Haters don't deserve to be spanked by Michael Fassbender TBQH.
"Like an old rock song that used to be a favorite and now sounds past its prime, or an apartment that used to be swinging and now badly needs a paint job and new furniture, watching Philippe Garrel's That Summer has a sweet retro taste of the Nouvelle Vague that soon turns insipid, begins Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Set in present-day Paris and Rome and, gasp, shot in color, this drama of two couples (one separates, the other doesn't) is dramatically lifeless and uninvolving. Fans of Garrel, a two-time Silver Lion winner in Venice for directing I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar and Regular Lovers, may enjoy the self-reference of topliners Louis Garrel and Monica Bellucci, who play off their iconic images, but there isn't much more to pin down even specialized audiences."
Overall, "a dispiritingly tepid experience," agrees Jonathan Romney in Screen. "The film begins promisingly, and atmospherically, with a young man, Frédéric (Garrel) pacing about moodily, before taking a late night drive that ends with a dramatic crash — after which narrator Paul [Jérôme Robart] reveals in voice-over that Frédéric has died, in what was clearly a suicide bid. Intercut with this is what must count as the film's money shot — a long take of a naked Bellucci, reclining like Manet's Olympia, gesturing alluringly to camera (or rather, to Frédéric, apparently resisting her invitation). Paul's intermittent narration establishes how he, a struggling actor, came to know Frédéric, a painter living in Rome with his wife Angèle (Bellucci), a film actress. Paul himself scores a bit part on a war drama about the French Resistance — nicely evoked in a tight pastiche that's among the film's better sequences — on which he clicks romantically with another performer, Elisabeth [Céline Sallette]."
"The only performer here who provides anything to watch is Céline Sallette, as the girlfriend of Garrel's best pal," finds Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek. She has the face of a real person, which makes her seem like an alien in this atmosphere of idiocy and self-absorption. Even Belluci, normally a sultry presence, is just a drag. But Louis Garrel is the worst. Garrel has made a career out of playing bored youths who appear to be entranced by their own good looks, and he'd better find a new schtick fast. So what if he looks like a Roman god? That doesn't mean he has to act like one."
"Let's put it this way," suggests Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. "A Scorching Summer is the kind of film where the line, 'Fidelity is an outdated, petit-bourgeois concept' is said with a straight face."
"For every boo heard at the press screening," notes Domenico La Porta at Cineuropa, where he also interviews Philippe Garrel, "somewhere — on the terraces of the Villaggio Del Cinema, in the queues or in the seated rows of the press conference — there is an impassioned conversation about the film and its actors…. That Summer belongs to another era and a different way of making films. The director admits it himself: he makes films for art's sake and cares little about the public's response."
"[T]his partially wistful but mostly messy effort will appeal to Garrel completists, if such people still exist," writes Boyd van Hoeij in Variety. "For the record, the film was reportedly inspired by the death of a friend of Garrel's, as well as by Godard's Contempt, which also deals with an impossibly beautiful woman, relationship troubles and jealousy. Press materials refer to the film as That Summer, though the onscreen title was A Scorching Summer, a literal translation of the French moniker."
By the way, In Contention's Guy Lodge walked out. "There was little reason to stay: Garrel had already written his own best review early on with the line, 'All that dead beauty is so uninspiring.' Word."
Aggeliki Papoulia, also star of Dogtooth
Director Yorgos Lanthimos
"Lanthimos's dazzlingly dislocated follow-up to the improbably Oscar-nominated Dogtooth [is] a return that should keep him on the fast-track to Euro-auteur royalty," predicts Guy Lodge at In Contention. "Doubling down on its predecessor's polarizing absurdist humor and chilly formal grace, Alps applies those virtues to a more diffuse, ensemble-driven structure that is in no hurry to reveal its rich thematic adhesives of doubling and substitution. It'd be rash to call it a better film than Dogtooth, but it is, in the relative scheme of these things, a bigger one, and exciting evidence of restless formal development on the part of its director."
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton advises going into Alps "as cold as possible." He reprints the brief synopsis provided in the press kit and strains to reveal nothing more. He does note, though, that Alps is "probably a more accessible film than its predecessor, accessible being a very relative term here. It plays up the jet-black comedy, while retaining the humanism — as strange a world as Lanthimos creates, he genuinely cares for his characters, even as they do incomprehensible things."
In Screen, Lee Marshall adds only a slight dash of detail to that synopsis of a story that "holds us emotionally and intellectually," but if, at this point, you'd like to know nothing at all about how Alps plays out, stop here.
Marshall: "As off-centre in its narrative progression as it is in its widescreen cinematography — full of odd framings, cut-off heads and focus pulls to seemingly irrelevant details — Alps deals us fragments of story from a pack that seems to have lost a few cards. There's a young rhythmic gymnast [Ariane Lebed] working on her act in a big empty gym with a cruel and corpulent trainer [Johnny Vekris]; a tense, unhappy hospital nurse [Aggeliki Papoulia] who for some reason that immediately seems suspect takes a special interest in the welfare of a teenage girl, a keen tennis player, who has just been rushed into intensive care following a car crash; and the nurse's colleague, an intense, serious paramedic [Aris Servetalis]. All four characters come together during a meeting in the same cavernous gym, when we discover that they are members of a recently-founded secret society which their leader, the paramedic, decides to call 'Alps' … Eventually, around a quarter of the way in, the revelation comes that explains at least some of what we've seen up to now: the four members of Alps stand in for people who have died, so their relatives can continue to be with them. They learn scripts provided by the family, dress in the clothes of the deceased, carry out little tasks or chores."
Cineuropa interviews Lanthimos.
"Is it just coincidence that the world's most messed-up country is making the world's most messed-up cinema?" Steve Rose introduces the "Greek Weird Wave" to Guardian readers.
ERW is killing it in Venice
Kate Winslet wearing a too-tight dress
Author and director Marjane Satrapi
Co-director Vincent Paronnaud
Maria de Medeiros
Trust me, this was the best photo I could find of Mathieu Amalric
It can be difficult to shift from animation to live-action direction; the processes are very different, and even an accomplished animation helmer can sometimes be undone once they’re faced with cameras, actors and the breakneck schedule of a feature film shoot, as opposed to the multi-year process that produces a feature cartoon. Some have managed it, Tim Burton being the most obvious example (at first, anyway…) and Pixar dons Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton are both hoping to make the leap in the next few months. But it’s got to be even harder to go from working in graphic novels, to animation, to live-action, but that’s been the path for Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud in the last few years.
Satrapi is the Iranian-born author of “Persepolis,” the best-selling, award-winning graphic novel that was adapted in 2007 into the Oscar-nominated animated film of the same name, on which Satrapi shared directing duties with Paronnaud, another well-known figure in the French comic book world. The film was an international success, and now they’ve taken on another of Satrapi’s printed works, this time dipping their toe into live-action waters and assembling an all-star European cast including Mathieu Amalric, Isabella Rosselini, Maria de Medeiros and Edouard Baer, for “Chicken With Plums,” which premieres in Venice tonight. Can they match the success of their cinematic debut or will they end up coming unstuck?
A little from column A, a little from column B; the pair demonstrate real promise in the live-action world, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t work in their new film. As in the book, which is faithfully adapted, the story is about Satrapi’s maternal uncle Nasser Ali (Amalric), a talented violinist who takes to his bed for eight days with the intention of dying after his prized violin is destroyed by his wife (de Medeiros). As the days go by and Nasser ekes closer to the end, scenes from his past, present and future are shown, revealing the tragic story behind his quest to bring an end to his life.
It’s immediately apparent that Satrapi and Paronnaud haven’t left the graphic novel source material too far behind; the credits are animated, as is one sequence later in the film, while establishing shots are frequently painted backdrops. And the film has a heavily-stylized storybook look throughout thanks to some truly gorgeous sets by Udo Kramer, a pretty violin-led score by “Persepolis” composer Olivier Bernet, and top-flight lensing by rising star Christophe Beaucarne (”Coco Avant Chanel,” “Outside The Law”), which mostly works in the fable-ish tale’s favor. The digressive nature and tricksy, effects-aided camerawork recall Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s recent films, which sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t as the frequent cut-aways and dips into direct address come off as a big-screen sitcom more than anything else.
And like those films, your reaction to the film may depend on your tolerance for whimsy. The kids-say-the-cutest-things digressions, leaps into the future, fairy tale-like incidental characters (principally the two played by Jamel Debouzze) and magic realism may enchant certain audience members (it should play well to what we’ll term the “Chocolat” crowd), but to us it simply felt like padding, particularly a pandering English-language fake sitcom, complete with laughter track, starring the adult version of Nasser’s unruly son who emigrates to the U.S. The thing is, there’s not enough dramatic material to sustain the full 90 minutes, and when mixed with the episodic, almost portmanteau-like structure, it slows the pace down to a crawl.
Perhaps more crucially, the central love story isn’t quite interesting enough and is far too familiar to be particularly moving, and 90% of it is told in the film’s final reel, which is a bit late in the game. The reveal’s been held for so long that it can’t help but underwhelm, while “Body of Lies” star Golshifteh Farahani is never compelling enough as the object of Nasser’s affections, despite Amalric giving his all. As usual, the actor’s doing sterling work, made strangely unrecognizable by a brush-like mustache, and continually bulging eyes (Hollywood, if you ever go back to the Super Mario well, we may have found your new leading man…). The film’s strongest turn comes from Maria de Medeiros as Nasser’s wife Faringuisse, managing to play both stern matriarch and quietly pining girl in never-to-be-requited-love simultaneously. Few others in the cast make an impression, with Isabella Rossellini’s cameo as Nasser’s mother failing to register, and French comic star
Edouard Baer stuck rather between two stools and hampered by heavy make-up, as Azrael, the angel of death.
There’s another issue with the casting in general. We don’t want to use the term Persianface exactly, but something doesn’t quite ring right about the the casting of non-Arabic actors in Middle Eastern roles. It’s not like Hollywood hasn’t been pulling the same trick for years, and “Persepolis” managed to skip round the question by only using voices, but something feels a little sour here. It may have been the filmmakers’ intention to play down the Persian/Iranian aspects to universalize the story—from those storybook sets, it might as well be set in Oz—but untethering it to its cultural background rings false in a way that wasn’t true of the source material. There are pleasures to be found in “Chicken with Plums” to be certain, but we’d hope for something a little more satisfying next time out from the directing team. [C-]
Delight and boredom vie for supremacy while watching Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s pretty but ultimately empty follow-up to their breakout animated feature Persepolis. Paradoxically, that cartoon was more of a dramatic film, while this live-action feature about a Persian violinist who reviews his past life and great lost love as he pines to death in bed is more the whimsical cartoon, the cinematic doodle. There’s still plenty to like here along the way, not least the stylised Arabian Nights mise en scene, which uses painted backdrops and animated sequences to give the film a fairy-tale veneer of Persian romance.
But although it has similarities to the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this period tale is never going to be Amelie in Tehran. The directors seem unable to get very far away from their source material - Satrapi’s own graphic novel Chicken With Plums. So many of the things that work in the book - flashbacks and flashes forward, a mix of character and caricature, the protagonist’s existential meanderings - serve only to weigh down the film’s dramatic movement and freshness. In the end, for all the film’s wry humour, magic-carpet moments of visual ravishment, seductive Persian fatalism and tugs at the heartstrings, Chicken With Plums fails to make a convincing case for its own cinematic adaptation.
Perhaps the core script problem lies in the graphic novel’s premise and the film’s central conceit. One day in 1958, Nasser Ali Khan (Amalric), a talented Iranian violinist, decides to take to his bed in the Tehran apartment that he shares with his schoolteacher wife Faringuisse (De Medeiros) and two small children Cyrus (Bour) and Lili (Balland). Life no longer holds any meaning for him, and he is determined simply to pine away until he dies. We watch him do so over the following eight days.
However colourful these days are made by dreams of Nasser’s past, present and future, many of them presented in seductive hyper-real or animated insets, they never really awaken our interest in a story whose end is revealed at the beginning, or a main character whose selfish gesture is never quite made okay by the fertility of his imagination. Neither is his broken heart of much use to the audience as a dramatic motor - as its causes, in an early love affair with a jeweller’s daughter called Irane (Farahani), are revealed only at the very end.
Faringuisse tries to give her man the will to live by cooking him his favourite dish of guess what - but Nasser has never been able to return the love of his shrewish but (in her way) devoted wife, who the violinist was forced to marry by his stern matriarch of a mother (a cameo by Rosellini). His younger brother Abdi (Caravaca), who at school was the model schoolboy to Nasser’s disruptive layabout and is now a leading light of the Iranian Communist party, also tries to talk Nasser out of his lazy, lingering suicide, to no avail.
Nasser’s kids feature too - his cheeky scamp of a son Cyrus in the film’s most delicious Arabian-Night-style fable insert, involving the purchase of a violin from an opium smoking antique dealer (Debbouze, camping it up beautifully). Both are seen in later life, daughter Lili (played now by Mastroianni) as a hard-drinking gambler and nightfly, Cyrus as an Iranian immigrant in the US in a TV soap parody sequence that begins hilarious but ends with a faintly offensive tang. An ironic, avuncular voiceover - revealed late on to be that of Azrael, the Angel of Death - pastes together these episodes as best it can.
The production design, costumes and retro studio sets are ravishing, and some of the more comic, fable-bound episodes - like Azrael’s appearance on the scene - do magic the film into a charmed space. For an easy evening in - if you overlook the downer of a man slowly dying and focus on the visuals and Olivier Bernet’s lush orchestral soundtrack. - Chicken With Plums may hit the button. But for many, it will be a disappointment after the exhilarating Persepolis.
Why did Matt Damon shave his head?
Let's begin with last week's backgrounder in the New York Times, wherein Dennis Lim notes that Contagion "revisits a conundrum that has bedeviled many filmmakers over the years: how do you make a movie about a virus, a villain that isn't even visible? Epidemic movies have sidestepped the problem by focusing on the aftermath of a deadly plague, as with The Omega Man (1971) and 12 Monkeys (1995), both set in postapocalyptic wastelands. Another option is to invent a disease with outlandish symptoms, as in The Crazies (1973), in which the infected turn homicidally insane, or 28 Days Later (2002), in which they become zombies." Contagion, though, "resists the sheen of science fiction or fantasy and instead stresses the chilling plausibility of its nightmare situation." And he quotes Steven Soderbergh: "It's an ultrarealistic film about a pandemic, and that's the key phrase. We were looking for something that was unsettling because of the banality of the transmission. In a weird way, the less you trump it up, the more unsettling it becomes."
"It starts off as Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to her husband (Matt Damon) from a business trip from Hong Kong feeling a little peaky," explains Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. "People all over the world are infected: a Ukranian model in London, a Japanese businessman, a young man back in Hong Kong. Soon, it appears that the virus is something that's never been seen before, and we meet the men and women desperately trying to stop it in its tracks — doctors (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, Elliot Gould, Demetri Martin) and authority figures (Bryan Cranston, Enrico Colantoni) — as well as a number of other characters' view of the disaster, like Damon, immune to the disease's effects, watching society implode in Minnesota, and Jude Law, an opportunistic Australian blogger in San Francisco. In many ways, the film is Soderbergh's answer to the disaster movies of the 1970s — Airport, The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, etc. — using a starry cast as a shorthand to keep the dozens of characters from getting lost in the fray. Of course, it's not some overblown, effects-laden blockbuster like those films, although it's positively huge in scope and scale. Instead, the film's trump card is that Soderbergh (reuniting with The Informant! writer Scott Z Burns) keeps everything terrifyingly plausible. Burns clearly meticulously researched his screenplay, and you imagine that, should a similar virus ever hit, this is more or less how things go down."
"Soderbergh graphically depicts a world falling apart," notes the David Gritten at Anne Thompson's place. "Whole cities are quarantined; there's rioting in food queues and looting of banks and offices. Among this director's strengths is a flair for juggling and sustaining multiple storylines in one film. He proved it with his Oscar-winning Traffic, and confirms it with Contagion: it feels like news stories breaking simultaneously from across the world."
"The film is filled with computer screens, phones, video conference calls, graphics and charts," notes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "It is as much about the spread of communication and technology as it is about a virus…. With Soderbergh shooting and editing his own films, Contagion is well assembled and propulsive, though like the virus, it loses momentum. Refreshingly, the virus doesn't appear to be a metaphor for consumerism or politics. This is a straight-up movie, serious but, crucially, also slightly silly in the knowing Soderbergh style, always aware that it's a disaster movie, not a documentary."
"The film pulses along (driven by precise editing by Stephen Mirrione and thumping electronic interludes by composer Cliff Martinez), rarely taking time to burrow into a character before pushing on to the next," writes In Contention's Kristopher Tapley, who finds that "the film comes in for a soft landing ultimately and you could even say it pulls a punch or two in resolution, but that's also very much by design, merely working against your expectations." Tapley also interviews screenwriter Scott Z Burns.
"As Contagion develops, human panic proves more infectious than the virus itself — an intriguing idea that's increasingly hard to follow as the leaps in geography and time begin to blur," finds Variety's Peter Debruge. What's more: "Armed with Red's new 5K Epic-X 'Tattoo' cameras, Soderbergh squanders all that resolution on downright ugly footage that makes exceptional moments such as street riots and military roadblocks look as unremarkable as scenes set in conference rooms and bio-safety labs. The art of film lighting, already mostly lost in cinema's transition from black-and-white to color, suffers a deathblow from digital cameras that can make do with available light."
For John Hazelton, writing in Screen, "the film loses some tension and momentum in its third act as the scientists and politicians begin to get the outbreak under control."
Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek: "Gould got the biggest laugh I've heard at the festival this year, when he shoos away a semi-crackpot blogger played by Law: 'Blogging isn't writing,' he says. 'It's graffiti with punctuation.' That line was tailor-made for an audience of old-school professional journalists and critics — many of whom, out of necessity, blog for their outlets as well. We're wrestling with our own epidemic, but at least we can laugh about it."
No, Steve McQueen has not come back from the dead to direct this film but it just so happens to be that this immensely talented British director has the same name as the former movie star legend. But with each new feature this London born director is starting to make the name his own.
After winning the 61st Cannes film festival for ‘Best Directorial Debut’ with the extraordinary Hunger, McQueen presents in Venice his second feature Shame, a journey into one man’s perversions and sickness. We follow Brandon, a fairly successful man but who is suffering as a sex addict; nothing is never enough for him and he constantly has this craving to sleep with a woman, either with a prostitute or one night stands with girls he meets in a bar. Even with that he needs to masturbate a few times a day. Michael Fassbender, who was McQueen’s lead in Hunger, incarnates the compulsions, the desires but also the issues of this addiction that turns Brandon into a lonely man. The arrival of his sister, played with real resonance by Carey Mulligan, turns his world upside down, but his addiction grows stronger.
McQueen graphically doesn’t spare any detail of the sexual encounters that Brandon has and the human body, both male and female, is shown in all his natural aspect. Though the film never falls into porn or bad taste, at the same time nothing is withheld from the audience’s eye and the festival crowd get their usual splice of nudity that seems to run throughout these artistic endeavors (usually every other film in Cannes has nudity somewhere). It’s almost presented as a documentary, there’s no hollywood trick that hides nudity. It’s a real drama. We can’t help but feel powerless as members of society while Brandon falls into his spiral of self destruction and not even his sister can help him.
McQueen uses long scenes, very methodically slow paced actions that let the audience observe, absorb and think about what is being shown on the screen. There is no escape, we have to face what is happening, we have to deal with it. He uses music in a intelligent way, leaving many scenes with no dialogue but simple music to sustain the emotion of the moment, even though sometimes it looks like he is trying to force it too much into the film. Sometimes silence is gold.
Brandon is a man that struggles, he is a good man with a problem, even though he doesn’t think it is an issue. Steve McQueen is also an accomplished visual artist and that it is clear by watching Shame; he knows where to place the camera for the best result. Overall the film is a very good drama, with good acting and good storytelling, but sometimes it all becomes too much and we would want to watch somebody else’s life for a while, before going back to Brandon’s path through himself as he tries to change the direction in which his life is going. Is shame enough to change one’s path? Maybe he needs something more.
"After a five-year wait since Sideways, Alexander Payne has made his best film yet with The Descendants," announces Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. "Ostensibly a study of loss and coping with a tragic situation, this wonderfully nuanced look at a father and two daughters dealing with the imminent death of his wife and their mother turns the miraculous trick of possibly being even funnier than it is moving…. Payne has always impressed with his talent for injecting his studies of flawed ordinary people with unexpected warmth and comedy, but never has his knack for mixing moods and modulating subtle emotions been more evident than in this adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings's 2007 novel."
"The Descendants is set in Hawaii," notes John Horn in the Los Angeles Times, "where [Matt King, played by George Clooney] is the sole trustee of a 25,000-acre parcel held in a family trust since the 1860s. King's relatives want him to cash out for untold millions and yield to developers, but King has more pressing problems. With his wife, Elizabeth, [in a coma and] unlikely ever to regain consciousness, King has to figure out how to care for his two daughters. Ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) is despondent over her mother's condition, while 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is rebelling through alcohol, drugs and promiscuity. 'I'm the backup parent, the understudy,' King says in a voiceover. All of a sudden, he's onstage and doesn't know any of the lines."
Peter Debruge in Variety: "With its tropical vistas and near-perfect weather, Hawaii makes an unexpected backdrop for such a story, a mismatch that island native Matt King acknowledges in his opening voiceover. 'Paradise can go fuck itself,' he says… Though Payne undoubtedly ranks among the leading portraitists of American cinema, his earlier films display a semi-condescending, even judgmental attitude toward his characters. Here, the individuals are every bit as flawed, and yet the tone is refreshingly open-minded, allowing observant auds to draw their own conclusions."
"Payne's film rests on whether he can coax a nuanced performance from a strong male lead who is capable of accessing intense vulnerability," notes Michael Patterson at the Playlist. "In About Schmidt (2002) he found what he needed in Jack Nicholson's Oscar-nominated turn and two years later in Sideways (for which he shared the Oscar for Best Screenplay with Jim Taylor) he scored a double whammy with Paul Giamatti and the also Oscar-nominated Thomas Haden Church. For the central male protagonist of The Descendants, Payne turned to George Clooney and in the course of the Q&A that followed the screening he insisted that Clooney had provided him with the best acting collaboration of any of his films. Can the performance possibly live up to that? Actually, yes."
"Clooney didn't fully impress me as much as he did in Up in the Air," counters FirstShowing's Alex Billington, while, In Contention's Kristopher Tapley (who has video from the Q&A) finds the film "to be a bit Payne-lite."
Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss and Wim Wenders’ Pina made for quite the double header Saturday afternoon. One probes the carnival of misery surrounding a triple murder and execution in Texas, the other is a 3D exploration of the otherworldly choreography of Pina Bausch. Strangely, the latter is the one that seemed overlong.
Abyss, subtitled A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life, is a crushing account of the wreckage caused by two Texas teens who were convicted of killing three people over their desire to steal a car. Herzog alternates between chapter titles such as “Time and Emptiness” and “The Protocol of Death” with “A Glimmer of Hope” and “The Urgency of Life” to ultimately make his case for ending the death penalty, despite the violent destruction men can cause.
The film is unrelentingly grim and full of sadness as no one connected to the crime is spared the psychological scars of the machinery of death — whether random and pointless or sanctioned by the law and the state. Herzog includes interviews and images that are as unshakable for viewers as they are for those affected, such as an imprisoned father's memory of riding a prison transfer bus handcuffed to his own son.
The filmmaker neglects to ask a few obvious questions of his subjects, but he also manages to cut to the core of one priest’s conscience with the question: “Tell me an encounter with a squirrel.” The response, which begins the film, is devastating. Also to his credit, Herzog never makes explicit the economic and educational deficiencies that led to much of the wretched behavior on display. It didn’t need to be said, and his own conscience knew that.
During the introduction to his film at the Palm, Herzog was the first to admit that a great many of his films could have been titled “Into the Abyss,” since much of his fiction and nonfiction work delves into the darker sides of humanity or the “new abysses that open up” when you really look into people’s lives. Herzog also said that the world of incarceration and punishment is one that has fascinated him since his teens, when he first drew up plans to explore Straubing prison in Bavaria in the late 1950s.
“At age 16 I was as dumb as I could get,” he said. Many would argue that Herzog’s crazy and daring side never disappeared, just that he spun it into a useful medium and a fascinating career as a filmmaker. This latest work ends with a question from a former corrections official who supervised more than 120 executions before quitting. Referencing the dates on gravestones that indicate year of birth and year of death with a blank hyphen in between, he asks: “How you gonna live your dash?”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was in the audience at the screening, and so was Ken Burns, who joked to a friend outside the theater afterwards that Herzog is “turning into an old softie.”
Glenn Close, who co-produced and co-wrote the Rodrigo Garcia-helmed project, stars as a woman who dresses as a man in order to make a living in late 19th century Ireland.
The curious tale of a woman passing herself off as a man in late Victorian–era Dublin, Albert Nobbs generates a degree of engagement by virtue of its sheer oddness and the carefully calibrated performances of Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. But Rodrigo Garcia’s film only intermittently surmounts the limitations of the central character’s parched emotional existence and restricted horizons, and the resolutions to some principal dramatic lines seem rather too easy. Liddell Entertainment and Roadside Attractions will be able to draw considerable attention to this longtime dream project of actor, co-producer and co-screenwriter Close, but the odds seem against its breaking through beyond specialized venues to connect with a general public.
Based on 19th century Irish writer George Moore’s short story The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, this incarnation of the tale has its origins in a spare stage piece created by the late Simone Benmussa that was first seen in France and was then done in London in 1978 with Susannah York in the title role. Close starred in a 1982 New York production and has ever since tried to mount a screen version and came close about a decade ago with Istvan Szabo, which accounts for the Hungarian director’s story credit on the present film.
Threatening to become known as the modern George Cukor for his consistent skill in eliciting superb performances from actresses, Garcia only adds to his reputation here. Almost never seen in anything but the professional wardrobe of servant at the elegant Morrison’s Hotel, the Albert Nobbs known to fellow workers and the fancy clientele is a fastidious, polite, impeccably correct gentleman who says little and, off-hours, keeps to himself in a drab upstairs room where, unbeknownst to anyone, he keeps his earnings under the floorboards.
When the proprietress Mrs. Baker (Pauline Collins) informs Nobbs that he’ll need to share his room (and bed) for a night with a painter doing some touch-ups at the hotel, Nobbs invents every excuse as to why this is impossible. But before morning, Nobbs’ secret it out and the panicked woman, whose any chance at a livelihood in impoverished 1898 Ireland
will be ruined if her secret is revealed, implores the stranger not to blow her cover.
It isn’t long, however, before the painter, Hubert Page, exposes to Nobbs a secret of his own: He’s actually a she as well. This happens so early that it can’t legitimately be considered a spoiler –it’s no The Crying Game--and there’s no way the remainder of the story can be discussed without knowledge of the twin disguises. The revelation scene is an eye-popper, with this tall, rangy individual, who’s always dressed in bulky jackets and sweaters and has a self-rolled cigarette perennially dangling from mouth’s corner, suddenly flashing Nobbs with the sight of two mountainous breasts.
The complicity of these two cross-dressers provides what drive the narrative possesses. A much more easy-going personality than the terminally repressed Nobbs, “Hubert” not only passes as a man but is married to a woman (the wonderful Bronagh Gallagher). One of the story’s dissatisfactions is that Nobbs’ curiosity over how this came about—did her friend reveal the truth before or after the wedding?—is never answered, an issue which bears on dreams that Nobbs , inspired by Hubert, now dares to entertain.
With the money she’s saved, Nobbs sets her sights on opening a tobacconist’s shop. But for legitimacy’s sake she determines to marry the most attractive member of the hotel service staff, Helen (Mia Wasikowska), a flirty young thing
passionately involved with Joe (Aaron Johnson), a dashing but troubled lad set on taking her to America.
After the relatively dry but passably involving initial stretch, this is where the script, written by Gabriella Prekop, John Banville and Close, begins running aground. Bedding down with Joe one moment, Helen deigns to take outings with Nobbs the next, inducing her to spend hard-earned cash on lavish gifts. Helen’s leading Nobbs on makes little sense unless Helen and Joe are planning to rob Nobbs to finance their voyage, and the whole courtship charade feels wrong for multiple reasons; Nobbs knows Helen is already with Joe and, more to the point, it reveals the ultimate narrowness of Nobbs as a character. This is someone without an inner life or emotions other than the perpetuation of the façade she has created. A brief passage allows her to sketch in how she came to such a station in life, but any sense of blood and feelings coursing through her being is missing, leaving Nobbs lacking in multiple human dimensions. The denouement also takes a convenient way out rather than truly grappling with key central issues.
As far as it goes, Close’s characterization is an object of odd fascination; with pale and taut skin, wavy short hair, stiff posture and blank eyes shot through fear, Close entirely expresses the external life of a woman for whom maintaining appearances is truly everything. But unlike the theatrical version, which was a stylized chamber piece, the film cries out for a deeper exploration of this pinched, unrealized human being.
In this regard, Nobbs becomes eclipsed by the Hubert Page character, who has traveled much further down the road to living a full, if still compromised, life. Not only does McTeer have more to play—as a man she seems like a combination of a laconic seafarer and giant street urchin—but she goes at it with real gusto, giving a pulse to the scenes she’s in that is largely absent elsewhere, even though such fine actors as Collins and, as a resident alcoholic doctor, Brendan Gleeson do offer spirited support. Wasikowska is, as always, a welcome presence, but even she has trouble legitimizing the behavior of her character in the late-going.
The opulent but intimate hotel has been warmly and immaclately realized by production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein and Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s costumes also play a key role in helping define the characters, all captured handsomely by Michael McDonough’s camerawork.
The Bottom Line
Notable performances by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer mark this carefully made but muted story of women passing as men in 19th-century Dublin.
TELLURIDE - Poor "Albert Nobbs." It's been a hard, hard life so far. And I'm not referring to the title character Glenn Close portrays in Rodrigo Garcia's new drama which debuted at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival tonight, but the film itself.
The story has been a passion project of Close's for over 20 years ever since she first read the George Moore novella. She even played the character on the New York Stage in an acclaimed 1982 production. A movie had numerous fits and starts along the way including a scuttled production a decade ago. Somehow Close (who also has a screenplay and producer credit) remained steadfast and "Nobbs" is finally in cinematic form.
You can easily deduce why Close is so enthralled with the character. In theory it's a dream role for any actor. Nobbs is a woman who has spent most of her life passing as a man in order to survive in the late 1800s. It's unclear how old Nobbs is in the film (perhaps late 40's or 50's), but decades of keeping up this charade as a hotel waiter has made him passionless, internalized and almost completely humorless. Even as a "man," Nobbs is so buttoned up that the lovely young maids he works with (Mia Wasikowska, Antonia Campbell-Hughes) don't even register him sexually. He's a far cry from the flirty doctor who resides in the hotel, Brendan Gleeson, the possibly alcoholic or gay (take your pick or both) waiter (Mark Williams) or the new handyman (Aaron Johnson) who register much more infatuation and sexual chemistry than Nobbs ever does. Instead, Nobbs is portrayed as a person so entrenched in his/her facade that he's pretty much asexual.
The movie's main storyline, however, jump starts with Nobbs discovering that Hubert (Janet McTeer), a charismatic painter hired to repaint some of the hotel's rooms, is also a woman. When Nobbs also learns Hubert has a legal wife he becomes obsessed with discovering how Hubert found her, when the wife discovered she'd married a woman and how Nobbs could possibly find his own wife. But in Nobbs world, he's such a strange bird that his use for marriage is only to provide a companion and for someone to assist him in his dream of opening his own smoke and sweet meat shop. Eventually Nobbs decides to charm Waskiowska's character, but she's already romantically involved with Johnson's morally skewed bad boy who has decided they should both try and use Nobbs for their own needs. Nobbs' shy attempts at wooing her are naive, so in another world that Wasikowska's character literally has to attack him with passionate kisses to demonstrate what she's looking for because the concept is so alien to him.
The decision to be so subtle in the sexuality of the film's characters actually seems to do the story a disservice. While Hubert and his wife appear to be a gay couple living as a man and woman so they can survive in society (although Hubert never says he/she is attracted to just women), Nobbs is such a blank slate it's hard to sympathize with any of his hopes and dreams. It makes for a great and impressive character study for Close, who is at times convincing as a man, but it's simply not a character that can carry an almost 2-hour movie. Perhaps that's why there so many other people in Nobbs hotel world, but when the cliche'd too young and too immature for each other couple (Wasikowska and Johnson) are the only ones you're intrigued by, it's a big problem.
The screenplay hints there could be more though such as the secrets so many of the characters hide from each other including the Doctor's affair with another maid, the rich "womanizing" lord (a completely wasted Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who plays more in bed with his best mate than with the ladies or the despised hotel owner (Pauline Collins) who is barely keeping the business a float. This theme could have worked under another director, but these tangents almost fly pointlessly by Garcia's eye.
Close and Garcia worked together previously on "Ten Things You Can Tell Just by Looking At Her" and "Nine Lives" (arguably his best film), but he's simply wrong here. Garcia's strengths, most notably in his work for on HBO's "In Treatment," is letting actors' performances drive the story. That particular talent or direction helps keep "Nobbs" afloat, but can't ensure you've made a satisfying motion picture. When Nobbs meets his/her fate at the end of the film it lands with hardly any reaction because you simply don't care. Making the audience at least feel something about the title character's journey is Garcia's responsibility and he doesn't have the ability to pull it off here.
The buzz on Nobbs, however, has always been regarding Close's chances at landing a sixth Academy Award nomination and finally winning that coveted Oscar. Like Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, the idea the legendary Close doesn't have a statue already is an embarrassment to the Academy. Her work in "Nobbs" will absolutely make her a player, but she's going to need strong SAG support and have to work the circuit to guarantee a call to the dance.
"Albert Nobbs" is currently scheduled for a limited release sometime in December.
Glenn Close and Rodrigo Garcia's Albert Nobbs screened last night at Telluride's Galaxy theatre to, it must be said, a somewhat muted reaction. With the exception, I should add, of Janet McTeer's brilliant supporting performance as Hubert, a woman pretending to be a man.
Nobbs came to Telluride with the advance buzz being that Close might be delivering an Oscar-calibre performance. Close is striking, no question -- she's playing a sad, curious inhabitant of a long-ago era in a granular, highly concentrated way -- but McTeer's performance has the dignity, heart and heat.
Close's Nobbs, a 19th Century Dublin waiter living her life as a male for both economic and emotional reasons, is a very odd bird. Porcelain, cautious, corseted and buttoned-down to a fare-thee-well. And flagrantly asexual. For Nobbs the gender facade is all -- hiding who she is an absolute. This obviously renders her as a metaphor for repression, but Nobbs is so primly Victorian that she hasn't the first clue about anything remotely emotional and/or sensual. She sees marriage as an opportunity for companionship and mutual economic endeavor.
So there's really nothing in the character to relate to from a 2011 perspective other than the sad fact that she's some kind of ultimate closet case. It's not enough to pull and hold you in. Nobbs wants a female wife, but is so uninvested in the universal human longing for love and laughter and whatever else makes your day. She's interested primarily -- only -- in security and saving her money and perhaps one day owning a tobacconist shop. More on this later-- have to dash up to an interview.
Albert Nobbs is slated for a limited release sometime in December.
Hats off to Glenn Close. Really. When you’ve lived with and loved a role and a story for as long as she’s hung on to “Albert Nobbs” (which she first performed as a play way back in 1982), you deserve a pat on the back.
She’s been trying to get this made as a film ever since she stumbled onto the George Moore short story, and even saw things fall apart 10 years ago when she was oh so close (no pun intended). Finally, it’s a reality, thanks to filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia. But with great passion can come, often, blinders to the flaws of a story.
The film tells the tale of Albert Nobbs, who appears to merely be a “kind little man,” a hotel waiter in 19th-century Ireland. Or so it would seem. In reality, Nobbs is an older woman posing as a man in a male-dominated society, glacially putting together the funds to live her dream: purchasing a small shop and selling, oh, tobacco will do.
Both the charm and the tragedy of the piece comes in that naivete. We learn in back story conveyed to a confidante of an unfortunate circumstance in Nobbs’s past, one that robbed her of an innocence far too young and perhaps froze her there permanently.
It’s an intriguing character, but one that feels somewhat closed off to the audience. That works, given the circumstances, up to a point, but before long it becomes of a piece with the film’s claustrophobic nature: it never really breaks out of its stage roots. A well-rounded ensemble helps matters by livening the proceedings up, but the film is also structured in a peculiar way, the story never opening up into considerable philosophical stakes.
All of that said, Close is fantastic in the role of Nobbs. It’s the kind of performance that ought to merit an Oscar nomination, should Roadside find traction (and put a lot of effort into the built-in narrative of the actress’s under-appreciation in matters of film awards). She knows the part all too well and she gives Nobbs a life and a sparkle that isn’t there on the page. Performances from Janet McTeer, as a painter in a similar situation, and Mia Wasikowska, as a hotel waitress who becomes the object of Nobbs’s affection, are also worth mentioning.
In any case, even though I don’t think the film ever really taps a pulse, I’m finding it difficult to be too hard on it. Again, it’s lovely to see a passion project finally see its way to fruition and I don’t think anyone can rain on Close’s parade for that. I look forward to discussing all of that with her tomorrow morning.
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Basically, even though a lot of people apparently walked out on it, Alps seems to be the most well-received film at Venice thus far. Although that could change with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy premiering on Monday- Empire already gave it a 5-star review and the Guardian raved about it. The early word on Shame seems to be very positive and apparently Harvey Weinstein was at the screening, so make of it what you will..... Contagion is actually really good, Chicken with Plums may be too twee, and the only reason to see That Summer would be to watch Louis Garrel and Monica Bellucci smolder for two hours. Also, the Descendants is very good, Clooney will probably (ugh) get another Oscar nomination, and that girl from that show about how she didn't know she was pregnant may become an Oscar nominee this year, although IMO, that's still not as weird as the idea of potential Oscar nominee Jonah Hill. And Albert Nobbs isn't really that great of a movie, but Glenn Close and Janet McTeer are great in it.