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Jean Pierre Dardenne (#110 of 17)

Cannes Film Review: The Unknown Girl

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Cannes Film Review: The Unknown Girl

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: The Unknown Girl

Between 1996 and 2005, Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne made four uniformly masterful films, all updating the moral and aesthetic principles of Italian neorealism to contemporary cultural and socioeconomic concerns. Films like Rosetta and L’Enfant are masterpieces because they come upon their empathy and their distinctly humanist messages without the slightest sign of calculation. These films are quintessentially character pieces: The Dardennes’ over-the-shoulder camera technique has become a kind of shorthand in European cinema for self-conscious attempts to create the visceral experience of a given, usually lower-class environment, but for the brothers it always tethered us to understandings of specific characters’ emotions. In recent years, though, the Dardennes have swapped their organic style for a more clinical and mannered one, and the results have tended to show the schematics of a formula that had always been so well concealed.

Cannes Film Festival 2014: Two Days, One Night Review

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Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Two Days, One Night</em> Review
Cannes Film Festival 2014: <em>Two Days, One Night</em> Review

The biggest surprise about Two Days, One Night isn’t that Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have made their most openly political film in years, but that they’ve made one of their least morally nuanced. Certainly the film’s premise couldn’t be any timelier for our post-subprime world: Factory worker Sandra (Marion Cotillard), having recently recovered from a bout of depression whose etiology remains frustratingly vague, learns that her co-workers have voted to receive a 1,000 euro bonus at the cost of her employment. When Sandra discovers that the vote was contaminated by the deliberate malice of foreman Jean-Marc (Dardenne regular Olivier Gourmet), Sandra sets out to persuade her fellow employees one by one to forego their own self-interest in the name of worker solidarity, a gambit whose necessity is further complicated by the fact that Jean-Marc has been feeding them misinformation about their own job security.

New York Film Festival 2012: Bwakaw

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New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Bwakaw</em>
New York Film Festival 2012: <em>Bwakaw</em>

Filipino writer-director Jun Robles Lana’s Bwakaw is a raw, unassuming, and bittersweet character study of Rene, a grouchy gay man trying to deal with the everyday realities of aging in a small village in the Philippines. Shot with a delicate subtlety and simplicity that brings to mind the naturalistic films of the Dardenne brothers, Bwakaw acknowledges the human spirit’s uncanny power to heal even the most traumatizing wounds.

On the surface, the film’s story is about the connection between a lonely gay retiree suffering from an end-of-life crisis and a stray dog that he bonds with. In many ways, Rene is a welcome rebuke to mainstream depictions of gays, showing no visible interest in casual sex or glamour. Angry, bitter, even mildly dangerous, he constantly gets into heated arguments and fist fights with everyone, from his close friends to his loving neighbors. His unhealthy obsession with death even forces him to lead a life where most of his private possessions are dusting in boxes at all corners of his run-down house, with a coffin sitting in the middle of his living room as he impatiently waits for the day of his demise.

Understanding Screenwriting #93: The Deep Blue Sea, A Separation, Pauline Kael, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #93: <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>, <em>A Separation</em>, Pauline Kael, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #93: <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>, <em>A Separation</em>, Pauline Kael, & More

Coming Up In This Column: The Deep Blue Sea, A Separation, The Forgiveness of Blood, The Kid With a Bike, Salt of Life, Letters to Young Filmmakers: Creativity & Getting Your Film Made (book), Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark (book), but first…

Fan Mail: I will take David Ehrentstein at his word that he was serious about Mandingo (1975) is one of the best films about race in America, but I am not sure anybody else will. On Smash’s Ellis I don’t think I made it clear that I think he is bi as well. And I agree completely with David that the “Don’t Say Yes Until I Finish Talking” number is the best one so far in Smash. That episode had not shown up at the time I wrote US#92. Interesting though that they only showed the rehearsal/audition version and did not cut to the fully produced number as they sometimes do. Well, some people can look forward to seeing all those chorus boys in just their towels.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011. Screenplay by Terence Davies, adapted from the play by Terence Rattigan. 98 minutes.)

Terence, meet Terence: Terence Rattigan (1911-1977) was one of the leading British playwrights of the middle of the twentieth century. The period of his greatest success was from 1946 to 1956. His dramas were literate and restrained, usually about members of the upper class stifling their emotions. His work became almost instantaneously unfashionable with the arrival of the Angry Young Men playwrights like John Osborne. But even before his death, Rattigan’s reputation began to regain some of its luster, as did the reputation of his contemporary Noël Coward, and for some of the same reasons. Both wrote dramas about people with restrained emotions, which gives actors a lot of subtext to play. Both were also extraordinary theatrical craftsmen, especially in the area of dramatic structure.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, The Kid with a Bike, & A Trip to the Moon

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, The Kid with a Bike, & A Trip to the Moon
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Remembering Leon Cakoff, The Kid with a Bike, & A Trip to the Moon

If you searched for English-language news of Leon Cakoff’s death two Fridays ago at the age of 63 due to complications after a melanoma diagnosis soon after it happened, you would have found only a translated press release. By the time two notices appeared the following Monday—one on MUBI, one on this site—the release was what they leaned on. The lack of writing seemed strange considering who he was.

You may ask, “Who was he?” For starters, he was Manoel de Oliveira’s recent co-producer, and the producer of anthology films featuring segments by directors such as Atom Egoyan, Amos Gitai, Tsai Ming-liang, and Wim Wenders. He was a partner in UniBanco Arteplex, a large Brazilian art-house theater chain. He was, as critic Amir Labaki put it, the only major Brazilian film personality “to write, edit books, produce, direct, act, distribute, and exhibit movies.” Above all, he was the founder of the São Paulo International Film Festival (Mostra), the most recent annual edition of which began this past Thursday, less than a week after his death.

You might not have heard of the festival. That’s not because it’s new: The Mostra is entering its 35th year. It’s the largest festival in Brazil, and one of the largest in Latin America. This year’s edition alone features around 300 titles.

New York Film Festival 2011: The Kid with a Bike

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New York Film Festival 2011: The Kid with a Bike
New York Film Festival 2011: The Kid with a Bike

Eleven-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) has two very clear goals for the near future: track down the father (Jérémie Renier) who abandoned him in a children’s home and find his lost bicycle. Like an abused dog, Cyril trusts no one, bites everyone, and bolts the moment you look away. After one escape attempt from the home, he runs into a medical clinic on the ground floor of his former apartment building and clings to a local hairdresser, Samantha (Cécile de France), as counselors from the home try to pry him off of her. Samantha soon shows up at the home with the boy’s bike in her trunk, having bought it from the guy Cyril’s dad sold it to. The next thing you know—and boy, does it happen quickly—she’s agreed to watch the fiery pitbull on weekends.