4 posts categorized "Feminist Cinema"

November 24, 2017

VAGABOND — CLASSIC FILM PICK

VAGABONDAgnes Varda’s sturdy neo-realistic social study of a fiercely individualistic young woman, who happily lives a hobo’s life on the road in France, is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Here is Varda inventing Cinema before our eyes. The gifted filmmaker of the French New Wave plays with style and form via a reverse bookend narrative about Mona (featuring a guileless early performance from Sandrine Bonnaire), a loner leading a makeshift lifestyle based on the people she comes across.

This touching film can rightfully be considered a feminist think-piece of the first water. Documentary techniques add to “Vagabond’s” humanist appeal as a timeless artifact of French womanhood in the ‘80s, and the social conditions of the time. Some men who Mona meets are more dangerous than others, but she soldiers through predictably unpredictable situations with the full force of her corporeal nature and abilities.

Vagabond (1)

“Vagabond” achieves and effortless sense of social currency and filmic transparency. Everything rings true.

Not rated. 105 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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September 20, 2017

FACES PLACES — NYFF 55

ColesmitheyThere is beautiful chemistry between the legendary 88-year-old French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda and JR, the youthful French photographer who cares for Varda as a loyal would-be grandson of artistic intentions. JR and Varda share directing credits for this disarmingly sweet and poignant documentary that plays more as a docudrama due to the circumstance of uncertainty regarding Ms. Varda’s health.

The movie is a nuanced sociological study of French culture. Needless to say, the amount of pretense on display is near zero. Think of it as neo-realistic French New Wave ethnographic study in B minor. The personal and artistic elements are articulated to their fullest — a rare cinematic, event to say the least. It doesn't hurt that JR and Agnes Varda are two of the most endearing human beings you'd ever want to spend two hours of your life with. 

The harmonious pair of inspired film-project pals travel to small towns in France in a Mercedes Benz truck decorated to resemble a giant camera. Already we are in a filmic world. The sides of JR’s fancy mode of transportation includes a photo booth where locals are photographed. The truck then prints out black-and-white portraits on gigantic sheets of paper that JR pastes to the sides of buildings to create dramatic personalized statements about the significance of human faces and truth.

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Although Varda’s vision is constantly blurry due to an eye condition, she complains about JR’s proclivity for always wearing sunglasses. She wants to see his eyes. But it is clear that JR separates himself as an artist from his subject so that your attention can focus on the art rather than the artist.

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“Faces Places” is a film you discover and revel in the joy of its simplicity, patience, and naturalistic discourse. Like all of Varda’s films, this one is special. It won this year’s L’Oeil d’or at Cannes for good reason. If you only see one film at NYFF55, “Faces Places” is the one to watch.

Varda&jr

Not Rated. 89 minutes. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

What to Watch at the 55th New York Film Festival from Cole Smithey on Vimeo.

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January 07, 2017

STORY OF WOMEN — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Story of WomenBased on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, Claude Chabrol’s provocative World War II era drama features Isabelle Huppert as a lower class single mother of two in Nazi occupied France. Marie’s war-ravaged husband unexpectedly returns home just as she finds her calling as an amateur abortionist for local women, many of whom work as prostitutes servicing German soldiers.

Claude Chabrol’s “The Story Of Women” delves into the conditions of a small occupied French town that transforms a mother of two into a hardened opportunist.

Marie’s motivations shift as she reaches a comfortable lifestyle that enables an affair with a German soldier.

Isabelle Huppert walks a fine line as an anti-heroine whose broken relationship with her husband (François Cluzet) culminates in a betrayal of outrageous proportions. 

Much of this film's power draws from Chabrol's ambiguous handling of Marie Giraud as an imperfect, if industrious woman. Huppert plays the part with a seething passion locked beneath an implacable feminine exterior. Neither Huppert nor the director pass any judgements on Marie's actions, nor does either shy away from her wartime imposed survivalist attitude to the world around her.

Because abortions were criminalized in France [from 1920 to 1975], due to a grievous loss of French males in World War I and II, Marie-Louise Giraud became an ideal scapegoat for the French courts after being indicted for her crimes.

STORY OF WOMEN

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)


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January 01, 2017

FAT GIRL — CLASSIC FILM PICK

A-Ma-Soeur2In 2001, at the height of her powers, writer-director Catherine Breillat created a trenchant social study of familial and social prejudice set in the context of a wealthy French family whose unevenly matched female siblings vie for various rights of sexual passage.

Originally entitled “A Ma Soeur!” (“To My Sister”) the film’s inappropriate English title “Fat Girl” does this movie an injustice. This clear public relations attempt at inciting controversy with a derogatory term cheapens Breillat’s bold dramatic statements regarding budding female sexuality in the modern world, and feminist ideals at large.

Anais Reboux plays the Rubenesque pre-teen of the film’s title. Anais is the younger (12-year-old) sister to Elena (Roxane Mesquida), who at the age of 15 is ready to do away with her virginity. A family vacation at an estate by the ocean delivers a seemingly ideal solution to Elena’s plight in the form of Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), a wealthy twentysomething Italian law student whose list of conquests he wears with confidence. During their first encounter Fernando “takes Elena from behind” in the same room where Anais pretends to sleep in another bed just a few meters from the event. That Fernando requests that Elena take him in her mouth after anally penetrating her, speaks to a societally informed notion of humiliation attending sexual indoctrination.

Fat Girl

Breillat contrasts generational and sexual codes of behavior between her characters. The girls’ mother and father (Arsinee Khanjian and Romain Goupil) are at odds decreed by their social positions. Fernando’s concern for going to prison for deflowering an underage girl doesn’t prevent him from stealing a precious ring from his overweight mother (Laura Betti) to give to Elena even if he doesn’t really intend the gift as the engagement ring that Elena imagines.

A-ma-soeur

The story belongs to Anais. Her observant, if pokerfaced, vantage points on morality and social conditions enable her to survive a traumatic event via the brutal lessons she vicariously learns. “Fat Girl” is an understated picture that doesn’t shy away from any of the ambitious thematic heights that Breillat fearlessly mounts. Like Breillat’s debut feature (“A Real Young Girl”) “Fat Girl” is a masterpiece awaiting inspection by audiences open to its unveiled meanings and insightful commentary.

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