Wednesday, October 25, 2017


This is a summarized version of a talk I participated in on Robert Bresson's Four Nights Of A Dreamer at Video Revival in Brooklyn.


The motivation of Robert Bresson's characters seem predetermined. It's as if they're essentially going through the motions without any say or input on their own lives or actions. Bresson is kind of like a cinematic puppet master in a sense. While it's totally understandable that this would be off-putting & unappealing to some folks (Robert Bresson does have his share of detractors) it is intriguing to me and quite a few of the filmmakers he has directly inspired (Four Nights Of A Dreamer is a loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s White Nights so it's rooted in influence right off the bat).

The predetermined aspect in Robert Bresson's films were in full force from the late 60's (Une Femme Douce) until his final film (L'argent). That's not to say Bresson hadn't found his footing prior to Une Femme Douce (this is evident in The Diary Of A Country Priest which, in my opinion, is when he finally found his signature style), but it was cemented in the late 60's. Four Nights Of A Dreamer is a prime example of this. Besides the basic plot (two strangers fall in love after one saves the other from a suicide attempt), we're given expressionless faces (even in scenarios concerning intimacy and suicide attempts), emotionless/apathetic gestures (at the start of the film our hitchhiking protagonist is asked where he is going and he throws up his arms, with an expressionless look, as if to say; “I Don't know and I don't really care).

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Slacker
(In Slacker, the character on the right kills his mother like it was a menial chore. This is very Bressionian)

Like I already said - lack of emotion & spirit could seem unappealing to some people (especially in cinema) but at the same time life can break us and make us apathetic & emotionless. Again – it's understandable if some audiences want nothing to do with that. Movies are supposed to be an escape for some people. The films of Bresson are a reflection of society to some degree and no one wants to spend their time watching their lives on the big screen or on a television. Some people want a momentary escape to make them forget about their (very real) Bressonian problems from time to time (living life set to an alarm clock, boredom, mindless commuting, etc). But at the same time that aspect of life shouldn't go ignored.

Bresson's influence knows no bounds especially in the world of french arthouse cinema. Take Michael Haneke for example. All of his Austrian films deal with the same problems in Bresson's films (depression, broken spirits, existentialism, predetermined lives, etc). Haneke's first three films look like stories from an extended Bresson universe.
In The Seventh Continent we see a family live life in the same predetermined depressed fashion (until they snap out of it and handle in their own way). Both The Seventh Continent & Four Nights Of A Dreamer show the same pointless/banal things we do on a daily basis...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Seventh Continent

The same could be said about Hal Hartley who considers Bresson to be one of his favorite filmmakers (Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar is one of his favorite movies). The opening scene of The Unvelievable Truth is a clear homage to the opening of Four Nights Of A Dreamer in which both protagonists are aimlessly/hopelessly hitchhiking somewhere...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Unbelievable Truth

Bruno Dumont, who at one point was nicknamed “The Son Of Bresson” due to the similar themes & acting style in his earlier movies, regularly borrows the same scenes from the films of Bresson as well...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Hors Satan
Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Slack Bay

I'd also be remiss if I didnt bring up Leos Carax's possible reference to Four Nights Of Dreamer in The Lovers On Bridge (both movies are shot in some of the exact same locations)...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / The Lovers On The Bridge
Perhaps Four Nights inspired Leos Carax earlier than The Lovers On The Bridge...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Boy Meets Girl
(Both films start with pivotal scenes on a bridge and deal with tough break ups. The delivery of dialogue in Boy Meets Girl is also very Bressonian)

there's also Soderbergh's Solaris...

Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Solaris
Four Nights Of A Dreamer / Solaris

It should be noted that all the movies compared to Four Nights Of A Dreamer in this piece have similar plot points & scenarios.
In Soderbergh’s Solaris, Chris Kelvin’s wife tries to commit suicide like Marthe at the start of Four Nights Of A Dreamer (and the characters in The Seventh Continent are successful in their suicide).
Both “Emmet” (The Unbelievable Truth) & Michele (The Lovers On The Bridge) refuse to accept that their respective relationship is over much like Marthe.

So while some of these comparisons could be perceived as vague at first glance, there is some depth & validity behind these images...


On episode 31 we delve in to everything from the recent Meyerowitz Stories to men both in & out of Hollywood who need to do better in terms of sexual assault & harassment against women.


Monday, October 23, 2017


Check me out on the latest episode of Wrong Reel with my good friend/PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Rob Cotto. Click the image below to go to the episode. Enjoy...

Also make sure to listen to this all-star wrong reel lineup where we discuss the 2017 New York Film Festival.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Welp! We've reached 30 episodes so that makes us official (we've also only missed one week since starting the podcast). On episode 30 Scott & I hit the road once again to discuss some of the movies we missed in our superhero/comic book movie episode and we also get in to some upcoming releases from the past New York Film Festival (Last Flag Flying & Zama)


Monday, October 9, 2017


I’m not into romcoms but the idea of Claire Denis directing one intrigued me (prior to seeing Let The Sunshine In I read quite a few early reviews that described it as such and I kind of have to agree). If you’re familiar with my site and/or my personal movie preferences then it should come as no surprise that I’ll see anything directed by Claire Denis. She’s my favorite filmmaker. One of the reasons she is one of my favorites is because after 40 years of filmmaking (in various capacities) she continues to step outside of her comfort zone. Not completely but enough where it should be recognized. Every one of her films has the same sheen/layer of “Claire Denis-ism” (which is something I like) but she dabbles in different genres from time to time. Trouble Every Day was her horror film. I Can’t Sleep was her murder mystery/noir. Chocolat & U.S. Go Home were warped personal journals/semi-autobiographical tales from her childhood. Friday Night was Claire Denis’ foray in to romance (that’s not to say romance & sensuality don’t flow throughout a large majority of her work but, in my opinion, Friday Night was her first truly romantic film). Let The Sunshine In has a lot of the same elements of Friday Night but it’s a bit more mushy. This might be the lightest movie she’s ever done so far in her career (this is that new territory I was speaking of earlier) but at the end of the day it is a Claire Denis film. There’s plenty of sad moments & crying. But what’s so disorienting (and I mean this in a good way) is that the sad moments and the funny moments happen within moments of each other. One minute you’re laughing out loud and seconds later you want to cry with Juliette Binoche's "Isabelle". It's difficult to keep track of all the emotions. I know that sounds negative but it's not. Let The Sunshine In keeps you on your toes.

Denis also pleases her more rigid fans like myself who like continuity between all of her movies (Agnès Godard is behind the camera once again, Stuart Staples provided some of the music, Alex Descas co-starred, etc). The way Claire Denis shoots Binoche’s (beautiful) naked body is from the same lens that filmed the half-naked men in Beau Travail. I also came to the realization that in the last two decades we’ve watched Nichols Duvauchelle (who plays one of the love interests) pretty much grow up in Claire Denis’ movies.

Let The Sunshine In is the story of “Isabelle” - a divorced mom who still hasn’t given up on love and continues to try and date/hook up even though most of the men in her life at the moment kind of suck (some are still married, some are self-centered, etc). We feel for Isabelle because she is a romantic who deserves love but that doesn’t mean she isn’t frustrating. I enjoyed this movie very much but there were times when I wanted to yell at Isabelle in frustration like a lot of people want to in most romcoms (“WHY ARE YOU GOING BACK TO THAT GUY?! HE'S TERRIBLE FOR YOU!”)
When you take the solid performances and the overall “arthouse” element out of Let The Sunshine In, Isabelle could very well be the 5th friend in Carrie’s entourage on Sex & The City (I'd be interested in hearing theories as to whether or not Claire Denis was slightly poking fun at romantic comedies).

But the plot is secondary to me. I was more fascinated with the (extended) family reunion aspect of it all. I say extended because while this is Claire Denis’ first time collaborating with French cinema legends like Juliette Binoche & Gérard Depardieu, they’re still (distant) relatives that share the same blood/DNA as Denis. It was only a matter of time that they all work together.

Claire Denis is often associated with the Wim Wenders family tree of directors (Jarmusch, Denis & Wenders), actors (Solveig Dommartin, Issach De Bankole, etc), cinematographers (Agnes Godard & Robby Muller) & musicians (John Lurie) but she also belongs to another large cinematic family...

Leos Carax / Olivier Assayas / Claire Denis
Denis Lavant / Juliette Binoche / Alex Descas
Katerena Golubeva / Lola Creton / Mirielle Perrier
Kylie Minogue / Isabelle Huppert / The Depardieus
The Leos Carax/Olivier Assayas/Claire Denis family tree is seldom mentioned but is so quietly prevalent. It’s an incredibly incestuous web of collaborative artists that should be the subject of a book one day. Claire Denis helped Olivier Assayas come up with the story that eventually became Irma Vep (Irma Vep also co-stars Claire Denis-regular/Let The Sunshine In co-star Alex Descas). Leos Carax’s cinematic alter-ego Denis Lavant gave one of his most iconic performances in Beau Travail (a film many consider to be Claire’s best work). Olivier Assayas’ recent stock actor Lola Creton gave a cryptic performance in Denis’ Bastards. Mirielle Perrier starred in the directorial debuts of both Carax & Denis. Isabelle Huppert has appeared in the films of both Assayas & Denis and Kylie Minogue ended up in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors at the suggestion of Claire Denis (Denis & Minogue were supposed to work on a film together that eventually fell through).
There are more examples that I could give but I think you get the idea.

Let The Sunshine In might be the greatest cinematic artifact that shows the connectivity between Carax, Assayas & Denis. Gérard Depardieu’s son appeared in Carax’s Pola X alongside the late Katerina Golubeva (star of two Denis films and partner of Carax). Juliette Binoche, who’s started in multiple films directed by both Assayas & Carax, has become the first and only actor/actress to appear in films directed by all three filmmakers. So even if Let The Sunshine In ended up being bad, “meh” or disappointing (which it definitely is not), it still ties together decades of a specific scene within modern French cinema that is very near & dear to my heart.

I think it should be noted that years before this movie was announced I had a feeling Binoche & Denis would collaborate...

And here we are over two & a half later watching this dream collaboration become a reality (there's a moment towards the end of the movie where Alex Descas & Juliette Binoche slowly hold hands which solidified everything for me).

Don’t get me wrong, as a stand-alone movie Let The Sunshine In is solid. It’s a departure from Denis’ recent (darker) work. I honestly wouldn’t mind this being a novice’s intro in to the world of Claire Denis (besides the fact that it’s a solid film, it could potentially expose someone to so many different avenues of modern French cinema).
But as a diehard fan of Claire Denis (as well as Carax & Assayas) it’s difficult to disassociate the very large web of modern French cinema history attached to it.
To some this may be another solid Claire Denis effort but to me it’s something much bigger.


We were happy to have Martin Kessler join us again to talk about everything from Blade Runner 2049 & Slack Bay to deep-cut comic books & underrated hip-hop lyricists.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017


The Five Obstructions is a film that hammers home what I try to do here at PINNLAND EMPIRE. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - cinematic influences & visual similarities aren’t the most important factor when it comes to film analysis but it is important nonetheless. Simply for the fact that it’s nice to know where the roots of a more recent film came from. So when I was asked to join in on a loose lecture/discussion on the subject I jumped on it without hesitation (this is a written version of my “presentation” on the importance of The Five Obstructions for Video Revival in Brooklyn).

In The Five Obstructions Lars Von Trier sets out to recreate one of his all-time favorite films (The Perfect Human) with the help of Perfect Human director; Jørgen Leth (there’s a deeper reason as to why Von Trier sought help from Leth that we’ll get in to later). Through the course of the film Von Trier & Leth make five experimental variations of Leth’s original short.
For those unfamiliar - like I was prior to 2003 - The Perfect Human is a Danish experimental short from 1963 that left a lasting impression on a young Lars Von Trier decades before The Five Obstructions came to be.

In Von Trier’s television series The Kingdom (R) we see LvT dressed just like the protagonist from The Perfect Human (L) using sign language to address the audience...

In Europa Von Trier tips his hat to the shaving sequence in The Perfect Human (there are a million shaving scenes in a million movies but given Von Trier’s obvious love of The Perfect Human I like to think his homage in Europa was specific).
The Perfect Human / Europa

The Perfect Human’s (possible) influence & visual similarities branch out beyond the cinema of Lars Von Trier. The French New Wave was well under way by the time of The Perfect Human’s release but Leth’s visuals share some striking similarities to a few key French New Wave Films like A Married Woman...

The Perfect Human / A Married Woman

And I know Repulsion isn’t a full-on French New Wave film, but from the Jazz score, the jazzy black & white cinematography & the presence of Catherine Deneuve, it’s a distant relative.
In Repulsion we get a close up of a nail cutting scene similar to one in Leth’s The Perfect Human...

The Perfect Human / Repulsion

and this scene in Repulsion would go on to echo in the work of Lodge Kerrigan...

Repulsion / Clean, Shaven / Claire Dolan

There are also some visual similarities with early George Lucas...

The Perfect Human / THX 1138

I think I’ve always had an appreciation for Von Trier more than his peers because while he can be incredibly arrogant at times, he’s never hesitated for a second to list off his cinematic influence. From Tarkovsky & Dreyer to Leth & Scorsese, LvT has never been above paying respect to those that came before him. He actually wanted to make a sequel to The Five Obstructions with Martin Scorsese but it fell through...

The Five Obstructions goes deeper than just recreating shots & comparing new & old images. This loose documentary is also a light study in depression. Prior to The Five Obstructions Jørgen Leth was suffering from severe depression. Lars Von Trier discovered this and came to the aid of his fellow Dane by getting him to direct. Lars Von Trier has suffered from depression himself so I’m sure he understood the struggle. This is just one example of many where we see an active filmmaker reach out to help an inactive filmmaker through directing. The Five Obstructions is kind of a sequel to Lightning Over Water where we see Wim Wenders working with his idol Nicholas Ray. In 1980 John Cassavetes got Peter Bogdanovich out of his severe depression by having him direct a few of scenes in Gloria.

Lightning Over Water / The Five Obstructions

The Five Obstructions was not only an homage/experimental collaboration between two filmmakers but also a form of therapy (by the end of the film Jorgen Leth seems like a happier person).


Martin Kessler is in town visiting New York City so it's only right that we have him on the podcast in person!

Listen as we rant & ramble on while snacking on ridged chips.

Don't forget to check him out on Flixwise & Flixwise Canada.


Monday, October 2, 2017


On this all-star episode of Wrong Reel I joined James & WR regulars John Cribbs, Martin Kessler & Bill Scurry to tackle David Lynch's Dune. Click the image above to go to the episode.


Sunday, October 1, 2017


We’re all familiar with the “Acid Western” (Six String Samurai, Roadside Prophets, Straight To Hell, Dust Devil, Dead Man, etc) but the “acid historical drama” (the genre that Zama very much falls under) is often overlooked. From Aguirre: The Wrath Of God To Valhalla Rising and so many more in between (Walker, Cobra Verde, Marie Antoinette, Jauja, etc), the acid historical drama has always been kicking around but hasn’t gotten the same recognition as other “alt” movie genres.
“Acid” films do have plots but they’re also trippy (hence the “acid” label), atmospheric, sometimes aimless and occasionally unflinchingly violent. Zama is all of those things and more (I wouldn’t dare call it a ghost story but you do find yourself questioning who and/or what is real from time to time). By the final act you start to question the meaning of any & everything as we age along with our protagonist...

Diego De Zama at the start of Zama (L) and the end of Zama (R)

The aging of Diego De Zama is pretty similar to that of Florya in Come & See (and by the end of their respective films they’re both quite broken).

Come & See

Lucrecia Mattel’s latest film certainly follows down the same path as the aforementioned stories but it also stands out on its own due to the piercing (colorful) visuals and isolated moments of harsh violence. That's what’s so disorienting about it. It’s an incredibly dreary and sometimes violent film but the color palette would have you think otherwise (bright beautiful colors often give off a more positive & energetic vibe).
And that’s not to say other films don’t have their share of violence. It's just that Martel’s is a bit more brutal in my opinion. I love Nicolas Winding Refn very much but the violence in a movie like Valahalla Rising is intended to be entertaining to some degree. That’s not really the case with Zama. With Valhalla Refn wants his audience to cheer while Martel wants her audience to look away it fright.
But Valhalla Rising shouldn’t be dismissed. Especially in the case of Zama. Both films have strong visual & thematic similarities on a skeletal/surface level

Zama / Valhalla Rising

My arrogant side cringes at the thought of comparing something to Stanley Kubrick in 2017 (because honestly what film can’t be compare to Kubrick with decent writing and/or a long-winded rationalization?). But on a visual level Zama kind of feels like the color palettes from the bathroom scene in The Shining turned up slightly. And I appreciate Lucrecia Martel’s use of color in Zama because while the entire film is beautiful, the piercing colors (specifically greens, oranges & reds) are sprinkled throughout the movie or in the background rather than shoved down our eyeballs from start to finish...

There’s nothing like waiting on a film for years that actually delivers (in the case of Zama we’ve waited almost a decade for Lucrecia Martel to put out a new feature). This movie delivered tenfold in fact. This isn’t exactly something I’d blindly recommend to anyone (although I wouldn’t be mad at this being someone’s introduction to Lucrecia Martel’s work) but at the same time you don’t have to necessarily belong to the (“arthouse”) audience that this movie is primarily geared towards in order to enjoy it. If you’re a history buff or watch those expedition shows on A&E or the history channel then there’s no reason a Lucrecia Martel novice couldn’t enjoy Zama.

This is new territory for Martel given that this is a period piece. The basic plot centers around the existential plight & loneliness of our main character Diego De Zama - a court councilor stationed on a remote colonial outpost waiting to be transferred back home. At the start of the film he’s already somewhat miserable & alone and things only go downhill from there (he agrees to take on a vague mission that truly tests his will).
Race is also a secondary plot. It should be noted that the Black characters in the film (who are all slaves of course) say either nothing or very little but their presence is still profound. The way the camera focuses (and lingers) on the Black characters is very intentional.

But while this is Lucrecia Martel's first movie set outside of modern times, it still fits with the rest of her filmography. La Cienaga may not to be a traditional “history lesson” but it is a peak in to Latin-American culture much like Zama. Diego De Zama is also going through the same kind of existential crisis as Veronica in The Headless Woman.
The biggest strand of connective DNA is the element of loneliness & isolation. Diego De Zama is very detached. This is also a common theme in the work of fellow Argentinian filmmaker Lisandro Alonso who, like Lucrecia Martel, recently delved in to the acid historical genre with Jauja (2015). From La Libertad to Jauja (which is a first cousin of Zama) the characters in Lisandro Alonso’s universe are often alone and/or isolated just like Diego De Zama.

Here I was, in the midst of a vast continent that was invisible to me though I felt it all around, a desolate paradise, far too immense for my legs. 

This excerpt taken from the book that inspired Lucrecia Martel’s latest film truly sums up the story of Zama as far as I’m concerned.

the loneliness in Zama is similar to the art of David Caspar Friedrich...

At the end of Zama, Diego is asked if he wants to live and his response (if you wanna call it that) is rather cryptic & open-ended. Zama is the personification of complex as it is both dreary & beautiful. It hasn't even been 24 hours so I wont give any hyperbolic final statements on it, but this is one of the best films I've seen this year.


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