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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Patron Pick – Playtime

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Playtime (1967)
Written by Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Art Buchwald
Directed by Jacques Tati

I had just watched this for the first time recently, but it was a close contender for my 40 Favorite Movies list. I don’t like to put recent first-time viewings on a list like that; I prefer for time to pass, to revisit the movies, and then decide if it has earned that spot. However, Playtime is one of the greatest films ever made, without a doubt. It delivers incredible cinematography, physical performances, sight gags, and production design. It’s hard to say there is much of a story here, but it doesn’t matter. The film’s title informs us that this is an exercise in cinematic play. Jacques Tati is influenced by the great physical comedians in all the best ways and distills what he learned from them into what is the closest I think we’ll ever get to Where’s Waldo on film.

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Movie Review – Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma

For the majority of the film’s runtime, we do not see a single male character on screen. In the third act, when a man is found eating breakfast in the kitchen, it is a jolt to the system, signaling that whatever has come before is over. The expectations and duties of these women must be resumed, and the life they were able to experience for a brief time is over. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a subdued and even unsentimental look at a relationship between two women in a time where they had no future where they could stay together.

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Movie Review – Things to Come

Things to Come (2016)
Written & Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

What we expect is not what we will get. This is a lesson for both the protagonist Nathalie and the audience. Life unfolds with surprises that are not necessarily earth-shaking but create ripples out through your day to day choices. After twenty-five years of marriage, Nathalie learns her husband is having an affair, and it’s decided with little bombast that they are divorcing. In the year that follows she has to deal with a mother that has severe depression and anxiety, her daughter gives birth to the first grandchild of the family, she struggles with her career as a philosophy professor, and reconnects with a former student.

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Movie Review – Elle

Elle (2016)
Written by David Birke and Philippe Djan
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Elle is a deceptively simple film, jolting its audience by opening on the ending of a brutal assault and rape inside the home of Michele, an upper middle class older single woman. The rapist, his face covered in a ski mask, flees and Michele with almost mechanical automaticity takes a bath, puts makeup over her black eye, and goes about her day and the next with no reaction. It’s only the following evening at dinner with friends and her ex-husband that she casually reveals, trying to laugh it off, that she was raped. The viewer is meant to be unsettled by how cold Michele is through all of this with her friends and family acting as our stand-ins, utterly shocked at what happened.

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Movie Review – Girlhood

Girlhood (2015)
Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma

Marieme is a sixteen-year-old black teenager living on the outskirts of Paris. She learns that her school’s guidance counselor is pushing for her to follow a vocational track as her academics don’t appear to be high enough for an academic one. Marieme knows the expectations of her mother, who works as a custodian, are that she eventually go to university. In this moment of frustration, the young woman finds friendship with a trio of girls. These young women are known for getting into brawls with other women in their neighborhood, and through them, Marieme feels like she has power in an otherwise powerless position in the world. Over the course of this year, she will move from being a child into a young adult and have to face the obstacles and struggles that come along with that territory.

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