Between Cate Blanchett being appointed to head the largely female jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the much-publicized march of 82 women down the red carpet at the start of the festival (representing the mere 82 women directors in 71 years who’ve competed for the Palme d’Or), many have come to predict that one of the three female filmmakers in competition this year would take the top prize. This article won’t diverge from that prediction, and of the three possibilities, Alice Rohwacher’s Happy As Lazzaro still seems like the safest bet, even with reports coming in that Blanchett teared up at the world premiere of Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum.
Jafar Panahi (#1–10 of 41)
Well Go USA
In a recent Twitter exchange, critic and author Mark Harris described the Toronto International Film Festival as a “supermall.” The numerical facts for this year’s 40th edition suggest as much: 399 total offerings (289 features and 110 shorts) culled from 6,118 submissions from 71 countries. And in the previous two years I attended (2007 and 2008), there frequently was a consumptive feeling in the air that one would associate more with the marketplace than the movie house: Ingest now, digest much later.
That’s admittedly the rush of the festival circuit, an intoxicating feeling only intensified by Toronto’s sheer volume of choice, which allows you to catch a Ridley Scott here, an Apichatpong Weerasethakul there. Or delve deep into the avant-garde via the highly regarded Wavelengths program. Or catch some of the buzzed-about titles that played that year’s Cannes and will soon play this year’s New York Film Festival. Or just take a chance as scheduling affords, since there are always movies screening from early in the morning until late, late at night. (When else would Takashi Miike debut Yakuza Apocalypse, his latest exercise in extremity?)
1. “Last Girl in Larchmont.” Emily Nussbaum on Joan Rivers as a survivor of a sexist era: a victim, a rebel, and, finally, an enforcer.
“That admiring portrait was true, but it obscured a more complicated reality: in A Piece of Work, there are plenty of Holocaust jokes, and some hilarious elder-sex bits, but not a single fat joke, although for many decades jokes about female bodies were Rivers’s specialty. There is no Fashion Police, and no red-carpet routine, no mention of the night Rivers said, when the twenty-two-year-old Kate Winslet was nominated for an Academy Award, that the actress’s fat arms had sunk the Titanic. Was that a joke or an insult? A message to Winslet or to other girls watching? (Try to look better!) This was the harder-to-handle part of Rivers’s legacy, her powerful alloy of girl talk and woman hate, her instinct for how misogyny can double as female bonding. In many ways, Joan Rivers was the first Real Housewife: she was brazen, unapologetically materialistic, a glamorous warrior in an all-female battleground—a gladiator. To honor her, as both a role model and a cautionary tale, you can’t airbrush that out.”
One may be initially struck by the lighter-than-expected tone of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, the third film he’s made in spite of the government-ordered limitations imposed on his filmmaking. In contrast to the poignant melancholy of This Is Not a Film and the more intellectualized meta-movie surreality of Closed Curtain, Taxi features, as one of its opening scenes, an exchange between two cab-riding passengers that verges on the comic even as it touches on deeper issues of human empathy. It doesn’t take long, though, for Panahi’s usual thematic obsessions to rear their head, as we discover that a beret-donning Panahi himself is driving this particular cab, and that those two passengers are, in fact, actors, as a new passenger—a video-store clerk/DVD pirate who recognizes the director from seeing him rent movies at his store—realizes upon recognizing one passenger’s parting lines as being lifted straight from Panahi’s Crimson Gold. Even then, though, the fourth-wall-breaking revelation is handled in a breezy manner—until the airiness is brutally interrupted when a bloodied passenger is brought into his cab and Panahi is thrust into a situation in which getting him and his terrified wife to the nearest hospital means life or death.
1. “Paul Mazursky R.I.P.” The filmmaker, who captured a changing America throughout films such as Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, dies at 84.
“Paul Mazursky, an innovative director and screenwriter who both satirized and sympathized with America’s panorama of social upheavals in the late 1960s and ’70s in films that included Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love and An Unmarried Woman, died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 84. A family spokeswoman, Nancy Willen, said he died of pulmonary cardiac arrest at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Mr. Mazursky lived in Beverly Hills. As the nation’s counterculture revolution shattered traditional norms of sex, marriage and conformity, Mr. Mazursky made his most popular and commercially successful films: lighthearted sendups of wife-swapping, yoga classes, group therapy, pot-smoking, midlife crises and other self-absorbed, middle-class indulgences that reviewers said he crafted with even-handedness and generosity. Some critics complained that his satire wasn’t cutting enough. Others called his comedies crisp at a time when behavior was at its fuzziest. Vincent Canby, in a 1976 analysis in The New York Times, acknowledged: ’Mazursky is a tough man to handle critically. He is alternately witty and brilliantly sarcastic, then suddenly, soddenly sincere and self-centered, only to explode unexpectedly as a first-rate social satirist.’”
1. “Kenneth Anger Interview.” Harmony Korine chats with the iconic underground filmmaker.
“Well, I had to tailor my dreams to fit my budgets. Except in a few cases, like when Sir Paul Getty was alive and he sponsored my Mickey Mouse film [Mouse Heaven, 2004], I had very limited financial resources. So that has dictated my product. With Rabbit’s Moon [1950-79], I was helped by the Cinémathèque Française. They gave me the 35mm film to make it. It was the same film that [Jean] Cocteau used for Beauty and the Beast—the same 35mm negative. I had plans to do a film based on Les Chants de Maldoror by Lautréamont. I did film part of it with one of the ballet groups in France. I made platforms just below the surface of the water; there were, like, tables, they were held down so they wouldn’t float away. So it appeared that the dancers were actually dancing on the water. It’s not a very special effect, because if you had the money, you could do it with people dancing in the air if you wanted.”
Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber’s The Notorious Mr. Bout teems with a masculine bravado evinced by both the documentary’s numerous male talking heads and its own chaotic, almost exhausting pace, which cuts between home-video recordings, news footage, CCTV cams, animated maps and explanations, and five continents to more comprehensively explain the tribulations (and eventual trial) of Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms dealer more colloquially known as “The Merchant of Death,” whose mythological status served as the basis for 2005’s Lord of War.
As Gerber explained in the Q&A following the film, he and Pozdorovkin set out to reveal that Bout isn’t simply a “shadowy Keyser Söze character,” but a complicated man who also liked to spend time with his family and shoot countless hours of home video. The danger in such an approach—and it’s a danger The Notorious Mr. Bout ultimately succumbs to—is that the subject becomes fairly romanticized rather than humanized, since the attempt to reverse one mythological status results in the valorization of another: insistence of Bout’s actual figure as part diabolical, part naïve, part victim. Unfortunately, Pozdorovkin and Gerber’s representation here appears as forced and questionable as much of the media portrayals denigrated throughout the film.
Jafar Panahi’s harsh sentence from Iranian authorities—his house arrest, restrictions on filmmaking and travel, and communicating with media—have forced the filmmaker to contemplate not only the intellectual struggle that accompanies tyrannical artistic censorship, but its combined psychological and emotional manifestations. Having been denied the professional and creative outlet that made him an internationally appraised director, Panahi is now understandably enveloped in a kind of existential crisis, an unimaginable experience that he’s nonetheless found a way of crystallizing into his two latest films, made illegally with the help of other filmmakers.
These works—2011’s This Is Not a Film and this year’s Closed Curtain, co-directed by Kambuzia Partovi—surpass Panahi’s previous films in their aesthetic complexity, intellectual rigor, and, above all, reckless abandon. This Is Not a Film was a risk for Panahi because, as a so-called documentary, it didn’t appear to be about much more than his daily activities under house arrest: talking to his lawyer, pet-sitting his daughter’s iguana, and describing to the camera a script he wrote for a movie that he cannot make. Of course, Panahi’s seemingly candid setup transversed the conventions of documentary into a meaningful work of meta-cinema, a thorough exploration of the frustrating limits to which an artist can physically make a movie by simply turning on a camera and talking and walking through his or her ideas.
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Just like many of his fellow countrymen, including compatriot Abbas Kiarostami, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has been forced to ply his trade outside his homeland’s borders under threat of government intervention. Whatever the logistics, however, Farhadi’s latest domestic drama, The Past, while produced in France, is a seamless translation of both his stylistic and thematic sensibilities. Farhadi arrived on an international level with 2011’s A Separation, a typically knotty character study which netted awards all the way from festivals to the Academy. He’d done similar, equally compelling work prior to his breakthrough (2009’s About Elly stands as arguably his strongest film), but with an increased eye on Middle Eastern cinema in the wake of Kiarostami’s Certified Copy and the jailing of the more radical, uncompromising Jafar Panahi, coupled with the film’s heart-tugging narrative, A Separation arrived at an opportune time for his country’s rise to international cinematic prominence. The Past parlays this goodwill with even more wide-reaching potential, extending Farhadi’s streak of strong work while cementing him as one of world cinema’s most universal storytellers.