Writer/director Paolo Sorrentino unleashed a pilot of the first two episodes of a new, fictional, ten-part series titled, “The Young Pope,” at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
Jude Law plays the primary character, Lenny Belardo, aka Pius XIII, the first American Pope in history. Young and charming, his election appears to be the result of a simple yet effective media strategy orchestrated on behalf of the College of Cardinals. But appearances can be deceptive. And above all, in the place and among the people who have chosen the great mystery of God as their guiding compass. The place is the Vatican and the people are the hierarchical leaders of the Catholic Church. And, young Lenny Belardo, raised in an orphanage, proves to be the most mysterious and contradictory of them as Pius XIII. Shrewd yet naïve, ironic and pedantic, primeval yet modern, melancholy and ruthless, doubting yet resolute, Pius XIII is evoking a God he can give to mankind. And to himself.
Sorrentino is bound to shock the sensibilities of some of his Catholic viewers with the imagery in the opening sequence. He opens with a baby in a dimly lit St. Peter’s Square crawling over a sea of other babies until we see a man emerge from beneath the pile. A cut is made to Lenny awakening from a sleep and donning the attire of a Catholic Pope. As Lenny leaves his dressing area Sorrentino makes effective use of slow motion as he shows Lenny gracing the Vatican personnel with his presence. He glides across screen from left to right with non-diagetic music to the admiration and respect of the on-lookers until sitting upon his papal chair. He embodies a pious pose while envisioning a lovely topless blonde sitting in a green pasture as he presumably, as a young boy, looks on. He comes to and makes his way to the Papal Balcony where a deafening roar is heard from a rain-soaked crowd waiting to hear his Holiness.
Suddenly, the rain stops, the clouds clear and the sun shines forth and again the crowd roars. Lenny as Pius XIII begins a most dynamic and appropriate speech on how he serves God and how he serves the audience before switching it up telling the audience to indulge in forbidden pleasures and desires including masturbation, gay marriage and a free and liberated lifestyle. At this point, his Secretary of State tells Pius he is not the Pope, that the Secretary of State is Pope and that Pius XIII is excommunicated. A cut is made to Lenny awakening from a sleep. From here Sorrentino takes the viewer on a wild ride as he delves into the psychological state of the young pope through moments of Belardo’s introspection and through his interactions with his subordinates.
Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi creates a plethora of luscious visuals throughout the seamless show. Laura Rosenthal and Annamaria Sambucco have compiled a stellar cast. The cast does look the parts with thanks to the work of Carlo Poggioli and Luca Canfora. The musical score by Lele Marchitelli keeps pace with the action. The production design is exquisite and is handled by Ludovica Ferrario. The editing is seamless. Cristiano Travaglioli is credited with editing.
set of “The young Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino.10/22/2015 sc. 264 ep. 2In the picture Dyane Keaton.Photo by Gianni Fiorito
set of “The young Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino. 10/22/2015 sc. 264 ep. 2 In the picture Cécile De France. Photo by Gianni Fiorito
set of “The young Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino.09/11/2015 sc.219 – ep 2 in the picture Silvio Orlando.Photo by Gianni Fiorito
set of “The young Pope” by Paolo Sorrentino. 08/10/2015 sc.210 – ep. 2 in the picture Paolo Sorrentino. Photo by Gianni Fiorito
All in all, the Young Pope proved to be highly entertaining. Law brings style and swagger to the role of Lenny. Silvio Orlando brings to life the machinations and cajoling of Secretary of State, Cardinal Voiello, and Cecele De France adds nicely to the film’s rich muse-en-scene with cinematographic in close ups as the Vatican Marketer, Sofia Dubois. Last and certainly not least, Diane Keaton solidly depicts Sister Mary adding a much needed grounding presence as Sorrentino is not pulling any punches with his attempts for humor. Nevertheless, it is a delightful production with interesting dialogue and a dark, ominous and foreboding first Papal Speech.
My recommendation is don’t miss a chance to see ‘The Young Pope.’
The Young Pope is a joint Sky, HBO, CANAL+ production and will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic in 5 countries: in Italy from October 21st, in UK, Germany, Ireland and Austria from late October, and in France on CANAL+ from late October. Early indications for the US market is February 2017.
Canadian Director Denis Villenueve’s (Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies) new science fiction drama, Arrival, is based on Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Alien ships have landed across the globe without explanation communicating only a Sanskrit word for war.
The film opens in a reflective voice-over coupled with powerful sound effects and strong camera work to create a feeling of pandemonium. Supersonic jets blaze across the screen as 12 unidentified flying objects descend from the sky and land across the globe. The aliens attempt to communicate with written words and phrases in a never seen before language. Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist played by Amy Adams (Man of Steel, American Hustle, The Fighter), is charged with communicating with the alien intelligence. Artist Martine Bertrand designed the aliens written language. The Sanskrit word for war is delivered to Louise at her university teaching office for translation. At first she balks. However, the opportunity to put to use all she has learned in a lifetime of study and academia and the mourning she’s gone through over the loss of her daughter provides her the impetus to join the effort.
Initially, Dr. Banks appears anxious. However, she quickly is brought up to speed by the US military. Captain Marks, played by Mark O’Brien, informs the team on what is known about the alien landings. One of the first translations the group deciphers is “language is weapon.” Soon however, the process is stalled. Intelligence about the alien space ship reveals that their doors open every 18 hours granting an opportunity to board the craft. After dialogue and heated conversation, Dr. Banks is granted clearance to board the craft with the team. With the team in position to board the craft, Villenueve amps up the sound effects and music including some very heaving breathing from Dr. Banks as the team waits, attired in Cybex hazmat suits, for the alien ship to position itself to allow boarding. With the ship’s entry encapsulated in smoke combined with some abstract visuals and the surreal effect of slow motion the team boards the alien vessel.
In the end, Dr. Banks proves she’s up for the task and begins the communication process with the aliens but not without difficulty. An interesting reference is made to the Sapir-Whorf theory that once a person starts to learn a language the person will start to dream and think in it. However, when the aliens begin writing a thought one hand begins the thought while the other hand ends it simultaneously. Louise’s mind has difficulty comprehending this and she begins to experience highly vivid, visual flashbacks of her daughter. She begins to wonder why. Once the team members managed to board the ship and attempted to understand and communicate with the aliens they were enlightened with insight into their own human nature. In the end this appears to help Louise move on with her life finding closure to the cancer that took her daughter’s life.
Seemingly, a large part of the film’s aesthetics is augmented and carried out by sounds. Dave Whitehead created the whirrs and clicks of the alien language while Supervising Sound Editor Sylvain Bellemare created the sounds the ships made when moving. Composer Johann Johannsson created the film’s musical score.
Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy, American Hustle) plays Ian Donnelly, a physicist who attempts to solve the alien communication through mathematics. And is the sidekick to Adams Louise. Donnelly comes across as highly intelligent, energetic scientist who adds warmth and light to the team’s dynamic. Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) plays Colonel Weber, Military Intelligence, who’s responsible for coordinating the communication process. Weber needs Louise and Ian to succeed and it’s his job to see that they do. Weber pushes the two to do more and to get more from the aliens. Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, Men in Black III) plays CIA Agent Halpern who’s responsible for reporting to the government the team’s actions.
Arrival is a well-constructed film with a stellar cast and talented crew. Notably, Amy Adams is superb as Dr. Louise Banks. The costuming provided by Costume Designer Renee April and the production design provided by Patrice Vermette were excellent as were Carlos Huante’s alien visual effects. In addition, the sound design and musical score brilliantly augmented and sophisticatedly created the atmospheric for the film’s mis-en-scene. Executive producer and screenwriter Eric Heisserer adapted the short story to screenplay. 21 Laps and Film Nation received production company credits along with producers Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, Dan Levine and Aaron Ryder. Bradford Young served as Cinematographer capturing delicate moments with sensuality along with the massive “rainy day” science fiction scenes.
Arrival is a must-see story about life and death and the reality between the two. It also speaks volumes on humility within the parameters high stakes, foreign communication . Highly recommended.
(Featured photo courtesy of ASAC Images/Biennale Cinema di Venezia)
Giulia Privitelli interviews Sarah Chircop about her experience on the jury that was in charge of selecting the winner of the Venice Days Award, part of the historic Venice Film Festival.
Last year, I had the opportunity to take part in the 72nd edition of the Venice Film Festival as a 28 Times Cinema jury member – an initiative supported by the European Parliament. This initiative is now in its seventh year, and this year’s Maltese representative was Sarah Chircop. In this interview, she shares her experience as this year’s 28 Times Cinema and Lux Film Prize Maltese ambassador.
What is the 28 Times Cinema initiative and how did you come to know about it?
This is a EU-funded initiative where 28 young people from every European country between the ages of 18 and 25 are selected and invited to Venice to experience the oldest film festival in Europe.
The 28 members essentially form part of a unique jury who are in charge of selecting the winner of the Venice Days Award. With each year, the initiative demonstrates a consistent interest in arthouse cinema and independent film by the younger generation.
I remember that you yourself had mentioned this initiative a while back, and encouraged me to apply through Spazju Kreattiv. In turn, I encourage every young cinephile who happens to be reading this to the same next year.
What was it like being part of this year’s jury?
Well, the beauty of this jury is its versatility and diversity. We were 28 different people sharing different thoughts and ideas, different academic backgrounds and of course cultures.
And, the more time spent together and discussed as a jury, the more our differences were revealed, as well as our similarities. But all in all, I tried to keep an open and inquisitive mind, questioning as much as possible even though the days were long and tiring making it quite difficult at times.
But did you meet any other actors or directors as a 28 Times jury member? I remember exchanging a word or two with Elit Iscan from Mustang and Ondina Quadri from Arianna , as well as the director of Mediterranea, Jonas Carpignano at the Villa degli Autori…
The red carpet was always rolling on star after star. I attended the premiere of The Bleeder, starring Liev Schreiber who was awarded the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award 2016, which was cool.
But honestly, I was much more moved to sit in the same room as the directors of The War Show, this year’s winner of the Venice Days Award, and to later meet the producers too. A personal favourite director, Luca Guadagnino, was also there with a film called Ombre dal Fondo and we did get to have the director of a film called Boys in Trees DJ at our closing party, which was crazy fun.
Apart from all the film-watching, naturally, celebrity-snooping and the parties, what other activities were you involved in throughout the two weeks of the festival?
Honestly, there were times you’d be at a panel and all you can think of is whether Cate Blanchett would be gracing the red carpet at some point. She didn’t, much to my disappointment.
Besides all the film watching and jury debating, we also had to select and attend a workshop. I chose the Active Cinemagoers Workshop, led by Irene Angel, where we learnt what it takes to be an active cinemagoer and what is involved in organising a film festival through discussing renowned case studies and then working together to imagine our own festival.
Other workshops included Film Criticism, Radio Film Journalism, Seeing and Translating Cinema and Social Networks & Film Festivals. Besides these workshops, we also attended various panels on the European Parliament, Virtual Reality, Biennale College Films, War on Screen and The Selection Process in Film Festivals. There was also the Miu Miu Women’s Tales, where female filmmakers and actors discussed their work and experiences. Guests included actresses Juno Temple and Dakota Fanning.
Sounds like you had plenty to keep you busy! In fact, in a nutshell, what was a typical day for a 28 Times jury member like?
My day would always start with… you guessed it… an espresso. The hours of sleep I managed to rack up determined the number of these said espressos. But I loved waking up early to a hungover Lido and go about searching for a different bar to properly come to my senses. The croissant was as important, might I add.
Once the caffeine was in my system I would usually meet up with some of the group to get tickets for a film we wished to see out of the Venice Days selection then head to our first ‘compulsory’ screening of the day. Lunch was either a quick bite at the Lion’s Bar right in the heart of the festival area before heading off to a workshop, panel discussion or another film but sometimes there was also time for a sit down meal before resuming more movie-watching.
Once our compulsory activities were done for the day, we’d usually try to catch even more films, watch the celebrities gracing the red carpet and maybe even manage an Aperol spritz – and most of the time we did. The day almost always ended, at least for me, with an ice cream.
Back to your role as jury member. What was the Venice Days selection like this year? Was there a unifying theme?
This year, 12 feature films were selected as part of the Venice Days programme; these were our priority and responsibility to watch and think about for jury discussions presided by Canadian artist, Bruce la Bruce.
As with each year, Venice Days aims to focus on the rich variety of different cultures and nations, to look both to the future and the past and allow for a young and curious audience to play an active role. The Mississippi Mermaid was the star of this year’s posters, stressing the achievements of women in the film industry today, while also presenting, and I quote: “an emblem of an ever-changing cinema that stirs our emotions and fears instead of soothing us.”
The jury selected the Syrian film The War Show by Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon as the winner of the award for this year. What was the jury’s statement, yours included, for choosing this film?
The War Show. Yes. Well, it was clear to most of us from the start that there was no real contender against this film. It provoked an impassioned response, to say the least, from the Jury. It presented sensitive and violent content in such an effective way yet it was not solely through its content that it won our vote but the way in which it was presented; through a series of powerful images portraying life and death.
Although some deliberated on whether it belonged alongside the rest of the Venice Days selection, which was comprised of narrative fiction features, it was ultimately recognised as an outstanding crafted piece of cinema. It succeeds in painting a truthful picture of the political and societal portrait of Syria and of “a war which is defining a conflict of time”. It is with sadness that I urge all of you to experience The War Show, yet I fear the necessity of making another a film like this.
Political and social content is also central to the films presented for the Lux Film Prize which, I am to understand, you are also representing this year.
Yes. Toni Erdmann, As I Open My Eyes and Ma Vie de Courgette are the three finalists vying for the Lux Prize this year – all brilliant films in their own right. As a Lux Film ambassador, my role actually started once I returned to Malta.
Having represented Spazju Kreattiv, which manages Malta’s only specialised art-house cinema in St James Cavalier, I am to promote these European films locally, while also contributing to bringing Europe’s cinematic soul closer to Europeans. The films are subtitled with the 24 official EU languages, enabling them to travel and be screened in more than 50 cities and 20 festivals across Europe.
You speak of European film – how would you define such a film, if you could?
Through this experience, I have come to understand European Film as an art form which essentially tries to unite Europe by telling European stories, a form of cinema that focuses on cultural values and intercultural dialogue.
However, I feel that it is actually quite hard to rightly define European cinema and perhaps its nature is something free from the constraints of a technical description, but is rather something which should be left to be whatever it needs to be.
Would you say European cinema is sufficiently represented in Malta?
Spazju Kreattiv is part of the Europa Cinemas network and has recently launched their new cinema programme which includes quite a varied selection of films, including the screening of Lux Prize nominated films such as L’Avenir which was actually one of the 10 shortlisted films for this year’s Lux Prize.
This year, Spazju Kreattiv will also be participating in the first edition of European Art Cinema Day taking place today. There is also the Kinemastik Short Film Festival which promotes European Cinema and, of course, the Valletta Film Festival which debuted its second edition last June with a large selection of European as well as international films. I see this festival fast becoming one of the most attractive in the Mediterranean region.
Any final words to potential future Maltese 28 Times Cinema and Lux Film Ambassadors out there?
Just go for it. It’s an experience that will truly stimulate your mind, enter your heart, and settle permanently into that cosy little home called memory. Let’s keep cinema alive and let’s keep European cinema the place to carry on recognising and celebrating different cultures.
In 1960, Director John Sturges made the original Magnificent Seven, starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, as an American Western. Sturges based his work on legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. So in addition to being an end-of-summer blockbuster, Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake. Like Seven Samurai a good portion of Fuqua’s work takes place indoors and is evidenced by low-key lighting, heavy shadows and blackness.
This was Fuqua’s first attempt at a western although he claims to having had an affinity for them having watched many with his grandmother during his formative years. So when Metro Goldwyn Mayer approached him about making a western, Fuqua jumped at the opportunity. However, he wanted to make this his film with a theme to resonate with today’s audience. He didn’t have to look far to find a strong actor to lead up his core group of seven. Fuqua proposed Denzel Washington for the film’s lead, bounty hunter Sam Chisolm, having worked with Washington on Training Day and The Equalizer. Washington won an Oscar for Best Actor for his Training Day role and his on-screen partner, Ethan Hawke, received a Best Actor in a Supporting Role nomination. Like Fuqua Washington had never done a western and looking back at the success the two have had together quickly came on board. Chris Pratt was identified to play gambler Josh Faraday, Chisolm’s sidekick and first to join the seven. Pratt, too, leaped at the opportunity to play a cowboy.
Soon Fuqua had an idea for his version of The Magnificent Seven as he and Washington performed research into the Old West. They discovered a wide-range of nationalities including Russians, Mexicans, and Irish. Fuqua wanted his seven to reflect this so he collaborated with screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk to create an authentic cast of characters utilizing a diverse group of young actors in addition to Washington and Pratt: Ethan Hawke plays Goodnight Robicheaux; Vincent D’Onofrio plays Jack Horne, Native-American Martin Sensmeier plays Red Harvest; Mexican-American actor Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays Vasquez; and South Korean headliner Byung-hun Lee plays Billy Rocks.
The film is set in the town of Rose Creek where a ruthless industrialist, Batholomew Bogue, played convincingly by Peter Saarsgaard, is attempting to roust the entire town with threats, murder and mayhem for his own personal gain. The desperate town folk are at wits end when a woman, Emma Cullen, played by a tough Haley Bennett, reaches out and convinces the seven hired guns to protect and defend them from Bogue’s army of mercenaries. The men come together and find within themselves not only the will to fight and win but also the moral fortitude to do something because it is right.
Interestingly, like Kurasawa, Fuqua employs a number of camera techniques to highlight his film’s narrative. Many of his Hollywood closeups are shot just below the chin emphasizing the actors’ strong jawlines. Mauro Fiore is credited as the Cinematographer. In addition, impressive, expansive panning landscape shots are used to introduce the film with a non-diagetic score started by the iconic film score composer James Horner. Horner had over 75 projects to his name, along with two Academy Awards, and worked with Hollywood heavyweights like James Cameron, Oliver Stone, George Lucas, Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg. Horner did not live to see the completed product before his untimely death in June of 2015. However, he did manage to complete seven themes based on the film’s script and his conversations with Fuqua. Composer Simon Franglen finished the film’s impressive score in a manner and style of James Horner as a tribute to Horner.
Throughout The Magnificent Seven Antoine Fuqua attempts to comment on today’s society and what he sees as overt acts of tyranny as he keeps with the Kurosawa thematic element of programming a film with societal mirrors and a political undercurrent. Notwithstanding, while Kurosawa used the unemployed samurai to form his seven, Fuqua finds a group of fringe characters with diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Still, both film’s characters do what is right and help those in need in spite of their own self-interest. My hat goes off to Director Fuqua for a valiant and noble effort. The Magnificent Seven is a fun film. It is well done technically with plenty of action and color. And, it is made in a similar vein as a world cinema masterpiece. Highly recommended.
(Featured photo courtesy of ASAC Images/Biennale Cinema di Venezia)
Mel Gibson’s upcoming Christian movie Hacksaw Ridge got a 10-minute standing ovation at its premiere last September and it will be released in theaters next month.
The film is based on the true story of a World War II medic named Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield. Doss refused to fire a single shot in battle because of his religious convictions. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing as many as 75 soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
During the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival, Gibson was joined by actors Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer and Luke Bracey to greet the dazzled audience.
In an interview with France24, Gibson characterized Hacksaw Ridge as an anti-war movie.
“It is an anti-war movie. I think all war movies are anti-war movies, but we do have to be compassionate to our warriors,” Gibson said. “I hate war, but I love the warrior. And those guys that went to war, I appreciate and honor their sacrifice, because many of them lost much, even when they come home they suffer,” he added.
Gibson expressed his admiration for Doss’ faith in God during an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.
“To go in to a battle zone like that. I think the Japanese called it a steel rain, with the artillery and the lead that was flying around, to go into that armed with only your faith, your faith has to be strong indeed,” he said.
The film’s producer, Bill Mechanic, had been working n on the film for 13 years. Gibson signed up to direct the movie in 2014. Mechanic considered it as Gibson’s greatest film. He previously worked alongside the director on the award-winning film Braveheart.
Last August, Gibson appeared at Pastor Greg Laurie’s SoCal Harvest in Anaheim, California, to promote the film. He also hinted that his next project could possibly be a film about Christ’s resurrection.
Hacksaw Ridge will be released in U.S. theaters on Nov. 4.
Film Director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land comes on the heels of his Oscar nominated screenplay adaptation for 2015’s Whiplash, where a highly intense music teacher molds a young, dedicated student. J.K. Simmons performance as the teacher garnered him an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
Chazelle, an avid music lover, had wanted to do a musical spectacle in the manner of Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Umbrellas of Chambourg while mixing in a splash of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s Singing in the Rain. Moreover, Chazelle wanted a realism mixed into the story. Having resided in Los Angeles for the last ten years and having had a love affair with the city, Chazelle chose the City of Angels to set his Hollywood success-seeker film.
The film opens without much fanfare in a typical Los Angeles morning traffic jam. A young woman, Mia, played by Emma Stone, in a white Prius, is having an issue with her phone and misses an opportunity to move forward as the traffic jam has freed up somewhat. The young man behind her in a late 1980’s maroon-colored, Buick Riviera convertible, Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, lets her know with a blare of his horn and a not-so-friendly “good morning to you” gesture. Soon traffic slows again. This time, however, as radio are being dialed in, drivers begin exiting their vehicles and break into to an energetic, six-minute song and dance number, “Another Day of Sun,” staged on the 110 freeway overlooking downtown Los Angeles. As the song concludes, the title is flashed across the screen and the film is off and running with a start reminiscent of Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas.
La La Land is more about relationship and the life-changing experience two young lovers gain from each other. Mia is an aspiring actress mired in her real job as a barista juxtaposed against a series of failed acting auditions where she is continually interrupted. Sebastian, on the other hand, is a coarse, die-hard classical jazz pianist who doesn’t believe in compromising his convictions for anything or anyone. As their paths begin to cross Sebastian brushes off Mia as someone who will never understand his plight – until she does. When their paths finally converge, the harsh realities of life begin to set in and the two unknowingly turn to each other in raw emotional exchanges and thereby find the strength each needs to reach the stars.
In a powerful denouement in the city full of optimism and broken dreams, the story concludes with a Mick Jagger and Rolling Stones truism echoed faintly at first only to be finished with an exclamation point:
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need!”
And if the story isn’t enough in itself, the catchy musical numbers credited to Chazelle’s long-time friend and co-collaborator, Justin Hurwitz, will keep almost any music aficionado’s attention. If not, then the roving camera movement of cinematographer Linus Sandgren is bound to keep eyes in the scene. And, if that’s not enough, then the supercharged production numbers from choreographer Mandy Moore will keep you riveted as they sync in timing with Sandgren’s camera movement allowing the actors seemingly the ability to levitate. And in vein with Chazelle’s vision and outright homage to the musicals of the 50’s and 60’s, Production Designer David Wasco keeps the screen illuminated with a bright vision of reds, yellows, pinks, pastel greens and sky blues, aided wonderfully by Mary Zophres’ costuming, while the filming locations could very well serve as a Los Angeles pop culture tour.
If there’s only one film you can see this year – make it La La Land! Highest recommendation.
Fashion Designer and Film Director Tom premiered his new film, Nocturnal Animals, at the Sala Grande Theater during the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. Nocturnal Animals received the Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize (generally considered runner-up to the Golden Lion – Best Film). This was Ford’s second feature film. His first film was the critically acclaimed, A Single Man (2009) starring Colin Firth. Firth receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for his efforts.
Nocturnal Animals, is a tale of redemption, revenge, love and cruelty. Ford opens the film with a strong musical score to reveal rotund, morbidly obese girls dancing topless upon pedestals seemingly pretending to be debutantes. Adding to the fanfare special effect confetti drops down and through the frame. All-American girls showcasing their goods and talents. Bordering on the macabre, the tone for the film has been set.
Hollywood, A-lister Amy Adams plays a real-life West Texas debutante, Susan Morrow, who lives an unfulfilling life of daunting privilege with her handsome husband, Hutton Morrow, played by Armie Hammer. As Hutton prepares for yet another last-minute weekend high-finance business meeting in New York relationship fissures widen. A pensive Susan reflects on the state of her union with Hutton after a ‘not-so-discreet’ phone conversation from Hutton’s elevator arriving at a penthouse suite amid feminine gaiety as she opens a plain, white, mail shipping box. Susan opens the box to a black and white manuscript titled, “Nocturnal Animals,” by Edward Sheffield, Susan’s former husband and first true love.
In dramatic fashion, Ford begins a journey into the past yet grounded in the present as the manuscript opens up a world fictional, yet etched within Susan’s consciousness. Using parallel storylines, present and fictional coupled with flashbacks to when Edward and Susan first met and the ensuing courtship and short-lived marriage. Laura Linney, plays Susan’s West Texas Republican mother, and delivers some of the film’s more memorable lines during a martini lunch where she unleashes her verbal diatribe lambasting Susan for even considering a marriage to “weak’ Edward. Notwithstanding, however, the real storytelling takes place within the pages of the manuscript. Self-reflective and dramatic the narrative is full of conflict and escalating tensions as a husband and wife, Tony and Laura Hastings, played respectively by Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher, travel at night across rural West Texas with their teenage daughter, India, played by Ellie Bamber. Without even as much as a lit billboard, out of a pitch dark blackness a vehicle approaches the family’s suburban mid-sized car at a high-rate of speed. The car is driven erratically and its occupants are behaving wildly as they pass. Not too much to worry about until they decide to force the Hastings car off the road. Mayhem ensues as the hellions carjack the Hastings vehicle with the women inside leaving Tony on the side of the road in the dark by his lonesome. Soon a vehicle returns to pick up Tony. He’s informed he gang leader wants to make amends and that Laura and India want Tony brought to where they are being held hostage. Fearing the worst Tony manages to escape and eventually makes his way to a law enforcement office to make an abduction/missing persons report to lawman Bobby Andes, played by Michael Shannon. Susan is shocked and awed at the power of Edward’s writing and the visceral strength of Edward’s character, Tony. By the end of the manuscript, Susan’s life perspective has shifted as she and Edward make plans to meet.
Unquestionably, Ford delivers an emotional and psychological thriller with Nocturnal Animals. Superb acting, exquisite production values and strong storytelling are the film’s hallmarks. Shane Valentino (Straight Outta Compton) handled the film’s production design. Seamus McGarvey (Godzilla, Atonement, The Avengers) provided the cinematography. Costuming was assembled by Arianne Phillips (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma). Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man, We) orchestrated the music. Along with directing Ford takes a screenplay writing credit along with Austin Wright, the author of “Tony and Susan,” for writing the novel the film is based on. Nevertheless, the Casting Director, Francine Maisler (The Revenant, Birdman, The Big Short, 12 Years a Slave) and performances by the actors are above and beyond. This is a Don’t Miss film waiting for Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominations. The Oscars.
Russian Director Andrei Konchalovsky premiered his latest work, Paradise, at the Sala Grande Theater during the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
Paradise tells the story of three individuals, Olga, Helmut and Jules as their paths cross amidst the trials and tribulations of WWII during the Hitler regime. Olga, played by Yulia Vysotskaya the real-life wife of Director Konchalovsky, is an aristocratic Russian woman and a member of the French Resistance arrested for hiding Jewish children during a surprise Nazi police raid. As part of her punishment she is sent to jail where her path crosses with Jules, a French-Nazi investigator, played by Phillipe Duquesne, who has been assigned to investigate her case. Olga pumps up her feminine wiles with what appears to be some success to get Jules to lighten her punishment. However, events take an unexpected turn and Olga is sent off to a dark, dirty hellish concentration camp. While managing to survive and stay alive, Olga catches the eye of Helmut, played by Christian Clauss, a high-ranking German SS officer, played by Christian Clauss, who oversees the camp’s operations with an auditor’s acumen. Helmut had previously fallen madly in love with the upper-class Olga and still felt the yearnings of love. Slowly and with the utmost care initially, the two embark on a tumultuous and destructive relationship leading to a conscious break in Olga’s mental state of what constitutes Paradise with the impending Nazi defeat looming.
Konchalovsky takes the viewer on a compelling journey into the past utilizing what appears to be archival footage and documentary style interviews from the three main characters. He sets the film in 1942 early with the use of a text overlay during the film’s prologue and quickly introduces the audience to the world of Olga as a high-class, fashion editor for Vogue magazine. With the blink of an eye, the tone of the film is changed irrevocably as Olga is shown being grilled all night long about why she would hide Jewish children and lie to the police about it. And, Konchalovsky doesn’t stop there. He enters into power relationships via sexual manipulation, eavesdropping, concentration camp internment and the visceral art of kapo survival.
In the end the paradise unveiled falls into a similar vein to the spiritual realities of war and the fight for what is right displayed in Laszlo Nemes’ Academy Award nominated Son Of Saul. Also, like Son Of Saul, Konchalovsky’s Paradise has gotten the nod to be Russia’s entry for Best Foreign Language film. This comes on the heels of Konchalovsky garnering a Silver Lion for Best Director at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival.
Along the way Konchalovsky pays tribute to Russian cinema history with Paradise, shown in black and white with reflexive characteristics of film reels unwinding on the big screen harkening back to the days of Dziga Vertov’s Man With the Movie Camera. Paradise editor Ekaterina Vesheva poured through scores of newsreels in search of the film’s soul while keeping an authenticity to resonate within documentary sensibilities.
In line with achieving further authenticity, Konchalovsky wanted unknown actors audiences wouldn’t recognize from well-known projects. Not an easy task for a casting director to find three actors with Russian, German and French language abilities who could carry out the characters monologues with maximum believability. Consequently, casting was carried out simultaneously in three countries with Elina Ternyaeva as the Russian Casting Director, Uwe Bunker was in Germany and Constance Demontoy worked in France.
Such attention to detail continued with copious research into character development and environmental factors of female camp internment. Purportedly, Konchalovsky handed a compulsory list of 40 books for Clauss to read in preparation for his role as Helmut. A triangle of trust was being created between director, actor and audience. Julia Vysotskaya, a prominent television presenter and stage actress shaved her head, lost significant body weight and endured the rigors of the film’s highly intense, emotional scene work. Furthering the look and feel of the 1940’s war era with authentic costuming and set objects were Costume Designer, Dmitry Andreev, and Production Designer, Irina Ochina.
While the list of Holocaust films continues to grow, Konchalovsky submits a rare twist with an exquisite aura and an emotional delicacy. Artistic, informative and transcendent, Paradise, permeates more than one metaphysical level. Highly recommended.
The action takes place in France during World War II. Russian émigré and Resistance member Olga Kamenskaya is detained by the police for trying to save two Jewish children. Jules, a French policeman and a Nazi collaborator, is willing to make concessions for her, but Olga winds up in a concentration camp where she meets S.S. officer Helmut, a Chekhov admirer who joined the S.S. in hopes of creating a paradise on Earth.
The scenes in the film alternate with interviews with the protagonists in which each talks about his or her childhood, family life, profession and the reasons they chose to support one side or the other.
Who stars in the film?
Olga is played by actress Yulia Vysotskaya, who is also director Konchalovsky’s wife. Helmut is portrayed by Christian Claus, and Jules, by Philippe Duquesne. Other actors include: Jakob Diehl, Peter Kurth, Viktor Sukhorukov and Vera Voronkova.
Which awards has the film received?
The film premiered on Sept. 8, 2016 at the Venice Film Festival and won the Silver Lion for Best Director.
In the last 10 years, Russian films and directors had received five prizes in Venice: Nikita Mikhalkov (Special Lion, 2007), Alexei German, Jr. (Silver Lion for the film The Paper Soldier, 2008), Mikhail Krichman (Golden Osella for Best Cinematography for Silent Souls, 2010), Alexander Sokurov (Golden Lion for Faust, 2011) and Konchalovsky himself (Silver Lion for The Postman’s White Nights, 2014).
*Featured image: Paradise director Andrei Konchalovsky . Photo courtesy of ASAC Images/Biennale Cinema di Venezia.
Nepali movies with home-grown content and themes are doing well
Sep 23, 2016- Chhakka Panja, a recently released comedy movie, has become one of the country’s highest grossing movies of the year. The movie with a good-natured script, and based on Nepali migrant workers, has joined the illustrious Rs1crore club.
Nepali movies are making good collections at the box office in recent times. This is good news for the Nepali movie industry, which has had to compete with Bollywood and Hollywood movies. While box office collections are not the only yardstick to determine a movie’s quality, a few Nepali movies are not only earning profits but are also winning critical domestic and international acclaim.
To be sure, many Nepali movies in the past, as well as in the present, have been far from stellar. Nepali movie makers have often not shied away from borrowing the storylines and peculiarities from Bollywood movies. But recent films like Loot, Highway, Apabad and Pashupati Prasad, among others, were able to garner huge acclaim and revenues. The message to Nepali film makers is clear: if movies are well made, people will flock to the theatres to watch them.
A thriving movie industry can be a boon for a nation as a whole. Firmly established in Mumbai, the Indian film industry, or Bollywood, employs hundreds of thousands of people and has been growing by 10 percent annually. By 2016, its revenue is expected to reach $4.5 billion, according to DI International Business Development.
Bollywood took a leap forward in 2001 when it gained “industry status” that allowed banks to lend to it. Since 2004, its gross receipts have almost tripled. And it is not only about the money; the power of films to contribute to social change is also well documented.
The Nepali film industry has come a long way since the first movie, Aama, was made in 1964. The quality of the films being produced seems to be improving in recent years and more and more people are watching them. Huge numbers of people outside the country are also contributing to the sales, with Nepali movies being screened in countries like Qatar, Dubai and the UK. If the movie industry in the country is formalised like in India, it will encourage more independent and creative movie makers.
If films are based on contemporary subjects and have good content and presentation, they will do well, not only domestically but also internationally. Recent successes of a number of Nepali movies stand testament.
*Featured photo courtesy of ASAC Images/Biennale Cinema di Venezia