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NYFF 2014: Kyle’s 5 Favorite Films and Other Ephemera

Eden-Review

1.      Eden | Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Underneath the bass drops and the electronic harmony of the garage music scene of 1990s Paris is melancholy and loneliness. The parties are bursting with verve and energy, but when the music stops, so does that joy. Hansen-Løve’s examination of a young DJ over the course of twenty years is warm and tender, an incredible look at the pros and cons of following your passion, allowing art to be your escape, and the joy of music.

Read Kyle’s full review here.

2.      Goodbye to Language 3D | Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

While the audience is trapped by the kamera, the iconoclastic Godard is doing all he can to… not get us out exactly, but perhaps to stage a prison break. The goal in his game changing 3D film is to change the paradigm of what film is and can be, to make those prison bars into something entirely new. It’s one of the most incredible experiences one will have in a theater this year (hopefully you will see it in a theater).

Read Kyle’s full review here.

3.      Clouds of Sils Maria | Directed by Olivier Assayas

We follow Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and Valentine (Kristen Stewart) up a hill as they begin to argue. It’s a power structure, the younger Stewart clearly in control, with her voice tempered and measured with calculation, as the older Binoche lets her passion reign, flustered and vehement. In Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas uses the ‘persona film’ to examine the power of art, and it’s an entirely thrilling journey, with Stewart giving the performance of her career.

4.      Gone Girl | Directed by David Fincher

It does admittedly feel very strange to include Fincher’s latest film on this list because it feels too mainstream and, to some extent, contrary to the tone of most of the films of the festival. But this is only speaking retrospectively. It does, in fact, fit very well amongst the cynical, blackly comic, slick pieces of cinema in this year’s New York Film Festival. And having seen it twice, I can confidently say that Gone Girl is Fincher’s masterpiece. It’s everything; from the traps of marriage to its gender politics discourse, from its examination of media to its satire on persona, Gone Girl is everything.

Read Kyle’s full review here.

5.      Citizenfour | Directed by Laura Poitras

It isn’t that Poitras’s documentary has important information, exactly. Yes, it gives a very good primer and overview of what the NSA has done and what Edward Snowden has, in turn, revealed. But, in a way, that’s not the point. Poitras’s documentary, arguably the best of the year, is about the narrativising of information in a world of information overload. It’s about the narrative of narrativising that information. It’s about data on top of data on top of data and how to compartmentalize it. It’s about what that information means to use. It’s about what it means and feels like to be under constant surveillance and what that data has to do with it. Her revelatory documentary is a piece of exemplary filmmaking. As Godard says, cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.

Citizenfour

The Rest

Last Hijack

It’s reductive beyond the extreme to consider Last Hijack as “a real life Captain Phillips”, considering its only relationship would be the involvement of Somali pirates. And yet, look closely and the commonalities occur in the least likely places. Last Hijack, while not a great film, is at least very good, and significantly more interesting, if less tense, than Captain Phillips. But what the two have in common is their examination of the effects of capitalism on people living in countries whose development is stagnant. It takes its exploration further than Captain Phillips in its portrayal of piracy and money lust as like an addiction.

Last Hijack follows, so to speak, the life of Mohamed, a successful Somali pirate who seems like a not bad person in a terrible situation. Piracy is less for the thrill and more for the reward, representative of both status and the chance to elevate one’s position, even if complete escape is impossible. The film injects scenes of animation, flashbacks from Mohamed’s life that more explicitly narrativise the situations he’s been in.

The flashbacks have a dual quality about them: at once, they look crude and ridiculous (merging paint and CGI), reminiscent of a late 90s videogame cut scene, even occasionally existing from a point of view shot like a first-person shooter. But its pastel look and painterly quality elevate this look to represent something more emotional and romantic. However, the animation’s actual usefulness in the film is questionable: using rather obvious visual metaphors (young Mohamed in grand avian form) and treating these flashbacks not unlike Lifetime movie reenactments, the way it actually serves the documentary might be rather marginal. It doesn’t make Last Hijack weaker by any means (though maybe adding an extraneous amount of melodrama), but it certainly doesn’t make the film stronger.

Two Shots Fired

On one of the hottest days of the summer in Argentina, Mariano (Rafael Federman) finds an old gun in the garage and feels compelled to shoot himself. He survives, the erstwhile attempt to break free from his dull life failing entirely. He quickly returns to the routines, so brazenly dull that the phrase “I might have a bullet inside of me” is the only thing that makes his life interesting anymore.

Martín Rejtman’s Two Shots Fired plays like a tempered, deadpan Argentinean version of the MTV show Awkward at times. Though Mariano’s family never acknowledges the suicide attempt again, and though he denies it was even that, they begin to treat him with an air of hyper-safety. His mother Susana (Susana Pampín), also doomed to the same kind of dull day to day routine, hides all of the knifes and gives Mariano a cell phone (that doesn’t work) so that he is “contactable at all times”.

The sheer awkwardness of the situation fits Rejtman’s deadpan style: an unwillingness to address it mixed with the desire to prepare for the worst. It plays much like an art film, with Rejtman’s camera quietly observing his characters and their every action, articulating the very aimlessness the film explores. The dialogue, clever and often hilarious, accentuates this uneasy yet humorous tone. But though it seeks to explore aimlessness, it is, itself, aimless, making one wonder what direction the film is really going in. It isn’t necessarily the fear of irresolution in the film that feels irksome: it’s the meandering quality which, rather than being carefully placed, is splashed across its entirety.

Yet, while the film isn’t necessarily satisfying in a conventional sense, it’s highly enjoyable. The characters’ idiosyncrasies in dialogue and mannerism reminds one of the Coen Brothers, though with them there is at least a more certain path.

listen-up-philip-2

Listen Up Philip

In the vein of Jason Reitman’s Young Adult, Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip follows a mean, petty, self-destructive, semi-successful writer (Jason Schwartzman) as he burns all the bridges around him, gleefully dousing them in lighter fluid and then having the gall to complain that he’s lonely. Though Reitman’s Mavis, played by Charlize Theron, is certainly “unlikable” (throws Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker piece at you), there’s a clear sense that both Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody back off to a degree. Not so with Listen Up Philip. The film is the ultimate testament to a certain kind of ineffectual, intellectual man-child, so engrossed in his own feelings and well-being that everyone around him is rendered irrelevant and unworthy of consideration.

He meets and becomes friends with Ike (Jonathan Pryce), a has-been writing icon who takes Philip under his wing. They’re a perfect match, the film makes clear, as Ike is just as bitter, repugnant, and terrible as Philip. The two feed off one another, deepening the hole they keep digging for themselves, as they dispose of the love that their significant other (Elisabeth Moss) and daughter (Kristin Ritter) have for them. Moss is particularly excellent in the film, giving Ashley strength and pathos.

It’s a hilarious film, but in a caustic, stinging way. And as incredible as the film is, it’s admittedly hard to watch. It’s hard to stay with characters who are so horrid to one another for such an extended period of time. It’s emotionally draining, and, while that may be the point, it’s not “enjoyable” in the conventional sense. Nonetheless, there’s an interesting interrogation into the male ego, both constantly immovable and yet astonishingly sensitive. It’s a paradox that refuses to admit it’s a paradox. We watch as these people, all of them pretty asshole-ish to some level, go off into their lives, being assholes.

Jauja

Jauja is a film for the patient. It takes its time following Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) on his journey to find his daughter, Inge (Ilse Hughan). Think The Searchers if it had been made by Béla Tarr. It’s a glacially paced film, as it finds pleasure in taking note of the landscape, with its depth and vastness, the desert in Argentina seemingly going on for eternity. It swallows up all who inhabit it.

Though, none of this is particularly compelling. Whatever your feelings about ‘slow cinema’ or ‘durational cinema’ are, this film is less about capturing time as Gunnar tracks down his daughter and more the observance of the landscape, which can only really go so far. Even the stakes in something like The Turin Horse, a recent masterpiece of the genre, feel more urgent than Jauja, what with its bellowing winds and apocalyptic oppressiveness. Yes, Gunnar’s daughter has been kidnapped by natives of the land, yet the situation’s vitality and pressingness is undermined by paying more attention to ‘the landscape as character’ than the actual character.

Mortensen is certainly proficient in the film, but even he doesn’t feel very essential to how the film’s narrative is being driven. There are brief flashes of Prisoners-like seriousness, but his subdued performance (to match against the film’s subdued tone in general, sans any score) never really registers. What is surprising is that though there’s a certain amount of attention paid attention to Mortensen’s face, chiseled and rocky, that same amount of detail isn’t given to the craggy and jagged terrain. It is probably supposed to feel dream-like, but instead it feels more like being stuck in purgatory, left to wander the desert not unlike the protagonist.

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg’s latest film isn’t particularly good. But hell if it isn’t a good time. His satire of Hollywood, filled with easy caricatures of insufferable child actors, stagnant and opportunistic chauffeurs, and fading aged stars, is, to a certain degree, base and basic. While Cronenberg has nothing particularly new to say about the toxicity of Hollywood, the least one can say about Maps is that it is very, very amusing and very, very weird.

Piled on top of all these cartoons from Tinseltown are incest, metaphysical connection, and weird myths. It’s like a gonzo version of The Player, that isn’t necessarily less intelligent, but more drugged up and shiny. And while it’s incredibly enjoyable in how terrible it is, Maps to the Stars is like a better version of The Canyons: its artificiality is there, as ensconced in vacuity as Paul Schrader’s film, but we at least understand significantly more clearly why it’s there. Hollywood is incestuous and filled with dead bodies, and we get how and why, even if it’s not very insightful regarding the subject.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be? Maybe the fact that it’s this sideshow of Hollywood freaks, that it’s just as shallow and insipid as its characters and the very people it happens to be satirizing is its best quality. It’s bizarre and not very serious, and the self-aware winking is nearly palpable, but that’s fine. It is cutting and wicked, a fun and nasty little piece of work that might get better with age. The specificity of its references may only grow to help the film become more interesting with time. Time, as the stars shine brightly and begin to fade.

clouds of sils maria

Clouds of Sils Maria

If Irma Vep was Assayas’s Les Vampires, then Clouds of Sils Maria is his All About Eve, playing on the same ideas as the former film. Juliette Binoche is superb as an actress rehearsing to star as the older character in the play that made her famous as a young ingénue, but it’s Kristen Stewart that’s truly stellar.

The play, Maloja Snake, is basically the aforementioned Mankiewicz film, detailing the destruction of an older woman by a younger one, with homoerotic tension causing the downfall. The younger character, manipulative and able to use her allure to her advantage, screams temptress, often in what one would assume would be a noir-esque way. It’s an obvious way to play the character. And Ms. Stewart eschews that convention entirely.

Rather than be aggressive in the character, Stewart (playing the assistant of Binoche’s actress) herself uses her low key type to her favor: the lines are said nonchalantly, naturally, and almost devoid of passion, the exact recipe to set off the older character in the play, and in turn Binoche. It’s quiet and sly, as if Stewart as this character truly is apathetic, especially about how she’s breaking this woman’s heart and essentially driving her insane. It’s a delicate balancing act that Stewart pulls off with aplomb.

Through this back and forth dynamic between the two, we explore what acting means, and what art means, from different perspectives. Stewart’s Valentine almost acts like the film critic, able to deconstruct and analyze, and Binoche’s Maria Enders is the actress that lives and breathes this art in a way that the critic cannot totally understand. Clouds of Sils Maria is mesmerizing and intoxicating, witty, and sexy. And it’s all a performance.

– Kyle Turner

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