Advertisements

Tag Archives: Vous n’avez encore rien vu

Now Playing: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
dir: Alain Resnais (France, 2012)
Rating: 8.9

1153675_You-Aoint-Seen-Nothing-Yet

Screening yesterday as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center’s invaluable European Union Film Festival, and now playing elsewhere around the country in limited release, is Alain Resnais’ You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet. I was, unfortunately, not able to include it in my festival preview because screeners were not available at the time, but the latest from the forever formally innovative Resnais is one the best of the seven EU Film Fest movies I have seen and will undoubtedly rank high on my year-end list of the best films of 2013. While the content of You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet — a group of actors gather to watch the “video will” of a famous playwright — make it seem like an appropriate swan song for the 90-year-old New Wave master, Resnais rebuffed this notion at the press conference held for the film’s Cannes premiere: “This film is unlike any other,” he said. “If I’d thought of this film as a final statement, I’d never have had the courage or energy to do it.” Indeed, Resnais has fortunately already embarked on another film project titled Aimer, boire et chanter, an adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn’s play Life of Riley. Following 2009’s superb (and truly wild) Wild Grass, the boldly stylized You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet gives Resnais’ admirers ample reasons to believe that, when it comes to the director’s future projects, perhaps we really have not seen anything yet.

One of the chief pleasures of Resnais’ work, especially in more recent decades, is his exploration of the links between cinema, theater and life, a subject that arguably receives a more thorough working out here than in any of his previous films. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is, first and foremost, a movie about acting, and Resnais has fittingly assembled a dream ensemble cast that features many of the finest French actors of the past half-century, including Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Amalric, Anne Consigny, Hippolyte Girardot, Anny Duperey and Pierre Arditi. The premise is that these actors, all playing themselves, have appeared in various performances of the play Eurydice by the recently deceased (and fictional) playwright, Antoine d’Anthac, whose death has brought them together at the film’s beginning. D’Anthac’s “video will” involves showing this assorted gathering a recently videotaped performance of Eurydice by “la Compagnie de la Colombe,” a new theater company, in the hopes that the veteran actors will be able to help determine if the new company should be granted permission to put on the play. While watching this performance, the veteran actors are so overcome with emotion that they inevitably begin re-enacting the play themselves. The remainder of the film involves Resnais deftly intercutting between the two performances as well as scenes of the veteran actors interacting with each other in “real life.” The ambiguity about where life ends and theater begins — and the role of cinema in documenting this ambiguity — is treated by Resnais with characteristic playfulness and captured with characteristic formal mastery (e.g., rigorous widescreen compositions, perfectly measured long takes and purposefully fake-looking CGI). Resnais has also eschewed the astonishingly fluid crane shots of Wild Grass for a more locked-down feel that shows how much he believes that form should follow function.

you1

One of the most fascinating and provocative aspects of You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is the fact that the video production of Eurydice viewed by the veteran actors — and us, the viewers behind those viewers — was neither cast nor directed by Alain Resnais himself but rather by filmmaker Bruno Podalydès, who was commissioned by Resnais specifically for this purpose (and whose brother, Denis, turns up in a small role as d’Anthac). Resnais has spoken of the challenge of integrating his own ideas with Podalydès’ independently made footage (which was shot in a single warehouse-like location with a very un-Resnais handheld camera) as being one of the things that most attracted him to the project. This kind of self-imposed challenge can be seen as the latest in a long line of similar formal challenges that link Resnais to his master Alfred Hitchcock (whose image famously made a “cameo” in Last Year at Marienbad via a cardboard cutout in 1961); both Hitchcock and Resnais seem to view the creation of cinema as a process of posing and then solving a series of problems — though for Hitchcock this process tended to be more technical in nature (e.g., how to construct a film entirely from 10-minute long-takes and then disguise the cuts, how to shoot in extremely confined spaces, etc.), whereas for Resnais it tends to be more intellectual and theoretical.

Comparing the films of Hitchcock and Resnais is instructive: the manner in which Hitchcock wedded his problems to an uncanny commercial sense, and the way that he was able to successfully navigate a personal vision in Hollywood by utilizing big budgets and stars, has guaranteed that his best-known films are among the most beloved of all time. Resnais has remained just as true to his own artistic temperament, which includes roots in the Surrealist movement, but this has unfortunately meant that his movies are treated as frightfully esoteric by American critics when they have received U.S. distribution at all — and thus have only ever reached the kind of American viewers who frequent the arthouse ghetto. But just as Hitchcock’s most entertaining films contain veins of moral seriousness (as well as profound observations about human psychology) that are not always readily apparent on the surface, so too are Resnais’ best films, including this one, alive with the kind of visceral pleasures that seem inherent to the cinema and that make them more accessible than they are generally given credit for. In addition to offering the pleasures of seeing a great ensemble cast really letting it fly, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet also features an intoxicating score by composer Mark Strong, best known for writing the theme to The X-Files television show (one of many American T.V. shows for which Resnais has professed his admiration).

you2

Also of note is the extent to which You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet seems like a quintessentially French movie by a director whose previous work (whether due to the use of locations like the German chateaux in Last Year at Marienbad or collaborations with international writers like Ayckbourn, David Mercer and Jorge Semprún) has marked him more as what might be termed a “global artist.” The film is loosely based on two plays by French writer Jean Anouilh, Eurydice and Cher Antoine ou l’Amour raté, the first of which Resnais apparently saw upon its initial theatrical run during World War II. It seems appropriate then that this film, although taking place entirely in the present, is steeped in the distinctly early-1940s atmosphere of the French cinematic movement known as Poetic Realism, most obviously seen in Jacques Saulnier’s wonderfully ornate sets (especially an immaculately designed train station). In addition to Poetic Realism, the spectacle of watching a succession of Gallic actors riff on the characters of Eurydice and Orpheus may also put lovers of classic French cinema in the mind of other movies influenced by the Orpheus myth (which seems to have a particular resonance within French culture), including Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy and the Brazil-shot Black Orpheus by French director Marcel Camus.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is also, crucially, a movie about memory. Even if it isn’t explicitly discussed in the dialogue, it is the characters’ overwhelming memories of originally appearing in d’Anthac’s play that cause them to re-inhabit the roles. They do this in spite of the fact that many of them are now “too old” for their parts, which lends the entire affair a deeply felt sense of poignance. The way Resnais uses his characters’ memories as a catalyst for blurring the lines between real life and art, actor and character, and past and present, is ultimately what makes You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet a worthy addition to the director’s formidable canon (alongside such universally acknowledged masterpieces as Last Year at Marienbad, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Muriel, as well as his more undervalued recent films), and reminds us of the old adage about how great artists always recreate the same work over and over again, just in refreshingly different ways. In an interview to promote Wild Grass, Resnais spoke of his loyalty to a Surrealist ethos that feels even more appropriate when the quote is applied to his latest film: “I hope that I always remain faithful to André Breton who refused to suppose that imaginary life was not a part of real life.” Through his heroic insistence on the importance of the imaginary within the real, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet is supremely the work of an artist who remains forever young.

You can watch the trailer for You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet on YouTube here:

Advertisements

CIFF 2012: Twenty Most Wanted!

It’s time for my annual wish list of movies that I hope will turn up at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. Even if you’re not a Chicagoan, I hope you will find this to be a handy guide to a bunch of exciting-sounding movies that will hopefully be coming soon to a theater near you in the not-too-distant future. I’m deliberately not including Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmasters and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Assassin, both of which made the previous two installments of this list but which I have now given up hope of ever seeing in my lifetime. I should also point out that some of my most anticipated releases of the fall, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve, are scheduled to drop before CIFF kicks off on October 11.

Caesar Must Die (Taviani, Italy)

I’ve never seen anything by Italy’s esteemed Taviani brothers whose long-running co-director act dates back almost 60 years. Their latest sounds fascinating: a documentary about real life high-security prison inmates performing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for a public audience. This won the top prize at Berlin earlier in the year from a jury that was headed by Mike Leigh.

The Catastrophe (Smith, USA)

Yep, I submitted my most recent short film to CIFF and I’m still waiting to hear back. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this is the film I would most like to see at the festival. Fingers crossed!

Django Unchained (Tarantino, USA)

Could Quentin Tarantino’s much-hyped, southern-fried Spaghetti Western turn up as a gala presentation or closing night film? Well, he did bring Inglourious Basterds to Chicago in the summer of 2009, a few months before its official release, when CIFF gave him some kind of Lifetime Achievement Award thingy . . .

Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio, Italy)

Another old Italian maestro, Marco Bellochio, returns with an Isabelle Huppert vehicle about an actress caring for her comatose daughter. Bellochio’s 2009 feature, Vincere, which played CIFF, was superb, and Huppert (will she be speaking Italian?) is one of the world’s greatest actresses, so seeing this would be a no-brainer if it should turn up.

Drug War (To, Hong Kong)

The prolific crime film specialist Johnnie To made one of his very best films with 2011’s mind-bogglingly good dramedy Life Without Principle. This raises my expectations even more for Drug War, which sees To re-teaming with long-time collaborators like writer Wai Ka-Fai and actors Louis Koo and Lam Suet. Plot details are scarce but still photographs show a lot of men pointing guns. Intriguingly, this is also To’s first film to be shot entirely in mainland China in over 30 years.

Gebo and the Shadow (De Oliveira, Portugal/France)

Portugal’s Manoel de Oliveira, one of the world’s best directors, assembles a heavyweight cast of European talent for this adaptation of a 19th century play by Raul Brandão: Michael Lonsdale, Claudia Cardinale and Jeanne Moreau join Oliveira stalwarts like Ricardo Trepa, Leonor Silveira and Luis Miguel Cintra. Described as the story of an honored but poor patriarch who sacrifices himself for his son, this is the latest chapter in one of cinema’s most storied and freakishly long careers; at 103, Oliveira has already embarked on pre-production of his next film.

Holy Motors (Carax, France)

My most anticipated film of the year by far is Leos Carax’s long awaited follow-up to 1999’s Pola X. Holy Motors stars Carax’s perennial alter-ego Denis Lavant as an actor who constantly shuttles between multiple parallel lives. Or something. The rest of the formidable and diverse cast includes Edith Scob, Michel Piccoli, Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes. This wowed audiences and critics alike at Cannes but went home empty-handed come awards time due to an unusually conservative jury headed by Nanni “Middlebrow” Moretti.

In Another Country (Hong, S. Korea)

Another year, another Hong Sang-soo movie that plays to acclaim at Cannes with uncertain prospects of ever turning up in Chicago. Only one of Hong’s last seven films, including five features and two shorts, has played here (The Day He Arrives recently had a few screenings at the Siskel Center). One would think that the presence of Isabelle Huppert in the lead role and the fact that the majority of the dialogue is in English would improve In Another Country‘s chances but one never knows. It seems U.S. distributors like their Korean movies to carry the “Asian extreme” tag, and their witty and intellectual Rohmer-esque rom-coms to be spoken in French – and never the twain shall meet.

Jimmy Picard (Desplechin, USA/France)

The last I checked, Arnaud Desplechin’s first American-set film was still shooting in Michigan but it’s conceivable he could have it ready for a Toronto premiere in September – and thus a local CIFF premiere the following month. Benicio del Toro plays the title character, a Blackfoot Indian and WWII vet, who becomes one of the first subjects of “dream analysis” under a French psychotherapist played by Desplechin’s favorite leading man Mathieu Amalric. The estimable director’s only other English language film, 2000’s Esther Kahn, is also one of his best.

Laurence Anyways (Dolan, Canada/France)

23 year old writer/director/actor wunderkind Xavier Dolan debuted his third feature at Cannes this year where it was well-received. Melvil Poupad stars as a heterosexual man in a long-term relationship who undergoes a sex-change operation. I was initially skeptical of Dolan purely because of his young age and his credentials as a former child star but after catching Heartbeats (whose English language title is a regrettable stand-in for the original Les Amours Imaginaires) at CIFF two years ago, I was completely won over; the guy is a born filmmaker and the two-and-a-half hour Laurence Anyways sounds like a logical and ambitious step forward for him.

Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami, Japan/Iran)

Abbas Kiarostami’s latest divided critics at Cannes, a lot of whom compared it unfavorably to his supposedly “shockingly accessible” Certified Copy from two years earlier. But it also had its defenders and a die-hard Kiarostami fan like me is chomping at the bit to see it. This is a Japan set story about the relationship between a prostitute and an elderly college professor. The ending is supposedly nuts.

Love (Haneke, France/Austria)

I’ve never warmed up to Austrian miserabilist Michael Haneke, who specializes in combining titillation and moralism in convenient arthouse-friendly packages. But his latest, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, sounds more actor-driven and appealing to me: it tells the story of a married couple in their 80s (played by French screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) whose relationship is tested when the wife has a stroke. The ubiquitous “La Huppert,” who appears in three films on this list, co-stars.

Mekong Hotel (Weerasethakul, Thailand)

A documentary/narrative hybrid from the terrific experimental filmmaker Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul about various characters congregating at the title location situated along Thailand’s Mekong River. Apparently pigs and Tilda Swinton are also somehow involved. Depending on whom you believe, this is either a minor diversion or a major masterpiece. Either way, count me in.

The Night in Front (Ruiz, Chile/France)

The great Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz passed away from liver cancer last year while putting the finishing touches on what he must have known would be his final film. The Night in Front, an adaptation of stories by Hernan del Solar, received a posthumous debut in a special tribute session at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Fittingly, it was shot in Chile, Ruiz’s home country, from which he had lived in exile for decades. If this swan song is anywhere near the league of Mysteries of Lisbon, the 4 1/2 hour Ruiz opus that preceded it, it will be essential viewing.

Something in the Air (Assayas, France/England/Italy)

Something in the Air has been described as a coming-of-age story set against the turbulent political climate of Europe in the 1970s with locations that include France, Italy and the U.K. This makes it sound like an improbable cross between my other two favorite films by director Olivier Assayas: Cold Water and Carlos. This was offered an out of competition slot at Cannes, which Assayas turned down. As with Jimmy Picard, the only way this will show up at CIFF is if it has a Toronto World Premiere first.

Stoker (Park, USA/S. Korea)

The great Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut boasts excellent credentials in an A-list cast (Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode) and crew (composer Clint Mansell and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon) and yet . . . the film seems to be languishing in Post-Productionland for a suspiciously long time. Stoker has been described as both a drama and a horror film and plot descriptions make it sound like a virtual remake of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. How could this not be great?

Tabu (Gomes, Portugal)

With apparently explicit nods to F.W. Murnau’s film of the same title, this Portuguese/African co-production tells the story of an elderly woman living in contemporary Portugal with her black servant and then flashes back to tell the story of a love affair she had in Africa fifty years prior. I’ve never seen anything by the young director Miguel Gomes but the diverse locations and unusual two-part structure also make this sound similar to Daniel Kohlerer’s recent (and excellent) German/African co-production Sleeping Sickness. Both films were produced by Maren Ade, who is a fine young director in her own right (Everyone Else).

To the Wonder (Malick, USA)

As someone who saw The Thin Red Line five times in the theater, I’ve certainly fallen off the Terrence Malick bandwagon in the wake of The New World and The Tree of Life. And yet I still wouldn’t miss a new film by him for the world. The plot of this Ben Affleck/Rachel MacAdams-starring love story sounds like it will continue the autobiographical vein of The Tree of Life: an American man divorces his European wife and then embarks on a new romance with a woman from his small hometown. This is essentially what happened to Malick while preparing The Thin Red Line.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Resnais, France)

I used to be somewhat lukewarm on Alain Resnais’ post-1960s work until 2009’s wild Wild Grass brought me roaring back into the fold. This new meta-movie sounds like a typically provocative and fascinating Resnais experiment: a group of great French actors playing themselves (including Michel Piccoli, Mathieu Amalric and Resnais’ permanent leading lady and muse Sabine Aszema) watch a filmed performance of the play Eurydice, which transports them back in time to when they had all starred in the same play years earlier. Some critics derided this as “indulgent” at Cannes but I say that’s like criticizing Thelonious Monk for not playing the piano melodically.

Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA/India)

Kathryn Bigelow’s long awaited follow-up to The Hurt Locker sees her reteaming with journalist/screenwriter Mark Boal in adapting the true story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. This was well into pre-production at the time Bin Laden was killed, meaning Zero Dark Thirty received an 11th-hour “mother of all rewrites.” Details on this are scarce but the excellent Jessica Chastain apparently has a prominent role as a journalist.


%d bloggers like this: