Posts Tagged ‘Wim Wenders’

Once upon a time Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, but when he awoke he could no longer tell whether he was then a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or whether he was now a butterfly, dreaming to be a man. The story comes from an old Chinese proverb and nicely fits with the structure of Wim Wenders’ last work, Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez.

It’s a hot summer day in a countryside house in the surroundings of Paris and a lone writer is looking for inspiration. He sits before his typewriter and looks outside the window, when a lady and a man magically appear, sitting at a garden table right outside the house. We do not know whether the duo comes from the writer’s imagination, or whether the writer is a figment of their own.

Wenders does not help to solve the puzzle. Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez develops as a 97-minute long conversation between the couple (Reda Kateb and Sophie Semin), which the writer (Jens Harzer) observes and records. It is based on a play written by Austrian writer Peter Handke, with whom Wenders has worked on several occasions between the 1960s and 1980s, a fruitful teamwork that reached its peak in 1987, with the international success of Cannes’ Best Directing Award-winning Wings of Desire.

Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez marks the fifth collaboration between the two, and earned Wenders a spot amongst the twenty films selected as part of the official competition of the 73rd edition of Venice’s International Film Festival. Wenders chose to present it in 3D, a format which does not seem to add much to the film’s quality, for its strength does not come from its bucolic images, but from the couple’s conversation.

Sitting in front of each other, the two begin their chat by talking about love. He asks her about the details of her first night with a man. She is reluctant to reveal much, but when she does the conversation rapidly turns into a ritual ruled by a number of strictly obeyed laws: neither must answer the other’s questions with a yes or no answer, and no action other than dialogue must take place.

It is a long, somewhat abstract and philosophical conversation which spans from lovemaking to death, from memory to vengeance. The two recite their lines as if on a stage, to the point that one wonders whether Wenders adapted Handke’s play for the big screen, or whether he turned his own work into a play. It is the film’s greatest flaw: the dialogues, never mind how deep and rich their subtext may be, feel cold and overly theatrical, and fail to establish any degree of empathy with the audience.

At the end of Les Beaux Jours d’Aranjuez, one leaves the cinema with the feeling of having seen something that resembles the flowers that surrounds the two around the garden table, and which the both wax lyrically about: a beautiful and evocative tale, but one whose aura is sadly very short-lived, and fails to convey the emotions and drama which Wenders’ fans would expect from a director of his stature.

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1. BADLANDS (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK. USA, 1973)

There are filmmakers, and then there is Terrence Malick. On the surface this is a fairly conventional road movie following two young lovers on a crime spree. But Malick subverts the story of murderer Charles Starkweather for his own purposes; this is a dreamy, timeless film that hints at abstract emotions that transcend mere happiness or sadness. With his beautifully photographed Hopperesque landscapes and mute characters, Malick gives us something otherworldly and genuinely odd.

2. PARIS, TEXAS (DIR. WIM WENDERS, USA/GERMANY, 1984)

A letter of both love and hate to America, German auteur Wenders perfects the road movie with his tale of Travis, a loner who seeks to reunite his estranged family and rediscover the American Dream. A clever distortion of both the American road movie and the Westerns of John Ford, Paris, Texas really soars as a piece of melodrama. Harry Dean Stanton’s movingly hangdog central performance holds the film together, while the final monologue is both heart breaking and cathartic.

3. ANDREI RUBLEV (DIR. ANDREI TARKOVSKY, RUSSIA, 1966)

Alongside Kubrick, Russian director Tarkovsky is perhaps the only filmmaker to really push cinema to its limits on a large scale. This epic film follows the tribulations of painter Andrei Rublev through a period of religious strife and violence. While some of Tarkovsky’s other works veered too much towards introspective worthiness, this film utilises the director’s inventive technical vision to his greatest heights. The opening balloon sequence and the pagans on the river count as two of the most extraordinary set pieces committed to film. Existentialism and technical vision collide with aplomb.

4. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (DIR. PETER WEIR, AUSTRALIA, 1975)

Once voted the greatest Australian film of all time, this Peter Weir film is arguably one of the most curious and beguiling works in history. Based on the disappearance of several schoolgirls on a mountain in 1900, the film revels in it’s languid, strange atmosphere and sugar coated visuals. Bravely, Weir never seeks to solve the case- but in this case, it doesn’t matter. Weir challenges the audience to consider the idea that sometimes there are no easy answers, that not everything in this world can be categorised and put into boxes.

5. COME AND SEE (DIR. ELEM KLIMOV, SOVIET UNION, 1985)

Francois Truffaut once said that all war films end up glamourising war, despite their best intentions. Come and See is one of the few films which genuinely challenges this theory. Set in Nazi occupied Belarus during WW2, the film follows the young Flyora as he seeks to evade the army which has killed his family. While most war films tend to lend an air of nobility to the fighting (cough Saving Private Ryan cough), Come and See shows wartime as it really is; a nightmare-ish hell where confusion and inhumanity reign. The film is redeemed as a genuine piece of art by the frequent touches of poetry, both in the vivid imagery and striking sound design. The shot of Flyora lying shellshocked by a dead cow will stay with you forever.

6.  THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (DIR. ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, MEXICO, 1973)

Once you’ve seen a Jodorowsky film, you’ll start to wonder how every other filmmaker is so bloody….mundane. Jodorowsky’s films touch on religion, sex and death, but it is the striking visuals and mind boggling set design which mark his work as cult gems. The baffling plot revolves around the ‘thief’ and his quest for immortality, leading to a series of wild adventures. If Dorothy had taken a tab of acid on her route down the Yellow Brick Road, this film would probably have been the result.

7. TRUST (DIR. HAL HARTLEY, USA, 1990)

Hal Hartley came to prominence in the late 80’s in US independent cinema, embarking on an inexplicably good run of films, like Scorsese/Coppola in the 70’s. His De Niro is Martin Donovan, a chiselled jawed, verbose actor who stars alongside the late, elfin-like Adrienne Shelly. The film follows Shelly as the brattish teenager who discovers she’s pregnant and homeless, and her chance meeting with Donovan, an older man undergoing his own existential crisis. Hal Hartley is extremely influenced by Godard and Bresson, even taking scenes wholesale, yet he is much warmer than Godard and funnier than Bresson. His films have often been compared to choreographed dance, where the characters waltz around each other in torment and lust, and in Trust we have his most defining film.

8. MAUVAIS SANG (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE, 1986)

Leos Carax is regarded as some kind of renegade in French cinema, with his films usually set around outsiders from society. Mauvais Sang, his second film revolves Alex (Denis Lavant), a prodigious lock picker who gets involved in a heist with Marc (Michel Piccoli) and his young lover Anna (Juliette Binoche). Tensions between the three of them grow as Alex begins to fall for Anna, and the film is essentially a romantic thriller. Denis Lavant is one of the most unusual actors around, his reptilian features and penchant for acrobatics and impromptu dance routines making him irresistible. Binoche has never been more radiant as Anna. Edited in a poetic, elliptical style, Mauvais Sang is a cult gem, full of vitality and life.

9. L’ HUMANITE (DIR. BRUNO DUMONT, FRANCE, 1999)

Bruno Dumont is another French filmmaker influenced by Bresson’s stark humanism and obsession with faith. Yet, Dumont has his own style influenced by his time as an industrial corporate film maker; static images of desolate Northern France and vivid cinematography give the impression of thereness. Pharaon De Winter is the detective of a small rural town where a young girl has been found murdered. A childlike man, De Winter struggles to solve the case, and all the time the audience is questioning his role in the film.  L’ Humanite deals with sex and violence in a non-judgemental, matter of fact way, and the film veers between tenderness and brutality with ease. A sinister, disquieting film yet strangely invigorating in it’s realness.

10. GUMMO (DIR. HARMONY KORINE, USA, 1997)

One of a handful of films that could have potentially hinted at a new direction for cinema. There is nothing quite like enfant terrible Korine’s debut, save perhaps his idol Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small,which has a similarly scant plot and improvisational feel. Set in the fictional town of Xenia in small town America, the multi stranded film meanders through a series of vignettes of the distinctly dysfunctional inhabitants. Mixing pop culture as diverse as Roy Orbison and Sleep, naturalistic performances and moments of poetry, Gummo is a singular oddity that lingers in the mind long after the end credits. While some have labelled it exploitative, there is a sense of compassion and genuine affection running through the film from Korine.

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This was always going to be a mess. An Italian arthouse darling directing. An American road movie. Egomaniac Sean Penn playing emomaniac Robert Smith. Talking Heads. And Nazi hunting. The question was, is this going to be a glorious mess, or just a mess?

Let’s attempt to form some kind of a narrative out of the film. Cheyenne (Penn) is a bored rockstar living a hermitic existence in rural Ireland with his doting firefighter wife Jane (Frances McDormand). Yes, that’s right, she’s a firefighter. Deal with it. His numb life is interrupted by the news of his estranged father’s impending death in America. Too late to reconcile, Cheyenne discovers his late father’s career as a Nazi hunter, and seeks to resume his father’s search for the last remaining persecutor.

It’s at this point that This Must Be The Place morphs into it’s more conventional road movie structure, as Cheyenne mopes through the great American landscape, meeting a typically offfbeat range of characters along the way. In an obvious nod to Wim Wender’s superlative road movie Paris, Texas, Cheyenne meets a luggage designer played by Harry Dean Stanton. The two films share something in common; two respected European auteurs making the flight over to their beloved America, idolising it’s vast open spaces and neverending roads, it’s rock music and it’s sense of adventure. Let’s be clear though, This Must Be The Place is Paris, Texas’ muddled, wayward younger brother and no match for the real thing.

One of the most polarising aspects of the film comes in the form of our big haired, black strewn anti-hero Cheyenne. Sean Penn seems to veer between acting giant and worthy irritant with all the ease of  a yo-yo, so for him to play a version of The Cure’s frontman is, at best, an intriguing proposition. At worst, it’s cringeworthy. Penn, evidently unaware of Smith’s actual blokiness, adopts a Michael Jackson style high pitched voice and childlike demeanour. There are moments when Cheyenne makes an uncharacteristic joke, and exhales a little giggle, and the audience sits in silence, as if a car crash is in motion.

Paolo Sorrentino’s direction is uniformly stylish, his camera gliding over squash courts, airports and even golden fields. The editing is, like his other films, snappy and slightly offbeat. Yet, you get the sense that his singular style worked so much better within the confines of his earlier mafia thrillers The Consequences of Love and Il Divo. Those two films in particular elevated him to the accolade of perhaps European cinema’s most stylish director, though he feels a little bit like a fish out of water here. However, This Must Be The Place is often visually striking, with the cinematography capturing the vivid blue skies with a childlike relish that must be an outsiders.

This Must Be The Place has moments of terribleness. It has moments of bewilderment. But it has more moments of offbeat joy and beauty. If it was to be deconstructed by the rules of Hollywood screenwriting, it would undoubtedly be torn apart. There are too many locations, too many subplots, too many themes. It feels like Paulo Sorrentino and his writers have brainstormed everything they love in the world and thrown it into a blender. It is not a great film, but destined to be a cult oddity. And that’s quite alright with me.

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1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

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Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

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Wim Wenders originally proposed the idea of making a film with dance choreographer Pina Bausch to her a quarter of a century ago. He told her it was an idea that they had to make; his only problem was he didn’t know how to film it, though he knew it required a special approach. It took Wenders until 2007 when upon seeing U2 3D at Cannes he recognised the technique he had been looking for all along.  He called Pina and told her that he had realised how to make the film and they set the ball rolling for the production, an art house dance film in 3D.

Tragically, just as Wenders, Pina and their crew were beginning production Pina was diagnosed with cancer and within a short time her condition worsened and she passed away. Leaving cast and crew devastated they halted production. Then came the realisation that they must reinterpret the project, this time as a tribute to Pina and her work. The result is a very personal goodbye to an extraordinary choreographer and as we learn an extraordinary person as well.

The film is structured around spectacular dance performances, juxtaposed with interview material with Pina’s dancers. Wenders had each dancer record a piece of speech in which they describe how Pina influenced them. Rather than using a conventional interview technique, Wenders plays back the audio to the dancers and then films them, as they listen to their own reflections on the late choreographer. This technique gives the interviews a poetic quality that juxtaposes appropriately with Pina’s unique and emotional choreography.

From the interviews we get a sense of the challenge and the liberation that Pina brought to her dance troupe. It is clearly evident that this is a quality unique to Pina. The dance performances confirm this. At times Pina’s unique form of choreography provoke the audience to question whether what they are seeing is strictly dance; however no matter what it is, it is evidentially powerful. Wenders’ approach to filming Pina’s choreography emphasises the poetry of the dance, as well as the sometimes gruelling, sometimes funny expressions created by the movements. The two artists come together perfectly.

The structure of Pina may at times prove difficult for some viewers; it feels closer to a letter than a story. For this reason it is important to view this film as a message from close friends, as they say goodbye to someone who touched them deeply. Join them in this and Pina will no doubt be a powerful experience.

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It is a strange coincidence that Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, internationally famous auteurs and central figures of the 1960’s film movement the New German Cinema (which Herzog does not consider himself part of), have both made films in 3D for release this year.

It is also interesting to note the distinctly different approach that each director has taken to 3D. Herzog has shot Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary deep under ground in the Chauvet Cave in France (the site of the oldest known cave paintings), while Wenders has made Pina, a dance film dedicated to the late dance choreographer Pina Bausch.

It is a testament to the maverick spirit of this generation of German directors that both Herzog and Wenders have embarked on these projects. Perhaps their interpretations of 3D will bring something truly special to this often debated technology.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (dir. Werner Herzog) trailer:

Pina (dir. Wim Wenders) trailer:

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