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last update 20.Jan.03

back to the top DERRIDA
dir Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering Kofman
with Jacques Derrida, Marguerite Derrida, Amy Ziering Kofman, Rene Derrida, Eddie Yeghiayan, Avital Ronell, Rene Major, Chantal Major
release US 23.Oct.02; UK 31.Jan.03 02/US 1h24 3 out of 5 stars
The French philosopher Jacques Derrida is one of the most influential thinkers of our time, introducing the concept of deconstructionism. Now documentarians Dick and Kofman turn their cameras on him to try a bit of deconstruction themselves. And yes, it's all rather self-consciously arty and terribly, terribly knowing! But it's also a rare movie that completely engages your mind as Derrida talks about his own life, trying to remain as private as he can but still letting us inside in some remarkable ways. Most of this happens through humour, as Derrida's dry wit continually catches us off guard. His lucid rambling is thoroughly provocative, always aware that the presence of the camera makes this whole project less than truthful.
Everything Derrida says is fascinating, whether he's trying to deconstruct the concept of love or explain why he doesn't want to give away any secrets about his love life. He's a magnetic character, likeable and fiercely thoughtful, with all sorts of eccentricities you get the feeling he's trying to hide from us. Even clips of him lecturing at universities or chatting to journalists are captivating. And all of it is beautifully and intriguingly filmed, accompanied by Ryuichi Sakamoto's eerie music. Less effective are Kolman's voiceover readings of his writings, using a virtual monotone that makes following the lightening-quick thoughts rather difficult. And her tone of voice feels patronising, like she's speaking slowly so we'll get it! While some of this still packs a punch (such as Derrida's 1992 essay Circumfession, about his mother's senility), other segments stretch our patience. Then we get a remarkable glimpse of Derrida touring the South African prison where Nelson Mandela was held, followed by an insightful and deeply ironic lecture/discussion about forgiveness at a Cape Town university. These remarkable moments make the film worth looking out for. [themes] 20.Jan.03
back to the top PERSONA
ullmann and andersson
dir-scr Ingmar Bergman
with Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Jorgen Lindstrom
reissue UK 31.Jan.03 66/Sweden 1h21 4 out of 5 stars
Bergman's most unsettling, personal film gets a reissue with a pristine print. And while it's a mesmerizing examination of a female power struggle, it's also surprisingly surreal and perplexing. Unlike most of Bergman's films, this one is energetic and very arty, focusing not on the past or the future, but on the strong emotions of the present. It opens with a montage of rapid images that's both gripping and outrageous, and intriguingly leads us into the story of an actress (Ullman) who one night on stage just decides to stop speaking. She's assigned a nurse (Anderson) to care for her, and when the two go to an isolated seaside summerhouse for therapy, their relationship starts to take some dark twists.
Both performances are astonishing, astutely capturing both the internal struggles and the interpersonal rivalry as the naive nurse opens herself just a bit too much and is savaged by her patient, who never speaks a word. From here it's a battle of wills, as these two characters--essentially two halves of one single woman--merge and separate their identities. Bergman directs this with jarring images and strange trickery, and Sven Nyqvist's black and white cinematography is absolutely stunning. It's haunting and utterly unforgettable. If you try to figure out exactly what this film is about, or what Bergman is trying to say, it might drive you mad. Better to just watch ... and let the feelings and themes wash over you with real power. [adult themes and images] 13.Dec.02
back to the top SOBIBOR, 14 OCTOBER 1943, 4PM [Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943, 16 Heures]
dir-scr Claude Lanzmann
with Yehuda Lerner
release UK 3.Jan.03 01/France 1h35 3 out of 5 stars
While making his masterpiece epic documentary Shoah back in 1979, Lanzmann filmed an extended interview with Holocaust survivor Yehuda Lerner. His firsthand account of the 1943 uprising at the Sobibor concentration camp was so compelling that Lanzmann held it back to make a whole film all its own--kind of a Shoah spin-off. The structure is the same, using a few very brief black and white still photos and then intercutting new footage of the places as they are now with Lerner's face-to-camera interview (in Hebrew, translated into French with rather wobbly English subtitles).
And the story is astonishing, so much so that the film actually grips us like a thriller, even though all we see is very dated footage (it's obviously the late-70s!) of a middle-aged man talking and a few now-empty fields. Lerner recounts how he is transported from a PoW camp in Minsk to Soibor in Poland, where his fellow Jewish prisoners realise that they are about to be executed in the gas chambers. They hatch an ingenious and very dangerous plan that hinges on the Germans' obsession with punctuality, and as it progresses it seems so much like a war camp action movie that we have no trouble picturing it vividly in our minds, without any fake Hollywood trickery. The film is just one specific story; it doesn't have the sweep and punch of Shoah. The simple approach is like an old school film, and the familiar material makes it feel like something we surely have seen before. Extended narratives from Lanzmann at the beginning and end are like throwbacks to wartime newsreels. It would help to know French (and Hebrew) in order to get the most out of it. But the material here is priceless, and as an examination of firsthand storytelling, it's also surprisingly gripping. [strong adult themes] 18.Dec.02
back to the top THE SON [Le Fils]
gourmet eyes marinne
dir-scr Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
with Olivier Gourmet, Morgan Marinne, Isabella Soupart, Fabian Marnette, Remy Renaud, Nassim Hassaini, Kevin Leroy, Felicien Pitsaer, Annette Closset, Jimmy Deloof, Anne Gerard
release UK 14.Mar.03 02/Belgium 1h43 3 out of 5 stars
The guys behind the Cannes winner Rosetta are back with another extremely naturalistic drama, this time with a more involving storyline. Olivier (Gourmet) is a lonely carpentry teacher, helping teen boys learn their trade when he recognises his newest student Francis (Marinne) as the boy who murdered his son. Francis was only 11 at the time and has served five years in prison; Olivier is completely unsure what to do about it, but he takes Francis under his wing, against the advise of his now-ex wife (Soupart). But is he fathering the boy in an attempt at redemption ... or planning his revenge?
While the story has real power, the filmmakers never grab hold of it with their loose-handed and fairly pretentious style--handheld cameras follow the characters so closely that we never get a sense of a scene at all, and the actors are all coaxed to the blandest, most internalised performances you can imagine. We never have a clue what they're feeling or thinking as we watch them wander up corridors and down stairwells, work in their carpentry shop or drive through the countryside. Many scenes have nothing to do with anything! It all feels aimless and improvised, which makes the characters authentic but not very interesting cinema. That said, there's still a very interesting dynamic at the centre of the film in the strained relationship between Olivier and Francis, mostly because Francis hasn't a clue what's going on, and Olivier doesn't seem to know what he's going to do next. There are also moments of brilliance that make you wish the filmmakers had seized hold of things more surely, crafting a proper dramatic story from this material instead of this fascinating yet vaguely amateurish art film. [12 themes, language] 17.Dec.02
back to the top VIOLET PERFUME, NO ONE HEARS YOU [Nadie Te Oye, Perfume de Violetas]
ayala as yessica
dir Maryse Sistach; scr Jose Buil, Maryse Sistach
with Ximena Ayala, Nancy Gutierrez, Arcelia Ramirez, Maria Rojo, Luis Fernando Pena, Gabino Rodriguez, Pablo Delgado, Clarissa Malheiros, Soledad Gonzalez
release UK 10.Jan.03 01/Mexico 1h30 2 out of 5 stars
This Mexican drama has such a strong story and such a crucial theme that you feel guilty criticising it, but there are some serious problems. Yessica (Ayala) is a 15-year-old dismissed by her family as a troublemaker. Her mother (Rojo) has shifted allegiance to her new husband, which makes his son (Pena) the golden boy of the house who can do no wrong. You can hardly blame Yessica for misbehaving! She's been expelled from one school and only has Miriam (Gutierrez) as a friend at the new one. And now Miriam's mother (Ramirez) is starting to get suspicious. But Yessica's real troubles haven't yet begun, because her step-brother has figured out that he can earn some cash if he lets his friend rape her.
Director-cowriter Sistach carefully builds the situation, showing how the cards are stacked against Yessica from the beginning. In this macho society, who will believe or even care if she screams that she has been physically assaulted? Her situation continues to close in on her (and on Miriam and her mother as well) until the film takes on the feel of a tragedy. The script is extremely well-written, ringing with truth and essentially important issues. Frustratingly, the direction is rather hammy and unsubtle, which is also the problem with Ayala's Yessica. While the other characters are authentic people we can identify with, Ayala plays Yessica in such a broad way that even before anything happens we wonder what's wrong with her. This askew performance makes it very hard to tap into the film's honesty. Despite the mind-boggling awfulness of her situation, the actress is simply not believable in the role. Still, this is still a vitally important film that deserves attention as it shines an uncomfortable light into one of society's darkest corners. [15 themes, violence, language] 7.Jan.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall