Boyhood

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Boyhood (2014)

Directed by Richard Linklater

Boyhood from 5 to 17

Young Mason lay in the grass outside his elementary school. He has figured out how wasps come to exist, and tells his mom about it. That Richard Linklater casts a young boy, Ellar Coltrane, as Mason Jr., to age over twelve years of real time, with only the grace of edits to collapse the gaps, is a major feat. Other principal actors in supporting roles age in real time with him, namely his sister Samantha, played with great sass by Lorelei Linklater, and their separated parents, Mason Sr. and Olivia, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Film is time, working in favor of the story of this boy’s life growing up in Texas, negotiating shifting family structures, which include two drunken stepfathers, and one Christian stepmother, who has a child with Mason Sr.   Only something that engages time in reverse such as The Case of Benjamin Button, or forward, in the documentary 35 Up has been so revelatory. There has never been any fictional work about the passing of linear time in a boy’s life as sincere as this, and one can sense that Linklater is weaving in his own life, another great act of direction in this new American classic.

The tone of the film is neither soft nor hard, and is balanced by a great soundtrack. Linklater is exquisite for keeping things in perspective, and not going to extremes. Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly’s cinematography holds the characters in frame with their emotional condition, ranging between gravitas and humor. The humor is mostly infused by Mason’s father, (Hawke), who isn’t going to “be that guy” who sees his kids every other week in a detached relationship of minimal mumbles. Some of the best moments come between Mason Sr. and his son, like at the campout where they talk about anything from Star Wars to Mason’s first girlfriend. Humor does not work, however, with Mason’s drunken stepdads, and his mom Olivia (Arquette), who suffers them, then settles into living alone, only to realize, bereft, that she’s in an empty nest. One of several knockout scenes comes when Mason is confronted by his high school photography teacher in an unforgettable dark room chat that demands Mason to decide whether he’ll be an artistic rebel with or without a work ethic.  It’s a scene to make anyone shudder to think. It is this constant play between the control of others, and Mason’s own individuation that is so fascinating to watch. Mason’s father, a musician and insurance man, is perhaps the most able to coax him into being a sensitive, yet responsible young man, even though he himself didn’t quite actualize it. Olivia, Mason’s mom, draws lines as necessary, as when she asks her daughter to curb her “horseshit attitude,” goes back to school to get her degree, or when she leaves the abusive men. Mason Sr. triumphs when he stops the car to have a real conversation with his kids, when he stages an awkward birth control talk, when he urges Mason to get his college app in early, when he talks him through his disappointment over a high school break-up. It would have been great to have more of Lorelei Linklater as the sister, given even further depth in relationship to her brother Mason. Her feisty qualities are allowed to bow out a bit in the final third. Hawke is loveable as Mason, Sr. with his own blindspots, such as missing the fact he promised his car to Mason on his 16th birthday, instead of a ride in a mini-van with his father’s new wife and baby. Mason’s inquiries to his father range from young Mason’s “Does magic exist? Are there elves in the world at the moment”? to high school graduate Mason: “what’s it all for?” Mason Sr. is genuine enough with his son not try to answer that question, but memorably says to his son: “the great thing is that you can feel so much; as you get older you get a thicker skin.”

Linklater-isms are plentiful, though couched in service of Mason’s trajectory, instead of spread widely in his ensemble films. Mainly these come out of Mason Sr. and Mason Jr. as they pontificate, often while driving. You do get the high school party scene, that gives the same big hit of sweet emotion nostalgia as in “Dazed and Confused,” faces around the keg, red plastic cups and beer games, as a random band plays. In “Boyhood,” Linklater adds no extra subplots to the party scene; it’s all centered around Mason, where he has his first conversation with soon to be girlfriend Sheena. Linklater does give spots in the limelight to his extras, and this can stand a little too much beyond Mason’s sightline, usually to give a little more credence to the supporting cast.

Mason is on his journey, and the pay off for him comes with Mason’s new college roommate, and friends. The brownie is set to kick in right as they enter a vast landscape, their chosen orientation.   Mason clicks with these friends, including a new potential love interest. He follows his father’s advice from a camping trip, to ask a girl questions and act genuinely interested. They watch their friends howl into the air, celebrating their moment, Mason and his new friend quietly celebrate their own. Boyhood is a tender tour de force that captures real moments in the complexity of time, and renders them universal. Linklater is true to Mason’s heart, and lets him listen up to life.

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Jealousy

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Jealousy

Directed by Philippe Garrel (2013)

In stunning b/w cinematography by Willy Kurant, Philippe Garrel directs his son, Louis Garrel as the central character Louis, brewed deep in a slew of jealousies with women characters in his life-his ex, his daughter, his current lover-Claudia (fetching Anna Mouglalis), and his sister (played by Garrel’s real life sister, Esther Garrel).   Louis must also confront his own jealousies, which may be more shocking to him than he realized.   It is a sensuous, riveting film that cuts right to the emotions at hand, with its opening reminiscent of Carl Dreyer’s Passion de Jeanne D’Arc (1928); the mother of Louis’s child sacrifices her tears over his departure from her. Relationships evolve through shifts in mood, through subtle facial expressions, body language, dialogues-active and receptive, and through their gazes upon each other, or even upon themselves. There is an earthiness to the way the characters relate to each other in very close quarters and extremely intimate spaces, whether tiny hovel apartment, or backstage dressing room. Philosophical counsel is provided by male elders to both Louis and Claudia. Louis’s father tells him that as an actor he may be able to understand fictional characters better than the ones closest to him in his life. He accepts that truth, but is shocked as it plays out. Jealousy is an honest take on this sin/emotion, in all its subtlety, violence and secrets. No visible blood is shed, but wounds abound. In almost no other film do these wounds appear so articulately through the characters faces and gestures. The actors are beautiful to observe; each one a character study in their own right, including the daughter and the sister. Everyone is in their depth here (Louis’s daughter: “Daddy, when will I see you again?”). It is this very accuracy of expression along with Garrel’s sublime aesthetic that makes this film a heavy hitter, not as slight as one might think (it is short in duration). One can sense each of the character’s inner dimensions; their limits, despair, tolerance, and hope. It is a true portrait and cinematic investigation of a cluster/constellation of jealousies. Garrel shows how each one may yet liberate themselves, in their own individual way. A quiet, compelling cinematic portrait of human nature laid bare, exquisitely and economically wrought.

Therese and Isabelle

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Therese and Isabelle

Directed by Radley Metzger (1968)

Therese and Isabelle is a charmed erotic gem, an adaptation by Radley Metzger of Violette Leduc’s novel of the same title. From the moment the film opens, with older Therese walking on the campus of her past, about to tread on all kinds of emotional layers and sexual awakenings, memories, and shrieks of pleasure, one can be reminded for a moment of Cléo, in Varda’s film Cléo 5 á 7 (1962), traversing Paris, on her avenues of self-transformation in real time. Therese moves through a more contemporary multi-layered time, her sense memory of her past unfolds into the actual scene she is recalling, as she promenades slowly, each step its own gesture, its own mind-field, bringing her story to life as it once happened. Therese and Isabelle centers around the two young women coming together as lovers in ecstatic intimacy in their girls’ school environment, coming to terms with their sexual appetites in a taboo setting. In gorgeous b/w cinematography and editing, the camera leaps gracefully from older Therese walking as if to absorb every cell of her environment as she once knew it, to the actual scenes in which she lived that same environment, filled with every bit of memory intact. Perhaps no other scene in cinema exists like the one in which Therese reaches her first orgasm solo in her convent-like cell of a room. Unlike the immense suffering in Jeanne’s tear-streamed face in Carl Dreyer’s Passion de Jeanne D’Arc (1928), Therese’s face streams tears as she pleasures herself irrepressibly.

The thick, immediate friendship between Therese and Isabelle, their erotic fireworks and panting trysts not withstanding, calls up a film that came later-Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). A pair of opposites they are, and yet so enamored of each other that you can’t help but feel their chemistry in its many forms. It is a pleasure to see a film in with complete point of view from the two young women characters solely, specifically Therese’s, and from the point of view of their desire, in 1968. There is no other focus but theirs, hers, and this is consistently held. When a strapping young man enters in, he is only brought in for Therese’s experimentation and for her to resist his overused charms-he is dispensed. Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) also springs to mind, but there is no relentless irreverence here, though there is rejection of the male lover, the stepfather, and school authorities. Not least, one may think of Chantal Ackerman’s Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1976). We begin with Therese, who then meets her reflection in Isabelle, then the male would-be lover, then reverts quickly back to Therese as her “elle.” Ackerman and Metzger both allow the space of limitless erotic female indulgence that makes these filmmakers so delicious to watch.

The film is very moving, in its way with time, and with the complete space Metzger gives his characters, their interior life, and their relationships to each other and to the environment they inhabit. One senses that everything has been felt between Therese and Isabelle.

(Having to leave this film early for a work commitment was one of the hardest moments ever departing the cinema before the credits rolled).

Obvious Child

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Obvious Child (2014)

Directed by Gillian Robespierre

In the beginning, oversharing comedian and romantic heroine Donna, played to the nines by Jenny Slate, stages her bit on “the human vagina”.  She had us at hello.  When Donna proceeds to get dumped and drunk by her loser boyfriend, Gaby Hoffman provides solace as her very supportive friend/reality check, a fireball when she gets going. That she is also Donna’s roommate and best friend is less believeable (though this is the GIRLS era). Jake Clancy comes along as the young fraternity guy stud who isn’t so likely to be in the next borough hanging out with super saucy comedy girls. Thankfully he doesn’t want to sleep with Donna’s mother (that would be The Graduate), though he is an admirer of hers. Instead he’s content to try on the mother’s bright orange crocs in the hallway, and then take the daughter out for a dinner that only makes Donna clam up further about the fact that that she is pregnant with his child, made on their drunken one-night stand. Unlike Knocked UP, they actually like each other from the start. The only conflict is the pregnancy itself, how to talk about it, how to deal with it, and then negotiate real feelings around it. There is hardly ever a happy ending around this subject matter in life or in film, so this is one is refreshing, in terms of its focus on a woman’s empowered choice, and the romance potential. Like but unlike Juno, the girl’s gotta do what she must do, the right thing at the right time. This time she involves her audience, her best friends, and finally her studmuffin in the process of coming to terms with it. It is fun, hilarious, and amusing, and it packs enough punch and circumstance to carry it as a film that might more likely be a series. The rotating sets are a little limiting, for example, Donna cornered in pre-stage anxiety in the unisex graffiti bathroom at the club, or at her apartment, or at her parents. If it seems a bit slight in scope, the original humor knocks it out of the park, and the relationship between Donna and her mother, played by Penny Draper, is moving (if comparable to the likes of Lena Dunham and her mother in Tiny Furniture). Obvious Child is a sweet and savory delight, with the subject of abortion to ground it. Its heart of humor saves the characters from what could be their worst selves. The “obvious child” (great song by Paul Simon) may eventually be lucky enough to have this pair, who may finally settle in together. One might find wet eyes at the end, however unexpectedly.

Mr. X directed by Tessa Louise-Salomé

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Mr. X

a vision of Mr. Leos Carax

directed by Tessa Louise-Salomé (2014)

It came from a dream…”   -Leos Carax

Tessa Louise Salomé’s documentary of the films and charaXter of the enigmatic and elusive director Leos Carax, reveals Carax as a Third Man, with just enough streetlight to glimpse him the way he would want to be seen.

With its mobile of images spinning eerily by Gael Rakotondrabe’s enticing score, Louise-Salomé goes around the map where Carax has ventured to date in his five feature films over the last twenty years. The underpinnings of Caraxian cinema: it comes from instincts, dreams, imagination, life, casting. Louise-Salomé allows Carax to narrate these ideas directly, and through his writing, literally on the screen, which is a winning element. Her compositing, for example, of actor Denis Lavant as a young man flickering in the upper left hand corner of the screen, while contemporary Lavant gives frank interview portraits, adds to this mobile world of work, where the past and the present collapse and collide to immerse our senses fully in the integrity of Carax’s films. Lavant is generous in speaking effusively and honestly about his longtime role as Carax’s doppelganger, fracturing director and actor together as one person. Carax speaks of Lavant’s energy shot through each film. The actors from Lovers on the Bridge, like phantoms or puppets cast onto the Pont Neuf Bridge facing the Samaritan building, is just as iconic a memory as the view King Kong imprints on us from his point of view of the Empire State Building.

Louise-Salomé restricts any kind of exposé or even day in the life of the director; he is seen from angles, with his dog, wearing a mask, in a film by Harmony Korine. Plenty of mystery remains of cinematic life to come. Carax resembles a rockstar, or a variation on Godard, with his cropped spiky hair, tinted glasses, facial hair, and an expression like he’s treading time. For Carax, so much is revealed in the art, and the making of the art. When Carax is directing, he is in his element. He hints that his cinema could be a form of autobiography. Kylie Minogue, featured in Holy Motors (2014), describes the pensive stance Carax takes while working, and how much is being considered in each of his steps and pauses. Thankfully there is a future with Carax, since this documentary only marks the in and out point of his work to date. X is the unknowable integer-there is a limit to what can be glimpsed. The poster of the back of Carax’s head is apt for that which comes directly from his pineal gland, his dream/imagination life, for the clues and images on which to build films.

Louise-Salomé depicts Carax in his commitment to a realm of imagination in cinema that makes one swoon, vibrate with ecstatic energy, spawn goosebumps. Carax’s kinesthetic sense of the outer reaches of human experience with his chosen actors is unique, except maybe in theater, performance art, or dance. Louise-Salomé gives interviews with critics Richard Brody and Kent Jones, who praise the director’s cine-poetic risks. The sheer operatic skill of Carax’s range within each of the five films covered, elevates and thrills, encore une fois, those moments of momentum that build to a crescendo, like the fireworks/drunk/dancing scene between Binoche and Lavant in Lovers on the Bridge, or the orgasmic waterskiing scene in the same film, compared to a master painting by Carax editor Nelly Quettier.

Louise-Salomé includes Carax’s working relationship with his early cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (they were inseparable on set), who made an immense contribution to Carax’s cinema. Just think of the art direction, the wildness, and the close-ups in  Mauvais Sang. Probing into the three-year making of  Lovers on the Bridge, with its entire reconstruction of the Pont Neuf in another location, and the money involved, Louise-Salomé provides shadows and hints of other difficulties and losses. Louise-Salomé glints over the complexities of making Pola X. She does not delve into Carax’s relationship with either Binoche or Golubeva. Only Binoche’s sister, Marion Stalens, a still photographer, appears to discuss the earlier films with Binoche.

One may be left wanting to know the name of Carax’s dog, or maybe even left wanting to hear Carax call his dog. One is still left to wonder about this “neighborhood voyeur” (Mauvais Sang). Louise-Salomé has marked up the map perfectly, giving a true sense of the world Carax creates from, even if not the complete Carax. There is direct access to his treasures through the films. One might wish to see more of Carax in conversation with someone on set, or even some more personal details, but Louise-Salomé lets Carax appear and reappear through the images in his work, and lets his persona, too, flicker.

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