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Catherine Breillat (#110 of 11)

New York Film Festival 2013: Abuse of Weakness Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Abuse of Weakness</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Abuse of Weakness</em> Review

Like its heroine, Abuse of Weakness wastes no time looking back, eschewing flashbacks of director Maud Schoenberg (Isabelle Huppert) ruling over a set or being courted by critics at Cannes. Instead, we meet Maud as she wakes up from a twitchy sleep to find herself half-paralyzed by a stroke. Director Catherine Breillat doesn’t linger long on her recovery either. We see enough of sterile, near-silent hospital rooms and painful therapy sessions to know it was a long slog, but we’re soon back home with Maud in her high-ceilinged Paris apartment, where the real story begins—and takes place, for the most part, since she can’t get around without help and she’s too proud to ask for much.

So the world comes to her, primarily in the form of Vilko Piran (Kool Shen), a charming brute she recruits to star in her next film. From his first visit, when he climbs casually onto a bookshelf to get a better look at what’s there, it’s clear that Vilko is as used as Maud is to being top dog, and that these two magnetic people are genuinely fascinated with each other, though it’s not entirely clear why. He soon becomes the leading man in Maud’s life, if not in her movie, pursuing her as if he were an ardent lover—though he kisses her only once, and then very awkwardly. He also gets her to write him more and more checks, apparently of her own free will, until she bankrupts herself.

New York Film Festival 2011: Martha Marcy May Marlene and Goodbye First Love

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> and <em>Goodbye First Love</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Martha Marcy May Marlene</em> and <em>Goodbye First Love</em>

Is it possible for a cinematographer to be considered an auteur even more than the directors for which he works? On the basis of his work on films as disparate in subject matter, style and tone as Afterschool, Tiny Furniture, and now Martha Marcy May Marlene, one could make such a case for Jody Lee Lipes, the phenomenally talented 29-year-old cinematographer who shot all three of them.

The stylistic tics are remarkably similar in all of those films: prolonged takes, carefully worked out mise-en-scène, a penchant for wide shots within a 2.35:1 frame. Obviously, each director uses these signatures for their own purposes, psychological dread in the case of Afterschool and Martha Marcy May Marlene, wistful deadpan comedy in Tiny Furniture, but the style is so consistent that, in some ways, all three films can be considered just as much Lipes’s as they can their directors’. At the very least, one can’t help but wonder what subsequent films by Antonio Campos, Lena Dunham, and Sean Durkin, respectively, will look like if they choose not to work with Lipes.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Sleeping Beauty, The Woman in the Fifth, & The Lady

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>, <em>The Woman in the Fifth</em>, & <em>The Lady</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Sleeping Beauty</em>, <em>The Woman in the Fifth</em>, & <em>The Lady</em>

Sleeping Beauty: Having already portrayed a Pussycat-Doll Alice in Zack Snyder’s CGI derangement of Carroll, Emily Browning embodies a drowsy Princess Aurora in Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s archly Lacanian investigation of Perrault. First seen playing lab rat with a medical balloon being inserted down her throat, the first of the film’s sundry invasions of body and psyche, Browning’s blank, creamy college nymph (a naked performance in every sense of the word) is an opaque creature of impulses whose sexual adventurousness and need for money lead her to a lavish chalet for upper-crust sybarites, Leigh’s version of the dark castle in the woods. There, she tastes the magic potion that turns her into an unconscious canvas for the carnal needs of sagging, goatish clients; “No penetration” is the sole rule in these sessions, though it isn’t long before the somnolent Belle de Jour becomes obsessed with finding out what takes place while she’s drugged. Though she’s clearly studied Haneke and Breillat, Leigh isn’t a natural filmmaker; symmetrical compositions and unheated long takes abound, yet concepts and monologues that might have worked on the page turn arid on the screen. It’s about passivity and revolt, ritual and discovery, the excavation of a fairy tale’s psychosexual text, and the thorough debasing of it. It’s also enervated, ludicrous, and the sort of unique debut that makes one impatient to see what comes next.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: World on a Wire, A Useful Life, The Future, Hahaha, & More

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San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: <em>World on a Wire</em>, <em>A Useful Life</em>, <em>The Future</em>, <em>Hahaha</em>, & More
San Francisco International Film Festival 2011: <em>World on a Wire</em>, <em>A Useful Life</em>, <em>The Future</em>, <em>Hahaha</em>, & More

Having recently wrapped its 54th incarnation, the San Francisco International Film Festival remains a vital nexus of premiering discoveries, acclaimed holdovers from other festivals, remastered classics, and sundry movie-lovers’ events. The last category proved particularly varied and tantalizing this year, with the palatial Castro Theater supplying the stage for such cinephile happenings as diligent preservationist Serge Bromberg’s lecture on the 3D aspects of earliest silents, a rather polarizing State of Cinema address by indie stalwart Christine Vachon, and a baroque sound-vs.-image concert that melded live Tindersticks performances with clips from the works of Claire Denis.

Though things kicked off on a forebodingly precious note with Beginners, Mike Mills’s opening-night salvo of concentrated quirk (adorably uncloseted patriarchs! Ironic pixies! Acerbic dogs!), screenings of marathon wonders like Raúl Ruiz’s droll labyrinth Mysteries of Lisbon, Andrei Ujica’s sardonic documentary The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sprawling sci-fi dystopia World on a Wire promptly made it clear that watching movies at SFIFF is anything but a featherweight affair.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: The Sleeping Beauty

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>The Sleeping Beauty</em>
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>The Sleeping Beauty</em>

Catherine Breillat’s films tend to examine sex in close quarters, trapping their characters in situations where they’re forced to confront otherwise ignorable realities. The film set of Sex Is Comedy, the bare bedroom of Anatomy of Hell, the cloistered vacation communities of 36 Fillette and Fat Girl, all act as proving grounds for the painful exploration of a specific sexual reckoning. This was taken one step further in last year’s Bluebeard, which not only ensconced its adolescent protagonist in a menacing castle, forced to confront male sexuality via her monstrous, murderous husband, but cast this as a framing lesson for two preadolescent girls.

Anthologizing Bluebeard: A Conversation with Miriam Bale

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Anthologizing Bluebeard: A Conversation with Miriam Bale
Anthologizing Bluebeard: A Conversation with Miriam Bale

A mysterious, handsome man lures women to their doom. This story has taken many forms; the Bluebeard legend in particular has inspired generations of artists. Beginning on Wednesday, March 3rd, Anthology Film Archives will screen a number of movies inspired by the story, from Chaplin’s classic Monsieur Verdoux to Catherine Breillat’s latest, Bluebeard. Also included will be rare works by Fritz Lang, Michael Powell, and others. I visited series curator Miriam Bale to learn more.

Tell us a bit about the real-life Bluebeard story.

Bluebeard was supposedly partially inspired by a 15th-century Breton serial killer named Gilles de Rais, but “Bluebeard” itself is a fairy tale. It was first written down by Charles Perrault who also wrote “Sleeping Beauty”, “Cinderella”, and “Little Red Riding Hood” and is known as the father of the modern fairy tale. But Bluebeard is remarkable for being a fairy tale without much magic; it’s very much about real people. It also reads as fairly modern in some ways. It was written in the 17th century, but it’s about a man who goes on a bunch of business trips and his smart, curious unsatisfied wife!

Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One

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Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One
Notes from the 34th Seattle International Film Festival - Dispatch One

The 34th Seattle International Film Festival gets underway this Thursday, May 22. The press screenings, however, commence nearly a month before. For this first dispatch, I’ve set out to record my day-to-day impressions of what I was seeing, witnessing, experiencing on screen.