Hugo [2011)

It’s hard to imagine that perfection would be possible in 2011.

In this very uncinematic era ruined by technology.

But it takes a genius to produce art from tech.

And it takes an artist to produce art.

Martin Scorsese was well up to the challenge.

As the weirdo I am, The King of Comedy has always been my favorite of his films.

Rupert Pupkin spoke to me in a way that perhaps only the totality of Dr. Strangelove ever similarly did.

But Mr. Scorsese had the brass to undertake a project which should have been doomed if only by its trappings.

Films have tried and generally failed at relative tasks.

City of Ember, for example.

But Scorsese was not deterred.

Not least because he had the magical trump card:  Méliès.

Which is to say, he had the story to end all stories (as far as cinema is concerned).

The big daddy.  The big papa.

Papa Georges.

But first things first…

We must give credit to Asa Butterfield (who looks like a cross between Barron Trump and Win Butler in this film).

Butterfield is no Mechanical Turk.

Nay, far from it.

But automata (or at least one particular automaton) play a large role in Hugo.

And why “Hugo”?

Kid living “underground”?  Victor?  Les Misérables?

Yes, I think so.

And it’s a nice touch by the auteur (in the strictest sense) Brian Selznick.

[Yes, grandson of David O.]

We’re at the Gare Montparnasse.

Torn down in 1969.

Site of this famous 1895 derailment.

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m up to 1,261.

But we press on…

Because Méliès was about dreams.

And Hugo is about dreams.

les rêves

And Scorsese has been “tapped in” to this magic at least since he portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa-san’s best film).

I must admit…I was a bit confused for awhile.

Something told me Scorsese had transformed himself into Méliès.

It was only later that it all made sense.

Ben Kingsley.

I mean, Scorsese is a great actor (Van Gogh, etc.), but he’s not THAT great!

But I’m jumping ahead…

Sacha Baron Cohen is very good in a somewhat-serious, villain role here.

I fully expected the immensely-talented Cohen to “ham it up” at some point, but he instead gives a very fine, restrained performance which fits like clockwork (sorry) into the viscera of this exquisite film.

But let’s revisit Sir Kingsley.

What a performance!

The loss of a career (Méliès).

The loss of a previous life.

The fragility of celluloid.

All to end up running a pathetic souvenir shop.

Toys.

Very clever, but still…

Such a fall from grace.

Into such obscurity.

I can only compare it to the trajectory of Emmett Miller (which was so artfully documented by my favorite author of all time [Nick Tosches] in my favorite BOOK of all time [Where Dead Voices Gather]).

The speed at which technology moves has the potential to reduce the most eminent personage to mere footnote at breakneck speed.

It was so even a hundred years ago.

And the process has now exponentially accelerated.

But we are coming to understand the trivialization of the recent past.

We are holding tighter to our precious films and recordings.

Because we know that some are lost forever.

Will this vigilance continue uninterrupted?

I doubt it.

But for now we know.

Some of us.

That today’s masterpieces might slip through the cracks into complete nonexistence.

Consider Kurt Schwitters.

The Merzbau.

Bombed by the Allies in 1943.

Es ist nicht mehr.

Into thin air.

But such also is the nature of magic.

Poof!

Skeletons later evoked by Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Scorsese is a film historian making movies.

And it is a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre more than once.

As on a player piano.

With ghost hands.

And the gears of the automaton.

Like the mystery of Conlon Nancarrow’s impossible fugues.

I’m betting Morten Tyldum lifted more than the spirit of gears meshing in Hugo to evoke the majesty of Alan Turing’s bombe in The Imitation Game.

But every film needs a secret weapon (much like Hitchcock relied on the MacGuffin).

And Scorsese’s ace in the hole for Hugo is the Satie-rik, placid visage of Chloë Grace Moretz.

Statuesque as water.

A grin.

A dollar word.

The beret.

And the ubiquitous waltzes as seen through keyholes and the Figure 5 in Gold.

Hugo is the outsider.

Scruffy ruffian.

Meek.  Stealing only enough to survive.  And invent.

But always on the outside looking in.

Below the window (like in Cinema Paradiso).

Ms. Moretz’ world is lit with gas lamps.

And you can almost smell the warm croissants.

[Funny that a film set in Paris should require subtitles FOR PARISIANS]

Assuming you don’t speak English.

Tables are turned.

But Paris draws the cineastes like bees to a hive.

THE hive.

Historically.

And that is just what this is.

History come alive.

But another word about Ms. Moretz.

As I am so wont to say in such situations, she’s not just a pretty face.

Though they are faint glimmers, I see an acting potential (mostly realized) which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The key is in small gestures.

But really, the key is having Scorsese behind the camera.

It’s symbiotic.

Martin needed Chloë for this picture.

And vice versa.

We get a movie within a movie.

And (believe it or not) even a dream within a dream.

Poe is ringing his bell!

Or bells.

“Lost dream” says Wikipedia.

Yes.

It is as bitter a music as ever rained into Harry Partch’s boot heels.

To have one’s life work melted down for shoes.

Rendered.

To click the stone of Gare Montparnasse.

In an ever-more-sad procession.

Méliès becomes the vieux saltimbanque of which Baudelaire wrote.

Such is life.

We never expected to end up HERE.

Astounding!

-PD

חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Vi är bäst! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi är bäst! isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible:  form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart.  So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim:  “three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony!  What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here.  Stay on this note.  Good.  Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion.  It’s not about the school talent show.  We’ve got to keep going.  It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair.  Do something fun!  Express yourself!  Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD