A better mix of countries this time, including my first film from Lithuania. And, er, three French films. (The gap since my last blog post is because I spent the weekend in Copenhagen at Fantasticon. There’ll be a blog post on the con appearing here soon.)
Romeos, Sabine Bernadi (2011, Germany). Not sure how I got sent this one. I added it to my rental list obvs. But I don’t recall why I added it to my list. I probably saw a trailer for it on another disc. Lukas is a transman, assigned to a nurses’ home for his national service/community service because his paperwork still has him as female. Through a friend – who knew Lukas before he transitioned – he meets a bunch of people, including Fabio. Lukas falls in love with Fabio, but can’t tell him about his situation. Which makes things a bit awkward. Like when they go for a picnic at a lake near Köln, and Lukas can’t strip down to his swimwear because he’s on hormones but has had no surgery. I’m not sure what to make of this film – it felt like a sympathetic portrayal to me, but I’m in no real position to judge. Lukas was played by a male actor, with prostheses, and he seemed convincing in the role. Although the plot revolves around Fabio’s reaction to the fact Lukas is a transman, Lukas experiences very little prejudice, and most of that is bureaucratic. The female nurse think his presence among them is all a bit of joke, and when he does move to the male dorm his reaction to their slobbishness is a bit of a cliché. I enjoyed it.
You Can’t Escape Lithuania, Romas Zabarauskas (2016, Lithuania). I rented this film because it was Lithuanian, and I’d not seen a film from Lithuania before. And clearly, from the title, it takes place in Lithuania. The film stars an actor playing the director, Zabarauskas, who helps a famous actor friend flee Lithuania after she has murdered her mother. But their road trip to the border turns all avant garde, with colour filters and long philosophical voiceovers in English. Meanwhile Denisas Kolomyckis plays Zabarauskas as an arrogant rich kid with a higher opinion of his own talent than anyone else – at a press conference, for example, he refuses to answer questions as he has not prepared answers, and instead monologues. And yet it all works. The avant garde felt a bit Malick-ish, which would normally be a big turn-off, but they didn’t outstay their welcome and they seemed to contrast well with the main narrative. An interesting film, if not a great one, and I suspect Zabarauskas might be a name to watch.
Personal Shopper, Olivier Assayas (2016, France). You never really know what you’re going to get with an Assayas film. I’ve watched a number of them and they’ve all been very… different. I wasn’t all that keen on his last one, Clouds of Sils Maria (see here), which also had Kristen Stewart in a lead role, but Personal Shopper is much better, despite being a less straightforward film. Stewart plays the title role, a personal shopper for a Dutch celebrity. Her twin brother died recently, and she has been trying to contact his spirit at his house in Paris, at the urging of the house’s new owners. On a trip to London to pick up clothes for her celeb, Stewart witnesses some ghostly events, and is contacted by an anonymous person by text. Then Stewart’s employer is murdered. The two stories feel unconnected: Stewart’s visions of her brother’s ghost, and the murder of her celeb. In fact, other than to ratchet up the tension, I’ve no real idea what the point of the murder is. The murderer is quickly identified, and captured by the police. The film’s focus is clearly on Stewart and her her “relationship” with her late brother.
Swiss Army Man, Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan (2016, USA). See that quote from Empire on the DVD cover, “Hilarious”? That’s a fucking lie, that is. This film isn’t the slightest bit amusing – but you can imagine the director and screenwriter giggling like fratboys as they go through the script. It’s not typical fratboy humour, that’s true, more nerd fratboy humour. Still not funny, though. A man, Paul Dano, is marooned on a desert island. One day a dead body – Daniel Radcliffe – washes up on shore. When Dano notices that the corpse breaks wind frequently, he uses it like a jetski to escape the island. As he travels, he discovers the body is also good for catching a raintwater in its mouth, and that it is slowly beginning to talk. They reach the mainland, and begin making their way through the wilderness to civilisation, Dano dragging Radcliffe. As the film progresses, so Radcliffe becomes more sentient, and more useful. Dano discusses a woman he used to lust after on his daily commute, but he never had the courage to approach her. The two act out an invented romance between the two. This is the sort of the film whose story might be mildly amusing if told down the pub over a ten minutes or so after more than a few beers. But as a feature film, it sucks. The humour was juvenile at best, the attitude to women about the same, and by the tom the film finished, I was annoyed I’d wasted a spot on my rental list on it. Avoid.
Sauve qui peut, Jean-Luc Godard (1980, France). So my finger slipped one night while I was enjoying a nice glass bottle of Shiraz, and before you know it I’d gone and bought a 10-DVD box set of Jean-Luc Godard films and a 13-DVD box set of Jean-Luc Godard films. This is from the 10-DVD collection. I have a lot of time for Godard as a filmmaker, if not for some of his individual works. But I think he rewards re-watching, and I don’t think splashing out on a pair of his box sets was a waste of money. And yet… it’s not always easy to understand what he’s trying to achieve with a specific film. Technically, he’s never come across as more than proficient, although he uses slow-motion as a form of decompression in this movie and I think it’s among the first uses of it (for an especially good use of the technique see Dredd). But Godard’s drive to break film boundaries does sometimes render his movies an uncomfortable experience. Okay, so when he’s playing around with narrative structures, as in Film Socialisme and Goodbye to Language, or even Hélas pour moi, that’s one thing. But Sauve qui peut, which is apparently his return to “mainstream” film-making after a period of left-wing experimental films is… a bit borderline. It’s not that Huppert plays a sex worker in the third of its four stories, if only because Huppert is brilliant in everything – but that the acts of violence against women, or the scene in which a father at a kids’ football match discusses the sexual appeal of his young daughter… seem to serve no real narrative purpose. And the narrative itself is far from straightforward – I very much doubt Godard has read Story, and I suspect he would reject its philosophy anyway – as should any real artist, of any medium, mode or genre. But overall, Sauve qui peut feels like a film that knows where it’s going but isn’t entirely sure how to get there…
Tout va bien, Jean-Luc Godard (1972, France). An opening title card helpfully informs the viewer this film is set in May 1968, which was a period of great civil unrest in France. A group of striking workers at a sausage factory have occupied the offices of their employer, locking the manager in his office and preventing him from using the toilet. Also caught up in events is an American reporter (Jane Fonda) and her French husband. The set of the offices is designed like a doll’s house, with each room visible from an outside viewpoint, so the camera can move back and forth, taking one or more rooms at a time – the technique was first used in Jerry Lewis’s The Ladies Man (an excrutiatingly bad comedy from 1961). Tout va bien then moves outside the factory, and discusses the political and social context surrounding the strike, usually through direct addresses to camera. Fonda’s husband, Yves Montand, is a film director from the New Wave, who now makes commercials, and his reasons for doing so – as explained to camera – are clearly more for his own peace of mind than to inform the viewer. There are scenes of rioting, shoppers in a large supermarket, new construction work, all observed by either Fonda, Montand or both – in places, Tout va bien feels like Godard’s response to Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451. I don’t know if Tout va bien qualifies as one of the “left-wing experimental films” mentioned above – it certainly qualifies as the former, but some of his other films feel to me more experimental. There’s a poetry and, perversely, an energy to the shots Godard frames, but the accompanying commentary is often banal. I don’t know if this is because we’re more cynical these days – and cynicism does seem incompatible with idealism, and the French were famously idealistic in May 1968… Time has not been kind to the observations made in Tout va bien, even if the sentiments still hold true for those of us who aren’t self-entitled self-rightous right-wing pricks = but the visuals are still striking, albeit chiefly because they’re very much of their time. A film worth seeing, and one that will stand up to rewatching, even though it’s a movie that could only have been made in the late sixties or early seventies…
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die count: 879