A film like The Measure of a Man needs the right actor in the leading role, and Vincent Lindon is the right actor. He’s not commanding, but he’s dignified; he’s not emotive, but he’s emotional; he’s not a force of nature, but if he is then he’s a fault line waiting to quake. He’s always just about to boil, “simmering”, maybe, but then again there’s even less violence in his demeanor than there is in a pot of increasingly hot water. Lindon is simply comfortable, at ease and natural in a tie or a T-shirt, genuine as if he’s blissfully unaware of the camera in his face (and in Measure it’s really in his face).
On the other hand Lindon’s character, unemployed factory worker Thierry Taugourdeau, is decidedly uncomfortable. There are very few opportunities for Thierry to just loosely enjoy life in his own body in the manner of the actor portraying him; Thierry can’t afford that. He’s confronted with his financial realities during every waking moment, sometimes explicitly and sometimes during a scene of him dancing with his wife, and Measure presents Thierry during a time in his life when his employment is everything. He’s like a saggy old Augie March in a rotation of labor by necessity instead of by election; instead of working in jobs dictated by his pride, he takes what he can get and usually has to suppress that pride.
Continue reading The Measure of a Man (2015)
The most impressive aspect of Ida, the 2014 EFA champion and Polish Golden Globe nominee from director Pawel Pawlikowski, is without a doubt the stark visual staging and meticulous shot composition. Unlike Andreas Prochaska’s The Dark Valley — another awards season foreign language contender — the visual beauty of Ida meshes seamlessly with the story rather than overwhelming it. Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska plays the young nun-in-training of the film’s title, and her forays from the convent into what some might call “the real world” provide the framework for Ida.
Ida was essentially born into her role in the convent, abandoned as a child and only now old enough to venture out. She’s nearly ready to take her final vows and become a full-fledged nun (“It’s morphin’ time!”) but before she does, she leaves the convent to track down her estranged aunt and get a little taste of the outside world. It’s not long before this Catholic nun discovers a truth about her past: she’s Jewish. This is only the first of many threats to Ida’s identity, one focused squarely in the past and in the present, and the revelation of the love and struggle and verve of the world outside the convent shakes up Ida’s future.
Continue reading Ida (2014)
The script for Lisandro Alsonso’s latest film Jauja is reportedly only 20 pages long. Though I haven’t actually read it, that short length wouldn’t surprise me after last night’s NYFF screening. Starring Viggo Mortensen as a Danish military man stranded in a nameless South American desert, Jauja certainly isn’t your typical Main Slate festival offering. If anything, the film walks the tightrope between historical epic and surreal experiment, providing plenty of opportunity for reflection along the way. Unfortunately, the fact that the spaces in which we might take time for reflection vastly outweigh the moments that actually demand interpretation proves to be Jauja‘s downfall.
The film opens with a beautiful shot of Viggo’s Captain Dinesen sitting with his daughter, Ingeborg, and right away we get a taste of Alonso’s directorial style without so much as a hint of what may betide these characters. Mortensen, the only recognizable face in Jauja (or in any of Alonso’s films), is facing away from the camera for the entirety of the motionless opening shot. That’s essentially Jauja in a nutshell: the landscape, the framing, the aesthetic, the emotion generated by the imagery alone – all of this is much more important than the actors, or the characters they play, or the “plot” they partake in.
And make no mistake: Jauja, visually, is stunning. Every shot is carefully composed and lit, and the locations chosen provide Alonso’s camera with enough lush detail for consumption. Many shots seem to stretch on forever, and where most directors would probably work to keep the foreground characters in focus by blurring the backdrop, the reverse is true here. Rocks and clouds and figures far in the distance are as clear as the whiskers on Viggo’s face. Jauja‘s color palate is equally agreeable, and the blue dresses and bright red pants are captured beautifully aside the damp mossy terrain that makes up so much of the film. In this sense, we should admit, the narrative matters less and less.
Continue reading Jauja (2014)