After a man claims he's so hungry that he feels like he hasn't eaten in three days, Violette (Pauline Burlet) waits a mere moment to respond.
"It's the altitude," she tells him and the unexpected response just hangs in the air, as if to imply that that's the reason why the occupants of the small French farming community in director Marine Francen's
Discovering in a startling opening sequence that time and circumstance has also played an overwhelming role, with the men of the village rounded up and arrested after Napoleon dissolves the republic in December of 1851, the women and children are left behind to fend for themselves.
Watching as some of Violette's devastated neighbors retreat to their beds and her best friend burns her wedding dress in mourning for the event she fears will never come, gradually with time, the women come together in order to carry on, tending to the land in a way that gives them both purpose and a place to work out their pain.
Intriguingly, although they still miss men in a variety of ways from their help with the harvest to unbridled lust, the men's absence inspires the now more independently minded younger women to talk openly about sex and — perhaps heady from the altitude — grow increasingly amorous in the process. Yearning to not only make love but get pregnant and start a family, they decide to make a pact.
Viewing themselves as separate from the older women with children to raise and comfort,
's younger set vows that if a man ever crosses their path and wants one of the women, he would get the rest as well in the hopes of bringing more babies into the world.
Not bothering to consider practical issues including the man or woman's feelings about all this or what would happen if the men of the village ever came back, knowing that their "daughters are talking nonsense," the older women stay quiet and let them have their fantasy regardless.
Their ardent desire somewhat abated by the fairy tale they've concocted, things go back to normal for the women until one day when — backlit by the colors of an altitude-enhanced clear blue sky — a handsome blacksmith (Alban Lenoir) wanders into the village and is instantly drawn to the virginal Violette.
The only literate female in the community at the time, although their relationship begins tentatively as she opens a home to the visitor, works with him in the fields, and brings him dinner every night, once the two bond over their love of literature, their relationship blossoms into a tender romance.
which was written in 1919 and published in 2006, fittingly, given its themes, the thirty-eight page story that gave birth to
was created explicitly for and willed to the author’s future female descendants.
Treating the source material less like a source of erotic titillation and more as a feminist minded work written ahead of its time, director Marine Francen (along with her co-writers Jacqueline Surchat and Jacques Fieschi) opt for a naturally romantic yet undeniably dramatic approach as Violette is pressured to hold up her end of the women's sexual bargain.
With minimal artificial light evident in its contrast between days spent in blindingly bright fields and the film's intimate, dusky nights, the gorgeously rendered visuals — reminiscent of paintings from the Napoleonic era — are brought exquisitely to life by cinematographer Alain Duplantier.
On the surface, a straightforward tale simply told, given the complexity of its female-centric themes and sensual nature,
. Likewise, the allegorical references to the harvest and the double meaning therein strongly recalls the fellow female directed award-winner,
and the 1995 film from Marleen Gorris would make for a potent double feature with Francen's debut work.
doesn't have nearly as much character development as the other movies mentioned (particularly with regard to the supporting players), Francen feeds the ravenous film by sprinkling seeds of beauty, independence, feminism, and romance throughout.
Seduced by its sumptuous, sun-drenched beauty, the end result is an artful film that — like its intoxicating altitude — is sure to attract.
A man with one name who might just as well be a man with no name, in writer-director Michael Winterbottom's self-described "eastern Western," Dev Patel gives a rivetingly against type performance as the enigmatic eponymous wedding guest, Jay.
Traveling from Britain to Pakistan with a stack of passports and a look of steely determination, like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Antonioni's The Passenger
, Jay grows all the more alarming as he acquires weapons, duct tape, and multiple getaway vehicles under different aliases during his long drive to the Punjab.
Though we're instantly suspicious of his first of many cover stories and identities, there's something about Patel's manner and his brief interactions with strangers that make us want to trust him, even after the real reason for his trip is revealed when he crosses paths with Radhika Apte's bride-to-be Samira in a burst of violence.
Embarking on a veritable tour of India after Jay's carefully laid plans fall apart, we find ourselves equally curious about a character we discover is no typical damsel in distress as the two get lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the overwhelming beauty of the deserts, cliffs, and beaches of the region.
The very definition of a film where the less we know going in the better, having marvelously sustained suspense throughout a taut nail biter of a first act, Winterbottom refuses to let us catch our breath until his main characters are able to do the same.
Reveling in the intimacy of close quarters and the instant tentative bond that develops when we connect with someone a long way from home against the backdrop of the unknown, although the film ratchets up the tension, the chemistry between the two leads leaves something to be desired.
Drawn to the more dominant Patel, it took a second viewing to better able to appreciate Apte's aloof, playful turn as Samira as well as the way that in Guest
's tight frames early on, the duo's subtle body language foreshadows the good and bad of what's to come.
And although the film fascinates from start to finish, contrasting Wedding
's superior, propulsive first half with its last, we can't help but feel slightly disappointed by its lags in rhythm, which give the impression that — whether left on the cutting room floor or in a getaway car — a much needed twist or two was lost along the way.
From Thomas Hardy adaptations and biopics to existential comedic journeys and social dramas, The Wedding Guest
daring work from a filmmaker whose career has been impossible to predict.
Yet while on the surface it might seem like a departure for Winterbottom, thematically speaking it lines right up with his interests as the latest in a long line of diverse films about people who find themselves tested in ways they weren't expecting — frequently on foreign lands.
An actor's director, Michael Winterbottom employs the same character-centric storytelling in his scripts as a writer, which takes on a "you are here" approach in the case of his decade in the making Guest
Not bothering to serve up much in the way of background in the hopes of knocking down the fourth wall and fooling us into believing we've stumbled onto scenes from real life (whether period or contemporary), Guest
is the closest Winterbottom has gotten to a true genre picture in years.
An action turned road movie as imagined by Antonioni or Wenders, Winterbottom’s living, breathing eastern Western grabs us in an extended opening sequence that's designed to thrill.
Elevating Patel from supporting player to true leading man status, Guest
is augmented by the actor's silence and the way we can see worlds of pain and intrigue in his eyes that beg to be explored in greater detail, even if, as Winterbottom understands, this man of few words and one name would never reveal it.
A breakthrough feature for the lead actor and an unexpected foray for the filmmaker, throughout Guest
, I found myself hoping Winterbottom might take a cue from his Trip
trilogy and pen another installment of this clever play on genre expectations.
While the film's eventual segue from action to romantic travelogue begins to falter roughly fifteen minutes before its seemingly abrupt final shot, by that point, we're so invested in Patel's plight (as well as the textured, sensual cinematography by Hell or High Water
DP Giles Nuttgens) that we'll happily follow Winterbottom's Guest
With the 1971 release of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's career-changing satirical Sirkian soap, The Merchant of Four Seasons
, he achieved his cinematic goal "to make Hollywood films in Germany."
Yet whereas Douglas Sirk's most famous '50s tear-jerkers shone exceptionally bright thanks to Jack Cardiff's romantically lush color cinematography, in Fassbinder's tragic Merchant
, lensed by Dietrich Lohmann, even traditionally vibrant, primarily colors like red and yellow look as muted as the overwhelmingly gray palette of a gritty black-and-white work of Depression era realism.
An aesthetic choice he would return to again and again in his enviably prolific career, while it could be considered pretentious in lesser hands, in The Merchant of Four Seasons
, it's perfectly suited to the tone of the film, which zeroes in on the pervasive struggles of everyday life.
While simple and straightforward on the surface, once we begin peeling back the layers of Fassbinder's crossover hit, we're bound to appreciate the filmmaker’s rich attention to detail on display.
Grounded by classical framing and bursting with Hollywood homage, the watershed work plays like a filmic mixtape of the Fassbender's favorites.
Relishing the opportunity to champion his exceptional taste as well as the humanistic parallels he's drawing between the titles — regardless of medium and methodology — in addition to honoring Freud and Ozu, in Merchant of Four Seasons
, the filmmaker pays special attention to the Bard.
Beyond the overt titular allusion to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice
, Fassbinder reminds us that, much like those tragicomic heroes and villains who can live for love or die of a broken heart, his characters too carry the weight of the world on their backs.
Less romantic than it is angry, Fassbinder's 1950s set Four Seasons
centers on a restless veteran who's chronically dissatisfied by society and his surroundings.
Fired from his job as a police officer for succumbing to the temptations of a prostitute under his arrest, although Hans Epp (Hans Hirschmuller) used to make a living putting lawbreakers behind bars, the tables have since been turned as it's now Hans who feels imprisoned by his lot in life selling fruit in the streets on a pushcart.
Just one of a handful of women whom we as viewers realize that the misogynistic Hans feels are responsible for his downfall, starting first and (most appropriately Freudian) foremost with his headstrong mother, the frustrated fruit merchant finds himself unable to let go of past hopes, loves, tragedies, and regrets.
A master of self-sabotage, rather than accept any responsibility for the role he's played in his own misery, Hans takes his anger out on his wife instead, thus setting in motion his own downfall.
Though undeniably fascinated by the emotional lives of his own characters, throughout the film Rainer Werner Fassbinder keeps the viewer at an arm's length, never digging deeply enough into the storyline for us to truly empathize with the people populating Merchant
's muted yet intriguing world.
And nowhere is this disconnect better epitomized than in a completely illogical sequence when we watch our "heroine" go from witnessing a heart attack to having an impulsive sexual fling.
Immediately questioning both Hans as well as the filmmaker's own misogyny, which intellectually pulls us out of the movie, not only is this scene completely incongruous to everything we'd seen earlier, it also makes us wonder if vital plot points had been left on the cutting room floor when Merchant
was edited together nearly fifty years ago.
An erratic yet vital early effort from Fassbinder, aside from the hiccups in plot, Merchant
nonetheless remains a topical and timeless early '70s import that, despite being set roughly twenty years earlier, taps right into the same antihero heavy American fare of the era.
Offering a new angle on the Vietnam era alienation of the 1970s as well as the existential yearning of its original post-WWII setting, the way that Fassbinder's Shakespearean tinged tragedy works well for numerous ages and time periods is one of the most beguiling things about Four Seasons
Flawed yet fearless filmmaking which has been given a dynamic restoration by the Criterion Collection, the deceptively simple eighty-eight minute movie marked a pivotal change for the typically fast Fassbinder to slow things down and make a more methodical picture this time around.
Seemingly at war with himself to keep the work short while simultaneously squeezing in as much information as possible (perhaps subconsciously), Fassbinder seasons the script with observations by passersby and relatives who hint at plot points that might've enriched the film even further before vanishing from sight. Ultimately this keeps us from getting as emotionally invested in in The Merchant
's plight as we could've been.
Yet unlike Hans, with the release of his masterpiece Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
just three years later, Fassbinder proved he was able to learn from the past and make a vital change, crafting something beyond a "Hollywood film in Germany" and establishing instead the type of filmmaking that would become synonymous with his name.
When asked by Don Cheadle's Hotel Rwanda
protagonist Paul Rusesabagina how people can "not intervene when they witness such atrocities," Joaquin Phoenix's cynical realist Jack gives it to him straight, telling him, "I think if people see this footage they'll say, 'oh my God that's horrible,' and then go on eating their dinners."
Exploring the phenomenon "of western indifference in the face of marginalized suffering," in what the press notes accurately describe as "a modern-day parable," Austrian born director Wolfgang Fischer fell back on the two subjects he'd studied before film school of psychology and painting for the urgent, topical, nerve jangling humanitarian thriller Styx
Named after the river that separates the living from the dead in mythology and oozing with Darwinist references and symbolism, Fischer's feature about a German emergency room doctor who comes across a sinking fishing trawler overflowing with refugees on her voyage to Ascension Island is a damning indictment of moral apathy and hypocrisy.
Having taken a Hippocratic Oath to save lives, which she does on land back in Germany — running towards a car crash near the beginning of the movie — it's in Rieke's (a fierce Susanne Wolff) nature to do the same once again as she watches people abandon the slowly sinking vessel in shock.
Told by the coast guard to keep her distance in order to avoid putting herself at risk, Rieke fights the urge to disobey, which becomes that much stronger when a teenage boy makes his way across the Atlantic Ocean onto her small boat, the Asa Gray. Saving his life while waiting for someone — anyone — to intervene, the situation grows more dire with time.
Taking what in the hands of most filmmakers would've been a story about survival against the sharks, elements, and odds a la Jaws
, Open Water
, or even — its closest thematic relative — All is Lost
, in Styx
, Fischer dares to play against expectations. Embracing the internal existential horror that the villain and hero of the film is mankind itself, Rieke's call to action is a call to all of us to act as well.
Having developed what cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels describes as, "special equipment to maneuver and stabilize the camera," over years of preparation to make what is largely a silent film, the technically stunning work — shot near Malta with an eight person crew — is anchored by a decisive yet vulnerable turn by certified blue water sailor and actress Susanne Wolff.
A thinking person's survival drama, Styx
plunges you right into the heart of a desperate situation alongside our lead. Yet while Fischer clearly loves symbolism both in terms of Reike's Darwinist journey and the film's use of subtle contrasts, there are times when alternating points-of-view or giving us a longer, earlier look at the trawler in distress might've strengthened the emotional core of the otherwise gripping narrative.
Clearly the type of film you'll want to discuss afterward, fresh off the festival circuit, this tense, terse award winner sails into theaters this week from Film Movement.
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