Friday, February 19, 2016

The Current Cinema 16.1


In the opening scene of Deniz Erguven's devastatingly real tinderbox of female-emotion-drama, the older three of five sisters are waiting outside the school for young Lala (Gunes Sensoy) as she says her goodbye to a teacher. The three stand, half full of swagger and attitude, knowing that their budding sexuality and natural beauty are but moments away from blooming when they meet their boyfriends by the ocean. It's as if they're poised to star in an 80's teen drama and they're most certainly Kim Richards or Lea Thompson... i.e. the bad girls. But it's exactly this risque attitude that lands all five sisters in trouble when they get home, subsequently beaten and verbally abused for being such loose women and flirting openly with men. "Mustang" doesn't reside in John Hughes middle America, but the restrictive culture of Turkey. Gradually, their freedom (both of personal expression and choice) are eroded as they're locked inside their home and kept prisoners by grandmother and uncle until, slowly, each one is given away to womanhood and arranged marriages. "Mustang", the debut feature film by Erguven, works methodically and brilliantly, canvasing the girl's suffocation in gentle overtones. There are night time escapes to freedom. Outward displays of retaliation. And of course tragedy. Even though it's a Turkish film, "Mustang" is universal in its depiction of smothered youth via overwrought and antiquated traditions. By the time it ended, not only was I reduced to tears for these girls to make it out alive, but ultimately resentful of so many nationalities whose backwards belief system chokes the life from sparkling eyes.

45 Years

Working in understated tones that bristle to the surface quietly, Andrew Haigh's "45 Years" casts the rare glimpse into a married couple's life not in the awkward, rough beginning or tumultuous settling years, but in the comfortable afterglow of old age. As the couple in examination, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay inhabit their roles like the seasoned vets they are. It's only after the consequences of an event far back in the past (before they even knew each other) that ruptures their English countryside melancholy and turns up the psychological dial where sorrow, distrust and ambiguity seep in. This is a film of muted emotions and carefully comprised glances where even the subtle breaking apart of hands feels like a seismic reaction.

Hail, Caesar

Loosely boiling ideas from many of their more successful flicks (i.e. the mordant introspection of "A Serious Man", the kooky crime generics of "The Big Lebowski" and "Fargo" or the compressed isolation of manhood in "The Man Who Wasn't There"), the Coen Brothers don't exactly strike gold with their latest. Weaving an actor-gone-missing subplot around the stressful job of running the day-to-day theatrics of a Hollywood film studio in the 50's, "Hail, Caesar" seems to be having the most fun when its recreating the films of old- from a musical number full of dancing sailors (including Channing Tatum) to the black and white melodrama with an actor who seems righteously out of place. When its not lost in these Hollywood daydreams, "Hail, Casear" sputters for tepid stretches, including anything featuring Josh Brolin as the tense-riddled producer. The lacerating wit typically found in the Coen Brothers works is surprisingly absent, save for a few moments with George Clooney and the self-titled religious epic the film takes its meta name from. This may be minor Coen Brothers- which is typically better than most other efforts out there- but it left me oddly unfazed and quite bored.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Thin Blue Line: Maurice Pialat's "Police"

Alongside Bertrand Tavernier's "L.627", Maurice Pialat's 1985 film "Police" may very well be one of the most anti-police films ever crafted.... in terms of Hollywoodized standards that is. Both films jettison the ubiquitous aspects of the 'policier'. Gone are the car chases, shoot outs and violently illustrious actions that permeate the landscape of the genre. Instead, we get a "procedural" in the most essential sense of the word. In fact, the first 50 minutes of "Police" document the ebbs and flows inside a police station like a one-act play with cops bickering, joking and pushing against a stone wall of questioning. There are no grand break-throughs in a case. There are no "a-ha" moments that decipher the investigation. Instead, they're met with staunch denials by the supposed criminals, the inability to put two-and two together and languorous stretches on both sides of the jail cell glass. If it wasn't for the coolly sensual (and viscerally rough) relationship between cop Gerard Depardieu and purported criminal Sophie Marceau, "Police" might even be called boring. But there's more than meets the eye in Pialat's rigorously researched script (by filmmaker Catherine Breillat) that pivots during its second half and not only spreads deeper into the underworld Depardieu is trying to crack open, but turns the consequences inward as cop and beautiful criminal traverse a more personal intersection.

Young Noria (Marceau) falls into Mangin's (Depardieu) line of sight when the boyfriend she's living with is arrested after an informant gives Mangin his name as a go-between for more heavy people in Marseille. Hours of questioning yields nothing for Mangin and his aggressive unit. If anything, a bitter animosity grows between the two. Trained well, Noria denies everything... even when the cops play her voice on a recorded message.

After this long set-up, "Police" jumps several months with a single cut. Free of her charges (although the boyfriend still in jail), Noria and Mangin have become a loose couple, going out on the town together where the line between good and bad become awfully blurred. Mangin's friend, Lambert (Richard Ancinina), is the lawyer for the accused. As we see, he obviously knows more than the cops. Also in tow is young Lydie (Sandrine Bonnaire), a prostitute whose had relations with both men. The whole group mingle and socialize as if there are no borders between them, and if anything, "Police" is a film about denying strict rules and codes. It doesn't play by the rules of cop, criminal, accessory or prostitute because, in this second half, those biases wash away and "Police" settles on the confused and awkward relationship developing between Mangin and Noria. Is she using him for his authority? Is Mangin using her to set some wicked trap and bring closure to the big case that seemingly slipped through his fingers? It's as if Pialat became supremely bored with the elaborate police film he originally intended to make and set loose on a completely different path about life. Regardless, both types of film work here.

Just now beginning to explore the multi-faceted work of Pialat (having been exposed to and loving his "Van Gogh" some years ago), "Police" felt like the most mainstream place to begin. Instead, its a wonderful shock when a film plays with expectations so vividly. It's messy and complicated and even wildly romantic. Just watch how tense Pialat makes 'quickie' sex in a police station. And if all that's not enough, the film ends on such a perfect beat that one just may forget it's a police film at all, leaving you breathless and knocked out, gasping for understanding the way Depardieu does.