Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


Jean Pierre Leaud stars in 'The Death of Louis XIV' in special Cannes screening

Jean Pierre Leaud stars in 'The Death of Louis XIV' in special Cannes screening
   'The Death of Louis XIV' by Albert Serra starring Jean Pierre Leaud as the "Sun King"
    Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission

The Death of Louis XIV

by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes
Jean-Pierre Léaud received a special “Palme d'Or d’honneur “(Honorary Palme d'Or) at the closing ceremonies of the 69th Cannes Film Festival on May 22. The awards represent the best films and players of this year's festival. Perhaps the most outstanding film presented out of competition this year is "La Mort de Louis XIV" (The Death of Louis XIV), a film about the death of the French "Sun King" (1638-1715). The film is an original and brilliant work of art and the premiere of masterpieces like this is what makes Cannes such a great festival. The film is adapted from medical transcripts written by two courtiers who were present at the time of King Louis XIV's death in the French court in Versailles. It is written and directed by the Catalan director Albert Serra.

The most thrilling part of the debut of this film at a special séance nearly over two, hours including introductions of the actors by Thierry Frémaux at the Salle de Soixantième, was the presence of Jean Pierre Léaud, now 71, veteran actor since François Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" at the age of 14. His speech was short and he thanked the audience for coming. Director Albert Serra was with him.

Though this absolute monarch of a grand reign of culture and reason had survived several near fatal diseases, his leg developed gangrene, which quickly spread to both legs. Serra adheres to royal documentation of the demise of Louis XIV that was recorded in detail. The French regent counsels his five year old grandson, Louis, Dauphin of Anjou and the future Louis XV, to not engage in the vanity of architecture as his court has. His subjects love the king but also are prepared to abandon him in order to win favors with the change in command.

"The Death of Louis XIV" is a challenge for those who must come to terms with the conditions under which it is made and dispense with the conventions used to create dramatic intensity in film. Seldom are audiences subjected to such a taxonomy of medical procedure and its consequences. A team of four doctors assisted Louis XIV's primary physician Fagon (brilliantly play by Patrick D’Assumçao) but were none the wiser in their diagnosis. It was suggested early on that the King’s leg be amputated, and even the King requested to save what was left of him.

Albert Serra's film is nearly two hours long. We become engaged with such a contemplative chronicle of events for reasons that the filmmaker gives us—to relate the facts concerning a royal death, not to shock us with agony or suffering or to make use of the narrative techniques to enhance the drama such as music or bravado. Our engagement is as witness to the subtlety of the death of the longest reigning Regent in Europe. The film provides the opportunity to follow an historical event three centuries after its occurrence in the relative matter it which it happened.

In the French court, the spectacle of childbirth, marital consummation and death was visible to the courtesans. Our contemporary notions of privacy stand in complete opposition in this regard. What we see is a powerful King who becomes progressively ill within a matter of months, shown in screen time. Alas the surgical team and a quack who produces an elixir made from "miraculous animal parts" are not able to save the king.

"The Death of Louis XIV" is a cinematic experience that is unrivaled of late. Jean-Pierre Léaud's gestures, mannerisms and elocution as Louis XIV ebb and flow during the course of his illness and his performance is enrapturing . We are invited as spectators, as privileged courtiers, to witness this event.


Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake' wins hearts of jury and Cannes Palme d'Or

Ken Loach's "I, Daniel Blake" at Cannes 
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission

Ken Loach's 'I, Daniel Blake' wins hearts of jury and Cannes Palme d'Or

I , Daniel Blake
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic for Festival de Cannes

Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake” won the highest honor at Cannes May 22– the Palme d’Or for the "69th Festival de Cannes". The decision was announced by the President of the Jury George Miller assisted by actor Mel Gibson. Gibson starred in Miller's original 'Mad Max' from 1979. This is the British octogenarian’s second Palme d’Or since "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" (2006) and his tenth nomination since "Looks and Smiles" (1981).

The choice of “I, Daniel Blake” was well deserved for the film deals with the treatment of working class people in an ensemble of non actors and actors. The story is about a middle aged carpenter (Dave Johns) who has suffered a heart attack and given doctors orders not to return to work. Despite that, the unemployment office requires him to look for work and denies him benefits when he is even declared “fit for work”. Daniel tries to adapt to an inhumane system of computer forms rather than humans to sort out a huge bureaucratic misunderstanding. Daniel is, however, penalized for the computer skills he doesn’t have and looking for work he can’t accept because of his medical condition.

That doesn’t stop him from reaching out to help others, such as the single mother Kattie (Hayley Squires) with two children. She has been forced to relocate from London because of her low income status yet can't pay to turn on the electricity in the new social housing. Daniel helps her and her children adjust to Newcastle and takes them to the local food bank. According to Loach, the people in the food bank in the "neorealist" film tradition had worked in that office in real life and he tried to create the same sense of reality throughout the film.

Ken Loach said at the press conference for the film earlier in the week that there is “so much unemployment in England and people are made to feel 'it’s your own fault'". “The most vulnerable bear the brunt - people who are disabled, the mentally ill", he explained. Script writer Paul Laverty added that these are people who get “six times more of the cuts than every one else” and who are “easy targets”. But the film was not about just showing human suffering. The director stated that the writing and the acting should be a combination of reality and human compassion so that the audiences can adequately relate to the film. "I, Daniel Blake" is shot in the order of sequence and the script is precisely written but with a sense of improvisation.

Beyond the politics of the film, Loach advocated that “the real left in Europe should reject the European Union or deals with America that prioritize business". The effects of globalization is adversely affecting many European countries today and there is widespread fear and finger pointing at the working class for allegedly taxing the system. Loach provides statistics that welfare recipients account for only 0.5% of expenditures.

A journalist from Kurdistan moved by the approach to depicting social problems in Loach's cinema asked if he and Laverty had any plans to make a film about his country. Laverty replied that “Iraq had indeed “pulverized the refugees” in Kurdistan Such a film should be “a good story written by those who understand the history, language and poetry of the area with poignant moments that help to relate the situation.

Loach said that European countries should use cinema to share good stories, which will help the film industries. It was not easy to acquire film financing but according to producer Rebecca O'Brian there was European and British support for his film.

The veteran director said he chose to set the film in Newcastle –" a great city with a history and tradition of working class struggles such as in the shipyards". He said that the British neoliberal project of deregulation and privatization is brutal and that work and the environment are constantly under attack. In two weeks Britain will vote whether to leave the European Union; Loach cautioned against this for "if we leave, individual countries will undermine our efforts to fight neoliberalism". "What 's more", he cautioned, "the far right governments will succeed if we leave". The question is whether to fight from within or without or make alliances with other European left movements. If not, "this is how the far right rises". Loach has been around long enough to see this happen in his lifetime and warns that it could and can happen again.

Regarding the story telling of "I Daniel Blake", Loach quoted the dramatist Bertolt Brecht –"I always thought the simplest of words should suffice if I say which things break my heart". And, adds Loach, "makes you angry". This clearly is what happened with spectators who treasure this brilliant and socially engaging film at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The film broke and won the hearts of critics and jury alike.


Nicolas Winding Refn shocks Cannes with 'The Neon Demon'

Nicolas Winding Refn shocks Cannes with 'The Neon Demon'

Elle Fanning, Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission

The Neon Demon 
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic for Festival de Cannes
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's 'The Neon Demon' premiered May 20 in the Cannes official selection, a slick stylish techno-thriller that guarantees a visceral viewing experience despite its subject matter. 'NWR' as the director likes to sign himself ( as in the credits) tackles the subject of beauty in a disturbing yet commanding way. At the press conference he said he has a wife and daughters and how beauty affects women is of interest. There are however many historical tropes running through this film: sexualized violence, blood rituals, female sacrifice and anorexia, and vampirism and that is surely not the beauty sacred to a father and husband.

Jesse (Elle Fanning ("Super 8") is the central protagonist who is staying at a cheap motel in LA run by a sleazy proprietor (Keanu Reeves) - in and on the set sparsely. Most of the young women who stay with him are either working as models or model wannabees. With a slim portfolio of photos taken by the congenial young photographer Dean (Karl Glusman) who she met online (he shoots here as a corpse with her throat slit), Jesse finds instant success and has the kind of body size and face that women envy and try to copy or emulate. She is only 16 but signs with a modeling firm that promotes her as 19. Jesse poses a threat to other models immediately, in particular Gigi (Bella Heathcote) whose body has been worked over and Sarah (Abbey Lee - "Mad Max:Fury Road") with an attitude that keeps her on the sidelines. Both would do anything to have Jesse's beauty and her modest but bold confidence.

Jesse's first contact in modeling is Ruby, a makeup artist (Jena Malone "Sucker Punch") who moonlights at a mortuary making dead women look as beautiful as they once were in life. From there Jesse meets the photographers and fashion designers of LA who see something in her that is special and rare albeit their own fantasies - a forever young vulnerable automaton. Their roles are important and despite their creepy unfashionable demeanor they are insatiable in their appetite to create artificial reality through images and design. Jesse seems unaware of her pristine beauty at first, but who would believe it. The use of animal motifs early on in "Neon Demon" crudely signifies the predatory nature of the characters from the lion in Jesse's motel room to the stuffed wildlife at Ruby's housesitting gig.

The soundtrack is written mostly by Cliff Martinez ("The Knick") with some licensed songs including "Demon Dance" by Julian Winding, NWR's nephew. Without the impeccable art direction and music , which is garish, brutal and invasive this would not be such an arresting story, for both elements help embroider the story immensely and make it a cinematic extravaganza.

"The Neon Demon" is destined for "Amazon Studios" next summer and opens in theatres June 24. It was one of the best films at Cannes and top on the list of remarkable movies. It's a film that has made the 69th Cannes Film Festival edgy and vital despite this year's rather mediocre selection.


Stunning Iranian 'Baher' premieres in Cannes Film Festival 'Short Film Corner'

Stunning Iranian 'Baher' premieres in Cannes Film Festival 'Short Film Corner'

by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes

The world premiere of Hassan Akhondpour’s film “Baher” (Her Mind, Iran 2015) was screened on May 21 at the Cannes Film Festival “Short Film Corner”, a promising property of 24 min which the director plans to make into a feature. The "Short Film Corner" this year features over 2,000 films from over 105 countries.

"Baher" is one of the most exceptional films coming from Iran today and it is with anticipation we await its further development. Hassan Akhondpour works with dream states and the “conscious” unconscious mind in a carefully choreographed agenda populated with references to animals, the supernatural, chance occurrences, fate and alternative universes.The subject of the film is a young woman who suspects her husband is meeting another woman but it can also be interpreted that she herself is meeting this woman and all the taboos both scenarios involve. The use of animals in a stable suggests that she is one of the prizes belonging to her husband or is a kept animal, a pet. But it is the rival woman who holds the key for her and holds her captive in her dream. She pursues her, sees her everywhere and tries to run over her with a car but this mysterious woman never loses her smile and warmth towards her or changes her positive regard for her. Perhaps the woman is a version of herself as she learns to master her sense of being in the world. 

 In addition to this short, Akhondpour has released some extremely interesting behind the scenes videos for the making of "Baher", which are enjoyable as well as instructive. They detail live action, special effects, stunts, make up and creative editing. This intriguing mystery involves a car  chase where the young woman pursues the mysterious woman in a yellow cab that takes a few wrong turns in a high speed chase. Its fun for every young filmmaker to set up such shots and we watch the crew bring it about behind the scenes. There are several recurring personalities in "Baher" with eventual meaning to the mystery and its resolution who transform into dancers, and grotesques. It is possible to imagine with this film that behind every reality and its surroundings are hidden existences that have as yet to be called upon. It is perhaps too easy to reduce the mystery into something understandable and believable. But for now, Akhondpour brings his short film to rest with his talented cast and crew.

According to the director, the Iranian woman of today has to wrestle with her peace of mind because of the complexities of her culture, economy, politics, and tradition. Because of these demands she finds herself like Ulysses in a strange land. Settling the marital score is not the easy solution this film calls for since it actually seems to question how resolving tumultuous situations to just return to safety does not bring sanity or peace. The ordeal above all has enriched the younger woman’s journey for self discovery.

Baher has a true sense of art direction and with a bigger budget, the musical score will provide a richer perspective for this young emerging director’s ambitions.


Animated epic "Bilal A New Breed of Hero" premieres at Cannes Market

Animated epic "Bilal A New Breed of Hero" premieres at Cannes Market

Bilal learns that bravery is in the mind not the weapon. Courtesy of Barajoun Entertainment, used with permission 

Bilal - A New Breed of Hero 
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited journalist at Festival de Cannes

The world premiere of “Bilal”, an animated historical epic premiered at the Cannes Film Festival Market May 14, the first of its kind made with computer generated animated graphics. Sharing the task of directing are Hurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal from the United Arab Emirates. Jamal is also the producer of the film and was present at the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that runs from May 11-22.

The English language animation is a 1400-year story about Bilal, a young African boy who dreams of becoming a great warrior, is abducted with his sister, separated from her and taken to a distant land rampant with greed and corruption. Bilal’s choice to become a warrior is a childhood dream that is later necessitated by the violent way in which his village is destroyed and his family broken up. Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” comes to mind in this saga of a young man who leaves his home, goes out in the world to accomplish extraordinary deeds and later returns to receive the boons of his society. That legacy lives on in the recollection of this historical hero.

According to director Hurram Halavi, the use of animation was important for telling this story in “abstract and unique ways”. Situating this African hero within a dramatic context involves the creation of supernatural forces, animal characters and 300 foot soldiers with battle scenes that took months of painstaking effort by a team of 360 in this $30M project produced by the Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment. This is no ordinary action film for it is embellished with an intricate design and a humanization of animated characters that become as real as a live action feature. The details of the human figure in the film are extraordinary especially hair and facial expressions as well as authentic costume and makeup. What is also particularly amazing is the fur of animals, particularly Bilal’s white horse that is stunningly radiant in tactile texture.

"Bilal" is scored by the Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson and produced at Abbey Road Studies. The music is inspired by Middle Eastern as well as Norse and European sources. Örvarsson is know for films such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “Babylon A.D” and “Season of the Witch”.

Noteworthy of this first historical epic is the evolution of Bilal throughout his lifetime in image and sound. The voice of the young Bilal is Jacob Latimore and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbajelends his masterly voice to the mature man. China Anna McClain does the vocals for Bilal’s young sister Ghufaira.

Bilal ibn Rabah is a famous historical figure who will be new to young audiences. The values of the film are important for Bilal’s odyssey is to learn to forgive without retaliation. The oversaturation of today's computer graphics involving mercenary battles is completely absent from the film. Bilal is surrounded by negative values that he resists and is a model to young people of his time. In one scene he helps a young hungry boy resist the attempt to steal and is constantly put in situations where he must choose the higher ground and resist temptation. The lessons from this film do not escape unnoticed and although they hark from a distant time, they are universal and instill a refreshing approach to bravery. Bilal is a solid reflection on the forging of the human condition through the strength of integrity that is central to each of us reminding us that there are real and immediate opportunities for mindful choice and ways of life. "Bilal", as the title of this riveting animated epic claims, is indeed "A New Breed of Hero".


Ingrid Bergman's 'home movies' in new Swedish documentary

Ingrid Bergman in her own words

Ingrid Bergman on holiday with her children. Courtesy of Manteray Film
Swedish filmmaker Stig Björkman’s new documentary - "Ingrid Bergman - In Her Own Words" (Jag är Ingrid, Sweden 2015) opens in San Francisco at the Landmark Theatres on Feb 12. The film highlights the work of a woman that dedicated her life to film. Stig Björkman co-wrote the documentary with Dominika Daubenbüchel, which is produced by Stina Gardell. Swedish vocalist Eva Dahlgren, who also sings the final ballad of the film, coordinated the Super 8 footage. Ingrid's letters to her friends and to her diary are read by actress Alicia Vikander. There are interviews with all of Bergman's children, and actresses Liv Ullmann, Isabella Rossellini and Sigourney Weaver.

Ingrid Bergman - In Her Own Words debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May and won special mention for a new award- The Golden Eye (L’Oeil d’Or award).

The film came about through Björkman's friendship to Ingrid's daughter Isabella Rossellini who suggested that he make a film about her mother. Most of the film is found footage from newsreels but also footage of the home movies that Ingrid and her family made during her years in Hollywood, Italy, Sweden and London. There are memorable, well-constructed shots of her children and their many holidays together. The editing of this footage is brilliant. Above all it shows that the ultra professional Ingrid Bergman gave the greatest emphasis to her children who were apart from her during her busy acting schedule.

Ingrid Bergman left Hollywood in the 1950's and married filmmaker Roberto Rossellini. She wrote to him and asked if he needed an actress who spoke English and a little French. That letter of invitation resulted in several years of marriage and the birth of three children, all of which are part of Björkman's film. Also present is Pia Lindström, Bergman's daughter by her first marriage to Petter Lindström.

Ingrid defied the conventions of Hollywood and never regretted the things that she did, she said, but "what she hadn’t done". By her side throughout her career were several strong women including Irene Selznick, the wife of David O. Selznick, but her letters to them were always about her children. This extraordinary documentary makes you not only esteem Ingrid Bergman but also her children who have her incredible charm and intelligence.

In many ways Ingrid never lost her Swedish roots and when working in the garden, raking leaves and pushing a wheelbarrow, the tall Ingrid Bergman remained down to earth. She worked with great directors, but although she could not control what was said about her abroad and in Sweden, in her own life she made her own images.


'Sicario's' innovative style in female action thriller

"Sicario" is a female action thriller starring Emily Blunt 
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, reprinted with permission 

"Sicario" features a brilliant role for Emily Blunt as an FBI agent who volunteers to catch the leaders of a drug cartel together with undercover agents. The "Alliance of Women Film Journalists" nominated her as "Best Female Action Star" of 2015.

Directed by Dennis Villeneuve, "Sicario", which means hitman in Spanish, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and was nominated for a Palme d' Or.

The theme of the film - the pursuit of drug dealers by the means necessary to cut off 'the head of the dragon' is illustrated visually. As one head goes, violence erupts like firecrackers in Juarez, Mexico where Emily Blunt as agent Kate Macer is recruited for work. She is there to make the op legit in the unorthodox manner undercover agents go about trying to topple pushers and their regime. Two agents buddy up with her on the job: Alejandro , a rogue agent played by Benicio Del Toro who has lost his family to dealers and FBI agent Matt Graver played by Josh Brolin willing to bend the rules and look the other way. Both Alejandro and Graver work their agenda on Macer.

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson has created a brilliant musical score in this game of violent high stake pursuit. Behind the camera is Roger Deakins ("Skyfall") who creates some amazing night vision scenes and digital mapping of the terrain where drug runs are made.

Kate Macer (Blunt) does not seem suited for the job; she is often afraid and unsure of herself but eventually she learns why she is attractive to the FBI. "Sicario" is not a pretty picture of legitimate law enforcement cracking down on dope pushers; it shows the viciousness and ruthlessness of the life style, of innocent victims and the families who become involved in this destructive way of life.

Director Dennis Villeneuve creates this narrative in a smooth way with plenty of contemplative spaces. It is not an action film as much as an authentic study of the drug business and the tragedies of lives touched by drug trafficking on both sides of law enforcement and dealing.


'Jeanne Dielman' by Chantal Akerman an eternal classic

Director Chantal Akerman with actress Delphine Seyrig on the set of "Jeanne Dielman"
Director Chantal Akerman with actress Delphine Seyrig on the set of "Jeanne Dielman"
Festival de Cannes

Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

When Chantal Akerman made "Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" in 1975 she was only 24 years old. The road to making the film began with contacts and one of them was French filmmaker Babette Mangolte , currently a professor of visual arts at UC San Diego who wound up being the cinematographer on this film . Akerman and Mangolte met in New York, a city that would later become the young Belgian director's adopted home. Mangolte introduced Akerman to experimental filmmaking, a small and exclusive world she loved.
Success came early to Akerman whose film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival Directors Fortnight in 1975. Suddenly 50 international festivals wanted to screen it. It starred the brilliant French actress Delphine Seyrig as a housewife and widow who stays at home to take care of her teenage son. Once a week she solos as a prostitute for one of her regular clients. Of the film Akerman said that she wanted to value the rare subject of a housewife whose ritualistic work is at home. She has said that a woman almost certainly would have had to make it since a man barely pays attention to his wife’s work at home. To that extent Akerman does a meticulous study of the daily motions of Jeanne Dielman and as she later explains, the film was based on watching the routines of her mother at home, a survivor of Auschwitz whose parents died in the camp.
"Jeanne Dielman" is 200 minutes long and is a fascinating film which breaks down and compartmentalizes Jeanne’s various chores and activities such as putting coffee into a thermos, boiling potatoes, shining her son’s shoes, making up his bed or putting the money from her clients into a large covered dish in the living room. Each day the routines are shot and the procedures given extraordinary importance. This is especially because of Akerman’s framing of the kitchen and the hallway, an almost claustrophobic environment where we as spectators engage in Jeanne’s activities. We are forced to acknowledge how the order is exact and strictly kept in Jeanne’s schedule. We notice how Akerman is careful to present the one day when Jeanne has some time to think for a bit unlike previous days and the film changes its trajectory. This is the compelling force of the film that remains an enchanting narrative construction to this day. Chantal Akerman died in October last year at the age of 65. Her final film on her mother, “No Home Movie”, will be released this year.

Published in San Francisco 1/4/2016


Mika Kaurismaki's 'The Girl King' unveils a brilliant Queen Kristina

 Queen Kristina (Malin Buska) of Sweden with Lord Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna  (Michael Nykvist) flanked by Count Johan Oxenstierna (Lucas Bryant and Karl Gustav Kasimir (François Arnaud)
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission

The Girl King

Mika Kaurismäki has made a quality and authentic study for modern audiences of Queen Kristina of Sweden in “The Girl King”. It debuts on VOD on Dec 8 via YouTube, Vudu and Google Play and the film's distributor Wolfe Video. Wolfe Video bought the North American rights at the Cannes Film Festival where the film debuted in May and has also released a DVD.
The 17th century regent of Sweden, daughter of the great king Gustav Vasa, has been the subject of several films including Rouben Mamoulian's 1933 epic "Queen Christina" starring Greta Garbo. Kaurismäki presents a sober and realistic portrait of the queen. He has shown her as a commanding figure with a court that could not accept that she wanted to have sovereign control over her life and her kingdom. Kaurismäki also tells the story of René Descartes whom Kristina invited to the Swedish court to instruct her on his theories.
In Kaurismäki’s film Descartes works against Kristina and helps to separate her from her lover Ebba Sparre (Sarah Godon) so she can fulfill her duties as Sweden’s queen and not become a Catholic. The love story is important to the history of Kristina and is given ample room in the film. Kaurismäki was incredibly captured by this brilliant thinker who ended the 30-year war and in so doing was a pioneer in working for a European Union. He regards her as an extraordinary woman who would be modern even today.
The time period of the film concerns Kristina from a young girl to the time she abdicated from the throne under the guise of becoming a Catholic. Karusimäki, if asked, said he would make another film about Kristina. After she left Sweden she brought with her a treasury of Swedish cultural artifacts. When she got to Italy, she created a lab where she studied alchemy and founded "Accademia dell'Arcadia". She was part of the Pope Clement X's inner circle and initially lived in Palazzo Farnese which was a model for part of the Swedish palace. Queen Kristina is buried in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.
Kaurismäki said the film took 10 years to make and during the process his editor died. His framing of the film has the form of chamber music – music created with few instruments, and usually in a palace chamber. It is a form that grows on you in its subtle power. There are few outdoor scenes and the castle is Finnish located in Turku. In this castle is the room where Kristina was actually conceived.
Michael Nykvist as Axel Oxenstierna, the Lord High Chancellor of Sweden, has an interesting role that departs from his usual action films as the man who tried to steer Kristina on the path her father had expected her to follow. Swedish actress Malin Buska as Kristina gives a compelling performance and brings to the screen the rage that such a brilliant woman must have possessed to be thwarted in love and in all her endeavors as a queen.


Laurie Anderson's 'Heart of a Dog' tells ghost stories and love stories

World debut of 'Heart of a Dog' by Laurie Anderson
Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Heart of a Dog

Performance artist and filmmaker Laurie Anderson was in San Francisco for a brief visit in conjunction with the theatrical release of her new film “Heart of a Dog” that opens in San Francisco November 13 at Landmark Theatres. The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival September 9 and is a thought provoking film about love stories and ghost stories, and how stories are relayed in our personal lives through art and media. Anderson relates stories about dreams and the possibilities for new ways of storytelling with new media.
"Heart of a Dog" weaves story telling with films Anderson shot of her dog Lolabelle and 8mm films from her childhood. She uses iPhones, drone phones, and different textural backgrounds. She wrote the script and did the art work and composed the music. This kind of singular vision seems to be the hallmark of her work. Anderson usually travels to cities and does installations, creating image, word and musical journeys.

Anderson explores the synchronicity of what we do in life having its source in experiences from our childhood. She looks over her past as a pilgrimage. The talented artist even provides a description of death from the "Tibetan Book of the Dead". She explains that before going to another world the deceased experiences their present incarnation before finding a new form in a state called "Bardo". She calls the death ritual an automation of walking backwards in past lives. Even her film engages in this kind of backward sojourn. All of this is extremely thrilling and provocative for Anderson never ceases to engage with her creations, as she has always done through several decades of work. ' Heart of a Dog' is her newest edition, her latest work of art, which is truly inspirational.

Laurie Anderson recently collaborated with the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm. Her film is dedicated to the late Lou Reed who she lived with for over 20 years.

Published in San Francisco Examiner Nov 14, 2015


Wikepedia censors Freja Film, historic Swedish women's film organisation

As of September 19, the men's club at Wikipeida has eliminated a post on Freja Film, a women's screening forum in Stockholm Sweden from the 1980's. By trying to save this entry it is clear that decisions are made within a very select group of individuals, who are not only undemocratic but discriminatory towards women's culture. No amount of change to the article could save it. The young male wikepedians with a sense of white male under 30 smell insist on scholarly reports, quotes, cross references, statistics, search engines, metrics , in short "pulling a rabbit out of a hat" documents prior to the profuse public use of internet. This means that history can only be determined from this, since none of these individuals have gone to Sweden to research at "KvinnSam - Nationellt bibliotek för genusforskning" - the national library for gender studies. Kvinnobulletinen, a woman's magazine from 1971 to 1996 mentions "Freja Film" in several articles.

According to Seneca, 2000 years ago , "To be everywhere is to be nowhere." Yet Wikepedia uses this rule of thumb for subject validity.

Since no one really takes Wikepedia serious except students who rely on it for plagiarized term papers , the omission of this article should be seen as a blessing. But it's a marvel to behold the process of getting an article into Wikipedia, dictated by a spider web of techno geeks who conjure up the anonymous faces of the Deep Web. If you have ever entered into discussions with wikipedians, the modern concept of fascism actually comes to mind, with this definition, from Wikipedia, as context:

  • the use of fascist as an epithet for authoritarian and intolerant power-holders has a distinct analytical basis, suggesting that fascism is a continuum or a social relation, rather than simply a political system, and that acts of repression are in some way homologous with fascist ideology.

When Wipedia asks for donations to continue its practice of selective entrees, remember who is really behind the decisions. 


Freja Film: Wikipedia threatens history of women in film

Before Wikipedia erases the history of women in film for being non-important, CineFemme will preserve this herstory of Freja Film, which has already spidered elsewhere out in the web,

Freja Film was a radical screening forum held at the "Stockholm Women's House (Kvinnohuset)" in Stockholm, Sweden, during the 1980s. The name Freja was chosen for the group paying homage to the Nordic goddess who was the leader of the Valkyrie. Kvinnohuset was an important meeting place for women during the 1980's and 1990's in Stockholm. The space on Snickarbacken 10 was shared by different women's organisations such as Freja Film , self defense groups, Kvinnobulletinen[1][2] Lesbiska Feminister, and musicians in Spelhålen. [3][4][5][6][7]
The original core group was composed of Moira SullivanYvonne Eriksson, and Anna Kindgren. Guests to the women's house included filmmaker Barbara Hammer. Regular screenings of films made by women were held with discussions afterwards. The icon on the poster head for the monthly screenings was Dorothy Arzner, the only woman working in Hollywood as a director during the 1930s. Freja Film was modeled after the Amsterdam based feminist film and video distribution collective Cinemien.[8] Freja Film imported films with permission of filmmakers for special screenings. Some of the films screened were Lizzie Borden's "Born in Flames" which won "prix du public" at Créteil International Women's Film Festival in 1983 and Marleen GorrisA Question of Silence which won in 1982. Freja Film's activities and reports from women's film festivals were published in Kvinnobulletinen, an important journal for women in Sweden during the 1970's through 1990's. Among the editors was Ebba Witt-BrattströmFreja Film was the contact organisation of women's film established during a special conference sponsored by UNESCO in 1981 held at the 1st International Feminist Film and Video Conference in Amsterdam. At the Amsterdam meeting all functioning women's festivals and women working in film such as Frances ReidBarbara HammerMichelle Citron presented papers and strategized about reaching women in media around the globe. Also present was the newly startedCréteil International Women's Film Festival(1979), the longest surviving women's film organization in Europe. Freja Film worked closely with Créteil International Women's Film Festival as the Nordic contact organisation.

1.      ^ Stockholms KvinnoCentrums arkiv Kvinnobulletinen
2.      ^ Schmitz, Eva Den nya kvinnorörelsen under 1970-talet, 2009.
3.       ^ Gallagher, Margaret Unequal Opportunities - The Case of Women and the Media, UNESCO 1981.
4.      ^ Mickey Lee, A review of UNESCO's publications on women and communication, International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) 23rd Conference and General Assembly, Barcelona, Spain 21st-- 26th July 2002
5.       UNESCO (1980). Women in the media. Paris: UNESCO.
8.      ^ Kuhn, Annette, The Women's Companion to International Film, p. 83.


    Amy Winehouse's end of life truthfully chronicled in new Cannes documentary

    The great jazz singer/songer writer Amy Winehouse
    “Amy” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May is an extraordinary exposé of the life of the late Amy Winehouse. There is virtually little relief knowing Winehouse’s short life cyle in the public eye was due to substance addiction, but this documentary reminds us how her career was built on the joy and enchantment of her artistry. British filmmaker Asif Aspadia’s “Amy” was nominated for a Golden Eye Award for best documentary as well as a Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival Cannes Film Festival and showcases previously unseen footage of this phenomenal artist.

    The documentary starts out like probably many music videologs that trace the career of an emerging artist. It is impossible to see Amy Winehouse as anything but an extremely talented jazz vocalist who was born with talent not luck. She felt best playing in intimate jazz clubs with good musicians. She loved to write songs and was clearly one of the best singer/songwriter jazz vocalists of this century. Her exquisite voice, vocal range and phrasing hit notes with spot on accuracy and emotionally wrenching language, framing familiar episodes in life with an exactitude inspiring international introspection.
    Winehouse’s new fans proclaimed their infatuation with that voice and those incredible lyrics. This is the same public that booed her off the stage at the end of her career for failing to sing and who even demanded their money back. It was pay back time for the public that felt they made her. Her refusal to perform in Belgrade can only be seen as an act of defiance and strength for no one listened to her when she said she didn't want to go. "Amy" updates the media picture of this outstanding vocalist and shows how she stood her ground and said no to a large concert she could no longer tolerate as a serious artist.
    Amy Winehouse stands her ground and refuses to perform at Belgrade

    Tony Bennett confirmed this when he said that Amy Winehouse was one of the great jazz musicians of our time on the order of Elsa Fitzgerald. Shown in the documentary is a beautiful and touching collaboration of Winehouse and Bennett. 

    Given substantial room is Amy Winehouse's relationship with her husband Blake Fielder-Civil , a relationship characterized in the documentary as all consuming, temptuous and painful. Fielder-Civil introduced her to heroin and crack and Amy could not be separated from him until he was forcefully incarcerated and later divorced her. According to Fielder-Civil, she did not want the divorce and her signature was forged. By Amy's own admission the relationship was a drug.

    Also given ample space is Winehouse's eclectic vintage fashion sense, heavy eyeliner,  and her hairstyle inspired by a fusion of the 60's pop group "The Ronette's" and Brigitte Bardot.

    At first we love our artists for the accord that they strike in our experience but as they become successful within the industry model, they become our slaves and wind up dolls. “Amy” well illustrates the modern myth of god/goddess destruction. The artist pulls the strings of our hearts and we become fickle and restless and lose interest waiting for the next sensation. The industry has of course created this fickleness, this throwaway artist society with mythological heroes and heroines, even when they are banished or doomed.

    “Amy” makes one wonder how extraordinary it must be for any megastar to not succumb to drugs and alcohol. “Amy” indeed presents a horrifying picture of what success actually looks like, mirrored in the fearful faces of Amy Winehouse as she walks to fame and out of it in her short life. At first stunned at the ignorant questions she is asked as an artist she is later repulsed by the invasion of her privacy by the media.

    Almost everyone is a player in this mediated gimmicry—even her father who brings photographers to St Lucia where she becomes drug free and chastises her when two "harmless" tourists asks for a photo with her and she is less than overjoyed.  That one simple photo to her is equal to all the excesses she has suffered since she began winning awards and recognition. Jay Leno and David Lettermen ridicule her drug habit on national television but if they did that to someone with an illness other than addiction they would be shut down. Both are finally going anyway as spent fuel.
    We wonder why someone so incredibly talented, such a beautiful unique creative and illuminating young woman can die before our eyes after an inevitable failed comeback as painful as the one planned by Michael Jackson. But the answers are all there in “Amy” of how this could be.

    There are no particular culprits, since success is a cunning foe that is propelled by faceless greed and commerce. Artists whose careers are intertwined with commerce pay a heavy price. There is also the truth that Amy Winehouse even before she became famous was a substance abuser with food and alcohol. Her parents, in the documentary, seem clueless that alcoholism was just as important to tackle (though they disagree with how they are presented). Going to rehab, or not going to rehab as the song goes that became her signature song did not seem to sink below the goal just being clean and tackle the underlying issues behind her relapses.

    Amy Winehouse was a beautiful soul and there are ample pictures in this brilliant documentary of her upbringing, her first songs with enchanting poetic images in  her ever enlarging career prompted by public demand for more of her. And as the public demanded more of Amy, she began to disappear with increasing regularity. However, it is clear that it was not only a public sacrifice but her support system and her own ignorance of addiction that took her life, despite doctor's warnings. All this is evident in this powerful documentary.

    “Amy” shows how the success pendulum cares not for beautiful souls but is a cunning predator that kills with animal instinct the wondrous artists of our world who exist only to enlighten us and ease our every day lives. Thank Amy Winehouse for her gifts, and see in Amy Winehouse a vulnerability that was not strong enough to stand up to the gimmicry and was left unprotected by family, husband, fans and promoters. Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning in July 2011 at the age of 27.  Asif Aspadia dignifies Amy Winehouse who was always worthy of our love.