Art House

My Home Has No Heart: Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World”

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the end of the worldA ball bearing drops onto its track, the little sphere rolling smoothly held between metal wires, its path never too crooked, never uneven, never too wide or narrow. Marbles need support, but otherwise, they seem like little else but totems used to set things off in motion, as the grander design of the path reveals the intricate workings of something like a Rube Goldberg Machine. For me, it was a letter, or an invoice, rather, that arrived a year after my father’s death and a few weeks after my first semester in college, on Christmas Eve. Seated in the living room, before the enormous television that acted as the only string that could keep my mother, my sister, and me together in any semblance. The string between the three of us had been taut since his death – a combination of emotional abuse, physical abuse, pathological lying, betrayal, and manipulation had been the things to cause the relationships to unravel without control. I avoided leaving my room whenever I was home, lest any threads deteriorate beyond fixing. But, as always, returning home sent me into a fury and depression. My skin crawled when I knew I had to be at home. My mother and I were rarely not at each other’s throats, a simple question to either of us (“What do you want for dinner?”) enough to send us down a spiraling, dizzying path to a shouting match. This letter was the catalyst, the climax taking place the next morning when my sister placed her hands around my throat and, in an effort to get her off of me, I smashed a coffee cup on her head. Merry Christmas to us.

Being in the midst of an argument with a loved one, a family member especially, is like seeing red. Everything disappears – your sense of space, time, the language you use. They’re either volcanic eruptions, building up, or when a flame touches the sulfur tip of a match: an overwhelming burst, a spectacle.

If Xavier Dolan knows anything, he knows that he likes spectacle. His most recent film, It’s Only the End of the World, returns to family dysfunction on a slightly larger scale; where his previous films concerned two or three characters at most, giving the works a focus and a balance, his newest jumps around between the four family members of Louis, a gay prodigal son returning home after a 12 year absence, with the intent of telling his family that he is dying. He is the ball bearing, the marble, and domino, and yet he is not unaffected by the events that follow his homecoming. He must contend with his younger sister, Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), who always wished to know him; his smothering mother Martine (Nathalie Baye); his petty and volatile older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel); and Antoine’s perceptive and compassionate wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Before long, madness ensues. Read the rest of this entry »

Grace Under Pressure: “Dogville”, Donald Trump, and Catharsis

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The Town of DogvilleThe town of Dogville is filled with Trump voters. Not merely the aspect of their working class status, but their benevolent condescension to the one that doesn’t belong in the town. Their justification for abuse, for prejudice, for causing trauma, for turning a blind eye. Even the intellectual among them makes logical leaps to justify his actions, which seem all the more anti­-intellectual. They are both beholden to a particular system of homemade bureaucracy as well as suspicious of it and anyone else that threatens their way of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Maid to Win: Park Chan-wook’s “The Handmaiden”

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berlin_a_list_handmaiden_-_h_2016Maybe forty minutes into Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), the fingersmith turned personal maid to Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), is forced to cup the groin of Sound Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), with whom she is plotting to con the Japanese/Korean aristocrat out of her money. But Fujiwara, like Sook-hee, is little more than a thief, and, in all honesty, a lousy one. Sook-hee’s dexterity, both literally and figuratively, knows this, and when the two argue about the trajectory of their con, she hurls back, “Stop shoving something so small of yours into my hand.” Read the rest of this entry »

All That Glisters is Not…: Criterion’s Underrepresentation of Female Filmmakers and What That Means for Film Discourse

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With a number printed on each release’s spine as if to represent the growing number of essential cinematic works like an encyclopedia, the Criterion Collection – the  boutique label that releases art house, indie, and classic films on DVD and Blu-ray –  is the essential brand  for cinephiles: bourgeoning, devoted, or anywhere in between. It has rightfully earned its place as a go-to brand for those seeking Important Cinema, previously feted or newly ripe for discovery. Their library bursts at the seams with names like Kurosawa, Altman, Godard, Truffaut, Bay, Ozu, Wenders, Ray, Rohmer, Tati, Demy, Bergman, and von Trier.

Regardless of how impressive and reputable the list of names above is or is not, there is certainly something missing: female directors. Critic, filmmaker, and author of Political Animals: New Feminist Cinema Sophie Mayer took a look through Criterion’s library and concluded that of the 798 films that the label has released, films directed or co-directed by women made up 2.6%, a sum total of 21 films. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Good, Looking Great: Clothing, Power, and Identity in “The Last Laugh” and “The Marriage of Maria Braun”

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(Author’s Note: This was originally written for my German Cinema class.)

In response to a rather myopic comment about a purse, Doug (Rich Sommer) shoots back, “Fashion is not about utility. An accessory is merely a piece of iconography used to express individual identity.” Much about this costuming and construction of identity is discussed in the 2006 adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, but this idea of creating one’s own form of iconography through accessories is exemplary in FW Murnau’s The Last Laugh – where the clothes seem to literally make the man – and in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun – where, in spite of economic strife, the lead exerts her power through clothing. Read the rest of this entry »

“Okay, How About This? I Talk Him Into It”: On Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and Death Proof

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Death Proof Stuntman Mike

It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for Quentin Tarantino’s notoriety for a single thing – as provocateur, as cinephilic filming through a teenaged boy lens, as social commentator through film, as a Baby Mamet — and maybe to do so would be a disservice to his work, and to him as a filmmaker as a whole. Trying to determine his biggest strength’s might be a fool’s errand because they’ve fluctuated from film to film: while his work has been arguably consistent in its quality, the things that stand out, discomfort, inspire has ranged the gamut from his filmmaking craft to his ability to bring postmodernity to mainstream audiences, from his inventive dialogue to his carefully illustrated characters (he’s often highlighted for his female characters).  I’ve looked at his work with admiration, but usually at a distance. This is more on me than it is on him. For all of the feting that Tarantino regularly garners in conversation, I’ve felt at arm’s length with his work less in an experiential way and more post-experience; in the midst of conversation with peers, there’s something jarring to me about the way certain people talk about him, at least in my experience. A fanboyishness, if you will, and a willful desire to not recognize flaws within his work. Read the rest of this entry »