Friday October 12 – Thursday October 18

Featured Film:

Monsters Attacking at Every Rep Theatre in Town

It’s officially Halloween season, and all over town the scary movies are popping up for limited runs. The Central Cinema has Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the one that started it all, while the Northwest Film Forum has a one night only showing of George Romero’s Day of the Dead, less illustrious than his two prior zombie movies, but no less essential. The Grand in Tacoma has Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice on Friday night (and spreads the rep love around later in the week with Do the Right Thing and Henri-Georges Cluzout’s The Mystery of Picasso). But no one in town celebrates the dark soul of cinema like the Grand Illusion, and this week their annual All Monsters Attack series starts with 35mm prints of Kathryn Bigelow’s 80s vampire classic Near Dark and Antonia Bird’s cannibal thriller Ravenous. They’ve also got The Night Eats the World, a new film from French director Dominque Rocherthat starring Golshifteh Farahani and Denis Levant along with something called Ninja Zombie that the good people at VHS Uber Alles unearthed somewhere. And this Sunday they have Scarecrow Video’s annual triple feature of obscure oddities. In coming weeks, the series will continue with the original King Kong and The Most Dangerous Game, Brian dePalma’s SistersThe Cabin in the Woods, Roger Corman’s final film, 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound and more.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Fri-Mon, Weds
The Craft (Andrew Fleming, 1996) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival 2018 Fri-Weds Full Program
Absinthe Films and B4BC Present Stay Tuned (Justin Hostynek) Thurs Only

Century Federal Way:

Son of Manjeet Singh (Vikram Grover) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green) Fri-Thurs
The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) Fri-Thurs
Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Tues Only
Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989) Weds Only
The Mystery of Picasso (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1956) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Night Eats the World (Dominique Rocher) Sat, Mon, Weds & Thurs
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) Fri-Sun, Tues 35mm
Ravenous (Antonia Bird, 1999) Fri, Sat, Mon & Tues 35mm
Scarecrow Video Weirdo Horror Triple Feature Sun Only
Ninja Zombie (Mark Bessenger, 1992) Thurs & Next Fri

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Aravindha Sametha…Veera Raghava (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
96 (C. Prem Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Andhadhun (Sriram Raghavan) Fri-Thurs
Helicopter Eela (Pradeep Sarkar) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs
Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival 2018 Fri-Weds Full Program
Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Sun-Thurs
Day of the Dead (George Romero, 1985) Weds Only
Stories of Our Watersheds (Various) Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Project Gutenberg (Felix Chong) Fri-Thurs
Lost, Found (Lv Yue) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Miss Granny (Joyce E. Bernal) Fri-Thurs
Exes Baggage (Dan Villegas) Fri-Thurs
Goyo the Boy General (Jerrold Tarog) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Son of Manjeet Singh (Vikram Grover) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Headhunt Revisited (Michele Westmorland) Weds Only

AMC Southcenter:

Kinky (Jean Claude Lamarre) Fri-Thurs
The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) Fri-Thurs
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Sun & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Matangi/Maya/MIA (Stephen Loveridge) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Inventing Tomorroe (Laura Nix) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
BLIZZARD OF AAHHH’s 30th Anniversary ReCut (Greg Stump) Weds Only

Varsity Theatre:

Science Fair (Darren Foster & Cristina Costantini) Fri-Thurs
After Everything (Hannah Marks & Joey Power) Fri-Thurs
Seattle Latino Film Festival Fri Only Full Program
New York Cat Film Festival Sun Only
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Advertisements

VIFF 2018: La Flor (Mariano Llinás)

Image result for la flor llinas

“Years passed, with Sundays as bleak as Mondays. Anatole married Henriette, and one particular Sunday…” It’s with these words—the passage of time and the scale of a human life transmuted into a single title card—that Jean Renoir’s Parti de campagne was completed, ten years after its initial filming halted prematurely due to weather conditions. Something of the same shift in scale—from days to years and vice versa—is what writer-director Mariano Llinás achieves with La Flor, a six-episode, 868-minute, decade-long undertaking which, not coincidentally, reworks Renoir’s famously “unfinished” masterpiece in its fifth episode. But while the intervening ten-year limbo of Renoir’s film was filled in with, effectively, the stroke of a pen, Llinás’ evinces countless hours of herculean effort, which has been thus far rewarded with the top prize at BAFICI, a NYFF main slate selection, and no small amount of hushed awe in the cinephile community where its reputation only continues to build. (That there are reportedly only a handful of physical DVD copies floating around for preview purposes is surely a calculated attempt to cultivate a small, but fervent cult of appreciation.)

Such monumental effort is, of course, cause to take note; the only other film this decade even approaching its scale and magnitude is Miguel Gomes’ three-part Arabian Nights trilogy (2015), which at six hours still runs less than half the time of Llinás’ film. But the comparison turns out to be an instructive one, since both are essentially anthology films, with each episode more or less disconnected from the rest, and largely absent of, say, the durational exercises of Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó (1994) and Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (1971). Indeed, in La Flor’s in-film introduction, which has the director seated at a picnic table with an open notebook of film-related ideas and sketches—not unlike the opening, artistic statement portion of Gomes’ Arabian Nights—Llinás explicitly lays out the overall structure with a graphic: four “petals” pointing upward (stories with beginnings, but no endings), a circle joining them together (a complete story), and then an arrow shooting downwards (a story with no beginning, but an ending). Six extraordinary stories, then, each of which are associated with a specific genre: a B-movie, a musical, a spy movie, one that by Llinás’ admission is difficult to describe, a remake of Renoir’s aforementioned film, and finally a captive story in 19th century South America. The only connections between the six: a single writer-director and the same four lead actresses: Laura Paredes, Elisa Carricajo, Pilar Gamboa, and Valeria Correa.

Pace some early characterizations, though—particularly claims that there’s little to no ironic distance at play within the film—La Flor is not quite a series of adroitly engineered, expertly calibrated embodiments of genre that just happen to have emerged from the same mind. It seems no accident that the first episode is a B-movie (“the kind that Americans used to shoot with their eyes closed and now just can’t shoot anymore”), with its associations of less-is-more ingenuity; nor that the actual plot—mainly centered on a mummy, but which also involves some murderous feline tendencies—obliquely nods to Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People (1942) and thus the low-budget triumphs of RKO Pictures producer Val Lewton. Rather than attempt to slavishly recreate each genre, Llinás thus demonstrates a willingness to impose his own set of limitations on the project, to take what he wants and discard the rest—so while La Flor frequently signals varied genre expectations, it also progresses in multiple contradictory directions at once.

The effect is uncanny, occasionally frustrating, but also uniquely thrilling, since its story possibilities refuses to telescope in the traditional way; there’s always the chance that Llinás hits the restart button and begins anew and so his hand casts a long shadow over the proceedings. In Episode I, he employs an insistent, playfully exaggerated score and an absurdly shallow depth-of-field, which means that much of the frame is shrouded in indistinctness and that shifts in action are often preceded by hilariously conspicuous focus pulls. And the shooting style remains more or less consistent across the film—which is indicative of budgetary limitations, but also of a willingness to rely on genre-inflected suggestion to fuel narrative, to treat each and every moment of a daunting 14-or-so hours as a kind of pointillist dot in a larger canvas.

If the first episode, while pleasurable in the way it allows viewers to get their bearings, still seemed recognizably in the B-horror realm, the second (“a musical with a touch of mystery”) departs more clearly from its ostensible antecedents and stands as Llinás’ most effective genre reconfiguration. The episode tells of a famous, singing duo Siempreverde, comprised of Victoria (Gamboa) and Ricky (Héctor Díaz), whose failing collaboration is obliquely linked, through Victoria’s personal assistant, to a conspiracy plot to locate a rare scorpion venom (naturally, the key to an elixir of youth). The opening epigraph (“Watch out, the world’s behind you”), from The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning,” is indicative of Llinás’ intent here, as in the rest of the film—which is to continually expand each given story, to suggest an entire world with a simple change of shot or line of dialogue. Fittingly, there’s an increased attention to basic storytelling pleasures, particularly an oral tradition linked to music. Parceled across the episode are three melancholy, black-and-white sequences that each tell versions of the night Siempreverde’s most famous song “Rain” was composed—how a small tale of understanding (here, between Victoria and Ricky) became lost within deluge of salacious tabloid, fabricated memoir and commercial success—which both gestures to the popular forms that Llinás is working with and captures the inexorable movements of a wider culture of engagement.

The explicit interest in various storytelling modes intensifies in the third and longest episode: a spy movie that finds the four actresses playing agents “somewhere in South America” in the 1980’s (the “time of spies”). Transforming a Cold War era thriller into a very protracted waiting game, the globe-trotting episode proceeds, over roughly six hours, to tell the intentionally involuted backstories of each of the four women, with Gamboa’s mute agent inevitably recalling Jean-Pierre Léaud’s Colin in Rivette’s Out 1. Given that Llinás presents the viewer with his own gang of four—not to mention an opposing gang of four and an impending duel—it’s somewhat tempting to invoke Rivette, particularly given the French New Wave director’s interest in a form of play (theatricality, embedded fictions, false faces) and an approach to performance (a conception of being that flows, first and foremost, from artifice) that La Flor does engage with. And indeed, the nature of the film’s production, which allows the four actresses a number of uncanny transformations and reversals, a constant shedding, melding and forging of identities across the epic runtime—for which the actresses’ collective theater troupe “Piel de Lava” (or “Lava Skin”) provides a perfect visual metaphor—does seem uniquely conducive to a Rivettian project.

The first two episodes seemed to bear this out, but Episode III, which is split into three acts, provides something of a difficulty in that regard, since for the most part it emphasizes a distance—at times courting parody—in not just genre, but also performance. This is, of course, Llinás’ prerogative; and it must be said that the more outside-in view taken here does make the moments when the episode (at times literally) racks focus that much more breathtaking, such as the end of Act I, with a cosmic reverie set to the dying of the light, prompted by a kidnapped man’s realization that he’s not about to be killed. Beneath his gag, the man smiles. That’s merely one of no less than four coups de cinema dispersed across Episode III, which in their wending, digressive verbosity have a quality that recalls the writings of Roberto Bolaño and his ability to cap off meandering peregrinations with epiphanic onrushes of emotion and sudden clarity. Whether one accepts that such moments require the surrounding protraction to function—and I remain unsure on this point—the film’s overall retreat from a more Rivettian embodiment and approach to an actor’s “essence” seems undeniable.

Extending this outward movement, the fourth episode takes on a meta-textual docu-fiction of sorts, which, based on Llinás’ Cinema Scope interview, is his answer to those who have abandoned pure fictive pleasures in favor of “hybridization.” Accordingly, there’s a film director, four actresses, and an ambitious six-part undertaking titled The Spider, though the director stand-in’s corresponding diagram, being six-legged, naturally resembles an ant—industriousness over cleverness, it would seem. When we pick up with the film crew, production has already spanned six years, and the doltish parody of a film director seems more taken with shooting trees than with filming his actresses, whom he frequently describes as witches. In theory, this episode presents a number of productive avenues: for Llinás to acknowledge the limitations of his production, as well as explore the nature his collaboration with his gang of four. And there is a degree to which Llinás does follow through on both. But his lack of facility with the meta-textual trappings renders the former tack deathly dull. There’s none of the reverse-engineered cleverness of, say, Our Beloved Month of August (2008), in which Gomes weaponized his (sound-capture) production limitations into a brisk, inventive tale, so the episode relies mainly on tired meta-humor to make its mark.

In taking on the latter, Llinás at least seems to expend more energy. Owing to the fact that the four actresses are actually witches, the director and his film crew vanish from the story. The director’s shooting diary is later found by an academic named Gatto (Pablo Seijo). The remainder of the episode then proceeds as an investigation, narrated in epistolary form, of the the director’s writings, which later incorporates yet another layer: the director’s fevered search for a number of esoteric books which Gatto takes upon himself to investigate. (That the reading list includes the Polish classic The Saragossa Manuscript, with its delirious, nested mini-narratives, is simply Llinás showing his work.) The text the director becomes obsessed with, though, and the effective fulcrum of Episode IV, is Giacomo Casanova’s memoir Histoire de ma via. But the director’s infatuation, as Gatto observes, is not with the Italian’s infamous conquests, but with “secret fingerprints” and “slight moments of truth”—atomized fragments or seeds that lodge themselves in the mind for later germination. What the director zeroes in on eventually is an apocryphal tale of how Casanova was individually teased and refused by four gorgeous, flighty women (played, of course, by Carricajo, Correa, Gamboa, and Paredes) in what he later discovers to be a vast conspiracy between the four to deny him. The parallels between Casanova’s predicament and the viewer’s are obvious—though lest one miss it, Llinás offers up a layered image of the four actresses, their profiles coming together to form a flower.

What follows, though, is somewhat more unexpected: a strangely intimate sequence of the four actresses in various locations, comprised of footage one might reasonably (though incorrectly) assume was shot by a partner or spouse. Two of the actresses even bare their breasts for the camera; that we are even watching this seems oddly intrusive. In the film’s introduction, Llinás says that La Flor really belongs to his actresses—which in some sense is true. But the aforementioned sequence gives lie to such unfreighted auteurial benevolence, and serves as the director’s admission of his infatuation, creative or otherwise, with these women. By positioning this (literally) seductive flourish at the close of Episode IV, he seems to ask the viewer if they feel the same. Whatever one’s response, the gesture remains unsettling, as if Llinás were confessing his salacious motives, while also soliciting approval for his candor; even Llinás’ sheepish, apologetic remarks directly following the episode’s end register as a kind of narcissism.

If the concern here is the age-old relationship between artist and muse, then perhaps it’s useful to return to Rivette, specifically his Balzac adaptation La Belle Noiseuse (1991), in which an aging artist attempts, with the inspiration of a new model, to create a masterpiece long since abandoned. (“Ten years ago you stopped searching, you got scared just when you should have gone all the way,” the painter’s wife tells him.) After a lengthy battle between artist and model, the painter succeeds—but the results are so horrific, so cruel to his subject that he conceals the masterpiece and, overnight, produces another painting in its stead. He shuttles away the identity he has stolen from his model, and leaves her the final decision: to either return to the essence now locked away or to start anew. In an echo of that gesture, Llinás offers the final two episodes of La Flor, which, taken together, chart a canny reversion to pre-cinematic modes.

There’s the aforementioned remake of A Day in the Country (in which the actresses do not appear at all) and the final episode (in which their faces are barely recognizable). The first proceeds in silent black-and-white, that is, until the romantic coupling occurs, and the soundtrack of Renoir’s film is dropped in to the sight of a plane taking flight, joining another two as they streak across the sky—an achingly beautiful visual-aural flourish that rightly ties cinematic progress to technological invention. The sixth episode follows soon after, telling a silent tale of four captive Native American women via a string of murky, Impressionist images, with intertitles attributed to an apocryphal 1900 memoir by Sarah S. Evans. Laying bare to his cinematic apparatus once more, Llinás reveals the camera obscura used to capture those images, leaves the camera running and allows the frame to invert itself as the film crew packs up and slowly leaves, their efforts finally completed. As the camera intermittently pans across the landscape in 360-degree revolutions, the credits roll, distilling an entire decade of labor into just 40-or-so minutes. (Here, one thinks of the “Chimera Room” in La Belle Noiseuse, a favorite of the artist’s wife precisely “because it’s useless.”) Even through such an ambitious endeavor as La Flor, the world spins, indifferent. But the scale of human life is such that for the viewer, indifference is not an option.

VIFF 2018 Index

asako

This is an index of our coverage of the 2018 Vancouver Film Festival. To be updated as new reviews and such are posted.

Sean:

Preview: Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat, Matangi/Maya/MIA – Sept 29, 2018
Spice It Up (Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, & Calvin Thomas, 2018) – Oct 1, 2018
Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 3, 2018
Mirai (Mamoru Hosada, 2018) – Oct 4, 2018

Evan:

Fausto (Andrea Bussmann, 2018) Sept 29, 2018
Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Shorts – Oct 2, 2018
The Load (Ognjen Glavonić, 2018) – Oct 6, 2018
Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018) – Oct 8, 2018
Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018) – Oct 9, 2018

Lawrence:

La Flor (Mariano Llinás) – Oct 14, 2018

Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene, 2018)

Oral-Visual-History-Bisbee-17-Robert-Greene-Talkhouse-Film-880x369

In July of 1917, 2,00 deputized citizens of Bisbee, Arizona, under direction of the county sheriff (and almost certainly the copper mining interests that ran the town), rounded up at gunpoint 1,200 striking mineworkers, members of the IWW, marched them four miles out of town, loaded them onto boxcars, and transported them into the New Mexico desert, to be left to die in the middle of nowhere. The one-hundredth anniversary of this event, and the town’s attempt at reckoning with it, is the subject of the latest film from documentarian Robert Greene, which opens today at the SIFF Film Center.

Questioning the nature of truth as it is presented in non-fiction film is the guiding mission of Greene’s work, in acclaimed films like Actress and Kate Plays ChristineBisbee ’17 too is explicitly about the recreation of historical events, as the town organizes a kind of dramatization of the Deportation (as it has come to be known), with various townspeople, some of them fairly recent arrivals to the community, some with family members who fought on either side (or both sides) in 1917. We meet the various locals who will be taking part in the reenactment, and learn a little bit about their current lives, though the emphasis is on their thoughts about the strike and its bloody conclusion.

That the consciousness of an American community has not changed much with regard to labor rights in the past hundred years should come as no surprise. But even some of those who say they still support the mining company’s actions notably feel pangs of regret as they watch their fellow citizens rounded up and shipped away. There’s a lot of good old fashioned American excuse-making on the pro-capital side, especially ubiquitous is that most despicable of all arguments: that the actions of these cruel men were on some level acceptable simply because they believed they were doing the right thing. I don’t know where this idea comes from (I suspect Evangelical Protestantism, but I can’t say for sure), that what you do in life doesn’t matter as long as your intentions are good, that any evil is justifiable in the name of belief, but it is long past time it was discarded. Let us send it to the desert to die.

Stories like that of Bisbee are increasingly necessary, not simply for their obvious parallels to the political issues of the present day (Bisbee is only a handful of miles from the Mexican border, and Deportation today has all kinds of new though not-so different resonances). Somewhere in the immediate post-war era, with the mass expansion of public education at the high tide of Cold War propaganda, America lost a sense of its own labor history, of the crimes committed by capital in the creation of our communities and our nation. As the great factory and mining towns that built the foundations for our national wealth have been abandoned over the last 40 years (Bisbee in most respects looks identical to the mining towns my parents grew up in in Northern Idaho), whole generations have been adrift, without a coherent narrative to explain how things got to be so bad or what we can do to get from here to a better place. Watching the residents of Bisbee grapple with basic truths about capital, its exploitation of labor and its manipulation of racism in the creation of an all-white community (the vast majority of the deported mine workers were Latino or Eastern European), one can, with hope, see the beginnings of a reborn class consciousness.

But compared to Peter Watkins’s La Commune (Paris 1871), which similarly reenacted a historical event and mixed in coverage of the past with discussions among the performers about their own feelings regarding the events they were depicting, highly energized, engaged and informed discussions of labor, sexual and racial politics as they stood in the last century and continued into the present, one can see just how much our educational system, our culture, our politics, have let us down. We’re playing catch-up, but it’s starting to look like we might finally be back in the game.

VIFF 2018: Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018)

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 8.41.56 PM

How do we count the age of ghosts? That question, posed by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s most recent short, is given a kind of answer in his newest feature, Asako I & II. Baku, the first of two Masahiro Higashide paramours, is not a phantom—at least not literally—when, after a heartbreaking departure early in the film, he makes a fated return; his reappearance subjects our eponymous heroine to a haunting nevertheless. Years of uncertain domestic contentment with Ryohei, the second Higashide steady, foretell a dangerous encounter with a lost lover. But more than a reignited old flame, it is the specter of youth that possesses Asako. The ghosts age only as much as you do.

That a reemergent lover confronts us with an earlier, not-quite-forgotten life is, in the realm of romantic comedies, a known insight. And Asako I & II, if it does nothing else well, plays the genre songbook with symphonic grace. Hamaguchi makes for a surprising conductor, though, at least if you take the tack favored by some Happy Hour partisans and read that earlier work as a Rivettian exercise in durational dramaturgy. If, like me, you see in Hamaguchi’s last film a classical woman’s picture played at half-time, his reinvention as pop impresario makes significantly more sense. This is a filmmaker devoted, without shame, to the most cliched beats offered by his scenario. As evidence, look no further than the initial meet-cute: honest-to-goodness sparks fly.

To dwell on the ways in which Asako I & II resembles run-of-the-mill manga (and there are many) is, however, to belie the rigor that Hamaguchi brings to bear, and the film resonates only because of the dissonances that arise from playing the script’s pop rhythms against the direction, which is sharp and socially specific. Mise-en-scène is inextricable from milieu: bourgie young Tokyoites live in a world of Muji-approved wood tones and cramped, but not tiny, apartments, and Hamaguchi’s visual schema responds in kind. I’m not sure that these environs count as anyone’s idea of paradise—heaven is still far away—but it takes a certain personal (and financial) stability to live the way Asako I & II looks, which makes those moments when the style suddenly breaks, either to indulge in romantic reverie, or, as happens more frequently in the second part of the film, during Baku’s extended disappearance, to embrace the outside world, all the more vertiginous. The guarded equilibriums of one’s late twenties are not yet immune to youth’s wobbly passions or, as the presence of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake suggests, safe from the infinite vagaries of chance and circumstance.

But instability is the wellspring of transformation, and it’s precisely Asako’s inconstancy that enables her final metamorphosis. When at last Baku reaches out his hand and beckons, he whisks Asako away from both dinner and domesticity, and yet he cannot pull her back in time. Face to face with her phantom desire, Asako no longer recognizes the youthful spirit conjured in it (“I will always return,” though a sweetheart’s vow, is also a ghost’s threat). A little housekeeping is necessary, following this aftershock, to put a new life in order. Luckily, an unlocked door awaits Asako. As does the promise held out by the English-language title, which, though awkward and surely hellish for prospective marketers, is, in its clumsy way, quite wise: We are our own sequels.

VIFF 2018: Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018)

non-fiction1

No one risks obsolescence quite like Olivier Assayas. Non-Fiction, née E-Book, finds him asking almost embarrassingly au courant questions about media consumption in the second decade of the 21st century: Is the written word dematerializing? Are tablets the new market leader? And who reads anymore, anyways? Pieces fretting over these issues likely pad your local Review of Books on the regular, and for a monthly publication, that’s to be expected: staying current is their currency. To craft a movie around such modish literary solipsism, on the other hand, is to flirt with, if not outright embrace, accelerated irrelevance; since the time pen hit paper for this review, the world has probably left Non-Fiction behind.

And Olivier Assayas is ok with that. The defining feature of his work, at least as far back as Irma Vep, and possibly before that, is a rare capacity for incarnating the spirit of sleek, globalized modernity—so corporate, and therefore resistant to corporeality—in specific places and people. Here it’s a cadre of bourgeois literary types: publishers, writers, journalists, the kind of people who casually recite poetry from memory or wring their hands over declining e-reader revenues. The comic roundelay that Assayas whips up for them is his generic response to the milieu: just as Anonymous Shinjuku Hotel, 2002 summons a thriller in the form of demonlover, these bed-hopping French intellectuals, with their book-lined homes and their seemingly inexhaustible fleet of iProducts, demand a mid-budget Juliette Binoche movie. Assayas obliges.

This fundamentally deliquescent approach to cinema (ambient particles are absorbed from the surrounding atmosphere and allowed to dissolve preconceived structures at willsomething in the air?) exposes Assayas’s films to accusations of vapidity and faddishness, two demerits that Non-Fiction proudly flaunts. And to those Assayas adds a third: the vulgarity of auto-fiction, which, as the title suggests, shapes the film’s relationship with reality. Assayas mines his own life for the first time since Après mai, though his proximity to the events on screen has changed: unlike his youth films, Assayas maintains very little distance, temporal or otherwise, from the digestif debates and barbed audience Q&As that make up the bulk of Non-Fiction.

The narrow space between art and life at times suggests an Assayas variation on a Mia Hansen-Løve joint, though he lacks his former partner’s ability to supercharge everyday banalities with supple emotional texture. His work has always relied more on coups de cinema to do the heavy lifting (think Cold Water’s extended party scene, or the spontaneous combustion that concludes Irma Vep, or the sudden vaporization of Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria) and he arguably miscalculates by shearing Non-Fiction of any such sequences. The first shot—an unremarkable office door, an abrupt entrance, and the opening volley of the film’s endless, extempore gabbing—is more or less what the film has to offer. The more generous critics among us might point out that by so resolutely avoiding go-for-broke moments Assayas is, in fact, performing a high-wire cinematic act: just how long can he walk the tightrope with these navel gazers and their insufferable palaver? But the visual and emotional flatness, no matter how rigorously conceived, opens up avenues for less charitable criticism—and the film’s detractors will, in all likelihood, have a point. Assayas overestimates his facility with Non-Fiction’s bedroom farce antics, or, in the very least, he’s selected a less than ideal host to act as a carrier for his pet concerns; liquid modernity doesn’t flow naturally through most dinner party conversations. Though perhaps that’s why the final moments bring us into contact with a more essential, more ancient human experience, and abandon contemporaneity in favor of a durable truth that lies beneath all these couplings and decouplings, beyond modern capital’s distortion effects, and, possibly, at the heart Assayas’s shapeshifting art. To quote a print-to-digital transition specialist quoting Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “For things to remain the same, everything must change.”

Friday October 5 – Thursday October 11

Featured Film:

The Atomic Café at the Grand Illusion

We’re still in Vancouver, watching as many movies as we can, which is why this is going up a couple of days late this week. So far we’ve seen and reviewed The LoadMiraiAsako I & IIDiamantino, four Short Films by Sofia BohdanowiczSpice It Up, and Fausto. That’s in addition to the movies that are here at VIFF that we covered when they played earlier this year at other festivals (Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat and Matangi/Maya/MIA). We’ll have lots more to come over the next couple of weeks, once we return to America, including a special all-VIFF episode of The Frances Farmer Show.

But while all that is going on, the Grand Illusion has a new restoration of the excellent 1982 documentary The Atomic Café, built out of archival footage of nuclear America during the cold war. It’s horrifying and hilarious in all the best ways. Don’t miss it. Or maybe trek down to Tacoma to check out the Film Festival they’ve got going on at the Grand. This year’s is the best one yet, with a lot of movies that won’t make their way to King County for awhile yet.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Great Battle (Kim Gwangsik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Feng Shui (Park Heegon) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) Fri-Mon
Get Out (Jordan Peele) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Asfar (Gulshan Singh) Fri-Thurs
Parahuna (Amrit Raj Chadha & Mohit Banwait) Fri-Thurs
The Great Battle (Kim Gwang-Sik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Qismat (Jagdeep Sidhu) Fri-Thurs
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) Sun & Tues Only

Grand Cinema:

Tacoma Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
Pick of the Litter (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy) Fri-Thurs

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Atomic Café (Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader & Pierce Rafferty, 1982) Fri-Thurs
Heavy Trip (Jukka Vidgren & Juuso Laatio) Fri-Sun
Saving Brinton (Tommy Haines & Andrew Sherburne) Tues Only
Hot to Trot (Gail Freedman) Weds Only Filmmaker in Attendance

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
Collette (Wash Westmoreland) Fri-Thurs
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Mani Ratnam) Fri-Thurs
96 (C. Prem Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Andhadhun (Sriram Raghavan) Fri-Thurs
Devadas (Sriram Aditya) Fri-Thurs
NOTA (Anand Shankar) Fri-Thurs In Tamil or Telugu, Check Listings
TCGN (Girish Joshi) Fri-Thurs
Sui Dhaaga-Made in India (Sharat Katariya) Fri-Thurs
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) Sun & Tues Only

Regal Meridian:

The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Fri-Thurs
Monsters and Men (Reinaldo Marcus Green) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Tasveer South Asian Film Festival Sat Only Full Program
Kusama: Infinity (Heather Lenz) Sun-Thurs
Time for Ilhan (Norah Shapiro) Sun Only
Wacko (Greydon Clark) Weds Only

AMC Oak Tree:

Hello Mrs. Money (Wu Yuhan) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Project Gutenberg (Felix Chong) Fri-Thurs
Hello Mrs. Money (Wu Yuhan) Fri-Thurs
Cry Me a Sad River (Luo Luo) Fri-Thurs
Collette (Wash Westmoreland) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Miss Granny (Joyce E. Bernal) Fri-Thurs
Exes Baggage (Dan Villegas) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Summer ’03 (Rebecca Gleason) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

The Apparition (Xavier Giannoli) Fri-Sun
Headhunt Revisited (Michele Westmorland) Weds Only

AMC Southcenter:

El día de la unión (Kuno Becker) Fri-Thurs
Trico Tri: Happy Halloween (Christian Vogeler) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Collette (Wash Westmoreland) Fri-Thurs
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) Sun & Tues Only

SIFF Uptown:

Matangi/Maya/MIA (Stephen Loveridge) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Blaze (Ethan Hawke) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
Soufra (Thomas Morgan) Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

Love, Gilda (Lisa Dapolito) Fri-Thurs
Seattle Latino Film Festival Sat-Thurs Full Program
Manhattan Short 2018 Film Festival Fri Only
Bullitt (Peter Yates, 1968) Tues Only

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review

VIFF 2018: The Load (Ognjen Glavonić, 2018)

the-load

Gunfire crackles beyond the horizon, the relationship between sound and image established at the outset: death will be heard, not seen. The Load envisions the Bosnian War as an on-the-ground abstraction, where violence is an echo, bombing raids hide behind a scrim of gray sky, and bodies are invisible. After delivering his cargo to its terminal destination, Vlada, our hangdog Odysseus, returns home to tell his son a story about a different war, “A real war, not this video game war,” as if in knowing response to the world Ognjen Glavonić crafts around him. The profondo foley track and the ashen palette make for art direction à la Call of Duty, an effect amplified by Glavonić’s three dimensional mise-en-scène. More than once the camera suddenly detours from the main road to track a peripheral character, suggesting explorable spaces beyond the confines of the truck’s cabin (and the film’s central narrative). These are, presumably, the same spaces occupied by those not-so-far off NATO bombs and the fly-ridden freight that Vlada hauls behind him, but which he never sees. Physical and moral dangers are intruding on Vlada’s craven sense of simulation—no matter how distant those explosions, this is not a video game war—and it is a slow refusal of alienation that emerges as Vlada’s eventual cause.

It’s Glavonić’s too: he’s obviously a filmmaker of considerable ethical and aesthetic intelligence, and The Load is nothing if not carefully constructed. Like the unobserved violence booming behind the hill, Glavonić keeps his anger at the periphery, as if to call it forth through deemphasis. Absence, of one kind or another, is both subject and structure. But The Load can get only so far by discreetly substituting, say, a full-frame image of decayed sheet metal for the scarred corpses that it so clearly connotes. Which is another way of saying that The Load is smarter than any number of like exercises in European historical reckoning, which are frequently eager to play circus showman to the continent’s worst atrocities, but also too smart by half. Glavonić’s abstractions expose him to the same alienation that he condemns, even if the closing moments tacitly acknowledge his film’s limitations: Vlada’s belated act of resistance is to photograph not the bodies that he transported—long since dumped into an anonymous construction pit—but the empty truck bed. To what end? The tangible consequences of war remain undocumented in visual terms, and yet the echoes keep thrumming in the distance, like a ringing in the ears that never quite fades away.

VIFF 2018: Mirai (Mamoru Hosada, 2018)

mirai_02_copy_0

In 2012 Mamoru Hosada released Wolf Children, one of the finest animated films of the decade. It followed a young mother’s struggle to let her children go as they age, to become their own people, separate from her (that one of them chooses a human life while the other heeds the call of the wild and runs off to live as a wolf like his father is only tangentially relevant). With Mirai, Hosada addresses much the same issue from the opposite perspective, this time we see the child’s point of view as he grows form a wholly ego-driven individual into a member of a family, a continuum of people that extends not just horizontally to his sister and parents, but also backwards and forwards in time, to the people his ancestors were and the people he and his sister will become.

He’s not a werewolf this time (though he does have a talent for canine imitation) rather he is subject to a series of fantasies that grow out of the trauma of the arrival of his younger sibling, and the shattering of the idyllic existence he’d led as the center of the universe. He sees the family dog anthropomorphized into a fallen prince (an initial act of empathy that mirrors his own loss of place). He meets an older version of his baby sister, and he has an adventure with his great-grandfather. In interacting with these people (which may be mere figments of his young imagination or could be the manifestation of some supernatural power, it amounts to much the same thing) he learns perspective: that other beings are just as conscious as he is, that the world and the people in it are both distinct from him while also forming an essential part of him, a vast web of humanity with a center that might belong to him, but then again, it might not.

Mirai is as fanciful as anything Hosada has made, with a trip to the geometric horror of a train station a particular highlight. But like Wolf Children, as well as his version of The Girl Who Leapt through Time, it is fundamentally grounded in the every day, which in this case means a whole lot of parent humor, for which I am, no doubt, a sucker (I happen to have a self-centered, train-obsessed boy in my home as well). Hosada expertly fuses fantasy and slice-of-life anime, following in the tradition of the best of Studio Ghibli (Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart), as well as any director of his generation.

VIFF 2018: Asako I & II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, 2018)

asako

In keeping the same minute attention to the smallest details of human routine and interaction that so distinguished his intimate 2015 epic Happy Hour, but trapping them within the familiar confines of a romantic comedy, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi has created something remarkable, a genre film as alive to the possibilities and contradictions of the human psyche and its dealing with other souls as we’ve seen in some time. It’s certainly the best romantic film since Hong Sangsoo’s Yourself and Yours, with which it shares a certain surface similarity. But in every important respect it is sui generis, very much its own thing.

Asako and Baku meet-cute at an art gallery. It’s love at first sight, the two are wordlessly drawn together and stay that way for some time, in the pure romance of youth, impervious to the outside world and not only unafraid of death but turned on by its impossibility. Until, one day Baku disappears. Five years later, Asako meets cute again, this time with a young businessman named Ryôhei, who looks exactly like Baku and is played by the same actor (Masahiro Higashide, from Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish). The bulk of the film tracks their relationship, growing from awkward avoidance to friendship to love with the rhythms of the everyday and in parallel to the romance between their respective best friends. The friends’ antagonistic first meeting over a performance of Chekov, is the best of the films several digressions, with an unexpected natural disaster and an idyllic montage in a fishing weekend providing other highlights.

The inevitable conflict comes in the final third, as Baku returns. If Hamaguchi doesn’t resolve The Case of the Two Bakus (or rather, the Two Asakos, the first crazed with the freedom of youth, the second safe in the benign contentment of maturity) with as much bald-faced ingenuity as Hong did, he can be forgiven. The solution he does find is as emotionally confused and true as real-life. We are unlikely to see a more open and all-embracing film this year.