Charlotte Gainsbourg (#110 of 18)

Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

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Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

Le Pacte

Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

The opening-night film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ismael’s Ghosts gives us a more unhinged Arnaud Desplechin than we’ve had in a while. As in later Alain Resnais or Raúl Ruiz films, it simultaneously collapses and expands a director’s body of work, like an uncontainable popup book. It borrows character names and identifiers liberally from Desplechin’s filmography, but plays fast and loose with the inter-film narrative continuity. It’s worlds away from 2013’s formally and dramatically disciplined Jimmy P., and it builds on 2015’s My Golden Days, which positioned itself as a prequel to 1996’s great My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015 The Witch and Every Thing Will Be Fine

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Toronto International Film Festival 2015: The Witch and Every Thing Will Be Fine

A24

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: The Witch and Every Thing Will Be Fine

That Robert Eggers’s Sundance hit The Witch is slotted in Special Presentations rather than Midnight Madness is a testament to the film’s ambition. Sidestepping the crowd-pleasing, antic energy common to the selections featured in the latter program at the Toronto International Film Festival, Eggers’s film is altogether stranger and more challenging to conventional genre tastes. Set among a family of Puritan exiles in the wilderness of unmolested New England as strange and ominous forces beset them, The Witch often looks more like historical realism than horror.

Deepening that sense of verisimilitude, Eggers draws much of the dialogue from 17th-century documents, though this has the tendency to make the characters sound more as if they’re reciting diary entries at one another than conversing. Thankfully, the dialogue counts for little in the film, which instead devotes most of its energy to maintaining a constant sense of dread in the dense thickets of woods that surround the family. The sound design is exceptional: brittle wind rustling through stripped branches connotes the terror of the family’s complete isolation, the fright only exceeded by the soft but unmistakable crunch of dead leaves and twigs that signals an intruder.

Berlinale 2014 Nymphomaniac: Volume I

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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I
Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac: Volume I

The first half of Lars von Trier's probable masterpiece, Nymphomaniac, arrives on eddies of a “playful” publicity campaign that threatened to flatten the licentiousness (and even the straight-up sexiness) of the subject matter into a string of dopey gags. A series of posters featuring ASCII-rendered genitalia and photos capturing its international cast mid-coitus, were mischievous in a way consistent with von Trier's own smirking, ludic impishness—the pranksterish postures that ignite even his worst and most boring work.

At the risk of whittling one of the most thorny, interesting, and exasperating of living filmmakers down to a single problem, the central concern (for me, at least) with von Trier and his films is that this playfulness rather easily teeters into boring didacticism. His button-pushing provocations—both in terms of his films' frequently controversial material (rape, depression, mental retardation, racism, more rape) and the ideas (or discernible whiffs of ideas) that drive them—become needling and banal.

It's like we're constantly asked to take for granted that von Trier is playing his own devil's advocate, putting across visions of nihilistic reckoning, sneering at the feeble human soul's instinctual gravitation toward corruptibility and self-pollution, while simultaneously being asked to believe that he somehow believes the opposite. He angers and riles us and ignites the passion and intellect, while not really meaning any of it, off in the corner with that shit-eating grin on his face offered up as some mawkish mea culpa. He's like Gabbo on The Simpsons, bashfully offering little else in his own defense beyond, basically, “I'm a bad widdle boy.” It's infuriating. And much more so because it's meant to be exactly that.

Poster Lab: Nymphomaniac

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Poster Lab: <em>Nymphomaniac</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Nymphomaniac</em>

With little more than two strategically placed parentheses, Lars von Trier may well have delivered the best poster of the year, a preposterously simple, characteristically devious tease that succeeds in saying nothing and, potentially, everything about his latest film. Reported, more than a year ago, to be a two-part endeavor (details of when and how each part will be released remain somewhat ambiguous), the self-explanatory Nymphomaniac stars von Trier's masochistic muse, Charlotte Gainsbourg, as a self-diagnosed sex addict, who, at age 50, spills her lifelong string of trysts to a man (Stellan Skarsgård) who finds her beaten in the street. That's essentially all that's known, aside from the fact that the film will include bona fide, non-simulated sex, and that Shia LaBeouf will be among the libidinous partners baring all.

Depending on how you received Antichrist, a sins-of-the-mother horrorshow that culminated with one of cinema's most unshakable acts of violence (you know the one), von Trier can be viewed as a conscience-deprived misogynist or the world's most offbeat feminist. In either case, there's no getting past his fascination with female genitalia, which is bluntly evoked here without any immediate crudeness. One might call the apparent obsession Freudian, but such a common label seems dumbly reductive for a man of von Trier's oft-immeasurable thematic predilections. Still, Sigmund would be proud if he moseyed over to the movie's current website, which, speaking of revisiting the past, lets the viewer enter those parentheses via a move of the scroll bar, simulating the ultimate return to the ultimate source.

15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

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15 Famous Cabins in the Woods
15 Famous Cabins in the Woods

This weekend sees the release of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods, the most anticipated and buzzed-about horror film in some time. The setup is indeed the same one you've experienced over and over: a group of partying, young-adult archetypes head to a remote getaway, only to find terrifying carnage. But the guys behind Cabin delve far deeper into the geek abyss than many viewers will expect, emerging with a gonzo, convoluted send-up that stirs the pot even as it flies off the rails (no spoilers here, kids). The titular locale is but a dilapidated entry point, and we've got 15 more shacks that have opened their doors for audiences through the years.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Supporting Actress

Which performance will land Jessica Chastain her first Oscar nomination? Heading into awards season, that was the biggest question surrounding the Supporting Actress race, and with The Help having certainly surged ahead of films like The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, the question seems all but answered. Still, one could justifiably go to bat for each of the six supporting turns Chastain delivered last year. For instance, the otherwise mediocre spy thriller The Debt, an ensemble piece, unwittingly became a Chastain showcase, as the red-headed natural towered above everything around her while proving her wide range.

New York Film Festival 2011: Melancholia

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Melancholia</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Melancholia</em>

The exterior mirrors the interior and vice versa in Melancholia, Lars von Trier's second consecutive allegorically autobiographical work about crippling depression (after 2009's Antichrist), which he here confronts via the story of a wedding-gone-awry and a subsequent world apocalypse. Those two events are a vehicle for von Trier to explore both emotional and spiritual crisis while also proffering a pitch-black worldview with regard to God and life's meaning, concerns that feature little of the overt glibness that plagued Antichrist, whose provocations and stylistic tics regularly undercut its psycho-horror, but remain issues that the Danish director treats at a frustrating remove. Von Trier still appears to care more for conceptual stunts than actual people and feelings, though at least he tries in this instance, commencing with a gorgeously wrought, if decidedly over-the-top, series of foreshadowing end-of-days tableaus set to Wagner before seguing into the more restrained action proper, in which Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) first glide, then wobble, and finally crash through their nuptials at an opulent and remote estate.