Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou


"Libera Nos" by Federica Di Giacomo --Best Orizzonti Film - La Biennale di Venezia

"Libera Nos" by Federica Di Giacomo BEST ORIZZONTI FILM 2016

In Rome there is a special course for priests who conduct exorcisms, part of the extraordinary documentary at the Venice Film Festival - "Libera Nos" by Federica Di Giacomo, shown in the Orizzonti section. The course is held at an educational institute - "Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum" in "Auditorium Giovanni Paulo II".

Without any voiceover, Federica filmed a dozen Italians who were possessed and cleansed by priests Padre Cataldo and Padre Carmine in a non-invasive and innovative documentary style that is not for a second anything but authentic.. She teaches documentary film in various schools and graduated in anthropology from the University of Florence.

Women were behind the script - Di Giacomo and Andrea Sanguigni, photography Greta De Lazzaris and Carlo Sisalli, and editing Aline Hervé and Edoardo Morabito'

True Colors Glorious Film - World Sales

Sicilia Film Commission

MIR Cinematografica - Operà Films 2016.


"Dark Night" at Venice Film Festival

Tim Sutton’s Dark Night

by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Venice Film Festival
Reprinted from Movie Magazine International, San Francisco

Dark Night was featured as a special screening at the Venice Film Festival in September, a film that debuted at Sundance this year. It is part Frederick Wiseman and part Gus Van Sant, his later years, two filmmakers whose style has been a problem for some spectators and who are praised by others. Both filmmakers have crews which set up shots perfectly and both have acquired funding for professionally made films. The content is revealed often in long takes with little dialogue, snapshot edited scenes (editor Jean Applegate) and redundant imagery. Introspection with lingering momentum is their watchdog. Their films are part reality TV, part commercial with voyeurism with a male gaze. Their focus in is primarily on male characters and when, for example, it is on female characters such as Wiseman’s long surveillance of battered women and children in Domestic Violence,  he did not seem to know much about women. (Interview with Wiseman for at Venice 2001), so much that he went on to make Domestic Violence 2 the following year, where a woman is arrested for attacking her husband.

In Dark Night written and directed by Sutton, the surveillance cameras are pointed at young people in a middle income area where mall shopping and painting fingernails help pass the time. (Six youth are chronicled played by Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper, Karina Macias, Conor A. Murphy, Aaron Purvis and Rosie Rodriguez). The young people skateboard, swim, go to the movies, dye their hair orange, use Google maps (as does cinematographer Hélène Louvart, The Wonders, 2014), Skype, ride around in cars, and fill their universe with “nothing”. To make this film, Sutton uses guns, darts, butt shots and masks. Male characters (and one woman) express heir deep seated rage and women shop, pose for selfies in their underwear or lie in bed listening to their boyfriend.

Two women play the guitar and sing “You are my sunshine…But if you leave me and love another, you'll regret it all some day” with a gun pointed at their heads unbeknownst to them. That this triste existence is pervasive is evidenced by repetitive aerial shots of the neighborhoods where restless youth live. They don’t read books, converse with one another in meaningful dialogue, attend school or change the world in any way. Conversation between counselors, young men and women and support groups are on the fringe of the empty pictures that pose as landscape, but not in any artistic Antonioni sense. These are the real discussions beneath the constant numbing of youth, the realities they don’t want to know about, to hear about or understand.

Freeways, tract homes, parking lots, green grass, and recurrent mall lights resurface as the momentum builds for a brutal gun attack. We know that it is coming like the slithering slide of a snake as it approaches its prey and is ready to pounce. The vacant dead eyes of the perpetrator should give pause to the victims or anyone who sees him. But they walk innocently in scenes that put the spectator in a voyeuristic trance, for we are the voyeurs, waiting for the pounce and the carnage. Listening to a young man claim that humans are not real unlike animals, and for his mother to claim he is smarter than his peers is one of the many internal contradictions in the film, as if brutal acts are committed by geniuses. We know that he is going to kill his turtle when he holds it up on a few occasions. In this regard, he demonstrates that animals aren’t real either.

We know that the sunshine singers are going to be blown away and all the scantily clad young women who check their phones and take selfies. Video games don’t lead to violence, says the young man who later takes a hammer to the turtle. Humanity raised on artificial tech culture, without support, in middle income neighborhoods and nuclear families, confined to gender roles, produce numb brains without connection to people. The contorted faces of men and women who scream reveal the angst that so many keep inside. In that respect the scenes that build up to these contortions, express the real violence.

Dark Night's carnage, is a real life occurrence at a movie theater, that claimed the lives of young people, many with bottled up rage, just like their shooter. “You make me happy… the skies are grey… please don’t take my sunshine away" are the slow languid lyrics (arrangement by Maica Armata) heard before the shooter enters a cineplex by a back door designed for mall security. We don’t see turtles killed or humans. We are suspended as victims while the snake slithers.

The year is 2012, Aurora Colorado.


Frameline 40 Film Fest nears festival and Pride month end

Frameline 40 Film Fest nears festival and Pride month end
The Ovarian Psyco Brigade

The Frameline Film Festival is in full swing through the end of Gay Pride month that culminates in the Pride Parade on June 26 in San Francisco. The LGBT event features narratives, shorts and documentaries from around the world, and prides itself on taking the best films out there from this world. It is an eclectic pageant with films about gay men, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals.

There are 55 about lesbians this year, which mostly share a low budget profile, but for lesbians at the Frameline Audience, it doesn’t matter since the authentic voices of the community are more important than artistic content or cinematic innovation. What matters most is authentic representation and the films for this weekend have that stamp of quality.

The Bay area premiere of AWOL directed by Deb Shoval is based on an award winning short story- a film set in rural America about a chance meeting which goes beyond being a summer fling. An incongruent couple fill the narrative arc in a relationship between high school graduate Joey and Daisy Dukes, a woman with kids and a truck driver husband. The film screens June 25 at Landmark Theatres in Piedmont.

Also on June 25 at the Castro Theatre is a screening of four shorts concerning lesbian friendship, dating, and cross cultural meetings - Sticky Fingers - One Last Night Raniya, Arrivederci Rosa, and Sticky Fingers. The films are invigorated by excellent sound tracks. At the screening director Sidsel Møller Johnsen and producer Niels Wee of "Rainya" will be in attendance.

At the Roxie is a cinematic extravaganza "Ovarian Psycos" on June 25 and directors Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle will be in attendance. The film is a documentary about twenty plus young women of color who bike through the streets of East LA with black bandanas emblazoned with white Fallopian tubes over their faces - "The Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade". Their mission is to protest violence against women. The bikers echo the "Women's Army" in Lizzie Borden's cult classic "Born in Flames "(1983)shown at a previous Frameline Festival (2007). In a cameo role as a feminist newspaper editor is future Oscar winning filmmaker Kathyrn Bigelow. "The Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade" was founded by poet M.C. and activist Xela de la X and is composed of cisgender and transgender women who protest misogyny and racism and honor the legacy of the Chicanx civil rights movement.

On Saturday is the annual "Fun in Girls Shorts" and "Fun in Boys Shorts" Pride Parade on June 26, an uplifting event showing some of the latest work by emerging directors with issues that concern the young LGBT community.

The festival closes with Andrew Haigh "Looking" at the Castro at 7pm on June 26 -the last Pride event of this month. The series is set in San Francisco and featured for two seasons on HBO. As proof of its enduring popularity advance tickets are sold out but "Rush" tickets are available at the box office.


Andrea Arnold's youth road movie 'American Honey' wins Cannes 'Jury Prize

Andrea Arnold's youth road movie 'American Honey' wins Cannes 'Jury Prize'

Andrea Arnold's 'American Honey' wins jury prize at Cannes  Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission
American Honey 
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes

Andrea Arnold won the "jury prize "for “American Honey (UK)” on May 22 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a strong contender for the Palme d’Or and the third best favorite of the jury. The prolific and talented Arnold has received the second most jury prize awards for "Red Road", "Fish Tank" and "American Honey" after the record set by Ken Loach (UK), this year's Palme d'Or winner. This year, the Palme d'Or was never closer to her grasp and many critics praised the film as the best. "American Honey", more than other films in the official selection, was the most cinematic with highly handcrafted visual architecture and superb mobile camera work and framing. The continuity editing is brilliant and the film serves not only as a road journey for the characters but for the spectator. A youth caravan travels across middle America selling phony magazine subscriptions stewarded by an “Oliver Twist”-like ”Fagin” called Jake (Shia La Beouf) and his boss Krystal (Riley Keough). Her practice is to belittle the crew and recruit a lover from among their ranks; Jake is the current paramour. These young people become a family and occasionally recruit new sellers such as Star (Sasha Lane), an 18 year old young woman from Texas. She claims her name was given to her in homage to the “Death Star” of Star Wars mythology. Elsewhere in the film, references are made to Darth Vadar. Jake also keeps a gun that he threatens to use on a few occasions. But the film never turns completely dark and is reverently respectful of this motley crew of young people. Star is a case in point who comes from a broken home where her father molests her and her mother has abandoned her family preferring to spend her time at a bar doing line dancing. There are two younger children that live with Star and her father and when we first meet her she is hitchhiking with them to get back home.The caravan is thrown into the wilderness of small town USA and the crew is even compared to wild animals. Moreover, there are numerous animals in the film such as a caped Superman dog, a turtle, horses, a variety of insects and a brown bear. The animals never pose a danger but the young people are prey for middle aged men who try to take advantage of the young women, in particular Star.

In the evenings, the crew lives in cramped rooms at cheap motels. Group activities include beating up the seller who did the worst job of the day, though this is done in an a spirit of playfulness The camaraderie the young people show each other is what makes their job so captivating since most come from broken homes. They engage in a lot of singing and dancing so it is a joyful saga as well as a chronicle of despair for the economic conditions of working class USA. Krystal targets the very wealthy or the very poor for the magazine sales and it is fairly clear that none of these people will ever receive their subscriptions. Besides, today there are not many eager customers for magazines with free reading material readily available on the Internet.

Three films in this year's Cannes official competition have tackled important social and political issues of today: “I, Daniel Blake” (Palme d’Or reviewed here), “American Honey” and “Aquarius” directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho starring Sônia Braga. Braga plays a 65-year-old woman who refuses to sell her rental unit to a housing company. This situation is common for many global cities today such as San Francisco. Not far from the Cannes festival is the sovereign state of Monaco. ("Principauté de Monaco"). Below the Royal Palace is a huge banner strung across the streets of old rental units advertising "Commercial Space Available for Condominium Sales”, for this is a state where the wealthy have succeeded in owning virtually everything.

These excellent films reflect the effects of globalization, increasing economic disparity and the commodification of the housing market by corporate greed. The characters of these films represent “Ulysses in a Strange Land”, trying to make sense of why the road map no longer points the way back home but how close to the edge an increasing amount of the working class has become, in particular the young.

Park Chan Wook puts Cannes winner “Mademoiselle” in closet for Amazon market

Park Chan Wook puts Cannes winner “Mademoiselle” in closet for Amazon market

Ryu Seong-hie's set design in Park Chan Wook's 'Mademoiselle' 
Courtesy of Festival de Cannes, used with permission 
by Moira Jean Sullivan, accredited film critic at Festival de Cannes

Park Chan Wook’s “Mademoiselle (Agassi, South Korea)” is a skillfully made narrative on sexual bondage during the Japanese colonization of South Korea in the 1930's. Set designer Ryu Seong-hie won the “Vulcain prize for an artist technician” at the Cannes film festival on May 22, one of the top prizes for technical achievement, though this prize is seldom given. A special jury, appointed by the superior technical commission of image and sound (Commission Supérieure Technique de l’image et du son - CST) presented the prize in Paris to Ryu Seong-lie. The set designer also worked on Park Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” and “Thirst” and is definitely a brilliant craftsperson who brings high quality to film.

The virtues of Ryu Seong-hie’s work shines through and at first glance the film is so exquisitely composed that for a moment the Palme d’Or comes to mind. However, for that to succeed there has to be more cohesion than just set design, for neither Park Chan Wook nor 2013 Palme d'Or receipient Abdellatif Kechiche ("La Vie d' Adele -Blue is the Warmest Color") have shown themselves capable of making a film with authentic lesbian characters. Certainly, the actors in "Blue" (Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos) agree and complained how the director exploited them.

This time, whether or not this kind of voyeurism took place on the set of” Mademoiselle”, the relationship between the two women is done more for heterosexual titillation, including the love scenes between them. Primary focus is the usage of an overdone theme of pornographic writing in the style of de Sade's ilk that has been given ample room in films of today. A young girl is bred to read pornographic literature for a wealthy man’s clientele by her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo). He is a book collector but later we learn that it is only porn that he collects. The nightmares of his niece have to do with the sexual violence she is subjected to by him via image, text and touch where there has been a criminal betrayal of trust by him and his housekeeper. Her mother, in fact, was driven to suicide by the uncle.

When the girl grows up she has become the wealthy heiress Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). A dastardly plan is created by Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) who schemes to get a pickpocket Sook-hee (Tae Ri Kim) to pose as a handmaiden to the heiress, gain her confidence and assist in making Count Fujiwara her future husband. Their plan is to drive Lady Hideko mad like her mother and make off with her fortune.

It is not only this complicated plot that is the foundation of "Mademoiselle"but the fact that Park Chan Wook chooses to tell the story from different perspectives in three parts to allow the spectator inside information that is not possible by following just one of the narrative arches. This is done well, but not as cleverly designed as the art direction.

The house where Uncle Kouzuki lives is a composite of half western and half Japanese architecture in this Korean screenplay based on the Victorian novel by Sarah Waters" Fingersmith" (made into a minseries in 2005). However, Park Chan Wook’s adaptation, though seductive, relies heavily on heterosexual porn and sexual violence against women to be considered an LGBT classic. Much is owed to Sarah Waters and “Fingersmith” just as "Blue is the Warmest Color" is owed to graphic novelist Julie Maroh . When asked about his film, Park Chan Wook said it was about "three people with secrets". It became known through the Cannes Festival trades that Amazon Studios requested the same sex nature of the film be toned down and the South Korean director complied. He also is on record stating that the story is "cute".


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