Tag Archives: Women

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: For Ahkeem (Levine,Van Soest, 2017): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest presented For Ahkeem, a new documentary, at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in Forum. For Ahkeem attempts to address and capture a young, black woman’s life pathway from footage accumulated over the course of approximately two years. In doing so, Levine and Von Soest limit a wider lens.

For Ahkeem tracks a roughly seventeen year-old African-American female, Daje, from the north side of St. Louis, Missouri, an area of the city notorious for its gun violence and innocent killings from drive-by shootings. The film is predominantly direct cinema.

Daje comes across as a rather representative, angry, militant teenager of the area. Daje has been expelled from school for the final time and has to make an appearance in juvenile court. The judge has read Daje’s not-so-promising juvenile record and decides to give her a refuge of last resort – an alternative school he started. It’s an offer Daje can’t refuse despite her best efforts.

It’s here Daje transforms from adolescent girl to young woman. With help from the staff and support from family and friends, Daje blossoms into a confident, independent young woman. As her graduation nears, Daje struggles with math, yet manages to overcome her obstacle and proudly receives her diploma. She’s persevered pregnant and birthing a child with another alternative schoolmate she felt was nice to her and to whom she could talk with and confide in.

Levine and Van Soest’s focus successfully captures the trajectory of young African-Americans in the North St. Louis ghetto, in my opinion. Footage from Michael Brown’s mother shouting into a camera shows the passion this cultural segment possesses. As Michael Brown graduated high school so did Daje. The tragic life of Michael Brown need not be repeated in Daje’s son Ahkeem. Efforts from community leaders allow troubled youths a way out. But, it’s not a one stop cure all.

 

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sangsoo, 2017): South Korea

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Kim Minhee returns to the big screen after her scrumptuous portrayal of Lady Hideko in Chan-Wook Park’s The Handmaiden (2016). Kim, as Younghee, portrays an actor out-of-work, in On the Beach at Night Alone (Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja). Officially, Younghee has decided to take some time off after having had a tumultuous affair with a married man, a rather considerable Korean societal taboo.

The film opens with Younghee traveling to Hamburg attempting to sort out her life. One of the film’s treasures is its mise-en-scene. In the early scenes, Younghee is shown taking long walks along colorful riverbanks and through wintry parks revealing the depth of her conflicting feelings and desires.

Written and directed by Hong Sangsoo, [Right Now, Wrong Then (2015), Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013) and In Another Country (2012)] On the Beach at Night Alone, is a think-piece. Utilizing long takes and a stationary camera, Hong gives the viewer an intimate perspective of Younghee as she grapples with issues of love and its pursuit, a common theme in all Hong Sangsoo’s films. Unbeknownst to her, Younghee has been the subject of tabloid rumors.

Skillfully shot by Directors of Photography, Kim Hyungkoo and Park Hongyeol, the natural beauty and energies of the characters, as well as the film’s mise-en-scene, are highlighted.

In allowing the characters time and space, Hong has written some fairly heady dialogue in the first half of the film, as Younghee explores the metaphysical possibility of her lover following her if he misses her as much as she misses him. Younghee is a woman of some mystery and has an abundance of desire.

In the second half of the film, Younghee search for meaning moves to the forefront. She revisits old stomping grounds in Gangneung, a coastal town with an expansive, recreational beach where she reconnects with friends from her past. While not seemingly a big imbiber of alcohol, Younghee allows herself to be coerced at first and then joyfully partaking while reveling in alcohol’s mind-liberating properties.

And, as is usually the case, too much of a good thing can have deleterious effects as the answers Younghee is seeking seem to just slip through her grasp. During an informal dinner party, Younghee and her friends are partaking in the traditional Korean cultural custom of eating together and enjoying Soju, the country’s national drink. Speaking from her now blemished heart and finding courage with her Soju consumption, Younghee has harsh and inconsiderate words for those in her close company as deep feelings and personal truths are unveiled. Sharing a needed, tender, sensuous, on-screen kiss with another female, Younghee’s vulnerability reaches its climax. Afterwards, she retreats to the beach at night alone to just be. At this point, it seems Younghee can only truly find herself in nature.

On the Beach at Night Alone is a beautiful film from start to finish. Intricacies of Korean culture are displayed and explored. Sanghoo’s  exploration of love and the affective role it has in life provides the groundwork for the the protagonist’s, Younghee’s, truth and life revelations to unfold in dramatic and profound ways and Kim Minhee devours the complexities of her character Younghee. This was the second powerhouse performance in a row from Kim. For her portrayal of Younghee, Kim received the 2017 Silver Bear for Best Actress from the 2017 Berlin International Film Jury. Highly recommended film.

 

*Featured photo credit: Kim Jinyoung © 2017 Jeonwonsa Film Co./Berlinale.de

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Return to Montauk (Schlöndorff, 2017): Germany

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Director Volker Schlöndorff debuted Return to Montauk (Rückkehr nach Montauk), at the 67th Berlin Film Festival in Competition. Volker having previously adapted “Homo Faber” draws again from the world of Max Frisch with new variations on the motifs of happiness and the pain that comes with remembering.

Opening in spectacular fashion with titles and music swarming in and out, around, across and seemingly through the viewing screen, Return to Montauk starts out on a high, buzzing note. From here the viewer is dragged down into the abysmal life of aging writer, Max Zorn, embodied well by Stellan Skarsgard. Well past the norm for a mid-life existential crisis, Max doesn’t seem to adhere to that adage and decides to go there anyway.

He has a beautiful and loving wife/partner in Clara, portrayed by Susanne Wolff, who would walk  the ends of the earth and back for Zorn. Clara has taken up a residence in New York to make sure Max’s book receives its due publication – a very personal novel that tells the story of a great but failed love affair.That being said Max seems to envision his life from some distant metaphysical space as he allows a long-forgotten affair to consume his being.

His novel details the affair he so flippantly discarded years earlier as he finds himself struggling to make ends meet financially. His then lover, Rebecca, played divinely by Nina Hoss, has moved on achieving a high-degree of success as a New York lawyer specializing in financial mergers and acquisitions.

Max can smell the money and follows the scent with support from another earlier acquaintance, Walter, portrayed by Niels Arestrup, a seemingly wealthy, albeit aloof, art collector. Walter is well aware of Max’s situation and knew Max and Rebecca as a couple. Throwing all caution to the wind (and that’s putting in midly) and with little thought of Clara, Max incredulously goes all in and meets up with Rebecca.

The two return to Montauk, situated at the far end of New York’s Long Island, where their flame had ignited years before. Director of Photography, Jérôme Alméras provides solid cinematography accenting a rather luscious mise-en-scene. Editor Hervé Schneid utilizes continuity editing in large part with some intimate long takes as the once-lovers take mesmerizing and exquisite seashore walks. Costuming is spot on from Majie Poetschke and Angela Wendt.

Interestingly, most of the film revolves around Max rekindling the long-ago extinguished relationship with Rebecca. Max tries to get close. But Rebecca stands in her truth, grounded in the present. She’s worked to get to where she is building a formidable new life with a now deceased partner. Yet, she is still reeling from the past hurt she experienced with Max.

Unfortunately for Max, the well ends up being deep and dark inside. Yes. The two shared a love and being adults reconnect intimately during their weekend together. Rebecca, however, coolly rejects a present day relationship with Max.  Nevertheless, a symbiotic and somewhat cathartic healing occurs for Rebecca. Meanwhile, Max’s metaphysical, roller-coaster ride continues, plunging his relationship status with Clara to an unexperienced new low.

While Return to Montauk finished out of the running for the Berlin  International Film Jury prizes it is nonetheless a beautiful film with excellent casting by Cornelia von Braun, Amy Rowan, and Meredith Jacobson Marciano. The production design by Sebastian Soukup is noteworthy with a few subtle nuances that further specific aspects of the film’s narrative while enhancing the already mentioned luscious mise-en-scene. Highly recommended.

 

*Featured photo credit: © Franziska Strauss/Berlinale.de

 

 

 

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

The First Edition of Asian Brilliant Stars launched

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Press Release – 12 Feburary 2017

The first edition of Asian Brilliant Stars launched on February 12th in Berlin. Three influential Chinese Talents received recognition for their recent works i : Xu Haofeng won the Best Director Award for The Final Master, Jerry Ye won the Best Producer Award for The Wasted Times and Liu Zhenyun was awarded the Best Screenwriter for Someone to talk to. Numerous guests were present on the red carpet, including representatives of Berlinale (Kathrin Schafroth), European Film Market (Jana Wolff), European Film Promotion (MartinSchweighofer), Beijing Film Academy (Hou Guangming), 2017 European Shooting Stars Winners and Asian Talents (Yan Geling, Nansun Shi, Ouyang Baoping etc.).

Asian Brilliant Stars is organized by Asian Film & Television Promotion (AFTP), Beijing Film Academy and Actor Committee of the China Radio and Television Association (CRTA). Modeled on the longstanding European Shooting Stars, the program aims to bring international exposure to Asian emerging and established talents, including directors, actors producers and screenwriters.

 

bestdirectoe_asianstarsXu Haofeng is one of the most influential wuxia (martial arts) author, screenwriter and director in China. He wrote Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster and directed The SwordIdentity, Judge Archer and The Final Master. In these films, Xu Haofeng develops a unique and personal aesthetics of martial arts. Xu Haofeng new film The Hidden Sword is expected in 2017. Xu Haofeng said while handing his award : “I started making films at the adult age, an age to do responsible things. That’s why I do  wuxia  films, a genre I can master.”

 

Jerry Ye is the CEO of Huayi Brothers, one of China’s leading film companies. Ye was previously VP of Wanda Culture. Ye’s credits as a producer include blockbusters The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014), Mojin: the Lost Legend (2015) and critically acclaimed Go Away Mr. Tumor (2015) and The Wasted Times (2016). Jerry Ye deliverd a speech in fluent English: “I hope we can create bridges between Europe and Asia, work with the European Shooting Stars to do films in Chinese for the Chinese movi(e)goers.”

Liu Zhenyun is one of the most popular novelists in China. His first success Cellphone was adapted for a film directed by Feng Xiaogang. His recent I am not Madam Bovary was also adapted for a film directed by Feng Xiaogang. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the Best Film and Best Film Awards at San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2016. Liu Zhenyun expressed his hope for Chinese cinema, “We can’t do films as pure financial products, we need to tell stories about ordinary lives.That’s what we did in I am not Madam Bovary, the story of a woman who stands 20 years to assert one phrase, “I am not Madam Bovary.”

 

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Richard Shen, winners of 2017 Asian Brilliant Stars and European Shooting Stars

 

As well as the awards, Asian Brilliant Stars is also co-organizing a panel on Casting Chinese Actors for Co-productions with the European Film Market (EFM) and Bridging the Dragon on February 15 during the Sino-European Production Seminar. Richard Shen, Secretary-General of the AFTP, said during the ceremony : “It’s a great honor to be a strategic partner of the Berlinale and to host the first Asian Brilliant Stars awards ceremony during this year’s Berlinale. The quick development of Asian economies has brought increasing opportunities for Asian films, and the European market has shown a growing interest in Asian Film markets. In the future, Asian Brilliant Stars will collaborate with more Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Thailand.”

(Source: Press materials courtesy of Yang Pei, Go Global)

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Spoor (Holland, 2017): Poland

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Agnieszka Holland screened her film, Spoor (Pokor), at the 67th Berlinale, February 12th, 2017. The film is centered around a Stephen King, Misery Chastain-like character, Duszejko, a supposed retired civil engineer. Duszejko is a vigilante at heart who professes to be an astrologist. Holland gives little evidence to Duszejko’s proficiency in either of these areas. Nevertheless, Spoor is a film that catches the eye and attacks the viewer’s sensibilities of right and wrong.

The film opens with a narrative voiceover espousing a person’s date of birth points to a person’s day of death. Somber non-diagetic music accompanies character Duszejko’s enlightening epiphany. The camera, meanwhile reveals a pre-dawn mountain landscape with fog billowing up and the diagetic sounds of birds chirping and dogs barking. A

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Photo credit: Robert Paeka

transition is made revealing jeeps rolling up into a small glen where a group of hunters are meeting. A lone jeep is seen leaving as another transition takes the viewer inside a sleeping Duszejko’s home via an extended tracking point-of-view take. Frantic dogs bark rousing Duszejko from a slumbering sleep. Duszejko’s rises, quickly dresses and sets out into the pasture with her beloved dogs. She stretches and raises her arms skyward in a back shot as a new day is dawning. A cut is made to a hen house full of abused, caged foxes and a brute of a man cursing and racking the cages with a metal bar.

Admittedly, Holland sets the tone for what is a wild and wily ride. After her dogs have gone missing, Duszejko sets out to correct a world gone mad (albeit her world). Spoor is set in a rugged region with hunting seasons corresponding with nature’s cyclical seasons. Despite her best attempts to thwart the hunting of living creatures including a consultation with the local priest who tells to Duszejko to pray not for the animals or for the hunters but for herself.Spoor is set in a rugged region with hunting seasons corresponding with nature’s cyclical seasons and the priest proselytizes man is meant to subdue the animals of the earth At wits end, Duszejko takes matters into her own hands finding a vindication in her supposed astrological indicators and support from an unlikely network like-minded sympathizers. Utilizing flashbacks the truth is revealed in the film’s denouement.

At its core, Spoor is a semi-stylistic film advocating vigilantism to protect the inherent sacredness of our planet’s ecological system from a microcosmic perspective. In my opinion, Holland delivers an important message in a very dark manner pitting formal religion and community against purported astrological insight and personal vendetta. Not recommended!

*Featured photo credit: Robert Paeka

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Viceroy’s House (Chadha, 2017): Great Britain

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Kenyan born and British-reared Gurinder Chadha, best known for Bend It Like Beckham (2002),  presented Viceroy’s House at the Berlinale Palast as part of the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. Chadha stated in the press conference immediately following the screening, she felt compelled to make the film in memory of her aunt and grandmother.

Viceroy’s House is set in 1947 India. India had been under British rule for nearly 90 years form 1858 when the East India Company transferred rule to the Royal Crown. In 1947 amid growing tensions and strife, Britain acquiesced authority. Viceroy’s House is Chadha’s truth regarding the political background surrounding the transfer of authority and the ensuing transition to independence.

Chadha’s agenda is a heady one as she attempts to present how the transfer was negotiated among Jawaharial Nehru, Mohammad Jinnah, and Mahatma Ghandi while speculating on the role of the viceroy and his wife. Seemingly, to keep the audience intrigued and to help move the narrative forward, Chadha tosses in a love story between Jeet (Manish Dayal), a handsome young Hindu servant and Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a stunningly beautiful Muslim woman working in the Viceroy’s House.

The film opens with non-diagetic music playing while an establishing wide-angle pan reveals the setting. The musical beat picks up in tempo as a transition is made revealing a multitude of uniformed Indian servants cleaning and dusting. Two servants in a sidebar conversation have heard the British have announced plans to leave India after a presence of almost two centuries due to the high cost World War II inflicted on the treasury. A viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, Queen Victoria’s great grandson, is coming with his wife and daughter to carry out the transfer of authority and to oversee the country’s transition to independence. Mountbatten is to be the last viceroy.

As simple as that may sound, it isn’t. India had three differing groups in the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Sikhs. Mahatma Ghandi implored all the people to stay united as one nation. However, according to Chadha, the British had a private agenda to partition the country into a Muslim Pakistan and a smaller secular India to secure oil futures for the British economy. Repeatedly, the spun phrase “divide and rule,” was proclamated throughout the film.

Viceroy’s House is a large scale, big budgeted production with many extras, extravagant costuming and exquisite production design, and has the feel of a propagandized melodramatic revisionist film. Visually, the film has much to offer with physically attractive characters and strong production values. The acting is solid with Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson as Lord and Lady Mountbatten, the Viceroys appointed to carry out the peaceful transfer. Cinematographer Ben Smithard (My Week With Marilyn) presents nothing short of a visual feast as part of an alluring mise-en-scene. The musical score by A. R. Rahman enhances the narrative nicely evoking the period.

All in all, Viceroy’s House works on the surface. Beware, however, of its dark-sewn agenda. Warmly recommended.

 

*featured photo credit:Kerry Monteen Photography)

Final Portrait (Tucci, 2017): Great Britain

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Stanley Tucci’s newest film, Final Portrait, is set in Paris, France, 1964, and is based on James Lord’s biography, “A Giacometti Portrait.”

The film opens in slow motion with voice over narration provided by Armie Hammer. Hammer plays James Lord. Geoffrey Rush turns in a stellar performance as the quirky Alberto Giacometti at the height of his fame having received Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale for Sculpture in 1962. Lots of grays, whites, and a touch of navy blue dominates the film’s studio and cemetery scenes while the cafe scenes allow for color variety.

Lord has come to see Giacometti to have his portrait done and soon discovers no portrait is ever complete. In an agonizingly slow scene with non-diagetic violins and strings, Lord rigidly sits while Giacometti begins his brushwork making comments toward Lord in often side-splitting dead-pan. For example at the first sitting, Giacometti tells Lord he has the “head of a brute.” Later as Giacometi moves in close to gain a greater perspective, he declares Lord has the profile “of a degenerate’ despite Hammer brahmin-like portrayal of Lord.

Soon, Lord realizes the three days he originally scheduled won’t suffice and begins what becomes a pattern of cancelling and rescheduling flights to accommodate Giacometti’s process. And, what a process it is.

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Left, Clemencey Poesy, as prostitute Caroline enjoys the amiance of an evening with artist Alberto Giacometti, right, played by Geoffrey Rush in Stanley Tucci’s biopic Final Portrait. (Photo credit; Parisa Taghizadeh)

Giacometti has a passion and large appetitite for women, food and wine. His women range from a high-end prostitute, Caroline, played by the soft French actress, Clémence Poésy, to the “house maid,” Annette, played by character actress Sylvie Testud.

Finally after nearly three weeks, Lord has realized he needs to take matters into his own hands if the portrait is ever to be completed as Giacometti has a recurring tendency to paint the negative, i.e., whitewash the canvas. However, along the way, the men, including Giacometti’s brother, Diego, an artist as well, and played by Tony Shalhoub engage in some philosophical meanderings and in some male bonding. Giacometti likes control and continually keeps Lord off balance with dialogues on suicide which he thinks about daily, and meaningful death experiences like burning oneself to death or slicing oneself from ear-to-ear. Sadly, Giacometti laments he can only die but once.

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Photo credit: @Parisa Taghizadeh

Tucci has cast a fairly uninhibited look into Giacometti as an artist. Tastefully shot with most frames qualifying as portraits unto themselves. Some repetition detracts form the work as we see the mundane nature of Giacometti’s studio life one time too many. Yet, overall, Tucci tackles Giacometti in fine fashion. The film is entertaining with the strong, masculinity Hammer portrays as James Lord. Rush is very good with emoting and his physicalities are quite excellent. While the women appear as adornments both Poesy and Testud provide significant feminine wiles bringing to fruition Giacometti’s studio confession to Lord that as a young man he had difficulty sleeping until he imagined murdering two women…after raping them.

Fortunately, this episodic scenario is not carried out on screen Instead, Giacometti high-handedly pays off Caroline’s two pimps in a fashion and manner that they can’t refuse.

Final Portrait is a broad stroke for Tucci. With over 122 acting credits and only six directorial credits on imdb.com, Tucci churns out a fairly sophisticated piece of cinema reminiscent of earlier Wood Allen works including the Oscar-winning Annie Hall, as he brings Alberto Giacometti to light. Warmly Recommended.