Archive for film

nomadland

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2021 by xi'an

I went to the cinema last week, for the first time since 1917!, and with my daughter (in a sort of ritual of going to see a film the day before a major exam, and this was the majorest of all major exams!). And she selected Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. I had little a priori on the contents of the film, apart from the main theme, and it had not yet been discussed on my favourite France Inter weekly critical show. And I got very impressed by a unique film, staying away from cheap miserabilism, crude ideology or voyeurism. Maybe due to our sitting quite close to the screen, I was stuck by the way the characters were shot at their closest and how this would bring them to a higher level of reality, again without any form of caricature or judgemental detachment. The humanity of the film is purely staggering, with portraits of people with a complex and rich life. And Frances McDormand is fabulous, as she merges with the non-professional actors so seamlessly she shares their ethereal, transient attitude. There is no idealisation of the van life either, from the hardship of living with no toilet to the need to grab a tough living from temporary jobs all across the Western US. (The closest to a conflictual situation is when the main character, Fern, has to listen to much wealthier relatives droning about the ideal life of these nomads!) This being a movie about a van, there are also numerous (too many?) great shots of the Western USA, between Nevada, the Badlands [with a very brief historical reminder that this was the land of Lakota people, via the forefront of a 1906 saloon], some redwoods, and the (northern?) California coast. Which reveals a strong contrast with the places where Fern needs to work and live, like the Amazon warehouses, the beet processing plant, the soulless and exchangeable gas stations and laundromats along the road, the dirty camping toilets she cleans as a National Park worker… But again without delivering a message or adhering to an agenda. After watching the film, while biking home, I was reflecting that this was both a form of post-Trumpian film, since demonstrating the complexity and fundamental goodness of the people captured by the camera, away from binary statements and vociferation,  and a post-Bernie film as well as these people are not actively engaged against a harsh social system that does not provide basic help during their retirement years and let them with no further horizon than the next payslip. It is more complicated…

da 5 bloods [film review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2020 by xi'an

I was most excited to see the new Spike Lee’s film, Da 5 Bloods, available on Netflix. As I had liked very much his much earlier films like She’s gotta have it, Do the right thing or Clockers. (Although I feel the original book had more impact, I felt.) But I was rather disappointed by this one. (Although I related with the few pictures taken at the War Remnants Museum in Ho-Chi-Minh City, which I visited in 2013!) As I felt it was wasting most of the story for the allegory… The heist story was implausible from start to end (which is admittedly an usual feature of heist stories), with the five guys going into the Vietnamese jungle on their own, 50 years later!, which makes them 70 years old at the very least, with a small back-pack each but enough to carry a complete metal detector, and finding gold and bones (not a true spoiler I think!), not worrying about mines (until it is too late). Some of the actors are terrific, especially the (PTSD) out-of-control Delroy Lindo who essentially carries the film and keeps it alive. But other characters remain dreadfully under-exploited, counter-productively for the story. Which (literally) implodes with too many divergent threads. All unraveling into botched conclusions and ending up into a mess of the movie, the message eventually shooting the messenger…

On top of this I also think the film is presenting a very one-dimensional view of Vietnam, from a postcard idyllic vision with buffaloes in rice paddies, to thugs working for a French crook. With the overused tropes of the faithful prostitute and the cigarette smoking femme fatale. Except the later is a propaganda speaker on the Vietcong radio and unlikely to smoke American cigarettes… And the 1950’s (pre-Điện Biên Phủ) attitude of the said French crook (including the “bad guy” Luger gun!) does not fit either. Of course, these anachronisms and clichés could be understood as a second degré choice, i.e. as a pastiche of earlier American Vietnam war movies, from Apocalypse Now (explicitly referenced at the beginning of the movie, copter, river boat trip and Khmer temple included) to The Deer Hunter (especially the Vietnamese xenophobia), to Rambo (with cartoonesque shooting scenes). Collating epoch newsreels with blurry and dreamlike recalls of the actual experience of the 4 veterans looking their present age is a stylistic choice, obviously, but its repetition does not help in creating structure or credence in the movie. Especially when the current day battles in the movie are not any further realistic, although intended to be so…

1917

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2020 by xi'an

While in Chamonix, last week, I went to see a film for the first time in many months (as the latest installment of Star Wars does not count!).  As it happened, there was a English version of 1917 (and the theatre was full of English speaking spectators, in this most British of French Alpine towns!). I had no prior opinion about the film, for once, having missed my national public radio cinema critic show. The setting was rather impressive at the beginning with the crossing of the deserted “no-man’s-land” between bomb holes and decomposed cadavres, in a constant rush to save thousands from a planned massacre, but then the story stalls into an allegory that becomes almost cartoonesque, from the cut orchards to the plane running into their barn, to the eerie lighting of the ruins, to the episode with the refugee, to the fall in the river and the sad Wayfaring Stranger song (which made me think of the dwarven song in the Hobbit!) and to the anti-climactic reaction of Benedict Cumberbatch. By making the fate of so many depends on the unrealistic bravery of a single man, Mendes’ film may point out (rather cheaply) at the absurdity of it all. But it also contributes to perpetuate the myth of the hero, arriving against all odds (and then some) to save them all (if at the 13th hour). Granted, the film is effective and I was on the verge of tears by its ending, when the brother receives the bad news, but by focussing on the most unrepresentative soldier of the whole front, freely running in the (killing) fields rather than being stuck in the rotten mud for months, it missed the terrible fate of the overwhelming majority, condemned to die without redeeming heroic actions.

good omens and bad jokes

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by xi'an

Following the news that members of a religious sect had petitioned Netflix not to show Good Omens as they deemed the story blasphemous, mistaking Netflix for Amazon Prime!, I could not resist but engage into watching this show. While having skipped reading the original book. as I am fairly tone-deaf when it comes to Terry Pratchett’s novels. And sometimes to Neil Gaiman’s as well. The story itself reminded me very much of the later Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar series. Which did not impress me either. While I found the concept amusing and the construction of both central characters rather tolerable, the whole story is far from funny as a whole, even though a few lines are hilarious. I find it rather hard to feel any sustained interest in the general story and any worry for the characters. Especially since, to quote the Guardian review, “every character apart from the main two is tissue-paper thin”. And it once again comes to my feeling that satire does not carry that well into fantasy…

Venise n’est pas en Italie

Posted in pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on May 30, 2019 by xi'an