Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Recently Seen x 4

Heartbeat Detector

Nicholas Klotz's "Heartbeat Detector" (aka "La Question Humaine" as titled in the New Directors/New Films forum earlier this year) is a compelling French drama that elliptically wraps a corporate drama around the much more gastly premise on the after-effects of the Holocaust on a whole generation of people. Starring Mathieu Amalric as Kessler, a psychologist for a large petro-chemical company, he's asked by his superior to research and analyze the mental state of the company's CEO (Michael Lonsdale). As Kessler stumbles closer to the truth about the power plays at work, his own life is shattered by the dark secrets that boil up from the past. "Heartbeat Detector" is certainly not an easy film. Running at 135 minutes, Klotz really gets down to business after the first 90 minutes. But that's not to say that what comes before is completely worthless. In fact, Klotz's hypnotic blend of long takes and original score by composer Syd Matters create interesting digressions as we follow Kessler and his young executives as they dance at raves, spend time cleaning up in marble-walled restrooms and stand in office hallways. And we're also given glimpses at the relationship between Kessler and Louisia (Laetitia Spigarelli), and watch as it slowly disintegrates as Kessler becomes more and more alienated at the facts he uncovers while investigating the CEO. "Heartbeat Detector" is unlike anything I've seen before. The (hugely) important information is doled out in unspoken body language, cryptic anonymous letters and a complex mise-en-scene that often places Amalric in the background of the action (in bars, resturants and concerts). Pitched delicately between moral outrage and quiet office interiors, "Heartbeat Detector" lingers as a devastating and oblique character study of a whole generation.

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai doing Americana, for real, in the actual Americas this time. Like all of his films, "My Blueberry Nights" is strong on atmosphere and mood. But, like the best of his mainland China efforts, "My Blueberry Nights" manages to be sensual without doing a whole lot. Wong understands how to film body language, silences, and his camera is there to encapsulate these mute feelings in swooning slow motion and patient lateral pans. There's a single scene, between cafe owner Jude Law and an old girlfriend that speaks volumes about our fragile connections with old flames, and how devastating it can be when they swoop in and out of our lives. Norah Jones, too, swoops in and out of Law's life (and all around the country) meeting various vagrants of the American landscape including Rachel Wiesz, David Straithern- who deserves a supporting actor nomination work for his turn as a tormented alcoholic in Memphis- and Natalie Portman. This is basically a road movie as only Wong Kar Wai could make... full of speed up landscapes, fluorescent subway trains and life observed from the outside looking in through glass windows. Like German filmmaker Wim Wenders, Wong Kar Wai's 'outsider' views about America don't always translate, but the time warp that envelops "My Blueberry Nights" is transfixing. A splendid film.


Almost like a continuation of his own 1997 murder-mystery "Cure", Kiyoshi Kurosawa is back with "Retribution", this time following a ghostly apparition in red who acts like a malevolent force and causes people to committ random acts of violence against loved ones. It would be easy to classify this as "j-horror", but Kurosawa has the mechanics of the genre down pat and can film this type of ordinary effort in his sleep. What seperates his films from the rest of the pack is his insistence on creating unbearable tension through long takes, unnerving sound design and the perfect eye for light and dark at the edge of the frame. While there's no outright scares in "Retribution", his ghostly apparitions linger in your memory much longer for the way Kurosawa films their unnatural movements, flowing long hair and extreme long takes as the 'things' float directly towards the camera. While "Retribution" is not quite on par with "Kairo", it's an unsettling film nonetheless. Kurosawa's cinema has been largely concerned with the slow-burn approaching of the apocalypse, and "Retribution" carries on the tradition.

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

While "Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle" seemed to tap into some cult-film zeitgeist, bouncing from crude to fresh with ease, "Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" captures none of the original's spunk. You know you're in trouble when an hour and 45 minute comedy drags on for what feels like 3 hours. I'm not sure if this signals the end of the stoner comedy (probably not) but it sure feels like a huge stake in the heart. The targets are easy (KKK rallies, the ghettos and inbred backwoods of Birmingham Alabama, and President Bush) but the laughs they attempt to glean fall flat. Pretty horrible all around.


weepingsam said...

Comparing Wong Kar-wei to Wim Wenders gets it just about right: this film definitely played like one of Wenders' latter day road movies. Though I think Wenders has always been (along with Godard, Hou and a couple others) Wong's primary influence...

1minutefilmreview said...

And that lovely blueberry kiss too.