Réverbérations urbaines - Design Urbain Video Fest

On September 28 I was invited to the first edition of the Design Urbain Video Fest in Quebec City. The six shorts presented were the work of future Urban designers of The Laval University. Their task was to explore the intensity of the city. The result: six unique films made by four students each.

Here I put the link of the winner of one of the prizes, "The Gold Slick" aka Le slick d'or directed by Alex Dimas, Émilie Labrecque, Mélissa Renaud and Alexandre Van Kessel: Réverbérations urbaines. This collective choose to work on the familiar sounds and noises of the city with the medium of stop motion.



West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961)

Winner of 10 Oscars, this adaptation of a Broadway musical could have been a complete disaster considering the latest screen adaptations of Broadway musicals like Rent. West Side Story has been a success on the stage and on the screen. Despite its over dramatic themes and conclusion, its story is more than worth the look. The musical parts bring the best of film.

The "mise en scene" is steady and strongly achieved by the sometimes over sometimes under appreciated Robert Wise (The Set-Up, The Day The Earth Stood Still) and the choreographs by Jerome Robbins are just perfect. Well, it may be one of the things that can tickle, the way the film feels that it is perfect. I tend to like films that are perfect in their imperfections. West Side Story seems like the film has been shot 300 times and the fury and the passion of the moment and of the performances just not feel as real as they really are. Sometimes flaws are a plus, and here, in this very Hollywood feature film it just feels too right. Well, so right it's wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I am a defender of Robert Wise's films and I think that West Side Story stands just where it deserves to stand in the History of Cinema it's just that if it was a film from the 1950's it would have had a better time table, but in the same year a little French film Une femme est une femme, a little musical, directed by a young sensation named Jean-Luc Godard feels fresher today by its rawness and human feelings of its crude colors and its revolutionised film making techniques.

West Side Story is a near masterpiece achievement in film making that every cinephile out there especially musicals and/or Broadway enthusiast should have seen!


Rohmer's Le rayon vert

TSPDT Greatest Films #679 Le rayon vert (Eric Rohmer, 1986)

The death of Eric Rohmer in early 2010 made me realize that I don't know anything about him and/or having see any of his films. The day after his death I saw Ma nuit chez Maud that I completely adored. Lately this summer I offered myself a DVD Boxset of his entire oeuvre. I didn't knew with which film I should have continued my discovery of his work. Well, I think it was too early for me to watch Le rayon vert.

Le rayon vert is a very unsettling film because of its lack of concrete action and its annoying lead character incarnated by Marie Rivière. Delfine, has seen her vacations plans turned down by the let down of her friend. She has no plans and it buzzes her to travel alone. Some friends invite her but her behavior and her constant insatisfaction makes her change plans many times until she goes at the beach alone. They she met a Swedish young woman and once again she goes away escaping all human encounters. The morning after she met a young man that she suddently falls in love with. With a headbutt she decides to travel with him and live a magic moment from a Jules Verne book, the observation of the green ray.

Apart the last fifteen to twenty minutes of the film, the other hour is only a setlement for us to feel a little happy for Deflfine when she accepts the presence of someone other than herself... This self centered, egoist character only annoys the viewer by her constant complains. I would have liked to read some explanations about the intentions of Rohmer's film.

Following this viewing my duty will be to watch the precending films of Rohmer's oeuvre. I will probably watch Le signe du lion, his first film. What's your favorite Rohmer film?


Tout va bien (1972)

Tout va bien (Jean-Luc Godard & Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972)

May 68 has been a real clash in France. The left has rise and took so much power that the biggest enterprises were affraid of dealing with the unions of workers. The "revolution" it brought has had many levels of effects and the dust hasn't been down until many years after. Godard & Gorin wanted to show how it changed little things but everything has been the same after all with Tout va bien. More like a cinéma-vérité experiment Tout va bien is openly on the workers' side. For more than the first half of the film we follow with a journalist (Jane Fonda) and an ex-film director (Yves Montand) the strike of some industrial meat producer factory.

The "propos" is very satyrical and long shots are used to let the characters explain their engaged opinions on the subject matter. One of the longest scene in Tout va bien is the long unedited sequence at the supermarket that demonstrates how even capitalists and politicians used the left current to make profit with it and get more attention. The film is all about politics and the effects of May 68 in France. My favorite scene of it is where the camera keeps moving on the side of the cut of the meat factory offices. It surely influenced Wes Anderson's similar scenes in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. 

Tout va bien is an interesting piece of film but its themes are outdated and the "propos" of the film is not objective enough to make it a masterpiece or whatsoever. The cinematography is simple but very eye-popping. This is the kind of film one should approach with caution or like me as a Godard enthusiast.


The American (2010)

The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010)

With a title like that and a poster like this one would expect a traditionnal yet entertaining piece of action flick full of testoterone and fueled with explosions and car chases. Well, one shouldn't be more surprised! Yes it is a story about guns but not what you would have expected.

George Clooney, or the Cary Grant of his generation, portrays a lonely American gun handcrafter chased by Swedes. Hiding in Italy, he's asked to craft a gun with specific demands. He slowly discovers the reason why the gun has been made and he starts to fear and paranoid on everyone he meets and gets involved with.

The rythm of the film is very slow and it could make you think of a Jim Jarmusch film. There's not much dialogues but everything is in the frame and told in images. Corbijn plays with the Hitchcock grammar with close shots and many inserts. Many scenes are filled with mute tension between the characters and the action is depicted as Corbijn wants.

It's a film that may not concern many film viewers because, like the old man Hitchcock used to say, the chase must be better than the catch, and yes it is. But the chase is dedicated to those who like long instalments and subtle cinema. Well, it's not the main preoccupation of the moviegoers of today... They ask for fast food and Fast and the Furious, instead of good old simmer food and North by Northwest. It's a very good film that is not the best of the year but a strong effort that I hope won't be forgotten by the cinephiles...


Incendies (2010)

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

Notary Jean Lebel (Rémy Girard) has to read the testament of his late secretary, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), to her twins. In the reading they have unusual requests from their mother and two letters. One is for their father whom they thought was deceased and another one for their brother whom they never heard about. Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), the twins, must deliver those two letters to whom it may concern. Simon doesn't want anything to do with his mother anymore. Jeanne, instead wants to accomplish the last will of his mother. She embarks on a trip in the Middle-East to discover the past of her mother. A while after, Simon decides to help his sister and unveil the truth on the life on their mother.

This is a heavy film, there are not that many scenes of violence but it's the themes treated in Incendies that makes it a difficult but madatory film. This is a film about humans/humanity in its best and moreover in its worst. Incendies is a strong film and its director Denis Villeneuve is in complete control of his art. The opening sequence is probably a direct reference to Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket where we see young recruits getting their head shaved on a sad slow song. It presents the film like Kubrick did, war has never done any good on humanity. On some level both films show how war is the worst thing, but Incendies is a more human film and the angle taken here recreates the tragedy of one family among so many other.

For once I can say that I am proud of the films made in my country, Canada, and even from my own province, Québec. From now on, I will try to see more films from my country. My problem is that I have a "the grass is always greener at the neighbor's" complex for films.


Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)

I finally got to see the film of this Summer and as many said and/or wrote the film of the year; Inception. When a movie has such praise and buzz about it always makes me want and or not want to see it. For example, Titanic and Avatar had such a "fucking" buzz about them that I haven't seen any of them yet. Yes it's true I've seen the first films of David W. Griffith but I haven't seen the biggest blockbusters of the planet Earth. Phew, I don't really care about those two but I can say that Griffith is the creator, the father, the genitor of Cinema, its grammar and the way films have been shot for more than a hundred years. Unlike James Cameron's gigantism complexes, I was really looking forward to see Chris Nolan's last achievement.

I loved all of his films some more, some less but I enjoyed them all, except Following which I haven't seen yet. His two Batman refreshed a style that has been overexploited lately and rebooted the franchise. Insomnia is an interesting, yet complex remake of a Norwegian crime drama. The Prestige suffered from being released back-to-back with The Illusionnist but was far superior than its precedent. And Memento, a successful film on every level, it put Nolan on the map as a more than decent director.

Inception took eight years in the making because studios and producers were afraid that the public would not follow a film multi layered about dreams. Well, who has never had dreams in his life? This is an universal theme that can be used without any boundaries.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professionnal who's job is to steal industrial secrets from the minds of important heads of multinational companies. But his past is haunting him and he can not return in the USA and see his children. He accepts one last job that will let him return home to his family. With long time partner Arthur (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), his employer Saito (Ken Watanabe), their new architect Ariane (Ellen Page), impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy), and chimist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) they will enter in the dreams Saito's rival to make an inception. This last character is played by the Batman Begins vilain Cillian Murphy. There is another Nolan regular on board, Michael Caine as the father figure. And finally, Mal, Cobb's wife played by the always intriguying Marion Cotillard. Since I've seen her in Michael Mann's Public Enemies I think her face is somewhat always weird and she always has a strange look. Always on the verge of a breakdown...

Well, with this all-star cast Nolan had the "dream" team any director would have loved to direct. The strenght of the plot is the many sub-levels of it and the personal issues of the lead, Cobb, are so well exploited that it takes us into his deep mind. Every character has an important role to play in the story and is used for his strenghts. Chris Nolan's script is very entertaining and we easily agree to fall into his story of dreams. Nolan's tour de force is to make us believe that it is possible to enter in the dreams of someone and control his mind. The whole idea is a gamble, because the principle could have been very Science-fictionnal and hard to follow but it's used as a psychologial thriller. The thriller genre is maybe the easiest genre to get into, there is always a tension and the film has a goal to achieve. It reads like that An Objective - The Chase(s) - The Finish Line (Goal/Achievement). Nolan is playing wth the boundaries of the genres and he is reinventing them without throwing everything by the window. He refines the limits of the thriller and mix it up with sci-fi to make his own kind of film; a Chris Nolan picture.

I've read somewhere that Nolan is the new Stanley Kubrick. Well, I couldn't disagree more with this affirmation. In my opinion, I think he is more the Alfred Hitchcock of his generation, you have to think back, Kubrick's films never have been this accessible to the public and many disagree and many hated his films. Hitchcock, always had wide audiences and even if his films were not as praised by the critics they were appreciated by the crowds filling the theaters. I'm not saying that Nolan is the new Alfred Hitchcock, there won't be another Hitchcock, has there won't be another Stanley Kubrick I'm saying that Nolan is his generation's Hitchcock.

To conclude, so far this year I don't think Inception is the best film of the year. To me, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island still has the pole position. Let's see if it will stay like that until the end of the year.


Bottle Rocket

Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson, 1996)I must admit that when I first saw Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums (I discover the director with that film) I cinematically felt in love. This off-beat, bittersweet, wrong and weird juvenile tale of love, family, lost and recover touched me very deeply even if it's depicted with grotesque characters, and bigger than life human beings. I know some find his films too cartoonesques or whatever but their message still passes on. To me the sensibility of this auteur is way more important than his cheesy still candy-eye images. I think he is the Martin Scorsese of his generation. Yes I said it now you can throw rotten vegetables at me if you want but I think that what they present in their frames are very different but they are from the same kind of mould. They both have unique ways of filming their scenes and their films are what they are. Entertainment that is deep, meaningful and easy to understand without being stupid or useless to your life.

Anderson's first film is quite enjoyable, by its story, two losers want to become someones and try to be robbers. They rob their parent's houses, libraries and go on the run. A major theme in Anderson's oeuvre is the childish acts of his adults. It's like they never grew up and mature to face their responsabilities and everything they do is think about themselves. Their decisions are influenced by their infantile impulses. The other recurring them in Anderson is the search of a missing or absent father figure. In Bottle Rocket its more subtle than in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for example. We find that figure in James Caan's godfather character but in a more deviate form.
Bottle Rocket is in some ways more dramatic than comedic. Well, Anderson's films always overlap the two genres and sometimes it's hard to tell if a scene was intended for a good laugh or just plain pathetic sadness. It's always a bittersweet taste of melancholy of the end of the childhood and the ways to try to recreate the foolish plays we did when we were kids. Anderson's characters are constructed like if they were Michael Jackson. They never had any childhood and all the try to do is catch up with this thing missing from their lives... See here the opening sequence of The Royal Tenenbaums, the children of the family we're geniuses and all got into adult life too young.

Far from being my favorite Anderson film, Bottle Rocket is some way a very good and little seen indie film that announces the brilliant career of Wes Anderson and the Wilsons.


Vivre sa vie

Vivre sa vie (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
The Karina-Godard couple has been publicised a lot at this time and the buzz around the Nouvelle Vague was still echoing in 1963. Their relationship was very hazardous and they loved/hated each other so much it made their collaborations tough to deal but always pushed them to be at the top of their "game".

Vivre sa vie is a film that besides being very dark in its essence, is very sad. The way the film is shot, it tells fifteen facts about the life of a young woman who chose to become a prostitute to survive. Her life is ponstuated by the men she encounters and how she chose to live her life. And the end it wasn't her life anymore. Sold by a pimp to make a little profit on a simple whore. The sadness of Vivre sa vie is very heavy but never too much, the cinematography is touching and takes all the depth needed for the story. Karina's performance is one of her best ever not only in a Godard film but in her entire career. She is no longer the little girl in the body of a teenager but she is a little girl in the body of a woman. We can feel her strenght but also how fragile she is inside.

Discovering Godard's films is like discovering cinephilia: when you see one film you want to see ten new ones. You get excited by what you've just seen and you want to see what else this director could have offered. For Godard's films you feel like you'll never see them all, he has made so much cult and respected films that it's like he lived more than one life!


Le petit soldat

Le petit soldat (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

In this crazy but passionate attempt to watch the entire films of Jean-Luc Godard I decided to not pass over any of his films. Even the ones consider of second order, or as in french we say it "films de moindre importance". Well, Le petit soldat is the second feature film by the Enfant Terrible of the Nouvelle Vague. Due to censorship it was only released in 1963 but shot in 1960.

The story is about a young frenchman Bruno (Michel Subor) a right-wing terrorist falling in love with a left-wing terrorist danish girl named Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina) during the Algerian War for independance. Even if this is the little brother of À bout de souffle, Le petit soldat never has this fresh off-beat light but sad young breath. It should not be regarded as the following film of Godard, and maybe it was a good thing it did not came out after the buzz around of À bout de souffle. Well, it did not did much in theaters and is often forgotten in Godard's oeuvre.

Le petit soldat was the beginning of many long term collaborations for Godard's films; Anna Karina (lead actress, who will be his wife for six years), Suzanne Schiffman (Script-girl), and Laszlo Szabo(actor). Also, the work of Raoul Coutard is once again very interesting.

I, somehow, managed to love the film even if its romantized right-extremist message reflects how Godard just liked to be counter-current in his early films. This is one of his qualities/bad habits, he get something out just to make people react and be cynical. To many, with Le petit soldat he did too much...


2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle

TSPDT Greatest Films #252 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

A Godard film is as always a film that makes people think and talk about it. For 2 ou 3... it's this pattern that I can use to present the film. Well, it's an uncommon and sometimes floppy film. The scenes are rhythmed with urban and industrial shots of modern life.

The woman is a spouse and a mother that prostitutes herself to feed and to provide for her family. This is not Godard's first or last thoughts on prostitution. Besides being the oldest profession of humanity it's a job that represents and reflects the changes on the modern society. In 2 ou 3... we never really encounter the clients of the protagonist unlike Vivre sa vie where the "milieu" and the rituals are more explored. Godard chose look at the materialist world and consumerism that breeds the needs to earn more and more money to fulfill those empty materialists needs. The woman is used like a vehicule to show the changes of the urbanity and how the modernity is killing inch by inch the integrity of humans by giving them new "opiums" for the masses with negative conclusions. The late 1960's were a period of changes and the Vietnam War was more and more a concern in Godard's mind. Like Masculin Feminin, 2 ou 3... has also his anti-War message with the son of the main character telling a dream about the Vietnam.

Far from being as good as Tout va bien, Week-end, Pierrot le fou, 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle is interesting as a cult Godard film. It should be seen as a pre-Dziga Vertov group film.


Masculin feminin

Masculin féminin (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)

Jean-Luc Godard's oeuvre is filled with so many films all made with so many subjects and approaches that he can be compared to the Picasso of filmmaking. With À bout de souflle he made cubism Cinema with the jump cuts he dared to insert in his first film/bomb into the world. I like to call his films bombs because like Samuel Fuller he like his films to hit people right in the face, to make them feel, think, and have opinions on many subject. Most of all, Godard likes to provoke.

His use of Jean-Pierre Léaud as Paul Doinel is an open reference to Truffaut's use of the same actor as his most famous role Antoine Doinel. The main difference in the charater here is the fact that Godard's Doinel is so close to Godard himself that he made him sad and even more deseperate than Truffaut.

Left turn
Doinel is an interviewer for sociology studies. He nteracts with many young people of his generation and it gives a good idea to a young man 1983 born and post-punk era kid of consumation and television what it was in the 1960's, Yé-yé, the raise of Rock N Roll, the rise of the left/communisim/maoism and antiwar/anti-american thought. We also feel the Bob Dylan influence on Godard (Dylan was the only person Godard would have liked to be in 1966). An icon of free spirit, revolution, and leftism.

How could hell be any worse?
Masculin feminin turns around those themes and is about how the young men depicted were conscious of how the world is going straight into"hell" and how the women depicted are falling straight into the Coca-cola/Americanism/Birth control/materialism world. This is the opposition of Masculin=Marx kids who want to change the world by glueing tracts and act against the Vietnam war but also they want to fall in love with girls and get laid. And Feminin represents the kids of Oncle Sam that don't want to learn about wars and the current major issues of the world. They want to live and have fun as in the liberal meaning of it.

The film is very beautiful and instead of the sometimes raw footage Godard acquainted us to see, Masculin feminin feels soft and light like a beautiful Eric Rohmer film. This is a transitionnal film for Godard and a must see in his oeuvre.


The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)

Telling the story of three American War heroes of the second World War coming home; a sergeant/banker, a captain/soda bar clerk, and a sailor who lost his two hands while serving. Presented like that this nearly 3 hour long film seems very American, and yes it is. This is a glorification of soldiers who got back from the front trying to save America's values and integrity.

But more deeper it's the reintegration of these soldiers in the way the American life has gone by them. As great as they could be in the war these men are not rehabilited to go back and live their lives. Even if the war is probably the worst thing for humanity it is presented here like the greatest thing that happened to these men gloryfying their memories of "camaradery" and simple better times...

On some level the tone is right but most of the times the subject is treated to easily and many corners are rounds. Well, It's not a surprise that it won many Oscars. This is the kind of films that can make you feel good even if the "propos" is wrong or too cheesy for what it is.

I would recommend ten times A Time to Love and A Time to Die by Douglas Sirk before recommending a film like William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives to anyone.

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