Sunday, April 15, 2018

Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygène Trilogy & "Electronica" US Tour: Apr 9 - 21


In one of his first-ever North American tours, a seminal voice from the astronomical, psychedelic, French early synthesizer music culture performs next week at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. A revival of interest seen in the French analog for Krautrock's Kosmische offshoot, the equally conceptual Space Music, inspired by the interstellar vibe of Fantastique cinema, progressive and psychedelic rock, Bande Dessinée comics, and the psychological, political, science fiction pulp literature of the mid-to-late 1970s is very much afoot. Reissues of pivotal albums from the era by the likes of Space Art, Heldon, Bernard Fevre and Richard Pinhas have all surfaced in recent years. As well as vanguard compilations like the two volumes of "Cosmic Machine: A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980)". No discussion of French synth music of the 1970s would be complete without Jean-Michel Jarre and his becoming swept up in the zeitgeist of Fantastique themes and cosmic sounds, with the massive breakout releases of 1976's "Oxygène" and the following "Equinoxe" of 1978. Touching on early studies in academic composition, adoption of sampling technology in the 1970s, Italian Futurism, musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, Miles Davis, and revealing fascination with musical diversity, Jarre spoke with The Quietus', for their "Oxygène Of Collaboration: Jean-Michel Jarre's Favourite Albums". Not limited to culture, music and the arts, Jarre's life has been lived as avid political voice and activist, utilizing his profile to heighten awareness of environmental issues like that of last year's "Anti-Donald Trump, Dead Sea Performance at the Ancient Masada Fortress". Further discussion of his bewildering and immense live performances of the 70s and 80s, and the completion of what is now a four-decade spanning Oxygène Trilogy following closely on the heels of his "Electronica 1: The Time Machine" and "Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise" of 2016, can be found in the extensive interview with The Guardian, "Jean-Michel Jarre Explains How He was ‘Vampirized’ by the Epic Outdoor Shows that Made Him Famous".

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Bruno Dumont's "Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc", Hong Sang-soo's "Claire's Camera" & Guy Maddin's "The Green Fog" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 13 - 22


Northwest Film Forum hosts the larger per-capita of this months notable limited runs beginning with Hong Sang-soo's second bilingual feature starring French actress Isabelle Huppert. Shot on the fly over the week of Cannes 2016, "Claire's Camera", is another of his scathing observations on film culture and gender dynamics, delivered in his paradoxically breezy yet bitter comic tone, in which, "Isabelle Huppert Plays a Cannes Newbie". Both a highly prolific year for Hong, as well as a typically qualitative one, the stretch of 2017 also saw the release of "On the Beach at Night Alone", "The Day After" and most recently, 2018's "Grass". This first trifecta of films, "On the Beach at Night Alone", "The Day After", and "Claire's Camera" contains theme and preoccupations that course throughout Hong's recent work; female-centric narrative perspectives, gender frictions (in which men make themselves the fool), and a shifting, subjective sense of chronology and event-authority. It is this last element that most defines the otherwise innocuous "Claire’s Camera". As Richard Brody's analysis of Hong's recent filmography for The New Yorker posits, it is his emphasis on long scenes of jousting dialogue between the sexes have brought comparisons to the films of Eric Rohmer. Arguably, it is another French director who Hong's work most resembles explicitly in regard to its slippery cinematic architecture; that of Alain Resnais. In this regard, like Resnais' storytelling mechanics, a new majority of Hong's films  offer intricate narrative structures that reassemble and twist timelines over their course.

A universe away from Rohmer and Resnais, Guy Maddin's most recent is an exercise in examining one of the great films of cinema history, with a lesser, but intriguing enterprise within his own filmography. Gone are the frenzied and psychedelic digressions found in Maddin's past work, particularly the passionate reverence for German Expressionism and lost films of the silent era. The ecstatic chaos of technical mastery and oblique meetings of analog and digital process seen in his and Evan Johnson's "The Forbidden Room", are also largely excised. What remains in "The Green Fog", much in the way of 2007's "My Winnepeg", is a wonder of footage excavation and urban history. Utilizing clips from abundant cinema and archival sources, Maddin and Johnson recreate a lost object of obsession, the city of San Francisco from the time of Hitchcock's masterpiece. In many ways, rather than a homage to the director, or the film itself, "The Green Fog is a Fitting Salute to Hitchcock’s San Francisco", or more precisely, the cinematic idea of the city as seen in films of that era. Jonathan Romney's Film Comment Film of the Week review focuses on the heightening of discontinuity in Maddin's juxtaposition of source material and scene, in classic Surrealist mode often constructed with an eye for the bizarre and joyously perverse. 

An altogether differently inclined cinema of perversity can be found in the oeuvre of Bruno Dumont. The formerly somber Dumont’s turn to the comedic, and outright surreal since 2014’s perfectly pitched "L’il Quinquin", has marked a creative rebirth, as detailed by Senses of Cinema in their, "The New Extremism in the Street of Comedy: An Interview with Bruno Dumont". While imbalanced as a knockabout comedy in his previous costume drama satire, "Slack Bay", his newest "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc", finds its footing anew in taking liberties adapting Charles Peguy's "The Mystery of the Charity of Jeanne d’Arc". Sharing an equation as that detailed by Mubi's "Cracking Up: A Conversation on Bruno Dumont", Dumont's newest is sublimely parsed in Jordan Cronk's Cannes reporting for Cinema-Scope; "pitched somewhere between Straub-Huillet and Headbangers Ball, Monty Python and Olivier Messiaen, Bruno Dumont’s new feature marks a near-perfect synthesis of the French iconoclast’s many disparate interests and obsessions". Cronk also citing "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc" in its relation to its cinematic forebears. Where films by Bresson, Dreyer, Rivette, and Preminger have focused on Joan’s perils in battle, trial on charges of heresy, and eventual execution by the church, Dumont’s story centers on an (musically adept) adolescent Jeanne. Depicting a passage spanning the throes of her spiritual awakening, to her decision to leave home and take up arms as a musical comedy, Dumont is dancing "On the Verge of Heaven". Richard Brody's New Yorker review also finding perfection in the peculiar equilibrium of the film's unrestrained genre mashup; "The effect is moving. It’s also very funny, but in a way that sparks not laughter but astonishment. Jeannette’s visionary heroism is both clear-minded and absurd; in the extravagant possession of a child playing, completely earnestly, with the forces of history, Dumont catches the celestial comedy of disproportion and realizes that comedy with an apt sense of wonder and awe."

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Lucrecia Martel's "Zama" & Abbas Kiarostami's "24 Frames" at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 21 - May 3



Much like the set of notable titles from Cannes that arrived stateside in the month of March, April sees a stretch of films from competition in last year's Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Rotterdam. While not a work of narrative cinema, the late, great, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's final visual exercise watches as a series of 24 four and a half minute segments, most of them depicting animals in landscapes, each one slowly developing within a single static framing. Through digital post-production, "The Persistence of Abbas Kiarostami’s Vision in ‘24 Frames’" is obliquely expanded into suggestive live-action tableau. The borders of which acting as very much a literal "frame", with the very first of the images being Pieter Bruegel the Elder's “The Hunters in the Snow”. Watching more like the video installation work of many of his modern art world compatriots, what follows in the ensuing 23 frames of "24 Frames", is Kiarostami's final abstract statement on love, cinema, time, technology, censorship, and how we watch and consider the world. In the way of other expressions of the frame, and it's role in visual art of previous eras, two exceptional period dramas have utilized new technology to realize a striking recreation of 18th Century visual style. Sitting neatly within his filmography, "The Death of Louis XIV" is another of Albert Serra's maneuvering around the traditional narrative locus of his historic figures and settings. Serra has built a filmography of counter-intuitively selecting characters from some of the most iconic of western history, epics and fable. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in "Honor of the Knights", the trek of the three Magi in "Birdsong", Casanova and Count Dracula in "Story of My Death", and strips these high tales of their central events. What remains is a atemporal in-between state of extended middle passages and arching slow journeys across time and space. Often at a great remove from these figures' defining characteristics, and the drama of their established destinations. His most recent, "A Quietly Amazing Portrait of the End of Life" in which Jean-Pierre Léaud depicts the last two weeks of the monarch's life as a "Long Goodbye". While Léaud remains prostate for most of it's length, this painterly, recreation of 18th Century interiors, fashions, social mores, courtly hierarchy and (misguided) medical science, the gravitational pull of Serra's film originates from the "Riveting Performance at Its Heart".



Another painterly exercise in framing events of the 18th Century can be found in "Lucrecia Martel's Return After a Long Journey", with her first new feature film in nine years, following 2008's "Headless Woman". Returning after nearly a decade, to great aclaim at it's premier in Venice and Toronto, her new work can be seen in the light of a resistance to the rationalized time of industrial modernity, sharing a lineage of non-chronological considerations of time, thought and memory found in the works of Marcel Proust, and vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson. As detailed in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound, between the two projects the Argentinian director spent an extended period adapting Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s science-fiction graphic novel "El Eternauta", which ground to a halt when financing fell through. The leap between the time continuum-hopping sci-fi setting of "El Eternauta", and "Zama"'s journey across the landscape of colonial Paraguay might seem in high contrast, but as Martel explains in "Breaking Time’s Arrow: Lucrecia Martel and Zama", both undertakings are adaptations of Argentine source materials from the 1950s that involve an act of temporal projection. Whereas the former imagined a future journey across timelines as a consequence of the extraterrestrial invasion of Earth, "Zama", based on Antonio di Benedetto’s classic 1956 novel of the same name, follows the protracted travails of 18th Century bureaucrat Diego de Zama. Posted to a remote backwater as he lobbies to be returned home and escape the enveloping atmosphere of colonial folly, Zama's desperation grows as his relation to chronology unwinds. Events of past and future intermingle, becoming increasingly hallucinatory, the journey culminating in a state that is as much dream as waking life.