Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

ūüôā

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of¬†na√Įvet√© ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet ūüôā

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sert√£o.

But¬†Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang¬†is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first: ¬†he’s a film director.

And second: ¬†he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story… ¬†Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man. ¬†He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves. ¬†And it was this Indian film shown in China. ¬†And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang… ¬†His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in¬†Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger. ¬†No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!” ¬†Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on¬†Dereliction of Duty¬†ūüôā

-PD

Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Bu√Īuel and Max Oph√ľls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know. ¬†It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like¬†Taste of Cherry and¬†Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the¬†auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. CńÉtńÉlin Mitulescu. ¬†Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-sc√®ne¬†here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike¬†Adrian PurcńÉrescu.

Cuzin is calm. ¬†And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

PurcńÉrescu is frazzled. ¬†Cynical. ¬†Either a conman of a saint. ¬†Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and¬†PurcńÉrescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD

L’Atalante [1934)

The world is one big heartbreak.

This film reminds me of that.

I had seen it before.

But I hadn’t lived enough.

Life had never been that hard.

As it is now.

I don’t know what poetry is.

Maybe heightened language.  Anguish.

Languid.

God’s pace through the heavens.

This was one of the few Jean Vigo films.

The auteur of auteurs.

Because he directed little.

A bit like Anton Webern.

In that regard.

Vingt regards.

You know the story.

I shan’t count down from twenty.

I’m sorry.

But at least I can relate to Michel Simon.

We’ve been all around the world.

Not really.

But not bad.

And in our cabins with our trinkets.

On this ghost ship.

We ply the harbor.

To have such sad conversations.

And such optimism.

Yeah…

Michel Simon with his monkeys.

Meenkeys.

A bit like Nerval and the lobster.

But here he has cats.

And that is all too appropriate.

Yes, even √Člie Faure saw (and appreciated) this film.

James Agee admired the work of Jean Vigo.

You can only get as sad as Jean Dast√© when you’ve loved (and lost) someone as beautiful as Dita Parlo.

I’m not alone in feeling that way (apparently).

But it doesn’t make it any easier.

To be among one’s own leafless trees.

Floating down the Seine.

Never allowed to dock.

Nothing but tragedy.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” [1990)

By way of progressing my survey of David Lynch’s masterpiece television series, I would like to direct your attention to a film which I will likely not review in the normal sense.

That film is The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

There’s some rubbish about POM Wonderful which officially fills out the title.

I wouldn’t be a Jewish mother if I didn’t worry about such stuff.

David Lynch was right to introduce Michael J. Anderson 11 years before MJA’s portrayal of Larry Silverstein premiered at Cannes.

The whole thing came to me in a dream.

The collapse of the stritch and manzello.

In a dream I saw the bright shining genius of Morgan Spurlock.

The birth of Chomsky and Nader.

Putting a word to beauty:  Mädchen Amick.

Miss or missy.  Little maid.

Mademoiselle.

In dreams wiped clean like S√£o Paulo.

Or Tibet.

Martin Lindstrom is following closely the amygdala.

60 feet and 6 inches from a damn good cup of coffee.

Mark Crispin Miller rightly brings up “the spectacle” (I SEE you…).

Miguel Ferrer is a perfect Rosenfield.

No one uses Mane ‘n Tail on queer street.

It’s hard to pin down further.

Brilliance and brilliances.

Courage to be clever.

A place to fit within the business world.

The disruptive innovation of two auteurs.

Spurlock and Lynch.

Fact and fiction or faction.

Slice of life and life of slices.

Sad for what we’ve lost.¬† And hopeful for what we’ll gain.

Hard work.  Optimism.  Artistic integrity.

Marketing is no less surreal than a Shetland pony speaking through backmasking (and subtitles).

A kiss from Sheryl Lee.

Perhaps there is no other way to convey the savant fullness of Kyle MacLachlan than through such an oblique strategy.

 

-PD

 

 

Hard Candy [2005)

Norma Bates.

[sic]

Meets Paul Kersey.

Vigilante.

You know…

It’s not often I watch horror films.

I had a bad experience once with the schlock of the genre.

Sleepwalkers (1992).

I never really forgave Stephen King for that one.

But perhaps the story was just muffed in the inept hands of Mick Garris?

Well, whatever the case may be:  Hard Candy is compelling cinema.

Yes, charge me with the crime of our age.

The worship of youth.

Ephebophilia is hammered into our heads by the nonstop spectacle.

It is chronophilia from 15-19.  Age range.

You’re attracted to young people.

So many nuances.

There’s hebephilia.¬† 11-14.

Perhaps it is this which is most germane to our film.

Ellen Page is a star.

Sure, it’s a bit trendy…after Monster in 2003.

But I’ve seen that one…and Hard Candy is more compelling.

Ellen Page is more compelling.

Page plays a 14-year-old named Hayley.

Such a quintessential name.  Like Caitlyn (and its derivative spellings).

Top hit?  [Sponsored content?]  Hayley Williams of the band Paramore.

Youth.

Hayley Williams.  27.  Looks plenty young.

The worship of youth.

Red hair.  Porcelain skin.  Not a wrinkle in sight.

Hayley [sic].  Peak U.S. popularity in 1990s.

Et voila!¬† Hayley Williams born 1988.¬† That’s about right.

How about Haley?  Also peaked in the 1990s.  And about three times more common than the Hayley spelling.

[This is the honors-student logic of Hayley Stark in our film.  Really a genius detail.]

Let’s try Hailey.¬† Oooh!¬† Most popular yet!¬† And peaked in 2005 ūüôā

There’s also Haylee (trailer-trash rare…peak 2009), Hayleigh (a recent trend peaking in 2011…almost with a Cajun ring to it),¬† and the ultra-rare Haylie (a dainty spelling which peaked in 2007).

These are the keys to the safe.

Yes, it’s a very bad day for Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson).

Hell of a performance.

To wake up with your balls in your mouth.

Not just a figurative Quantum of Solace reference.

Sure, it’s a bit like Misery with Kathy Bates.

So, see:¬† the Norma Bates wisecrack wasn’t so off in another way.

Let me clarify.

Hard Candy is not a great film, but it’s pretty damned good.

The direction is good.

Patrick Wilson is good.

The scenario/script is good.

Ellen Page is great.

She’s not perfect.

There’s a few moments when the tension is so ridiculous that she almost breaks character.

Not a relaxing movie.

My first “horror” review.

I love Psycho.¬† It’s artful.

But chasing Hitchcock down that path can be a very treacherous exercise for auteurs.

David Slade does a fine job.

This film most certainly does not suck.

But again, Hulu:  I just wanted to watch a fucking comedy.

And your dramas still blow.

Ended up in horror.

God damn, you people suck at your jobs.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “Northwest Passage” [1990)

As in a dream dream dream

I try to sleep sleep sleep

Soft upon Badalamenti’s Oberheim swells…

Wanting just a bit of life before the door shuts.

And so venturing off to Washington state.

Akin to sleepwalking.

Writing a review under heavy sedation.

Prevents a Spinal Tap argument.

Kyle MacLachlan…so calm cool collected.

The joy of clues.

The tinkering of detail.  Spotting.  Forensics.

Criminal psychology.

And he wants a reasonable rate on a reasonable room.

A real civil servant.  Enjoys his work.

Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The eccentric Special Agent Dale Cooper.

Always talking to Diane on his tape recorder.  1990.

T R.  Or R T.

Teddy Roosevelt.  Or Russia Today.  Radio Television (sans Film).

Sure, Sherilyn Fenn is pretty darned good looking here.

Drives off a roomful of Norwegians.

Paul Revere in reverse.

Mädchen Amick had me confused for a second.

I’m still confused.

One should expect nothing less from one of the few living American auteurs (David Lynch).

Lara Flynn Boyle takes a little trip.

Really, we are just learning the principal players here.

Miles to go before they sleep.

I would only add a pithy case for comparison.

Newtown.

 

-PD