Spring 2015 movie lineup
All shows start on Friday at 8:00PM, unless specified otherwise, at either Battelle Auditorium on PNNL campus
or East Auditorium on Washington State University campus (see schedule below for exact location and directions).
|Date||Movie Title (release year)||Venue|
|February 20 th||Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013)||Battelle Auditorium|
|March 6th||Brick(2005)||Battelle Auditorium|
|March 20th||Life Feels Good (2013)||Battelle Auditorium|
|April 3rd||Modern Romance(1981) (with special guest)||WSU East Auditorium|
|April 17th||The Past (2013)||WSU East Auditorium|
|May 1st||Instructions not Included (2013)||Battelle Auditorium|
|May 15th||A Man Escaped (1956)||Battelle Auditorium|
|May 29th||Bless Me, Ultima (2012)||Battelle Auditorium|
|June 12th||Marketa Lazarová (1967)||Battelle Auditorium|
|June 26th||My Life in Pink (1997)||Battelle Auditorium|
To download the Battelle Film Club Spring 2015 Series schedule for your Outlook, or iPhone (iCloud) calendars, click here.
The backup singer exists in a strange place in the pop music world; they are always in the shadow of the feature artists even when they are in front of them in concert, while they provide a vital foundation for the music. In this tremendously entertaining documentary full of interviews with veterans and concert footage, the history of these predominately African-American singers is explored through the rock era as they tell their stories for the first time.
Read more details.
Susan Wloszczyna, RogerEbert.com
Read the entire review on RogerEbert.com.
A key moment happens early on in 20 Feet from Stardom, a rousing and revelatory tribute that puts a much-deserved radiant face on those under-sung background singers that many of us have been humming along to for all these years. Merry Clayton - whose banshee bellows of “rape, murder - it’s just a shot away” during the chorus of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” turned the 1969 album cut into a shiver-inducing anthem for the ages - takes director Morgan Neville to task for asking her to turn off the music in her car. As she sternly declares, “How can you logically have a diva not have her music on?”
Clearly, this is a lady who is not to be ignored and, lucky for us, Neville takes Clayton’s words to heart. The music is on and then some throughout this smartly put-together documentary that celebrates the glorious harmonies achieved in the days before the pitch-tweaking of Auto-Tune yanked the very humanity out of the process.
No machine, and few solo acts, could come close to the natural-born abilities displayed by Clayton, 64, and her soulful sisterhood that includes powerhouse pioneer Darlene Love, 72; bluesy bombshell Claudia Lennear, apparently ageless since the number is nowhere to be found; delicate dynamo Lisa Fischer, 54; singular sensation Tata Vega, 61; and fresh-faced phenom Judith Hill, 29, who was foolishly kicked off the current season of The Voice.
[..]as uplifting as the music is, the film most benefits from the participants’ abundant gifts as storytellers. They provide funny, frank and unabashedly emotional first-hand accounts of what it is like to be a supporting player to some of the greats in the business. Neville also convinced an impressive number of insightful icons to sing the praises of those hired to enhance their performance with little recognition, including Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, Sting and Mick Jagger, whose camera-ready charm stands in stark contrast to the honest and raw presence of the movie’s less lauded subjects.
For once, the spotlight shines on these brilliant women who spent most of their careers on the outskirts of fame with minimal fortune to show for their efforts.
[...]Lennear, the Amazonian inspiration for the Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” paid her dues as an Ikette while aping Tina Turner’s provocative stage moves (Or, as Lennear puts it, “We were R&B’s first action figures”). Now a Spanish teacher, she expresses shock over the provocative nature of the act - until Neville reminds her that she did a rather infamous Playboy spread back in the day. This sultry siren had the right stuff to turn Jagger’s head, but her much-praised 1973 solo album appropriately titled Phew! failed to turn on record buyers.
After suffering the indignity of performing the songs off-camera for Margaret Avery’s Shug in 1985’s “The Color Purple,” Vega was left in the shadows as the actress earned an Oscar nomination (something not noted in 20 Feet) for the role. She, too, saw her solo albums make only minor ripples in the ’70s and ’80s. Still, this busy backup - who has worked with Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Elton John - is reconciled to her lower-profile fate, noting that if she had achieved major success, she might have OD’d like so many of her peers.
Neville, who is a background presence himself in 20 Feet, has a knack for drawing out revelations from the women, especially Clayton. Her detail-filled anecdote about the late-night call she received to record “Gimme Shelter” in a studio is almost as chilling as her performance. She arrived pregnant, hair in curlers and wrapped in a Chanel scarf, with silk pajamas covered by a mink coat. They assigned her those harrowing, violent lyrics, which confounded Clayton. But she did her job and then some. When she asked for a second take, Clayton says what she really thought was, “I’m gonna blow them out of this room.”
Later, when Neville plays an isolated portion of her four-decade-old track for an astonished-anew Jagger - a scene that often earns movie audience applause - Clayton certainly blows the roof off this fabulous documentary.
(2013) Director: Morgan Neville. Writers: Morgan Neville. Genres: Documentary, music. Country: USA. Language: English. Runtime: 91 min. Color: Color. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual material.
Awards: Winner of Best Feature Documentary at the 2014 Academy Awards, Best Documentary at the 2014 Independent Spirit Awards, 2014 Iowa Film Critics Awards, among a total of 18 wins. Also, nominated 19 more times including the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
In this edgy, unique spin on classic film-noir, Brick stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Brendan, a high schooler who goes gumshoe when his ex-girlfriend disappears, leading him into the dark world of an underworld crime syndicate in his California town. Winner of a special prize at the 2005 Sundance festival for Originality of Vision, Brick took the indie world by storm and has since established itself as a modern cult classic.
Read more details.
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
Read the entire review at RogerEbert.com
[...]What is unexpected, and daring, is that Brick transposes the attitudes and dialogue of classic detective fiction to a modern Southern California high school. These are contemporary characters who say things like, “I got all five senses and I slept last night. That puts me six up on the lot of you.” Or, “Act smarter than you look, and drop it.”
What is the audience for this movie? It is carrying on in its own lifetime a style of film that was dead before it was born. Are teenage moviegoers familiar with movies like The Maltese Falcon? Do they know who Humphrey Bogart was? Maybe it doesn’t matter. They’re generally familiar with b&w classics on cable, and will understand the strategy: The students inhabit personal styles from an earlier time.
[...]The movie opens in James Ellroy territory, with the hero Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) finding the dead body of his onetime girlfriend in a drainage ditch. From the mouth of a tunnel comes the sound, perhaps, of her murderer escaping. The victim is Emily (Emilie de Ravin), who called him earlier for help; from a lonely phone booth (itself a relic of pre-cellular movies) he sees her being taken past in a car, possibly a captive.
Brendan turns into a classic 1930s gumshoe, tracing her movements back through a high school drug ring and ignoring threats from a high school principal who tries to pull him off the case (this is the role police captains filled in old private eye movies). True to the genre that inspired it, the movie has tough and dippy dames, an eccentric crime kingpin, some would-be toughs who can be slapped around like Elisha Cook Jr. in The Maltese Falcon, and an enigmatic know-it-all. This last character was, in the old days, an informer, bookie or newspaper reporter often found in the shadows of a bar; in Brick, he apparently exists permanently while sitting against a back wall of the high school, from which vantage point he sees and knows, or guesses, everything.
Does the movie work on its own terms as a crime story? Yes, in the sense that the classic Hollywood noirs worked: The story is never clear while it unfolds, but it provides a rich source of dialogue, behavior and incidents. Then, at the end, if it doesn’t all hold water, who cares as long as all of the characters think it does?
Brick is a movie reportedly made with great determination and not much money by Rian Johnson, who did the editing on his Macintosh (less impressive than it sounds, since desktop machines are now often used even on big-budget movies). What is impressive is his absolute commitment to his idea of the movie’s style. He relates to the classic crime novels and movies, he notes the way their mannered dialogue and behavior elevates the characters into archetypes, and he uses the strategy to make his teenagers into hard-boiled guys and dolls. The actors enter into the spirit; we never catch them winking[...]
(2005) Director: Rian Johnson. Writers: Rian Johnson. Genres: Crime, drama, mystery. Country: USA. Language: English. Runtime: 110 min. Color: Color. Rated R for violent and drug content.
Awards: Total of 11 wins and 19 nominations. Winner of Special Jury Prize and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. Winner of the Best First Film for director Rian Johnson awarded by the Austin Film Critics Association in 2007, Most Promising Director in 2006 at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards. Nominated for the Best Foreign Independent Film at the 2006 British Independent Film Awards.
Original title: Chce się żyć
Crippled by cerebral palsy and unable to speak, Matuesz (Dawid Ogrodnik) was diagnosed in early childhood as being mentally disabled, incapable of contact with the outside world. The truth was that he was a perfectly normal, intelligent person. But it took twenty-five years of attempting to communicate before that truth was discovered. Based on a true story, Life Feels Good is a tale of perseverance and the endurance of the human spirit.
Read more details.
Neil Young, Hollywood Reporter
A laboriously uplifting tribute to the human spirit, Life Feels Good is Poland’s belated addition to the triumph-over-disability sub-genre typified by the far superior My Left Foot and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.Read the entire review at HollywoodReporter.com.
[...]Having won the Best Debut prize at his country’s national film festival at Gdynia in 2008 with Splinters, writer-director Maciej Pieprzyca enjoyed further success on the Baltic coast five years later, sharing the runner-up Silver Lion trophy and taking the Audience Award outright. Life Feels Good had premiered at Montreal’s World Film Festival earlier in September, where it also topped the audience voting in addition to scooping the event’s prime honor, the Grand prix des Ameriques.
It’s already rather an impressive haul for what will strike many as a rather old-fashioned treatment of disability issues, albeit one which might be seen at home as groundbreaking and even brave in terms of Polish mainstream cinema. Attitudes to the physically and mentally challenged were, the movie informs us, even more unenlightened in the eighties, nineties and early 2000s, the period when protagonist Mateusz - played as a child by Kamil Tcakz and as an adult by Dawid Ogrodnik - was growing up.
Though doted on by his loving family - world-weary mother, madcap father, younger brother and older sister - Mateusz was the victim of an early and drastic medial misdiagnosis, his movement-inhibiting physical condition assessed as severely impairing his mental faculties. “You’ll never communicate with him,” his mom (Dorota Kolak) is brusquely informed by a typically unsympathetic official in the prologue, “You can put him in a special home. It's a vegetable.”
The audience is, however, always very much aware of Mateusz’s lively intelligence courtesy of articulate voice-over deployed throughout, even if the lad himself isn’t able to vocalize his thoughts. It’s only after 26 years of strenuous effort that Mateusz finally finds a way to communicate, involving pointing out symbols in a special book. His is an unusual, affecting and inspiring story by any measure, but Pieprzyca’s approach is so airlessly stiff that the picture barely gets a chance to breathe. Bartosz Chajdecki’s score never misses a chance to underline the poignant bittersweet-ness of the enterprise, tinkling piano joined by echoey whistling effects for particularly emotive passages[...]
(2013) Director: Maciej Pieprzyca. Writers: Maciej Pieprzyca. Genres: Drama. Country: Poland. Language: Polish. Runtime: 112 min. Color: Color. Unrated for US.
Awards: Total of 12 wins and 5 nominations. Winner of the Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor and 2ndplace for Best Film and Best Director at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. Winner of the Silver Hugo Award in the New Directors Competition at the 2013 Chicago Film Festival.
Special guest - Modern Romance will be introduced by Michael Mays, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Professor of English at WSU Tri-Cities, who has written extensively about the film’s director, co-writer, and star, Albert Brooks.
Under the wraps of an anti-romantic comedy, Modern Romance tackles a very serious issue of the contemporary society: the impulse that drives some people to ruin everything that is good in their lives only to create drama. But unlike the ubiquitous conflict junkies in the scripted “reality television” series, film editor Robert Cole (Albert Brooks) tries to mend his unhealthy on-again, off-again love cycle with Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold) by putting himself in comical situations and dialogues, only to reveal how vulnerable he is. Either making a date with a woman he cannot remember or buying stuff he doesn’t need just to take up running, Robert builds one joke on top of another, but ends up overwhelmed by his fears when he finally gets the courage to face his love again.
Read more details.
Fernando F. Croce, Slant Magazine
Nearly as much as Jerry Lewis, Albert Brooks’s comic persona is defined by its unlikability. Instead of the little-guy identification of Chaplin or Keaton, he opts for inquiries of aggrieved male neediness, rigorously free of soothing cuteness. The grim self-absorption that abducted the camera’s mock-documentary focus in his earlier Real Life takes center stage in Modern Romance, a romantic comedy where the romance is perpetually on the verge of destruction.
Brooks reveals what he’s learned from working with Martin Scorsese with the opening camera movement, and the diner breakup that follows reveals what he’s taught Larry David, Neil LaBute, et al. “I do love you, love’s got nothing to do with it,” neurotic film editor Robert (Brooks) says to girlfriend Mary (Kathryn Harrold) before the food arrives, and when she angrily walks out he’s left wondering why she couldn’t wait until after the meal. “You Are So Beautiful” is used as a jazz riff for the opening credits, although Brooks’s compulsively selfish character only allows for the beauty of his own misery as the post-rupture blues settle in and he pads his apartment in purposefully agonizing real-time, Quaaluded and paranoid, dissing his answering machine, praising his record collection, and promising himself a new life. The new life lasts about two hours, until his shell cracks and, desperate to win her back, he hits the supermarket for make-up gifts (“Do any apologize?”). The filmmaker’s ruthless scrutiny of his character’s irrational jealously unexpectedly marks the movie as a distant relative of Él, just as Brooks’s style can be as deceptively simple as Buñuel’s. Harrold wonders if Brooks can tell “real love” from “movie love,” he says he can and woos her with a line from Easy Rider; to further the self-reflexivity, Brooks shows us the nuts and bolts of the medium itself, adding sounds to images in the editing room with fellow film-cutter Bruno Kirby, as if educating the critics who cannot gauge how cinematic his work can be.
The mountain cabin finale, with the pair’s romantic getaway crumbling under the heft of Brooks’s obsession, provides both punchline and culmination to the hilarious-cum-harrowing investigation. It is telling that Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the movie, for the shot of Brooks watching from the cabin window as Harrold makes a phone call could have come right out of The Shining.
(1981) Director: Albert Brooks. Writers: Albert Brooks, Monica Mcgowan Johnson. Genres: Comedy, romance. Country: USA. Language: English. Runtime: 93 min. Color: Color. Rated R.
Original title: Le passé
Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) returns to Paris from Tehran, upon request of his estranged French wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), in order to finalize their divorce proceedings so that she can marry her new boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim). During his brief stay in Paris, Ahmad discovers that a serious conflict has arisen between Marie and her daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet) during his four year absence. Ahmad’s efforts to improve this relationship soon reveal secrets from the past.
Read more details.
Manohla Dargis, Backward to Somewhere, The New York Times
Another great resource is Godfrey Cheshire’s review at RogerEbert.com
The modest, run-down home at the center of The Past is filled with rooms that - much like the characters who are busily, sometimes leisurely passing through them - somehow feel cut off from one another. Set in a characterless Paris suburb that’s as physically and psychically distant from the City of Light as the moon, the movie is both a family melodrama and a relationship story, which perhaps inevitably means it’s about love and loyalty, secrets and lies, and how the past, never being dead, just hovers around waiting to smack us upside the head. All this also makes it something of a haunted house movie, except that its characters are plagued by ghosts of their own design.
The Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi has been down this path before, notably with his art-house favorite A Separation. In that 2011 melodrama, the acrimony between an unhappily married husband and wife who, like shifting tectonic plates, create boundaries, cracks and fissures in their lives and those of everyone around them, including their emotionally rent daughter and an ailing relative. There are several more bad relationships in The Past, which opens in a French airport with Marie (Bérénice Bejo) greeting her estranged husband, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who’s arrived from Iran. She’s asked him to return so they can divorce. From both the warmth and the awkwardness of their darting embrace - their bodies no longer intuitively fit together - it’s clear they’re not done working things through.
For much of The Past that’s precisely what they do, although, as in A Separation, the fractured central relationship is part of a much larger chain of minor and major life dramas, which here include an illicit affair, traumatized children and a comatose patient. Mr. Farhadi has a nice, deliberate sense of narrative timing and an art-film directorଁs resistance to exposition. His characters talk a great deal, but the full meaning of their words isn’t always readily apparent, at least at first. In the opening scene at the airport, Marie calls out to Ahmad, who can’t hear her because they’re separated by glass. It’s a funny bit because it plays like a nod to Ms. Bejo’s star turn in the silent film The Artist, but it also represents the couple’s essential divide.
Marie and Ahmad are scarcely out of the airport before they revert to relationship form, sniping at each other like the unhappy couple they are. Their fights and their movements are carefully choreographed: She takes the wheel first and, in an exchange that’s characteristic of Mr. Farhadi’s oblique approach and increasingly telegraphed dialogue, asks Ahmad if she has enough room to back out. She does, but almost as soon as she goes in reverse, they’re nearly hit by a passing car. “What are you doing?” Ahmad demands, although the same question could be asked of him. She may have asked the wrong question. (Is it safe?) But he also didn’t volunteer the right answer. (Watch out!) After they stop to pick up one of her daughters (from an earlier marriage), Ahmad takes over the driving.
And so it goes, as Marie and Ahmad play their respective parts, airing old grievances and fresh complaints. Yet even while Mr. Farhadi forces you to read between the lines, to parse every aside and scrutinize each sigh, he’s busily loading the movie with plot. Marie turns out to be anxious for a divorce because she’s taken up with another man, Samir (Tahar Rahim), who’s moved into her house with his son, a heartbreaker, Fouad (Elyes Aguis). For Marie’s youngest daughter, Léa (Jeanne Jestin), these living arrangements have meant a new playmate in Fouad, but for Marie’s eldest, a teenage beauty and pouter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), the situation is inexplicably intolerable. Samir, meanwhile, has a wife who, as this world turns ever faster, is languishing in a coma.
The narrative complications can be distracting, at times exasperating, but they’re finally irrelevant because Mr. Farhadi’s filmmaking is so fluid, and the performers, Ms. Bejo, in particular, are so attractive. The story is nearly obscured by its schematic design (everyone doesn’t just have his or her reasons; he or she is also guilty), but there are mysteries, surprises and complexities, notably in the representation of the children and in Ms. Bejo’s thorny, layered performance with its strata of neediness, resentment and hope. As in A Separation, Mr. Farhadi shows a masterly gift for moving his characters and camera through rooms that - with a raised voice, a violent exit - become stages in a ferocious domestic drama. But here, keep your eye on the littlest players, the small ones trembling in the wings.
(2013) Director: Asghar Farhadi. Writers: Asghar Farhadi. Genres: Drama, mystery. Country: France, Italy, Iran. Language: French, Persian. Runtime: 130 min. Color: Color. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief strong language.
Awards: Total of 14 wins and 28 nominations. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Iran), 2014 Golden Globe Awards. 2013 Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress (Winner), Palme d’Or (Nominated), Prize of the Ecumenical Council (Winner).
Original title: No se aceptan devoluciones
An Acapulco playboy, Valentin (Eugenio Derbez in a triple role of director, writer, and lead actor), has an unpleasant surprise one day when one of his flings shows up at his door with a baby, his baby. His adventurous bachelor life has to be put on halt while he learns to be a responsible parent. After six years in which he has established himself as a stuntman, and brought up Maggie to be a beautiful blond-haired little girl, their strongly built relationship is threaten by the returned mother. However, no judge order or DNA test can break their solid bond based on true love, and in the end Maggie helps Valentin understand his own father's reasons for getting him prepared for an uncertain future and ready to face life’s fears.
Read more details.
Annlee Ellingson, LA Times
Mexican TV star Eugenio Derbez breaks into feature filmmaking in Instructions not Included, a sweet, funny and poignant comedy that he directs, co-writes and co-produces. Derbez also stars as Valentín, an Acapulco playboy whose bachelor lifestyle screeches to a halt when one of his tourist lovers shows up on his doorstep with a baby - his baby.
The movie’s Spanish title translates as No Returns Accepted, a much more appropriate description of this story about a daughter no one wants - the mother, Julie (Jessica Lindsey), flees, and Valentín follows her to the United States to attempt to return the kid. Six years later, when Valentín has established a lucrative career as a stuntman, and baby Maggie (the perfectly bilingual Loreto Peralta) has grown into a blue-eyed, blond-haired bundle of delight, Julie tracks him down, ready to be a part of her daughter’s life.
Aimed squarely at a Latino audience - there’s at least one joke centered on a Mexican song that English-only speakers may not get, despite subtitles - Instructions not Included nonetheless speaks to universal themes about love, fear, parenthood and death in the context of a quintessential L.A. story in which immigration is touched on, if not significantly engaged.
The performances are stylishly cartoonish, and an aggressive score pushes the script toward melodrama, but there’s a lot of movie here with unexpected developments, held together by the irresistible chemistry between Derbez and his adorable pint-sized co-star.
(2013) Director: Eugenio Derbez. Writers: Eugenio Derbez, Guillermo Ríos, Leticia López Margalli, et al. Genres: Comedy, drama. Country: Mexico. Language: Spanish, English. Runtime: 115 min. Color: Color. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, thematic elements and language.
Awards: Total of 5 wins and 2 nominations. Winner of the Young Artist Award for Best Leading Young Actress Performance in a Feature Film at the 2014 Young Artist Awards.
Original title: Un condamné à mort s’est échappé ou Le vent souffle où il veut
A Man Escaped charts with meticulous detail and realism the incredible true story of French Resistance fighter André Devigny, who was imprisoned by the Germans at Montluc fortress and escaped on the very day he was scheduled to die. One of the most fascinatingly detailed and suspenseful prison break thrillers of all time, it is also a humane parable of an imprisoned soul’s fight for both survival and spiritual redemption.
The film has been restored by being scanned to 2K Video format resolution (approximately 2048x1556 pixels), and with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack to improve the sound quality.
Read more details.
John Adair, Arts and Faith
Other great reviews can be read at RogerEbert.com and The Metropolis Times.
In her essay “Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson,” Susan Sontag argues that “All of Bresson’s films have a common theme: the meaning of confinement and liberty.” A Man Escaped develops this theme more explicitly than in any other of his works, making it the best entry point into Bresson’s oeuvre.
The film details the imprisonment of a Free French rebel in World War II. Typical of Bresson’s style, it contains lengthy sections of wordless action-the prisoner Fontaine plotting escape alone in his cell, leaving his cell for a meal, or waiting in line to dump his waste bucket. Bresson punctuates these scenes with evocative sound; the intense focus on physical and mundane tasks compels the viewer to look within the characters to understand.
But there Bresson places a second roadblock. In A Man Escaped, as in all of his films after Les Dames du Boulogne, the actors do not emote. Blank looks and unemotional responses populate the characters in the prison. Bresson resists the temptation to allow his characters to explain their deepest feelings and motivations. Such psychological speculation is simply out of the question.
By making these kinds of stylistic choices Bresson drives the viewer to grapple with the spiritual realities of the narrative. In other words, as the main story focuses on the mundane, leaving the characters opaque, Bresson invites the viewer into spiritual contemplation. Rather than dictating particular thoughts or feelings to the audience, A Man Escaped opens a space for the viewer to interact and engage with the profound mysteries of human life, of our desire for freedom, and of the presence of God amid our struggles.
(1956) Director: Robert Bresson. Writers: Robert Bresson, André Devigny. Genres: Drama, thriller, war. Country: France. Language: French, German. Runtime: 99 min. Color: Black and white. Not rated.
Awards: Total of 3 wins and 3 nominations. Won Best Director at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. Nominated for Palme d’Or at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, and at the 1958 BAFTA Awards for Best Film from any Source.
A drama set in New Mexico during WWII, centered on the relationship between a young man and an elderly medicine woman who helps him contend with the battle between good and evil that rages in his village. Based on the controversial, first award-winning Chicano novel by acclaimed author Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima is a turbulent coming-of-age story about a young boy, Antonio (Luke Ganalon), growing up in New Mexico during World War II. When a mysterious curandera (healer) named Ultima (Miriam Colon) comes to live with his family, she teaches him about the power of the spiritual world. As their relationship grows, Antonio begins to question his strict upbringing by his parents (Dolores Heredia and Benito Martinez). Through a series of mysterious and at times terrifying events, Antonio must grapple with questions about the nature of divinity and his own destiny.
Read more details.
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
Read the entire review at RogerEbert.com
[...]The story involves a young boy in a New Mexico town at the end of World War II. With his brothers off to war, his parents invite an elderly relative named Ultima to come and live with them. She possesses magical powers - black powers, say some, who call her a witch. The old woman takes young Antonio under her care. At a time when the traditional culture of New Mexico is under siege from the modern, and young men transformed by war were returning home with strange ideas in their heads, Ultima hopes Antonio can learn his people’s way of living and carry it forward into his life.
I can imagine the pressures that Franklin and his team must have experienced in making the film their way. Bless Me, Ultima is filled with elements ripe for exploitation. There are magical spells and demonic possession, and a sequence where Ultima (Miriam Colon) takes along the boy (Luke Ganalon) to gather secret herbs and prepare a potion to drive an evil spirit from the body of another man’s son. The potion works, and after a terrifying struggle, the victim coughs out the spirit, which takes the form of a nasty little globe with wriggling black tendrils, still alive.
[...]Bless Me, Ultima is a coming-of-age story that has one hero but two comings of age. Antonio was born in rural territory; his father’s job was on horseback. When the old life died out, his parents moved into Guadalupe, where now his mother seems a better fit. His older brothers want to keep moving, and for them, the war’s draft is an opportunity. We see his favorite brother return, much changed, filled with restlessness and no way to employ it.
If anyone has trouble understanding Bless Me, Ultima, it will be the grown-ups, because so many modern movies have trained them not to understand. Some moviegoers are reeling from the way they’re bludgeoned by the choices they make. Their movies spell everything out, read it aloud to them, hammer it in, communicate by force. This film respects the deliberate nature of time slipping into the future. Sometimes Antonio doesn’t fully realize what’s happened until after it has happened to him. The payoff of a scene is shown in how Antonio’s behavior is reflected in later ones.
[..]I like to think of two kinds of men in the mob. Those who eagerly subscribe to the comfort of prejudice, and those who hesitate because they prefer to come to their conclusions in their own ways. Bless Me, Ultima has that choice at its center. It says that in the formation of the place now named New Mexico, two peoples came together, the Indians and the Europeans, and formed a population that drew from two traditions. Now we hear of immigration reform. It has to do with taxes and politics. Otherwise, we might as well reform the flights of the birds.
(2012) Director: Carl Franklin. Writers: Rudolfo Anaya (novel), Carl Franklin (screenplay). Genres: Drama, war. Country: USA. Language: English, Spanish. Runtime: 106 min. Color: Color. Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual references.
Awards: Winner of Best Feature Film, Best Actor, and Best Actress at the 2013 Imagen Foundation Awards.
In this hallucinatory avant-garde epic, set against the historical backdrop of Christianity and feudal rule struggling to gain foothold in 13th century Bohemia, warring mediaeval pagan and Christian tribal clans clash for loyalty, betrayal and survival. A mixture of stark mediaeval brutality and startlingly lyrical beauty, Marketa Lazarová was voted best Czech film of all time by a 1998 poll of its nation’s critics.
Read more details.
Tom Gunning, Criterion Collection
Marketa Lazarová (1967) ambushes the viewer, emerging suddenly from obscurity to overwhelm with a rush of sensation, like a cinema bandit, like the primitive hordes that provide the film’s main characters. An unforgettable-but also largely unknown-work, it demands the broader audience this release will bring it. Most films lay out a journey for us, take us for a ride, exhilarate or charm us, but give us some idea of where we are going. Marketa Lazarová sweeps us up in a sort of rapture before we even get our feet on the ground. František Vlácil directs with a symphonic variation of tone and pace, moving with assurance from the frenetic to the contemplative, the horrific to the erotic. This may not be a film for everyone. It calls for stamina and for surrender to the wonder of vision and hearing, even when the way remains obscure and seems a bit dangerous. It forces us to rediscover the power of image and sound - and what happens when you bring them together.Read the entire review for very interesting details at Criterion Collection.
[...]The cold and unfriendly opening landscape holds no human form. In the second shot, we can make out moving figures in the distance. Their loping gait reveals their animal nature-wolves running through the snow, as the camera tracks with them. We cut suddenly to a close-up of a bird, taken with a telephoto lens, which flattens out its dark figure, fusing it with bare winter branches. We then glimpse a human head, apparently a hunter holding this falcon, moving through a thicket in disorienting close-up. The scale switches abruptly to a distant view of another bleak landscape, as the film’s credits appear over a field of snow. At the top of the frame, a wagon and horses eventually enter, tiny figures on the horizon. Under these images, we hear a choral work combining saccadic modern rhythms with ethereal female voices that hauntingly recall liturgical music. Not the least of the beauties of this film is its innovative musical soundtrack by composer Zdenek Liška, who worked frequently with Vlácil (as well as experimental filmmakers Karel Zeman, Jan Švankmajer, and the Brothers Quay). The power of his score recalls two other modernist pieces that evoke the pagan pulse that persisted into the Middle Ages: Carl Orff⁽s “Carmina Burana” and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”
In less than two minutes, Vlácil creates a world tensed with potential violence yet interwoven with a harsh natural beauty. This is a world of hunters and victims, of watchers and the watched, of confined hiding places and vast emptiness. The camera self-consciously brings us either too close to things to see clearly or too far from them to make them out. Yet this obscurity never alienates us from this environment but rather sets it vibrating with threat. We are lost in an enigmatic place whose dangers must be figured out if we are to survive.
[...]Marketa Lazarová may be an aggressively avant-garde and experimental film, but it never becomes abstract or sublimated. It twists our ideas of how stories are told, how space and time interrelate, and what a film image looks like. Vlácil commands our senses, making us feel the dulling chill of winter, the searing pain of a sword thrust, or the urgency of sexual desire. A historical film, he claimed, must “depict the times in such a way that the viewer can really fall back that many centuries into the past” - so that we experience, for instance, the sensations of a knight lost in a snowstorm. To achieve this level of bodily immersion, he forced his cast to live for months in frigid forest locations, dressed in furs. Rather than restaging past events, he sought to capture the visceral inside of history.
[...]Marketa Lazarová also astonishes with its willingness to dive directly into taboo subjects. Working within a Communist state, Vlácil tackled incestuous passion, bestiality, pagan sexuality, and brutal violence, and portrayed human society as a contest between feral savagery and repressive authority. The film refuses to choose between the pagan rituals of sex and blood and the puritanical Christianity of the convent, or between the violence of the fur-clad Kozlík band and that of the armored German knights.
[...]Marketa Lazarová marked an artistic highpoint for Vlácil, where he balanced control of his medium with a will to experiment.
[...]Marketa Lazarová also makes us realize that we need to reevaluate the international cinema of the sixties, expanding beyond the acknowledged masterpieces of the New Wave to discover neglected genres and auteurs.[...]
Another great resource is Jordan Cronk's review at Slant Magazine.
(1967) Director: Frantisek Vlácil. Writers: Frantisek Pavlícek, Vladislav Vancura. Genres: Drama, history, romance. Country: Czechoslovakia. Language: Czech, German. Runtime: 162 min. Color: Black and white. Not rated.
Awards: Nominated for Crystal Globe at the 1992 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Original title: Ma vie en rose
Ludovic is a happy, healthy, good-natured 7-year-old who has decided that he’s a girl. His fondness for wearing girl’s clothes and his stubborn refusal to listen to reason from his parents, teachers, or schoolmates causes trouble in the middle-class French neighborhood where his family has just moved. My Life in Pink is a comedic look at the discomfort and bigotry of conventionally-minded people toward those who fail to stay within the boundaries of gender identity.
Read more details.
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
Ludovic is a 7-year-old boy who likes to dress in girl’s clothes, not so much because he likes the clothes as because he is convinced he is a girl. It all seems very clear. After he learns about chromosomes, he explains to his parents that instead of the female XX chromosomes he was intended to get, he received the male XY after “my other X fell in the garbage.” Ludovic’s parents have just moved to a suburb of Paris that looks for all the world like a set for Ozzie and Harriet. Ominously, they live next door to his father’s boss. A barbecue is planned to welcome the newcomers, and it’s at this party that Ludovic makes his dramatic entrance, dressed in pink. The adults, who would not have looked twice at a little girl wearing jeans and sneakers, are stunned. “It’s normal until 7,” Ludovic’s mother explains bravely. “I read it in Marie-Claire.”Ma Vie en Rose offers gentle fantasy, and a little hard reality, about Ludovic’s predicament. He is convinced he is a girl, knows some sort of mistake was made, and is serenely intent on correcting it. Soon he’s making the arrangements for a play “marriage” with Jerome, his best friend, who lives next door and is therefore, unluckily, the boss’s son. Since the boss is a blustering bigot, this is not a good idea. Indeed, most of the adults in the movie seem like members of the Gender Role Enforcement Police.
The film is careful to keep its focus within childhood. It’s not a story about homosexuality or transvestism, but about a little boy who thinks he’s a little girl. Maybe Ludovic, played by a calmly self-possessed 11-year-old named Georges du Fresne, will grow up to be gay. Maybe not. That’s not what the movie is about. And the performance reflects Ludovic’s innocence and naivete; there is no sexual awareness in his dressing-up, but simply a determination to set things right.
The movie is about two ways of seeing things: the child’s and the adult’s. It shows how children construct elaborate play worlds out of dreams and fantasies, and then plug their real worlds right into them. Ludovic’s alternate universe is ruled by his favorite TV personality, named Pam, who dresses like a princess and has a boyfriend named Ken and flies about the houses with her sparkling magic wand. It also contains his beloved grandmother. In this world Ludovic is sort of an assistant princess, and we can see how his worship of Pam has made him want to be just like her.
Adults, on the other hand, see things in more literal terms, and are less open to fancy. No one is threatened by a girl who dresses like a boy, but the father’s boss is just one of the people who sees red whenever Ludovic turns up in drag. This innocent little boy is made to pay for all the gay phobias, fears and prejudices of the adult world.
Because Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink) is a comedy, however, the going never gets too heavy. Ludovic is taken to a psychiatrist, he is shouted at by his (mostly sympathetic) parents, he is a figure of mystery to his three well-adjusted siblings and he is a threat to the stability of his neighborhood. Since it’s one of those sitcom neighborhoods where everyone spends a lot of time out on the lawn or gossiping over the driveways, what happens to one family is the concern of all.
Ma Vie en Rose is the first film by Alain Berliner, a Belgian, who worked from the original screenplay of Chris vander Stappen, herself a tomboy who got a lot of heat as a child. There are clearly important personal issues at work beneath the surface, especially for vander Stappen, who identifies herself as a lesbian, but they skate above them. And there is a certain suspense: Surely Ludovic cannot simply be humored? Simply allowed to dress as a girl? Or can he?
(1997) Director: Alain Berliner. Writers: Alain Berliner, Chris Vander Stappen. Genres: Drama. Country: Belgium, France, UK. Language: French. Runtime: 88 min. Color: Color. Rated R for brief strong language.
Awards: Total of 14 wins and 5 nominations. Winner of the Best Foreign Language Film at the 1998 Golden Globe Awards, Winner of the Crystal Globe at the 1997 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Nominated for Best Film not in the English Language at the 1998 BAFTA Awards, and Best First Work at the 1998 César Awards.