Sunday, February 1, 2015

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's "Two Days, One Night", Céline Sciamma's "Girlhood", Frederick Wiseman's "National Gallery" & Peter Strickland's "The Duke of Burgundy" at SIFF Cinema: Jan 30 - Feb 26

SIFF Cinema's February calendar features many of the past year's highlights (just now finding distribution). These films making the best of the year for both Film Comment and Sight & Sound, so you know you're in for the qualitative goods. Among them, the newest representation of multiple Cannes Palme d'Or winners, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's ability to mine seemingly mundane social issues into tense, qualitative drama, "Two Days, One Night". Starring Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother who's life teeters on unraveling in the conditions of the current European economic crisis. Like all the great films by the brothers Dardenne, this is a work of seemingly straightforward cinematic realism. Their process revealing nuance and complexity of technique that translates to the screen as the audience being swept up in the drama's tide of anger, evasiveness, shame, compassion and solidarity, "The Dardenne Brothers Discuss ‘Two Days, One Night’".

We also get Céline Sciamma's tale of African-French urban camaraderie, allegiance and "Girlhood". Her film also watches as realist drama, but it's sense of a very modern tightness with the culture of the Franco-African banlieu girls who are its subject, make it something more. Ostensibly about a girl gang, Sciamma's focus is the film's protagonist 'Vic' as she falls in with a new circle of friends, sheds some of her inhibitions, restyles her fashions and builds the confidence to take charge of her own life. It's a honest, closely observed journey of urban teenage girlhood, with its nervous stretches of emptiness and boredom and its violent, playful, electric upsurges. Reviews from Cannes speaking to "Céline Sciamma Honing Her Art with the Near-Perfect 'Girlhood'".

The return of that most disciplined of documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is back this time with his observational-remove focused on the "National Gallery". Wiseman's roving eye and duration spent with it's subject make for a documentary that pays tribute to the gallery’s technical prowess and craftsmanship. Like all of his decades-spanning work, his subject doesn’t go unchallenged. The ugly history of its beautiful collection is noted, as are scenes of a Greenpeace protest against Shell, the decisions it faces with corporate sponsors and how to best represent itself while imagining ways to reach new audiences. Interestingly, the private preservation scenes yielding as much information as the public lectures that punctuate it, we get a very real sense of being "Behind the Scenes at the Museum: Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery".

Peter Strickland's filmmography to-date has been short but memorable, "Katalin Varga" was a highlight of SIFF 2009 and his sophomore feature "Berberian Sound Studio" ranked with both Sight & Sound and Film Comment among that year's best. It's postmodern exercise is both a homage to the stylistic excesses of the genre and a disquieting period piece set within Italian cinema of the 1970's, making for "A Bold Evocation of the Eras of Both Analogue Sound and the Italian Giallo". Strickland being no novice when it comes to soundwork either, particularly in relation to the more avant-leanings of Modernism's past. He sought out Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton for the soundtrack and engineering on his first feature after having spent the last decade in a process of discovery, immersed in mid-Century improv, early electronic music and modern composition.

The fruits of which are graphically evident, his filmmography listens like a best-of of the current British sonic explorers in the 'Hauntological' hinterlands. James Cargill of Broadcast supplying the soundtrack to his second feature and again recruiting Andrew Liles of Nurse With Wound for the sound design for the fictional film-within-the-film, the brilliantly titled, "The Equestrian Vortex". The title sequence from which stunningly realized by designer Julian House of the Ghost Box label. For his newest recruiting soprano and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan of The Horrors as Cat's Eyes, who have produced a hauntingly somnambulistic chamber music, complimentary to the film's kinky fetish of texture and form.

Sensuality, eroticism and the lure of the intimate sublime move the viewer down the twisting psychological pathways of "The Duke of Burgundy", becoming a journey deep into the territory of the atmospheric psychodramas of Roman Polanski, David Lynch and Dario Argento. This exploration of lives being tragically, inextricably, bound up in possession and control, of sadomasochism as theatrical arena, watches like "Mulholland Drive" meets "Persona" by way of "The Killing of Sister George". The culminating effect producing "A Sensual Utopia Driven by Ritual and Release". A fetish-bed depiction of the sequestered world of role-playing between a youthful paramour and the midlife angst of her employer, both becoming increasingly subsumed into their roles, "The Duke of Burgundy Holds the Viewer as Riveted and Exposed as a Butterfly Pinned to a Board".