09 December 2013

The Great Frances 12 Years the Warmest Color -- Four New Films I've Seen Recently

La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty).  Garish blaring and color and richness and middle aged sensuality and decadence not so divine. Oh yes and Rome Rome Rome. The madness the sadness and the heavy duty gladness of good living. Paolo Sorrentino's film is full of stunning audacious visuals. It is full of ideas. It is full of nods to Fellini -- especially to La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963).  It is full. A rich parade of delights. Wild party nights. Watching this film is like bathing in chocolate while reading Camus. The protagonist is Jep (Toni Servillo) a 60 plus year old journalist who knows and is known by everyone. He is forever hosting parties or going to them. Great meals great dances great discussions and women always women. This is Fellini for the 21st century and the good news is that while it is an homage The Great Beauty is clearly its own film with its own vision -- whatta vision! -- and its own ideas. There's not much more one could ask for from a film. Also it is important to note that you should definitely make a point of staying for the closing credits which are accompanied by a beautiful boat ride. I suppose that's fitting because this is as much as journey as it is anything else. A journey it should be noted through Rome which is as much a star of the film as is Servillo.

12 Years a Slave. Slavery in North America is a difficult subject to wrap one's mind around. I know this from having taught it for many years and studied it for many more than that. It was a brutal utterly heartless savaging of human rights and amazingly it was carried out for the first eight decades of that grand experiment in democracy called the United States. 12 Years does an admirable job of shining a lot on this horror particularly in light of how Hollywood has steered clear of the subject. This film serves as an antidote to the odious sanitization of chattel slavery done by the likes of Gone With the Wind. Whippings rapes horrendous working conditions the selling of children from parents are all part of this story as they are to the story of slavery itself. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northrup a free and successful family man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. The movie is truth. It is a true story that tells some great truths about the peculiar institution and some peculiarities of the human condition. There is a horrible sadness pervasive throughout the film but the storytelling is so rich and powerful and the characters so fully realized that it is never depressing. Especially as one remembers that Northrup's servitude lasted the 12 years the title suggests.

Frances Ha. I loved this movie despite an overwhelming desire to call it quirky (films that rely solely on their quirkiness end up looking cheap or silly or both). Perhaps more than anything else it can be lauded  for its realism. Frances is 27 years old struggling with friendship romance career and paying the rent in modern day New York city. She is bright and at least moderately talented but makes questionable choices (don't we all?) as she bounces from one situation and one address to another. If Hollywood had had its way this would have been turned into a romantic comedy. It didn't  and it isn't. Noah Baumbach directed. According to IMDb he "shot the movie in black and white to 'boil it down to its barest bones' and create an immediate 'history' and 'a kind of instant nostalgia.'" Good choice well done. Greta Gerwig is Frances and she is in every scene. Suffice to say that Ms. Gerwig is fully capable of carrying a movie on her back if need be. There is an endearing quality to her that stems largely from her being so natural and interesting a person. Easy to root for and identify with. Frances Ha nimbly steers from the choppy waters of quirky and settles into a combination of charming and authentic.

Blue is the Warmest Color. Anyone with a passing interest in current cinema is no doubt aware that this provocative French film from Abdellatif Kechiche includes several graphic sex scenes between co stars Lea Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. I am unambiguous about my appreciation for the comely nude female form. And yes of course I mean when presented tastefully. There is a risk that such scenes can be a distraction. Here they are not gratuitous. After all the two women are lovers for much of the film and showing them acting our their love is only fitting. I found myself admitting that the scenes were erotic and enjoyed them for themselves as well as how they helped the narration. Blue focuses on Adele who at the start of the film is but 16. She is struggling with sexual identity which is part of the mad brew of the late teen years. She meets the older more experienced Emma and it is virtually love -- not to mention passion -- at first sight. We follow Adele for several years through the ups and downs of this and other relationships. It is a rewarding journey with or without frolicking naked women.

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