Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Vox Lux (2018)
I can’t stop thinking about this movie. It tells the ambitious story of a woman named Celeste who becomes a pop star after a tragedy. The narrative is divided into two parts: “Genesis,” in which we see Celeste’s rise as a teenager, and “Regenesis,” in which a now adult Celeste tries to make a comeback. There are a lot of reasons for why I can’t stop thinking about this film. There’s the beautiful imagery created by writer-director Brady Corbet and cinematographer Lol Crawley (I especially liked one shot of a camera trained on Celeste that foreshadows how our media-centric world is going to eat her alive). There’s the great narration from Willem Dafoe, which adds a sense of dry wit and cosmic knowingness to the film. There’s the titanic performance from Natalie Portman as adult Celeste that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same scene. (Her version of Celeste has a thick Staten Island accent that the younger version of herself does not have. I interpreted that as her feeling like she has no home so she puts on this extravagant accent in order to feel more connected to a place.) It’s not for everyone, but it’s a bold film that is going to be fun to debate with people.
Laura Ivins, contributor | It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — colorized!
This year, while perusing my Christmas movie options on the various streaming platforms, I noticed that Amazon Prime was offering two options for It’s a Wonderful Life: the original black and white and colorized! I’d never seen any of the colorized versions before (there are 3; not sure which I saw), so I thought I’d give it a try.
Right off the bat, the colorization lent a bit of an uncanny valley feeling to the film. The color was soft, almost exclusively pastel tones, with a fair amount of subtle gradation. It didn’t quite look painted, but it also didn’t look photographic, reminding me of something like Polar Express, which is famous for being too-real-but-not-real-enough. For his part, James Stewart referred to the colorization of It’s a Wonderful Life as “a bath of Easter egg dye.” This describes the color-tones perfectly.
Then, as one of my friends aptly pointed out, colorization undermines the beauty of the original cinematography, essentially erasing the expressive oscillation between lightness and shadow. Particularly in the sequence showing “Pottersville” with no George, the colorization softens the high contrast photography, lessening its narrative impact.
I actually think colorization could be an interesting technique for an experimental filmmaker who was doing this on purpose (has anyone tried it before?), because the color does have its own unique feel. However, for It’s a Wonderful Life, the attempt to “update” a classic by rendering it in color is ultimately distracting and disrespectful to the original filmmakers.
Caleb Allison, contributor | First Reformed (2017)
Way back in June, Nathaniel Sexton chose Paul Schrader’s First Reformed for his Monthly Movie Round-Up submission. I finally had the chance to see it streaming (it deserves much better, though) this past week, and at the risk of being redundant, I feel compelled to once again push this film to the fore. First Reformed probably isn’t the nostalgic, cheerful holiday movie you’ll watch with the family this season, but by its final sequence it will reinvigorate your faith in the power of human connection, as well as cinema.
Schrader’s output as a writer, director, or both has been consistently uneven but always intriguing, and at the age of 72 I think he’s returned with dogged determination to the inspirations and themes that first attracted him to cinema. This return may lead all the way back to Schrader at 24 years old, when he wrote “Transcendental Style in Film,” focusing on the work of Bresson, Ozu, and Dreyer. Those influences are all there in First Reformed, mingling together in a bittersweet cocktail, infused with visual austerity, faith and despair, and political unrest.
I’m trying to be brief but the film deserves much more attention, words, and viewings than I can squeeze in here. I do want to comment briefly on the film’s visual language though, and direct your attention to a small but compelling observation. At every turn the film’s visual language perfectly reflects its themes, and achieves this partly through stillness and movement. Static shots are used artfully and almost exclusively throughout the film, which imbues any movement with special meaning and emphasis. So, having seen the film only once at this point I’d ask you to take the icy plunge into First Reformed and focus on movement and stillness as one avenue into its nuanced visual strategies. Please don’t see this as holiday homework, but as a window into the beauty of cinema and its rhythms. Cheers!
David Carter, contributor | Private Life (2018) and The World is Yours (2018)
I’ve mentioned a few times in these posts that around this time of year, I’m usually taking the time to frantically (but enjoyably) catch up on all the year’s limited-release and foreign films that have either finally graced Bloomington’s humble multiplexes after playing in New York and L.A. for weeks or ended up on any number of streaming services. I’ve been doing this for years now and it makes this time of the year special for me, because I’m just drowning in the year’s great cinema for about 6 weeks. Two films in particular that played the festival circuit and were somewhat unceremoniously dumped on Netflix with little fanfare that I haven’t stopped thinking about since watching them are Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life and Romain Gavras’ The World is Yours.
Private Life is Jenkins’ long-awaited follow-up to her 2007 film Savages and deals with a couple in their late 40’s (played by the incredible Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) who have spent years and thousands trying to conceive a child and the trials and tribulations that brings when they decide to have their step-niece be the egg donor. The film is based off of Jenkins’ own experience going through the same thing (hence the large gap in her filmography) and like her film Savages the movie is a showcase of how to create an incredibly lived-in atmosphere, humor (never broad) in the face of real pain, and letting actors just kind of do their thing. Hahn and Giamatti are wonderful in this.
The World is Yours, on the other hand, is this incredibly stylish French crime-comedy sporting French acting royalty Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Cassel in supporting roles. The film’s premise alone is amusing. Francois (played by Karim Leklou) is a born and raised criminal (Adjani is his scam artist mother, his father is in lock-up but Cassel, his father’s cellmate, is there as his surrogate) who wants to get out of the game and become legitimate — not as some big businessman but as an upper-middle class beach popsicle vendor with a generic house. The big problem is, like his mother and everyone around him, he’s not a particularly competent criminal. The film is just wall-to-wall deep-cut needle drops followed by a great showcase of farcisicle and occasionally Coen-esque humor. I had a blast listening to Vincent Cassel deliver the line “We’re the Illuminati now” with a completely straight face.