Love Reinterpreted – A Film Review of ‘Laurence Anyways’

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.

It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.

Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.

The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.

This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.

One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.

Christina Stimpson

June 7, 2012 / By

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Sometimes skepticism can easily be mistaken for narrow-mindedness.  Those who have accepted skepticism into the current of their daily ritual will tell you that it is systematic and functions on the belief that inquiry will always rule out over blind faith. Sound of My Voice, the collaborative brainchild of budding talents Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, is built upon this argument, and raises the question how can we tell the difference between fact and enlightened personal experience?

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) have a vested interest in being accepted into a secretL.A. cult that meets nightly in an undisclosed location in the valley. The target of their pursuit is Maggie (Brit Marling) the elusive female leader, who dresses as a contemporary Virgin Mary and who claims to be a prophet from the year 2054. Orchestrating a type of psychotherapy environment where the faithful abandon their individual souls to be part of the group, Maggie presents herself as savant time-traveller who has come back to bring a select few to a ‘safer’ place. Wanting to expose Maggie as a fraud and con-artist through a DIY documentary film, Peter and Lorna immerse themselves into this ritualistic cult life. As the couple falls deeper into Maggie’s hypnotic trance-like hold, a shift occurs and those who are traditionally governed by reason and logic begin to question if they are on the right side.

Premièring at the 2011 Sundance film festival, Sound of My Voice, has received well deserved critical acclaim and has since, gained momentum as a leading film in the genre of sci-fi realism. Parallels can be drawn between Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, which also premièred at Sundance the same year. The two films not only share their main star, Marling, but also a comparable mental state of disconnection and anxiety over the inevitable, i.e the future and how we all fit into it.

The beauty of Sound of My Voice is its ability to remain thrilling in the face of ambiguity. Events transpire, and our faith as viewers is tested, as it employs an intentional disregard for dramatic irony. The greatest thrill would come for those who delve into Sound of My Voice knowing little about the plot, but who are open to experience a film that questions blind faith, loyalty and awareness. In addition to the trailer, the first 12 minutes of the film are also by clicking here.

Christina Stimpson

May 24, 2012 / By

All that Glitters: A Film Review of ‘Velvet Goldmine’

All that Glitters: A Film Review of 'Velvet Goldmine'

Gold comes in the form of iridescent glitter powder and drips off the screen with baroque opulence in Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes cinematic ode to the late seventies British glam rock scene. Released in 1998, to limited artistic acclaim, the last 14 years have seen Velvet Goldmine gain a niche following which is now nestled between rock cult classic and sexual revolution coming of age story. Although the subtext can be seen as a more serious glimpse into the sexual politics of the time, the film indulges in a campy glam which emerges as a cross between poetic and just plain fun.

Winner at Cannes (1998) and the Academy Awards (1998), for artistic contribution and costume design, Haynes succeeds at putting forth a visually intricate and detailed film through collage storytelling. Similar to his 2007 film I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine is composed of mockumetary and noir inspired vignettes that build a burlesquian glam fantasy mirroring the true-life movements of David Bowie and Iggy Pop through characters Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Christian Bale also makes an appearance as Arthur Stuart, a die hard fan turned journalist whose role is to guide the noir-ian component of the film in an investigation into Brain Slade’s faked death 10 years earlier. Set to a landscape of the surreal, the film which begs to be played ‘at maximum volume’ is abundant with musical and art historical references that elude to Haynes direct inspirations. If you are a fan of early sixties cinema you’ll notice the influence of Jack Smith, music aficionados will catch the Venus in Furs reference, and the ‘literati’ will understand why Oscar Wilde is the fibre that weaves the story through to its end.

Once you have abandoned the notion that Velvet Goldmine should make linear sense, engaging in its flamboyant glam nostalgia and sexual fervour is a trip worth taking. Besides, who can deny two hours of Ewan McGregor clad in sparking glitter and gold lamé?

Christina Stimpson

May 17, 2012 / By

A film review of ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’

Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe

Life has been pointing me towards David Choe lately, and I don’t know why. His name has come up in random conversations and his work seems to be following my every move. When I stumbled across ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’ in the most unsuspecting place, I decided it was time to listen to the signs and view the documentary which debuted theatrically in early 2010.

One of the biggest challenges with making any film, most specifically with documentary, is maintaining a safe balance between putting too much in and leaving too much out. Friend to Choe, and first time director Harry Kim, does the former, stuffing this 93-minute film with mounds of footage gathered over Choe’s 8-year climb from teenage street writer to thirty-something artist millionaire. The content of the first half offers an intimate and diverse portrait of the artist which is brimming with interviews, new reel footage and animation.  It is when we emerge from Choe’s post 3 month jail sentence that the film begins to lose it’s steam and is strung together through a frenetic set of directionless vignettes that buoy from one life change to another. I am an avid supporter of non-linear forms in storytelling yet, regardless of Choe’s manic personality and gritty creative style, a film portrait of any subject needs to have a vision. Here, its later form changes from intimate to spastic, and not in a constrictive way that could echo the disorientation and restless nature of Choe’s work.

There is a silver lining, however. It’s powerful saving grace, is rendered through the endearing and intriguing qualities that David Choe himself presents as he tells his own story. It seems redundant to say that he saved a film about himself by just plain being himself, but it’s true. The charisma he exudes on camera is one that is magnetic, and succeeds in pulling you in to his erratic world. It’s easy to feel an affinity towards him when his sensitive side rips the art world to shreds then his reckless side dangles him from unluck to luck in search of inner peace. If anything what Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe provides is inspiration. David Choe is art rebel who didn’t care about anything which is the exact reason why he got everything.

Christina Stimpson

May 3, 2012 / By

It’s a Family Affair – Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope

Comic Con Episode IV A Fan's Hope

Popularity is context and situation specific. In the case of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, the context is Nerdom and the situation is the famous 42 year-old comic book conference held annually in San Diego. For those who have never skimmed the frail pages of a comic book, or fallen prey to the lure of the newest video game, Spurlock’s film will come as a surprise that a bizarre world of ambitious geeks and obsessive nerds exists on such a grand scale. For everyone else, the documentary is an exposé and ode to their pseudo Promised Land which allows nerds, geeks and gamers of all shapes and sizes to feel accepted into their own tribe. As Spurlock presents it, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope champions the allure behind the event’s progressive success.  The initial buy/sell comic book zone of close to 300 attendees in 1970 has since morphed into a pop culture arcade marketplace that boasts over 125, 000 people each year. Its phenomenal success is rendered as a two sided coin. Yes, the event seems to have choked its comic book roots in order to integrate new film and digital mediums, but it is these evolving mediums which continue to attract throngs of fans each year.

The five fold expository structure of the film follows, Skip, “The Geek” an amateur illustrator who also works at a Sci-fi Fantasy bar in Colombia, Missouri; Holly, the tireless “The Designer” who hopes to catch a break in the costume design industry; Chuck “The Collector” and owner of Mile High Comics who laments the passing glory days of comic book popularity; Eric “The Soldier” from a small town hoping to catch a break in illustration, and finally James and Se Young “The Lovers” who publicly celebrate their love in an unorthodox way.  The pastiche of each story spans a full-scale of emotions from desperation to happiness, to relief.  Few might understand the connection between Holly and her passion for Mass Effect. But having passion for something is a topic that most people can identify with. Knowing this, Spurlock is less concerned with shaping each Subject’s plight into a common ground story; he wants us to root for them, regardless of if we understand their cause or not.

In a change from earlier films such as 2004’s Supersize Me and Freakanomics (2010), Spurlock has acutely chosen an observational approach to construct the meaning and importance behind Comic Con. Famous fans from Seth Rogan, Seth Green, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (who is also a credited writer) to the everyday sci-fi junkie in a cape, straight talk to the camera about their personal attraction to Comic Con and it’s significance in their lives. As Eli Roth so delicately puts it, Comic Con is the only place where you can take a piss between a ‘Klingon’ and a ‘Strom Trooper’ – at least on Earth anyway.

 

 

Christina Stimpson

April 26, 2012 / By

‘If You Can’t Trust Your Friends’ – A review of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave

Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave Criterion cover

Good roommates are hard to find. Especially ones that share an equal disdain for humanity and can be easily cajoled into precarious situations. Like for example, dismembering a body and stealing a suitcase full of cash?

Danny Boyle’s early feature film Shallow Grave – set to be rereleased by Criterion on June 12th – will have fans of dark comedy and thriller heist films absorbed in its quick witted script and disturbing tale of spoiled friendship. It is Reality Bites sans heartstrings existing in an insensitive horror world.  David (Christopher Eccleston), Juliet (Kerry Fox) and the fresh faced Ewan McGreggor appearing in his debut leading role as Alex, together form an ensemble cast who exude a disproportionate amount of selfish and immoral behavior. Residing in an enormous Edinburgh New Town Flat, the trio is in search of a fourth roommate who will match their wild temperaments and barbarous whims. A series of harsh and embarrassing interviews with unlikely candidates leads them to the mysterious Hugo, a presumed ‘writer’, who they immediately latch onto, but not for long. There is no spoiler in recounting of Hugo’s unpleasant death, or Alex’s discovery of Hugo’s curiously hidden suitcase full of cash. The film’s question to the unscrupulous trio becomes one of righteousness. Should they return the cash along with the body to the police? Or should they risk the more sinister route of theft, desecration and dishonesty? Their chosen path unleashes a downward spiral of greed and paranoia that piles up the bodies along with their lies.

Shallow Grave is a first glimpse into the confident and energetic style later groomed in Boyle’s smash hit Trainspotting, yet it remains to be the polar opposite of his delightfully touching Slumdog Millionaire. Here, we are dealing with relentless cruelty, where the most disturbing element is our lack of knowledge around motivation. The amount of money left in Hugo’s suitcase is never discussed, making it even more difficult to comprehend the ease in their immoral behavior; these are after all average people. Yet their savagery would more aptly be suited to perpetrators surviving in the underbelly of crime. What Shallow Grave spares us in blood and guts, is plentiful in psychological thrills, specifically concerning David who rises to the role of puppeteer in his effort to control the impending fate their senseless crime.

The three slowly divide from inseparable threesome transcending into individual survival mode until the unforeseen end where trust among friends is no where to be found.

Christina Stimpson

April 19, 2012 / By

Who are you, what are you? – A Film Review of Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow film poster

If Andre Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas had collaborated to create an über strange art house sci-fi film it would most likely resemble the inner workings of Beyond the Black Rainbow. Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos’ first feature film is an amalgamation of the ethereal crawl of Solaris, set in a Kubrickian vision of the future with a plot akin to THX 1138. The clinical aesthetic of Beyond the Black Rainbow has been drawn upon as backdrop for countless ‘asylum’ centered films and there is no question of where Cosmatos’ creative inspiration stems from. His predecessors are boldly acknowledged through the futuristic set design and intricate mise-en-scene, yet the film still stands unique and begs to be understood on a conceptual level.

Premièring at the Tribeca Film festival in 2011 and the Montreal Fantasia Film Festival the same year, Beyond the Black Rainbow has been gaining a cult following despite its narrow release, which is set to change next month thanks to Magnet Releasing (Magnolia Pictures). Undeniably, the film will appeal most to a niche of cinephiles who devour visual feasts or alternatively to those who prefer a ‘pharmatose’ viewing experience. Nevertheless, it is a stunning film of accomplishment for a first time filmmaker whose roots in music video production are present in the astute attention placed on sound design. The haunting score, designed by Jeremy Schmidt of Black Mountain, is sure to slowly immerse you into a trancelike viewing state.

Set in 1983, as previous generations would have imagine it to be, Beyond the Back Rainbow takes place at the Arboria Institute, a hidden den that claims to help you find true happiness and solace. Once inside the institute, it is clear that the only patient of importance is the ingénue Elena (Eva Allan). The young and beautiful capture is forced to endure ‘therapeutic’ sessions facilitated by the ultra creepy Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) who transforms from pill-popping junkie to supernatural zombie psychopath as the film progresses. With an 11 page script, it is evident that dialogue is a mere accessory here, as Cosmatos’ chooses to execute his film through an experimental vision in the same vein as a curated video installation. Spellbound by the beauty of this dystopian nightmare, questions concerning the loosely woven plot are allowed to remain unanswered. Beyond the Black Rainbow will blow your mind, if you let it. Leave your expectations at the door, dowse yourself in its hypnotic rhythm and engage in this experimental misadventure.

Christina Stimpson

March 29, 2012 / By

‘Weekend’ – A Film Review

Weekend, written, directed and edited by Andrew Haigh, is a gently nuanced, poignant film about an attachment that forms between two strangers who meet one night when neither is looking for love. The worst fate for this film would be if it suffered from an unfounded judgment call. Pigeonholing this film as a boy-meets-boy romance would be a dire mistake, as we rarely see such care given to gay love stories in wide release. The winner of the Audience Award Emerging Visions at SXSW, the Grand Jury Prize for Best Film and Best Actor (Tom Cullen) at the Nashville Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize for International Feature at OutFest Los Angeles, Weekend is a film that will resonate regardless of sexual orientation, gender or politic.

Starring Chris New and Tom Cullen, their roles are so natural that watching their interactions feels almost intrusive, the connection explored here is real, relatable and proves undeniable for both. Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glenn (Chris New) feel an intense attraction to each other as each embodies what the other is lacking in themselves. Glenn is a confrontational charmer who can incite intense debate with anyone about almost any topic, and isn’t afraid to wield an opinion. Russell isn’t the complete opposite, but he is more cautious when it comes to fully embracing an ‘out’ lifestyle. The direction that their union takes shifts them both closer to completion and growth.

With a dialogue driven script that teeters between comedy and melodrama, what we get from Haigh is high caliber filmmaking akin to Cassavettes free form. His vérité style echoes a type of voyeurism where Haigh is content to keep the camera at a distance and the characters out of focus so that the subtleties of becoming acquainted can organically emerge.

The success in Weekend resides in capturing the magnetic urgency of love and inexplicable attraction then translating it into a low energy, calming film that is almost devoid of climax. On the surface it seems like nothing of great importance transpires in the events over the weekend that Russell and Glenn spent together. But with a closer look, it is evident that Haigh’s intention is to surge the characters towards their arch, as they push and pull each other into change.

It happens, and we see it, ever so slightly and tastefully executed in the bittersweet end.

Christina Stimpson

March 15, 2012 / By

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