I write now on a new Substack called EXTERMINATING ANGLES.
You can read me there.
Below are a few writing bits.
This is the word I found in three successive reviews about The French Dispatch: ‘a portmanteau movie’. I had to google this beautiful faux-ami. All of you American-born know its two meanings: either ‘a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others’ or ‘a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts’. Wes Anderson’s movie opens in three parts though and I’m not sure how a suitcase can do that but it’s not the point. The point is that for me, as for any French, a Porte manteau is the object in the picture below: a coat hanger. To be exact, this one is called a Porte manteau perroquet (a coat hanger parrot) which gives it a befitting Surrealist tinge.
It’s most particularly interesting for me to watch a film related to my birth country through the eyes of an American director living in Paris as we are in mirror positions. This brings me to the notion of authenticity. There is nothing authentic in Anderson’s movie. It’s all about his style, his reverence toward Jacques Tati, his very American clichés about France and French history, in short, his own world. Notice in passing that no one in France screamed ‘Cultural appropriation!’ or ‘Cultural colonialism!’ maybe because we know better. We know that there is something both beautiful and true in any appropriation that reveals or creates something new: a coat hanger becomes a stiff leather suitcase and can now travel to another country.
I do believe that a foreign eye can be as acute if not more so than a native one, and see through historical and cultural heavy layers of what makes a society’s heart and bones. Take Alexis de Tocqueville for example, he saw and wrote about the shape of the American stiff leather suitcase when Americans were too busy pilling their clothes inside. So does Anderson. If there is one thing that struck me in The French Dispatch it’s the heavy presence of police. In the first segment, there is a prison and its ‘gardienne’, in the second the May 68 riots and police repressions, and the last segment takes place in a commissariat. Prison-Riots-Police and here you have a macaron movie being the most politically relevant film about France today… unless it’s about America.
October 28, 2021.
If I had to teach film, I would challenge my students to make a 90 minutes narrative feature set in mostly one room with only three characters, two of whom never speak. Then I would show them Melville’s The Silence of the Sea.
October 23, 2021.
NYC Film Festival opened yesterday with Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.
I kept thinking: why Macbeth today?
Then I thought about what other major male American directors recently filmed or are working on.
– David Lowery: The Green Knight, set in medieval times.
– Robert Eggers: The Northman, set in the Viking age, his previous film, The Light House, was set in the 1890s. So far all his films have been set in the past.
– Damien Chazelle: First Man, set in the early 60s, now filming Babylon rumored to be set in period Hollywood.
– Barry Jenkins: If Beale Street Could Talk, set in the 70s. His following mini-series, The Underground Railroad, is set in 1850.
– James Gray: Armageddon Time, set in the 80s.
– Paul Thomas Anderson: just wrapped up Licorice Pizza set in the 1970s, while his previous film, Phantom Thread, was set in the London fifties.
– Wes Anderson: The French Dispatch, set in the 1950s.
– Richard Linklater: upcoming Merrily We Roll Along, set between the 50s and the 80s.
– Linklater again with Licorice Pizza, set in the 70s.
– David O. Russell: wrapped up an Untitled film, set in the 80s.
– David Fincher: Mank, set in the 1930s.
– Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, set in the 70s.
– Ridley Scott: upcoming, The Last Duel, set in the 14th century.
– Steven Spielberg: West Side Story, set in the mid-1950s.
– Michael Mann: in development, Enzo Ferrari, set between the 20s and the 60s.
– Terrence Malick: in development, The Way of the Wind, set in… biblical times.
– Martin Scorcese has a project titled Roosevelt.
– Noah Baumbach is abandoning his habitual contemporary New York set for the 80s somewhere with his upcoming adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
Why are so many American male directors retreating into the past?
September 25, 2021.
In praise of thieves, the smart and elegant ones, not the shoplifters picking easy shots such as someone coughing after smoking a first joint, low angle shot from a grave with earth thrown from above, youths standing or seated on top of a car, high angle shots of women in bathtubs, and the laziest shot of all: hands floating from a car’s open window.
No, I’m talking about master burglars, expert pickpockets, and holdup artists. Tarantino and Schrader stole from Cassavetes’ The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, James Cameron plundered Borzage’s History Is Made at Night for his Titanic, Iñárritu looted Tarkovsky’s shop for The Revenant, Chloé Zhao cleaned Terrence Malick’s vault. Sometimes it’s a character: ask Melville, and he will tell you that Elle Driver has a big sister who also likes to play the lethal nurse in A Cop. Sometimes it’s an actress’s move: a woman swirling from Kurosawa’s Stray Dog to Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole. Same dress, same moves, same shot.
Sometimes it’s only a color: the glorious moss green trench passing from Monica Vitti in Red Desert to Catherine Deneuve in Hôtel des Ameriques, and again to Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, before landing on Nicole Kidman’s shoulders in a forgettable series.
I always liked heist films by the way. I rewatched Dog Day Afternoon yesterday, Heat the day before, and noticed that both films end up on an airport tarmac… with an almost identical soundtrack. Michael Mann, Sidney Lumet, it takes a thief to catch a thief.
May 18, 2021.
In the midst of movie theaters’ bankruptcies, there is no mention of what they bring to the public beyond films and occasional meetings with directors. Movie theaters are places like no other, dark places where strangers gather together. They used to be ‘the’ place to kiss for young lovers without a room. Of course, much more happened at all ages. From the start, there was an obvious link between movies and sex but it’s the brick-and-mortar theater that brought this alchemy into the public space. In its most crude form, starting in the 70s, we find porn theaters in plain sight, whether in Times Square or Clichy. Even in regular theaters, in the 60s and 50s, there were sometimes intermissions consisting of on-stage stripteases as Bertrand Tavernier recalls in My Journey Through French Cinema. But theaters did not need these to be erotic places whatever the film screened.
The closure of theaters due to covid took away one of the three urban public spaces with an “erotic aura”. The two others are clubs, but these open much later at night shutting out whole segments of the population, and bars whose purpose beyond drinking is defeated by social distancing. So, how do strangers gather together now? Well, you can go to church or you can demonstrate in the street. It seems that the country is doing one or the other lately. A lot of frustrations, not enough dark places.
April 22, 2021.
The best cinematography I have seen recently is by Claire Mathon who made the sober yet velvety picture of Portrait of a Lady on Fire. RED 8K Monstro and the Panasonic magic in low light is a nice departure from the Alexa picture omnipresent at Sundance.
Claire Mathon is amazing in that by her cinematography alone she managed to transmit something that I thought was dead in French movies: a Jansenist image. Think Bresson, simplicity, grace, restrain – Jansenism is an ascetic form of Catholicism that stressed predestination and grace, much like the theology of the Protestant reformer, John Calvin. When people think about French movies they most of the time think New Wave’s smart coolness or Caro & Jeunet’s baroque quirkiness, but there is another tradition that was lost and I’m glad Claire Mathon revived it because it might be the very best.
February 17, 2020.
I love both the location of the Anthology Film Archive and its building.
The location because it stands diagonally to the Marble Cemetary which is always a comforting sight, and the building because it reminds me of a massive Florentine palazzo. Meanwhile, it’s an ex-courthouse and I can tell you that films there are severely judged. Don’t bring in your entertainment junk and your organic popcorn, Anthology is dedicated to ‘the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art’ – as written on their website. This week they screen a ‘cryptic, largely dialogue-free work that both approaches and resists narrative’ (I want the job of the person describing films at Anthology).
Anthology Film Archives is the only theater that boasts a manifesto, but the place also exudes a certain spirit. Push the heavy grey door, walk in the mournful lobby, take the lugubrious staircases leading to the beautiful 187-seat theater, and you’ll find a group of cinema ghouls, I mean goers. They don’t talk, they whisper, they all know each other and they truly love Cinema in all its unspeakable shapes and names.
Now a double confession: I love Anthology’s community center aesthetic and I don’t eat popcorn (which they don’t have). I could give a 5/5 to its facility which will seem totally irrational to anyone who went to their bathrooms, but irrational we are so…- Facility and popcorn: 5/5.
I tend to think of Anthology as the AA of filmmakers and talking about shelter, the crowd is very nice, especially at four-walled screenings where it’s all friends and relatives and you get free wine. But there is more to it. I remember watching Aleksei German’s Hard to be a God and at the end, the dozens of people in the public gathered in the lobby around Jed Rapfogel, the programmer – I think Joe Neumaier was there too. They all formed a circle and started to whisper among themselves and I was sorry I wasn’t part of the brotherhood. Maybe there is an initiation to pass or something… Let me try: thank you Jed Rapfogel for screening German’s last film that no other theater in America wanted to host, I too find them ingrateful, how can they forget someone who made Twenty Days Without War? I’ll sign that with my blood if you ask.
April 12, 2018.
Reading Roberto Bolaño.
Let’s create an indie film group just as a pretext to drink and talk about films without walking on eggshells. In homage to Bolaño’s Visceral Realists (mocking his own group of poets initially named the ‘Infra-realists’), we should call ourselves either the ‘Visceral Filmists’, the ‘Ruthless Flickists’, the ‘Irresponsible Screenists’, or whatever name you could come up that sounds like a serious disease. We should crash every institutional seminar that teaches you ‘how to make a no-budget film’ while charging a steep fee, every forum about ‘VR reinventing the world’, every condescending ‘women filmmaker’s lab’, every workshop titled ‘find your audience and learn how to make the most of it’. We will not handle leaflets, write a manifesto or take ourselves too seriously. We will answer like Brigitte Bardot in Contempt when Piccoli tells her that swearing doesn’t befit her. We will feel great not being beggars anymore. We will have a good laugh.
December 30, 2017.
Watch the Hidden Fortress and be amazed how a charismatic character such as Toshiro Mifune playing the noble hero is outpowered by two secondary roles of rowdy, greedy, and ridiculous peasants. It’s a lesson on the importance of having likable characters (something I should have learned earlier for According To Her). Watch Seven Samuraï and you will be taught the importance of movement and rhythm within the frame. Nothing is more beautiful than the waves of soldiers breaking again and again into the fortified village. The best about Kurosawa is that his films are full of flaws, literally part of the film’s fabric, and these flaws are also why his films are likable. One feels the struggles, the hesitations, and every pain is a pleasure.
September 17, 2017.
3 reasons to watch 3 Women by Robert Altman:
– You will never see anywhere else a film all yellow and purple
– You will never see anywhere else an all-yellow decorated apartment
– You will never see anywhere else such outfits as Shelley Duvall is wearing to cover her utmost loneliness.
Kubrick certainly watched Altman’s 3 Women exactly three years before shooting The Shinning – he got the twins and Duvall’s horrified face from it, and so should you.
October 22, 2016.
I watched for the first time Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea. Don’t say: ‘Medea, the princess who killed her own children?’ this would be missing the true subject of this drama. Every immigrant should watch Medea (Maria Callas), crying after she left her land and folks to follow her lover. Once arrived in Greece, the foreign country where she now has to live, she screams: ‘I see the sun but I don’t recognize the sun, I see the moon but it’s not the moon I know, the land has lost its center!’
Pasolini’s Medea is not about the cruel revenge of a mother, it’s about being uprooted and unable to create new roots, it’s about the old not succeeding to survive in the new. It’s about not recognizing the sun.
September 1, 2015.