Mathieu Amalric (#110 of 9)

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.

Poster Lab: Cosmopolis

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Poster Lab: <em>Cosmopolis</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Cosmopolis</em>

Compared to the film's teaser, the poster for David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is markedly demure, a tame puppy to the preview's rabid dog. What it first exudes is the high-society life that's lived by Robert Pattinson's finance superstar, Eric Packer, a 28-year-old billionaire created by novelist Don DeLillo. The movie, like the book, sees Packer trek across Manhattan for a haircut, and on the way damage his fortune and encounter all sorts of crazy, Cronenbergian shit. By all evidence (material, maestro, and frantic first glimpse), this chic one-sheet is your invitation to jump off the cliff, to leave crisp and shiny decorum behind and tumble down the hole at which Pattinson seems to be staring. Like the poster for Eastern Promises, it presents crossed hands as the ultimate depiction of a man at a crossroads, where the tick of time (hence the watch) is decibels louder. Whereas the cover of DeLillo's book shows the pivotal limo from an external distance, this poster brings you inside, promising a ride that's as intimate as it is untamed.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Moneyball and Chicken with Plums

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Moneyball</em> and <em>Chicken with Plums</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Moneyball</em> and <em>Chicken with Plums</em>

Despite being about as concerned with baseball management as Sports Night was with sports broadcasting, Moneyball still confronts co-writer Aaron Sorkin with a milieu in which he has trouble being putatively witty. (Brad Pitt, as the famously statistics-oriented general manager of the Oakland A's Billy Beane, at one point hurls a locker-room fixture and listens to it wobble to rest in the corner. “You hear that?” he asks his indolent team. “That's what losing sounds like!”) Granted, Sorkin's not the sole auteur of the genre exercise, per se; both director Bennett Miller and second screenwriter Steven Zaillian are ensconced enough in specific iterations of the generic for us to glean their influence. What's modestly fun to watch, though, is how clearly Sorkin sublimates the rushed, narrative itinerancy of his usually peppy dialogue almost entirely within character motivation.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: World on a Wire, A Useful Life, The Future, Hahaha, & More

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San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: <em>World on a Wire</em>, <em>A Useful Life</em>, <em>The Future</em>, <em>Hahaha</em>, & More
San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: <em>World on a Wire</em>, <em>A Useful Life</em>, <em>The Future</em>, <em>Hahaha</em>, & More

Having recently wrapped its 54th incarnation, the San Francisco International Film Festival remains a vital nexus of premiering discoveries, acclaimed holdovers from other festivals, remastered classics, and sundry movie-lovers' events. The last category proved particularly varied and tantalizing this year, with the palatial Castro Theater supplying the stage for such cinephile happenings as diligent preservationist Serge Bromberg's lecture on the 3D aspects of earliest silents, a rather polarizing State of Cinema address by indie stalwart Christine Vachon, and a baroque sound-vs.-image concert that melded live Tindersticks performances with clips from the works of Claire Denis.

Though things kicked off on a forebodingly precious note with Beginners, Mike Mills's opening-night salvo of concentrated quirk (adorably uncloseted patriarchs! Ironic pixies! Acerbic dogs!), screenings of marathon wonders like Raúl Ruiz's droll labyrinth Mysteries of Lisbon, Andrei Ujica's sardonic documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's sprawling sci-fi dystopia World on a Wire promptly made it clear that watching movies at SFIFF is anything but a featherweight affair.

A Movie a Day, Day 95: Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1

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A Movie a Day, Day 95: <em>Mesrine: Killer Instinct</em> and <em>Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 95: <em>Mesrine: Killer Instinct</em> and <em>Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1</em>

Gangster movies usually come in one of three flavors. In the first kind, the filmmakers identify with their glamorized protagonists (think Coppola's Corleones or Michael Mann's Dillinger in Public Enemies), portraying them as admirable, even honorable men who abide by a strict moral code in an immoral world. The second show no love to their gangsters, thugs without remorse like the ugly brutes in last year's Gomorrah. The third—and probably most common—play it both ways, making their gangsters charismatic enough to appeal to our love of rebels without a cause (think Tony Soprano) while showing enough of the damage they inflict to remind us that bad-boy infatuations work best as fantasy.

Cannes Film Festival 2010: Robin Hood and On Tour

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Cannes Film Festival 2010: <em>Robin Hood</em> and <em>On Tour</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2010: <em>Robin Hood</em> and <em>On Tour</em>

In recent years, Cannes's opening-night films have tended to the high-profile and big-budget, flashy productions (often, but not always, American) that will soon turn up in multiplexes and have no real place at a film festival putatively devoted to art. But they bring in big names and bigger headlines, and carry with them a whiff of glamour and prestige that remains even when the film in question is lousy. Which, this year, it is.

Thanks to early screenings and Internet embargo-breakers, most of what there's to be said about Ridley Scott's Robin Hood already has been. It's an origin story—clearly designed to launch a franchise—that reimagines the mythical bandit as an intense, steel-eyed hero miles removed from Errol Flynn's playful outlaw. It's an approach right out of Christopher Nolan's Batman playbook, but, lacking Nolan's ambition and intelligence, Scott succeeds only in proving that Flynn had the right idea from the start.

For a summer action movie, this one is almost completely joyless, seemingly having been designed with the express purpose of removing from the myth everything that makes it enjoyable. What remains is drab, visually monotonous (this is Robin Hood, brought to you by the color gray), and dramatically inert. Excepting the climactic battle sequence, Scott doesn't even have the courtesy to load the film with set pieces; it's dominated by dull political intrigue, all the better for making lazy connections to present-day affairs. (As with The Dark Knight, it seems likely that windbags from both sides of the aisle will try to claim it for themselves. I can see it now: “Was Robin Hood the first Tea Partier?” No. Shut up.) I admit to taking a perverse pleasure in the Cannes Film Festival opening with a movie in which all the villains parlent français, but it's still a plodding bore. It may not be reasonable to expect art from Cannes's opening films, but if they're going to be hollow, shouldn't they at least be fun?

Film Comment Selects 2010: Happy End

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Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Happy End</em>
Film Comment Selects 2010: <em>Happy End</em>

Apocalyptic amour fou corrupts the earth in Happy End, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu's adaptation of Dominique Noguez's 1991 novel about love, loss, and nuclear bombs over Moscow. As newspapers and TVs blare reports of lethal virus outbreaks in Italy and impending missile bombardments in Paris, and as ash rain falls over his coastal vacation home paradise of Biarritz, Robinson (Mathieu Amalric) wanders about in a fugue, scribbling in a cookbook (paper shortages are at a peak) about the summer before, when he deliberately detonated his marriage to government official Chloé (Karin Viard) for a mad affair with tall, slender, tattooed sex club employee Lae (Omahyra). It was a carnal relationship of an irrational, consuming order, one that led Robinson from Biarritz to Taiwan to Canada, where he was abandoned for the final time by Lae and, alone in the snowy mountains, lost his hand to frostbite. A year later, Robinson still can't get Lae out of his head, an infatuation that the Larrieu brothers posit as so consuming as to supersede concern for Doomsday, as well as one ignited by a tryst that the filmmakers even more drolly, and subtly, posit as the potential cause of the burgeoning global catastrophe.

Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen

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Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen
Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen

I am not alone, I am certain, in coming late to the Arnaud Desplechin party poised to jump off this winter. His latest film, A Christmas Tale, already garnered plenty of accolades from those lucky enough to see it at Cannes and/or the New York Film Festival (two takes I dig: GK's gushing and MK's lucidity). It played in San Francisco last month, too, at the Clay, as centerpiece of the San Francisco Film Society's inaugural French Cinema Now program (dig MG's interview, too). I missed it, on purpose—I was watching Jia Zhang-Ke's The World across the Bay—because I knew it would be released soon, and would probably be a big deal. Looks like the case; the snowball is gathering speed and size. This election week saw not just something righteous for our country but also, on a decidedly smaller scale (like, minuscule, dude), the start of IFC Center's current Desplechin retrospective, Every Minute, Four Ideas, as a build-up to next Friday's New York release of A Christmas Tale. Lucky for me, I got to see two of the other Desplechin films shown at the Clay: his rare debut, the deliciously abrupt La vie des morts (more Maya), and his calling card, perhaps, My Sex Life… or how I got into an argument. Since then I've revisited My Sex Life, on Fox Lorber's abominable DVD release, as well as his 2004 freight-train Kings and Queen. Smart cinephiles that they are over there, the IFC Center has programmed both of these for this weekend, including the possibility of one rich, long, seductive, dark-all-day double bill on Sunday.

On the Circuit: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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On the Circuit: <em>The Diving Bell and the Butterfly</em>
On the Circuit: <em>The Diving Bell and the Butterfly</em>

Jean-Dominique Bauby's story is one of struggle and perseverance. In 1995, at the age of 43, the editor of the French edition of Elle magazine fell into a stroke-induced coma, only to awaken several weeks later with a rare disorder, “locked-in syndrome,” that left him a literal prisoner in his own body.

Unable to speak beyond a 90-degree twist of the head and the occasional prehistoric gurgle or grunt, Bauby could only communicate by blinking his left eyelid in response to a specially designed alphabet, forced to spell out his each and every word one letter at a time. But rather than retreat into a petrified oblivion, Bauby patiently dictated a book, a slim memoir entitled “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” that deals with his recognition and acceptance of this most likely incurable condition.