February 24, 2014
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR HONORED AT 11th ICS AWARDS
Overcoming tough competition on the rocky road to stardom, Inside Llewyn Davis took home four top ICS awards, including best picture, ensemble cast, original screenplay, and best actor (in a tie) for Oscar Isaac's soulful portrayal of a down-on-his-luck musician. Yet Blue is the Warmest Color nearly matched it, also with four big wins: best film not in the English language and adapted screenplay, along with actress and supporting actress kudos for the passionate young lovers brought to life by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, respectively.
Tying with Isaac was Leonardo DiCaprio as debauched stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, while supporting actor went to another wonderfully wild performance, James Franco's Alien in Spring Breakers.
Gravity rode its cinematic firepower to three awards: best director for Alfonso Cuarón, along with cinematography and editing. Spike Jonze's warm-natured Her won for its score and production design, while Scarlett Johansson's remarkable computer personality landed her in the runner-up slot for supporting actress. And, in an ICS first, Bruno Delbonnel tied himself (vote-splitting?) for cinematography runner-up with his atmospheric lensing of Faust and Inside Llewyn Davis.
Previously released nominations may be found here.
01. Inside Llewyn Davis
02. Blue is the Warmest Color
04. Frances Ha
05. The Great Beauty
06. Laurence Anyways
08. Spring Breakers
09. The Wolf of Wall Street
10. 12 Years a Slave
11. Before Midnight
Alfonso Cuarón - Gravity
runner-up: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen - Inside Llewyn Davis
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
01. Blue is the Warmest Color
02. The Great Beauty
03. Laurence Anyways
04. In the House
05. A Touch of Sin
06. Beyond the Hills
08. The Hunt
09. The Past
Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis & Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
runner-up: Joaquin Phoenix - Her
Adèle Exarchopoulos - Blue is the Warmest Color
runner-up: Juliette Binoche - Camille Claudel 1915
James Franco - Spring Breakers
runner-up: Anton Adasinsky - Faust
Léa Seydoux - Blue is the Warmest Color
runner-up: Scarlett Johansson - Her
Inside Llewyn Davis - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
runner-up: Her - Spike Jonze
Blue is the Warmest Color - Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
runner-up: Before Midnight - Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Gravity - Emmanuel Lubezki
runners-up: Faust & Inside Llewyn Davis - Bruno Delbonnel
Gravity - Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
runner-up: Spring Breakers - Douglas Crise
Her - K.K. Barrett
runner-up: Faust - Elena Zhukova
Her - Arcade Fire, Owen Pallett
runner-up: All is Lost - Alex Ebert
Inside Llewyn Davis
runner-up: Frances Ha
Ernest & Célestine
runner-up: The Wind Rises
Stories We Tell
runners-up: The Act of Killing & Leviathan
BEST PICTURE NOT RELEASED IN 2013
• Child's Pose
• The Congress
• Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision
• The Immigrant
• Like Father, Like Son
• Norte, The End of History
• Only Lovers Left Alive
• The Rendez-Vous of Déjà-Vu
• The Strange Little Cat
• Stranger by the Lake
• Stray Dogs
• Tom at the Farm
• Young & Beautiful
February 8, 2014
BERLINALE CAPSULE REVIEWS: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, JACK, SEABURNERS
by Eren Odabaşı
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is like a lovely film from the silent era, superbly crafted with today's technology. Not that the film lacks a wonderful musical score or witty dialogue (there is plenty of both), but its narrative logic is reminiscent of classics from the pre-sound period. That is to say, some characters are distinctive figures with strong physical presence (they can be thought of as cartoon characters in the best sense of the word) even if they are not fully developed individuals, and the fast-paced story is told in a highly visual manner. Anderson is well-known for the exquisite (and sometimes exhausting) design of his films and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception; all the memorable scenes are skillfully choreographed, with impressive attention spent on even the most minute details. While thematic concerns seem secondary, it is easy to note that Anderson is very fond of the graceful old times. The story is framed by multiple narrators, each going further back in time to tell us the (mis)adventures that occur more than eighty years ago. The sadness caused by the passing of time and a desire to return to the beloved past are also conveyed through a series of cinematic references, with the ones to Ernst Lubitsch being chief among them. In fact, the film's relentless pace and chaotic humor somehow work against it in this regard. Anderson does not attempt to create (or sustain) the strong sense of melancholy his themes demand. That is also because the jokes get surprisingly violent (even gory) at times, diminishing the overall elegance of the film a bit. But the film's sheer creativeness, its ambitious mise-en-scène, and the joyful-yet-sad tone of the story more than make up for these minor issues.
Jack (Edward Berger, 2014)
The work of the Dardenne Brothers will definitely be mentioned by many when talking about Jack, Edward Berger's sensitive and kinetic competition entry in Berlin. Not only because the film follows its protagonist very closely with a hand-held camera and presents a socially conscious character portrait with unexpected intimacy, but also because it is structured much like an action film. What I mean by action here is the physicality and urgency of the filmmaking rather than a large-scale, fast-paced spectacle. When Jack is trying to find his loving but irresponsible mother, he runs around the whole city, survives a dangerous attack in a forest, breaks into car parks to find shelter and does many other physically demanding things of a similar nature. That is a particularly important point because the film plays out as an unsentimental tale of survival as opposed to a too-emotional or exploitative take on familial ties. With amazing performances enhancing the sense of realism, Jack never becomes melodramatic or sentimental thanks to its focus on its leading character's efforts to keep going rather than his obvious struggles. Berger's film lacks the precision that distinguishes the work of the Dardenne Brothers: Jack gets repetitive at times and could have benefitted from tighter editing. And while the story remains gripping enough to hold the viewer's attention for its entire running time, it hardly breaks any new ground. It is important not to mistake familiarity with flatness, though. Jack manages to be surprising and ultimately rewarding, even if you have seen most of it elsewhere before.
Seaburners (Melisa Önel, 2014)
Seaburners (Kumun Tadi) is a mysterious and confident debut feature by Turkish director Melisa Önel, ambitiously sparse in its narrative and notably rich in well-composed visuals. The story concerns a foreign botanist working on the Turkish Black Sea coast and her lover, who keeps his role in human trafficking a secret from her. While the film is rewarding both as a political story about illegal immigrants and as an exploration of more universal themes (or conditions) such as being stuck in a place where you don't belong, its pleasures are primarily sensory. Önel is able to create a powerfully bleak, hopeless atmosphere without drowning her film in endless miserabilism, thanks to her skillful use of the distinctive landscape. Bright colors are nowhere to be seen in this ever-cloudy environment, the undeniably beautiful nature is oppressive rather than welcoming, and the sea forms the greatest border which no character seems able to pass. These elements describe the psychological state of the characters, all of whom are imprisoned in the middle of the vast nature that surrounds them, in a highly cinematic manner. The story unfolds layer by layer, taking its time to share important details with its audience (this makes the viewing experience quite demanding, even alienating in the first half), but many pieces fall into place when the film completes a cycle and reaches its poetic conclusion. With its reliance on a powerful, enigmatic atmosphere and a non-linear, fragmented approach to storytelling, Seaburners brings the films of Claire Denis to mind, announcing the emergence of a very promising director.
February 2, 2014
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME TWO
(Directed by Lars von Trier, 2013)
by Marc van de Klashorst
Fair warning: this review will basically spoil the whole plot of the film. But there are several plot points that are important to explain von Trier's idea behind the whole endeavour, and without mentioning them the reasoning for this film being von Trier's manifest for a woman's right to take control over her own sexuality in a male-dominated world that applies different standards to men and women when it comes to sex would fall apart.
At the end of Volume 1, Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) had just lost all ability to come. Orgasm has become an elusive thing for her, just as her relationship with Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf) settles. He knows he cannot satisfy her, and reluctantly agrees that she should try and find satisfaction elsewhere. Even the child they have together can't distract Joe from her continuous search to find pleasure again. Her attempts become more extreme, going from trying sex with several men (a rather comical scene with two African guys) to a foray into sadomasochism. She meets K (Jamie Bell), an SM master, and subjects herself to his every whim, letting herself be whipped until she bleeds. She increasingly starts to neglect her home life, which reaches a pinnacle when she leaves her young son at home to go to a session with K, while Jerôme is away. In a self-referencing scene to Antichrist, the boy almost falls to his death off a balcony, but is saved at the last moment when Jerôme comes home just in time. He gives Joe a choice: it's either her family or her pleasure. Joe chooses the latter, and visits K for one last session where she takes control. While undergoing his 'treatment,' she manages to find a way to pleasure herself, and under his lashes she climaxes. She is now free, yet alone.
Joe tries to find help from a psychologist and joins group therapy, a sort of Nymphomaniacs Anonymous, but she gradually realizes that she has to come to peace with being a nymphomaniac, and that the world has simply to accept her for what she is: a woman with strong sexual desires.
January 30, 2014
THE 43RD INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM: REPORT TWO
by Marc van de Klashorst
Starred Up (David Mackenzie)
Being 'starred up' is a term from the British penal system, meaning a juvenile delinquent is moved up to the regular prison system before the standard age of 21. Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) is such a juvenile delinquent. Only 19 years old, this bundle of pent-up rage does not beat around the bush once he's transferred to his new home, and he immediately establishes a name for himself as a violent, volatile inmate who's not afraid to take on the big shots. One of these big shots, however, turns out to be his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). Even if he was never around to see his son grow up, he still wants to protect him, in the hope that Eric will lay low and get out after serving his time, an opportunity Neville himself with a life sentence doesn't have. So when Eric gets a chance to join a program run by social worker Oliver (Rupert Friend), Neville wants him to grab that chance with both hands. If only Eric's penchant for violence could be reined in....
To be fair, Starred Up does not escape the prison drama clichés: the corrupt guards, the top dog inmate running the prison wing, the social worker with good intentions. But a few aspects raise this film above your average prison fare, most notably the well handled father-son dynamics between Neville and Eric. Especially Mendelsohn gives a lot of depth to a man torn between fatherly love, even after all these years, and the rage and violence that is both a part of his being, but also required if you want to come out on top in prison. O'Connell struggles with the transformation Eric goes through, yet he pulls off the feat of creating a character that's at once repulsive and endearing.
And then there's the brutality. The film really is very, very violent, but none of it is gratuitous, and it gives the film a rawer edge than most prison flicks. The film is certainly not for the squeamish, but it does not wallow in its violence, creating a realistic representation of a community in which violence is often the only way to survive. The Oliver character is a bit mishandled, as we never get a real idea of what makes him tick, but his sessions with Eric and other inmates are the breathing points of the film, and show both a determination and a naivete in the character and the process, which even in its earnestness is somewhat quixotic.
Starred Up got eight nominations at the British Independent Film Awards (with a win for Mendelsohn), and those are all well earned. It is an exhilarating, raw genre film, but within its genre it's an instant classic.
Gare du Nord (Claire Simon)
Gare du Nord, Paris' largest railway station, is a global village, says one of the characters in Claire Simon's eponymous film. Being a major European transportation hub, it makes sense that this film set in and around the station is playing in The State of Europe section of the festival, and for a while it seems as though Simon wants to draw parallels between the microcosm around the train tracks and Europe at large. The film touches themes like immigration, unemployment, and multiculturalism, often explored through two of its main characters, Ismaël (the always engaging Reda Kateb) and Mathilde (Nicole Garcia), a sociology student and a history professor, respectively. He is conducting a study of the small society that is the station for his thesis, and draws her into his interviews with the people who work there or just travel through. Their meetings become more frequent and warm, and something blossoms between them.
And this is where the film starts losing its focus on the social issues and the role of Gare du Nord, and becomes more about Ismaël and Mathilde, as well as the other two key characters: Joan (Monia Chokri), a former student of Mathilde who is now a real estate agent, and Sacha (François Damiens), the host of a candid camera show who is searching for his runaway daughter. The lives of these four characters intermingle on the platform and in the halls of the station, in vignettes that only intermittently touch upon the cultural and societal crossroads that run through Gare du Nord. The film loses its edge, and while parallels between the characters' situations and Europe at large can be drawn, the melodrama starts to take precedence over the social commentary, and what started out well becomes a drag to sit through. A shame, because there is certainly something to be said about Gare du Nord being a metaphor for current-day Europe. Simon also shot the documentary Human Geography at the station in conjunction with the feature film, and perhaps as one half of a pair this film would have more impact. As a stand-alone film, however, it lacks in vision and commitment to its issues.