From the 45th Annual New York Film Festival (Sept 28th thru Oct 14th)
I've completed my last scheduled screenings @ the NYFF so now comes the difficult task of sharing the notes (i.e. making sense of my scribblings. It's hard to write in the dark) Where to begin? How about the two films still scampering through me weary brain. Ambitious busy films like these sometimes demand a second viewing. But second viewings will have to wait...
I'm Not There is currently my least favorite Todd Haynes film. This could change. While watching this genius auteur's new film, I finally understood the past criticisms of his work --criticisms I have never shared-- but yes, his movies can play as intellectual thesis rather than, well, movies. I'm Not There's multiple actor gimmick is fascinating to grapple with but it leads inevitably to an uneven and chameleonic experience. Some pieces click into wonderful place and the movie feels like a blissful experimental ride and puzzle, other pieces only interrupt the flow of the game or fit awkwardly or not at all.
As you've heard by now six people are playing fictionalized Bob Dylan surrogates. What you may not have heard is that Bob Dylan himself is never named. Aside from the disembodied vocals, he literally isn't there. I'm still deciding what I think of Ben Whishaw's piece of this Dylan puzzle --he's the only actor outside of the narrative, multilinear though it be. Whishaw only appears in a talking head interviewee way. Marcus Carl Franklin, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett are all quite strong in their own ways but it's their cumulative performance and the movie's own comparably shifting visual identity that interested me. It's difficult to single anyone out.
I understand though why Cate Blanchett is getting the lions share of the praise: Haynes gifts her with the most iconic time period (Dylan gone electric & eccentric), the most screen time, and her section is absolutely the most fun to watch --the director really amps up the humor and cinematic style. Bruce Greenwood provides a great foil, unimpressed or at least confrontational about her persona. Michelle Williams also crops up in the Blanchett portion inhabiting a glam role that's quite the 180 from her Oscar nominated mousy housewife in Brokeback Mountain.
The movie has many pleasures but what Richard Gere is doing in the movie, why he's asked to do it, and why Haynes saved the weakest link of his experimental chain for last (you have to end strong) remains a mystery to me... at least without a second viewing.
I expect that reactions to this film will vary incredibly. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see about six different I'm Not There's emerge in the public discourse surrounding the film when it opens in November. Quite unexpectedly my takeaway was Charlotte Gainsbourg. She plays the French wife of Heath Ledger's actor character (who plays the Christian Bale character in a movie? Get it? No? Well, it's complicated). Every time the picture seemed to be splintering into too many pieces, the highly specific gravity of her demeanor, that sad undertow in her face and her character's steady identity were like a trusty anchor in this choppy sea of mutation.
Haynes current report card from me:
A Far From Heaven, [safe]
A- Velvet Goldmine, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
B+ Poison, Dottie Gets Spanked
B I'm Not There
The other film I'd like to see again --actually right now and I just finished watching it-- is the French animated film Persepolis. It's based on the famous autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi (who co-directed the film version with Vincent Paronnaud). It's a coming of age fable about Marjane, a young Iranian girl who leaves her war torn country for a life abroad and alone. It's also a heartbreaking crash course in Middle Eastern politics. Like the Bob Dylan picture, this one is jam-packed with historical details, politicized identities, and emotional mini-climaxes. It moves at a dizzying speed for its first hour but begins to lose a little steam when Marjane returns to Iran as an adult, after many shifts back and forth from the personal to the political. It's likely to be one of the most talked about pictures this fall and rightly so. Best of all Persepolis is utter bliss to look at with evocative black and white textures and emotionally expressive animation. B+