The Boston Independent Film Festival, Day 4

I'd been anxiously awaiting Andrea Arnold's new film of Wuthering Heights (above) ever since first hearing about it last year, when most of the buzz seemed to center on Arnold's decision to cast black actors (James Howson and Solomon Glave) as the brooding, tormented Heathcliff.  (While purists might argue that this is taking too much liberty with the source material, Brontë's Heathcliff is already racialized as black within the novel's sign system even if he's ostensibly white.)  So I was eager to check it out yesterday at the Boston Independent Film Festival, where it screened to a large but somewhat unresponsive crowd (I was seated behind a group of young women who, judging from their reactions throughout the film, were clearly expecting to see a more conventional Classics Illustrated version).  It's a slightly overlong film and Arnold's use of handheld camerawork verges on excess at times, but it's a much-welcome antidote to the stately, mannered, bloodless adaptations of literary classics (ex. last year's Jane Eyre).  Arnold captures the emotional brutality of the novel's plot as well as the punishing cruelty of the Yorkshire moors where it takes place; this is not a lavishly designed costume drama but a stark, intimate rendering of a tale about crude, violent people living on the edge of civilization.  The first half is best, as Arnold's camera employs a kind of rough lyricism in following young Heathcliff and his adopted sister/would-be lover Cathy running wild through the mist and mud.


The Boston Independent Film Festival, Day 3

Just a quick post to report on yesterday's festival proceedings before I head out for another day of films.  I had the good fortune to check out Julia Loktev's remarkable The Loneliest Planet (above), a spare and visually stunning drama about an engaged couple (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) backpacking through the Caucasus Mountains with a Georgian guide (Bidzina Gujabidze).  The film was followed by an engaging Q&A with its editor, Michael Taylor, who observed that there are only about a hundred shots total in the 115-minute film (I wasn't timing them, but some are well over five minutes long, and one shot late in the film, as Gujabidze and Furstenberg chat and drink around a campfire, seemed closer to ten.  The film also has a tendency to go five minutes at a stretch with no dialogue).  Out of these astonishing, almost Tarkovskian long takes set against the stark beauty of rural Georgia, Loktev spins a quietly heartbreaking tale of betrayal, resentment, and forgiveness that's gorgeously modulated; it's a film intimately tuned into the subtle colors and shadings of relationships, even as its characters often find themselves dwarfed by the pitiless grandeur of their surroundings.  This is set for release later this summer; highly recommended. 


The Boston Independent Film Festival, Days 1 and 2

I’m attending the Boston Independent Film Festival this weekend for the first time, and it’s been a blast so far—I’ve seen some good stuff, and I’m looking forward to seeing much more as the weekend continues, including films by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Andrea Arnold, Guy Maddin, and Lynn Shelton.  I missed the opening night film, Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk with Me, but I caught the French cop drama Polisse on Thursday night at the Somerville Theater and the found-footage horror anthology V/H/S Friday at the Brattle in Cambridge.


The Films of 2012: Bully

The cruelty of children is on full, horrific display in the new documentary Bully (dir. Lee Hirsch), which follows a handful of American middle- and high-schoolers (most living in rural Midwestern and Southern towns) over the course of a school year as they suffer torment and abuse at the hands of their classmates.  The subjects range from 12-year-old Alex, a boy so accustomed to being assaulted and teased (he’s taunted with the epithet “Fish Face”) that he often apologizes for his attackers’ behavior, to an adolescent girl serving time in a juvenile detention center for turning a gun on (though stopping short of firing it at) the kids who incessantly picked on her.  Through interviews with and footage of these children and their frequently distraught parents, the film argues for the recognition of bullying as a national problem in need of reform at just about every level (kids, parents, administrators, and law enforcers are all suggested to be implicated to various degrees). 


The Films of 2012: The Cabin in the Woods

“You think you know the story,” boasts the tagline for The Cabin in the Woods (dir. Drew Goddard), the new horror film helmed by nerd auteur Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly fame).  With its M. C. Escher-inspired poster art and impassioned pleas by its publicists to critics not to spoil any of its twists, it promises to be a dizzying mind-fuck of a movie.  So one can’t help but feel a bit disappointed to find that the film more or less founds itself on a single gimmick, one that’s moderately clever but not exactly airtight, and that runs out of steam about twenty minutes before the end.  As far as mind-fucking goes—or real, nightmare-inducing scares, for that matter—it’s got nothing on, say, almost anything by David Lynch.  But it’s a fun, jumpy one-trick-pony of a movie.  


What Is British Cinema?: "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (1960) and "Tom Jones" (1965)

The gritty kitchen-sink drama and the literary costume film: these are two of the poles around which British cinema has seemingly been doomed to orbit.  Looking at British cinema’s “New Wave” period of the early 60s we see the young, talented Albert Finney negotiate them both, moving from the gray, dull world of the former to the sumptuous and more spirited world of the latter: Finney had debuted in a small part at the beginning of Tony Richardson’s The Entertainer (1960) before making a more dramatic entrance later that year as the Angry Young Man at the center of Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960, pictured above).  Bored with his factory job, contemptuous of his resigned, complacent parents—and of all resigned, complacent pensioners who have accepted their lot, living in cardboard-box-like houses and stuck in unhappy marriages—Finney’s character lives only for the pleasures of Saturday night, of boozing and rutting.  But the end of the film finds him effectively castrated.  His livelihood stands ready to be crushed by his settling down into marriage with a pretty but bland girlfriend and their moving into a petit-bourgeois housing development. 


The Films of 2012: The Kid with the Bike

The kid of the title of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s latest film is Cyril (Thomas Doret), a pre-teen boy for whom a bicycle is more than just a toy.  His only possession, the bike constitutes his identity and gives his life meaning.  It tells him who he is; he is the kid with the bike.  Abandoned by a deadbeat father (“I just can’t be responsible for him right now”) and subject to impulsive tantrums, Cyril’s preferred method of defense in moments of crisis is to bolt, either on foot or on wheels.  In flight from the orphanage to which he’s been consigned, he bursts into the waiting room of a doctor’s office and ends up cowering behind a female patient, Samantha (Cecile de France), who is remarkably unfazed: “you can hold on to me,” she tells Cyril calmly, “just not so tight.”  This stranger will end up acting as Cyril’s foster parent, and will attempt to tame his erratic behavior for the remainder of the film. 


What Is British Cinema?: "The Entertainer" (1960)

We come back to the issue of British acting in The Entertainer (dir. Tony Richardson, 1960), which sports a phenomenal performance by Laurence Olivier as Archie Rice, a sad-sack music hall performer whose manic, incessant jokes barely mask a seething misanthropy.  The great Sir Laurence playing a second-rate huckster who sings and dances for half-empty houses, taken out of Elizabethan costume and tarted up like Joel Gray in Cabaret (1972)—it’s a great idea, and Olivier delivers, not surprisingly.  (He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.)  It’s a kind of slumming.  What would the modern-day equivalent be?  Meryl Streep doing a mumblecore film?  Or is Olivier’s willingness to play such a desperate, seedy role the equivalent of having a beautiful actress like Charlize Theron uglify herself to play a serial killer?  In any case, what we have in The Entertainer is the frisson of British classicism rubbing up against kitchen-sink realism.