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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2016: Standing Tall and Fatima

These films present very different versions of motherhood in France, both of which emerge out of social precarity.

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2016: Standing Tall and Fatima
Photo: Film Society of Lincoln Center

Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall and Philippe Faucon’s Fatima present two very different versions of motherhood in France, both of which emerge out of social precarity. Bercot’s film follows the history of violence of Malony (Rod Paradot), a white teen in the foster system with a young drug-using mother, from his first visit to judge Florence’s (Catherine Deneuve) office at age six to his becoming an adult before the law. Fatima (Soria Zeroual), the über-mother in Faucon’s film, is a divorced Algerian immigrant who barely speaks French, and who cleans houses all day to support her two teenage daughters, one of whom is just starting to pile up medical school bills.

Both films have that awkward genesis of being authored by filmmakers who may be accused of “knowing nothing” about their subjects because they’re not from the milieu that they portray or bear the racial and religious markers that mar many of their characters’ chances for achievement. This lack of coincidence between the author and the reality they depict becomes an undeniable problem in these films through superficial pedagogic exercises with overtly clear messages. We comprehend Malony and Fatima’s struggles only as synthetic concoctions, and as such the films don’t strike us at a guttural level. They lack the sort of detail that might have spoken to the filmmakers’ emotional connection to the subject matter, which exudes a stagey, self-conscious emotional urgency.

The films’ very first scenes announce their intentions with little nuance, as we see Malony abandoned by his mother in the judge’s office, out of which the audience and the boy will rarely leave, and as Fatima’s daughter is rejected from renting an apartment when the real estate agent sees Fatima’s Muslim headscarf. Such an on-the-nose approach punctuates these films long after their initial sequences, like reminders of the filmmakers’ populist intentions, and of the distance between their experiences and their characters’.

This is evident in the various instances when Fatima’s too-cool-for-school youngest daughter ridicules her mother for being a maid and not being able to read, or when Fatima’s oldest daughter justifies not wanting to go to a party with her roommate by saying she can’t tell people her mother cleans houses. More than sufficient is the close-up on Zeroual’s disheartened face, which spells out the weight of external shame. Standing Tall also lays out its agenda through predictable situations and dialogue, as when Malony tells a girl who has a crush on him, “You’re worthless,” obviously referencing what he’s been told all his life, before asking her if she knows how to give oral.

It’s in the few scenes when Bercot strays away from her overtly traditional aesthetics that the film communicates something genuine about Malony, something that doesn’t denounce the lack of synchrony between the misery depicted on screen and the privilege of the ones architecting the filmic image. When Malony throws a fit in front of yet another authoritative figure, instead of cutting to him being taken to jail, the film offers us a close-up of Malony dancing to crazy electronic beats, his face perforated by intoxicating nightclub LEDs. As Bercot allows for some abstraction, Malony finally turns his violence into something other than itself, into actions without victims.

In Fatima, however, it’s when Faucon pushes the conventional narrative of selfless motherhood to its sentimental zenith that the film disarms us. It’s almost impossible not to weep in its final depiction of maternal pride, when Fatima quietly looks for her daughter’s name in the sheets posted on the school walls in order to see if she’s finally made it. Fatima’s self-effacement is rendered complete, and completely honorable. The scene recalls the mother-daughter ceasefire in Anna Muylaert’s The Second Mother, another film about unacknowledged maternal sacrifice and cleaning ladies, when the two finally stop trying to settle old resentments and simply surrender to love.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema runs from March 3—13.

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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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