Screening Room: ‘The Truth’

Poster image for The Truth

In the latest family drama from Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche play a battling mother and daughter whose versions of the past are dramatically different.

The Truth is streaming now here.

My review is at PopMatters:

For Koreeda’s first non-Japanese movie, The Truth is not the sort of film that will likely introduce him to a broad new audience, even in a world where movie theaters were still open. Funny, thoughtful, and occasionally wicked, it feels closer to his more genial entertainments like Our Little Sister (2015) than his sharper and more barbed pieces like Shoplifters or Like Father, Like Son …

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Move to Paris

Sometimes you just want to chuck it all and move to Paris. That’s how travel writer Edwina Hart ended up there after reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast in her twenties (a dangerous thing to do when young and unmoored from adult responsibilities). She got an attic studio apartment in Montemarte and proceeded to fall in love with the city, particularly Hemingway’s beloved Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

After losing her apartment, Hart blew into the bookstore as one of its resident “Tumbleweeds” (“a title given to fledgling writers that live in the bookshop for free based on the proviso they ‘read a book a day'”). According to Hart:

Although little writing was ever done, I began to truly feel like a writer. I adopted the French art of flaneuring – wandering around without intention or direction. Armed with observations of Parisian life, I would scribble my thoughts down at street-side cafes or in the shade of chestnut trees in Jardin du Luxembourg (where Hemingway used to hunt pigeons to feed his family). On weekends, Tumbleweeds would make crepes in the kitchen of George’s apartment above the shop. Sunday afternoons were spent attending tea parties run by an octogenarian Welsh poet who regaled us with stories of how George used to cut his hair by setting it alight with a candle, or leave his shop entrusted to an unwitting customer, only to return a week later…

Little writing was ever done. Nevertheless, sometimes it helps to just feel like a writer.

Screening Room: ‘Les Miserables’

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(Amazon Studios)

French director Ladj Ly’s scorching new movie, Les Misérables, is set in the same poverty-stricken outer neighborhood of Paris as Victor Hugo’s novel and involves many of the same themes of systemic oppression, but the story is Ly’s own.

Les Misérables is opening this week and will be available later on Amazon Prime. My review is at Slant Magazine:

The giddy joy and strong sense of unity that pulsates throughout the opening montage of Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables is as stirring as it is fleeting. A black kid dashes with his friends onto the Paris Metro, flying over turnstiles like a superhero as they rush to a crowded bar to watch France compete in the World Cup. They roar along as their team wins and pours out into the streets to join the crowds in front of the Arc de Triomphe. One of the boys wears a tricolor flag like a cape, joining what looks like a unifying wave of national pride. Several minutes later, Ly makes it clear that this sense of comity is little more than a bad joke…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Beckett and Terror

With his bleak sketch fictions and disembodied existential plays, Samuel Beckett feels about as removed from the muck and mire of daily human life as you could get. That’s why it’s fascinating to read this opening to Fintan O’Toole’s piece in the New York Review of Books about Beckett’s political conscience:

In April 1962, Samuel Beckett sent a clipping from the French press to his lover Barbara Bray: a report of the arrest in Paris of a member of the Organisation armée secrète. The OAS was a far-right terror gang whose members were drawn largely from within the French military. It had carried out bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies with the aim of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle and stopping the concession of independence to Algeria. Among its targets had been Beckett’s publisher and friend Jérôme Lindon, whose apartment and office were both bombed by the OAS.

Then there’s the punch line:

The press clipping detailed the capture of an army lieutenant who would be charged with leading an OAS attack on an arms depot outside Paris and a raid on a bank in the city. His name was Lieutenant Daniel Godot.

Always good for a laugh, that Beckett.

Reader’s Corner: ‘The Last Days of New Paris’

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In the latest novel from China Miéville, the year is 1950 and World War II is still dragging on. Paris is in Stalingrad-like ruins from years of battle. Oh, and a crack in the fabric of reality has resulted in major works of Surrealist art coming to life and joining in the fight themselves.

My review of The Last Days of New Paris is at PopMatters:

Time is a slippery thing in China Miéville’s writing. Reality, too. Whether he’s cracking open the concept of language (Embassytown) or layering dimensions and urban histories on top of and through each other like so many strands of literary string theory (The City & The City), Miéville plays with the nature of consciousness in a way that few other writers of the fantastic manage these days…

Weekend Reading: Thanksgiving Edition

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Writer’s Desk: ‘A Moveable Feast’

hemingwayFans of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast love it for its aching and ephemeral beauty. For writers, it’s also a celebration of the craft and (almost more importantly, to some) the lifestyle as it should be enjoyed. For instance:

…we ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.

Now, the book has taken on an extra significance in the City of Lights:

Copies have been laid among the flowers and tributes at the sites of the massacres, and people are reading the book in bars and cafes…

Weekend Reading: November 20, 2015

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Reader’s Corner: Great Library Reading Rooms

The library at Paris's La Sorbonne (Zantastik).
The library at Paris’s La Sorbonne (Zantastik).

Even in our brave new online world, libraries are still one of the best repositories for research and reading. Yes, most things can be gotten online, but there are times when the physical proximity of materials provides new insights that strictly electronic pursuits do not.

They are also simply great places to read. The good folks at Read It Forward have presented here nine of the greatest and grandest library reading rooms from around the world. Some are beautiful enough that it’s hard to imagine not being too distracted to even turn the page.

Now Playing: ‘Bird People’ Perches Between Rapture and Oblivion

'Bird People' (Sundance Selects)
Anaïs Demoustier and friends in ‘Bird People’ (Sundance Selects)

birdpeople-posterTwo people, one hotel next to an airport, an atmosphere of rootlessness, a little bit of magic, and lots of sparrows. Those are the ingredients of Pascale Ferran’s gorgeously odd Bird People, which has almost everything going for it but a story. Plus Bowie.

Bird People is playing in very limited release now and deserves to be sought out. My review is at PopMatters:

Airports are all about promise. Springboards to the great elsewhere, they are also, for passengers en route, a comfortingly null zone wherein the normal rules of adult life are suspended. The promise of airports can be intoxicating. But the reality is more often deadening, not transportive.

In Bird People, Pascale Ferran’s ode to the in-between, Charles de Gaulle airport takes on both qualities. It’s at once an escape and a trap for the unwary…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Lucy’ Will Require Only About One Percent of Your Brain

Scarlett Johansson achieves hyper-intelligence in the not-so-smart 'Lucy' (Universal Pictures)
Scarlett Johansson achieves hyper-intelligence in the not-so-smart ‘Lucy’ (Universal Pictures)

Lucy-posterLuc Besson hasn’t written and directed a major action film since 1997’s gonzo sci-fi flick The Fifth Element. His newest, Lucy, is a curious amalgam of The MatrixFlowers for Algernon, and a whole bag full of bunk about humans only using 10 percent of their brains that shows Besson may have been away from the game for too long.

Lucy opens everywhere on Friday. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Lucy [shows Besson] having apparently grown impatient with nearly every convention of storytelling. We have barely met his Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) before she’s thrown into a bloody meat-grinder of a crime syndicate plot that results in her becoming a superhuman, god-like creature. All we know about Lucy is that she’s an American student in Taipei who likes to go clubbing. This lack of background drains the drama out of her transformation into near-omnipotence, no matter how nifty it is to watch her drop a roomful of gunmen to the ground with a flick of her finger (more on than in a bit)….

The trailer is fun at least:

Now Playing: ‘Le Week-End’

Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan do Paris in 'Le Week-End'
Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan do Paris in ‘Le Week-End’

le-week-end-poster03In the surprisingly spry comedy Le Week-End, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan head to Paris for a romantic anniversary weekend to kickstart their chaotic, verging-on-retirement lives. Things don’t go as planned.

Le Week-End is playing now in a few theaters and should expand more over the next several weeks. My review is at Film Racket:

Like many movies about couples who treat their relationship as a sparring ring, Roger Michell’s Le Week-End dares you to choose sides. Do you plunk down your support for the affable but retiring bookish bloke Nick (Jim Broadbent)? Or do you take the side of the skittery and cat-like Meg (Lindsay Duncan). He pokes at her, she lashes at him. They swoon together in a church, shushed by worshippers not wanting to see that kind of adolescent heat, and battle it out in the street. Sensibilities get lacerated and bank accounts demolished. It makes for an agitated film, one much starker and less forgiving than the cheery trailer promises, but with a few notable fillips of romanticism flashing through…

You can see the trailer here:

 

As a bonus, here’s the otherworldly cool dance scene from Godard’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders, which features prominently in Le Week-End:

Reader’s Corner: ‘Ulysses’ and Slack-Jawed Dubliners

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company, 1920
James Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company, 1920

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Sylvia Beach was one of those fantastic Lost Generation figures who worked diligently in the spaces between literary figures like Hemingway and Fitzgerald but doesn’t get remembered nearly as often. Likely that’s because booksellers —she ran Paris’ famous Left Band expat hangout Shakespeare and Company—never quite get the same attention that book authors do.

Beach was also a smart businesswoman. Trying to drum up some sales for in James Joyce’s forthcoming Ulysses, she wrote to George Bernard Shaw in 1921, asking whether he as a fellow Irishman, would be interested in pre-ordering a copy. Shaw’s negative response was swift, definite, and for the ages:

To you possibly [Ulysses] may appeal as art … but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard and taken part in those conversations. I escaped from them to England at the age of twenty; and forty years later have learnt from the books of Mr. Joyce that Dublin is still what it was, and young men are still driveling in slack-jawed blackguardism just as they were in 1870. It is however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it….

I must add, as the prospectus implies an invitation to purchase, that I am an elderly Irish gentleman, and if you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for such a book, you little know my countrymen.

(Hat-tip: Steve King)