Monthly Archives: April 2016

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Sleeping Beauty and The Skin I Live In

41d6716146bf902fc26bd0fb94afb6e4-970-80Sleeping Beauty

Julia Leigh lowers the kinesis down to a zombie plod in Sleeping Beauty, a film that is pointedly not smitten with fertilizing or justifying anyone’s sexual intoxicants. Deeply analytical and fire-retardant, it is easily written off as a concrete slab of ice rather than a fibrous expression of vivid life. But there’s ice as an end point and ice as a beginning, and Leigh uses her tempered-down tone as a jumping off point for wider thematic questions. She doesn’t reject life for the sake of it in service of an empty exercise in nihilistic austerity. Instead, she applies her iciness as a way to navigate usually-carnal visual spaces and trap them, and to implicate audiences in a certain voyeurism (trite, I know) without turning the piece into a hedonistic, Hitchcockian riff on diabolical debauchery. Some of the ideas are wanting, but Leigh overcomes the relentless intellectualism of her work (and the film feels like work, make no mistake) by exploring her walking-dead aesthetic sensibilities with innately gifted craft. Continue reading


Un-Cannes-y Valley: Oldboy and Broken Flowers


A tonal collision between live-wire cinematic kinematics and ice-cold debasement animates Park Chan-wook’s alternately madcap and doleful Oldboy,  a film that was destined for worship by a particular brand of youthful cineastes who revel in corrosive provocation more than trenchant filmmaking. A meditation on revenge enlivened more by panache than what might be denoted as depth, Chan-wook’s illustrious film nonetheless thrives simply as a cinematic lightning bolt. Its observations about self-propagating violence and soullessness are hardly revisionist or revolutionary, but Chan-wook’s reputation as a guiding light of South Korean cinema rests more on enthusiasm and dynamism than clarity. On that front – and this is not a front to be taken lightly as a font for experiential cinema that aims for the gut – Oldboy, however tenuously it arrives at more substantive ends, does not disappoint. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Pan’s Labyrinth

pans-labyrinthA decidedly outre expression of childhood trauma, Pan’s Labyrinth is a wartime fantasy from the deranged, consequence-ridden non-American realm of classical fables filtered through the oblong mind of one of modern cinema’s great dreamers. A bifurcated (unnecessarily, I might add) tale of adult conflict and childhood coping set against the Spanish front during WWII (when Franco’s repressive government was fighting ragged rebels), the most poignant gestures of director Guillermo del Toro’s vision are his most voluptuous and baroquely nightmarish. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: The Pianist

pianist-postOne must undeniably validate the valor and reflexivity of one of the few cinematic treatments of the Holocaust by an honest-to-god Holocaust survivor, but a good critic must also remember that bravery doesn’t inherently beget beauty. Director Roman Polanski’s troubled, torrid life aside, The Pianist – if a masterpiece – ought to withstand the test of time on its own merits, rather than on the shoulder’s of Polanski’s personal story, difficult though it may be to disentangle the two.  No one film should be a sycophant to its back-story, fascinating though the behind-the-scenes realities of The Pianist may be.  Continue reading

Film Favorites: Goodfellas

brody-goodfellas-1200The cabal of proponents for Martin Scorsese’s most recent Goodfellas retread, The Wolf of Wall Street, dance around the central garrulousness of the film with superficially enticing claims that its engorged, laborious pomposity is tantamount to a claim against head honcho Jordan Belfort and his trying brand of indulgent charisma and hedonistic living. The claim doesn’t hold much water, although Scorsese’s intention may have been to pummel us with the initial sweat glands of living for the moment until our body’s capacity for perspiring freezes over in the thickets of hedonism. It may have been Scorsese’s vision, I might add, because that is exactly what he accomplished many years before with his tempest-as-torpor Goodfellas, a film where every kaleidoscopic camera track and exotic edit attunes us to the characters’ struggles to methamphetamine their lives straight into the hollow caves of an early grave. Over three hours, continual fluxion begets a grave chill as expending energy gives way to perpetual enervation. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Pale Rider

51rhnvo7c2blLegend would have it that, after decades of wallowing in admittedly pleasurable crypto-conservative roles, America’s resident taciturn brute Clint Eastwood shocked the world in 1992 with an unprecedented critique of the craven, callous dueling violences at the core of the American tradition. But masterpiece though it may be, Unforgiven was hardly unprecedented to those who were looking. Eastwood’s prior directorial efforts in the genre that made him a household name had flourished nearly two decades beforehand with only his second feature, the unfinished but highly spirited (the spirit being an angel of death in this case) High Plains Drifter, a counter-myth that saw in the Wild West something more akin to an Italian giallo. More fully formed was the sublime The Outlaw Josey Wales, an often misread work of mythic Western nihilism so full-throated in its interrogation of  Western archetypes that no one seems to understand it to this day. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Black Rain

black-rain-600x321An uncompromising chemical reaction between Ozu-esque balance, ghostly Mizugochian afterglow, and the tremors of Kaneto Shindo’s mid-’60s horror social disturbances, Shohei Imamura’s 1989 release Black Rain revises cinematic assumptions about trauma away from fiery holocaust to a more hauntingly ashen storm hovering overhead for the duration of life itself. Hiroshima isn’t a Godzilla-like destructive catalyst in Black Rain, but a distantly raging existential void within which one’s sense of being and becoming are threatened completely. The world is not only out for vengeance, but it becomes unknowable; time folds in on itself, and your life becomes a separable ghost floating away from you. Not to be confused with the lightweight Ridley Scott film of the same name from the same year, Black Rain envisions catastrophe as a perpetual, everlasting terror. Moments of shock and awe – the in-the-flesh horror of destruction we take to be the prime of the bombing – would be, if anything, a respite from the cold nothingness of life living in the emptiness of the bomb’s wake. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Secrets and Lies

secretslies2Mike Leigh’s vision is tantamount to heresy in some circles, redrawing Western motifs away from individualist assertions while also retaining the individual soul in human bodies often upended by a filmmaker like Robert Altman, who sometimes privileges a social determinism in his films. In Leigh, in a quasi-Renoirian way, individuals slide and slip around each other as they construct themselves – and as the camera envisions them – interactively, rather than individually. Individual personalities abound, but the contrasts are defined relatively rather than absolutely. Unlike in most films designed for Westerners weened on figments of Enlightenment liberalism and the ultra-dominance of the individual mind, people are not fixed, asocial beings with stagnant psychologies in Leigh – people become themselves through their interaction with the world, and with others. He saves us from ourselves, cherishing individual difference without cavorting into the deathly realms of tendentious individual supremacy. Continue reading

Un-Cannes-y Valley: Taste of Cherry

poster_tasteofcherryWatching the great modern Iranian film by the great modern Iranian director, it’s a slippery path for any reviewer to bog oneself down in the essence of the film’s commentary on Iranian society (indeed, it is a crutch, if not a fallacy, to turn any review of a film into an expression of nation’s cinema, as thought cinema is exclusively about the nation it derives from or as though a national cinema is a monolith). One can be sure that Taste of Cherry has notable comments on modern-day Iran and the intersection of religion and governance unique to that nation, but this Beckettian existential drama can be contained by no nation, no person, and no theme. Continue reading

Midnight Screaming: Carnival of Souls

carnival-of-soulsCarnival of Souls should have befallen a watery grave decades ago, and yet, like its inveterate crash zooms, or the nagging figments of a nightmare or a half-imagined shard of memory, it lodges itself somewhere in the dankest, most indecipherable thickets of the mind. Who knows where it is stored precisely. Probably in the muddy, constantly-slipping-away but always-haunting-you halls next to Eraserhead and you parent’s wedding videos, a duality that very much encompasses the film’s bemusing, off-off-Broadway existence. Continue reading