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Thursday, July 27, 2006

This week at the SFC: Cache and Barrel Children

Barrel Children 8:00 pm
Hidden (Cache) 8:30 pm

STUDIOFILMCLUB is pleased to be screening the latest film from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke HIDDEN (CACHE). Haneke has written and directed some memorable and terrifying psychological thrillers over the last ten years: FUNNY GAMES, THE PIANO TEACHER, and CODE UNKNOWN amongst them.
HIDDEN (CACHE) has already been touted by some critics as one of the great films of the decade so far...

Barrel Children is the City College New York MFA thesis film by young New York based film maker Cara Weir.

BARREL CHILDREN (Cara Elmslie Weir/2006/USA/26')

Ricardo, Chablie, and Ronnie Belmontes have been living in Trinidad with their Uncle Seeraj while their mother, Maya, works as a nanny in the U.S. in order to support them. Maya has been able to provide more financially for her children than she would have had she stayed in Trinidad, yet her children have grown up without their mother’s physical presence. Apart from a couple of short visits in the last few years, sending barrels full of material goods and talking over the telephone are the family’s predominant means of communication. Barrel Children takes an intimate look at a Trinidadian family who is separated as the result of migration. In the mean time learn that Maya has filed for the children’s visas, and they are anticipating coming to the United States to live with her, after over eleven years of living apart.

HIDDEN (Michael Haneke/Austria,France,Germany,Italy/2005/117')

A stiletto-stab of fear is what Michael Haneke's icily brilliant new film delivers - not scary-movie pseudo-fear, but real fear: intimately horrible, scalp-prickling fear. It is a stalker-nightmare with a shiver of the uncanny and a double-meaning in the title: hidden cameras and hidden guilt. A famous Parisian TV presenter receives menacing, mysterious "surveillance videos" at his home, showing scenes from his private life. How on earth has the stalker filmed these? There is no dramatic musical score, none of the traditional shocks or excitements, just an IV-drip-drip-drip of disquiet leading finally to a convulsion of horror.

Hidden is partly a parable for France's repressed memory of la nuit noire, the night of October 17 1961, when hundreds of Algerian demonstrators in Paris were beaten and killed by the police. As such, it is a cousin to events just 11 years later, dramatised by Steven Spielberg in Munich but utterly without Spielberg's need to find resolution and common ground. Hidden is incomparably darker and harder. It is about the prosperous west's fear and hatred of the Muslim world and those angry pauperised masses once under colonial control, and over whose heads a new imperium is being negotiated in the Middle East and beyond. Haneke is often described as the "conscience" of European cinema: but he is more a Cassandra, announcing a coming catastrophe and fervently imagining its provocation, acting out the cataclysm's tinder-spark. Haneke's vision is as cold and unforgiving as the surface of Pluto.

The bad dream into which Haneke's characters are plunged is scrutinised with forensic clarity and dispassion. The opening scene is one continuous shot of the apartment exterior where celebrity intellectual Georges (Daniel Auteuil) lives with his publisher wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their 12-year-old son, while the opening credits are silently written out from the top left-hand corner until they fill the screen - a classic opening. Then we discover that this is one of the creepy tapes that Georges is being sent, with the cold sheen of high-definition video indistinguishable from the rest of the film that we are watching. Television star Georges is horrified to be observed on a basis quite other than his accustomed, glamorous visibility. More than that, he suspects he knows his tormentor: an Algerian called Majid to whom he did something unspeakable when they were both six years old. The grown-up Majid is now part of the Arab-Muslim underclass whose only chance of being on television is on a surveillance screen. So this is turning the tables. But is Majid sending these videos? Or is there another explanation?

The performances by Auteuil and Binoche as Georges and Anne are superb. When the videos threaten his family and his livelihood, Georges seems chiefly paralysed by the need to carry on as if nothing has disturbed his gilded public life of success. Anne is enraged by his failure to trust her. His mother - an outstanding performance from Annie Girardot - is exasperated also by his dishonesty and evasion, but simply shrugs, having known it for a lifetime. Binoche is utterly convincing as the woman who finds that, in extremis, she doesn't know who her husband is.

Some familiar Haneke tropes are here. The director instigates an interracial shouting match in the street, and the audience feels nerve-janglingly uncomfortable for having already made its emotional investment in the white characters. There is video itself, that ubiquitously available medium which allows us to examine every aspect of our lives in greater detail than ever before. Almost every one of Haneke's shots is held as steady and implacable as a security camera. If there is a Recording Angel up there, noting our moral behaviour, then he is using celestial CCTV.

Most troublingly of all, Haneke shows us vital scenes from the point of view of this blank, affectless video-avenger; he invites us to share his destructive gaze. It is a casual critical truism when talking about voyeurism in the movies - to say that it implicates the viewer. Until now, I have always felt like replying: speak for yourself... Yet this really does implicate you. You feel like you too are participating in this terrible, remorseless destruction.

Hidden is Michael Haneke's masterpiece: a compelling politico-psychological essay about the denial and guilt mixed into the foundations of western prosperity, composed and filmed with remarkable technique.

Last week at the SFC: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

No one posted this last week--so, for the sake of the historical record:

STUDIOFILMCLUB is pleased to be screening the latest release from Korea's Park Chan-Wook. Last year we screened LADY VENGENCE'S predecessor OLDBOY... Please return for more of the same.... revenge

Thursday July 20th

SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGENCE (Park Chan-Wook/ South Korea/ 2005/ 112')

The cinematic flair and narrative surprises that marked Park Chan-Wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Oldboy continue in this third and concluding part of the director's thematically-linked trilogy of revenge. Intense and inventive, the film follows the progress of beautiful, impassive Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-Ase) after she's released from prison having served 13 years for the kidnap and murder of a young boy. Once on the outside, she hooks up with some former cellmates, a preacher who thinks she's an angel, the detective who originally arrested her and the daughter she gave up for adoption, gathering around her all the people needed to carry out an elaborate plan of revenge. Her target is kindergarten teacher Mr. Baek (Oldboy star Choi Min-Shik), while her weapon(s)-of-choice are unexpected and highly personal. This is striking and ghoulishly entertaining stuff, a highwire act poised between horror, tragedy, comedy and exploitation. With the aid of Oldboy Director of Photography Jeong Joeng-Hun, who employs some neat tricks and brings a vibrant beauty to the dark proceedings, Park ensures there's never a dull moment.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This week at SFC: Dave Chapelle's Block Party

Thursday 13th July

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Film makers, film students, amateurs... please submit short films for pre-feature screenings.

Feature will commence at 8:15 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm as usual.

Dave Chapelle's Block Party (Michel Gondry/USA/2006/103')

In Dave Chappelle's Block Party, much of which unfolds over a single rainy day and night, Mr. Chappelle looks and sounds alternately ebullient and weary. It is directed by Michel Gondry, the madcap genius behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but in its tone and vibe feels like Mr. Chappelle's all the way. The setup is blissfully simple: a free block party on a dead-end street in Bed-Stuy with a lineup of musicians, some of whom, like Kanye West and Mos Def, have put in appearances on Chappelle's Show The nominal idea, the comic explains on camera, was "the concert I've always wanted to see." The result, which ping-pongs between Brooklyn and Mr. Chappelle's hometown in Ohio, is a tantalizing sketch-portrait of the artist amid an outpouring of hard beats and soul.

The film opens with down-home flavor as two men vainly try to jump-start a car in front of a field edged by housing projects. Mr. Chappelle tries to take a look at the engine, only to be ignored by the men (one even waves him away with his hand), who may be distracted by the dead engine or by the sounds of an approaching marching band. Speaking into a megaphone, Mr. Chappelle ticks off the acts that will appear later in the show, the names ballooning across the frame. It's an appealingly daffy sequence, in its absurdism the most Gondry-like moment in the film, and it slyly makes the point that in the context of a real-life problem like a dead car, celebrity means absolutely nothing at all.

For most of the rest of the film, we bounce between preparations for the concert, which includes recruiting a marching band from Ohio's Central State University to play Bed-Stuy, and the event itself. The other featured acts include Dead Prez, who spit out "Turn Off the Radio" as if pounding nails ("you wanna stop terrorists?/ start with the U.S. imperialists"), Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots (with Big Daddy Kane) and, in the film's biggest jolt, a newly reunited Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill and Pras Michel performing a few songs from their incarnation as the Fugees. Making true on his claim that every comic wants to be a musician, Mr. Chappelle also grabs a microphone, taps bongos and, in a lovely digression inside a thrift store, pays homage to one of his heroes, Thelonious Monk.

In its structure, at least, Dave Chappelle's Block Party recalls Mel Stuart's 1973 documentary Wattstax, which intersperses talking-head interviews with highlights from a concert (popularly called the black Woodstock) staged at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a year earlier to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots. The interviews, which include men and women soul-rapping about the black American experience, along with some hilariously trenchant observations from Richard Pryor, work a galvanizing counterpoint to the headliners from Stax Records. One difference between the films is that while Mr. Stuart lets the songs play out to the end, Mr. Gondry rather maddeningly cuts away in the middle of performances, which wreaks havoc on the documentary's rhythms and not in a good way.

The other difference between the films is race. Wattstax ends on a freeze frame of a black fist, an electrifying sign of the times. Outside of the Dead Prez and a cameo by Fred Hampton Jr., the son of the slain Black Panther activist, Dave Chappelle's Block Party appears fairly tame by comparison. It is and it isn't. Race is clearly never far from Mr. Chappelle's mind or, one imagines, that of most everyone else in the film, but neither is the complicating factor of celebrity. Talking to Time magazine, Mr. Chappelle said that "everyone around me says, 'You're a genius!'; 'You're great!'; 'That's your voice!' But I'm not sure that they're right." When someone as big as Mr. Chappelle blows up, the only color some see is green, which is something this enormously gifted man seems intent on correcting.