Directed by Peter Greenaway and released on French TV as part of the series L’encyclopédie audio-visuelle on July 16th 1993.
Peter Greenaway gives us a quite different biographical film about one of the most influential figures in modern history: Charles Darwin.
Told in 18 tableaus, Greenaway directs the film and presents us what looks like a play. Mainly shown in Darwin’s study, a fantastic set is conceived of the ship which Darwin sailed around the world in, and we’re even subjected to a vast family feast. Debates are hinted at, but ultimately the story is told by the narrator (voiced by Jacques Bonnaffé) who eloquently recites Peter Greenaway’s grandiose script.
The narration we are provided in this script is very fair and balanced with regards to the topics at hand, and at times we are told that such and such a scene was contrived specifically for that scene and that it is the job of the costume designers or the work of a group of actors; which is what the narrator tells us when we see an asylum of lunatics acted out on screen. This is a very interesting way to give us the story and I found it to be a very refreshing way to tell a biographical story.
In typical style Greenaway gives us sweeping camera movements and rarely do you see a cut take place save for in between the tableaus. This gives us even more reason to make us feel like we are watching a play on the stage at the local theater. While the narration is very fair as mentioned, it does feels like at times that it just needs to let the characters speak and for a scene to play out: for example in the scene where all the different philosophers, naturalists, scientists, etc. were gathered for the debates and the camera just follows them all and they each stare at the camera with an unsure eye as the narrator tells us about how Darwin opposed them with his theories – but I guess Greenaway would rather let the narration tell the story and not the actors. Either way, it falls short for me due to this lack of drama and ends up feeling like a reconstruction documentary.
Even though this is how it feels by the end of the film, it does not take away from the sheer brilliance of the work itself. At times it reminded me of two period pieces: Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio (which you can find a review for here on my blog) or Leslie Megahey’s Schalcken The Painter. Both give very realistic recreations of the periods in which they were set, while actually being dramatic narrative films: that of course is where they differ with Greenaway’s Darwin. That alone is something which you can commend him for, and when you compare it with some of his other works you see the reasons why he chose to do this film in this way.
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani and released theatrically in its home country of France in 2010.
The following review does contain spoilers.
Rarely will a film come along in this modern age – the 21st century is an age far removed from the 1800s when this medium itself was invented – that truly embraces all aspects of what is possible in the process of making a film. The only true examples of this, in my mind, would be David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio and this – Amer. A French/Belgian co-production which is about 98% close-up and about 2% dialogue.
Just like Berberian Sound Studio, Amer pays homage to the Giallo films of the ’60s and ’70s by masters such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento and while I’ve only seen a small handful of films from the genre I’ve no question in my mind that anyone who is a fan of that genre will adore this. The film plays out in three acts: childhood; adolescence; adulthood. Almost the entire film is shot in close-up which makes for compelling viewing and makes you really focus on intricate details especially whenever there’s a medium or a long shot. The way that the directors focus on sounds and senses is astonishing to me as I’ve never seen anything like it. Every aspect of the films production is just sublime – the sound design, the vibrant colour created by the lighting effects and the exquisite cinematography which is a true marvel of modern cinema.
Some of the story may jolt around quite a bit but it’s my humble opinion that the majority of what one would assert is the story of this film is merely just a figment of our main character’s imagination. It’s not hard to tell this, surely, one example being in the first act when the young girl is awoken by a doctor from a nightmare which we presume to be real – in terms of those classic films that influenced this.
All in all, Amer is a beautifully shot horror film that plays with your mind more than any other horror film from the last five or ten years – except of course Berberian Sound Studio which I know I’ve mentioned quite a few times in this review, but it really does stand out for me as a great companion piece to go with this.
Directed by George Sluizer and released in its home country of the Netherlands in 1988.
An exceptionally written horror film that plays out more like a detective film than a horror with one of the eeriest scores you’ll ever hear in a film. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s cold performance, as Raymond Lemorne, is perfect and mirrors the gleeful performance of Johanna ter Steege, as Saskia. The plot concerns a family man whose decides to become a serial killer.
There is a slapstick element to the way that many of his would-be victims know better than to talk to strangers but by the brutal final act we realize that this is no slapstick comedy – despite Rex Hofman’s infectious laughter. Brilliant.
Directed by Leos Carax and released in it’s home country of France in 1991.
The most unconventional of love stories. Denis Lavant is a terrific actor whose talents never go outshone and the same goes for Juliette Binoche. The camera flows so beautifully across this bridge on which our two primary characters spend the majority of the film. The editing is so spontaneous, something I always love in a film as such as this that features elongated scenes without music but the score itself is also enjoyable aswell as quite spontaneous.
So, Leos Carax’s style of filmmaking is what really does it for me and having only seen this, Holy Motors, a short entitled Sans Titre and a segment in the film Tokyo! I am very eager to explore more of his films. I can only imagine that this and Holy Motors are both excellent entré’s into his work.
Directed by Leos Carax and released in it’s native country of France in 2012.
An incredibly powerful yet light-hearted film that centers around a character who lives his life living the lives of others, played magnificently by the ever-challenging Denis Lavant. Even when his character is being sincere, it’s very hard to tell. The film runs back and forth between surrealistic imagery and beautiful fashion statements. That’s not to mention a dream sequence that starts to look and feel like you’ve just taken some magic mushrooms. The motion capture sequence is like nothing I have ever seen in the cinema before. A truly encompassing experience that I would kill to have again.
While the ending was unexpected, humorous, light-hearted and in full spirit of the films title… it was not the way I was hoping it would end. Despite that, this is one of the best films of the year and it’s good to see experimental artsy films with a heart, and made passionately by it’s creator, making a comeback into cinema.
Something I’d also like to note, is the throwback to a previous film of Carax’s Tokyo!. The film was a portmanteau of three short films and Lavant’s character from Carax’s segment makes an appearance in Holy Motors. I can’t remember exactly how much of Tokyo! appears in this but I know that the character is lifted directly from that so there’s sure to be more. A rewatch of that film will definitely come soon.
Directed by David Cronenberg and released in it’s home country of France/Canada in 2012.
As much as I appreciate David Cronenberg’s stylistic approach to this film aswell as an actually good performance from Robert Pattinson – I just couldn’t get into this.
Most of the actions of the main character are unwarranted and pointless, just like the majority of the dialogue. It’s also horrible to see Giamatti and Morton – two of the finest actors of the past fifteen years – have their talent wasted on pointless dialogue that goes nowhere. Yes it relates to the state of the economy, society and where it’s going with the state of technology but all in all it was very disappointing – it only gets good when it descends into madness in the riot scenes.
Directed by Robert Bresson and released theatrically in it’s home country of France in 1951.
Robert Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest is a film that plays with religion in a way I’ve only ever seen matched by Bergman’s Winter Light. The two films share distinct similarities but Bresson manages to convey his themes much clearer. The performance from Claude Laydu is a feat in itself, wonderfully portraying a priest fighting morality and illness side by side while at the same time having his congregation look down on him for his conflicting personal beliefs.
While Bergman’s film deals with a hefty amount of inter-personal human relationships (of course second to it’s religious themes), Bresson’s film deals primarily with man’s relationship with God and one’s self. Our Priest is confronted by various characters about his beliefs but the only person to whom he can truly confess those beliefs to is himself. At times he cannot even bring himself to confess to God his beliefs, but as any religious man or woman will tell you… God hears all.
Throughout the film our Priest’s illness worsens and so do his relationships with the people of his congregation, at the forefront of that congregation is the wealthy family of the Count and Countess. A pivotal scene in the film is the Priest’s conversation with the Countess days before she passes away. They speak on life, death aswell as countless other subjects… all of which are themes looked at throughout the entirety of the film.
Robert Bresson is a director whose work is held in high regard by almost all cinema fans, but it’s really his fellow filmmakers who hold his work in the highest regard. The diet of one Travis Bickle, the main character from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, is said to take direct influence from this film, and the final shot is a direct reference to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day Of Wrath – the shadow of a cross on a white wall.
Upon researching this film I discovered that the young lady who portrays Chantal, the Countess’ daughter, Nicole Ladmiral, jumped to her death beneath a subway train at the age of 28 – seven years after this film. After only appearing in three films, this one being her second to last, it is a wonder if her experience with the themes put forth in this film contributed to the ultimate decision she made.
Whether you’re an Atheist, an Agnostic or a devout Christian, I found Bresson’s Diary Of A Country Priest to be an utterly profound experience that will undoubtedly have you questioning your beliefs long after the film has finished rolling.
Directed by Alain Resnais and released in it’s home country of France in 1968.
A man attempts suicide over the loss of his lover and upon awakening at a hospital he is approached by two men who wish for him to enter into their experiment with time travel but it all goes haywire and he starts reliving just about everything that’s happened to him in the last 12 months.
Je t’aime, Je t’aime is easily the best movie I’ve seen who’s main focus is time travel. It’s handled so normally in comparison to others I’ve seen and it flows ever so magnificently. The editing is some of the best I’ve ever seen – such free associative editing instantly reminded me of Luis Bunuel’s work, namely Un Chien Andalou.
The screenplay is witty and smart and it never focuses too much on the scientific aspects of time travel which is much to it’s benefit because it would totally ruin the vibe of the whole film because it’s not about time travel, it’s about this man coming to terms with his past and figuring out the kind of person he is.
The film opens with the man in the hospital and by the end of the film we know everything about this man and how he ended up in the hospital at the start. Absolutely superb filmmaking.