(Films not released or shown in
These are not films to build a consensus on, but instead may be “out there” to some extent, not like experimental or avant garde, instead reflecting a novelty of style or bold imagination that may not appeal to everyone, but these are films that consistently spoke to me long after I left the theater, as they obviously offered something that I value or find rare in movies today. Some may believe rating Tarsem and Garrel so highly is ludicrous, as many find their films pretentious of the first order, but these films spoke to me in ways others didn’t. I’m not suggesting these films are better, as some took several years to even get here, but this year I had more fun with some of the best movies this year, a rarity for me, usually preferring emotionally devastating dramatic heft. That for me is usually a delightfully cleansing or purifying experience – think listening to Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion, or all of his Preludes and Fugues, Pt’s 1 and 2 from start to finish. However there’s something strangely comforting experiencing the depths of anguish and despair in a movie theater, a kind of parallel universe to one’s real life where we rarely handle ourselves with such grace or eloquence. But I digress, not suggesting that drama has been uprooted, the point being there’s a more playful spirit at work this year. Interesting that so many of these films (7 in the Top Ten) were actually released elsewhere much earlier than this year.
Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste.
I've been around for long, long years I've stolen many a man's soul and faith.
I was around when Jesus Christ had His moments of doubt and pain.
I made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate.
Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name, but what's puzzling you,
is the nature of my game.
2.) THE FALL
Tarsem feels like a distant
relative, perhaps the black sheep, of the Julie Taymor
family, as no one else comes close to capturing such undisputedly bold imagery
in films today. Reminiscent of Orson Welles carrying a visualization
for OTHELLO (1952) in his head for years, filming only when the money was
there, this film was largely financed by several millions of the director’s own
money while shooting in over twenty-five different countries over the course of
four years. To say that this is a
personal project is an understatement, as the sheer look of this film is so
magisterial that one must believe it is timeless. Already two years old, it is hard to fathom
how a film like this runs into difficulty getting distributed as the artistry
involved is nothing less than magnificent.
This is no ordinary story, as the entire globe appears to have been
utilized in some fashion in the making of this highly inventive film, adapted
from an otherwise obscure Bulgarian film YO HO HO
(1981) directed by Zako Keskija,
which has a similar storyline about a developing friendship in a hospital ward
of an injured 10-year old boy with a broken arm and an actor who has suffered a
severe spinal injury, where the hospital staff become participants in an
imagined pirate story that holds the boy captivated, written by Valeri Petrov (storyline
here: full summary, see a review here: Gotterdammerung [Branislav
L. Slantchev]). The director and young actor won awards at
In this adaptation, Lee Pace is Roy Walker, a seriously injured patient who may never walk again, whose hopes are deflated further when the woman he loves walks out on him. Adrift in a meaningless fog, young 5-year old Untaru as Alexandria, herself recovering from a broken arm, accidentally enters his life from a hospital corridor and develops a deep affection for his imaginative adventure stories told in serial installments with a smooth southern drawl that not only delight, but captivate her to the core of her being, which surprisingly involves people around them transformed into a new, phantasmagorical world, much like THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) or something we might find from the mind of Miyazaki, where her very life is at stake in each and every outcome. Roy is the Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler bandit, who with his band of thieves, accompanied by Alexandria herself, has sworn revenge on the evil Governor Odious, the scourge of the planet who hides behind faceless men in armor, as if a time shift has suddenly returned them to the Arabian Nights subject to the mercy and might of the Roman empire. Yet strangely Roy and his men carry single shot firearms along with an archer, an explosives expert, also Charles Darwin sketching the development of monkeys, who seem no match for the multitude of soldiers who at times overwhelm them in staggering numbers alone, sometimes appearing in moving geometric shapes and designs. The less said the better about what actually happens in this movie, as part of the thrill is being carried along for the ride, but mention must be made of Colin Watkinson’s fluid cinematography, Krishna Levy’s unworldly music, which includes Beethoven’s 2nd movement from his 7th Symphony (played by a Bulgarian orchestra), art director Lisa Hart, production designer Ged Clarke, and the stunning costume designs of Eiko Ishioka, as all contribute in the creation of this unusual kaleidoscope of form.
I simply disagree with those that find no dramatic weight to this film, or who are unmoved by this spectacle, as Pace and Untaru work exceptionally well together and are symbiotically interwoven between two worlds, displaying a surprising amount of charm and humor, all leading to a unique climax of sorts that is as heartbreaking as it is breathtaking, where Untaru’s thoughts at the end reach unprecedented heights in what amounts to a mesmerizing monologue that couldn’t be more compelling. One of the delights of experiencing this film is its obvious joy in cinema itself where visual expression defines their interior world, using a variety of techniques all to the film’s advantage, opening in black and white over the opening credits, moving back and forth in time, using actors in multiple, near unrecognizable roles. This becomes a veritable study in storytelling techniques, blending the line between fantasy and reality until they intersect, made even more remarkable by the awesome set designs built on locations around the world, shot in the widest angle possible suggesting futuristic landscape designs, creating imaginary villains that can appear in hordes from out of nowhere, literally extending the limits of the audience’s ability to grasp just what is happening, concealing what the film is even about until the very end, when in a deliriously captivating picture perfect film montage, which could just as easily be a lesson on the origins of cinema, with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and a host of others leading the way, paying homage to all who have come before, there is a flood of recognition and appreciation for the director’s motives, who is truly to be commended for inventing this delightful cinema paradiso. Maybe we know what happens by the end, maybe we don’t, I’m not sure it really matters, as it’s the journey along the way that we’ll remember. This is an extraordinary road movie that takes us around the world through a 5-year old’s imagination, reminding us of the delights of childhood, like waiting impatiently for Santa Claus when we couldn’t wait for the next thing to happen, where every anticipated thought and idea felt like the most important moments in the world. Like the cinematic rhapsodies of Terence Malick or the architectural magnificence of Orson Welles, this film makes us appreciate how cinema can speak to us on such intimate terms, as if we’re the only ones in the room who’ve been invited on this special journey.
3.) MAN ON WIRE
Fathoming the awe inspiring and the unknowable may be one of the fundamental inspirations driving some to defy that which is considered humanly impossible, not only by achieving spectacular accomplishments, but doing so with a dazzling display of artistry and skill, and this film certainly places its finger on the pulse of something that is simply beyond words or description. After seeing this film, I could only wonder how Werner Herzog, the documentarian of madmen and obsessives, missed his opportunity to film Philippe Petit, notorious high wire walker and self-described artiste légendaire, a man who defies all category of description with his death defying performance art, who at age 24 shortly after 7:15 am on August 7, 1974 became the only man in history to attempt his high wire act between the two towers of what was at the time the world’s tallest building, the World Trade Center in New York City (which was still being constructed but nearly completed, giving them an opportunity to slip in unnoticed with huge amounts of equipment, including a balancing pole eight metres long, weighing 55 pounds), at 1368 feet, or nearly a quarter of a mile in the air above the streets of Manhattan, stepping off the South Tower onto a steel cable strung between the top 104th floors of the two towers and leisurely walking the 200 feet distance back and forth between the buildings some 7 or 8 times over the course of his 45-minute performance, occasionally sitting, even lying down on the wire, and finally giving a salute and a smile before he was arrested.
The title of the film comes from a police report description of the event, where Petit not only obliterated commonly held perceptions of what was considered humanly impossible, but he made it look effortless with such extraordinary ease, artistry and grace. A self-taught acrobat, juggler, magician, unicyclist, pickpocket and street performer who loathes the idea of limiting his craft to working in the circus, there’s an interesting use of split screen as on one side the World Trade center is being constructed while on the other, Petit’s life is being shown through a reconstructed home movie montage where actors are used to recreate his earlier life. Two memorable friends stand out, Annie Allix, his girl friend, played by Ardis Campbell when she fell madly in love, describing herself as an extremely shy person who was “overwhelmed, bowled-over, and harpooned” by him, while the other is his most trusted childhood friend, Jean-Louis Blondeau, both of whom recall the events with a surprising degree of intensity. Based on his own book published in 2002, To Reach the Clouds, Petit himself describes the meticulous planning that he and others studiously engaged in for 6 years before their successful venture, as the inspiration to walk the towers came to him at age 18 when he read an article about the construction of the towers which included an illustration, a picture he immediately cut out drawing a line between the towers, imagining himself elevated on the wire. While waiting for the towers to be built, he performed two other gravity-defying feats simply as a rehearsal for the main event, walking between the spires of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris which he performed as church services were in session, completely unaware of what was transpiring high above them in the air, and walking between the pylons over the Sydney Harbor Bridge which brought traffic to a standstill. Both events were filmed and are included in this spellbinding documentary, where at one point hovering over the bridge, the wire can’t be seen, giving the impression he’s walking on air.
Despite the fact Petit is alive and is recalling these events with a boundless enthusiasm, the element of suspense is staggering in this film, much of it due to the beautiful construction by the filmmaker, presented with a long build up of meticulous detail in planning and preparation designed to resemble the bank heist film RIFIFI (1955), but also due to the enormously compelling recollections of the people involved, some of whom are moved to tears thinking about it. If ever anything called for mental preparation, this is it, and the degree of concentration in Petit’s mind is infinitely greater than anyone else’s, yet this unusual cast, some 30 years after the fact, recalls the events as if it were yesterday, including Allix, who perhaps more than anyone else understood the magnificence of the moment. Her heartfelt exhilaration at seeing him fulfill his dream is memorable, as are Petit’s own lyrical and poetic thoughts as he so persuasively lures us into his world of wire walking, explaining how it consumes his entire essence and becomes the all-important driving force in his life. Blondeau, as well, is extremely articulate in explaining his role in helping mastermind with great care the exhaustive technical details for the whole ordeal and set it up so that Petit was comfortable on the wire. The idea of shooting an arrow connected to fishing wire from one tower to the other and subsequently adding heavier line until finally a 450 pound steel cable could be fastened to each tower was largely his idea, which also included steadying the wire with several supporting lines known as the cavaletti. But the closer they come to the coup, as they call it, a comedy of errors sets in elevating the significance of even the tiniest details, any one of which could derail the event. And yes, Petit probably embellishes the troubling encounters they ran into for dramatic appeal, but much of this is simply hilarious.
The fluidly paced juxtaposition of images makes this one of the best edited films of the year, with brilliant photography by Igor Martinovic, where some of the best images are amateur photographs shot by friends such as Jim Moore weeks or months ahead of time capturing Petit in solitary thought perched precariously at the edge of the roof on the tower. Michael Nyman’s supporting music, some of which others have heard before in Greenaway films, “Drowning by Numbers” and “Chasing Sheep Is Best Left to Shepherds,” but also Vaughan Williams’ “A Lark Ascending,” Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” and Peter Green’s “Albatross” have a fullness of sound that fills the screen before scaling back into the quiet eloquence of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, delicate piano music as light as a feather that perfectly matches the ethereal elegance of Petit taking his first steps on the wire. Jean Cocteau once remarked on Satie’s Gymnopédies: “Satie goes forth quite naked.” The same could be said here for Philippe Petit. Unlike his other walks, there is no video camera, only unparalleled still photos shot by Jean-Louis Blondeau, each one generating more oohs and aahs than I have ever heard in a theater, but the moment captured is nothing less than magnificent, narrated by Allix who simply loves and adores this man who successfully redefines human limitations and literally floats in the sky. This is a thrilling and exhilarating motion picture that by defying gravity and human impossibility realizes a strange perfection, a fitting tribute to the fallen towers, creating transcendent, freeze frame moments in time that feel like poetic reflections of eternity.
aka: I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore
(made in 1991, released in Chicago 2008)
5.) STILL LIFE
A very slow, languorous film shot entirely in high definition digital video by Yu Lik-wai, THE WORLD (2004), that captures the rich colors of the region along with a solemn, funereal feel throughout, sort of the exact opposite of Kiarostami’s AND LIFE GOES ON (1991), another fictionalized film that was shot in the middle of devastating destruction, the aftereffects of a deadly Iranian earthquake. But while Kiarostami’s film searched through the ruins of destruction for any semblance of life, finding rebuilding, restoration projects everywhere that upliftingly reaffirmed one’s faith in man, Jia’s film seems to be set in the tombs, revealing instead a people in the process of demolishing an entire civilization, evicting all the residents from Fengjie, an ancient city 2000 year old, relocating them (1.5 million and still counting) without really keeping track of where they’re heading, creating an unprecedented government imposed upheaval on a massive scale, something that might be expected during wartime, but certainly not due to a modernization project of building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam more than twice the size of any other dam in the world that will eventually leave the entire city underwater. Like MEDIUM COOL (1969) decades earlier, Jia scripts his fictional film in the middle of this partially submerged, real-life demolition project introducing two characters searching for missing spouses who they haven’t seen in awhile. In a film like this, locations are everything, as nearly every frame of the film captures the stunning mountainous beauty of the vicinity, called the Three Gorges region due to gorges spectacularly coming together along the Yangtze River, a scene depicted on the back of a ten Yuan note in Chinese currency, but every frame is also a time capsule for a lost civilization, which is hauntingly still thriving before extinction as we see the people scrambling about the city streets in a bustle of activity, but there are horizontal lines affixed to tall buildings ominously showing where the water line will be in the next phase of construction, where everything under that line will be submerged in water. In eerie fashion, everything below that line is being destroyed, while everything above that line has a tenuous hold on life, both shown in a flurry of feverish activity which may as well separate the rich from the poor, as the poor continue to inhabit the low lying regions.
What makes this film so unusual is the ponderous nature of the way it is filmed, full of curiosity and questions in the slow observational pans that combine intimate portraits of ordinary citizens set against this continual destruction of what used to be a vital city, literally tearing it apart brick by brick while looming off in the distance is the omnipresent stillness of this extraordinary natural landscape which is nothing short of breathtaking. Without ever offering details or statistics, which can easily be provided by journalists, there is instead an enveloping sadness permeating through every image, as sweaty, shirtless men are paid meager wages to use sledgehammers to reduce a city to dust and rubble reminiscent of Rossellini’s post-war GERMANY YEAR ZERO (1948), an industrial wasteland of epic proportions causing the region to be perpetually enveloped in low-lying clouds, but also men whose idle time is spent smoking cigarettes or eating noodles, chatting feverishly while playing mahjong as the camera slowly shifts its attention and gazes at any number of barges floating down the river carrying commercial goods, all shown with a poetic detachment that objectively offers no point of view.
Sanming Han is a working class coal miner who comes to the city searching for his missing wife of 16 years, also his daughter that he’s never seen. When he realizes the street where she used to live is submerged underwater, he enlists the aid of fellow citizens, eventually joining one of the demolition crews himself. His lower class pattern of living routinely includes bartering and sharing, offering bottles of liquor to express gratitude to officials or handing out individual cigarettes to friends, where living in such claustrophobic close quarters means the concept of privacy is non-existent. His personal business becomes everyone around him’s business, as he has to be accepted by the group before he can ever hope of succeeding in his mission. Whether he succeeds or not remains ambiguous to the viewers, but the unusual way his story comes together is handled beautifully, with a calm understatement and a potent underlying emotional reserve. Zhao Tao, in all Jia features since PLATFORM (2000), plays a nurse, an educated, independent-minded, middle-aged women who hasn’t seen her husband in two years, where his slowly developing offscreen profile is an unusual way to introduce a character, as we discover he’s a hot-shot official, most likely corrupt, who administers one of the construction projects in town and maintains a great deal of power in the region. His hesitancy to meet with her is understandable, as she discovers he’s probably having affairs with plenty of women, but her motive remains a mystery through most of the film, only revealing itself when he finally comes out of hiding and meets with her. Despite his economic status, her manner of classic stoicism keeps him continually off guard, never knowing what to expect, as she retains the upper hand, a fact that may well explain why he left in the first place.
Continuing in Jia’s contemplative quest to intermix the personal with the historical, his first three films took place in Shanxi province where the director was born, all showing the shattering impact of China’s attempts to modernize in rural interior regions, while both characters in this film are traveling from Shanxi, both attempting to repair broken relationships, where the future seen through differing class perspectives offers diverging possibilities. Through the sheer mastery of what he’s able to compress into each shot, we are constantly reminded of what’s at stake building such a mammoth project in the middle of such overwhelming, magisterial beauty, and what utter gall it takes to intentionally displace so many people from their homes and their history as a matter of public policy, literally reducing 2000 years of history to rubble before it disappears from sight altogether, taking a tremendous human gamble by betting it all on the future. Initially proposed almost 90 years ago by Sun Yat-sen, according to David Denby from The New Yorker, this project has been steadily moving forward since 2004 and is expected to be completed sometime in 2009. Shot in 2006, Jia was able to film midway through the largest public works project in human history. The consequences are enormous, both pro and con, and the idea that China, normally not known for their progressive views, would allow this most brilliantly independent of Chinese filmmakers into the region knowing the unpredictability of his artistic and political views, certainly as seen through their point of view, yet it happened, and the result is this quiet, probing, utterly realistic, yet near surreal, non-narrative essay that explores the region through visual imagery and broken marriages. The dam itself is only seen towards the end of the film, and even then only as a backdrop, a subtle hint that it is not yet fully operational.
One of the more modern images of the film is seen at an evening penthouse party on an outdoor balcony directly overlooking a giant suspension bridge that spans the river. As it caters to the rich and powerful, Zhao Tao believes her husband could be there. Instead another powerbroker arrives on the scene and expresses dismay that the bridge is not lit up. A quick cell phone call obtains instant results and the bridge lights up like a birthday cake. Another somewhat surreal image is an empty, gigantic structure which may have once housed building occupants, but it has long been abandoned and is left standing alone towering over a barren field where kids play. At one point, this monstrosity of a structure simply fires up burners at the bottom and takes off, like some kind of mysterious UFO and vanishes from view. Almost identical to a Kiarostami image in AND LIFE GOES ON of a beautiful green landscape seen through a broken-down window of the ruins that reveals sheep grazing peacefully in the fields, where hope can literally be seen through the ruins, with haunting Arabic music providing a profound sense of something sacred, Jia on the other hand shows a married couple, several stories high, embracing near a similar broken-down window in the ruins that overlooks the skyline of this city off in the distance where after an extensive period of time one of the tallest buildings suddenly collapses. One must mention the outstanding musical score by Giong Lim on his second Jia film, formerly working with Hou Hsiao-hsien, including some irresistible sequences scored to romantic pop music songs. The supreme image is left for the finale, however, where off in the distance a man inexplicably performs a high-wire act walking between two tall buildings that are likely targeted for extinction, another improbable balance between high and low or the sacred and the profane.
6.) TÔKYÔ SONATA
Kurosawa is seen by many as a cult director due to his early works which helped define New Japanese cinema, showing an underground and energetic Japanese youth that are alienated from a modern society defined by a tilt towards consumerism, reflected in gimmicks and gadgetry, and old generation parents that don’t understand they can’t buy their way out of their children’s problems or comprehend why this new generation feels so vaguely uncertain about their future, deeply confused about coming to terms with a modern Japanese identity, especially after this younger generation supposedly had it so good. Never one to show his hand, Kurosawa explores an ambiguous world of the supernatural in a film like CURE (1997), or utilizes ghosts in a full throttle horror film like PULSE (2001). His films have a trademark elusiveness that’s hard to define, adding to a certain mystique that surrounds his reputation. One thing that impresses me the most about this film is the filmmaker’s ability to continually redefine himself through his body of work, as this is unlike any of his other films, perhaps more mature, more refined, perhaps aware that he’s being seen on a larger stage. But above all, it remains an intelligent work that continues to probe the many unseen layers of Japanese society, unmasking the invisible, examining people of all ages who exist but are rarely seen as they blend so perfectly into the homogonous whole. TOKYO SONATA is a rare film that revels in its simplicity, but then veers off course when things don’t go the way it seems into an undefined no man’s land of unrealized expectations.
7.) THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Auf Der Anderen Seite)
aka: On the Other Side
This film opens and closes on a brilliant shot, each offering its own
thematic observation, beginning with a car arriving at a desolate, run down gas
station, where the traveler is called by the name of “brother” several times, a
sign of cultural respect, but one that is multi-sided, as the film soon
Akin has written another one of those Kieslowski-like intersecting plot
scenarios told in three chapter headings involving three families with mixed
German-Turkish heritage, a Turkish father and son living in Germany, a Turkish
mother living in Germany but separated from her long lost daughter, and a
German mother and daughter, not necessarily seen in any correct order. At some point in the film, all are connected,
but what matters most is not the interweaving mathematical construction, which
is interesting enough, but the deep-seeded connections that are established,
some of which are profoundly moving.
The film highlights the differences between the two cultures in the
first two shots, which couldn’t be more opposite, providing the viewer some
idea as to the vast divide that exists between characters. Historically, as the postwar French invited
the Algerians, Turks were invited into Germany to work as “guest workers,” the
exact same term President Bush has used for his proposed temporary resident
immigration program with Mexicans, a proposal that went nowhere except to fan
the flames of racist intolerance along the border states where they are building
giant iron fences to keep the immigrants out. While these host nations offer unskilled, low
wage labor, it has been accompanied by deep seeded resentment in the mother
country against the “foreigners” as well as complications arising when first
generation offspring are actually born citizens, yet treated with racist scorn
and disregard. Evidence Fassbinder’s earlier German classic ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1974) and the recent
Tuncel Kurtiz as Ali Aksu is an Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek type character, an old Turkish man who retains his vigorous energy and charm, and his delight with the pleasures of women and drink. When he finds a Fassbinderesque Turkish hooker in Bremen, Germany, Nursel Köse as Yeter, who may as well be the voluptupus Barbara Valentin in ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL, he is so taken by her that he makes her an offer to come live with him. After she is visited by some glum looking Islamic radicals who could make her life miserable, she thinks the old man’s offer is a safe choice, but it has tragic consequences for both. Ali’s son is Nejat (Baki Davrak), somewhat reminiscent of French actor Romain Duris, an introverted college German professor who lectures on Goethe and becomes the closest thing to a lead character in this film as he goes searching for Yeter’s missing daughter in Istanbul, realizing the importance of the connection they never had. Nurgül Yesilçay plays the daughter Ayten, a fiercely independent radical in Turkey who has revolutionary ambitions with militant connections, which after an unfortunate incident leads to a quick escape to Hamburg, Germany where she meets Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) completely at random, soon becoming love interests, despite the disapproving eye of her mother Susanne, Fassbinder icon Hannah Schygulla, who truly rekindles her acting credibility here. Once everyone is introduced, tragedy befalls each and every one, though in differing ways, but each loses something that may as well be the most important thing in their life.
This film is, according to Michael Guillen from The Evening Class, also Twitch: the second entry in an intended trilogy "Liebe, Tod und Teufel" ("Love, Death and the Devil")—of which Akin's acclaimed Head-On was the first installment. While not as explosive as his previous film HEAD ON (2004), a radically offbeat punk love story, this is still a daring work of probing intelligence on the power of redemption, simultaneously tearing us apart while also bringing us closer together, set in an expanding internationalized stage with a constantly-on-the-move camera style by Rainer Klausmann that beautifully captures with precision the finer details in each culture, which is an extraordinary expression simply by composition alone, adding authentic locations and music to a superb ensemble of actors, lead by Schygulla who may surprise many with the depth of her performance, but she is given some of the best scenes in the film which occur near the end. Her character beautifully transcends the cultural divide with her effortless style of understatement and also offers a refreshing look at what those self-absorbed kids from Fassbinder’s KATZELMACHER (1969) might have turned into forty years later. The final shot has its own transcendent quality, which could easily be a shot from similar films such as Ozon’s TIME TO LEAVE (2005) or Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s CLIMATES (2006), yet shown here, coming on the heels of Schygulla’s personal transformation, offers profound insight. It’s so easy to get caught up in our differences, which is at the root of KATZELMACHER, shown through simple, ordinary acts of societal prejudice and xenophobia, but what we have in common is all too often overlooked and forgotten, but not by Akin, called Fatih Fassbinder in some reviews, who skillfully navigates outside the jurisdiction of national boundaries and identities by knowing each so well and instead, despite the meandering journey, cuts a path straight to the heart of the matter, creating believable people who suffer unfathomable losses yet retain a surprising emotional resilience.
The actors themselves are noteworthy, suggesting such a fresh ease of comfort in their performances, where the lack of artifice and complete believability is part of the film’s appeal, with an ensemble cast whose distinguishing characteristic is intelligence. A few notable scenes, Phillip and Kari’s return to Paris where they initially met which couldn’t this time have been more excruciatingly painful to watch, bookended later by his abrupt pronouncement at her workplace, barging in on the mindless repetition of telemarketing offering her only the slightest idea of hope, perhaps the most vulnerable moment in the film where that adrenal rush of hope can be annihilated within seconds yet instead feels like a sudden breakthrough of possibilities. But certainly the best moment in the film is the sustained brilliance of the party sequence, which relishes its own brand of humor, where the young lads turn the place upside down with the help of an ipod, where the frantically alive music of Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” is simply irresistible (an amusing Devo-like music video may be seen here: http://www.diffusionpictures.co.uk/news.php?category=2), perhaps a last bloom of youth where they can do whatever the hell they please before the inevitable onset of adulthood and responsibilities set in, where hard fought principles disappear overnight as they suddenly become all that they found irritating earlier in life. This is an extraordinary depiction of youth rarely seen in films, as it all feels like we’ve been there before, yet it also offers the best and the brightest with smart, crackling dialogue that doesn’t take itself for granted, that offers a fresh wit with surprising originality throughout, continually altering the pace of the film, weaving in the collective imagination of art, mixing the painfully alone and meticulous work habits with the socially gregarious, leaving open a world of maybes, of what could have been, where multiple ideas literally jump off the screen simply by the way the story is told. There’s enough of an edge that it capitulates to no one, with some brilliant use of music, excellent hand-held camera work from Jakob Ihre, and despite a taut structure, Trier allows the freewheeling improvisational nature of his characters the uninhibited freedom to penetrate our souls with brash audacity.
"How do you spell ‘eternally in disgrace,’ one ‘l’ or two?"
An outstanding feature, an exquisite caricature of modern misunderstanding that is alarmingly precise in its miniaturization, beautifully written, well acted and edited, genuinely poignant and funny, this is an original take on the human condition. Humor in this film feels grounded in frustration, the kind Buster Keaton might fancy, not poking fun at anyone in particular, but using pointedly sharp satire that is still tender and warm-heartedly hilarious. The lead characters are memorable, closely observed and real, verging on the edge of sanity at times but nonetheless people we can identify with. The premise of the film is people in turmoil, all set to a rousing version of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose in Hebrew. Shot in a seaside location in Tel Aviv, beautifully shot by cinematographer Antoine Héberlé, a guy leaves a girl in the opening scene, Sarah Adler as Batia, from Godard’s NOTRE MUSIQUE (2004), which all happens a bit too quickly for her to comprehend the situation, as by the time the words finally form in her mouth, he disappears from her life. Another couple gets married in a big wedding scene, Michael and Keren (Gera Sandler and Noa Knoller), but the bride gets stuck in the bathroom stall, breaking her leg attempting to escape, all but ruining their Caribbean honeymoon plans as instead they’re stuck inside a seaside hotel with no view of the sea, while a third sequence introduces a Philippino care giver (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a woman named Joy whose job is caring for miserable people—irony in the best sense of the word.
These characters remain aloof from each other and the world around them, but might feel right at home in the slow, hypnotic pace of a Tsai Ming-liang movie where everyone is similarly lost or out of place. Batia appears to be the worst waitress on the planet, whose home is infested with a ceiling leak that is over-running the bucket capturing the drops, who receives daily messages left on her answering machine from her celebrity mom, whose visage is seen on giant billboards all over town and on television programs, but otherwise completely ignores her daughter, as does her father who has found himself yet another young bulimic girl friend about his daughter’s age who consumes every minute of his time. In due time, Batia is fired from her job along with a pitiful wedding photographer Tamar (Tsipor Aizen) who shoots everything except the bride and groom, both of whom work for an overbearing employer who turns out to be the film director. (Note – the ice cream man is the director’s father, and the beach location is where they grew up.) Batia and Tamar become fast friends, though for no apparent reason, yet Batia becomes enamored with Tamir’s childhood home movies, claiming she loves the fact there is no story development.
Meanwhile the love birds in the hotel are having anything but marital bliss, as in a game of musical chairs they keep moving to a different hotel room, as the bride continues to find fault with the one they’re in. As the elevator doesn’t work, he finds himself lugging her up the stairs on a continual basis. In perhaps the most hilarious sequence in the film, the husband reminds her of their first date when they went to see a movie, but were continually beset by obstacles that prevented them from seeing or enjoying the movie, but they discovered, instead, each other. Their time together is interrupted by long walks the husband takes to get away or have a smoke on the stairwell, occasionally meeting a mysterious woman in the building (Bruria Albeck) who introduces herself with the come-on line: “How do you spell ‘eternally in disgrace,’ one ‘l’ or two?” before she disappears into the elevator.
Joy, on the other hand, is visibly distressed by not having her young son back home with her, where phone calls leave her feeling so helpless, as he doesn’t understand why she’s so far away. Ironic again that she cares for elderly or infirmed patients whose families are too busy to take care of them, yet she as well needs someone to care for her own son. After one disastrous job assignment, Joy meets Galia (Ilanet Ben-Yaakov) in a bustling coffee shop, a woman who’s too worried about the upcoming production of Hamlet where she plays Ophelia to care for her elderly mother, who she describes: “My mother. She’s a tough person, she can be rude.” Malka (Zaharira Harifai) is like a grown up version of Keren, an embittered, somewhat racist old woman who has spent her lifetime handing out insults and complaints. When neither speaks the other’s language they get along splendidly.
Thrown into this mix is Nikol Leidman, a young 6-year old girl that doesn’t speak, but
whose hair remains wet throughout the rest of the picture, who appears out of
the sea wearing only panties and an inner tube around her waist and finds Batia alone in a gloomy seaside mood. She follows Batia
around, like a lost dog, having no other apparent reason to exist. Batia brings her to
a police station, but there are no resources for missing persons where neither
parent is making a complaint. Seeming to
understand one another intrinsically, they leave together, live together, and
seemingly belong together before the girl mysteriously disappears as strangely
as she appeared. Here a theme is linked
that appears hatched from Antonioni’s dream sequence
in the middle of
This strange choreography of missed intentions is the rhythm of the film, perhaps best represented by Joy’s missing boat sequence that moves from agonizing tears to ecstatic joy simply by changing the entire subtext of the moment and the relationship, or that absurdly bizarre stage presentation of Hamlet, perhaps the most hilarious Hamlet on record, where words are not spoken but shouted endlessly in repeated chants by Hamlet in a space suit and with Ophelia lying dead on the floor throughout half the play, making eye contact with her joyous mother in the audience who is so proud of her despite hating the ridiculous avant garde antics onstage. But the next day the daughter refuses to ever see her mother again because she can’t offer her enough praise for her performance. What’s clear to the audience in a clever movie like this is never so clear in the ambiguity of real life where people’s lives are continually absorbed with having to deal with obstacles or unexpected circumstances that continually appear and then disappear from their lives, much like the jellyfish motif, swept by forces beyond one’s control. For a mere 78 minutes, there’s a lifetime packed into this film, which won best screenplay and the Camera d'Or at Cannes 2007 for best first feature.
It felt like we lost our citizenship. —Kimberly Roberts
A wonderfully unpretentious film that by tracing the path of one family gets to the heart of the matter of the government’s notorious absence in New Orleans after Katrina leaving residents, but mostly poor and black residents where the greatest damage occurred, to fend for themselves. Without explaining how she happened upon a video camera, apparently a $20 camcorder that feels left over from the CLOVERFIELD (2008) movie set, Kimberly Roberts from her home on France Street in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans starts filming her house and everything around the neighborhood in anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, as she wanted a recording of what it looked like both before and after. Greeting everyone she meets on the street, asking what their plans are, also filming while riding her bike, where you can hear the click click click as the pedal hits the kickstand, we get a good sense of how she sees her neighborhood and the people familiar to her living in it, some of whom, including several in her own family, will not survive the storm. She has a natural ease with people and the good sense to narrate while the camera is running explaining what we are looking at as she stocks up on food, ice and emergency provisions. Unable to afford “the luxury” to get safely out of town (apparently their car had recently been stolen), she and her husband Scott decide to ride out the storm from her home, producing about twenty minutes of some of the most intense footage of the storm in action, where after the levees break a mere three blocks away, she comments “It’s like an ocean out there” as the water rises and her street is flooded as high as a stop sign. Her family is forced into the attic and eventually move to a house across the street that is one story higher, where she and about a dozen others including children, elderly and an infirmed have to be carried over a river chest high by her husband who uses a punching bag as a flotation device. With no help in sight and a 911 operator that tells them the city is not prepared to offer them any rescue assistance at this time, they have to wander through this nightmarish deluge on their own.
As we piece together footage after her battery runs dead where the film is framed with time headings—Two days after the levees fail, or one week after the levees fail, we learn that despite an abandoned Navy barracks several blocks away that had already been closed due to cuts in federal funding, where only a skeleton crew remained protecting the base, this family was turned away from more than 200 empty beds at the point of M-16’s locked and loaded pointed directly at them, ordering them to disperse. Instead they spent several nights in an abandoned school before they found a boat to take them to a Red Cross shelter, which is where they met the documentary filmmakers who were originally attempting to do a story on the travails of the National Guard, over-extended both in Iraq and now back here at home, but the Guard refused to cooperate. Among the most devastating footage captured was the deadly aftermath where in a rented van filled to capacity with 25 of her neighbors they drive past the New Orleans Superdome, where a long tracking shot resembles the look of the Civil War wounded in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), capturing defenseless, helpless people who have no way out, many lying on the ground sick or near death from lack of water while several buses remain idle parked right across the street. While this entire catastrophe is amateurishly documented, Roberts has an amazing ability to offer her own soulful perspective whose raw insight and authenticity adds to the harrowing realism of the moment.
Actual news footage shown on TV is interspersed with what Roberts sees on the ground, often times at complete odds with one another, especially when President Bush or FEMA director Mike Brown affirm their alleged successes, or when we get a good look at the tourist video that the city still proudly uses. The Roberts family exits the city for their first time for a home 200 miles away owned by an uncle which has no running water, where in a typical day in the life scenario, the water department comes out to turn the water on at one point, only to return minutes later to turn it back off again. That uncle lost his mother when she was abandoned in a hospital during Katrina, as the entire staff evacuated and left the patients behind to fend for themselves. From this location they can visit FEMA centers where they line up next to “Gate B – Cattle entrance” and reapply for emergency funds that never came, after which they hope to move to a safer location, believing everything has been lost at home. When they make a return visit several weeks later to obtain what they can, the streets are a sea of mud and obliteration patrolled by neglected, near starving stray dogs. Kimberly feels blessed that a photo of her mother remains intact, explaining her mother died of AIDS when she was 13 and this is her only surviving keepsake. Amazingly their two dogs left behind survived, though they have been living on highly contaminated water, while the corpse of one man seen in the before Katrina footage still lays dead in his living room. The National Guard is summoned to obtain the body. Again a long tracking shot of several city blocks both a few weeks after the flood and shown again a year later shows one or two houses either rebuilt or still standing on her block while everything else remains a wasteland of utter demolition. Nothing has changed as there is simply no sign of life left there at all.
Instead they set out for
11.) RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
Written by Jenny Lumet, Sydney Lumet’s daughter, this is one of those nervewracking, autobiographical searches for the missing pieces puzzle, a fiercely intense movie with a distinct emotional tone, which is that of an impending train wreck about to happen, which comes in the form of a former Disney princess (THE PRINCESS DIARIES), Anne Hathaway as Kym, tapping into the manic energy of early Liza Minnelli, sprung from her recent (and still unfinished) stint in rehab to come to her sister’s wedding. Set in a sumptuous estate in Connecticut, Kym finds the overflowing crowd getting on her nerves before she even arrives, finding little solitude or peace, where every conversation turns jarring or confrontational, where it’s clear there’s plenty of unfinished family business here. While no one else is particularly threatening, in fact the landscape on display is an endless picture of multi-ethnic diversity and tolerance, where the bride, Rosemarie Dewitt as Rachel, is marrying a black groom,Tunde Adebimpe. As he’s a musician (in real life a member of TV On the Radio: Official Website), there are a series of different musicians playing quietly off in a corner throughout the entire weekend, creating the impression of a Rennaissance Fair. In addition, several of his friends provide some extraordinary musical heft, adding a defining musical nuance to the film, all of which are brilliantly filmed and integrated into the whole, including the likes of Robyn Hitchcock and Sister Carol, New Orleans jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr, performing both solo and with a jazz band, a Brazilian salsa band, Fab 5 Freddy, and during the wedding vows the groom inexplicably breaks into a heartfelt a cappella rendition of Neal Young’s “Unknown Legend.”
A disturbingly dark film bathed in sweetness and light, Declan Quinn's jittery handheld camera establishes the nervous tone of Kym’s character, whose acid tongue and incessant rancor with her sister starts out innocently enough, both over-privileged women who are used to having their way, with a befuddled father (Bill Irwin) precariously positioned between the two, where Rachel is sick of her sister stealing the limelight with her largely self-induced world of woe, but it gets out of hand, especially during one of the standout sequences in the film, a long, drawn out rehearsal dinner where the families meet for the first time, which is filled with humor and a spirit of generosity, where the honored couple obviously adore one another, so the toasts and tributes (in real time) feel well deserved and genuine, but the scene of harmony and congeniality curiously extends far too long, which is confusing and at times infuriating. When Debra Winger as the sister’s divorced mother makes her belated arrival, it’s clear she’s part of a troubled past, possibly expressed through her divorce, but also by her jittery mood that feels more like sedated aggravation. By the time Kym grabs the mike, she takes the air out of the room, as the mood strangely turns closer to the horror genre, as the tension becomes near unendurable, like a wedding exorcism. Much of this moment has the aching feel of exposed nerves rubbed the wrong way, reminding one of an emotional authenticity right out of HUSBANDS (1970), featuring the Cassavetes style cinema of discomfort where realism is expressed through the spontaneous combustion of raw emotions, where the director intentionally looks behind the various masks people wear in their awkward and sometimes pathetic search for a sense of belonging. The need for love is paramount, but in this family setting, despite the protection of wealth and the obvious love in the air, the hurt feelings and burrowed insecurities instead reveal a horrific display of dysfunction and human inadequacy, perfectly expressed afterwards by Rachel’s bitter chastisement of her sister for her reprehensible and divertingly indulgent toast.
With Hathaway’s remarkable transformance from her earlier association with the innocent and naïve Cinderella character, this is a raw and harrowing journey with an exquisite sense for editing, as cross-cutting throughout the wedding weekend are scenes at Kym’s AA meetings, where people identify they are an addict before confessing something personal about themselves. With the camera not more than a few inches from her face at all times in a signature extended take, Kym reveals her tragic past in an anguished soliloquy of personal sorrow that is perhaps the most stunning revelation in the film. It’s a haunting moment that defines the personal chaos simmering just below the surface ignited by Kym’s all-out assault on pretentiousness and shrouded family secrets. In the same manner, without Kym uttering a single word, her impact is shown in another drawn out scene of seemingly lighthearted gregariousness in the kitchen that turns on a dime, becoming a searing moment of tragic devastation. Kym and her mother on the other hand have a short scene, a burst of unforgettable power with tragic consequences, the impact of which reverberates throughout the rest of the film, where despite one’s best efforts, imperfections can get the best of us, where failings may end up defining our humanity, as if there are built-in family blinders hampering human development. Kym’s reaction to this is profound, as the love she needs from her mother, something she’s always counted on, may have dried up years ago. When she finally arrives at the door for the wedding ceremony with the look of a long lost, wounded puppy, the moment of intimacy between the sisters is like a baptism washing the sins away. Winger may not have a lot of screen time, as the film clearly belongs to Hathaway from start to finish, but the ambiguity of her character and the far reaching impact her troubles have heaped upon her family leaves everyone involved in a state of emotional disrepair. Balanced against a weekend long party celebration where most everyone else is upbeat and hopeful, featuring so much that is positive, Winger’s forced appearance, as if against her will, and Hathaway’s descent into her own personal hell lead to a series of rude awakenings that threaten to derail the entire proceedings. What we get instead is an incisive study of the human condition, where closure may be an illusion, but love is the best option to fend off all impending doubts that plague our weary and beleaguered souls about our worthiness to stand up to our own worst enemy, ourselves.
12.) A CHRISTMAS TALE (Un Conte de Noël)
Desplechin is one of the best directors to come out of
France in decades and has never actually made a bad film, though I’m not sure
he’s ever hit one out of the park either, so much of his appreciation lies in
personal taste. Making relatively few
films, he’s already established a reputation for writing intelligent scripts,
some co-written by Cahiers du Cinéma writer Emmanuel Bourdieu, that exhibit comic wit and a flair for dialogue
as well as unusual character developments, exquisite cinematography from Eric
Gautier, and superb performances by individuals as well as ensemble casts. He has spent his life creating vivid
characters, but this masterful work actually feels like the summation of his
entire career, as he’s working with a Who’s Who of some of the best actors
currently working in
The storyline of this sprawling work does not bear repeating here, though it’s impossible not to relish Catherine Deneuve in an icy role as the refreshingly candid unmotherly matriarch and Mathieu Amalric as the bad seed of the family, the gloriously ungrateful son she detests the most, as both are utterly sublime together. Think back at Minnelli’s portrait of an American family in MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (1944) and compare that to the profane insults (even toasts!) and down and dirty backstabbing that become the centerpiece of this film, and one has to wonder just what has happened to the cinematic portrayal of the family unit in the last half century? Yet for all the ugliness and turmoil and deep-seeded resentments, there’s a surprising civility expressed in this film, perhaps best represented by Deneuve’s suicidal grandson (Emile Berling) who barely speaks but is highly effective showing the unintentional harmful repercussions of family dysfunction and years of abuse, yet responds with a near angelic gentle disposition. Throw in another gorgeous look at Chiara Mastroianni, as charming as ever, still trying to straighten out whatever it was that happened behind the scenes of her marriage years ago, as it entails no less than three different family members. Emmanuelle Devos deftly plays Amalric’s girl friend, walking a fine line as perhaps the only person on the planet who sees something in him worth holding onto, while Jean-Paul Roussillon plays the jovial, jazz loving patriarch who couldn’t harm a soul. Without revealing more, there are brief literary passages from Nietzsche to Shakespeare, superb examples of American jazz and a rock the house deejay on display, as well as that wonderful opening motif used in Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One can’t help but think of the charm and French humanist cinema of Jean Renoir, as Desplechin blends bitter episodes of dark anguish with utterly surprising moments of spontaneous hilarity, cleverly interweaving the past into the present, creating an exhilarating family portrait seething with life. I was surprised at how easily Desplechin pulls out all the stops in his latest work, a surprisingly dark and obsessive tale that couldn't have been presented in a more positive light, simply a delight.
13.) TIMES AND WINDS (Bes Vakit)
aka: Five Times
The bucolic, pastoral nature of this film feels timeless, like it could have been shot decades or even hundreds of years ago, featuring terrific locations gorgeously shot in ‘Scope by Florent Herry in the remote town of Kozlu high up on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea in Northern Turkey, where the rustic beauty of the landscape dominates the mood throughout this near plotless film, recalling the hypnotic imagery of Carlos Reygadas from JAPÓN (2002), even using music from the same composer, Arvo Pärt, or the exquisite minimalism of Bresson where people’s lives cruelly mix with the sublime grace of the natural landscape in AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (1966). A film with surprising relevance on generational patriarchal abuse and illiteracy within the Muslim world, reminiscent of the Taviani brothers film PADRE PADRONE (1977), which was set in Sicily featuring a brutally domineering father who pulls his 6-year old son out of school and literally banishes him to the isolation of a similar rocky, high country of Sardinia to watch his father’s flock of sheep, stealing his childhood, working him like a slave, which only stirs a sense of outrage and profound resentment against his father. Here as well, the Islamic religious teachings instruct children to listen to and obey their fathers, a paternal figurehead whose word is recognized as final and absolute and should be treated with absolute respect. The problem is in this remote, largely illiterate society where people live so closely to the land, living day to day, in cyclical rhythm with the seasons, the parents repeat the same mistakes of their own parents, using brutally harsh methods to raise their children, which may include severe beatings along with a neverending sense of parental discontent.
While there are only brief references to this subject, beating or mistreating children and animals is a striking theme that runs throughout the film, where we observe the aftereffects through the eyes and ears of three children on the verge of adolescence. One is his father’s older but less favored son, Ömer (Özkan Özen), who has dreams of killing his father and even procures a scorpion hoping he will do the job, or sneaks into his father’s room at night to open the bedside window hoping to aggravate his severe cough, later emptying the powdered medicine from his father’s prescribed capsules, or his best friend Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali) who is forced to witness his grandfather continually berate his own father, reducing him to tears as he refuses to stand up to him, and later has to witness his own father peeping through a window at his schoolteacher, (Selma Ergec), an attractive young woman who routinely receives community offerings of goat milk and bread, the one he has a crush on himself, even refusing to wash his teacher’s blood from his finger after he helps remove a splinter from her foot, and their cousin Yildiz (Elit Iscan), whose mother treats her like a slave and forces her to do all the housework as well as care for the more favored baby, a young girl who sits in tears at her parents door listening to the sounds of their lovemaking. There is an amusing scene where the boys observe a pair of mating donkeys in a field, and when they realize girls are watching the same thing, the boys instantly inflict their morally superior wrath of judgment on the girls, threatening them as they know their fathers would. Worse yet is an older boy without any parents, Davut (Tarik Sonmez), who tends to the village goats all day long, following them out onto dangerous mountainous crevices, herding them back to safety, yet he has scars on his back from a beating incurred from an irate villager who felt the need to impose his own judgment for eating a handful of nuts from a neighboring tree.
Despite the description, the film has such an unwavering stillness about it, offering no explanations, remaining completely nonjudgmental, showing a world in harmony with the universe and its own laws of nature, beginning with night and moving backwards to morning, divided into five sections which represent each time we hear the sound of the imam calling the community to prayer. Within these framed periods of time, children are forced to run errands for their parents, or are seen fast asleep in the fields in various states of rest, or sitting high atop a mountain cliff observing the magnificent calm of the mountains and sea beyond. Mostly because this film does such an excellent job establishing a world of people in harmony with their natural surroundings, where they stop and watch a solar eclipse or take shelter and wait out a passing rainstorm, these outbreaks of people behaving badly call attention to themselves, as they just don’t seem to fit. They feel like an irritant to the otherwise natural rhythm of life. It’s interesting that villagers place such importance to the wonderment and beauty of childbirth, yet as children grow older, they are looked upon for their more practical, utilitarian value. There’s an amusing scene where Yakup’s parents speak of the miracle of childbirth, where the innocence of babies moves them to tears, and they actually pull him out of school just to be able to hold his newborn brother, which is portrayed like a nativity scene. From outside the window we see the bleary eyed father trying to look in as we hear the natural sound of an ass braying. There’s another wonderful scene on a mountaintop where Ömer’s father is reaching over the ledge, where Ömer has thoughts of pushing him off, where the camera acts as his thoughts and quickly darts to the edge before swinging out into the air, leaving the audience to wonder just what really happened, as its hard to distinguish what’s real and what’s a dream.
While this is clearly one of the better looking films out there making spectacular use of ‘Scope, showing no signs of artifice or sentimentalism, it’s also overly simplistic with repetitive images, musical refrains, and an odd sounding braying horse that kept reminding me of Cloris Leachman as the grotesque Frau Blücher in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), where just the mention of her name sent horses into a panic, yet it explores the roots of this irrational paternalistic rage that may have historical roots in explaining the continuing cycle of neverending wars in the region. Part of the reason radical fundamentalist Islam is spreading is due to the populist appeal it has from impoverished conditions in regions just like this one, which breeds a continuing cycle of illiteracy. This does not bode well for planting the seeds of diplomacy. But this film very innocently reveals that family by family, the disposable attitude parents display towards their own children may possibly explain how easy it is to recruit so many young suicide bombers, who are already made to feel so worthless. There’s an interesting scene at school where young children are made to chant “Love your nation before loving yourself.” Written, directed, and edited by Erdem, he seems to be placing his finger on the pulse of his surroundings, offering a glimpse of what awaits these still innocent children in the region before they are swept up by the wave of fanaticism and hate.
14.) YOUSSOU N’DOUR: RETURN TO GORÉE (Retour à Gorée)
N’Dour chooses some great musicians, as they are among the best in the world,
but more importantly, each is attuned to the righteousness of their mission
which is as much a spiritual journey, elevating the quality of the music heard
throughout the film, as N’Dour travels to America with Genoud to seek them out,
heading first to Atlanta to work with the Harmony Harmoneer gospel singing
Turner brothers. Rehearsing together,
while the intricate voices sound superb, immediately they discover a cultural
rift, as N’Dour is a Muslim entering a Christian church for the first time, so
when they start singing about Jesus, it doesn’t fit the song “My Hope Is in
You,” where “you” refers to the next generation. The Turners are a bit stunned when they’re
asked to stop using Jesus, something they don’t take lightly, but in the interest
of “the project,” there’s a higher purpose than one’s own feelings. In New Orleans, we meet one of the
originators, Idris Muhammad, who calls himself one of 8 percussionists growing
up in his family which accounted for developing his own style early, who at the
age of 15 played on the 1956 Fats Domino smash hit “Blueberry Hill,” later
converting to Islam in the 60’s. He does
an exquisite job describing the origins of the music of Mardi Gras and its multiple jazz rhythms, where the hypnotic
percussive beat drives the second liners, a traditional dance style in