Every now and then, Isabelle Huppert is suddenly everywhere and here we are again. She's on the cover of the new Film Comment and she's in the news: Just yesterday, the Playlist's Christopher Bell reported that she'll be taking on a role in Michael Haneke's These Two, a film about the "humiliation of the physical breakdown in the elderly" (Huppert's character's parents will be played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva), and last month, the Philippine Daily Inquirer's Marinel Cruz reported that she'll be playing "a kidnap victim in the hands of the separatist group Abu Sayyaf" in Brillante Mendoza's next film, Captured, slated to begin shooting in January. What's more, the IMDb has her lined up for projects with Anne Fontaine and Ulrike Ottinger. As Melissa Anderson notes in her profile for the Voice, New Yorkers will be able to catch two of her performances, "created 30 years apart," this month alone: "In Jean-Luc Godard's Every Man for Himself (1980), showing in a new 35mm print at Film Forum Friday through November 25, she is Isabelle, a prostitute prone to dissociation and reciting Charles Bukowski in voiceover. As Maria Vial, a coffee-plantation owner in an unnamed African country in Claire Denis's latest fever-dream, White Material, opening November 19, she plays a woman blindly determined to continue her business while civil war rages on around her."
Let's start with White Material because the IFC Center's retrospective No Fear: The Films of Claire Denis is already underway. "Simply put, it's [Denis's] rawest, darkest film, a film in which violent narrative jolts and sanguine and dust-caked hues capture the chaos of an unnamed African country rocked by armed insurgency," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in an overview of the series for the L. "Every ten years or so Claire Denis makes a film about Africa, and each time it signals a shift in her style and outlook.... After working in the 80s as assistant for Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch — with both of whom she shares an acute interest in the effects of transcultural friction — Denis launched her own directorial career with Chocolat (1988), a Jamesian depiction of colonial Cameroon based partly on her own childhood. Though intensely focused on vision and tactility as communication (and barrier) between peoples, the film possesses formal camerawork starkly different from what we now associate with the filmmaker." Dustin Chang talks with Denis for Twitch and Keith Uhlich offers a guide to the oeuvre in Time Out New York. Updates, 11/12: Steve Erickson talks with her, too, for Tribeca; and for Gay City News, he reviews White Material. Earlier: Daniel Kasman's review of White Material from Toronto 2009 and his interview with Denis, conducted a month later at the New York Film Festival. Update, 11/15: Video interviews: Alison Willmore with Denis (IFC, 4'19") and Eric Hynes with Huppert (Reverse Shot, 4'25"). Updates, 11/16: Movieline's ST VanAirsdale interviews Huppert; R Emmet Sweeney for TCM on White Material.
Updates, 11/17: "Claire Denis's strongest movie in the decade since Beau Travail, her tense, convulsive White Material is a portrait of change and a thing of terrible beauty," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "It's as if, working with new DP Yves Cape, she has rediscovered film as film (as opposed to the more conventional narratives of 35 Shots of Rum, The Intruder, and Friday Night). White Material, which was shot in Cameroon, has an urgent lyricism predicated on fluid jump cuts, jittery camera moves, and extreme close-ups. This composition in continuous crisis and continual dread, written with Prix Goncourt–winning novelist Marie N'Diaye, is at once pre- and post-apocalyptic."
More from Michelle Orange, who gives the film a Movieline score of 8 out of 10, and Ray Pride (Newcity Film). Zachary Wigon talks with Denis for Filmmaker, Alexandra Roxo with both Denis and Huppert for Hammer to Nail.
Updates, 11/19: "Dreamy and elliptical in its fractured timeline and visual lyricism, yet so searing and bloody that it's indelible, Claire Denis's White Material (2009) hinges on the central conflict of its beleaguered protagonist Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert, steely and obdurate): that the Africa she loves doesn't love her." Graham Fuller for Artforum: "The film unfolds in an unnamed country — Congo, Angola, Senegal, or Ivory Coast, perhaps — engulfed in civil war in a nebulous present or recent past. 'The horror! The horror!' swirls around Maria as she struggles to bring in the harvest at the coffee plantation she runs on behalf of her feckless ex-husband (Christopher Lambert), her ailing father-in-law (Michel Subor), and her slothful son (Nicolas Duvauchelle).... [I]t's the threat of carnage that propels the movie over and above Maria's need to gather, rake, and cleanse the beans to make what a hectoring pro-rebel DJ describes as 'mediocre coffee' that the blacks don't drink. It's this imperial folie and the destruction of her family that brings this dynamic, wrong-headed woman of the earth to the brink of murder."
"Ms Denis has an extraordinary gift for finding the perfect image that expresses her ideas, the cinematic equivalent of what Flaubert called le mot juste." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "At her best, as in Beau Travail (1999), her radiant retelling of Melville's Billy Budd, the images convey her ideas with more precision than reams of scripted dialogue could. The same holds true of White Material, a striking film filled with images that sometimes reveal their full meaning only when their beauty curdles in the chain of signification."
More from Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 3.5 out of 4 stars), Ella Taylor (NPR), Scott Tobias (AV Club, B+) and Armond White (New York Press). Ben Kenigsberg talks with Huppert and Denis for Time Out Chicago, Bilge Ebiri with Huppert for IFC, and Sam Adams (AV Club) and Nigel M Smith (indieWIRE) interview Denis.
Back in TONY, Nicolas Rapold recommends Every Man for Himself: "Godard's self-proclaimed 'second first film' marked the rebirth of an innovator, after a long tenure in the critical wilderness during the 1970s. Small wonder that the main characters are an ornery nonworking movie director ([Jacques] Dutronc) and a matter-of-fact prostitute (Huppert) going about her business. Packed with abrupt visual beauty, their stories make for a two-tracked essay in frustrated relationships and early-to-mid-life enervation, leavened with the auteur's clipped absurdism." For Benjamin Strong, writing in the L, this revival is "a perfect opportunity not to reevaluate the film itself, enthralling as ever, but to reconsider the larger JLG project, his singular way of tinkering with and reinventing our basic film grammar." Similarly, Armond White in the New York Press: "We need to know more than ever why he is one of the true giants of filmmaking and, perhaps, one of the last thinking, emotionally-engaged humanists." For today's Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden offers a sort of Godard-for-Beginners list of must-sees.
Updates, 11/12: "The connection between male sexual violence and filmmaking runs like a thread through Every Man for Himself," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "The central chapters in the film — the imaginary, fear and commerce — could be a distillation of what is demanded of filmmakers to make movies. But these words also cling to the women in the film, who are by turns the subject of male imaginings (as when Paul [Dutronc] talks about his daughter), male dread (evident in Paul's violent outbursts) and male money (as in the scenes of prostitution). Paul is implicated in modes of sexual domination, as when a male hotel worker offers him his body (chasing him like a rabid fan) and when he hires Isabelle for sex. By virtue of being a filmmaker it's also clear that he himself is a whore."
Every Man for Himself "employs the same kind of distrust of a film's ability to adequately tell a story, voicing this unease through a variety of oppressive tricks," writes Jesse Cataldo in Slant. "The boundary between these characters and their creator is porous: a woman questions the source of the soundtrack, a string orchestra appears at a train station, the image repeatedly breaks down into halting slow motion, inviting close analysis of seemingly hollow moments. Establishing the template which would make the 80s Godard's second great decade, Every Man for Himself stitches together a dense fabric of spoken and visual references, employing oblique quotes and strange cameos to create a work of twitchy brilliance. Marguerite Duras appears, for example, but only off screen, an odd touch that eventually works its way into the plot."
"Jim McBride's Breathless has a bad reputation," concedes Karina Longworth in the LA Weekly. "The 1983 variation on Jean-Luc Godard's paradigm-changing debut feature — transplanted from Paris to the scuzzy streets of LA, with Jean-Paul Belmondo's and Jean Seberg's doomed lovers Michel and Patricia switched out for Richard Gere's American car thief, Jesse, and his French student paramour Monica, played by soft-core starlet Valerie Kaprisky — was the remake nobody wanted or needed. But watched outside of the considerable shadow cast by Godard's film, McBride's Breathless is an infectiously lurid blast — not so-bad-it's-good, just good." Tomorrow evening at the Silent Movie Theatre.
Also in the LA Weekly, Douglas Harvey writes that "although other cities have more high-profile avant-garde film ghettos, LA's hothouse moviemaking environment and access to technical resources have supported a thriving underground almost from the birth of the industry. As for seeing it? For better or worse, the very structure and visual language of contemporary mainstream moviemaking — special effects–riddled, CGI-saturated, 3D gee-whiz-addicted eye-candy store that it is — can arguably be traced to the wide-scale absorption of LA-based abstract animators by the Industry, particularly George Lucas, in the 1970s. There is a direct line from the visual music of expatriate German expressionist painter Oskar Fischinger's 1947 Motion Painting No. 1 to the immersive, uncanny virtual reality of James Cameron's Avatar. This secret history is one of many to be explored as part of Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles 1945-1980, a three-day symposium, film festival and exhibition presented by Los Angeles Filmforum this weekend at the USC School of Cinematic Arts."
Nicolas Rapold: "Video-store fetish, Hollywood's shot in the arm, exotic staple of rep houses — Hong Kong action movies became synonymous in the 1990s with vigor and crackerjack invention, praised, as critic Grady Hendrix once put it, with 'critical enthusiasm that managed to be refreshing and patronizing at the same time.'... LACMA's three-weekend series Hard Boiled Hong Kong is by no means an excavation of lost titles or an official chronology, but the relentless showmanship of series opener The Killer (Nov 12) makes it hard to care about that.... At their best, [John] Woo's orchestrations reckon with the physical limitations of their settings — a crowded tram car, a sniper's-length beach, a claustrophobic apartment — but the controlled chaos also stops for logic-defying conversations between hit man and inspector soulmate that might as well be going on in their heads: Time and gunfire are effectively ignored so cop and killer can have a heart-to-heart." Through November 27.
"Almost the entire hour and three-quarters of Jean Eustache's 1971 film Numéro Zéro — which received, [on Sunday], at Anthology Film Archives, what many in attendance think may be its New York City première (it screens there again this Friday at 7) — is filled with the director's interview of his grandmother Odette Robert on Feb 12th of that year," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody. "Although every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Odette Robert recounts a life story that, in its personal details, is the story of 20th-century Europe; many women her age could tell many similar stories; and, of her stories and their general application, Eustache would make the glorious work of a lifetime: the three-and-a-half-hour-long The Mother and the Whore, which he shot in Paris in the summer of 1972. Although that dramatic feature, about the life and loves of a confused young Parisian intellectual (Jean-Pierre Léaud) seems to have little to do with this documentary, its peculiar reversion — Eustache's apparent attempt not to refer to the populist cinema of the 1930s but to reanimate it — appears now to be a direct and intentional effort to confront and to film, from a contemporary perspective, the moral and emotional sediment of the howlingly harsh lives upon which the modern world is built."
Sharon Lockhart's Double Tide begins a week-long run at MoMA this evening and, in the Voice, Nicolas Rapold writes that this "two-part 93-minute record of a Maine clam-digger opens with a daunting gray expanse: empty slurry mudflats receding into an indistinct background, where land, sea, and sky blend. The view will clear up, the hour will change, tracks will zig-zag across the sand, but the shot's position will remain constant. Similar in spirit to Lockhart's 2003 farmer's-progress hay-pile chronicle NO, Double Tide presents an even more resistant, almost obdurate portrait of work." Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT: "Continuing Ms Lockhart's fascination with the relationship between time and labor (her 2008 documentary, Lunch Break, teased that 11-minute hiatus into 83 minutes of film), Double Tide is an atavistic harmony of human and planetary motion." In the current issue of Artforum, by the way, Lockhart writes up a brief appreciation of Jennifer Bolande.
Also happening tonight, but also tomorrow night and the night after, in Berkeley: Afterimage: Filmmakers and Critics in Conversation: Kelly Reichardt with B Ruby Rich. Max Goldberg in the Bay Guardian: "Reichardt's films unfold as ballads: a cast of two, with occasional walk-ons, observed from a near distance. The incremental addition of events anticipates heartbreak or worse, with context and emphasis left between the lines. Always, we find ourselves in an America where it's hard to escape and easy to get lost. However the meaning of 'escape' and 'getting lost' might vary, the characters emerge similarly bruised: walking the strip, stuck in traffic, riding a freight train, or back at home without consolation. Many of Reichardt's memorable scenes — and there are already many — might have been torn from Robert Frank's The Americans."
Apichatpong Weerasethakul will be conducting a master class at the inaugural edition of the 4+1 Festival, which opens today in Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. That's right, all at once; hence, the name. The idea of this "festival of festivals" is to present "some of the best movies recently presented in the most prestigious film festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Venice, etc) that have not yet reached the commercial circuit" to audiences in five countries simultaneously.
The Starz Denver Film Festival, now in its 33rd year, is on through Sunday and "despite a rough 15 months or so, they appear to have come out the other end as a stronger, wiser organization," reports Mark Rabinowitz in a piece for indieWIRE on several events and screenings. "'I think we've come through it for the better,' says festival director Britta Erickson, adding that the narrowly averted crisis of 2009 and resulted in 'a stronger team, really focused on what the goals are for the organization and what the goals are for the festival.'"
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