Author Archives: michaelgloversmith

About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor.

Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE

Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE (France)

I reviewed Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE for Cine-file Chicago. Chicagoans can see it at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next week. And they should:

Gene Siskel Film Center — See Venue website for showtimes

With FRANCE, Bruno Dumont remains wildly unpredictable, lurching from satire to melodrama and back again and tossing off all sorts of psychological and sociological provocations along the way. A friend of mine cheekily described this crazy movie as “the Bresson version of BROADCAST NEWS,” but I think it may be more instructive to see it as a politically explicit, Gallic variation on Lucrecia Martel’s THE HEADLESS WOMAN (2008). Dumont signals his allegorical intentions with the title, which refers not only to his native country but also to the protagonist (Léa Seydoux in her finest performance to date), a celebrated TV news personality who’s clearly meant to embody what Dumont sees as the virtues and flaws of his nation’s character. As a journalist, France is smart and talented, but some of the dubious ways she constructs segments for the nightly news signal a certain lack of self-awareness (as typified by a bravura sequence where she “directs” members of a third-world Muslim militia for an interview segment she’s shooting in the desert). The plot of FRANCE concerns the eponymous character as she undergoes a crisis of conscience after accidentally striking the Middle Eastern delivery driver Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) with her car. Through France’s interactions with the working-class Baptiste and his immigrant parents (all of whom seem awed by her celebrity), as well as a subsequent extramarital affair that carries disastrous consequences, France becomes more in touch with her own feelings and begins a halting journey towards redemption, which marks her as a kind-of secular saint. (Another productive way to read FRANCE is as the third part of a martyrdom trilogy following Dumont’s musical diptych about Joan of Arc.) Dumont’s real masterstroke was casting Seydoux, an actress who was catapulted to fame by her lead performance in the controversial BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and went on to appear in a couple of James Bond films and Wes Anderson’s THE FRENCH DISPATCH (where she also seems to have been cast to evoke the very idea of French womanhood). Here, the-real-life-glamorous-movie-star Seydoux is playing a glamorous television star, one whose authentic identity has become subsumed by her need to be constantly “on” for the cameras. Dumont has spoken in interviews of his interest in showing, in the latter stages of FRANCE, the “awakening” of a character who until then has “practically been a robot” and how the heart inside of her is ultimately moved. Through the ever-deepening emotional intelligence of Seydoux’s layered performance, the director and actress have achieved this feat in perfect symbiosis. (2021, 133 minutes, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Brain Damage (Henenlotter) – B+
2. Honkytonk Man (Eastwood) – A-
3. Bronco Billy (Eastwood) – A
4. Bombay Beach (Har’el) – B
5. The Beatles: Get Back (Jackson) – A
6. Tih Minh (Feuillade) – A+
7. Titane (Ducournau) – B
8. The Souvenir Part II (Hogg) – A-
9. France (Dumont) – A-
10. Licorice Pizza (Anderson) – B


My Favorite Films of 2021

As with every year, it was a great year for cinema if one knew where to look. After serving as a “screener” for one film festival (Chicago Underground) and a juror at another (Lake County), I probably watched more feature films in 2021 than I have in the past few years — although, because I spent most of the year working on a new feature myself, I spent less time writing about them. Below is a list of my top ten favorites and ten runners-up that I’ll be submitting to Cine-file Chicago, along with links to my original reviews where applicable.

10. Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia/USA)

9. In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo, S. Korea)

8. The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, UK)

7. Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven, France)

6. Cry Macho (Clint Eastwood, USA)

My esteem for this late-period Clint Eastwood masterpiece has only grown since my first viewing. After some bumpy narrative exposition and the introduction of some red-herring genre trappings, it settles into a sublime, near-plotless meditation on the importance of slowing down and enjoying life: you know, just hanging out with other people, petting animals, taking a nap, dancing, making food. That sort of thing. To paraphrase something Roberto Rossellini once said about Chaplin’s A KING IN NEW YORK, it’s the film of a free man. You can hear me discuss it with Bennett Glace on the Split Tooth Media Podcast here. You can read my original review for Cine-file here.

5. Annette (Leos Carax, France)

4. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, New Zealand)

3. Shadow Kingdom (Alma Har’el, USA)

A lot of film people aren’t even aware of the Alma Har’el/Bob Dylan masterpiece SHADOW KINGDOM. Or, if they are aware of it, they don’t realize that it’s actually a movie. It was advertised as a “livestream event” in advance of its premiere on Veeps.com, which led many people to assume that it would be a concert (whether live or pre-recorded). What we got instead was a gorgeously photographed black-and-white art film, shot over seven days on multiple sets on a soundstage in Santa Monica, in which Dylan and a group of masked musicians mime along to a sublime set of new recordings of old Dylan songs. In my brief Letterboxd review, I called it “a visual album, not unlike Beyonce’s LEMONDADE as directed by Straub/Huillet” but if you want a deep dive into what makes it a truly exceptional film, you should listen to Laura Tenschert’s amazing analysis here. It was only available to stream for a week via Veeps (presumably before disappearing into the ether forever), but I might be able to show it to you if you want to come over to my place…

2. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

1. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

It isn’t often that I feel this way about a movie but when I saw the first of the two masterpieces that Ryusuke Hamaguchi released this year, I felt like I should have made it myself. Reviewed for Cine-file here.

Runners Up (in Alphabetical Order) :

The Card Counter (Schrader, USA)

Feast (Leyendekker, Netherlands)

Malignant (Wan, USA)

Memoria (Weerasethakul, Colombia)

Our Father (Smith, USA)

Procession (Greene, USA)

Shiva Baby (Seligman, Canada/USA)

This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Mosese, Lesotho)

Topology of Sirens (Davies, USA) – Reviewed for Cine-file here.

Zeros and Ones (Ferrara, Italy/USA)


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Benedetta (Verhoeven) – A-
2. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
3. Pimps Up, Ho’s Down (Owens) – C+
4. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
5. Good Time (Safdie/Safdie) – A-
6. Zeros and Ones (Ferrara) – B+
7. Procession (Greene) – A-
8. This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Mosese, Lesotho) – B+
9. Chungking Express (Wong) – A
10. Chungking Express (Wong) – A


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Breathless (Godard) – A
2. Days of Heaven (Malick) – A
3. Overwhelm the Sky (Kremer) – B+
4. Topology of Sirens (Davies) – A-
5. Days of Heaven (Malick) – A
6. Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker) – A+
7. Halloween (Carpenter) – A-
8. The Howling (Dante) – B
9. Breathless (Godard) – A
10. Rear Window (Hitchcock) – A+


Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS

I wrote a capsule review of Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS for http://www.cinefile.info ahead of its U.S. Premiere tomorrow night at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. I will be conducting a post-screening Q&A with Davies at the Logan Theater.

Jonathan Davies’ TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS
Logan Theater – Saturday, 6:45pm; also available to rent virtually
here
TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS is a tantalizing mystery film in the vein of early Jacques Rivette that imagines contemporary Los Angeles as a kind of giant game-board. Much like how PARIS BELONGS TO US features the search for a missing tape of “revolutionary guitar music” as a narrative jumping-off point, so too does Jonathan Davies’ first movie use the discovery of mysterious micro-casette tapes inside of an antique hurdy gurdy as a catalyst for an existential detective story. I love the way TOPOLOGY OF SIRENS imbues physical objects—and the physical media that is rapidly disappearing from the world in the 21st century in particular—with a totemic significance that makes it feel incredibly modern. A lot of critics are going to liken this to the work of other filmmakers (a couple of mesmerizing scenes on a baseball field recall the ending of Antonioni’s BLOW-UP in particular) but the best point of comparison I can make is with Thomas Pynchon’s 2013 novel Bleeding Edge, which has a similarly haunting quality in how it “makes strange” the recent past by treating it as if it were ancient history. Featuring elegant cinematography that thankfully eschews the gritty, handheld aesthetic so prevalent in modern independent American cinema, and a minimalist drone score that blurs the line between music and atmospheric sound effects, this is an astonishingly confident debut feature. Director Jonathan Davies in person. (2021, 106 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


ROY’S WORLD at the Chicago Critics Film Fest

I couldn’t be more excited that a film I produced, Rob Christopher’s documentary ROY’S WORLD: BARRY GIFFORD’S CHICAGO, is receiving its Illinois premiere at the Music Box Theatre as part of the great Chicago Critics Film Festival next month. The film is narrated by Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon and Lili Taylor and consists almost entirely of never-before-seen archival footage of Chicago in the mid-20th century and a couple of animated sequences. The film’s subject, master writer Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART), will be there in person for a Q&A! You can buy tickets on the Music Box website here.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw


1. In the Cut* (Campion) – A-
2. In Front of Your Face* (Hong) – A-
3. Memoria* (Weerashethakul) – B+
4. Rear Window (Hitchcock) – A+
5. Saint Maud* (Glass) – C
6. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
7. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica) – A+
8. The Power of the Dog* (Campion) – A
9. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn* (Jade) – B-
10. Drive My Car* (Hamaguchi) – A

* – first-time watch


Microbudget Masterclass at the Lake County Film Fest

I’ll be giving a presentation on microbudget filmmaking at the Lake County Film Festival on Saturday, 11/13 at 1pm. I’ll be showing clips from all of my features (including a sneak peak of RELATIVE) and admission is FREE. Hope to see you there! More info on the Lake County Film Fest site.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Bicycle Thieves (Kremer) – A+
2. Out of the Past (Tourneur) – A+
3. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
4. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Hamaguchi) – A
5. Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin) – A-
6. Bergman Island (Hansen-Love) – C
7. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
8. The Many Saints of Newark* (Taylor) – D+
9. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+
10. Citizen Kane (Welles) – A+


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