The World According to “Frances Ha”


“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.


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.

The Broken Tower: the poetics of indecency

A fragmented narrative based on homosexual and romantic poet Hart Crane mixed with a personal interpretation of Hart’s poetry, Hollywood actor and NYU student James Franco manages to test his audience in the similar way that Crane tested his. Although some might read this film as an attempt by Mr. Franco’s literate interest to achieve an in-depth character and poetic study, one should never underestimate the cinematic value of The Broken Tower as a film. Shot in stark and striking black and white, the sometimes strained hand-held, cinema vérité style calls too much attention to itself yet it creates an interesting contrast between the old-fashioned 1920s look and the clearly contemporary cinematic technique. Mr. Franco developed the film as his thesis project for NYU. One can’t help but to view it as what it is: a student film, instead of viewing it of what it is intended to be: an art-house biopic. The film is fragmented in voyages and it recounts the story of the American poet’s life from his departure from home at the age of 17 when he first attempted suicide to his successful one in his early thirties. Mr. Franco, who writes poems himself, has called the modest production a “success”, he described how his teachers where not confident of the screenplay’s biographical emphasis but Mr. Franco insisted that all the biographical elements are explained in the film: “his relationship with his parents, his romantic life, his work…etc”. Not just an editor, screenwriter and director, Mr. Franco also portrays Hart Crane in an obviously passionate yet careful performance that manages to centralize itself throughout the plot. As opposed to Franco’s previous film (also about a homosexual maverick poet) “Howl”, one can’t get pass the fact that it’s James Franco playing Hart Crane instead of witnessing Hart Crane in the flesh. It is unquestioned Mr. Franco’s passion and fascination for Crane. The film can both provoke and soothe a loyal cinephile audience. I believe it’s worth a watch. It is currently playing in the IFC Center.