Talking Heads: My Dinner with Andre (1981)

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981)

Last week, I delved into documentaries and asked how much was real and how much was fiction. Specifically, I was looking for the appearance of reality and wondering if documentaries and their overlap with fiction was a problem at all or just something to be expected when watching someone’s account of what happened. All of this led me to ponder a movie I have long considered a fictional documentary, My Dinner with Andre (1981), which is currently streaming under the Food for Thought theme in FilmStruck. The movie itself has become the butt of jokes from The Simpsons (Martin Prince plays the My Dinner with Andre game in an arcade) to movies like Waiting for Guffman (where Corky sells My Dinner with Andre action figures). Both of those jokes play well but let’s be honest, it’s pretty damn easy to parody a movie that is almost entirely two men sitting at a table, talking. The fact that such an undertaking not only had a director (instead of simply a cameraman saying, “Okay, I think we’re ready… I mean, action!”) but the internationally famous, highly acclaimed director Louis Malle, is a miracle in and of itself. Surely Malle saw this decidedly uncinematic scenario as an irresistible challenge as a filmmaker and set out to see what he could do with two men at a table talking. So what did he do? And what is the point of all of this anyway?

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My Melancholy Valentine: Dans Paris (2006)

DansParis_2006_4

Love is complicated. Some see it as a priceless gift or blessing while others describe it as an unshakeable disease. It can be comforting, enriching, elevating, thrilling and divine. It can also be messy, unruly, feral, ferocious and cruel, particularly if you are suffering from acute depression. In Dans Paris aka In Paris (2006), French filmmaker Christophe Honoré (Ma mère aka My Mother [2004], Les chansons d’amour aka Love Songs [2006], Les Bien-Aimés aka Beloved [2011]) introduces us to a family in the throes of a profound depression although this fact is kept hidden from viewers throughout most of the film’s 90-minute runtime. Instead of focusing on the hows, whys and what fors of the situation, Honoré shows us how each family member is trying to cope and for better or worse, their drug of choice is love. With Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Dans Paris, one of my favorite French films of the past 20 years, which is currently streaming on FilmStruck. Honoré’s delightful, difficult and bittersweet romantic drama is part of their holiday appropriate “City of Love” theme featuring films set in Paris, a city that’s mere name conjures up scenes of romance and passion.

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Le Bonheur (1965): Find Your Happy Place

BONHEUR, LE (1966)

Do you have a film you love even though you can’t point to a specific reason why? A title that just seems to envelop you from the opening frames and keeps you enthralled without doing anything showy? One example I like to point to is Le Bonheur (1965), a superb pastoral drama that puts the story of domestic instability against a backdrop of some of the most eye-popping colors you’ve ever seen. [...MORE]

Bop Gun: Black Sun (1964)

BlackSun_1964_image_03

With La La Land nominated for fourteen Academy Award nominations and likely to dominate movie chatter in the coming weeks, I wanted to track down some lesser known uses of jazz on film, for those seeking alternatives. Looking through FilmStruck, I came upon Koreyoshi Kurahara’s Black Sun (1964) on the Criterion Channel, which is about a jazz-mad squatter living in the rubble of post-war Japan, with a score performed by the Max Roach Quartet. The Roach Quartet is playing squalling compositions by Toshiro Mayuzumi, indicative of how East and West headbutt each other throughout the feature. The Japan as shown in the film is still in ruins after WWII, a ghostly, emptied out space filled with rubble and sewage.

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Faceoff: Sabotage vs. Foreign Correspondent

SABOTAGE (1936)

It’s that time of year when I ask students to select one or more Hitchcock films as part of the course material in my upper level film history class. I like to offer a pre-WWII Hitchcock film as one of the choices to represent his early spy thrillers, in which various spies and secret agents dash about Europe either defending or undermining the forces of democracy.

Last year, after asking for the input of the Morlocks (now StreamLine) readers, I selected The Lady Vanishes (1938) to represent this phase of Hitchcock’s work. It was a resounding success. This year, I have narrowed the choices to Sabotage (1936) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), both available for streaming through The Criterion Channel. (Foreign Correspondent also airs on TCM on February 8 at 8:00pm ET.) Please weigh in on which film you think is the better choice, especially for young viewers who have heard of Hitchcock but are unfamiliar with his earlier work.

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Orwellian Realities

LIVES OF OTHERS, THE (2006)

FilmStruck has five titles available to view as part of a Behind the Iron Curtain theme. I originally set out to write about Barbara (2012) as it’s an interesting and unfairly overlooked gem dealing with a family doctor banished from East Berlin to a rural community. I still have a great poster for Barbara showing her riding a bike against a dark green backdrop of grass and trees, casting a suspicious look behind her. I’m shifting gears, however, and delving instead into The Lives of Others (2006). The Lives of Others won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and was a box office success story. Deservedly so, as it’s a rich and poignant film full of universal truths. It’s also that rare film with humanistic traits that elevate human welfare and art without resorting to treacle. It’s a movie that celebrates music, poetry, literature, and it culminates with both epiphany and the celebration of human dignity, sealed with a perfect ending – one that still brings a tear to my eye.

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Longing For SUMMERTIME

SUMMERTIME (1955)

Each winter, after all the excitement of the holiday season has passed, I always feel a touch of melancholy. The shortened days with their gray skies, bare trees and cold winds have a lonely feel to them. Although winter this year has been quite mild, with plenty of sun-filled, picnic-perfect days, I still find myself longing for those fun, carefree summer months. Since we are stuck with winter for a few more weeks (in the South, anyway), I immersed myself into one of my favorite romantic films: David Lean’s Summertime (1955), streaming on FilmStruck under the Beauty of Italy theme until March 17, 2017 (after which point it will run on The Criterion Channel).

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But it still happened, right? Life with Nanook and Bob

NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922)

There was a time, not too long ago, when the veracity of what was portrayed in a documentary was a given. If someone put together a non-fiction film, surely we could trust our own eyes. Over time, questions began to arise and the veracity of documenting life on film was called into question. It was revealed, for instance, that the lemmings plunging to their death in Walt Disney’s White Wilderness (1958) weren’t actually killing themselves en masse but being scared off of a cliff’s edge and, in some cases, thrown off, by the filmmakers. Why? Because people were under the impression that lemmings killed themselves like some tiny rodentia version of the People’s Temple, sans the Kool-Aid. And, hey, if that’s what people thought, might as well give them what they want, right? Um, right? But Nanook of the North* (1922) was no Disney True-Life Adventure. It was a pioneering look into a different culture that set the standard for biographical documentaries for years to come. But is it real? Well, that depends on your definition of real.

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The Search for Common Ground: A Separation (2011)

A SEPARATION, (aka NADER AND SIMIN, aka JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN), from left: Leila Hatami, Peyman Mo

When the U.S. government decided to abruptly impose a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen) last week it caused pandemonium in international airports across the country. Travelers were removed from planes and denied passage while others were handcuffed, interrogated without legal representation and isolated from family and friends. Massive protests erupted and flights faced delays as the public tried to make sense of the situation.

Amid the chaos, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (About Elly [2009], A Separation [2011], The Past [2013]) expressed concern that he would not be allowed to enter the country to attend the upcoming Academy Awards in Los Angeles where his latest film, The Salesman (2016), is an Oscar contender for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. When it became clear that his safe passage could not be guaranteed, Farhadi announced he wouldn’t be attending the award’s ceremony citing that officials were responding to his questions with “ifs and buts, which are in no way acceptable to me, even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”

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The Eyes Have It

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

As we head into February, the month most closely associated with love in all its guises, it’s always good to remind yourself that too much emotional attachment can be a dangerous thing. If you really want to throw a curve ball into your pre-Valentine’s viewing schedule, allow me to direct your attention to one of the most twisted father-daughter relationships ever put on film: Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) (1960), now the most famous film from the great Georges Franju and the gold standard by which other French horror films are measured.

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