The Master – actually shown in Charleston
From Steve – Amos Perrine is one of WV’s leading experts on contemporary films. He travels to NYC, Pittsburgh, and other places besides watching new DVDs and the local film scene. Here are his thoughts on current cinema….
My own list of “best films of 2012” includes “The Details,” ” My Week with Marilyn,” and “The Sessions,” all shown at the Park Place Cinemas in downtown Charleston. The film I was most disappointed in was “Promised Land” with a revelation that I find impossible to believe and very negative about serious concern with fracking.
To repeat the obvious, as Hollywood movies become more infantile, the best of American television has become more adult. Not all TV, mind you, but rather the cream of the crop, such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland and Girls have narratives, and sometimes production values, that are inspiring. Granted, they all happen to be cable shows, but yet the thesis holds.
The year was also special as for the first time since the end of my fellowship I was able to be in New York for the entire run of its film fest. It was there I first saw “Lincoln” and meet its director and screenwriter at a reception afterwards. Just getting in was a trip. You think getting on an airplane is hard, you should have stood in line for its unannounced screening the 50th anniversary of the NYFF – we not only were we searched via metal wands, we also had to check all cell phones, cameras, reorders, laptops, Kindles and iPads at the door. The screening began two hours late.
While the year in cinema began rather feebly, by its end we saw a most invigorating slate of motion pictures. Alas, only one was American. But, what an exception – “The Master.” The picture had not only THE performance of the year, but a performance of a lifetime. It is also the only picture to play in the state, commercially or otherwise. I was able to see it twice, in 70mm in near empty theatres. Sad. Especially so as it will likely be the last picture ever commercially screened in the country that format as all the major distributors will go all digital this year. And as DLP screenings, at best, vary in quality, we no longer be assured of crisp images that have a sense of depth.
The other undisputed highlight was “Amour” (France) from Austrian director, Michael Haneke. He is not unknown to West Virginia as the WVIFF screened his first two features, “The Seventh Continent” and “Benny’s Video” years ago. Exploring the same territory as Sarah Polley did a couple years ago in “Away From Her” Haneke offers up a substantially richer experience by two of the worlds most accomplished actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuella Rivera.
Another highlight at the film fest was “Holy Motors” (France) by Leos Carax who also gave us “Pola X” and “Lovers on the Bridge.” Denis Lavant, who has given many fine performances goes above and beyond, and takes you from place to place, never knowing what, exactly, you’re to do once you’re there.
“Tabu” (Portugal) is concerns a woman and a man from a neighbor’s past that to quote a review “travels to the misty mountainside plains of a Portuguese colony in Africa decades earlier to tell the story of a bygone romance in the obsolete language of an old movie.” A must see.
Another French picture at the Festival, “Something in the Air” by the new master Olivier Assayas captures the days of student radicals in the early 1970’s quite nicely. True, I was not in France at the time, but it translates extremely well to the tribulations in our own country during that time.
In “This Is Not a Film” (Iran) Jafar Panahi received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and conducting interviews with foreign press due to his open support of the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 election. In this documentary, which was secretly shot on an iPhone and a modest DV camera by Panahi’s close friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France in a cake for a last-minute submission to Cannes, Panahi shares his day-to-day life as he waits for a decision on his appeal.
While it was not well received by most critics or the public, “Anna Karenina” (UK) is an absolutely smashing example of how cinema can be used to immerse the viewer in what could be a rather cold narrative. Jude Law pretty much steals the picture with his complex portrayal of what is all too usually a one-dimensional character. Operatic at one point, ballet-like in another, you are, to paraphrase Lina Wertmuller, swept away by an unusual destiny in the white sea of Russia.
There was also another excellent picture from the UK concerning adultery, “The Deep Blue Sea” from Terence Davies, whose “Distant Voices, Still Lives” and “The Long Day Closes” play at the WVIFF years ago. From the Terence Rattigan play of the same name, set in 1950 London with the ravages of war still present, Rachel Weisz finds love with a shallow ex-RAF flyer played by a Tom Hiddleston (who played F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris). However, unlike Anna K she survives, at least physically. Weisz is fully deserving of all the awards she has received.
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (Turkey) gradually unfolds a murder-investigation storyline, music-free soundtrack, and nightscapes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s picture is demanding and rewarding. Yet another accomplished film from the director of “Distant” and “Climates.” Think Bergman crossed with a touch of Tarkovsky.
Bella Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” (Hungary) begins with a story that promises to follow Friedrich Nietzsche on the day when he embraced an ill-treated horse in the public square, then went mad and fell silent for the rest of his life. Instead, we follow the mistreated horse back to its home. Think Beckett.
Only two of the above are on DVD, “Deep Blue Sea” and “Anatolia” but the Kanawha County Library has copies.