Saturday, April 15, 2023

Cinema Obscure: Dominik Graf's "Bitter Innocence"

Dominik Graf's "Bitter Innocence" twists about halfway through from a corporate thriller to a sweet love story borne out of the casual indifference and sexual violence men perpetrate on women. That the love forms between a twenty-something woman (Laura Tonke) and the young teen daughter (Mareike Lindenmeyer) trying to unravel the mystery her parents have immersed themselves in should come as no shock to those who've watched just a few of Graf's films. They are mostly love stories buried within a larger framework of genre. Last year's masterwork called "Fabian: Going to the Dogs" is one of the most lush romance films in years, buttressed against the backdrop of an encroaching Nazi evil. Situated firmly in the times it was made (1999), "Bitter Innocence" follows the same pattern as love is widdled out of the complicated yuppie mindset that those in the corporate world can get away with anything if their check book is large enough.

But before we get to the central relationship of Vanessa and Eva, Graf's film wanders through the thriller realm when aggressive boss Larssen (Michael Mendle) threatens to destabilize the vague pharmaceutical company Andreas (Elmar Weppar) has been conducting research within for the past few years. Andreas' fears about the wolf Larssen are confirmed when he discovers him raping Vanessa behind closed doors. Working as a waitress for a catering company providing services at a company party, Andreas doesn't report (or even lift a finger to help) the vulnerable Vanessa, instead using the the act to steal a file that may secure his employment..... which is a prickly move since Vanessa sees him dodge out without coming to any sort of chivalry rescue.

From there, Larssen, Andreas, his wife Monika (Andrea L'Arronge), Vanessa and young daughter Eva become embroiled in a cat-and-mouse game of who-knows-what and whose-blackmailing-who. It's about two-thirds of the way through that "Bitter Innocence" grows a moral compass in the scrappy personality of young Eva as she tries to set things right..... and falls in love with the sophisticated perfume salesman-Vanessa during the process.

With the visual style of a glistening television movie (Graf has careened through an array of features, both for the big and small screens) and a sense of rhythm like that of a soap opera, the film's themes of ravishing passions and high intrigue feel right at home with that lowbrow entertainment. But Graf's swirling ambition about the youth of the world being the most morally grounded figures in a world set on financial gain and personal advancement (and I didn't even mention the affairs!) fits right at home in the subversive tactics of a filmmaker who continually buries so much in his works. I look forward to carrying through with his expansive body of work. 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

The Current Cinema 23.1



Walking the fine (but successful) line between noir pastiche and its own brutal re-imagining of young Hollywood corruption, the negative talk about Neil Jordan's "Marlowe" should be ignored at all costs. Embodying Raymond Chandler's P.I. for the umpteenth time in cinema, this time Liam Neeson gets to flex his laconic detective muscles in a terrific looking 1939 Los Angeles noir that glides its way through the underbelly of a town hellbent on movie magic and criminal debauchery. What begins as a missing person case by the elusive and wealthy Diane Kruger who elicits Marlowe's help, naturally, boils over into a cauldron of corruption. The swipes at virtually every neo-noir since "Chinatown" (including a nice in joke of having Danny Huston portray a sinewy club owner) not withstanding, Jordan and writer William Monahan craft an intricate, engaging, and satisfying cocktail of a film. And it features a terrific line from Neeson spurning the advances of the beautiful Kruger. I can't help but imagine it's an act of denial and an ethos that would've saved 50 years worth of previous private investigators from sliding deeper into their own poor choices.



In this second month of the new movie-going year, I doubt there will be a better scene than one portrayed in Frances O' Conner's fictionalized story about the life of Emily Bronte. In a very nineteenth century act of youthful time wasting, a group of people sit around a candlelit room and play "guess who" with a Shakespearean mask. Leave it to young provocateur Emily Bronte (Emma Mackey) to turn their innocent dalliance into a nightmarish seance where she pretends to embody her dead mother. As an example of the heightened manipulation the younger Bronte sister will continually bring to her family, it's an astonishing moment. As a precursor to the belief that no one can ever really understand her genius in mind and spirit, it's a revelation. In "Emily", filmmaker Frances O' Conner (in this her debut feature!) has molded a heartbreaking tale of the young writer as she tries to find her voice. She falls in love with a young minister (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), dabbles in narcotics with her brother (Fionn Whitehead), and desperately tries to step outside the shadow of her older sisters. Composed with an assured sense of mise-en-scene and a soundtrack that melts the wind swept images, "Emily" should be a breakout effort for all involved. 

A Good Person

I wont deride anyone calling this film overwrought and maudlin. It is. But it worked for me, and naturally, Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman are very, very good even if Zach Braff tries to derail any real emotions with a Shins song every few minutes.

The Innocent

A bit of Jacques Audiard with a dash of Hitchcock, and even some David Mamet thrown in for good measure, and one gets Louis Garrel's fun take on the Parisian heist drama. With some good humor and wild energy playing at the margins as well, "The Innocent" hustles through so many genres, it seems Garrel thinks he may not get a chance to do this again. He will. Full of cinematography that screams out the dreamy, frosty fog at France's dawn and garish (but not obtrusive) colors (oh that flower shop!), "The Innocent" also stars Garrel at the heart of a complicated family drama when his mother (Anouk Grinberg) marries an ex-con (Roschdy Zem) who says his past is behind him.... until the curious son decides to butt into his affairs. Also along for the ride is his best friend Clemence (Noemie Merlant). How the story unfolds is hugely entertaining, at its best when we're not sure where reality meets criminal fiction and the con ensues. I'm not sure if the relationships all earn their lush finales, but "The Innocent" is fun as it goes and proves Garrel will be a staple in front and behind the camera for a long time to come.