Clouds of Sils Maria – I can’t resist Ms. Binoche

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There was no way I was going to miss Juliette Binoche playing an actress. Not too long ago, I enjoyed her as another type of artist. In Words and Pictures (2014) she played an art teacher in a passionate relationship with a literature teacher (Clive Owen). Metafiction is a huge interest of mine. I’ve read it and written about it in graduate school. Since I love discussing literature, a well-done work based on the process of creating fiction grabs my attention because I get to see the details from a different angle. This is no different for me when it comes to movies that provide the same opportunity. When I heard about Clouds of Sils Maria, the current Best Picture winner (yes, I jumped up and down, as it was my pick), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, dir. and winner for Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu), came to mind—so did All About Eve (1950-Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, dir./wr. Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and, of course, Annette Bening’s Academy Award-nominated performance in one of my favorite films, Being Julia (2004-Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, dir. István Szabó).

But Clouds of Sils Maria has an extra “meta” element that is quite intriguing, and it involves the relationship between Maria Enders (Binoche) and Valentine (Kristen Stewart), her personal assistant. As Valentine helps Enders run lines (the most wonderful parts of the film for me), that element comes out in the most profound ways, emotionally and psychologically as the characters go, and in the brilliant performance of Binoche as she gives herself away to the character her character plays. It is an astounding actress playing an astounding actress. Valentine (Stewart gives a great performance here) challenges Enders, and the interplay is electrically engaging. Meanwhile, Enders, an actress in the second stage of her film and stage career, faces the new guard while enjoying her legendary status and dealing with the challenges of what decisions to make heading into her present and her future. She is apprehensive about accepting a role in a revival of a play she did in the past, but as a different character–the older one–at the opposite end of a complicated relationship. Where Enders ends up is satisfying because it is realistic, although I, as someone not familiar with writer/director Olivier Assayas’s work, was not expecting it because I didn’t allow myself to hope for such satisfaction. I should have. But either way, Clouds of Sils Maria had won me over from the start.

Yosemite – beautifully quiet and ambiguous

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Nine times out of ten I really enjoy quiet films. These films, when they are also beautifully shot, allow me to focus on subtleties and details and be free from the noise that distracts us from getting to the real business of gaining insights into the human experience. They usually include beautiful natural shots, and the cinemotography makes settings tremendously delicious. These movies allow me to focus on the characters—on people—what I love most about the movies. Yosemite is one of those films for me. My second film in my April 25th RiverRun schedule, Yosemite, set and filmed in Palo Alto, California (and Yosemite for a portion), is based on stories by James Franco (who plays a dad who takes his two young sons to Yosemite). However, the director, Gabrielle Demeestere, as she herself let us know after the film (she was in attendance!), added her own touches to the story that make it unified and complete.

Set in 1985, Yosemite gives us the stories of three young boys navigating family life, personal struggles, and complicated friendships. Along with the beauty and quietness, there is true-to-life ambiguity that leaves the audience squirming, both justifiably and questionably, as the tendency to see situations in black and white may have left some people squirming a little too much while I began to understand that there was no longer a strong necessity. But just then I was talking about one particular plot element and everything it suggests and does not suggest. There are other moments that leave us wondering, and that is a wonderful thing; squirming keeps us alive. (Explore the tag above) This film is carried by outstanding child performances (Alec Mansky. Everett Meckler, Calum John, Troy Tinnirello), and you should see Yosemite to see them learn and make their way. They have plenty to say, and they say it well.

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

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During the last Christmas holiday, my brother (43), my dad (63), and I (31) had a spirited (heated) discussion about race. I mention our ages because they, in addition to our individual personalities and experiences (which are largely shaped by our ages), have so much to do with our perspectives and comments. My mother, who I wished would join in, just sat there giving looks that said plenty. We discussed the racial problem in this country, and at one point I said, “People get tired of being mistreated, so we need to consider that long history of mistreatment while we are considering people’s actions.” While we agreed in some areas and disagreed in others, I think that my comment resonated. I cannot simply take current events into account when they are in retaliation against a long chain (I use that word deliberately) of abuse.

I thought of that conversation (which is one of many–I love family debates) after I finished watching the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson – Freedom Riders, Freedom Summer, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, The Murder of Emmett Till) at RiverRun International Film Festival (It was my first film of the day). As I watched and learned about the party and the movement and its eventual split into factions and disarray, I saw African Americans’ reactions to continued abuse. I saw the intersection of race and gender. I saw people give their lives in the fight for equality that continues today. I saw human beings facing their human flaws. But the line in the film that affected me the most was a statement that, despite infighting, despite insurmountable struggles, the original, most important purpose of the party was motivated by a love of people. That love is what inspired them to do something for their people. That is what resonates with me the most because they did something, despite an entire nation that was against them. People get tired of mistreatment. We must take into account, to quote the Declaration of Independence, the “long train of abuses and usurpations” a group suffers (really take it into account) when we judge its actions and the decisions it makes. This reminds me of what Ruby says in Cold Mountain: “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say, ‘Shit, it’s raining!'” When will this country realize that it made the weather?

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