Wednesday, March 28, 2007

March 28th Log

2007, Anthony Minghella, United Kingdom / United States

1st Viewing, Theater

Breaking and Entering is a film full of metaphors. The title itself is a metaphor not necessarily for burglary (which is a part of the film), but more a metaphor for human emotions as well as the barriers of class and ethnicity. Anthony Minghella has also been a fine craftsman as a filmmaker and he almost always gets great performances form his cast. Such is the case here with Minghella’s sixth feature film. There are definitely some contrived elements at work here but somehow it works to great effect, probably because of the skillful direction of Minghella and the performances of his cast. There is an intelligence to Breaking and Entering that make it so absorbing as a film. The revelation is a supporting character played by Vera Farmiga (who recently had a breakout role in Martin Scorsese’s award-winning The Departed). Here Farmiga plays a prostitute and though she is only on screen a couple times, her character breeds some real insight and intellect to the themes and emotions. It is a film in which characters are lost or lying with each other and she offers straight up honesty (by saying she she’ll offer anything you want… except talk, because talking is lying). She flips out on Jude Law for giving her perfume as a gift ("Do you think I like to smell like this? Men are incredible!”). Farmiga and this character really give this film something special, but it is only briefly. The film remains effective if somewhat artificial throughout. Jude Law is solid in the lead role as is Juliette Binoche.

2006, Alfonso Cuaron, United Kingdom / United States
Repeat Viewing, DVD

With his sixth feature, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has ascended to the level of a master. Cuaron continues to prove his vast visionary skills with a variety of versatile films. Cuaron makes genre films that thrive creatively when working against genre conventions. Children of Men is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, right from the very opening frame (a gritty shot of shocked and sadden faces looking up at a TV screen). Just a few shots later, a lengthy tracking shot (one of many) leads to a shocking explosion. In these opening moments, Cuaron has quickly established an intense tone, a dazzling visual style, and a bleak futuristic atmosphere. The setting is England 2027, and we see a world that has collapsed in chaos. Humanity is in danger of being extinct and the violence extends throughout the entire globe (transcending race, class, religion, and even nationality). Children of Men presents this futuristic world with richly textured details, and without overtly explaining everything that is happening. Cuaron trusts the viewer and trusts in imagination, and this is where his visual creativity becomes most expressive. Cuaron’s control over composition and space is breathtaking. There are shots that simply develop into perfect compositions as Cuaron’s long tracking shots reveal expressive framing. Some of the shots in this film seem impossible (the SUV terrorist scene, giving birth, finding the crying baby, and of course the moving shot of Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey carrying the baby through a group of war-torn soldiers that become frozen in a brief moment of hope and humanity). Cuaron keeps the significance of technology as the backdrop, but always makes it’s existence evident (including it’s evolution, which has seemingly progressed despite the demise of the world around it). If the film has any weak moment it is perhaps the battle scenes in the last act, but more so because it lacks the richness and imagination of the previous moments. Either way, the technical craftsmanship of these scenes are no less remarkable. Cuaron has made a masterpiece of art and mainstream filmmaking. There are multiple layers at work in this sc-fi world of realism, and the small details reveal themselves on further viewings (such as the way human use pets as emotional compensation for the loss of children). The film is formed with ideas and images that are not so far from reflecting contemporary society. By transcending genre standards, Cuaron has made a thought-provoking creation of a potential nightmare of the 21st century. He does this intelligently and without force, while leaving a compassionate hope for humanity and the future (capped off by a closing shot that reveals a chance for "Tomorrow"). The film is one of despair, but Cuaron doesn't dwell on this and instead leaves with ambiguous hope and compassion for humanity. This may be best expressed simply in the way the film opens and closes with the title (while the opening title is revealed with ambient dead air, the closing credits use the sound of children playing- surely a sign of a positive future for humanity. Children of Men is a powerful film, but above all you have to admire the visual presence in the filmmaking (including the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, as well as the performances- especially Clive Owen and Michael Caine). I still think Y Tu Mama Tambein is my favorite Cuaron film, but this is his most remarkably heart-pounding and breathtaking.

>> I decided to push back the repeat viewing of Mikio Naruse’s Flowing for Thursday Night…


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