Posts Tagged ‘Venice’

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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The jubilant “¡que viva Chile!” producer Patricio Escala shouted as he and director Gabriele Osorio received the Oscar for best animated short film was probably one of this year’s ceremony’s most memorable moments. The two had more than one reason to celebrate: Historia de un Oso (Bear Story) was Chile’s first ever Oscar. Yet Escala and Osorio’s was not the only Latin American country to leave a trace on last Sunday’s ceremony. Colombia made her first appearance before the Academy with Ciro Guerra’s El Abrazo de la Serpiente as best foreign language film nominee, and Mexico won big with the duo Iñárritu-Lubezki, the first now celebrating his second consecutive best director award, the latter his third as best cinematographer.

In some important ways the Oscars seem to have consolidated the spot Latin America cinema has gained over the past few years. The region’s cinema is blossoming, and the world is enjoying and rewarding its growth. A look at the most recent Academy’s decisions is telling: if Emmanuel Lubezki has become one of the Academy’s most successful habitués (and now holds a record as the only cinematographer to have won three times in a row), Mexico has also fathered the best directors of the past three editions: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, 2014) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, 2015 and The Revenant, 2016). But Latin America’s successes extend outside the United States too. In 2015 alone the region left an indelible mark across Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Venezuela’s Lorenzo Vigas’s Desde Allá won the Golden Lion at Venice’s 72nd International Film Festival, where Argentinian Pablo Trapero received the Silver Lion for best director for El Clan. At Cannes’s 68th Film Festival, Colombia’s César Acevedo’s was awarded the Caméra d’Or for his La Tierra y la Sombra, and Mexico’s Michel Franco’s Chronic won best screenplay.

While Latin America exports its gems abroad, Colombia is home to a festival which has historically helped developing the region’s cinematic potential. Held yearly in the Caribbean walled-city of Cartagena de Indias, the International Film Festival of Cartagena (FICCI) is Latin America’s oldest. Founded in 1960, it seeks to promote Ibero-American cinema, hosting the works of directors from Latin America, Portugal and Spain for a five-day movie feast set in Colombia’s coast. An entirely public event (entrance to all movies is free of charge), this year it will be home to some 120,000 viewers and will be screening 154 films, all of them more or less directly touching upon the region’s relationship with its often violent past.

For cinema, in the words of FICCI’s Artistic Director Diana Bustamante, turns into a mechanism that can help deconstruct a people’s history and heal collective traumas. Arguably never in the history of Latin America, and of Colombia in particular (close as it now is to sign a peace treaty and put an end to over 50 years of internal conflict with the leftist FARC guerrilla) has this calling been so urgent. The ten Ibero-American movies that will be screened in this year’s official competition look closely into the region’s past and the suffering caused by the multiple conflicts which have plagued it. From the armed conflict which Colombian Felipe Guerrero talks about in Oscuro Animal to the conflicts of gender and performativity which Gabriel Mascaro and Julio Hernández Cordón deal with in Boi Neon and Te Prometo Anarquía respectively, FICCI 56 aims to show the extent to which cinema can turn a history of violence into an opportunity to reimagine and shape an altogether different future.

From the 2nd until the 7th of March Cartagena’s Film Festival will offer a snapshot of the most recent transformations of Ibero-American cinema. FICCI, for the European as well as Latin American public, will be a unique opportunity to make sense of the renaissance which has brought the region back at the center of world cinema.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 17.56.26Closing off the 2016 edition of the Glasgow Film Festival is Anomalisa, the directorial return of Charlie Kaufman; here he collaborates with animator Duke Johnson, which is certainly an interesting pairing. The film has received a seemingly endless list of plaudits, including an Academy Award nomination and the Grand Jury Prize in Venice. However, it is an intentionally difficult film to love, making for brave choice to round off the festival.

Anomalisa is a desperately sad film, brimming with pathos towards its two main characters, neither of whom are particularly satisfied with their lives. We follow a day in the life of middle-aged Michael Stone (David Thewlis) – a semi-famous motivational speaker, within the customer service industry – who arrives at a hotel in Cincinnati, from Los Angeles, to give a speech. While there he is haunted by memories of an old flame from Cincinnati, while away from his wife and child. If this all sounds weirdly familiar, you’d be right, Anomalisa is highly self-aware about its own mundanity; indeed, it is a big part of the story.

But what sets Anomalisa apart is a storytelling device, whereby Michael has a mental condition in which he sees everyone with the same face and hears them with the same voice (Tom Noonan). This is fairly disorientating at first, as Noonan’s voice becomes the omnipresent “other” in all instances, meaning one can only distinguish Michael from the crowd. Michael is depressed about the mundanity of his life and this single voice that represents everyone else is a metaphor for how devalued and disenfranchised people can become with life. What is troubling is that Michael isn’t particularly likable himself, which creates an uneasy and anxious mood as the film progresses.

Things change when a female voice is heard, belonging to Lisa (brilliantly performed by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who also possesses her own face; as a result, Michael becomes instantly infatuated with her. Lisa is staying at the hotel with her friend Emily (Noonan, again), who has traveled from upstate Akron to attend Michael’s convention and is hugely self-conscious about herself, after an apparent attack earlier in life. While the film as a whole possesses a dream-like quality – which is a result of the animation – it never loses that authentic human touch, often making it difficult to distinguish between dream and reality.

What’s fascinating about this film is how its use of human-esque puppets and stop-motion animation allows it to reflect everyday occurrences and interactions more realistically than most live action films. As this is an animated film, Kaufman and Johnson are free to show sex and nudity without censorship and while that may sound like a potentially titillating aspect, it is treated as a normal, even awkward aspect of life. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Michael gets increasingly angry at a shower fluctuating between hot and cold, something almost all of us have experienced. Meanwhile, when we get to the sex scene – though it contains erotic aspects – it is also an extremely believable interaction between two timid people who have just met and aren’t too sure about what they are doing.

So Anomalisa manages to really explore the human condition, without displaying any actual humans. The real triumph of Kaufman and Johnson’s film is that they have managed to show – through animation – how humans are passionate, tragic, awkward, frustrated and flawed beings who experience disappointment, as well as fleeting moments of fancy. It’s a tough film to close a festival with, because of the univerally melancholic feelings it evokes. However, there is a warmth in the film’s humor and style that keeps it from becoming too alientating; instead, Anomalisa shows us the moments that make life worth living.

Finally, I’d like to say thanks for reading my coverage of Glasgow Film Festival 2016. Your kind words and engagement has made it all worth it and the festival itself was a real success, with the highest attendance numbers to date. Also congratulations to Mustang for winning the Audience Award, it was a worthy winner.

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