Tag Archives: Japanese

The Truth

8 Jul

 

truth

Who knew that for his follow-up to “Shoplifters” (2018), a darkly riveting curio about a family of petty criminals, Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda would make an emotionally tumultuous French melodrama that feels like a revisit of Olivier Assayas’ “Summer Hours” (2008) while being wholly original. Besides the setting, both films are driven by the doe-eyed intensity of Juliette Binoche and wrestle with family reckonings. In “The Truth,” the one prominently in the catbird seat is Fabienne Dangeville, a legendary, César-winning French actress in her 70s played by Catherine Deneuve, a legendary French actress in her 70s – it’s priceless to witness Fabienne bristle at the mere mention of Brigitte Bardot. Binoche plays her daughter, Lumir, a screenwriter who has come home for a visit with her American husband Hank (Ethan Hawke), a struggling TV actor, and their precocious 8-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier).

It takes a little while for mother-daughter barbs to abrade the reunion serenity, and for Hank and Lumir’s marriage to show its frayed edges (“You said you had stopped drinking!”) from behind boho photo-op posturing. Filling the fore until then is a giant tortoise named Pierre who patrols the garden and the sci-fi film Fabienne is working on, playing the daughter of a mother (Manon Clavel) who never ages and looks like a young French film starlet from the ’60s next to Fabienne’s septuagenarian.“The Truth” is sly in its meta, tongue-in-cheek deconstructive approach. The main rubs come through Fabienne’s newly released memoir, with details that lead Lumir to declare on a few occasions “that never happened,” and Fabienne’s aloof, blasé diva complex, which conceals loneliness and lack of real human connection. In one scene where she has an emotional epiphany with Lumir, as the tears have barely dried she proclaims she wished she had saved it for the screen. Is she about her art, her family or her legacy?

The amazing thing here in is Koreeda’s comfort sliding into a très French film. Don’t get me wrong, the plumb of inner desire and personal agonies is not far off from “Shoplifters” or Koreeda’s brilliant 2004 kids-living-alone drama “Nobody Knows,” but this feels like hitting the ice for the first time and never having even the semblance of a wobble. The film, which Koreeda co-wrote, is primarily in French; Hank can barely speak a lick of it but is trying constantly to be at the center of conversations he has little inkling about, which could be seen as some kind of comment about the arrogance Americans drag to the party no matter where they go. The end of “The Truth,” however, is not about big statements, but reaching understanding. It’s quiet, wistful and from the heart.

First Love

4 Oct

‘First Love’: Boxer and dame are on the run through cartoonishly blood-slicked streets

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Takashi Miike, the Japanese auteur of such intimate torture ditties as “Audition” (1999) and “Ichi the Killer” (2001) and the Kurosawa-worthy swordplay of “13 Assassins” (2010), returns to his roots with “First Love,” which, while lacking the intimacy of his other works, delivers the anticipated cringe-worthy beatdowns and unfolds in a freer and more conventional fashion. Taking place almost exclusively at night, amid the seedier side of a neon-bathed cityscape, “First Love” borrows some from Tarantino’s gangster dramas as it centers around a taciturn boxer (Masataka Kubota) and a young woman haunted by ghosts and forced into prostitution (Sakurako Konishi), thrown together and sucked into a criminal underbelly of yakuza heavies, drug dealers and one super badass moll.

That boxer, Leo has his own ghosts – abandoned as a child, he’s recently learned he has a brain tumor. Yuri (Konishi), as a means for her handlers to hold her to her trade, is often hopped up on drugs that only expounds her frenetic paranoia; the specter only she can see comes charging at her in nothing but tighty-whities. Yes, “First Love” is that kind of of gonzo good WTF. It’s a deft professional jab by Leo that brings the the two together, but before they can pause to fall in love – because you know they should be together, no matter how hopeless and desperate their futures seem – bigger machinations rise up and engulf then. A midlevel enforcer named Kase (Shôta Sometani), seeking a greater slice of the action, hatches a plan to play his mafioso boss against a rival while mixing in a squad of corrupt cops. It’s a crapshoot that goes wildly astray. There’s little redeeming about Kase, though the fact that he thinks he’s smarter than he is helps make “First Love” such an enjoyable shit show of madness and mayhem.

Kubota, who also starred in Miike’s “13 Assassins,” carries the silent accidental hero part with aplomb as Konishi’s imperiled damsel dances about him, weaving in and out of bouts of hysteria. It’s great cinematic chemistry, but the real scene stealer here is Becky Rabone as Julie, the girlfriend of the gangster henchman who was Yuri’s protector/pimp. She’s pretty good with a blade, and if there’s not one around she’s just as happy to go hand-to-hand with a larger male counterpart, stomping his brains out once she’s got him down. Talk about a take-no-prisoners attitude (though the name Julie just feels wrong for such a luridly alluring incarnation): For most the film, she rolls through the streets sans pants or skirt, just blood-splattered stockings and stiletto heels. There’s one hilariously grim scene in which a gangster has his gun-wielding arm lopped off and tries to pry the the firearm away with his remaining hand, but his dismembered arm is clutching the pistol too tightly. (“Fist Love”?) It’s classic Miike, and sure to be an elating moment for fire-branded fans. “First Love” may be a bit of a changeup, but all the twisted, dark wit is in there and served up with a wry, bloody smile. Also too, not enough can be said about Nobuyasu Kita’s fine cinematography, which captures the rain-slicked, trash-strewn streets in vibrant neon splashes.

Of all things Kurosawa

20 Nov

Brattle’s full week of ‘Kurosawa in History’ shows how West was won by East’s auteur

 

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One thing I dislike when reading about film: reviews or other critical pieces infused with the word “I.” It’s not about you, it’s about the art, and letting your words about the art convert that “I.”

That said, here “I” go – and I promise to get to Akira Kurosawa, but indulge me for a moment.

Growing up, I wasn’t really that big a film fan. Granted we had only three channels the aerial could catch, and living in a town of 3,000 you had to drive two towns away to find our single-screen theaters, which didn’t get “Star Wars” until six months after its opening. (One was just an auditorium in a town hall.) So for me as a kid, film was mostly John Wayne and Godzilla, and while I couldn’t get enough of the man in the rubber suit, I didn’t like the former much – he seemed phony and too righteous, when the world around me was a darker, less black and white place. You knew things didn’t get resolved by some beefy human with a twangy drawl riding in at high noon, guns blazing.  

The one other movie during this era that grabbed me was “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964). Not only was Clint Eastwood’s no-name badass cool and scruffily handsome, he answered Wayne with moral ambiguity; in those spaghetti westerns the good and the righteous often got their asses kicked, hard. Even with its quirk and dark, tongue-in-cheek humor, Sergio Leone’s cornerstone western felt genuine, authentic from the top down the first time I saw it – and it still does today, hundreds of screenings later. (Though over time there would become many Wayne films I would came to adore – “The Shootist,” “Stagecoach,” perhaps mostly “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.”)

Flash forward to college. As part of my English major at a small liberal arts school, film was on my eclectic list of elective, dubbed “clapping for credit” and quite popular with athletes (I’ll let you all guess my two sports) because the professor, a man named Roger Farrand used to lecture us for a scant half-hour, then roll film; by the time the lights came up, there was maybe five to 10 people remaining of the 30-plus people enrolled. He loved film so much and was so excited by it that if you paid attention during his preamble you could walk out and still safely get a B – he told you everything you needed to know for a quiz or paper. Continue reading