Movie Review – The Phantom of Liberty

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
Written by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière
Directed by Luis Buñuel

The comedy anthology film is a rare beast but experienced some popularity in the 1960s and 70s. Monty Python’s contributions are notable, sometimes using an overarching plot to structure the sketches or just featuring scenes that exist independently. Most recently, we have The French Dispatch as a prime example. I think these movies come out of the filmmakers having ideas that weren’t big enough for a feature film but not wanting to make short films as those aren’t as marketable. People want to see a movie, so you take all these little ideas, maybe create some links to move from one bit to the next, and release them that way. This is precisely what Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty is.

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Movie Review – Mouchette

Mouchette (1967)
Written & Directed by Robert Bresson

In the early days of cinema, movies were just filmed as stageplays. Over time, filmmakers came to develop a language of film, understanding that the camera could be moved closer or further away from the performers. There could also be cuts to different places or flashbacks in time. Today all of these things seem standard, but they are part of a craft and had to be developed. Robert Bresson was a French director who worked to break away from the performance-centered model of filmmaking and refocus on the techniques. He saw that many movies were just someone aiming the camera at a performance but not really saying anything through the craft. He came to refer to his actors as models, implying they were posed by him and more like props in the stories he was attempting to tell. It probably won’t surprise you to learn Bresson had no interest in the acting schools that were coming up in the 20th century, and he hated performances that stole away from the whole picture.

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Movie Review – Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Written & Directed by Chantal Akerman

Our lives are made up of rituals. We wake up, get dressed, clean ourselves, make food, and overall prepare for our day. This is just the opening of a single morning. There is comfort in ritual; repetition provides security because we can easily predict what happens next. The disruption of these rituals can upend all peace we feel, throwing us into a realm of conflict and volatile emotion. From a filmmaker’s perspective, it’s relatively common to compress and delete chunks of time that don’t flow into a structured narrative. You don’t often see a character going through every step of that morning routine on film; only the pieces the director or screenwriter has decided provide shorthand to understand a character or jumpstart a plot. Chantal Akerman threw all of this out the window to present an almost four-hour picture that, by focusing on tedium, illuminates a kind of life often discounted in the medium.

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Movie Review – Cache [Hidden]

Cache [Hidden] (2005)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Cache is a film nestled in modern French history, specifically the Algerian War. The French right-wing was becoming aggressive towards Algeria in the early 1960s. Algeria had been a colony since the mid-1800s, and its citizens had become tired of their abuses at the hands of the French. In October of 1961, the FLN, a nationalist political party in Algeria, called on their emigres in Paris to participate in a march. The police prefect Maurice Papon, who served in Vichy France, called on the police to take aggressive action against these protestors. The result was 200 Arab people being drowned or shot to death in the Seine. French authorities hid evidence and suppressed investigations in the wake of the massacre. At the time, only three deaths were admitted. By 1998, when reporters were given access to archives, the total death toll became clear.

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Movie Review – Time of the Wolf

Time of the Wolf (2003)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

Throughout his career, Michael Haneke has been interested in how the media will present information or events versus what experiencing those same things would be like. He’s often pointed to the screen as a filter that blocks humanity’s perceptions of the actual emotional weight of trauma. Frequently Haneke protects his audience from the sight of violence but uses sound to make sure they do not forget the pain inflicted on a person. Time of the Wolf reads as a response to apocalypse-porn popularized by director Roland Emmerich starting with the blockbuster Independence Day. These ends of the world are almost always bombastic, full of massive explosions, and ending with humanity triumphing somehow. Haneke refuses to leave it like that, and so he went about making his own film.

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Movie Review – The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher (2001)
Written & Directed by Michael Haneke

With the new millennium came changes to Michael Haneke’s focus & themes. In his earlier works (The Seventh Continent, Benny’s Video, Funny Games), the director was concerned with critiquing the Austrian middle class and exploring a meta-commentary on our relationship to violence as depicted in the media. His first and only theatrical adaptation of a novel would be The Piano Teacher. The book was penned by Elfriede Jelinek, whose work is considered to be very angry and challenging in its stream of conscious-like prose. Nevertheless, Haneke manages to adapt her book by delivering it with his signature cold neutrality, and it certainly works to both tell the story of a very emotionally troubled woman while also showing sensitivity to explicit violence. Haneke does not want to hide violence from us; instead, he’s interested in communicating it in unexpected and powerful ways.

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Movie Review – Petite Maman

Petite Maman (2021)
Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma

Céline Sciamma truly wowed me and many others with Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It was a complex romantic film about two women unable to have the sort of love they wanted under the social constraints of their time. The premise could have been played so bland, but Sciamma injected it with life and energy few films have. That led to a heart-breaking finale that lingers with the viewer long after. I was excited when I learned of her newest film, Petite Maman. She had been such a fantastic filmmaker I was curious to see what she did next. When I discovered the movie was about the rocky relationship between mother and daughter, something ripe to be explored with a lot of emotional depth, I needed to see it. Sadly, what we got was a complete waste of time.

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Movie Review – Slalom

Slalom (2021)
Written & Directed by Charlène Favier

In recent years, films across the globe have begun tackling the horror of sexual assault experienced by women & girls for centuries and more. Some critical decisions have to be made when presenting such sensitive content, the largest of which is “How graphic should the depiction of assault be on screen?” This is made even more potentially troubling when it involves an underage victim. In her debut feature, writer-director Charlène Favier doesn’t hold back much when showing her protagonist slowly being groomed and then used by an important authority figure in her life. There are only two sexual encounters throughout the picture, but the director lingers in these moments, which leads to that stomach sinking feeling as you watch how helplessly the young girl just gives in.

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Movie Review – The French Dispatch

The French Dispatch (2021)
Written by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Hugo Guinness, and Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Wes Anderson

In recent years, director Wes Anderson’s particular aesthetic has been a point of critique and parody. As someone who has enjoyed his work since first seeing Rushmore, I have to admit that his style can be very overbearing at times, and his more recent films haven’t been my favorites. However, I get the sense Anderson has been listening but isn’t going to simply give up the stylization he enjoys. Instead, he made this anthology film that embraces his personal tastes and stretches & explodes them with slight variations. As a result, I found myself starting the film with low expectations and becoming wholly charmed by its wild non-linear storytelling.

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Movie Review – Titane

Titane (2021)
Written & Directed by Julia Ducournau

I am going to try to spoil as little of this movie as possible because I went into it having only seen the trailers. Said trailers do an excellent job of conveying the film’s mood without giving away one iota of plot or characters. Inevitably I will give some plot details, though I plan on being as vague as I can, and I will talk about the characters to a certain extent. My goal is to entice those of you who haven’t seen it yet to take the bait and sit down and give Titane a watch (it’s currently up for rent in the iTunes store). If you enjoyed Julia Ducournau’s Raw, then you are going to love this movie.

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