Volume 4, Number 01
This Week's Reviews: Va Savoir, Audition, Impostor.
This Week's Omissions: NONE.
Count on Me
BY: DAVID PERRY
The Nouvelle Vague founders, Rivette, Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, and Rohmer, had many interests in their creative fountains as they moved from film criticism to filmmaking. One was the idea of showing life as it is, the cinema verite side of movies -- films imitating life almost to the point that they seem conjoined. Va Savoir, the latest from Jacques Rivette, may have a high amount of contrivance and coincidence, but it also feels more lifelike than any romantic comedy to come out of Hollywood in ages.
The film is light and nimble, more like the creation of Eric Rohmer than Jacques Rivette. The characters feel like they just came in from a stage comedy; not surprisingly, there are many connections between Va Savoir and Western stage productions. There are six major characters and they move between relationships that seem partly important, but also partly trivial.
Here's a starter list: Cammille (Balibar) is a Paris-born actress coming home for two weeks with her acting troupe to perform Luigi Pirandelo's As You Desire Me. The troupe is an Italian one and their efforts seem useless to the Parisians, leaving most shows with just a third of the seats filled. Coming home for the first time in three years, she finds solace in her husband/director, the rabid Italian Ugo (Castellitto), who intends to use his time in the area to search for a lost Boldini manuscript that he might finally turn into a play for the first time.
In town, she soon finds that there is still some attraction lying dormant in the heart of her ex-boyfriend, Pierre (Bonnaffe), a philosophy professor obsessed with his thesis on German philosopher Heidegger. His girlfriend, Sonia (Basler), has physically replaced Cammille in his life, even though his attraction to her does not equate what he still has for his ex. Sonia is a lithe ballet instructor with a past she would prefer keeping in the dark.
Meanwhile, there's the Desprez siblings, whose enterence into the lives of these four create the needed contrivances for the movie to continue. Dominique (de Fougerolles) is the young, bibliotheca-loving beauty Ugo is drawn to. The Desprez family now houses the old library of the Boldini's best friend -- a place where Ugo is happy to spend his spare time looking for this sought play. The other sibling, Arthur (Todeschini), is a brooding and dark drifter, a complete departure from his sunny half-sister. Arthur is now in an affair with Sonia, but his intentions are for something other than interpersonal comfort.
There are a collection of other characters -- an autograph expert (film director Claude Berri), the mother of the Desprez brood (Rouvel) -- but Va Savoir is almost completely about these six people. Rivette seems to be having fun playing with the farce he has created for them with co-writers Pascal Bonitzer and Christine Laurent -- so much that the film's 150-minute length seems much shorter. The audience is taken into the story and the time flies by. Like the Rohmer films, we are so happy to spend this time with these characters that, by the time Rivette closes the movie two and a half hours later, we don't want to leave them.
As is often the case with Rivette, one of the strongest attributes of the film is the cast. Jeanne Balibar gives her petite character the look and fanciful whimsy of a French Audrey Hepburn; people have made that same comparison to Audrey Tautou in recent months, but as Balibar calmly walks across the roof of a Parisian apartment where she is stranded, a certain glean in her eyes definitely harkens back to the Sabrina star.
I was also drawn to the way Sergio Castellitto's plays all his relationships. He is a courting kind with Dominique, an understanding shoulder with Cammille, a cautious wall with Arthur, and a size-comparing foil with Pierre. The late in the show duel he plans is especially enjoyable, creating the film's funniest moments and drawing a connection between two characters that was needed for the previous two hours.
The camera stylings by Rivette are just as great here as they have been for 50 years. He is a devotee of long shots, the revelatory way a person's face can show less than meets the eye, and the inventiveness of improvisation. Everyone feels at home acting in front of him because, perhaps, the movie feels like it is just caught in a room watching all these people. Jacques Rivette has proven to be the French equivalent to our Robert Altman.
Rivette's films are normally lugubrious excursions into the
emotional core of his characters. Joan the Maid, Love on the Ground, Celine
and Julie Go Boating, and L'Amour Fou employ the elliptical style and
narrative invention that mark much of his entries into the Nouvelle Vague. Since he worked
on the huge Lumière and Company cooperative in 1995, Rivette has only made two
films; unlike the now forgotten Secret Defense of 1998, Va Savoir has
the joy and happiness that seems refreshing for the 73-year-old dramatist. Is it a minor,
fluffy effort? Sure, but it's so damn fun getting to know these people through his lens.
BY: DAVID PERRY
Looking for that perfect person to spend the rest of your life with can be a highly taxing experience. Mild-mannered Shigeharu Aoyama (Ishibashi) learns this the hard way in Takeshi Miike's equally inciteful and inciting Fatal Attraction retread Audition.
Miike begins the film in Ozu style, looking closely at the way a father, Shigeharu, and his son, Shigehiko (Sawaki), react to the death of their wife and mother. Now a widower of nearly ten years, Shigehiko has begun to wonder if his father will ever marry again -- lightheartedly, he asks his father when he'll find a new wife. Shigeharu takes heed of his son's words and decides that he really does need to reenter into the dating game, perhaps finding a woman who can join him in raising his child.
Through the pushing of his chauvinist friend Yasuhisa (Kunimura), Shigeharu uses his job as a TV documentary producer to help him find a mate. They stage an audition for a fake film; hundreds of women send in their applications, résumés, and headshots thinking they are trying out for a movie when they are really just applying for the needs of a middle-aged widower. He cuts the group down to 30 finalists, but his eyes are really only on one, Asami Yamazaki (Shiina), who wrote of her failed hopes and dreams in her application and ultimately wooed him with her touching humanism.
The audition goes well for Shigeharu, within weeks he is taking Asami out on simple dates as part of a producer-actress relationship. Even if she did not get the part for this bogus movie, she has found the simple devotion of this man.
However, nothing is as it seems in this happy time -- Asami has a checkered past that Shigeharu must investigate to find. When she chooses to finally leave their relationship behind (after they consummate their relationship in a hotel room -- little does she know, Shigeharu had a ring with him to propose with), the melancholy lover must search through the rubble of her past to find her, even though what he finds could be the most frightening secrets ever thrown at a mystified admirer.
It's tough not to give away too much about Audition, mainly because the complete decision of whether or not it works for a particular audience member wavers on how they feel about the film's climactic closing scenes. I was particularly thrown off, not by the actions (which, admittedly, are quite off-putting), but by the director's lack of intent on carrying these characters into anything remotely agreeable. A pat ending to this movie might have felt forced, but the path the movie does take -- mixing Adrian Lyne with Brian De Palma and Sam Raimi -- feels like little more than a contrivance. It is notable when a director throws the audience a curveball with characters, like Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho and Bryan Singer with The Usual Suspects, but Miike's film does not come near creating anything that might even seem with the twist.
The direction, at least in terms of Miike's mise-en-scène,
remains strong throughout. If not for lackluster story (written by Daisuke Tengan from a
Ryu Murakami novel) to convey, Audition might have stood as something as lightly
touching as some of the other films to come out of Asia in the past few years like Edward
Yang's Yi Yi (A One and a Two...) and even Zhang Yang's Shower. As it is
now, Audition feels like David Cronenberg without a point, or at least one that can
survive outside of its confused world of gore in place of story.
BY: DAVID PERRY
The writing of Philip K. Dick has brought films ranging from Blade Runner to Total Recall to The Running Man to Screamers. He was an amazing writer, but his works very rarely translate well to the screen. Just look at the first of two upcoming Dick adaptations -- Imposter, from Dick's The Imposter short story, proves that outside of Blade Runner, an artistic visualization of his writing cannot be successfully made. Well, unless Steven Spielberg, fresh off of reinventing himself with A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, can up the ante with Minority Report later this year.
Dick, like Orwell and Kafka, imagined a future that was bleak and worn by years of authoritarian control. The future of Imposter wants to be something that 1984 or The Trial could take place, though the Gary Fleder look does not solidify into anything that Dick might have appreciated with his work. In fact, I seriously doubt that Dick would have allowed such an uninspired adaptation to be made.
Imposter was originally planned as a short section in a three-part sci-fi anthology called The Light Years Trilogy. Doubling the length of the original conception, Gary Fleder and screenwriters Caroline Case, Ehren Kruger, and David Twohy, all of Dick's imaginative paranoia is abandoned for flash and mood. Why have a short movie with an interesting and watchable appeal when you can make a feature film with immeasurable filler, incomprehensible editing, and poor lighting?
The year is 2079 and Earth is near destruction with constant attacks by a superior alien race from Alpha Centuri. The major cities have been destroyed and sit in rubble while the government centers sit under shields, all the while as Big Brother watches. Spencer Oldham (Sinise) is a weapons researcher, an occupation in 2079 that is comparable to a football player. He, with partner Nelson Gittes (Shalhoub), is about to finish a weapon that might finally give Earth an advantage in fighting the Centaurian forces. But returning from a holiday in the woodlands with his wife Maya (Stowe), Spencer finds that he is now a wanted criminal by the government: they seem to think that he is an android imposter acting as Spencer to get close enough to the leader (Crouse) and detonate a bomb housed in place of his heart.
Vincent D'Onofrio plays the stern but often befuddled police inspector chasing Spencer and Mekhi Phifer gives the film a little tokenism as the outsider who helps Spencer in his getaway. Stowe looks like she has never acted in a film (oh yeah, that's because she's never acted well in a film); Shalhoub is left to play the background friend (a few quips for humor and he'd be this film's Denis Miller of 1997-98); Gary Sinise reminds us that he really needs to fire his agent, the only thing worse than an Oscar nominee making a film like Reindeer Games would be an Oscar winner making a film like Snow Dogs. And Lindsay Crouse, her appearance just reminds us of poor Peter O'Toole in Phantoms and Donald Sutherland in Virus -- how can good actors come to make horrible movies like these?
The film's one attribute is that the audience is not
completely sure whether Spencer is correct in saying he is himself or that the aliens did
replace him with an android. However, by the time the audience gets to find out what the
correct answer is, they have gone through over 90 minutes of Fleder's muddled vision only
to have lost interest in Dick's nervy short story.