Daily Archives: January 22, 2009

Leos Carax’s MERDE

For me the most interesting “ten best” list included in the January-February 2009 issue of Film Comment is the dozen titles offered by my favorite Japanese film critic, Shigehiko Hasumi. And what’s especially interesting about his list is the inclusion of Leos Carax’s Merde – the middle episode in the three-part feature Tokyo! (2008), flanked by contributions from Michel Gondry and Joon-ho Bong. Decidedly over-the-top in both theme and style as well as execution, and starring former circus acrobat Denis Lavant, who also plays the lead role in Carax’s first three features — an actor who’s surely even more important to this filmmaker’s work than Jean-Pierre Léaud was to the early features of Truffaut — Merde is a provocation and something of an anomaly, even for someone as eclectic as Carax. (It’s also his first film of any length since his 1999 Pola X, his only major film without Lavant.)

Clearly inspired, at least in its opening stretches, by Jean-Louis Barrault in Jean Renoir’s odd Jekyll-and-Hyde adaptation, Le Testament du docteur Cordelier (1961) [see below], Lavant plays a monster who emerges from the Tokyo sewers to wreak random and violent havoc on Tokyo pedestrians until he gets brought to trial, where he gets defended by an equally strident French lawyer (Jean-François Balmer, in a performance that’s almost as extravagant as Lavant’s).… Read more »

Historical Meditations in Two Films by John Gianvito

 From Film Quarterly (Winter 2008-09: Volume 62, Number 2). — J.R.

Profit Motive

the-mad-songs-of-fernanda-hussein

It’s been gratifying to see the almost instant acclaim accorded to John Gianvito’s beautiful, 58-minute Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (2007), especially after the relative neglect of his only previous feature-length film, the 168-minute The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001).

The more recent film — a meditative, lyrical, and haunting documentary about grave sites that won the grand prix at the Entervues Film Festival in Belfort in 2007 and both a Human Rights Award and a special mention at the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film in 2008 —- also received an award at the Athens International Film and Video Festival in Ohio and was named the year’s best experimental film by the National Society of Film Critics. (Full disclosure: I nominated Profit Motive for the last of these awards, and headed the jury of the same Buenos Aires film festival in 2001, which gave The Mad Songs its top prize.)

The Mad Songs focuses on the irreparable effects of the first Gulf war in 1991 on three separate powerless people in New Mexico (which is where the film in its entirety was shot). Profit Motive focuses on the grave sites of several dozen heroes of progressive struggles throughout American history.… Read more »