Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A FEW WORDS ON BRUNO DUMONT'S JOAN OF ARC


If Jeannette: The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc (the prequel/first installment in Bruno Dumont’s Joan Of Arc saga) is Drive, then Joan Of Arc (2020) is Only God Forgives. I realize this may not be the best sell to some of you as not everyone is a fan of either Nicolas Winding Refn and/or Bruno Dumont (especially not Dumont), but both Refn & Dumont are PINNLAND EMPIRE favorites so this comparison is on brand for me (some of you reading should know this by now). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Jeannette is more ”exciting” & externally intense while Joan Of Arc is more droning, meditative & intentionally slow. The musical numbers featured in Jeannette are heavy metal-inspired (a big draw/selling point for the film) and the score/musical numbers in Jeanette seem to come right out of Brian Eno’s Yamaha keyboard circa 1982...


In Bruno Dumont’s latest film we follow Joan Of Arc on trial after her fight against the English army (a slightly older Lise Leplat Prudhomm returns in the title role giving one of my personal favorite performances of the year so far). The basic story is nothing new. Everyone form Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion Of Joan Of Arc) & Robert Bresson (The Trial Of Joan Of Arc) to Victor Flemming (Joan Of Arc) & Luc Besson (The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc) has covered this subject matter. It’s history that just about all of us know even if it’s on a surface level. I think Bruno Dumont knew this which is why he not only made his series of films a musical, but he also added his signature Bruno Dumont touch. It’s all there. Awkward acting & exchanges of dialogue between mostly non-professional actors, dark/surreal humor mixed with drama and - there’s no light or politically correct way to say this, but - homely & odd-looking people make up most of the cast (something Dumont has been doing since day one which at times does feel like Harmony Korine-esque exploitation at first, but the more you get to know about Dumont you know his intentions are mostly genuine). He seemed to approach this project with the thought process of; “If I’m going to tell a story that’s already been told many times before, I might as well try to do it different.” And he certainly did that. But no matter how “different” this version may be to some, he still did his homework on the life of Joan Of Arc and the history surrounding her (he doesn’t use the weirdness and non-traditional approach as an excuse to ignore historical aspects or to be lazy).

Joan Of Arc makes Jeannette a much more impactful film in retrospect (it goes without saying that you should see the first part). Jeanette is essentially a coming of age tale/spiritual awakening. Right away this sets Joan Of Arc apart from its predocessors because rather than be thrown right in to the trial & execusion, we watch Joan/Lise Leplat Prudhomm age through two films.

We’re in the midst of her coming of age: she’s grown up a little, she's no longer the little girl she was in Jeannette, and the child-like side to her has changed too. After all, remember she’s now a military leader. She’s acquired a confidence, a strength which needed to be filmed. She’s a soldier—a brave soldier, someone who managed to put King Charles VII back on his throne. And we needed to film and show that glory. Which meant we needed to design a glorious mise-en-scène, to capture her hierarchical dimension, her strength. - Bruno Dumont (mubi.com/notebook)


Carl Theordor Dreyer's influence on Dumont has been well documented long before PINNLAND EMPIRE even existed and Joan Of Arc is just another ongoing example...
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc / Joan Of Arc


And 25+ years later we find Bruno Dumont tackling a story that Bresson already did 60 years ago...
The Trial Of Joan Of Arc / Joan Of Arc

What I find most interesting is that even though this movie is the “weird one” out of the Joan Of Arc films, Dumont is still connected to Robert Bresson after almost 25 years (for those of you that don’t know, following Dumont's first two features in the 90’s he was dubbed the “son of Bresson” due to both director’s similar approach to dead pan/non expressive acting from their mostly non-professional casts.
In my opinion this version of Joan Of Arc deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Trial Of Joan Of Arc. Robert Bresson added his unique & signature style to the story of Joan Of Arc as well (non-professional actors, dry/deadpan delivery, etc). So Bruno Dumont isn't the first filmmaker to take a non-traditional/experiemntal approach.

While this is my favorite film of 2020 thus far, I do not recommend you dive in to this movie unless you’re familiar with some of his recent work beyond just the sequel; Jeanette.
If this does happen to be you first Dumont experience (some of his earlier films aren't the easiest to find and it is getting some decent love from critics and a push from repertory theaters like the Lincoln Center hear  in New York), just be prepared for a strange/non-traditional experience.

Friday, March 27, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 117


On this episode of Zebras Scott & I tackle two "spicy" subjects/movies that branch off in to conversations regarding free speech, "woke culture" and more.

Enjoy...

Friday, March 20, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 116: THE QUARANTINE EPISODE



On this episodes of Zebras, Scott & I give our top 5 desert island movies to watch while in quarantine (not necessarily our top-5 favorite movies either).
We also get in to other random movies, tv shows and albums to keep you company during this trying time.

Enjoy...

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA: ALWAYS SHINE

Two years ago I wrote about Sophia Takal's Always Shine (click here to read) and naturally Bergman's Persona came up on more than occasion.

To use to term coined by Miriam Bale - Always Shine is very much in the Persona Swap genre...

Putting aside the written word for a moment (along with the few initial visual comparisons I came up with), there are a lot more blatant visual similarities that got missed in my review.

Enjoy...


CLOSE -UPS...
Persona / Always Shine

CLOSE -UPS...
Persona /
Always Shine

THE EMPHASIS OF THE MOVIE CAMERA WHICH ACTS AS A CATALYST FOR ANXIETY & PRESSURE...
Persona /
Always Shine

REFLECTIONS...
Persona /
Always Shine

EATING TOGETHER...
Persona / Always Shine

CREEPING UP FROM BEHIND...
Persona /
Always Shine

CONFLICT...
Persona / Always Shine

TAKING PHOTOS...
Persona / Always Shine

Persona /
Always Shine

Persona /
Always Shine


Friday, March 13, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 115: MOVIE GRAB BAG EPISODE



We're back this week with a grab bag discussion on a bunch of films. Scott gives us his thoughts on Birds Of Prey & The Last Thing He Wanted, while I give a rundown of Sorry We Missed You and Bruno Dumont's Joan Of Arc biopic.

Enjoy...

Friday, March 6, 2020

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 114: JOHN CARLUCCIO



Filmmaker & friend of the show John Carluccio was kind enough to sit down with us to talk about his latest documentary on Maurice Hines, his legendary turntablist documentary Battle Sounds and so much more. 

Enjoy...



Sunday, March 1, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA: DON'T LOOK BACK

Persona / Don't Look Back


Vertigo. Images. Mulholland Drive. Always Shine. There’s countless psychological thrillers that deal with the duality, multiple personalities & parallel worlds surrounding women. With the exception of Vertigo (1958), I feel like the aforementioned films can be traced back to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (obviously with the residue of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and perhaps a pinch of Maya Deren’s Meshes Of The Afternoon, but Persona remains the #1 film with the most influence when it comes to movies in that lane).
I say all this to say that Marina De Van’s sophomore film Don’t Look Back is often left off the list of Persona-influenced films when, in my personal opinion, it fits right in with the Mulholland Drives & Always Shines. Part of that has to do with the fact that Don’t Look Back is a little underseen (in the United States it was distributed by IFC films which means its theatrical release was limited in comparison to other movies). Another reason this film is often forgotten about is because it struggled to match up to De Van’s excellent debut In My Skin. Not only did In My Skin leave some large shoes for Don’t Look Back to fill, but De Van was heavily associated with the New French Extremity film movement and her follow-up feature was a more conventional thriller and less “extreme” or “transgressive” as a lot of the other New French Extremity films.

Even I felt Don’t Look Back was a little “Meh” at first but after a recent re-watch (after over a decade) I’ve come to realize that not only is it a solid film, but - as I mentioned at the start of this piece - De Van’s sophomore feature has some strong visual & thematic connections to Persona and other movies in that lane

Like any film dealing with duality & questionable identity (like Persona), Don’t Look Back has tons of imagery that focuses on mirrors & reflections (that kind of goes without saying when it comes to movies like this)

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


I’m fully aware that there are countless movie scenes with mirrors & reflections. Even scenes where people change & morph in to another person...

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


But obvious mirror scenes aside, there are minor visual similarities between Don’t Look Back & Persona that speak volumes and make the connection stronger...
Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back

Persona / Don't Look Back


Imagery aside, both Persona & Don't Look Back are partially about mental breakdowns centered around female-specific traumas (similar to Mulholland Drive, Images, Always Shine and so many others). In Don't Look Back we follow a woman (Sophie Marceau) who slowly starts to lose a grip on reality and morph in to another woman (Monica Belucci) due to a mental break brought on by fatigue (as the movie unfolds we come to discover there’s a lot more to everything than just fatigue).

So while Don’t Look Back is somewhat underrated and a little underseen for understandable reasons (and it’s not on the level of a Persona, but still...), perhaps it deserves to be given a second (or first) chance with all the aforementioned cinematic influences & connections in mind.


Monday, February 24, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF TARKOVSKY PART 25: MOVING IMAGERY

From the resurrection of dead lovers (Blade Runner 2049 & Pet Sematary) and the calming ambiance of nature (The Mountain, Nymphomaniac, Mandy, etc), to exploring the arthouse staple of the "mystique" surrounding horses on film (way too many titles to name) - below are more examples of scenes from films that remind me of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky.
While there are self-proclaimed "Tarkovsky students" represented below (Lars Von Trier & Ilya Khrzhanovsky), this entry of "The School Of..." shows more filmmakers that aren't often associated with Tarkovsky's work (Rick Alverson, Denis Villeneueve, Alex Garland, etc), so I'm fully aware that some of these similarities are completely coincidental.


Solaris /
Blade Runner 2049

Solaris /
IT (1989)

Solaris /
The Lovers On The Bridge

Nostalghia / 4

Andrei Rublev / The Wicker Man

Solaris / Mandy

Solaris / Annihilation

Solaris / Michael Clayton

Andrei Rublev /
Michael Clayton

Solaris / The Mountain

Solaris / Pet Sematary

Solaris / Nymphomaniac

Monday, February 3, 2020

COMPLETE FEATURE FILMOGRAPHIES



I'm happy to announce that I've now written about the (feature length) filmographies of some of my favorite active filmmakers. Take some time throughout the rest of the year to get familiar with their work...

(*click each movie title for the individual review*)


Carlos Reygadas
Ratcatcher (The Pink Smoke)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

THE FAVOURITE



This one is a unique creature. In my personal opinion, The Favourite doesn’t even crack Yorgos Lanthimos’ top five (which means it ranks “last” within his filmography considering he’s only made six features).
On a side note - this ranking kind of speaks highly to Lanthimos’ barely seen debut; Kinetta. I mean - so few people saw it that Lanthimos was able to get away with remaking it (with a few tweaks) in the form of Alps (both movies deal with service workers recreating/reliving the memories of other people).

Barry Lyndon / The Favourite

The Favourite is heavily influenced by Barry Lyndon which I've never been to crazy about (Yorgos Lanthimos appeared on an episode of Marc Maron's podcast and mentioned Kubrick's Barry Lyndon a few times). But I find it interesting & intriguing that one of my favorite recent filmmakers (Lanthimos) drew inspiration from a movie I'm not crazy about (I know I'm in the minority on that) and made me enjoy & appreciate it more. This may ruffle some feathers but I think The Favourite is the only way I can really enjoy Barry Lyndon (this review isn't about Kubrick's mostly critically acclaimed masterpiece - and it's been said already - but Barry Lyndon comes off as a very boring movie made by a bored person at the time. Sorry...)

Barry Lyndon /
The Favourite


At this point in my life a Kubrick influenced movie isn't a huge "draw" for me. Don't get me wrong - Kubrick is a master and probably one of my favorite filmmakers (on a very long list), but what major/critically acclaimed movie isn't influenced by him at this point (even movies that don't draw from Kubrick are still compared to his work). I'm also pretty lukewarm on films from the main culprits of the school of Kubrick (Christopher Nolan, Paul Thomas Anderson and every other Shining-influenced horror movie or 2001-influenced space movie with a few exception here & there).
I expect filmmakers like Christopher Nolan to draw from Kubrick. Not Yorgos Lanthimos. He's someone I've never associated with Stanley Kubrick. Until The Favourite he was a student of folks like Bresson (Alps), Haneke (Sacred Deer) and even a pinch off Todd Solondz (Dogtooth). And before that - he was self-admittedly inspired by films like Flash Dance & Rocky which are both referenced in Dogtooth.
A Kubrick-inspired Yorgos Lanthimos movie felt like a breath of fresh air (even if Barry Lyndon is the point of reference). While it isn't on the level of a Dogtooth or Sacred, The Favourite is still something different for him. There's no (outright) Bresson-ian deadpan performances or Haneke-esque darkness. And I might be ruffling some more feathers or triggering some so-called film purists but The Favourite has a soul that Barry Lyndon doesn't.


Now...Barry Lyndon isn't the only movie to influence elements of The Favourite. Yorgos Lanthimos has mentioned the work of Peter Greenaway as a major inspiration. Specifically The Draughtman's Contract...

The Droughtman's Contract / The Favourite 

There are also shades of everything from Persona 

Persona /
The Favourite

...to Jean Epstein's early experimental silent films...

The Favourite / The films of Jean Epstein (The Faithful Heart & The Fall Of The House Of Usher)


Set in early 18th-century England, the story focuses on the relationship between two cousins (Sarah Churchill & Abigail Masham) vying for the attention of the mentally unstable Queen Anne (Lanthimos based a lot of The Favourite on his own speculations and letters written to/from Queen Anne & Churchill).
If anything, The Favourite serves as an example of an “arthouse”/left-field director turning the corner in to a slightly more mainstream lane without compromising their style too much (there is some compromising in my opinion as the dark humor is somewhat toned down in comparison to his other movies). The Favourite doesn’t have dialogue about jerking off your dad (The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) or “rape humor” (The Lobster), but the humor in The Favourite is still darkly comical and somewhat fucked up (the way the man-boys in The Favourite treat the women is fucked up, funny, and serves as some obvious commentary on gender dynamics that we’re still dealing with today and probably always will).

Lanthimos’ transition has been an interesting decade-long observation. Dogtooth (2009) came out of nowhere and earned an Oscar nomination. The Lobster (2015) not only gained Lanthimos a second Oscar nomination, but this was his first English-speaking film with recognizable folks like John C Reilly, Rachel Weisz & Colin Farrell who, in my opinion, captured that Bresson-ian acting style that Lanthimos loves so much. That acting style was kind of abandoned in The Favourite so I understand why some Lanthimos fans didn't place this movie on the same pedestal as Dogtooth & Sacred Deer. It’s also difficult to follow something like The Killing Of A Sacred (probably one of the best films of the decade). As much as I enjoyed The Favourite it’s still "safe" when compared to Lanthimos' earlier work. But I’m honestly not mad at Yorgos for playing it safe. It’s kind of like the arthouse/auteur version of fast food which - like fast food - is fine every once in a while (plus his short film work that followed The Favourite was a return to form so we know he didn't abandon what makes him so great). I'm also not mad at The Favourite for putting Lanthimos on a more accessible level...


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