Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


Anna Karinaland

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Revisiting Katherine Hepburn in Venice: Summertime

Katherine Hepburn in Venice

UK / 1955

Summertime was shot exclusively in Venice. And for those who have been to Venice, the film is a rare treasure; an historical homage to a city once enamored by tourists, with very few cameras, and mostly well dressed Italians. Today the dress is more casual, and the deluge of international tourists milling around removes a part of this floating museum with every step.
For David Lean, it was his favorite film starring his favorite actress. In her autobiography, Me, Katherine Hepburn remarked, “they called me and said that David Lean was going to direct it. ‘Would I be…’ they didn’t need to finish that sentence.” Hepburn said she first lived on the island of Murano, where the famous Murano glass is made, not Venice proper with its maze of narrow streets and bridges. Together with her entourage, she quickly moved into an apartment near the Grand Canale, the major water route, opposite the famous Gritti hotel where David Lean camped. (She even had her own gondola.) One of the most sought after Venetian tourist items is of course Murano glass: “glass, glass and more glass,” according to the dialogue. Given that Venice footed the entire bill of $36,000 for the film, Summertime is seen as pure tourist promotion.
Summertime is about Jane Hudson (Hepburn), a middle-aged “fancy secretary” from Akron, Ohio who saves up for a three-week dream vacation in Venice. Arriving by train to Piazza Roma via the Orient Express, Paris-Venice, complete with a hand-wound 8-mm camera, she takes the vaporetto, the public water bus rather than a gondola or water taxi. An American couple on board happens to be staying at the same boarding house, Pensioni Fiorini ( a set construction) on the Accademia vaporetta - water bus stop (the Peggy Guggenheim Museum is located here). Jane coyly indicates to the pensioni proprietress that she, like most girls under 50, is searching for something. On her first day out on the Piazza San Marco Jane meets a handsome middle aged man, Renato Di Rossi (Rossano Brazzi), an antique dealer, and enters into a romance which becomes all the more passionate because he is married although separated.
Lean had six shades of red goblets blown especially for the film. In one scene, Jane discovers Renato charged almost the same amount for 18th century glass as fresh imitations, a discovery that produces rage. It becomes quite clear that Jane is losing her rocker, displaying a passion that eclipses the bravura of Brazzi. She is hysterical, insisting people drink with her to quiet her loneliness, and has flash floods of intermittent tears. Hepburn actually had problems with Spencer Tracy and the film crew, despite the glass commercials, and she was considered an irritating obstacle to tourism.
Lean’s intention with the film was to capture a child at play: Jane’s awe of Venice and the excitement of new love. An Italian child becomes her escort, one that she at first rebukes — she is not that desperate, but she and Renato later play with wind up toys at a café. “You are like a hungry child that only wants beefsteak not ravioli. Please take the ravioli,” says Renato when she starts to question the affair. “I’m not that hungry,” says Jane. But Renato convinces her of the need for a Latin approach, “the ravioli approach” to love and sexuality. Her red goblets transform to a pair of sparkling red shoes, noticeably evocative of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, as fireworks fills the sky. The charm of Venice and typical Italian love songs give the film the aura of a melodrama, a woman’s weepie, but the storyline is too thin. The film also prods American and Italian stereotypes, such as the shock of promiscuous Italians to the more pristine Americans. (Keep in mind the film has a British director.) The travelogue veneer and the superficial story make Summertime a corny gem.
Hepburn claims Lean absorbed the city and had a photographic gift for conveying his impressions. Indeed, after every minute of dialogue a breathtaking view of the city is displayed, drawing inspiration from the play The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents, which is made to fit his pictures.
In one memorable scene Hepburn falls into the Venetian canal, an action that would be repugnant today in the foul water, filled with industrial pollution from neighboring Mestre. Reportedly, the water temporarily blinded Katherine and today anyone who falls into the canal is advised to take antibiotics. (An urban legend about the incident claims that the fall contributed to Hepburn's Parkinsons illness). Medieval Venice was built on pilings and dead bodies were dropped into the canal to rot. A foreshadowing of the duplicity of the canal occurs when Jane first sets eyes on a gondola floating by, a view tainted by the dumping of sewage from an apartment. It is the also the water that carries her first flower from Renato, a flower that never quite stays in her possession even as she pulls away from the city. “Please help me Renato,” she begs, “let me go.” She has grown up, and if she stays a second longer she will never go. Brazzi actually first interpreted his role as a gigolo, (“another girl will arrive tomorrow”), a portrayal Lean thought too grim.
In the UK, the film was called Summer Madness, a far more appropriate title.

Revisiting Ingrid Bergman in The Visit

The Visit

The Visit
La Rancune / USA / France / 1964

From start to finish, The Visit is commanded by the presence of Ingrid Bergman. She was scorned by Hollywood for leaving her husband for an Italian director, and is here cast in a role that allows her to address the people that exiled her. As a young woman, Bergman was given virtuous roles that endeared her to the public, which was why her exile angered them. (Ernest Hemingway was prepared to take out a full-page ad in Hollywood Reporter in her defense.) Nevertheless, she had tired of superficial roles and was willing to accept low pay for challenging parts in Rossellini’s realist cinema, as in Stromboli, the first picture he invited her to make in 1949. Bergman received a standing ovation at the Academy Awards when she returned to accept an Oscar for Murder on the Orient Express, years after leaving Hollywood. Bergman’s role in The Visit is an irony, as she plays a woman who returns to face her past.

Bergman plays Karla Zachanassian, who as a young girl was beaten by her schoolmaster. Her father was a hopeless alcoholic and her mother the subject of town gossip. At the age of seventeen, she falls in love with Serge Miller, the local shopkeeper, and eventually becomes pregnant. He denies being the father when she files a paternity suit. Later she loses the child and is forced to leave town. She moves to Trieste, and because of her disgrace is forced to survive through prostitution.

Two decades later she returns, extremely wealthy and with a desire for vengeance from the people of the mythical Pan European village. (It is claimed that here Lord Byron wrote his poetry and Brahms composed his music.) She brings a lawyer and two witnesses who confess Serge bribed them years ago to testify that Karla had slept with them, casting serious doubt on her paternity suit.

Karla claims that with this deceit her spirit died, and offers two million dollars, one for the township and one to be divided among the citizens of the village upon the execution of Serge, Karla’s one condition for payment.

It is triumphant for Karla to witness how morals can be discarded for a price. The townsfolk and elected officials that ran a seventeen-year-old girl out of town equally turn against Serge, who says he was only human, asking forgiveness and understanding. As Karla dines in her apartment over the courtyard adjacent to his shop, she watches the town transform from self-righteous indignation over killing a man in vengeance to a demonstration that everything, even human life, is a commodity that can be bought. As in Casablanca, “human life is very cheap.” Yet, she cannot take comfort in the complicity of the townsfolk.

Karla’s secretary is a young woman named Anya, who might be the same age as her dead child, and who perhaps acts as careless as she had when she was young. Karla counsels her in an effort to prevent the same mistake, bidding Anya to leave the married man she is with and offering to take her on the road after her “visit.” This is perhaps Karla’s saving redemption.

Austrian Bernhard Wicki directed The Visit, a writer as well as actor (Wicki played Doctor Ulmer in Paris, Texas). His film, an international co-production made in Italy at Cinecittà, is embellished with well-constructed scenes, excellent camerawork, and outstanding performances, such as when Karla momentarily rekindles her love for Serge. The scene is shot at sunset on a dock with a delicate light hitting the two actors in an embrace in close-up. Karla marvels at how his hair was so black when he was young, how their whole life was ahead of them. For a moment, she loses herself in the past in a wild and passionate moment only to tragically discover Serge has grayed, recalling the life she was forced into. As she comes to her senses, there is an abrupt end to the lyrical scene.

Ingrid Bergman, at forty-nine, was at the peak of her career in this film, and is powerful and dynamic as Karla. She remarked in letters housed at the “Ingrid Bergman Archives” at Wesleyan College that her mature roles were more interesting than in her earlier (and more renowned) roles, such as in Casablanca. The choice of a property like The Visit demonstrates how well she lived out her conviction to evolve and transform as an actor.

Revisiting Bergman's The Seventh Seal

The Seventh Seal
Det Sjunde inseglet / Sweden / 1957

The Seventh Seal is, in real time, a thirty-minute reprieve from the “apocalypse.” This is symbolized by the Black plague of the Middle Ages during the 13th century, a disease that spread between victims at eight kilometers a day. The Christian clergy randomly blamed people for its spread, in one case burning a young woman of fourteen at the stake. For Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, the film served as an allegory to the cold war of the 50s and the threat of nuclear warfare. Because the rapid advancement of the plague is abundantly featured in the film, the thirty-minute reprieve becomes an evolutionary and meditative journey.
Fourteen years after a Holy Crusade, Antonius Block returns to the south of Sweden. At that time it encompassed Denmark with the festival of saints at Helsingör and Roskilde as geographical references in the film. The most famous scene of The Seventh Seal opens upon Block at the eastern coast of Sweden. Death suddenly appears, covered in a black cloak from head to toe:
“Who are you”, asks Block.
“I am Death,” the figure replies.
“Have you come to get me?”
“Wait a minute.”
“Everyone says that.”
“But I don’t grant any reprieves.”
“You play chess don’t you? I’ve seen it in paintings and heard it in songs.”
The game begins with moves on board, which serve as plot changes. A field trip to a church with frescos illustrates the story of the plague as a death ritual. The thirty-minute reprieve Block requests is for him to experience one meaningful deed before he dies. He tries to trick and is tricked by Death, who poses as a confessor at one point while Block reveals his game plan.
Block’s quest is for “vetskap” (knowledge), but he is also aware of his corporeality. At one point he holds up his arm exclaiming, “this is my hand,” as in the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion when the liturgy intones “this is the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” The knight meets a circus family: Jof, Mia, and their little two-year-old son Mikael. Jof predicts that Mikael will one day be able to suspend a ball in mid air, such supernatural powers providing allusions to Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph. It is Jof, however, who appears to have mystical powers — his visions indeed serve to save his family from death. Jof sees not only the Virgin Mary but his death, his family’s, and that of others.
Bergman’s films often depict the artist as an outcast and at one point in The Seventh Seal Jof is asked to dance as a bear, awaking superstitions of the people at an inn who need a scapegoat for the plague. Such a mime evokes the medieval custom of sacrificing a bear for atonement. Likewise, processions led by clergy carry not only witches for burning but a parade of flagellates paying for their sins.
The Seventh Seal is not only a medieval drama play. Bergman also manages to instill his film with references to his philosophy on women, elsewhere seen in Monica, The Story of a Bad Girl, Persona, and Cries and Whispers.
At one point an actor from the circus is seduced by Lisa, the wife of blacksmith Plog. They escape into the forest and are later discovered by Plog and Block's squire, Jöns. The forest is feared for bears, wolves and ghosts but primarily Death, symbolized by thunderstorm, lightning, and rain. Jöns and Plog converse about how Lisa should be killed, as all women, for their deception, harking back to the garden of Eden. “Lust is one thing,” says Jöns. He tells a woman he “saves from rape” that he is tired of “that kind of love.” Plog and Lisa are however reunited and cry out that the actor should be killed, shifting the burden to the artist as outcast. Death, like the church, has a thing to say about the adulterer, who fells a tree the actor has scurried up, leaving a squirrel to sniff at the fresh cut of its roots.
Upon meeting the young girl condemned to death, Block cannot help but ask why. He means to interfere and prevent the fate, but supposes she is half dead already. There is plenty of time before she is set on fire, so it is curious that he waits until the last minute. (Was that not a good deed?)
Convinced of “tomheten” (emptiness) Block wanders away to the circus family where he has a bowl of “smultron” (wild strawberries, offered to him by Bibbi Andersson as in Wild Strawberries, made the same year). The symbolism of the meal points to one other existential truism, that for the moment daily bread is enough.
When the travelers make their way to Block’s home they are met by his wife, who prepares the last supper. Death is welcomed into their home and we later together with Jof see them led by Death brandishing a scythe in a dance on the hill. The Seventh Seal is riddled with conventional metaphors about death and women, and the artist as outcast, a fate Bergman himself would experience two decades later when accused of not paying his taxes.
NOTE: Criterion features a new digital transfer special edition of The Seventh Seal, with loads of extras!
Used by permission for:

English 369:
Film History from WWII to the Present
Jefferson Hendricks
English Department
Centenary College of Louisiana

Revisiting Bergman's Persona


Sweden / 1966

Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, filmed on Fårö (Sheep Island) where the Swedish octogenarian’s summer home is located, is enigmatic and pulsating. Even after multiple viewings it is persistently compelling, primarily because of its contemplative thematic structure, partially devoid of language that allows the spectator to inscribe meaning. Bergman, in a recent interview and screening of Persona on Swedish Television, said he was weary of all the interpretations. He also revealed that in the beginning shooting the film was extremely problematic.

Persona, the third joint venture between Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nykvist, is renowned for its poignant use of close-ups. In the making of Fanny and Alexander, Bergman admits they had ongoing differences on how to move the camera. A tightly constructed mise-en-scene allowed minute control of rhythm and acting in his later films, in which Nykvist kept the camera still. This style was well suited to the director whose strongest suit is the theater.

Persona begins with a montage — what Bergman calls “dream imagery”: The notable rattle of a film projector and illuminated filmstrip moving through its machinery alerts the spectator to the art instrument of filmmaking. (Bergman as a child lived close to a movie theater called ‘Slottsbiograf’ [‘Castle Cinema’], located below the castle where Queen Christina planned her abdication in the 16th century.) There his love of film was cultivated and some of his favorite images are to be found in this montage. A caricature of an erect penis for one eighth of a second, an image typically found in books on ancient Greece, was cut by Swedish censors. (Bergman’s excitement for its reintroduction on the recent Swedish Television broadcast made the old master look pathetically immature.) Other sequences include actors brandishing devils and skeleton suits frightening a sleeping man in pajamas from a silent film. An old cartoon is projected upside down, momentarily caught in the sprocket holes. A spider stretching its deadly appendages, gutted sheep, and a nail hammered into a hand are other, more disturbing images.

A shot of a Swedish forest introduces clips of aging faces and feet, appended with the sound of water from a tap. The telephone rings and a boy lying on a bed covered by a white sheet sits up, puts on his glasses and reads Lermontov's Vår Tids Hjälte (Hero of our Time). He stretches his hand towards the projection of a woman’s face (Bibi Andersson). As the credits roll, a sequence of a self-immolating monk is shown, followed by the faces of Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann and Jörgen Lindström, the young boy. It is no accident that the images from the montage sequence precede the film and are later revealed visually or metaphorically; Persona is a meditation on martyrdom, heroics, fear, and sacrifice in personal relationship.

Persona is the story of a meeting between an artist (Liv Ullmann) and a nurse (Bibi Andersson). Elisabet Vogler is an actress who, during a theatrical performance of Electra, is suddenly unable to deliver her lines. She excuses herself for being “full of laughter.” This episode sends her into “an hysterical reaction” where she refuses to speak. Elisabet is admitted into the psychiatric ward of a Swedish hospital following three months of self-imposed silence (laced with laughter along with some humming). The psychiatrist brilliantly played by the late Margaretha Crook suggests that nurse Alma travel with Elisabet to her country house and dialogue with the actress for her rehabilitation. She believes that the actress is trying to seal herself hermetically from the world by refusing to speak and requires personal assistance in a natural setting. The stark austerity of the hospital room (a studio of the summer house at Fårö) with only a hospital bed on wheels, a night table, and TV might make anyone come unglued. The invitation is certainly a privileged one that not all Swedes can expect for convalescence. Bergman recalled that Persona was written following convalescence from an inflammatory illness that among other symptoms left him partially paralyzed in one arm.

Before the journey, Elisabet witnesses on her television news footage of the self-immolation of a monk protesting the Vietnam War. Bergman admits this was his first overt usage of politics in his films. Curiously, the footage in English with an American commentator and no subtitles goes against the practice of Swedish Television that must provide Swedish translation to all previously recorded broadcasts.

Bergman, in voice-over, announces how Elisabet and Alma go off to the doctor’s summerhouse. The convalescence on Fårö takes several twists demonstrating how the symbiosis in caretaking is precarious where the roles can suddenly reverse. Alma uses the silence to relate her experiences, flattered by a serious actress taking her to heart. She even envisions Elisabet coming to her bed at night in a homoerotic dream that is timelessly potent. 1

Eventually, Elisabet sends off Alma with an unsealed envelope to town. Considering it her medical duty to read it, Alma is distressed to find that she is under the microscope of Elisabet and is outraged. Her tale of an orgy with teenagers that led to her pregnancy is first received with empathy and later is patronized by the worldly actress who confides in the letter to her husband that Alma may be infatuated with her. The roles reverse and Alma zeroes in on Elisabet with the acumen of a medical professional. Bergman is didactic with the revelation that neither Alma’s aborted child nor Elisabet’s abandoned boy was wanted. The manner in which Alma confronts her and describes how she probably perceives her boy could be in part a description of her own aborted fetus.

Alma is also visited at night by Elisabet’s husband, less memorable than the dream of the elegant actress flowing into her room with a long white nightgown. She denies being Elisabet to Mr. Vogler but later assumes her identity, perfunctorily exclaiming she is satisfied with their life together. However, by day, Elisabet is no more eager to return to her life with her husband and boy than the day she lost her ability to speak. This seems to send her further into “hysteria.” The discovered letter sets off a chain of events where Alma confronts Elisabet and brings up her neglected little boy that needs attention. During one scene Elisabet examines a photo of a boy being held at gunpoint by Nazi soldiers and looks away with horror.

For Elisabet and Alma alike, the introspection is overwhelmingly painful where shame and tumult are shared and mirrored. In one scene, Alma questions Elisabet, her face shown in close-up, and later the same dialogue is used with Alma in close-up. There are no easy answers to why the two are precariously balanced in complicity, their faces forming an incongruous whole after this scene. There is perhaps something for each of us to project into this unbalance, but Bergman, as in so many other films, believes that failed motherhood contributes to hysteria and that woman is ultimately and inextricably linked to her biology. In the end, we see Alma in her nurse’s uniform coming into the room to help Elisabet. Are they back again in the hospital or did they ever leave?

1 – The scene where Elisabet stokes the hair of Alma is reminiscent of a classic scene from Maya Deren’s At Land where a woman strokes the hair of two women, a sequence which was determined "lesbianish" and as such described homophobically by The New Republic film critic Manny Farber.


Queer Women of Color Film Festival, San Francisco June 12-14

The 5th Queer Women of Color Film Festival affectionately referred to simply as QWOCMAP was held at the Brava Theater in San Francisco this past weekend June 12-14. This amazing festival features the films of women who attend a 13 week professional filmmaking program under the tutelage of San Francisco filmmaker Madeline Lim, assisted by Development & Events Manager - Kebo Drew, Festival Manager - Elisa D. Huerta and an amazing staff of volunteers.
Lim spoke about developing a proactive stance rather than a reactive stance to combat the stereotypical depiction of queer women of color. Far too often people of color die in films, which is an all too familiar trope, said Lim. "We need to create out own images, and tell our own stories", she exclaimed and QWOCMAP is living proof of this.
The strong community support for this festival includes Mayor Gavin Newsom and a host of sponsors. The festival is free and there are daily feasts donated by local eateries. But generous donations and community support keep this festival going. Despite budget cuts for culture, QWOCMAP is determined to survive and with the Queer Women of Color Media Project will continue to provide hands on education for filmmakers.
The 353 seat theater was filled to near capacity and the enthusiastic crowd gave artful feedback to the work of these filmmakers. It can only be said that the festival is getting better and better, and the films increase each year in quality as far as camera work, editing, sound and dialogue.
The theme of the festival this year was immigration and an afternoon "Convening Community" panel discussed "Multiple Borders" which was comprised of LGBTQI (Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, & Intersex) coalitions in human rights for queer women of color immigrants. On the panel were Noemi Calonje, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Philip Hwang, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, Madeleine Lim, Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project and Laura Rivas, National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights. An important area to recognize with the passage of Proposition 8 against gay marriage is the absence of legislation for same sex partners to sponsor their international partners. Prior to the panel there were several screenings of films on this topic including Madeline Lim's Sambal Belacan (1997), a film which is banned in Singapore about three queer Singaporean immigrants.
The filmmakers took the theme of immigration to task with some highly creative work. The poster icon of the festival is a still from Mr and Mrs Singh by Punam S, a film in which a married couple live a double life as a gay man and lesbian.
Other films this year include the animated short Two Embrace by Arizona filmmaker Carrie House. This little documentary presents a narrative that isn’t in the history books about Native Americans and the first immigrants to America, the Europeans.
Jolie Harris takes on the problematic cliché that is makings its way around in Gay is NOT the New Black. Harris said she was saddened by the wedge of disparity driven between what she believes is the white LGBT community and people of color. She believes that the connection which attempts to links Proposition 8 with the minority vote is inherently racist. The passage of Proposition 8 for gay marriage in California was blamed on people of color who supported Obama but not the marriage initiative. This inflated claim had a heyday in the media, which as a far from objective power structure is known to create conflict. But these messages were taken as factual. Harris said that the issues in the LGBT community seem far less radical than before, such as the rights for gays in the military and the right to install the age old institution of marriage. She feels that there are far more important issues that call for activism.
Tera Greene's Queerer Than Thou is a humorous collection of some of current labels in queer culture, from the classic 2.0 gay man to several creative distinctions for different LGBT populations, presented with a brilliant timing. One of the more inventive films of the festival was the scifi comedy with elaborate alien costume design in Dimension of IS: A Spectacular Future by filmmakers Gigi Otalvaro-Hormillosa and Heather Cox-Carducci.
The brilliant dialogue of (B.K. Williams in What if?, tackles the hidden implications of how outside is an outsider at a dinner party in a explosive standoff between Desiree Rogers and Monica Bhatnagar.
Cruzito’s moving documentary Non-Resident Alien chronicles the activist prose of the queer Afro-Cuban hip-hop trio Las Crudas Cubensi who have been performing since 1995.
The artists who were in the house had never seen the film which is complete with footage from Cuba. The festival concluded with a riveting concert by the group who have recently made the Bay Area their home.


The Eclectic 62nd Cannes Jury=Woman Power

On day one of Festival de Cannes, there were the usual "steps", photocall, and press conference rituals. Asia Argento clearly was the happiest camper of the entire lot that gave the most to the press. Her enthusiasm radiated as she bent over backwards to satisfy the cries of the paparazzi. With photographers lined on the left and right she managed to smile for them all. Shu Qi was soft spoken and gave curt answers to questions through her interpreter. Perhaps they were especially short because she was asked by a Cannes fest interviewer if she would pay particular attention to Asian films as a juror.
The word "judge" was bantered around, after all this is a jury that will assess the work of several directors and award prizes. Isabelle Huppert declared, "I don't think we are here to judge. I think we are here to love films, and to see what we love more than others".
Sharmila Tagore , the brilliant actress from Satyajit Ray's films said that she thought Isabelle Huppert would be a tough jury president. Robin Wright Penn seems to not enjoy the limelight at all. She was in an out of her photo shoot in a matter of seconds but she came on strong in the press conference about choosing films from the heart. In her personal life this seems to be a key issue. The men in the jury didn't exude any notable charisma: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Hanif Kureishi, and Lee Changdong - all excellent craftsmen. The exception was James Gray who boldly exclaimed that he didn't want to know anything about the films beforehand and go in cold.
In looking at this panel, we have two young actresses, two middle-aged and one almost 60--all extremely beautiful women, now or at one time. This seems to be the standard at Cannes for women jurors. As few are directors, next best are the directors muses: Nanni Moretti, Satyajit Ray, Michael Haneke, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Sean Penn. The men stand on their merits as directors and screenwriters.
President Isabelle Huppert (b: 1953) has an eclectic panel and it will be interesting to see its choices in ten days. After day one, we won't hear anything from the jury members until then.
Festival de Cannes is one of the most ritualized festivals out there, known for brilliant art house films, and scandals, and for sending shockwaves of new iconography down the festival pipelines to smaller venues, distributors and DVD markets. What this 62 Cannes might be most remembered for is this particular Madame la Présidente who has suffered on screen in a number of roles that are typically created for beautiful women on screen: as a young woman who kills her parents in Violette Nozière (1978), a prostitute for Jean Luc Godard in Sauve qui peut (la vie) (1980), a brothel madam in Michael Cimono's Heaven's Gate (1980) and most recently as a self deprecating piano teacher who falls in love with her younger student in Michael Haneke's La pianiste (2002).
Perhaps her strongest role was as the last woman to be executed in France for performing abortions: Une affaire de femmes (1988).


Madame la Présidente !

Isabelle Huppert, Madame la Présidente ! - 62e Festival de Cannes !
Asia Argento! Cannes official competition jury member 2009! It doesn't get better than this!

Two of cinema's most visceral, outstanding actors will be scrutinizing the work of this year's line up of auteurs including Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and Gaspar Noé.
Let's rock and roll!


Vivre Sa Vie: Living "the life"

Vivre Sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux (1962) is one of J L Godard's earliest films starring his wife at the time, Anna Karina. The form of the film is twelve tableaux or chapters, a narrative convention in several Godard films. The twelve chapters follow the evolution of Nana's metamorphosis from wife to prostitute - "the life". (The English translation of the title, My Life to Live, betrays the meaning of the title).

There are frequent gazes by Anna Karina at the camera, and shots of Paris as a moving image tour by cinematographer Raoul Coutard, in medium and long shot. The reverence with which Godard frames his young wife is captivating.

Anna plays Nana Kleinfrankenheim, a young 22 year old woman from Flexbourg near the German border with three brothers and two sisters. Anna Karina born in Denmark also bears an outsider name: Hanne Karin Blarke Bayer.

Out of financial desperation Nana becomes a prostitute in Paris. Godard's preoccupation with the theme of prostitution is well known. An opening quote sets the stage, "Il faut se préter aux autres et se donner a soi-mème by Montaigne -"lend yourself to others and give yourself to yourself" (Man ska låna sig åt andra och ge sig åt sig själv). Ironically Nana is never able to do this. She is caught in the world of assumptions about women, which inevitably involve sexual metaphor. "If you say something coarse to a woman and she protests, she is a slut", says a man in a café, "but if she smiles, she is a lady". To stand apart from the ordinary prostitute, Nana is quickly established as a lady when a pimp tells Nana that her hairstyle is ugly, and she smiles. She soon turns to prostitution after she is locked out of her apartment for not paying rent.

1 Un bistrot - Nana veut abandonner - Paul - L'appareil a sous. (At a bistro, Anna wants to leave Paul, flipper, pinball game)
The film begins with Nana breaking up with her husband Paul and leaving him and their child. She has fallen out of love because he doesn't seem to notice her and she thinks he is mean. She wants him to loan her 20 francs, her rent, and he refuses. He has taken photos of her which she wants to see. She tells him that she has met someone who thinks she has a chance in movies. When she meets this man he shows her models of his work with scantily clad photos of women that he claims he sends to producers. She also asks him for 20 francs.
In real life J L Godard wanted to put Anna Karina in Breathless (1960) but she refused to star naked. He argued that she had already taken off her clothes for Palmolive as a model. Anna Karina was indignant and said that she was wearing a flesh toned bathing suit and accused Godard of undressing her in his mind.

2 Le magasin de disques- deux mille francs - Nana vit sa vie (at a record shop, two million francs, Nana lives her life)
3 La concierge - Paul - La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc - Un journaliste (The concierge, Paul and The Passion of Jeanne d'Arc, a journalist.)
Nana works in a record shop where a clerk owes her 20 francs. At night she goes to the movies and in one scene she watches The Passion of Jeanne D' Arc by the Danish director Carl Dryer (1928) with classic closeups of Maria Falconetti's face. In the scene Jeanne is interrogated by priests including the sympathetic father played by Antonin Artaud who tells her she is going to die and will be burned at the stake. One of many premonitions on the death of Anna.

4 La police - interrogatoire de Nana (the police interrogate Nana)
Nana is arrested for theft from a woman who "drops" 1000 francs. Though she offers to return it, the woman presses charges. She has now lost her apartment and claims she lives with friends. The police asks her what she is going to do and she replies, " I don't know, I am someone else". Already Nana has separated from her authentic self.

5 Les boulevards extérieurs. Le premier homme - La chambre. (The suburbs, the first man, the bedroom).
Nana goes to the suburbs of Paris where other prostitutes gather. Later she is propositioned by a man for sex. She is repulsed by her first encounter, a man who forces him to kiss her with an open mouth.

6 Recontre avec Yvette - Un café de banlieue - Raoul - Mitraillade dehors (Meeting with Yvette, a café in the suburbs, Raoul, shooting outside)
Nana meets Yvette, a housewife with children abandoned by her husband who has become a sex worker. Nana remarks that everyone is responsible for their actions. J L Godard may imply that Nana is not a victim, but freely chooses her lifestyle. Yet in almost very encounter with men she is a commodity of exchange that works against her will. The necessity of prostitution for the buyer is articulated. A French in the background tells the story of a man who lives with his wife in the suburbs, where his wife doesn't wear sunglasses and works in a factory in Créteil. They live a domestic life and only see his godmother, and never go to the Riviera. Anna looks straight into the camera. Nana meets Yvette's pimp, Raoul, who tells Nana her hairstyle is ugly. In Godard's Band à Part, Arthur first gets Odile's attention (Karina) by telling her that her hairstyle is ugly.

7 La Lettre - Encore Raoul - Les Champs Elysées (the letter, enter Raoul, Champs Elysées)
There is a closeup of Raoul's financial ledger with the women he pimps. A man is shot outside the café. As the police rush up, Nana runs away to another café overlooking a large boulevard. She writes a letter to get work in a firm on referral from a friend, and offers to send a photo. Raoul who has followed her tells her she can make much more money as a prostitute. He begins by telling her that she radiates goodness and that he is her friend. Nana wonders what category of women he has put her in. He replies that there are three categories: women with one, two and three expressions. After the conversation Raoul blows smoke in her mouth and she blows it out with a smile.

8 Les aprés-midi - L'argent - Les lavabos (bathroom sink) - Le plaisir - Les hôtels (afternoon, money, pleasure, hotels)
A series of off screen questions between Raoul and Anna establish the nature of her work: how much she will earn, what happens with the police, etc. He tells her the law. Before 1946 known prostitutes were registered with the police and health board and since 1947 only with the health board. In 1958 prostitutes are not supposed to walk back and forth on the streets, and stay away from Bois du Bologne and Champs Elysees. The establishing shot for this line of questioning is the Arc d' Triomphe on the Champs Elysees, then shots of Nana in a car, her hands receiving money, and shots of fully clothed clients and fixtures in hotel rooms.

9 Un jeune homme - Luigi - Nana se demande si elle est heurese A young man, Luigi, Anna wonders if she is happy
10 Un trottoir - un type - le bonheur n'est pas gai (A sidewalk, a particular type of man, happiness is not gay)
Frequent artful closeups of Anna Karina's face used by Godard created her legendary iconography. One poster shots for the film is Nana standing in a sunlight in front of a billboard on a street smoking before she meets a trick. She leaves with a man, un type, who changes his mind about whether he will pay for sex or not in a threesome.
Anna Karina loved to dance and sing, and in this sequence Nana dances to a jukebox for Raoul and his men in a billiard hall and a young man she falls for. Raoul promises to take her to the movies but changes his mind. As part of the ritual used to establish prostitution, she swings around a pole, with the lyrics of a French tune "swing swing swing" in refrain.

11 Place du Châtelet - L'inconnu - Nana fait de la philosophie sans les savoir (Place du Châtelet, the unknown, Nana unknowingly, ovetande, engages in philsophy)
Nana asks an old man to buy her a drink in a posh café. In real life this is the philosopher Brice Parain. They speak about the regulating function of words. References are made to Plato and The Three Musketeers. The philosopher says one lives another life by not speaking and has to go through death. During the conversation Nana looks at the camera. Knowingly.

12 Encore le jeune homme - Le portrait ovale - Raoul revend Nana (Enter a young man, The Oval Portrait, Raoul sells Nana).
Godard in voice over quotes The Oval Portrait by Edgard Allen Poe (Oeuvres Edgar Poe) while the young man Anna has fallen in love with reads in bed. In the passage an artist paints his wife and in its perfection realizes she must die. Anna is going to quit working for Raoul and move in with her lover. Raoul grabs her as the husband of the concierge does when she tries to get the key to her apartment. She is taken for a ride in a car with a bunch of thugs. She asks what she has done wrong. Raoul tells her she has refused customers, and she responds that they disgust her. In a set up she is for the final time exchanged for money with another group of thugs. Raoul shorts them 1000 franc, and they don't hesitate to shoot her. Afterwards Raoul completes the execution and shoots her. The film ends.

As Godard explores prostitution, he postures his own wife as a commodity throughout the film. After her first film with him he didn't want her to work anymore, ironically a typical scenario when a customer falls for a prostitute, and the ultimate commodification through total ownership. It is not unlike a pimp taking control of an independent prostitute.

Karin left Godard seven years later, and he was so indignant that he cut up her clothes. Their marriage can be described as highly toxic, with periods of calm, fighting, possessiveness and desertion. After years of this, their final collaboration was Made In U.S.A, where Anna Karina shows her defiance of this liaison to the camera, a film that signifies the end of the relationship.

Les Tableaux
1 Un bistrot - Nana veut abandonner - Paul - L'appareil a sous.
2 Le magasin de disques- deux mille francs - Nana vit sa vie
3 La concierge - Paul - La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc - Un journaliste
4 La police - interrogatoire de Nana
5 Les boulevards extérieurs . Le premier homme - La chambre
She goes to the exterior for her first job. Maillot Palace
6 Recontre avec Yvette - Un café de banlieue - Raoul - Mitraillade dehors
7 La Lettre - Encore Raoul - Les Champs Elysées
8 Les aprés-midi - L'argent - Les lavabos - Le plaisir - Les hôtels
9 Un jeune homme - Luigi - Nana se demande si elle est heurese
10Un trottoir - un type - le bonheur n'est pas gai
11 Place du Châtelet - L'inconnu - Nana fait de la philosophie sans les savoir
12 Encore le jeune homme - Le portrait ovale - Raoul revend Nana.


Créteil 31 Honors Anna Karina

Here is a photo of Anna Karina. You may not recognize her. Her face is hidden, behind a camera. The camera eye eclipses the wide eyes that have become immortalized. In the interview below, a photographer claims that it was Anna Karina's eyes that set her apart from other models. These eyes which have become Karina's trademark are behind the agency of a lens. As réalisatrice (director), she does the observing, she looks at us. Though we know Anna Karina as J L Godard's muse, some years after she broke up with him she went on to make a movie, Vivre Ensemble (Living Together)in 1972. There is only one copy of the film in the world, and I saw it at Créteil Films de Femmes 31. (13-23 March) at Cinema La Lucarne in Créteil.
The film, like Vivre Sa Vie, (Living "the life") has a tableaux form. It can be seen as a response to Godard's film. It is the story of Julie (Anna Karina), a hippie girl with a lifestyle involving drugs and alcohol and casual sex who enters into a relationship with a teacher, Alain (Michel Lancelot). He quits his job to be with Julie and slowly becomes a part of her world, leaving his business suits and proper manners behind for a new bohemian life. In the process he becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol. Julie's values change when she becomes a mother, but Alain slowly deteriorates, giving private lessons to children while drunk. In Vivre Sa Vie, Godard's Nana says that we are all responsible for our actions. Although her husband tries to blame Julie for his decline in Vivre Ensemble, Karina emphasizes that he makes his own fate as does Julie but is sympathetic to Alain and the existential angst of his life. Set in New York and Paris, there are many enchanting moments that capture the spirit of the 70s with the political activism, flower power and posture of just letting people be. Karina has made a poignant film that is both whimsical and melancholic.
Anna Karina was honored with a retrospective of films at Créteil this year which includes the first one that she made at 14 in Denmark: Pigen og Skoene - the Girl with the Shoes (11', 1959). The director IB Schmedes noticed Anna on the street dancing and singing. The film won a prize at Cannes at 1959 as the best short. Pigen og Skoene features a tall and very mature Anna sporting a pony tail who spots a pair of high heels that she wants to wear on a date. The shoes cause great pain for her feet and make her late. So her comfortable pumps catch up with her so that she can run to meet her boyfriend. In this film, Anna Karina, born Hanne Karin Bayer in Copenhagen Denmark in 1940, shows how she was ready for the camera. In films with Jacques Rivette, George Cukor, Luchino Visconti and J L Godard she shows a sensibility and wit that have made her an art house icon. Anna Karina continues to make films and her latest feature Victoria caught the attention of Korean youth who skipped school to see it where it debuted at the Pusan Film Festival in 2008, the 30th Florence International Women's Film Festival, 2008 and the 31st Créteil Films de Femmes Festival, 2009. Victoria ,
is directed and written by Anna Karina with music by Philippe Katerine. It is an experimental musical road HD video about a mysterious mute woman, Victoria, Louis' boss who gets gigs around Quebec for two musicians in drag, Stanislaus and Jimmy. Victoria's connection with Stanislaus turns out to be karmic. The film is low budget with artful invention and a clever narrative style.

  • Exclusive interview with Moira Sullivan and Anna Karina at Créteil on Movie Magazine International, April 1, 2009, 9pm PST, 90.3 FM San Francisco, national webcast from April 3-9th.
  • Exclusive interview with Moira Sullivan and Julie Dash at Créteil on Movie Magazine International,March 25, 2009, 9pm PST, 90.3 FM San Francisco, national webcast from March 27 - April 2.


Obama's and Michelle's Dance

Finally, an inauguration worthy of watching, finally inaugural balls worthy of watching, finally a presidency that commands respect. Finally an African American in the White House. This moment, this dance, this president is the strongest, most dignified and most gifted leader we have had in a long time - and alongside every powerful man, is a powerful woman, and now we have both. A thinking man and a thinking woman. We have waited a long time, for this moment , this dance! But remember Obama is not a messiah and it will take a long time to undue the wreckage of Bush Jr.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
Barack Obama, January 20, 2009.


Good Gravy for Tina Fey

Its a great year for Tina Fey who reminded everyone at the Golden Globes tonite that the Internet can always cut you down to right size if everything seems to go too well.
And for good luck she told cyber scrooges "babs in la crosse", "cougarletter" and dianefan to "suck it".
This was Tina Fey's night, even if she almost tripped on the red carpet going up for her award. The comedienne who comically brought out the very worst on Sarah Palin was voted best actress in a TV comedy on January 11 by the Hollywood Foreign Press.