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Entries in foreign films (177)

Monday
Nov112013

AFI: Agnes and "Cleo"

The film is called Cleo From 5 to 7, but it’s actually Cleo From 5 to 6:30 Exactly”

Agnes Varda states with a chuckle. Varda is the Guest Director for the 2013 AFI Fest, so four of her films are being screened at the festival, starting with her most famous film, Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962). The woman who has been rightfully called the Godmother of the New Wave practically bounces in her chair, which is surprising for a woman her age. I hope I age half as well. Filmmaking and boundary-breaking agree with her.

Cleo From 5 to 7 takes place over a single afternoon. A young singer (Corinne Marchand) waits for results from her medical exam to tell her whether she has cancer. More surprisingly, the story takes place in real time; starting at 5pm and ending at 6:30pm. The film has the hallmarks of many French New Wave films: the preoccupation with cinematic form, the unflagging coolness that comes with good sunglasses and disaffected youth, the filmic experimentation. Cleo From 5 to 7 is different from Breathless or Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Agnes Varda’s unique voice has been attributed to her gender (the New Wave could be a talented boys club), but she attributes it to her background in art instead of film.

Varda says during the discussion that she purposely watched as few films as possible before becoming a filmmaker. Her purpose was to create something totally new and from scratch. Other New Wave auteurs were film lovers first (think of the fantastic book Hitchcock Truffaut). Varda speaks with the same rapture about Picasso and the artists in other mediums that inspired her. Of specific importance to Cleo From 5 to 7 is a painting by a 16th century German artist named Hans Baldung. In the painting, called The Three Ages Of The Woman and The Death, a young woman gazes into a mirror while a ghastly skeleton whispers into her ear.

Varda observes that the picture seems almost scandalous because beauty and death aren’t supposed to go together. Certainly that’s Cleo’s belief in the film. She worries constantly through the film that illness will ruin her beauty. Like the woman in the painting, Cleo constantly looks at herself, and the many people she meets look at her too. This, Varda states, is her feminist message: “Women become real when they stop looking at themselves and start looking at other people.” Cleo is an object to be stared at. The singer’s moment of revelation happens at 5:45pm, during this haunting song:

Agnes Varda sets the song as a midway point: from 5:45pm on, Cleo actively observes instead of passively being observed. The act of observing and the looming question of death make every moment precious. The challenge of making the story seem to unfold in exactly ninety minutes makes it not only a technical marvel - there are a lot of clocks in frame that need to be set precisely - but also inspires deeper examination of moments that might otherwise be missed. As Agnes Varda winds up the discussion, the bubbly auteur tells the audience that this is the theme of the film: fear gives texture to reality.

Saturday
Nov092013

Europa! Europa! EFAs Feeling Broken, Blue and Beautiful

The European Film Awards have announced their annual year-straddling list of nominees and featured heavily are several Oscar contenders from 2012 and 2013. Recognisable names like Keira Knightley, Naomi Watts (not for Diana, thankfully) and Jude Law rub shoulders with Felix van Groeningen, Fabrice Luchini and Luminita Gheorghium, which is just how we like it! 

However, like many award shows at this time of the year the biggest eyebrows isn't so much in what they nominated, but what they didn't. The cries of "snub!" will surely come thick and fast for Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux who failed to make the actress nominees for their soaring performances in Blue is the Warmest Color. Lucky then that the film picked up major nominations in picture and director for controversial Abdellatif Kechiche. Movies amassing big nomination hauls include Belgian Oscar hopeful The Broken Circle Breakdown, Italian Oscar hopeful The Great Beauty, and Germany's hit Oh, Boy! while films representing Romania, and Spain (albeit last year) also popped up prominently as did Francois Ozon's In the House.

High profile films amongst films that the EFA didn't find room for include Oscar-nominee Kon-tiki, Only God Forgives, A Hijacking, The Selfish Giant, Berberian Sound Studio (sadly - the best horror film of the last few years!), Borgman, and What Richard Did. Here's the list of nominees + the additional technical winners that have already been announced.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct302013

Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) is voracious. We first note this when she’s devouring a huge plate of spaghetti at her family’s table. She practically hoovers it down, tomato sauce staining her mouth, before going back for seconds. She reads and writes the same way, albeit offscreen, devouring 600 page novels and writing intimate diaries. But what we see is her various oral fixations and one doesn’t eat literature. If she’s not shoving cigarettes in her mouth, it’s food (and, later, body parts). In one endearing moment she shoves a chocolate bar in her wet face during a crying jag getting a huge laugh from moviegoers who've also eaten their feelings.

Adele will eat anything but seafood. That would be a sly tongue-in-(uhhhh)cheek joke if the new lesbian drama BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR didn’t make a point of it in two separate scenes. Instead this provocative film -- already famous round the globe for its explicit sex and post-Cannes disputes between its actresses and director – risks camp by playing it straight. It shamelessly equates oysters to ladyparts and in one scene that is either comical, ridiculous, perverse or all three, Adele’s older girlfriend Emma (Léa Seydoux) teaches her how to eat them… in front of the parents!

Guess what? She likes it.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct242013

CIFF Report: The Foreign Film candidates

Tim here, with a report from the other major U.S. film festival of October. The Chicago International Film Festival is, with reason, regarded as minor compared to the likes of Toronto and New York – no major premieres, few celebrities, only a couple of the big upcoming awards players. The flipside is that’s it’s absolutely lousy with interesting little films that won’t ever get a significant North American release, so even if it’s rough for Oscar watching, it’s hard to complain as a Midwestern cinephile.

Having said that, let’s turn to Oscar watching. I had an opportunity to see several of the films on the 76-title deep list of submissions for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, and I’d like to share my thoughts on their respective chances at making it onto the ultimate list of nominees. Let’s go alphabetically by country.

 

ARGENTINAThe German Doctor
In which a German-Argentine woman and her family inadvertently give aid and comfort to one of the most notorious of all escaped Nazis.
My feelings (and review): The film keeps acting like it wants to break out and be more garish and horrifying than it ever quite manages to be, and it’s probably for the best that it doesn’t. The script probably isn’t as smart as it means to be, but the fact-based story is interesting and surprisingly tense.
Oscar prognosis: “Nazi” is a magic word for this category, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see this make the nine-film longlist. It’s a little domestic and tonally off-kilter for where the category tends to live, but the subject matter is spot-on, and the Academy tends to favor Argentina more than other South American countries.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Oct122013

Golden Horse Countdown

Here's Maggie Cheung's commercial (filmed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien) for the Golden Horse awards to be held on November 23rd in Taipei. I have it on good authority that she's saying...

 50 years Golden Horse, happy birthday

I wish I could speak Mandarin and Cantonese.
I also wish I could create sparkler-like effects by waving my arms around. 

Chinese speaking readers should also check out these promos. See, to celebrate their big 5-0 the Golden Horse Awards are interviewing past winners about their classic performances/films. And for those who missed the announcement the Best Picture nominees this year at the Golden Horse Awards are the following features:

Tony Leung, Maggie's #1 screen partner, in The GrandmasterDRUG WAR (Johnny To)
THE GRANDMASTER (Wong Kar Wai) Hong Kong's Oscar Submission, Dan's review which is likely the frontrunner given the huge amount of nominations (11) and the Maggie Cheung-adjacent legends involved
ILO ILO (Anthony Chen) Singapore's Oscar Submission Chen was not nominated for director, replaced by Mong-Hong Chung who directed Taiwan's Oscar submission Soul, but he's up for "New Director" instead
A TOUCH OF SIN (Jia Zhang-Ke) Glenn & Jose's review
STRAY DOGS (Tsai Ming Liang) Venice winner

What's the last Asian film you saw and are you rooting for any of the Asian entries to win a Best Foreign Film nomination in the Oscar race this year (a lot more on that category coming up soon)

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