Thursday, 9 September 2010

I'm Still Here

A film by Casey Affleck, starring Joaquin Phoenix

Watching this much mulled over film does little to put the mind at ease, and rather than solving the debates of it's legitimacy that have been bouncing around for two years (ever since Joaquin handed in his actor's notice), instead it fires them up and with a new gusto they are being argued over pasta and wine in the restaurants of the Venice Lido. Nobody can say for sure whether this was a documentary or a 'mockumentary', save for Affleck and Phoenix themselves, and others involved in the making of the film. Despite some obviously staged scenes, the film is remarkably convincing.

I'm Still Here: The Hoax
Hats off to Phoenix. The younger, more handsome Affleck brother's film is stage to some of the most convincing, moving and dedicated method acting I have ever seen, and seriously questions the nature of 'Hollywood' mentality and the destructive effect it can have on the lives of those it engulfs.

I'm Still Here: The Documentary
If we consider that this may very well be an intimate portrayal of a man's rejection of his career and a retreat into another life, which eventually leads to some sort of breakdown, it is impossible to deny that it is a highly valuable piece of cinema. And again, my hat stays in the air for the subject of the film. The bravery (or stupidity? It's a fine line) Phoenix showed in allowing himself to be portrayed in compromising and vulnerable situations is second to none. Primarily, the film invokes sympathy for Joaquin as we see his most profound moments of fragility.

Whether we are to take this film as ‘reality’ or as an elaborate ruse, it makes for enthralling, moving and incredibly uncomfortable watching. It also sparks a great debate, frequently overheard after screenings, as to the nature of acting in general. Even if this film is a hoax, the Joaquin Phoenix that Phoenix chose to present to the world was a real person engaging in real activities; it is impossible to disconnect the actor from the role he plays, as this role is essentially himself. Ultimately, the film asks us what is acting- or perhaps closer to the bone, can we really tell who is or isn’t living their life playing a role?

Turns out

Pequeñas Voces (Little Voices: Review)

a film by Jairo Carillo and Oscar Andadre 

 This deeply moving animation film was something close to ten years in the making, and my does it show, in the careful craftsmanship of the animations, and in the meticulous layering of every image. The animations themselves are made up from a combination of two dimensional, remastered childrens' drawings of their own experiences and of digitally animated main characters- allowing them to function within a world they created for themselves. These characters all experience very different, but similarly moving and traumatic effects of the conflicts and displacement in Columbia: the film brings the four together in a union of the four stories.  

 The beautiful ‘Little Voices’, real children who were interviewed to tell their own stories and asked to illustrate their tales, bring a new and overwhelmingly innocent attitude to the events in Columbia. The pure truth of the voiceovers telling of life before, during and after their experiences is enough to move you to tears. The film is a masterpiece, if not of technicality of truth and emotion, and is not created only by Carillo and Andrade but by the raw innocence of the children’s opinions and their breathing life into their own drawings. 

 As an animation it is also very interesting; using a simulation of a ‘camera’ which moves and pans out as though it is filming a real sequence and the immobile backdrop of landscapes and secondary characters taken directly from the childrens' own artwork. We are drawn into the world of Pequeñas Voces as though it is a reality; we forget it is an animated movie almost entirely. The film, altogether, was beautiful. 

The most incredible aspect was the attitude the children have, harboring no resentment and no bitterness, happy with their lot, despite the trauma it had presented them with. The optimism of their view of life is quite contagious, the beauty of the film resounds for some time after leaving the cinema.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

La Belle Endormie (The Sleeping Beauty) Review

One may think that perhaps there is not much more to be done with Perrault’s classic fairy tale; when it comes down to it, is a fairy tale not just a fairy tale? And, once Disney dunnit, nobody else need bother. Au contraire. Breillat’s recent adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, (La Belle Endormie), undoubtedly proves one wrong. And rightly so: interpretations and modern reworkings of fairy tales can lead to masterpieces of imagination and surrealism, and the possibilities are indeed endless.
When the stubborn, tomboyish and quite delightful Princess Anastasia (Carla Bresninou) falls into a century of accursed slumber, she is granted the consolatory freedom to occupy herself by living a life of 'thrills' through dreams. La Belle Endormie plays out in a series of bizarre and beautiful dreamscapes, following the comings and goings of the eternally young Anastasia as she encounters perils and forges new relationships in her hundred years as a six year old.
The film blends both the original tale of Sleeping Beauty we all know and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen into a spectacular dream life for the princess. Anastasia roams from one fantastical land to another and her reveries are a beautiful and surreal exploration of the eternity of childhood, of love and of grief.
When the fanciful princess awakes, gazing into the eyes of her prince-not-quite-so-Charming one hundred years later, in a 20th Century world which to her is utterly alien, she is forced to adapt to new challenges and dangers, which are often more frightening and certainly more real than the ogres of her nightmares. It is an allegory of a new life and of initiation, of blossoming quite unexpectedly into modern adulthood as much as it is a fantastical tale.
Breillat moves away from the subject matter of her earlier films, leaving behind her too the controversy she has aroused with her more explicit work. Rather than the focus of this film being 'coming-of-age', a recurrent theme in her earlier cinema, she omits this period of the Princess's life almost entirely: upon waking the princess is thrown into adulthood. 
The only disagreeable aspect of the film was the somewhat unnecessary use of CGI, whether it was entirely needless or the viewers imagination would have done the job just fine (we do understand that wands make magic, there’s simply no need for cheap-looking sparkles, please don’t insult us), without taking away from the simplicity and clarity of the film.

Interview with Catherine Breillat: Dir. Sleeping Beauty (La Belle Endormie)

  What would you consider to be the main theme of the film, and what meaning does this hold for you as the director and the audience?
CB As a child, it was wonderful to challenge the world through the fairytales I read, I would always consider myself as a character of the tale, I would imagine we can ourselves overcome obstacles like a knight, the Sir Vladimir of Princess Anastasia’s fantasies. Like in dreams, if we believed that our fears were not real we can overcome them, as in a nightmare we can escape by waking up. Because the Sleeping Beauty cannot wake up, she must travel from nightmare to nightmare as she frees herself from each one, and eventually she dies, which in a dream will cause the dreamer to wake up.
Through her dreams, Anastasia learns about the world and gains the experience she will need to tackle adulthood when she awakes. However, when she does wake she is faced with a world of feelings she is unfamiliar with. Her Prince is not the Prince Charming she has dreamed of and knows, and being from the modern age he is not so charming. This makes the young romance more exciting. Although the Sleeping Beauty does not know her prince, she is more capable of dealing with modern life, but both of the lovers are still incredibly vulnerable, a vulnerability accompanied by strength.
I myself am entering old age, and am the same person as when I was a little girl- when I was twenty, the idea of ‘me’ as thirty, as fourty, as fifty… it was impossible. I did not want to change, I still do not want to change. I am like an older Sleeping Beauty- still the same little girl. The Sleeping Beauty is still the little girl who fell asleep so long ago, although she is not aware of this: as the fairy says at the beginning of the film, childhood is endless.
  The Sleeping Beauty, upon waking, experiences a coming-of-age of sorts, however she is already a woman, having aged during her enchanted sleep. Was there a reason behind omitting her development?
CB Unlike the original Perrault fairy tale, I changed the age of the Sleeping Beauty when she falls asleep from sixteen to just six, as much of my earlier work confronts coming-of-age and puberty, and I wanted to examine life on either side of this rather than the process of maturing itself, so the film focuses on childhood and adulthood.
  The Princess we see at the end of the film is very different to the young girl at the start, as she adapts to the modern world and learns to cope there by herself. Can this be seen in a way as a rebirth for the princess, and to you what does her own child represent?
CB The princess is still virginal despite her initiation as she enters a new life, and as a result she is weaker than the child who roamed dreamscapes as she is entering into a strange and different, but very real world, the dangers of which are new and more subtle.
The rebirth she has is into a life as beautiful as the one she left behind in her dreams, but it is a darker beauty and is far more complicated.
She has the same love for her Prince as before, but now it is after, so it is a new manifestation of love, just as she is not familiar with her prince, but all the same he is her Prince Charming. She has found a balance in her new life.
The princess’s child must embody a different kind of knight to ‘Sir Vladimir’, and must lead life in a different way, however he is the same. 

Originally published:

Life as a Tourist; Review of Matias Bize's 'La Vida de Los Peces'


The story of a man returning home to a first love lost could be considered as a less than remarkable story, done and redone by writers of films and novels for centuries under many different guises, and sad to say it is wholly predictable. However, the exploration of a man’s character and solitude we find in Matias Bize’s latest film, La Vida de Los Peces can somewhat overcome the cliché and adds an originality it was in danger of lacking.
As the protagonist Andres (Santiago Cabrera) returns home after a decade of traveling, we see him travel both physically and symbolically through the rooms of the house and the memories he must confront, as well as the people from his past- and the grief that accompanies absences. Ultimately, the film allows us to examine the various levels of the character’s personality and solitude.
The atmosphere of the film varies as often as the character walks from one room to another, although sadness is pervading, which is embodied by the colours and lighting; a golden hue includes us in a nostalgic catch-up with an old friend, and the harsh blue light of a fish tank allows us to see both Andres’ and his romantic counterpart Beatriz’s (Blanca Lewin) obvious turmoil. Bize encourages his audience to focus on the emotions and internal stories of the characters, placing the plot and even the dialogue in a secondary layer. Music and visuals increase in volume to meet the rise an Andre’s passion, or Andre’s sadness; his feelings are communicated to us through music and we see the people, often only their faces, the film uses almost portrait-like shooting, we are enticed to perceive the characters in his point of view and to concentrate not on the whole picture but on specific details.
The ending of the film is as predictable as it must be, but beautifully portrayed in a climactic final scene, and the film makes up for in visuals what it lacks in depth of storyline. The intensity of our understanding of the solitary man living life ‘as a tourist’, and the empathy for the character so movingly portrayed by Cabrera allows a potentially shallow and insipid film to enthrall, even if it fails to resound in memory for long.

Originally Published: