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That Summer (#110 of 3)

Film Comment Selects 2013 Nights with Theodore

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Film Comment Selects 2013: Nights with Theodore
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.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Low Life and Almayer’s Folly

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Low Life</em> and <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Low Life</em> and <em>Almayer’s Folly</em>

”…and may they hurry up, abandon the horrendous classist denomination of students and become young intellectuals…”—Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Apology”

If immigration has turned out to be the festival’s de facto theme, then surely Nicolas Klotz and Elizabeth Percival’s Low Life must be the film of the festival (though not of the year, that goes to Bertrand Bonello’s staggering House of Tolerance). A film that’s nearly as unfashionably direct in its romance and politics as Philippe Garrel’s That Summer, Low Life is many things—a study of the struggle of bourgeois youths to truly engage in revolutionary activity, a catalogue of the terrors wrought by Nicolas Sarkozy’s idiotic national identity, an excavation of the physical spaces where change must arise from, and a reminder that love and revolution are inextricable—and it does them all well.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Almayer’s Folly and That Summer

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Almayer’s Folly</em> and <em>That Summer</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Almayer’s Folly</em> and <em>That Summer</em>

Almayer’s Folly: In what is easily the most eye-grabbing introductory sequence so far in the festival, an extended tracking shot follows a man into a nightclub where a lounge lizard mimes a Dean Martin chanson before a row of swaying, sequin-studded dancers; a knifing ensues, and the one girl left onstage afterward approaches the camera for a close-up and launches into a grave aria in Latin. Fortunately, Chantal Akerman’s very loose modernization of Joseph Conrad’s first novel lives up to the humid mystery of its opening with a stylistic rigor that finds the Belgian filmmaker—directing her first non-documentary feature in seven years—in top insinuating form. As she charts the dilemmas and gestures of an European trader Almayer (Stanislas Mehar) and his “mixed-blood” daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion), Akerman’s decision to take Conrad’s 19th-century, Malaysia-set story to modern-day Cambodia without acknowledging the changes comes to strike less as an eccentric gesture than as a purposeful extension of the narrative’s inquiries into cultural identity and colonial uprooting. Still, the film works most evocatively not as a visualization of a literary source, but as a companion piece to Akerman’s 2000 masterpiece La Captive, another tale of obsessive drives hitting like tropical maladies. A work of engulfing jungles and rivers, vehement and incantatory speeches, and piercing female gazes in front of and behind the camera.