Friday, September 17, 2021

A FEW WORDS ON CANDYMAN (2021)



A few weeks ago critic/pundit Angelica Jade caught some momentary flack online for her harsh (yet honest) review of Nia Dicosta’s Candyman. Not that she shouldn’t have gotten pushback. The review is written to invite dialogue and some pushback. But it’s as if she was expected to blindly like the movie just because she’s Black. Having finally watched Candyman myself, I can say that she was pretty on point (read the review here).

I understand that Jade can be harsh at times and the “let people enjoy things” crowd can get easily triggered by people like her. But, in my personal opinion, thoughts like hers are needed with films like this. Anyone can & should have an opinion on anything they want. But who better to critique something like Candyman with a fine tooth comb than a prominent & vocal Black critic?
I know folks were rooting for this movie (and it’s still a success at the end of the day) but I did find it funny that a Black a person’s negative opinion about a film concerning deep Black issues was challenged in a somewhat immature way by non-Black people (mostly White if we’re being specific). It’s that pretentious neo-liberalism that feels like an overbearing cancer sometimes. Don’t you find it odd that the same people who cry about representation and having more Black voices gets mad at an actual (well thought out) Black voice when they don’t “fall in line”? I certainly find it odd…
Some folks have even gone so far as to call Angelica Jade the “female Armond White”. For those of you that are unfamiliar, Armond White is a very smart film critic notorious of being extra critical towards predominantly Black movies & shows (history only proves this. Look it up). I do find this label a little unfair because nowadays (and for quite some time) White’s entire personality is mostly based around being a Black conservative because now more than ever, Black conservatives love to make that conservative identity their armor in an effort to separate themselves from the pack. Today’s Black conservatives get off on being so-called “free thinkers” yet they support the same people, have the same talking points and kind of all think alike. Weird how that works out, huh?
That’s not to say Black folks on the opposite end of the political spectrum are free thinkers either. But when it comes to today’s Black conservatives they really think they’re something special when they truly aren’t. They just aren’t.
Angelica Jade isn’t really part of that crowd as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway…

I didn’t hate Candyman, but it seems like now more than ever movies (and TV shows) with Black leads exploring Black stories are being made to please folks on social media and, quite frankly, people that aren’t even Black. We’re at a point where a form of research for a movie is just scrolling social media to get ideas (see: Zola). While I don’t make it a part of my personality or wear it on a t-shirt for fake clout, I’ve been the victim of racism, police discrimination, and fetishy romanticization simply because I’m a (large) Black man. I don’t always need a movie to reinforce these things on a surface level. I already live it in real life.

Now…in no way should the atrocities & injustices committed against folks that look like me be swept under the rug or downplayed, but at the same time, Jesus Christ - Black characters can be defined by things other than trauma and drama and pain and other things that have become a moneymaking scheme by movie & television studios.

It’s like there’s an unspoken checklist of things to have in every popular Black movie/show in order for it to succeed or be taken seriously. It’s all so surface & cheap. Shows like Them, certain specific elements of Lovecraft Country, the Watchmen series on HBO, The First Purge, etc etc etc. 
Honestly - I slowly started to give up on Lovecraft when they made Emmet Till a “fun little Easter egg” on the show. I call bullshit. Emmet Till is more than a Easter egg/bookmark in a silly science fiction story. He was a child that was brutally murdered. But “blue check” twitter and the “I am not my ancestors” sector of Black folks thinks shit like that is cute & witty. It isn’t.

And does almost everything horror and/or thriller-related have to be some subpar reworking of Get Out (a movie I like but I don’t even like to admit I like nowadays because the majority of the fanbase behind it is so cringy and don’t even realize they’re the demographic being made fun of and criticized in Get Out)?


I guess one positive of Candyman is that it does make nods to classic films that came before it.

Cinderella / Candyman

Cinderella /
 
Candyman

Cinderella /
 
Candyman

Bram Stoker's Dracula /
 
Candyman

Nosferatu / Candyman

Nosferatu / Candyman

Psycho / Candyman


There's even a possible reference to Jordan Peele's work...

US /
Candyman


This is totally speculative on my part but the idea of the haunted artwork on film, which we saw not too long ago in Velvet Buzzsaw, can be traced back to the early silent film The Portrait...

The Portrait /
Candyman

The Portrait /
Candyman


But a few cute references ain’t enough. Not even for me and that’s my “thing”…


I commend Dacosta for trying to correct certain elements of the original Candyman that didn’t sit well with some of us (the ghost of a slave murdered by white people that terrorizes other Black people is a tad bit wonky). I don’t want to give too much away or spoil anything but the big reveal towards the end is one big huge “wait - huh?” moment.
I do encourage you all to see the movie to come up with your own conclusion. It does need to be seen in order to truly grasp how much of an overall misfire it is.
And outside of the continued trend of making Black pain, Black trauma and serious internal Black issues a money-making genre, Candyman was just kind of bland, boring and messy.

I do want filmmakers like Nia Dacosta to succeed and thrive (we need more & more mainstream big budget/blockbuster directors that are Black as far as I’m concerned). But I also think we need to be more critical and expect more from certain films (and tv) that claim to “represent” Black people and their/our stories.
I’m not going to blindly like/support something just because I’m Black and it’s Black. It kind of feels like that’s the expectation these days (this is essentially how Tyler Perry got to where he is today and some folks still don’t see that they got played by him).

Saturday, August 21, 2021

ANNETTE



Much like the term; “Lynchian”, the word pretentious has been thrown around so much in film criticism that it means almost nothing now. I feel like a fraud using it to describe Annette but pretentious is the first thing that comes to mind. And what’s funny is I’m willing to bet there’s someone out there right now using “Lynchian” as a way to describe Leos Carax’s latest film in the most sincere way possible. 


Did Holy Motors go to Leos Carax’s head? I understand that Annette is supposed to be absurd, cynical & satirical. But putting all that aside for a moment - it’s like Carax’s latest feature is a combination of cutting room floor scenes from Holy Motors (that should’ve remained on the cutting room floor), mixed with ridiculous ideas that should’ve just stayed inside the director’s head (it’s nice to dream big but not everything needs to be a reality). And the biggest kicker is there’s no Denis Lavant (that sounds like a silly nitpicky criticism but I’ll get to why that’s important later). Annette isn’t all bad. But at the end of the day it’s a disappointment. This is the kind of movie letterboxd open mic stand-up comedian critics dream off. And that’s part of the problem. I know it wasn’t intentional but Annette comes off like a movie that was made for movie people on twitter & letterboxd who are more interested in memeifying actors, making quirky puns and getting off witty one-liners instead of expressing genuine thoughts & opinions. 
Think I’m wrong? Let’s look at what some of these bootleg Steven Wright imitators have to say about Annette (note the first borderline Lynchian label at the top)...



This is what I’m talking about. How many modern actors (outside of Al Pacino or Adam Sandler) are as memefied as Adam Driver is right now? How often do you scroll some platform on the internet and see that image of Adam Driver punching the wall in A Marriage Story? I think stuff like that hurts an actor’s legacy & legitimacy to some degree. Even on the smallest scale. I think a lot of that subconscious stuff is carried over in to Annette unfortunately (and it’s not Adam Driver’s fault either). This is just the current state of things.

I remember when Annette screened at Cannes a few months ago and all anyone had to talk/tweet about was a “tOtAlLy InSaNe” musical number that incorporated cunnilingus. Now that I’ve seen this so-called infamous scene I ask you all; “what was the big deal?” But again - this is what I’m talking about - Adam Driver? Cunnilingus? Musical? Let me get out my meme template!
It’s funny because Annette does address bullshit like this (people laughing at things that aren’t that funny or making a big deal out of nothing). That is one of the few good qualities about this movie. Unfortunately there just aren’t that many.


In addition to referencing and downright recreating shots from his previous films...

Holy Motors /
Annette

Holy Motors /
Annette

Holy Motors /
Annette

Bad Blood /
Annette


there’s lots of Pinocchio homages throughout…

Pinocchio / Annette

Pinocchio / Annette

Pinocchio / Annette


And I could be reaching but there also appears to be a reference to Carax's mentor/hero Jean Luc Godard...

Sympathy For The Devil /
Annette


and I know they aren't shot identically, the finale of Annette is very similar to Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle 1...

Cremaster 1 / Annette


I try to stray away from negative reviews on here but Leos Carax is a PINNLAND EMPIRE favorite and I’m not a fake fan. I feel like I owe one of my favorite filmmakers genuine criticism over fake praise.
Going back to the Holy Motors comment I made - Annette really does reevaluate/re-examine what Carax explored back in 2012. The absurdity & pointlessness of being a celebrity (and the weird fetishization that comes along with it), the craziness of show business, exploitation, anger, rage, etc. The seeds were planted almost a decade ago. Holy Motors has a few musical numbers and Annette has more. Holy Motors touches on the sometimes pointlessness of repetition, and Annette takes that even further with it's dialogue & musical numbers. Even the color palette of Annette (which highlights the color green) is like Holy Motors turned up even more.
I have no problem with Leos Carax exploring the same subject matter over & over. With the exception of Pola X, every one of his movies is essentially a continuation of the previous one. It speaks volumes that the only two feature films without Carax’s regular collaborator; Denis Lavant sticks out a bit (Pola X is at least very good tho). I think that’s another reason that Annette falls short. It’s not just because Lavant is absent from the film. It’s because Adam Driver is playing a role that Lavant usually plays so well and Driver is not a good “replacement”. Lavant is Carax’s onscreen persona/alter-ego. It’s clear to me that Adam Driver’s tortured artist character in Annette is supposed to be Carax on some level. I just don’t buy Adam Driver as Carax like I do Lavant.

I can see how my criticism feels a little unfair so I urge you all to watch this (on Amazon prime) to come to your own conclusion. I do respect the ambition to shoot for the moon. It just missed it’s mark as far as I’m concerned.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

SLOW MACHINE


I went in to this one mostly blind with an insane amount of excited skepticism after hearing it described as a; “lo-fi Brooklyn version of Inland Empire”. Not in recent times has a blurb about a movie made me simultaneously raise my eyebrows in genuine curiosity (the comparison to Inland Empire) and role my eyes to the back of my head due to the potential pretentiousness of it all (the “lo-fi Brooklyn” portion of the blurb). It’s best to ignore the “lo-fi Brooklyn” portion of the description (just say low budget) and focus on the Inland Empire part. I completely get where the Brooklyn “thing” comes from but these days the Brooklyn description is based off of so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with Brooklyn. Just out of town Brooklyn transplants who have hi-jacked what it means to be “Brooklyn” (as broad as that term may be).
And now apparently these transplants have gentrified criticism as well. 
There’s even some quick commentary on the current state of Brooklyn in Slow Machine:

Christ! What is Brooklyn anymore? Brooklyn is a white toddler in a RUN-DMC shirt!

Anyway, Slow Machine is certainly worthy of a comparison to Lynch’s flawed & disastrous masterpiece, but if we’re being real - it’s roots go all the way back to Persona (where things like Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive & Lost Highway all came from to some degree).

Some scenes are almost set-up like reinterpreted/reworked scenes from Persona in an abstract kind of way.

From super obvious moments…

Persona /
Slow Machine

To maybe not so obvious moments…

Persona /
Slow Machine


Slow Machine is a psychological thriller/disoriented fever dream about an actress in the midst of a mental crisis/psychological break. I’ve oversimplified the film quite a bit but I don’t want to give everything away (the film, which takes us from New York City to hiding out in Upstate New York, has many twists & turns ranging from counter-terrorism to awkward sexual advances & assault all in just over 70 minutes).

But as far as the basic plot goes - it sounds like Persona, right? The same could be said about everything from the aforementioned unofficial David Lynch trilogy to more recent Persona-sploitation stuff like Always Shine & Woodshock. There’s a very meta scene midway in to Slow Machine that comes right out of Always Shine (and real life) where our actress characters are awkwardly interrupted for a selfie…
Always Shine /
Slow Machine


These moments are interesting as I’m sure this is something Chloe Sevigny (bottom) deals with all the time. As far as Mackenzie Davis (top) this is something she probably deals with now having starred in films from the Terminator & Bladerunner franchises. But at the time Always Shine was made, she was a relatively smaller/up & coming actress.


To be honest, there isn’t anything very original I have to say about this that I haven’t already said about other films in this genre (read my thoughts about Always Shine, PersonaImages and the David Lynch trilogy on this blog).
I just wanted to drop a few quick words about Slow Machine mostly because it’s the best new movie I’ve seen this year so far.
I will say that one minor/major aspect about the film that really enhances it is the (intentional?) audio mixing. It’s very jarring and off-kiltered which matches the sometimes jarring and off-kiltered tone of the movie itself. There’s almost this intentional disconnect between the audio (the dialogue, the score and the background noise) and the accompanying video.


Watch this movie. There’s no excuse to skip Slow Machine as you can stream it online. After months of watching stuff like Godzilla vs Kong, Nobody, Mortal Kombat, Wrath Of Man, Conjuring 3, etc - this was a pleasant surprise/breath of fresh air.


Monday, July 12, 2021

TWENTYNINE PALMS


One positive thing to come out of last year’s quarantine was being stuck inside and having time to reassess certain specific movies. I’m a Bruno Dumont guy (now more than ever after reading more about him), but the period between 2002-2009 (Twentynine Palms through Hadewijch) is a period in his filmography I hadn’t revisited due to the fact that I wasn’t a fan of that particular run. But sometimes tastes & opinions change (especially after gaining a better of understanding of the filmmaker’s background).
Twentynine Palms is a fascinating movie because it was made by someone (Dumont) that was sick & tired of being compared to someone else (Bresson). Dumont’s previous two films were compared to the work of Robert Bresson so much that he was once dubbed: “the son of Bresson” and “the rightful heir to Bresson”. Some filmmakers like that of Tarantino or Jarmusch don’t mind the association with filmmakers that came before them. Dumont represents that brand of filmmaker who, while so obviously influenced by those who came before them, still wants to stand on their own two feet.

It got to a point where Dumont intentionally made cynical & dismissive comments about being compared to Bresson in interviews…

H2N: In watching Hadewijch, I was immediately brought to Robert Bresson—

Bruno Dumont: Who? Luc Besson? [laughs]


All this business of homage & influence reminds me of a quote from Hal Hartley (another filmmaker often associated with Bresson and was once dubbed the “Jean Luc Godard of Long Island"). 
After years of being mentioned in the same sentence as Jim Jarmusch he once said:

Being mentioned in the same breath as Jim Jarmusch was kind of swell. I always thought god he must be so embarrassed to have to now tug not only the weight of his own reputation of work but of other people - Hal Hartley


This quote applies to Dumont in more ways than one. Not only was his work constantly associated with Robert Bresson (and still is), but he was also made in to a supporting player in the New French Extremity movement which was a film scene crafted by critics that grouped together a lot of filmmakers who had nothing to do with each other and were now suddenly put in to a clique.


With all that being said, Dumont’s third feature (and first kind of English speaking film) ended up being a direct homage to Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point with a climax right out of Deliverance. The film centers around an intentionally insufferable couple ("Katia" & "David") who’s relationship is put to the ultimate test on a semi-aimless road trip through the west coast. An interesting plot-point to the story is that the native Russian Katia doesn’t speak English while the American David doesn’t speak Russian. So as a compromise they both speak somewhat broken French to one another which only adds to the tension & miscommunication in their relationship. I don't know if this was done on purpose but it seems like Dumont was addressing the idea of miscommunication in relationships.


Outside of the basic plot and desert setting, Dumont crafts scenes to look exactly like Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point /
Twentynine Palms


And he’s quite open with his connection to the work of Antonioni (more than Bresson)…

Cinema is an art that comes with big history. I have learned and been influenced by Fellini, Antonioni and a lot of Italian masters. When you are young you want to copy and imitate - Bruno Dumont


He also acknowledges the Deliverance influence (it's too obvious not to)…

The moment of the film that received the most notice is the DELIVERANCE scene where the couple is set upon by a group of rednecks - Bruno Dumont

Deliverance / Twentynine Palms



So it’s not like he’s above admitting influence. Maybe he was just sick of being compared to Bresson exclusively…

my approach to filmmaking is the exact opposite of Bresson’s way of working. For example, the way I work with actors is completely different; I use location sound where Bresson looped everything. It’s quite strange to me to see critics and spectators constantly taking out their Bressonian toolkits to decode my films. It’s something I can’t control; I can’t stop people from doing that. I only discovered Bresson late in my life and I really don’t care about him that much - Bruno Dumont



Twentynine Palms sticks out the most within Dumont’s filmography (it’s the most “explosive” and violent) but that’s probably because he was still figuring himself out while dealing with the burden of being the (so-called) “heir” to Bresson (something he clearly didn’t want). 
I’m not sure where it “ranks” among his other work (the acting is still just as awkward/bad as I remembered it) but it’s an interesting film to come back to and revisit once you gain a better understanding of his style and where he was mentally at that point in his career.

Monday, July 5, 2021

FLANDERS


Flanders was the second Bruno Dumont film I ever saw. L’Humanite was the first. To this day I still consider L’Humanite to be a modern masterpiece. The perfect balance of soulful boring banality and semi-forced dark quirky weirdness. The problem with that was I expected/wanted every Dumont film going forward to be some variation of that, so I found myself disappointed with Dumont’s post-L’Humanite output between 2002-2009. I was in my 20’s during that period and I didn’t have a full understanding of Dumont’s lane of cinema (Dreyer, Bresson, Akerman, etc). That’s why I did this ‘02-‘09 Bruno Dumont reassessment. Now that I’m a little older I have a better understanding of Flanders and what I think Dumont was trying to do. I still don’t love it, but I appreciate it…

Flanders is Dumont’s version of a Greek tragedy. The basic story plays out like one. A young naive man (“Demester”) goes off to fight in the French military after the love of his life (“Barbe”) cheats on him with another man (“Blondel”). While in the military he experiences the horrors of war and returns to his small French town a tougher more grizzled version of his old self. On the surface it sounds like a pretty classic tale. The war portion of the film is pulled of with excellence. This was Dumont branching off more than ever by crafting full-on war sequences with explosions and fire fights.
The portion of the movie that still doesn’t fully connect with me are the portions of the film that take place in the small town of Flanders. Bruno Dumont does his Bruno Dumont “thing” a bit too much in this one. I appreciate his sense of randomness but it’s turned up quite here. There’s a lot of random moments for the sake of pointless randomness to the point where it kind of takes me out of the story a bit.


This was also the first film where I “got” what he was trying to do casting-wise. Prior to his collaborations with the likes of Juliette Binoche & Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, he was known for working with non-professional actors. But not just any group of non-professional actors… 
There’s no other way to say this but Bruno Dumont went out of his way to cast the most homely, weird-looking locals (I say this knowing I’m no supermodel myself). I guess the better way to say this is he cast people who would be considered traditionally unattractive. I think part of the reason I dislike certain elements of this film (I’ve come to enjoy other potions of it that I once did not) is that it forces me to confront this aspect of his work. As much as I love Dumont overall, I always wonder if he’s being a bit exploitive with his (non-professional) actors sometimes.

Outside of visual similarities and the deadpan delivery of their actors, Bruno Dumont was regularly compared to Robert Bresson because Bresson was also known for using non-professional actors (following his first two films). often times when modern directors cast non-professional actors they go the route of picking “traditionally attractive” people like models and/or random social media influencers (Ana Lily Amirpour) or naturally pretty-looking young people like Gus Van Sant or Larry Clarke. Even Bresson sometimes casted “traditionally” attractive people at times. It’s like Bruno Dumont intentionally went the opposite route of his contemporaries and casted the most unpolished folks he could find.

The actors from Flanders are from the town of Flanders which happens to be where Bruno Dumont is from so there is a personal element to his casting choices...

Flanders is my birthplace. It is visceral, sensitive irrational. I need the land in order to film human beings. In being filmed, Flanders gives back an aspect of human existence. I need a story because stories are the natural movement of our lives, that which connects us to one another - Bruno Dumont


His casting inspirations also came from his appreciation for art. In Dumont’s own words:

the actors were inspired by the tradition of Flemish paintings native to Belgium and northern France - Bruno Dumont



So while there is some obvious provocation in using the actors, there is some respect there. I guess it isn’t totally exploitive.


Odd casting choices aside, Flanders, like Twentynine Palms before it, was another pushback against the constant Bresson comparisons. Outside of the explosive war scenes (which is almost an anti-Bresson thing), Dumont makes nods to everyone from Jean Epstein (his true inspiration) & Carl Theodor Dreyer…

Ordet / Flanders

Le Tempestaire / Flanders


to Tarkovsky…

Andrei Rublev / Flanders



At the end of the day Flanders is the kind of film you check out last in Dumont’s filmography after you’ve got a grasp on his style. In my opinion this is his weakest film but it still deserves to be watched once if you’re a fan of his work or work adjacent to his. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

HADEWIJCH


Bruno Dumont spent the majority of the aughts avoiding the burden of being compared to Robert Bresson only to finish out the decade with an undeniably Bresson-esque film in the form of Hadewijch. Outside of themes concerning religion and the questioning of faith, Hadewijch ends with the main character trying to drown herself, which, when you take in to account his (sometimes forced) relationship with Bresson, makes one think of the final scene in Mouchette.

Dumont begrudgingly acknowledges why and where the Mouchette connection would come about, but he also adds on to that…

People tell me there is a reference to Mouchette in the fact that Céline tries to drown herself in the pond at the end - Bruno Dumont

Mouchette / Hadewijch

but I was just reading yesterday that the Beguines, the religious movement to which the real Hadewijch belonged—the nuns were drowned, so there is a reference to that as well and it’s going back much further. So, I think it is unfortunate that the imagination of so many spectators and critics begins with Bresson. It’s important to go beyond that, far beyond that, but I can’t help that in any way - Bruno Dumont

Mouchette / Hadewijch

Mouchette /
Hadewijch


While Hadewijch is filled with scenes of deadpan faced nuns roaming through churches that might remind someone of Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest or his somewhat forgotten debut Angels Of Sin - this is still very much a Bruno Dumont film. The story follows a young would-be nun (Celine) who is expelled from her church because her extreme faith is deemed too dangerous even for the church (she starves herself, stands in the cold rain for long periods of time, etc, all in the name of Jesus Christ). It’s pretty clear that Celine loves Jesus and not just in a religious way. She has a dangerous borderline erotic fascination. And because she’s never known true romance (or even had a normal crush), her love is expressed in an unhealthy manner. 
I think without even meaning to do so Dumont addresses the root of where so much sexual repression comes from among nuns & priests in the church. They’re sometimes stunted emotionally when it comes to that part of life so they express themselves in ways only a repressed person would (violence, abuse, etc).
These are all things outside of Bresson's wheelhouse for the most part...


Dumont’s work has, of course, evolved over the years, while still retaining his signature materialism, a focus on how his characters are both burdened by and manipulate the physical stuff of the world around them. This has led to endless Bresson comparisons, and while Dumont is without a doubt a student of Le Maître Robert, the very opening of L’humanité (1999) demonstrates Dumont’s specific cinematic rendering of gravity’s force. Det. Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté), running away from a crime scene, stumbles and lies with his face in the mud; the man is brought to earth with a thump, and then he simply settles, as if absorbed by the earth’s force of stasis. This is miles away from the lithe, balletic movement of objects or gestures in Bresson - CinemaScope


The biggest non-Bresson element in Hadewijch is Celine falling in with a group of extreme Muslims after being expelled from her church. This part of the story comes out of nowhere at first, but when you go back to Celine’s love of Jesus and her being kicked out of the church for being “too extreme”, it’s almost like a break up story. The “crazy ex” Celine has been dumped so she acts out in a fit of rage & jealousy by linking up/flirting with Allah.
This may seem silly to a rational-thinking person but Celine is a dangerous mixture of extreme & naive. She’s a scorned teenager who’s essentially been broken up with so she’s running to the arms of who she feels is the “enemy” of her ex in order to get attention.

Dumont’s underlying fascination with Muslim culture since day one has always intrigued me. From the Kader character in The Life Of Jesus to the characters in Flanders going off to war in the Middle East, there’s always been an outsider's fascination. I’m not saying I’d like Dumont to make a film that fully focuses on Muslim characters & Muslim culture (that could end up being a disaster), but there’s still something there that he clearly wants to explore more but doesn't fully know how..

I revisited Hadewijch last year and gained a new appreciation & understanding for it. To me, this marks where Dumont finally found his stride/“style”. That’s not to say earlier works like The Life Of Jesus and L’Humanite don’t take place in the same universe as Hadewijch (and there are some common Dumont-isms in Twentynine Palms & Flanders as well), but every Dumont film that came after Hadewijch had heavy strands of the same DNA in them where his previous couple of films did not.


Friday, June 18, 2021

THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT



The last thing I want to do is make a movie review all about myself. Especially when the movie has absolutely nothing to do with me (it's ok to get personal sometimes but I don't like when critics have to make everything solely about them). But - and I honestly say this without being vain - I think I'm the perfect audience for Dan Sallitt's The Unspeakable Act. The story about a decent-sized family that also involves a serious incestuous attachment between two of the siblings (“Jackie” & “Matthew”) is incredibly alien to someone with no siblings (me) from a small family (it was just me, my mother and my father). I can watch this movie without any personal attachments that might skew my opinion. 
I guess what I’m trying to say is if you have a sibling and you watch a deeply personal film like this, I just assume your mind automatically forces you to think of yourself and a sibling in the same scenario as Jackie & Matthew. Even momentarily. That’s just how the brain works. 
While I do think having a borderline obsessive attachment to anyone is unhealthy (especially a sibling) I don’t have that point of reference when it comes to a brother or a sister because I don’t have one which makes my, or any only child’s perspective on this film, a little more unique.
I’m also not saying that having a sibling makes this film-viewing experience “better” either. I just sometimes wonder how truly weird & fascinating siblings are to only children. 
A normal-seeming relationship between two siblings is fascinating enough (I've said this before on here when it comes to films about siblings). So a semi-deadpan story that explores incestuous feelings between a brother & sister without making it too “shocking” is even more fascinating.


This is hardly the first story to explore romantic intimacy between a brother and a sister. It’s a story as old as time. But what I will say about this film is that it’s the first semi-recent work in a while to tackle the subject matter in an almost “normalized” way. And that’s not a criticism. That’s a compliment. The subject matter is uncomfortable but it’s handled with care. I think this film is excellent. 
I enjoyed it when I first saw it almost 9 years ago, and after watching Sallitt’s excellent film; Fourteen (which also features Unspeakable Act star Tallie Medel), I have an even better understanding & appreciation for Sallitt’s work.
I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Most of my general thoughts about this movie have already been expressed in other reviews on films that are adjacent to The Unspeakable Act (see my sibling-related thoughts on everything from Nenette & Boni to Love Streams).


Discovering Sallitt’s influences played a major role in my newfound appreciation for The Unspeakable Act. Any time something modern is considered “deadpan” it draws an immediate comparison to the usual suspects like; Bresson, Jarmusch and Akerman. I’m guilty of that myself. 
Hell - I think an Akerman connection (which is probably unintentional) is fitting here. But that's just me and how my brain works...

Jeanne Dielman... / The Unspeakable Act

Jeanne Dielman... / The Unspeakable Act

Jeanne Dielman... / The Unspeakable Act


I did come across this old online correspondence (below) of Dan Sallitt recommending some of Akerman’s work. That could hold some subconscious weight, but even I know that when a filmmaker enjoys someone’s movies that doesn’t mean they’re going to try and copy them...




I came to learn that it was Eric Rohmer who really influenced Sallitt (although only mostly on a visual level)...

Christopher Small (Gorillafilmonline): I think as good a place to start as any would probably be Eric Rohmer and the Rohmer influence on The Unspeakable Act. He seems to be brought up a lot surrounding this film, partly because of the dedication after the closing credits and partly because the style we have come to associate with “Eric Rohmer” provides a good framework for appreciating many of the things you are doing in this film. Do you see yourself working in the Rohmer tradition particularly?

Dan Sallitt: Yeah, I do. Not in the kind of stories I tell, but in my way of composing, using sound, lighting, cutting. And when I first got interested in making movies, he legitimized long dialogue scenes for me. Somehow it was always him I used as a model, not the other directors I loved. I think Rohmer found the simplest and most elegant balance between the fictional and the documentary aspects of cinema: his style is a simple instrument designed to do one thing, to shift our attention back and forth from one aspect to the other.
I think dialogue functions for me a lot like the way it does for Rohmer: as a form of realism. The people in my films talk constantly, not because I have plenty to say to the audience, but because people talk a lot in life 



Sallitt goes on to further explain and distance himself from Rohmer to some degree (while the Rohmer influence is there on a visual level, The Unspeakable Act is still very much a Dan Sallitt film and no one else’s)…

I didn’t mean to force a comparison to Rohmer with that dedication. I did it because he had died recently and I wanted us to remember him. I guess I wound up guiding people’s response more than I’d intended - Dan Sallitt, Gorillafilmonline.com


These quotes & interview passages make perfect sense when you compare images from Rohmer’s work with Sallitt’s.

Note the similarity in the decor of both scenes, the camera movements and the movements of the actors between these two particular scenes:
A Good Marriage /
The Unspeakable Act

A Good Marriage /
The Unspeakable Act

A Good Marriage /
The Unspeakable Act

A Good Marriage /
The Unspeakable Act

A Good Marriage /
The Unspeakable Act


The Rohmer connection was further discussed with Sallitt when he appeared on our podcast last year (click here to listen).


Another thing that sets The Unspeakable Act apart from the (possible) influences (both conscious and subconscious), is that Sallitt’s films show a specific slice of modern American life (modern-day Brooklyn to be specific) that couldn’t really be found in the films of Akerman or Rohmer.

And I don’t mean to bring down other films in an effort to compliment another (I won’t get specific and name names), but it’s clear to me that films like The Unspeakable Act & Fourteen come from a mature perspective with well-mapped out & deceptively dense/powerful dialogue that can’t be found in certain contemporary American independent films that some critics have attached to Sallitt’s work in the past decade. Outside of just the incest & taboo feelings, Sallitt quietly explores the relationships between mothers & daughter, the relationships between women and their brother’s girlfriends and even the importance of therapy for some people. It's also very impressive to me how an older adult man like Sallitt can pull off successful stories about young women. 
The Unspeakable Act isn’t mumblecore or even post-mumblecore (looking back, I don’t even think people knew exactly what mumblecore even was). In fact, the only film that should truly be attached to The Unspeakable Act is Sallitt’s own follow-up; Fourteen, which, to me, takes place in the same cinematic universe (read my thoughts on Fourteen here).

Sunday, June 6, 2021

THE SCHOOL OF CHANTAL AKERMAN: JIM JARMUSCH


News From Home /
Permanent Vacation


It's no mystery that Jim Jarmusch is open about who and what he borrows/steals from...

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to. - Jim Jarmusch


But if we're getting specific, Chantal Akerman might be one of the top 5 (possibly top 3) directors that he references. Both intentionally and subconsciously...

Do you know a film she made called Toute Une Nuit? It all takes place in one night and keeps jumping among different characters and back around. It's really a beautiful film. It's one of my favorites of hers - Jim Jarmusch


Everyone from critics...

No doubt Jim Jarmucsh was taking notes - Scott Tobias on Akerman's influence

With its dislocated travelogue, Stranger Than Paradise suggests Wenders’s Kings of the Road; the transcendently shabby moonscapes evoke Chantal Akerman’s News from Home, and the absence of reverse angles her Jeanne Dielman; while the shaggy-dog narrative and vignette structure are anticipated by Jim Benning’s 8 1/2 x 11 and 11 x 14 - J Hoberman


to Akerman herself all seem to agree...

Oh he [Jim Jarmusch] takes everything from me - Chantal Akerman


Enjoy...


Toute Une Nuit / Down By Law

News From Home / Permanent Vacation

Les Rendezvous D'Anna /
Mystery Train

Les Rendezvous D'Anna /
Mystery Train

Les Rendezvous D'Anna /
Mystery Train

Toute Une Nuit /
Stranger Than Paradise
Toute Une Nuit /
Stranger Than Paradise

Toute Une Nuit /
Stranger Than Paradise

Toute Une Nuit /
Mystery Train

Toute Une Nuit /
Mystery Train

Toute Une Nuit /
Mystery Train

Les Rendezvous D'Anna /
Vers Nancy


Saute Ma Ville / Stranger Than Paradise

Les Rendezvous D'Anna /
Mystery Train

Toute Une Nuite /
Mystery Train

Toute Une Nuite /
Mystery Train

Jeanne Dielman... /
Stranger Than Paradise

Je Tu Il Elle /
Strangers Than Paradise

Saute Ma Ville /
Permanent Vacation

The Family Business / Mystery Train



It should also be noted that the admiration between the filmmakers was reciprocal as Akerman probably borrowed (back) from Jarmusch herself...

Mystery Train / J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid

Stranger Than Paradise /
J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid

Stranger Than Paradise /
J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid

Stranger Than Paradise /
J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid

Stranger Than Paradise /
J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid

Stranger Than Paradise /
J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid



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