Nail  Matthew Delman                      


Independent Ethos [Hans Morgenstern] [Mae Abdulbaki]


Flickfeast [Kevin Matthews]


HeyUGuys [Stefan Pape]


The Reel [Lisa Minzey]                               


Little Men review | Cinedelphia  Jill Malcolm


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


The Stranger [Kathy Fennessy]


Critic's Notebook [Tim Hayes]


FlickDirect [Allison Hazlett]


Frowning [Douglas J. Greenwood]


BAMcinemaFest 2016: Opening Weekend Picks - Brooklyn Magazine  Kenji Fujishima


Must-See: Little Men's Big Hearts  Jason Lamphier from Out magazine


The Best (and Worst) Films of August 2016 - Brooklyn Magazine  Forrest Cardamenis


Thank You for Being Honest: The Films of Ira Sachs | MoMA


Ira Sachs' LITTLE MEN on the Move | Keyframe - Explore the ... - Fandor  Adam Cook


MoMA Retrospective Shows Filmmaker Ira Sachs's Very Personal ...   Felipe de la Hoz interview from The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2016


Talking to Ira Sachs about 'Little Men' - Brooklyn Magazine  Emma Myers interview, August 2, 2016


Voyeurs to Adult Life: Ira Sachs on “Little Men” | Interviews | Roger Ebert  Matt Fagerholm interview, August 3, 2016


The Tender 'Little Men' Finds Ira Sachs At His Best - Huffington Post  Matthew Jacobs interview, August 4, 2016


Little Men director Ira Sachs melds biography with imagination of film ...  Johanna Schneller interview from The Globe and the Mail, August 4, 2016


Ira Sachs Interview – How Director Ira Sachs Is Making Our ... - Esquire  Manuel Betancourt interview, August 5, 2016


Director Ira Sachs On Little Men -- Vulture  Kyle Buchanon interview, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs on 'Little Men,' Boyhood, and Telling Authentic New York ...  Erin Whitney interview from Screencrush, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs on Little Men, Gentrification, and the Value of a Movie That "Doesn't Work Economically”  Rich Juzwlak interview from Gawker, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs Talks 'Little Men,' The Influence Of Yasujiro Ozu, And More  Jordan Ruimy interview from The Playlist, August 5, 2016


Ira Sachs Discusses Remaking Ozu and Authentically Capturing ...  Jose Solis interview from The Film Stage, August 8, 2016


Ira Sachs and 'Little Men': What It's Like to Be Indie Film's Most ...   Ira Sachs and ‘Little Men’: What It’s Like to Be Indie Film’s Most Celebrated ‘Queer Filmmaker,’ Kevin Fallon interview from The Daily Beast, August 9, 2016


The Big-City Drama of 'Little Men': An Interview With Ira Sachs ...  Bernard Boo interview from Pop Matters, August 19, 2016


Ira Sachs' new film 'Little Men' mines big drama from seemingly small ...  Mark Olsen interview from The LA Times, August 13, 2016


'Little Men' Q&A | Ira Sachs & Michael Barbieri - YouTube  Video interview of director Ira Sachs and actor Michael Barbieri at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, August 24, 2016  (17:31 mi)


Little Men's Ira Sachs on the Creation of His New York Stories ...  Bilge Ebiri interview from Westword, August 31, 2016


Filmmaker Ira Sachs worries about the right questions - Chicago Tribune  Michael Phillips interview, September 2, 2016 [David Rooney]


Variety [Peter Debruge]]


Little Men review – Ira Sachs' achingly humane family ... - The Guardian  Nigel M. Smith


Little Men, film review: Bewitchingly oblique and ... - The Independent   Michael O’Sullivan


Toronto Film Scene [Andrew Parker]


Little Men raises urgent questions and does so utterly organically   Johanna Schneller from The Globe and the Mail


Metro US [Matt Prigge]


Ira Sachs' Little Men is a cinematic love letter to youthfulness, and the ...   Alexander Huls from The National Post


Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]        


Young New Yorkers seek connection in Ira Sachs' 'Little Men' - LA Times  Sheri Linden


Little Men Movie Review & Film Summary (2016) | Roger Ebert  Sheila O’Malley


'Little Men' review: A friendship grows in Brooklyn - Chicago Tribune  Michael Phillips


New York Times [A. O. Scott]  also seen here:  Review: In 'Little Men,' Boys Develop a Bond That Is Threatened by ...


Little Men (2016 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Safdie, Josh



USA  (68 mi)  2008


The Pleasure Of Being Robbed  Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily


A glance at the multi-tasking names in the credits is enough to show just how homemade New York film-maker Josh Safdie's debut film is. And at just 68 minutes, it challenges the definition of full-length feature. But it would be a shame to hold either limitation against it, as The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a charming indie title, suffused with the spirit of the French New Wave of the early sixties and possessed of a quirky likeability that has as much to do with co-writer Eleonore Hendricks' delicate performance as an urban vagabond who likes to steal things just for the hell of it, as with Safdie's sure command of tone.

Premiering at Austin's SXSW festival before moving to its Directors' Fortnight closing night slot, this divertissement with its Super 8 aesthetic reminds us that the best low-budget filmmaking can deliver a celluloid freshness that big productions lack. But the film's grungy look and ultra-slim running time is bound to limit its theatrical potential. Presenting the film (as happened in Cannes) as part of a package with Josh's film-maker brother Benny's 13-minute short The Acquaintances Of A Lonely John could be a fix for the running-time issue, but outside of New York, festivals and specialist cineclub are still going to be the main distribution model.

Editor, co-producer and DoP Brett Jutkiewicz's shaky handheld camera follows gamine, crop-fringed Eleonore (Hendricks) – a sort of present-day Jean Seberg – as she wanders the streets of New York, lifting a strangers' handbag after embracing her, and walking off with a holdall which turns out to contain a dog and some kittens. Gradually it becomes clear that dreamy, carefree, live-for-the-moment Eleonore is not a standard thief: she doesn't take money, and when she starts looking for the car that goes with the keys she's just filched, it's because she wants to sit in it, as she can't drive. But her geekily cool friend Josh (Safdie) persuades her to take him home in the car – and so begins a driving lesson in real city streets that looks alarmingly authentic.

Occasionally the plot's inconequentiality gets the better of it, but before things can drag too long events veer in an unpredictable direction.

Neither over-cute or over-long, The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a paean to a city and those who fight to keep it on the side of non-conformity. Safdie's debut is so lo-fi it makes the films of Hal Hartley look like Hollywood, but scratch the surface and there's the same air of gentle New York eccentricity. The tasty soundtrack mixes indie rock from groups like The Beets with older classics – like the wistful Thelonius Monk piece that wraps this small, genial, poetic film.

USA   (100 mi)  2009  co-director:  Bennie Safdie  


Melissa Anderson   at Cannes from Artforum, May 16, 2009

JET LAG, LACK OF SLEEP, watching four to six films a day, trying to remember how to conjugate the passé composé: All can contribute to a certain sense of losing one’s grip, of not being able to separate dream and waking life. Did I really see a festooned baby elephant marching down the Croisette this afternoon? Was I really assaulted by a projectile sugar cube as I headed toward the Salle Debussy?

Mine wasn’t the only notion of reality that was slightly askew: Cracked ideas about parenting dominated the day’s moviegoing. Tyros Josh and Bennie Safdie, both of whom had work in last year’s Directors’ Fortnight, returned to the Fortnight this year with their first feature collaboration, the oddly buoyant Go Get Some Rosemary. Starring Ronald Bronstein (director of last year’s Frownland) as Lenny, a wiry, divorced NYC dad taking care of his two young sons, Sage and Frey (exceptionally spirited half-pints Sage and Frey Ranaldo), for two weeks in New York, Go Get Some Rosemary (2009) demonstrates that father knows worst. When Lenny, a film projectionist, has to go into work unexpectedly but can’t find a sitter, he figures giving his kids a third of a sedative so they can be unconscious for several hours is better than having them wake up and flip out when they see no one’s home. Rosemary, much like Josh Safdie’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008), assembles a superb cast of weirdos orbiting around a profoundly flawed main character. Though at times borderline psychotic, Lenny is often the perfect playmate for his sons—maybe because his sense of logic is about as developed as an eight-year-old’s.

Go Get Some Rosemary  Howard Feinstein at Cannes from Screendaily

In his debut feature The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008), New York City native Josh Safdie shot scenes of the Big Apple from a car that were totally fresh—not an easy feat in a metropolis that has been filmed nearly every which way. Now he and brother Benny come close to accomplishing the same, but from the vantage point of a pedestrian in a pointedly unglamorous Manhattan.
That man on the street is an un-ambitious, divorced man-child named Lenny (Bronstein), who manically darts to and fro attempting, mostly in vain, to care for his kids during his annual two-week child custody (the character is based on Safdies’ own father). That they opt for a frequently close-in, jerky camera style and a grainy look could limit the film’s commercial life to urban arthouses in the US, although some European territories are more open to such low-budget American indie fare. Yet the movie’s winning humour could prove a sales asset. It is grounded not in laugh lines but in the odd situations in which Lenny finds himself, and the bizarre friends and acquaintances he comes across (the most memorable being a man who sings Cuanto Caliente el Sol into a microphone while waterskiing). 
A projectionist, Lenny is played with relish by Bronstein, an indie director himself (Frownland), who captures the character’s frenzied immaturity as well as his infectious zest for life. His self-absorption and avoidance of responsibility conflict with the obligations placed upon him when his two adorable sons, nine-year-old Sage (Sage Ranaldo) and seven-year-old Frey (Frey Ranaldo), come to stay in his untidy midtown tenement apartment.
Lenny acts less like their father than their peer, and he makes some unwise choices regarding the children. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too, to have them around while still maintaining the freedom he has become used to. He sneaks out to see women. He nearly kills the kids with sedatives so they will sleep while he goes to work, although the fact he is responding to workplace blackmail by an uncompromising boss allows him to remain a sympathetic figure in our eyes.
Lenny commands the screen. He is the consummate New Yorker: spontaneous, sassy, manipulative. He could be referring to himself when he shows the boys an enlarged model of a mosquito at the Museum of Natural History, informing them that “they are native to New York.” Underneath his adolescent behavior, however, lies a repressed layer of melancholy, most notably manifest when he is home alone after the boys have returned to their mother. Gone is his engaging friskiness, but he is nothing if not resilient. In constant denial, and incapable of letting himself experience emotional pain, he takes drastic action. To their credit, the Safdies leave the finale open-ended.
After a while, the continuous handheld style and gritty texture begin to feel a little mannered, a bit vertiginous. Fortunately, Bronstein’s high-energy presence overcomes any formal quibble.   
Exporting Old New York to France: Cannes Diary 05/19/09  Karina Longworth at Cannes from SpoutBlog

Meanwhile, I spent much of my second full day in Cannes thinking about a Directors’ Fortnight double feature I caught the night before: Like You Know it All, the latest ode to drunken paralysis and hungover confusion by Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (see my review here); and Go Get Some Rosemary, the second Fortnight feature in as many years from Red Bucket Films and their 20-something progenitors, New York-based brothers Josh and Benny Safdie. Both films are (at least) semi-autobiographical portraits of men who work in film but languish on the far margins of what we think of as “the industry”; both use humor to ingratiate us into the worldviews of protagonists who, at best, display a thought process that’s skewed, and at worse, exhibit behavior that cannot be excused. Where the former may depend on a familiarity with the director’s previous work to complete the joke, the latter’s blend of slapstick and surrealism in what should be super-serious situations helps to crystalize the Safdie style sketched out in last year’s The Pleasure of Being Robbed. Fueled by a go-for-broke lead performance by Frownland filmmaker Ronnie Bronstein, the Safdies’ follow-up should win over at least a few skeptics who failed to see the charm in their debut.

The film’s opening scene gives a fair sense of the tone to come. Lenny (Bronstein) buys a hot dog and then attempts to climb over a fence into a park. He falls and drops his hot dog, and, cracking up laughing at himself, puts the meat back in the bun and continues through the park, eating and laughing. Set mainly over a rocky two week period in which 30-something fuck-up Lenny has custody of his two young sons, Go Get Some Rosemary plays out in vignettes, in which Lenny tries to barrel through the day and fails with increasingly dire consequences. You watch his ill-advised problem solving in horror (it gets a lot worse than eating a dirty hot dog), but, somehow laugh with him and become invested in wanting him to do better, even as his desperate, impulse-guided self-absorbtion seems to evolve into pure insanity.

Though the filmmakers still have a ways to go in terms of equaling their energy, enthusiasm and imagination with technical consistency (there are moments in this film where the wobbly hand-held camera absolutely works to plant us in the middle of a scene and convey the mood of total chaos, and there are other moments where I wanted to reach out and grab the image just to keep it from moving),  Rosemary is a step up from Pleasure both visually and narratively. Shot by Josh Safdie and Brett Jutkiewicz on 16mm film, in one scene Rosemary ups the ante on the arts-and-crafts dream logic of Pleasure’s climax, and elsewhere applies a kind of hyper-verite. Though comparisons to filmmakers from John Cassavetes to Lodge Kerrigan could probably apply, the Safdies seeming to take the greatest inspiration from the anarchic spirit of late-20th century New York legend, reinvigorating the notion of the city as a place where anything could happen. On some level, the movie may even be an unassuming period piece — there’s no overt indication that it takes place in anything but the present day, but I don’t recall seeing a cell phone or a hybrid car, and if the Safdies were consciously setting the story in the pre-Giuliani days of their youth, the depiction of New York as a wonderful/horrible playground full of creeps (one amusingly played by a famously off-kilter, Cannes-beloved American director) and creepy-crawlies would fit.

Certainly, the Fortnight seems to have planted the responsibility of restoring indie New York street cinema on the brothers’ narrow shoulders. Olivier Père, the section’s artistic director, said as much in his introduction to Rosemary’s Saturday night premiere, calling the Safdies “a kind of symbol for us … you will see tonight we have plenty of reason for hope in American indie film, and New York film.” Hope is all well and good, but considering that the last Safdie feature followed up their Fortnight closing night premiere by screening in New York for barely a week, I just hope that New Yorkers will eventually have a way to judge this new work for themselves.

Eric Kohn  Moving Pictures 
Cannes. "Go Get Some Rosemary"  David Hudson at Cannes from the IFC Blog, May 17, 2009


Natasha Senjanovic  at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2009

Rob Nelson  at Cannes from Variety, May 16, 2009     


Sagan, Leontine



Germany  (88 mi)  1931


Madchen in Uniform  Don Druker from the Reader


Leontine Sagan's remarkable film sees a lesbian relationship as the only available alternative to the authoritarian order as a boarding school for daughters of the Prussian military aristocracy becomes a microcosm of Germany, circa 1931. Based on a play by Christa Winsloe, performed by an all-woman cast, independently made, and cooperatively financed, this was one of the few genuine women's films of the 30s. In German with subtitles. 87 min.


Time Out

A key early German talkie: a powerful melodrama about life in a Prussian boarding school for the daughters of the bourgeoisie - a bastion of the ideology of 'strength through suffering'. The plot mechanics are predictable - unhappy pupil with crush on housemistress is driven to attempt suicide - but the atmosphere and sensitivity to teenage fears are not: stage actress Leontine Sagan brings an exceptionally warm touch to her depiction of female friendships, and her denunciation of the Prussian orthodoxy is more a matter of subtle imagery than shrill accusations. Whether it adds up to a precursor of militant lesbianism is another question...

Chris Dashiell at CineScene (down the page)


A sensitive girl (Hertha Thiele) does not respond well to the disciplinarian atmosphere of a boarding school, and develops an attachment to the one teacher (Dorothea Wieck) who shows her some sympathy. This German film was made right before Hitler came to power and was written and directed by women with an all-female cast. Although it has become famous for its subtle hint of lesbian desire, the picture is more about the destructiveness of authoritarianism. The strict, rigid methods of the headmistress contrast with the emotional vulnerability of the girls. (And the school's striped uniforms seem to eerily foretell the concentration camps.) The story takes an unusual turn, with a climax which is surprisingly tender and profound. I'm frankly amazed that this deeply humanist film was made at all. Although not a masterpiece of style (the acting is sometimes a bit wooden as well), I was touched by Maedchen in Uniform, and saddened by my knowledge of what was to come.


CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Erika Balsom from Cine-File

The story of a fourteen year old girl's relationship to both her teacher and her headmistress at a traditional German boarding school, Leontine Sagan's MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM is a film marked both by controversy and multiple stages of critical assessment. Although popular in Europe upon release in 1931, the film was banned both in the US (to be released only after significant cuts) and by Goebbels following the Nazi assumption of power. It was not shown again in Germany until a 1977 television broadcast, while screenings at New York and Chicago women's film festivals in the mid-70s generated a significant reevaluation of the film, heralding it as a landmark of queer cinema, with some suggesting that it may be the first film with an openly lesbian storyline. In his seminal survey of Weimar cinema, From Caligari To Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer reads the film as a progressive response to the rising tide of fascism that was to overtake Germany in 1933. Despite its abstention from the expressionism that dominated the 1920s, Kracauer sees MADCHEN, along with films like DOCTOR MABUSE and THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, as exploring ideas of despotism and rebellion, with the tyrants of their story lines as nothing less than prefigurations of Hitler. MADCHEN's anti-fascism dominates much of the early commentary on the film, which sees it as a critique of the authoritarianism of the Prussian school system and an exploration of the emotional ramifications of life under dictatorship. However, such a reading obscures the film's palpable lesbian cadence. As B. Ruby Rich has written, " ... most important to the film's reputation through the years has been its significance as an anti-authoritarian and prophetically anti-fascist film....In emphasizing the film's progressive stance in relation to the Nazi assumption of power, however, film historians have tended to overlook, minimize, or trivialize the film's central concern with love between women... One of the few films to have an inherently gay sensibility, it is also one of the most central to establishing a history of lesbian cinema."

BBCi - Films  Jason Wood

Leontine Sagan's ground-breaking early German talkie was representative of a new kind of film which emerged from a period in Weimar history when homosexuality was seen as fashionable. Set in almost exclusively all-female environments, the films (of which Mädchen in Uniform was one of the first - and certainly one of the best) can be read as pre-cursors to militant lesbianism.

Mädchen is set in a Prussian boarding school for the daughters of officers and the bourgeoisie. It follows the part-tragic story of an unhappy pupil, Manuela (Thiele) whose crush on her angelic teacher, Fraulein Von Bernburg (Wieck - astounding) ruffles the feathers of the demonic Headmistress (Unda, suitably terrifying and icy).

The headmistress sets out to destroy the fragile girl who slowly begins to contemplate suicide as the only escape from her suffering and torment, all the while oblivious to her teacher's kindness and the glowing esteem with which her classmates are beginning to view her.

The premise of the film (which simply drips atmosphere and angst) is simple and plays as the most dramatic and heart-wrenching of melodrama's. It is beautifully crafted and performed, evocatively lit, and sensitively directed by former Austrian stage actress Sagan - amazingly it was her début and given the political repercussions she subsequently suffered, something of a baptism of fire.

Although one may view this film as simply a great love story and an anti-fascist call to arms, it was quickly re-claimed as a landmark film in the evolution of Queer cinema, becoming an important and challenging piece of film-making in this context. But in whatever context one views it, the depth, beauty, and compassion of the film is undeniable and it will forever retain an important place in cinematic and sexual history.

Maedchen In Uniform   From repressive tolerance to erotic liberation, by B. Ruby Rich from Jump Cut


The Celluloid Closet  Looking for what isn't there, by Martha Fleming from Jump Cut


Black Hole Reviews


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


The New York Times (Mordaunt Hall)


Sai, Yôichi



Japan  (100 mi)  2004


Quill   Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack


Those festival programmers sure are cunning, holding this film back until the end of the festival when we're all sleep-deprived and vulnerable, all our steely discernment worn down until we just let loose with a collective "Awwww...." From a critical perspective, making a film about the life cycle of a cute little doggie is dirty pool, like competing with the aid of a performance-enhancing steroid. But despite this, I must say that Sai gives the material if not the best possible treatment, certainly a skillful and intelligent enough overall structure to obviate needless mawkishness. His depiction of Quill's relationship with his blind owner, a forceful, no-nonsense activist for the disabled, is particularly well conceived. (Watch for the moment at the rec center when the man is speaking to his wife with a group of his friends, and he replies to her question both verbally and in sign language.) The movie hits its emotional pivot points like a machine, but the highest compliment I can pay Quill is that it manages to manipulate without being ruthless about it. It's a deeply humane film, and I felt no need to harden my heart against it. I.e., I wept like a little baby. When this gets released -- not if, when -- I suspect it'll become the most successful Japanese film since the 60s. It can't miss. Slap the Sony Classics logo on this puppy and watch him go.


Said, Marcela


THE SUMMER OF FLYING FISH (El verano de los peces voladores)                  B+                   90

Chile  France  (88 mi)  2013


A film set within the non-narrative, impressionistic style of South American cinema where establishing mood is paramount, creating a recognizable visual landscape that the viewer frequently returns to, but what happens within this elusive realm may be subject to one’s own imagination, where the director creates an artistic canvas, but refuses to reveal significant details, moving seamlessly within an atmospheric dream state where it’s hard to tell the difference between what’s real and imaginary, leaving the viewer to sort out the details.  Similar to neighboring New Argentine Cinema directors Lucrecia Martel or Lisandro Alonso, or even Mexican director Carlos Reygadas in 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #2 Post Tenebras Lux , this is a visually sublime style of cinema that tends to thrive in the subconscious realms, where it literally refuses to provide clarity or rational thought, instead only offering clues, existing along the periphery where each viewer is likely to have a different reaction.  In this manner, fifty different viewers are likely to get fifty different reactions, all of which contribute to the experimental nature of this style of filmmaking.  One recalls the hypnotic somnambulistic quality of Lisandro Alonso’s LOS MUERTOS (2004), a mesmerizing slow burn through a dense jungle, where the camera acts as the eyes of the audience exploring the vicinity, where alienation is revealed through fragmentary images that barely piece together a whole.  LIVERPOOL (2008) is another intense, trance-inducing study in solitude, a near wordless movie that takes place almost entirely in the viewer’s head, as there are no connecting threads to a story, only a wandering, ghost-like journey that expresses how easily one can each lose their place in life.  Lucrecia Martel’s first feature LA CIÉNAGA (2001) is a masterwork of claustrophobic cinema, providing an atmosphere of idle affluence, featuring a multitude of oddly populated Buñuel-like people lounging around an overgrown resort pool doing nothing, seemingly without purpose, becoming a dissection of class indifference.  Even more compelling may be the art films of Mexican director Carlos Reygadas, where image is knowledge, where you can count on extreme visualization and an austerity of form.  In his most recent film, 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #2 Post Tenebras Lux , he nearly disregards narrative altogether, becoming a profoundly influential modernist work that simply operates in a different cinematic vernacular, existing in a dreamlike plateau where humans often play a secondary role.  While South American literature is known for magical realism, there is a cutting edge group of experimental South American film directors known for abstract often incomprehensible narratives, but extremely poetic, stream-of-conscious visual schemes, to which we must add Marcela Said, a Chilean filmmaker with a documentary background, having studied film and media at the Paris-Sorbonne University while also working as a photography assistant to Sara Matthews in New York. 


First and foremost there is the morning mist creeping along the shadows of a lake surrounded by the abnormally pristine natural beauty in areas of Curarrehue, Coñaripe, and Liquiñe in southern Chile, where wealthy landowner Don Francisco, also known as Pancho (Gregory Cohen), has built a magnificent modern hacienda in the middle of a dense forest.  This idyllic location is mesmerizing to the eyes, as impressive a place to live as one could possibly imagine, but it belies a growing undercurrent of unseen danger, underscored by a sinister threat lurking out in the forest, giving a slight feel of horror, which seems to be the source of the dark, unfolding mystery.  Cinematographer Inti Briones, who also captured the wild natural beauty of the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia in Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet (2011), as well as the completely artificial, literary world of Raúl Ruiz’s Night Across the Street (La noche de enfrente) (2012), uses the camera to probe the surroundings as we observe Pancho’s daughter Manena (Francisca Walker) in an opening walk through the forest, quickly getting under the surface when the pet dog disappears and gets lost in the lush foliage.  Her father is an orderly patriarch used to having things done his way, where one of his obsessions is getting rid of the carp inhabiting the lake by using dynamite.  Such an intentional violation of nature is not without consequences.  The root of this conflict goes back to the era of the Conquistadors when the white Europeans colonized the South American indigenous populations, where there remains a difference of opinion on who owns the land that for generations was used by native people.  Wealthy descendants of those original Europeans are landowners who build vacation homes on what has traditionally been the hunting and fishing grounds of the local Mapuche people, who comprise 85% of the Indigenous peoples in Chile.  Plunging her camera into these primeval forests, Said brings to the foreground some of these grievances that are largely ignored by the larger population.  Pancho’s hired help are all Mapuche natives, likely the lowest paid on the economic scale (nannies, maids, security guards, and servants) and also the most mistreated.  When one of the young hired hands, Pedro (Carlos Cayuqueo), is injured from a dynamite blast, Pancho couldn’t be less concerned, as all he’s worried about is getting rid of the fish, in contrast to Manena who is outraged at the way her father treats his workers.  We sense the frustrations brewing from the natives who are forced to see good fish go to waste, uncovering piles of dead fish buried indiscriminately throughout the forest.  Don Francisco is also intent on placing fences along his land, making it difficult for natives to hunt in their natural habitat, causing friction when his unleashed dogs attack their livestock.  His manner in addressing their concerns is expressed through a haughty superiority, crassly paying them off simply to make them go away, and then cursing them under his breath. 


While we hear the offscreen sound of dogs barking endlessly, especially noticeable in the still of the night, it’s a sign of continuing instability, yet part of the overall mindset.  While Manena smokes pot and jumps between two young guys, Lorca (Guillermo Lorca), a cute young painter, and Pedro, the indigenous hired hand, where she is eventually cheated on, leaving her angered, betrayed, and her dreams for a better world deflated.  A drunk and completely wasted Pedro is found passed out in the pitch black of the night, lying in the middle of the road, unable to stand up, where he refuses aid, but the scene is shot from the back seat of Pancho’s SUV, where Manena is unable to decipher what she’s seeing, adding more than a touch of horror and suspense, amplifying a sense of the unease, compounded by an eerie score from Alexander Zekke.  The details of the story became less and less relevant, where much more important are the "attitudes" being conveyed, where Don Francisco doesn't have to listen to anyone, not his daughter, his wife, his hired help, his neighbors, the townspeople, and ultimately not even the police, especially after he hides a known fugitive from justice, completely disregarding the laws of man, all of which contributes to an escalation of violence.  By placing himself above the law, he is a representative of man’s folly, the delusion that money can somehow make things right and lead to happiness.  In this case, it does the opposite, where the largely unseen presence of the Mapuche natives grow more irritable with his racist acts of indifference, where Pancho can be seen drunkenly joking and complaining about having to recognize indigenous “land rights.”  While the colonialist people in the film are largely contemptible, they are secondary to the overall notion of cinematic art, which instead creates abstract impressionistic images that tend to stick in the viewer’s subconscious afterwards, where over time we'll remember much of the mixed messages and the jumbled mosaic.  But the key to the film is the impressive camerawork, where the one constant throughout is the pristine beauty of the region, continually shot under a shroud of lingering fog or rain, where it's Said's use of location shooting that impresses the most, where the director uses “exterior” geographical landscapes to heighten the “interior” examination of the characters.  It’s a film of astonishing subtlety and social conscience, where colonial man is not only out of balance from the natural world around them, which feels overwhelming and all-consuming, but also themselves, where the rich, who have everything, are in a perpetual state of delusion, completely indifferent to the world that they casually ignore.  This is non-commercial arthouse cinema usually only screened at festivals, where the director’s first fictional feature premiered at Director's Fortnight at Cannes


Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]

The title sounds light, but in this subtly ominous coming-of-age story, a girl comes to realize her rich family’s idyllic life of leisure on a misty hot springs ranch is deeply flawed. She’s old enough not just to see her parents’ imminent marital breakdown, but more importantly, the indigenous Mapuche’s growing intolerance of moneyed white elites on their land. Atmospherically shot, bathed in foreboding music, this one speaks little in actual words but carries lush rain forests of meaning about class, entitlement, and a new generation in Chile’s countryside.

The Summer of Flying Fish - Film Society of Lincoln Center   Film Comment

Don Francisco is celebrated for the effective if increasingly violent ways he employs to exterminate the carp that overpopulate the artificial lake on his property in the majestically beautiful areas of Curarrehue, Coñaripe, and Liquiñe in southern Chile. His beloved 16-year-old daughter, Manena, seems to be the only one aware of the growing tension surrounding them, as the demands of the Mapuche Indians that have lived and worked in the area for centuries have gone unheard for too long. Marcela Said brings her sharp observational skills as a documentarian to this fiction/nonfiction hybrid, working on location with nonprofessional actors to create a quietly powerful denunciation of environmental destruction and social injustice. But she also succeeds in crafting a moving and vivid youth drama through Manena’s tricky predicament, caught between loyalty to her family and to what she knows is right.

TIFF 2013 | The Summer of Flying Fish (Marcela Said, Chile ...  Robert Koehler from Cinema Scope

The long shadow of Lucrecia Martel casts itself over the atmospherically weighty, metaphorically leaden The Summer of Flying Fish, Marcela Said’s uncertain entry into fiction after a string of non-fiction features. After Martel rewrote the coming-of-age playbook a decade ago in Argentina with La cienaga, Said is late to the same game in neighbouring Chile, where teen girl Manena (Francisca Walker) witnesses the alienation between her landowner family and the indigenous workers waging what appears to be full-on rebellion on the family’s southern woodlands property. While the key to both films is the point-of-view from an upper-class perspective, there’s a crucial difference: Martel allowed space for her working-class characters to gain considerable power in the interstices of her elliptical narrative; Said falls into the trap of abstracting everyone outside the obnoxious family circle, rendering the brewing war on the film’s borders to the scale of a negligible skirmish at best. The gorgeous rendering of the lushly forested landscapes begins to play the unfortunate role of covering over the movie’s extremely slim and obvious content, in which each family member plays their proscribed and predictable role, down to Manena’s dad as a deluded mini-caudillo.

Modern Americans by Aaron Cutler - Moving Image Source  Aaron Cutler

The Summer of Flying Fish (2013) tells this ongoing story, essentially from the point of view of the conquerors. Its main character is Manena (Francisca Walker), a wealthy teenage girl from Santiago. She has moved with her family to a forest area in the South of Chile near Patagonia, where her landowner father, Pancho (Gregory Cohen), is steadily claiming the area’s resources with local help. His employees include Pedro (Roberto Cayuqueo), a shy Mapuche boy who gradually exposes his love for rock music to Manena, and in whom Manena’s interest steadily grows.

Filmmaker Marcela Said, creating her first fiction film following four documentaries, has chosen to tell Summer largely from Manena’s point of view. This choice lends the film a strong documentary element, with the viewer absorbing and discovering landscapes of the Aruacanía and Los Rios regions at the same time as Manena does; it also simultaneously gives the work a quality of dramatic irony, with much of the story’s action hovering just beyond what Manena can see.

Scenes of the Mapuche conflict are rarely shown onscreen in the film, as are any Mapuche people aside from Pedro. Summer instead gives several moments of Manena and other new residents to the area walking and swimming through their forest surroundings, or else relaxing in their large homes, attended by servants. The film implies that these casual moments of discovery and pleasure have come from a new breed of colonialism, in which transplanted white people enjoy themselves in a new place thanks to the work of unseen darker-skinned people that have cultivated it for centuries.

Meanwhile, violence breaks out around the edges of the frame. One of the film’s first scenes shows Manena in a car with her family members, witnessing police cordoning off an area for reasons that her father races past too quickly for her to discern. The reasons are hinted at in Pancho’s subsequent ongoing quest to blow up the carp fish pervading the water around his new home, which risks driving himself and others around him deaf. His efforts (which Said and co-screenwriter Julio Rojas based on a true story) serve as a metaphor for local powers hurting themselves in the name of self-protection. They will gain resonance as he attempts to purge himself of native influences in the name of his family while driving its members away..

Pancho’s actions—increasingly violent, and increasingly met with native resistance—particularly impact the relationship between Pedro and Manena. In time, the girl becomes less willing to accept her patriarch’s gifts, and more sympathetic and open to new friends. The viewer, in sharing Manena’s position, sees life through the eyes of a naïve, privileged person growing aware of her privilege’s source. What she will ultimately do with this knowledge remains, at film’s end, unsaid.

[TIFF Review] The Summer of Flying Fish - The Film Stage  John Fink

The Summer of Flying Fish is not an easy film to discuss. Sparse, beautiful and often leaving the audience in limbo, the narrative feature debut of Chilean documentarian Marcela Said takes a unique on-the-ground point of view verses the political arial overview. The film is an ensemble character drama, told mostly in long, observant takes, using a long-standing conflict between the native Mapunche and white (European) landowners. For uninitiated audiences, the film offers little backstory, as initially, the conflict is treated as a background event that occasionally enters an annoyance (quite literally in one scene, a road block).

At the center of the story is Poncho (Gregory Cohen), a wealthy landowner and his daughter, Manena (Francisca Walker), whom we learn is American. He wishes to head to Manhattan, she doesn’t – and this is not a major plot point. A structure this lucid is a little disorienting at times, however Marcela Said’s documentary roots create a superb sense of realism, including the employment of non-professional actors. Representative of a new trend in Latin American cinema (along with Lisandro Alonso, the Argentine director), Said has crafted a realistic, ethnographic narrative, a study of landscape and political geographies more so than characters — however it is very interesting that this is perhaps not her intent.

The film subtly shows the rhythms of life and work, including Pancho’s obsession with the carp population in his private lake (leading to an incident where a young man potentially loses his hearing when Pancho orders explosives used). This is not treated as an action sequence of a pinnacle of great drama, but it’s rather a small moment. Manena grows rebellious as all teenagers do — but again, no tremendous moments of drama. Cold and observant, Said’s camera remains at a distance (often in slightly unconventional frames, frequently in a medium to wide shot). I fear this distance may not always work, especially for an audience unfamiliar with this conflict; the information requires some heavy lifting from the audience.

Yet, perhaps this is all the more reason to experience The Summer of Flying Fish. It’s a sensory immersion experience with some stunning landscape shots. Also these shots are slightly off and look as if they were photographed a stop or two too dark. The plight of the Mapunche peoples is grossly under-represented and this is by no means a drama that simplifies the history of the conflict into a traditional three-story narrative encompassing the past, present and future in a matter that is easy to understand. In fact, Said provides a more unique approach; we are privileged to see the world from the perspective of a documentarian gathering facts. The heavy lifting requires assembling the narrative from the raw data we’ve given in 85 minutes. While this device isn’t the most effective (or the broadest), it respects the intelligence of the audience while testing their level of engagement. Challenging in passages, The Summer of Flying Fish is a beautiful and troubling portrait.

TIFF Review: 'The Summer of Flying Fish ... - Indiewire  Carlos Aguilar


Review: the summer of flying fish tries to tackle a ... - Twitch  Jaime Grijalba Gomez


The ongoing Chilean new wave yields Flying Fish | Bleader ...  Ben Sachs from The Reader


The Summer Of Flying Fish - Screen International  Mark Adams


Cannes by Koehler: The Owners & Ate ver a luz | Film ...  Robert Koehler from Film Comment, May 31, 2013


looking good - / film  Tony Pipolo from Artforum, January 6, 2014


Facets : Cinematheque Schedule: The Summer of Flying Fish


Tensions and pressures that are almost unbearable - World ...  David Walsh from the World Socialist Web Site


by Marcela Said The Summer of Flying Fish - Alpha Violet


Chile in Toronto, Part 2: Marcela Said on her Film ... - Indiew  Sydney Levine interview from IndieWIRE, September 17, 2013


Hollywood Reporter [Stephen Dalton]


Cannes Film Review: 'The Summer of Flying Fish' - Variety  Peter Debruge


The Summer of Flying Fish - The Boston Globe


Miami New Times - Cultist blog [Hans Morgenstern]


The Summer of Flying Fish - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Saïto, Daïchi



Canada  (10 mi)  2009


2009 New York Film Festival / Views From the Avant-Garde ("The Home Game"  Michael Sicinski from The Academic Hack, Program Eleven

Trees of Syntax is a short work which, as the title obliquely promises, focuses on dense foliage and trunk patterns of what seems like hundreds of trees (although on 2nd viewing I thought I saw certain areas of park recur). What Saïto does is to generate a photographic system whereby the body of the images -- the trees themselves -- are the sole figure in a super-high-contrast photographic field, surrounded by a dense black background. Rather than the images fading in and out, they seem to pop onto the screen only to be resubmerged into the inky darkness a half-second later. Trees of Syntax utilizes extreme high-contrast printing to allow the trees to "appear" from an isolated visual field, registering as pure, only partially representational forms. At other points in the film, it appears as though Saïto has printed his "image track" through a differentially-engraved black-leader scrim, such that his carvings into the emulsion can control how much of the original image of the trees will come through visually, and when, and how it will retract. This process would be complex enough in itself, but Saïto has also subjected the tree footage to radiant, almost searing colors, so that the forms that burst through the wall of black murk are like energy-charged globules of pure light, glistening like stained glass, falling away like fireworks. It's impossible not to think of Brakhage's hand-painted films while viewing Trees of Syntax, but Saïto's use of color, shape and movement are exceedingly different. He chips away at these charmed particles specifically in order to keep them balanced on the edge of representational intelligibility.

Like Impressionist painting outfitted with a new, late-modernist attitude, Trees of Syntax plays with conditions of light and texture, but also with human cognition pitched at a slight but rather exciting panic mode. In musical terms, the film is an agitato, and the film's soundtrack, by violinist Malcolm Goldstein, is a rare instance of a score that functions in tandem with the experimental film of which it is a part. Goldstein's jagged Webern / Boulez style modernism, all jumps and jots, perfectly amplifies Saïto's continual playing against the dark void. And, much as the Goldstein score communicates rough edges prodding the surrounding silence, Saïto's tactile method of layering results in a picture plane that vibrates even when its denotative contents -- the same tree -- have not changed. That's because, of course, the negative space is fluctuating, generating a kind of artificial wind. What's more, Saïto's color scheme often shifts within single one-second passages, in ways either subtle (say, between lime and kelly green) or dramatic (green against lilac, for example). While Saïto's eye as a colorist does owe a debt to Brakhage (something I suspect he'd freely admit), his orchestration of these painterly gestures within the circumscribed bounds of rapidly shifting pictures -- trees and foliage -- produces an aesthetic that bears little of Brakhage's sweep of line and gesture, replacing it with the jittery vibration of blocks of color, interrupted mid-movement by "obstructions" which are, ironically, their very subject matter.

More simply, Saïto's dazzling forms keep running into trees. In fact, the film's very title articulates the deep ambivalence with which it regards these organic shapes. Saïto aims to confront them with an organizational principle of some kind, however tentative: "trees of syntax" form the one, sometimes two vertical formations that mold the individual frames; "leaves of axis" take those forms out toward the edges of the frame, much as leaves function as the axes in botanical terms -- longitudinal support and arrangement. Although Saïto's film is too frantic to provide classic structuralism (and who'd want that anyway?), it could be said to invoke a sort of scientific average, the sum of the compositions providing a way to think about trees as potential components of film form. Again, a dialectic: how can an artist make use of the natural world while allowing it to retain its fundamental character? In spite of being constructed according to some very clear plans, Trees of Syntax still scrambles our sensorium, providing an alternate map through the woods. Destination: lost. Rigorously, epiphanically lost.

[ADDENDUM: Mr. Saïto was kind enough to contact me privately regarding this review, and as you'll note from the semi-redacted portions above, I was incorrect about certain of his production techniques. I have a tendency to do very little advance reading prior to writing about a film, since I am always interested in trying to analytically describe my viewing experience. This sometimes leads to errors. I'm not perfect, and I misidentify technical details (especially when I'm forced to view films on video).But I sometimes leave the errors there since I think they describe some actual aspect of the film as a viewing event, even if I am not accurately telling you how the film gets you there. Nevertheless, I do strive for accuracy, and as per Mr. Saïto's correction, there is no painting, hand tinting or scratching in Trees of Syntax, Leaves of Axis. The effects are achieved through skillful processing and printing technique, and the combination of various film stocks. (Some of this I probably should have guessed...) Saying more is probably unnecessary. Again, thanks to Daïchi Saïto for the clarification.]

Saks, Gene



USA  (106 mi)  1967


Barefoot in the Park  Tom Milne from Time Out London

Disposable Neil Simon comedy about newlyweds coping with their unheated walkup apartment, a flighty mother-in-law, and a romantically disreputable neighbour. Sprightly dialogue, nice performances.

Crazy for Cinema

Young love gets put to the test when a newly married couple is forced back to reality after their blissful honeymoon. Passion gets pushed to the wayside once the trials of everyday life begin and they must learn to sink or swim together.

Neil Simon trains his razor sharp wit on the foibles of a newly married couple in this witty and wacky romantic comedy. While some of the ideas expressed are bit dated, Fonda and Redford are so charming and sexy you won't care one bit. The challenge of starting a life together brings them quickly back to reality and exposes the potential down side of their rather impulsive nuptials.

A ramshackle apartment, wacky neighbors, pressures at work and a lonely mother-in-law only add to the stress of blending two rather different personalities and life philosophies into one happy couple. One long night on the town almost proves their undoing, leaving us to wonder if love is enough to bridge the gap between a conservative lawyer and the free-spirit he made his wife.

The final third where they sort of switch personalities – figuratively, not literally – is rather obvious and overplayed, but it gives Redford some of his best comic moments in the piece as a man worn down by an emotional wife, a dreadful head cold and a whole lot of whiskey.

Written and performed by anyone else, these characters would have been one-dimensional, but the first-rate team of Simon, Redford and Fonda make their troubles funny, poignant and unforgettable. This is a smart, sassy and sexy romance that takes an honest look at life after the wedding bliss fades away.

BBCi - Films  Almar Haflidason

Robert Redford puts on his best poker face as a straight-laced lawyer who marries the fun-seeking sex kitten Jane Fonda. It's hardly a strong plot for a movie, but Neil Simon inserts just enough sparkling dialogue into this adaptation of his Broadway hit, to keep boredom from ruining this kooky film.

We enter the lives of this winsome couple, just as they are about to embark on their honeymoon marathon run of mutual appreciation. Six days later and they emerge back into the world. Redford has to go to work, but Fonda would rather he didn't as she's reluctant for the fantasy to end. Redford insists that he really must go to work and Fonda purrs with naughty alternatives. It's a pattern that is repeated into forming the flimsy backbone for the movie. He's sensible and she just wants fun. Inevitably, they reach the point where they both begin to irritate one another.

They argue, and pretty soon we're all wistful for the screamingly funny highlights that had preceded their spat. It's the moment when you realise just how much delicious fun Fonda and Redford extract out of Simon's achingly witty script.

Key to the silliness is their awkward apartment located at the top of five flights of stairs. Many laughs are derived from this mighty climb, and it provides relief from the fact that most of the movie takes place in one room. It's a limited setting that occasionally threatens to kill the film dead. Thankfully the characters within this particular confined space are just too charming and entertaining to let that cramp their style

DVD Times  Raphael Pour-Hashemi

The sixties produced many situation-comedies that filled one-off feature films, and Paramount's 1967 traditionalist Barefoot In The Park easily encapsulates one side of the decade which was trying to battle with the counter-culture and anarchy of the other side. The film was released in the same year as In The Heat Of The Night and Bonnie And Clyde, though feels like it was released a good five years earlier, as nothing is daring or risqué about Barefoot In The Park.

This doesn't mean the film should be ignored, as it is in fact a warm and deliciously witty slice of married life from playwright Neil Simon, a man who has delighted audiences around with the world with such classic creations as The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and California Suite. Simon revels in dialogue; he doesn't need multi-locations or massive set-pieces, instead he builds narrative momentum by deftly structuring his characters and then providing them with brilliant punchlines.

Barefoot In The Park is no different, with limited locations and only four main characters. Paul (Robert Redford) and Corie Bratter (Jane Fonda) are two newlyweds embarking on the next phase in their life, which involves moving into a new apartment and starting life together. Paul is a rising attorney in New York, and Corie has been left to tend to their new apartment that Paul has not yet seen. After six nights of Honeymoon bliss in a posh hotel, Paul has to drag himself to work from the alluring clutches of Corie, whilst she oversees the decorating of their new apartment. Things start to go horribly wrong, as the apartment is based on a steep fifth floor block that lacks an elevator, and Corie enters the apartment to find it without any furniture or heating. This is the start of Paul and Corie's troubles, as they soon start finding that marriage throws up many clashes of personality between the two of them.

Because Barefoot In The Park wears the fact that it is a light comedy on its sleeve, the audience never feels as if the film contains any bite or edge to it. We know that Paul and Corie's marriage is apparently in trouble, but we never feel it, as the film seems to have an unspoken promise from its outset that all will end happily. This is not a criticism of the film, since it is a convention of any form of situation-comedy that the normal roles of the characters remain the same at the conclusion. Also, the film can be forgiven for having a tame content by virtue of being extremely funny in places. From the tremendously sarcastic dialogue between Paul and Corie to the excellent in-jokes, such as the apartment's lack of elevator or Corie's mother's (Mildred Natwick) bleak complaints at having to walk five flights of stairs. It's a film in which the jokes are formed out of its own premise, and are expertly handled.

Redford and Fonda are not an equally matched couple on paper, and yet they possess a good dose of on-screen chemistry that helps the film to succeed. Redford is suitably calm and quick-witted as Paul Bratter, the ambitious lawyer who seems surprised at his wife's desire to subvert any of his ambitions. In turn, Jane Fonda is also very good as Corie Bratter, a care-free and lively trophy-wife that seems to want more than to just be a lawyer's housewife. In great support, Charles Boyer is very good as Victor Velasco, the squatter neighbour from upstairs who has set his sights on Corie's mother Ethel. Mildred Natwick plays Ethel in a hilariously apathetical fashion, and her performance was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. It's refreshing to see Natwick give Ethel a different spin from the usual stereotypical 'busybody mother' role.

The music by Neal Hefti is typically 'Paramount-comedy-late-sixties' and is very memorable due to it representing a forgotten era. This era now left behind came to depict a slightly adventurous America casually moving away from right-wing conservatism, with affluence, tidy streets and attractive couples coming to represent the traditionalist view of late-sixties USA. When you contrast this America with the America depicted in a film such as Midnight Cowboy, it's easy to notice how there seemed to be two different film movements sweeping the nation.

Anyhow, Barefoot In The Park is handled with confidence by director Gene Saks, a man who continued the theme with The Odd Couple and Cactus Flower in successive years. It's a light comedy that is enjoyably warm and one that lacks any sort of ground-breaking approach, but some times a traditional genre-pleaser is all that is required anyway.

Barefoot in the Park  Sarah Heiman from Turner Classic Movies


Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]


barefoot in the park - movie and tv vault reviews at  Craig Clarke from Video Vista


Mildred Natwick News » Andrew Sarris Harshes on 'Casino Royale ...  Andrew Sarris from The Village Voice, June 15, 1967


Minicrix [Anne Billson]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz] [Variety Staff]


Movie Review - Barefoot in the Park - The Screen: 'Barefoot in the ...  Bosley Crowther from The New York Times


Sala, Pawel



Poland  (95 mi)  2010


This film played at the Polish International Film Festival, but the subtitles ended after about ten minutes, leaving the rest accessible only for a Polish speaking audience.  A dozen or so people walked out, as the film was shown on a DVD with defective subtitling.  Inspired by true events, the filmmaker takes a stab at recreating the psychological undercurrents leading up to a brutal murder.  Opening and closing in the present where two kids are being arrested for the murder of their mother, the film backtracks initially by days, then weeks, and months, showing a family in turmoil, especially the occasional ranting and out-of-control older son Artur, age 22, who is idolized by his younger 12-year old brother Marcin.  On one of the first few days, a decapitated head is discovered, while going back a few more days, a bloody knife can be seen in Artur’s hands where the audience can’t see what’s happening just offscreen.  Without dialogue, all anyone could do is draw inferences from what we see, where the director uses a few visual flourishes, such as mutiple mirror shots, as many as four mirrors in one shot where there is constant movement continually altering the look of the screen.  But to what end this is used is hard to say.  Also the mother has a habit of picking up stray cats, where there are over a dozen cats in the frame for all of the indoor shots, but more importantly, we hear the bickering sound of cats constantly growling and fighting with one another.  The mother appears to have been married to a military husband, but when challenged by Artur, he eventually leaves the home, leading a remote and solitary life, almost as if imprisoned.  When she goes to visit him, there are no sparks left between them.  But as the film keeps moving backwards in time, reminiscent of IRREVERSIBLE (2002), we see some of their happier days, where instead of the aggressive sounds of feral cats, we hear the peaceful chirps of birds in the forest at a sunny family picnic, where the couple makes love under the canopy of trees, where even the dreary winter colors come alive for a blissful summer moment of seeming innocence.  What is clear is that the two sons are the animals, not the cats, living under this mother’s roof, where it’s hard to draw any other conclusions without dialogue.      


Variety (Alissa Simon) review

An experiment in flashback structure reaps diminishing returns in somber drama "Mother Teresa of Cats," from debuting Polish helmer Pawel Sala. Based on the brutal real-life murder of a mother by her two sons, pic plods backward in time from the arrest of the culprits in a succession of short scenes that mark an unsuccessful attempt to make psychological sense of the crime. Slated to open domestically in September, this is bleak, arty fare that will rep catnip to certain parts of the international fest circuit.

Saleswoman Teresa (Ewa Skibinska) and military hubby Hubert (Mariusz Bonaszewski) spawned sons Artur (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, impressive), 22, and Marcin (Filip Garbacz), 12, as well as a young daughter. Increasingly unruly, Artur claims he can read minds, predict events and bring the dead back to life. He also says he's been abused by his father. Given the excessive number of felines Teresa keeps around the house, it's clear something's not right with this family, but exactly what remains vague. Despite valiant thesping, the characters remain ciphers. Steady, blue-green toned lensing by Mikolaj Lebkowski anchors pic's dispassionate tone; other tech credits are fine.

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Mikolaj Lebkowski; editor, Agnieszka Glinska; music, Marcin Krzyzanowski; production designer, Katarzyna Jarnuszkiewicz; costume designer, Monika Jagodzinska. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 12, 2010. (Also in Karlovy Vary Festival -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Saldanha, Carlos


ICE AGE:  THE MELTDOWN                   B-                    81

USA  (90 mi)  2006


Ever want to work as a fur and feather designer?  Then this is the film for you.  Continuing the family theme of a wooly mammoth, a sloth, and a saber tooth tiger all looking out for one another, while a lone crazed squirrel is in pursuit of the ultimate acorn, which opened the previous film which this director co-directed, this time we add the voice of Queen Latifah as a female wooly mammoth who thinks she’s a possum, as she was abandoned as a child and has been raised by possums, hanging upside down from trees when she sleeps, and considers herself a sister to her two very clever brothers, who are a constant delight, an irrepressible force that no one else seems to be able to contend with.  Unlike Romano’s ultra-dour mammoth, Latifah has a gas with her little friends, spending as much time at play as they can.


Following the earlier film which was advertised as the coolest movie in 16,000 years, here the title suggests the world is about to be wiped out, but it never really materializes, probably because there are too many kids watching in the audience.  Witnessing an apocalyptic disaster might cause some emotional problems with the kids, so much of this is kept friendly and amusing, including musical numbers from thousands of Simon Says sloths and a terrific copy cat segment from flying vultures.  Also, there’s an interesting acorn heaven sequence.  All in all it’s easy to watch, sometimes funny, occasionally touching, but never rises above the safe zone.


Saleem, Hiner



France  Kurdistan  (96 mi)  2005


Kilometre Zero | Review | Screen  Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily

One person’s illegal war is another’s act of sweet liberation in Kilometre Zero. Inspired by the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurdistan director Hiner Saleem has made a film that vividly illuminates the brutal realities of life under the tyrant’s rule. Petty dictators lurk at every checkpoint, people are casually executed at the side of the road and hatred flourishes in the bitter divide between Arab and Kurd.

Despite Saleem’s claims that this is not a political film, it is hard not to perceive it in those terms and occasionally righteous anger gets in the way of a more incisive drama.

Nonetheless, this has some comic touches to lighten the overall tone and a poignancy in the ultimate resolution of the story. There should be enough interest in the subject matter and the next film from the Vodka Lemon director to ensure modest arthouse prospects for this competition entry. The film premiered in competition at Cannes.

The film begins at the very moment of Saleem’s inspiration in 2003 with radio reports of the fall of Saddam Hussein. We are then reminded that in 1988, Chemical Ali killed 182,000 Kurds.

In 1988, Ako (Kirik) vows to flee Iraq. His wife Selma (Bilgin) refuses to countenance such a thought as long as her sick, aged father is alive and dependent on them. There is no way to resolve the issue and soon Ako is drafted and sent to the frontline of the Iran-Iraq War. We see the extent of the hatred reserved for the Kurds in the treatment of Ako’s friend Sami (Qeladizeyi) who is continually beaten, humiliated and made to feel less than human.

Ako becomes a desperate man and even lies in the trenches with his leg in the air hoping it might be shot or blown off. It would be a small sacrifice to pay if it meant he would be sent back to his wife and son and left alone. Then, he is assigned to accompany a martyr’s corpse to his family. It could be his only way of getting home except the driver (Ekrem) is an Arab who hates Kurds and the journey is fraught with tension, hostility and bitter irony.

Maturing into a road movie set against the barren landscapes of Iraq, Kilometre Zero is at its most impressive on a purely visual level. It is beautifully composed by cinematographer Robert Alazraki who constantly frames characters in doorways or through windows underlining the way in which they are trapped by their circumstances. Humans are often seen against imposing mountain ranges, dwarfed by the country and its history.

Much of the wry humour is also visual, with a giant statue of Saddam Hussein criss crossing the country to show there was no escape from the dictator’s image or presence. At one point, Ako and the driver are ordered to a rest area where others cars with flag-draped coffins stretch as far as the eye can see - all glorious martyrs according to the regime. It is the absurdity observed in everyday life that captures just a hint of the more freewheeling approach that Saleem brought to the award-winning Vodka Lemon.

The dialogue tends to be less sophisticated with conversations that exist to illustrate a point rather than convey the natural exchanges of everyday life. This is particularly true of the scenes between Ako and the driver but then their whole relationship is based on volatility. Within a heartbeat they can go from shared laughter to rolling around fighting in the dirt to calmly swapping pictures of their respective children. They even acknowledge that on a personal level each finds the other to be charming and decent, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that they are sworn enemies.

The film’s title is a reference to Saleem’s belief that Iraq has refused to move forward throughout its 80-year history and remains at the starting point of latitude zero. His film still ends on a note of hope back in the Paris of 2003 with the news that Saddam has gone and some possibility of progress or renewal might be possible.

Kilometre Zero may seem a little worthy and heavyhanded at times but there is enough human interest in the characters and their journey to provide an emotional connection for the arthouse viewer.

Salles, Walter


FOREIGN LAND                                          A                     95

Brazil  Portugal  (100 mi)  1995  co-director:  Daniela Thomas


A stylized black and white perfection, with brilliant art direction credited to Daniela Thomas, a theater and opera director, set in Brazil in March 1990, after 30 years of a military dictatorship, the newly elected President decides to freeze all bank accounts with more than $300, causing nearly a million Brazilians to flee the country in search of opportunities in “foreign lands.” 


This story features a 21-year old in Brazil who follows his mother’s dying wish to return to her birthplace in Spain, but becomes a courier for a gangster disguised as an antique dealer and runs into some deadly trouble.  He meets in Lisbon, Portugal, a girl whose boy friend was just murdered by the same gang.  Both end up on the run, finding themselves in a permanent state of exile, meeting other exiles from Africa, where personal and political troubles haunt their every move.  Eventually, they become lovers, making love on a beach where they are dwarfed by a huge ship grounded just offshore, poetically suggesting shipwrecked souls running aground, only to meet the nefarious gangsters waiting for them at the Spanish border.  There is some excellent writing, but the film lacks a center, a human heart, as all are mysteriously escaping from their own hearts.  Beautiful Spanish music underscores the powerful visuals, perhaps a companion piece to Wong Kar-wei’s HAPPY TOGETHER.  



Brazil  France  Spain  Japan  (106 mi)  1998


Central Station  David Denby from The New Yorker


Against her nature, Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), an intelligent but nihilistic old bag—a retired schoolteacher who writes letters for illiterate people and then never mails them—leaves Rio de Janeiro with a little boy in tow and takes to the road. The boy's mother has been killed, and his desire to see his missing father stirs something in Dora. The two of them are practically hoboes, but once they leave Rio life opens up for them. This shrewd, tough, and bighearted Brazilian movie, directed by Walter Salles, moves surely and convincingly from utter negation to something like guarded optimism. A great star in Brazil, Montenegro rivals such legendary actresses as Jeanne Moreau and Giulietta Masina in her ability to alter her moods from mask-of-tragedy woe to childish pleasure without apparent calculation. With handsome Vinicius de Oliveira as the boy and Marília Pêra as Dora's friendly neighbor. In Portuguese.  David Denby


Central Station  Nina Caplan from Sight and Sound, March 1999

Dora is a letter writer in Brazil's Central Station. She transcribes the loves and longings for Rio de Janeiro's illiterates and sends the results - or not - as she and her neighbour Irene see fit. When one of her clients is run over and killed, nine-year-old Josué is left motherless. Dora takes him in and sells him, but later steals him back. Dora and Josué go in search of his father Jisus, using the address of the letter Dora had written but failed to send for Josué's mother.

Dora tries to leave Josué on the bus but he follows her, forgetting his rucksack which contains Dora's money. Penniless, they are picked up by a kindly, religious truck driver who abandons them when Dora grows too friendly. By hitching they reach Jisus' house but he has sold it to buy alcohol. In the town, Josué saves them from destitution by suggesting Dora write letters for pilgrims. This time, she posts the letters.

By chance, they find Josué's two half-brothers. Their father has disappeared, but Dora reads the letter he had sent six months ago: he had gone to Rio in search of Josué's mother and the son he has never seen. The brothers realise he too must be dead. The next morning, while Josué sleeps, Dora takes the bus for Rio. Josué wakes up too late to prevent her departure. Both are left with a photo by which to remember one another.


The trouble with road movies is they often go nowhere. Walter Salles' Central Station makes a virtue out of a common failing. It's a time-honoured scenario: haphazard travelling companions take a trip down Self-Discovery Highway, destination Understanding. For nine-year-old Josué, the search for his father marks his coming of age. His companion Dora, a retired teacher, rediscovers her humanity when she leaves her post writing letters for Rio's illiterates in Central Station to help him.

Salles (Foreign Land) takes recent upheavals in Brazil as his starting point and tackles individual quests within the context of the pain, loss and redemption of the whole community. Josué spends most of the film trying to join a community which is a metonym for the Brazilian society Dora abandoned along with her teaching career. As a letter writer, she interprets rather than instructs: if knowledge is her currency, she has exchanged generosity for avarice. She and Josué approach one another from opposite ends of the social spectrum: he seeks a place, she has abandoned hers. These two disparate but coinciding quests for rehabilitation are the film's heartbeat.

With his brothers, Josué will find a trade and a place in society. It is at his instigation that his mother Ana writes - via Dora - to her abusive drunken husband Jisus, tentatively pleading for reconciliation while the boy plays with a wooden top, symbol of his soon-to-be-lost childhood realm. He will lose top and mother simultaneously. His search for male role models will place him behind the wheel on a paternal truck driver's lap when he and Dora hitch a lift. Later, he will strike a similar pose with his older brother Moisés in front of the latter's lathe: the man behind, guiding the boy's hands. Under Moisés' guidance, Josué makes a top, no longer just a toy but a symbolic token of initiation into the community. This process begun, Dora leaves, having rediscovered the selflessness of the teacher/guide.

Like the trains, Central Station starts from the eponymous station and radiates outwards. People and trains move past with equal smoothness, making their random trajectories through the umber light that permeates the film. Characters collide with one another with seeming incoherence, like the letters which Dora posts, keeps or destroys according to her whim. Life is not linear. Dora tells Josué that one should always take buses because they have regular routes and preordained stops. She associates taxis with instability; her father's unfaithfulness; her mother's death. Dora's world contains its own insecurity: a perpetual liar whose lies are never believed, she imputes her own untruthfulness to others. "How do they measure a kilometre?" asks Josué during their journey. "They make it up," replies Dora.

Vinícius de Oliveira is extraordinary as the proud, vulnerable Josué, chin raised as the tears fall, dictating Dora's clothes and make-up and initiating macho sex talk as he tries to seem grown up. Like a teacher brushing up on a rusty foreign language, Dora relearns her moral grammar for his benefit and posts the letters she used to jettison. The film takes religion as its point of stability, replicating the developing country's conflict between industrialisation and tradition. The two travellers bounce from evangelist truck drivers to places of pilgrimage. In a stunning visual depiction of faith, the screen fills with points of light from pilgrims' candles. The family unit, seen as irrevocably lost, is idolised: Dora becomes a virgin mother to Josué, while his brothers create a shrine commemorating Ana and Jisus. When Dora leaves, the image which remains to comfort her and Josué for their mutual loss is a photo of them taken with a picture of a saint, a parody of the nuclear family, suggesting the duplication which replaces intimacy in a fragmented society. Salles takes this one step further: the result, a random microcosm of Brazilian life both intimate and eloquent, is Central Station.


Brazil  Switzerland  France (92 mi)  2001  ‘Scope


Behind the Sun  Leslie Felperin for Sight and Sound, March 2002


THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES                B                     84

Brazil  (130 mi)  2004


An idealized and romanticized vision taken from the diary entries, most seemingly written to his mother, of the continental travels from the still impressionable youth of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, now an icon of revolutionary fervor turned into a capitalistic dream in the form of T-shirts, posters, red-starred emblems, and now this film.  Back in 1952 when he was only 23, he and his lifelong friend, Alberto Granado (whose memoirs “Traveling with Che Guevara” were also used), embarked on an 8000-mile journey across South America.  Eric Gautier’s cinematography stands out, especially blending actual locations from Argentina, Chile, and Peru with striking black and white portraits of the working class poor, also the haunting music of Gustavo Santaololla, including some memorable dance sequences to the likes of Prez Prado.  Latino superstar Gael Garcia Bernal takes a stab using a young man’s natural curiosity as the key to his personal growth, a child of privilege, with a girl friend so rich that it looks like she lives in a Swiss chateau, studying medicine, yet identifying with the underclass, with an eye for injustice wherever he sees it.  It’s tired and predictable, something right out of the social tiered milieu of TITANIC, but what I found unusual was their final destination – a leper colony in the Amazon, where the sick lived in huts on one side of the river while the doctors and nuns lived in comfort on the other.  Now where, but in the movies, would this be any young man’s final trip destination?  Despite the predictable set ups and the all too obvious contrasts of rich and poor, the upper class wealth and status of Guevara’s family origins against the poor and indigenous people they encountered, particularly the picturesque grandeur of the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu against the current overpopulated squalor of Lima, Peru, the film does a good job of humanizing these young men with the natural landscapes and people they encounter.  Where else are you going to see a soccer match in a leper colony? 


Motorcycle Diaries  Gerald Peary

Those who remember Ernesto "Che" Guevera, killed in 1967 by rightists aided by the CIA, as a fierce, uncompromised. Marxist revolutionary will be mortified by The Motorcycle Diaries. This lollipop-land retelling of the early days of Fidel Castro’s compatriot shows Guevera as a shy Argentine med student who, on a post-college 1952 road trip with a biochemist buddy, "learns" the obvious: that it’s a rotten world out there, and that poor people are neglected. It’s the social conscience of a Peace Corps volunteer, not of a far-left militant who, in Cuba, would bring down Batista’s government.

But that’s the ploy of Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles (Central Station): a depoliticized, picturesque movie which can attract a middle-class audience that would be scared off by something truly radical. So "Che" is played sweetly by Mexico’s arthouse pinup, Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien); and the places about South America traversed by Guevera and Alberto Grenado (Rodrigo de la Serna) become a topographic diversion. Such beauty! And The People? They remain the primitive Other, Indians without voice waiting for liberation from our white-guy movie heroes. Believe young "Che" swimming a river to be with his leper-colony friends? Then you’ve been smitten by this bogus-to-the-core movie.

The Motorcycle Diaries  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

Essentially a soft, mostly unfunny buddy comedy that takes a solemn, laboredly humanist turn in the final act. Even setting aside the political difficulties with the depiction of young, pre-revolutionary Che Guevara (the promise of youth, idealism unsullied, etc.), the main problem is that Salles simply isn't a very good filmmaker. His pacing is awkward. His ability to successfully articulate humor and seriousness is virtually nil. His images are curiously bland and flat; even his overly-praised landscapes frequently lack pictorial power. His editor shows no skill for the task, chopping scenes into fragments for no discernable purpose. And Salles' use of music is unfailingly obvious, serving as a kind of Luaka Bop CD sampler buoying the proceedings for a presumed middle-class viewership. In terms of characterization, Guevara spends most of the film toggling back and forth between a handsome schemer and part-time cad, on the one hand, and a deeply concerned doctor-without-borders on the other. The shifts are sudden and motivated only by the film's need to make its point in boldface, about the Awakening of a Revolutionary. As far as trying to place The Motorcycle Diaries in a larger cultural framework, one can only ask, why now? What purpose is served by embodying Latin American radicalism (a force that is still very much alive) in the singular person of a dead 60s icon? This isn't to say that Che Guevara has nothing to teach us in the present day, but a radical aesthetic approach (such as the one Spike Lee adopted for Malcolm X) would be necessary to demonstrate how the past survives into the present. Salles, needless to say, is not the man for the job.


Walter Salles' 'The Motorcycle Diaries'; On the Road, Without Much ...  Peter Brunette from indiWIRE 

Because of its blatant populist appeal and very soft-core leftist politics, many critics and ordinary viewers will be automatically wild about Walter Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries," but they will be wrong. This film that explores a real-life motorcycle trip taken by the 24-year-old Che Guevara and a friend around South America in the early 1950s hits all the right notes, but for this critic, at least, the piano's badly in need of tuning. Salles, the director of the much-loved but even more manipulative "Central Station" a number of years back, is up to his old tricks once again, but the more recent film, even on a basic formal and dramatic level -- and despite all the praise it got at its Sundance premiere in January -- is simply not very interesting.

When Che Guevara is played by Gael Garcia Bernal, the Mexican heartthrob who also stars in Pedro Almodovar's competition film, "Bad Education," of course you want to like the film. And the idea of two young men, setting out to explore life and their continent -- like another young man around the same time in North America, Jack Kerouac -- is an instantly sympathetic one. But the things that actually happen to them -- road accidents, picking up girls, going to parties, running out of money, all liberally sprinkled with gorgeous shots of the magnificent countryside -- couldn't be more pedestrian. In fact, most of the events that occur would be completely uninvolving if you didn't know that they were happening to Che Guevara. So the viewer finds him- or herself basically waiting for this solidly upper-middle-class, spoiled kid from Buenos Aires, this doctor-in-training, to finally encounter the People and start becoming the Che Guevara that, depending on our politics, we love or hate.

About halfway through the film, after what has in effect been little more than a long travelogue, Che and his friend Alberto, who incarnates the standard, lovable Sancho Panza sidekick figure (played by Rodrigo de la Serna), finally discover the landless, exploited Indians and begin to develop a social conscience. Nowhere is this sentiment really explored in depth, however, and Salles doesn't even go near any political analysis of the causes of the unjust economic system that prevails in Latin America. Instead, we learn by the end of the film that there is "injustice," as though it were a fact of nature, which has the wonderful effect of completely isolating viewers from any blame. Salles' appeal is solely to the mushy, bleeding-heart, limousine-liberal kind of folks that the right takes so much delight in ridiculing.

The last part of the picture shows Che and Alberto working in a leper colony, once again demonstrating their closeness to the People (whom Salles evokes with black-and-white images distributed frequently throughout the film, especially in its coda). There is an immense party thrown for them when they leave (which Salles, Spielberg-like, milks for all it's worth emotionally) but it all ends up seeming kind of phony when you realize they've only been there for three weeks. Salles also focuses on a death-defying stunt Che pulled, swimming across the Amazon at night in order to show his solidarity with the poor, with the purpose of adding as much drama to this pretty limp plot as possible, but it all seems totally artificial even if it did happen. Here at the end, Salles is so eager to manipulate (like Spielberg at the end of "Schindler's List") that he basically shows us three different farewell scenes in a row. And just in case someone in the audience didn't know that this was, in fact, all about THE Che Guevara, Salles spells out the future, letter by letter, in condescending titles.

The ultra-rich, politically liberal Salles' heart was undoubtedly in the right place when he made this movie, but virtually every aspect of it is aimed at evoking the most unthinking baseline of emotional responses. There's no depth anywhere, no examination of the conflicts that any upper-class kid must feel about fighting for justice vs. selfishly living the good life, no demonstration that, of course, poor people aren't necessarily more noble or better people just because they're poor. Nothing of any substance whatsoever. All we get here is the most facile yanking of the heartstrings of liberals everywhere, and at this point in the history of this increasingly dangerous world, this is no longer enough.

by Richard Porton    A Failure of Nerve, also reviewing THE EDUKATORS from Cinema Scope (excerpt)

In recent years, that chronically amorphous entity known as “political cinema” has become synonymous, at least in North America, with high-minded (or, in the case of Michael Moore, low-minded) documentaries. Many such films are laudable, but the recent re-release of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1965) recalls that a radical narrative political cinema, with no concessions to either liberal pabulum or crude agit-prop, was once possible. The tough-mindedness of Pontecorvo’s masterpiece—a nuanced anti-colonialist film that nevertheless avoids sentimentalizing Algerian terrorism—is conspicuously absent in present-day narrative political cinema. In an era where utopian hopes have been discarded, allegory seems to have much more potency than social realism. For that reason, it’s arguable that recent fiction films not acknowledged by most critics as particularly political at all—e.g., The Saddest Music in the World—are much more politically trenchant than, say, Costa-Gavras’ Amen (2002).

Two vapid—but crowd-pleasing—Cannes Competition selections unwittingly demonstrate how the intellectual and aesthetic impoverishment of much contemporary political cinema can be traced to a fatal failure of nerve. Hans Weingartner’s The Edukators and Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries are distinctly different in tone and style. In the guise of a gentle lampoon of the follies of young German radicals, Weingartner falls back on complacent clichés that dismiss any sort of political commitment. Salles’ sober road movie pays humourless homage to Ernesto “Che” Guevara with a painstaking, and painfully dull, chronicle of Che and his friend Alberto Granado’s youthful trek across Latin America. Yet both films pander to the prejudices of middle-class, nominally liberal audiences. Just as many leftists prefer the novels of Céline (an unrepentant fascist) to the bland pieties spouted by so-called “liberals,” I’d rather be provoked by an intelligent right-wing cineaste instead of being bored by “feelgood” liberal cinema...

...If The Edukators is disconcertingly snarky, the Robert Redford-produced The Motorcycle Diaries proves cloyingly earnest. No radical icon of the 20th century is as much in need of demystification as Che Guevara. Yet going beyond the mainstream left’s uncritical veneration (and the right’s demonization) of Guevara is a surprisingly daunting task. Even Leandro Katz’s admirable documentary dissecting the famous final photograph of the martyred Guevara, The Day You’ll Love Me (1997), ultimately reinforces the Che myth. The last shot of Kurosawa’s Bright Future (2002), reveals, however inadvertently, the quasi-theological nature of the Che cult: glassy-eyed teenagers in “Che” T-shirts saunter down the street, emblems of anomie who surely haven’t read a word written by their idol.

Far more lyrical and incisive than the turgid Marxist-Leninist prose churned out by Guevara after becoming a professional revolutionary, the travel diaries, which honestly reflect the nascent political consciousness of a young Argentine medical student, could certainly have been the basis for a compelling film. Salles, however, merely replaces the cliché of the macho anti-imperialist warrior with an equally one-dimensional image of a sensitive, James Dean-like picaro. Eric Gautier’s restrained cinematography, with its frequently hand-held evocations of the rough-hewn landscape, nicely complements Gael Garcia Bernal’s blessedly low-key performance as Che. On the most literal level, the film remains remarkably faithful to the details of Guevara and Granado’s wanderings through Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, even though their visit to Machu Picchu takes on the flavour of a woozy travelogue. Yet, at almost every juncture, Salles’ adaptation either embellishes the source material with suspect melodramatic flourishes or expunges the charm of Guevara’s often wry observations.

To cite one of the most egregious examples of Salles and screenwriter José Rivera’s compulsion to “sex up” their adaptation, Guevara’s casual reference in the diaries to an evening where he swam across the Amazon becomes a full-fledged narrative crisis in the movie as the young hero barely escapes drowning. In addition, a pivotal incident involving one of Che’s acquaintances in Peru, Dr. Hugo Pesce, is oddly sentimentalized. According to Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s biography of Guevara, Pesce, the author of a book entitled Lattitudes del Silencio, became apoplectic after Che attacked this work “for describing landscapes badly and being pessimistic in his analysis of the Indians.” In the Salles version, Pesce evinces enormous gratitude for Che’s frankness—a minor discrepancy perhaps, but one that speaks to the film’s tendency to Hollywoodize the life of a man who is already a secular saint.

Salles’ preference for the youthful Guevara over the mature revolutionary may stem from the fact that, once Che and his comrades achieve power in Cuba, it becomes impossible to perform the alchemy of turning him into a Robert Redford liberal. Indeed, however much one might admire his defiance of the US and bemoan his murder in Bolivia at the hands of the CIA, Che was unquestionably an authoritarian leftist who admired the iron discipline of Lenin’s “democratic centralism” and had little patience for the Trotskyists and anarchists who were challenging Fidel from the left. Fine distinctions of this sort are rarely made in films that tackle politics and history, but as The Battle of Algiers demonstrates, films that succeed both as viable cinema and insightful history are well within the realm of possibility.

The Cult of Che  Paul Berman’s review reminding us that Guevara was a Stalinist, from Slate, September 24, 2004


The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

The present-day cult of Che—the T-shirts, the bars, the posters—has succeeded in obscuring this dreadful reality. And Walter Salles' movie The Motorcycle Diaries will now take its place at the heart of this cult. It has already received a standing ovation at Robert Redford's Sundance film festival (Redford is the executive producer of The Motorcycle Diaries) and glowing admiration in the press. Che was an enemy of freedom, and yet he has been erected into a symbol of freedom. He helped establish an unjust social system in Cuba and has been erected into a symbol of social justice. He stood for the ancient rigidities of Latin-American thought, in a Marxist-Leninist version, and he has been celebrated as a free-thinker and a rebel. And thus it is in Salles' Motorcycle Diaries.

The film follows the young Che and his friend Alberto Granado on a vagabond tour of South America in 1951-52—which Che described in a book published under the title Motorcycle Diaries, and Granado in a book of his own. Che was a medical student in those days, and Granado a biochemist, and in real life, as in the movie, the two men spent a few weeks toiling as volunteers in a Peruvian leper colony. These weeks at the leper colony constitute the dramatic core of the movie. The colony is tyrannized by nuns, who maintain a cruel social hierarchy between the staff and the patients. The nuns refuse to feed people who fail to attend mass. Young Che, in his insistent honesty, rebels against these strictures, and his rebellion is bracing to witness. You think you are observing a noble protest against the oppressive customs and authoritarian habits of an obscurantist Catholic Church at its most reactionary. 

Yet the entire movie, in its concept and tone, exudes a Christological cult of martyrdom, a cult of adoration for the spiritually superior person who is veering toward death—precisely the kind of adoration that Latin America's Catholic Church promoted for several centuries, with miserable consequences. The rebellion against reactionary Catholicism in this movie is itself an expression of reactionary Catholicism. The traditional churches of Latin America are full of statues of gruesome bleeding saints. And the masochistic allure of those statues is precisely what you see in the movie's many depictions of young Che coughing out his lungs from asthma and testing himself by swimming in cold water—all of which is rendered beautiful and alluring by a sensual backdrop of grays and browns and greens, and the lovely gaunt cheeks of one actor after another, and the violent Andean landscapes.

The movie in its story line sticks fairly close to Che's diaries, with a few additions from other sources. The diaries tend to be haphazard and nonideological except for a very few passages. Che had not yet become an ideologue when he went on this trip. He reflected on the layered history of Latin America, and he expressed attitudes that managed to be pro-Indian and, at the same time, pro-conquistador. But the film is considerably more ideological, keen on expressing an "indigenist" attitude (to use the Latin-American Marxist term) of sympathy for the Indians and hostility to the conquistadors. Some Peruvian Marxist texts duly appear on the screen. I can imagine that Salles and his screenwriter, José Rivera, have been influenced more by Subcomandante Marcos and his "indigenist" rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, than by Che.

And yet, for all the ostensible indigenism in this movie, the pathos here has very little to do with the Indian past, or even with the New World. The pathos is Spanish, in the most archaic fashion—a pathos that combines the Catholic martyrdom of the Christlike scenes with the on-the-road spirit not of Jack Kerouac (as some people may imagine) but of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a tried-and-true formula in Spanish culture. (See Benito Pérez Galdós' classic 19th-century novel Nazarín.) If you were to compare Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries, with its pious tone, to the irrevent, humorous, ironic, libertarian films of Pedro Almodóvar, you could easily imagine that Salles' film comes from the long-ago past, perhaps from the dark reactionary times of Franco—and Almodóvar's movies come from the modern age that has rebelled against Franco.

The modern-day cult of Che blinds us not just to the past but also to the present. Right now a tremendous social struggle is taking place in Cuba. Dissident liberals have demanded fundamental human rights, and the dictatorship has rounded up all but one or two of the dissident leaders and sentenced them to many years in prison. Among those imprisoned leaders is an important Cuban poet and journalist, Raúl Rivero, who is serving a 20-year sentence. In the last couple of years the dissident movement has sprung up in yet another form in Cuba, as a campaign to establish independent libraries, free of state control; and state repression has fallen on this campaign, too.

These Cuban events have attracted the attention of a number of intellectuals and liberals around the world. Václav Havel has organized a campaign of solidarity with the Cuban dissidents and, together with Elena Bonner and other heroic liberals from the old Soviet bloc, has rushed to support the Cuban librarians. A group of American librarians has extended its solidarity to its Cuban colleagues, but, in order to do so, the American librarians have had to put up a fight within their own librarians' organization, where the Castro dictatorship still has a number of sympathizers. And yet none of this has aroused much attention in the United States, apart from a newspaper column or two by Nat Hentoff and perhaps a few other journalists, and an occasional letter to the editor. The statements and manifestos that Havel has signed have been published in Le Monde in Paris, and in Letras Libres magazine in Mexico, but have remained practically invisible in the United States. The days when American intellectuals rallied in any significant way to the cause of liberal dissidents in other countries, the days when Havel's statements were regarded by Americans as important calls for intellectual responsibility—those days appear to be over.

I wonder if people who stand up to cheer a hagiography of Che Guevara, as the Sundance audience did, will ever give a damn about the oppressed people of Cuba—will ever lift a finger on behalf of the Cuban liberals and dissidents. It's easy in the world of film to make a movie about Che, but who among that cheering audience is going to make a movie about Raúl Rivero?

As a protest against the ovation at Sundance, I would like to append one of Rivero's poems to my comment here. The police confiscated Rivero's books and papers at the time of his arrest, but the poet's wife, Blanca Reyes, was able to rescue the manuscript of a poem describing an earlier police raid on his home. Letras Libres published the poem in Mexico. I hope that Rivero will forgive me for my translation. I like this poem because it shows that the modern, Almodóvar-like qualities of impudence, wit, irreverence, irony, playfulness, and freedom, so badly missing from Salles' pious work of cinematic genuflection, are fully alive in Latin America, and can be found right now in a Cuban prison.

Search Order
by Raúl Rivero

What are these gentlemen looking for
in my house?

What is this officer doing
reading the sheet of paper
on which I've written
the words "ambition," "lightness," and "brittle"?

What hint of conspiracy
speaks to him from the photo without a dedication
of my father in a guayabera (black tie)
in the fields of the National Capitol?

How does he interpret my certificates of divorce?

Where will his techniques of harassment lead him
when he reads the ten-line poems
and discovers the war wounds
of my great-grandfather?

Eight policemen
are examining the texts and drawings of my daughters,
and are infiltrating themselves into my emotional networks
and want to know where little Andrea sleeps
and what does her asthma have to do
with my carpets.

They want the code of a message from Zucu
in the upper part
of a cryptic text (here a light triumphal smile
of the comrade):
"Castles with music box. I won't let the boy
hang out with the boogeyman. Jennie."

A specialist in aporia came,
a literary critic with the rank of interim corporal
who examined at the point of a gun
the hills of poetry books.

Eight policemen
in my house
with a search order,
a clean operation,
a full victory
for the vanguard of the proletariat
who confiscated my Consul typewriter,
one hundred forty-two blank pages
and a sad and personal heap of papers
—the most perishable of the perishable
from this summer. 


Brazil  France  (108 mi)  2008


Anthony Kaufman  at Cannes from indieWIRE

Just as Jia's characters are trapped in a life-long cycle to make a buck, so, too, are the protagonists of Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas' "Linha de Passe," an accomplished, though unremarkable competition film that never rises above its familiar tale of a poverty-stricken family. Concerning a single mother, raising her four children, from an 18-year-old aspiring soccer player already past his prime to the youngest, a dark-skinned boy in search of his father among Sao Paolo's bus drivers, the film skillfully interweaves its multiple storylines. Smartly, Salles and Thomas avoid any melodramatic excesses, leaving the drama to play out in more subtle ways.

Linha De Passe  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily

Solid and involving, if hardly ground-breaking, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas's Linha de Passe is a complex and gritty drama about a working-class family's struggles in the streets and on the football fields of soccer-crazy Sao Paolo. Reunited with his co-director on 1996's Foreign Land, Salles offers a well-knit multi-strander that vividly evokes the rigours of keeping body and soul together in Brazil's biggest city, while offering a down-to-earth alternative to the more romantic and stylistically flashy films (City of God, Lower City, Berlin winner Elite Squad) with which Brazilian cinema has been identified lately.

Very much in the mode of Salles' 1998 breakthrough Central Station, Linha de Passe offers a compelling cast and a narrative fail-safe - the travails of a tough mum and her unruly brood - that should give it modest but significant international appeal.

Set over four months, the story follows the family of Cleuza (Corveloni), a middle-aged single mother with four sons already and one more on the way. Three of the boys are on the verge of adulthood. Dario (de Oliveira, from Central Station) is a talented footballer yearning for his big break, but held back by the fact that at 18, he's already too old to be considered a fresh new talent. Denis (Baldasserini) is a cheerful womaniser with a girlfriend and baby son on the

side, who plies a perilous trade as motorbike messenger. And Dinho (Rodrigues), a fervent Pentecostal Christian, keeps his head down working at a gas station. Odd son out is the younger Reginaldo (Santos), a mixed-race boy who's become obsessed with the father he's never known, a black bus driver.

The narrative takes us inexorably towards the four sons' moments of truth, some more plausible than others. The son who has the most explosive crisis is the one we least expect it of - which itself makes for a kind of inverted predictability. Salles, Thomas and their co-writers skilfully juggle the various narrative balls, although the pace eventually slackens and we find

ourselves impatient for the climax of each strand. In this sense, Gustavo Santaolalla's moody score somewhat works against the film, overstating from the start a sense of tragic inevitability. It should be said that, though, that tough as things get, the film's open ending feels humanistic and merciful towards its characters, rather than suggesting a cop-out.

Without overstating the grimness of Brazilian working-class life, the film evokes a hardscrabble existence in which opportunities are precarious and must be paid for: Dario eventually gets his shot at the big time, but palms have to be greased. The sheer hustle of Sao Paolo comes across vitally in the traffic scenes, with Denis risking his neck - and eventually others' - on the city highways. Brazil 's polarity between rich and poor is subtly handled in the scenes set in the household where Cleuza works as a maid.

Above all, the film comes across as a film about religion - that is, Brazil 's true religion of football. Salles and Thomas use on-field action to urgent effect, notably in the opening scenes, where Cleuza roots for her team. The film's title refers to a football pitch marking - alluding, no doubt, to the lines that everyone in the story has to observe or cross.

Mauro Pinheiro's photography brings out the everyday grittiness of a grey working city. A strong cast emotes and agonises discreetly, the actors playing the older sons giving their roles various winning shades of callow desperation. But it's Santos, looking somewhat younger than his 15 years, who steals the show with his spiky exuberance, even managing to carry off Reginaldo's final moment of glory.


France  Brazil  (137 mi)  2012


Anyone who has seen any Walter Salles film knows he's all about pretension and superficiality, exactly what the Beats raged against.  He uses big name Hollywood stars, throws huge amounts of money at the project with enormous advertising, and then tries to make something resembling a European art film that throws reality out the window in an attempt to lure eager young consumers into buying tickets.  His films are instantly forgettable, from the Fernando Meirelles artsy fartsy Brazilian school of magazine photo shoot style reality that people fell for in Meirelles' CITY OF GOD (2002), a film set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro which displays a dizzyingly fast, hyper-kinetic hand-held camerawork and quick cutting edit style that won all sorts of critical acclaim but I found near worthless, as the overall tone was completely false, in my view, to be followed by THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005), a romantic love story about a European white couple living among the stench and filth of the Nairobi slums, where the backdrop of Africa is used exclusively for providing gritty atmosphere, not for any truth about living in the country whatsoever.  The sheer manipulation of these films is paramount to anything they have to say about any subject matter.  Where has Meirelles gone to lately?  Instantly forgotten. 


In a similar vein, Walter Salles in THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004), uses a real subject, Che Guevera, an uncompromising Marxist revolutionary and turns his life onscreen into Hollywood la la land, eliminating any political views from his life's purpose, which is nothing less than a sham, creating instead a picturesque road movie that can attract a middle class audience that would never accept the idea of anyone who was actually radical, so they use Gael Garcia Bernal as a pin up boy to help glamorize the subject matter. 


Sheer manipulation.  George the Cyclist got it right (Cannes Day Eight) in understanding that what Salles does is take the actual living essence out of the character and replace it with an idealized, illusionary depiction that has nothing to do with history, truth or reality.  There isn't an ounce of authenticity in these films, nor should anyone going in ahead of time expect there to be any.  


There was a Mubi Forum on Beat Generation Films - Film Forum on


But I tend to agree that no cinematic depiction of the Beats has done them any justice, that with them it was all about getting their thoughts down onto paper as quickly as possible, heightening every moment, where Neal Cassady had a criminal past, for christ's sakes, and often resorted to small-time crimes as a way of life, so of course he often got jobs as a night watchman, and having spent a good deal of time in prison, his utter disdain for authority captivated the Beats who were mostly middle class white kids who defied the reactionary nature of the status quo, who were searching instead for a completely new understanding of the world around them, as they simply had to replace normalcy with something else, which they did in their writings, which, once again, were amazingly personal in their autobiographical authenticity. 


Cannes 2012: On the Road – review  Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 23, 2012


Walter Salles has brought to Cannes a good-looking but directionless and self-adoring road movie, based on the 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac. It's comparable to Salles's 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries about the early adventures of Che Guevara and his buddy Alberto Granado – but there the travellers were learning to think and care about people other than themselves. This really isn't the case with the heroes of On the Road, who strenuously insist on how passionate and life-affirming they are, with dozens of self-consciously staged parties, in which the characters heroically swig from bottles, smoke joints, have sex and become narcissistic, flatulent and boring in a way that isn't entirely intentional.

The journey across America is part of the literary education of budding writer Sal Paradise, played by Sam Riley, and everyone has a reverence for the written word; Salles's camera periodically lingers, solemnly, on the covers of books by Arthur Schopenhauer and Marcel Proust and one character even reads joylessly aloud from Swann's Way.

In the late 1940s, Sal's father has just died; he hangs out with the striving, gabbling Ginsbergian poet Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) in various hipster dives, but is himself blocked as a writer and wondering what to do with his life. Then everything is turned around by meeting Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a wild free spirit, a wanderer taking odd jobs and turning tricks: at their first meeting, Dean opens the door to him stark naked. He seems gloriously unfettered by the boring bonds of hearth and home; he is a hobo of the mind and spirit, just taking off when and where he pleases, drinking life to the very dregs. He is with his gorgeous 16-year-old bride Marylou, played by Kristen Stewart, but seems to have many other quasi-conjugal ties around the country that he is not too worried about. Fascinated and inspired by this freewheeling alpha-male, Sal himself hits the road, sometimes with Dean, sometimes without, scribbling notes for a book.

Sal has a sort of homoerotic bond with Dean, which is displaced into their mutual infatuation with Marylou, but there is never any sense that he genuinely cares for Marylou, or is interested in her. Other friends and acquaintances join them on the road, and we become aware that while the guys are heading for the hills, they have in almost every case left a woman behind, fuming. Camille (Kirsten Dunst) finally throws Dean out on his ear; Galatea (Elisabeth Moss) rages at her errant husband – and the women's anger, though shrill and futile, has a kind of real life that the bland, self-admiring male voyagers do not. Marylou herself is endlessly tolerant. Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams have eccentric cameos as Old Bull Lee and Jane, a couple who give houseroom to the travellers.

On the Road does, ultimately, have a touching kind of sadness in showing how poor Dean is becoming just raw material for fiction, destined to be left behind as Sal becomes a New York big-shot. But this real sadness can't pierce or dissipate this movie's tiresome glow of self-congratulation.

Dave Calhoun at Cannes from Time Out London, May 23, 2012

Walter Salles applies the spirited documentary naturalism of 'The Motorcycle Diaries' to this adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road': the beat writer's early 1950s spin on his late 1940s encounters with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and, above all, his magnetic free-spirited friend Neal Cassady, as they intermittently quit New York and travel around America looking for answers to big questions unknown or undefined.

It's hard to fault the travelogue credentials of Salles's film as Kerouac's alter ego Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and the Cassady character, Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), voyage from city to desert and scorched cotton field to snowy prairie. They pick up, drop off and drop in on various folks along the way, from Moriarty's two on-off women, Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst), to Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, essentially as Allen Ginsberg) and Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen as William Burroughs).

The film is characterised by quick and frenetic storytelling, an energetic jazz soundtrack, a free and unobtrusive attitude to sex and drugs and performances that are zesty and immediate. Yet still 'On the Road' entombs its era's zeitgeist more than it lives it. It feels long and tedious, as if we've dropped in on someone else's party without knowing or caring who these folks are, knocking back the whisky and barbiturates as regularly as they're knocking off each other.

Partly that's because Salles mutes the in-the-moment mania of 'On the Road' by both relying heavily on Sal Paradise's narration and pulling back often to soak up a good-looking cityscape or landscape (shot beautifully by Eric Gautier). Both tics come at the expense of properly examining Paradise and Moriarty's relationship beyond initial hero worship that fades to reveal a gulf of responsibility and maturity between the two. Hedlund is strong in scenes of musical mania, especially one in which he dances at a club with Stewart, but there's a lot of sturm und drang to his performance and not a great deal of soul. Riley is more passive, and his feels like a character observed rather than explored.

Salles nods to themes of abandoned women and absent fathers, but these feel like late attempts to offset the vanity and recklessness of the characters by saying something more considered about them. A late shot, too, of Kerouac bashing out the manuscript further complicates the tension between the writing of the book and the book itself, and between the attitudes of the time and the benefit of hindsight. The rebel yell of 'On the Road' now sounds muted and even a little embarrassing.

On The Road   Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily

After more than five decades of thwarted adaptations, Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 Beat generation novel has finally made it to the screen. But while it’s well cast, resplendently shot and buoyed up by a moody, pitch-perfect jazz soundtrack, On The Road fails to “burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles”, to quote one of the more celebrated passages from Kerouac’s book. Walter Salles’ film is designer Kerouac, a slick product that deploys all the tools of the big-budget, award-chasing indie film – some handheld camera, a little desaturated colour, hot young actors – to craft a product that feels oddly flat despite the romantic, creative, freewheeling lifestyle it enshrines. There are moments, to be fair, when it captures something of the bebop spirit of the age; but much of the time it feels more like a Beat generation brochure.

Still, the polite ripple of applause the film received after its Cannes press screening will translate into a more than polite ripple of box-office action for a commercially smart film that will attract both older audience nostalgic for the buzz Kerouac’s book gave them all those years ago and younger kids curious about the Beat mythology. For the latter demographic, the on-the-money casting of Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), Sam Riley (Control) and Kristen Stewart (The Twilight Saga) will also exercise a pull. Nominations, when they come, will likely be for adapted screenplay (if only for the courage of finally rising to challenge), cinematography and, possibly, best actor for Hedlund (who smoulders like a young Brad Pitt in a camera-hogging performance).

Part adaptation ,part biopic, the film dips into both Kerouac’s novel and his real life between 1947 and 1951, the years of his friendship with Neal Cassady, the main character and inspiration of the author’s heavily autobiographical novel. The real-life characters are given fictional monikers, exactly as in the book: Kerouac himself becomes Sal Paradise; Cassady is Dean Moriarty; Kerouac’s Beat poet friend Allen Ginsberg is Carlo Marx; and Cassady’s first wife LuAnne Henderson is Marylou.

It’s the shifting quadrangle of alliances formed by Dean (Hedlund), Sal (Riley), Marylou (Stewart) and, to a lesser extent, Carlo (Sturridge) that the script homes in on, as the foursome criss-cross America from New York to Denver (Dean and Marylou’s hometown) to California, and back. Along the way Dean divorces Marylou for the more conventional Camille (Dunst), the novel’s name for Carolyn, the mother of Cassady’s three children – but he keeps Marylou on as his lover. Also featuring, in a New Orleans sequence, is Old Bull Lee (Mortensen), aka the original junkie writer, William Burroughs, and Terry (Braga), a single mother Sal has a brief affair with while working in the California cotton fields.

With his background of petty crime, string of romantic conquests and self-taught literary yearnings, the effortlessly virile Dean is a magnetic figure for the more introverted Sal, who admires, it is suggested, his impulsiveness and freedom from social constraint. Carlo’s own admiration of Dean is complicated by his homosexuality and Dean’s occasional bisexuality (he sometimes plays the rentboy to make some extra money).

Uncomplicatedly sexy Marylou is perhaps the only one who sees Dean as he is: fun to be with, a great lover but entirely selfish. Sal’s gradual facing up to Dean’s inability to accept responsibility or remain loyal to friends and lovers is the backbone of the film’s otherwise freewheeling road-movie structure.

Given that Jose Rivera’s script draws on Kerouac’s life as well as the book that made him famous, plenty of facts are fudged perhaps the chief one being the suggestion that On The Road was the first proper literary product of the obsessive notebook scribbling we see Sal indulging in throughout. Whereas Kerouac actually published his debut novel, The Town And The City, during the period covered here. There’s no sign, either, of Kerouac’s wife of the time, Joan Haverty. But these truth tweaks are all of a piece with the film version’s indulgent embrace of Kerouac’s self-sustaining myth.

Even the tubes of Benzedrine that are hoovered up by the protagonists look pretty in a film that goes for atmosphere over emotion and the ticking off of cultural references (from Proust via Rimbaud to Charlie Parker) that it never quite knows what to do with. The sunset-kissed or snow-dusted rural landscapes of America (mostly shot on location in Canada) are ravishing, and the soundtrack, scored by Gustavo Santaolalla with jazz musicians Charlie Haden and Brian Blade, is a concise snapshot of the era. But in its relentless pursuit of visual and aural polish and in the way it tamely critiques Kerouac’s legend at the same time that it glorifies it, On The Road feels a little shallow.  

On the Road: Cannes Review  Todd McCarthy at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 23, 2012

Walter Salles's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's generation-defining novel is vibrantly visualized and features a "perfect" Kristen Stewart.

Making a screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has been an elusive fantasy for numerous filmmakers in the 55 years since the Beat classic was published. Brazilian director Walter Salles, the man who finally got to realize the dream, has done a respectable job of it, and at moments better than that, though the film rarely busts out to provide the sort of heady pleasures it depicts.

Opening in France and some other territories on the heels of its Cannes Film Festival premiere, but not in the United States until autumn via IFC and Sundance Selects, this France-Brazil co-production is fronted by a very attractive cast and is highly promotable to a sophisticated public familiar with the material. Still, the film’s ultimate success will hinge upon whether younger audiences can connect with this vibrantly visualized period piece about the birth of the American counterculture.

Kerouac fantasized about co-starring as himself opposite Marlon Brando’s Dean Moriarty, and several directors -- most prominently Francis Ford Coppola, an executive producer here -- wrestled with an adaptation. Set over a few years beginning in 1947, On the Road is the story of youthful searching, yearning and striving for experience and truth by a handful of hipsters in their early 20s who, very much against the grain of a conformist period, eagerly embraced drugs, experimental sex, black culture and jazz, and life outside the yoke of steady work and conventional family constraints. In modern parlance, they pioneered an alternative lifestyle; the fact that they looked scruffy and wore T-shirts and jeans makes the characters onscreen resemble normal kids anytime from the late-‘60s until today.

Kerouac famously wrote the book in a three-week creative spasm on a single 120-foot scroll, and Salles has attempted to find cinematic equivalents to the author’s fluid, jazzy, quicksilver prose. The colors are intense, looks and gestures are fleetingly caught, rhythms are varied to convey highs and lows of perception and sensation. A feeling of great fidelity to and high regard for the material courses through Jose Rivera’s adaptation and Salles’ directorial attitude (the pair effectively warmed up for this road trip with The Motorcycle Diaries eight years ago).

But there are several barriers to representing On the Road in effective movie terms. First is the lack of dramatic structure; the book is about several journeys, each eventful in its own way, but it remains fitfully episodic. The filmmakers deal with this by making a climax out of Kerouac finally breaking through his creative block and writing the book, but the lonely spectacle of an author typing has never proved cinematically interesting and still doesn’t here.

Furthermore, while Dean Moriarty represents the essential life force, the mad one who burns like a Roman candle, much of his Benzedrine-and-booze-fueled behavior comes off as just reckless and irresponsible; onscreen, anyway, he seems more suitable to be envied rather than admired.

And lingering over the entire enterprise is the question of whether it will be clear to uninitiated and young audiences what the characters are rebelling against. Aside from Kerouac’s briefly seen mother and family, the “straight” world is scarcely glimpsed -- and nor should it be, as this was not an intention of the book. But the film provides little sense of how contrary and counter to the norm the characters’ thinking and behavior were in the context of the time.

After burying his father, the Kerouac figure Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is taken to meet wildman Neal Cassady stand-in Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), who answers the door stark naked, having been interrupted during sex with his saucy teenage wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart). Lots of voiceover, along with shots of Sal vacantly staring at his typewriter and toting around Swann’s Way, accompanies the aspiring writer’s eager embrace of life’s exotic but hardly inaccessible stimulations, beginning with New York jazz clubs and drugs and, after heading to Denver, some sexual sharing with the supercharged Dean and Marylou.

Athletically built, tousle-haired and up for anything, Dean attracts men and women, comes and goes as he pleases and abides by no rules; no sooner does he divorce Marylou than he marries the more stable Camille  (Kirsten Dunst), with whom he starts having babies, even as he returns to Marylou for further travels and fun.

Although the story is Sal/Kerouac’s, the star part is Dean, and Hedlund has the allure for it; among the men here, he’s the one you always watch, and the actor effectively catches the character’s impulsive, thrill-seeking, risk-taking, responsibility-avoiding personality.

As embodied by a solid, if inherently reactive Riley, Sal is good-looking too, but in a more boyish, innocent way. Intimidated by Dean just as he idolizes him, he has the guts to follow far down an uncharted road where most others wouldn’t. He sometimes takes detours, among them an abridged romance with a Mexican girl (Alice Braga) while picking cotton with migrants in California, and continues to put in time trying to write at his mother’s modest home in Queens.

But it’s the group adventures that count the most, and Salles has captured some of them quite evocatively: A wild New Year’s Eve party where Dean and Marylou dance in a sexy frenzy; a calm and weird stay at the Louisiana home of the William Burroughs character, Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen, very fine); another sexy scene in which Marylou simultaneously pleasures Dean and Sal (out of camera range) as they all ride naked in the front seat of their car; Dean’s escape from domesticity with Camille as he joins Sal at a club to see Slim Gaillard, and a wild sojourn south of the border for mind-blowing weed and Mexican whores.

Less effective are Dean’s quest for his long-lost father in Denver, the windy ramblings of Allen Ginsberg equivalent Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and an out-of-left-field episode involving a fastidious gay man (an unbilled Steve Buscemi) keen to buy Dean’s services.

While the film’s dramatic impact is variable, visually and aurally it is a constant pleasure. Eric Gautier’s cinematography is endlessly resourceful, making great use of superb and diverse locations (including New York, Canada, New Mexico, California, Louisiana, Mexico and Argentina). The cars, beginning with the central Hudson, are terrific, as are the décor, clothes and wide range of music. The film was researched to the limit, and it shows.

Stewart, selected for Marylou five years ago on the basis of her striking debut in Into the Wild, is perfect in the role, takes off her clothes more than once and nearly always seems to be breaking a sweat, which kicks the sexiness quotient up high. Amy Adams is frumpy and into a mysterious zone of her own as Old Bull’s odd wife, while Elisabeth Moss is obliged to carp and complain as the severe fellow’s unsuitable house guest.

James Rocchi  at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 23, 2012


Eric D. Snider at Cannes from


Eric Kohn at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 23, 2012


Drew McWeeny at Cannes from HitFix, May 23, 2012


On The Road – Cannes Film Festival 2012  Adam Woodward at Cannes from Little White Lies, May 23, 2012


The long and winding road   Barbara Scharres at Cannes from the Ebert blog, May 23, 2012


DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Walter Salles’s ON THE ROAD »  David Hudson at Cannes from Fandor, May 24, 2012


Cannes Film Festival: Walter Salles' journey to 'On the Road'  Kenneth Turan interview at Cannes from The LA Times, May 23, 2012


'On the Road' Review and Oscar Prospects  Anne Thompson at Cannes from Thompson on Hollywood, May 23, 2012, also seen here:  Anne Thompson 


Owen Gleiberman  at Cannes from Entertainment Weekly


Todd McCarthy at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 23, 2012


Justin Chang at Cannes from Variety


Ben Kenigsberg  at Cannes from Time Out Chicago, May 23, 2012


Cannes Film Festival: An Early Look at ‘On the Road’  Manohla Dargis at Cannes from The New York Times, May 23, 2012


The Beats Hit the Road Again on Screen  Steve Chagollan from the New York Times, May 23, 2012


'On the Road' on the Big Screen  Joan Dupont feature and interview from The New York Times, May 22, 2012, also seen here:  Joan Dupont


Salvatores, Gabriele


I’M NOT SCARED                                       B+                   92

Italy  (111 mi)  2002


An excruciatingly beautiful to look at sin and redemption film wrapped in the pastoral beauty of a rural horror thriller, looking very much like a wide-screen companion piece to Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN, largely due to the superb photography of Italo Petriccione who captures the surface as well as another world lurking just underneath.  This film is based on a novel by Niccolo Ammaniti and features vast wheatfields, with birds constantly fluttering in and out of the screen, screeching or soaring above, sometimes menacingly, sometimes beautifully, creating an enticing world where sights and sounds are harmoniously matched by the music of Ezio Bosso and Pepo Scherman, sounding very much like violin variations of Pachelbel’s “Canon” and the otherworldly music of Arvo Part.  The story is about kids and is seen through the eyes and the imaginations of kids, who play innocently enough with one another in the summer-lit wheatfields, finding an abandoned house, daring one another to do dangerous things.  One ten-year old child, Michele, played by Giuseppe Cristiano, returning to the scene to fetch his younger sister’s broken glasses, which he lost, discovers someone hidden in a covered hole who could be living or dead, and runs from the scene.   As the days pass, he returns again and again to the scene of the crime, alternatingly horrified and curious, ultimately discovering another boy his own age who is chained and left alone, yet given just enough food to be kept alive.  In Michele’s mind, he weaves an imaginary story to match what he sees.  Alternately, the imprisoned boy does the same, thinking of Michele as his Guardian Angel.  At home, Michele overhears his parents, who with several other village adults have a disturbing interest with a television report of a child kidnapping for ransom.  As none of this makes sense to Michele, who feels an allegiance to his parents, yet the universe of the boy’s fate becomes dangerously wrapped around Michele’s shoulders.  What follows may be predictable enough, yet it evolves beautifully, simultaneously blending the worlds of the children and the adults into one.  One is emotionally pulled into Michele’s world, and while simplistic, this is captivating throughout.  




FORGET BAGHDAD                                  B+                   90

Germany  Switzerland  (111 mi)  2002


An extremely complex subject, to become the enemy of your own memories, presented to the audience like a college lecture, filled with facts and analysis where it’s hard to keep up with all the information.  The son of Iraqi Jewish Communists who fled Iraq in the early 1950’s, Swiss-born filmmaker Samir sets out to discover the men who knew his father in an attempt to reconnect with his roots.  Basically, the film examines how some Jews historically do not believe in Zionism, how there is a fractured Jewish state divided between Western European Jews, the Ashkenazi, who have an exclusive claim to the Holocaust, and the Middle Eastern Jews from Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, who were run out of their countries in the early 1950’s by forces which may have included violent acts initiated by the ultra-right Zionist secret service agents in Israel in collaboration with Arabic governments, acts initiated to drive the Eastern, “Oriental” Jews called Mizrahim to the new Jewish homeland in Israel.  For instance in Iraq, where there were 140,000 Jews, none were interested in relocating to Israel until after bombings and arrests gave them no other choice.  Within a year, 120,000 requested asylum in Israel, turning professional, well-educated, Iraqi middle class merchants into Israeli refugees living in tents, totally at the mercy of this new country that demanded every new citizen contribute in some way to the betterment of the whole, so all were given menial tasks.  Based on the pre-existing prejudice against Arab Jews, they were fumigated upon entry, actually sprayed with DDT before being sent to a kibbutz where they would learn farming techniques.  The film follows the story of 4 men who were Iraqi communists in the 1940’s, all joining the left-leaning communists as that was the organization fighting the Nazi’s, none who knew the director’s father, all now relocated in Israel, all with Arabic roots, and all some 50 years later still feeling as if they are in a state of permanent exile.  Also, the film includes a prominent Israeli film scholar with Arabic family roots now living in New York, who was the first to go live on Israeli television to suggest there was a prejudicial rift within the Israeli state between the Ashkenazi and Mizrahim Jews.  Archival footage, including old Egyptian films, are mixed with current interviews and the director’s narration to provide a composite view of how the Arabic aspect of these Jews has been eradicated in their assimilation to the land of Israel.  But roots are hard to eradicate, they don’t erase easily, memories keep popping up from time to time, and perhaps those memories, the film suggests, as non-politicized as they are, can be the key to unraveling a human solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so long as they are not forgotten.   


Sampieri, Louis


THE DAUGHTER (La Hija)                                   D                     60

Argentina  (90 mi)  2016  ‘Scope


One of the films at a film festival that you’re not likely to see anywhere else.  Without a distributor in the foreseeable future, perhaps it may only become available online, but not in a theatrical release.  Why, you might ask?  Because it’s really not a very good film, and despite its intentional ambiguities, is all too obvious, lacking any degree of artistic subtlety, becoming overly predictable throughout.  Borrowing heavily from Lucrecia Martel’s LA CIENAGA (2001), it’s basically the same film, told in a less effective manner.  Both are based on memories of their own family, as the director, who was present at the screening, indicated he lives in a small town in the mountains, preferring a humble lifestyle, surrounded by other like-minded, hardworking people, many of whom are indigenous, claiming it’s difficult to make a living off the land.  The film attempts to be a scathing class examination, largely seen through the eyes of a once wealthy family whose family fortune is in decline, yet they still see themselves as aristocrats, as if they still deserve special recognition and prestige over their neighbors, who they haughtily call “new wealth,” a distinction that only those with inherited wealth seem to make, as if that makes them more noble.  The opening sequences are a wordless ballet of emptiness, as two cars are heading for the family estate in the mountains, with close-ups on each of the individuals, but no one utters a word.  After an extended period of time, the only thing they can talk about is trashing their neighbors, using expletives to describe them, finding a particularly grotesque way to describe them.  Once they arrive, the food and drinks are unloaded from the cars and the family festivities begin. 


The bored youngest daughter is disappointed that they all don’t make a mad dash to the beach, which is what she would want to do.  Instead she plays with goggles in the bath, dripping water on her head, or bounces a ball endlessly around the house to everyone’s aggravation.  As food is being prepared by Dominga (Maria Laura Carhuavilca), their indigenous domestic help, she stops what she’s doing, looking startled and a bit terrified, and delivers a baby right there on the kitchen floor.  If this family had negative words for their neighbors, imagine what comes out of their mouths for this event, where every word is one of denunciation and bitter judgment.  Only the elderly patriarch Don Arcadio (Harry Havilio) offers a few gentle words of encouragement, while passing her a few bucks for the troubles that lie ahead.  Everyone seems to think it was an abominable sin not to alert the family to the pregnancy ahead of time, while it’s clear they work her like a slave, where they never offer her a chance to have a personal life, as they order her around as if they “own” her.  When the newborn cries at birth, the bored younger daughter’s reaction is to declare, “What a bitch!”  While it’s clear all this family thinks about is themselves, after the birth, they seem to turn on each other as well, as vicious insults become commonplace.  What upsets them the most seems to be their dwindling reputation, as this excursion into the mountains was meant to be a farewell to their vacation home and a vanishing way of life. 


Jorge (Santiago Paz Posse) distinguishes himself by bringing his golf clubs, using the mountain slopes for his own personal driving range, probably whacking his drives onto his neighbor’s property as a goodbye gesture, kind of like giving them the middle finger.  When Jorge announces he’s put the property up for sale, Don Arcadio wants to know why this is the first he’s heard of that, wondering if he missed the family discussion.  Actually, there was no family discussion, as Jorge decided he and he alone knows what’s best for this family, followed by personal insults aimed at his siblings.  The established tone from the beginning is one of unending arrogance and prejudice, where no one even asks about the baby, or wonders who the father is, as it’s likely one of them.  What Dominga ultimately decides to do is a horrific act that has its roots in slavery times, as mothers didn’t want to bring children into the world to suffer the consequences of slavery.  The collective nation as a whole is guilty of raping the land and the women of the indigenous population in Argentina, which significantly remains the only South American national soccer team without a single black player on the roster (Why Are There No Black Men on Argentina's Roster? | Rachel Décoste).  With this in mind, their behavior is atrocious, flaunting their status as if it actually means something, but their bitter vitriol and hateful view of others is worthy of contempt.  In one of the final scenes that plays over the end credits, the family’s memorial visit to their grave sites is interrupted by a stream of blind individuals in dark glasses tapping their canes in front of this family as they walk past, suggesting it is the blind leading the blind, perhaps a tribute to Bernardo Bertolucci’s more eloquent use of similar imagery nearly 50 years ago in The Conformist (Il Conformista)  (1970). 


CINE-FILE: Cine-List - CINE-FILE Chicago  Eric Fuerst                        

As the Amado family enjoys a meal at their decaying country estate, the patriarch's caregiver goes into labor and gives birth to a baby girl. The youngest sibling interrupts the newborn's cries by declaring, “What a bitch!” THE DAUGHTER is the third feature film by director Luis Sampieri, and it uses the family's ignorance of the maid's pregnancy as a means of articulating the Amado clan's lack of perspective—the irony being that as their fortunes dwindle, the divide between them and their help grows smaller (and yet here, empathy is a trait largely tied with the older generation and the working class). Sampieri foregrounds the pointless bickering of the family while the maid's drama visually reaches its tragic conclusion in bitter silence. The lush Argentinean countryside is photographed beautifully in long takes, and the immediate aftermath of the childbirth is positively Buñuelian in the way it interrupts social niceties for a shocking display of human ugliness.

El director Luis Sampieri rodará un filme en Tucumán - Espectáculos ...

"Daughter" is a story that portrays a bourgeois family in northwestern Argentina. During a weekend and from a moving event for the group (an illegitimate daughter that no one sees, but that is latent in the house) it will go up the moral mantle covering the family and come to light old grudges and prejudice.

This new film tucumano Luis Sampieri, to be shot in our province in May 2011. But earlier, in November, the filmmaker will visit the city to locate the locations and major preparations last question.

"The idea is to harness the shooting of the film to incorporate technical and film students and give workshops and train. They will be taught by me and by Francisco Dominguez, another tucumano does address Photography in Berlin and has worked with great specialists. Franky comes as my director of photography and the idea is to give students workshops on digital cinema and art, "he said Sampieri GAZETTE. A casting for actors will also be held.

Sampieri -radicado years in Spain will return to the country to present his film - "End" - that will compete in the Festival de Mar del Plata.

After premiering at the Berlinale and get good reviews, "End" undertook a long tour of international festivals. These days, precisely, it is competing in Sitges.

In the film, three teenagers are known through the Internet and decide to meet in a secluded location with a common goal, but unknown. It is a terrifying film about isolation and isolation of youth. "After his triumphant journey through the Malaga Film Festival, Sitges recovers one of the big surprises of Spanish cinema in 2010, a nothing referential combination of Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke not suitable for sensitive and worthy stomachs of attention seekers hidden treasures and rarities self-declared "says the official presentation of" the End "at the festival.

Sandrich, Mark

USA  (109 mi)  1937


Women in Hollywood musicals  Pulling the Plug on Lina Lamont, by Martin Roth from Jump Cut, April 1990

Sanjinés, Jorge
BLOOD OF THE CONDOR (Yawar mallku)

Bolivia  (85 mi)  1969


User comments  from imdb Author: S.M. Flatten from Culver City, California, USA

The editing and cinematography are of renegade or guerilla filmmaking. The film has almost no production value of any kind. Blood of the Condor is amazingly artistic and complements the paranoia of the plot. This film is must see for every film student and amateur filmmaker!

Time Out review

About a conflict between the Peace Corps and a local tribe in Bolivia , used to dramatise the racism latent in 'Western Aid' programmes. The Peace Corps were discovered to be practising sterilisation on Indian women without their knowledge. Sanjines' film explores the implications of this policy.

Occam's Projector [Czaro Woj]

In the Bolivian mountains, a man, his wife. Their children: dead. Life according to tradition. One day, police arrest the man, shoot him in cold blood—injured, alive. His wife takes him down, into the city, to his brother. City? Machines, velocity, "modernity", racism—godlessness. The doctor in the city hospital says (in Spanish), "You need blood, you need money to buy blood." They don't have money; will they find it, earn it? Interesting structure, parallel flashback: Peace Corps arrives in the mountain village, bringing clothes, medicine. It's a front. In reality: a forced, covert sterilization program. The man finds out, swarms and attacks the modern-looking building with fellow villagers. They catch the Westerners (in English) listening to psychedelia. Freak-out ensues, frightened Westerner in close-up: "They seem to know everything!" In the present, the man dies, no money for blood. His brother and wife return to the village. Last shot: villagers raising their rifles in protest—freeze frame. Film rendered in striking compositions, jagged editing, little money. Political, impressive. Original title: Yawar mallku.

The Clandestine Nation: indigenism and national subjects of Bolivia in the films of Jorge Sanjinés  Leonardo Garcia-Pabón from Jump Cut, Fall 2001

Santana, Antoine


A SONG OF INNOCENCE                         B+                   91

France  (90 mi)  2005


Despite the overt similarities to Marco Bellocchio’s film THE NANNY (1999), including many scenes that look exactly alike, the director takes sole authorship of his film, though in truth, it does have a more subversive ending.  A dark and ultra grim mood prevails throughout this stylish class conscious chamber drama set in 1877 that resembles the look of a gothic horror thriller, where underneath the decorative veneer lies the exaggerated style of a vampire story, except very little actually happens except the introduction of severe rules meant to keep the servants in their place, boredom and the passing of time.  Opening with a black and white painterly photograph of a pregnant woman standing beside a bare tree under a full moon, we then see a woman dragged off in a horse-driven carriage in the dead of night with a cloak over her head, rushed up the stairs of a run down mansion by candlelight, delivered to the room where a baby cries.  Enter the wet nurse, Islid Le Besco, wearing a blank expression on her face and very worn peasant clothes.  She has been hired to care for the infant daughter of the lord and lady of the manor, the cold and dour Grégoire Colin, who has a fetish for control, status, and reinforcing his authority over the servants, and his attractive young bride, Émilie Dequenne from ROSETTA (1999), who at age 18 is the same age as the nurse, and finds her friendship and companionship more satisfying than that of her aloof and domineering husband.

The film composition is extraordinarily precise by Angelopolos’s cinematographer, Yorgos Arvanitis, where the clothes, the manner, each shot, each room, each image is stunning in it’s period detail, yet there is something bizarre happening when Colin stands alone in a narrow hallway in the dark of the night, perhaps looking in on one of the ladies, and the walls start to close in on him, like a shot out of REPULSION (1965), where his repressed anxiety seems to make the walls move, almost like an expressionist image.  Later, the nurse herself has visions of herself as Cinderella, freeing herself from this dreary, slavish existence and dressing up for the ball.  While the nurse is overly affectionate to the baby, there is a dark underside to her queer nature, which is observed and commented on by the other servants, as if she is somehow possessing the baby, as a vampire possesses one of its victims, or she’ll occasionally read the baby a scary story and let her cry. 


There are many painterly images, and a deliberate, established pace that gives us insight into the household rhythms and personalities.  One unforgettable image is a flashback to the night when the lord of the manor and his doctor visit a home of nursing mothers, seeking the services of one of them.  Most are unclad from the waist up, their breasts exposed, perhaps twenty, thirty women presenting themselves in this manner, all lined up, as if the men are at a bordello choosing which woman he desires.  They even taste the breast milk before choosing the right nurse.  We learn she was forced to give up her son to take this position, and she tells the lady of the manor that she dreams of the day she and her son, as well as the lord’s child, will run away together and rise up in revolutionary rebellion against the master class.  The lady of the manor is revolted at what she hears, realizing she’s talking about her baby, thinking these must be delusions of grandeur.  This causes such concern that they consider relieving her of her duties, but decide instead to wean the child from the wet nurse for two months, as they have also heard the nurse’s son has died, and vow not to tell her, as they wish nothing to disturb the relationship between the mother, the nurse, and the baby, who are even on a strict diet to ensure healthy milk production.  On the night before she leaves, the nurse is told the full circumstances of her child, as the dramatic music of Mahler’s 1st Symphony kicks in, a slowly developing children’s round that has such sinister implications, as in the darkness of the night all sorts of dire possibilities float through our heads in a cinematic psychological study of a woman in distress.  The ending is, quite simply, stunning, and raised a smile to my face, as much of the small details of the film collectively form a personal portrait, which in an instant, like THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, changes before our eyes. 


Santiago, Cirio H.



Philippines  USA  (77 mi)  1981

User reviews  from imdb Author: mcslime from schenectady, new york, usa

This movie was probably singularly responsible for my interest in B-grade martial arts movies. I saw it when I was very young (before cable - eeeeek!) on late-night "Kung-fu Theater". The local station had obviously made a mistake and aired the movie uncut - violence, nudity, and all! The epic final fight scene finds the heroine steadily losing pieces of her clothing one item at a time until she finishes the battle wearing nothing but her panties. The sight of her fighting in such a condition forever made me a fan of the genre! See it if you have a chance.

Firecracker  Contest and contradiction, by Gina Marchetti from Jump Cut


Sapir, Esteban


THE AERIAL                                                            B-                    80

Argentina  (90 mi)  2007


Imagination has saved men.


Opening in a film within a film, like The Shrinking Lover section of Almodovar’s TALK TO ME, I kept expecting the actual film to materialize, but it never did, remaining in this format throughout, a black and white silent film where all the town’s inhabitants (except inexplicably one family) remain voiceless, where a megalomaniac known as Mr. TV owns all the jobs, all the food, and all the media outlets which have stolen their voices.  It’s a Guy Maddin-like creation without his humorous flair for melodrama or quirky wit, a film that can be overwhelming at times with the grandiose look of the METROPOLIS style set designs pitting the powerful against the meek, an obvious reference to the political suppression of free speech that has wreeked havoc with Argentina’s political past, such as their notorious disappearing persons or the oppressive military force that initiated a campaign against its own citizens in their Dirty War from the 70’s and 80’s.  In a town where it’s always snowing (a reference to Guy Maddin’s CAREFUL?), Mr. TV is a Dick Tracy-like villain characterized by his giant limo where the obnoxious car alarm goes off all the time and his henchman, shown with a deformed face and a rat’s tail, has to kick the tires to make it stop.  Another henchman working for Mr. TV wears a space helmet over his head with the Soviet Union label “CCCP” across the top.  The Voice is an exquisitely beautiful Latin singer who performs sensuous tangos on TV wearing a provocatively low-cut dress, but also a hood over her head that is entirely black where her face should be.  As a sign of conformity, the entire town lines up in front of every available television set to watch this show.  The melodious quality of her voice, even when speaking, is comforting.  Her son has no eyes at all, but like her, he can also speak.  However, she constantly warns him to be careful when speaking, as others may be listening who can do him harm.     


Across the street from them is a father and daughter, where the father is separated from his femme fatale wife who works under heavily fortified security for Mr TV, while he and his own father have recently been fired by Mr. TV.  The word “Fired” is stamped on their personal ID cards that they publicly wear.  However the father and son team operate a TV repair business, and when they actually fix one, the word “Repaired” is highlighted, like a blackened neon-light across the movie screen.  This plays like a running serial.  Will The Voice and her son lose their voices as well?  Will her son ever get his sight back?  Will Mr. TV succeed in his plan to steal all the town’s words as well?   Will the father and daughter ever reunite with the mother?  Will Mr. TV, the rat and the commie, ever get their comeuppance?  Stay tuned, as these questions and others may or may not get answered in this film.  The question is: will you stick around to find out?   There’s an overly dramatic orchestral musical score by Leo Sujatovich that is pulsatingly staccato, constantly jarring the nerves, where even the music suggests a continual beating down of the population.  The problem here, despite the overly obvious metaphor, is that the actors barely break a sweat.  The emphasis is on form, not the product, so the human aspect gets drowned out by the visual design.  Obviously the film was invited to a film fest for the dazzling visual inventiveness, but there’s a feeling of disconnect as well, remaining emotionally aloof and detached from the world of the audience, unfortunately growing more cartoonish and monotonous after awhile.     


sneersnipe (David Perilli)


From a narrow modern perspective one problem with many silent films which use inter-titles to display dialogue is that they can break up the pace of a film. La antena (The Aerial) stands out for the inventive approach to conveying silent film in a world that has sound. Black and white with a near continuous score, dialogue is displayed on screen when characters speak, similar to a comic: the words are a visual constituent of the world they appear within. Dialogue is given shape and form in the moments it appears in to fit with the look of the scene and the content of the dialogue. Often the words are like 60s typography (like in the magazine OZ for example) where the words are all blown up and irregular.

So, for example, two villains converse whilst being overseen by the hero of the piece. Because their words are visual and part of this world, they are obscured by the giant collars of a man's coat! As the talkers move, the hero (and us) are finally able to see what is being said but this is one of the few times where the idea that characters are conversing throughout in a written graphic medium is explicit to the way in which they interact with their world. This reaches delightful heights of whimsy when some heavies try to shoot the heroes with machine guns. Rat-tat-tat's literally stream across and fill the screen as the bullets fly. Or where a central blind character can only understand what others are saying by touching their mouths – literal lip reading (or touching)!

Set in an oppressive city inspired by the Art Deco vision of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, director Esteban Sapir creates a world where the population have been stricken of their voices with the exception of a single woman. Aptly named 'The Voice' she sings dolefully on a television channel run by the ruthless Mr TV. When an inventor and his family are drawn into Mr TV's machinations a struggle to control the world's words ensues. For a film based around words, the much 'spoken' mantra 'They strip us of our voices but they can't take away our words' signposts the direction the plot is going in.

Deliberately setting out to work with the form of a film Sapir name checks all over the place in his influences. La antena clearly owes a debt to the Soviet silent film-makers, particularly Vertov, as Sapir toys so ably with the very concept of a silent film being made by a crew who can do sound. In this sense the film is analogous to more populist (and anglophone) films like Pleasantville where the colour and its absence are part of the plot. Visually the film loves using depth and keyholes to give it a distinct look. The debt to Lang and other German expressionists is also there but far less well exploited. The city has an odd composite feel, design and costume wise, which is only really escaped by the end.

As a director with a strong advertising and shorts background, Sapir seems much like an arthouse version of say Michel Gondry or David Fincher. He takes an idea which sets up a construct, and plays with it visually. La antena is reminiscent of Gondry 's and Fincher's shorts but is more ambitious in comparison to their features. The biggest similarity to La antena is probably from the work of Guy Maddin: La antena is probably the best Guy Maddin film that Maddin himself has neglected to make.

The downsides of the film are the occasional Latin American sentimentality and the occasional jokey humour at the expense of the scenario (but given the semi-self awareness of their state even this fits somehow). The worst excess is the decision to base the visual design of Mr TV's villainous scheme on the Metropolis robot-maria awakening look – but to place Voice on a swastika! Oh dear. In opposition the good guys end up sticking her son on a Cross of David. At the very least it's a poor visual gag that sticks out in a good film, at worst it's bound to be offensive to someone.

Complete with a predictable yet cleverly handled resolution, La antena throws its hat into 'a film from 2007 you must watch' barely a month into the year.


Variety   Jay Weissberg


Cherry-picking elements from a variety of genres for his cautionary fable of media control, writer-director Esteban Sapir turns "The Aerial" into a grab bag of overstatement embellished by sentiment. Based on silent film stylizations along with broad borrowings from comic book characters, pic plays like Dick Tracy meets "Metropolis" via Dziga Vertov, but the encounter is not felicitous. Undeniably lovely visuals can't sustain an overly precious story that could have made a strong impact as a short. This odd choice for the Rotterdam opener will see limited fest play before falling into the "curiosity only" category.

Best described as a part-talkie, "The Aerial" imagines a B&W world in thrall to Mr. TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta) and his ever-present broadcasts and products. During "Year X," in the "City Without a Voice," the populace has lost the ability to speak -- all except for The Voice (Florencia Raggi), a faceless mystery woman who sings on one of Mr. TV's programs.

Together with Dr. Y (Carlos Pineiro), Mr. TV concocts a devious plot to further rob the populace of all communication skills. Their plan calls for controlling The Voice, but little do they know that her son Tomas (Jonathan Sandor), though born without eyes, also has the power of speech.

When The Voice is kidnapped, Tomas is rescued by The Inventor (Rafael Ferro), who knows of an aerial where he can broadcast a plot-destroying message. Together with daughter Ana (Sol Moreno) and wife The Nurse (Julieta Cardinali), they set off, hotly pursued by Mr. TV's sidekick Mouseman (Raul Hochman).

With The Voice strapped to a giant swastika in Dr. Y's laboratory and Tomas strapped onto a giant Star of David (oy vey), it's a race against time to see whether The Inventor can save the City from total mind control.

Sapir certainly makes his message clear: Subtlety isn't his strong point. He doesn't disguise his influences either. Besides "Metropolis," scenes and themes are lifted from the Melies Brothers, "The Bride of Frankenstein" (a fairy in a snow globe), and half a dozen others.

But there's no punch, just a series of overplayed moments in which he uses the silent film form in the same postmodernist way as a Guy Maddin with Baron Munchhausen fantasies. Even the B&W lensing is toyed with, crystal clear in some scenes and then slightly pulsating in others, as if the projector bulb is struggling for energy.

There are many beautiful moments: the arresting opening, with hands poised above a typewriter as if belonging to a piano accompanist, and a shot of words folded into dough is remarkably inventive.

But Sapir spoils the cleverness with heavy-handed devices, like an overused plastic tear, or that ill-advised swastika versus Star of David coupling.

Vertov's spirit is ever-present with words directly on images rather than relegated to intertitles, but the great Soviet master would have completely rejected the cutesy sentiment.

Praise, however, goes to production designer Daniel Gimelberg's beautiful sets, inspired not only by Expressionism but 1940s noir. His constantly snowing cityscapes are lovingly shot by d.p. Cristian Cottet, and the whole transfers handsomely to 35mm (post-production must have taken up the bulk of creative time). For a change, music is properly paired with the images.

Camera (B&W, Super 16mm-to-35mm), Cristian Cottet; editor, Pablo Barbieri Carrera; music, Leo Sujatovich; production designer, Daniel Gimelberg; costume designers, Andrea Mattio, M. Cristina Astudillo; sound, Jose Luis Diaz; assistant director, Lorena Contardo; casting, Cecilia Alvarez Casado. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Opening Night, competing), Jan. 24, 2007. Running time: 98 MIN.

LA ANTENA d: Esteban Sapir  Keith Waterfield from Alternative Film Guide

Sarandan, Susan – Actress


Film Comment  Gavin Smith interview from Film Comment


Sarne, Michael



Great Britain  (108 mi)  1968  ‘Scope

As Peary points out immediately in his review, this dated film is “bad and self-indulgent”, but nonetheless has some redeeming qualities — namely its ability to capture the zaniness and existential yearnings of the 1960s. It should also be applauded for addressing interracial romance — and showing confident, successful blacks — at a time when this was still considered taboo by many. Unfortunately, Waite’s grating baby-voice got on my nerves immediately, and her wiggish hair makes her look like Phyllis Diller — I’m not surprised she only made two more films after this.

Movie Talk [Peter Fuller]

Former 1960s pop singer turned film director Mike Sarne is probably best known for helming the infamous 1970 box office bomb Myra Breckinridge – an overblown, kitsch adaptation of Gore Vidal’s novel starring Raquel Welch and Rex Reed.

But two years before his Hollywood debut, Sarne fashioned this quirky story of a wide-eyed girl (Geneviève Waite, who would later marry Mamas & the Papas singer John Phillips) falling in with the loose-living London crowd. Donald Sutherland steals the film as a flamboyant but frail, wealthy young man who invites Joanna on an impulsive trip to Morocco; while Calvin Lockhart (in his film debut) cameos as a street-wise hipster who Joanna falls in love with.

Famously described by Gore Vidal as resembling ‘a collection of cigarette ads’, Joanna is very much a time capsule of London in the 1960s, and has much the same trippy qualities as Myra – especially its narrative structure, which is basically a succession of mad situations that Joanna finds herself in. Think Voltaire’s Candide transplanted to a mod London, but minus the debauchery.

Included in the new BFI Flipside release is the brilliant short film on which Joanna is based. Made in 1966, Road to St Tropez follows a married woman travelling in the South of France in a sporty Renault Caravelle (the car of choice for touring the Riviera in the 1960s) picking up strangers along the way, including a very young Udo Kier (in his film debut), before returning to her dull life in the city. This is a wry, cynical look at lonely women of means with too much time on their hands. It’s one of those true gems that I can watch over and over, if only for the car and scenery.

The other extra is Death May Be Your Santa Claus (well known in prog rock circles because of its connection to a famous 1971 avant-garde album of the same name by the British psychedelic band Second Hand). The film, about a day in the life of a radical black student, has a non-linear narrative structure that comes across like a Beatnik cut-up poem set to celluloid with loads of allegorical references to racism, poverty, war and religion. It’s very dense, so you’ll definitely need a little something to make this go down. Still, it did prompt me to track down the cult album.

This wonderfully strange, eclectic release is now available as a Dual Format release through BFI Flipside.

Britmovie [Drewe Shimon]


Rock! Shock! Pop! [Ian Jane] UK Blu-ray [Brandon A. DuHamel]


TV Guide review


New York Times [Renata Adler] (registration req'd)


Sarno, Geraldo



Brazil  (90 mi)  1978


Brazil Film Update   Randal Johnson from Jump Cut

Documentarist Sarno's first dramatic feature (he made VIRAMUNDO in 1964) is a historical reconstruction of the life and death of Brazilian nationalist industrialist Delmiro Gouveia. Told largely from the perspectives of people associated with him rather than from that of Gouveia himself, the film begins with a cinema verite style shot of a worker/peasant saying that his boss (Gouveia) had never had anyone killed. The film ends with a similar shot, this time of a young worker from Gouveia's factory who, after his boss' death, says that workers did what Gouveia told them to, then what the English ordered, and that nobody ever asked their opinion. He says that when the workers control the means of production, nothing will impede the country's development.

Development and the paths to it are what the film is all about. Delmiro Gouveia represents a form of nationalist-bourgeois development, a form much in vogue during the populist years of Kubitschek, Quadros and Goulart. The worker in the final image offers another, more proletarian solution. It's difficult to know which solution the director favors, since the film itself is a glorification of Gouveia and his individual efforts to develop the Northeast. The films deals with his rise to economic power in the Brazilian interior through his development of a thread-making factory based on hydroelectric power derived from a darn on the Paulo Afonso Falls of the Sao Francisco River. His success undercuts the monopoly held on the Brazilian market by the British Machine Cotton Company. After refusing to negotiate or sell out to the British firm, Gouveia is assassinated. His factory is later acquired by Machine Cotton, dismantled, and thrown into the river. The film's high level of production values as well as its political questioning make CORONEL DELMIRO GOUVEIA one of the most important films of recent years. The film had its U.S. debut in the 1978 San Francisco Festival. 

Sarris, Andrew – Film critic


Required Reading: Criticism & Analysis  The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (Andrew Sarris, 1968), by Jim Emerson from cinepad

Everybody needs a personal pantheon -- a selection of filmmakers whose work means the most to them -- and Sarris (who, along with Pauline Kael, is the most influential of American film critics) turned his into a seminal work of criticism.  Sarris introduced America to the French auteur theory of the director as "author" of a film, and is a more scholarly and disciplined writer and film theoretician than Kael. Which is not to say that he's dry or dull -- he's just more interested in history. His essays on key filmmakers are a joy to read.  This is a landmark book you'll revisit and re-read continually.

Sarris, Andrew   Art and Culture

Andrew Sarris served as film critic for the Village Voice for almost 30 years and as the editor of the English-language version of the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, but he is best known as the primary spokesman for the "politique des auteurs" -- or auteur theory.

Prior to the emergence of this theory in France, the idea of filmmaker-as-author was applied strictly to certain European directors who considered themselves independent artists and exercised complete control over all aspects of their films. This model created the distinction between art films and popular cinema.

In France, however, the critics who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema were convinced that American cinema, and even, or especially, Hollywood cinema, was worthy of close examination. They proposed the radical idea that masterpieces were not the exclusive domain of a cultural elite of directors, and that cinematic authors previously dismissed as merely commercial had in fact made significant personal statements in their work. The assertion that the auteur’s distinctive style is only revealed through a thorough examination of his whole body of work caused a shift in critical perception and a re-evaluation of directors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sarris created an enormous furor when he introduced this theory in his Village Voice column, and his book "The American Cinema," which ranked American directors in various categories of importance and relevance, escalated the controversy. While the theory had many opponents, even its supporters did not always agree, and two main schools of critics emerged. One group stressed the directors’ recurring thematic motifs, the core meanings in their works, as the true measure of unique vision, while the other stressed form, or the individual styles of directors. Later, most critics accepted that some combination of the two defined the true "auteur."

With his introduction of auteur theory into the cultural dialogue, Sarris helped to define the role of the film critic. By arguing that there was indeed an artist at work in film, he set the course toward a standard of film criticism that went beyond issues of personal taste.

Hail the Conquering Hero: Andrew Sarris profiled - Film ...  Kent Jones from Film Comment, May/June 2005


Kent Jones re-examines the 50-year career of Andrew Sarris, the man who brought auteurism to America

After the New York press screening of a revived Mickey One a few years back, a certain critic was heard to remark, “I guess that's what you'd call Strained Seriousness.”

And I guess the remark is what you'd call an inside joke. Deep inside.

For those of you who don't get the joke, and I expect many of you will not, it is language learned from a sacred text, officially dated at 1968. Strained Seriousness is actually the name of a category, which appears between two other categories, Lightly Likable and Oddities, One-Shots and Newcomers, in much the same way that Corinthians appears between Romans and Ephesians. Every category contains a list of movie directors, and a corresponding sub-list of their films, the important ones are italicized, and the entire enterprise is appended by a series of hierarchical yearly lists, the top four or five films also bestowed with italics. This is an all-American affair. True, there is a smattering of foreigners (Fringe Benefits), and the one called Renoir was so great, it is said, that he made it into heaven (the Pantheon) with only five American films to his credit. But the particular spiritual discipline embodied in these revelatory lists and rankings is as deep dish-American as Emerson or Hawthorne. And just as Hawthorne saw original sin turning the tables on Young Goodman Brown or the minister under his black veil, so the Book sends Huston, Wyler, Zinnemann, and Wellman wandering the world with the legend Less Than Meets the Eye emblazoned on their foreheads.

“I can't get those fucking categories out of my head,” a friend once complained, like the woman who hears the ticking bomb at the beginning of Touch of Evil. Small wonder. Consider the descending order, from the transcendentally whole to the prosaically piecemeal (“He has created more great moments and fewer great films than any director of his rank” rings a particularly alarming note), or the cursory texts that are not so much defenses as cryptic illuminations (for instance, “Cukor's cinema is a subjective cinema without an objective correlative”). The American Cinema has the monumentally timeless authority of an originary text – it does not appear to have been written as much as handed down from above and received by mankind. Of course, there is writing, very good writing, in the preface, the introductory essay, and, in recent editions, the afterword. But these feel like a scholar's explanatory notes, outside the transfiguring object that is the Book itself. An alternative history of American movies? Of course, given the fact that a multiple Oscar winner (Ben-Hur) sits sadly unitalicized at the bottom of 1959. But it's more than that. And it is quite different from the assorted pieces by Agee or Farber or Kael, in which readers found sympathetic voices that validated sentiments or intuitions theretofore unexpressed in the greater culture. If you received The American Cinema at the right moment in your life, and many people including myself did, it came with the force of a divination, a cinematic Great Awakening. I suppose that makes Andrew Sarris, its author, the Jonathan Edwards of film criticism.

It has been pointed out, often, that many English-language film critics before Sarris invoked the director in their reviews – it's been pointed out most often by Sarris himself. Yet the fact is that no one except Manny Farber had confronted the question of what direction actually was. They had done pretty much everything but – ontological observations, theoretical prescriptions occasionally illustrated by actual movies, or critical language such as the following: “He has come back from the war with a style of great purity, directness, and warmth, about as cleanly devoid of mannerism, haste, superfluous motion, aesthetic or emotional over-reaching, as any I know.” That's James Agee on William Wyler, and while it's all very lovely, it doesn't address the central question of what exactly Wyler does for a living. For Farber, and for no one else, this question was part of the job, and he approached it from his own stubbornly particular viewpoint – so particular that no one noticed at the time.

It was Sarris who took it upon himself to overhaul American film criticism, by facing what everyone else had either avoided or backed into, with and without cultural alibis. And he accomplished it in a few rather simple, elegant moves. First of all, there was all that ranking, from most to least personal. Whether or not you agreed with his choices, it was clear that, somewhere in the world, priorities had been reversed from content to form, but also from outside to inside. Sarris took a postwar French idea – the Politique des auteurs – and translated it as the Auteur Theory, which he later (correctly) admitted was not a theory at all but “a collection of facts, a reminder of movies to be resurrected, of genres to be redeemed, of directors to be rediscovered.” It's been said that he simply took a French notion and Americanized it, which isn't untrue, but this minimizes the daring. To embrace American movies and moviemakers in Paris was one thing. To embrace those same movies and moviemakers in the country that had made and marginalized them in the first place was a far riskier proposition. This was a systematic destruction and reconstruction of the standard view of American cinema and, by extension, all of cinema, an insistence that cinematic beauty did not come from without (the right subject, actors, set designer, cinematographer, etc.) but from within, and that it was a matter of simple logic that it was the director rather than the writer or the performers from whom the final result was generated. Putting it another way, to fix your sights on the actors or the cinematography or the dialogue was akin to staring at someone's mouth, knees, and navel, whereas contemplating a film through the framework of direction was akin to looking at the whole person. Bazin, the Cahiers and Positif critics and the Brits at Sight and Sound, Sequence and Movie were already there, but it was Sarris who shepherded it into American consciousness, the toughest job of all.

His smartest move was parachuting two French terms into the American critical language – Auteur and Mise-en-scène. Auteur was a brilliant choice, because it killed two birds with one stone: on the one hand, curbing the then-prevalent literary bias in criticism by finding an alternative to Author, on the other hand, solidifying the concept of personal creation in a way that went well beyond the term “director.” Mise-en-scène was necessarily more mysterious, and neither Sarris nor Alexandre Astruc ever adequately defined it. “We might say that Mise-en-scène is the gap between what we see and feel on the screen and what we can express in words,” Sarris wrote in response to a request for a definition from a doctor in Maryland. Fair enough, but a little too tricky. “Mise-en-scène is the shaping of an objective core. Take away the objective core, and you have pure personality without Mise-en-scène.” Not bad, but perhaps an overly fancy way of saying that filmmakers manipulate their raw material the way sculptors mold their clay. “What Mise-en-scène means is perhaps less important than what it implies.” I wonder if the doctor was satisfied with that one.

The point is that Mise-en-scène is, or was, a necessarily undefinable and eminently malleable term, which ultimately came to stand for a kind of magic, an alchemical process in the happy meeting between artist and material. This type of purely aesthetic thrill had remained in the shadows of film criticism – cinema had been pegged as either a modern, theoretically driven marvel in perfect sync with the ongoing ascendancy of the proletariat (“When Eisenstein demonstrated that anything goes as far as temporal distortion is concerned, the actor was completely forgotten as the intransigently counter-revolutionary agent operating against the smooth flow of dialectical montage,” wrote Sarris, brilliantly), a purely sociological phenomenon (“As soon as we identify an entity called 'Marilyn Monroe' as an iconographical element of Niagara, we incorrectly limit a variable element with an invariable name”), a 20th-century entertainment machine or nothing more than the sum total of its various parts. Among many other things, Sarris was saying that magic in cinema was more a question of sensibility than visual, verbal or aural splendor, and Mise-en-scène came to denote the evidence that human intelligence, as opposed to efficiency or self-importance, had been applied from behind the camera. If you insisted on a strict translation, the term applied more to metier than magic, but it seemed ridiculous to describe the Mise-en-scène of Joseph Pevney or Delbert Mann. Ultimately, the term as Sarris put it to use is a kissing cousin to Farber's negative space, with Sarris's “personality” jibing with Farber's “experience.” The difference is that where Farber's language and orientation as a critic were resolutely private, Sarris's were public and explicitly polemical. And they did the trick. The next time you browse through the Vincente Minnelli section at Kim's Video, or watch a TCM tribute to Raoul Walsh, or read an appreciation of Park Chan-wook in The New York Times, think of Andrew Sarris. There are still critics who think they're scoring points by insisting that film is a collaborative medium, only to return to the director as organizing principle without missing a breath.

“Americans can't resist a good revival meeting,” Jean-Pierre Gorin said of Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sarris whipped up a remarkable amount of fervor in the Sixties and Seventies. Once he realized that he had fans – which came with the realization that he had enemies – he was quick to point out that fanaticism was always a two-way street. “I would be the first to concede that any critical theory carried to extremes is absurd,” he wrote in 1970. “When you become too addicted to the politique, you wind up listening to visiting Frenchmen whispering into your ear that Edgar G. Ulmer has just directed a nudist film anonymously . . . The point is that in America we are always overcompensating for the extremisms, real and alleged, of others, thus becoming extremists ourselves.” Those who attacked Sarris reacted with their own brand of extremism that, in retrospect, seems notable for both its venom and its underlying anxiety, not to mention its wholesale evasion of the subtlety and intricacy of his arguments. On the one hand, Dwight Macdonald and John Simon (immortalized by Sarris as “the greatest film critic of the 19th century”) were taking Sarris to task for legitimizing the most vulgar impulses in cinema and thus betraying the original promise of the medium; on the other hand, a certain critic at The New Yorker was trying to have it both ways, tipping her hat to the aesthetic conservatism of Macdonald and Simon and then wheeling around to accuse Sarris of spoiling the party by turning the ecstatic rush of moviegoing into a slow, somber trek to the museum, punctuated by numerous genuflections and incense burning.

It's one of the odd quirks of history that, at least at this moment in time, the name of Pauline Kael has to come up if you're discussing Andrew Sarris. They go together like Petruchio and Kate, Zeus and Hera, Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Despite the fact that they shared certain predilections and preferences (for Godard in the Sixties, Altman in the Seventies, and The Earrings of Madame de… now and forever), they never stopped battling after 1963, when Kael tossed a grenade into the auteurist cell with the lively but ridiculous “Circles and Squares,” and right up to Sarris's deflating goodbye to his old nemesis in The Observer. “Not that I have any desire to continue playing good old Charlie Brown to Miss K's Lucy,” wrote Sarris in 1970, “but I can't really discern any overriding moral issue involved in the conflicting tastes of two movie reviewers.” Perhaps not, but just as Godard recognized the tracking shot as a moral affair, so one might say the same of a critic's stance toward the art form they're contemplating. And while Kael in death is just as popular as she was when alive, if not more so, I think it's Sarris who has had the more positive and lasting effect on the way we look at movies.

Sarris met every challenge head-on, and Kael sidestepped them all – Resnais, Malick, Fassbinder, late Bresson, late Dreyer, post-Dr. Strangelove Kubrick, post-Last Waltz Scorsese, Shoah, and, last but not least, the classical American cinema that was getting such a spirited revision from both sides of the Atlantic during her ascendancy. Moreover, she made a practice of encouraging her readers to sidestep right along with her, and provided them with a series of snappy alibis that jangled in the brain like hook-laden Top 40 tunes – Hiroshima, mon amour was “an elaborate masochistic fantasy for intellectuals”; Barry Lyndon “says that people are disgusting but things are lovely”; The Merchant of Four Seasons is “an art thing, all right, but perhaps not a work of art.” Of course you can't “get drunk on” the aforementioned films and filmmakers. You can fall in love with them (believe it or not, some of us have fallen in love with Barry Lyndon and The Merchant of Four Seasons, and I'm pretty sure we weren't duped or intimidated into it), but it's a very different kind of love from what you might feel for The Godfather or Dressed to Kill. Where Sarris often shared Kael's ambivalence over art cinema, he almost always tried to come to terms with it – for him, the uncrossable line of viewer tolerance that Kael watched like a hawk was nonexistent. As long as filmmakers didn't lose their nerve or cop out, Sarris reckoned that the ideal, sympathetic viewer owed them their best. One could say that for Kael the artist is guilty until proven innocent, while for Sarris he/she is innocent until proven guilty.

“I suppose… I am a revisionist in the most restless sense of constantly revising myself,” Sarris wrote in the introduction to Politics and Cinema. “Consequently, every movie I have ever seen keeps swirling and shifting in ever changing contexts.” This openhearted stance before the wonder of cinema, the polar opposite of Kael's famous one-viewing/one-judgment credo, is crystallized for me in Sarris's return visits to Kubrick. “It's not that I have seen the light,” he wrote in 1975, “but that I have come to appreciate Kubrick's particular form of darkness.” But he had started with 2001, which prompted a little-remarked report on a second re-viewing of a film he had vilified in The American Cinema (“The ending·qualifies in its oblique obscurity as Instant Ingmar”). It was two years later when he took this “enhanced” look, resulting in one of the most charming passages in all of American film criticism. “I must report that I recently paid another visit to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 while under the influence of a smoked substance that I was assured by my contact was somewhat stronger and more authentic than oregano on a King Sano [cigarette brand] base. (For myself, I must confess that I soar infinitely higher on vermouth cassis, but enough of this generation gap.) Anyway, I prepared to watch 2001 under what I have always been assured were optimum conditions, and surprisingly (for me) I find myself reversing my original opinion. 2001 is indeed a major work by a major artist.” I'm not sure what I love most about this passage – the fact that it's impossible to imagine anyone else writing it (in 1970! in The Village Voice!!), its complete lack of guile, or its corresponding lack of self-consciousness. And then, a few sentences later, a kind of peak is reached: “I don't think that 2001 is exclusively or even especially a head movie (and I now speak with the halting voice of authority).”

Sarris's disarming honesty and his complete lack of concern with being hip have always been his trump cards as a critic and his bête noires as a journalistic player. The old Voice probably could have tolerated an attention-getting firebrand like Stanley Crouch forever, no matter how reactionary, if he hadn't tried to smash up the joint; but its patience wore thin with this “instinctively” Christian centrist (whose political acumen could have given any of his fellow staff writers a run for their money) with an unapologetic love for old movies and a curiously formal prose style in the best belle lettrist tradition. And yet, despite the fact that his archenemy's dizzying virtuosity is often stood in opposition to the style of every other film critic before or since, it's Sarris, with his restless intelligence and his Proustian regard, who is finally the more modern writer. What is winning in Kael – moving, in fact – is the urgency of her need to communicate her emotional responses to films and, especially, actors who made an immediate impact, in a correspondingly immediate style so breathlessly intoxicating that it haunts film criticism to this day. Her best pieces shimmer and throb like a great Tommy James single. And that's always been the rub, for her and for her devotees. Anything that smacked of premeditation or intellectual mediation, anything that moved in any direction other than toward the immediate, was anathema. Unfortunately, a high percentage of art and a higher percentage of criticism smacks of both premeditation and intellectual mediation (out of necessity), which is why she more or less painted herself into an aesthetic corner by the time she retired. Such is the life of the Enthusiast/Debunker. Meanwhile, Sarris, in the best tradition of Bazin, Daney, and Farber, was always a critic-theorist – in other words, his immersion in the medium is so total that he generates theory through his practice. While he may not have a defining essay like “The Ontology of the Photographic Image” or “White Elephant vs. Termite Art” – or, God help us, the unfathomable “Fantasies of the Arthouse Audience” (reduced to ashes by Raymond Durgnat) – he does have 50 years' worth of remarkably trenchant and insightful criticism, in which the cinema itself always stands at the center, valiantly protected by Sarris as if it were his queen and he its knight. A river of personal expression indeed.

Flip to any given page from any one of his anthologies, long out of print and overdue for a fresh look (come to think of it, a few more anthologies of uncollected material are in order), and you will find a restlessly inquisitive and extraordinarily supple mind at work, always laboring to tie together an assortment of elements – historical antecedents, contemporary political realities, Proustian reminiscences. If his writing about the very best – Ophüls, Mizoguchi, Hitchcock, Ford – is less exciting than his writing about the flawed or failed, it's probably because sublimity tends to be a great equalizer, while imperfection comes in limitless variations. “On the whole, most movies tend to be more complex than profound,” Sarris wrote in The Primal Screen, “but this makes them all the more difficult to pin down, describe, and categorize for all time.” No one aside from Farber worked harder at pinning down, describing, and (always provisionally) categorizing. On occasion, Sarris hit a comic high note in the process: “Richard Benjamin is so ideally cast as Philip Roth that it is almost frightening to think of him ever playing anything else. And who wants to look at Philip Roth as a figure of fantasy?”

For me, Sarris was at his very best when confronted with an especially knotty problem, and the aesthetic and political convulsions of the Sixties and Seventies provided him with a bonanza of paradoxes, delusions, and hypocrisies to deflate and dissect. “I think Nixon can be beaten in 1972, but not by reluctant virgins and pure ideologues,” Sarris wrote of The Candidate, seeing through the beguiling surface to the core of purest bullshit. “At the very end of the movie…all McKay can do is ask, 'What do we do now?' Well, for one thing, Senator-elect McKay can go to the Senate and vote against the confirmations of Renquist, Powell, Burger, and Blackmun.” He performed a similarly invasive procedure on films that were even more extravagantly praised: “It is with the characterization of Michael Corleone that both…Coppola and…Puzo seem to drift away from the rigor of the crime genre into the lassitude of an intellectual's daydream about revenge without remorse and power without accountability,” or “Cabiria is too much of a one-woman show, with Giulietta Masina's heroine achieving a sublime illumination while all the other characters linger in the darkness of deception and irresolution.” One of his finest moments came when he took not Gillo Pontecorvo but the Lincoln Center audience to task for cheering the café bombing in The Battle of Algiers: “All right, you say you believe in indiscriminate violence. Then squeeze Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, Marcello Mastroianni, Laurence Olivier, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peter Finch, George C. Scott, and Diana Rigg into a crowded café in Algiers. Then let the bomb go off five minutes after the picture starts, and show all our cameo stars as shattered corpses·Is it still an occasion for cheering? I think not.” Sarris was not a bandwagon jumper – needless to say, he did not equate the first New York showing of Last Tango in Paris with the inaugural performance of “The Rite of Spring.” Nor did he see anything so miraculously new about the New Hollywood: for him they were just a group of talented filmmakers operating under a different set of conditions than the ones under which their studio-contracted forefathers slaved. If Sarris tended to underrate Coppola and early Scorsese, he also did a far better job than anyone else of positioning them within the totality of film history, and then stuck by them once the heat of youth had cooled with the contemplative distance of age.

Sarris was always bracingly honest about his prejudices, and his greatest was for the avant-garde. “Live and let live has been my motto,” he wrote of his reluctance to attack non-narrative films in print, “and since most American avant-garde film artists have tended to be as poor as church mice, it seemed unduly cruel to heap abuse atop neglect.” I will never forget the hair-raising moment when he took fellow Voice writer Jim Hoberman to task in print for “freaking out on the arthouse acid below 14th Street.” In retrospect, while I can't abide the notion that narrative is the only package in which moving images should be wrapped, I have to commend and even envy Sarris for his candor – most of his colleagues would have hidden behind layers of rationalization or obfuscation. And yet, Sarris is always surprising. He owned up to missing the boat on Cassavetes at the time of Shadows, and when he took a good, hard look at The Chelsea Girls, he admitted that he saw a work of great gravity and beauty. He always had a problem with youth culture, but he balanced his graybeard griping with passages that reflected the most generous and enlightened point of view since Bazin's. “We are simply too close to the popular cinema of today to read it correctly,” he wrote in his Easy Rider review. “If American movies today seem too eclectic, too derivative, and too mannered, so did they seem back in the Twenties, the Thirties, the Forties and the Fifties·Out of all the mimicry of earlier times emerged very personal styles, and there is no reason to believe that the same thing will not happen again and again. Hence beware of all generalizations, including this one, perhaps especially this one, because it is just remotely possible that after all the false cries of doom, the cinema might actually be racing to the creative standstill so long predicted for it. But I doubt it. It is not the medium that is most likely to get old, tired, and cynical, but its aging and metaphysically confused critics. This particular critic has never felt younger in his life.”

Sarris seems to have become a more becalmed and solitary presence in recent years, dropping the mantle of head “cultist” and regarding the games of moviemaking and movie critiquing from a benign distance. Younger readers complain that he is too content with covering the latest commercial releases, as if we should all aspire to write for an audience of all-region DVD player owners. I can't begrudge his failure to grapple with Apichatpong or Omirbaev – the distance from Three Comrades to Fassbinder is already far enough. And he remains one of the most penetrating voices in film criticism. I recently had the shock of my life when I opened The New York Observer, where he's had a berth for the last 16 years, to find his review of Godard's Notre musique. Midway, he segued into a reminiscence of his youth spent in a “casually anti-Semitic household.” For him, the effects of his upbringing were only dispelled with the footage of the death camps. This bracing honesty was a prelude to lowering the boom on Godard's “evasive paradoxes,” with this stinging sentence: “Mr. Godard hasn't earned the right to take the mantle of Jewishness upon himself as if it were some sort of Halloween mask.” A few well-chosen words, and Notre musique hasn't been the same since for this reader.

“I never argue with people about movies,” Andrew told me when I visited with him at the cozy Upper-East-Side apartment he shares with his wife, Molly Haskell. “We all see different movies. We all go to the movies and see our friends, our family, our loved ones. Brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers. Lost loves. Failed loves. People we hate. Movies are as old as psychoanalysis. So if I were to put you or anyone else on a couch and say, 'Tell me your favorite movies,' it would be a way of psychoanalyzing you.” Our conversation ranged across a lot of territory in two hours – Billy Wilder (“When Sunset Boulevard played Radio City Music Hall, I saw it about 25 times. I was a great enthusiast. And then Truffaut talked me out of it”), the Pope's then-impending death (“I'm suspicious of how long he's taking”), showing Citizen Kane to students at SVA (“The lights came up and one of them raised his hand and said, 'They certainly wore strange clothes back in those days'”), the generosity of Fred Zinnemann (“You know, he had an affair with Grace Kelly on High Noon, and he once told me that he could never have gotten the performances out of her that Hitchcock did”), the political problem of landing on the right-to-die side of the Schiavo case (“You can't just stand up in the Senate and shout 'Pull the plug!' It wouldn't go down well with your constituents”), and Clint Eastwood (“I find people all the time now saying things like, 'I agree with you about Million Dollar Baby – I didn't like it either.' Their not liking it is a much more sweeping thing than anything I've said. They feel it's not big enough, important enough, overwhelming enough. And I suppose it isn't, but what is?”). But all the while, what we were really talking about was the practice of film criticism, on which Sarris has spent a lifetime of reflection. “I've always said to people that auteurism is nice, but it's hypothetical, and gradually you learn how much or how little influence different directors had. You can see that Hitchcock had more influence than someone like [John] Stahl. What it really is, is first you see something, and you like it, and then it's a mystery, and you go into the mystery – and that's what's interesting. And the test of criticism is: can you make a case for it.”

“Do you think we've wasted our lives?” Andrew asked as he walked me to the door. It was a joke, of course, but it had a poignant ring. People are always implying that movies, and the hours spent watching them, are wastes of time. When you're young, it's “Why do you want to sit in the dark on such a beautiful day?” When you're older you feel it in the flip tone of movie journalism, the cultural credence afforded cinematic illiterates like Gore Vidal, and the strenuous efforts of apologetic film critics to connect cinema to the “real world” because they feel obliged to prove its “relevance” over and over and over again. You even feel it in such supposedly sympathetic terms as “cinephilia” or “movie love,” which carry the ring of affliction. Andrew, with his honesty and his grace, has always made such notions seem utterly irrelevant.

As I walked through the park, I drifted into my own Proustian reveries. I remembered my previous visits to Andrew and Molly's place – the last time was almost 20 years ago, when Andrew's right-hand man and my mentor Tom Allen died of a heart attack at the age of 50. I remembered the weekend that Tom went away on retreat, the Voice almost went on strike and Andrew came down with what became a year-long, life-threatening illness. I remembered my mercifully brief stint in the early Eighties as Andrew's personal secretary, at which I was an unqualified disaster. And then, a few years before, sitting in my school library poring through old issues of the Voice. And further back, when I was 12, getting my first copy of The American Cinema from my mother's friend. It was a loan, and it got so much wear that she made me buy him a new one. 32 years later, I still can't get those fucking categories out of my head. Not that I've ever tried. That I like John Huston or William Wellman more than Andrew does, or did, is beside the point, and it always has been. He gave me, and many, many others, a framework, a way of seeing and understanding an art form that was and still is culturally disreputable. I owe him a lot, and so does anyone else writing about cinema.

Overview for Andrew Sarris  Turner Classic Movies


Andrew Sarris - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC  biography


Andrew Sarris: Information from  biography


Andrew Sarris’s profile at Columbia University


Welcome to Emanuel Levy » Andrew Sarris:American Film Critic  profile essay


Andrew Sarris  Profile from Full Movie Review




Andrew Sarris' Pantheon Directors on Lists of Bests


Andrew Sarris' Top Ten Lists: 1958-2006


Andrew Sarris's Reviews for the New York Observer


Andrew Sarris – Notes on the Auteur Theory - Home › Faded Requiem  Andrew Sarris Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, from The Film Artist (pdf format)




Who's Afraid of Andrew Sarris? (Maybe Mike Nichols Should Be ...  Sarris review of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? From The Village Voice, July 28, 1966


Mildred Natwick News » Andrew Sarris Harshes on 'Casino Royale ...  Andrew Sarris on CASINO ROYALE and BAREFOOT IN THE PARK from The Village Voice, June 15, 1967


TSPDT - Andrew Sarris: Director Categories from "The American ...  Andrew Sarris book, "The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968" (383 pages), 1968


The American cinema: directors and directions, 1929-1968 - Google Books Result (383 pages), 1968


Andrew Sarris | The Sticking Place  Sarris review of MEDIUM COOL, from The Village Voice, August 28, 1969


The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, by ...  book review by Paul Warshow from Commentary magazine, October 1969


Graduate Review - Andrew Sarris  1970 


Andrew Sarris vs. Pauline Kael on “Raising Kane” « Wellesnet: The ...  Andrew Sarris’s reply to Pauline Kael’s infamous article “Raising Kane,” that was first published in The New Yorker, April 15, 1971


Andrew Sarris reveals the mystery behind “ROSEBUD” in Orson ...  Citizen Kael vs. Citizen Kane, by Andrew Sarris from The Village Voice, April 29, 1971


'This Moviest of All Movies' - 73.03  Sarris review of GONE WITH THE WIND, by Atlantic magazine, March 1973


Alphaville (1965) - The Criterion Collection  Criterion essay, October 19, 1998, also seen here:  Comments on Alphaville by Andrew Sarris - Coldbacon


The Rewards of Obsessing About Film  Janet Maslin from the New York Times, April 14, 2001


French Cancan (1955) - The Criterion Collection  Criterion essay, August 2, 2004


Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment: Andrew Sarris  April 6, 2005


"Get Reel"  J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, October 18, 2005


Q&A: MOLLY HASKELL & ANDREW SARRIS :: Stop Smiling Magazine  November 7, 2005


Poll: Andrew Sarris and Your Greatest Films of All Time - scanners  Jim Emerson from Scanners, March 12, 2007


Knocked Up a K.O.!: Apatow Hits Ground Like Sturges, Wilder | The ...  Sarris review of KNOCKED UP from The New York Observer, June 5, 2007


Happy Birthday, Andrew Sarris!  Bright Lights After Dark, October 31, 2007


Infantile Filmocidal: Andrew Sarris v. Pauline Kael OR Auteurism v ...  August 5, 2008


SXSW Review: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism  Peter Martin from Cinematical, March 20, 2009


Fade out on: Andrew Sarris |  Stephen Whitty from The Star-Ledger, June 10, 2009


Some Came Running: To Andrew Sarris  Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running, June 10, 2009


Andrew Sarris Persists and Endures «  June 11, 2009


Andrew Sarris Era Not Quite Over Yet in NYC | Movieline  S.T. Vanairsdale from Movieline, June 11, 2009


Film - Andrew Sarris - A Survivor of Film Criticism's Heroic Age ...  Michael Powell from The New York Times, July 9, 2009


Critic After Dark: Andrew Sarris profile on The New York Times  Noel Vera from Critic After Dark, July 12, 2009


In memory of Andrew Sarris's New York Observer reviews. | Filmwell  Jeffrey Overstreet from Filmwell, August 11, 2009


The American Critic  Forced Perspective, January 14, 2010


Not My Opinion  Forced Perspective, March 1, 2010


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'Psycho' Is 50: Remembering Its Impact, and the Andrew Sarris ... 'Psycho' Is 50: Remembering Its Impact, and the Andrew Sarris Review, by J. Hoberman from The Village Voice, June 15, 2010


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Influential Film Critic Andrew Sarris Dies at 83  Gregg Kilday from The Hollywood Reporter, June 20, 2012


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Sasanatieng, Wisit


TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER                         B+                   90

Thailand  (110 mi)  2000


A true midnight movie classic, a candy-colored Thai western with a constantly roving camera that took six years to be released to the United States, a film so artificially stylized in the Douglas Sirk soap opera melodrama camp, featuring horrible writing that could possibly be on par with the Flash Gordon TV series, where there isn’t the remotest sense of nuance, everything is color-exaggerated and so over the top, using humorous references from all sorts of films, especially the Sergio Leone westerns.  Rousing musical themes resemble those of Ennio Morricone, there are plenty of mano a mano scenes, where the camera veers into a close up on the eyes, catching a squint, a twitch, even a water-dropped blink, before then switching into the Takeshi Miike mode, where a cowboy outlaw gang is actually shown shooting a bazooka, with blood-drenched, phantasmagorical imagery which is not afraid to go animated.  The overwrought acting and overall slow pace of the film resembles silent films, where everything is expressed through various poses for the camera.  All in all, this is a delightful romp into a magical mystery western that feels like watching hilariously mediocre television under the influence of a giant hangover. 


Stella Malucci is Rumpoey, the beautiful Governor’s daughter, always dressed in the finest attire, hair and make up perfect, never without full lipstick, accentuating the most color imaginable, while the expressionless Chartchai Ngamsan plays the Black Tiger, a sidekick to Mahesuan, Supakorn Kitsuwan, the two fastest guns in the west.  The Tiger is the silent man in black, while the garishly dressed Mahesuan, with his penciled moustache, is always spitting tobacco juice and grunting, while bellowing when he speaks.  They’re each part of an outlaw gang.  But the film has flashbacks to the Tiger’s youth, then known as Dum, played by a different actor, Suwinit Panjamawat, who woos the same girl.  This shows the history of when Dum first came to the aid of Rumpoey, something he seems to make his life’s work.  She gives him an engraved harmonica wrapped in her scarf to remember her by, and like Charles Bronson in Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969), he mournfully plays that thing to obsession.  Their relationship is a thing for the ages, yet it’s more hilarious in his total detachment, almost delivering a Kaurismäki deadpan while Rumpoey is hysterically melodramatic, accentuated by a romantic song that feels like it came from a Tsai Ming-liang satire. 


While the plot is stupid, and the film is in dire need of an editor, running a good twenty minutes too long, the film is never less than entertaining, as it sustains its adherence to psychedelic art direction, using good-looking actors, a half a dozen songs, and occasional lapses into something so completely improbable that it may remind us of the cardboard good and evil stereotypes from the early Star Trek television show.  The acting is phenomenally bad, which is actually one of the treasures of this film, as it’s so camp, that the style itself becomes the leading interest in the film.  One must give credit where credit is due, art direction by Rutchanon Kayangan and Akradech Kaew Kotr, cinematography by Nattawut Kittithun, original music by Amornbhong Methakunavudh, all of whom were the leading creative influences of this film, which stakes a claim for being one of the more uniquely eccentric films seen for quite awhile.


The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

For almost seven years, Wisit Sasanatieng's Thai Western-comedy-romance Tears Of The Black Tiger has been the stuff of cinephile legend, passed around in bootleg form in a generalized protest against the shameless film-hoarding of Harvey Weinstein and Miramax. Always on the lookout for the next foreign-language crossover hit, Weinstein went on an oddball foreign-film-buying binge in the early '00s, then stuck most of those acquisitions on a shelf. Apparently he realized that a film like Tears Of The Black Tiger—with its wildly stylized design and hyperbolic story about a sharpshooting cowboy, his epic love for an heiress, and a gory three-way gang war—could only reach a cult audience.

Some reviewers have semi-sided with Weinstein, suggesting that since Tears Of The Black Tiger spoofs obscure Thai B-movies, American audiences might have trouble grasping that its blatant artificiality is intentional. But that's hogwash. Tears Of The Black Tiger is in the tradition of Bollywood, Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Juzo Itami, and Douglas Sirk, and all those are arthouse staples, either directly or through the directors they influenced. Rather than stitching a lot of wrinkles into his boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-becomes-masked-bandit plot, Sasanatieng revels in the chance it gives him to play with the medium, whether by stopping the action so he can insert a slow-motion replay of a ricocheting bullet (and the head it blows to gooey bits) or by staging outdoor scenes in front of abstractly painted backdrops.

But the Tears Of The Black Tiger skeptics are also right, in that the movie is never going to have broad appeal. Though Sasanatieng makes a few swings at real poignancy—which don't really connect—mostly this is the kind of relentlessly postmodern "fun" best served in small portions, and preferably on dessert plates. The film's lofty reputation has as much to do with its scarcity as its "and now here's a midget with a rocket launcher" randomness. Thematically, the movie only hits one point: People are untrustworthy, so a true hero stands alone. Or maybe it hits two points: With Sasanatieng's indulgence of lyrical scenes where young lovers row in a lotus-strewn lake, or his use of flashbacks that look like old movies with frames missing, he seems to be saying that even our memories are a lot better when they look like cinema.

TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion


Watching "Tears of the Black Tiger" would be a strange experience under any circumstances, but this Thai Western's oddness is enhanced by its roundabout path to American screens. Made in 2000, it created a big enough buzz at Cannes the following year to draw the attention of Miramax. Once they acquired it, their interest suddenly evaporated. Like many Asian films they picked up, it languished in their vaults for years. When the New York Asian Film Festival tried to book it a few years ago, they were turned down.

However, once the Weinstein brothers left the company to start their own, Miramax suddenly showed a new willingness to license unreleased films from its catalogue to other distributors. In fall 2005, Magnolia Pictures released Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Pulse;" with "Tears of the Black Tiger," they've rescued their second film from Miramax's clutches.

Proliferating in several different cuts, "Tears of the Black Tiger" has been more a rumor than a film one can actually watch. The difficulty of seeing it has worked as a form of anti-hype. The film's reputation has only benefited from its rarity. While fascinating in many respects, it's not a neglected classic like Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," made in 1969 and released for the first time in the U.S. last year.

Dum (Chartchai Ngamsan), a young peasant, falls in love with rich girl Rumpoey (Stella Malucchi). They plan to be together, but time intervenes. Ten years pass before they meet up again. Dum's father (Kanchit Kwanpracha) is killed by outlaws, while Rumpoey plans to marry a cop, Captain Kumjorn (Arawat Ruangvuth). Hoping to bring down his father's murderers, Dum becomes "Black Tiger," a notorious bandit, in an attempt to insinuate himself into the gang. He still hopes to convince Rumpoey not to marry her fiancée.

Whatever Thailand's cinematic accomplishments, its films simply didn't make it onto the American arthouse/festival circuit until the past decade. "Tears of the Black Tiger" seems alien because it combines familiar influences-Douglas Sirk's melodramas, Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah's Westerns-with indigenous ones. In the press kit, Sasanatieng cites Thai director Rattana Pestonji as his primary inspiration, but American spectators have to take his word for it. In some ways, his compatriot Apichatpong Weerasethakul's films, which show little influence from Western narrative, are easier to appreciate. Weerasethakul embraces the enigmatic openly, while Sasanatieng holds meaning at arm's length.

"Tears of the Black Tiger" borrows images and scenes from Leone and Peckinpah-a character's fondness for the harmonica from the former, a machine gun massacre from the latter. Drawing less directly from Sirk, it evokes '50s melodrama through plot, color, and cinematography. Sasanatieng's use of color is his film's most immediately striking quality. The colors are simultaneously vivid and somewhat faded. "Tears of the Black Tiger" was digitally altered to look like Technicolor, but it doesn't aim to match the brightness of a new print.

As much as old films themselves, "Black Tiger" recalls spectators' memories of them. This becomes explicit when a flashback is depicted through simulated scratches, a crackly soundtrack, and jump cuts meant to suggest missing frames.

Sasanatieng says he wants to offer "nostalgia as future shock." For American audiences, "Tears of the Black Tiger" summons nostalgia for an alternate film history that we can't access. Often described as campy, the film's tone is hard to pin down. Its emotional textures are contradictory, with the jokey and show-offy jostling next to an apparently heartfelt love story. Visually, its accomplishments are tremendous; many scenes would be equally breathtaking as still photos. On an emotional level, however, the film never gels.

For one thing, it's too gory to sustain a lighthearted spirit-brain matter splatters across the screen twice, as well as detached arms-but spends too much effort putting its romance within ironic quotes to work as a full-fledged melodrama. Perhaps something got lost in translation, as the love scenes' dialogue is full of purple prose and clichés. However, the performances would look wooden even without subtitles.

Only in the final scene does "Tears of the Black Tiger" achieve the tragic grandeur it aims for. Or does it? For all the lush splendor of Sasanatieng's images, his greatest achievement may be making a film that so tantalizingly resists one's efforts to figure out what it is trying to accomplish.


The Village Voice [Nathan Lee]


Sight and Sound   Edward Buscombe (Lee Wong)


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Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) : "electric turquoise... fluorescent emerald"


Tears of the Black Tiger (2000)  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus  Gopal [Tim Knight]


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CITIZEN DOG (Mah Nakorn)

Thailand  (100 mi)  2004


Martin Tsai's Blog

Wisit Sasanatieng’s whimsical fable-like musical romance Citizen Dog has invited many Amélie comparisons. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s international hit is vigorously cutesy at best, and it doesn’t come close to capturing the kind of genuinely inspired and beguiling magic seen in Sasanatieng’s sophomore feature. Making over Bangkok with the same hyper neon colour scheme seen in the director’s Tears of the Black Tiger, the film involves an introvert with a severed index finger, a compulsive-obsessive fixated on environmental activism, a chain-smoking 22-year-old who looks to be about seven, a talking stuffed bear, a zombie motorcycle taxi driver and a pair of lovers fetishizing over packed-sardines bus rides. It’s unfortunate that the film’s Thai origin might compel Western viewers to dismiss its quirkiness as eccentricity, effectively confining the film to the festival and arthouse ghetto and barring it from reaching an Amélie-size audience. Then again, Sasanatieng might already be a household name here if Miramax had bothered to release Tears of the Black Tiger.

Fipresci  Jacob Neiiendam

Despite screening outside both the international and ASEAN competition at the Bangkok International Film Festival, the most talked about film at the event was Wisit Sasanatieng's highly anticipated Citizen Dog (Ma Nakorn). The producers of it no doubt kept it in the Thai Panorama not to hamper the film's life on international festivals, where it should have an even better and longer life than the director's previous effort, Tears of the Black Tiger (Fa Talai Jone). Wisit Sasanatieng's feature directing debut was the first Thai film selected for Cannes, where it screened in Un Certain Regard in 2001.

Citizen Dog is a surreal modern fable about a country boy Pod (Amornpong Maithakunnawut), who goes to the big city of Bangkok , despite his grandmother's warning that he will grow a tail if he ever gets a job there. Nevertheless, he quickly starts working in a sardine-packing factory, loses his finger, finds it again and gets a new friend in the process. The fast paced introduction to this warped reality is nothing short of hilarious and Sasanatieng's great looking color-splashed world (courtesy of DoP Rewat Phreeleat) is as inventive as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 hit Amelie , which seems to have had a strong influence on the Thai filmmaker. However, the film's central story sees Pod falling in love with Jin (Sangthong), a maid obsessed with cleaning, who has her head buried in a mysterious white book. The dreamless boy only has eyes for the dreamy girl, but she is too caught up in her own world to notice.

The story throws everything from musical numbers (with Thai pop ballads) to undead motorcycle drivers and talking teddy bears into the mix, and it is at its best when it constantly surprises the audience with its surreal absurd humor. However, it really wants to be romantic at the same time, and it is much less successful at that. About halfway through, the film loses its momentum, it simply runs out of story when the relationship between Pod and Jin fails to develop, and the film never really recaptures the audiences' attention.

Despite the script problems in the second half, Citizen Dog is more fully developed and accomplished than the Western parody homage Tears of the Black Tiger . Sasanatieng's background as a successful director of commercials is still evident, but he is on his way to finding his own voice. Along with his close collaborators: Nonzee Nimibutr, for whom he wrote Nang Nak in 1999, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang ( Last Life in the Universe ), who also narrates Citizen Dog , Wisit Sasanatieng confirms his position in the forefront of the Thai New Wave. Expect to see Citizen Dog at a major European festival in the months to come. (Jay Seaver)


Bangkok Nation  Phatarawadee Phataranawik [Gary W. Tooze]


Satana, Tura – B-movie sexploitation actress extraordinaire


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Tura Satana  Sandra Brennan from All Movie Guide


Tura!!!  Faster, Psychotronic, Kill! Kill!  Feature and interview with Satana by Michael J. Weldon from Psychotronic magazine (1999)


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Satrapi, Marjane


PERSEPOLIS                                                          B                     88

France  USA  (94 mi)  2007  co-director:  Vincent Paronnaud


Freedom always has a price


After receiving such critical acclaim for notably sharp commentary, including sharing the Jury Prize this year at Cannes with SILENT LIGHT, I have to admit this was something of a mild disappointment as it’s not nearly on the same level as the marvelously unique Reygadas film, and there’s only a bit of an edge in this attempt to tell a brash, candidly honest, autobiographical coming-of-age story set during the dawn of the Islamic revolution, showing a young girl growing up in Iran, transplanted to Europe during the Revolution, where the film attracts attention, if for no other reason than it’s politically timely due to the Bush administration’s noticeable belligerence towards Iran.  Satrapi’s film, exquisitely featuring the real life mother and daughter voices of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni respectively, takes us through her mixture of dead serious as well as comically observant recollections of the brutal crackdown by the current Iranian regime, something no one currently living in Iran could do, where suppressing the rights of women and many of its citizens through a police state using torture and imprisonment, even execution, are still quite common, while also stressing the aftereffects of the horrors of war, specifically the effect it has on children.  It should be pointed out, however, that the film is equally critical of the young girl’s experiences in Europe, where she was victimized by racist stereotypes and insults, alienated and left alone when there was no one who gave a damn about her.  By the end, however, damaged by her experiences in both worlds, there is something of an abrupt conclusion, where the film just decides that it’s over, while we, the viewer, are to surmise that her life abroad is really just beginning.  Persepolis is the Greek name for the ancient Persian capital of Parsa, an interesting link between the cultures of the East and the West, which is the precarious place Satrapi finds herself, juxtaposed in the middle somewhere like a no man’s land, finding herself in a self-imposed exile from the lack of freedom in her homeland yet also unappreciated in her adopted country, where she will always be contemptuously viewed as a foreigner.   

While the animated style, also drawn by Satrapi, is simplistic, most of it in black, white, and gray, with occasional spurts in color, somewhat resembling the style of the French children’s books and subsequent cartoon Madeline, another delightfully candid, non-conformist child growing up in Paris, Marjane grew up during the turbulent years in Tehran in the late 70’s when the Shah was deposed by a rising tide of radical Islamic fundamentalism.  Coming from a loving family of wealth, she was exposed to progressive ideas from within her own family, including a Marxist uncle who studied in Russia.  Amusingly, her childhood allegiance in support of the Shah, who was chosen by God according to her school, quickly shifts where she’s soon seen parading around the house in favor of revolution.  And as a rebellious teenager, her Westernized musical interests in ABBA and Iron Maiden are outlawed, along with her idol Bruce Lee, French fries with ketchup and her Adidas shoes, as are many of her outspoken views, many of which mimic those of her grandmother, voiced perfectly by 91-year-old Danielle Darrieux, a liberated woman who’s used to speaking her mind, including her own philosophical take on men with small dicks.  But Marjane’s views really get a jolt of reality when her uncle, who advocated democracy, previously imprisoned by the Shah and tortured by jailers trained by the CIA, claiming “they certainly knew their stuff,” is arrested again and eventually executed by the new regime of religious mullahs.  While literally hundreds of thousands die needlessly in the Iran/Iraq war, where the West cynically arms each side against the other, the war comes perilously close to home when the house next door is bombed, so for her own protection her parents decide to send her to a French school in Vienna.  There she finds a group of outcasts, all of whom have families they can rely upon, while she suffers an endless stream of evictions.  “In the West, you can die on the street and nobody cares.”  Yet there she discovers an underground punk scene of drugs and casual sex along with steins of beer, where in a hilarious hangover scene she can’t stop her own out-of-tune karaoke version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from playing inside her head, where she sees herself performing to the music inspired by martial arts movements.  But after a series of relationships gone wrong and a retreat into the isolated world of books, eventually she becomes so lonely and destitute that she returns home again, but the world she hoped to find has already disappeared. 

Adding to the film’s charm are the personal touches, the way that Marjane internalizes her experiences with self-deprecating humor which is usually at odds with her friends and the society around her, including imagined glimpses of herself chatting with God and Karl Marx.  Initially when she observes people in Tehran getting arrested on the street with such regularity, she develops a flippant juvenile attitude about turning in innocent victims to the police, like it’s some kind of joke, which earns her a well deserved chastisement from her clearly infuriorated grandmother who asks if she’s ever heard of the word integrity.  Enrolling at the University of Tehran which is still caught up in the wave of fundamentalism, she absurdly sits in art class sketching a government approved, anatomically correct, fully veiled model in place of a nude body, she discovers that the students are actually advocating more restrictions and fewer rights for women, which leads to another personalized crisis which is amusingly depicted as depression.  In time, she gets arrested for holding hands with a boyfriend in public, which is punishable by a large fine or by lashes.  When she thinks marriage will solve all her problems, she discovers her choice for a husband is an unambitious layabout who prefers sitting around watching TV.  Leaving her little choice in the matter, she discovers she is too great a risk to remain in Iran, as independent minded people such as herself are presumed guilty - - of something, so she decides to accept a lifelong exile away from her family, returning to Paris where she continues to live to this day with a live in friend, a fellow cartoonist who helped her draw and direct this film.  The film is engaging, but it feels strangely tame, at least by Western standards, yet much too wicked to have much of an impact on Iranians.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of all was hearing afterwards that there is expected to be an outpouring of cash for an English language version of the film starring the voices of Gena Rowlands and Deneuve as the grandmother and mother, also a couple of guys hurting for cash, Sean Penn and Iggy Popp. 

Persepolis  JR Jones from the Reader

Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical comics about growing up in postrevolutionary Iran have been condensed by Satrapi and codirector Vincent Paronnaud into a beautiful black-and-white animation that both preserves their simplicity and incorporates more fanciful imagery, sometimes from traditional Persian art. Little Marjane, the headstrong daughter of two liberal intellectuals in Tehran, grows into a rebellious teenager who defies the paternalism of the Islamic republic. Shipped off to Vienna for her own safety, she suffers the usual trials of adolescence while trying to come to terms with her national identity. The story's greatest value lies in its elegant twining of the universal and the obscure: Satrapi's coming-of-age should be familiar to all, but along with it come startling glimpses of everyday life under the heavy hand of a Muslim theocracy. PG-13, 95 min. [MaryAnn Johanson]

There is no question that the animation style of this French production is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before: it apes the style of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name, with its scratchboard vitality and black-and-white insistence. But something essential has gotten lost in the translation from the page to the screen. Which is not to say that this isn’t a fine film: it’s just not great, like I would have expected it to be, like the source material is. Satrapi -- working with French comics artist Vincent Paronnaud -- tells the true story of her childhood in Iran before and during the Islamic revolution, when her girlish vivacity, fueled by Western rock music and fantasies of the wider world that any teenager would recognize, slowly gets crushed under the tyrannical thumb of religious oppression. Small details about secret parties and illegal alcohol and other furtive defiance of the oppressive rule of the mullahs build to a larger, poignant story about overcoming fear -- and learning to cope with it -- when positively everything sprials out of control. As a cautionary tale about how fast tyranny can fall, there is power here. As a coming-of-age tale of a girlhood lost too soon, it leaves us wanting, just a little.

Between Productions [Robert Cashill]

In his review of Persepolis in the current issue of Cineaste, my colleague Rahul Hamid nails what bugged me about the film, a wholly worthwhile endeavor that I enjoyed watching despite a creeping dissatisfaction. Co-director Marjane Satrapi took incidents from her childhood in Iran, as the mullahs took power, and transposed them into two well-received graphic novels. From her exile in France, she and Vincent Parannoud have turned them into an animated film, whose stylized black-and-white images are in old-school 2D, no digital gimmickry here.

Their screenplay is as unadorned as the animation; not artless, but it gets down to business without much fuss or moralizing. Young Marjane, who loves Bruce Lee and ABBA, finds herself in conflict with her classmates and the government at large as the comforts of Tehran, provided under the dubious stewardship of the shah, vanish. Off she goes to France, for a first round of culture shock, followed by another as she returns to her remaining family in Iran, proving, wistfully but defiantly, that you can't go home again. Vocally, the movie is a family affair: Marjane is voiced by Chiara Mastroianni, whose mother, Catherine Deneuve, provides the voice of Marjane's mom. (Marjane's tart grandmother is played by 91-year-old Danielle Darrieux, who in the press kit notes that she has lost count of how many times Deneuve has played her daughter.)

Not that I didn't like hearing these distinguished ladies grouse about hard times in Iran, but I think their Gallic charm works against the effectiveness of the piece. The movie seems to be taking place in the next arrondissement over, rather than in the mystery-shrouded capital whose history over the last 30 years has been veiled from us. Rahul says the books are much more time- and place-specific; the film is more of a gloss, humorous and poignant, but too simple, more of a primer. The Western, "just-like-us" side of the film dominates. I still recommend a viewing: Persepolis, which Sony Pictures Classics opens tomorrow, is an educational entertainment that neither bores nor patronizes, a rare-enough hat trick for movies here and abroad to pull off. And I will treasure a cinema-set scene that unites Madame de... and Godzilla, two of my all-time favorite film characters. But I felt the reduction from page to screen.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

Iranian expatriate Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' graphic novel series (2000-2003) recounts her life to age 24, when she left Iran with her family's blessing for the last time and went to live in France (1994). Collaborating with her Paris studio-mate, cartoonist and video artist Vincent Paronnaud and a stellar French cast, Sagtrapi has successfully transferred her drawings and story to a 95-minute black-and-white animated film. Chiara Mastroianni is the voice for the adolescent and young adult Marjane; Chiara's real-life mother Catherine Deneuve does Marjane's mother and veteran French star Danielle Darrieux is the voice of Marjane's feisty, outspoken, and totally irreverent grandmother. (An English-language version featuring Sean Penn, Iggy Pop, and Gena Rowlands apparently will be released later.) Word on the street is that this more handmade French animated film, now in selected US theaters, may give Pixar's slick 'Ratatouille' a run for the Best Animation Oscar this year.

Satrapi, who told this story first in autobiographical comic strips that became best-selling books, grew up in a progressive ruling-class Tehran family. An uncle with whom she was close had been to Leningrad to study Marxism-Leninism. As a little girl she picked up the radicalism, and had some of her grandmother's genes for outspokenness. Shifting allegiances and roles quickly, she soon gave up supporting the Shah and walked around the house calling for revolution. She tried on ideas constantly, posing as a prophet, then a dictator. God and Karl Marx, whom she imagines appearing to her in her bedroom, vie with each other for her affections. Her communist uncle is hopeful that the revolution will grow democratic; but while he is imprisoned and tortured by CIA-trained jailers under the Shah, he is executed under the mullahs—whom, strangely, the narrator says little about. (Khomeini is not depicted.) All the girls must take the veil. But Marji, already an avid collector of bootleg heavy metal and punk tapes, remains an obstreperous girl who in class outspokenly challenges the pious lies of her chador-wearing teachers.

Iran's war with Iraq causes terrible disruption: the house next door is destroyed. For her safety in this desperate moment for the country (1983), Marji's parents send her to Vienna, where she attends a French school, as she has all her life. Though she eventually becomes part of a group of misfit students, Vienna is a hard and lonely time for the girl. She grows up physically (which happens in seconds in the animation—the film's most eye-catching sequence) and enters love problems: first with a boy who turns out to be gay; then one who sleeps with another girl—a betrayal that makes her so despondent she becomes homeless and ill and almost dies. She returns to an Iran where the upper class is living a double life of secret alcohol parties and music. Attending university in Tehran she meets a man named Reza and marries him--but the union is a mistake, which her grandmother cheerfully dismisses. "The first marriage is just practice," she says. A bored, doodling psychiatrist listens to her troubles, tells her she's depressed, and gives her some pills--which seem to make her more depressed.

Finally the time comes when Marjane is in effect ordered by her family to leave the country for her own good. She goes to France, where she has remained ever since. That's the end of the book and the film.

Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel 'Maus' was an avowed inspiration for Satrapi's work, as well as a French comics artist named David B., whose style she imitated at first. The collaboration with Paronnaud came about after they shared a studio.

The animated 'Persepolis' received rave reviews in France and shared the Cannes festival Jury Prize with Carlos Reygadas' 'Silent Light.' It premiered in the US at the New York Film Festival and opened in some US theaters on Christmas Day.

The US's newly hostile stand against Iran may spur wider Stateside interest in this film, which skillfully combines a young woman's coming of age story with contemporary political history. This remains, however, basically a child's and young adult's version of events, a kind of post-1970 'Iranian History for Dummies.' The viewpoint has obvious limitations as a depiction of the larger events that are so much a part of the story Satrapi tells. The film moreover adds little that wasn't in the book other than a little more gray cross-hatching and in fact omits some day-to-day detail that make the original version specific. The film's look too remains as bare-bones, as virtually style-neutral as the book's. This is not to say 'Persepolis' hasn't complete technical integrity, clarity of storytelling, and much charm; nonetheless viewers in search of a phantasmogoric visual banquet or a thoroughgoing picture of modern Iranian history may be left hungry for more.

PERSEPOLIS   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

"Persepolis" isn't any old coming-of-age story, just as Iran is no ordinary country. As the Bush administration lies its way toward a potential military confrontation with that nation, artists like Marjane Satrapi, who can build a bridge between the West and the Muslim world, are a rare breed. She's far from the only one, but she speaks to a larger audience than novelist Nahid Rachlin or even video artist Shirin Neshat.

Based on Satrapi's autobiographical graphic novels, "Persepolis" was made in France; a live-action version of the story shot outside Iran would be a terrible idea. One American producer wanted to make it with Jennifer Lopez and Brad Pitt as Satrapi's parents - but the unreality of this film's animated images makes the translation go down smoother.

When I first saw Jafar Panahi's "Offside," I was startled by its combination of feminism and Iranian nationalism. Because it was shot in France, "Persepolis" is able to go much further in its critique of the Iranian government, yet it also includes a scene where a teenage Satrapi declares, "Yes, I'm Iranian, and yes, I'm proud of it!"

The film has been condemned by the Iranian government, but self-hatred is the last thing of which its vibrant heroine is guilty. "Persepolis" shows that one can rebel against Iranian misogyny without capitulating to "Axis of Evil"-style rhetoric or idealizing the West.

"Persepolis" begins with Marjane (Chiara Mastroianni; the character is voiced as a child by Gabrielle Lopes) contemplating a flight to Iran at Paris' Orly airport. This section is in color, but the rest of the film, consisting of her reminisces as she decides what to do, is black and white.

Her flashbacks begin in 1978 Iran, when she was nine years old. The Shah is just about to fall. Her uncle has just been released from prison, where he suffered brutal torture. Protests are a daily event. The liberal Satrapi family feels betrayed by the Islamic revolution, but young Marjane has a hard time taking it seriously. She grows into a rebellious teenager, wearing the chador but writing "punk is not ded {sic}" on the back of her jacket. Her parents (Simon Akbarian and Catherine Denueve) decide to send her to Vienna for high school.

In the film's press kit, Satrapi cites 1920s German Expressionism and '40s Italian neo-realism as her greatest cinematic influences. The notion of combining the two styles seems improbable, even contradictory - one reveled in stylistic excess and artificiality, while the other used bombed-out streets as locations. However, Satrapi and Paronnaud's direction shows that they can indeed be brought together.

In scenes of everyday life, their style is matter-of-fact. Satrapi drew all the characters, even background extras and herself. Her scrawl appears simple, even childlike. No one has nostrils or lips.

All the same, Satrapi is no minimalist. "Persepolis" often takes off into stylized flights of fancy. The use of black and white hasn't restricted the filmmakers' imagination. When Marjane talks to God, they fill the screen with curlicues. Many backgrounds are colored with beautifully modulated washes of gray. While sticking to a small palette, Satrapi and Paronnaud use every possibility it offers.

As a literary phenomenon, "Persepolis" might be comparable to Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner." The differences between Satrapi and Paronnaud's film and Marc Forster's film adapted from the Hosseini novel, released two weeks ago, are quite telling. Once they emigrate to America, Forster and Hosseini's Afghan characters never experience racism or discrimination. They're even able to reconstruct the bazaars of Kabul in a California antique market.

On the other hand, Marjane finds life in Vienna a frustrating and alienating experience. Satrapi obviously doesn't regret moving to France, but her film acknowledges the pain of exile and the cluelessness with which Westerners often treat immigrants. Political activism costs several of Marjane's relatives and friends their lives, but for the hippie and punk "anarchists" of Vienna, it's a game to be played while smoking joints and drinking beer. In Iran, Western pop culture inspires her - she loves punk, ABBA, and Iron Maiden - but actually living in the West is a much different story.

As a storyteller, Satrapi's most impressive quality is her ability to bring a mature perspective to the rebellion of her childhood and adolescence. Her film's playfulness honors the boisterous girl she once was. The sequence where she wakes up from a drug overdose, resolves to get her life back together, and bursts out with an off-key, heavily accented version of "Eye of the Tiger" is one of the year's funniest .

Still, "Persepolis" goes far beyond mere nostalgia. The experiences of displacement Satrapi relates are hardly unique. In some respects - particularly in the case of the wise grandmother voiced by Danielle Darrieux - it feels thoroughly French; in others, it seems to herald a new breed of cross-national cinema that can't be boiled down to Europudding.

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Marjane Satrapi projects voices of Iranian women on the big screen ...  Kelley L. Carter interviews the director from the Chicago Tribune


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Saulnier, Jeremy


BLUE RUIN                                                              B                     88

USA  (92 mi)  2013  ‘Scope


Jeremy Saulnier was the superb cinematographer in Matthew Porterfield’s experimental films HAMILTON (2006) and Putty Hill (2010), while making his first feature MURDER PARTY (2007, which could easily be the title of this film as well), a kind of comic Halloween bloodbath, while still holding onto a career in advertising, creating product videos for Kraft Foods, IBM, Viacom, and the NHL.  This second film was the winner of the Director’s Fortnight FIPRESCI Award at Cannes 2013, a marked upgrade in critical acclaim, an ultra stylish revenge thriller made on the cheap, featuring the director’s childhood best friend as the lead actor and executive producer, Macon Blair as Dwight, a homeless man living in his rusted out blue Pontiac on the beach, where the opening sequence replicates Morris Engel’s often overlooked American indie film Little Fugitive (1953), where Dwight similarly hides out under protective cover at the local amusement park, also picking up disposable bottles left laying about and returning them to recycling centers for cash, where immediately we get the feel this is an eccentric and possibly creepy guy living on the fringes.  The cops pick him up not for anything he’s done, but to warn him that the convicted dual murderer of his mother and father is being released from jail soon, which sets a series of events in motion, such as an ominous visit to the local gun shop.  Saulnier does a good job playing with the audience’s expectations, always throwing them a bit off kilter, using plenty of odd humor throughout.  What this really comes down to is watching a geeky loner who has spent his life avoiding people, who barely talks to anyone, suddenly going after the Cleland family, savagely gruesome, grindhouse B-movie characters in the mold of Rob Zombie’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), a film that took sadistic trailer trash and elevated it to an art form. 


The audience knows Dwight is in over his head, and every conceivable plan he comes up with goes haywire, but Saulnier amps up the suspense throughout, knowing full well that the audience can’t take their eyes off this foolhardy attempt to exact revenge for his family.  Why he feels the need to pull this off, we’ll never know, as this writer/director confidently leaves out plenty of back story, luring us right into the middle of the action, which at times is fast and fierce, while at other times there’s a lull between the storms, where like a cat, Dwight disappears and licks his wounds.  Acting against type, Dwight surprises us with is ingenuity, though it’s sheer damn luck that seems to get him out of situations, certainly not forethought, as most of the time he responds to pure kneejerk reactions, such as the moment of truth when he springs upon his prey like a man possessed, an unflinching moment of violence reminiscent of a similar moment in Jacques Audiard’s 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet ....  Once he crosses the line, there’s no turning back, as neither he nor the audience have a clue what’s in store for him.  The things that catch his eye are often weirdly amusing, or just plain odd, but he has the good sense to rely upon the help of others, starting out with his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), who nearly busts his chops for reviving this blood feud, as she’s now with two children and a home, making her a convenient target.  From that point on, the film seems to take on a life of its own, as it’s Jamie Lee Curtis preparing to meet the bogeyman in HALLOWEEN (1978).  


Tracking down another friend is inspired by a scan through Dwight’s high school yearbook, where Devin Ratray as local war veteran Ben is the best thing in the picture, as he steals every scene he’s in.  Ben isn’t sure what to make of Dwight’s situation at all, and since he’s the one usually perceived as having a screw loose, Dwight must be in sick trouble, but he tries his best to help him out, only sensing what deep shit he must be in.  But Dwight, being who he is, continues to fuck up, but he’s a lovable loser who’s forced to turn into some kind of super sleuth and RAMBO-like warrior on the loose.  Vigilante justice is a genre unto itself, and this director seems to enjoy changing the rules of the game, shifting genres, and putting his lead character into ever more increasing danger, adding dark noirish elements throughout, anything to heighten the atmospheric mood.  The film is fraught with tension, but takes a predictable turn by the end, where the story simply runs out of options, though seeing Eve Plumb from The Brady Bunch (1969-74) as the redneck mama urging her boys to kill this son-of-a-bitch has a charm all its own.  It gets a little dicey, where family secrets are finally revealed, but this plays out like mafia families who vow revenge, refusing to back down under any circumstances, as if it’s a matter of honor.  Well, there’s little honor to speak of, and the moral grounds crossed by all participants keeps the audience guessing what will happen next.  It’s a taut thriller, dark and highly entertaining, continually atmospheric, well written and well directed, with a refreshing take on familiar themes.     


Twitch [Brian Clark]


Besides the fact that I doubt we'll see a more deft, thrilling genre film this year, I'm very pleased that Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin addresses a number of issues that revenge films have been overlooking for decades. For example, after you've been irrevocably wronged and made it your mission to set that right, what if you can't afford a gun? Guns are expensive. If you get a gun, which one do you get and how long do you need to spend learning to shoot it? Okay, screw the gun, let's go with a knife... but if you kill one person with a knife, won't there likely be others who want to kill you back? I'd like to go on about the ways that Charles Bronson lied to us, but Blue Ruin is much more fun to discover for yourself.

The unlikely protagonist here is a doughy-eyed beach bum named Dwight. We're not talking beach bum in the cute lazy-surfer sense of the word; he is actually a bum who lives on the beach, who breaks into houses to sleep at night when the inhabitants are on vacations, sifts through the trash for food, and spends most of his time in a beat-up, rusty car. Life isn't good by any means, but it's simple -- until he finds out that the man who murdered both of his parents has been let out of prison on account plea bargain. So, as the genre requires, off he goes to right the injustice.

But that's about the only genre requirement that the film meets head-on. It's also as far as I'm going to go into the plot (about ten minutes), as one of the great pleasures of the film is it's sly sense of surprise. By about twenty minutes in, it's difficult to figure out where the film is going, what it's trying to say or what to expect next, and, besides one leap of logic, it's all incredibly smart. It is also violent, hilarious, very suspenseful and best of all, humane and thought-provoking.

Saulnier (making a huge step forward from his clever, but goofy previous horror satire Murder Party) approaches the film with a neo-naturalistic style that works amazingly well, not only to sell us on the characters and world of the film, but also to make the film's sly jokes even more hilarious. The acting (and casting, for that matter) is superb. Particularly, Macon Blair turns what could have easily been a self-conscious, hapless protagonist into a guy that we genuinely empathize with, even if we don't root for him 100% of the time. This combined with Saulnier's close attention to detail, both internal and external, keeps the film feeling completely unified and compelling, never breaking its gaze with a jarring tonal shift.

At times, some of the film's imagery feels like it clashes a bit with its thematic intent, particularly late in the film when a case full of guns more-or-less elicited some cheers. But whatever -- the themes of gun ownership, violence and especially revenge are all messy ones with plenty of room for contradiction. And that aside, it's rare that a genre-film takes the chances of this one and succeeds so resoundingly. Highly Recommended.


Exclaim! [Robert Bell]


When Blue Ruin opens, Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless man living out of a rusty old blue Pontiac, scrounges for food at a local carnival, heating up his findings on the beach where he parks and spends his nights. A police officer picks him up, taking him into the station while reassuring him that he's isn't in any sort of trouble. She, as we learn, knows Dwight and his back story quite well, pointing out that she wanted him to be in good company when heard that the man who killed his parents was getting out of prison on early parole.

Dwight, in a position with literally nothing left to lose but the titular car, which is deliberately American-made, acting as a metaphor for the country's decimated mythology, decides to enact vengeance on the man. This decision, one that puts justice in the hands of the victim, has a bare bones simplicity that acknowledges and slightly subverts the classic narrative of the country itself, understanding the history of violence and (anti)hero ideation that built the very foundations of a country perpetually running from its own past.

Normally, the act of killing would require intricate planning and have to occur at an opportune moment to ensure self-preservation. But Dwight, lacking the skills associated with a Western hero, merely follows the recently paroled murdered into a restroom at a bar and attacks him with a knife while he tries to take a piss. It's ungraceful, brutal and crisp, having an awkward realness and unflinching vividness that exaggerates the ugliness and horror of unrehearsed violence. Though it's graphic, there's nothing gratuitous about what we see; it's just candid and disturbingly real.

What gives Blue Ruin its charm is Dwight's believable, entirely plausible, bumbling sensibility. Acting on emotion, he doesn't think about his getaway or how he'll evade detection while covered in blood. His luck, or lack thereof, guides him to his sister (Amy Hargreaves) where he learns that his decision could very well have put her life, and the life of her children, in danger.

The cat and mouse games that unfold are as brutal as they are, at times, funny. The mistakes that happen during moments of attack consistently have logic. Director Jeremy Saulnier is careful to ensure that each moment has a sense of banality that ties everything into our quotidian experience, making things like a bow and arrow attack look and feel as out of place in suburbia as it would in real life.

Similarly, his handling of character breakdowns has an idiosyncratic frankness that corresponds with the template of shocking, unexpected violence, giving everyone contrary personality traits. For example, Sam (Dwight's sister) initially seems professional and conservative, cooing the sort of blandly concerned sentiments one would when encountering a long-lost sibling with a history of asking for money. But when she finds out what Dwight did, her body language shifts and her vocabulary regresses to a simplistic state of angered vulgarity, suggesting that presentations, whether they be that of character or country, are easily chipped away when violence is introduced into the lexicon.

Though occasionally too convenient for its own good, this highly engrossing thriller has the makings of a lasting cult title. It's the sort of text that could easily be scrutinized for introductory American film theory, being accessible and entertaining while also having the vernacular appropriate for its own time and place.


The Film Stage [Danny King]

92 minutes of taut physical activity, morbid humor, and gruesome violence, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is one of the year’s leanest and most impressive killing machines. Saulnier begins his film with quiet, character-building chapters, but once he sets his resourceful, pleasingly narrow plot in motion, Blue Ruin becomes nothing more than a series of sharp, vicious set-pieces founded on Nash Edgerton-like bursts of violence. The film is a good example of the kind of genre treat that gets points for disposable ambition: Saulnier’s technique is so controlled, and his sequence staging so clever, that nothing else really matters.

Macon Blair — who appeared in Saulnier’s 2007 feature debut, Murder Party — stars here as Dwight, a drifter living out of his beat-up 1990 Pontiac. Sporting a Ben Foster-in-Rampart beard, Dwight’s existence is a series of small struggles: sneaking into homes to take a hot bath; swiping food from dumpsters; walking down random streets, which Saulnier, acting as his own D.P., shows us in elegant lateral tracking shots; and passing time on the beach, where he stores his car, which is covered in rust and bullet holes. Saulnier and Blair keep things teasingly vague at the outset, which creates a delicious tension, and is a hallmark of confident storytelling; they’re daring us to ask ourselves, “Why are we spending so much time with this seemingly innocuous individual?”

Answers begin creeping in when a police officer asks Dwight to come down to the station; she tells him that a murderous man connected to Dwight’s past is being released from prison after a two-decade stint. Dwight drives to the prison, and we see the murderer being greeted by his limousine-touting family. Dwight tracks the limo to an isolated bar, hides out in the bathroom, and, in the blink of an eye, stabs the ex-con in the neck. This is an awesomely claustrophobic scene, with Saulnier reserving a generous amount of time for gripping anticipation: a number of effective beats just sit with Dwight in the bathroom stall, milking the expectation of carnage for all it’s worth. And when the kill does come, it’s chaotic and messy, reminiscent of the unforgettable stabbing that sets Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet into motion.

More backstory kicks in when Dwight, on the run from the dead man’s now-revenge-hungry family, stops at his sister’s (Amy Hargreaves) house to inform her of the situation. By this point, Dwight has cut his hair and shaved his beard, allowing us our first clean look at Macon Blair’s face, which is basically the only thing the actor needs to draw on for this performance. It’s a good face, though, comfortably restrained both in silence and in conversation, and conveying both the character’s sneaky intelligence and his hangdog insistence on seeing this battle of bloodshed through to the end. He has an everyman quality, too, which is important for this role: as smart as Dwight can be, it’s even more crucial for him to be constantly vulnerable, or else the pangs of suspense on which the film rests wouldn’t compute.

In addition to Hargreaves, Blair also gets supporting help from Devin Ratray (Buzz from the Home Alone films; more prestigiously, Alexander Payne’s upcoming Nebraska), playing a gun-nut childhood friend of Dwight’s. Their scenes consist of brief bonding and discussions of firearms: rifles, machine guns, pistols, bullets. Saulnier’s obsession with these objects, and the intricate detail with which Ratray describes them, inevitably raises gun-control-related themes — which, along with the backwoods location work and automobile-inspired title, aligns Blue Ruin somewhat with Alexandre Moors’s Blue Caprice. It’s worth noting, though, that Saulnier’s camera is equally hypnotized by relatively less-lethal items: hammers, bone saws, pitchforks, discarded glass, blood-stained money, even flashlights and medical supplies. (There’s a horrific scene in which Dwight attempts — and miserably fails — to remove an arrow from his thigh.) This creates within the film an exciting, propulsive pace, because Dwight is always doing something, or holding something, or aiming something.

Blue Ruin’s best set-piece involves Dwight, an enemy Dwight has been storing in the trunk of his car, a gun, a long conversation, and a shock-scary act of violence. This scene embodies exactly what’s right about Blue Ruin: it starts with a classic, barebones situation (two rivals, one armed, one unarmed), and then asks Saulnier to fill in the blanks of the scene with what he can do as a filmmaker. He shows a trove of potential: funny, cunning dialogue; a witty awareness of the foolishness of the scenario; clean, dynamic blocking; and the lurking possibility of slaughter that can pounce at any moment. By the end of the film, the combination of these elements leaves you both viscerally exhausted and intensely excited to see Saulnier’s next film.

TIFF Review: Suspense Thriller 'Blue Ruin' Is Terrifying, And ...  Gabe Toro from The Playlist


“BLUE RUIN” (TIFF Movie Review) | FANGORIA®  Samuel Zimmerman [David Ehrlich]


The Hitlist at MSN Movies [William Goss]


Screen Daily [Allan Hunter]


How Jeremy Saulnier Went From Corporate Videos to ... - Indiewire  Eric Kohn from indieWIRE, May 18, 2013


Brian Clark  at Cannes from Twitch


Daily | Cannes 2013 | Jeremy Saulnier’s BLUE RUIN  David Hudson at Fandor


Dork Shelf [Andrew Parker]


Etrange 2013 Interview: Jeremy Saulnier on BLUE RUIN  Ben Croll interview from Twitch, September 2013


Variety [Justin Chang]


Blue Ruin: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy


The Torontonian Reviews BLUE RUIN « Movie City News  Jake Howell


Cannes 2013: For 'Blue Ruin' helmer, a new path to career-building  Steven Zeitchik from The LA Times, May 18, 2013, also seen here:  Stephen Zeitchik


Cannes reviews: Politics and troubled family lives in ... - Roger Ebert  Ben Kenigsberg


Sauper, Herbert


DARWIN’S NIGHTMARE                          A-                    94

Austria  Belgium  France  Germany  (107 mi)  2004                  Official site


What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth.  Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.

—Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961


Is this what Frantz Fanon envisioned when he wrote The Wretched of the Earth?  If ever there was a film that exposed the woes of capitalism, how it perpetrates an unequal distribution of wealth, how the goods and services are produced by a lower class unable to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, which is instead enjoyed by a middle to upper class, the only groups able to afford the price — this is it.  In nightmarish fashion, some of it truly terrifying, perhaps excessively so, as nothing is more terrifying than reality, the filmmaker exposes the day to day realities of living in Tanzania today, home of the birthplace of original man along the banks of Lake Victoria, now, sadly, victims of extremely high death rates from AIDS, where the religious figures refuse to counsel or recommend the use of condoms, believing using a condom is a sin, where widows are forced into prostitution, where the extreme poverty leads to young kids who melt plastic fish containers, sniffing a product that resembles glue, where they are then sexually victimized, unable to awaken from their drug-induced stupor.  The film does not use the typical talking points method, where various experts bore us to death with details, instead it focuses on the people in the region and lets them tell their story, visually painting a journalistic portrait of graphic, unforgettable images that few of us could even imagine, much less see captured on film.
The corporations are seen patting themselves on the back, claiming they’ve provided 1000 jobs to the region, cleaned up the factories so they’re up to the European Union standards, capturing 500 tons of fish every day, completely oblivious to the starvation and disease that dominates the region, where some 2 million Tanzanians face starvation so that another 2 million Europeans can eat Tanzanian perch every day.  Someone, on one day a few decades ago, placed a Nile perch in Lake Victoria, a fish that was not indigenous to the lake, that through the passage of time, has eaten all the other groups of fish in the lake, including fish that eat algae and have historically kept the lake clean, leading to a giant perch the size of a baby whale which is exported exclusively to Europe, Russia, and Japan, a fish that is not affordable to the local fisherman or any of the villagers, who instead are left the fish carcasses to live on, where we see truckloads of garbage being unloaded, basically rotting fish, so you can imagine what it smells like, with worms, maggots and other vermin crawling all over it, which young women collect and place on racks to dry, which is then sold in the local markets of Mwanza.  There is an extraordinary scene on a beach filled with hungry children, where a pot of rice is placed on the ground, and they all grab at once with their bare hands, pushing and shoving others out of the way, even taking the food from others through brute force, leaving some with handfuls and others with nothing, a staggering image of survival of the fittest. 
The film is balanced between images of the locals and images of the profiteers, who sit around with healthy fish strung on a line and cook their fish while drinking Scotch, ridiculing the behavior of the blacks in the region, calling them lazy and unwilling to work, while they surround themselves with nearly exclusively white Europeanized business partners.  The Australian or Russian pilots arrive in Tanzania with their planes empty, and leave completely filled with already packaged perch fillets.  The pilots have their pick of the local prostitutes.  In one horrid scene, the women are commiserating with each other after one of the pilots has stabbed and killed one of their friends, after promising her a better life with educational opportunities.  One of the Russian pilots eventually confesses on camera to flying in tanks and arms, which he delivers to Angola, then flies to Tanzania and loads his plane with fish to return to Russia.  He dreams of a world where all the children are happy, but that isn’t this world we’re living in, as evidenced by the perfection of the final shot.  This is a raw and devastating look at the human condition, an amazing journalistic exposé, with unforgettable images as harrowing and appalling as anything you're ever likely to see, captured with detachment and objectivity, with the filmmaker occasionally asking questions quietly, but obviously getting footage that no one would believe if they didn’t see it for themselves.  According to the director, his recollection of this film is sitting “in the merciless equatorial sun surrounded by a million Nile perch skeletons, trying not to go mad.” 


Time Out  Geoff Andrew

Hubert Sauper’s acclaimed documentary is a compelling cautionary tale that clearly shows how, in this age of globalisation, things can easily evolve in the worst possible of unforeseen ways. Back in the 1960s someone poured some non-native fish into Lake Victoria. The profoundly predatory Nile Perch was far bigger than its native rivals and, in killing off most species, also had a deleterious effect on the human population: farmers moved to the lake to become fishermen and satisfy the European and Russian demand for fish, which in turn caused massive economic change, sickness, poverty and, inevitably, political skulduggery.

Witty, provocative, angry and heart-breaking, this incisive, imaginative film ranges wide in the subjects it covers. Filming undercover gave Sauper access to an impressive array of people, from businessmen and pilots to prostitutes and EU politicians, some of them alarmingly frank in their admissions. Less an exposé of corrupt individuals than a terribly lucid investigation into mankind’s mad capacity for (self-)destruction, it’s a film that will surely prick the conscience of all who see it.

Darwin's Nightmare | Film Review | Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

After being introduced into Lake Victoria during the 1960s, the Nile perch would go on to devastate the natural ecosystem of the world's second largest lake, a place often cited as the origin of all human life. With Darwin's Nightmare, director Huper Sauper traces the effects this scientific experiment has had on the ecology and people of Tanzania, namely those in the Mwanza region of the country. Aesthetically and theoretically, the film is the antithesis of Errol Morris's beautiful but strenuous Fast, Cheap & Out of Control in that Sauper doesn't connect the many pieces of his thesis for the audience. What's revealed to us over the course of the documentary's two hours is a horrifying vision of globalization gone terribly amuck, less a nightmare than a vicious domino effect: Though the preponderance of the Nile perch in Lake Victoria brings jobs to the region, the fish are not meant for Tanzanians but the two million people in Europe—conspicuous by their absence—who feast on it everyday. Once the tender white fillets have been removed from the fish, the carcasses are taken to maggot-infested dumps, where ammonia fumes cripple the people responsible for salvaging the fish heads that are later fried and fed to the impoverished masses. Sauper piles one horror on top of another, revealing the means by which local blacks become complicit in the abuse of their people and how the material used to export the fish often gets into the hands of local children, who use it to make glue for huffing purposes, which only exposes and numbs them to all sorts of horrors including rape. The ultimate irony, though, is that the perch leaves the country via Russian planes often responsible for feeding revolutions in Rwanda and other war-torn regions with arms made all over Europe. This is a film with a lot on its plate, and while Sauper strains to connect the AIDS crisis in the region to the perch nightmare, the message that globalization in the region has become tantamount to human slave trade is never lost.

by Steve Erickson  Darwin’s Nightmare from Cinema Scope, 2006 (link lost)              

As carefully structured as narrative fiction, Darwin’s Nightmare artfully manipulates its documentary materials around its chief subject and chief metaphor: the voracious Nile perch that has destroyed both the ecosystem and the socioeconomic life around Tanzania’s Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake. Introduced into the lake as an experiment at some unknown date nearly half a century ago, the Nile perch thrived and eventually decimated the rest of the fish population, while the subsequent exploitation of the perch for the European market effectively enslaved the native Tanzanian population. The picture Sauper presents is unrelentingly grim, yet even while piling a final, even more awful revelation upon evident disaster, the film never turns into a monotonous parade of horrors; Sauper is after understanding, not despair. Darwin’s Nightmare would make a telling double bill with Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004), suggesting that while in Beijing the rapacity of globalization is required to hide behind the mask of cosmopolitan glamour, in Tanzania it is free to show its ugliest face.

An airport lies near the lake in the village of Mwanza, its runway surrounded by debris from crashed planes. Largely piloted by Russians and Ukrainians, aircraft arrive several times a day to transport the day’s catch back to Europe. Although the perch are rapaciously abundant, the exorbitant price they command on the European market dictates that the native Tanzanians cannot enjoy their own “natural” bounty; they subsist on fried fish heads and the meat rejected by Europeans. The fishermen can barely make a living, women have few options other than prostitution, HIV runs rampant, and the streets are filled with glue-sniffing orphans.

Though blame is certainly there to be assigned, Sauper is not simply out to point fingers. The situation depicted in Darwin’s Nightmare is particularly dismal because the only villain is an abstract ideology which entraps its practitioners as much as its victims. While the Ukrainian and Russian pilots are certainly more privileged than the Tanzanians, they often succumb to the stresses of their dangerous job and risk their lives by overloading their planes with fish. European Union bureaucrats seem hopelessly detached from African reality rather than ill-intentioned, while the Tanzanian government itself remains virtually invisible in the face of their people’s suffering.

The ugliness of the situation, unfortunately, finds its way into the aesthetic as well. If Darwin’s Nightmare has a major flaw, it is its crude videography: interiors are muddy, night scenes murky. However, the sun-bleached backgrounds, light glares and bleeding colours suit the film at times; attractively framed and lit racks of rotting, maggot-covered fish carcasses wouldn’t necessarily be any more expressive. Sauper’s direction is a step above Robert Greenwald’s degree-zero aesthetics—or much recent, polemically-driven work made by people who know more about activism than filmmaking—because he knows how to make the best artistic use of his limited resources.

Raymond Depardon’s Africa: What About the Pain? (1996) sums up the relentlessly downbeat tone of most Western-made documentaries about Africa, and while Darwin’s Nightmare is no exception to this model, neither is it completely hopeless. The residents of Mwanza are dignified, devoid of self-pity and as articulate as their command of English allows them to be. (While the vast majority of dialogue is spoken in English, the film is nevertheless subtitled.) They’re resigned to an incredibly difficult situation, treating it as a fact of life, most memorably a man who guards a research fishery, armed with poisoned arrows to ward off the thieves who killed his predecessor, who speaks with disarming matter-of-factness about looking forward to another war so that he can reclaim the soldier’s salary he once pulled down.

The ironic complexity of this man’s sentiments indicates how Sauper is after something deeper than an accusatory broadside. He’s searching for a system rather than a situation, which he anchors around the question of whether the cargo planes, supposedly arriving empty from Europe, are in fact carrying weapons destined for the numerous trans-African conflicts. The answer, chillingly and unsurprisingly, appears to be yes. As EU representatives speak glibly about the Africans’ entrepreneurial skills while turning a blind eye to arms sales to the Congo and Angola, several of Sauper’s interview subjects plainly explain why both Europeans and Africans might prefer war to peace. Yet these kinds of grim ironies can be useful as well. Globalization has wreaked havoc on Tanzania, but as a consequence, it may make the world’s interconnections plainer; and Sauper, with dogged persistence and fine artistry, puts in the hard work of exposing the chain of responsibility. In 1995, Janet Maslin foolishly described Larry Clark’s Kids as “a wake-up call to the world.” As essential as it is harrowing, Darwin’s Nightmare truly fits that bill.

Scrutiny and Documentary: Hubert Sauper's documentary ...  Academic paper by Helen Hughes, University of Surrey


Africultures - Analyse - The ambiguity of Darwin's Nightmare  Olivier Barlet from Africultures, April 1, 2006                                       


"The Little Story": Darwin's Nightmare, Hubert Sauper; Les  Kenneth Harrow from Africultures, December 28, 2006


NICK FLYNN  Darwin’s Nightmare & The World Bank, March 17, 2006  (DOC)


LES KAUFMAN: A Scientist’s Letter on the Veracity of the Film, “Darwin’s Nightmare” February 22, 2006




Socialist Standard [Tristan Miller]


Ruthless Reviews ("potentially offensive")  Matt Cale


Darwin's Nightmare By Andrew Tracy - Reverse Shot


Darwin's Nightmare (2004) - PopMatters Film Review ...  Cynthia Fuchs


The Descent of Man | Village Voice  Dennis Lim


Bright Lights Film Journal [Robert Keser] (capsule review)


New documentaries | Film Journey  Doug Cummings


Darwin's Nightmare (2004) - Home Video Reviews -  Jay Carr


New York Sun [Nathan Lee]


The Lumière Reader  Shahir Daud


The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray] DVD Review [Mark R. Hasan] [Chris Dashiell]


An Eco-Nightmare of Global Proportions - Boston University  Chris Berdik 


Beyond the Multiplex -  Andrew O’Hehir


Talking Pictures UK [Howard Schumann]


Darwin's Nightmare : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video  Randy Miller III [Kent Turner]


Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]


Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]


The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]


Darwin's Nightmare - Fishing Nile Perch in Lake Victoria  Zoriah’s photojournalist


Movies | Walking the indie line - Boston Phoenix  Best Films of  2005, Listed as #3, by Peter Keough


The Best Films of 2005, and my last Movie Club. - Slate  Listed at #17, David Edelstein


Darwin's Director Hubert Sauper on the Ethics of Free Trade ...  Joshua Land brief interview from The Village Voice, July 26, 2005


TV Guide


Darwin's Nightmare | Variety  David Rooney


BBCi - Films  Tom Dawson


The Japan Times [Kaori Shoji]


Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]


Ann Hornaday - Washington Post


Deseret News, Salt Lake City [Ty Burr]


Austin Chronicle [Marc Savlov]


Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]


San Francisco Chronicle [G. Allen Johnson]


Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]


New York Times  A.O. Scott, also seen here:  Feeding Europe, Starving at Home - The New York Times


Darwin's Nightmare - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


WE COME AS FRIENDS                                       B+                   90

Austria  France  (110 mi)  2014                         Official site


It’s nearly impossible to stay connected to some of the worst trouble spots around the globe, as disasters of the worst scale continue to plague the human condition, some reaching epic proportions, yet the rest of the world barely even notices so long as it’s not happening in their neighborhood.   As Wim Wenders recent documentary reveals in The Salt of the Earth (2014), while some continue to lead lives of privilege and wealth safely protected from harm’s way, others are subjected to catastrophic conditions of nightmarish proportions, where both worlds simultaneously exist on the same planet but rarely intersect, where the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” seems applicable.  To anyone living in either world, it’s as if the “other” doesn’t even exist.  This might well explain the reluctance of the developed societies in Europe, England, Canada and the United States to come to grips with the ever worsening refugee crisis, the worst since World War II, that is currently besieging Europe (Europe's refugee crisis, explained) from Afghanistan, Sudan, Libya and—above all—Syria, where nearly a fifth of the population, or more than 4 million people have fled the country since the war began in 2011, as otherwise they face the prospects of kidnapping, rape, and forced marriage at the hands of ISIS or being subject to chemical weapons and barrel bombs from their own Assad government.  Not wishing to spend the rest of their lives in the deprivation of overcrowded refugee camps, which are not only a breeding ground for disease but they continue to remain targets for both ISIS and Assad attacks.  Should they be fortunate enough to make their way into America, which only allowed a total of 1500 refugees in all of 2014, or European countries, they face barbed wire fences, abusive police tactics, and anti-immigrant hatred and fanaticism where refugee shelters have come under attacks from right-wing extremists in Germany using Google maps to identify their locations.  The terror that drives this mass exodus is in many ways bound to even tighter immigration restrictions, where the recent practice of restricting entrants and shutting down borders has only intensified the mayhem and hysteria, resembling the Greek financial crisis where banks were open to foreigners but shut down to local Greek citizens for weeks on end.  With that as a modern day backdrop, the film opens with the construction of a primitive three-seat aircraft named Sputnik that resembles something you might see on The Jetsons, flying across the Mediterranean before plunging us into the “Dark Continent” of Africa, where like a visitor arriving from outer space, this Paris based filmmaker warns the audience ahead of time to alter their perspective, as he will almost certainly be perceived by ordinary black Africans as some kind of alien creature.  We hear in a subtitled African language that white people came from Europe and took Africa by force, plundering the wealth of natural resources and carving up the continent into different countries with arbitrary boundaries, leaving Africans to fight among themselves.  When they were done with that, they went and conquered the moon, concluding his eloquent speech with a coup de grace, “Did you know that the Moon belongs to the white man?” 


Literally dropping from out of the sky, Sauper and his pilot land in the outskirts of some unnamed African bush country where they are immediately approached by tribal villagers asking their intentions, where the leaders are skeptical of their presence, claiming it’s dangerous for them to be there, as the intentions of whites in Africa are largely suspect, where certainly one of the major problems plaguing Africa’s history for the last several hundred years has been the lingering consequences of white inflicted colonialism.  While much of this is still thought of in the past tense, this film proves otherwise, showing colonialism to be alive and well in its modern form, where every manner of get-rich-quick scheme is taking place under the guise of self-improvement, yet the perpetrators of these “deals” that supposedly benefit African citizens are big pocket investors from outside the continent.   Much of this recalls Rachel Boynton’s searing portrait of American oil companies in search of newly discovered oil reserves in Ghana from Big Men (2013), where the dominant capitalistic interests are so overwhelmingly in favor of the oil companies, yet they hide their true objectives behind puppet African figureheads who have been given titles and positions of prominence in African “corporations” that have been formed only to bypass laws designed to exclude outsiders from obtaining controlling interests in what are African resources.  While we’ve seen meticulously documented films like Peter Bate’s CONGO: WHITE KING, RED RUBBER, BLACK DEATH (2003) or Oreet Rees and Pippa Scott’s KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST (2006), both exposing the systematic atrocities from Belgium’s 19th and 20th century colonial intrusion into the Congo, where they burned and destroyed up to a hundred local villages for rubber plantations, shooting anyone who disagrees, imprisoning the villagers for slave labor, kidnapping the wives of the working men, then cutting off the men’s hands if they resisted or if what they produced was too small, where the history of atrocities is horrendous, yet the underlying method behind this madness was purportedly “bringing civilization to the uncivilized.”  Instead they brought murders and mutilations (which have been historically passed down to subsequent generations), and a swath of destroyed villages.  This same philosophy is being used again today, promising rewards and benefits for local communities, while working behind the scenes are lawyers and politicians trying to obtain legal authorization for multi-national corporate contracts by foreign investors.  It’s important to recall Andrew Sarris in his review of King Leopold’s Ghost (2006) from the New York Observer, August 28, 2006, Higher Learning: Half Nelson Wrestles With Drugs, Race ..: 


King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) was in a class by himself as a colonial exploiter. He reigned as King of Belgium from 1865 to his death. He also reigned as King of the Congo Free State from 1876 to 1904, when he was forced to abdicate because the horrors of his supposedly “benevolent” rule could no longer be hidden or suppressed. But he didn’t abandon Congo empty-handed: He sold his holdings in the colony to the Belgium nation for what might be described as a princely sum, if not an outright swindle of the Belgian people. The monuments to Leopold’s greed can be seen today in many parts of Belgium and the French Riviera. Indeed, the thriving port city of Antwerp was built virtually on the backs of the wretched Congolese laborers engaged in the labor-intensive industries of mining, harvesting and hunting for gold, diamonds, rubber and ivory, among many other valuable commodities. In more recent times, Congo has become one of the chief sources of uranium for the world’s nuclear generators and arsenals. That is the ultimate horror of the film: that not much has changed since Leopold II began his artfully capitalist manipulations over a century ago. In the end, he is almost a comic figure in what has turned out to be an unending horror-movie nightmare of prodigious proportions. 


Among the more fascinating footnotes to this saga of evildoing is the derogation, even destruction, of the legend of British journalist, explorer and self-glorifier Sir Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904), best known in the popular mind for his expedition into Africa in search of David Livingstone, whom he greeted with the words “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” in 1871. I still remember Henry King’s 1939 Stanley and Livingstone, in which Spencer Tracy as Stanley asks the famous question of Cedric Hardwicke. It turns out that Stanley had a more shameful mission in Africa, serving as Leopold’s advance bullyboy to intimidate the natives and hunt elephants for their valuable ivory. In essence, the time-honored Stanley was an imperial thug for Leopold II, and the Congolese people felt the lash of his whip, both real and metaphorical.


A more edifying footnote involves the immortal Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), whose experiences as a steamboat captain in Congo provided him with the background material for The Heart of Darkness (1899). When Marlow, the narrator of Conrad’s tale, journeys up the river in search of the madman Kurtz, he finds him hallucinating to the refrain of “the horror, the horror”—Conrad’s elegant summation of what he himself had found in Leopold’s tormented realm. Ironically, Leopold himself never set foot in Congo, though his massive footprints in the region are still visible today in the poverty and suffering of the Congolese people, who have never benefited from the exploitation of the region’s vast resources.


The U.S. government and many of the largest American corporations have collaborated with the Belgian colonialists and their own military and corporate sponsors to keep the people of the region from shaping their own destinies. During the period of the Cold War, President Eisenhower and the C.I.A. conspired with the Belgian military to have nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba arrested and murdered by a military thug named Mobuto Sese Seko, who continued the looting of Congo in the name of the anti-Communist crusade—an ideological dodge that Leopold himself would certainly have appreciated if only he’d been around to see it. King Leopold’s Ghost can be recommended as an economical education in one of the lesser-known atrocities of the capitalist system, as well as an eye-opening account of history’s most ruthless a