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06/01/12 5:01pm

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Cat Scratch Fever, the impressive debut feature from Brooklynite Lisa Duva, is about about two best friends who become addicted to watching themselves online (in other dimensions). The film, which plays at the Brooklyn Film Festival this Saturday and next Friday. is like a contemporary Daisies or Celine and Julie Go Boating, but with some Charlie Kaufman/Kurt Vonnegut sci-fi sharpness.

Though we live a few miles away, I interviewed Lisa through email and g-chat, trying not to be distracted by the constant windows and updates on my screen. The night before, I had fallen asleep watching her film on my laptop, and then dreamt of the interview. So by the time I got around to our actual dialogue, I had a virtual sense of deja-vu, eerily reminiscent of the one that drives the characters in her film into a dysfunctional and hilarious insanity.

How did you first see Celine and Julie Goes Boating and Daisies? How and when did you decide to make a contemporary version?
I didn’t actually set out to make a contemporary version of either film. That just sort of happened. It’s like we were psychically channeling Celine and Julie. So much of the similarities in the film were purely coincidental. My original intent was to make a sci-fi film about how the internet, new forms of communication (like texting and Skype) and the fast pace of our media had completely saturated my life.

About three years ago I was not in a very good place. I was vaguely employed, I felt like I really didn’t have many skills or much to offer the world, I had barely produced any work of my own. I spent all day looking for jobs, going on Facebook, reading blogs and getting sucked into the internet vortex. I wasn’t really leaving the house. At a certain point, I realized that I had lost days of my life staring at a computer screen and I wasn’t even being productive. That’s where the idea came from. I wanted to make a film about having almost limitless options in life, but being too paralyzed by your own fear of failure/laziness/commitment issues to take the first step in any one direction.

Around that time I had seen Primer and was really excited by the idea that I could make a sci-fi film with no special effects. I had also read Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt,” which really helped clarify the ending of the film for me. And I was watching an insane amount of reality television, notably Intervention, which definitely influenced the story arc of the film. Stripped to its bones, Cat Scratch Fever is an addiction story. After I had the initial concept of the film, I took it to Andrew Luis and Katherine Nolfi, who shot and produced the film; Katherine also co-wrote and helped edit. Katherine suggested I watch Celine and Julie Go Boating, but it’s very difficult to track down. I ended up watching most of the film on YouTube, but in French, so I didn’t understand 50% of it. I didn’t actually watch the full film with English subtitles until after I had completed Cat Scratch. Katherine is the cinephile, and she also handed me Daises while I was editing, because I was getting frustrated that the third act wasn’t, for lack of a more eloquent word, weird enough. I completely fell in love with Daises and it ended up informing a tremendous amount of the editing and reshoots.

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What formats did you shoot (or find) to produce the different dimensions’ looks? Or were those looks altered in post?
To get that “alternate reality look,” we just shot the footage playing on the screen of my laptop. I love the way it looks. We tried to stay away from computer effects and animation as much as possible. I wanted the film to feel really homemade and sort of skuzzy. We didn’t spend a lot of money making it, so I wanted to embrace that aesthetically, instead of trying to fight it.

How long was the production? How did the story evolve through that production?
The production took us about two and a half years, off and on, nights, weekends and early mornings. The story changed pretty drastically. Only a handful of scenes from my original outline made it into the film, and even they ended up drastically altered. The only scene from the original outline that remained was the ending. I was so protective of that scene, I never even really explained it to anyone except for Katherine. I saw it so clearly in my mind, I wanted to preserve it, so I ended up inadvertently keeping my lead actors, Kara Elverson and Starsha Gill, in the dark about it. It’s pretty remarkable that so many people went along with this project for years without actually knowing where the script was going. But that last scene was my beacon. Any changes to the script were fine (some of them were really painful for me, but eventually I came around) as long as they served the final scene, ’cause it’s the punch line and the heart of the film.

How did you cast it?
Kara and Starsha and I went to Sarah Lawrence together and ran in similar circles, but I was always intimidated by them; they were both so cool and beautiful. I never knew Kara as an actress, but I knew Starsha acted, and had seen her in plays, but I had to convince her to come read. Kara is her real-life best friend, so once she was on board, Starsha decided it would be ok. I knew I wanted them to play the leads almost instantly. I love the way they are together. Everything they do makes me laugh.

I also REALLY wanted to work with Sophia Takal and Kate Lyn Sheil, but I knew they wouldn’t have the time to work on and off on the same film for over a year, so I wrote two supporting roles for them that they agreed to play, which they do brilliantly. But the script ended up changing significantly over the course of shooting and editing, and I ended up with only a brief scene with the two of them at the end.

04/12/12 10:23am

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Even though Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman’s latest film, is set in a collegiate Oz rather than the Ivy League, he continues to have an unshakeable reputation as cinema’s Preppie ambassador. But preppie looks in the films—and on him—are in many ways simply an economical solution for a look that doesn’t age, as much a matter of penny-pinching as aesthetics. (Buying a few beautiful pieces and wearing them until they fall apart is a form of anti-consumerism.) So preppie in his films is a bi-product of a search for timelessness, appropriate for films that usually take place in a nonspecified moment in the past and seem, too, instantly like classics.

Stillman spoke with us about classic collegiate looks, his Rushmore-esque past, and his fashion advice for those with a “pathology of cheapness.”

The new film takes place on a campus. Do you have thoughts on classic American collegiate looks?
What is that book that’s so famous, Take Ivy? It’s a very famous book about American collegiate fashion.

The Japanese book?
Yes. It looks terrible. In my memory it was much better. I remember the old catalogs for my school, the Millbrook school, and everyone looked kind of woodsy and great. It was a very naturalist-oriented school. And it’d be interesting to see the old school catalogs from the early 60s.

Were the catalogs anything like the reality?
Absolutely. They didn’t have the budget to hire models. But I think my clothes, when I went away to school, my mother had bought at Giant supermarket, or something like that. It wasn’t very prepossessing.

But there was a really nice spirit in that school. It was crawling with people like Violet [Greta Gerwig’s character in Damsels in Distress], actually, people who seemed really off-putting but they were actually really kind of nice and sweet. I remember coming from a school in Washington DC that was supposed to be really right on and political and correct; people were really mean to each other. Then I went up to Millbrook, and I remember a guy coming to my room and opening my closet and checking out my clothes. People there would be very competitive and observant. It was fun mocking. But it didn’t make you feel bad. It was being included.

What about sneakers and or sweatshirts? Those are kind of classic collegiate looks.
Oh really? [Faux-innocently] You know, I’ve never worn sneakers or sweatshirts in my life. And I wore blue jeans—pretty much the same pair of blue jeans—every day, throughout college. And I decided the moment I graduated from college that I would never wear blue jeans again. And I have never worn blue jeans again.

The tuxedos that you used in Metropolitan, created such a distinctive look—black and white in color—and created a sort of code, everyone dressed alike, and a specific world for the film. I heard that you got them for free?
That was one of the key things about that production. Because one of the ideas of Metropolitan was we could the actors dressed formally, and it would look different from all the other independent films; it wouldn’t look like a typical Sundance film. (Which was a problem, because we almost didn’t get into Sundance.) We thought this could be very cinematic, very minimalist and cinematic. So it would be these very dressed up characters talking in a very rich, plush room. And the whole story came from that.

So the key thing was to get these clothes. So I said to someone on the production, go to A.T. Harris. And she went to A.T. Harris, and he loved her—she was a really charming girl—and he said we could use all the evening clothes we wanted, for free. Also we had a scene that we wanted to shoot there, and he was the tailor. He said that he made so much money from Metropolitan, that he bought a country house. Metropolitan was the perfect ad for A.T. Harris.

Next: Whit’s Guide to Style

04/11/12 4:00am

Goodbye First Love

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Opens April 20

Perpetual butterflies, a love that always seems new, is the subject of Goodbye First Love, the sensitive but unsentimental third film from Mia Hansen-Løve. Time has always been the primary subject of her films, so a natural subject for her is a young woman’s inability to “turn the page,” as Hansen-Løve has described it, on a love that feels like it’s never ended and can always begin again.

Lola Créton (Bluebeard’s teenage bride with the preternaturally sapient gaze in Catherine Breillat’s filmed fairytale) plays Camille, the young woman who can’t get over him. Though her style evolves from 1999 through 2007, the actress doesn’t age as the character transitions from a schoolgirl to a professional architect. Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), the dopey and mop-headed photographer with a winning grin who dodges her adoration in order to backpack around the world, also stays the same. This is the most obvious way that Hansen-Løve freezes time. 

While ostensibly about an unshakeable physical attraction, the film mostly dwells respectfully in Camille’s solitude after she’s been abandoned. It’s about life that goes on in the absence of love. She refuses to move on, but while time seems to have stopped for her emotionally, she’s taken on a new all-encompassing love: an occupation. That her eventual new lover is her professor seems an admission that sometimes work and love are the same thing. This is also clearly autobiographical, since Hansen-Løve learned filmmaking (a practical and lofty skill not unlike architecture) under the tutelage of her own lover-mentor Olivier Assayas. With this film, though, she shakes off his influence that was obvious in her last film, Father of My Children: the sequences of elliptical (rather than still) time, and the clichéd gazing-at-the-Seine scenes. Her own style emerges here—elegant and original. She hasn’t quite shaken the too on-the-nose use of pop songs, though; here it’s the wistful, shimmering folk of the Incredible String Band. Though it does work when one long, twanging instrumental underlies the montage when Camille meets her architect, and a new chapter of her life begins. Though she can’t turn the page, she can flip the record over.

03/23/12 4:00am

In conjunction with her retrospective at Anthology Film Archives beginning today, Sara Driver has selected a handful of films to screen in complement to her own work.

Sara Driver’s Carte Blanche selection of the Hollywood masterpieces Cat People and Topper provides an exemplary lesson in low-budget filmmaking, a reminder that a filmmaker with no money should avoid making storyboards detailing what to shoot, and instead daydream and night dream enough to muster up a mood of paranoia, lust and regret, and glean from this familiar urban mix exactly what not to show on screen.

Shadows are important for this mood, but so are ghostly lights and sounds. Driver excels at both of these in her 80s New York nocturnal fairytale Sleepwalk, as well as in her Paul Bowles-based (and seemingly Jane Bowles-inspired) featurette You Are Not I, about mental illness and sisters swapping identities. The haunted, dreamy spell cast by Driver’s films make them absolutely worth seeing, but the charm comes from the humor, both kooky (most notable in the form of a sexy foreign flake played by Ann Magnuson in Sleepwalk) and downbeat. It’s terrific then that she’s screening the great ghost comedy, Topper, based on a book by the king of occult light literature, Thorne Smith.

Topper is the story of self-involved socialite ghosts in limbo (played by Cary Grant and Constance Bennett) who continue to drink endless Pink Ladies and get into some extramarital hanky panky while trying to do a good deed to get out of purgatory. Their target? Painfully uptight Cosmo Topper, who they want to loosen up, to make ride slides into paper lantern-lit nightclubs and to hang from chandeliers, as they do. Sexy Bennett (sister of Joan) is the siren to pull him out of the mud he’s stuck in, with her breezy delivery of lines and her slinky body that pops in and out of view. At one point, while talking to Topper, she says droopily before dematerializing, “You don’t mind if I save my energy and you just look at nothing for a while, do you?” As in Driver’s work, there is an ineffable and weary charm in Topper, here from bodies that go unseen, or half seen, if they can muster up the energy.

02/24/12 4:00am

Melvin Van Peebles is like Leonardo da Vinci as an American bad-mouthed, bad-ass pioneer. He’s done everything, and done it first. Releasing and marketing his own film, the hit Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, he became a trailblazing American independent producer, and before that he was the first black director to shoot in Hollywood itself. But before either of these experiences, in order to get started as a filmmaker, he had to learn French and became a New Wave French filmmaker. His little seen first feature film, La Permission (The Story of a Three Day Pass), screens on Saturday night at 92YTribeca, followed by a Q&A, and then a performance by his band Laxative (“Because I don’t take no shit”).

The film is a smart and playful film about a black serviceman on three-day leave who has a romance with a white French woman, and it’s often considered Peebless’ best. He followed up this film by inventing rap. (“Is that true?” I asked him. “Yep,” he said matter-of-factly.) And later went on to become the first black trader on Wall Street. He currently splits his time among residences in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. In my visit to his 10th-floor Manhattan apartment, filled with windows and his large paintings and sculptures, he also taught me to play the piano. Since he didn’t know how to read music, but composed the music to his films, he long ago devised a simple numeric system which he taught me. Within three minutes, I could play the Sweetback theme. There’s nothing this man cannot do.

So it’s interesting, because you’re known as this trailblazing independent filmmaker, but you had to go to France to get your first feature made. So what happened? You were living in San Francisco and you’d made a few short films.

I went to Hollywood and presented my work, and I asked for a job, and they’d offer me a job as an elevator operator.

What would they say to you?
Move, nigger. [Long laughter from us both.] Nah! They wouldn’t say that…

But that’s what was between the lines?
It wasn’t even between the lines: “Gee, I would like to be a director.” “Great, we could use an elevator operator.” God damn y’all! I was born at night, but not last night. But I was used to that.

I saw an old interview from when you came back to San Francisco to present La Permission, and you said of your time in America, “Oh, I got discouraged.” And then you corrected yourself and said, “No, then I got evil.” What did that mean? You were gonna do it any way you could?
Yeah. By any means necessary.

So then you moved to France?
No. That’s when I went to my second love, and moved to Holland to get my PhD in astronomy.

Are you kidding me?
Nah. I used to be a navigator in a secret jet bomber, and was the only black man in my squadron. This shit goes on and on…

So in Holland is where your name got “Dutched”, where you adopted the Van?
No, it’s on my birth certificate.

Oh, I read that somewhere.
No, it’s good you asked. Somewhere it says that, but that’s BS. It’s on my birth certificate. BUT, you gotta use what you got. When I applied they assumed I was this old Dutch descendant… but nobody asked me! I didn’t speak a word of Dutch. But pretty soon, I learned to speak it.

01/25/12 4:00am

A Man Escaped (1956)
Directed by Robert Bresson
Through Thursday, January 26 at Film Forum

A Man Escaped is a perfect film. It is a film about friendship, an emotional reverberation directly struck for ten seconds only, late in the film; the rest of the film, with its aura of absorbed isolation, is in place to lead up to that momentary reveal. Bresson is a master of temporality.

Before that breakthrough, finally, of life, a WWII prisoner doomed to die fixates on the details of his planned jailbreak with bloodied yet fastidious obsession. Real life outside the prison, one of drama and ceremony, is glimpsed at in flashes. (“These things happen,” is the comment on some scandal of married life betrayal. “In life,” says another character after a long pause.) And a character in the yard is dressed for a wedding, while our hero wears the same stained shirt every day. His world increasingly narrows to the smallest detail, the difference between tin or steel spoons, between types of wood in his cell door, all noticed while looking down and plotting his escape.

Watching A Man Escaped is also an archeological project, because the basic structure, tone and even specific shots from Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket—one of the most underrated of overquoted films—are revealed through viewing the Bresson, similarly a film about entrapment and friendship. While it’s probably the funniest film in the Anderson oeuvre, what makes Bottle Rocket so affective are the tragic bones supporting all that hubristic absurdity. A Man Escaped, obviously an influence on that Anderson caper comedy, reveals the basic emotional elements of that tragic tone: the building-block images of entrapment, obsessive details of imprisonment, and the imagination and industry that will lead to a dreamed-of escape. Bottle Rocket travels in reverse, though, from escape (though a faked one, from a mental hospital) in the first scene, to Owen Wilson’s hard eyes of resignation that there is no way out of prison at the film’s end, which, like the Bresson inversed, is a startling shift in tone. Another Andersonian tic revealed to have its genesis in this Bresson is the acting style, temperance masking emotional turmoil. Yet, a comparison also reveals where Anderson falls flat, particularly in comparison to the master (probably) Bresson; Anderson can’t structure a film to save his life. The meandering journey across imaginative, mapped-out otherworlds has become a structure of his own, but in watching this Bresson, or any Bresson, the art of filmmaking as the yoking of disparate bits into one cohesive line has very obviously no peer nor successor.

12/01/11 4:00am

Sleeping Beauty
Directed by Julia Leigh

Sleeping Beauty, the directorial debut by the novelist Julia Leigh about a broke college girl who finds herself selling her body in an Eyes Wide Shut-style high-end whore mansion, seems as if it was developed from a very strong three-sentence thesis that emerges in the film’s last few scenes. That thesis can be summed up like this: “To be a woman is to sleepwalk through endless disrespect and abuse aimed, not towards you, but all women. And this bitterness or hatred has its root in men’s resentment over their sexual need combined with economic equality that keeps women needy. Furthermore, as a woman, if you wake up to face the reality of the man who needs to lord his power over a woman—all women—because of feeling powerless while naked and vulnerable in her presence, if you face the pathetic desperation of that hatred head on, the only thing to do is scream.”

When Lucy (Emily Browning), the milky-skinned redhead with a crescent moon physique, who has been paid handsomely to “sleep” while rich johns do anything except penetration to her ( including calling her bitch, ashing in her ear and dragging her limp body around in a rage), finally does open her eyes to face this, she sees the horror, the horror, and screams. This is a very strong thesis, but it’s not a good movie.

The film is well-written, self-consciously so. The dialogue and elliptical action unfold like a good New Yorker short story, including the annoyances implied by that descriptor. Particularly irksome is Lucy’s “chummy”-signalling banter with her nerdy male best friend (Ewen Leslie) who eats cereal with vodka while voicing poignant metaphors about their lives found from watching animal nature shows on TV. And while there seems to be a visual allusion towards the masked and topless creepy mystery of Eyes Wide Shut, here the ladies of the night resemble bondage versions of Robert Palmer video girls; there is no eerie fantasy, just tacky black latex looks that signal “sexy.” Camera placement seems to have not been given much thought, except for one daring direct address that doesn’t come off well. The quiet sound design is stellar, though, and keeps it watchable. (The real mystery, for me, became, how did she get this particular sound designer who is so much more skilled than anyone else in this production?)

The feeble afterthought of execution is not the only problem in this film that seems to have been developed from a thesis and worked its way backwards into the story. The most unnerving aspect of this elliptically literary film is that nothing before that final thesis statement—that scream—registers as real nor even as a metaphor with any resonance. Prostitution and rape are confusingly conflated, which is a sneakily conservative idea that takes away any sense of power for a woman in either situation. Also, simulated sex (without penetration) is not sex. Simulated rape is not rape. Even viewing filmed sex (with penetration) is closer to watching an empowered form of prostitution than it is to getting a voyeuristic sense of power over a woman. (In fact, much of acting could be considered at least metaphorically an empowered form of prostitution, and so could much of the experience of all women as sexual objects, as Siew Hwo Beh stated in her 1972 Women & Film article on Godard’s 1962 Vivre sa vie, which played with both those themes.) But watching a woman being paid to not react as someone throws her limp body around a room, particularly in a film with an anemically anti-erotic yet titillating tone, feels like voyeurism with all empowerment in the equation drained; it feels like watching abuse. But, perhaps this is just a very good metaphor for the limp and choiceless position of most actresses in 2011.

Opens December 2

11/07/11 4:15pm

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The stage was set for Performa: Not Funny—a wryly programmed series, presented by Performa 11 at Anthology Film Archives, about the overlap of filmed stand-up comedy and video performance art in the politically electric late 70s—by the first two programs last week: Lenny Bruce’s not funny reading of his obscenity charges, and the greatest performance film ever made, featuring revolutionary Richard Pryor, who gently chuckles a “fuck you” out to a heckler before turning the lights on his audience, not to heckle back but to point out that Huey P. Newton is sitting among them. In all the pieces in this series, the joke is not for but both on and independent of the audience.

No one takes that further than Andy Kaufman, whose creepy-genius subversive shorts are screened tonight in a program called Comics on the Edge in the 1970s. Kaufman begins one performance act by playing “himself” (with a bizarre Canadian/British accent) who announces in a comic club that both his and the audience’s time would be better spent by reading aloud from The Great Gatsby. The resulting sound of laughter turning into low groans of discontent and then into a chorus of harmonized boos is fascinating and frightening, and worthy of a gallery installation. Kaufman is deadpan throughout this coup, even when he soothes the discontented by playing a record (of him reading The Great Gatsby). He only cracks once, in a bit from another performance, when making a joke about Will Rogers’s fatal plane crash in front of an audience at Carnegie Hall; Kaufman entertains himself by stretching subversion of audience expectations as far as it will go. He later takes the entire audience at Carnegie Hall out for milk and cookies, by twenty buses in two groups, which is funny mostly for its arithmetic.

Also in this program is Albert Brooks’ Famous School for Comedians, an elaborate answer to, “So, you think you could be a comedian, too?” Reliably bitter and smug, Brooks films this short as if it were an infomercial mocking not just the thought that anyone could do this job, but the fact that anyone would want to. Before graduating, each newly minted comedian has to pick which disease to contribute his talents towards eliminating (“there are still a few different kinds of cancer left”), just in case he makes it big, because a life devoted to making fun also needs to be devoted to “the serious side.”

Also mocking the commercial format is William Wegman’s video art, the highlight of tomorrow night’s program of “California-based” video artists, and also the biggest surprise, given Wegman’s fame for, primarily, dog calendar art. Shaggy-haired Wegman is deadpan and succinct in brilliant jokes that are deconstructions of the punchline. Each video is a punchline freed from its joke, floating free into outer-space absurdity.

Also in this program is Eleanor Antin’s brilliant and hilariously neurotic The Little Match Girl Ballet, a studio-bound video art telling of The Black Swan, made 35 years before. (Here, Antin is transformed into Elinora Antinova, or the Black Match Girl, before dancing to her death.) Just as the best bits of that Aronofsky film were the subway scenes filmed on the 1 train with a still camera, lo-fi seems a better way of telling this archetypal story of tutus and alter egos. Antin lets the unadorned myth assimilate into the audience’s imaginations; she lets the audience do the work.

10/16/11 10:00am

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Wim Winders’’s 3-D dance documentary Pina played yesterday evening at the 49th New York Film Festival. Sundance Selects will release the movie theatrically in December.

It started out so promising: my 3-D glasses on, I was prepared to lose myself in what is reputed to be the best use so far of this swish sensation in popular motion pictures, and happily prepared to witness Wim Wenders’ comeback (after his disastrous Don’t Come Knocking six years ago, which was not a bad film but simply incoherent). After all, he’s making a documentary in three dimensions about modern dance legend Pina Bausch, a choreographer so fun, intelligent, and crazy—so good—that it would be impossible to fuck this up. The initial images on screen of gauzy curtains suggest the layers of depth on the stage, and the dirt then dumped on that same stage prepares us for Bausch’s fun irreverence. Ah, dance in 3-D is such a good idea, like orchestra seats for 12 dollars. But after this initial scene, Wenders decides to get arty. Do arty dances need arty interpretations, restaged over ravines and on German trams? It’s distracting, and an embarrassing 80s modern dance/arthouse throwback stylistically (and a reminder that Bausch’s dances themselves seem classically timeless). Also, surprisingly and disappointingly, the vast expanses of these location shoots don’t come off well in 3-D while the simple stage set up, with a few accessories to illustrate its depth, do.

Interspersed between the dances are interviews with people who worked with and worshiped Bausch. But these heads don’t talk, they ponder and gaze into the middle distance, while narration and floating subtitles let us know what’s on their minds. It’s a neat trick to keep this from looking like a typical documentary portrait. But it’s annoying as hell. Too bad Wenders didn’t concentrate instead on getting better content, asking better questions, or just letting the dancers dance when what they have to say are mostly vaporous banalities. Worse, besides the opening scene and those subtitles that felt like they were floating somewhere between the movie and your lap, the 3-D goes almost unnoticed. With a simple 3-D setup of Bausch’s mobs of repetitive gestures signaling insistent emotion, with soloists pivoting between strength and pain, with her choreography that’s typified by one direction recounted here (“You just have to get crazier!” she had told one dancer), this could have been a masterpiece. But instead Pina is more Wenders than Bausch.

10/12/11 4:00am

You All Are Captains
Directed by Oliver Laxe

This beautifully shot black-and-white fiction/fact hybrid, concerning director Oliver Laxe’s work teaching filmmaking to underprivileged boys in Morocco, is worth seeing for its attractively stark images and occasionally wry self-awareness, but the themes can be guessed in advance. Though predictable, the film’s poignant moments are worthwhile for arising from issues infrequently addressed so directly in ethnographies. For instance, the children swarm in with their cameras on a group of white tourists walking through their streets, and a German couple comments that they should ask permission before invading with their cameras, suggesting of course an opposite question that goes unasked. And a man praises Laxe’s work with the poor children, telling him what a good “message” the film sends. But one boy complains about Laxe and his arty self-reflexive techniques: “He gathers images about miscellaneous facts, crimes, thefts… I’m telling you the truth, it isn’t a film. A film needs a story.”

The Parisian-born Spaniard Laxe describes himself as a neo-colonialist filmmaker, but means a Colonial Guilt filmmaker. While the transparency of this privileged do-gooder’s role as outsider observer and narrative imposer is admirable, admission does not automatically give him a pass. The self-absorbed focus on his role in these children’s lives, and in this film, seems a bit one-note compared to the glimpses of imagination that the boys exhibit in the stories they want to shoot and even in their energetic shouts at “Spaghetti,” their nickname for the lanky Laxe. The handsome bohemian, with his long dark hair and scruffy beard, looks very similar to Russell Brand, and in fact some of this film’s themes were covered more succinctly in the funny part of Brand’s Get Him to the Greek, the “Africa Child” music video (in which he parodies a rock star who makes a video about an African white Christ from outer space with a “small African child trapped in me”). The little boy may or may not be right that a film needs a story, but a feature film apology like this is lacking some oomph and nuance.

Opens October 19 at Anthology Film Archives