Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Week in Review

[Update: reviews added of films listed; it's been a busy week!]

With a much larger amount of French homework this week, I allowed my attendance at the Spanish Film Festival to suffer. I'm taking learning a new language seriously otherwise it's a waste of time. I've also added French radio RSS feeds to my Google home page so I can hear more French speaking (even though at this early stage I can only understand the occasional word or two).

I only saw two films from the SFF in total, and wasn't impressed by either. It's a pity really, because Spain produces interesting cinema and the
not insubstantial Elias Querejeta retrospective looked particularly enticing. I'll have to be satisfied with what I saw earlier in the year at La Mirada, and hopefully catch up with some others at MIFF (which I've started planning for, based on the preliminary information that has been released).

I don't have time now; I'll add short reviews later.

FILMS:

  • Paris nous appartient (Paris Belongs to Us, Jacques Rivette, 1960)
  • Duelle (Jacques Rivette, 1976)
  • Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
BOOKS I'M READING:
  • Almodóvar on Almodóvar (Revised edition, 2006, Frédéric Strauss)
Paris Belongs to Us
I've seen three Rivette films now, and feel inadequate in commenting on them, but will do my best. From what I have seen so far, they are all a little obscure to say the least. There's always seems to be a sense of mystery, something elusive out of frame that we never quite see and so never have the full picture. It pulls us in deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole and we can't stop ourselves.

Being new to Rivette, and to nouvelle vague in general, I feel his films demand repeat viewings to further appreciate their meaning.

Paris Belongs to Us is an amazing first film. There's a lovely aesthetic both to the black and white print, the views of Paris and the interestingly bleak characters. I also felt the paranoia about fascism had relevance to today's political environment.

Duelle
Duelle is a film I find harder to write about than Paris Belongs to Us, yet I found it more engaging. I must confess to having been quite tired at the time, and nearly five hours of Rivette (that's 2 films, plus a talk on Rivette preceding the screenings) is a lot to digest.

This is a very elusive film that plays on perceptions. We gradually gain a sense of what the film is about, and visually it sort of makes sense, but we never really know for sure. Yet there's some kind of intuitive metaphysical logic where me make sense of what we see without fully understanding it. It's like Rivette makes us a witness to this amazing world that perhaps we are not entitled to be part of but somehow find ourselves here. Cinematic heaven? Well, I wouldn't go that far, but it's something approximating it. You'd have to have seen a Rivette film to get a sense of my rambling words.

Zodiac
Mention David Fincher and my first thought is Fight Club, one of my (many) favourite films. I saw it twice and my partner saw it seven times (that's on the big screen, and not counting DVD). Mention Fincher and serial killer - that's easy; you'd think Se7en. But neither of these Fincher films really prepares you for Zodiac. It's a completely different film.

The earlier films are in your face and highly stylised. There's no shortage of style in Zodiac, but it's much more muted and understated. There's violence - very well done, mind you, that is highly effective in much the same way the shower scene was in Hitchcock's Psycho. Or like Pulp Fiction - we get a sense of terrible violence, but there's never anything a sensitive person like myself needs to cover up their eyes for.

The violence sets the scene for the type of person who is being sought, and being sought obsessively. Mark Ruffalo is the detective on the case, but it is Jake Gyllenhaal who steals the show. Both these competent actors are used to maximum effect by Fincher but in a non-sensationalist manner. The film is ultimately about these people whose lives were touched by a serial killer - how it affected them and their families.

I generally like Robert Downey Jr. and while I don't have any complaints of his performance, I thought it was a bit too easy for him (playing an alcoholic crime writer going down the drain). The wonderful Chloe Sevigny had a small nuanced role that was played effectively and it would have been nice to have seen more of her.

While some critics have complained about the length of the film, I thought the time was well used to tell the story effectively. It doesn't give easy answers and while the real killer has never been brought to justice, we're given enough information to make up our own minds (and debate). I liked this film a lot.

2 comments:

Phillip Kelly said...

Paul,

This in my opinion has been one of the most compelling films this year so far. I walked out stunned by the level of film making employed to bringing this story to life. And it's something that few director would have taken the time to make so smartly.

One thing Fincher knows how to do is bring character to the foreground, and perhaps that's why I'm always blown away by his films, because in the end you know who you're dealing with. You know what makes these people truly tic, so you really care. That and I suppose an extreme technical brilliance. He forgoes shot/reverse shot simplicity and lets us see a person from the low angle perspective of under a car door. Little things like that are what makes Fincher one of the most talented Directors today.

I can even sit through Alien 3 because of Fincher...though I've only seen "Panic Room" once.

Paul Martin said...

Phil, I agree that the character development was good, and that was the core of the film for me. Not about a serial killer, but the people who were touched by him and how it affected them (and those around them).

I was discussing the film with a friend at lunch today who saw it last week. She suggested something I hadn't thought of - that there was another person. She suggested that the old guy in the house (that locked Gylenhaal's character in) may have been a lover of the killer and it was he that wrote the letters while Leigh did the dirty deeds.

One thing I liked about the film was that there was a lot of information - perhaps too much to digest in one sitting - demanding a second viewing or watching on DVD.