Monday, April 22, 2013

Talk Cinema: Lore, Renoir, and Still Mine

I didn't actually see Lore at a Talk Cinema showing - that was the plan, but then it got delayed a week due to that old-fashioned February blizzard, bumping it to the week of the sci-fi marathon. That means that there are two movies on the ten-movie season pass I didn't get to see (I forget exactly which one played while I was in London), and I'm not sure that I'll spring for it again next year. It's nice to see movies early, sure, and sometimes you get good discussion, but it's also $15+ for a 10am Sunday morning show of things that generally show up later.

And the discussion can be iffy at times, too. It starts with the comment cards - a half-hour to get one's thoughts together after the movie isn't really enough time, so you hear a lot of puffed-up superlatives when they're read the next week. Plus, folks can get stuck on the path where the host guides them.

For Renoir, we had a fellow who produces new plays most of the time, and he went on and on about how "brave" it was for the movie to consist of lengthy, static shots for most of the time. And, certainly, I agree that it was an unusual choice, but given the older art-house audience that this was likely targeting even in its native France, it wasn't really going out on any sort of limb. But we got into an anti-Hollywood mode, and talking about how good it was for a movie to be slow sort of prevented much discussion of why this particular movie benefited from that sort of pace.

Similarly, Peter Keogh - amid a few jokes about the late, lamented Boston Phoenix - made a comment about Still Mine having a disturbing subtext about being anti-government-regulation, dropping the phrase "Tea Party" (triggered, in part, from his having first seen the film during election season last fall), and the room full of good Massachusetts liberals wasn't going to let that go. I think it's a misguided observation, considering that the movie (a) certainly has no problem with Canada's universal health care, and (b) has a line from Campbell Scott's character that explains the issue perfectly - that these rules are about standards, and when enforcement loses sight of that, it's an invitation to absurd situations like the one depicted here. The funny thing is, I think this is something liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on, as the effect of these onerous rules is to push business toward the corporations that can absorb their expense.

We talked about that so much that we really didn't get much of a chance to discuss the James Cromwell character's father, who clearly casts a tall shadow and is linked to the main characters by the baseball the group found kind of problematic. Ah well, at least I was able to sort that out for the review.

One other thing I noticed about Renoir and Still Mine: They appeared to have some cheap opening credits. Admittedly, I have tended to think that pretty much all opening titles look like they were rendered on an Amiga 500 ever since digital projection at 2K started becoming the norm (and honestly, before that, when a great deal of post-production started going digital), and I was sitting in the front row for movies projected from what appears to be a Blu-ray. But these looked like placeholders until something more elaborate could be created.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2013 in Landmark Kendal Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Set Lore in almost any other time and place, and it's an impressive adventure story of a certain type, with fine young actors playing kids who must make an impossible-seeming journey against incredible odds. But it's not set in some generic time period; it's set in the aftermath of World War II, with filmmaker Cate Shortland determined that we not give its title character our sympathy too readily.

See, Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is about fifteen, and her parents (Ursina Lardi & Hans-Jochen Wagner) were active in the Nazi party - she a scientist, he a member of the SS. Soon, she is the one left in charge of her siblings: Liesel (Nele Trebs), a few years younger; Günther (André Frid) & Jürgen (Mika Seidel), twins in the mid-single-digits; and newborn Peter. Their grandmother awaits in Hamburg, but the country's infrastructure would be a mess even if the Allies weren't busy dividing it up. Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), a young man they encounter along the way, may be able to help, but can the family trust anyone now?

The obvious thing to provide a twist here happens - Thomas does, in fact, have a Star of David stamped on his papers - but it doesn't necessarily happen in the obvious way. Thomas is neither overtly angry and Lore and her family nor some ideally kind-hearted person despite all that has happened to him. Lore learns this through glimpses, and the audience does with her, but doesn't necessarily react immediately, giving everyone involved time to mull things over, and maybe think pragmatically about what they need from each other. Shortland plays things a little ambiguous at times, especially with Thomas's age and what that would make Lore to him between being potential love interest, kid sister, or just a kid. Malina does a nice job of portraying him as both mysterious and complex.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, Blu-ray)

I'm certain that I must, at some point, learned that famed Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir and noted filmmaker Jean Renoir were father and son. Somehow the information failed to stick, so re-learning that bit of information was kind of neat. That's not all the movie has to offer, happily; it's a modest but interesting look at the Renoir family from someone who straddled its boundary.

That would be Andrée "Dedée" Heuschling (Christa Theret), who arrives at the family's Riviera estate in 1916 saying that the artist's wife has suggested she model. Auguste's youngest son, Coco (Thomas Doret) says his mother is dead, but brings her to the main house anyway. She'll do, says the artist (Michel Bouquet), bidding her to come bak daily. Soon the household will grow by a member, as son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) returns home from the war, a handsome fellow not sure what he will do after.

One can tell straight off that this is a movie about a painter; the leaves on the trees form a colorful backdrop and one of my first thoughts upon seeing both Dedée and Coco was that they had the sort of reddish-orange hair that one sees on the canvas more than in life. Director Gilles Bourdos, cinematographer Mark Ping Bing Lee and the rest of the crew responsible for the look of the film reference a number of paintings by Renoir and others, and even when they're not doing so, they're making a film that is quite a pleasure to look at. If you feel that a film about an artist should represent their art, Renoir certainly has that covered.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Still Mine (aka Still)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

It's funny what gets to a person during this type of movie. I was doing okay through most of Still Mine (which played festivals as "Still", and may have kept that name in some places), and then I see that this elderly couple has a door frame where they recorded the growth of their kids and grandkids like my own grandparents did, and then I start to lose it. I suspect that there's a thing like that in this movie for everyone, which will make it even more effective beyond just being a fine movie on its own.

Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) is one of those wiry old farmers who may have slowed down some, but still tends to his strawberries, chickens, and the like in his mid-eighties. Though he hasn't changed much over the years, the world around him has - not just because the local market will no longer purchase his berries because of policy, but because his wife of sixty years, Irene (Geneviève Bujold) is in the early stages of dementia. He wants to build a smaller house to meet their needs, but if he thought selling strawberries involved onerous regulations, he can barely imagine modern building codes.

Still Mine is about memory and continuity, most obviously in how Irene is slipping away despite Craig's attempts to remain the independent, capable person he is. Writer/director Michael McGowan also populates the movie with more tangible symbols of these ideas, though, from that briefly-glimpsed door frame to a kitchen table that has, in its own way, recorded the Morrison family's entire life. The film starts and ends with the story of a baseball Craig owns, signed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and while its purpose in the story can sometimes be unclear, it's also a solid representation of Craig's memories of his father, a figure who may be long dead but who clearly still looms large in his life. These connections may seem temporary and massless, as Irene's deterioration suggests, but that's only one side of it - lives well-lived, we see, leave impressions.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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