A Look At: Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen) is Benoît Jacquot’s account of the final days of King Louis XVI’s reign as the French Revolution takes hold. Based on the novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, the story is seen through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader Sidonie (played by Léa Seydoux). Of  course no tale of the French royal court under any circumstances, would be complete without some royal dalliances and court intrigue.

While watching this film, I was reminded that we are bearing witness to historical events and not just simply revisiting them, like one does in a book or a museum. During the Q&A session that followed our screening, Jacquot emphasized how important using this convention was in telling his story. In his opinion, it was important that the audience feel like they are in the ‘here and now,’ watching the events unfold as a matter of fact, with no reference of what may lie ahead. After all, as we live in the present, that’s it – we live in complete ignorance of the impact minor events have on a ‘big picture.’

Jacquot accomplished the above to great effect by doing what is somewhat of a ‘trademark’ of his – a reliance on a very relaxed photographic style; this really gives the film a sense of the present and roots it in a reality not often felt or experienced in a period piece.

In terms of star-power, the headliner is obviously going to be the internationally known German actress Diane Kruger. However, the true star of the film is Léa Seydoux and her subtle portrayal of Sidonie, the Queen’s Reader;  she is our way into this world of increasing chaos and instability.  It should be noted that in the source material, Sidonie is quite older and is giving her account via a series of flashback. This was a conscious decision made on the part of the director, with the author’s approval.

As for ‘Marie Antoinette,’ Diane Kruger brings a mercurial tone to her French monarch that at times makes the audience almost pity her. But then a decision in the final act brings the audience back to earth and one remembers “Oh yeah, that is the ‘let them eat cake’ chick.”

But above all else the pièce de résistance of the film is the production and costume design. Instead of feeling like we are on a walking tour through a museum, Versailles comes across as a vibrant, lived-in palace (as far as a royal residence CAN be lived in) where every corner has a tale to tell. And the bold, beautiful costumes need to be seen on the big screen to be believed. There are two dresses in particular which stand out in my mind: the green dress worn so confidently by Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and the dress worn by Marie Antoinette as King Louis XVI leaves the palace for the last time (Note: these photos do not do them justice).

In summary, Les adieux à la reine is a spirited feast for the (visual) senses that breathes some air into what could have been a rather stale, tiresome historical exercise.

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Directed by Benoît Jacquot

Produced by Jean-Pierre Guérin, Kristina Larsen

Written by Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas (novel)

Starring: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois

Cinematography: Romain Winding
Release date(s): 9 February 2012 (Berlin), US Release Date: TBD

A Look at “Turn Me On Dammit” (Norway, 2011)

One of the problems with expectations is that they rarely live up to them. At least that was the thought swimming in my head during the preview screening of the Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Få meg på, for faen (Turn Me on Dammit). Jacobsen also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen. For her efforts, she was awarded the Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. So, as you can imagine, I was expecting quite a lot.

The story is a centered on Alma, a frustrated 16 year old growing up in a sleepy Norwegian town, who, along with her best friend longs for a life outside of this town.  Piled on top of her wanderlust is a burgeoning sexuality, as exhibited by her mother’s shock and disgust at her bloated home phone bill, the result of Alma’s use of a phone sex line. She also breaks from the monotony of her day-to-day life by escaping into wild flights of fantasy.

Alma and Artur. Credit: Marianne Bakke/Motlys

Her life takes a slightly odd turn, when while at a youth party, the young man she has a crush on, Artur, initiates an odd, sexually suggestive act towards her. News of the encounter spreads like wildfire and she also immediately finds herself a social pariah, shunned and outcast since Artur will not admit to his part in the incident. For the remainder of the narrative, Alma tries in earnest to vindicate herself among her peers all while she gets closer to coming to terms with this complex and confusing time of her life.

In the central role of Alma, Helene Bergsholm ably handles the task of carrying us through her travails while simultaneously evoking a youthful angst that endears the audience.  This is only the more impressive considering Turn Me On Dammit is her (as well as several of her cast mates) first screen role.

Among the notable supporting players is Malin Bjørhovde, who plays Saralou, Alma’s best friend, whose scheme for escaping their hometown involves moving to Texas and campaigning against capital punishment.

Director - Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

Of course, none of this would have been accomplished if not for the direction and writing of Jacobsen. Particularly in the scenes with Alma where we drift into her colorful imagination, I felt as if I had been lulled there – the old bait and switch. This device was obviously by design. Jacobsen also deserves credit for handling a very young and inexperienced cast to positive result.

All the positivity aside, while I found myself chuckling a few times, the screening I attended did not have the level of boisterous laughter one would assume that would come from a film positing itself as a comedy, and a sex comedy at that. In other words, the offbeat humor of the piece may not be to everyone’s taste.

When I think of Turn Me On Dammit, I am reminded of another film that handles female teenage sexuality, Little Darlings. In dredging up this 1980s coming of age tale (a classic of sorts in my mind), I argue that stories dealing with young women’s sexuality in such a frank and ‘in-your-face’ manner are few and far between.

I caught this film at a recent screening at the newly renovated Pelham Picture House, which will be profiled on i luv cinema in the coming days. During this sneak peek, the Director of Programming introduced the film to the audience and we were also greeted with a video greeting from the film’s director.

Turn Me On Dammit opens ­­to wider release later in March.


Turn Me On Dammit, 2011. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (Få meg på, for faen); In Norwegian with English subtitles.

UPDATE (2/28/2012) We have a special offer courtesy of Constellation.tv. Constellation.tv, a virtual movie theater platform, will be holding four online advanced movie screenings on March 1, March 8, March 15, and March 22, at 8:00 PM EST.

Click here to sign up for a virtual screening: http://www.constellation.tv/film. When you purchase your online ticket, be sure to use the following code ILF2012 to receive 20% off the value of the online ticket.

Haywire (2012) directed by Steven Soderbergh

Haywire is Steven Soderbergh’s hyper-styled foray into the action genre. This adrenaline-fueled film features Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Gina Carano in her first motion picture, an action-packed globe trot that spans Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Dublin, New York and New Mexico.

When we first see Mallory Kane (Carano) all indications are that she is on the run from something – but what exactly? Mallory is a black ops specialist working for a private security firm. Well at least she was; the film shifts around the narrative timeline and reveals that the consequences of a recent assignment in Barcelona have produced a life or death situation for Mallory.

As the story unfolds, each layer gets us that much closer to the center of the mystery of exactly what has placed Mallory in her current predicament.

In the director’s own words, as detailed in the production notes, the film is a “Pam Grier movie made by Hitchcock.” That is what in many ways makes this film an interesting study and sets it apart from many films of its ilk. Through dialogue courtesy of Len Dobbs (Kafka, The Limey), there is enough to keep the audience engaged.

Soderbergh uses Ms. Carano’s physical abilities to good use; in fact Ms. Carano did the majority of her own stunts. This definitely added a sense of ‘realism’ to her fights with her co-stars. Going into this film, I wanted to see her kick serious butt – and on that account she delivers and then some. In fact, I could have done with a bit more running, jumping and punching; not MUCH more, but it was so much fun watching the fighting sequences.

For Carano this is an introduction to a possible career as “female action hero,” in the style of Jason Statham. With a little more experience under her belt, she may prove herself worthy.

A wonderful supporting cast that includes Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton add gravitas to Carano’s presence.

Initially I did have some slight reservations about an action film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The release date of the film amplified my skepticism; January is typically the cinematic ‘dumping ground.’

If there is one thing that I did not get that I expected was with Haywire being an “exploitation” film. Perhaps, this is down to smooth execution by Soderbergh and company so that it did not feel like one.

As I write this, what has come to my attention is that Carano is the lone principal female character – her world is a ‘man’s world.’ The fact that I have just come to this realization a few days after screening Haywire leads me to believe this was part of Soderbergh’s plan. In essence, by not directly referring to her gender, this demonstrates that her gender is absolutely irrelevant to the mechanics of the plot.

In the end, for all the deconstruction of plot, story, etc., this is basically a film to sit back and enjoy.

All Images provided by Relativity Media

A Quick Look at: My Week with Marilyn (2011) directed by Simon Curtis

If I were to sum up this film, I would leave it at the following statement: Michelle Williams owns this picture. In fact, much like Monroe herself did nearly 60 years ago, Williams’ presence is like a supernova, absorbing all that is around her, leaving little room for others to shine when in her path.

My Week With Marilyn is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, The Prince and the Showgirl and Me. At the age of 23, Colin was the 3rd Assistant Director of the film, The Sleeping Prince itself a play starring Sir Laurence Olivier and then-wife Vivien Leigh  (played by Kenneth Branagh and Julia Ormond, respectively). While the accuracy and detail of his writings is something to be debated, one thing is for sure – the story has the makings of an interesting movie.

And although it is called My WEEK With Marilyn, the film does in fact span the majority of the troubled production of the film that would later become known as The Prince and the Showgirl. This film also chronicles Clark’s account of his own complex relationship with Monroe during this time.

The troubled dynamic between Olivier and Monroe is perfectly summed up by Colin (Eddie Redmayne) – Olivier was an actor who wanted to be a movie star and Monroe was a movie star who wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Unfortunately for Ms. Monroe, her crippling insecurities and dependence on chemical substances sabotaged those plans.

To add to the problem, her behavior was enabled, by a series of sycophants; the film singles out Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) in particular. At times, she seemed aware enough to reach out and pull people in who could help her such as recent husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). But alas, she was too needy and her desire for love made her unbearable and ultimately drove people away.

This is what Williams’ performance was able to capture; she hit all the right notes. In saying this, I am in no way attempting to diminish the work of the supporting cast that includes appearances by Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Toby Jones and Judi Dench; they all basically do an admirable job. But this is clearly Williams’ film.

And now for the bad news: as a narrative, the film feels a bit all over the shop. Although I have not read the memoirs/diaries on which the film is based, it felt like, at times, that the film ‘read’ too much like a diary would read, with all the loose-ends and random incidents that take away focus from the central plot.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed the film, based on the strength of Williams’ performance. But I do feel like the film could have benefited from a much tighter narrative.

Production Photos Credit: The Weinstein Company 

 

A Dangerous Method (2011) directed by David Cronenberg

UK Promotional Poster

A Dangerous Method is a historical drama based on the stage play The Talking Cure by playwright Christopher Hampton * (Dangerous Liaisons -play and screenplay, Atonement – screenplay). David Cronenberg, director of sci-fi thrillers Videodrome and The Fly (1986), and most recently of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises fame, directs the cast which includes Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a patient he is treating for a psychosexual dysfunction. His fascination with the nature of her condition leads him to employ the analytical method of Freud (“the talking cure”). He goes to Vienna where he finally gets a chance to meet his idol and ‘father figure.’ Although the two gentlemen get along, there is an air of tension about; the film portrays this as being partly down to Freud’ possible resentment of the comfort in which Jung lives, courtesy of his wife’s wealth.

Back home in Switzerland Jung and Spielrein’s doctor-patient relationship develops into a friendship and eventually leads to a sexual relationship. The consummation of this relationship, one could imply, is as a result of Jung’s conversation about human nature and desire with Otto Gross, who himself is referred to Jung by Freud.

It is at this point that Jung’s relationship with Spielrein takes center stage and its implications become one of the primary drivers that place a wedge between Freud and Jung.

Not necessarily know for fully straight-on dramatic pieces, much less one based on historical events, this is a change of pace for David Cronenberg. I like to think of this as a kindler, gentler Cronenberg, even if the subject matter, which deals with psychoanalysis and sexual repression/expression, is quite layered and complex.

Christopher Hampton’s intimate knowledge of the source material shines through and allows the film to be adapted and expanded cinematically. Too often when a story is translated from stage to screen, it presents a great challenge for the screenwriter – how to make the environs, which are initially dramatized for the restrictive space of a theater’s stage, breathe.

Viggo Mortensen transforms himself (yet again), this time as the father of psychoanalysis. So much of his portrayal of Freud is in the nuanced looks, glances and expressions. These nuances told me more than any speech or soliloquy could possibly have. I am not sure another actor would be able to pull it off.  It has been often stated that some director-actor pairs create something special on screen. In my opinion, this film confirms what I already know about the pairing of Cronenberg and Mortensen – they are such a pair.

Fassbender’s Carl Jung is a man who despite all efforts to repress his desire, finally surrenders. Similarly, you can see the tension and anguish on his face and in his body. This is yet another in a string of performances where Mr. Fassbender takes full possession of his character.

Rounding out the ‘big three,’ Keira Knightley turns in a solid performance as Sabina, a woman who starts off as a ‘mad woman’ to a refined but still passionate doctor who affects Jung and Freud in ways they could not imagine. I have always been a fan of Ms. Knightley and she seems to be coming into her own as a thespian who is constantly seeking to challenge herself with complex and demanding roles.

In an all too brief appearance as Otto Gross, Vincent Cassel’s “and” credit is more than deserved. In his brief time on screen, he accomplished what was asked of him – he turns the tables on the doctor-patient interaction and in his talks with Jung creates a point of crises in Jung from which there was no turning back.

Last, but certainly not least, lying in the background of the film but ever present is the lovely musical score by Howard Shore, frequent Cronenberg collaborator who is a three-time Academy Award and two-time Golden Globe winner for his work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy; he was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his score for The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorcese.

Solid direction, fantastic writing and very fine performances, courtesy of an outstanding cast, make this film a must see.


* The play itself is based on the book, A Very Dangerous Method, written by John Kerr.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) directed by David Fincher

On Christmas Eve, a friend and me decided to go to the movies and catch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Before I get into my reaction, let me state for the fact: my relationship with this film can be described as rather layered at best. First let’s mention the book – at present, I am only a partially through it. But I do have every intention to finish reading this and the other two books of the Millennium trilogy. I only started reading the book after so many people recommended it. Prior to that I had no intention of reading the series.

But I was well aware of the popularity of the novel and its Hollywood adaptation; in fact this is the second cinematic incarnation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I have previously seen the Swedish three-part film series – well most of it anyway. While I liked the first two installments, I gave up about 30 minutes into the third film.

So you can imagine my trepidation in watching this glossy, Hollywood-stylized version of such dark source material. In general I am not a fan of these Hollywood “re-imaginings” of already established foreign films. Ultimately, my fear was that this big-budget Tattoo would be sanitized and cleansed of some of the source material’s (and Swedish film version’s) ‘grittier’ aspects.

As I walked out of the theater, all those concerns had vanished. I never should have doubted Mr. Fincher. In the end, I personally feel like this version was superior to its Swedish counterpart.

The head of the once-powerful industrialist Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) recruits the recently disgraced co-publisher of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig). Blomqvist’s assignment is to investigate a 40-year old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. During the course of his investigation, Blomqvist enlists the services of asocial hacker/private investigator/wunderkid Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who he has a somewhat loose association with – she was the person who investigated (often through not-so-legal means) Blomqvist for his current assignment. Together, they begin to piece together just what happened all those years ago. Will they ‘solve’ the riddle before it is too late?

I think the narrative is good, in fact, I think that it is almost indestructible. The mystery and eventually piecing together of all the disparate elements are very thrilling and you are left on the edge of your seat, wondering what is behind it all. The Swedish version did a good job in telling the story, but I felt as if the quality steadily declined. In contrast, David Fincher (and screenwriter Steve Zaillian) exceeded my expectations in capturing the spirit of the text and at keeping the story moving. And in spite of the glossiness of the production, I was satisfied to see that some of the tougher elements as were described in the text were pretty much preserved in the film.

That said, as has been pointed out to me by many book readers (who completed the book), by the time we reach the end of the film, key plot elements were changed in the Swedish version; the Hollywood version stayed truer to the Larsson text, although with some minor alterations.

Another aspect of the film that I was pleasantly surprised by was my reaction to the soundtrack; an awesome opening sequence revealed that Trent Reznor of Nine in Nails composed the musical score. When I saw his name appear, I must admit that not being a fan of NIN, I was a little less than enthusiastic. But for the second time in this screening, I was proved wrong; the musical accompaniment matched the pace and the tone of the film very well. This seems to be part of a greater trend in Hollywood – the replacement of ‘traditional orchestral scores for modern, edgier music.

The casting was absolutely superb. Every character was just as I imagined them to be while reading the book. Along with the casting you have the acting, all of which also hit the mark. Along with the principle characters, I would like to note the performances of Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgård.

Lastly, Jeff Cronenweth wonderfully photographs the desolate and sombre Swedish landscape.

Now, for the not-so-good news. One reservation I have with the film is – the dreaded clock-watching! At almost 3-hrs, it is a rather long film and I have to admit as I got towards the film’s final 45 minutes, I sat there thinking, “they could have tightened this up a bit.

The second thing I wanted to point out is the matter of the film’s release date. Of course this has nothing to do with the film proper, but I think it was an odd choice to release such a downer of a film around ye merry ole holidays. Looking at the box office receipts for the opening weekend, confirms that movie audiences probably thought the exact same thing. I am certain, however, that over the course of Tattoo’s cinema run, the receipts will pick up.

These criticisms aside, I ended up liking this film a lot more than I had anticipated.

I look forward to finishing the books and catching the second and third parts of the film franchise.

 

Now on Video: Midnight in Paris (2011)

In the opening sequence of Midnight in Paris, we are introduced to the City of Lights via picture-postcard montage. Instead of finding this trite and cliché, quite the opposite happens … what we see is a love letter of sorts to a place that simultaneously inhabits the present, past and most importantly, our own imaginations.

The irony of course is that in a city known for love and romance is that the relationship between the main character Gil (as played by ‘Allen-in-Proxy’ Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) is anything BUT romantic. They are a couple with very different worldviews. When we first meet Gil, he is a struggling writer – struggling in the sense that he is a hack Hollywood writer who wants to be taken seriously as a novelist. His hope is that the move to Paris will inspire him, like those literary greats who have come before him – especially those of the Jazz Age, a period of time which he greatly admires.

After a night of drinking with Inez and a couple of her friends, he decides to traverse the city on his own; he soon finds himself lost and on the steps of an old church. Suddenly, the bell tolls midnight; this is when the magic begins …

A cab pulls up and Gil is taken away by cab to 1920’s Paris where he meets the Fitzgeralds (Scott and Zelda), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Dali among others.

He also finds love in the form of Adriana (portrayed by Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso’s muses.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald

This leaves Gil in an interesting predicament- torn between his present life and staying in the past. It basically seems that as his life in the ‘past’ is gaining momentum, his present life is falling to pieces. However, with a trip back to Adriana’s “ideal” era (1890s) comes a revelation that leads him to the following epiphany – while there is no harm in looking to the past with a sense of romance and nostalgia, be careful not to inhabit it for the sake of the present. Be sure to relish the here and now – it is the time that matters most.

How this stacks up against Allen’s best work is something that I am not prepared to do. I never considered myself a Woody Allen devotee, having only really discovered him in the latter portion of his career. On balance, the results for me have been mixed at best. In the case of Midnight in Paris, I would say that it probably ranks among one of my favorites during this period of his work. Allen really seemed to capture the spirit of the time.

Among the actors the performances that stood out for me were that of Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen. It is a credit to their craft that I found them to be so obnoxious. In the case of McAdams’ Inez, one may even wonder how the likes of Gil ended up with her in the first place.

One detail in the film that I found interesting was the introduction of the ‘icons of the Jazz Age.’ At times I felt it was a roll call of sorts … just to be sure the audience knew who they were. This is a minor quibble at best and did not take away from my enjoyment of the film at all.

In the end, Midnight in Paris can be summed up as a beautiful, fantastic trip around a magnificent city.


Midnight in Paris is currently available on DVD and BluRay.

 

The Artist (2011) directed by Michel Hazanavicius

So I decided this weekend to see what all the fuss was about regarding The Artist. The words I heard were MAGICAL – INCANDESCENT – REMARKABLE. I always remain skeptical when I hear such praise vaunted on a picture. When I get to actually see the film, my concern is that it will not live up to the hype. However in this case, the praise is well deserved and well earned.

The Artist is set in Hollywood at the point where the silent and sound era converged. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a larger than life matinee idol of the silent era. A chance meeting with upstart Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) seems to be the point where both of their fortunes change. As Peppy makes a start in the film industry, George offers her advice that she will not forget.

With the dawn of the sound era, George Valentin popularity is on the decline; one final effort on his part to capture the glory days – he becomes the sole creative force behind his final outing, Tears of Love. The result is complete public rejection, financial ruin and the dissolution of his marriage (his wife is portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller). All he has left is a few artifacts of his past life and the companionship and loyalty of his chauffeur (James Cromwell) and precocious dog.

As George’s world comes tumbling down around him, Peppy Miller’s star is on the rise. She becomes a darling at the dawn of the sound age. But she never forgets the man who helped her at the very beginning of her career.

I do not want to give away too many of the plot details after this point, for fear that it will ruin the experience for you; that is a big clue that I think you should see it.

You will leave this film feeling many things – among them that this is a remarkable feat this is, especially in the days of the Hollywood blockbusting machine. It is great to see that there is an audience who clamor for an imaginative, well made, beautifully photographed and expertly performed throwback.

© The Weinstein Company

Granted as much as I am a fan of classic cinema, I never was hugely into silent films; I could probably count the number of films I have seen my two hands. But there is something, dare I say transcendent and magical, about the notion that so much can be conveyed with looks, expressions and physicality – no words necessary. To add to the experience, the orchestral accompaniment made me imagine I was sitting in the cinema of the 1920’s. There definitely is something to be said about the importance of a musical score to the film experience. And nowhere is this more evident in silent cinema.

This picture is a lovely ode to that bygone era.

The Artist is directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is a French production with English title cards.

Shame (2011), directed by Steve McQueen

Abbot Genser/Fox Searchlight Pictures

On its surface, Shame appears to be a straightforward dramatic piece about a man battling with sexual addiction. Encapsulating it so succinctly in these terms really does the film a disservice. The lead character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), obviously has a problem, but the way I see it, this problem is the symptom and not necessarily the issue that needs to be directly addressed.

The sexuality DOES feature prominently throughout the story, but this is not a film exclusively about that subject. The clue to the story is in the title. This ‘shame’ applies to both Brandon AND his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Something about their disordered upbringing leads them to two very different places in life and ways of expressing their pain. At its core, they are both are self-harming – Sissy’s actions are more visibly destructive while Brandon’s turmoil is internal; in many ways it is more painful to watch.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

We get a glimpse into just how messed up Brandon’s ability to emotionally connect with others is in his attempt at some sort of normal relationship with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a work colleague. The mutual attraction and fascination with one another is obvious, so one would expect it to result in a satisfying ‘encounter.’ However, it should come as no surprise that things don’t fall neatly into place and the sequential scenes of (1) the failed attempt at consummation and (2) Brandon’s actions after Marianne leaves wonderfully illustrate exactly how out of balance his life has become.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

While the story is clearly told from Brandon’s point of view, I felt it was as much Sissy’s story. After all, they are siblings and have a shared experience and dysfunction which stems from someplace really dark (and scary) from what the audience can gather.

At this point, it has just dawned upon me that I have not really gone into details about the plot (what Brandon does for a living, what has made him and his sister this way, etc.). In the film, these are not given much specific attention and are not really outlined.  On some level, this is all irrelevant.

Shame is an emotional, visceral piece that draws you in based on the strength of the performances of the leads; leads that strike a very fine balance between dealing (or not) with their troubles and trying to get on with their lives.

And, as in life, there are those much needed moments of levity. In Shame these moments come mostly in the form of Brandon’s boss, Dave (James Badge Dale).

It is obvious from his second outing as a film director that Steve McQueen is able to create visually arresting, raw films that leave his audience captivated.  As compared to his debut, Hunger, I feel that Shame is a little more attainable to its audience. I liked Hunger, but it was a tough watch. It was very sparse on dialogue and very heavy on visuals, some of which were disturbing at times. Shame definitely has its moments too, but I feel like this film is a more mainstream appeal. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), McQueen’s next feature is Twelve Years a Slave, based on the true story of a free man kidnapped in New York and sold into slavery in the Deep South; it is scheduled for release in 2014. Media sources have listed Brad Pitt, (the underused) Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as the principal leads.

In the end, Shame gives its audience pieces to the puzzle of these people’s complicated lives. At its conclusion, the narrative comes full circle (?) and we are left wondering what lies on the other side of the abyss that Brandon and Sissy have found themselves in. There may be a few hints there but only enough for us to speculate and always wonder.

Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946)

The pedigree for the 1946 Warner Brother’s feature is quite impressive –

  • directed by Jean Negulesco
  • co-written by noted playwright Clifford Odets
  • based on a novel by Fannie Hurst (Imitation of Life)
  • starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield.

When I first heard about this film, my expectations were tempered by the fact that it was a drama starring Joan Crawford. Joan Crawford is an interesting screen presence for me – on one hand I do not mind watching her films (Mildred Pierce and The Women especially), but on the other hand, there is that overly stylized/campy aspect to her appearance and performance; this is particularly true for many of the films she did during this period in the 1940’s.

On its surface, I thought Humoresque would devolve into this generic type of “women’s picture” melodrama. Of course, in many ways it lives up to this promise. However, at the conclusion of the film, I was left with a genuine sense of melancholy. In the last 10-15 minutes of this film, the climax/falling actions are sublime and features quite possibly one of the most beautiful intercut sequences I have seen in quite some time.

In my estimation, Joan Crawford’s performance is the best of her long and somewhat varied career. I usually hesitate using superlatives, especially in this case since I have not seen every Crawford performance; but in this case, if this is not her greatest,  it has to be in the top three.

Watching this film also brought me to a renewed appreciation for its director, Jean Negulesco. His filmography is substantial and includes in it many films that I consider among some of my more enjoyable classic film experiences:

  • A Certain Smile
  • Johnny Belinda
  • Phone Call from a Stranger
  • Three Coins in a Fountain
  • The Best of Everything

He is also responsible for films such as:

  • Titanic (1953)
  • Daddy Long Legs (Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron)
  • Boy on a Dolphin (Sophia Loren/Alan Ladd)
  • How to Marry a Millionaire (Marilyn Monroe/Jane Russell)

So if you are a fan of romantic dramas of the 1940s or 1950s, Humoresque  is definitely worth a look see.

If you have seen any films of Jean Negulesco, what is/are some of your faves? Enter in the comments below.