Tagged: new directors/new films

New Directors/New Films ’10: “I Am Love”

The ties that bind: Swinton e famiglia in I Am Love. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino
120 minutes
Screening Fri., April 2 and Sun., April 4

Let’s just get this out of the way, we LOVE Tilda Swinton. From her early collaboration with the late Derek Jarman (that naughty little iconoclast), to her Oscar-winning turn in Michael Clayton to what should have been another award-winning performance in last year’s Julia (Sandra Bullock? Really, Oscar voters?), Tilda has proven to be one of the most consistently reliable performers in contemporary cinema. Her latest work is no exception. Italian auteur Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love focuses on La Swinton’s star turn as the matriarch to a powerful Milanese famiglia whose sense of tradition begins to unravel when passion threatens to disrupt their carefully manicured lifestyle.

There are many things to enjoy in this film: the refreshing focus on contemporary Italian landscapes, the gliding camerawork reminiscent of maestro Robert Altman, the beauty of Italian boys (mamma mia!) and the very welcome return of ’70s fashion icon and actress Marisa Berenson, perfectly cast as the regal grand dame of the beleaguered brood. But the film belongs to Swinton. Crafted as a labor of love between herself and the director, she owns every minute of screen time. Outwardly cool as a former Russian beauty that married into a filthy rich industrial family, her frosty exterior begins to dissolve once she meets her eldest son’s best friend, a hirsute chef with a penchant for exotic recipes and a hunger for life.

The film maintained our interest throughout — with a couple of glaring exceptions. To help visualize the  inner passions that have been simmering underneath Swinton’s carefully-coiffed veneer, Guadagnino indulges in some very florid transitional montages that simply come out of left field. We understand the psychology behind the choice, but did not appreciate the excess. And for a movie that does so well in portraying the intricate familial relationships of a large Italian clan, the scenes that involve the business side of their empire fall flat. (Joan Collins was more convincing as a successful businesswoman.)

What makes this film memorable is the handling of the characters and the performances. We understand these people, we care about them and when the movie builds momentum in its shattering final set piece, we are completely hooked. Aided immeasurably by renowned modern classical composer John Adams’ minimalist score, not to mention the balls-to-the-walls acting, the climax is satisfying on all levels. While we enjoyed the ride immensely, however, we would like to caution viewers to pay close attention to the final moments: Once the end credits begin to roll, we implore you to grab your Fendi clutch and RUN! Apparently, the director could not resist one final lapse in judgment, a tacked on coda that almost ruins the solid ending.

À Bientôt!


Find the key to our Schnabel heads ratings system here. For more information on the New Directors/New Films festival, log on to their official website.

New Directors/New Films ’10: “Samson and Delilah.”

Two outback teens await a not-so-promising future. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)

Directed by Warwick Thornton
101 minutes
Screening Thurs., March 25th and Sun., March 28th

The legend of Samson and Delilah has been influencing artists since the sand and sandal days of yore. From Michelangelo to Rembrandt to Basquiat, the strongman and the seductress have been depicted in paintings, statues, grand operas and of course, movies. Dozens of them. The latest is the feature debut of Australian director Warwick Thornton. A beautifully filmed update, it transplants the biblical tale to the modern-day Australian desert, specifically, a remote Aboriginal community that is home to two teenagers destined to fall in love.

Samson is a petrol-huffing teen whose only purpose appears to be to daydream and torment his family. Delilah cares for her aging grandmother, an artist who spends her days crafting large canvases for which she is paid a pittance — but which upscale art galleries then resell for a tidy sum. The first third of the film is Jeanne Dielman-meets-the-outback, repeating the bare bones existence of a young couple that will come to rely on each other when the world turns its back on them.

And ye Gods, does it ever! After a family tragedy, the duo find themselves outcasts from their village and take to the road in a stolen car. Here, the film takes on a slow ride down a very dark tunnel that threatens to overwhelm the lead characters and the audience in turn. While good movies can be made from the darkest of themes — Last Exit to Brooklyn, Dogville, a good chunk of the Bergman ouevre — it takes a great commitment from the part of the audience to sit through what is essentially a passion play of the underprivileged. We watch as Samson begins to lose himself completely to his addiction, while Delilah braves humiliation and physical harm in order to help them survive.

This is not an easy film to sit through, but we were grateful that Thornton has the touch of a true filmmaker in being able to tell a story visually, with forceful, rich images. His movie may not be on par with a similar auteur approach (Terrence Malick comes to mind), but it is nonetheless a notable achievement for a new director. If the pain and suffering of the title characters is meant to be an allegory for the indigenous people of Australia, it certainly succeeds. It’s an admirable debut from a director whose future work we look forward to, perhaps after a few drinks to steady our nerves.

À Bientôt


Find the key to our Schnabel heads ratings system here. For more information on the New Directors/New Films festival, log on to their official website.

New Directors/New Films ’10. Plus: Our Schnabel heads ratings system.

A still from Women Without Men, by Shirin Neshat. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)

This Wednesday, March 24th, the New Directors/New Films festival, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, kicks off in New York City with two weeks worth of screenings, featuring 27 films by a coterie of international directors. We managed to get ourselves invited to a few press screenings, but because I know even less about film than I know about art, I’ve pulled in reinforcements, namely the irrepressible Yvonne Connasse — who in her martini-addled head carries more cinematic lore than the entire basement archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It will be Yvonne who’ll be doing much of the reviewing, though I’ll jump in to give my two cents about artist Shirin Neshat‘s latest (sometime next week).

In the meantime, we want to kindly explain our complex ratings system, devised by a team of brainiacs at MIT. Naturally, it involves Julian Schnabel’s head. Here’s how it works:

No Schnabel Heads: This movie sucks. If you’re even thinking about watching it, make sure someone is paying you.
One Schnabel: More tedious than a teacup painting. As in, the explosions might look good on the big screen, but if this is a rental, forget it.
Two Schnabels: Not good, but has at least one redeeming moment. Think: Every Quentin Tarantino film known to man (in the cumulative).
Three Schnabels: These pleasing pics may not be worth burning a path to the theatre, but they’re the sort of thing you’ll want to add to the Netflix queue.
Four Schnabels: A very good movie, in the theatre, as a rental, in Second Life, or any which way you kids like to watch your movies these days.
Five Schnabels: This shit is hotter than Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem in a man sandwich in the tropics. We’re talking possible classic. SEE IT!!!!