Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jeanne Dielman

Jeanne Deilman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975) [10]

Long known for being extremely hard to see and extremely long, Jeanne Dielman is nothing short of a minimalist masterpiece. Derided by some as being 'watch Jeanne Dielman cook", it's the film's rigid structure that makes it work perfectly. That the film documents the often monotonous daily routine of the title character is a central theme of the feminist ideas that Akerman is addressing throughout the film. Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) is a widowed mother living in Brussels, caring for her son and doing her daily chores while also serving men as a prostitute out of her apartment. As I said before, much of the film is static observation as Jeanne goes through her daily chores, from shopping to making dinner, to addressing her Johns, all in a highly structured manner. Akerman is addressing the stereotypical role of women in society, especially the idea that women should stay home and be caretakers. The genius of Seyrig's performance as Jeanne is that she goes through all these actions with a vaguely emotionless, detached presence. She becomes a prostitute for extra money but also for some excitement, which is another stereotype that Akerman brings up. That none of what Jeanne does is fulfilling is obvious but she keeps up her routine because she has nothing else to fill up her day. By the end of the film, fissures have started to show and there's a fantastic sequence of Jeanne quietly sitting alone in her apartment, her daily routine completely broken down and her left to contemplate. The only real scene of action takes place at the end, a desperate woman in need to get out of a desperate situation. What Jeanne Dielman and Akerman do so well is to use the structure of the film to critique women's' roles in society by showing and never really telling. It's obvious some will never get passed the "boring" nature of this. For someone like myself, who has waited years to see this, it was well worth it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some more quick reviews

Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994/2008) [6]
A visually stunning film, but I never found it as engrossing as something like In the Mood for Love. The plot is a bit too obtuse and the subject matter never quite intrigued me. It does look nice though.

Made in U.S.A. (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966) [6]
Influenced by American film noir and pop culture, the film is really a strange hybrid of its influence. Anna Karina plays a woman investigating her boyfriend's murder but gets entangled in a mess of more murders and some other things, I think. Existing somewhere between Pierrot le Fou and Weekend it has neither the frantic scroll of the former or the revolutionary deconstructionism of the latter.

I Love You, Man (John Hamburg, 2009) [3]
A step below Apatow-like picture about a guy with no guy friends (Paul Rudd) out to find by the time he gets married. In what is essentially the same template as a romantic comedy, he finds an off-kilter man-child (Jason Segel) who almost sabotages the whole proceedings. Of course, all ends up well. The ideas and characters here are nothing that haven't been seen in any number of recent comedies. It's only Rudd's character at times that pulls the film from a complete piece of nonsense.

The Ice Storm (Ange Lee, 1997) [6]
A well-crafted film that suffers a little bit too much from important meaning syndrome. Focusing on a disintegrating family in Connecticut over Thanksgiving weekend, Lee is adept at conveying the whirlwind of emotions going on, especially the adolescent sexuality that is the strength of Rick Moody's novel. At the end, the film becomes too much of a 'serious indie' that it becomes stuffed with emotional moments that drag the film down a bit.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) [7]

Adventureland is a sweet, thoughtful film about early twenty somethings dealing with that strange middle ground between being thrust into the real world and still being able to hang out all summer and smoke pot. It's about characters who are somewhat misfits, who can talk about 80s college rock and Russian literature while working in a horrible amusement park job. It's about living in the mid 80s and yet it rarely uses its nostalgia for cheap laughs or exploitation. In short, it's just about everything that most Hollywood films of its kind are not: smart, thoughtful, and tethered to some semblance of reality.

James (played with the right mix of intellectual awkwardness by Jesse Eisenburg) is a recent college graduate getting ready to head to grad school. His family's financial situation forces him to take a thankless job working at a second-rate amusement park, manning the less than honorable games booths. It's in this lost summer that he falls for Em (Kristen Stewart), another games employee who is involved in a complicate relationship with her family as well as a clandestine affair with the park's married maintenance man (Ryan Reynolds). Both Eisenburg and Stewart are superb in understated roles; they're not flashy performances, but they're rooted in a truthfulness for characters their age. Things get moving, they get complicated, they fall apart but none of it feels forced or in authentic. Mottola, who never makes the characters over dramatic archetypes, cares enough about them to make them actual humans, which many movies about people this age completely ignore.

Every performance in Adventureland makes sense, from the purely comedic supporting roles of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig to the more nuanced and fleshed out performances of Reynolds and Martin Starr as James's nebbishy, Russian literature loving co-worker. Reynolds' character especially, though not always prominent, is an interesting figure. As a musician who's supposedly played with Lou Reed, he's an epitome of cool to the kids working at the park. As the film progresses, his actions show him to be someone completely else to the world outside Adventureland, which James begins to recognize. It's the more colorful characters surrounding the two main ones that add to the film while never taking away from the central relationship story. These characters aren't cheap 80s stereotypes and they're not there for cheap laughs. There are definite 80s "guys" and there are characters used for laughs but they're all treated with some sense of thoughtfulness for their use. It's a credit to Mottola's smart writing that everything feels integral to the story at large.

The only issue I have with the film is its use of kindred spirit characters. James occupies a world that's on the surface appears very anti-intellectual and soul-deadening but ends up finding people like himself in Em and Joel. Granted, Pittsburgh, where the film is set is a bit bigger than where I live, but its seems a little too convenient that characters like this exist for James to connect to. I happen to work in a soul-deadening job in a depressing city and I have never met anyone in my job who could tell me who Dostoevsky or the Velvet Underground where. While I recognize and sympathize with these characters, I do feel a sense of jealousy for James in that you would be able to find someone like Em at a place like Adventureland. But after all, it's still only a film.