Info

Art Opinions

Posts tagged Human Complexity

““Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
― Ernst F. Schumacher

If ever a filmmaker has attempted to avoid moving his films in a conventional and contrived manner, it would be Benoît Jacquot. This is a film director who aims for realism without offering much in the area of character motivation or any level of explanation regarding the choices, actions and behavior of the character(s.) This mode of pursuit is not unique, but when it comes to several of Jacquot’s films it is an essential choice. This is a choice that many embrace but often more try to reject. And yet, Jacquot’s often quirkily passionate films have a way of lingering on in our memory. They should not be easily dismissed.

Pas de scandale / Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquet, 1999

Pas de scandale / Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquet, 1999

I had just hit my 30’s when I first volunteered for both The Boston Film Festival and the then fairly newly established Boston French Film Festival. I knew a great deal about movies and was not dazed by the idea of “celebrity.” Not one to be intimidated or one to be intimidating in my communications, over a couple of years I began to be offered more interesting opportunities. Sadly, my professional life prevented me from becoming too involved. Even still these were eye-opening experiences.

Appropriately titled... À ma soeur! Catherine Breillat, 2001

Appropriately titled…
À ma soeur!
Catherine Breillat, 2001

One film that had come to the attention of both festivals was Benoît Jacquot’s Pas de scandal (or No Scandal.) Jacquot was most assuredly established within the world of International Cinema. His 1995 film, A Single Girl, which attempted to adhere to the style set forth by Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, had been embraced. Any discussion of A Single Girl without reference to the La Nouvelle Vague would be a crucial mistake. Another crucial aspect of Jacquot’s A Single Girl that must be mentioned is it’s complex simplicity. Virginie Ledoyen’s “Valerie” is not dealing with her immortality as Varda’s “Cleo.”

This is not to say that Valerie doesn’t have a great deal on her mind. Just starting a new and often humiliating job at a swank hotel, she is pregnant and increasingly stubborn in not wanting marriage or support from the child’s father. This independent choice is not so much a statement of Valerie’s individuality as much as it is tied to a young woman’s often irrational and immature reaction(s) to the situations into which she finds herself. She is rebellious. She is determined. She is manipulative. She can be cruel. She can be kind. She is intelligent. Most of all, she is unpredictable.

La fille seule / A Single Girl Benoît Jacquot, 1995

La fille seule / A Single Girl
Benoît Jacquot, 1995

As Jacquot follows Valerie throughout her first day of new employment, it is filmed in “real” time. Whatever we learn about his central character is largely limited to the way she pursues her day. And the way she pursues it does not always make logical sense. But how many of our own actions are consistently logical? This film arrived at just the right time to catch audiences attentions. The film was highly valued despite a number of production goofs. One of the main issues with A Single Girl is the low-budget style of filming on the busy streets of Paris. In more than a few scenes we see Parisians and tourists staring at the camera and small film crew. It didn’t matter, the lead actor’s presence, beauty and skill merged with Benoit Jacquot’s story and camera were a perfect match. And it wasn’t the bearing of mortality that made the film interesting. It was the often mundane interactions which Valerie often imposes an odd will and assertion that made the awkward all the more strange.

La fille seule was correctly translated to A Single Girl. It was quickly learned that the title for this film’s North American release was to be retitled Keep It Quiet. Yet another odd choice within the realm of foreign film translation to English title choices. My votes for the two most achingly bad translation titles remains Chabrol’s brilliant Merci pour le chocolat which became Night Cap and Breillat’s À ma soeur! which was changed to Fat Girl.

An inappropriate title for North American distribution... Fat Girl Catherine Breillat, 2001

An inappropriate title for North American distribution…
Fat Girl
Catherine Breillat, 2001

A problematic choice to say the least, To My Sister! would have been a far more appropriate title. At the time, it almost felt like the North American distributors seemed to think that Breillat’s disturbing film was not provocative enough!?! The American title leaves an unintended extra sour taste in the mouth. Yet nothing could eclipse the brilliance of this angry and potent 2001 film. À ma soeur! or Fat Girl, an essential chapter in The New French Extreme shocks with a purpose. No title can change that. Sadly, the North American title of Night Cap assigned to Chabrol’s profoundly Hitchcockian bit of dark humor and suspense did confuse many a potential ticket buyer back in the day of its initial release. Merci pour le chocolat appeared to be a quiet and intellectual drama. It was a very poor marketing choice for one of the cinematic master’s finest later works.

However, Keep it Quiet was a surprisingly solid title translation choice for Jacquot’s strange little film. If ever a film appears to excude French culture, it is 1999’s Pas de scandal. The film is simple, yet deeply complex. It concerns a family of wealth. There is a bold honesty constantly at play, but continually muted. The characters carry intellectual, mildly quirky and stylistic personas thanks to their physicality, actions and nuanced glances. Keep It Quiet has an interesting air of sophistication, elegance, intelligence and emotional distance.

Please, whatever you do, do not cause a scene in public. Isabelle Huppert and Fabrice Luchini do not need much in the way of dialogue to express the complex and illogical of their choices and actions. Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Please, whatever you do, do not cause a scene in public.
Isabelle Huppert and Fabrice Luchini do not need much in the way of dialogue to express the complex and illogical of their choices and actions.
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

What makes Keep It Quiet unique is that while it is all of these things, it is not verbally articulate. One of the film’s core concepts is that none of the three main characters seem to know how to communicate or even remotely articulate their respective feelings and thoughts. The result is a surprisingly charming and sad family study in which the characters act like human bumper-cars. The characters are constantly bumping into each other, but are careful to never crash. No car is completely thrown off the road. However, it is plain to see that all of them would most likely prefer that to staying the course that their respective personal choices, compulsions and obsessions have sent them speeding down an uncertain road.

Released in France and Europe as Pas de scandale (obvious meaning being No Scandal) the film fared well commercially and even better from a film criticism standpoint. But even though the film is blessed with the appearance of rightfully respected International Film Star, Isabelle Huppert, it was barely released in North America. A quick debut at The Toronto Film Festival and a very limited screening in a few major American cities, the film went unnoticed. Part of the challenge faced with marketing this highly innovative film was the fact that it avoided exploration of the transgressive. There is no real violence to speak of, a very brief scene of nudity and sexuality and none of the extremities that French Film was becoming known for a the time. And while the American title makes sense, it is hardly an attention grab.

Fabrice Luchini Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Fabrice Luchini
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Fabrice Luchini plays one of two brothers from a French family of considerable wealth and power. The eldest and more business savvy of the two, he has taken over the family business. He has been responsible in building the business into what appears to be an International Empire. Interestingly, we never learn much about the family business beyond it is powerful and creates a great deal of money. While the business has flourished under the elder brother’s leadership, he made some morally and illegal decisions that have caused him to be convicted and serve a time in prison. It is never actually stated what criminal action Gregoire Jeancourt has committed, we determine it was significant enough to cause an national scandal. One could even argue that it is unclear if Luchini’s character actually committed the crime or simply took the fall for the family.

The film begins with his first day freed from prison. Fabric Luchini sits passively with a cup of tea in a cafe. His face has a child-like level of curiosity with hints of sadness. When Isabelle Huppert enters the cafe, we see Luchini’s face light up with hope. Huppert is clearly moved, but it is unclear as to which emotional direction she is moving. Both are uncomfortable. Huppert’s Agnes presents a pleasant but fully removed presence. Yet when she starts to speak Agnes reveals there is a great deal just beneath her distant surface. It is only through an awkward bit of conversing that we realize this is Gregoire’s wife. This is the first time they have seen each other since his imprisonment and declaration of corporate guilt. Agnes’ attitude toward her husband quickly becomes a basic assumption projected onto Gregoire: he seems disoriented, confused and perhaps even a bit insane.

Sighing and lost between the struts and flirts.. Vincent Lindon Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Sighing and lost between the struts and flirts..
Vincent Lindon
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

The younger brother is played by Vincent Lindon who for a never explained reason(s) was pushed out of the family business altogether excepting a share of the profits. In the meantime, Louis Jeancourt has firmly established himself as nationally admired TV Chat Show host which aims to be intellectually challenging vs. the normal exploitive aim of most popular chat shows. He has lived his live as a playboy. Ever flirting and seemingly ever uncomfortable with any level of romantic commitment. Even more odd than his sister-in-law, he appears to be more than a little uncomfortable with his elder sibling’s release from prison. Less concerned with “seeing” his brother or offering a greeting, Louis is only concerned with how the public will perceive Gregoire and their family name. Like almost every character in Gregoire’s pre-prison life, his brother thinks that there is something emotionally disturbed about his older brother.

Gregoire’s beautiful wife treats him with an icy demeanor and is more concerned with getting to her beauty salon than catching up with her husband. She is even more clear that she holds no sexual interest, when she surrenders to his sexual needs she seems shocked that his focus is more on giving pleasure than taking. No words of this brief, intimate but non-explicit scene are offered, but it seems clear that Agnes is more shocked than aroused by the experience. The husband and wife seem to constantly be in situations in which each wants to state something of emotional importance. Neither are able to do this. Never clearly stated, it would seem that Agnes remains out of duty but her husband yearns to express his love and need for her. In one of the film’s more oddly powerful moments, he tries to make his wife listen to his planned comments for an upcoming national interview. Agnes puts out that she is far too busy to sit and listen to his speech. But when it emerges that the real reason he is wants her attention is not to actually review planned statements but to offer her his personal declaration of love.  When we see a bit of his interview he sits in awkward but oddly comfortable silence. Immune to the questions regarding his guilt and corporate gaul, he simply looks out as if focused on something off in the distance.

The wife and the would-be-mistress remain kind and gentle, but an undercurrent of resentment is just hanging like a vague threat above both of them. Isabelle Huppert and Vahina Giocante Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

The wife and the would-be-mistress remain kind and gentle, but an undercurrent of resentment is just hanging like a vague threat above both of them.
Isabelle Huppert and Vahina Giocante
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Benoit Jacquot fully employs the use of Olivier Lebé’s lush musical score. The film’s score if of import because during the first half of the film is seems in opposition to the images warmly captured by Romain Winding’s cinematography. Most of all the ambitious and gushing score seems far too musically emotive for the film’s characters and story. As the film develops toward it’s ending point this mismatched music begins to not only work, but has a schism-like impact that fits in nicely with what becomes both a passionate and cleverly intellectual film.

Gregoire may very well be having a sort of emotional break, but it is more likely that time away from his life has given him pause to reappraise his priorities. As he attempts to find a way to fit back into his life, he once again must reappraise his connections to family and his firm. There is nothing at all simple about this movie. Vincent Lindon’s Louis is deeply wounded, limited and afraid of life. He seems to hide behind his public persona to shield himself from having to significantly connect to anyone. Agnes is not the icy and distant woman she seems trying to be. Instead we begin to see that she is a loving and caring mother. We also see that while her love for her husband may be forever tarnished, there is love there. As we see she and her younger brother-in-law interact there is an increasingly uneasy feeling that their relationship has at some point taken a turn for the inappropriate. None of this is ever clearly discussed or validated, but there is a sense that Agnes’ concern for Louis goes far deeper than that of a sister-in-law. In another of the film’s most powerful moments, she and Louis meet for a cup of coffee. As Louis works up the courage to reveal a surprising truth, her intellectual reaction is both filled with humor and logic. Her physical reaction and his to her reveals something far deeper. Is her brother-in-law the actual father of one of she and Gregoires’ children? Or, is there some deeply real romantic desire between them that must remain unexplored?

Is there more here than meets the eyes? Isabelle Huppert and Vincent Lindon Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Is there more here than meets the eyes?
Isabelle Huppert and Vincent Lindon
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

And as Gregoire’s patience with his family’s dismissal of him as disoriented or a bit insane wears thin, we see him reach out to a young woman who seems less interested than intrigued by his advances. At an uncomfortable and awkward family dinner we realize that Gregoire is far more aware of himself than others are giving him credit. He seems to prefer the company of strangers because he might find more honesty and less animosity. Jacquot’s film takes an unexpected final act twist when the wife finally steps forward with a single sentence that propels the audience to a new understanding of not only the family and the scandal: it provides us with a satisfying conclusion that explains more than it attempts to answer our questions. These actors have not just been playing characters in a story — they have slipped into the personas of the human condition. Suddenly the idea of a plot seems less important than the idea of having watched intelligent and well-intended people wandering confused through a challenging situation. Keep It Quiet is a bluntly realistic film that often pushes against ideas of logic and story-telling. Sometimes the human condition makes little sense from outside perception or even personal introspection. Nothing here is black or white. Nothing is simple, but all the complexities are presented with simple precision. Every shot of this film seems carefully planned. Benoit Jacquot has simply presented the complex.

"Go after him." Vincent Lindon and Isabelle Huppert Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

“Go after him.”
Vincent Lindon and Isabelle Huppert
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Jacquot seems to be studying the unstated and the unseen. The film is at once limited within it’s own odd universe, yet is a constant reminder that these characters are not as odd as they appear. Does a spouse who has faced public ridicule and inspection due to the other spouse’s criminal activity automatically rush forward to embrace said life partner as soon as he is released from jail? Or does the experiences of dealing with a public scandal fill her with a sort of dread and discomfort at welcoming her husband home? Does the newly freed husband become angry or does this reaction cause further escalation of disorientation? Does his celebrity chat host little brother rush with open arms to his older brother who has just served a year in prison? Or like his sister-in-law, is he apprehensive and perhaps even angry for PR nightmares that the brother’s actions have caused?

Taking Existentialism to a whole other kind of level... Fabrice Luchini Keep It Quiet Benoît Jacquot, 1999 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Taking Existentialism to a whole other kind of level…
Fabrice Luchini
Keep It Quiet
Benoît Jacquot, 1999
Cinematography | Romain Winding

More to the point: Are all three people suddenly dropped into a disturbing situation with which none of them know how to deal?  For a film with very little dialogue that deals directly with the core concerns of it’s characters, Keep It Quiet is startling revealing and confoundingly curious. And in a rare moment of clarity, the North American title translation is actually better than the French film’s original title. This is not a film about scandal or the need to hide or defend it. This is a film about human beings who are unable to open up to each other. And in some cases, even unable to open up to themselves.

After making Keep It Quiet, Benoit Jacquot seemed to turn his attention to costume or period pieces. Most notably the exquisite 2012’s Farewell My Queen, which focused on the final days prior to the French Revolution through the eyes and experiences of one of Marie Antoinette assigned court readers. This film was extremely well-crafted and garnished a great deal of praise. But in 2009, he had returned to the complicated waters of human identity with his adaptation of Pascal Quignard’s novel, Villa Amalia. A fascinating and often stunning film, this movie was primarily focused on capturing another carefully textured performance from Isabelle Huppert. Despite the costumes, eras or the cinematic intentions, all of Jacquot’s films are closely tied to the unpredictability of human nature and the often absence of logic. In September of 2014, his 3 Hearts premiered in North America at the Toronto Film Festival.

3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014

3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014

In the past decade universally-shared languages has evolved to the point where foreign distribution to North America no longer seems to require odd “translations” for titles and improved subtitles. So much so that it made me chuckle when US distributors felt it necessary to release Jacquot’s 3 coeurs to 3 Hearts, but the title translation failed to aid the film in securing a decent US release. Despite screenings at one other US film festival, this film was largely limited to only a few larger US cities.

It is not surprising that this strange little film received mixed reviews and reactions. Despite the fact that there is a most certain connection to Leo McCarey’s 1950’s classic, An Affair to Remember, it seems many were unable to accept the idea of bizarre coincidences or odd logic to a romantic story. However, my initial response to a screening of this film last year left me somewhat conflicted. So confused was my response to 3 Hearts that it has taken me this long to comment on the strange film. It took another four viewings before I was able to clearly sort through my own issues with the film. One thing remained solidly in my mind from the first screening, this is a Benoit Jacquot movie. In fact, this might be Jacquot at his most unfettered. One should expect cinematic aspects that are both deeply complex and opposingly simple. The filmmaker is creating more than just a love story, he is playing with cinematic sensibilities without turning away from the illogic of the human condition.

A family of beautiful but strikingly different women lay at the center of this tightly-structured universe... Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

A family of beautiful but strikingly different women lay at the center of this tightly-structured universe…
Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

“3 Hearts” is an overtly romantic tale lensed as if it were aiming to be a psychological thriller. Bruno Coulais’ ominous musical score is an over-powering ode to Hans Zimmer’s effective score for “Inception.” Coulais’ musical score acts as a prominent character in this film. As the various production companies logos take form on the screen and the credits begin on black title cards, the almost apocalyptic warning of music starts to churn. The viewers are immediately placed off-balance with what is shown through Julien Hirsch’s cinematography.

The plot is challenging when compared to the mundane realities of life. Or is it? Many critics have complained that the “set-up” is unbelievable from the two beautiful female characters being almost obsessive in their shared love of one rather plain looking middle-aged man. This man works as a  Tax Accountant played by Benoit Poelvoorde. Poelvoorde is best known to US audiences for his unforgettable turn as Ben in the low-budget Cult Film, Man Bites Dog. Certainly far from conventionally handsome, Poelvoorde has never been a gym-perfected, surgically enhanced leading man. He looks his age. Carries a bit of paunch yet manages to retain a bit of his gangley-charm. In 3 Hearts, he moves about in an almost constant state of worry.  Perpetually stressed, Poelvoorde’s Marc is a bit of sweaty mess. Yet even as he fights through his panic attacks or possibly more serious heart condition, he puts forth a considerable amount of masculine charm.

Two incredibly close-knit sisters find their relationship unravel... Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Two incredibly close-knit sisters find their relationship unravel…
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Several highly respected critics questioned why characters played by the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg or Chiara Mastroianni would fall so hard for Poelvoorde’s nervous, goofy face and often comical physicality. This criticism in of itself is problematic. First and foremost, Charlotte Gainsbourg’s sexual allure and beauty are already on the wilder side of populist ideas regarding female beauty. Without question she is someone the camera loves, it is impossible to not note that she carries a good deal of androgyny. She is closer to a middle-aged Patti Smith than normal notions of cinematic beauty. This is not a bad thing. Actually, it has assisted Ms. Gainsbourg ascend to a level of cinematic success that many would have thought impossible. Typically drawn to transgressive characters, Gainsbourg has never been shy about playing out the darker corners of sexual or erotic psychology. In addition to being a highly skilled actor, she has no fear when it comes to what and how she plays a role. But like Benoit Poelvoorde, she barely fits into the idea of conventional beauty. More “hot” and “erotically-charged” than beautiful, Gainsbourg has a strong level of power on screen tinged with a little girl’s voice.

Is anyone in there? Charlotte Gainsbourg 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Is anyone in there?
Charlotte Gainsbourg
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Chiara Mastroianni may be the real-life daughter of Catherine Deneuve and the late Marcello Mastroianni, but she has actually inherited very little of the angelic beauty of her mother or the carnal eroticism of her father. That being stated, anyone can see she is their daughter. Unlike her parents, Chiara Mastroianni has never give the impression that she was too worried about “beauty.” This is a serious actor who is not only highly skilled at what she does, she is intelligent in the way she approaches her roles. Like Gainsbourg, she is clearly comfortable with nudity and sexuality. However, I’ve never seen Ms. Mastroianni aim for provocation or even eroticism. This is an actress who plays it legit. Like her parents, she is blessed with a great deal of on-screen presence. As she has moved into her early 40’s, she brings forth a confidence that fully embraces her facial lines and moles. Certainly a beauty, she does not fit easily into the current mode of cinematic conventional beauty.

Realistic Cinematic Beauty  Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Realistic Cinematic Beauty
Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

This of course if also why these two women stand out in the world of International Film: They do not conform to the hopelessly pathetic ideas of populist beauty. By refusing to even attempt to conform,  they define the rules of their careers. Their beauty is of more natural origin, but both bring an oddly grounded level of attractiveness to the table. From this perspective, it is reasonable to state that all 3 characters (our 3 Hearts) are a cinematic idea of normal/real looking actors. Even if we should accept the assertion that these two women would never turn their head in Benoit Poelvoorde, there is something important to note:

We human beings are a complicated bunch. We make illogical choices all of the time.

Benoit Poelvoorde  3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Benoit Poelvoorde
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

And we often fall for people that may not be the “obvious” choice. In reality, we are drawn to love by far more than just looks. Peolvoorde’s “Marc” is likable, charming as well as being more than a little lost and complicated. These characteristics are pure cat-nip coming from any sex that can often become an object of desire or obsession to another.

The story is of an unhealthy man who is either dealing with heart problems or severe anxiety. He misses his train back to Paris and accidentally meets Gainsbourg’s  “Sylvie” with whom he shares an almost instant attraction. Played with her typical grace and androgynously erotic charisma, the two spend the entire night talking. Somehow they fail to exchange the basic information of names, phone number and other essentials. But they make a date for later in the week. As they have no info about each other, circumstances prevent the date from being kept. Sylvie assumes she has been stood up and follows her life-partner for whom she seems to have little to no real love to live in the US.

Charlotte Gainsbourg and  Benoît Poelvoorde 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Charlotte Gainsbourg and Benoît Poelvoorde
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Soon Marc crosses paths with the plainer but more grounded, Mastroianni’s “Sophie.” This is a softer and more needy woman. Marc falls for her immediately and she quickly returns the attraction. Marc’s heart issues and panic attacks subside. It is only as they near their wedding date that Marc realizes that Sophie is Sylvie’s sister. Another plot point that seems to defy logic. There is some merit to this claim, but as the film reaches its conclusion — this plot device actually makes sense. Jacquot has stated that he employs a cinematic idea first outlined by Alfred Hitchcock in which love and scenes of love are filmed and approached like scenes of suspense. Enter the use of Bruno Coulais’ intense musical score. The film is exceptionally paced. As the romance, sexual obsessions and desperate heart-aches churn, the film’s music never lets up. A constant gush of swelling worry indicating that serious danger looms over all three characters.

Catherine Deneuve plays the sisters’ mother. She is not given much to do, but what she is given she does brilliantly. Deneuve, much like Isabelle Huppert, can say more with a glance than most actors can do with an entire page of dialogue. This is a skilled gift Deneuve has gained over almost five decades in front of the camera. Always blessed with movie star charisma and presence, over the last three decades she has become one of the most respected film actors in history. In 3 Hearts, the character of the mother serves as a sort of calming logic as well as the sole character who seems to gain insight into the dangers as they begin to unfold and upend her daughters’ happiness. When the ramifications of these dangers are revealed, it is at once dire and expected.

Is domestic bliss enough? Benoît Poelvoorde and  Chiara Mastroianni 3 Hearts Benoît Jacquot, 2014 Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

Is domestic bliss enough?
Benoît Poelvoorde and Chiara Mastroianni
3 Hearts
Benoît Jacquot, 2014
Cinematography | Julien Hirsch

I’ve spent some time with this film because I have felt torn regarding my opinion. I’ve reached the conclusion that my “need” to watch it more than a couple of times indicates that something within the film’s universe fascinates me. And while there is a great deal of reality at play, this film creates a very tightly constructed universe unique to itself. As both Sylvie and Sophie offer to their Marc, they are living in small country France. These comments seem to carry more meaning than simply the provincial. This is a different sort of world within which these owners of three hearts are operating. As Marc slips in his chair and his head drops in a mix of despair and pain, the musical thunder delivers us to a perplexing and somewhat confusing scene. A scene that calls the cinematic perspective into question. Like the three characters, we are left disoriented and oddly enchanted.

3 Hearts and Keep It Quiet may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Like all of this director’s films, these two fall into many of the almost hopelessly stereotypical French Cinematic Style. But I do find it difficult to believe that an Art House Film Lover will find it easy to fully dismiss or forget either of these films. There is something to be said about Benoit Jacquot’s presentation of simple choices, illogic and accidents propelling characters into a dire fates that packs more than a few punches.

Even a historical fictionalization costume dram offers a realistic depiction of humanity... Diane Kruger as a real and very complicated Marie Antoinette Farewell, My Queen Benoît Jacquot, 2012 Cinematography | Romain Winding

Even a historical fictionalization costume dram offers a realistic depiction of humanity…
Diane Kruger as a real and very complicated Marie Antoinette
Farewell, My Queen
Benoît Jacquot, 2012
Cinematography | Romain Winding

Cinematic and odd. And ultimately Jacquot gives us an ambiguous twists. Is true happiness only a thing of dreams, chance or fate? Benoit Jacquot never fails to offer amazing insights and surprisingly strong performances.

When I hear or read “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” I want to curl myself into a cataclysmic ball of rage and explode. No. The horrors and challenges in life that do not kill you do not really make you stronger. In reality they make you cynical, confused, damaged and tired. When discussing the survival of child abuse trauma we enter a whole new realm of fresh Hell.

Jean-Luc Godard Editing "Weekend" Paris, 1967 Photographer | Unknown to me

Jean-Luc Godard
Editing “Weekend”
Paris, 1967
Photographer | Unknown to me

For me this saga continues. It isn’t like I’m not fighting like hell to resolve it. But as I’m so tired of hearing: “There is no time limit on these things.” or “Let’s just take it day by day and further develop coping skills” or worse yet, “But you are getting better!” But I push onward and forward as best I can. I don’t know, maybe I am stronger because of what I endured or survived. However, I can’t help but thing I’d be more effective had I not had to survive such things. I suspect I’d still be strong. Who knows? It is hardly worth considering. As much as I hate this phrase, it does hold true: “It is what it is.

And sometimes we just don’t have the ability to change “it.” The “it” just sits on us as we try to understand exactly what “it” needs or wants so that we can be free of the weight. Damage is impossible to avoid. If you are 30 and have not been seriously damaged in one way or another – you are most likely not actually living life. You are probably avoiding it. Sadly, some damage is more significant than other types.

And this brings me to Film Art.

And chaos reigns. Surrealistically, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are working through some of life's cruelest turns. Antichrist Lars von Trier, 2009 Cinematography | Anthony Dod Mantle

And chaos reigns. Surrealistically, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are working through some of life’s cruelest turns.
Antichrist
Lars von Trier, 2009
Cinematography | Anthony Dod Mantle

Much to the bewilderment of my love, my family and my friends — I often find “comfort” in the darkest of film. Steve McQueen’s Shame is especially important to me. As is Christophe Honre’s Ma Mere or Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream or Lars von Trier’s Anitichrist.

These are very bleak and almost apocalyptic movies. Yet, each one seems to offer me a chance to escape into someone else’s personal horrors and remind me that not only am I not alone — but it could be ever so much more worse. These films also offer resonation and catharsis.

Sugar-sweet brain candy cinematic manipulations tend to annoy me. I find no means of escape within them. If one is particularly good, such as Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein — if I’m in the right mood I will love watching it over and over again.

Persona Ingmar Bergman, 1966 Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Persona
Ingmar Bergman, 1966
Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

But if one of those toxic waves crash into me I’d much prefer to watch Ingmar Bergman’s Persona or David Lynch’s Earaserhead. Another couple of films that provide me with escape is Luis Bunuel’s Belle de jour, Robert Altman’s 3 Women and Ki-duk Kim’s Pieta. As well as David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now or Godard’s Weekend. All of these movies project complex ideas and themes that require the mind to focus and think about what is being shown (or often not shown) — therefore, I find a way to temporarily escape my problems.

I jump into the problems and horrors examined in these dark films.

A serial killer roaming through the canals of Venice are the least worries facing Julie Christie as she and her husband face the despair, grief, isolation, guilt and tragedy of loss. Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg, 1973 Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

A serial killer roaming through the canals of Venice are the least worries facing Julie Christie as she and her husband face the despair, grief, isolation, guilt and tragedy of loss.
Don’t Look Now
Nicolas Roeg, 1973
Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

The resonation most likely comes from the one actual gift of survival: The ability to understand. While I do not suffer with Sex Addiction or an inability to connect beyond the sexual, I do feel an understanding and empathy for those who suffer with it. When life teaches one that his/her’s worth is tied to sexuality, it leaves that individual with every limited abilities to connect and encage. If ever mankind is haunted by demons, they are manifestations of Self-Loathing, Isolation and Loneliness. The two characters in Shame roam about a blue-toned Manhattan lost, unsure, impotent and desperate.

"We're not bad people. We just come from a bad place." Michael Fassbender Crushing under the weight of human damages SHAME Steve McQueen, 2011 Cinematography | Sean Bobbitt

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”
Michael Fassbender
Crushing under the weight of human damages
SHAME
Steve McQueen, 2011
Cinematography | Sean Bobbitt

Neither knows how to escape their respective prisons. The actors, Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan do not even need much dialogue. So strong are these talents, they can convey more with a glance, a gesture or most powerfully for Mulligan — in the singing of a song. Mulligan’s deconstruction of the standard, New York, New York, belongs on a pristine shelf of the perfect actor moment.

"If I can make it there..." Carey Mulligan SHAME Steve McQueen, 2011 Cinematography | Sean Bobbitt

“If I can make it there…”
Carey Mulligan
SHAME
Steve McQueen, 2011
Cinematography | Sean Bobbitt

In her hands and voice, the infamous anthem becomes a defeatist glimpse into grief and regret.

In Ki-duk Kim’s dark and angry, Pieta, we are stolen into a world of injustice, cruelty, betrayal and vengeance. Min-so Jo plays “the mother” to Jung-jin Lee’s “son.” Both navigate with minimal use of words. Contrary to what one might expect from the often soap-opreaish work one normally sees these two actors in, here they are both given the freedom to fully explore the veins under the skins of their characters.

Ki-duk Kim’s film is a set-up for both the viewers and the two leading characters. There is nothing holy to be found in this Pieta. The catharsis of vengeance comes with a price that I can only believe is absolute truth. While one might fantasize of extracting vengeance, the reality is far removed from the pleasure we might expect.

Jung-jin Lee opens the door to the parent, Min-so Jo, who abandoned him with a knife at the ready... Pieta Ki-duk Kim, 2012 Cinematography | Young-jik Jo

Jung-jin Lee opens the door to the parent, Min-so Jo, who abandoned him with a knife at the ready…
Pieta
Ki-duk Kim, 2012
Cinematography | Young-jik Jo

Being a survivor, I often find myself imagining what I would do to my attacker if I could and how very happy it would make me. However, being a survivor has also taught me how to examine the tragedy from all sides.

There would be no happiness or pleasure in securing vengeance even if I could. My attacker has long since died. The bitter truth is that we humans are complicated animals. The reality is a child not only needs the love of his parent, he requires it. No matter how cruel a parent might be, there is something in us that needs to be able to love that person who gave us life. And while I have no children, I’m mature enough to know that a parent can feel great love for a child and still manage to deeply harm him/her.

It is a set-up. Despair, Grief & Anger turn to Vengeance.  Min-so Jo Pieta Ki-duk Kim, 2012 Cinematography | Young-jik Jo

It is a set-up. Despair, Grief & Anger turn to Vengeance.
Min-so Jo
Pieta
Ki-duk Kim, 2012
Cinematography | Young-jik Jo

The insanity that drives the parent to such acts in many ways has nothing to do with the love they might feel for the child. It is a tricky proposition to understand and requires a great deal of emotional logic to place this in the appropriate context, but often a victimizing parent is a victim themselves. The strange and very twisted truth is I know my father loved me. I know this to my core. I also know that he damaged me in ways beyond repair. Despite this, when he died I felt no relief. I only felt grief. A grief far deeper than I had ever felt before or since. So much unresolved and so much confusion. As the characters in Pieta secure their “need” for revenge — there is no turning back. They reduce themselves to the level of the victimizer. The “victory” comes at a price too strong to bear.

It is interesting and very telling that I seem to avoid films which tackle the subject of fathers raping, harming and emotionally abusing their sons. Perhaps this is too dark for even me. When I see a film addressing this it rings too close to my own horrors and confusions related to my late father. It is as if I need a bit of distance. These kind of conflicts involving a mother and a son are distanced enough from my life that I’m able to find something to gain.

Perhaps the most confusing film in which I find escape is Christophe Honre’s controversial and often banned film, Ma Mere.

"Wrong isn't what we're about to do. Wrong is wanting to survive it." Ma Mere Christophe Honre, 2004 Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

“Wrong isn’t what we’re about to do. Wrong is wanting to survive it.”
Ma Mere
Christophe Honre, 2004
Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

Very loosely adapted from the infamous and posthumously published George Bataille novel which intended to shock as a way of both societal and cultural commentary — Christophe Honre had something a bit different in mind. Honre is very intellectual filmmaker. He is almost cliched French. He will stubbornly create a grim musical that refuses denial by a culture which seems to hold little value or appreciation of film musicals. He likes to force his hand. With the great Isabelle Huppert as his leading lady, Bataille’s novel is transferred to the modern day Canary Islands. We are expected to already know that this beautiful place has long succumbed itself to serve as both a tourist destination and a location for anything goes morality. Public sex, sex workers and fringe-dwellers litter the beaches and fill the after hours bar-hopping mall where the characters wonder about in the film’s first  act. Honre does not care to focus his attention to that.

"The pleasure only begins the moment the worm is in the fruit." Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel Christophe Honre, 2004 Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

“The pleasure only begins the moment the worm is in the fruit.”
Isabelle Huppert and Louis Garrel
Christophe Honre, 2004
Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

In the film version of Ma Mere, he seeks to tell the very complex, grim and perverse relationship of damaged mother to her damaged son. This is not a sexy movie, but it is very much about sexual experimentation, humiliation and a vexingly profane philosophy that the mother is hellbent on searing into the mind of her barely adult child. Louis Garrel has been raised by his strict Catholic grandmother — a family decision to “protect” him from his depraved parents who have long been exiled to The Canary Islands far from their families. We learn a great deal about the family history in the most casual of ways. Isabelle Huppert’s performance is a below the belt gut punch of realism over what must have appeared as absurd in script form.

Yet as Isabelle Huppert delivers a stream of profane and almost comical ideas, it is never funny. It feels real.

As Garrel’s “son” grapples with his own torn feelings about the loss of his Grandmother and her faith, he is also pulled toward this cruel version of a mother. While he may be technically adult, he is an innocent. He desperately craves the love and acceptance of his mother. He is unable to filter this need.

As she leads him into her confused and brutal world of psychological cruelty, BDSM and most certainly sadomasochistic rituals, the son becomes a sort of pawn with which his mother cannot decide to crush or love.

Victim turned Victimizer Isabelle Huppert and "Friend"  Ma Mere Christophe Honre, 2004 Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

Victim turned Victimizer
Isabelle Huppert and “Friend”
Ma Mere
Christophe Honre, 2004
Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

We learn that her marriage to his father was born of statutory rape. Most likely he himself is the result of this rape. The film goes farther than it needs, but it is clear that the mother’s abuse is a conflicted result of anger, insanity and love.

As I watch these two almost surrealist characters perform their tragic dance, I do feel a worrying reality to it all. And of course this is the point of Ma Mere. We love our mothers. Our mothers love us. It does not mean they are not capable of inflicting cruelty beyond measure. The mother could just as easily be replaced with a father and a daughter for the son. But Mon Pere would be even more controversial and serve the idea of the film in an even more complex way.

Even his early childhood nanny can't seem to stop the son from desperately seeking the love of his mother... Dominique Reymond and Louis Garrel  Ma Mere Christophe Honre, 2004 Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

Even his early childhood nanny can’t seem to stop the son from desperately seeking the love of his mother…
Dominique Reymond and Louis Garrel
Ma Mere
Christophe Honre, 2004
Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

Most importantly, Christophe Honre’s film never seeks to eroticize or celebrate the profane actions of its characters. It also  does not seek to judge them. It doesn’t need to. As Ma Mere grinds into its abrupt and deeply disturbing end, the tragic implications of human damage are clear. Worst yet, they seem to be on-going.

"Maybe now you know desire reduces us to weakness." Isabelle Huppert Ma Mere Christophe Honre, 2004 Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

“Maybe now you know desire reduces us to weakness.”
Isabelle Huppert
Ma Mere
Christophe Honre, 2004
Cinematography | Hélène Louvart

While none of the above is my experience, I relate enough to feel the resonation of the art. It acts as a catharsis. I take a great deal of solace in knowing that I caught and understood what I “survived” soon enough to ensure that the abuse stops here with me. But in an all too clear way, what I survived has not made me stronger. The tragedy of what happened to me follows me constantly. And like the son in Christophe Honre’s tragically forgotten film, the implications seem on-going.

Matt Stanfield, 9.20.2015

An Adam Sandler

As the digital age is allowing anyone with a camera to be a “filmmaker” it is becoming more challenging for true film artists to find ways to get their work seen. This has required many talented filmmakers to pursue the more audience-friendly genres of horror, rom-com and the most dangerous choice of coming of age chronicles.The restrictions of user-friendly movie genres seems not only an unlikely prospect but an impossible option for the filmmaker who emerges from this quiet but revelatory movie. The challenge that Brandon Colvin ran into was a clear way to get the film screened.  Largely by sheer creative will and a year’s worth of fellow filmmaker’s commentary, Sabbatical has finely found its path to audience.

Sabbatical, 2014. A film by Brandon Colvin. Poster Design by Jenni Dickens

Sabbatical, 2014. A film by Brandon Colvin. Poster Design by Jenni Dickens

The plot is deceptively simple: A college professor takes a sabbatical to return to his childhood home less to focus on a new book and far more to provide assistance to his fragile mother who recently suffered a stroke. When he returns his forced to figure out how to “re-connect” not only to his family, former lover and friends but to the very core of his identity.

Robert Longstreet as Ben in  Sabbatical

Robert Longstreet as Ben in Sabbatical

The important cinematic elements here have little to do with the actual “story” but far more within the way Brandon Colvin so brilliantly “tells” it. This challenging aspect of Colvin’s film is what makes it so very important. Not to deny the emotional power the film carries, but this is really more of an intensely effective study in Formalist Film Theory and Philosophy than a movie concerned with narrative. Colvin makes masterful use of Aaron Granat’s exceptional cinematography, set design, colors, pacing and literal perspective to communicate the complexities of universal human challenges. Colvin clearly has a visionary eye, but he has aligned himself with a group of deeply gifted artist. Tony Oswald’s work as the film’s editor is in perfect tandem with the filmmaker’s devotion to presenting emotion, tone and though a pace with true purpose.

Kentucker Audley, Rebecca Koon and Robert Longstreet at dinner. Eric Enstrom's Grace painting looming over their attempt at connection. In Brandon Colvin's Sabbatical.

Kentucker Audley, Rebecca Koon and Robert Longstreet at dinner. Eric Enstrom’s Grace painting looming over their attempt at connection. In Brandon Colvin’s Sabbatical.

Despite his shoestring budget, he has made an extraordinary and masterful work. His cast seems not to only understand the rigid framework in which they most perform but nothing feels labored in performances that often edge close to an almost Avant-Garde minimal approach. Robert Longstreet is one of the most under-valued actors working in film. He is able to convey more with the most casual use of his physicality and tone of voice better than most of the highly regarded film actors of the day. Rebecca Koon, Kentucker Audley and Thomas Jay Ryan are all exceptional in their abilities to fit into Colvin’s vision with ease. But it is Rhoda Griffis who is given the most challenging role as Ben’s former lover. Like Longstreet she has the presence and charisma of movie star. Most importantly, she finds a way to firmly establish her character who functions not only as our protagonist’s erotic desire, but also the only person he encounters who is actually trying to connect with him. She becomes a sort of Existential Mirror for Ben.

Rhoda Griffis, Kentucker Audley and the amazing Robert Longstreet in Sabbatical.

Rhoda Griffis, Kentucker Audley and the amazing Robert Longstreet in Sabbatical.

In one of the film’s most important scenes, Griffis reads a bit of Ben’s writing aloud. It is as much the manner in which she uses her voice with a weary sort of challenge as it is the content of the writing that we know she sees through Ben’s Kierkegaard/Nietzschean posing. But,that does not change the fact that Colvin has crafted a film the cinephiles and philosophy lovers will savor from beginning to end. While SABBATICAL is clearly a cinematically referential film — every one from Bresson and Bergman to the more obscure stylings of Jost and Hollis Frampton immediately came to my mind — It is crucial to point out that Brandon Colvin is not mimicking, stealing or even borrowing from these great artists’ work. The concept of the other artists’ work serves merely as jumping point to create a stylistic exploration that is completely unique. And, the though provoking use of the word, “sabbatical” consistently caused the viewer to re-evaluate what it really means. Is Ben’s return a break to grow? To focus on work? To help his mother? To reconnect to his past? Or, is this a sort of cease? And, if this is a ceasing — is it achieving identity-related conclusion. Or is Ben actually stopping? If so, what does that imply?

Rebecca Koon as Elizabeth in Sabbatical

Rebecca Koon as Elizabeth in Sabbatical

There is no hand-holding for the audience here. This is a challenging film art. It thrills me to discover an American Independent Filmmaker who is not only talented enough but brave enough to create a film like SABBATICAL. We don’t often have the objectivity and ability to fully evaluate the future impact of a movie. But I am fairly certain that Brandon Colvin has made a film the comes as close to being a cinematic masterpiece. The last times I can remember feeling I was seeing a movie this unique was when I snuck into a screening of RAGING BULL and a few years later accidentally stepped into a screening of BLUE VELVET. This film has no connection to those two iconic movies other than it carries just as much innovation and unsettling power in surprising new ways.

Thomas Jay Ryan and Robert Longstreet as two friends uncomfortably re-connect in Sabbatical

Thomas Jay Ryan and Robert Longstreet as two friends uncomfortably re-connect in Sabbatical

All the more impressive, Brando Colvin achieves with a micro budget and within 72 minutes what very few filmmakers manage even with $400,000,000, 3 hours and our culture’s bland A List movie stars. As SABBATICAL reaches conclusion, the potency of what has been so artistically presented comes to the audience like breath of new air. A few hours later, I realized that Colvin had managed to do more the deliver a potent movie — he had gut-punched me so quickly that I didn’t  feel the pain until a few hours later. SABBATICAL is a film so clever and intelligent it demands your attention. Unforgettable.

Robert Longstreet in Brandon Colvin's Sabbatical

Robert Longstreet in Brandon Colvin’s Sabbatical

For more insight, and viewing options please follow the link below.

http://sabbatical-mossgarden.com