Mysterious Object at Cannes
Claire’s Camera, barely over an hour long and shot in about a week at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, isn’t even the best Hong Sangsoo movie of the past year. That would be On the Beach at Night Alone. Nor is it likely to be the most popular, with The Day After, which like Claire’s Camera played at Cannes this year, more likely to attract an audience outside of Hong’s hardcore devotees, with a look and mood more in line with the masters of the European art film. But there isn’t a film this year that I’ve had more fun thinking about and rewatching than Claire’s Camera, with the possible exceptions of Baahubali 2 and the film Hong had at this year’s SIFF (and last year’s VIFF), Yourself and Yours. Every Hong film gets better the more times you watch it, his peculiarly fluid approach to reality and temporality make even the most basic elements of his scenarios matters for speculation, kaleidoscopic objects that shift not only meaning but cause and effect with every new viewing. But Claire’s Camera is exceptional in this regard. Each time I’ve seen it, I’ve had to invent a whole new theory of the film, none of which have so far managed to explain all the facts as they’re presented. Watching it is like trying to solve a puzzle in which several key pieces are missing. I’m going to try and work through it here, which will involve sorting through the plot in detail. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you should, it’s delightful. But you should probably stop reading now if spoilers concern you.
Continue reading “Claire’s Camera (Hong Sangsoo, 2017)”
Evan Morgan: The sun’s out, palm trees are in sight, and we’ve temporarily traded in soju for sancerre. Hong Sang-soo is en vacance again. I don’t know about you Sean, but I’m always happy to see Hong in the literally and figuratively breezy mode that he takes up in Claire’s Camera. The seasons have long played a central role in the Hong project, though it seems that the tonal vacillation between his summer and winter films grows with each passing year. Hong’s sense of humor lilts along during the warmer months, and though it never goes entirely dormant in wintertime, it cools and takes on a serrated edge, like cracked ice. Claire’s Camera, in keeping with this seasonal dichotomy, might be his most amiable movie yet, defined as it is by Isabelle Huppert’s warm naiveté and the dabs of sunflower yellow provided by her summer frock. Huppert’s flightiness bleeds into the plotting too, which moves with a nonchalance that borders on amateurishness. I mean that as a compliment. It strikes me that Hong’s acceptance into the upper echelon of the art cinema world (the film unfolds during Cannes, after all) occurred simultaneously with his loosened production methods, and though the competition gatekeepers prefer the more somber Seoul films, the animating spirit of later Hong owes much to the laidback atmosphere of friends who vacation together and decide, ‘what the hell let’s make a movie.’ It’s not for nothing that this most amateur of Hong films is set against the backdrop of the world’s premier film festival.
Continue reading “Between Work: A Conversation on Claire’s Camera and The Day After“
There is no tiptoeing around the subject matter of Elle, a study into the ramifications of sexual violence seen through a particularly perverse lens. This lens is of essentially three people: the central character Michèle, Isabelle Huppert as the actress that plays her, and the director Paul Verhoeven. Together, the two collaborators create an indelible and often frightening world filled with constant paranoia and even more black comedy, all while the mystery—surrounding both the identity of the attacker and Michèle’s motivations—moves further and further along, culminating in a place both completely logical and totally unexpected.
In the first of many salvos, Elle quite literally opens with the sounds of Michèle being raped in her home by a masked assailant, who leaves behind a scene filled with broken objects. Michèle, however, demonstrates she is no mere object, quickly cleaning up the mess and ordering sushi in a manner that both feels like a subversion and a natural extension of the personality that Huppert has already crafted, almost entirely nonverbally. Interestingly enough, Elle remains consistently nervy, even utilizing a scene like one where Michèle bathes for maximum effect, as blood appears under the suds and she stares before quickly wiping it away.
Continue reading “Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)”
The title Things to Come may conjure in the viewer many conflicting feelings. Whether it be a sort of reminder that the best is yet ahead, an inducement of a fatalistic attitude, or even a memento mori, Mia Hansen-Løve foregrounds the idea of the inevitable. However, her film concerns itself solely with the present, anchoring itself in the rush of human experience with vigor and beauty. Centering on Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy professor living sometime in the late 2000s, Things to Come follows her life over the course of a year (with a brief prologue and extended epilogue) as she deals with marital problems, her aging and weakened mother (played with verve by Édith Scob), and engages in more academic matters. On the surface, this premise would smack of weightlessness, but Hansen-Løve imbues it with a light, always consequential import.
The key to the success of Things to Come is, perhaps inevitably in this year, the magnificence of Isabelle Huppert. For one, her ability to relay weighty philosophical ideas both in lecture and in casual conversation with her family and friends is impressive in more than one sense of the word; she is always persuasive and adamant in her belief, but it always feels like a conversation, like Huppert embodies Nathalie’s worldview and gives it life. Even more crucial is Huppert’s physicality, an odd term to be invoking in a film where no one moves more quickly than a brisk walk. Whether it be wading through a muddy beach to find a cell phone signal or moving through her apartment, she always seems to be in motion, never rudderless or lacking in purpose—though of course she does have many crises of faith or loneliness.
Continue reading “Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)”
The first of two remarkable performances from Isabelle Huppert this year comes as a teacher of philosophy who in late middle-age finds herself with a remarkable amount of freedom and not much idea of what to do with it. Saddled at the beginning of the film with a husband, adult children, friendly former students, an overbearing mother, and a book contract, she loses each one in turn. The husband admits he’s having an affair (“why tell me?” is her gloriously French deadpan response), the kids are off to school, the maddening publicity representatives of her publisher pelt her with inane ideas and finally cut her loose, the mother even dies, leaving her a cat. She takes the cat (Pandora, naturally) to the mountains, a remote writer’s commune, at the invitation of one of her former students. She hangs out with the idealistic twenty-somethings and listens to their deeply-felt internecine lefty squabbles and feels no connection to any of it: these passions are her past. Where Hansen-Løve’s last film, Eden (which played here at SIFF last year) was the life story of a man whose life never really got going, trapped in a perpetual loop of the early 20s, always on the verge but never quite becoming anything, until one day he’s middle-aged and never made it, Things to Come tackles what accomplishment means in life from the other end of the age spectrum. By any conventional standard, Huppert had it all: friends, family, fulfilling employment, but strip all that away and she finds she’s not much different from Eden‘s hero. We are, in most ways, defined by what we do and who we interact with on a daily basis, our role in life is too often conflated with our life itself. Hansen-Løve is after something else though, searching for an irreducible core to our humanity. If anyone can find it, Isabelle Huppert can.
“The best weapons are the stories, and every time the story is told, something changes. There are no photographs to be introduced as evidence[.]”
“All we can depend on are slow-motion replays of our lives.”
~Sherman Alexie, “Captivity”
Joachim Trier, in his newest and third feature film, is interested in story-telling and in the peculiar power of stories, a theme he explores by way of a particular family, a man and his two sons, struggling with the loss of a wife and mother. Each survivor constructs and reconstructs their memories of the dead woman, reconstructions that reveal the particular viewpoints and obsessions of each, perhaps more than they reveal the woman’s own story and identity, for each character, we see, is adrift in his own life, alienated and unsure, and the reach back to the past, to the memories of this woman, is a way of coping with the present, a way of constructing a sense of self. Continue reading “Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier, 2015)”