My Journey through French Cinema (Bertrand Tavernier, 2016)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Director and critic Tavernier amiably narrates, with ample clips and sharp insights, a history of his cinephilia. After a formative encounter with Becker, we circle magically from Renoir through Gabin, Carné and Prévert, Jaubert and Kosma, then outward to find Constantine, Berry, Gréville and more. Each discovery leading to a new object of obsession. The last hour (Melville-Godard-Sautet) is more scattershot, reflecting the happy chaos of a young adulthood spent haunting Paris’s ciné-clubs and journals.

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Digging for Fire (Joe Swanberg, 2015)

maxresdefaultIf there’s an equivalent to Hong Sangsoo in contemporary American cinema, I guess it may as well be Joe Swanberg. Both directors are wildly prolific, churning out tales of middle class ennui and relationship anxiety with frightening regularity. Both work with extremely low-budgets and high-quality actors, the result of the curious mix of critical acclaim and lack of box office their films achieve. Their films have a relaxed, naturalistic vibe in pace and performance, with lengthy scenes of actors seemingly just hanging out (and, more often than not, drinking). Of course, Hong is know for his structural experimentation, each film taking the form of a new exercise in narrative unreliability, where dreams and waking life, the past and the present, and multiple versions of reality all coexist in an unstable, purely cinematic universe. Swanberg, on the other hand, seems allergic to structure, shying away from anything that could be construed as plot, what can charitably be called an experiential vision of narrative. Hong always knows precisely where to place his camera, and once there, rarely moves but for an occasional ostentatious quick-zoom that serves to reframe the image and functions  as a stand-in for the emotional impact of editing. Swanberg apparently is aware that a camera is essential for the making of a motion picture.

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Goodbye to Language 3D at the SIFF Cinema Uptown

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The latest film from Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, 84-year old icon of the French New Wave (you know the hits: Breathless, Pierrot le fou, Contempt), after a smash-hit two-night run at the Cinerama earlier this month, gets a full run of shows this week at the Uptown. In keeping with the director’s late style, it’s a series of disjointed and overlapping ruminations and jokes, half-oblique narrative and half-essay film, shot in an experimental digital 3D that is guaranteed to slice out your eyeballs. Like a handful of other auteur projects (Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Wim Wenders’s Pina), Adieu au langage (I prefer the French title, if only because it’s riffed and punned on throughout the movie) makes the case for the potential of digital 3D to add something truly new and wondrous to the art form, rather than simply as a tool for ever more “spectacular” effects designed to lure teenagers to the multiplex. There’s a kind of a plot, about two couples, or one couple twice, but like most late Godard, it isn’t, for the most part, immediately comprehensible (Professor David Bordwell has helpfully elucidated on his website his reading of the plot and its structure, along with a lot of other insights gleaned over much research and several viewings). Yet despite the gnomic impenetrability, few 2014 films are more immediately pleasurable, more of an experience. Under the sheen of narrative games and puns and references both literary and cinematic, at the center of it all, is a dog, Roxy Miéville, wandering the countryside, beside a lake, through a woods, a natural world utterly transformed by the phantasmagoric possibilities of digital cinema.

(Goodbye to Language 3D plays digitally at SIFF Cinema Uptown 1/23-1/29)