20 March 2009

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

I'm watching this movie for the fourth time now. I'm kind of ambivalent about it now. I loved it the first time but it can be kind of self-indulgent. Like Being John Malkovich it can be kind of oppressively greasy feeling and like Magnolia, but more so, it can sometimes seem to wander and ramble a bit.

There are moments of grace in the film, particularly toward the end but the more I watch it it can seem that much of the movie seems to possess the same failing as the protagonist: self-indulgently pessimistic. It reminds me of what Erich Fromm talked about as "necrophilia," which is not sex with corpses but rather a preoccupation with death and decay. It is contrasted with his concept "biophilia," the love of life or living systems.

Unfortunately the moments of grace, wonder, and/or insight are often overwhelmed by greasy clunk.

Dianne Wiest is great. So are Samantha Morton and the little girl.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is kind of irritating though.

I don't get the whole things about Ellen and Eric.

Initially I took this as a call to vigilance but in a way I think it's more of an elegy about not being able to seize life.
Where is my little girl?

It has its moments but I think I identified with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation more.

His movies can be so exhilarating but often want focus.
Like Mother Angelica said this morning: "Enjoy the sunshine. Don't pay attention to the people who are always looking for the rain."

03 March 2009

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Whoa! Call me sentimental but this movie is like little I've seen before. It reminded me of Capturing the Friedmans in its intensity but where that film shows you the dark, this one is more on the light. A young filmmaker learns that his close friend Andrew has been murdered by his psychotic ex-girlfriend. He wants to show the ripples that his friend has left behind and goes about capturing as many of the memories of the people that he knew before the memories fade. When it is discovered that the murderer, in Canada facing a lengthy extradition process, is pregnant with Andrew's son, the film takes on new poignancy, particularly as Andrew's parents head up to Newfoundland to be a part of the child's life. The movie is moving throughout and rarely does it seem cloying. It's also quite raw and intermittently shocking. I'm not sure it's like anything I've ever seen before. A powerful documentary. I loved it.

I strongly recommend it to everyone. A

Sheer Madness (Heller Wahn) - 1983

I think this is the first movie I've seen by Magarethe von Trotta other than 2005's schmaltzy but appealing Rosenstrasse. And, well, of course she codirected The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum with her then husband Volker Schlondorff. This film stars Hanna Schygulla and Angela Winkler, who played Katharina Blum, and it centers on their friendship. It's typical of German movies of its time. It's spare, less flashy than American films. The template for these movies seems to be a few minimal threads that move along, slowly reach a climactic union and unravel. One thing you notice is that while these German movies tend to be more political in nature, they also tend to have a less omniscient voice. If Sigmund Kracauer argued that Expressionist film paved the way for the Nazi uprising, a claim I think is pretty dubious anyway, I can certainly suggest that the cocksure attitude of American films, with their lack of ambiguity or loose ends, has done its part in creating a nation of American fascists. The cinematographer on this film was Michael Ballhaus, a frequent Fassbinder collaborator, and here and there are touches that remind you of Fassbinder. However, I think that it has more in common with other directors of the time, like Schlondorff.

The scene where Hanna Schygulla sings "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" (an hour and nine minutes into the film) is definitely the highlight. I found myself eventually sucked into this movie but found the ending somehow unsatisfying. Of course, given that it's a German movie from pre-1990, you have at least a 90% chance of being dissatisfied with the ending. It's not terrible but it dropped the movie from a B to a C+.

Hanna Sings. And yes, I think it is somewhat more interesting in the context of the film, now that I've seen it.