Saturday, October 09, 2021

PARALLEL MOTHERS at the NY Film Festival

With his latest film, Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas) Pedro Almodóvar comes back to the world of feminine relations, a landscape he's been exploring throughout his career, which encompasses fifteen films at the New York Film Festival. Last night he presented his latest creation as the closing selection of the annual film gathering at Alice Tully Hall

Before it has even opened to the public, the movie has already gathered a controversial pre-release vibe in the United States when a kind of furor arose a few weeks ago over the film's advertising poster which shows a nipple dripping mother's milk. America's puritanical ways play right into Almodóvar's penchant for shocking the public; this time around with a maternal image. But then again, he's been stirring the pot since the early days of the "Movida" movement in Spain, the post-Francisco Franco years when moral restrictions were lessened and liberty came back to Spain. This is the period when he came to prominence with such early amateurish "shockers" as Pepi, Lucy, Bom until he hit his stride with 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, one of the many great films in his oeuvre.

At last night's screening, Dennis Lim, director of Programming at Film at Lincoln Center, introduced the film by saying that there is a new political urgency in this film not seen before. Although this film does focus on the unresolved murders that occurred during the Spanish Civil War which led to a Fascist government in Spain that lasted into the 1970s, nearly all of Almodóvar's films shed a light on Spain's troubled past. Their sense of liberation, sexually and sociological, are a reaction to the forty-some-odd years that Spain endured under Franco's regime. 

 In 1997, Almodóvar released Live Flesh (Carne trémula) in which a young, pregnant prostitute during Franco's Spain (Penélope Cruz's first performance under his direction) gives birth to an illegitimate child in a Madrid bus. The film then goes forward in time to the present post-Franco Spain as we follow the child now an adult. Parallel Mothers once again casts Ms. Cruz as a pregnant photographer this time sharing her modern Madrid hospital room with a pregnant teen, newcomer Milena Smit, who is the director's latest muse, and who gives an amazing performance. It is only her second film.

The film also features some familiar faces from Almodóvar's past. Rossy De Palma, a stalwart in the director's list of films, received applause when she first appeared. Likewise, the audience also recognized the likes of Julieta Serrano, who is also an Almodóvar favorite going back to the days of Women/Breakdown.

The film was shot in the expected vivid, colorful palette of José Luis Alcaine, the director's longtime working cinematographer.

 The film will be released by Sony Pictures Classics, who have been by Almodóvar's side since the beginning.  In his post talk, the director urged any Academy member in the audience to vote for this film, and if nominated, to vote for Milena Smit, who has clearly become Trilby to his Svengali. Something tells me that Ms. Smit is already a permanent member of the roster of Almodóvar's women, and that we are going to see a lot of her in the future. A star is born!

Sunday, October 03, 2021

"The French Dispatch" at the NY Film Festival

With his familiar tongue-in-cheek deadpan that makes Buster Keaton appear like a loquacious lady at a garden party, Wes Anderson brings us his latest film, The French Dispatch, an anthology picture about an American expatriate magazine in the fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. 

The movie is a loving Valentine to The New Yorker magazine as well as being filled with all kinds of homages to French cinema. The movie presents stories that go back to some famous articles that originally appeared in the pages of The New Yorker. For example, Mavis Gallant's article "The Events in May: A Paris Notebook" about the student riots in 1968 serves as a vehicle for Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand and Lyna Khoudri to engage in a love triangle in the protest-filled streets of Paris, while Anderson channels the look and gritty black-and-white of Jean-Luc Godard and other members of the Nouvelle Vague.

In another tangential vignette, Jeffrey Wright gives us an impersonation of a fictitious writer that mixes James Baldwin with a dash of food critic AJ Liebling as he recounts a story to TV host Liev Schreiver of a bizarre kidnapping that ends up turning into an animated sequence during the concluding minutes.

In perhaps the most enjoyable section of the film, Benicio Del Toro is an incarcerated artist in love with a female prison guard, beautifully played by Léa Seydoux, while art dealer Adrien Brody lays some schemes to make money off the prisoner's art work. As he tells Del Toro's character “All artists sell their work. That’s what makes them artists.” The segment, also shot in black-and-white, brings to mind Jean Renoir's film Boudou Saved from Drowning, and it is based on a 1951 New Yorker article by SN Behrman about shady art dealer Lord Duveen.

All the different segments always come back to the offices of the French Dispatch, whose editor-in-chief, played by Bill Murray, bears a more than slight resemblance to Harold Ross, The New Yorker's co-founder and fabled first editor.

What binds all of this together is Anderson's love of the magazine and his love of France. From the point of view of cinema, the glue in this film is his, by now, familiar geometric mise-en-scène, which in this film he exploits to the nth degree. Arguably, this is the most Andersonian of all his films. Everything is neatly arranged within a frame whose aspect ratio, for reasons that remain unclear to me, keeps changing from academy ratio to widescreen. He used the same technique in his earlier film The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you dig his symmetrical, structural compositions you are in for a treat. However, after a while, the constant reliance on tableaux and strict visual order cries out for some good old fashion visual chaos. And although at times Anderson allows his brilliant cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman to hand-hold the camera, the Andersonian world must adhere to unity and order all the time.