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The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s ambitious retrospective, Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist, is a near complete survey of the great filmmaker's work, including all of the theatrical features that he directed, along with many of television films, as well as films influenced by him or featuring him as an actor. The series concludes with the works of the second half of Fassbinder’s career — these screen from November 7th through the 26th — a phase which contains several of his most impressive masterpieces.
One of the most remarkable and underrated films of this period is the rarely screened, well-written tele-film, the 1975 Fear of Fear, a study of the mental discrimination of a beautiful housewife, played by the fascinating Fassbinder muse, Margit Carstensen. The director’s mise-en-scène here — despite a few infelicities involving zooms — is at its most sophisticated, stylistically alluding to the baroque flourishes of Hollywood melodramas and films noir from the 1950s and late 1940s (Fear of Fear was photographed by the distinguished Jürgen Jürges, one of Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators).
The excellent supporting cast is drawn from the panoply of the director’s celebrated stock company, featuring Brigitte Mira, Irm Hermann, Adrian Hoven, Armin Meier, Kurt Raab, Ingrid Caven, Lilo Pempeit, and Hark Bohm, among others. Fassbinder’s regular composer, Peer Raben contributed a score that memorably evokes the neo-Romantic soundtracks of the American films that inspired Fear of Fear.
The 35-millimeter print being screened by the Film Society, despite some dirt and wear, still has much of the attractive gleam of a new copy, but blown up from the original 16-millimeter format, it is much too grainy.
Fear of Fear screens twice on Thursday, November 13th and once on Sunday, November 16th.
Grace of Monaco
Biographical films aren’t what they used to be, and thank goodness for that. Many of those inspirational, by-the-numbers celluloid (er, digital) resumes are thud-worthy. At Cannes there are a few biographies, and while not all are works of genius, many take a different approach to the genre.
The festival opened with Olivier Dahan’s “Grace of Monaco,” starring Nicole Kidman as Princess Grace, nee Kelly. Alright, this is not the best example of a new style of biography. In fact in this version of her life, Princess Grace single-handedly saves a world on the brink of war, when she gets all the right people to attend a Red Cross benefit. On top of that, she discovers family traitors in the ranks in a story of palace intrigue. Who knew?
“Mr. Turner” by Mike Leigh, stars Timothy Spall as the eccentric British painter J.M.W. Turner. In addition to the apparently huge amount of research done by Leigh and Spall, the film itself has the look and feel of a Turner painting. Spall is magnificent as the solitary painter who had a genius way of painting but has the look and feel of a feral animal when it comes to most human contact. As with another great work by Leigh that deals with historical - and artistic - characters, “Topsy Turvy” (about Gilbert and Sullivan), the film doesn’t lay out the characters’ entire life. No flashback to childhood so we might understand why Turner is the way he is. Instead we are treated to a moment in his life; a sketch, perhaps, that give us a hint to the life of the man.
“Saint Laurent,” Bertrand Bonello’s fantastical and exciting portrait of the designer, comes on the heels of a fairly standard bio of Yves Saint Laurent. That one uses a prosthetic nose so that we recognize the main character. Bonello does no such thing. His actors (two portray Saint Laurent at different stages) simply embody the man, and so we know him very well by his words, his movements. Bonello uses lavishness in the characters and the photography to represent an excessive era.
Speaking of prosthetics, Steve Carell does use one to inhabit the character of disturbed (to say the least) millionaire John du Pont in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” And while his portrayal is intensely disturbing, this writer spent a great deal of time internally remarking that Steve Carell was hidden under that nose. Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum used no such devises to play the Schultz brothers. Miller depends on these intense portraitures to evoke that strange happenings on the du Pont estate.
Jessica Hausner’s “Amour Fou” tells the story of 19th century poet Heinrich von Kleist, who committed suicide along with his lover, Henriette Vogel. The film comes off as a studied, wry comedy. By the way, that’s comedy in the Shakespearian sense; that is, Hausner does not view suicide as tragedy. Instead, she creates a period set piece that veers on the absurd.
With the exception of “Grace of Monaco,” each of these films gives a new look to biographical drama. Taken together they represent not just deeper looks at real life, but instead using true stories and characters to propel cinematic storytelling, a win for viewers, certainly – but also a win for the future of biographical storytelling.
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