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Film Comment Selects 2013: Nights with Theodore

Romantic idealism and environmental psychology become enmeshed, and indistinguishable, in the intimate Nights with Theodore.

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Film Comment Selects 2013: Nights with Theodore

Romantic idealism and environmental psychology become enmeshed, and indistinguishable, in the intimate Nights with Theodore. Sébastien Betbeder’s Paris-set tale opens with a kaleidoscopic observation of the nooks and crannies of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, layered with a pleasant, Wikipedia-esque voiceover introduction that summarizes its historical and mythological elements. It’s a sublime device of immersion, establishing the uniquely hilly park and its unique attributes—the grotto, “suicide bridge,” storied underground caverns, the Belvedere de Sybil—that evoke a voyeuristic thrill and suitably set the tree-filled stage.

A quick cut juxtaposes the lush landscape shots with an urban Parisian house party where scruffy Theodore (Pio Marmaï) awkwardly hides in the corner; he’s approached by a twiggy redhead, Anna (Agathe Bonitzer), and, despite his hesitation, they begin to dance. They leave the party together and exchange very brief life stories: She’s an art history student and he works in “corrections” for magazines and book publishers. Amid their after-hours stroll through Paris’s 19th arrondissement, Theodore impulsively jumps the fence at Buttes Chaumont and Anna follows. They find a leaf-draped tree to create their own romantic canopy and consummate their curious connection.

Their magnetism is ineffable; they share more intense looks than conversations. Hung over, they awake under the same tree in the park and wander, observing families, lively picnics, and people practicing Tai Chi before concluding their time together by exchanging numbers at the nearest Metro stop. Betbeder maintains a bit of mysticism about the couple and the way the park informs their behaviors even when they’re outside of it. Following their first night of googly-eyed intrigue and lovemaking, Theodore suffers light-headedness, leading the audience to wonder if he gains his life force from his rendezvouses within the park or if he’s just an asthmatic.

Without a day having elapsed, Theodore and Anna decide to meet up again, this time discovering an abandoned pavilion with dusty furniture that they use to create their own love nest. This is the impetus for multiple consecutive days spent together in the park, and nights in the pavilion, complete with signifiers of love such as champagne and candles. They effectively give up on their daily existence for their nightly stays in this oasis among urbanity; Anna can’t even stay awake during the day as she rides the subway. “I was happy to spend nights there with him,” she plainly states. “That’s all.” The concept of a park creating an isolated fairytale wonderland for youthful romance is as enchanting yet narrow as the lovers’ connection to each other, but there are pleasures to be found within the short but sweet 67-minute feature. Betbeder tampers with the form, littering the story with archival footage and a brief segment with a talking-head psychologist who recounts an anecdote about a man who suffered from depression when he moved out of Paris and was deprived of his daily walk through the Buttes Chaumont.

Betbeder’s sensibility isn’t unlike typical modern French films, and he allows the tone to be driven by the throbbing indie-rock soundtrack, which includes the Antlers, Beach House, and That Summer; more often than not, Betbeder relies on the music more than the progressively uninspired visuals. There are sinister chords amid the film’s generally jubilant proceedings, which hint at a pernicious spirit brewing within the park and the couple’s nascent relationship. External forces mercurially chip away at their insular bliss: a sister’s disapproval, the presence of others in the park, and times Theodore spends in the park when Anna isn’t present. At one catalytic moment, Anna sneaks off to use the park as her restroom and discovers another man. She returns to Theodore in the pavilion and announces the startling-to-her, and obvious to the audience, revelation: “We are not alone.” Without becoming gruesome, the park’s special spark fades, and Berbeder indulges in odd, unsuccessfully atonal shifts in narrative—including mysterious inhabitants, such as visiting cultish mystics and a multilingual writer who occupies the grotto—without the finesse exhibited in the earlier acts. Theodore and Anna must surrender to their naïve personal possession of such a public place; Anna observes that Theodore’s temperament changes: “He became gloomy, as if knowing the carefree days couldn’t last.” By the end, the audience feels forlorn for the good ole days just as much as the couple at the film’s core.

Film Comment Selects runs from February 18—28.

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Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

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Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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