Tag Archives: Conversation

Behind ‘La La Land,’ A Long Relationship Between A Director And A Composer

Posted by Larry Gleeson

La La Land has already won seven Golden Globe Awards and is nominated for fourteen Oscars, including Best Original Score and two Best Original Songs. The music and the film’s story, about two struggling artists in Los Angeles who can’t launch their careers, are inseparable — it’s a musical, after all. But the collaboration between La La Land‘s composer and its director goes all the way back to college.

Composer Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle already had a successful track record with their previous film, Whiplash, but Hurwitz says selling a traditional musical in 21st century Hollywood was not easy.

“If he would have said no, our roads would have been very different and there certainly wouldn’t have been a La La Land,” the director says. “The smartest decision I ever made was to latch on to him and not let go.”

When Chazelle and Hurwitz finally got the green light to make La La Land, they wrote and composed hand-in-hand. The first task Chazelle put to the composer was to come up with a main theme.

“I spent so much time at the piano working on demo after demo, idea after idea,” Hurwitz says of what became “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme.” “As soon as I came up with that melody, it was like an “A-ha!” moment for me and Damien: ‘OK, wow, that’s the theme of the movie.'”

He and Chazelle also asked their stars, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, to help create the sound of the film by singing some of the songs live on camera while Hurwitz played the keyboard backstage.

“We did that because we wanted those really intimate moments to feel live and to have that live vulnerability,” Chazelle says, “and to let Emma and Ryan really act those moments and those songs in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if they had to pre-record those songs in a studio months earlier.”

That sometimes unorthodox approach that Hurwitz and Chazelle took to collaborating has paid off. But the director says their sentimental musical was never a sure bet.

“The idea of embracing that, not apologizing for it, not trying to coat it in any kind of irony, and also embracing the kind of emotions that can come with that, that I feel like we downplay in movies these days,” Chazelle says. “The sort of full-fledged romanticism that movies of an earlier era were able to embrace without hesitation, and now it feels like we’re a little scared to embrace those sometimes.”

Chazelle has another movie in the pipeline, although it’s not a musical. As soon as it gets a green light, Hurwitz says, he will sit back down at his piano to compose once again.

(Source: npr.org)

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Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Ana, mon amour (Netzer, 2017): Romania

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Călin Peter Netzer returns to the Berlinale Competition, having captured the Golden Bear in 2013 with his low budget, digitally shot, Mutter & Sohn, a mother-son relationship piece. Netzer’s entry this year, another relationship piece, is Ana, mon amour, starring Diana Cavallioti, as Ana, and Mircea Postelnicu as Toma. Ana, mon amour is a story of two young people who meet at the university and begin a co-committed love affair full of hopes and dreams. Each feels mutually supported.

Opening in tight framing, Netzer introduces us to Ana and Toma discussing Friedrich Nietzsche and Adolph Hitler. Panic ensues for Ana. Toma caresses her belly and the two become intimate partners. Director of Photography Andrei Butică delivers highly crafted frames representing the closeness and intimacy Ana and Toma share.

As the relationship evolves the episodes continue until medication is used and then reconsidered with psychoanalytic therapy. Along the way we meet both sets of parents and discover root causes for the affective emotionality Ana and Toma exhibit and experience.

Netzer shows Ana’s struggles and Toma’s attempts to cope with exquisite, tender and emotive close ups. In, addition Netzer incorporates the use of extended narrative flashbacks as Toma is participating in on-going, regular psychoanalytic therapy sessions.

In addition, Netzer addresses racial and social bias in Romanian society. Each visits the other’s parents home. Taking a cue from Milos Forman’s The Loves of a Blonde (1965) Netzer gives an up-close and introspective view exploring in seemingly real-time these racial and social biases. Afterwards, the two begin to isolate themselves from their families and friends. Moving into more graphic detail, Netzer effectively shows Ana unravelling and Toma’s increasing frustration at his own inability to stabilize her.

Eventually, Toma succumbs to the stress from Ana’s anxiety and walks away from his career becoming a stay-at-home husband/father as the two have chosen to embark on parenthood. Ana has now become the sole breadwinner. Unsure of herself at first, Ana begins therapy with a competent psychologist finding an inner strength from the insights and support she garners from her sessions. Toma feels left out and the relationship comes to a head.

In Ana, non amour, Netzer delves into some rather deep and heady territory including dream interpretation as it relates to psychoanalysis. The film’s narrative is strongly driven by Andrei Butică (Director of Photography) camera work and dynamic editing from Dana Bunescu (Editor) in revealing the multi-faceted aspects and multi-faceted complexities of relationship in a most intimate space. Bunescu would go on to win the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in the categories camera, editing, music score, costume or set design. That being said, the actors more than hold their own.

But above all, In Ana, non amour, Netzer delivers a profound dramatic presentation on mental illness, how it’s overcome and the toll it takes on an adult, romantic relationship. Netzer delves into some rather deep and heady territory including dream interpretation as it relates to psychoanalysis revealing the complex psychological affects due to repression related to Romanian societal taboos.

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian, 2017) China

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Liu Jian mortgages the house to make films! Chinese artist/filmmaker Liu Jian delighted the house at the Berlinale Palast Theater during the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.

Utilizing a warm color palette and an exceptional musical score mixing classical American jazz with traditional Chinese sounds, Liu Jian takes the viewer on a colorful journey through a southern Chinese city drawing several people from diverse backgrounds with different motives into bloody conflict in the darkly comedic, animation feature film, Have a Nice Day.  But wait, there’s more!

Have a Nice Day is Liu Jian second foray into feature animation film. His first Piercing I, a cold, hard look at the 2008 global financial crisis. Liu Jian is now in production on his third film, a self-reflective animation feature, School Town, an autobiographical look at Liu Jian’s own life.

In Have a Nice Day, Liu Jian allows a bag containing a million yuan to take center stage. Greed and selfish motives take over. The gangster boss who lays claim to the bagful of yuan holds court and wistfully recalls days from future past while pontificating to a subordinate who has spunk and maintains he’s an artist. Some philosophical discourse takes place on what exactly constitute art and who can call themselves a true artist. The bag has been lost and/or stolen and a butcher/hitman is sent to recover the money-laden bag.

The bag representing progress continues to move from one point to another. Various, vicarious and unsuspecting, dialoguing individuals reveal social and moral issues issues while clutching the bag of money tightly in hopes of securing a better life. In the end, it’s all just an illusory pipe dream fantasy.

Nevertheless, Modern China is in flux and a real war for control is ripe with violence and dangerous activities. With the animation format, Liu Jian is adeptly able to circumvent and soften some of the more distasteful aspects of this movement toward progress while heightening and stylizing the mood in China today.

Along the way, Liu Jian adds some subtle Western influences as he develops nuances of character. For example, the Hitman is a butcher when he’s not working for the mob boss. To add depth to the butcher, Liu Jian inserts a Rocky movie poster starring Sylvester Stallone on the Hitman’s locker at the meat processing plant.

In recent time, much is made of China’s growing economic power and goal of world dominance and, by the film’s end, one of the film’s protagonists, the Hitman, laments, “without high-technologies we just can’t win.” The film closes with an earthy mise-en-scene as a large city-scape with shades of browns and grays sits silently while a long, steady rain cascades across the screen in a vertical fashion.

Another beautiful film in the Berlinale Competition. While Chinese animation short films have been in previous Berlinales, Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day, is the first feature-length, Chinese animation film to be screened at a Berlinale. It’s a touching expose. And, it’s a worthy contender for the Golden Bear. Warmly recommended.

*Featured photo: Courtesy of Liu Jian/Berlinale.de

 

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: The Bar (Iglesia, 2017): Spain

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Director Álex de la Iglesia rehashes an oft-used scenario of a group of individuals held against their will in a life-threatening situation in his new film, The Bar (and yes, it is set in a bar). The titles roll with a peppy, “warm and sunny day” jazz beat. The location is present day Madrid, Spain, on what seemingly could be any typical day in the city.

Iglesia wisely opens with the stunningly beautiful Blanca Suarez (kudos to José Quetglas for Make-up) as Elena, waltzing through a fast-moving urban city-scape while conversing on her cellular phone about her romantic prospects while a business man initially crosses her path bearing the same lughole accessory. Ángel Amorós serves as Director of Photography and his opening scene is nothing short of brilliant. A must-see!

Both these characters, Elena and the businessman, wind up in a nearby bar where quick transitions from Editor Domingo Gonzales reveal colorful characters in a slapstick-like manner. A few patrons are enjoying breakfast while a few others are enjoying their first espresso of the day. Costumer Paolo Torres outfits the group in rich, vivid attire. Short, rapid fire exchanges of dialogue compliment the character intros. Suddenly, a blast overwhelms the bar. Sound Designer, Sergio Burmann, creates a reverberation somewhere between gunshot and a medium-grade explosive.

Without missing a beat, a body is discovered lying outside the front door sidewalk with a gunshot wound to the head. A patron exits to discover what has happened when another, now identifiable, gun blast takes his life. The customers are visibly horrified and they watch helplessly. They scurry for cover. Brief pandemonium ensues. However, the trepidity begins to recede and an observation is made – the streets are empty. An eerie feeling has taken hold. Questions abound. Why is there no one on the sreets? Is there a sniper on a rooftop? Or could the perpetrator be somewhere in the bar?

The group quickly realizes they must work together to stay alive. From here the film’s narrative oscillates between thriller and dark comedy while the characters oscillate between solidarity and egotism with moments of confidence and terror as they struggle to survive begins amidst outbursts of greed and hatred, helpfulness and compassion.

In The Bar Iglesia sets forth an adventurous, often calamitous tale primarily set in the bar’s basement rooms and the underground passageways of Madrid. Iglesia focuses his lens on these characters in a most intimate manner. The colorful characters’ personality layers  (and clothing!) are peeled as they try to stay alive. However, along the way, lives are lost. Yet,  truths are revealed, self-discovery is made and inner strength is found. The film has a run time of 102 minutes allowing for some emotional depth in his supporting characters while bringing the character of Elena to full fruition.

Granted, the film’s narrative does have its flaws and its characters, while colorful, do raise some eyebrows with larger-than-life personas while spewing forth some rather zealous dialogue. However, Iglesia slyly embeds a deep socio-political truth into The Bar‘s  story line. Herein lies the beauty and magic of this film.

Highly recommended from the 67th Berlinale!

HELPING FILMS GET MADE AT THE BERLINALE CO-PRODUCTION MARKET

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

THREE PRIZES AND 1,200 MEETINGS

Three monetary prizes were awarded to selected narrative film projects at the Berlinale Co-Production Market (February 12 to 15).

On Sunday evening, the Eurimages Co-Production Development Award, with an endowment of 20,000 euros, was awarded to The Wife of the Pilot (director: Anne Zohra Berrached), which Razor Film Produktion from Germany presented here. The prize money is intended as a development grant from the European film fund Eurimages.

The three members of this year’s jury were renowned industry professionals Pablo Pérez de Lema (Spain), Leontine Petit (The Netherlands) and Manfred Schmidt (Germany).

Two additional prestige prizes were also awarded. The VFF – Verwertungsgesellschaft der Film und Fernsehproduzenten from Munich awarded its VFF Talent Highlight Award, with an endowment of 10,000 euros, to the project The Bus to Amerika, presented at the market by producer Nefes Polat from Turkey and director Derya Durmaz. Since 2004, the VFF has each year honoured a promising project by up-and-coming filmmakers from the “Talent Project Market”, organised by the Berlinale Co-Production Market in cooperation with Berlinale Talents. Nominated for the VFF Talent Highlight Award this year in addition to Nefes Polat were Cuban producer Maria Carla del Rio, with her project Shock Labor, and producer Jeremy Chua from Singapore, with Tomorrow is a Long Time. Each project received a recognition of 1,000 euros as well as the opportunity to pitch their projects to participants of the Berlinale Co-Production Market.

This year, the renowned ARTE International Prize, which has been presented since 2011, was awarded to the project Lost Country by Serbian director Vladimir Perišić, which is represented by KinoElektron (France), MPM Film (France) and Trilema Films (Serbia). ARTE bestows the 6,000 euro prize on an artistically outstanding project drawn from the entire Berlinale Co-Production Market.

The 14th Berlinale Co-Production Market, which runs until February 15, is a place where the producers of the 36 selected narrative film projects can also meet with potential co-producers and funding partners. Over the four days, some 600 participants take a total of more than 1,200 individual meetings. In the coming days, this Berlinale partner hub will also focus on “Books at the Berlinale”, the presentation of books that could be adapted into films, and “CoPro Series” for TV series. The platform received more than 2,000 requests for meetings this year. More than 240 films that came to the market looking for partners have since become completed films, and seven of those are screening this year alone in the film festival programme.

The main partners of the Berlinale Co-Production Market are MDM – Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung and the European Union Creative Europe MEDIA programme.
Another partner, and also the market venue, is Berlin’s House of Representatives (Abgeordnetenhaus).

The Berlinale Co-Production Market is part of the European Film Market.

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(Source: Berlinale Press Office Release)

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki, 2017): Finland

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Writer/Director Aki Kaurismaki served up a full platter of entertainment with Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope) during the 67th Berlin International Film Festival at the Berlinale Palast Theater. Tackling the migration and asylum bureaucratic processing issues of the day, Kaurismaki serves up quite a treat with The Other Side of Hope.

The film opens in the dark of night in a shipping harbor complete with fog horn blasts and heavy equipment operating including a dock loader transferring coal from ship to shore. The black, glistening bituminous coal shimmering in the light as it is being piled is magical this night. Emerging from the center of the pile a rounded shape with two spherical orbs projecting light are visible. Soon a human form emerges.

A cut is made to a businessman, Wikstrom, played by Sakari Kuosmanen primping himself for what appears to be another day. Yet, on this day, Wikstrom has decided to leave his wife, who comes into frame with a full head of curlers, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, attired in a cheaply-made, tropical floral robe. Wikstrom places his wedding ban on the table and exits. The woman reached for a gin bottle pouring herself a double taking a mouthful to wrap up the scene.

Using these two main protagonists, Kaurismaki embarks on a story showcasing two very different lives. Wikstrom, a haberdasher of sorts peddling ties and men’s shirts, drives a black luxury sedan listening to Western music while the coal refugee, Khaled, a Syrian asylum seeker, portrayed by Sherwan Haji, takes a coin-fed shower releasing the black soot from his skin’s pores. These men are on different trajectories. Khaled tries to do the right thing by finding the nearest police station in Helsinki to seek political sanctuary status from Aleppo. Despite his best efforts Khaled is denied sanctuary and decides to stay in the country illegally as many in his predicament seem to be doing. Wikstrom is hustling at a private, high-stakes poker game winning enough money to purchase outright an old, seemingly well-established restaurant in one of the remotest areas of Helsinki.

The restaurant undergoes several incarnations – each one bringing more laughs from the audience than the previous one. Wikstrom has developed very solid rapport with the chef and head waiter and takes to heart almost every one of their suggestions. Khaled, on the other hand, has been living on the streets and has made friends with a hip and funky group of rock-n-rollers. As luck would have it, or, maybe it was a form of divine Providence, the Wikstrom finds Khaled sleeping in the back of his restaurant and winds up giving him a bed and a job. With the help of the Wikstrom’s connections, Khaled is reunited with his sister and manages to find a way to stay in the country.

Hats off to Kaurismak. He wields quite a powerful wand in The Other Side of Hope. Bringing the main protagonists together after nearly forty minutes and having the story and its characters gel in a believable manner is no easy task. Quite the opposite. Tiina Kaukanen rapid fire costume changes aids immensely in the humorous attempts to find a working restaurant motif. I would be amiss not to mention the uber strong production design managed by Mark Lwoff and Misha Jaari. Director of Photography, Timo Salminen, captures the telling mise-en-scene with various lighting sets ranging from very low-key sets to more traditional tungsten indoor lighting set ups.

An interesting note: Eevi Kareinen handled the casting while serving as the Assistant Director.

In the end, Kaurismaki brings these two characters together – the practical businessman and a refugee seeking a life free from Syrian war for him and his sister. Along the way, he provides plenty of comic relief in this heart-warming and life-affirming tale of pragmatism and redemption. An exceptional film in light of the present migration dilemma and one I recommend highly without reservation.

*Featured photo credit: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: The Party (Potter, 2017): Great Britain

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Director Sally Potter and her new dark comedy, The Party, found a receptive audience at the Berlin International Film Festival with a near-capacity crowd at the spacious Berlinale Palast Theater. Filmgoers were abuzz after the screening. Potter is most well-known for films Orlando (1992), Tango Lesson (1997),The Man Who Cried (2000) and Ginger & Rosa (2012). She is also an accomplished writer and performance artist.

Potter artfully chooses to portray The Party feature in black and white over color. The film opens with an unusual dutch angle-style frame of Bill, portrayed by Timothy Spall, the drunkard husband to Janet, played by Kristen Scott Thomas,  a recent ministerial appointment in the British government. The two have decided to celebrate her appointment with a few close friends.

Without much adieu, the film’s other characters are adeptly brought into the fold with revealing details as they begin arriving one-by-one. Janet, the aforementioned appointee and wife of Bill, is having a clandestine affair. Gottfried, played by Bruno Ganz, is the husband of Janet’s most ardent admirer, April, played by Patricia Clarkson. Gottfried has taken up with meditation in public spaces and is a practicing life coach. Tom, portrayed by Cillian Murphy is a high financier – emphasis on high as after he makes a grand entrance he retreats to Janet and Bill bathroom to ingest a fair amount of cocaine and to get a grip on a semi-automatic pistol complete with a hidden body holster.

Next to join the group are Jinny, played by Emily Mortimer and Martha, played by Cherry Jones, a same-sex couple expecting a child. Jinny is three months pregnant fresh off an overwhelmingly successful ultrasound while Martha is a drab, pseudo-intellectual, college professor. Quite an eclectic set of characters to celebrate with!

Imaginatively, Potter intertwines innuendo, double entendre and some wickedly pointed dialogue exchanges in setting the stage for the ensuing drama hiding in The Party’s underbelly. Meanwhile, Director of Photography, Alexey Rodionov is utilizing deep focus and ultra low angle framing, ala Gregg Toland in Citizen Kane, with satirical affect. Editors Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini keep the viewer’s eye moving from frame to frame matching pace with the characters’ rapid-fire bantering.

Expertly, Potter leads the viewer to the precipice where it’s all about to implode into a dark chasm as tempers are starting to flare when Bill flips the entire scenario inside out. The drunkard declares he is terminally ill and then collapses unconscious! The fury seething beneath the surface has found a fissure for its release as the characters all come rushing to aid Bill in his time of need.

The film’s narrative notches up a warp here with some philosophical musings, snarky female comments and Gottfried’s Eastern meditative point-of-view insights. Gottfried’s comments bring some resounding comic relief while also beginning to make sense now in the teetering moments of crisis. As the characters begin revealing their innermost sacrosanct feelings and beliefs, the situation comes to a climax.

Thanks to the casting of Irene Lamb and Heidi Levitt, Potter has considerable talent to work with and she does a nice job of  providing ample space for character development. She uses the intellectual bantering very effectively to tap into the charatcer’s emotional reserves revealing some serious sensibilities while keeping the viewer guessing at what is coming next.

And, Potter’s efficiency is remarkable. One character action leads right into another as the plot advances in whirlwind fashion. It is lean and mean and before you can say Jack Robinson, it’s over and and it’s complete.

Very nimbly and quite adeptly Potter and The Party make a seamless, nearly compass accurate, full circle narrative from opening to close with nary a dull moment in between. A highly recommended film.

The Party was a bonafide 2017 Golden Bear contender and was Potter’s eighth feature film. Potter previously took part in the Berlinale Competition in 2009 with Rage.

 

*Featured photo credit: Adventure Pictures Limited 2017