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Over the weekend several films by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson were showcased at The Museum of Modern Art as part of a retrospective of the veteran Swedish director's work (from Sept. 10-18). The hard-to-categorize moviemaker was there to introduce a number of his screenings, which helped settle many of the questions that had unsettled this writer in the viewings. Andersson not only spoke about his craft and goals with those who flocked around him (standing room only, for this relatively obscure auteur) but also generously took questions after the screenings.
His films are layered, hard to describe, except as a sort of Swedish Woody Allen. Ironic humor shoots through sad, absurd, lacerating and painful cut-outs of Swedish sentiment and living. Women tell their lovers to get lost. Customers are treated with short-shrift irritation by put-upon barbers. Dinner guests who don't know anyone at the table, or their hosts, pull the tablecloth out from under priceless crockery--to predictably disastrous results. Dreams are given realer life than "life" is given. People shout (something that in life, from personal experience, Swedes rarely if ever do) and become violent.
People casually display SS tattoos on well-weathered arms. Swastikas adorn the polished mahogany top surfaces of wealthy and presumably middle-class burghers. People have sex where one party is completely obsessed with his failing business, as his paramour is Oohing and Ahhing obliviously above him. Elderly people stand on chairs in Germanic-seeming solidarity. Andersson answered this very question on this matter in the lilting low-country-accented English made famous by many Swedish actors in the '60s and '70s Scandinavian film heyday: "The Swedes, and Europeans in general, were secretly hoping that hitler would win WWII. It was only when the battle of Stalingrad occurred that people uneasily began to shift to the Allies. But throughout Europe, people still feel some sort of kinship with the Nazis and Hitler. That is why I have these symbols in my films--they are still angry, unresolved, still partially committed to the 'loser' of that war." He grinned, “They think wearing these symbols makes them strong and frightening.” If you are not aware of this intriguing filmmaker, who has been working for the past 40 years, albeit not always in commercial film, then check out this MoMA retrospective. Both You the Living" and "A Swedish Love Story," were screened among a program of his key works. Andersson also mentioned that his film was originally titled just "A Love Story," but he was advised that by adding the word "Swedish" it would boost its commercial value considerably. While we laughed, it is arguably true. Some of what he showed--and how he answered questions--suggested a country unresolved in its feelings since WWII, still in some ways pretending to be happy with the status quo. There was a cameo role of a clearly immigrant Muslim, but one who, because these immigrants have been in Malmo and elsewhere for nigh on 20 years, speaks fluent, flawless Swedish. Two decades ago, such an unremarked-upon auslander would not have appeared in the filmography. Europe is changing, and these films reflect that, consciously or otherwise. Andersson merits a look-see, as many reviewers have already noted.
Roy Andersson’s work is presented bythe Museum of Modern Artfrom September 10 – 18, 2009
(c) marion d s dreyfus 2009
The Film Society of Lincoln Center presented its annual "Rendezvous with French Cinema." French cinema produces enough interesting films yearly to justify an annual series, something that seems less likely to be true of, say, Spanish or even Italian cinema, both of which are also showcased in a yearly series at the Walter Reade. The annual series devoted to French cinema stirred considerable interest several years ago when it was presented in collaboration with the flagship French journal, Cahiers du Cinèma. This relationship, having ended, changed the programming which took on a more aggressively commercial cast--an outcome which would be unobjectionable if the commercial French cinema of today were aesthetically comparable, say, to the Hollywood cinema of the 1950s, which, unfortunately, has not been the case. [photo above: “The Girl on the Train”}
In previous years, there have been sometimes no more than three films by directors of international stature in a slate of at least a dozen films. Yet, needless to say, this series is probably the most consistently popular of the year at the Walter Reade. Past Rendez-Vous with French Cinema premieres have included Olivier Dahan’s Oscar-winning “La Vie en Rose,” Guillaume Canet’s “Tell No One,” Laurent Cantet’s “Heading South,” Christophe Honoré’s “Love Songs,” Cédric Klapisch’s “Paris,” Claude Lelouch’s “Roman de Gare,” Claude Miller’s “A Secret,” and Danielle Thompson’s “Avenue Montaigne.” This year, however, that appeal should be well-deserved. To my amazement, the series boasted, by my count, new films by seven significant directors, including one world-class master, Claude Chabrol (who is having a North American premiere for "Bellamy" on March 12th). Also within the series are new works by the following filmmakers: Claire Denis, who, in recent years, has moved from strength to strength has a U.S. premiere (on March 13th) for "Five Shots of Rum" ("35 Rhums").Agnès Varda, "the godmother of the New Wave", whose new film "The Beaches of Agnès" ("Les Plages d’Agnès" which is having its NY debut (on March 7th), is an autobiographical essay.Costa-Gavras, whose work in more than one recent film has earned him a renewed interest by his shift to less ambitious material (or is it a less ambitious approach?) since his more political heyday in the '70s and '80s, will have a North American premiere (on March 9th) for "Eden Is West" ("Eden à l’ouest").André Téchiné, who, at the very least, has consistently maintained a high level of craftsmanship within his prolific output, will see the world premiere of his social drama (on March 10th) “The Girl on the Train” ("La Fille du RER").Jean-François Richet, who would be notable for his cinematically brilliant remake of "Assault on Precinct 13" alone, will have the U.S. premiere (on March 10th and 11th) of his ambitious two-part film, "Mesrine" Part 1 ("Mesrine, L’instinct de mort") and Part 2 ("Mesrine, L’ennemi public n° 1").Benoît Jacquot, who has not ceased to produce challenging works in his, by now, long career is having a North American premiere for "Villa Amalia" (on March 13th).Also of potential interest may be two films: "Versailles," a NY debut by first-time director Pierre Schoeller, the screenwriter of the excellent, "A Dreamlife of Angels" (March 6th); and "The Apprentice" (L’apprenti"), which received the Louis Delluc prize, is having a North American premiere (March 11th)—a film on the boundary of fiction and documentary by Samuel Collardey. Considering that other New York venues with inferior projection capacities have presented extraordinary retrospectives of such major artists as Mikio Naruse, Manoël de Oliveira, Raoul Walsh, Luis Buñuel, Roberto Rossellini, and others, cinephiles have reason to disparage the current programming philosophy of the Film Society which appears to be more interested in pursuing fashionable trends than continuing to be the custodians of the great legacy of film art—something it has been throughout its history.
Here follows are select reviews:
The Beaches of Agnèsdirected by Agnès VardaVarda's first feature predated "Le Beau Serge" by several years and this earned her the sobriquet, "godmother of the New Wave". Associated with the Left Bank of the Nouvelle Vague, she has pursued an experimental path with a sustained interest in the political. Her new autobiographical essay, "The Beaches of Agnès", pursues a mode of often whimsical free-association similar to that in several of her other documentaries. Here Varda playfully revisits the highlights of her life and career, interspersing clips from her films and other old footage. She traces the path from her childhood during the German occupation through her early filmmaking forays, her marriage to Jacques Demy, the birth of her two children, the death of her husband, up to the present. Varda, through her physical presence and her humorous commentary, is charming but one misseshere the depth and ambition of several of films such as "Vagabond" or the breezy kineticism of "Cleo from 5 to 7" or the intellectual penetration of her fellow Left Bank essay-filmmaker, Chris Marker. "The Beaches of Agnès" is mostly (or entirely) shot on video and it is especially disappointing to see it transferred to 35-millimeter with a consequent degradation of image-texture.
The Apprenticedirected by Samuel CollardeyCollardey's film tells the story of a teenage boy sent to apprentice on a farm in the French provinces. The first-time director employs with sensitivity a quasi-neorealist approach to a pastoral setting, presumably working with (excellent) non-professional actors who memorably portray the heartbreak to be found within a cultural milieu where both quiet desperation and rustic beauty intersect to provide the frame for the moments of tenderness and boredom which punctuate these touching lives; this poignancy is, however, affirmatively balanced by humanistic intimations that this provincial world has escaped some of the ravages of the brutalizing spiritual corruption unfolding amidst a here-unseen urban modernity. The film's texture seems compromised by either being shot in a video format or through recourse to a digital intermediate--one acutely feels the loss of sensuality which could have been secured by reliance on a direct deployment of the resources 35-millimeter; the thematic inflections of the landscape would have then been conveyed with stronger effect. 35 Shots of Rumdirected by Claire Denisstarring Alex Descas, Gregoire ColinAfter assisting several notable filmmakers, such as Wim Wenders, Denis made her name with her promising, semi-autobiographical first feature, "Chocolat", introducing her abiding interest in Africa -- and in the European encounter with "otherness", generally. Since her first film, Denis has grown in stature as a director and has revealed herself as an exquisite formalist and sensualist with a highly refined mastery of film editing. "35 Shots of Rum" impressively continues Claire Denis's multicultural exploration of proletarian displacement, exploiting the presence of a brilliant cast headlined by stalwarts Alex Descas and Gregoire Colin. Descas is not so much an actor as an extraordinary presence, here playing a Parisian train driver whose relationship with his daughter subtly alters as the drama unfolds. The extraordinary cinematographer Agnès Godard returns here as the camera-eye for Denis's exploratory style--the vehicle for an approach to narrative that seems to poeticize realism.Bellamy directed by Claude Chabrol starring Gérard Depardieu The legendary and prolific Chabrol ("Les bonnes femmes", "The Champagne Murders") has hewn most closely, among the Young Turks of the French New Wave, to the Hollywood genre film, having perfected a classical style which could accommodate his creative experimentalism. Chabrol has almost obsessively produced crime films and thrillers, thus engaging with his cinematic masters, Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. In "Bellamy", he pays homage also to author Georges Simenon in another tale of bourgeois disquiet. Here Chabrol employs the iconic actor Gérard Depardieu for an immensely subtle--and creative-- performance as a police inspector possessed by a cool curiosity. The film is, unfortunately, also diminished by a reliance on video and would have been better presented in a video format. Chabrol, one of the greatest living filmmakers, remains a consummate craftsman.Eden is Westdirected by Costa-Gavrasstarring Riccardo ScarmarcioAfter a few underrated commercial films, director Costa-Gavras became famous for a series of leftist political films which, although aesthetically conservative and intellectually shallow, were distinguished by a modicum of craft, especially with regard to rhythmic editing. In "Eden is West", Costa-Gavras falls back upon a classical showmanship of fluid takes, gracefully brisk construction, and forward motion to present a socially conscious story of the travails of an illegal immigrant from an unknown country who through an arduous series of adventures steals into France in order to reach Paris.The Italian actor, Riccardo Scarmarcio, sensitively conveys the constantly shifting vagaries of his character's anonymity, alienation, and distress. "Eden is West" is finally a triumph of style -- the film does not escape a certain impression of superficiality but one cannot but admire the energetic skill with which Costa-Gavras orchestrates the narrative.Mesrine directed by Jean-François Richetstarring Vincent Cassel, Gérard DepardieuThis remake of "Assault on Precinct 13" was one of the most exciting films of 2005. Richet has a definite affinity for the action genre and this ability serves him well in his ambitious, two-part historical film, "Mesrine", featuring a bravura performance by Vincent Cassel as the protagonist of the title. Mesrine became a notorious career criminal who, beginning as a local gangster, acquired quasi-political pretensions as a rebel against the French state itself.The first half was especially satisfying but, in the second half, my impression was that Richet lost control of the material. Gérard Depardieu is outstanding in a character part.
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