Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Last Year in Marienbad – The eroticism of the Baroque

Alain Resnais' Last Year in Marienbad, a celebration of the eroticism of not only the Baroque, but also of the baroque. An homage to uncertainty in an age where we demand and worship absolute certainty and closure (that awful word) not only from our cinema - how boring, but also in our lives and in the public realm.

An absolutely masterly cinematography, a camera that loves to caress with its lens the exuberance of this dismal baroque hotel where the film is set, while its microphone loves the narrator's words as he describes it, a man who built a story around a woman whom he claims he met the previous year at Marienbad, in that hotel, a story which may be true, or not. A woman character which may be real, or the product of a febrile imagination – the narrator's voice gets more and more feverish as the film progresses. A narrative time that may be true, or itself being an imaginary time, as past and present merges. Where is the one? Or the other? Or are they set in a completely different time, as the mere existence of the narration hints?

A mysterious woman, a shady character, with cold and implacable eyes, setting games to his fellow guests, games that he always win, as Resnais does with his film. But does he? Or Resnais?

Last Year in Marienbad, first released in 1961, has been lauded as one of the cinematic classic masterpieces of all times. I watched it again, leisurely, last night, I have to say that it still felt as fresh and intriguing when I first saw it as a young man in the 60s.

I am not going to write any more about it, as many words have already been spent analysing and over-analysing it in uncountable books, magazines and Film Studies courses, over the years.

I will just say: Just go, lay back, and enjoy it. A very rewarding experience.

Those images! That camera! Those gardens!


Last Year in Marienbad will be released in Britain on Friday 8th July 2011 by the BFI, on the same day that, by a happy coincidence, that Jean-Luc Godard's “Film Socialisme” is.

Directed by Alain Resnais
Cast: Delphine Seyrig, Giorgio Albertazzi, Sacha Pitoëff
France-Italy 1961 | 94 mins | Cert U

For exhibiting cinemas click here. 

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dancing at the Blue Iguana, lap dancing bared

Dancing at the Blue Iguana begins with a heart rending performance of “Amazing Grace” in a run down room in Hollywood, sung by Jessie (Charlotte Ayanna), a girl barely in her late teens, who is, obviously, in some kind of trouble: we see her later being asked for her ID when auditioning at the Blue Iguana, a lap dancing club in Los Angeles, where her smoothness seduces the owner Eddie (Robert Wisdom) in hiring her, eventually disregarding the age issue.

Michael Ratford assembled not only a notable cast in Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000), he also made it together with them through acting workshops, resulting in a semi-improvised film notable for the spontaneous and natural feel of the dialogue. Set in the above mentioned lap dancing club, Ratford and his cast slowly but surely peel away layer after layer until exposing this world in its full nakedness for us to see. The result is a poetic yet realistic reflection on the “seedy” world of lap pole dancing clubs. A world that may be seedy, but its participants are not; a world populated by characters making a life on the edge of civil society, where the boundaries between “right” and “wrong” are diffuse and permeable, a world where surviving is the name of the game.

Jessie, Charlotte Ayanna wonderfully portraying that explosive mixture of innocence and sexual allure of a young girl, crashes in the world of adulthood in the arena of this circus, getting beaten up by her boyfriend, dancing for riotous male predators with the bestiality of their libidos let loose on the rampage; Jasmine (Sandra Ho), the dancing poetess who gets dumped by her boyfriend Dennis (Chris Hogan), the poetry reading workshop leader, a tough encounter with the prejudices of the outside world, sustained even by the so-called “liberals”; Angel (Daryl Hannah), the quintessential American blonde model with “legs up to her neck”, a lost soul whose desperate attempt to adopt a child gets derailed, showered with presents and money by Sacha (Vladimir Mashkov), a contract assassin chasing a renegade Russian businessman; an old Jewish gentleman, who still “likes pussy”, with the opera glasses which belonged to his departed wife; Eddie, the owner, a soft touch man who has a business to run, yet still keeping a compassionate but firm eye on the girls; are the characters who show the humanity of this enclosed and feverish world.

Although I have no first hand knowledge or experience of lap dancing clubs, neither in Los Angeles nor in Britain, I hastily add, its cinematic depiction as a kind of Roman circus, where the girl who does the most outrageous performance gets the most dollars bills thrown at her by a pack of hungry hyenas disguised as male patrons, particularly shown when the statuesque Nico (Kristin Bauer) slids off her G-string to the loud cheers of the ravenous crowd, is brilliantly convincing. At times, the film has a semi-documentary feel to it, adding to the credibility of the imagery and the story line, the open ended finale being a deft touch.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (18) DVD will be released in the UK by Network Releasing on 27th June 2011.

Director: Michael Ratford
Writers: Michael Ratford and David Linter
Cast: Charlotte Ayanna, Sandra Oh, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Sheila Kelley, Kristin Bauer, Robert Wisdom, Chris Hogan
Screen Ratio: 16:9
RRP: £12.99

Still and trailer © Network Releasing

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sleep With Me – Oh, would you say these three words?

What distinguishes Sleep With Me from other love-triangle comedies is the sharpness, naturalness and fluidity of the script, six different writers (Joe Keenan of Frasier and Desperate Housewives fame being one of them) worked on it, each handling a different scene, the freshness and immediacy of the dialogue being its result.

I was particularly impressed by the warmth and high quality of the performances; the flirty, childishness yet caustic nature of Sarah admirably portrayed by Meg Tilly (it is a shame that we do not see her that often), her impulsive kiss to Frank (Craig Sheffer) early on, just after her wedding with Joseph (Eric Stoltz) – a garden designer creating status symbols for rich people who do not appreciate or know how to take care of his creations, being the catalyst for the subsequent dislocation of the relationships between these formerly three inseparable friends, Sarah, Joseph and Frank.

In fact, a leisurely drive through a largely empty landscape by the three of them introduces us to Sleep With Me, where we see Sarah alternatively cuddling to Joseph and then to Frank, yet she is not being manipulative at all, instead she still has somewhat that relaxed attitude of childhood. Yet, this idyllic friendship is fraught with simmering sexual tension, as a prank played on Sarah by Joseph ends by them marrying, and to that fateful kiss between Sarah and Frank at the wedding, with Joseph vomiting his entrails out after drinking a bottle of vodka, and passing out, surrounded by their friends, eventually leads to the fragmentation of this ménage a trois.

Joseph increasingly swaggering attitude causes Sarah to distance from him, the schism reaching a critical point when she makes love with Frank after an eventful afternoon with their friends, whilst Joseph tries to seduce Amy (Amaryllis Borrego), one of their friends, yet he is unable to consummate it at the last moment. However, this breakage is somewhat mended on the last scene of the film, as we see Joseph running after Sarah when she stopped in the traffic lights at the end of the road, having fled from a party (featuring a cameo and memorable appearance by Quentin Tarantino, trying to convince that the script play of Top Gun is one of the greatest, as its subject was the homosexuality of the character), a surreal scene lit by the powerful lamps of what we presume is a police helicopter flying overhead.

The use of this group of friends poker games and other encounters as a kind of barometer of the temperature of the relationships between Sarah, Joseph and Frank, with the interpolation of text between crucial scene, is an inventive device which enlightens us to the state of their friendship.

A film about the unintended consequences of innocence, resentment, guilt, and redemption.

SLEEP WITH ME is out on sale in the UK on the 13th of June 2011, courtesy of Network Releasing.

Director: Rory Kelly
Writers: Duane Dell'Amico, Roger Hedden, Neal Jimenez, Joe Keenan, Rory Kelly and Michael Steinberg
Cast: Meg Tilly, Eric Stoltz, Craig Sheffer, Todd Field, Susan Traylor, Tegan West, Dean Cameron, Amaryllis Borrego, Thomas Gibson

SLEEP WITH ME (Cert. TBC) is a Network Releasing title
Running Time: 89 minutes
No.of Discs: 1
Screen Ratio: 16:9
RRP: £12.99
Catalogue no: 7953418A

Monday, 13 June 2011

Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme: Quo Vadis Europa

Godard is one of those artists who have the ability of always finding another card in their sleeves when we think that their game is already finished.

Whoever said that he was spent as a film maker was wrong.

Film Socialisme is the proof.

This is a film like no other I have seen. It is a film of ideas that, for once, befits such a genre. A film which is in constant movement.

To embark in Film Socialisme is not only to embark in a cruise along the Mediterranean, as it is to embark in an intellectual and cinematographic cruise through a landscape of ideas and powerful images on a sea of “things” that defines Europe.

A film that questions Europe like no other, hence the second part is titled:


Translated as

Our Europe.

A film which could only have been shot by an European.

“To be or not to be”.

A Godard film.

A riotous visual, textual, auditive and intellectual tapestry of inventiveness and boundaries redrawing. Whilst Hollywood studios dabble with technological advancements such as 3D, Godard stretches the medium of cinema itself.


A luxury cruise ships sails from Algiers for a journey along the Mediterranean coast. On board, revellers embark in a series of conversations inspired by the ports that the ship docks in her travel: Racism, blacks, Jews (“The invention of cinema, the invention of Hollywood, is due to them”), French collaboration with the Nazis during the occupation in WW2, the stolen Spanish gold, Palestine (“Access Denied”). We have Alain Badiou, a French philosopher, an American singer, Patti Smith, a photographer, and a young girl with her thoughts, her brother, her father, on board

The ship is constantly moving, we see the sea at all times as it scurries along, the white crests filling our vision, meandering, the sound of the breaking waves filling our ears, her passengers wandering and wondering aboard; the ship being an enclosed world by itself, where conversations are entwined with the kitsch of such cruises, the passengers being like spectators of a vastly moving world passing though its ports as the cruiser docks along the coast in its voyage: Egypt, Haifa, Odessa, Hellas, Napoli, Barcelona. The sea is constantly there, in the background, in the foreground as the waves gently break under our eyes, yet it is also not only a human sea that populates it, a sea of breaking waves as they come out of a mass celebrated on board or on the disco floor, and, most importantly, a sea of “things” (“Des Choses”) that Film Socialisme travels through. The wind, the metaphorical and the actual wind always whistling in the background, as the sound of the sea is, or the sound of traffic (a sea of cars), a reminder of the forces that shape our destiny?

“La vida es bella...”

Which takes us to the donkey and the llama tied to a pump in a petrol station against the backdrop of an idyllic sky located somewhere in the South (le Midi) of France, the Balzac reading girl, the red car of a female journalist and her camerawoman, and, yes, the constant sound of traffic never leaving us, the vision of a sea of cars always flowing in the background.


“Ideas divide, dreams bring us closer”.

A dialogue between the girl and her younger brother (there is a fascinating scene where the boy is drinking from a cup with a straw, as if he were playing the saxophone, while we hear a saxo solo in the background) and the parents on the values over which French society was built after the 1789 Revolution: Egalité, Fraternité, Liberté. A dialogue that produces responses such as “Shit!” when his father starts talking about Equality. We are in the Martin family domain. The boy is as much interested in knowing if his sister is wearing a string as in such a concept as Egalité, or wondering if the kids should stand for the election instead of mum and dad (hence the interest of the journalist and her camerawoman).

“No longer thirsty the mouth closes”.

The film finalizes with a return to the Mediterranean cruise, exploring the lands where our humanity,


was generated, the lands of myths, true or false, this theme of a dialogue between the elders and the youngsters constantly present as we accompany Godard and his camera people to places such as the Odessa steps where Eiseinsten filmed the famous scene in “Battleship Potemkin”, or we delve into the prize paid by Napoli (“Freedom doesn't come cheap”) as was liberated by the American GIs during WW2, or we witness by viewing archive footage the savagery of the Spanish civil war. The skilful use of archive imagery, written text and the dissonant soundtrack keeping Film Socialisme without a closure.


Godard says.

Visually striking and complex, Film Socialisme imagery moves from the hyper realism of the waves to the shadowy backdrops of the dialogue and non linear broken discourses that defines it with the interpolation of text in big CAPITAL letters and fragmented pieces of soundtracks and imagery such as archive footage of Egypt, Napoli, Barcelona, and clips from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin in the chapter on Odessa, while the kitsch (or luxurious atmosphere as the travel agents would say in their marketing literature) of such an environment finds depicted by the use of heavily edited video footage, giving Film Socialisme the feeling of a constantly broken cinema reel, yet in constant flux. Godard's view is that of an Europe (“What is Europe? A German musician, an Italian singer, A French writer”) which is in constant movement, broken, where its apparent present calm and tranquillity betrays not only the heavy price paid for it (“Freedom doesn't come cheap”), but also the inner fractures underlying it, as we see not only on the conversation about the Spanish gold stolen by Stalin during the civil war and references to the tragedy of war (“Democracy and tragedy were born in Athens”), but a constant dialogue between the inquisitive young (“Egalité? Merde!”) and the elders. The film has a completely dissonant and radical structure, as far away as it would be possible from mainstream and Hollywood movies: definitely Film Socialisme is not a “movie”, is something uniquely different, almost impossible to grasp in just one viewing, not even if we were such polyglots able to deal with this multilingual, complex and striking work of cinematic art.

Film Socialisme certainly is not the cinematic equivalent of fast food. It cannot be consumed, it needs to be tasted and properly digested. Slowly.

We do not necessarily have to agree with Godard's vision of Europe (“Corrupted by suffering, humiliated by liberty”) to take Film Socialisme in. We may only be able to say


Read the English translation of the dialogue.

Film Socialisme will be released in the UK on Friday 8th July, 2011

Film Socialisme
a film by Jean-Luc Godard

A symphony in three movements

A Mediterranean cruise. Numerous conversations, in numerous languages, between the passengers, almost all of whom are on holiday...

At night, a sister and her younger brother have summoned their parents to appear before the court of their childhood. The children demand serious explanations of the themes of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Visits to six sites of true or false myths: Egypt, Palestine, Odessa, Hellas, Naples and Barcelona.


Switzerland/France 2010 - 102 mins – HD - Certificate: tbc
Produced by Ruth Waldburger and Alain Sarde
Cast: Catherine Tanvier, Christian Sinniger, Jean-Marc Stehlé, Patti Smith, Alain Badiou, Robert Maloubier, Nadège Beausson-Diagne, Élisabeth Vitali, Eye Haidara, Quentin Grosset, Olga Riazanova

Read an article on Film Socialisme by Andrea Picard in Cinema Scope

Read an article by Amy Taubin in Film Comment

View Q&A in Arte: 2010, l'année Godard

Translated interview with Godard in Les Inrockuptibles published during the Cannes Film Festival

Read Lucian Robinson's blog entry on the recent furore over Godard's Oscar award.

Film Socialisme is distributed by New Wave Films.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rabbit Hole, empty as the rabbit is never there

This is the story of a couple, bottled in sadness and intense pain disappearing in the emptiness of a rabbit hole, empty because the rabbit is never there, just the hole, staring on their faces...

Both Nicole Kidman as Becka, and Aaron Eckhard as Howie, are superb as the couple tethering on the edge of the rabbit hole, sometimes dangerously close to the edge, yet never falling down it... the shadow of a child killed in a freak road accident always there, still expected to jump from behind a corner but does not, as Aaron tells to a couple interested in buying their house, or his finger marks on door jambs as Becka shouts at Aaron in an argument when she accidentally deleted a video from his iphone (?), the video itself being another trace of the child's short presence in the world, or in the toys still scattered in his room, or in the dog that eventually returns to the house after having been exiled by Becka. Under the unbearable weight of their pain, recriminations inevitably flare up; yet kids follow dogs, dogs chase squirrels, squirrels do not look on both sides of the road when crossing, and, yes, the garden gate was left open, but... 

Whilst both Becka and Howie seek solace and relief from a therapy group, this results short lived, as soon we learn that this group constitutes another hole, and not the promised beacon to guide them away from their loss, another trap engulfing its participants year after year in masturbatory emotional games, in a sharp insightful into suburbia mythology. There is a key scene when a couple who were going on and on how they lost their child too, how God took the child because God needed another angel, forced Becka to brusquely retort: “Why God just didn't make another angel, just like that. God is God after all.” 

This is also a story of a couple exploring their way away from this emotional emptiness, this pit,  Becka and Aaron are that close to fall into one in spite of their apparently calm relationship they sustain after the child's death, yet bitterness to the unfairness of life is always there, just under the surface. Becka befriends Jason (Miles Teller), the unfortunate kid who was behind the steering wheel of that car on that day; whilst Howie attempts to engage in an affair with Gaby (Sandra Oh), a fellow participant of their therapy group, yet he cannot walk beyond her garden path.

Becka's mother, Nat (an admirably nuanced performance by Dianne Wiest) encapsulates the trauma of carrying the sadness and pain of the loss of a child for the rest of their lives, when she says to her the feelings she had when she lost her son (Becka's brother) due to a heroin overdose, when she tells her that pain is at first unbearable, but after a while it becomes like a brick in your pocket, sometimes we forget is in there, until we get the need to take it out and feel it again... until the last days of our lives.

Rabbit Hole is the title of a comic book that Jason is drawing, being the entrance to another world, a parallel universe, where people get lost for never to return, a metaphor for emotional pits with no exit, leading to the disintegration of relationships, perhaps to those same relationships being renewed, like moving on onto another world.

If you missed Rabbit Hole when it was exhibited in the cinemas, get or rent the DVD/Blu-ray disc, which is due to go on sale in Britain on the 20th of June, 2011.

Nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award, RABBIT HOLE is a searingly powerful emotional tour de force, featuring a career-defining performance by Nicole Kidman.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Love Like Poison (Un Poison Violent)

I was absolutely captivated by the sensibility, beauty and sharpness of focus of Love Like Poison (Un Poison Violent), a very assured first feature film by Katell Quillévéré, although she has done three short films. Judging from it, I will impatiently wait for her next one.

At home for the holidays, Anna finds out that her father (Thierry Neuvic) had left, leaving behind her mother, Jeanne (Lio), a very embittered and depressed woman who seeks solace on Father François (Stefano Cassetti), the local “9 to 5” attitude priest, also a childhood friend.

Clara Augarde is astounding as Anna Falguères, a 14 year old girl rapidly growing in a rural French village (the film was shot at Brasparts, Finistère, near the West coast), learning how to cope with being the object of desire for the young, Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil) - a choir boy who does not care much about God, and the old, her beloved grandfather (François Bernard) – a young at heart man who brightens her days and still having an eye for the ladies: knowing he is going to die soon, he asks her to see the place where he came from, “Your village?” she asks, “No” he replies. One late night, just before his death, she quietly complies with his wish before slipping away to her own bed, and, ultimately, to the boarding school she had been sent to save her from the continuous arguments and fights between her mother, a devote Catholic, and her father, a non-believer.

Even her mother, no longer the “pretty young thing” she once was – a point reiterated several times in the film, sees Anna as, to some extent, an object of desire too, perhaps a desire to recapture her rapidly vanishing youth as Anna's womanhood grows on a parallel track, as hinted in a key scene where she is confronted by Anna, naked but by her panties, provoking her jealousy for Anna's young and burgeoning beauty in full display, jealousy exacerbated by the girl's closeness to her father.

However, Anna soon learns the ways of the grown-ups, when her dream of going to live with her father , a dream that perhaps he unwittingly led her on to get a smile on her face, is dashed in a late night phone conversation ending with her slapping the receiver down. Her own relationship with her mother changes dramatically from taking her as her confident, when at home, as we know very little from her life at the boarding school apart from one scene where we see the girls waking up in the common dormitory, to open hostility, fuelled by her desire to live with her father. The opening scene of Un Poison Violent sets the tone of the film, where we see Anna's roving eyes as the adults chat about hers and Jeanne's prospects at a meal after Paul, her father, had left; eyes pondering, eyes delving behind the adults' façades.

She is also learning how to cope with her own objects of desire, with her own developing sexuality, comparing her breasts with those of her mother, with those of her mother when she was her own age, coping with her awkward feelings towards Pierre, towards God, towards the conflict between her religious mother and her atheist father, between carnal desire and religion, a theme delved in a conversation between her and Father François. That conflict reaches a crescendo at her confirmation ceremony, where she collapses in front of the bishop, overwhelmed not only by her own feelings and the fight within her heart, but also by the macabre nature of Catholic religious imagery.

Anna's awkward consciousness and insecurity of her own body, of her own sexuality, a target not only for the predatory male gaze, but also of furtive female eyes, reaches a crescendo in an encounter with the choirboy, Pierre, a target of her own desire, when she lies down on a stone where the earth can be heard rotating, as her grandfather taught her. The development of her sexuality undergoes a key transformative moment when she reads a poem for the funeral of her grandfather, inspired by his attitude and enjoyment of the sensuality of life, a poem where she openly acknowledges her own body, her femaleness, in front of an audience, hardly lifting her eyes from the poem, broken voice, tears flowing down her face, quivering lips... but she did it, no longer a child but then a young woman, not totally sure on her feet, but already walking as such.

The closing scene, after a feeble and rather comical attempt to whistle at Pierre's window to get him to come out to take a walk with her, a request he accedes as if he were conceding a favour to her, swaggering like a peacock, constitutes a hint of not only her assertion of her femaleness, but also of the shape of things to come, the predatory male, the not-so-compliant female, of the crosses she will have to carry as she enters into that mysterious and, sometimes, frightening world of adulthood, her roving eyes saying as much on that opening sequence.

Un Poison Violent is a very accomplished coming of age film, a genre on which French film makers excel. The cinematography is not that of the France of holiday postcards, but the greyness and wetness of everyday life, a somewhat melancholic palette.

I tweeted as soon as I left the cinema, I said that I came home with a smile on my face, the smile that surges from within when I just see life in front of my eyes, when I see a child first steps into this world of ours...


Director's interview