The World According to “Frances Ha”

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“Frances Ha”

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwick
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver, Grace Gummer,
Mickey Sumner, Patrick Heusinger, Hannah Dunne
 

Noah Baumbach’s latest comedy is about a 27 year old young adult trying to get by in today’s contemporary New York City.

But it’s also about how friends, lovers and acquaintances come and go,  jobs appear and disappear and life moves on. Never in one straight line. You move from apartment to apartment from borough to borough (this is an especially accurate depiction of today’s life in New York City).

It’s fun. It’s fast paced. It’s funny. It’s “Frances Ha”.

The film opens with cut-up moments of a young contemporary dancer named Frances (Gerwig) living in Brooklyn with her friend Sophie (Sumner) who is into the literary publishing business. They smoke on the fire escape, they pretend-fight in the park, they talk, they eat, they sleep together, they love each other, they’re best friends. You could say it’s a sweet and sour portrait of today’s life of young artists in the city but without falling into the romanticism of how New York used to be. To compare it as other critics have to HBO’s “Girls” is falling a little short, instead I think a more fair comparison would be to Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” or “Annie Hall”, in the sense that the comedy rises from the awkwardness of everyday situations and written in a unique and sophisticated way.

bildeWe see the world according to Frances. And although she is neurotic, spontaneous and even a little irritating sometimes we still view the world through her lens. A part from a good screenplay with good naturalistic dialogue and realistic scenarios, it is still the performance of Greta Gerwick that really makes the whole thing come alive. Her eccentricity and character makes her likable enough to understand her irrational yet fascinating decisions like traveling to Paris for just a weekend.

The choice of black and white is more nostalgia than aesthetics. It bares the image to the bone and brings out the dialogue. The whole film seems to have a feel of a collection of moments. The scenes seem to be cut quickly sometimes right in the middle of the conversation. We just get a taste of the situations instead of having long and extended shots. In “Frances Ha” the shots are simple and well framed combining the early style of Jim Jarmusch with a pitch of François Truffaut.

Like most Noah Baumbach films, “Frances Ha” is filled with memorable lines and quotes, one of them is said by Sophie: “The only people who can afford to be artist in New York are rich” when she is looking around France’s new 4,000 dollar apartment whom she shares with two other  “artists”. Another memorable quote is said by Frances when she is asked what is exactly her profession, she answers: “It’s complicated”, then she is asked by the same person: “Is it because what you do is complicated?” she answers: “No, it’s because I don’t do it”. That could actually be a very good description of at least 90% of artist living in this city. It’s complicated because we don’t do it.

It’s a good film. Go see it. It’s playing at the IFC Center in the West Village.

http://www.ifccenter.com/films/frances-ha/

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To the Wonder: a Journey of Senses From Paris to Oklahoma

Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz

A poetic and lyrical piece about lovers flowing and sliding in and out of love is what is screened before you in such an atmospheric tone you feel you are literally swimming in it. Terrence Malick’s new film “To the Wonder” is a story of love, faith and the relationship of people who are lost culturally and emotionally. Neil (Ben Affleck) is an Oklahoman who brings his lover Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter from France to suburban America. The couple is soon torn apart after Neil falls for an American woman named Jane (Rachel McAdams). Marina loses faith in her love for Neil and finds companionship with the town’s priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) who is also in a country that is not his own and who is also loosing his faith. The story develops into an almost dream-like way that makes it feel like we are exploring someone’s memories, dreams and nightmares while at the same time, still maintaining a more or less linear storyline. The film’s beauty and splendor is supported  by masterful editing and a skillful cinematography work where the camera slides through space and time. Each of the shots in the film relate to each other purely through emotion sometimes playfully jump cutting or even having the same action repeated in several shots. The film in its totality however, fails to support its philosophical themes. It soon becomes repetitive and dull. It seems as if the beautiful shots of Olga Kurylenko and Ben Affleck running and teasing each other through gorgeous landscapes and American supermarkets are exploited throughout the film. Sometimes it even comes very close to have the emotional value of a perfume commercial.  Aesthetics and poetic lyricism is all that’s left of Malick’s “To the Wonder”, failing completely to go further than the beautiful image.

Malick’s previous film “The Tree of Life” (2011) was an ambitious and visually breathtaking film about childhood and coming of age. It was received with cheers and boos at festivals and yet it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. This film however, although it caused the same kind of mixed reaction, it falls far from The Tree of Life which had grown my expectations in such a way that perhaps this film has disappointed me by contrast. It wouldn’t be fair to say that “To the Wonder” is a bad film yet the disappointment was such that  it made it  feel (at least for me) as if it was the case.

Cosmopolis and the Specter of Capitalism

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“A specter is haunting the world. The specter of Capitalism” these words are lid in a big screen somewhere in Times Square as the young billionaire Eric Packer drives through an anarchist protests with his limousine. That is one of the haunting scenes from the new David Cronenberg film starring Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer. The film takes place mostly in Packer’s white stretch limo where he embarks on an odyssey across midtown Manhattan to get a haircut. In his journey he encounters several obstructions: various traffic jams caused by a presidential visit to the city, anti-capitalists protesters, and a Muslim rapper’s funeral procession. During his voyage he also encounters several meetings with various women whom he has sexual relations with, his daily check-up doctor and his wife. In his limo, he has computers were he starts loosing millions of dollars by betting against the yen currency. The currency speculation is parallel to his self-destruction.

Cronenberg portrays an image of the 1% that is alien to the reality that surrounds it. A speculator that is so loyal to capital that it will go down with it to the very end. A 1% so bizarre that seems almost non-human (at one point the doctor tells Eric that his prostate is asymmetrical). For Eric, money is an abstraction. Cronenberg creates a world not so different from our own where the idea of capital has become more of an intellectual reality as opposed to a more tangible material. A world where a billionaire like Eric Packer can gain and loose millions of dollars without actually producing anything. Eric Packer embodies the self-destructive tendency of Capitalism. The ruin is inevitable.

The dialogue is cold and surreal. The casting of Robert Pattinson has some consequences; the character comes across convincingly enough to make you realize he is playing another kind of blood-sucking vampire. However, Mr Pattinson fails to deliver the sense of power that his character possesses. The choice for Mr. Pattinson is clearly understood as a charismatic choice and a commercial strategy. Nonetheless, the film does not lack originality and manages to pick your mind and imagination for 109 minutes. It’s definitely worth the watch and worth the time.

The Dark Knight Trilogy: comic book movies for those who don’t like comic books

It is very common that in many money-making franchises, the third part is most likely going to turn out to be the weakest. Keeping that in mind, Christopher Nolan, DC Comics, Warner Bros and the filmmakers of “The Dark Knight” trilogy have all made a respectful attempt to produce a superhero movie that would satisfy both comic-book goers and perhaps -I would dare to say- a more “sophisticated” audience. When Batman Begins was first released in 2005, lines went around the block but it was the massive success of Mr. Nolan’s second Batman film, “The Dark Knight” that really brought a world wide positive reception that made the film the twelfth highest grossing film in history. “The Dark Knight” crossed the billion dollar mark and was honored by the Academy thanks to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker. Four years later and last week, “The Dark Knight Rises” opened world wide.

The film is flawed but it has great action moments, thrilling scenes and a mind blowing climax. The first half is sublime, great introduction of new characters, great set-ups and a well-thought out break into the second act. This film -just like the previous ones- has almost successfully attempted to depict Batman in a more human and naturalistic way. In today’s sociopolitical context one can believe it could actually happen: an eccentric multimillionaire tries to help stop crime masking himself at night as a vigilante while an underground -literally- terrorist group try to destroy the country’s most corrupt city. In a superhero film that is completely acceptable and believable. The film locks your attention during the first act of the film right up until the “all is lost” moment. Once the moment passes, the film gets a little too overindulgent and excessive. A flawed film is more or less like very good sex: it takes a very long time to climax and that is just what happens during the last half of act two of The Dark Knight Rises. But just like good sex, The Dark Knight Rises has a rewarding ending. After two hours of twists, plot points, exhausting action scenes, melodramatic dialogues and a handful of smart lines, it ends with a resolution that is such a bombardment of information that it almost literally and forcefully  blows your mind. Despite The Dark Knight Rises’ limitations it still remains part of the only film trilogy that does true justice to the Batman legacy.

The Tim Burton films were fun, the Joel Schumacher films were abominable and the Nolan films reach a superior level of decency. Batman has always been an interesting character for comic books but an even more interesting character for film, unlike other superheroes he lacks the prefix “super” which gives him supernatural powers, his secret identity is Bruce Wayne who is very relatable as a human being – but not as a taxpayer- his relationship with his parents, his moral and ethical codes, his love-hate relationship with Gotham City and his solitaire love life makes him sympathetic and agreeable. His method is respectful: he confronts his fears by becoming them and he confronts his enemies by outsmarting them. Of course, unlike us and Peter Parker he doesn’t have to worry about rent but he is relatable nonetheless. I think it’s safe to say that the only in-depth cinematic portrayal of the Batman/Wayne character that can stand alone as a film independent from the comic book is Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy”. If the filmmakers and producers would like to keep the trilogy in the same level as other memorable film trilogies like “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings” or “Alien” they must not make a fourth Dark Knight. It had a good run, an interesting approach, a decent ending and an even better title.

HBO’s “Girls”: the voice of a generation? No…but that’s ok.

“I think that I may be the voice of my generation,” Hannah says to her parents: “Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” Lena Dunham, the creator and writer of the freshly started HBO series plays the role of Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer who is dealing with what feels like a never-ending transition into adulthood. It’s that strange period when one is not quite an adult but no longer a teenager. Some have perceived the series’ portrayal of American female youth as another post-graduate and whiny coming of age tale and even though it may feel like it at times, the series itself contains a level of originality, imaginative and sophistication often missed in most Hollywood portrayals of young Americans today. It’s not the anti-Sex in the City but the series functions in a very similar way: a group of friends who constantly deal with each others personal problems while at the same time shaping each other as women. The characters are well developed and they all feel strangely familiar, you’ve probably met the kind before in a party somewhere in Williamsburg or in some gallery opening in Chelsea. The reason it feels strange it’s because these kind of characters are rarely portrayed on screen. The fact that the show is written and directed by someone like Lena Dunham who invests her own experiences into the show, gives it a fresh new personality. The absurdity of problems and the dramatic impulsive spontaneity of situations give the series a comedic touch that sometimes even echoes a Woody Allanesque style that can only belong in New York City. The topic of sex is recurring in the show and it is often caricatured into the extreme making it embarrassingly funny. Visually, the show has a particularly interesting style. The colorful yet minimalist aesthetics of the show have already been established in Dunham’s last critically acclaimed feature “Tiny Furniture”. In fact, most of the characters are all based on the same ones from the film. Lena Dunham has already proven herself as an auteur and has even stirred debate in the web on her new show on HBO. All of this at the age of 26. Perhaps she is not the voice of our generation…but that’s alright, it looks like we’ll defiantly be seeing more of her in the future, possibly even at the 2012 Emmys, but who knows? After one season successfully finished, I believe Dunham’s best work is yet to come.

11 great recent films.

Pina

by Wim Wenders

Perhaps the best film of these times. It embodies what good cinema should look like today: perfect use of dimensions, space, music, performance, story…I would even dare to say that it’s Wim Wender’s best film.

Certified Copy

by Abbas Kiarostami

The film I wish I had directed. Kiarostami manages to layer each shot successfully into a sublime experience of reflections and dialogue that explores in depth both the darkest and most honest side of the human heart. Truly beautiful.

A Separation

by Asghar Farhadi

The title says it all, a separation of a family, a separation of friends, a separation by understandings and misunderstandings. This Iranian film might be in Persian but the story is universal. An intense drama with a weight that feels like is never lifted.

Red State

by Kevin Smith

Underrated. Kevin Smith’s best film since his 1994 debut “Clerks” yet a completely different kind of “Kevin Smith flick”. Funny, thrilling and full of wonderful twists.

Melancholia

by Lars Von Trier

Von Trier’s most pessimistic film, but at the same time it is his “lightest” film. Heavenly disturbing.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

by Werner Herzog

A nostalgic view on the story of human beings. Herzog takes us into a journey deep into the abyss of man’s dreams. A story about a forgotten past. Chilling and beautiful.

Tiny Furniture

by Lena Dunham

A coming of age, post-graduate comedy like you have never seen before. The originality is outstanding. It’s funny, smart and wonderfully photographed, Lena Dunham shows us a reality of TriBeCa youths without falling into the stereotype of the young collage New York type. Dunham currently directs, writes and produces her own HBO series based on the film.

Le Havre

by Aki Kaurismäki

A masterpiece. If you don’t speak French you could still understand the story due to a sublime precision in visual storytelling. The hard lighting, pale colors and old 1970s texture of the interior scenery reminds one of the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder or the late films of Luis Buñuel. Kaurismäki tells a very relevant story that clashes between the reality of contemporary France and an old France now lost in the works of Jean-Pierre Melville or Louis Malle. A sweet and warm comedy that everyone should see.

Jane Eyre

by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Based on the classic novel of the same name, this romantic drama set in late nineteenth-century England combines the Romantic period style with contemporary cinematography that makes it truly a real pleasure to look at.

The Tree of Life

by Terrence Malick

An extremely ambitious project, many have compared it to Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” but I like to call it the optimistic version of Von Trier’s “Melancholia”. A warmhearted yarn to the lost world of childhood and a existential statement on the universality of birth and death.

Drive

by Nicolas Winding Refn

A neo-noir thriller about a lonesome Hollywood stunt driver like you’ve never seen before; It’s certainly not the greatest film of the year yet it remains very underrated among critics. The right balance between commercial and a tribute to art-house cinema without actually becoming an art film. Worth a watch nonetheless.

The Connection: junkies, jazz and the desperation within

In this 1962 black and white  faux documentary (based on Jack Gelber’s play) experimental filmmaker Shirley Clark tells the story of a vérité documentary filmmaker Jim Dunn (William Redfield) who tries to portray a day in the life of eight junkies who impatiently wait for their drug dealer “Cowboy”(Carl Lee). As the day unfolds, we witness the interaction of these broken souls within a bleak and gloomy apartment somewhere possibly in New York. There is constant mocking of each other, existential monologues, spontaneous breaks into wonderful jam sessions and odd situations that can only turn into some disturbing intoxicated nightmare.While Jim desperately tries to portray something beyond his drug-addicted subjects, the annoyed junkies try to tell him to seek no further, that he can’t really understand the madness. Jim is so unattached with this world of jazz and junk that it’s only after Cowboy the drug dealer arrives, Jim finally gets high himself to realize the mistake of his film. All he needed was some kind of a path to guide him, a substance, a fix, a connection. But the film is not only centered on Jim, it evenly divides out protagonism among every single character in the film. From the jazz musicians to the crawling cockroach on the wall. Not a single detail is ignored. At one point the camera points out a sign on the wall on top of the bathroom (where the junkies go to take their daily fix) that reads: “Hell or Heaven, what road will you take?”. The camera moves constantly around the apartment often swinging off the subjects. It’s shot in stunning black and white with a vérité quality that really makes you wonder how much of the principal photography is actually improvised and how much is actually staged. The same exact thing applies to the acting; the beatnik slang and mumbling makes it a little hard to understand what the actors are saying sometimes even comprehensible. The film ends with and feels like a heroin overdose. A hidden gem of American cinema, “The Connection” won the International Critics Prize at Cannes in 1961, was heavenly censured and criticized for its vulgar language and depiction of drug-use and has been recently restored by UCLA’s film school archives and re-released nation-wide and soon world wide. A really beautiful film and a pleasure to watch.

It’s currently playing in the IFC center in New York.