Saturday, February 6, 2016

Kent Jones' new documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Jan 29 - Feb 11 | Claire Denis' "Chocolat" & Philippe Garrel's "In the Shadow of Women" at Northwest Film Forum: Feb 12 - 14

Northwest Film Forum's annual Coeur Sans Coeur: French Films for Valentines Weekend this year brings Philippe Garrel's "In the Shadow of Women" and Claire Denis "Chocolat". Philippe Garrel's previous feature, "Jealousy" stood as a highlight of SIFF 2014 and topped Film Comment's 20 Best Undistributed Films of that year. Detailed in the wide-ranging, Philippe Garrel in Conversation for Mubi during his first North American visit in decades, Garrel is revealed to be literally a child of French cinema. His father was the actor Maurice Garrel, his second home was said to be at the Cinémathèque Française, he shot the first movie of his own at the age of 16 and he's known for having ridden through the streets of Paris with Godard shooting newsreels of Paris, May 1968. His career has established his intimate, handcrafted cinema as fundamentally close to the mechanics of silent film -- the unadorned beauty of faces, figures, hands, rooms and light -- and revisited the same deeply personal themes of loss, mourning, and revitalization of purpose through love. Another feature of his pedigree can be seen in the wonderfully sharp and vigorously cinematic the black and white filming by Willy Kurant, (the cinematographer for Godard's, "Masculin Feminin") who lends Garrel's subjects the expressive vitality and immediacy of a daily life lived.

Thematically variegated, from strange science and libido monstrosities run amok, to male camaraderie in the French Foreign Legion, to post-Colonial aftermath in both Africa and at home in modern day Paris, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. At times not quite hitting the balance between these two forms, evident in 2005's "The Intruder", she more consistently fashions an interplay of these two gravitational pulls. Recent successes can be seen in 2008's near-masterpiece on class, race, urban life, light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum" and 2014's pitch perfect neo-Noir, "Bastards". The latter bringing it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis".

This month Grand Illusion Cinema features Kent Jones archive-plumbing, "Hitchcock/Truffaut" which watches not unlike a enthused installment of, "At the Movies With François and Hitch". In his interview for Film Comment Kent Jones examines the legendary interview between the two directors and the varied influence of "The Master of Suspense". The design of Jones' documentary essay pivots around what came to be known as “one of the most revealing and engrossing books on film art, technique and history ever put together”, upon it's English translation in 1967, which was born of a week of interviews conducted in 1962 at Universal Studios by the two directors along with translator, Helen G. Scott. In the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, Truffaut had been one of the original proponents of the auteur theory, the notion that the director is the artist of a film. In "Solidarity of Cinema" for Roger Ebert, Kent Jones establishes that, “Truffaut wanted to correct the bias against Hitchcock in the United States, but then on the other hand, he was also trying to amend what he thought was the tendency toward abstraction in Cahiers criticism.” Truffaut was interested in larger issues like how artists managed to work within the studio system, and in specifics like film craft. In both the book and the documentary, the two directors amply discuss technique. Yet for a book so rich with shoptalk, “Hitchcock/Truffaut” has, for nearly half a century, also retained its reputation as a witty, breezy read, a canonical text for anyone interested in movies.

Elucidating the parallels of their cinema, The Grand Illusion will also be screening 35mm prints of two repertory works. Alfred Hitchcock's post-War espionage thriller starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, "Notorious" marked a watershed for Hitchcock artistically, and represents a heightened thematic maturity, featuring what Roger Ebert called in his Great Movies; "some of the most effective cinematography in his—or anyone's—work". With an abundance of mirroring scenario, technical and stylistic gestures, François Truffaut's "Mississippi Mermaid" watches as a curious homage and observation on the Hitchcock-ian themes of misplaced identity, obsession and mirroring realities. An adaptation of "Waltz into Darkness" by Cornell Woolrich, Truffaut spins a haunting island Noir starring Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, framed by the post-Colonial setting of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. While not highly regarded upon it's release in 1969, it was still recognized as a compelling exploration of the director's "fascination with loneliness and love, which comprise, of course, a different kind of mystery". A new restoration screened as the opening film in 2012's touring The Film Lover: A François Truffaut Retrospective, inspiring Edward Guthmann's timely critical reassessment in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, "Truffaut's 'Mermaid' Merits Second Look".