Possession (dir. by Andrzej Zulawski)


After finally watching Warner Herzog’s Nosferatu some years ago, I got into an Isabelle Adjani kick. I found out about Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession via Twitter, and considered picking it up. However, the only copy available at the time on Amazon was the Mondo Vision Special Edition, which clocked in at almost $175 dollars. I haven’t seen a movie priced so high since my Aunt purchased the VHS version of Conan the Barbarian when it was first released at around $80.

Thankfully, Metrograph has the film on rotation in part of their movies at home service since last year. I’ve watched it a few times since it was made available, and perhaps it’s why Titane didn’t bother me as much is it did others. I felt truly uncomfortable with Possession, and it’s not an easy recommendation. I’m not sure I’d refer to it a horror film. It’s more of a supernatural drama, but by the end of it, you may find yourself wanting to wash your eyes out. I guess maybe the closest films I could compare Possession to are Marriage Story and Blue Valentine, but with some darker elements.

I should a moment to warn you now. Possession contains elements of nudity, abuse, creature sex and even a miscarriage. The film was originally banned in the United Kingdom as part of a movement to corral more extreme content in cinema. Films like Faces of Death, Tenebrae, The Evil Dead, Mother’s Day (which my older brother owned), Shogun Assassin and even Suspiria were once on a watch list to be seized if their videos were owned by anyone. This was done under the notion that the content of the films were either offensive or could corrupt the minds of anyone (children, in particular) watching it.

Possession is the story of Anna (Adjani) and Mark (Sam Neill, Thor: Ragnarok). Having recently arrived home from working abroad as an Operative, Mark suspects that Anna is cheating on him. She has found someone else, and it proves to be a major rift in their already damaged relationship. Add to this their son, Bob, and it just grows more complicated. When Mark confronts Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), one of Anna’s lovers, it doesn’t go well for Mark. Try as he might to make amends with Anna, she simply doesn’t feel anything for him anymore or rather, her new relationship is too much to let go. Mark’s attempts to reconcile aren’t exactly working in his favor, as he moves from constant questioning to outright violence in some cases. Mark isn’t exactly innocent either, considering that he’s grown fond of Helen, Bob’s school teacher (also played by Adjani) and reluctantly spends some quiet time with his annoying neighbor, Margit (Margit Carstensen, Martha).

Eventually, Mark hires an investigator (Carl Duering) to follow Anna and track down her lover. The detective manages to find Anna living in a run down building. He discovers who (and more importantly, what) she’s been sleeping with, which prompts Anna to kill him. As curiosity grows over Anna’s new relationship, Heinrich checks in on Anna, only to be attacked. Heinrich returns to Mark for assistance, which leads to some strange events in the last half hour.

Although the film is about 2 hours and 4 minutes, it does takes a while to get to where it needs to go. I’ll admit to having moments of wondering just what was going on, as the film felt like it was looping in circles. Mark wants Anna, Anna hates Mark. Mark loves Bob, so does Anna. Once the detective comes into the picture, things pick up a bit. There’s also a miscarriage sequence that was hard to watch. If you can handle it, so be it, but for me, it was definitely a “What the hell?” moment.

Possession‘s special effects were created by Carlo Rambaldi, who also went on to work on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The creature in the movie is somewhat menacing in its various forms, with tentacles slithering. I would have loved to see the audience reaction to it on screen. Possession was a hard film to make for both Sam Neill and Isabell Adjani. Supposedly, the movie caused Adjani so much stress that it was rumored she attempted suicide. Neill also had issues working in the film and according to Wikipedia, he considered it one of the “most extreme film” he ever made. It truly shows throughout the movie. Both actors push at each other like an angry married couple, and the interactions between the two are the real shocking elements of Possession. You have thrown chairs, tons of screaming and fighting.

Overall, Possession is a film that isn’t a required watch, but I was curious about the ban behind it. It has some strong and wild performances by both Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Adjani’s performance would win her the Best Actress at Cannes, and was well deserved. It’s almost an out of body experience, for the most part.

Here Are The Winners of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival


The 2022 Cannes Film Festival has come to a close! 

To be honest, I didn’t hear much about Cannes this year.  Maybe it was because I’ve been on a mini-vacation for the past two and a half weeks but it seems as if the Cannes coverage was a bit more lowkey than usual.  There weren’t any big controversies, perhaps reflecting the fact that everyone is kind of unified in hating Putin right now.  It seems like the biggest event was the premiere of Top Gun: Maverick and Tom Cruise receiving a special prize for being one of the last of the old school movie stars.

Well, regardless, the winners have been announced!  Looking over this list, I don’t see any films that really jump out as probable Oscar nominee so, if you’re looking for another Parasite to come out of this festival, you’re probably out of luck.  Here are the winners:

Palme d’Or: “Triangle of Sadness” by Ruben Östlund

Grand Prix: “Close” by Lukas Dhont and “Stars at Noon” by Claire Denis

Special Prize for Cannes’ 75th anniversary: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, “Tori and Lokita”

Jury Prize: “Eo” and “Le Otto Montagne”

Best Actress: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, “Holy Spider”

Best Actor: Song Kang Ho, “Broker”

Best Director: Park Chan-wook, “Decision to Leave”

Best Screenplay: “Boy from Heaven”

Camera d’Or: “War Pony,” directed by Gina Gammell and Riley Keough

Short Film Palme d’Or: “The Water Murmurs”

Lisa Reviews a Palme d’Or Winner: Paris, Texas (dir by Wim Wenders)


With the 2022 Cannes Film Festival coming to a close in the next few days, I’ve been watching some of the films that previously won the prestigious Palme d’Or.  They’re an interesting group of films.  Some of them have been forgotten.  Some of them are still regarded as classics.  Some of them definitely deserve to be seen by a wider audience.  Take for the instance that winner of the 1984 Palme d’Or winner, Paris, Texas. This is a film that is well-regarded by cineastes but it definitely deserves to be seen by more people.

Though released in 1984, Paris, Texas opens with an image that will resonate for many viewers today.  A dazed man stumbles through the desert while wearing a red baseball cap.  Though the cap may not read “Make America Great Again,” the sight of it immediately identifies the owner as being a resident of what is often dismissively referred to as being flyover country, the long stretch of land that sits between the two coasts.  Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is lost, both figuratively and literally.  After he stumbles into a bar and collapses, he’s taken to a doctor (played by German film director Bernhard Wicki) who discovers that Travis has a phone number on him.  When the doctor calls the number, he speaks to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell).  Walt has not seen Travis for three years and the viewer gets the feeling that Walt spent those years assuming that Travis was dead.  Walt agrees to travel to West Texas to retrieve his brother and take him back to Los Angeles.

When Walt retrieves his brother, he’s annoyed that Travis refuses to explain where he’s been for the past three years.  In fact, for the first fourth of the film, Travis doesn’t say anything.  He just stares into space.  Finally, when he does speak, it’s to tell Walt that he wants to go to Paris.  Walt tells him that going to Paris might have to wait.  Travis elaborates that he wants to go to Paris, Texas.  He owns an empty parking lot in Paris, Texas.

It takes a while to learn much about Travis’s past.  Like many of Wim Wenders’s films, Paris, Texas moves at its own deliberate pace and it features characters who tend to talk around their concerns instead of facing them head-on.  What we do eventually learn is that Travis has a son named Hunter (Hunter Black).  Travis’s wife, Jane, (played by Natassja Kinski) disappeared first.  Travis disappeared afterwards, leaving Walt and his wife (Aurore Clement) to raise his son.  At first, when Travis arrives in Los Angeles, he struggles to reconnect with Hunter but eventually, he does.  He tries to be a father but, again, he sometimes struggles because, while Travis has a good heart, he’s also out-of-step with the world.

As for Jane, we eventually learn that she’s in Houston.  She’s working in a tacky sex club, one where the customers and the strippers are separated by a one-way mirror.  The customer can see and talk to the stripper but the stripper can’t see the customers.  It’s all about manufactured intimacy.  The customer can delude themselves into thinking that the woman is stripping just for him while the woman doesn’t have to see the man who is watching her.  There are no emotions to deal with, just the illusion of a connection.

Even as Travis begins to make a life for himself in Los Angeles, he finds himself tempted to return to Houston to search for his wife….

As I said, Paris, Texas is a deliberately paced film.  With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, it feels like it’s actually three films linked together.  We start with Travis and Walt traveling back to Los Angeles.  The second film deals with Travis’s attempts to bond with his son.  And the third and most powerful film is about what happens when Travis finally finds Jane.  It all comes together to form a deceptively low-key character study of a group of lost souls, all of whom are dealing with the mistakes of the past and hoping for a better future.  The film’s most memorable moment comes when Travis delivers a long and heartfelt monologue about his marriage to Jane.  Beautifully written by Sam Shephard (who co-wrote the script with L.M. Kit Carson) and wonderfully acted by Harry Dean Stanton, it’s a monologue about regret, guilt, forgiveness, and ultimately being cursed to wander.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Paris, Texas is an undeniably joyful film.  In a rare leading role, Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis as someone who is full of regrets but who, at the same time, retains a spark of hope and optimism.  Life has beaten him down but he has yet to surrender.  Once he reaches Los Angeles and Travis starts to fully come out of his fugue state, there’s a playful energy to Stanton’s performance.  The scene where he dresses up as what he thinks a dad should look like is a highlight.  For Travis, being a responsible adult starts with putting on a suit and walking his son home from school.  Stanton’s excellent performance is matched by good work from Dean Stockwell and, especially, Natassja Kinski.

Visually, the film is all about capturing the beauty and the peculiarity of the landscape of the American southwest.  Like many European directors, Wim Wenders seems to be a bit in love with the combination of rugged mountains and commercialized society that one finds while driving through the west.  In the scenes in which Stanton wanders through West Texas, the landscape almost seems like it might consume him and, later, in Los Angeles and Houston, the garishness of the city threatens to do the same.  Wherever he is, Travis is slightly out-of-place and the viewer can understand why Travis is compelled to keep wandering.  At times, it seems like Travis will never fit in anywhere but the fact that he never gives up hope is comforting.  In many ways, Travis’s own journey mirrors Stanton’s career in Hollywood.  He had the talent of a leading man but the eccentric countenance of a great character actor.  He may have never been quite fit in with mainstream Hollywood but he never stopped acting.

The film itself never visits Paris, Texas.  Travis just talks about the fact that he owns an empty lot in the town and that he would like to see it.  Still, I like to think Travis eventually reached Paris and I like to think that he did something wonderful with that lot.

Lisa Reviews A Palme d’Or Winner: M*A*S*H (dir by Robert Altman)


With the Cannes Film Festival underway, I have been watching some of the past winners of the prestigious Palme d’Or.  On Thursday night, Jeff and I watched the winner of the 1970 winner of the Grand Prix (as the Palme was known at the time), Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H.

There are, of course, three versions of M*A*S*H.  All three of them deal with the same basic story of Dr. Hawkeye Pierce and his attempts to maintain his sanity while serving as a combat surgeon at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean war.  All three of them mix comedy with the tragedy of war.  However, each one of them takes their own unique approach to the material.

The one that everyone immediately thinks of is the old television series, which ran for 11 seasons and which can be found on Hulu and on several of the retro stations.  The television series starred Alan Alda as Hawkeye.  I’ve watched a handful of episodes and, while the episodes that I’ve seen were undeniably well-acted and well-written and they all had their heart in the right place, the show’s deification of Hawkeye can get to be a bit much.  Not only is Hawkeye the best surgeon at the 4077th, he’s apparently the best surgeon in all of Korea.  In fact, he may be the best surgeon on the entire planet.  Not a single thing happens in the camp unless Hawkeye is somehow involved.  When a nurse is killed by a landmine in one episode, the focus is not on the other nurses but instead on how Hawkeye feels about it.  When bombs are falling too close to the camp, the focus is again only on Hawkeye and how much he hates the war.  If you didn’t already know that he hated the war, Hawkeye will let you know.  Wish Hawkeye a good morning and he’ll yell at you about how many people are going to be wounder by the end of the day.  Even when one agrees with Hawkeye, the character’s self-righteousness can be a bit much.

Less well-known is the first version of M*A*S*H, a short and episodic novel that was published in 1968.  The novel was written by Dr. Richard Hornberger, who actually had served in Korea at a M*A*S*H unit and who reportedly based Hawkeye on himself.  The book is a rather breezy affair.  Reading it, one can definitely tell that it was inspired by someone telling Hornberger, “Your stories about Korea are so funny and interesting, you should write them down!”  The book avoids politics, reserving most of its ire for military red tape.  Hornberger was a Republican who so disliked Alan Alda’s interpretation of Hawkeye that, when he wrote a sequel to M*A*S*H, he included a scene in which Hawkeye talked about how much he enjoyed beating up hippies.

And then there’s the version that came in between the book and the television series, the 1970 film from Robert Altman.  The film retains the book’s episodic structure while also throwing in the anti-war politics that would define the television series.  (Though the film was set in the 50s, Altman purposefully made no attempt to be historically accurate because he wanted it to be clear that this film was more about Vietnam than Korea.)  From its opening, the film announces its outlook, with shots of helicopters carrying severely wounded (possibly dead) soldiers to the camp while a song called Suicide is Painless plays on the soundtrack.  The song was written by director Robert Altman’s fourteen year-old son, Mike.  Reportedly, it took Mike five minutes to come up with the lyrics.  When the instrumental version of the song was later used as the theme song for the television series, Mike Altman made over a million dollars in royalties.

The film opens with Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt) arriving at the 4077th MASH in a stolen jeep and it ends with them getting sent home in the same jeep.  Though Duke is set up to be a major character, he soon takes a backseat to another surgeon, the unfortunately nicknamed Trapper John (Elliott Gould).  Much as with the television series, the movie centers around Hawkeye and Trapper John’s antics.  When they’re not in the operating room, they’re drinking, carousing, and playing pranks that are far more mean-spirited than anything the television versions of the characters would have ever done.  (Indeed, the book and movie versions of Hawkeye probably would have hated Alan Alda’s Hawkeye.)  Unlike the television version of Hawkeye, the film’s Hawkeye is not the best surgeon in Korea.  In fact, he’s not even the best surgeon at the 4077th.  (That honor goes to Trapper.)  Instead, he’s just one of many doctors on staff.  They’re rotated in and then, at the end of their tour, they’re rotated out.  Hawkeye loses as many patients as he saves.  The film’s doctors are not miracle workers, nor are they crusaders.  Instead, they are overworked, neurotic, often exhausted, and frequently bored whenever there aren’t any wounded to deal with.  The film emphasizes that the doctors are as professional inside the Operating Room as they’re rambunctious outside of it.  Unlike the television series, Hawkeye doesn’t joke while working.  He’s usually too busy trying to stop his patients from bleeding to death to tell jokes or to complain about the war that brought them to the OR.

Indeed, the film version of M*A*S*H communicates its anti-war message not through indignant speeches but instead through bloody imagery.  The operating room scenes don’t shy away from showing the ugliness of war and they are occasionally so visceral that they almost seem to shame the audience for have laughed just a few minutes earlier.  One of the film’s more famous (and controversial) sequences features Hawkeye driving Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) to insanity by crudely taunting him about his affair with head nurse Margaret Houlihan (Sally Kellerman).  Burns attacks Hawkeye, a response that actually seems rather justified even if it is played for laughs.  A scene of Burns being driven out of the camp in straitjacket is followed by a close-up of a geyser of blood erupting from a wounded soldier’s throat.  It’s a jarring transition but one that makes a stronger anti-war statement than any self-righteous monologue would have.  While Hawkeye and Trapper are taunting Burns and Margaret, soldiers are still being sent off to die.

The humor in M*A*S*H is often brutally misogynistic.  Margaret is described as being “a damn good nurse” but is continually humiliated because she believes in maintaining military discipline.  One can disagree with her emphasis on following all of the proper regulations while also realizing the Hawkeye and Trapper’s treatment of her is unreasonably cruel.  The scene where Trapper and Hawkeye expose her while she’s taking a shower is especially difficult to watch and there’s no way to justify their actions.  It’s frat boy humor, the type of stuff that you would expect from a bunch of former college football players, which is what we’re told Hawkeye and Trapper are.  (That, of course, is another huge difference between the film and television versions of the characters.)  That said, it’s debatable whether or not were supposed to find either Hawkeye or Trapper to be heroic or even likable.  As a director, Robert Altman shied away from making films with unambiguous heroes or villains.  Just as Margaret could be a “damn good nurse” and a “regular army clown” at the same time, Hawkeye can be both a dedicated doctor and a bit of a jerk.

After 90 minutes of bloody operating room scenes and Trapper and Hawkeye making crude jokes, M*A*S*H suddenly becomes a sports film as the the 4077th plays a football game against their rivals, the 325th Evac Hospital.  The change of tone can be a bit jarring but it’s perhaps the most important sequence in the film.  For a few hours, the doctors bring “the American way of life” to Korea and the end result is a game that’s played for money and which is only won through cheating and deception.  (Future blaxploitation star Fred Williamson made his film debut as the ringer who the 4077th recruits for the game.)  For all of the broad comedy of the game, it’s followed by a shot of the doctors playing poker while a dead soldier is transported out of the camp, wrapped in a white sheet.  Football may provided a distraction.  The money may have provided an incentive.  But the war continued and people still died.

Much of M*A*S*H‘s humor has aged terribly but the performances still hold up and the anti-war message is potent today.  Though Sutherland and Gould are undeniably the stars of the film, M*A*S*H is a true ensemble film, full of the overlapping dialogue and the small character performances that Robert Altman’s films were known for.  One reason why the film works is because it is an immersive experience, the viewer truly does feel as if they’ve been dropped in the middle of an operating field hospital.  Though Hawkeye and Trapper may be at the center of the action, every character, from the camp’s colonel to the lowliest private, seems to have their own story playing out.  This a film where paying attention to the little things happening in the background is often more rewarding than paying attention to the main action.  I particularly liked the performances of David Arkin as the obsequies Staff Sergeant Vollmer and Bud Cort as Pvt. Warren Boone.  Boone, especially, seems to have an interesting story going on in the background.  The viewer just has to keep an eye out for him.  Also be sure to keep an eye out for Rene Auberjonois, who reportedly improvised one of the film’s best-known lines when, after Margaret demands to know how Hawkeye reached a position of authority in the army medical corps, he deadpanned, “He was drafted.”

One of the first major studio films to be openly critical of the military and the war in Vietnam, M*A*S*H won the Palme d’Or, defeating films like Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Strawberry Statement.  Unlike many Palme winners, it was also a box office success in the United States.  Though controversial, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  However, unlike the Cannes jury, the Academy decided to honor a different film about war, Patton.

Lisa Reviews A Cannes Winner: Maria Candelaria (dir by Emilio Fernandez)


The very first Cannes Film Festival was held in 1946.  (The festival was originally schedule to debut in 1939 but the start of World War II put those plans on hold.)  45 films from 18 nations were entered into competition and, when it came time to announce that winner of the Grand Prix (which later became known as the Palme d’Or), the result was a tie.  With the number of films competing, that’s not surprising.  In fact, there have been many ties over the history of Cannes.  What is surprising is that the tie was between a total of 11 films: Brief Encounter, Hets, The Last Chance, The Lost Weekend, Men Without Wings, Neecha Nagar, Red Meadows, Rome Open City, La symphonie pastorale, Velikiy perelom, and Maria Candelaria.

Last night, Jeff and I watched Maria Candelaria on YouTube.

Directed by Emilo Fernandez (who many consider to be the father of the Mexican film industry), the majority of Maria Candelaria takes place in Mexico in 1909, shortly before the start of the Mexican Revolution.  Delores del Rio plays Maria, an indigenous woman who is shunned by the people of her village because her mother was a prostitute.  The corrupt and greedy store owner, Don Damian (Miguel Iclan), is entranced by Maria’s beauty and wants her for himself.  However, Maria loves a poor but honest farmer named Lorenzo (Pedro Armendariz).  Though Maria and Lorenzo want to get married, they find their efforts thwarted at every turn by the jealous Don Damian, with Damien going so far as to shoot the pig that Lorenzo was hoping to be able to sell to have the money to not only marry Maria but also to pay off a long-standing debt that he owed Damian.  When Maria grows ill, Damian spitefully refuses to sell Lorenzo the medicine that she needs.  When Lorenzo breaks into the store and attempts to steal it, he’s sent to prison.  Now desperately needing money to get Lorenzo out of prison, Maria poses for a well-meaning painter (Alberto Galan).  When the villagers find out that Maria is posing, a chain of events are unleashed that lead to tragedy.

After reading all of that, you may be wondering how many bad things can happen to one well-meaning and loving couple.  Nothing seems to go right for Maria and Lorenzo over the course of this film but, at the same time, their love never falters.  They remain innocent, regardless of how much they are wronged by the greedy Damian and judged by the hypocritical villagers.  Though the film focuses more on melodrama and romance than politics, the pro-revolutionary message is easy to see.  The Mexican Revolution, the film argues, had to be fought for the honor of people like Maria and Lorenzo.

It’s all a bit heavy-handed but it’s effectively directed and acted and it’s hard not to get caught up in a film that is so unapologetic about embracing the melodrama.  Delores del Rio was a Hollywood starlet who, tiring of the stereotypical roles that she was being offered, returned to Mexico and made several films with Emilo Fernandez.  She and Pedro Armendariz have a very real chemistry as Maria and Lorenzo and they both bring a certain world-weariness to their parts that prevents Maria and Lorenzo from becoming idealized stereotypes.  Maria and Lorenzo may be optimistic and often naïve but they’re not fools.  They know that life will never be easy.  Visually, the film is full of striking images of the Mexican countryside, which Fernandez portrays as being slowly corrupted by the growth of civilization.

Maria Candelaria was a hit not only at Cannes but also in Mexico.  It’s still regularly cited as one of the best movies to come out of Mexico’s film industry.  Though she eventually tired of working with the moody Fernandez, del Rio would continue to appear in movies in both Mexico and Hollywood.  Fernandez went on to spend several decades as Mexico’s most popular director, before eventually falling out of favor for Luis Bunuel.  Today, most cineastes remember him for playing the evil General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

Lisa Marie Reviews A Cannes Festival Winner: Othello (dir by Orson Welles)


With the Cannes film festival underway in France, I’ve decided to spend the next few days watching and reviewing some of the films that previously won the Festival’s top prize.  In 1952, what would eventually become the Palme d’Or was known as Grand Prix du Festival International du Film and it was actually awarded to two separate films.  One of those films was Renato Castellani’s Two Cents Worth of Hope.  The other was Orson Welles’s adaptation of Othello.

Oh, Othello.  Where to begin, with this well-made Shakespearean adaptation that, by today’s standards, many would consider to be problematic?

Othello is one of Welles’s most important films, not just because of its quality but also because it was one of the first films of his European exile.  It was also the first Welles’s production to last for over a year.  In this case, it took three years to finish filming Othello.  As Welles himself often pointed out, one of the film’s key sequences began in Morocco but ended in Rome.  Working with a low budget, Welles would take roles just to have enough money to shoot another few feet of film.  (Reportedly, his salary for The Third Man went right into Othello.)  Pieces of scenes would be filmed years apart, often with the actors speaking to the camera as opposed to another performer.  Actors regularly became unavailable and were replaced.  And yet somehow, Welles managed to edit all of the seemingly random bits and pieces into a coherent and frequently powerful film.  Over the years, the chaotic production of Othello would become the norm for Welles and he would become as known for the films he was forced to abandon as he was for the films that he had made.  But, in 1952, Welles’s perseverance and his determination to bring his vision to the screen were still appreciated and the Cannes jury, headed by author Maurice Genevoix, saw fit to honor his achievement.

At the same time, this is also the film in which the white Orson Welles played the Moor of Venice.  Of course, in 1951, it was still pretty much a tradition that every Shakespearean would eventually play Othello and that he would wear dark make-up while doing so.  Welles opts for a light bronzer, one that makes him appear to have a deep tan.  While it’s undeniably jarring to see Orson Welles playing a North African, it’s still not quite as jarring as seeing what Laurence Olivier did in his Oscar-nominated version of the play.

Laurence Olivier’s Othello

Orson Welles’s Othello

I have to admit that I held off on seeing this film precisely because I didn’t want to watch a film featuring Orson Welles, a director who I greatly admire, in blackface.  Many people are probably never going to see this film for precisely that reason and that’s certainly understandable.  In the end, it’s a decision that everyone will have to make for themselves.  That said, having watched the film, I can now say that Orson Welles gives one of his best performances as Othello, playing him as a brilliant warrior who knows that, because of his background, he will never be fully accepted by the people of Venice.  They’ll expect him to fight their battles for him but, when he marries the white Desdemona (Suzanne Cloutier), he is still expected to prove that he’s not some sort of savage.  In fact, the only thing that prevents him from being brought up on charges is that Venice needs him to fight in another battle.  Being a permanent outsider leaves Othello open to the manipulations of the evil Iago (Michael Mac Liammor), who pretends to be a friend but who instead views everyone around him with contempt and jealousy.  Welles captures Othello’s anger but also his emotional vulnerability.  As a permanent outsider, Othello is so used to being betrayed that it doesn’t take much from Iago to push him over the edge.

Welles directs the film like a film noir, filling the screen with menacing shadows and framing the film’s tragic finale like a horror film.  He makes the film’s low-budget works to its advantage.  As opposed to the grandeur that one normally associates with Shakespeare, there’s a seediness to the locations in Welles’s version of Othello.  As Othello’s jealousy and paranoia grows, Venice itself appears to become more cluttered and cramped.  It’s as if the viewer is seeing the location through Othello’s eyes, a once imposing city that, with each little secret or lie, edges closer to death.  As both a director and an adapter of Shakespeare’s original text, Welles tells the entire story of Othello in less than 90 minutes, a pace that reflects Othello’s quick decent into irrational paranoia.

Admittedly, it’s not a perfect film.  Mac Liammor was reportedly the best Irish stage actor of his time but his inexperience with film acting is obvious and it makes him a less than ideal Iago.  Traditionally, Othello is usually dominated by whichever actor plays the role of Iago, as it’s Iago who pushes the story forward and narrates the action.  However, Welles removes the moments when Iago narrates and speaks to the audience.  Welles gives us an Othello that is clearly about the title character and this production is less interested in the reasons behind Iago’s betrayal than in what happens to Othello as a result.  (Othello becomes yet another Welles film that is ultimately about the importance of friendship and loyalty.)  Not surprisingly, with the film firmly centered on Welles’s performance, the rest of the cast struggles to make as strong of an impression.  Only Suzanne Cloutier, cast as Desdemona, manages to give a performance that escapes from Welles’s shadow.

At Cannes, Othello defeated, among others, An American In Paris, Detective Story, Umberto D., and Viva Zapata.  As often happened with Welles’s later films, it didn’t get much of an initial release in America but it has since been rediscovered by film connoisseurs.  Needless to say, the Criterion release is the one to check out.

Cronenberg returns to Cannes with the Crimes of the Future teaser!


David Cronenberg’s been keeping busy with his latest, Crimes of the Future. It looks like Existenz, but with major upgrades. The film stars Academy Award Nominee Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, A History of Violence), Léa Seydoux (No Time to Die), and Academy Award Nominee Kristen Stewart (Spencer). I can’t begin to understand what the plot’s about, but given it’s Cronenberg, we’re all in.

Crimes of the Future will compete in this years Cannes Film Festival for the coveted Palm d’Or.

Horror Film Review: Titane (dir. by Julia Ducournau)


I like to think a person’s love of film reflects who they are. Please bear with me on this one.

The movies that move us, make us smile or laugh or cry tend to paint a picture. In some ways, this works out well. When your friend sits you down, shows you The Shawshank Redemption, watches you ball your eyes out and then laugh by the end, you get that slow nod that says..”This fellow, they understand.” The movie love spreads like that tape in The Ring. I’ve had this happen on separate occasions my Live Tweet experiences. The Manitou was an an absolute blast that had me laughing and asking myself just what the hell I was watching. A Field in England was a weird, wild trip that made me flinch at times. They may be stranger films, but they were were also great experiences. Without them, I wouldn’t have my eyes opened to what’s out there in terms of cinema.

I also believe the idea of loving anyone unconditionally is possible under the right conditions, but is a difficult concept. I’ve found that people are usually ready to “ride or die” with you as long as you are both moving along the same path, sharing the same mindset. However, there will always be something that puts a relationship (family/friends/lovers) to the test and maybe a line is drawn that can’t be crossed. It takes a lot for someone to bear all of their flaws before another person, just as it does to see them and say, “You’re cool with me.” It’s no different from having a family that loves you right up until that moment where your political or religious views diverge and you suddenly find yourself disowned because of it. That’s just my opinion.

I caught Julia’s Ducournau’s Titane last Thursday Night in a near empty theatre in Midtown Manhattan. I’ve been thinking about it in some form or another ever since. I went to catch it because I needed to get out and about for a little while, and I enjoyed Raw immensely. Just like Malignant, I went in blind, only really knowing it was a Ducournau film and seeing an image of a girl laying across a car. Maybe it was because by the end, I applauded like a seal and caught some strange looks from people on the way out of the theatre, but I kind of feel weird for enjoying this film as much as I did. I didn’t know what the hell I just watched, but it made me feel something, and that was enough. I’m not entirely sure of what that says about me as a person.

Agathe Rousselle as Alexia in Julia Ducournau’s Titane

Alexia (Agathe Rousselle, in her first full length film) is a live wire. Introduced to the audience as a child, we can see she works off of pure instinct. She also has a love for cars. When she sustains major injuries from a car accident, Alexia has to have a titanium plate (hence the movie’s title in one form) put into her skull that leaves a wild pattern on her skin. Alexia’s instincts carry with her into adulthood, but I saw her as being very feral. Whether it’s food or drink, or darker desires, she throws herself fully into it. Vincent (Vincent Lindon), is a leader and a rescue specialist coping with the loss of his son, who went missing some time ago. When their lives intersect, the plot for Titane seemed to change and for me, became a story about unconditional love. There is horror throughout Titane, suffer no illusions. Blood, broken limbs and all kids of fluids, but there’s also a sense of acceptance and forgiveness despite how dark things really get. Much like the automobile Alexia dances alongside, the plot felt like it shifted gears to the point I wasn’t sure what I really watching. Mind you, I didn’t really see a trailer or anything, so I didn’t have recognizable snippets to reference and say “Ah, I remember that from the trailer.” It may make the film a little hard for some audiences to follow. What I enjoyed, though I list it as a possible con, is that the film never bothers to tell you any of the how’s or why’s for anything you’re seeing. No explanations on why Alexia is who she is or how certain elements are possible. There’s no clear cut answer, like in Malignant.

It just is what it is.

Vincent (Vincent Lindon), testing his limits in Julia Ducournau’s Titane

Both actors carry their roles very well. Rousselle’s Alexia moves between passion, violence and vulnerability in the blink of an eye and I hope that Titane serves as a launchpad for her in future roles. Lindon also goes through the same process, though his character is more nurturing (though just as broken). It’s really hard to imagine other actors doing all of this. Garance Marillier (Raw) reunites with Ducournau as Justine, one of the other dancers Alexia knows. This also brings up something I found interesting. With the exception of Vincent, the names of all of the principal characters are the same character names from Raw. I have to wonder if that’s just coincidence or maybe Ducournau just has a fondness for those names.

During the New York Film Festival, Ducournau said in the post movie Q&A that the film was based on a nightmare she had. She doesn’t play around at all here, and puts it all on view. Titane could easy sit on a shelf among Antonia Bird’s Ravenous, Mary Harron’s American Psycho, and Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. The blood flow is vicious and mostly brutal. There was at least once sequence that made me flinch in my seat and say..”Oh damn!” while instinctively reaching for a body part. While the movie does contain some sexual scenes and nudity, they’re not terribly explicit. The sound quality in my theatre was loud and rich, so the squishes and breaks were pretty impacting. Ruben Impens returns to work with Ducournau as the Director of Photography and for the most part, the visuals were solid. Colors were vibrant and there weren’t any scenes that seemed like they didn’t work.

So, overall, I truly enjoyed Titane. Did I fully get it? I don’t know. A lot of it is up to interpretation, but I guess that can be said of any film. I give Ducournau and the actors credit for making something that felt strange. When I get a physical copy, I’ll probably sit it next to Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend, easily one of the most confusing films I’ve seen (that I love).

Still, I have to wonder what that all says about me.

On a side note, I was about to publish this when I realized that Titane is also the winner of this year’s Palme D’or, which is the highest recognition given to a film at the Cannes Film Festival. While I haven’t enough personal knowledge to fully explain how good or bad that may be, Cannes has been in existence since the the mid 1940s. The Shattered Lens has followed Cannes for some time now. Titane shares the win with other films over the years such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and as recently as Jong Boon Ho’s Parasite. Ducournau’s only the second woman to have won the prize, along with Jane Campion for The Piano.

Here Are The Winners of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival


2021_Cannes_Film_Festival

When it comes to Cannes, it’s often a fool’s errand to try to predict what will win.  The critics and the viewers will definitely have their opinions of the films that they see but, in the end, it all comes down to the members of the Jury and the Jury almost always seems to go their own way.  Probably the easiest way to sabotage a film’s chances at Cannes is to announce, early-on, that the film is a lock for Palme.

For all of the acclaim that greeted The French Dispatch, Red Rocket, Flag Day. and a few others, the 2021 Cannes Jury, led by Spike Lee, gave the Palme d’Or to Julia Docournau’s Titane.  I can’t wait to see Titane as I absolutely loved Ducournau’s previous film, RawAnnette, which was kind of the love it or hate it film of the festival picked up the award for Best Director.  As much fun as some of us had imagining a world where Simon Rex was named Best Actor for Red Rocket, the jury went with Caleb Landry Jones for Nitram.  

What does this mean for the Oscars?  Probably not much.  Of course, winning at Cannes can help a film’s Oscar chances.  Most recently, it probably helped out both Tree of Life and Parasite.  I could imagine Caleb Landry Jones maybe getting a boost as far as a possible Best Actor nomination is concerned, depending on how Nitram is received in the States.  But, in the end, Cannes is usually viewed as being a bit too quirky and unpredictable for it to be a dependable precursor.  When it comes to film festival acclaim, the Oscars tend to pay more attention to Telluride and Venice.  In the end, it’ll probably be films like The French Dispatch and Red Rocket that benefit the most from being acclaimed (if not awarded) at Cannes.

With all that in mind, here are the winners!

Official awards

In Competition

The following awards were presented for films shown In Competition:

  • Palme d’Or: Titane by Julia Ducournau
  • Grand Prix:
    • A Hero by Asghar Farhadi
    • Compartment No. 6 by Juho Kuosmanen
  • Jury Prize:
    • Ahed’s Knee by Nadav Lapid
    • Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
  • Best Director: Leos Carax for Annette
  • Best Actress: Renate Reinsve for The Worst Person in the World
  • Best Actor: Caleb Landry Jones for Nitram
  • Best Screenplay: Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Takamasa Oe for Drive My Car

Un Certain Regard

  • Un Certain Regard Award: Unclenching the Fists by Kira Kovalenko
  • Un Certain Regard Jury Prize: Great Freedom by Sebastian Meise
  • Un Certain Regard Ensemble Prize: Bonne mère by Hafsia Herzi
  • Un Certain Regard Prize of Courage: La Civil by Teodora Mihai
  • Un Certain Regard Prize of Originality: Lamb by Valdimar Jóhannsson
  • Un Certain Regard Special Mention: Prayers for the Stolen by Tatiana Huezo

Golden Camera

  • Caméra d’Or: Murina by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

Short Films

  • Short Film Palme d’Or: All the Crows in the World by Tang Yi
  • Special Mention: August Sky by Jasmin Tenucci

Cinéfondation

  • First Prize: The Salamander Child by Théo Degen
  • Second Prize: Cicada by Yoon Daewoen
  • Third Prize:
    • Love Stories on the Move by Carina-Gabriela Daşoveanu
    • Cantareira by Rodrigo Ribeyro

Honorary Palme d’Or

  • Honorary Palme d’Or: Jodie Foster and Marco Bellocchio

Independent awards

FIPRESCI Prizes

  • In Competition: Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Un Certain Regard: Playground by Laura Wandel
  • Parallel section: Feathers by Omar El Zohairy (International Critics’ Week)

Ecumenical Prize

  • Prize of the Ecumenical Jury: Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Special Mention: Compartment No. 6 by Juho Kuosmanen

International Critics’ Week

  • Nespresso Grand Prize: Feathers by Omar El Zohairy
  • Leitz Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film: Lili Alone by Zou Jing
  • Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Sandra Melissa Torres for Amparo

Directors’ Fortnight

  • Europa Cinemas Label Award for Best European Film: A Chiara by Jonas Carpignano
  • SACD Award for Best French-language Film: Magnetic Beats by Vincent Maël Cardona
  • Carrosse d’Or: Frederick Wiseman

L’Œil d’or

  • L’Œil d’or: A Night of Knowing Nothing by Payal Kapadia

Queer Palm

  • Queer Palm Award: The Divide by Catherine Corsini

Prix François Chalais

  • François Chalais Prize: A Hero by Asghar Farhadi
  • Special Mention: Freda by Gessica Généus

Cannes Soundtrack Award

  • Cannes Soundtrack Award:
    • Ron Mael & Russell Mael for Annette
    • Rone for Paris, 13th District

Palm Dog

  • Palm Dog Award: Rosie, Dora and Snowbear for The Souvenir Part II

Trophée Chopard

  • Chopard Trophy: Jessie Buckley and Kingsley Ben-Adir

Bong Joon-ho Wins At Cannes while Tarantino and Malick are Snubbed


The 2019 Cannes FIlm Festival is over and here’s what won!  Interestingly enough, for all the critical acclaim and excitement that greeted Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, the jury ignored both of them.

COMPETITION

Palme d’Or: Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite”
Grand Prize: Mati Diop, “Atlantique”
Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, “Young Ahmed”
Jury Prize (tie): Ladj Ly, “Les Misérables” and Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, “Bacurau”
Actor: Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Actress: Emily Beecham, “Little Joe”
Screenplay: Celine Sciamma, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”
Special Mention Prize: “It Must Be Heaven,” Elia Suleiman

CAMERA D’OR (across all sections)

César Diaz, “Our Mothers”

UN CERTAIN REGARD

Un Certain Regard Award: “The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao,” Karim Ainouz
Jury Prize: “The Fire Will Come,” Oliver Laxe
Best Director: Kantemir Balagov, “Beanpole”
Best Performance: Chiara Mastroianni, “On a Magical Night”
Un Certain Regard “Heart” Prize: “The Climb” and “A Brother’s Love”
Special Jury Prize: Albert Serra, “Liberte”
Special Jury Mention: “Joan of Arc,” Bruno Dumont

CRITICS’ WEEK

Nespresso Grand Prize: “I Lost My Body,” Jérémy Clapin
Leitz Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film: “She Runs,” Qiu Yang
Louis Roederer Foundation Rising Star Award: Ingvar E. Sigurðsson, “A White, White Day”
Gan Foundation Award for Distribution: The Jokers Films, French distributor for “Vivarium” by Lorcan Finnegan
SACD Award: César Díaz, “Our Mothers”
Canal+ Award for Short Film: “Ikki Illa Meint,” Andrias Høgenni

FIPRESCI

In Competition: “It Must Be Heaven,” Elia Suleiman
Un Certain Regard: “Beanpole,” Kantemir Balagov
Parallel Selection: “The Lighthouse,” Robert Eggers

DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

Europa Cinemas Label Award for Best European Film: “Alice and the Mayor,” Nicolas Pariser
SACD Award for Best French-language Film: “An Easy Girl” Rebecca Zlotowski
Illy Short Film Award: “Stay Awake, Be Ready,” Pham Thien An
Carrosse d’Or: John Carpenter

ECUMENICAL PRIZE

Prize of the Ecumenical Jury: “A Hidden Life,” Terrence Malick

GOLDEN EYE

“For Sama,” Waad al-Khateab and Edward Watts
Special Prize: “The Cordillera of Dreams,” Patricio Guzman

QUEER PALM

Queer Palm Award: “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Céline Sciamma
Short Film Queer Palm: “The Distance Between Us and the Sky,” Vasilis Kekatos

Palm Dog

Brandy (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood)