The following is the script of my introduction to Poulet aux prunes (Chicken with Plums), a selection at the University of Rochester’s 2015-2016 Tournées Film Festival, which showcases French and Francophone films.
People have tried to silence Marjane Satrapi. From her moralistic teachers in Lycée Français, a French high school in her hometown of Tehran, Iran, to the Muslim fundamentalist regime that deposed the Shah monarchy in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, individuals and forces both at home and abroad have tried to contain and suppress Satrapi’s revolutionary voice. They have failed. Beginning with ink before expanding to the silver screen, Satrapi’s career, which was launched in 2003 with the publication of her autobiographical, multi-volume graphic novel Persepolis, has gained widespread acclaim, an Oscar nomination, and a reputation as a vehicle for ardent political commentary and exuberant self-expression. Continue reading
Happily Ever After
This is the ninth post in my Blindspot review series. I will continue to publish one like it each month for the rest of 2015.
Amélie is a curious concoction. The world it depicts is bawdy and colorfully R-rated, and yet it has the feel of a children’s fairy tale. We get this impression thanks in large part to the titular heroine (Audrey Tautou), whose biggest flaw is her altruism: she so single-mindedly devotes herself to helping others that she forgets to help herself. This scenario recalls a very real-world problem – the compassionate busybody who burns out because she is constantly ignoring her own needs to meet the needs of others – but director Jean-Pierre Jeunet rephrases the issue in more fanciful terms. Instead of psychological health, the lack in Amélie’s life is in the shape of a prince charming, an elusive happily-ever-after. Continue reading
This is the eighth post in my Blindspot review series. I will continue to publish one like it each month for the rest of 2015.
In Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the titular character is dying from kidney failure. The film is slow – slow cinema slow – but this slowness takes on profound weight in light of this plot line. With death forthcoming, we become unusually sensitive to time’s passing – the way the story crawls and at points seems to stand still, the way the shots last for minutes on end. The smallest movements are granted tremendous significance, as they seem to resist through physical action the stillness associated with death. Simultaneously, the melancholy sluggishness with which they are performed – as when a woman lazily zaps mosquitoes with an electric swatter, or an ox ambles casually through a field of grass – appear to convey a resignation to time’s inevitable trajectory. Continue reading
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is all business. Whereas Ghost Protocol took time to pay homage to the series’ legacy (a literal lighting-of-a-fuse segues us into the franchise’s indelible musical theme), the latest entry, while not lacking in nods to earlier Mission Impossible staples, assumes we’ve seen the previous installments and guns ahead. There are gadgets and spy intrigue and stunts galore, but they are rattled off with ease and not too much exposition, allowing the magnetic muscle man Tom Cruise to work his magic for as much time as possible. Continue reading
Prayers in Wartime
This is the seventh post in my Blindspot review series. I will continue to publish one like it each month for the rest of 2015.
Most conventional war movies focus on the inhumanity of man as a consequence of blood shed on the battlefield. The Thin Red Line, helmed by director-philosopher Terrence Malick after a 20-year directorial hiatus, has loftier aims, framing war itself as symptomatic of a greater tension within nature, at least as perceived by our insular, earthbound species. The film, which tracks a platoon of American soldiers as they attempt to usurp Japanese control of a plot of strategically valuable land, is superficially about the usual wartime concerns as depicted in the movies: PTSD, the fraternal bond between brothers in arms, War is Hell. Continue reading
Warm Not Blazing
How to Train Your Dragon features a dragon named Toothless. He’s got some snazzy talents, like the ability to fly so fast as to be nearly invisible to the naked eye, and to spit out missiles of purple flame. But he’s really a sweetheart, a reptilian F-117 Nighthawk with the demeanor of man’s-best-friend. Like its fire-breathing star, How to Train Your Dragon lacks teeth (technically, he has retractable incisors that went unnoticed prior to his naming, but the misnomer “Toothless” is irresistibly convenient for my illustration, so bear with me), and yet, despite not blazing any new trails, the film cozies up to us with its conventional warmth and carries us with exuberant images of characters in high-speed flight. Continue reading
Me and You and this Maddening Movie (but watch it ’til the end)
My initial impression of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl as a smugly self-aware, self-congratulatory play on genre went largely unchallenged for most of the film’s runtime, punctuated though it was by no few laughs and moments of genuine charm. The culprit is Greg (Thomas Mann), a senior at Pittsburgh Schenley High whose irony-laden commentary on everything from his social life to the larger movie itself seems to be the film’s point of identification. “This isn’t a romantic story,” is Greg’s go-to rejoinder to what he and Gomez-Rejon assume we must be feeling: that this tale of a teenage boy’s friendship with a teenage girl, newly diagnosed with leukemia, will devolve into a syrupy love story which exploits cancer as a tearjerking device. The line repeatedly pops up, as if the film wants to remind us how smart it is, beating us to the punch in recognizing the potential for cliché and then defiantly, triumphantly, steering clear of the road most traveled. Continue reading