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Entries in women who lie to themselves (9)

Tuesday
May062014

"We don't like the twins" - On Robert Altman's 3 Women (1977)

I've seen 3 Women exactly 3 times. Look at me all numeriffic. Each time it shapes-shift fluidly like its still half submerged in the embryonic waters of pools, aquariums, nursing home baths, and dream floods that keep engulfing the women, particularly Sissy Spacek as "Pinky" (or "Mildred" depending on how you read the picture). She's the most permeable of them all.

Permeable, maybe, but never painlessly transforming; if the movie camera had never discovered Sissy Spacek's face in various stages of psychotic breaks (see also Carrie) it would have missed its calling entirely. 

The first time I saw the film it was like looking a crystal clear umbillical cord between Persona (1966) and Mulholland Dr (2001). The second time it was a singular experience, untethered to other films from my favorite genre (Women Who Lie To Themselves™) and played as a remarkable feat of interiority and actressing (Shelley Duvall won "Best Actress" at Cannes and that jury deserves a prize of its own for going there.). With this third screening 3 Women morphed into a messy horror comedy, a pitch black and deeply uncomfortable but still funny horror comedy about social autism, menstrual cycles, and the terrors of having no center and no support system to reinforce your youness. Follow?

Whichever film 3 Women is while you're watching it, it's impossible to miss its obsession with twins.

We don't like the twins. You'll learn about them soon enough"

Or, I'd argue more emphatically, its obsession with triplets; two identical, one fraternal. Though Altman's undervalued picture spends most of its time with the odd twosome of Millie (Duvall) and Pinky (Spacek) and though Pinky's initial trajectory seems to be very Single White Female in her urge to be with (or just be?) Millie, we're almost always dealing with triplets; the third is easy to miss, never identical and nearly always silent. Whether we're looking at actual twins (unfriendly blondes Polly & Peggy) or one woman reflected who appears to be two, or two women who appear to be three or four (reflections galore and too many images to screencap) or an actual rarer three-shot of the film's stars there's always some sort of triangulation going on when the image is placed in its narrative context.

Which is why my choice for "Best Shot" multiplies the multiples yet further and encapsulates absolutely everything that's so rich and weirdly specific yet vaguely disconnected about Millie and the movie itself. Millie has just been displaced from her own bedroom by Pinky when she returns to work and talks about nothing but Pinky.

I think she'll be back to work next week. The doctors really thought she was going to die. What's worse there could have been brain damage! 

Millie, singular and perpetually out of place Millie (note how Duvall towers over the other women like some absurd weed that needs pruning), trails her oblivious co-workers down the hallway in a continuous shot, talking non-stop as she does for the entire film. No one is listening despite her dramatic flourishes. Each of them are paired with their twin, literal or figurative ("Doris the Chinese one - she and I are best friends") shutting Millie out entirely. The last line as the undifferentiated women begin to dissipate out of the shot is brilliantly apt. It starts out all inclusive before it shuts someone out with its casually exclusive desperation. It's as lonely as Millie's foldout bed outside the now shuttered bedroom door. 

She asked about each and everyone one of you... especially the twins."

There's every reason to believe that Millie didn't like Pinky as her perpetual shadow/other before the medical drama. But now she's alone again. And what could be worse than that?

More 3 Women?
Here's a Visual Index of all the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" entries 'round the web. 

Oscar Shut-Out
Oscar voters had no time at all for 3 Women despite their fondness for Altman in the 1970s. I'd gladly hand it nominations for Actress, Director, and Art Direction for starters. In fact, an early aborted mental draft of this article was entirely about the art direction. 

Programming Note
One change in the upcoming schedule. I didn't realize that Warner Bros / DC had chosen an official day for Batman's 75th (the date of his birth is complicated) so we'll postpone that Batman-related Best shot episode until July in the second half of this season

 

Saturday
Sep072013

TIFF Shocker: Isabelle Huppert is "Perverse" Again

I like to start my film festivals with an atypical choice just to get the globe-trotting adventures rolling. So my first screening at TIFF, which I drunkenly forgot the name of the night before --  "Undefebeatable?" "Indestructafeated" -- was a mixed martial arts 'ultimate fighting' movie. I don't only watch movies about actresses, people! Those are just the ones I like best is all. I chased the MMA fighters with some Romanian actressing and French perversity... although it was more like Romanian Actress Perversity (Lhuminita) AND French Actress Perversity (Huppert - who else?)

So basically this was me settling in with each movie on Day One.

Movies make me feel goooooooood.

UNBEATABLE
In many ways Dante Lam's mixed martial arts fighting movie is just one giant wheel of cheese. It's a wheel of cheese so big I was reminded fo the cheez-it commercial as it rolls through Hunnan, Beijing, Macau and into Hong Kong before it slams into its bone crunching finales.  The movie never met a plot advancing montage it didn't like and there's a lot of plot so cue the music again! (I may never be able to hear "The Sound of Silence" without shuddering at the ways its egregiously deployed here and the incongruous things it accompanies.)

Eddie Peng & Nick Cheung are trainee and coach in Unbeatable

Yet despite these deal breakers, the only thing broken is a few bones but no spoilers! The movie totally works and that's largely due to its character focus even though it clearly knows how to stage and film a fight scene, something that too few action movies can claim. Nick Cheung headlines as a one time shady boxing champ who has fallen so far in life that he can't shake the name "Scumbag" even though he's become a decent guy. Taiwanese Canadian actor Eddie Peng is his young fiercely committed protege and the film. Their chemistry is so great that they can even pull off a really funny winking scene about the latent homoeroticism of wrestling without making you hate them The acting from the supporting players is broad, sure, but vivid. The actress playing a young girl Scumbag befriends (I can't find her name) gets some of the best scenes and a really great final moment -- "Come stomp on me!" which makes playful make-believe violence into affection. And also accurately describes both the movies love of its genre and the masochistic impulses of the MMA set. Unbeatable isn't really unbeatable as movies go but it is not remotely unenjoyable. B

CHILD'S POSE
Romania's great actress Lhuminita Gheorghiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu, 4 Months3 Weeks and 2 Days) has a doozy of a role in Child's Pose. Her character Cornelia, is a rich and smug society wife. Cornelia is rarely seen without a drink in one hand and a stubby cigarette in the other and she still has hands free for figuratively greasing palms around town, or literally greasing down her son's back in one provocative scene. Let's just say that she seems to be a spiritual film cousin to Angelica Huston's Lily in The Grifters. One might derisively and accurately refer to Cornelia as "a piece of work."

This fine Romanian picture (is there another kind?) won the Golden Bear in Berlin earlier this year and is now the country's Oscar submission for the upcoming Foreign Film race. The best thing about Child's Pose, aside from Lhuminita's intense gripping star turn, might be the way it so thoroughly isn't what it keeps seeming to be. Cornelia is the anti-hero of this fine Romanian picture (is there another kind?) a woman who will stop at nothing to keep her son from being held responsible for a car accident which killed a young boy. But to the movie's credit she doesn't appear to be at first (when your sympathies are with her, or at least warily near her - she's not exactly a warm presence) and doesn't quite remain so even after her often heinous behavior. It's a slippery thorny picture, forcing you to observe lots of ugly situations, and confront relatable if unpleasant emotions as it shapeshifts subtly from biting satire about the entitlement of wealth, to really uncomfortable family drama, to tense bureaucratic police procedural. It finally comes crashing head on into the ugly truth, the very thing Cornelia is most eager to swerve around. B+

Isabelle Huppert as Maud as Catherine Breillat in Abuse of Weakness

ABUSE OF WEAKNESS
I still have psychic scars from Catherine Breillat's breakthrough Romance (1999) though I tried not to hold that against her when viewing her latest. Abuse of Weakness is an indulgent autobiographical picture of sorts though Catherine is now going by "Maud". Contrary to what any synopsis and the film's first couple of reels suggest the picture is not really about the director's physical illness, but about a post-stroke relationship with a conman who fleeced her of all her money.

The film opens exceptionally well with credits over white sheets which begin to move oddly, trouble broiling under the pristine surface. The camera moves until we're looking at cinema's great chilly ginger Isabelle Huppert, as Maud, writhing about naked and then very disconcertingly dropping to the floor, her body betraying her. The first few scenes reenact  Breillat's debilitating stroke and her physical therapy but the picture doesn't really get started until Maud falls for a true "character" she sees on television, Vilko (Kool Shen) telling her assistant that they just don't make actors like that. She invites the criminal to be the star of her new picture and they begin a friendship wherein he drops in repeatedly and begins to "borrow" money from her. He also repeatedly calls her "perverse" which Isabelle/Maud/Catherine obviously enjoy hearing said about them. Vilko is coldly hesitant to help her in and out of chairs and up and down stairs when she's physically struggling but he's right there with a helpful hand to hold down the checkbook while she scribbles on it.

This goes on and on until the film's finale a long virtual monologue though lawyers and children occassional egg Maud on in her own confession. Huppert nails it by underplaying, glassily admitting her own stupidity, and rewitnessing from afar what she just lived from afar, never quite "present" in her foolish decisions. Huppert's face is a marvel, trouble always broiling under its glassy surface. Abuse of Weakness has a fine beginning and a killer ending --  too bad there's no movie in the middle. It's all just a series of check-signings and a very vaguely observed relationship that's never truly examined by the protagonist living it or the director filming an actress reliving it. It's as if Breillat is determined to make the same mistakes all over again, botching her own would be exorcism. C

Sunday
Aug042013

Review: Blue Jasmine

This review was originally published in my column at Towleroad

Cate Blanchett can't shut up in Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's latest dramedy which added more cities this weekend for its platform rollout. We join Jasmine (real name "Jeanette") in medias res on a flight to San Francisco as she's chattering away with, no, at an older companion. She goes on and on (and on some more!) about her love affair with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) all the way through to baggage claim.

But Jasmine is a liar or at least a half truth-teller. We will immediately discover that her great love affair ended in ruin. Hal was a criminal, a financial con artist who pampered Jasmine with other people's fortunes and ruined everyone including Jasmine. She's moving in with her estranged adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), also ruined by Hal's crimes, now that she's destitute. Jasmine hasn't adjusted to her new facts, though, treating her cabbie from the airport like a personal chauffeur, and leaving him a big tip considering she's supposed to be penniless.Jasmine isn't always "in the now" as it were. She never is actually, talking or bragging or obsessing over the past. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Jul252013

Personalize Your Guest Room DVD Collection

Hi kids. It's Nathaniel typing at you from a surprisingly cool Chicago, a welcome break from the stifling NYC heat. I'm visiting Nick for a few days and arrived to find the guest room (which doubles as the DVD Containment Room) super-personalized for my stay. Nick has arranged his movies in chronological order which instantaneously revealed to me why I've always been disappointment by my own DVD shelves which are alphabetical. The alphabet is about as exciting as the Dewey Decimal system. Chronology is king. 

Nick already tweeted one photo of his shelves for giggles but I thought I'd share my two favorite library notes with you. Our favorite shared movie genre, as previously noted here on the blog, is Women Who Lie To Themselves™. That note was strategically placed right under a certain Oscar-nominated 1996 picture which is a very literal interpretation of the genre. Guess which movie!

This genre is immortal and always revisited by the best filmmakers and actresses so I especially love the apotheotic "Women Who Lie to Themselves SILENTLY at the OPERA™", don't you?

Two more shelves after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Dec062012

Women Who Lie To Themselves™ Box Set

Geraldine Page in "Interiors"Years ago I took a weekend writing retreat to visit my great friend Nick (who you know and love as the man behind Nick's Flick Picks) and while discussing Julianne Moore in Safe and that weirdly specific mini Jodie Foster genre of Women Trapped in Small Spaces (planes, panic rooms... closets) we agreed that our mutual favorite kind of movie was not Dramas, Comedies, Musicals, or Horror but the rarely discussed Women Who Lie To Themselves™  subgenre -- we had to name it but it is so a genre!

You've seen multiple movies from this collection even if you didn't know it existed. In these awesome films, the female protagonist spends more time conversing with her own self delusion than with any actual co-star. The musical anthem of this celluloid sisterhood is Sally Bowles "Maybe This Time" from Cabaret (1972) and the patron saint is surely Eve from Woody Allen's Interiors (1978) who spends the entire film telling herself and everyone who will listen that her husband who left decades ago still loves her and is coming right back. Geraldine Page is absolutely brilliant in the role and if you haven't seen it you're only lying to yourself about your life being complete.

Recently on twitter Yaseen asked Nick and I for a "Women Who Lie To Themselves Box Set" which Nick than promptly retitled because Nick is brilliant.

The box set will include:

  • Birth (2004)
  • Far From Heaven (2002)
  • Three Women (1977)
  • Safe (1995)
  • Black Swan (2010)
  • Cries and Whispers (1972)
  • Notes on a Scandal (2006)
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)
  • The Story of Adele H (1975)
  • The Earrings of Madame de... (1953)
  • audio commentary on every film by Rosanna Arquette and the cast of Searching For Debra Winger (2002)
  • ...and seven copies of Interiors (1978), one for each lie you regularly tell yourself.

 Would you like to pre-order a copy?