La Peau douce (1964)

Yesterday, I finally watched François Truffaut’s La Peau douce. The film is a revelation; cynical and warm at the same time. Theme is adultery and love – also a natural contradiction. Direction of the actors is so good it is invisible, but superb skills are evident in Françoise Dorléac’s performance. (Sadly, this French actress died way too young.) I’m surprised this specific film in Truffaut’s body of work isn’t even more recognized and talked about – not to mention seen. I loved it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. (DVD available at Play.)

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No Future for a Cinema with Brains?

L\'Avventura

A post to point you towards an important discussion: The idiosyncratic film blogger/indie distributor Filmbrain raised a legitimate worry this past Friday, in the post “Brains Not Required (Or: Whither Subtlety?)“, leded by an Antonioni-quote:

“I want the audience to work. I ask them to see the film from the beginning and devote their full attention to it, treating it with the same respect they would give a painting, a symphony or any other work of art. I treat them with the same respect by inviting them to search for their own meanings instead of insulting their intelligence with obvious explanations.”
— Michelangelo Antonioni

Are today’s filmmakers spoon-feeding their audiences? Mainstream Hollywood fare most certainly is, but are independent films and foreign specialty fare also more and more letting their audience off the hook too easily? Filmbrain reflects on the negative response from critics in 1961 to Antonioni’s masterpiece L’Avventura, and uses two recently released feature films in US theatres to illustrate his point:

Today all but the shabbiest of critics are unafraid to confront the “obscure”, and you’re more likely to find passionate defenses of a challenging work rather than flippant dismissals such as Crowther’s. Yet how often are today’s critics (and filmgoers for that matter) given the opportunity to use their noggins once the lights go down? Are filmmakers living up to their half of the bargain, treating us with respect as expressed in the second half of Antonioni’s statement?

I recommend you to read all of Filmbrain’s musings, and do not quit reading until you’re through the comments. That is where the discussion is to be found.

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Concerning a Return, a Reprise and a Good Story

Dear reader,

My previous post here dates back to October 19th 2007; in a time when the world looked much more different than now. A bomb went off in Karachi, but Benazir Bhutto was still breathing. Somewhere a small child put their first foot forward, and an old man went blind. I can’t remember anything from that day. Except! I wrote here on Subtitles that Jim Emerson had created a montage that expressed his love for cinema. Since then, I’ve not been writing, as I wanted to write. Yet now, I have returned. Why?

My tree in Istanbul

This is my tree. My return to writing in this space began after reading a piece titled “On Blogging“, in which Mr. Girish Shambu poses a simple, difficult question with more explanation than this: “Why do you blog?”. I remember answering, without answering: “I don’t – anymore. So lets move on to the next item in my feed reader.” Yet, just minutes later, a comment in the thread, by Mr. Michael Guillen of The Evening Class, played to me like a grandfather’s wise words to his grandchild.

He tells a great story, a personal one, as an answer to Girish’s question. I’ll just quote the conclusion: “I blog to retain creative integrity and to keep pace and to make friends with others in the blogosphere. And to dance against death.” It wasn’t a particular familiar element in this that set me off, pondering my return to writing here at Subtitles. It was simply the sheer value of a good story, well told – combined with the obvious relation Girish’s question had to my own reluctancy.

This, in turn, reminded me that my distance to writing was a hoax. Damn sure I’ve got the time to think, to write. I’ve got the words. The fingers. The pixellated ink. And now… the spark:

So, I’m back in this space. And I plan to both write the long, and the short of it.

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Short films: Movie essay about close-ups

Prime Minister’s Question TimeThis is easily the best original web video montage I’ve ever seen. Click on over to the amazing Jim Emerson’s post “Close Up: The movie/essay/dream” to view his film and read his thoughts on the close-up and why he decided to create an essay of moving images to visualize his thoughts. The result is… I don’t know what to say. It’s akin to the fantastic scene in Day for Night, when Truffaut’s director character opens a package that contains books on all his cinema idols and friends. It’s quite simply about being in love with cinema. And I salute it!

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The Ice Storm is freezing Criterion over

I love Criterion, as I’m sure every modern cineaste do. And I dig those montly newsletters, with their quote-clues to future releases. The most recent one made me very happy:

Criterion Ice Storm clue

It has to be an indication that Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is being given the Criterion treatment in the near future. And nothing makes me happier. The Ice Storm is everything American Beauty isn’t, and personally I rank it among Lee’s finest. I read somewhere that Rick Moody, author of the novel the film is adapted from, even said the film improved upon his own book. So, much kudos also to producer/screenwriter James Schamus. I expect the supplemental material on Criterion’s edition to be exquisite!

(Related bonus link: A touching anecdote about Ang Lee’s spiritual meeting with Ingmar Bergman, on Criterion’s blog.)

UPDATE: Now it is confirmed; Criterion is even writing about Ang Lee and the color correction process at their blog.

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Short film: “There’s a man in the habit of hitting me on the head with an umbrella” (2005)

Today, I continue my presentation of short films here on Subtitles to Cinema. This time, it is an animated Norwegian short film with the long, yet precise, title: There’s a man in the habit of hitting me on the head with an umbrella (2005). The film is directed by Cathinka Tandberg, and tells a story that is… well, quite evident in its title. A man finds himself in the situation of being hit in the head with an umbrella (by another man). The absurdist and simple plot is derived from a short story by Argentinian writer Fernando Sorrentino, and has become a charming and melancholic animated short. Watch the 4 minute film – embedded below or in higher quality (I’ll share more of my thoughts after you’ve seen it):

What I really appreciate in this well-composed film, is that the comical essence of the situation is not exploited into cheap laughs and slapstick [sic]. Instead, Tandberg gives room for a subtle tristesse and creates two vulnerable, slightly tragic characters. I love how the simply cut drawings tells us so much about who these men are. Umbrella menAlso, the film is a great example of how dialogue can be replaced by clear actions, and also in this case; very expressive music and sound. I felt every tap of the umbrella against the man’s head. Having seen this wonderful short many times now, both in festivals and online, I can also assure you that it holds very well upon repeat viewings.

A side note; I discovered on YouTube that quite a few individuals have used the same Sorrentino short story as basis for their short films (not animated). They’re without the same success as Ms. Tandberg, but for the curious ones it makes for an interesting comparison. You can find them here, here and here. (Btw, it’s a shame that some of them fails to credit the author.)

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Norwegian poster for Inland Empire

A film poster might be a tiny subject for a blog post, but this is so cool, I could not not put it up here. Since seeing Inland Empire in Lisbon (of all places) last april, I’ve been championing for a theatrical release of this Lynch film here in Norway. Sadly, the market for a surreal 3 hour Lynch film is not that big here, but after a long, hard distribution juggle, it finally opened in two cinemas a few weeks ago.

It is released by Norway’s most cherished art cinema distributor, Arthaus, a non-profit organization owned by the Norwegian Association of Cinematheques. Arthaus has a long-running collaboration for their film posters with celebrated graphic designer Egil Haraldsen of Exil design, and eventhough he’s been doing this for over 10 years, his Inland Empire poster is one of his finest.

Inland Empire - Norwegian poster

I present the Norwegian theatrical poster for Inland Empire here with a certain pride; I find it to be the most striking poster for this film anywhere. To me, it captures all the intensity of the film, the lynchness in the tone, the horror of Laura Dern’s character’s journey and the pixellated visuals (that I really loved). Kudos to Mr. Haraldsen and Arthaus for this one.

(Check out this Inland Empire poster collection. The German one is most alike the Norwegian)

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