film review: PERSEPOLIS

Directed by Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud
Written by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
Based on the Original Graphic Novels by Marjane Satrapi
Released by Sony Pictures Classics

[Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/12/theatrical-revi.htm]

The Film Society of Lincoln Center wisely chose Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Persepolis” to close its 45th Season. The French language animated film, mostly in black & white, opens in theaters in both NYC and LA today. The film feels at once nostalgic and freshly new.  Even for those who don’t primarily identify themselves as political, the story, adapted from a series of autobiographical graphic novels of the same name, is a universal one; that of a young woman’s journey from innocence to maturity. It just so happens that the back drop of her story includes the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the country’s turn from a socially progressive society to one of fundamentalism and fear.

frame from the film PERSEPOLIS

Marjane (the voice of Chirara Mastroianni, Marcello’s daughter), our young heroine, is growing up in Tehran during a most tumultuous time. When we are first introduced to her, she is your average precocious nine year old but it’s not long before she experiences the loss of her beloved uncle who is executed as a war criminal. By the time she is 14, her parents, concerned for her safety, send her off to boarding school in Vienna. The scenes that follow, where young Marjane is so homesick for her parents (the voices of Catherine Deneuve and Simon Akbarian) and her grandmother (France’s legendary actress Danielle Darrieux) are among the film’s most gripping, where for all intents and purposes, you forget you are watching a cartoon. Read more

film review: EL VIOLIN (THE VIOLIN)

Produced, directed & written by Francisco Vargas
Cinematography by Armando Rosas & Cuauhtémoc Tavira
Edited by Ricardo Garfias & Francisco Vargas
Film Moement. 2007

Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/12/the-violin-prod.htm

The theme of music as a means of connection is hardly an uncommon one in movies these days (“Once”, “High Fidelity”, “Hustle & Flow”, etc.). It’s been used on so many occasions whether in documentary or narrative film, that it’s impossible to account for them all. In Francisco Vargas’ El Violin, shot in a grainy black & white with the appropriate feel of the indie film it is, the story is about the instrument more so than the music it makes.

EL VIOLIN director Francisco Vargas; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2007

Taking place within an occupied military zone in impoverished Mexico, the movie opens with a particularly brutal sequence involving the torture of captured rebels. We are then introduced to the venerable Don Plutarco (Don Ángel Tavira) who walks the local towns playing the titular violin with his guitarist son Genaro (Gerardo Taracena) and grandson Lucio (Mario Garibaldi) playing for pesos. There’s more than meets the eye as we soon learn when Genaro goes into a local cantina where he has furtive plans to pick up guns and ammunition. How that contraband makes its way to the fellow rebels hiding in the mountains is the gist of the story and how the film gets its name. With his quiet frail demeanor, he is able to travel in and out of the military zone armed with his violin case and information he overhears. In one of the many authentic aspects of the film, he is able to connect with Comandante Cayetano (Silverio Palacios), a sadistic soldier who is enthusiastically loyal to his cause. Through Don Plutarco’s music the soldier, like a soothed beast, becomes a human being if just for a few moments. All of the characters are fully realized and avoid the stereotypes found in so many ideologically driven films. In “El Violin”, it’s clear its director is more interested in finding the humanity in his characters.

Originally an award-winning short, “El Violin”‘s undeniable coup is in the casting of non-professional actor Tavira who is the heart and soul of the film. The award he won in Un Certain Regard at Cannes will no doubt get him some very due attention. The movie is playing at Cinema Village in Manhattan (22 E. 12th St.) and will be available on DVD in February at Film Movement.

film review: REVOLVER

Written & directed by Guy Ritchie
Adapted by Luc Besson
Produced by Besson & Virginie Silla
Director of Photography:  Tim Maurice Jones
Edited by James Herbert, Ian Differ & Romesh Aluwihare
Music by Nathaniel Mechaly
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films/Destination Films
UK/France. 115 min. Rated R
With Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore, Andre Benjamin, Mark Strong, Terrance Maynard & Francesca Annis

Has the director or “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” gone and made a metaphysical treatise? It appears so. Whether this was necessarily the right career move after making “Swept Away” remains to be seen, but you can hardly accuse Guy Ritchie for not taking chances. And as farfetched and bizarre as the movie is, “Revolver” actually left something of an impression on this viewer. Not since Ingmar Bergman’s “Seventh Seal” has chess been used so instrumentally as a metaphor, but whether Ritchie’s fan base will really go for it is another question.

It’s almost as though David Lynch or David Cronenberg got their hands on the movie. Yet according to Ritchie, he has long been fascinated by the idea of making a film along these lines. If his premise at times feels overcrowded with issues both philosophical and psychological, thankfully, in the end things works out well enough. No doubt Ritchie will receive criticism that the movie promotes the Kabalah religion which he and his wife, Madonna, practice, but it wouldn’t be deserved. (At worst, the movie is a bit pretentious.) Read more

film review: YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH

Written, produced & directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based upon a novella by Mircea Eliade
Director of Photography: Mihai Malaimare, Jr.
Edited by Walter Murch
Music by Osvaldo Golijov
Released by Song Pictures Classics
USA/Germany/Italy/France/Romania. 124 min. Rated R
With Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara & Bruno Ganz

When it comes to judging the works of our beloved directors, we tend to give them a lot of slack. After all, we are looking at a body of work, not just a blip in a career that is all but iconic. Sitting through Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” back in 1999 was a painful experience for so many of us fans because the legendary filmmaker only put out like one film every 10 years. On top of that, it turned out to be his last, which only added salt to the wound. The truth is, after experiencing movies as flawless as “Lolita” or “Dr. Strangelove”, the bar had been raised so spectacularly high that it really had become impossible for the filmmaker to reach the same standards he was responsible for creating. So the sinking feeling came over us because we knew we were watching an utter disaster. Oh sure, we became apologists and gave the movie every benefit of the doubt, but we knew that had any other filmmaker made this same movie we would have dismissed it as hack work or, at best, the stuff of self indulgence. The same experience might have occurred sitting through any of Scorsese’s movies since Casino.

Now comes Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth”, a big gorgeous mess of a movie. One ought to applaud Coppola for producing something experimental at this stage of his career. He could just as easily have put out “Godfather IV” but didn’t. Honestly, it might have been a far better move, strategically speaking. “GF4″ would have made a mint and then he could have afforded to follow up with a commercial flop or two. But “Youth Without Youth”, an independent film which was largely financed by Coppola himself, will not help build any momentum for this new chapter in his career if that is, indeed, where he is at. The last movie he directed was a Grisham adaptation, “The Rainmaker”, back in 1997. The movie, a Hollywood vehicle, did well enough at the box office, but consider the fact that his daughter Sofia has put out “The Virgin Suicides”, “Lost in Translation”, and” Marie Antoinette” since then. Coppola, in addition to becoming a major winemaker, has used the intervening time to produce all three of his daughter’s films as well as assorted others but has not directed anything until now. Read more