The Family Jewels [1965)

Not all classics are masterpieces.

This film mainly serves to show how truly genius The Nutty Professor was indeed.

Lewis is watchable here.

But let’s be less pithy than recent missives.

This film is better than The Geisha Boy.

[though Suzanne Pleshette looked ravishingly-mysterious in that flick]

It’s better than The Bellboy.

[which I might review if hell freezes over]

It’s better than Cinderfella.

[though just barely…because the latter has sappy “songs”]

It’s better than annoying clunker The Ladies Man.

It’s better than The Errand Boy.

It’s better than The Patsy.

[but not by much]

It’s better than godawful The Disorderly Orderly.

Jerry Lewis was a genius.

But as far as I can tell, he’s only been in two true masterpieces:

The Nutty Professor and The King of Comedy.

 

-PD

The World’s End [2013)

Simon Pegg is a genius.

And so is Nick Frost.

So I must start secondly by saying, “Disregard my reviews of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

I didn’t get it.

The style.

You must read an auteur in their language.

If the language is unintelligible, you can’t read them.

Now I get it [marginally].

And I love it.

This film is a masterpiece.

A deeply-flawed masterpiece (in the grand scheme of things).

But these two blokes come shining through.

Pegg and Frost.

I first encountered them in the film Paul.

I really liked them.

That film is much less of the gore.

Not part of the “Cornetto trilogy” (yes, the ice-cream cone).

But I would encourage all who can to grab a box of Drumsticks (if Cornettos be not available) and delve into this oeuvre.

I almost didn’t make it through The World’s End.

I had almost had my fill of this “comedy horror”.

But the dialogue did it.

Specifically, the scene where Pegg get the “lamp” to fuck off.

Brilliant dialogue.

These films are just funny as fuck.

And the characters are lovable.

Pegg and Frost have a great chemistry.

You know, there have been several times in my life where I’ve encountered a creation that I at first hated, and then subsequently went on to love.

One was the first Grinderman album.

It was so hyped.

Overhyped.

There’s no way it could live up to the critical accolades that I had been smothered with before hearing it.

I made it a few tracks in and gave up.

Overrated.

Waste of money.

But then I came back to it.

Gave it a second chance.

And it blossomed.

It spoke to me.

And so I would like to thank Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (and director Edgar Wright) for making such enduring creations (though they be in the guise of vacuous shite).

It takes a lot of courage to foist upon the world something as bold as the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

I am glad I “got it” before I chunked the whole thing in the dustbin.

Just barely.

 

-PD

Dumb and Dumber [1994)

Here is a truly great movie.

I walked out of the theater the first time I encountered this film.

In 1994.

I only made it about 10 minutes.

It was godawful.

But then years later I found the key to unlock this masterpiece.

Aw-kward.

-ness.

The way Lloyd Christmas’s front tooth is chipped.

His ludicrous bowl cut.

And Harry’s mess of blonde, frizzy locks.

Jim Carrey is excellent in this film.

I may not agree with his hysterical (not funny) politics these days (and I don’t), but there’s no denying his talent as Lloyd Christmas.

He was born for this role.

But what makes this really a masterpiece is that Jeff Daniels is equally good as his sidekick.

Daniels is a hell of an actor.

A very accomplished thespian.

Carey is more the Jerry Lewis type, but that’s neither here nor there.

But let’s give credit where credit is due.

The Farrelly brothers (Peter and Bobby) wrote an excellent vehicle for these two actors.

And Peter did a magnificent job as director of this picture.

But let’s not leave out Lauren Holly.

Her performance here is indispensable.

Mike Starr is also great as the mobster on the tail of Lloyd and Harry.

So while this might seem like a throwaway, disposable flick, it is, in reality, a well-thought-out, genius piece of cinema…if one can merely manage to get inside its eccentricity.

 

-PD

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby [2006)

This is a pretty damned perfect film.

Depending on where you’re coming from.

I set out for San Antone and I never felt so good.

“”

It might seem like a light watch (and in many ways it is), but Talladega Nights… captures something essential.

Will Ferrell distinguishes himself here as something of an auteur.

Sure, it’s really just an extended George W. Bush impersonation transposed onto the milieu of NASCAR, but there is quite a remarkable naïveté here from Ferrell.

It is kayfabe all the way to Alabama.

Ferrell never gives away the game.

Did Will Ferrell despise George W. Bush?

Did Will Ferrell secretly love George W. Bush?

Was Will Ferrell completely apolitical at this time?

It doesn’t matter.

What we see in his role as Ricky Bobby is pure.

There is something of Andy Kaufman in his performance.

Ferrell plays this role as if in a trance.

And this makes this film truly remarkable.

Sure, there are a ton of one-liners throughout.

The one-liners hook you in.

You see a bit on TV.  You hear a quote by the water cooler.

But when you finally sit down to view the whole film, you are greeted by a very complete work of art.

And, it must be said:  the brilliance of this film hinges as much on Sacha Baron Cohen as it does on Ferrell.

The two play off one-another.

Don’t be fooled:  Cohen’s turn as the Perrier-sponsored NASCAR driver Jean Girard is not a gratuitous cameo.

There is real drama here.

Real tension.

But most of all, it is one of those rare times when two comedic geniuses face off and create a sum greater than the parts.

Indeed, this may be Cohen’s best film role aside from the timeless Borat…

Cohen’s Girard comes off as a rather insipid, tongue-in-cheek Bond villain.

Think Hugo Drax.

Moonraker.

All caricature.

But it works.

Because Cohen mixes in an equal part Serge Gainsbourg.

For my money, there are few things funnier than seeing a NASCAR driver reading Camus’ L’Étranger WHILE DRIVING!!! 🙂

And there are so many of these moments.

Many of them are lowbrow.

Redneck.

But this film is classic.

This is truly a slice of Americana.

And, at the same time, it is a good story about overcoming anxiety.

Amy Adams plays a very important, mostly-understated role as Ricky Bobby’s assistant.

Her impassioned monologue in The Unfriendly Possum (before she climbs up on the table and makes out with Ferrell) is truly a bit of acting brilliance.

She channels something.

Can you buy that?

Can you just pay an actress to be that good??

No.

Not necessarily.

Adams adds a depth which this film dearly needed.

Cohen added a bizarre twist which perfectly seasoned the whole concoction.

But Ferrell is the big enchilada here.

Adam McKay did a nice job reeling this one in.

But he had a juggernaut in Ferrell.

Truly a special film.

It is a niche film.

But I live in that niche 🙂

 

-PD

Borat [2006)

This may be the funniest film ever made.

🙂

Really!

An erudite film critic shouldn’t admit such, should they?

But I learned long ago that I must have my own voice.

I can scour the Earth for every film to which Jean-Luc Godard made reference in Histories(s) du cinéma, but I still must contend with my own personal predilections.

We like stuff because it resonates with us.

For me, the realization was with the Romanian New Wave…and ’80s American comedies 🙂

The serious, austere, heartrending, bleak works of the Romanian New Wave have not been canonized by Godard.

Godard, the man, will (sadly) pass away.

Which is a terrible thought to me.

Because he has made his best films [sic] in his “later” years.

But the Romanian New Wave was “mine”.

I discovered it by accident.

And I dug a little deeper.

I would say about 90% of Romanian film resonates with me in a powerful way.

Almost as much as French film resonates with me.

But then I had to come to term with ’80s American comedies.

These were the things on which I grew up 🙂

And there is no greater joy in my film-viewing experience than to see a film which elicits hyperventilating belly laughs 🙂

And so, Borat [directed brilliantly by Larry Charles].

If Sacha Baron Cohen never again makes a good film, he’s still a genius in my book…based solely on this one masterpiece.

No, it is not Citizen Kane.

But it is something.

Something closer to Cohen’s hero Peter Sellers.

And to the bent mind of Andy Kaufman.

Borat Sagdiyev is the epitome of awkward…once he is placed within American society.

He is from the “backwards” land of Kazakhstan.

[of course, there is a great deal of exaggeration in this film…because such caricature can be quite funny]

The special thing about Borat (and Cohen, working through Borat) is that HE INSULTS EVERYBODY 🙂

Borat very much prefigures the Trump Presidency.

Not to mention the young Trump supporters fond of Pepe the Frog 😉

The idea is, “Lighten the fuck up!”

Laugh a little.

Laugh at yourself.

And, naughty naughty, laugh at what you’re not SUPPOSED to laugh at.

The forbidden subjects of laughter make us laugh the heartiest.

Our conscience kicks in.

We feel BAD about making light of such and such.

But it is a reflex:  it just simply is fucking funny 🙂

Nothing is going to take the fun out of this world quicker than those who scrub history, those who censor films, those who impose sensitivity training liberally…

Let’s get nitty-gritty.

Ken Davitian is excellent as Borat’s assistant Azamat Bagatov.

Nothing like having to hairdry the balls of your boss 🙂

[not to mention “back pussy”]

Yes, the humor is SO WRONG.

So bad!

But, as I overheard two days ago at the video story, white guys still reminisce fondly about Eddie Murphy standup routines.

Not exactly my bag, but I get it.

[and black guys, hispanic guys…Eddie Murphy was very much a “taboo” comedian]

Which brings us to Lenny Bruce.

I love Lenny Bruce.

Guy was messed up.

But he was brave.

So the point is, crude humor is maybe not the smartest…maybe not the best influence on society…but we need a little of it, it seems.

Maybe it’s because we’re all sinners?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to get too theological.

If I was a better Christian, perhaps I would repudiate Borat.

But I simply cannot do that.

And so I’ll keep it brief:

God works in mysterious ways.

I may be wrong.

But this film helps my heart with a laughter unlike any other.

 

-PD

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

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

🙂

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 naïveté 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 🙂

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 sertão.

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 🙂

-PD

Democrats [2014)

For so long I dreamed.

Of visiting Africa.

Merely in film.

To say that I was not narrow-minded.

And to honor the one friend I have ever known from that beautiful continent.

A native of Chad.

Tchad.

And a former resident of Côte d’Ivoire.

Because I love geography.

But, even more, I love people.

And I am pleased to report that this documentary, about ZIMBABWE, is a masterpiece.

Directed by a Dane (as in Denmark) by the name of Camilla Nielsson.

And currently available in the U.S. for streaming on Netflix.

It is a recursive process.

For so long I cried.

When I thought of slavery.

When I saw the beautiful face of a black man.

And the teeth with many gaps.

I now know.

I can say.

My dear friend.

You look like you may have come from Zimbabwe.

But recursion may become tiresome.

So we will plop with geography for a moment.

Sadly ignoring Chad and Ivory Coast for the time being, we must locate (firmly) Zimbabwe on a map.

Champagne Castle.

Remove your sanctions.

Remove your sunshades.

Looks like South Africa (south)…and Botswana (west)…additionally Mozambique (east)…and gets hairy from there.

But you needs must only remember that the two Zs flock together:  Zimbabwe and Zambia.

And so to the north (by way of northwest [not possible]) is Zambia.

Lusaka.

And over Angola is Luanda.

Lusaka.

Luanda.

You are really getting the hang of this 🙂

Have you thought about working for the State Department?

Recursive.

Going back.

But wait…there’s less!

Just remember that Zimbabwe is southeast Afrique.

Not on the coast.

That’s -zambique.

But landlocked.

Have you ever heard the rot of colonialism?

No no.

Have you ever heard a landlocked brass band?

The pitiful, wailing clarinets…

Landlocked is potentially poverty.

At the mercy of your neighbors.

Over land.  Over sea.

One.  Two.  If.

Recur thyself!

No…

We must say it:  MUGABE!

A big, fucking rockstar of totalitarianism.

Nah…

Dictatorshit!

Yes.  His dictator shit!

As when the Dalai Lama was a boy.

And they kept his turds.

Because he was some kind of golden child.

But President Mugabe (since 1980) will forever have the ignominy of that desafinado military band behind him.

Celebrations like dirges.

Gloriously out of tune!

Nothing slight about it!!

And every head bows…and every knee genuflects in fealty.

A spry 93 years old.

And President of Zimbabwe for a mere 37 years.

He ain’t a king.

And worse:  he’s only 4th on the list of usurping motherfuckers!

You’d have to go to shitholes like Angola (ahh, Luanda…), Cameroon, and the kicker (!) Equatorial Guinea to find jerks who have managed to outlast the black Hitler.

But I like Mugabe.

[what?????????]

No, no…let me explain.

First:  the guy does have a Hitler mustache.  More or less.

But that’s not why I like him.  I don’t dig Hitler.

Wait…do I like Mugabe?

Well, there’s a time and place for everything (and everyone).

As you watch Democrats (mercifully…for all involved…NOT about the U.S. Democratic Party), you might grow attached to the various fuckers involved.

Politicians.

Lawyers!

But Third World lawyers.

Some sad shit…

But most importantly:  brave, noble human beings.

You wanna see a real revolution?

Watch this film.

You wanna see some real sacrifices for democracy?

Watch this film.

To be sure…democracy is ugly!

And we Americans are the best at it.

Anything goes!

Fight, fuck, kill…but more like lie, cheat, deceive…yeah.

Democracy brings out the worst in people.

But it arrives at the best result.

It’s a goddamned crucible.

Just to think…that the master copy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe (ostensibly the subject of this film) was on a fucking Dell laptop.

Dell.

Right up the road from me.

Round Rock.

In the Westerns…

&

Michael Dell’s Horatio Alger story…at UT-Austin.

Even closer to me.

And #vault7.

So that we know that every scintilla–every Oxford comma was hacked by the CIA and/or NSA and known throughout the Five Eyes…even before the leaked hard copy hit newsstands in Harare.

Ah!

Another capital…

Reçu.

I can never go back.  Enough.  TO give you a full telling.

I guess Paul Mangwana is still alive.

This.

The character that grows on you.

From chuckling social engineer.

To political operative shitting his pants.

How do you say “damage control” in Shona?

Exactly.

And Susan Rice is a bitch.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because Democrats so precisely parallels the recent U.S. election.

The drama.  Allegations.

The swaggering strongman.

Yeah…Juan Williams would ride to town on that correlation.

So is Trump Mugabe?

Fuck no.

Not yet.

And probably not ever.

But liberals will have a field day with this possibility.

Social justice warriors will mouth off like the surly reporter from South Africa.

What an asshole!

And so we sympathize with Mr. Mangwana.

What a precarious position he was put in!

To try and bring the illusion of constitutionality to the ZANU-PF party.

But wait a minute…wait a minute…you ain’t heard nothing yet!

Remember, remember…that a black leader can repress black people.

America thought it was fine and dandy…and candy-shop clean when it elected CIA agent Barack Obama.

That turned out to be a big mistake.

One doesn’t investigate one’s own employer pursuant to crimes against humanity (9/11) when such equates to biting the hand that feeds.

Obama lost control.

And tried to get a little African in his lame-duck months.

Oops.

Yes…only democracy in the Middle East?  Israel?  You’ve got to be joking.

And Zimbabweans were so hopeful after the Mwangana/Mwonzora conclave wrapped up its two-year-overlong constitutional convention.

Got a little #MAGA in you?

Check out how a constitution is crafted.

If wasn’t all ass-kissing in Philadelphia.

Some genuinely contentious points.

And the Obamacare “Repeal and Replace” that just narrowly failed.

Think that wasn’t stressful?

Freedom Caucus gonna be outta jobs.

Saving their butts.

Sorry fuckers…

But I wouldn’t take their job for anything.

To be in that position.

Because.

We live a little while.

And then we die.

And so Camilla Nielsson deserves a Nobel (or at least a can of General Snus)…because she captured REAL, FUCKING LIFE here.

She doesn’t tell you what to think.

She says (in effect):  “figure it out”.

Here’s the facts. Figure it out.

“I have seen what I have seen”, wrote Ezra Pound in his second Canto.

I can’t explain it.

Some drumming.

Women making turkey noises.

Weird, macarena dances.

And a little boy gets beaten to death.

All to write a new constitution.

And Douglas Mwonzora is right:  Mugabe is evil.

That is a totally valid perspective.

Having seen this film.

[ahh…]

One source.

Never was anything decided on the basis of one source.

But circumstantial runs up against direct.

Very good, Eric Bolling!

And Tony Shaffer was better with MacGuffin.

But that’s just because this is Dossier du cinema.

Not cool enough for diacritics.

One final word…

Mugabe persists from the Soviet era.

Figure it out.

Is he a friend of NATO?

Do the geopolitical math.

Ruminate on AFRICOM.

Pound…was no patriot.  Of his own country.  In a traditional sense.

And the most I can bring you is this.

This attestation to genius.

The genius of Democrats by Camilla Nielsson.

And the sad face of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai…leader of the opposition MDC party.

Sad.

Like his face had been bashed in few too many times.

And maybe we don’t wanna know.

But the cowed look says it all.

And Douglas Mwonzora risks it all.

Three days in jail without food or water.  Plus another 18 days to make it a full three weeks.

Mr. Mwonzora.

So calm.

Collected.

That cool we see in Jafar Panahi.

Yes.

You can jail me.

But you will have to thoroughly kill me.

To stop me.

From doing what I love.

-PD

تاکسی‎‎ [2015)

[JAFAR PANAHI’S TAXI (2015)]

This must be “Axis of Evil” week here at paulydeathwish.com 🙂

As I have stated recently to a friend.

George W. Bush was the worst President the United States has ever seen.

And Barack Obama was probably the second-worst.

So what does that make me?

Democrat?

Republican?

Libertarian?

Let’s get to that question (if you even care to know) by a circuitous route, shall we?

First, we must again praise the people of Iran.

It was long ago that I saw my first Iranian film.

Taste of Cherry.

طعم گيلاس…‎‎

[Ta’m-e gīlās…]

It was such a profound experience.

There I was.

In a movie theater in Austin.

And I couldn’t have given a shit about cinema.

But I was there.

For some reason.

God only knows why.

And I saw a movie which in many ways changed my life.

[but it took many years to sink in]

Even so, I came to regard the name of its director (Abbas Kiarostami) with a sort of awe.

Yet, I doubted.

[as we all well should]

And so I said to the cinema gods, “Let Kiarostami perform his miracle again…if he be so brilliant!”

And he did.

I was supposed to be watching Life, and Nothing More…

But I made a mistake.

Because my French is so bad.

[you know, Kiarostami died in Paris last year (may God rest his soul)]

I needed 1991, but I chose 1990.

And it was another miracle.

Close-Up.

I don’t know.

Is it…

کلوزآپ ?

Or…

نمای نزدیک ?

[“Klūzāp”?  Or “nemā-ye nazdīk”?]

Because the unfailing Google Translate (now the second-most popular “tr” search after “Trump” [as “translate”]) tells me that both terms mean “close-up”.

But who can translate Trump?

[ahhh…]

Perhaps only an Iranian?

Well, we would be in good hands if director Jafar Panahi was that man.

Why?

Because Mr. Panahi has made a film which is of the same rarefied air as the two Kiarostami films which I have referenced.

The work is called Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, and it is currently available on Netflix in the U.S.

No, it’s not a really trite game show.

No, it’s not some premise for an uncreative pornographer.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi ( تاکسی) pushes the limits of barebones filmmaking in much the same way that the Palestinian masterpiece 5 Broken Cameras did.

[yes, I know the latter film was an Israeli coproduction…with an Israeli co-director…‎‎but the film was very much Palestinian in its inmost heart]

What our director Mr. Panahi adds to the method (budget cinematography) is an uncertainty of reality.

Frankly, I have never seen a film quite like Jafar Panahi’s Taxi.

Is it a documentary?  Is it staged?

One thing’s for sure.

If it’s staged, the injured man and his wailing wife deserve Oscars “toot sweet”!

Truly, it is panic-inducing…

Which is not true of this film in general.

No, dear eggshell friends (if you’re out there)…don’t be afraid.

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi will only take you on a “wondrous boat ride” (so to speak) for a brief, more-or-less manageable period of time.

The rest of the film is fascinating…engrossing…painfully and gloriously perplexing.

Yes, Mr. Panahi borrows Kiarostami’s favorite device:  filming from a moving vehicle.

But so what?!?

Panahi was an assistant director to Kiarostami.

And Abbas certainly wasn’t the first to film out of a car window.

But let’s examine for a moment…

Yes, the special part of this method is that the camera is turned INWARDS.

And so we feel we are seeing Homayoun Ershadi vacillate between life and death…all over again.

Or we feel we are seeing the calm, gracious mannerisms of Mohsen Makhmalbaf transposed from motorcycle to taxicab.

But what we are seeing most of all is a director stepping in front of the camera.

Like Truffaut.

And Chaplin before him.

Godard has done it to excellent effect as well.

And Jafar Panahi is like an empty reed of meditation as he navigates an unending stream of chaos which enters his faux-taxi.

But the most poignant moments are when Hana Saeidi reminds us of the childish joy of being an auto passenger…and when the lawyer Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh addresses us…we, the watchers of cinema.

Who will watch those watching the watchers?

It’s like Juvenal in a hall of mirrors.

But Ms. Sotoudeh breaks the fourth wall and takes us to a very special place.

Prison.

And so, again, frankly:  we don’t know how Jafar Panahi’s Taxi was ever made.

Isn’t Iran one of the most intolerant countries on Earth?

Just what is going on here??

All of this Shostakovich-ean rebellion is really breathtaking when under the microscope of close viewing.

But Jafar Panahi remains stone-faced.

Like Buster Keaton.

Yet, this is largely no comedy.

This is a big “fuck you” to the government of Iran.

And yet, it is the most subtle “fuck you” ever committed to film.

Only a genius can do such things.

DSCH

etc.

Yes, dear friends.  Mr. Panahi has been banned from making films.

And yet he made one.

And then another.

And then this one.

So we salute you, Mr. Panahi.

We appreciate such in America.

To illustrate:

<–fuck you, fuck you–>, and most of all…fuck you ^

That is freedom.

It is ugly.

Messy.

But it works.

And so as a Donald Trump supporter (yes, me), I say, “bring it on, you whiny, sub-literate protesters!”

Maybe they’re right.

But it’s their right.

To protest.

And so we mix and knead.

And we need the yeast of dissent to ever grow again.

Let’s bake some goddamned bread, people!

-PD

Tokyo Fiancée [2014)

I have been absent.

Because work.

Not working, but looking.

Labor.

Jobs.

Money.

Healthcare.

I have been absent because anxiety.

Always.

But better.

Walking.

Stretching.

Exercise.

Rest.

Time.

And now the cosmos brings me a perfect film.

Because Pauline Étienne.

Actress full of joy.

But the grand auteur is Stefan Liberski.

Every color.

Every gesture.

You must pinstripe, tuck up your hair you haven’t.

You must primary color.

Yellow and red.  Made in U.S.A.

“You must fall in love with me,” says Pauline Étienne.

“I command you.”

[she continues]

And of all the girls in the world, the Belgians and Finnish are the most diabolically beautiful on film.

Godard said the Swiss.

Clear bias.

And so we have a Belgian film set in Japan.

If we try hard, we can hear Debussy.  Estampes…

Pagodes…

Sado Island… […]

To dream in the rain.

Cross the bridge.

And the river steams.

You seek a nectarine.

A noisy kiss.

Pauline Étienne.

Buttermilk legs joy rollerskate skinny.

Was taken from Salinger.

Joyce said spittoon.

As cuspidor.

The most beautiful word.

Girl.

Some films, books so good…too much to handle.

My wish.

To marry.

To have that happiness.

A mere handful of fives away from Valentine’s.

When Colombia and Ecuador will be pumping out roses for Starbuckers.

All along.

They said that sex was uncouth.

Or resorted to farm metaphors of propagating species.

But.

They couldn’t talk about love.

Excitement.

When your breath is stolen by a cold kiss.

In the autumn.

Winter.

And yet warmth from optimism.

But we must get on to the little back alleys of Tokyo.

And for a moment stop this dream.

To be born.

In Japan.

Of Belgian parents.

Does not a Japanese make.

I can suck the life out of Auden.

Elliptical.

Though I thought I was aping Céline.

But director Stefan Liberski is aping no one.

personne

We must mention the author and not the auteur, though in French there is no difference (save for the milieu of cinema).

And she gives us a fantastic story.

Amélie Nothomb.

No thumb.

Better than “all thumbs”.

Rhombus.

Can you suck on a diamond lozenge from a ring?

Lots of sucking.

But that’s the aw-kward + loneliness which makes a great film.

This one just happens to pull in Belgique and Nippon to boot.

It depends.

On her yellow socks.

On her haircut.

Pauline Étienne.

On sweater with blue stripes.

Like Edward Hopper did the cinematography.

But the Francophones have it figured out.

Every trick.

Which is to say.

No tricks.

Just emotion.

Realism.

No bullshit.

Embrace the history of film.

Compare and contrast.

What works?  What doesn’t?

What speaks to you?  How does a culture (French, par exemple) see a film?

Answer:  it doesn’t fucking matter.

What matters is the overflowing love and romance which infuses Tokyo Fiancée.

Only thing Lars von Trier ever did well was film Kirsten Dunst in the nude.

Stefan Liberski surpasses von Trier’s entire oeuvre with this one film.

Yes, I’m polemic as fuck!

I’ll take François Truffaut (the film critic) and a bottle of white wine for my friend.

I like red.

And Guy Debord.

I’ll take chances.

Damn.

I have taken so many fucking chances.

But we get scared.

Worn out.

Frightened by inexperience.

All of that is in the film.

Taichi Inoue is really sweet as Rinri.

But I keep coming back to Pauline Étienne.

She has cast a spell over me.

And I must ask:  who does she signify?

Forget the character name.

For each sad soul who dreams their way to the end.

She represents someone.

Fondue.

Teeth which nave never left the village.

New born yellow as unripe baby corn.

On the farm.

Maybe.

A different register (accent?) of French in Belgium.

Immediately recognizable to a Parisian.

And with little modesty lambasted as yokel French.

But perhaps the Belgians and Quebecois have this in common.

A cause for solidarity.

And add in the Swiss…with their weird counting and smoky lisp.

Is it?

Tokyo Fiancée hits harder than La Religieuse (2013) because it is not stilted nor steeped in period costumes.

Just tell a fucking story, we say.

Pauline Étienne.  Born in Ixelles.

How could anyone from such a place be any less than ravishing?

When we think in microcosm.

If we only know one Indian person.

They become India.

For us.

And complicate this with a multicultural relationship.

That is the gasoline of Tokyo Fiancée.

It is clean.  And genius.  Like Magritte.

A bowler hat.  An apple.  And MoMA depth.

We want to be in this Japan.

Because the eyes have captured the essence of magic.

Ingenuity.

Frivolity.

Fun.

Tokyo Fiancée succeeds at every point where Lost in Translation failed (which was at every point).

This is the real deal.

Real acting.

Real art.

Not a dilettante piece.

Sofia Coppola should send her usage permissions for My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shields tracks to Stefan Liberski posthaste.

Such music is the only thing which could make Tokyo Fiancée any better.

And yet, it is a perfect film.

Don’t fuck with perfection.

Maybe again MBV and Liberski can have a meeting of minds.

But make sure to include the Anna Karina of our age.

Pauline Étienne.

An actress for which Francophonie has been searching for 60 years.

Well, here she is.

And this is the model:  Tokyo Fiancée.

Let the joy in her heart hit the screen (splat!).

Jump on the bed.  Ahhh!!!

In the mountains.  Wooh!  The rush.

An actress with all 21 petals on her Fibonacci daisy.

Which is to say, fully capable of cinema immortality.

I believe it was Mallarmé who wrote of “bursting pomegranates” (!)

Very few films have ever had this effect on me.

And I needed this one very bad.

To confirm that there are quirky, special people in the world.

That there are eyes who see beauty in the details I notice.

And that genius in the cinema is not dead.

Thank you Mr. Liberski.

And thank you Pauline Étienne for your performance which has brought hope to a very sad person in Texas.

Je veux exprimer ma plus profonde gratitude.

C’est infini.

-PD