Sunday, December 21, 2008

Film Space schedule

At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm

Film Space in December has been presenting “A Month of Krzysztof Kieslowski” featuring the Three Colors Trilogy, films of which I am very fond, plus, as the final offering, his The Double Life of Veronique. In January they present simply a series of films by some directors they like.

Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.

Saturday, December 27: La Double vie de Véronique / The Double Life of Veronique (1991) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 98 mins – France/ Poland, Drama/ Fantasy/ Romance. In French and Polish, with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 77 out of 100.

With Irène Jacob, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Sandrine Dumas, Guillaume de Tonquedec, Aleksander Bardini.

I truly and deeply appreciate the mastery of its filmmaking, and I am endlessly fascinated by it, but I think this film is a mess – a very flawed masterpiece. Nevertheless, it was Krzysztof Kieslowski’s international breakthrough, and it remains one of his most beloved films, and is to be sure a ravishing, mysterious rumination on identity, love, and human intuition. Irène Jacob is incandescent as both Weronika, a Polish choir soprano, and her double, Véronique, a French music teacher. Though unknown to each other, the two women share an enigmatic, purely emotional bond, which Kieslowski details in gorgeous reflections, colors, and movements, aided by Slawomir Idziak’s shimmering cinematography and Zbigniew Preisner’s haunting, operatic score.

More than in most of his films, Kieslowski didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do in this film, and constantly fiddled with it. It started out to be 50% about Weronika in Poland, and 50% about Vèronique in France, but it ended up being one-third for Weronika and the rest for Vèronique. Originally, according to the star Irène Jacob, he wanted to intertwine the two stories, but he ended up keeping them separate except for the brief encounter at the tour bus. Irène Jacob said that he made fifteen different versions of the film. “It was tough, because each one told a different story.” She goes on to say, “He had versions where the movie seemed even more open-ended, and others where he explained things more. . . . I was amazed when I saw the finished film – when I saw how many scenes were missing, I was very surprised. He’d cut so many scenes that I was a bit lost!”

Irène Jacob also said that Kieslowski contemplated several different endings. His cinematographer Slawomir Idziak says that they eventually worked on three different endings which they were hoping to distribute in a random way so that some audiences in Paris would see one ending, and others one of the others. This idea was abandoned due to the cost involved, but the cinematographer states that the present ending incorporates elements of all three endings. And to my mind the result is more of a muddle than it should be.

Despite all this, the result is a fascinating film. Just before he began work on his stunning film trilogy Blue, Red, and White, Polish writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski made a film that could easily have been part of the same series, and probably should have been called Yellow, but was titled The Double Life of Veronique instead. Like the three color films, Veronique is a meditation on the interconnectedness of people, told in poetic style with a visual language that repeats itself with the comforting cadence of a nursery rhyme. It's a film experience, in other words, in which the sensuous nature of the medium takes over, and the plot matters less and less as the film goes on.

The Double Life of Veronique is propelled by an idea, and by the excellent performance of Irène Jacob in dual lead roles—as Weronika, a young woman in Poland, and Vèronique, her identical counterpart in France. Weronika receives the shocking news first: She learns about her double when she spies Vèronique in a busload of picture-snapping French tourists on a plaza in Krakow. Vèronique finds out later, when she develops her snapshots from the trip, and is equally devastated. A doppelganger, in this case, is not a pal who knows what you're going to say before you say it; it means that feelings of loneliness and isolation are passed back and forth between the characters, doubling their despair.

Saturday, January 3: Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008) by Morgan Spurlock – 93 mins – France/ US Documentary. In English. Mixed or average reviews: 45 out of 100.

A Nutshell Review: Of course it will be silly to presume that this film can find the answers to the multi-million dollar question, or even come close to it, so just what was the intention?

Director Morgan Spurlock isn't new to controversy, having burst onto the documentary scene with his real life gorging on MacDonald's for every meal in order to drive home the point that junk food really does junk your well being. So for this new film of his, it stems from his desire to seek out the world's #1 wanted man, and ask him just what floats his boat. He may be putting on his jester cap with his somewhat hilarious introduction, but looking at the preparation with vaccination and even attending some terrorism survival course, he's quite dead set in his mission to find that elusive man.

Until of course you realize that he's hitting all the relative safe havens for the most part, before venturing into the more likely places in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But what he seeks to unearth is the Middle East's attitudes towards Americans, and it seems that the common consensus is that while they have nothing against the people, almost everyone that Spurlock chose to showcase, has issues with the foreign policies. And from interviews with the average Joes, they sure have issues with politics at home more than those that are from abroad. Spurlock also takes opportunity to slam the US foreign policy, and does so through a hilarious animated sequence involving Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty herself, in what would be a realistic case of sleeping with the wrong bedfellows.

Bringing the camera from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, and interview people from the state of Palestine and Israel, what he had presented were compelling arguments for and against, as well as plenty of moderate views that seek to debunk the bulk of western media who find delight in demonizing those in the Middle East. Through the looking glass peering at their everyday lives, the film comes to present the basic need for survival and providing for one's family, no matter one's geography, country, religion, and culture. Naturally there were some feathers ruffled, especially when dealing with closed cultures who clam up, or intolerant folks who have no qualms in using violence, but in general, this documentary serves to be rather tame.

Yes it's gimmicky in its title, and half the time you're not sure whether Spurlock will take that plunge and really head to where he will likely find some inkling of positive leads, but what it has presented instead is something more powerful: that this world really needs to reach out and have everyone take a more tolerant attitude, and to understand one another a lot more, to avoid conflict. This should be a world without strangers, and this documentary manages to show just a glimmer of that hope.

Saturday, January 10: Sayonara Color (2005) by Naoto Takenaka – 119 mins – Japan Romance. In Japanese, English subtitles.

Sayonara Color is the fifth film by Takenaka Naoto, one of Japan’s most respected character actors and the director of Muno no Hlto - Nowhere Man and Tokyo Bivori. Shohei (Takenaka Naoto) works as a doctor in a sea-side hospital. One day a new patient is admitted to the hospital with ovarian cancer. Shohei is surprised to recognize Michiko, his first love from high school. Shohei has been leading a dissolute bachelor life, paying for the company of high school girls and dating an older woman who works in a local bar, but in reality for the last twenty years he has not forgotten Michiko. Unfortunately, though Michiko doesn’t remember him at all.

Shohei becomes more and more and more persistent in his attempts to get her to recall their past. At first she is annoyed by his overtures, but gradually warms to the doctor. Under Shohei’s kind and patient care Michiko’s condition improves and her cancer becomes operable. The operation is a success, but now Shohei himself learns that he has terminal cancer.

Both starring and directing, Takenaka Naoto gives a characteristically eccentric performance as a quirky doctor in love with his patient in this moving drama that affects with both offbeat humor and terminal disease pathos.

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