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Archive for January, 2011

by Allan Fish

(France 1969 250m) not on DVD

Aka. Forbidden Love

Why must you, cruel one, inflame my wounds?

p  Georges de Beauregard  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jacques Rivette, Marilu Parolini  ph  Alain Levant, Etienne Becker  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  Jean-Claude Eloy

Bulle Ogier (Claire), Jean-Pierre Kalfon (Sebastien), Josée Destoop (Marta), Michèle Moretti (Michèle), Dennis Berry (Dennis), Yves Beneyton (Yves),

There’s something almost sado-masochistic at work here.  Ostensibly it’s a film about a marriage, and about that marriage’s disintegration, but as with so much of Rivette it’s a lot more besides.  This was truly the pivotal film in his career.  It was the film that turned him from the meticulous director of Paris Nous Appartient and the rigorous La Religieuse into the intelligentsia darling of the seventies.  It all really began here.

            Claire and Sebastien are a married couple working on a production of Racine’s ‘Andromaque’ when Claire, cast in the role of Hermione, stops and walks off the stage mid-rehearsal complaining at the invasion of the modish TV cameras there to record the creative process.  Sebastien is thus left with wondering how to keep the production alive, and how to deal with the gradual crumbling of his marriage, during which time Claire undergoes a form of equal parts breakdown and epiphany. (more…)

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Exquiste, enigmatic 'Lourdes' is the best film of 2010

by Sam Juliano

     The prevailing opinion expressed by a fair number of bloggers is that the just-expired year was not particularly memorable in the world of movies.  Some compiled lists in the spirit of ‘the best of the least’ and seemed to have little to be excited about.  Still, while just about as many were far more favorable in their summary assessment, it appears that most of the lingering euphoria surrounds a plethora of foreign-language releases, which arrived on these shores steadily over the twelve month period, with some carry-overs from 2009, when they opened in their respective countries.  Any ten-best list that fails to acknowledge cinema from board, though still artistically valid, can be seen as lazy in construction and predicated on a paucity of available contenders.  The most dedicated and enthusiastic bloggers can be relied on to seek out as much of the newer crop as is physically negotiable, this invariably leads to the most informed and interesting year-end wrap.  2010 was no better or no worse than the years immediately preceeding it, and in all probability won’t be eclipsed by the coming years.  For those adventurous souls with the hankering and the wherewithal to put in the needed investments, there are always between 30 and 40 films each and every year that will reward cineastes with a bevy of accomplished works by world-class directors, and some notable independents and documentaries, in large measure by artists trying to make their marks.  Hence, for those throwing up their hands, I pose that they must seek out and not wait for the films to come to them. (more…)

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Cap from Lucy Walker's "Wasteland," year's best documentary

by Sam Juliano

Snow continues to complicate life for Northeasterners, with more of the white stuff predicted for mid-week, though those living in the mid-west and the south have had their share as well.  It looks like Farmer’s Almanac had this one called right, even if making such a prediction these days isn’t exactly going out on a limb.   While braving the cold for some is little more than traveling to work, to a supermarket or to the local multiplex, others have opted to stay warm and watch DVDs, or spend much of their time firming up their year-end best lists or blogging.  For those even luckier, they’ve found refuge in cleaning, organizing, reading, painting, football and music, with perhaps even some time for cooking or eating out.  In any event it’s a time for indoor activity and cultural enrichment.

Here at Wonders in the Dark in the post-Joel Bocko era, continuing sidebar tinkering by Dee Dee has given the site a decided but glorious “noirish” look, in the promtion of some much-anticipated upcoming festivals and fundraisers.  And Allan’s ‘Fish Obscuro’ series continues to flourish with and examination of some  Jacques Rivette features, with Jim and Bob Clark continbuting some outstanding work on Howard Hawks and game construction.  We are inching closer to Maurizio Roca’s film noir countdown and Bob Clark’s science-fiction countdown.

Gang Green fans are in euphoria after their final play win yesterday over the Indianapolis Colts, though the prospect of a win up in New England seems unlikely.  Besides, Joel Bocko has his horns on the Jets, and that’s a bad sign.

Best of the year lists continue to show up at a number of sites, and can be acessed on some of the links that follow below or from the sidebar.  Among those post in this capacity, who hadn’t yet been heard from last week are Just Another Film Buff (JAFB) at The Seventh Art, Jon Lanthier at Aspiring Sellout, and John Greco at Twenty Four Frames. (John opted for now to go with a listing of the classic masterpieces he saw for the first time in 2010).  The National Society of Film Critics have gone crazy for The Social Network like just about everybody else, but they did something wonderful.  They named Giovanna Mezzogiorno the year’s Best Actress for her role as Mussolini’s mistress in Marco Bellochio’s excellent Italian language film Vincere. This is a performance I have been talking about for many months as the year’s absolute best in that category.  I was thrilled to hear that announcement. (more…)

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Though I spend my time on this blog commenting films and television, often at such length that I wonder if anybody actually takes the time to read what I’ve written, my main creative interest remains game design, especially when it comes to pushing the medium further in narrative directions via my system of interactive dialogue. Cinema’s a fine medium, but sometimes it’s so passive that I long for an escape into more lucid flights of fancy. It’s a feeling that’s harder and harder for me to ignore while watching movies that focus primarily on video-game culture like Tron Legacy or Summer Wars, and if my own reviews of those recent pieces of science-fiction appear to be conspicuously absent on this site, know that it’s mainly because I don’t quite feel that I could adequately cover how I feel about them in mere prose.

Perhaps at some point I’ll tackle them via some kind of shallow game-review as I did with  Film Socialisme, but until then, I thought I’d share this latest game of mine, which follows suit with the same spirit in which I approached Godard’s most recent curiosity. Before, I was merely reviewing a film by making a game, rather than making another film as the New Wave pioneers sought to do. This time, however, I’ve made a game itself the subject of my ludological rant– or rather, two games. I’d like to think that Adam “Atomic” Saltsman’s Canabalt has become widespread online and on the iPhone enough for some of our readers and/or contributors to know about it by now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s as new to all of you as Tristan Perich’s one-of-a-kind Kiljet. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the indie-gaming scene, however, they’re two of the most essential releases out there, and when it comes to putting together an opinion on them goes, I don’t think that simply writing does either of them justice (though I did plenty of that for my own work).

A good game can help you forget about your troubles by inventing new ones, for you. By and large, that’s what both Canabalt and Killjet do, and in some small way I hope that Talkpack does the same. At any rate, you can follow the link above to my own blog, and then to Play This Thing, where my written review is posted. Saturday’s a good day for things like sci-fi, cartoons and video-games, anyway, and if I’ve made just one person’s brains rot a little more with this contribution, I’ll call that a job well done.

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by Allan Fish

(France 1966 140m) DVD2 (France only, no English subs)

Aka. The Nun

Chastity, poverty and obedience before God

p  Georges de Beauregard  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jean Gruault, Jacques Rivette  novel  Denis Diderot  ph  Alain Levent  ed  Denise de Casabianca  m  Jean-Claude Eloy  art  Jean-Jacques Fabre 

Anna Karina (Suzanne Simonin), Liselotte Pulver (Madame de Chelles), Micheline Prèsle (Madame de Moni), Francine Bergé (Sister Saint-Christine), Francisco Rabal (Dom Morel), Christiane Lenier (Madame Simonin), Yori Bertin (Sister Saint-Thérèse), Gilette Barbier (Sister Saint-Jean), Charles Millot (Monsieur Simonin),

It was Rivette’s second feature, after the puzzling Paris Nous Appartient, and eschewed the nouvelle vague in favour of something altogether more structured, indeed rigorously so.  “This film is a work of imagination”, the opening caption informs us, “not a portrait of religious institutions, 18th century or other.  It should be viewed from a double perspective; history and romance.” 

            Based loosely on the Diderot novel of the period, La Religieuse is set in the mid 1700s and concerns Suzanne, the third daughter of a once wealthy couple effectively impoverished by providing dowries for their eldest two daughters.  As their third daughter, and now aged seventeen, she is being sent into the cloisters as a nun as they cannot afford another dowry to marry her off.  The overriding reason for this disfavour compared to her elder siblings is that she’s only a half sister to them, the illegitimate offspring of her mother’s amorous affairs, and as such with no chance of succour after her mother’s death.  After initially refusing to take her vows, she accepts only to not recall taking the vows themselves and causing an unholy scandal by trying to accuse the convent of cheating her into taking her vows when not of sound mind. (more…)

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© 2010 by James Clark

       As we get underway with a new year, and thoughts of exciting new things coming up, let’s pause for once with something quite old that doesn’t look so out of place after all. His Girl Friday (1940), what is  widely categorized as a “screwball comedy,” starring the immensely appealing Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, comes to us as a euphoria-tonic antidoting a rough patch of history. Its clearly exceptional performances arise from a dynamite script, and here we must watch our step.

    This high-gloss entertainment/profit centre packs a level of peppiness not often to be seen in “comedies,” and, with a little scrutiny, we must realize its “fun” is so reckless as to be constantly spitting in the face of every humanitarian nicety. In the course of delivering a sensational news story, an editor/publisher, “Walter Burns,” phones in a dramatic revamp of the front page, “No. No…Never mind the Chinese earthquake…I don’t care if there’s a million dead!” This is just one of countless indiscretions coming from Grant’s roguish charmer in pursuit of not only a scoop relating to a convicted murderer’s imminent hanging, but scooping back onto his staff and into his bed a crack reporter (“Hildy”) who until very recently was his wife. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1961 140m) DVD2

Aka. Paris Belongs to Us

The star Absinthe approaches earth

p  Roland Nonia  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jacques Rivette, Jean Gruault  ph  Charles Bitsch  ed  Denise de Casablanca  m  Philippe Arthuys

Betty Schneider (Anne Goupil), Gianni Esposito (Gerard Lenz), Françoise Prévost (Terry Yordan), Daniel Crohem (Philip Kaufman), François Maistre (Pierre Goupil), Jean-Claude Brialy (Jean-Marc), Jean-Marie Rohain (De Georges), Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Juslin, Jacques Demy,

It was only a few weeks ago.  The 11th Doctor crash-landed on earth, David Tennant had finally turned into Matt Smith.  The latter had promised a little girl he’d be back in five minutes but it turns out to be twelve years.  He comes back only to bashed over the head with a cricket bat, handcuffed to a radiator and come round to find the first thing he sees is Amy Pond’s endless legs.  She doubts his existence; four psychiatrists in twelve years have told her he can’t exist.  Then he asks her a question.  “On this floor, how many rooms?”  She’s incredulous but finally responds “five.”  After all, she should know; she’s lived there for over a decade.  The Doctor replies “six”, Amy is even more incredulous, and then the Doctor tells her to look where she’s never wanted to look, in the corner of her eye.  There, slowly looking back over her shoulder, she sees it.  “How is that possible?” she protests.  “Perception filter”, the Doctor says, of an entire room she never knew existed. (more…)

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Roderick Heath and Marilyn Ferdinand in Chicago during the summer of 2003

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the sixth entry in an ongoing series that honors creative bloggers who have really made a difference, raising the bar for quality and productivity on the cultural front.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert, in assessing “Ferdy on Films”  declared “You put a lot of love into your blog,” while appreciative fellow blogger Daniel Getahun opined: “I feel like commenting here in the presence of greatness.”  Indeed, both observations inform the attraction and worth of the long-running site, based in Chicago and founded by a mid-50’s freelance writer and editor named Marilyn Ferdinand (who happens to double as an impassioned cineaste and film preservation champion.)  Ms. Ferdinand, who holds a B.A. from Lyola University of Chicago is a well-traveled culture maven, with a taste for vegan food preparation, classical music and gardening, but beyond these innocuous interests, she’s a tireless crusader for artistic purity and social justice.  Whether she is discussing the rescue of a long-lost silent film, the sadness surrounding a death caused by prejudice, or the outrageous incarceration of an outspoken film director of a third-world country, Ms. Ferdinand is gloriously opinionated and guided by a strong underpinning of morality, human rights and the preservation of our national heritage.  Hence, her film reviews invariably go much further than just evaluating a work’s elemental value, but actually project her uncompromising views on politics, philosophy and femisnism, while maintaining an equilibrium in expressing certain principles that underline her world-view and an abiding adherence to what she feels will ultimately reform failings in the system.

The Windy City native, who is married to Shane Truax, is at the height of her erudition and persuasiveness when discussing gender issues, but her extraordinary work as a film critic is arguably as imperative, and adorned with a marked talent for descriptive writing.  Her spectacular review of Ken Russell’s The Devils, which was informed by a life-long infatuation with the director’s work, is matched by her soulful piece on Leo McCarey’s wrenching American masterpiece, Make Way For Tomorrow, where she emotionally admits in the essay’s comment section that “she was never moved as much by any film in her life” and by her incomparable coverage of festivals, where she regularly attends just about every feature offered, and subsequently of penning a high-quality review at her site within a few days or even hours afterwards.  In 2010, her coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) was the envy of bloggers everywhere, as she got the jump on the latest features by masters such as Kiarostami and Weerasethakul, and some critically-praised documentaries like Lucy Walker’s Wasteland.  Indeed, the documentary feature is as specialized a form for Ferdinand, as is her admirably chronic attention to the silent era.  The documentary, in fact, often encompasses and constitutes for the erstwhile revisionist, a platform to segue in the ‘call for action” that is often the underlining motive for a number of filmmakers.  (more…)

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Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent in Mike Leigh's brilliant "Another Year"

by Sam Juliano

While nearly everyone you talk to evinces amazement that we are now into January of 2011, still others are much too busy composing (and releasing) their year-end ten best movie lists.  The scorn of some and the eternal joy of others, the lists allows those who have spent an un-Godly number of hours in movie theatres during the previous twelve months to take stock of and to glorify those relatively rare and privleged moments in the dark.  For those happy souls it’s a celebration of the cinema, and an all-too-short time window to allow for studied focus and the platforming of the films that have connected with them in a very special way for the honor of being preserved for posterity.  To that end, I can heartily recommend some stellar examples of lists to cherish and to marvel at at by Just Another Film Buff (The Seventh Art), Craig Kennedy (Living in Cinema), Drew McIntosh (The Blue Vial), Jake Cole (Not Just Movies) and Jon Lanthier, who’s round-up is currently at Slant.  Speaking of Jon Lanthier, our great friend is now fine tuning his brand new blog, “Aspiring Sellout II,” which is now properly posted on the sidebar.  With his move to The Windy City, the effervescent Lanthier opted to start anew.  Best Wishes to him and his lovely girlfriend Rachel! (more…)

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(by Joel)

Contains some spoilers. If you want a more concise and suggestive take on the film tune in on Tuesday; coincidentally, Allan has made Paris (under its French title) his next entry in The Fish Obscuro. Then check out the film itself (it’s not the most difficult of “unavailable” films to find) and read this. Or heck, just plunge in here and now, in the spirit of Rivette…

Paris Belongs to Us, France, 1960, dir. Jacques Rivette

Starring Betty Schneider, Giani Esposito, Françoise Prévost, Daniel Crohem, François Maistre, Jean-Claude Brialy, Jean-Luc Godard

Story: Anne Goupil is slowly drawn into a mysterious and complicated plot involving her brother’s bohemian circle of friends, one of whom is directing her in a play. She slowly discovers that Juan, a young musician and supposed suicide, may have been murdered, either by the femme fatale Terry or a worldwide conspiracy of fascists…or both, or neither.

“I want to tell you that the world isn’t what it seems.”

- Philip Kaufman

“It’s shreds and patches, yet it hangs together over all. Pericles may traverse kingdoms, the heroes are dispersed, yet they can’t escape, they’re all reunited in Act V. … It shows a chaotic but not absurd world, rather like our own, flying off in all directions, but with a purpose. Only we don’t know what.”

- Gérard Lenz

“I speak in riddles but some things can only be told in riddles.”

- Philip Kaufman

• • •

Whether you find Paris Belongs to Us a richly original debut, a frustrating mess, or a bit of both depends on how you come at it. The first time I saw it I loved it, falling deeply under its spell; more recently it seemed somewhat more limp than I remembered, its ragtag assembly less charming, the aloofness of its allure more challenging (you must be willing to approach and enter it before it unfurls its tentacles and wraps you in its embrace). If you are in the right mood, Paris Belongs to Us intoxicates – and the ambivalence of its appeal reflects the nature of the conspiratorial mindset itself: to those prone to paranoia, all the loose and dead ends add up to form a complex puzzle that only the “in” can see – if you are lucid enough to step aside and maintain your skepticism, the bits and pieces fall apart and toxic anxiety is exposed as its own self-poison. Ironically, Rivette is able to capture the mood of the first mindset while himself embodying the second: this conspiracy belongs more to the imagination than reality, and Paris Belongs to Us is in part a cautionary tale about the dangerous allure and self-fulfilling prophecy of paranoia.

(more…)

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