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: Apr 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."