Post(s) tagged with "2010"

Ryan Gosling talks about the film BLUE VALENTINE at the 2010 AFI Fest Presented by Audi.

From the Archives: Odile’s Raw Deal, Aronofsky’s Triumph

Originally posted November 8, 2010 by Debra Levine

Seconds into Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller BLACK SWAN, the hyperkinetic camera zooms in on a pink pointe shoe. A woman is dancing, but we don’t see her. We see only the impeccable chop-chop of her shoe. It’s a smart directorial move. Cinephiles are primed for a good time, but dance lovers’ hearts may sink.

With BLACK SWAN, the Harvard-educated Aronofsky ascends the ladder of high art, a change in direction from his prior, obdurately blue-collar outings: the wildly successful THE WRESTLER, and the druggy and disturbing REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Building on the framework of the 19th-century ballet masterpiece “Swan Lake” and painting it with a high-tech gloss, Aronofsky examines no less profound a subject than the dual nature of women. In the process, he resuscitates that most spurned of Hollywood genres, the woman’s film.

The pointe-shoe sequence serves a double purpose. It lures the much-desired male demographic, which may have been dragged to the theater. But by disassociating the foot from its body, Aronofsky signals his defiance of conventional dance-cinematography wisdom: that the medium shot makes for the most felicitous marriage of dance and film. (Decades of experimentation by the likes of Michael Powell, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Jack Cole have proved that the body in full view renders choreography coherent.) Disembodied arms, legs, torsos, and heads–often filmed in close-up–make BLACK SWAN perhaps not a great dance movie, but a visually powerful tour-de-force.

BLACK SWAN tells the story of Nina (Portman), a young dancer who craves ballet’s great dual role played by one woman, Odette/Odile. Nina, we are told, is a natural white swan, not because her dancing is particularly lyrical or ethereal, but because she’s still a girl–a virgin. Stuffed animals decorate her pink bedroom in the claustrophobic apartment she shares with her overbearing mother, a failed ballerina (Barbara Hershey). Her coach, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, who steals a woman’s movie from four women) sternly warns Nina that to truly understand and therefore properly dance the black swan role, she’d better fast-track her id.

Repeatedly urged by the demanding Leroy to “Let it go!” (mission impossible considering Odile is classical ballet’s most notoriously demanding role), the browbeaten Nina applies herself assiduously to her own sexual liberation. Toward this end, the plucky Portman submits to a series of edgy and vivid sexual scenes and some fantasy sequences, with characteristic courage.

BLACK SWAN tells the story of Nina (Portman), a young dancer who craves ballet’s great dual role played by one woman, Odette/Odile. Nina, we are told, is a natural white swan, not because her dancing is particularly lyrical or ethereal, but because she’s still a girl–a virgin. Stuffed animals decorate her pink bedroom in the claustrophobic apartment she shares with her overbearing mother, a failed ballerina (Barbara Hershey). Her coach, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, who steals a woman’s movie from four women) sternly warns Nina that to truly understand and therefore properly dance the black swan role, she’d better fast-track her id.

Winona Ryder–one of the most vivacious actresses of her generation–appears first in a marvelous snippet, lasting only seconds, that would make Joan Crawford proud. She rips up her dressing room, then strides by the younger Nina barking “What!?” Ryder’s pitch-perfect delivery of this one word leaves us wanting more, but soon she’s tied down in a hospital bed, black and blue and going mad. Another fresh and compelling presence is Mila Kunis, playing Lily, Nina’s undermining rival.

Aronofsky and his screenwriters Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin reduce the Petipa/Tchaikovsky classic in key ways, primarily by recasting it as a virgin-vs-whore story. Sex forms the dividing line between the two swans in the film’s view. In the ballet, Odile, the black swan, is aggressive, even sexually so. But she’s also smart, seductive, strategic. Aronofsky hints at this dimensionality similar to the way he led Mickey Rourke to an Oscar nomination by showing the brie-eating side of a really macho guy.

Another way Aronofsky reinterprets his source material is in BLACK SWAN’s denouement. In the ballet, Odette and her lover Siegfried die together, seeking a transcendent place where boy-on-swan love can exist. By contrast, Portman’s Nina bears the film’s staggering conflicts internally, and moves toward her destiny alone. The loneliness of this, and the shattering view of Nina’s broken, thwarted relationships, say much about how society (and romantic love) has changed since 1877 when “Swan Lake” had its debut.

BLACK SWAN bourrées into the ether at a moment of particular vulnerability in the dance world. With each generation further removed from the aristocratic conventions of 19th-century European classicism, troupes are scrambling to maintain relevance–-and funding. The teenagers who fill the ranks of “Swan Lake”’s corps de ballet wouldn’t know a peasant from a pheasant, let alone a swan.

With BLACK SWAN, AFIFEST features its second significant ballet-themed movie in as many years. Frederick Wiseman’s LA DANSE, last year’s entry about Paris Opera Ballet, shimmered with the 80-year-old documentarian’s love of the art form and his singled-minded, artful replay of his continuing theme: how people collaborate in their work.

Aronofsky’s brief is different. Like Wiseman, he approaches the cloistered world of classical ballet as though it were a foreign culture to explore. He washes “Swan Lake” through a revisionist reading and gives it a wild cinematic ride. This fascinating contrast–two strong directors, two genres, two generations–puts the AFI audience on the road to deeper appreciation of a great art form.

Debra Levine writes about dance for the Los Angeles Times. She blogs on dance and film on The Huffington Post and on arts•meme.

TUB - A Short Film from Bobby Miller on Vimeo.

Check out TUB which played as part of our Shorts Program at the 2010 AFI FEST presented by Audi.

From the Archives: Forks in the Road

Originally posted November 7, 2010 by Veronika Ferdman

THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER is a film of firsts; kisses, heartbreaks, flirtations and nighttime swimming sessions with crushes. All these events occur the weekend before the start of school. High schoolers as well as incoming college freshmen (and one character in his later college years) get together at a number of assorted sleepovers; a panoply of characters with intertwining storylines, close in spirit to the storytelling of DAZED AND CONFUSED.

A film so teeming with first times could only have been made by a first-time filmmaker (writer/director David Robert Mitchell), still close enough in age to his characters to approach the subject of youth without sarcasm or easy reductive stereotypes of nerds, sluts and jocks, but with sensitivity and understanding.

The twenty-four hours or so during which this film takes place is not concerned with capturing the moment of their lives, but a series of moments. A sequence of medium shots: two boys sit on a porch, Rob (Marlon Morton) regaling his friend with a story about a beautiful girl he saw in the supermarket, while not twenty feet away two girls talk in the grass. One of them notices that there are mosquitoes and suggests that the boys light the bug-repellent candle. When Rob remarks that he doesn’t have a lighter she gets up and walks over. In sharp cut to a close-up she hands him a lighter; their two hands millimeters apart at the trade off of the object, the film then immediately cutting back to its previous visual scope.

It’s a simple gesture, yet one riddled with meaning and importance. The girl likes Rob, and the passing of the lighter from her hand to his is a moment of contact. A calculated moment where she gets to appear cool in coming to his aide; a motion that lasts a few seconds, but bears the gravity of a myriad of hopes and desires. Mitchell builds an entire film out of such moments, always aware of their import and how the instances and gestures that fill the screen are the drops that accumulate and build a life, define a human being. Whether you rush in too fast, or hold off on that first kiss with the boy you’ve liked all summer for just a while longer; that matters, that counts. One choice provokes another.

The twenty-four hours or so during which this film takes place is not concerned with capturing the moment of their lives, but a series of moments. A sequence of medium shots: two boys sit on a porch, Rob (Marlon Morton) regaling his friend with a story about a beautiful girl he saw in the supermarket, while not twenty feet away two girls talk in the grass. One of them notices that there are mosquitoes and suggests that the boys light the bug-repellent candle. When Rob remarks that he doesn’t have a lighter she gets up and walks over. In sharp cut to a close-up she hands him a lighter; their two hands millimeters apart at the trade off of the object, the film then immediately cutting back to its previous visual scope.

James Laxton’s camera captures journeys; bike rides against a darkening sky and in the pouring rain of night, car trips in darkness lit up by city lights, walks in the bright of day and the velvet night. The camera lingers on these pilgrimages of youth, capturing them in all their beauty and mystery; the end of the journey leading to newfound places and experiences, unknown treasures to be lost and found. A film like warm summer rain and a dawning sky; no one and nothing yet irredeemable, the sweetness of a lifetime of possibilities and journeys still in the air.

Veronika Ferdman is a contributor to The House Next Door and MUBI.

David Lynch answers your Twitter questions during AFI FEST 2010 presented by Audi.

To celebrate it’s DVD release, you can watch the first 11 minutes of NORWEGIAN NINJA which played as part of our Midnight section in 2010! 

(via Twitch Film)

From the Archives: The Power of Place

 

Originally posted on November 7, 2010 by Katie Datko

The San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles create more than just a physical boundary between the vast urban megalopolis and the windswept desert. Their sharp 9,000 foot peaks embrace a rugged wilderness that almost seems to cushion the Antelope Valley from the frenetic city. Small towns such as Littlerock dot the landscape, specks along the Pear Blossom Highway running parallel to the mountains, so much so that visitors are often mere passersby en route to other places (such as a few parks or winter ski slopes).

LITTLEROCK, the second feature film from CalArts grad Mike Ott, however, forces the viewer off the road. An opening shot of the San Gabriels with a voiceover of a Japanese woman humming above the drone of a bus engine imbues the scene with an almost ethereal quality; the mountains becoming something intangible, unfathomable. With a cut to a black title sequence and a close-up of the young woman, there is no other choice but to stop, to step into the dusty world beyond the asphalt. There is a strong sense of dislocation, particularly when we see the main character, Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) and her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) stranded at the bus stop after their car breaks down; the first line of dialogue (in Japanese): “Is this the right place?” In fact, add a couple of prefixes to the word “location” and it’s easy to get a sense of what LITTLEROCK is about: dislocation and relocation, both the physical and psychological spaces the characters inhabit.

Several Littlerock natives befriend Atsuko and Rintaro, most notably an awkward and blundering townie, Cory (Cory Zacharia). Cory may seem like the quintessential geek who is picked on by others. But as the narrative unfolds, we see that Cory is also a victim of place. He’s a dreamer, hoping to make it in Los Angeles, which although a mere 65 miles away, is in fact worlds apart from his small town reality. It’s almost as if the mountains are a shield keeping him confined to Littlerock. Ott’s camerawork captures this brilliantly with his judicious use of mid-shots and close-ups, it’s easy to see how Littlerock frames and restricts the characters.

When their car is fixed, Atsuko–who has fallen hard for both Littlerock and Jordan (Brett L. Tinnes), one of Cory’s friends–stays behind. Through the coming days, Atsuko tries to fit in. But, because she is confined by her inability to understand English, she only skates the surface of town life. Like Cory, she can never truly belong. Both characters are foreigners in the town, a theme which plays out time and time again.Several Littlerock natives befriend Atsuko and Rintaro, most notably an awkward and blundering townie, Cory (Cory Zacharia). Cory may seem like the quintessential geek who is picked on by others. But as the narrative unfolds, we see that Cory is also a victim of place. He’s a dreamer, hoping to make it in Los Angeles, which although a mere 65 miles away, is in fact worlds apart from his small town reality. It’s almost as if the mountains are a shield keeping him confined to Littlerock. Ott’s camerawork captures this brilliantly with his judicious use of mid-shots and close-ups, it’s easy to see how Littlerock frames and restricts the characters.

At this point LITTLEROCK could have rested on indie film clichés–a desert Madame Butterfly with a compelling soundtrack featuring the Seattle-based group The Cave Singers. But Ott deftly leads us in unexpected directions, most notably integrating a subplot about the relocation of ethnic Japanese to Manzanar, a Japanese American internment camp during WWII a few hours drive north of Littlerock. By the end of the film, we have a deeper understanding of the poignant impact place can have on one’s psyche. Littlerock becomes more than just a point on a map.

Q. One of the ideas you have running through your film is limerence (intense romantic attachment). Can you comment on how you came across this concept and why you decided to base your film on it?

A. Limerence, this intense romantic desire and how long it can last, is something I’ve kind of been kind obsessed with for a long time. I like thinking of the idea of limerence not only as a desire for another person, but maybe also for a place, ideology or passion. And, I realized while I was writing LITTLEROCK that Atsuko not only has this feeling of limerence for Jordan, but also has it, in a way, for Littlerock itself–maybe even for America as a whole.

Q. Part of the film is a journey to Manzanar, a subject which is not often tackled in our media. What made you decide to make Manzanar a focus of your film?

A. Well, I’d argue that not only is it not often tackled, but it’s really barely even known about. I was amazed when we were telling people we were going to shoot there, they would say, “What is that?” or “What Japanese internment?” This was coming from people of all ages, especially people under 30, almost like it wasn’t ever discussed in school or it was erased from the history books. And, that’s something I found really interesting–why doesn’t anyone know about this place and what happened there? As we were writing the script, we went to visit Manzanar. Once we saw it firsthand, we knew it had to be in the film. Seeing all the things that took place there was such a moving experience.

Q. You worked with Atsuko Okatsuka and Carl McLaughlin on your script. What are your thoughts on the collaboration process?

A. This was honestly the best artistic experience I’ve ever had–a huge part of that is because it was so collaborative. Filmmaking is all about that for me–finding artists I trust, who are talented and passionate and bringing their ideas and strengths to the project. It was the best part of the process.

Q. My perception of Cory shifted during the film. At first I felt that he was obnoxious but gradually I found that I had a lot of sympathy for him. Was this intentional in your approach to his character?

A. Well so much of the script is based around Cory’s real life story. In real life he actually lives five minutes away from Littlerock. He grew up and still lives on welfare and he’s always had dreams of becoming a model and an actor. However, Cory is a very unconventional leading character for a film, and I knew that going into it. He’s not your typical misunderstood guy who is “so great but no one realizes it.” Cory as a character is flawed, at times ignorant and self-centered.

In a way, it’s a big risk, because Cory is such a huge part of the film and has such a presence that if you find him completely annoying, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else in the movie. Luckily most people share my affinity for him, though. To be honest, I think it’s a real test of the viewer’s character, because if they can’t find sympathy for Cory by the end of the film, then I think they must be pretty heartless.

Q. Your film has a great sense of place. Why did you decide to film in Littlerock?

A. Littlerock is just such a bizarre town. It’s a place I passed through from time to time growing up, and I was always baffled by it. A friend shot his thesis film there while I was in grad school, and I got the chance to spend some time there and became even more curious about it. But it’s a strange, strange place. I initially thought when working on the script: If this place is weird as an American, what would a foreigner think? What would be like to be stuck here? Where would people go? What would they do?

Q. How do you think the lighting you used in different scenes in the film (particularly in the scene when Atsuko first stays at Cory’s house) reflects your own experiences of Littlerock?

A. Littlerock, as a place, was a great experience for me, so when we lit things, it was very intuitive. The interiors, like at Cory’s, were designed after places I had been in Littlerock, so as to give it a sense of realism. I think the lighting that best represented my experiences there is in the beginning, when Atsuko and Rintaro are walking through the field with the sun setting behind the water tower. Something about those colors and imagery encompass my feelings for the place.

Q. LITTLEROCK is part of the AFI FEST Young Americans series. How do you think your generation of filmmakers will propel the film industry forward?

A. I think something interesting is going on right now, this kind of cinema with a blurred line between fiction and non-fiction. There are a lot of elements of that in my film, and in Matt Porterfield’s film PUTTY HILL. I think if our generation can propel things forward, the best thing we would be to actually move backwards–-toward a return to realism, to naturalism, to the Nouvelle Vague. That’s the kind of cinema I like, and something I feel is sorely missing in the film industry. But, I can see a new wave of films with this kind of realism. However, whether it will be acknowledged by the mainstream is another question.

Q. Do you have any other projects you are working on?

A. I have a new script I’m hoping to shoot in February or March of 2011. It’s called TEENAGE WASTELAND, and Cory and Atsuko are both in it. Again, it’s going to be a very region-specific place–this time in Lancaster, California. A huge part of it is written around what Cory is going through right now in his life as well as Atsuko’s experience growing up here. I’m excited about it.

Katie Datko is a writer and essayist.

AARDVARK at Fantastic Fest

Headed to Fantastic Fest this year? Be sure to check out AARDVARK, which screened in 2010 as part of our Young Americans section. And make sure to read this indieWIRE profile of director Kitao Sakurai.

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