Too often in the movies, affairs are either blithely romanticized in the grand European tradition of middlebrow “passion” films (The French Lieutenant’s Woman comes to mind) or used as a teaching tool to bludgeon audiences into accepting a damning moral perspective on the consequences of extramarital activity. (See Little Children, for instance.) Life has its own current, though, and the nature of relationships sometimes follows a pattern that is chaotic and irrational, messy and perturbing, where the boundaries between love and naked contempt (ah, Godard!) are no longer discernible. Movies from Voyage to Italy all the way down to Maren Ade’s Everyone Elsehave portrayed intra-relationship dynamics with emotional honesty and astute insight, leaving us with memorable impressions of love in a state of deterioration, or foundering on the shoals of time. In his fourth feature film, Romanian filmmaker Radu Muntean (Boogie, The Paper Will Be Blue) again fastens his attention on the question of intimacy and loneliness, crafting a frank, tightly constructed three-character drama that speaks volumes about marriage, desire, and how we negotiate the varieties of attachment we have to other people.
When Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death won the top prize at the San Sebastián Film Festival two years ago, it was a testament not only to the emotional resonance and technical mastery of his widescreen black-and-white epic, which dramatizes the infamous 1937 Nanjing massacre at the height of the Second Sino-Japanese War, but a tacit acknowledgment of the film’s daring revisionist ambitions. A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Lu had previously directed a small-scale crime thriller, Missing Gun, and the critically well received Kekexili, Mountain Patrol, a rural drama about efforts to stop antelope poachers that screened at Sundance and won the Grand Jury Prize at the Tokyo Film Festival. But the latest film by this talented 40-year-old writer-director, the result of years of research and toil, has a depth of feeling that far surpasses his previous efforts. While previous homegrown films about the massacre (Dont’ Cry Nanjing comes to mind) have mythologized the incident, framing it in crassly melodramatic terms that speak more to patriotic ideology than to the messy, morally complicated realities of war, City of Life and Death unfolds on a monumental scale, detailing the assault on the village, the systematic mass killings of civilians by Japanese soldiers, and the establishment of a safety zone for refugees, all seen through the eyes of those stationed or held captive within the capital city.
In our latest Talkie, Eric Hynes talks to filmmaker Clio Barnard about the slippage between reality and representation in her new documentary-fiction hybrid THE ARBOR, which utilizes an evocative lip-synch technique to explore the gritty legacy of celebrated British playwright Andrea Dunbar.
Although Clio Barnard’s new film The Arbor chronicles the rough-and-tumble life of celebrated British playwright Andrea Dunbar (Rita, Sue and Bob Too), an alcoholic who died from a brain hemorrhage at age 29, it is anything but conventional in its aims and methodology. Shot in and around Brafferton Arbor, a street on the Buttershaw Estate in Bradford, Yorkshire, where Dunbar lived and worked while raising her three children, The Arborreconstructs the late writer’s gritty milieu through the testimony of her eldest daughter Lorraine and other family members, whose words are lip-synched by professional actors in evocative set-designed environments. Barnard, an installation artist and filmmaker who used the technique previously for a 1998 short film called Random Acts of Intimacy, also cuts in scenes from Dunbar’s heavily autobiographical play The Arbor, performed outdoors by a mix of actors and estate residents, as well as bits of archive.
Reverse Shot trashes a hotel room with French director Bertrand Tavernier (LA PRINCESSE DE MONTPENSIER, ROUND MIDNIGHT), then chats with him about historical accuracy, creative urgency, and film criticism.
Legendary documentary filmmaker Patricio Guzmán (NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, THE BATTLE OF CHILE) discusses memory, the poetic qualities of cinema, and why slow pacing returns us to the rhythm of life. A nine-film retrospective, “Obstinate Memories: The Documentaries of Patricio Guzmán,” launched in New York at BAMcinématek on April 1, 2011. As always, we tried to match what Guzmán is saying about poetry and pacing with the rhythm of the video itself.