August 24, 2012

Long white limousines had become the most unnoticed vehicles in the city (Holy Motors)

While we wait for it to finally appear after Prometheus-like levels of build-up, the shadow of David Cronenberg's imminent Cosmopolis seems to hang over everything. The Dark Knight Rises felt like a version of it and then there is Leos Carax's Holy Motors, a refreshingly strange and largely brilliant morning-to-midnight story of long white limousines prowling Paris, stopping for “appointments”, which are performances that put you mind of movie scenes within scenes or Matthew Barney doing Cremaster vignettes (Denis Lavant made-up as gnome, banker, killer, dying man, beggar ...). Often sublime and sometimes ridiculous – it wants to be a fantasy, a statement about life and death and longing, an examination of the urges of cinema, the ultimate Paris movie, even a musical – it is, at least against a Hollywood so eager to explain (Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Source Code), wonderfully mystifying, often dreamlike and even – in a couple of places – unusually erotic. How often are you genuinely surprised?

August 20, 2012


More will follow at another time, but for now: here is a masterpiece, a film that doesn't have a false moment in it.

August 19, 2012


Over the course of an afternoon, Nazi power couple Hans Landa and Hanna Schmitz peel back another couple’s Brooklyn liberalism, which includes any theatre audience’s notion that art is civilising (a notion that Hanna/Winslet literally vomits on). Beneath the facade of educated middle-class civilisation all is … carnage and chaos? This kind of nihilism runs as Haneke-lite, or maybe just a petty provocation of its own audience, but Roman Polanski – who directs Yasmina Reza’s adaptation of her own play, God of Carnage – is ever the master of cinematic confinement, keeping his four New Yorkers under house arrest on a Paris set and suggesting that this afternoon in Hell may never end. Of course, the material is as right-wing as anything: your well-meaning Brooklyn liberals (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) are revealed as hypocrites and only the repellent corporate lawyer (Hans/Waltz) is consistent.

August 14, 2012

Bayou beware

Now I know how last year’s Tree of Life haters felt. What happens when a film wins almost everyone else over but you feel immune? That’s how it went with Beasts of the Southern Wild, the debut film from Benh Zeitlin that came with a major blast of publicity from Sundance and Cannes and seems to be regarded as one of the films you need to see at this year’s International Film Festival. Good points? There are some: a powerful and rare sense of how apocalyptic thinking might seem to a precocious child, mixing in environmental shock, melting polar ice caps and sudden floods, and a feel for what a Riddley Walker-ish salvage culture might look like, plus an unusually confident performance from young Quvenzhane Wallis as the bright child in question, named Hushpuppy. But that name – Hushpuppy – might clue you in to all the things that seem wrong, even cloying about this. The small world that the film constructs in the shadow of the levees, just outside New Orleans, is soaked in such an overbearingly obvious sense of the mythic, the pagan – its magic and folklore is so self-conscious, and seems ultimately flat and unpersuasive. Even the post-Malick visual style – attention-getting at first – comes to lack the depth or point of view you associate with Malick. You could call this magical realism in the wreckage of civilisation or something, but you could also call it a missed opportunity – minus any post-Katrina politics, you sense that the film is closer to a form of exotic tourism in poverty fetishism or even that most odious of movie clich├ęs, the magical negro for white festival audiences. So count me among the naysayers.

August 12, 2012

The crocodiles

The crocodiles, in their stillness, horrify him. “What are they waiting for, or what have they given up waiting for? In what time are they immersed? … The thought of a time outside our existence is intolerable.” -- Gore Vidal quotes Italo Calvino's Palomar, New York Review of Books, 1985. (Crocodile image from Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 2010).