Devi (The Goddess) – Oneiric Incarnation

Satyajit Ray contributed a lot to the Indian cinema, and Devi is one his major work along with the Apu trilogy.

Back in the 1960, when Devi was released, it created an interesting controverse, understandable considering the issue the movie tackled.
Indeed, Ray was bold enough to direct an anti-hinduism film, or more especially an anti-fanaticism film.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.45.43Based on a novel written by Prabhat Kumar Mukherji and inspired by the theme of the goddess introduced by Rabindranath Tagore, Devi relates the story of a girl, Dayamoyee (Sharmila Tagore) who lives in the same house as her  father in law Kalikinkar (Chhabi Biswas), as she married Umaprasad (Soumitra Chatterjee). She is only seventeen, full of happiness and full of love for her nephew Khoka (Arpan Chowdhury) with who she has a tender, accomplice relationship.

However, her husband has to go to Calcutta in order to pass his English exams, and leave her with his father with whom he is in total ideological opposition. While Umaprasad is looking for modernity, ways to develop his intellect, Kalikinkar is very traditional, and also very religious.
The departure of her husband will provoke a dark turn of events.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.35.16In hinduism, the goddess Mahkali embodies power and also death; she is often called “Ma”. In the movie, she is venerated and several rituals are showed; singings, offerings etc. The great religiosity of the characters depicted in Devi will attain its climax when Kalikinkar dreams of his daughter-in-law being the incarnation of Ma. The director then portrays the descent into madness of Dayamoyee, and the collective fanaticism of her surrounding.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 9.30.41 Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 10.32.30The strong features of Mahkali; feminism and power, was forced into the fragile, weak girl, and created great confusion and cracks in Dayamoyee. Helpless, she couldn’t oppose the choice of her father-in-law, and then the belief of the whole community. This belief was overwhelmingly powerful, and when she was asked to cure a homeless’ son, and succeed in it, she started believing she might, indeed, be an incarnation of the goddess. She couldn’t continue questioning it.

That collective madness was driven by religious fanaticism, filmed and denounced by Ray, which triggered a controverse.
The movie questioned and put in opposition, knowledge and modernisation on one side and tradition and religion on the other.
Worth your time.


Dogville – Grace’s Dilemma

Dogville is a sort of mise en abyme ; a filmed theater play. As a decor; spaces defined with chalk, basic home furniture and cars. The set is a big studio, which walls go black when it is night, and white when it is day.
Obviously sound plays an important role; sounds of inexistant doors getting open and closed, rain, or even sounds of grass being dig out of the ground.

Handheld shot, it is the only applied rule of Dogma 95. Dogville contains many match cuts, however, it isn’t disturbing due to the very unusual setting and composition of the film.
Divided in nine chapters, Dogville is narrated by John Hurt relating the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman) who, trying to escape some gangsters, finds a refuge in the small town of Dogville, isolated from the city, situated in the periphery.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.36.48However, it isn’t that easy being accepted right away in a town composed of just fifteen people, where everyone knows each other, and you’re supposedly being chased by gangsters.

Lars von Trier exploits the idea of “the fear of the outsider” and then make Grace’s character go through several challenges; the first one being a two weeks trial. Indeed, after being rescued by Tom (Paul Bettany), who under the charm of the fragile blond, introduces her to the others and get from them a two weeks period in which Grace would have to prove her harmlessness and goodwill. For that, she’ll do whatever chore is assigned to her, and since Dogville citizens couldn’t find any useful things for her to do, they made her do things that wasn’t done already.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 8.50.34However, just like a Haneke movie things are never that easier. It quickly turns into a sort of vicious sadomasochistic games she’ll be blackmailed with.
Jason (Miles Purinton), one of the seven kids of an unhappy couple, starts the festivities by asking Grace to spank him, and if she didn’t accept, he’ll tell his mother she hit him, but if she does he’ll keep his mouth shut. A perverse but paradoxical game putting pressure on Grace’s psychology.

Things got even more bitter as time went by.

Another paradox rises; with the venue of the fugitive into the lives of those isolated people, she becomes the object of desire of all men, and as mentioned by Liz (Chloë Sevigny), who was before her, the most coveted girl, Grace relieved her from that awful position. However, either they want to admit it or not, the blond woman, towards who all the attention is turned, represents a threat and rouses jealousy.
As it wasn’t enough, Grace gets raped by the men (except Tom, who pretends to be in love with her), as if they couldn’t hold their impulses any longer and as if it was their right.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 9.26.48The movie forms a loop where the black-skinned cleaning lady who was presented as the being at the end of the social ladder, started to even herself yell and order Grace to execute all sorts of chores that weren’t supposed to be useful before her arrival. Indeed, most of her contribution wasn’t irreplaceable, but suddenly it wasn’t even enough.

Lars von Trier, explained and even made a hyperbole out of it by putting our main character as sort of immigrant, getting a bad treatment from natives.
Grace embodied a sort of modern Cosette/Cinderella character, or more accurately a Justine from Sade’s novel.

The idea wasn’t how a town was supposed to trust a stranger but how a stranger was supposed to trust a community. A community of dogs, answering to their own primary instincts and desires, dogs constituting Dogville.

In a nutshell, despite its long length, Dogville is a must-see Lars von Trier’s.

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Tom à la Ferme – Stockholm Syndrome

Tom à la Ferme is the first feature of young director Xavier Dolan I succeeded in finding good. Even though like the first three movies, it left me with a bizarre feeling or deep disturbance.
His characters somehow, scare me because of their rapid transformations, or should I say inner disfiguration, supported by calm, passive behaviors.

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Tom (Xavier Dolan) is a young boy with a marginal style, and just lost someone, who we’ll understand was his lover, Guillaume. And thus, Tom goes into the family farm for the funeral, where lives the mother Agathe (Lise Roy), and the handsome brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal).
Of course he has to pretend to be a colleague of Guillaume, but if this lie worked with the mother, it didn’t with Francis, who know who he is and thus threatened him if he said anything upsetting to Agathe.

However Francis does more than that. A stereotyped homophobe, sexy, but violent, sensitive but paranoid, the character’s psychology is the most captivating and interesting thing of the movie. And I believe Tom à la Ferme is really about Francis. The man who always protected brother and mother, until the end.
His relationship with Tom explored in the movie, reflected a deep trauma and distorted psychology.

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Tom is a kind of cobaye Francis wants to experiment on. He hates him because he represents a cause to Guillaume’s death and also reminds him of his brother marginal sexual orientation. But on the other hand is kind of fascinated, because he wants to understand what Guillaume found in this boy, and because Agathe always preferred her younger son. He managed through getting Tom’s love or admiration, prove that he was better or at least as good as his deceased brother.

Between ambiguous sexual relationship that we feel happens beside the screen and a sad masochistic game, Dolan’s film flutters around tricky human behaviors.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 11.16.28What is beautiful in Tom à la Ferme is the two parallel issues tackled; the mourn of a mother who lost her son and the awful reality of him coming off the others. Coming from his entourage who knew who Guillaume was. Even though Francis wants to protect his mother from the truth of his brother being a libertin, at some point, Agathe will reach a climax of incomprehension. How to construct fully the image of a beloved one, who you didn’t see for years, based only on what we report to you?

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 10.12.31The only element I would reproached to the director, is the use of ellipses concerning Tom’s development as the relationship, bouncing from tender to violence, became recurrent, or even quotidian.
Anyway, this negative point, is more than offset by the actors’ performances, that are very convincing, especially, Lise Roy who’s just breathtaking.

In a nutshell, Tom à la Ferme reminded me a little of early Haneke‘s work, and explored new outcomes to Stockholm syndrome relationship and it conquered me.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill – A Failed Sequel

I fucking adore Robert Rodriguez, and his work. One of my favorite movie is Planet Terror for christ sake! You can now imagine my disappointment when watching Sin City: A Dame to Kill, which appeared to be as bad as Sin City was good.

Both Rodriguez and Frank Miller pushed too far the cinematography for this sequel, and except some nice shots worthy of a real B movie, with orgasmic intensity, SCDK is too damn ugly.  And this is on behalf of wanting to emphasize too much on the style that conquered the fans’ hearts in 2005. This resulted in a big failure.
They would have done better to do an animated comic of Sin City 2.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.01.02The mix of genres; film noir, drama, crime and B movie style, is still very well handled and captivating, along with the strongly stereotyped narration and dialogues, told by gravelly, hoarsely voices. All this put you in a very particular mood of filthy narrow streets and suburban nights, however, they were pushed too far, to the extent where grotesque takes over and makes you mirthlessly laugh.

Also, some scenes combining few objects or characters in color while the rest is in black and white, caused terribly ugly shots, like:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.04.34or:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.10.47The neo-noir constructed with poker, hookers, light/shadow game, shootouts, even though efficient was sometimes excessively applied; almost with a tone of hyperbolism.

Those elements competed with some unique, priceless scenes, and framings, such as:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 8.51.57 Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 8.59.59 Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.04.17 Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.17.53And sometimes, sublime experimental ones:

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.29.45 Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 9.33.20Set in the dystopian streets of Sin City, where violence, filth, and sex are valued or at least preponderant, we follow four stories, somehow related, where characters converge at some point.

We are introduced to new characters. 
Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – the other son of Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) wants to prove to his evil father that he can beat him, is better than him, and he’ll use poker to get through Roark. Or, Eva (Eva Green) the femme fatale of this film noir, who charmed Dwight (Josh Brolin) and every man she encounters into getting what she wants. She is magnified by Rodriguez, the actress embodied with talent her vilain character, and is the only good performance of the movie.

Sin City, lost anyway some of its core essence, with A Dame to Kill and in a nutshell, few elements are climaxing, the rest is pretty much ridiculous and the equivalent in value of S.A.S. novels.

Starred Up – A Father Stays a Father, Even in Prison

I believe David Mackenzie couldn’t choose better actor than Jack O’Connell in the role of 19 violent Eric Love, (which is kind of ironic). Indeed, after watching his performance in the TV show Skins and his capacities to burst into uncontrolled anger, Eric Love, who just got into prison couldn’t be more accurately played than by O’Connell.

The film opens with him entering the prison, and going through the usual process, shot with beautiful angles by Mackenzie.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.58.27 Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 9.00.31If the movie starts with a very slow rhythm, it soon took a whole different turn, and overflowing with testosterone, we assist to situation after situation so intense and fast than you arrive at the end where after a climax, everything settles down with a tender landing; you just finished your turn of roller coaster. 

The movie tackles the issue of the father figure, in the setting of a prison, which is even more interesting. We soon learn that Eric got into prison to be with his father Neville (Ben Madelsohn), who went for a long time when his son was still a little boy. With no mum, Eric had a tough childhood. Therefore, we understand his predisposition to violence and it isn’t very surprising.

Well, the captivating element of Starred Up, is the different father figures Eric is confronted to. If his father tries to catch up with him, and tries to do his pater job, the 19 years old, caught the eye of Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend), the only person of the whole prison who still believe there is hope for violent inmates, and runs a small therapy group, with until now, only black convicts.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.10.31To understand Oliver’s dedication; he isn’t payed and decided to help them because he “needs to”. Eric finds not only another protective paternal image, but also “friends” and the movie shows that interracial friendships are possible.

The movie flies over the rapid evolution of the different relationships and the characters that bound and unbound over and over. The director along with screenwriter Jonathan Asser focus and put as the core of the story, the father-son relationship. They highlighted how Eric wants to prove an independence he developed through all those years fatherless, and yet O’Connell emanates a great sensitiveness, of a deep disappointment towards his character’s dad; what Neville did as a freeman, and what he is, now locked up. He merged with his character, and found perfectly how to embody it. It is one of the best performance I’ve seen this past two years.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 9.04.30Starred up, shows the circle of life, the circle that starts with and abandon and finishes with sacrifice. Two shots of rotating doors are taken in the movie supporting the idea. Meaning, what goes around comes around but there is always a way to fix things up, alway a pattern allowing you to prove yourself and always a way to get out of shit. 

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The Rover – Getting the Past Back

Conquered I was by Animal Kingdom the first feature film of Australian director David Michôd. On the other hand, The Rover appeared to me, as too vague, almost sloppy. The first and only thing that held my attention was Robert Pattinson‘s performance, as Rey, a weak-minded fella, full of all sorts of facial and body tics. What surprised me is how much I empathized with his character, to the point of liking watching the evolution of his unexpected relationship with the man chasing his brother, played by Guy Pierce.
Indeed, briefly, the story is set in a post apocalyptic time, where primary resources are limited and where every one is carrying a gun. Guy Pierce plays Eric, a solitary man, who hasn’t any family or relatives. As he walks into what appears to be a Chinese bar, a pick up with three guys in it, including Rey’s brother Henry (Scott McNairy), rolls over and crashes next to the bar. The three guys, were actually fighting over going back to where occurs a dangerous altercation, and get Rey who was left for dead. When their engine wouldn’t start over, they stole Eric’s car, and flee.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.06.36What is important to understand, is that in a world where getting necessary supplies is very tough, loosing what’s left of a past wealthy life is the worst thing that could happen. This is why Eric decides to chase the trio, and get his car back. Lucky for him, he falls into Rey, who will guide him to the place the men were headed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.05.10Like any post-apocalypse, a real struggle between the civilians and the Army rises. And the vague question raised by Michôd is about mankind’s ability to construct a new form of society, broken into several pieces; gangs. So either you belong to a sort of distorted community, or you are on your own.
While Eric seemed to spend a long time alone with himself, he slowly learnt with Rey how to connect with someone again.
Through this last one’s innocence, and vulnerability, Eric’s shell gets all cracked. Indeed, when the young man recalls his childhood, a peaceful time, Eric gets emotional and angry.
After trying very hard to mourn, remembering is hurtful. The real clivage between the two main characters lays here, one is holding on to positive things, which are gone, and will never repeat themselves (also he is somehow holding on to his brother’s love), whereas the other is holding on to a difficult past, and reveals a partially acknowledgment of a lost time.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 7.30.59However, The Rover’s core greatness is the director’s very interesting approach, and original exploitation of the relationship of two characters very different but related because of experiencing a same traumatic, or at least life-changing, twist. They somehow converged their vision into a same third one, through a slow process well captured by David Michôd. But, unfortunately, many things are left aside, things that could have added efficient substance to the film; a deeper analysis of Guy Pierce’s character, or a better understanding of the Army’s positionnement for example.
Pain, palpable weakness of the mind, the unbearable pressure of an unusual situation are somehow emerging from the actors’ performances and David Michôd’s supporting shots. But despite all that, I have a strong feeling of emptiness surrounding the actors, as if they were acting in a blank blurry empty space.

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Maps to the Stars – Burning Stars

David Cronenberg is one the few directors able to trigger great excitement in me when I hear they are working on a new movie. After the tiny little disappointment that was Cosmopolis to me, Maps to the Stars with just its name, almost made me collapse (I will explain that later). But it is true, that it took me a while to watch it… Anyway, it is with my heart beating faster and louder than I started being mesmerized by this blue space-like screen.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.43.43The cast wasn’t that reassuring, despite Julianne Moore who is one of the best actress of her generation, and Mia Wasikowska who already showed tonnes of potential, I really apprehended John Cusack‘s acting, and I was sure right. While Julianne Moore dazzled me with an impressive performance, which sometimes gave me the chills, and Mia Wasikowska and Evan Bird‘s characters provoked in me bipolar reactions, John Cusack didn’t convinced me at all. I believe, his character wasn’t sufficiently explored and also needed a stronger, more imposant actor.

As for the story, I don’t believe a synopsis may be provided. I’ll try to explain the movie with no spoilers and with a very metaphorical approach.
Thus, it is important to note that fire is at the core of the movie. Fire as a destructive feature, fire descending from the stars, fire as a metaphor for Hollywood inebriating capacity.

And another thing to take into account, is the poem repeated several times by Agatha, a shortened poem by Paul Eluard, one of his major work; Liberty.

“On my notebooks from school
On my desk and the trees
On the sand on the snow
I write your name

On the wonder of nights
On the white bread of days
On the seasons engaged
I write your name

On all flesh that says yes
On the forehead of my friends
On each hand that is held out
I write your name

By the power of the word
I regain my life
I was born to know you
And to name you

Paul Eluard being one of the pioneer of the surrealist mouvement, Liberty was written in 1942, during the german occupation. Here, its verses took a whole new significance. Below is a schema to show the different characters and their relationships:
Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 1.57.42The story is set up in Hollywood. We are projected in the core of celebrities’ dramas and brutal world of depression, drugs and surreal competition.

Let’s approach the movie as if Havana was the main character along with Agatha.

Stafford is a well known psychologist, who does lots of appearances on TV, positioned as a kind of guru. He’s helping Havana get rid of her mother’s obsession, which is presented as a disease. Indeed she has hallucinations, where, Clarice, who was a movie star, a sex symbol of her generation, kept on abasing her in the form of a ghost.
We understand throughout the movie that Havana was exposed to incestuous abuses from her before dying in a fire. However, the only thing that could get her out her madness, would be to play Clarice in the remake of the movie that made her famous; Stolen Waters.
And this obsession, just increased when Agatha showed up in front of her house, to be hired as her personal assistant. Why? Well, Agatha has the left side of face burnt.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 12.04.18Strange coincidence. Havana develops a weird fascination and fake love for that girl she strongly associates with her deceased mother. Indeed, not only do they have fire in common, Agatha is also as young as was Clarice when playing in Stolen Waters. Therefore when she learns that her assistant is having sex with Jerome, a limo driver, she tries to seduce him, just to prove that she is more attractive than Agatha, and then more attractive than her mother.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.53.50Bruce Wagner along with Cronenberg combines both psychologies and camera mouvement to support ideas. For example, while Agatha is several time sublimed by low-angles shots, the plot makes her appear as a fragile. With the sense of an almost broken girl, we watch her desperately trying to reconnect with her family, who left her in a psychiatric facility after her pyromaniac act explained at some point by potential visions of dead people. An act explaining also how she got the burns.
She came from Florida to California searching for her brother, Benjie who appears to be also subject to similar hallucinations.
The poem she constantly sings, “I regain my life
I was born to know you”, guide her through her quest, and link them to one another. However, the unstable, oppressive, surrealist spree of Hollywood, messed up with her mind, as roughly as it did for all our characters.

Cronenberg, hid many symbolic details, and the tremendous work we have to do while watching Maps to the Stars is as exciting and tiresome as following the plot, but necessary. A strong critic towards Hollywood’s business is done.

The despair, the pain, the disturbing elements of each characters’ life formed a heavy sphere of overwhelming feelings.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 9.15.40How to gain liberty when so many aspects of your life are insurmountable?

To go back to the title, a few months ago, I finished a 1993 TV Show, created by Oliver Stone and wrote by Bruce Wagner who’s also the screenwriter of Maps to the Stars, Wild Palms. Where I saw this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 3.59.41The two works are both dystopian, hollywoodien critics. And many similarities have popped into my eye. The wide white spaces:

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The hallucinations, the harmful effects of cinema, and even Stafford vs. Kreutzer characters have great similarities.
Both works are to put into perspective, even though, the Cronenberg’s obsession with technology and advance science is absent in Maps to the Stars whereas oddly strongly present in Wild Palms.

Anyway, to go back to the movie, a surreal setting, surreal events, surreal reactions and psychologies, all controlled by fire. And I suggest every one of you, to watch (or re-watch) the movie with that in mind, it will than have a bigger impact on you, and you will see beyond what is said. Fire links Clarice to Havana to Agatha to Cristina. The four main women characters.
We might tend to dig deeper into the place of the woman in Hollywood by seeing Maps to the Stars as a denunciator of the stereotyped young, beautiful, flawless actress, opposed to the old, the disfigured one or just the one who couldn’t be an actress, so put all of her efforts and faith into her child.

I believe Maps to the Stars is a work that needs high recognition and interest, because lots of efforts were made to put it all together, and provide an exhaustive piece of work with many facets.

Ps: It is also the movie that directly links David Cronenberg to his son Brandon (based on his first long feature Antiviral).

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