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The Auteurs Daily: Venice, Telluride, Toronto and NYFF. Life During Wartime

 

The Auteurs Daily

Life During Wartime

"In revisiting his darkly comic 1998 ensembler HappinessTodd Solondz may have made his best film with Life During Wartime," proposes Todd McCarthyin Variety. "The distinctive, boundary-pushing writer-director has had the eccentric inspiration to resurrect the same central characters a decade later, but using entirely different actors. Winning result, which reels off one riveting scene after another, stands as both a unique sort-of sequel and a film that requires no prior reference points; it's entirely satisfying either way, though even richer if you recall the antecedent."

Colleen Barry has notes from the press conference for the AP. Solondz: "Once I started to write, I wanted to feel free to play with the characters anyway I wanted.... Some characters age 20 years, some five. People say, why not just make a totally different movie? Maybe that is what I did in the end." More from Reuters' Mike Collett-White.

"As Solondz explained, the film is better viewed as a reflection of his own changed perceptions of these people after 10 years than as a direct narrative follow-up,"writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "However you choose to see it, it stands as his most approachable, humane work since Happiness, a loose, jangly ensemble piece that coolly examines the after-effects of social and sexual dysfunction - 'forgiving and forgetting' is the most repeated theme - as opposed to the head-on confrontation of the earlier film."

Updates, 9/4: "The setting again is Miami's Jewish community, with its bar mitzvahs, neuroses and fixation on Israel, which becomes an instant microcosm for all America," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Profound in its funny hipness, it shows Solondz as the true heir to Woody Allen, albeit on a far kinkier and politically/socially engaged level. This could be the film that enlarges Solondz's list of loyal fans, who at the moment are clustered around film festivals."

"Life During Wartime is a rigorously intelligent and reflective Buñuelian satire," writes David Jenkins in Time Out London, "and like Solondz's previous two films, Storytelling and Palindromes, it takes a single idea - here,the concept of forgiving and forgetting - and probes it from a number of deliciously absurd angles."

"[L]urking somewhere behind the film's big ethical superstructure and provocatory technique is a talky comedy about dysfunctional East Coast Jewish families," writes Lee Marshall in Screen. "The blend is intriguing, but it makes for an uneven film, as more than any Solondz movie to date this is a series of interconnected sketches. Writerly dialogue that doesn't quite match what we feel about the characters continues to be a major stumbling-block for the director."

Update, 9/5: "It revolves around three sisters," writes Roderick Conway Morris for the New York Times: "Joy (Shirley Henderson), whose marriage to Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) is on the rocks as a result of his drug and sexual problems; Trish (Allison Janney), whose psychiatrist husband Bill (Ciarán Hinds) has been serving a long prison sentence for pedophilia, and who has an older boy away at college and is bringing up two younger children alone; and Helen (Ally Sheedy), a successful screenwriter in Los Angeles, in her own words 'crushed by the enormity of her own success,' who has broken off relations with the rest of the family.... Set against the almost ludicrously bright poster-paint colors of an eternally summery Florida, this tragi-comic tale might be subtitled 'The Three Sisters on Pharmaceuticals.'"

Update, 9/11: "Solondz explains that he never intended to make a sequel," writes Xan Brooks, who's met him for the Guardian. "Then one day he sat down and found himself writing (or rewriting) that opening exchange in the New York restaurant. 'I don't know why I did it,' he groans, as though this is the dumbest question in the world. 'Why do you do anything? Characters beckon. I wrote that first scene and said, "Oh yeah, now let's see where it goes." And then it builds on itself and you're at the end.'"

Update, 9/13: Online viewing tip. Via Movie City News, Solondz introduces his film to European viewers of Arte.

Updates, 9/17: Scott Tobias at the AV Club: "The plus side to the auteur-driven fare that populates international film festivals? Directors with a clear, unmistakable vision and a rigorous set of motifs and stylistic signatures they employ over the arc of their careers. The down side? Same damned thing."

"Few moviemakers have gotten the mileage Solondz has out of peddling an adolescent's fantasies about what grownups are like as the rotten truth about people," sighs Tom Carson in GQ.

"Solondz's gravely entertaining touch remains as intact as ever," finds Eric Kohn at indieWIRE. "Less abstract than his last film, Palindromes - but nowhere near the brilliant morbid hilarity of Welcome to the Dollhouse or Happiness - [Life] nevertheless confirms that his enjoyably twisted wit still has some life left in it."

For Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg, Life is "half a return to form, and half a retread of ideas that were slightly curdled to begin with."

It's "Solondz's most accessible film in years," finds Mark Olsen in a dispatch to the Los Angeles Times. "In creating a sequel to 1998's Happiness but recasting all the roles, he has pulled off the feat of a film that stands on its own while also deriving a richer meaning from its references back to the older film. It's as if the new film exists entirely in quotation marks, and yet within that space still manages to make meaning of its own. The effect is remarkable, making the entire film hum with a high-tension energy."

Updates, 9/20: "Whatever domestic crimes the people close to you may have committed, in the end they're family and you have to try to understand them," writes Richard Corliss for Time. "This sense of connection, despite all, and the pitch-perfect playing of Solondz's large cast, makes Life During Wartime one of the year's best films, in whatever year it ultimately finds theatrical release."

But for Josef Braun, "Life During Wartime ultimately feels less than fully realized, and its plot turns on a few pretty thin conceits, though it does have some superb sequences that could almost stand alone as fragments of some greater study of how emotionally crippled adults negotiate their way through thorny realms of need."

Updates, 10/1: Life During Wartime "finds Solondz still stuck in a rut," argues Nick Schager in Slant. More from Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York.

Update, 10/7: For Mike D'Angelo, writing at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, this "is indeed Solondz's least facile and most affecting picture since Happiness… even if, in my case, that essentially amounts to 'least painful kick in the nuts since junior high.'"

Update, 10/8: Benjamin Strong for the L Magazine: "Happiness deserves to be remembered more fondly than the imitations it has since spawned, which include everything from American Beauty, released a year later, to 2006's odious Little Children. But Solondz's vision of American pettiness, amid a backdrop of unprecedented economic prosperity, isn't suited to our lives during wartime."

Updates, 10/10: "If he were the incisive social critic he thinks he is, there'd be a case to be made for Todd Solondz," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in Reverse Shot. "In the age of Little Miss Sunshine and Juno a healthy dose of savage, dark humor would serve American independent film well in challenging liberal complacency and political correctness - given the infrequent cinematic output of Terry Zwigoff, bitter, parodic, button-pushing misanthropy is rarely represented at the local art house. But Solondz has not helped fill the void. If anything, he precipitated it."

For Anthony Kaufman, this "may be the most thorough, penetrating and profound accounting of post-9/11 America and the nation's utter and dysfunctional lack of compassion."

Ed Champion talks with cinematographer Ed Lachman; he's also got a bit of video from the press conference featuring Ally Sheedy.

Online listening tip. At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Armond White, Andrew Grant and Sylvia Miles.

Update, 10/15: "At the core of Solondz's perversely wry satire is the nature - and limits - of forgiveness in its various incarnations, from crime and punishment, to moral transgression, to weakness and despair," writes Acquarello. "Framed against the image of pervasive artificiality, Solondz creates an eccentric metaphor for longing as a manifestation of impossible construction, where only the prospect of redemption, not happiness, lies within our grasp."

Update, 10/23: Johnny Lavant: "If he had an ounce of artistic merit, he might be a decent medieval filmmaker in the land of fantasy. He's not."

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.

 

I was fortunate to see a rough cut of Todd Solondz’s new film a little over a month ago, and I am very, VERY interested to see what the world makes of it. Using an entirely new cast to create a sequel to HAPPINESS, Solondz picks up the story a decade later and creates a rhyming, mirror-image of his original. The more things change, the more they stay the same, but Solondz as an artist has clearly changed; darkness abounds, often laugh out loud funny, yes, but the film has a haunted sense of longing that is coupled with a confidence that feels worlds away from Solondz’s (understandable) auto-critiquing strategies in STORYTELLING or PALINDROMES. The film’s original title, FORGIVENESS, seems perfect and despite the innumerable nods to its predecessor (will those who didn’t see HAPPINESS get it?), the movie stands alone as one of the director’s best.

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