Film #256: The Bedroom (1975)

la-chambreaka: La chambre
creator: Chantal Akerman
language: silent
length: 10 minutes
watched on: 28 Dec 2016

The last film I watched in 2016, and I guess this feels like an addendum to the year, as it’s a silent non-narrative film made in the 70s during the French new wave. Akerman, the maker of the film, is pushing the boundaries by making a film without any story. We watched it because my sister was doing a project and needed to watch something that focused on bedrooms.

Before I go on, you can find and watch it on Youtube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AGakyb3eBU

The film consists entirely of a camera swivelling slowly on the spot to look around a bedroom. Akerman is the silent woman sitting in bed as the camera pans past her. Honestly, it’s not the kind of thing I usually go in for, but I quite liked the atmosphere. It reminded me of the houses I’d seen in La belle saison just a couple of days before, but this is the genuine article. It’s full of clutter, and it’s fun just to look through and see which things that have changed since that time – ancient fridges and cooking equipment being a memorable one.

Not much happens in the film, but Akerman shifts position every time the camera moves past her, and it’s very unclear, but she might be masturbating the second time we see her. About halfway through, the camera stops and starts panning the other way – we all got really excited at this point and started debating the meaning, although it’s been a few weeks and I can no longer recall what wild theories were mentioned.

More of a curio than a film but interesting to watch.

Film #255: Summertime (2015)

labellesaisonaka: La belle saison
director: Catherine Corsini
language: French (and a little bit of Spanish)
length: 105 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 6/6)

I mentioned in my review of the short film I watched on the way back to the UK that I’d been sifting through Air France’s selection for anything LGBT-related, and this film was basically the only one I could find (I had a vain hope that I might be able to find Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17), with proper subtitles, but it wasn’t to be). I heard about it last year because it was the opening event at the LGBT film festival in Tokyo (now called Rainbow Reel Tokyo – I wrote some reviews last year starting with this one), and if I’d had a little more time and money, I might have tried to go, but it didn’t make the cut, eventually.

The movie is about a country girl who goes to university in the city, in the 70s. She gets accidentally caught up in a feminist group, by saving one of them from an aggressive man – she then starts a passionate love affair with that woman. And so on. The other woman comes back with her to the countryside and tries to fit in, but finds it difficult.

Just opening with farmland vistas it was already shaping up to be very similar in tone and style to Being 17. That other movie also had farms and landscape almost acting like another character. Seasonality is also important – this time it’s summer in particular. The characters spend large parts of the second act lounging in fields and having picnics. There’s something very French about that, it makes me nostalgic for going on holiday there as a child. There’s also something very French about the frank nudity in the second act, incidentally – what else should we expect?

I’ve mentioned a lot recently the tendency for filmmakers to exaggerate the distinction between now and the periods they’re portraying, to the point that it becomes parody or cartoonish – I’ve noticed this in High-Rise, Toast, and Stranger Things, just to name a few. I was reminded of High-Rise in this movie by the fact that people are constantly smoking, at least in the Paris scenes – but these scenes are actually more evocative of nouvelle-vague due to that and a few other things, reminding me a lot of Jean-Luc Godard’s work.

There is a familiar tension between the city and country in this film, especially between the two leads – the one girl who has to go back to the countryside to take care of her mother and dying father, and the other who kind of follows her reluctantly and never fits in there. And of course with homophobia – attitudes to such things in liberal Paris are at odds with how the mother reacts late in the film when she finds out about the two women sleeping together.

The film touches on a much wider variety of issues than that, though – sometimes it feels like it’s making too much of an effort, in fact. But I really enjoyed it. It was uplifting, despite a lot of heartbreak and emotion. It had a lot of comedy moments, despite often being very sad. It chronicles the entire course of a love affair from beginning to end, over the course of a brief summer (as I mentioned, and as the title proclaims, seasons are very important), and I think that is one of the main things that differentiates it from Being 17, which is all about beginnings.

It can be all too easy when exploring the world of LGBT cinema to stick to your own gender – a lot of gay men don’t watch lesbian films and vice versa – and I don’t think I need to convince any lesbians to watch this. So this goes out to all the guys, and straight people, reading this review – watch this. It’s good.

Film #254: His Wedding Night (1917)

hwndirector: Roscoe Arbuckle (Fatty)
language: silent
length: 19 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2016 (plane 5/6)

Along with Cops, this was also in Air France’s Buster Keaton collection, and was randomly the one I decided to watch next. It’s actually not a Buster Keaton vehicle, and was made by another comedian I hadn’t heard of called Fatty Arbuckle. It’s a hundred years old this year.

Some things haven’t changed, and some things definitely have, in that century. I was going to say we don’t have comedians or characters who are just called Fatty, but then there is Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect. We’re also (sensibly) a bit more sensitive about consent and related issues than this movie, although the related tropes of the Nice Guy and the Friendzone are still around.

Basically this movie is about Fatty (a professional con, and liquor smuggler in prohibition-era America) and his girlfriend who he wants to marry. They’re very cute together. But his girlfriend has to fight off Al, the Rival – the original Nice Guy. He gets very aggressive when she rebuffs his advances (but he gets his just desserts, don’t worry). Buster Keaton shows up about halfway through, immediately falls flat on his face, as he’s wont to do, to deliver the girlfriend’s wedding dress. But he ends up showing it to her by trying it on himself – as a result, Al steals him away instead of the girlfriend. He tries to force the girl to marry him but he marries Buster instead. Gay marriage, how hilarious!!!

The cryptic comment about consent above is actually about a weird, and totally unnecessary, scene in which Fatty uses chloroform to knock out women who come into his drug store, so he can kiss them without their knowledge. He winks at the camera, like hey guys, wouldn’t you all love to do this? But he has to also knock out an old man in the corner who starts to complain. And the second woman he tries it on just drinks the chloroform and is on her merry way – wait, what? I dunno, except for generally adding to Fatty’s established con-man character (we already know that he swindles rich people and pushes liquor), it doesn’t really add to the movie. It’s an interesting look at what used to be acceptable. I’d hope that such scenes wouldn’t make it into a movie these days, but I fear that’s also not the case. But there is a vocal crowd who will call them out on that now. And it’s better that way.

Anyway, I wasn’t as impressed with this one as with Cops (one other issue was that it’s missing a soundtrack – Cops had a nice piano accompaniment, and I think this was supposed to but didn’t), but it was enjoyable, and it might be the earliest movie I’ve watched, except for some ancient shorts that are more akin to modern animated gifs. I was running out of time on the plane, though, and I was getting tired due to imminent jet lag, so I abandoned this series and went for another feature film, before it was time to land in Paris and continue back to Scotland from there.

Film #253: Cops (1922)

copsdirectors: Eddie Cline & Buster Keaton
language: silent
length: 18 minutes
watched on: 26 December 2016 (plane 4/6)

Pursuant to the discovery of the short film collection on Air France in which I found the last movie, I found a collection of remastered Buster Keaton movies in there. I’ve watched very few movies from Keaton’s period – indeed, this movie is me popping my Buster Keaton cherry.

It’s about twenty minutes long, obviously much shorter than I’m used to with modern movies, but it tells an entertaining story, if a bit fast-paced (part of that is the old-style camera work that makes everyone move really quickly). Through a series of increasingly unlikely coincidences, Buster finds himself being chased by a whole town’s worth of cops, having unwittingly stolen a family’s possessions and then ended up riding through the middle of a policemen’s parade. Meanwhile a bad guy throws a bomb into his lap and he’s blamed for it.

The climax is when Buster ends up on a ladder being used like a seesaw by policemen trying to catch him from either side, which is entertaining. He knows how to do physical comedy. I feel like it’s a lost art these days – it’s still around, but very few can do it properly. In contrast, it was positively necessary in the silent era.

Timeless (except for inflation – a horse in those days cost $5, apparently) and funny. I liked it so much I went straight to watch another.

Film #252: Children of History (2016)

cohaka: Les enfants de l’histoire
director: Aurélien Kouby
language: French
length: 5 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 3/6)

Air France had a really extensive selection of films this year, and instead of making the mistake of picking a random “comedy” movie from the list of French films (as I did last year to my dismay), I found the “short films” section. That’s basically how I watched six movies this time around: this one is only five minutes long. I picked this one because it seemed like a nice way to see some French talent, and I was searching through the list for anything vaguely LGBT-themed. This certainly has overtones of that, although the two subject matters are twelve years old, and I wouldn’t actually class it as an LGBT movie.

I think I’d class it as comedy, although subtle. The two boys are changing after a swimming class. The teacher tells them to hurry up, followed swiftly by chastising them for running – it’s that kind of humour. The white kid quizzes the other boy about his ethnicity (Jewish), and then proceeds to talk about how he found a photo of his grandparents doing a Hitler salute, which he demonstrates. The Jewish kid is initially dumbfounded and gets angry. But by the end of the five minutes he’s agreed that whatever the grandparents did, he can still be friends with the other boy. History is history, or something. The boy isn’t his grandfather.

It’s less of a film than a slice of life, or a fossilized moment. Interesting in passing, certainly, and it raised a chuckle. But unless you’re also going to catch an intercontinental Air France flight, you’re unlikely to come across it.

Film #251: The Infiltrator (2016)

infiltratordirector: Brad Furman
language: English and Spanish (plus a bit of French)
length: 127 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 2/5)

Just for a bit of a contrast to the movie I’d just watched, I decided to watch this thriller-type movie with Bryan Cranston. I heard about it a few months ago, and I guess I’m a fan of the guy. He’s a good actor, after all.

Drug cartels are, of course, no stranger to Bryan Cranston, but he’s on the opposite side of the conflict than he was in Breaking Bad this time, as a undercover CIA agent who pulls a sting on some bad guys, but not before becoming best friends with the guy at the head of the cartel. Apparently it’s based on a true story.

The movie is set in the 80s, and I think it’s partly so the makers had the excuse to homage some outrageous insults to the art of interior design and personal fashion. Cranston starts out the movie with a 70s porn ‘stache and Paul Rudd’s hair. There are also some “chic” design choices and a distinct lack of mobile phones. In that it’s very similar to Stranger Things, but that series was quite in-your-face about its dated style – this movie reminds you of it occasionally, pulling you slightly out of suspension of disbelief as you marvel at the weirdly shaped landline phone.

Drama comes because Cranston’s character can’t quite keep his family life and his alterego separate – he invents a fiancée to get out of sleeping with a hooker, which leads his CIA bosses to get angry but assign him a bombshell blonde as his potential wife, much to the chagrin of his actual wife. Later, he is accosted by one of his cartel buddies in a restaurant, and ends up punching out the waiter, in front of his wife, in order to save face.

I don’t really want to spoil the ending too much – the final scene worked pretty well, I thought. The problem is that the rest of the movie didn’t really make up for it. It dragged a bit in the unmemorable middle sections, but more importantly, the characters’ attitude to women is really atrocious. The amount of misogyny in this movie might be accurate and justified in the sense that this is what people are really like, but I don’t think the movie did a good enough job in denouncing this outright.

Whatever, really, though. The movie is enjoyable and all that, but it’s no classic. It doesn’t live up to Breaking Bad, of course. But I’m happy that Cranston is still getting heavyweight roles like this. I wonder if he’ll ever go back to comedy.

Anyone else seen this? What do you think?

Film #250: Finding Dory (2016)

findingdorydirector: Andrew Stanton
language: English
length: 97 minutes
watched on: 26 Dec 2016 (plane 1/6)

I put off going to see this movie in the cinema last year when it came out, and I regretted that immediately, because after a week or two, only the Japanese dub was on wide release, and I no longer had the chance to see it. So it was actually one of my eagerly anticipated releases of last year, and I finally had the chance to see it on the plane on the way back to the UK in December.

The movie starts off strongly – it jumps in with wry observations on character archetypes with a married couple of fish, and I started laughing from the beginning. So the movie is at least in safe hands, and it was enjoyable to watch, but it had a much less universal appeal than Finding Nemo – a true modern classic. I found this one was much more aimed at children, and the inclusion of some characters, such as the turtles near the beginning of the film, seemed tokenistic, as if to please younger audiences.

Back when I wrote that last review of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory had been announced, and I wasn’t so excited about it. I still don’t really see why Dory has to have an origin story (although this movie explains why she can speak Whale, and read). I’m overall pleased with this result, actually, but the other main problem I had with it was it was trying to recreate the success of the earlier movie by doing the same thing again. Marlon, Nemo’s dad, has a particularly annoying lack of character development – he’s exactly the same ball of anxiety he had been at the beginning of the last movie, not seeming to have learned any lessons. In this movie, Nemo has to condescendingly talk down to him to get him to do anything.

The new characters are great. My favourite was the octopus, who’s actually a septapus (although I heard later that octopuses can regrow limbs), and the sarcastic British sea lions are great. A lot of the fish that Dory meets in the movie have some kind of disability or weirdness about them like that – there’s the dolphin who thinks he can’t echolocate (although he can, actually), and the blind whale shark who keeps bumping into things. I think the message behind this – that one can thrive despite such ailments – is a laudable one, definitely.

I also liked seeing the fish characters interact with the aquarium environment, there were a lot of jokes to be had there.

And despite what I said in my review of Finding Nemo about Ellen Degeneres playing Dory whinily, I’ve always somewhat looked up to Dory as a character. I saw her central happy-go-lucky message from that movie as the little song she sings, “Just keep swimming swimming swimming”, inspiring in a literal and metaphorical sense. My mother still reminds me sometimes that I used it as a mantra when my anxiety was really bad a few years ago. Thanks, Mum, I guess… In this movie, we find out the origin of the song, as well as the other points about Dory that I mentioned above – but again, I think I was happier not knowing for certain where it’s supposed to come from, and just accepting it as it is.

I’m very glad I could finally see this movie, and I’m glad it wasn’t a bad movie, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the absurdly high standards of its predecessor. That’d be very difficult. Rehashing similar plots rarely works, though.

Film #249: Absent (2013)

absentdirector: Leandro Tadashi
language: English
length: 6 minutes
watched on: 20 Dec 2016
on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/61652698

I follow various blogs that post links to gay films to put on my watch list, which is where I found this one. It’s a simple drama that unfolds over the 5 minutes between a man and his late husband’s mother. We find out that he was denied access to the funeral, and understandably, he’s a bit reticent about letting her into his house – she wants to reminisce about her son, and claims it was her husband that was being homophobic, not her. He tells her that’s not the case, and that she should get out.

In the end she steals a photo of the two guys together, but swaps it for a handprint the husband made as a baby.

It should be a heartbreaking little story, particularly as the two guys are so young, but unfortunately the acting was too wooden to show this in great detail. I just didn’t quite believe in the characters. Oh well. I suspect it was made for a course, and in that it’s absolutely fine. I’ve linked it above if anyone wants to make their own impressions and conclusions.

Film #248: Rogue One (2016)

rogue-oneaka: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
director: Gareth Edwards
language: English
length: 134 minutes
watched on: 19 Dec 2016
(Spoilers ahead, of course)

It doesn’t feel like that long ago that I was going to the cinema last December to see the new Star Wars movie. And it’s already December a year later and I’m going to see another Star Wars movie.

This isn’t exactly a regular Star Wars movie, though – it’s really a spin-off. They do hammer this point a little right at the beginning of the movie by not having an opening text crawl, but there are other subtle differences too – particularly, it’s more violent than the main Star Wars movies, which were always aimed at children.

It’s kind of a prequel to the original movie, as its events directly lead up to those of the first movie and are indeed referenced in the original opening crawl. I only went back to rewatch the opening crawl after the end of the film, and found it pretty vague, but it’s essentially them stealing the plans to the newly-constructed Death Star. As a result, unlike the prequel trilogy, this is way more coherent as a movie, and doesn’t rely so much on tying up every plot line clumsily at the very end.

There are a few clumsy things – the film adds in a CGI/mo-cap reproduction of Peter Cushing, and I didn’t realize it wasn’t really him at first, but there’s something unnerving about the way his mouth moves and the smoothness of his skin. They also had a three second shot of Princess Leia at the very end of the movie (sorry for spoiling, but I did warn you above!), which seemed more unnecessary, especially as they set her up to be faceless, as she has her back turned to the camera. Again, it’s obviously not Carrie Fisher (R.I.P.) playing her.

The story of the film is that the main character Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, comes into the rebellion after spending years as a fugitive, and ends up with the other protagonist, played by Diego Luna – in the second half of the movie they sneak out without permission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the result of which is ultimately that Luke Skywalker would destroy it in the original movie. The first half of the movie mainly consists of them assembling their motley crew – a sarcastic reprogrammed robot, who I loved; a blind monk of a Jedi temple, who is a pastiche of Zatoichi, and his boyfriend (although the filmmakers refuse to acknowledge that that’s what they did), a warrior-type; and a skittish defector pilot. There are hijinks and a lot of death and destruction in their wake.

There is obviously a concerted effort to get the cast looking more ethnically diverse, which is always welcome, and the main character is a woman again, like the last movie, prompting the usual deluge of scum complaining about gender diversity in sci fi. So it surprises me that the filmmakers don’t acknowledge the gay monks. And it’s also worth noting that in many scenes, Felicity Jones is the only woman character – I’m not convinced that the film would pass the fabled “Bechdel test”, not that I put much stock into what’s obviously a joke about heteronormativity… but I digress. They’re getting there, but I think they need to make it more balanced in this regard.

Anyway, it was a fun movie, and I enjoyed it, despite the depressing and tragic ending that could be seen a mile off. Less swashbuckling Jedi than the originals, and it’s Darker and Edgier than the previous movies, but it’s astoundingly better than the prequel trilogy, and doesn’t rely so much on special effects, so that’s good.

What did you think?

Film #247: Being 17 (2016)

qoa17ansaka: Quand on a 17 ans
director: André Téchiné
language: French with a bit of Spanish
length: 109 minutes
watched on: 16 Dec 2016

There’s been a bit of buzz about this movie in LGBT circles over the last few months, and I finally got around to watching it in December. Now, I don’t usually talk about this publicly, but if you know about it already or you look at the IMDB page now, you will know that it’s only had a limited release in the US, and certainly not in Japan or even the UK. Spoiler alert: I downloaded it. But honestly, I don’t recommend that, not yet: it’s only had a DVD release in the Netherlands, and the subtitles included with the torrent are Google-translated from Dutch. My French is good enough that I could just use the subtitles to understand the more difficult words, but this lack of proper subtitles may ruin one’s enjoyment. However, next spoiler alert: I really liked this movie, and I would definitely see it again on the big screen if I get the chance (fingers crossed it comes to the festival in Tokyo this year). So I’d hold out for that, or a proper DVD release.

The film is set in the Pyrénées, and it opens with extraordinary vistas of the mountains in the winter. Seasonality is very important in the movie, and it transitions in the second and third acts to spring and summer. Honestly, I haven’t seen such an immediately beautiful movie in a while. It really revels in the scenery, and that’s the main reason I want to see it again on the big screen.

The plot follows two boys, who don’t get on at school – they’re always fighting. But one’s doctor mother helps the other’s sick mother, who turns out to be pregnant. She then helps out the other family by taking in the other boy for a while, much to the chagrin of her own son. Then in the time-honoured tradition of gay films, he falls for the other guy. Long story short, anyway.

It’s not completely true to my experience – I didn’t roughhouse with my fellow students so much, and I wasn’t so brutally honest with my crushes when I was a teenager. But it has a universality to the kinds of anxieties it captures, of being that age, beyond the usual coming-out anxieties typical of gay films. I’d be very disappointed if it gets relegated only to LGBT film festivals, but as usual, this is almost certainly going to happen.

I also like the slow-burn realization that they’re into each other, as I think it’s not until the third act that they finally do something about it, and not before a lot of angst, and quoting Rimbaud at each other, talking about desire and need. They’re also downright cute together by the end.

Is it the perfect movie? Not quite, but it’s very beautiful. Did it tear my heart into a thousand pieces? Yes…

Anyone else seen it?