Monday, November 25, 2013


What if the driver character from Drive, only this time played by Elijah Wood instead of Ryan Gosling, was a tormented serial killer with social anxiety disorder and mommy issues in the vein of Buffalo Bill (The Silence Of The Lambs) or The Tooth Fairy (Manhunter)? Sounds strange right? That's pretty much the vibe of the 2013 Maniac remake...
I was going to wait to write about this for my end of the year review, which I’ve been working on steadily these last few weeks, but Maniac kinda deserves its own separate write-up. Its an interesting film to say the least. Even though it doesn’t exactly fit right in with stuff like House Of The Devil & The Innkeeper, which I’ve also recently watched at the suggestion of PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor; Doug Frye, Maniac is another example of this new resurgence in 70’s & 80’s-style horror/slasher films.
Criticisms of the Maniac remake ranged from; "Why remake a cult classic?" to "Elijah Wood as a serial killer? Yeah, right..." Let’s get a couple of things clear - The original Maniac isn’t very good to begin with. Sorry, but it's not. It isn’t some sacred cow that shouldn’t be messed with. Sometimes bad movies are mistakenly labeled as "cult movies" which gives them a free pass to be...bad. "Who cares if there's a boom mic in the shot? It’s a cult movie!" or "So what if the acting is a little bad. It’s supposed to be. It’s a cult movie!" And that’s certainly the case with the original 1980 Maniac – the simple story of a schizophrenic serial killer, "Frank Zito", who targets women. In my opinion, this new adaptation stays true to the basic plot but does make a few noticeable changes, specifically the cinematography which is shot directly from Elijah Wood's point of view half the time just like Enter The Void except not as shaky & nauseating (we only see Wood in reflections and through the point of view of the women he’s killing). I'm not exactly sure what’s so “classic” about the original (and yes, I've heard it referred to as a classic before). It’s a movie about a guy who goes around killing women. There were far too many films in the early 80's that essentially made entertainment out of violence against women at a time when real violence against women seemed to be at an all-time high: Maniac, Henry, Angst, White Of The Eye, etc. Sure some of these films are actually pretty good (White Of The Eye & Angst) but at the end of the day there’s a slightly sadistic quality to all of ‘em. The only two filmmakers to really counter this explosion of early/mid-80’s violence against women were Abel Ferrara with Mrs. 45 & Bette Gordon with Variety (the irony of course is that prior to Ms. 45, Abel Ferrara made The Driller Killer which kinda fits right in with the aforementioned films I’m criticizing). Oh wait, does Death Wish count?
Its nice to see this story redone in a different era with a slightly different twist to it. Sure, at the end of the day filmmakers should look to an original idea first before doing a remake but not all remakes are actually bad (Let Me In, Solaris, Funny Games, etc). More times than not, remakes do turn out to be pointless or not as good as the original but if we blindly hate on every remake before we actually see it, we could miss out on the occasional gem. I honestly couldn’t imagine life without watching Soderbergh’s adaptation of Solaris from time to time.

Sin City (2005)

As far as Elijah Wood playing a serial killer goes - you DO realize that most serial killers (outside of figures like Edmund Kemper or Richard Ramirez) usually don’t look the part, right? If you saw Jeffery Dahmer or Charles Ng on the street you'd probably walk right past them and not think anything or assume they were wimps. So casting the non-intimidating Elijah Wood in the title role of “Frank Zito” makes perfect sense (I just hope Wood didn't think by doing a dark indie that it would make him seem edgy or show his range as an actor. I seriously hope not). Right off the bat this version of Maniac has something over the original. The original “Maniac” in the 1980 film, played by Joe Spinell (the late iconic character actor from The Godfather 2, Cruising & the Rocky films, who also wrote the original Maniac story) was a big menacing guy who looked like a legitimate serial killer to begin with. If someone, especially a woman walking by herself at night, saw him they’d immediately cross the street or even run. In real life he wouldn’t get the chance to get close or ask a woman for the time in an effort to get her guard down and chloroform her. That’s what makes Elijah Wood such a good casting choice. He’s the last person you’d expect to be a serial killer. He has a way better advantage at getting close to women which the film plays off of. In this updated version of Maniac, Frank uses speed dating & online dating as a way of getting close to women. Ladies, be honest – if you went to a speed dating function or saw a picture of Elijah Wood on a dating site, you’d let your guard down at the sight of that face, wouldn’t you?
And lets also not forget that Wood played "Kevin" in Sin City back in 2005 so this isn’t his first time playing a psycho serial killer who targets women. There are actually quite a few similarities between Frank & Kevin. Not only do they target women exclusively, but they also behead them. In Sin City, Kevin/Wood is surrounded by his headless victims as trophies. In Maniac, Frank/Wood surrounds himself with female mannequins as well as a trophy room full of his female victims’ heads...

I admit that I quickly dismissed Maniac when it played at IFC this past year (I was intrigued for a second but that curiosity soon went away). But after hearing how surprisingly not bad it was by a few reputable sources, I gave it a chance on Netflix instant and it actually didn’t suck when it damn well should have. I know a movie shouldn’t get praise for not sucking, but this really had no business being a good/entertaining film and it was. So many odds we stacked against it and managed to rise above. ...Kinda. Unlike the original, this version of Maniac is slightly tongue in cheek and intentionally cheesy at times which makes it easier for me to enjoy it. This isn’t exactly a dark comedy, but the filmmakers & cast clearly had a hidden smirk on their face while making this. They had to. The acting is over the top, the delivery of Wood’s dialogue sounds like its being read directly from a piece paper and the scenarios in the film seem intentionally cliché – The women that Wood goes on (first) dates with invite him up to their apartments way too easily. I don’t care if the character Wood is playing seems harmless. I find it hard to believe that so many women would be so quick to hook up with a random stranger. And are women still seriously walking alone in dark alleys in movies these days? There’s too many intentionally weak points in the story for this to be taken 100% seriously (I’m afraid to read any interviews on this film out of fear that filmmaker; Frank Khalfoun really does want us to take his Maniac remake completely serious).

The synth-heavy soundtrack, which is very reminiscent of Drive, makes it even more enjoyable. I recently wrote another installment in the “Whole History Of My Life” series for The Pink Smoke on Nicolas Winding Refn’s underrated Fear X, so I’ve been immersed in his cinema for the last couple of months (I ended up writing so much unused/excess material for the Fear X piece that it turned in to a separate review on his Pusher sequel which you’ll read in January). Whether you like Refn or not, Bronson & Drive have been quite influential in the last couple of years and Maniac is a prime example. Besides the synthesized score (analog synths are making a comeback in cinema), just look at the movie poster. Doesn’t this remind you of Drive?

I realize that being influenced by Refn really means that you’re influenced by early Michael Mann, but most people are turning to Drive quicker then they’re turning to Thief & Manhunter. No, I guess that’s not a good thing, but it is what it is…

I'm still a little torn about this film because no matter how tongue-in cheek or aware of itself Maniac may be, it could still be seen as sexist entertainment as the story is still based around a serial killer who targets women. There's even those cliché scenes, which we see in almost every single serial killer film, where the psycho protagonist has the tormented flashback of his dysfunctional mother and we're almost supposed to feel a little sympathy for him and understand why he became a serial killer in the first place. Part of me also feels like Maniac is not only trying to capitalize off of Drive but it’s also stealing a few pages out of American Psycho (crazy angry white guys killing women) as well as Enter The Void. Refn isn’t the only modern filmmaker to put an emphasis on dark lighting, neon-lights & synthesizers. In my opinion, the cinema of Gaspar Noe, although less “popular”, has a connection to Refn’s work in terms of style.
But at the end of the day this film managed to be pretty good when it should have been awful. I've actually watched it twice so that counts for something.

Monday, November 18, 2013


This movie was not a box office success (Wikipedia)

Who cares what Wikipedia says? So this movie didn’t make money at the box office. Ok, so? That doesn’t make this lost gem any less great! How I Got Into College should be preserved in a time capsule. It captures so many things that were great about random movies from the late 80's. The credits are made up of an all-star line-up from that era: Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead), Anthony Edwards & Curtis Armstrong (Revenge Of The Nerds), Brian Doyle Murray, Phil Hartman & Nora Dunn (all classic SNL cast members from the 80's). The supporting cast is also made up of some great character actors like Philip Baker Hall, Richard Jenkins & O-Lan Jones. This is the kind of film that makes me wonder why they don't have an Oscar category for best ensemble cast.
How I Got Into College is one of those movies most peole kinda remember half watching back in the day but don't remember the title or any of the actor's names. It's understandable that a small comedy like this wouldn't stand the test of time like other movies released in the same year (Do The Right Thing, Tim Burton's Batman, The Seventh Continent, Sex, Lies & Videotape, Mystery Train, Drugstore Cowboy, etc) but no matter how older I get or how many new movies I discover, How I Got Into College always stays fresh with me.

Between the late 80's through the early 90's, there were a string of movies with a unique, quirky, slightly twisted dark sense of humor that just don't exist in cinema anymore like. Movies like; Meet The Applegates, Freaked, Parents, Twister (no, not that Twister), Moving, Fear Anxiety & Depression, Shakes The Clown, Heathers and How I Got In To College (my favorite movie out of the bunch). These were the kinds of movies that messed with me (in a good way) as a little boy because they were brightly colored with a light atmosphere yet the subject matter & humor was a bit twisted (suicide, dysfunctional families, cannibalism, creepy clowns, etc). I use to stay up late at night when I was 8 & 9 to watch these movies and I remember laughing at them but being confused at the same time. I was too young to really understand all the irony and dark humor but I knew something was funny about them. I was also too young to realize that a lot of these films were mashing up different genres before it was cool to do so. Parents was a horror/comedy/coming of age story, Freaked was a Cronenberg-esque body horror/comedy and Meet The Applegates was a mixture of science fiction, family drama & dark humor. There's also little elements that tie all these movies together. Some of the same actors can be found in a few of these; Randy Quaid (Parents, Moving & Freaked), Tom Kenny (Shakes The Clown & How I Got In To College), Phill Lewis (Heathers & How I Got In To College), etc. And half of these movies are directly influenced by David Lynch's Blue Velvet in that they go beyond the white picket fences and show the hidden dark side of small-town America (Parents, Heathers & Meet The Applegates).
There's still little strands of this humor found in cinema today - Bobcat Goldthwait, the man responsible for Shakes The Clown, went on to loosely remake/rip-off Heathers (Greatest Dad In The World).
I can’t say enough about late night cable TV programming between 1988 through 1992. Growing up in western Massachusetts we didn’t have anything like Z Channel or local indie TV stations. The closest thing I had to random, forgotten, underrated, slightly alternative movies was HBO, The Movie Channel & non-late night softcore Cinemax after 10pm. Sure these channels ran the same movies in to the ground during the prime time slots, but once late night hit, it’s like they gave all the programming responsibilities to lonely knowledgeable video store clerks. Not to sound old but, cable TV just isn't the same today. How do people discover/rediscover older movies now?

Savage Steve Holland will probably always be remembered for his work with John Cusack (Better Off Dead & One Crazy Summer) but I like to think How I Got In To College was the ultimate movie he was working towards even though it probably wasn’t. His movie-making career kinda went downhill after he made it. If you go back and watch Better Off Dead & One Crazy Summer, you can see some of that same randomly strange humor except it’s turned up a notch in How I Got In To College.

In the film we follow various high school seniors throughout the state of Michigan who are all trying to get in to the highly competitive school; Ramsey College. Although the story mostly focuses on two central people: "Marlon" (Corey Parker) & "Jessica" (Lars Flynn Boyle), the film branches off to other side characters like "Ronnie" (the high school jock), "Adam" (the rich privileged kid), and “Vera" (the struggling/working class teen). How I Got Into College is a bit unique in that it’s a strange mixture of satire yet it also takes itself serious. Savage Steve Holland puts in stereotypical high school characters (the smart Asians, the over-achiever, the jock, the average kid, etc) then at certain points in the film he breaks the fourth wall and pokes fun at it. But there's also just as many genuine moments of self discovery and coming of age for our characters which sets How I Got Into College apart from stuff like Not Another Teen MovieOrange County & Clueless. A lot of the comedy in this movie is absurd (intentionally over dramatized moments of self doubt, a college admissions officer who is obsessed with pigs, a student who exposes her chest during a college interview, etc) but a lot of the humor is also cliche & corny, yet it all manages to work out.
How I Got Into College also shows the other side of the college admissions process through the characters played by Anthony Edwards, Charles Rocket & Philip Baker Hall who are all on the admissions committee at Ramsey College.

Highlights in this movie include a great cameo from Curtis Armstrong (a Savage Steve Holland regular) as a Bible school professor, O-Lan Jones as a very strange receptionist and a creepy scene where Lara Flynn Boyle comes close to having a nervous breakdown during a college entrance interview.
Maybe I'm going a little too far by calling How I Got In To College a masterpiece but dammit there's something great about this movie! Sure, it holds a strong nostalgic quality for me and every time I watch it I'm reminded of my childhood and discovering random movies late at night while trying not to wake my parents up, but putting that aside, there's something unique about it. This served as an alternative to all the John Hughes brat pack movies that predated it. How I Got In To College wasn’t made for my generation (I was in elementary school, with college being the furthest thing from my mind, when I use to watch this movie) but when I think back, my high school experience was definitely closer to that of Marlon than the prototypes found in The Breakfast Club & 16 candles. Like Marlon, I didn’t have the best grades, my S.A.T. scores sucked, I panicked internally when I took tests, I took S.A.T. prep courses that did absolutely nothing to better my scores and I felt the pressure of getting in to college placed on me by society. I ultimately got into college because of all my extra-curricular activities and my one of a kind charm...just like Marlon (it damn sure wasn’t for my G.P.A.)

I wish I could recommend this to you all but it’s not on Netflix, I'm sure the DVD is out of print (I imagine most people wouldn’t want to pay the $12.99 for the DVD on Amazon) and most video stores that might have this are now out of business. I guess if you know me personally and happen to read this review, feel free to ask me to borrow it.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Blue Is The Warmest Color is a great film (it'll probably end up in my top 10 at the end of the year). But like anything directed Abdellatif Kechiche, its tough to sit through at times and takes some commitment. Its three hours long (and the time doesn't breeze by), it's filled with a lot of scenes that some may consider to be banal and the infamous sex scenes seem to overshadow the rest of the story (that's all anyone has to talk about with this whether they liked it or not). When you take a movie that's three hours long, 15 minutes worth of sex scenes really isn't that big of a deal. This film has so much more to offer than that. Its one of the most raw relationship/coming of age dramas in recent years yet all some people have to talk about is a sex scene that pales in comparison to what everyone has probably already seen on porn sites. The only worthy topic of discussion regarding the sex in Blue Is The Warmest Color is that these are in fact pretty graphic sex scenes involving two young women directed by an older straight man. People, especially feminists (who have been quite critical of this film), have a right to raise an eyebrow at this monetarily as long as they're willing to keep an open mind and give it a chance. What could a straight man possibly know about love making between two lesbians? Straight male directors who've explored gay women on film in the past haven't exactly paved a way for Kechiche. In Chasing Amy we had a film about a gay woman who falls for a straight man. In She Hate Me, not only does our straight male character turn lesbians "momentarily straight" due to the size of his dick, but he gets two (lesbian) women at the end of the movie (seriously, why did they have to have sex with him? They couldn't get his sperm any other way?).

A science fiction movie? I don't know. I think I have made one already. Chasing Amy. Because you go ask any lesbian - that'll never happen - Kevin Smith

There's something very "masculine" about the sex in Blue Is The Warmest Color. I definitely wouldn't call it pornographic but there's something questionable about it at first. The two main characters are "fucking" in the film more than they're making love or having sex. Are these sex scenes genuine & raw or is this just some male lesbian fantasy?
But Abdellatif Kechiche is far too mature to suddenly start exploring sex like an immature little boy. This isn't even his most "shocking" or unapologetic look at sex & sexuality. Has anyone seen Black Venus (2010)? That film is way more graphic in my opinion.
If you actually pay attention to Blue Is the Warmest Color you'll see that Abdellatif Kechiche takes his time developing the relationship between our two main characters; "Adele" (Adele Exarchopoulos) & "Emma" (Lea Seydoux). They don't just jump right in to fucking each other. Kechiche crafts numerous scenes of them getting to know one another, sharing personal stories, finding unique common interests and becoming friends first. The scene when Adele & Emma first walk past each is cliche but still my favorite moment in the film. All of this is what makes Blue Is The Warmest Color genuine.

This film is also genuine because it stays true to the title & art of the graphic novel (there were some changes made to the actual story tho). Abdellatif doesn't do a shot for shot copy like Robert Rodriguez tried to do with Sin City, but he still incorporates the color blue in the same slick yet obvious fashion as the graphic novel...

Based on the French graphic novel; "Blue Angel", Blue Is The Warmest Color is the story of Adele - a high school senior who falls in love in with Emma - a slightly older art student. Emma is openly gay while Adele keeps her attraction to women quiet at first but eventually comes out (although it's made unclear if her family ever finds out). It's difficult to tell at certain points but the film spans several years and as time progresses we watch our two main characters mature, form a real relationship and ultimately start to grow apart. This movie really didn't have to be three hours long but at the same time it kinda did (I don't think Kechiche has ever made anything under 2-1/2 hours). Adele's growth throughout the story is key and you really can't convey her kind of transformation in a 90 minute movie. Three hours is the perfect length for a coming of age tale because you can take your time and not rush things. As you watch Blue Is the Warmest Color you may think a lot of the scenes seem pointless at first but by the end of the film you'll realize that those pointless scenes are just as important as the explosive & emotionally heavy scenes because we're getting to know Adele & Emma intimately. This gave me an even greater appreciation for recent French coming of age films like Goodbye My First LoveSomething In The Air and even A Kid With A Bike (a movie we'll be dissecting in 2014). I'd like to see more filmmakers take their time in developing young characters.

Outside of his signature documentary-style look, Blue Is The Warmest Color is quite different from everything else Abdellatif Kechiche has done (all of his films prior to this focused almost exclusively on Africans in France). But this isn't his first foray in to young love or coming of age. His sophomore feature; Game Of Love And Chance, was a relationship drama centered on a group of young teens. But it is his most intense & in depth film on both subjects. He takes his young characters very seriously in Game Of Love And Chance but he really dissects Adele & Emma and we get to see their lives outside of the relationship (Adele is studying to become an elementary school teacher while Emma is trying to make a living as an artist).

What makes this one of the more progressive films in recent years is that it's more of a love story than it is a gay rights issue movie. Yes there's a moment where Adele is confronted about her sexuality and there's a scene where our two main characters march in a gay pride parade but that's it. Homosexuality isn't really the "issue" in the film. Its about a relationship between two people who happen to be of the same sex (and as you watch the story unfold, Adele appears to be more bisexual than gay). Rainer Werner Fassbinder & Gus Van Sant were making films similar to this decades ago but for whatever reason it didn't really catch on. Fox & His Friends (Fassbinder) & Mala Noche (Van Sant) featured main characters who just so happened to be gay but didn't face any real discrimination or persecution. Gay civil rights will continue to be a social issue but it's nice to see a same sex love story that focuses more on the relationship internally and less on the struggles they face due to the outside world. Instead of battling homophobes for three hours we get a real relationship film. Adele struggles with her insecurities (mostly due to her inexperience & young age) and Emma is forced to deal with Adele's betrayal later on in the story.

The success of Blue Is The Warmest Color must feel bitter-sweet for Abdellatif Kechiche. There's been some internal post-production beef between Kechiche, co-stars; Adele Exarchopoulos & Lea Seydoux and some of the crew. Additionally, the author of the graphic novel doesn't support the film (but that almost always happens in the case of a graphic novel being turned in to a film, so whatever). Outside of The Secret Of The Grain, Kechiche's work has generally been overlooked by non-French audiences. Personally, I think Black Venus, his most hated work, is his best film. He finally makes something that's considered a universal success (he won the Palme D'or at this years' Cannes film festival) and everything is tainted with behind the scenes nonsense. 
Abdellatif's films aren't the most mainstream when compared to other filmmakers based out of France so I imagine Blue Is the Warmest Color will be an introduction to his cinema for a lot of non-french movie-goers and I'm perfectly fine with that (although his third film, The Secret Of The Grain, is easier to come by now that it's part of the criterion collection). It's nice to see an underrated filmmaker that I've been a fan of for so long finally get the recognition they deserve without having to compromise their style. 
This is another one of the very few films from this year that's managed to stay with me since I saw it along with Stories We Tell, 12 Years A Slave & Hors Satan so that counts for something...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Hey guys, check out my third appearance on Inside The Phoenix in which we discuss this years' New York Film Festival, the depiction of race in modern film, my disgust of Django Unchained and much more...

Friday, November 1, 2013


Minutes in to Camille Claudel, 1915 - Bruno Dumont's new film about the famous French sculptor's battle with depression & mental illness, we're made to feel uncomfortable & uneasy. The entire film takes place inside of an old asylum and instead of using trained actors to play the residence of the asylum (with the obvious exception of Juliette Binoche & Jean-Luc Vincent) Dumont uses actors with real physical or developmental disabilities. Just about every Bruno Dumont film is made up of non-professional actors but this was a little different. Camille Claudel was almost ruined by the audience I saw it with because they only knew how to express their discomfort towards the scenes that highlight the disabled actors by laughing. I'm still not quite sure what the audience was laughing at. So Bruno Dumont used a lot of continuous polarizing/hypnotic shots that lingered on the faces of the disabled co-stars. And? What exactly was so funny? I immediately felt that same discomfort from when I saw Manderlay in an audience full of laughter (again...not quite sure what was so hilarious with that movie either). Not that Manderlay is worthy of that much defense but still...I'm baffled why so many audience members were laughing at a film rooted in slavery. Bruno Dumont is a provocative (sometimes pretentious) filmmaker but I refuse to believe that part of his goal in making Camille Claudel, 1915 was to have us laugh at disabled people. I can’t believe that. What I can believe is that Dumont was trying to challenge audiences in some way but he took it a little too far without meaning to. Critics felt Bruno Dumont was being exploitative. I understand the need for authenticity in film (especially in a film that's based on a true story). Why hire actors who end up giving a poor & insulting performance as a person with physical or developmental disabilities? Remember how enraged you felt watching Adrien Brody in The Village or Cuba Gooding Jr. in Radio? What's wrong with using an actor whose physically or developmentally disabled? Its been done before by filmmakers like; John Cassavetes (A Child Is Waiting), Harmony Korine (Gummo) & Crispin Glover (What Is It?) yet every time it happens, the subject of exploitation comes up (which is understandable in some cases).
Like any Bruno Dumont film, I'm conflicted. I enjoyed Camille Claudel, 1915 very very much but unfortunately I see where are a lot of critics are coming from when they accuse him of being exploitative. I don't agree with that at all but I kinda understand how someone could feel that way.
This film actually has me rethinking the early work of Harmony Korine now. I think part of the reason some audiences & critics are reacting the way they are to those scenes in Camille Claudel that highlight the cast members with disabilities is because of previous works like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and other various Korine shorts that some people may or may not have seen (I've been told he has a rare short where it's just him videotaping a girl with downs syndrome in a pool). Korine has since moved on from his style of the 90's. Dare I say he's matured as a filmmaker? But he may have burned a bridge for other filmmakers who may want to explore the subject of mental illness and other disabilities in art films. Nowadays, people cant take that subject matter straight on in the way Dumont presents it. There has to be some kind of artsy or ironic statement behind the presence of a disabled person in an art film.

In the case of using real disabled actors, Camille Claudel, 1915 falls somewhere in between the combination of audiences not being mature enough to deal with it and a director going too far by trying to fight a crusade - the misrepresentation of a group of people who are often overlooked. This film does take place in the early 1900's when the handling of folks with disabilities was pretty archaic & dated (I was reminded of Allan King's Warrendale during certain points). Maybe part of what Dumont was trying to do was shed light on how backwards the health system was in the early 1900's but he just took it a little too far.

Michael Pitt as "Blake" in Gus Van Sant's Last Days (L) / Kurt Cobain (R)

If I had to compare Camille Claudel, 1915 to a particular film in order to give you an idea of what it's like, I guess it's similar to Gus Van Sant's Last Days (I know it's not about Kurt Cobain, but it is about Kurt Cobain). Both films are slow, hypnotic, nature-heavy looks at depressed artists, with only a few brief scenes that highlight the art they create. Instead, the films focus more on the depression that's eating away at these artists. Last Days has a couple of scenes where Blake/Cobain retreats to his music studio to play something but for the most part we get scenes of our depressed main character roaming through the woods or wandering aimlessly through his mansion mumbling to himself. In Dumont's film, there's a few brief moments where Camille/Binoche talks about how she misses her art studio. There's even a scene where she picks up a piece of mud off the ground and tries to sculpt something out of it but eventually gives up (the way in which Camille Claudel breaks down in that scene and throws the mud away kinda reminded me of how Blake/Cobain intentionally brakes the strings off his guitar in the final music scene in Last Days). Camille Claudel, 1915 is a pretty realistic look at depression, how crippling it can be and how it can be triggered from the most unexpected things. Usually in a movie when someone goes in to a depressed mood, they see something obvious that reminds them of a dead relative or some past failure in life. True, these are legitimate reasons for someone to fall in to a depression but sometimes cinema would have you believe those are the only worthy reasons to be depressed. In one scene, Camille/Binoche watches a play rehearsal and as the scene goes on, she slowly breaks down and falls in to a depression. One minute she's smiling and the next minute she's having a crying fit. We later learn that the dialogue in the scene of the play that she was watching triggered memories of a failed relationship she once had. But we don't know that right away. Bruno Dumont wanted to show that depression can be triggered from the most unexpected places.

This is a very drab & depressing film from the subject matter right down to the atmosphere...

I don't know if I'm capable of writing about a modern French film (especially one by Bruno Dumont) without mentioning Robert Bresson's obvious influence. I guess it’s a testament to the fact that he's one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. It goes without saying that most filmmakers are influenced by each other but in the case of modern European filmmakers like; Bertrand Bonello, Eugene Green, Miguel Gomes, Manuel De Oliviero and Bruno Dumont, the Bresson influence is so strong that you have to mention it. The dry tone and cinematography of Camille Claudel reminded me of a slightly more modern Diary Of Country Priest (with a touch of Maurice Pialat's Under The Sun Of Satan). The nuns who work at the asylum where Camille stays come right out of a Bresson film. 
Performance-wise, there isn’t much Bresson to be found this time around. Because of Dumont's use of non-professional actors, the performances in his films are usually dry, rough and scaled back. There's always the occasional outburst but for the most part, the characters in his films are monotone. But in Camille Claudel there's a lot of emotion in the performances of the actors. Binoche is great as is Jean-Luc Vincent who plays her brother; Paul Claudel. A separate film could have been made about Paul Claudel. There's a section in the film that focuses only on him and we don’t see Camille/Binoche for a good 10-15 minutes. We learn that Paul is not only dangerously religious but he's just as unstable as his sister (he just knows how to hide his madness better). It's good that Bruno Dumont chose to use trained actors for the two main roles this time. He's usually able to get great performances out of people who have never acted in their life before (both lead actors in L'Humanite won best actor & actress at Cannes in 1999 and had no previous acting experience) but I'm pretty sure Dumont knew that an untrained person couldn’t handle the kind of emotions that were required to play Claudel. He still incorporates non-professional actors but only as supporting & background players. 
The last time Bruno Dumont used professional actors was a decade ago in Twenty-nine Palms which was indeed a train-wreck (but the kind of train wreck that should still be seen at least once or twice in your life). But Camille Claudel is nothing like Twenty-nine Palms. Bruno Dumont continues his fascination with isolation, loneliness, religion & characters giving their life to godThe one thing that makes Camille Claudel, 1915 stand out from the other films in his catalogue is that Dumont doesn't explore sex and/or violence this time.
It may take more than one viewing for this film's subtle brilliance to sink in. If you have that kind of patience (the movie is only 97 minutes) then I say give Camille Claudel, 1915 a chance (bear in mind that it's not only very depressing but pretty slow). If you aren't familiar with Bruno Dumont's work, I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction.

Jean- Luc Vincent in a creepily intense performance as Paul Claudel (L) / Camille Claudel Sculpting of Paul Claudel, 1905 (R)

In his own unique way, Bruno Dumont crafts his own Dancer In The Dark-style ending with Camille Claudel. For a moment he gives the audience a glimpse of hope then he quickly takes that it away and the film just ends. Its subtly powerful and a bit of a punch in the gut. Camille Claudel’s history is no secret. All you have to do is google her. Her time spent battling depression & mental illness is documented just as much as her time as a sculptor. But she also isn’t the most world renowned artist either so there’s a chance that audiences (especially American audiences) don’t know how the rest of her life played out (like me) which makes the ending that much more depressing because I had no clue she lived out the rest of her life in asylum.
You can never just simply like a Bruno Dumont film (refer to my write-ups on L'Humanite & Hors Satan). There's always a struggle or some frustration. I'm a fan of his but there's a few films of his that even I don't like (Flanders & Hadewijch). But that's what I love about him. I'm becoming bored with (new) cinema more & more these days. Slightly pretentious or not, Dumont's work is still challenging and often leaves me intrigued, pleasantly confused & wanting to talk. Carlos Reygadas & Claire Denis are the only other filmmakers to consistently get those types of reactions out of me (maybe Apichatpong Weerasethakul but that's it). The only other film this year I found to be as thought provoking as Camille Claudel, 1915 was Hors Satan (also directed by Dumont, but not released in the U.S. until  this year) which makes Bruno Dumont the most intriguing and most frustrating filmmaker of 2013 in my opinion.


Hey guys. When you have a moment, head over to The Pink Smoke to read our latest article on Room 237...


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