Thursday, October 11, 2007

NYFF: I'm Not There and Persepolis

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+
*

33 comments:

Catherine said...

I'm Not There - how was David Cross as Allen Ginsburg? I love love love him as Tobias Funke, but the idea of him playing Ginsburg kind of makes me feel odd.

Eric said...

3 Questions for Nat!!!

1. Just how good is Blanchett, Bale and Ledger in this… given your retrospect? Are any of them in the running for FB awards?

2. Wait Ledger has a nude scene! A sex scene? And are we talking him showing both back and frontal nudity? Seriousley, details! ☺

3. I’m curious, what’s your all time favorite performance in a Haynes picture?

NATHANIEL R said...

catherine my basic feeling about David Cross is that he's a comic personality rather than an 'actor' per se if that answers your question. But I do think he's funny.

eric
1. i'd have to think about it some more. currently i'm only gaga for Gainsborough though everybody is quite good save Gere (but not really his fault that the role is such a dud)

2. wait we already covered this in the shallow post. it's not a sex scene but it's the birthday suit ;)

3. that'd be Julianne Moore in [safe] or Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven or Julian... oh, ok. we're done. (but after the twin Julies, some mixture of the FFH and VG ensembles. Don't make me choose!

J.D. said...

I seem to be the only person who pre-cares more about Persepolis, and I'm alright with that. What would you say are it's Foreign Language Film chances? It's just can't stop intriguing me.

NATHANIEL R said...

my basic feeling on Persepolis and Oscar is that it all depends on what the animation branch wants to say with their nominations. If they're just about industry back-patting (as many awards ceremonies are) than they'll snub it. If they want to recognize that there's more to animation than $200 million grosses, happy meal tie-ins and CG than it's an easy shortlister.

Nicole said...

Sounds like your review of I'm Not There is more of a B- or C+ than a B.

When does Persepolis come out in the States? I'll probably wait for DVD anyway. I find award worthy films much more enjoyable after the awards season is over with. I guess I'm weird like that.

Rural Juror said...

I'm excited for Persepolis...really excited.

Anderson said...

I was totally amazed at the quality of I'M NOT THERE. The press conference scence with Blanchett is spectacular - and even though the 'Richard Gere as a bum' segment is the weakest of all, I didn't think it destroys the film as some critics have put it. And what was that scene with the Beatles???? Great!

I think more and more, we see that Haynes' greatest theme as an artist is the fragmented quality of our identities in the so-called postmodern world (as seen in SAFE, FFH and now I'M NOT THERE).

Anonymous said...

So any Oscar chances for Cate in this role, since TGA is getting such shitty reviews?

Ethan

KEVIN M. said...

Nat-- I'm so happy to hear your love for Charlotte G. She blew me away when I saw the movie, too. Her and MCF both really rocked me. I dare say I enjoyed the the experience as a whole a fair bit more than you did (except, surprisingly, for Blanchett), but again... Thanks for praising Charlotte. I'm glad I'm not alone on this.

Adam Luis said...

I don't want to jinx anything, but I highly doubt the animation branch is going to want to honor the Shrek franchise again, especially after the lukewarm-to-negative critical reception it recieved. When given viable options, they have passed over the big blockbusters before. I think Persepolis is in - I definately see it being put at #1 on ballots far more than either Shrek or The Simpsons Movie (they have yet to nominated a TV adaptation).

In foreign language film, it really all depends on whether or not it makes the longlist. If it does, I think the buzz would force the committee to put it on the shortlist.

- Adam

Kamikaze Camel said...

Well they did nominate The Triplets of Belleville when I'm sure there plenty of bigger CGI efforts they could have chosen instead.

I think Ratatouille will easily win, but the next two spots are still quite open. Who knows if Jerry Seinfeld's comedy will reach to kids animation, or if they'll go with The Simpsons Movie or, despite disappointing box office, even something like Surf's Up. Or, of course, there is the elephant in the room - Shrek the Third but I didn't predict it in March and I ain't predicting it now.

NATHANIEL R said...

Ethan --yes, Cate looks good for a win. It's everything Oscar loves plus it'll be a way they can honor the film that they might want to even if it's too weird for other honors

AR said...

Only recently heard about Persepolis. I loved both books and would love seeing them translated to film.

I've been looking forward to I'm Not There for a while, and it sounds more or less like I imagine. High concept either connects or doesn't, and I do sometimes find Haynes's work cold, though always visually and intellectually stimulating.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Apparently [safe] is too painful to watch twice. That's so strange.

Anonymous said...

Questions, questions...

So does it look like Charlotte Gainsbourg is on her way to a Film Bitch nomination? BTW I think it's time for a Film Bitch Awards update seeing as you're beginning to see the prestige fare. Will TGA manage a few tech nods? Is Julie Christie still in the running for Best Actress?

So, back to I'm Not There, does Michelle Williams play a version of Edie Sedgewick and Julianne Moore play a version of Joan Baez??? Is that what's going on?

hey said...

what about Julianne Moore's performance???

NATHANIEL R said...

glenn -that is funny because I've seen [safe] four or five times

NATHANIEL R said...

anonymous --yes, julianne is the joan baez character.

i'm very unschooled on dylan though so i'm not sure about michelle...

chase said...

I was just curious if you have got a sneak preview at the soundtrack yet. I'm really excited about the bands on it covering Dylan songs (Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Sufjan Stevens , Yo La Tengo, Jeff Tweedy, and John Doe). I'm a huge fan of Dylan's music, but I get worried with covers so I just wanted to see if you have heard it at all? It sounds impressive judging by the lineup.

NATHANIEL R said...

i haven't heard it no. i would like to though.

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rachel said...

Glad to see there are some Charlotte Gainsborough fans out there. That girl is fantastic! And apparantly multitalented: I just read something on Juli B that said she's going to be editing the december issue of French Vogue:
http://julib.com/paris/octoberpicks100907PA_email.html

adam k. said...

Apparently, the film is much more moving and makes much more sense if you're a big fan of Dylan. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, but it is. So I do think Haynes knew what he was doing, and did it well. It's just more of a treat for Dylan fans.