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On the Circuit: Flight of the Red Balloon

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On the Circuit: Flight of the Red Balloon

It’s exciting as well as a little nerve-wracking that Hou Hsiao-hsien’s latest feature offers many firsts in his seventeen-year career: his first made outside of Asia; his first starring a major international actress (sorry Shu Qi, but you’re not in the same league as Juliette Binoche); and, perhaps most significantly for a director not known for trading in symbolism, the first featuring a performance by a metaphorical object.

From its first appearance, Hou’s red balloon is established not as the charming anthropomorphic babysitter in Albert Lamorisse’s original short, but as an effulgent object hovering at a perpetually tantalizing distance. In paying homage to the original, Hou makes a major change that makes the film his own, limiting the once-central object to intermittent appearances that keep its narrative and metaphorical significance ambiguous to the brink of frustration. But the marginalization of the balloon conveys the film’s essential structure, in which people are in a perpetual state of movement, convening and dispersing with no overt motivation other than to live as best as they can manage. Likewise, the film itself is a red balloon, held at arm’s length, but in plain sight, inviting engagement.

If the film has a central protagonist, it would be the young boy Simon (Simon Iteanu) whose initial encounter with the balloon is but one of several moments presented by Hou as events first, plot points second. For plot conveys meaning, but in real life, meaning may not occur to us for hours, if not years after an event. This is a cornerstone of Hou’s cinema: the understanding of a personal sense of history that arises from an ever-unfolding present. Its relocation to a non-native environment, much like the Japanese milieu of Café Lumiere, endows it with an elemental freshness, a sense of seeing things foremost in the moment, allowing their contexts to emerge over time. (This is precisely what was missing in the final contemporary section in Three Times, crammed as it was with signifying details, written in rushed shorthand, that were meant to convey “The Times We Live In.”)

Over a series of leisurely Parisian moments, we come to know Simon, his mother Suzanne (Binoche), a perpetually frazzled single mom who works in a puppet theater, and his new nanny Song (Fang Song). As one scene builds to the next and individual behaviors accumulate into personalities, it becomes clear that all three leads are in a process of discovery. A newcomer to Paris, Song may to some degree serve as Hou’s on-screen surrogate: she politely studies the routines of the family’s lived-in apartment while working on her own video homage to Lamorisse’s film. Simon, meanwhile, shuttles through a world of piano lessons and Game Boy pleasures, an exotic nanny and a red balloon substituting for an absent half-sister and father, his existence conveying both independence and neglect, alternately enchanted and starkly alienated, but never sentimentalized.

Contrasting with the emotionally neutral personalities of Song and Simon, Binoche’s expressive Suzanne is a character unlike anyone in Hou’s stoic filmography. Frumpily dressed and mopped out in a bad blonde dye job, Binoche flits about in a perpetual state of distraction; her only moments of true joyful focus are her boisterous narrations accompanying the puppet plays. The rest of the time she’s juggling to make time for her son and growing increasingly dismayed about the tenant downstairs (Hippolyte Girardot), a friend of her ex-husband who hasn’t paid rent in six months. As improbable as it sounds that the restrained Hou would channel some of the unbridled energy of Cassavetes, he nonetheless lets Binoche play rough and ready, Gena Rowlands-style. She is her own person, given room to vent both physically and verbally, more lively here than in her neurotic work with Kieślowski, Malle or Haneke. Hou’s direction doesn’t so much contain her as complement her, steadily following her own progress towards a remarkable moment of self-liberation, accompanied by the steady tinklings of a blind piano tuner.

Enough can’t be said ofMark Lee Ping Bin’s lensing, perfect in its controlled movements while giving the full sensation of finding the shot in the moment. After nine collaborations with Hou , Lee has established his own sub-genre, which might be termed “mothimatography” for all its instinctive gravitation towards light and movement, letting those elements frame the shot and define the scene with mercurial consistency. Hou’s choreography of these people, in what scholar Fergus Daly termed “clusters of signs and affects given form by light,” underscores a radical philosophy significant not just to the making and watching of movies but also to life: that these objects and people on screen don’t exist for us, no more nor less than any other objects or people in the world, and that they are on their own respective journeys in which we are passing spectators, just as they are in ours.

Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker based in New York City. He has written for Cinema-Scope, The Chicago Reader, Senses of Cinema and Slant. His website is www.alsolikelife.com.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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