Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

If there were any questions left on Tom Ford’s directorial skills, Nocturnal Animals has answered them all. After his 2009 debut, A Single Man, the 55-year old fashion designer-turned-director comes back to Venice with Nocturnal Animals, a poignant and gripping tale that feels like something in between a thriller and a brutal satire of modern-day Los-Angeles’ socialites, shot with a confidence one would hardly expect from a director’s second feature.

But Ford is known for his ability to take everyone by surprise, and after his memorable entry into the world of film-making, he writes, directs and produces yet another visually mesmerising film that conveys a mixture of angst and nostalgia that stays with the viewer until the very last shot.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Texas-born thirty-something year-old who works in an art gallery in LA. She is married to a successful business man (Armie Hammer) and lives in a dream-house overlooking Los Angeles’ skyline. Yet we know from the start hers is not a happy life. She hobnobs with LA artists who appear to be more concerned with their latest plastic surgeries than the art they make, a world which, in the memorable words of a colleague of hers, may be empty, but surely feels a lot less painful than the real one. Things change the day she receives a gruesome thriller freshly written by her former husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the novel makes her realise just how much she gave up to live the comfortable existence she now enjoys.

To some extent, Nocturnal Animals is neither revolutionary nor experimental. There are countless of films that deploy the catalyst which Ford uses to set the drama in motion: someone writes a book, that book becomes part of the film, and eventually the characters on the big screen end up relating with what was written, so that the book and the film become two intertwined worlds. But we do not know, and will only found out as the movie goes on, whether the book tells a story that Susan and Tony lived through during their years together. We do not know just what it is that attracts Susan so spasmodically about the novel and whether the book will reveal an abominable truth about her own life.

Ford is deliberately elusive about the subject, and this helps to keep the audience stuck to their seat until the film’s heart breaking ending. The camera shifts from the book to the movie effortlessly, and the transitions make for some visually stunning shots. All throughout Nocturnal Animals, Ford skilfully plays with the geometry of each scene, so much so that there are some that feel like movable paintings, in which the characters’ bodies look like perfectly crafted statues in a museum.

But this does not turn Nocturnal Animals into a collection of beautifully designed images, or – worse still – a celebration of the artificial world Susan inhabits. Far from it, LA’s arts scene and its inhabitants are constantly mocked, as Ford’s screenplay shifts back and forth from thriller to satire, ridiculing the junk-culture which Susan and her colleagues feed upon. It is this eclecticism that helps turning Nocturnal Animals into a remarkable film. Ford has written, produced and directed a film that is a joy to watch, and leaves you longing for more. It took him seven years to come back to Venice with his second feature. Hopefully the third will arrive much quicker.

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Seven years after his debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009), and only two after the international success of Whiplash (2014), Chazelle writes and directs yet another story where film and music are indissolubly tied together, and sets it in a colourful Los Angeles, the city of stars filled with people who dream of becoming someone they are not.

Sebastian (Gosling) is a thirty-something-year-old piano bar player obsessed with jazz, but forced to play the same repetitive tunes before crowds of vaguely interested customers. Mia (Stone) a girl about the same age who works as a waitress but dreams of becoming an actress. We meet both in a scene that mimics the beginning of Fellini’s 8 and ½. It’s Los Angeles, it’s rush hour, and cars are stuck in traffic. The only way people can escape the jam is dreaming, and dream they do: a jammed bridge turns into a carnival where drivers leave their seats, jump, dance and play around their vehicles. It’s a brilliant choreography, and a faithful summary of what the rest of the movie will be: explosive, vibrant and delightful. The camera follows the drivers-turned-dancers and the whole take feels like a wave of energy and colours that lingers long after the dream ends and people return to their seats.

Stuck amongst them are Sebastian and Amy. They meet when she fails to start her car, they honk and insult each other, then they meet again, they flirt, begin to go out, fall in love. It’s a standard love story, and yet it isn’t: Chazelle divides it into four seasons, and the love unfolds like the weather: it sprouts, blossoms, grows old, fades away. But the director seems to fall in love with them as much as they do with each other, and this is what gives to La La Land the sense of delicacy and empathy which makes it stand out as a love story that not only works – it sticks with you.

Amy and Sebastian’s romance is scattered with moments of sadness, joy, explosive choreographies and tip-tap moves. They are both romantic, and try to find their place in worlds where being so is almost looked down upon. We see Amy coming in and out of auditions where she gets repeatedly humiliated, and there is a scene where Sebastian is told jazz is dying because of nostalgic people like him are killing it.

Chazelle is, implicitly, just as romantic as the two of them. He chose to direct a movie that speaks of an art form which its own performers claim to be decaying, jazz, and did it through a medium which hardly many people would have used, a musical. Yet the experiment works. La La Land is as a film that is danced just as much as it is sung, and the choreographies, as well as the duo’s contagious energy and chemistry, add rhythm to the film as if crescendos in a musical piece.

In a sea where everyone plays the same thing, Chazelle has managed to sing his own melody, the same way Sebastian and Amy tried to create their own. The warm applause La La Land received at the end of his premiere at Venice’s 73rd Film Festival is a deserved prelude to the awards the film will hopefully receive in the days and months to come.

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