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Entries in Nuri Bilge Ceylan (2)



2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle 

Jean-luc Godard lost interest in classical narrative structure about the same time he quit caring about the problems of men. In his early films, still exploring archetypes from cinema’s past, Godard depicted men who died (physically, spiritually, morally) imitating the onscreen icons of their upbringing. Cleansed of that struggle his own self, JLG turned from the problems of men to the problem of masculinity. That did not include profession or being a warrior or a father. Instead, he asked how does a man make the woman he loves fall and stay in love with him. Like Eric Rohmer, Godard has little doubt about the answer to that question: he can’t. At least, not intentionally.

Having dealt with men, movies and masculinity in ‘65’s Alphaville and Pierrot le fou, and finished with modern romance by ’66’s Masculin,féminin, (a period of creative output to rival Bob Dylan’s, only without the amphetamines) Godard turned to women. The dissonance between their social/sexual power and their political/economic oppression became the prism through which he viewed societal ills. Capitalism was foremost, with Vietnam and the consumerism-driven loss of the soul right behind.JLG’s favorite repeating metaphor for this tension—manifest by the lead character in 1966’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle—is prostitution.

Based on a non-fiction article in Le Nouvelle Observateur, 2 Or 3 Things follows a young mother who turns tricks—at the urging of her mechanic husband—to pay for their apartment in the soulless, newly-built, high-rise suburbs surrounding Paris. We first meet Marina Vlady, the lead actress, facing the camera as Godard whispers in voice-over: “Is her hair dark auburn or light brown? I can’t tell. Now she turns to the right—it doesn’t matter.” Godard whispers throughout the film, reminding us that an entire world of thought, politics, culture and assumption surround the story-telling.

Though story meant increasingly less to JLG—except as a chariot for his theoretical notions—here the human moments are perfectly observed, moving and never driven by plot necessity. It’s a measure of Godard’s influence that his fragmented narrative—interrupted by long shots of consumer products, epic tableau of building construction and meandering portraits of cars in traffic—proves easy to follow. Forty years ago it might have been confusing. Since then, the larger world of cinema has not caught up to Godard, but it has cannibalized what it can digest.

2 or 3 Things stands as the end of Godard’s classical period and the beginning of his more fragmented, primarily political, Brechtian, post-modern work. It also marks the height, until recently, of Godard’s adoration of visual beauty for its own sake. 2 or 3 Things is astonishingly beautiful. Given that many of the loveliest shots feature unlovely subjects—mostly suburban sprawl—it’s hard to discern now whether Godard sought a Brutalism/Futurist appreciation for the oppressive architecture of social fascism, or if he expects us to find it ugly. He doesn’t seem to find this new world lacking in seduction.

The film moves from parody (Vlady’s husband listening to Lyndon Johnson declare his intention to bomb Moscow) to social essay: Vlady works in a brothel featuring a day-care center and customers paying with consumer goods. “All I have is cat food,” Vlady’s trick mutters. “Will that do?” He adds his can to pile.

Interspersed are exquisite panorama of construction scenes, massive freeways and blank skyscrapers, evoking the framing, composition and just plain weirdness of William Eggleston. (That is, they evoke Eggleston now. 2 or 3 Things appeared a decade prior to Eggleston’s MoMA debut.) Godard’s genius cinematographer, Raoul Coutard (Jules et JimLe MéprisWeekend), captures the oppression and machine-made sensuality of this alien universe: a robins-egg-blue dump truck jerking back and forth, the unbearable weight of a freeway hovering over the workers beneath, a slow pan across a horizon of glass and steel.

Because it stands with Le Mépris as Godard’s most beautiful, cinematographic and profound film—and because its modernity is both Pop and so of any age—this brand-new, remastered 35mm print is a revelation (new, more idiomatic subtitles have also been added). The Pop seduction of consumerism is explored via garish shots of detergent, the inside of electronic devices and construction cranes made ominous and sexual. Unlike the winter-cold irony of Alphaville or the snotty affection of Masculinfeminn3 or 2 offers an early glimpse of the exquisite heartache that so informs Godard’s more recent works, like 2001’s In éloge de l’amour and 2004’s Notre musique. Godard cuts between moments crammed with banal dialogue and ambient-sound dioramas of a new city being noisily created. He finds his poetry in the spaces between these moments/shots, and the irresistible horror/beauty of the industrial maelstrom as only Godard could perceive it. He creates an ineffable, purely cinematic poetry, where there is no accounting for the powerful emotions his juxtapositions provide. The impulse to become over-analytical is a by-product of sitting through any Godard picture. But 2 Or 3 Thingsis the rare Godard film in which the emotions hit harder and linger longer than the ideas. As always, he’s witty as hell. As one montage makes you ache, another makes you laugh aloud.

Contemporaneous critical writing insisted that Godard was determined to shatter filmic narrative convention. Forty years after 2 or 3 Things’ initial release, it’s clear that Godard simply replaced classic structure with his own—more emotionally driven—pacing, plot and emphasis. He may not longer care about what-happens-next, but he puts two images together with an awareness of their power, and, more importantly, of the resonance their montage creates. Nobody thinks like Godard, nobody cuts like him, nobody lets ideas carry emotion and emotion carry ideas as he does. With, like, ninety films made and who knows how many more to come, it’s tough to claim that one is his finest. But there is one you must not miss, one that must be seen on the big screen. This is it.

There’s No Aggression
Like Passive Aggression

Film Forum Limited Engagement

Nuri Bilge Ceylan may be the least-known of the world’s four or five greatest directors. Only his 2003 Distant (Uzak) is available on DVD. With Distant, Ceylan proved himself the first clear artistic descendant of Tarkovsky. Using Tarkovsky-like framing and pacing (that is, slooow), Ceylan explored the existential discontents of Turkey’s urban and rural cultures, through a story of an unwelcome country bumpkin coming to visit his sophisticated, emotionally paralyzed Istanbul cousin. Released in 2002, Distant had a tiny domestic theatrical showing in 2004, and was easily the best film of the year. It shares a kinship of look, feel, pacing and melancholy with another outstanding film of that year, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return.

Climates, Ceylan’s new film, focuses more on human connection than a larger cosmic or political theme. Ceylan cast himself and Ebru Ceylan (they are married) as a couple whose love has turned to grinding bitterness. Climates explores how a man who never says what he means drives love away even as he yearns for it daily. Some of the most moving scenes are practically dialogue-free, and all are shot in rich, painterly palette that is Ceylan’s trademark.

A gifted still photographer, he composes a visually nourishing frame that bears the weight of his long, unmoving takes. There are images in this film that no film before has attempted and depictions of relationship moments too familiar to bear. Without a doubt, Climate is the best film of the year.



1) Brick

Noir as high school, high school as noir. The life or death impenetrable social horror of the hierarchies of jocks, babes, geeks and one cool loner get inverted through a prism of classic noir tropes: the femme fatale, the mysterious boss, the thug with a heart of gold and, of course, the letterman bully who rules the parking lot after study hall. As in high school, the kids invent their own slang. As in noir, slang = code, and means someone has to think harder to keep up. The story’s tight, the cast all gorgeous but true to their roles, and unknown enough to keep the focus on the narrative. The mannered moments are, for noir, precisely as mannered as they should be, and the air of absurdism and tragedy as intact.

Brick incarnates the best of ’06, when perverse auteurs pursued their vision with little money, and a determination to be individuals honoring traditions they admire. The best directors this year took on violence for pay, death from above, self-destructive love, teen angst, teen lust/violence, bloody murder, ex-cons and pure American psychosis. If that doesn’t comprise a perverse agenda, what does? Their films stand in contrast to the over-budgeted, self-aggrandizing wank of the big boys, who made great-looking product with scant connection between visuals and narrative, leaving only spectacle (Pan’s Labyrinth, World Trade Center, Babel). Every great film of this year built its greatness on the merging of story and cinema, until the wheel turned so fast you couldn’t tell them apart.

2) 13 Tzameti

Capitalism sucks. Poverty sucks harder. The dead end of work without any redemption in sight sucks hardest. Géla Babluani brings a refugee’s desperation and a tragedian’s eye to an unprecedented merging of Jean-Pierre Melville’s hard-boiled mythology and the new Europe’s economic reality. This transgressive, breathless, art-thriller offers a simple premise/universe: everybody’s got a gun to his head—except the paying audience panting to see who’ll survive. Karma? Instant, baby, instant.

3) United 93

Of course you didn’t see it in the theatre. Neither did I. You knew it would be either a sentimental travesty or impossible to bear. Instead, it proves shockingly immersing, mostly due to director Paul Greengrass’ invention and restraint. He remains true to the scale of each moment, never bends events to make any sort of point and somehow avoids signposting emotions. A master of cutting from one ambient sound to another to establish transition and suspense, (evoking those two classics of ambient sound-cutting Downhill Racer (1969) and The Candidate(1972)) Greengrass also directs extraordinary performances from amateurs in their real-life roles. It’s not like homework, honest. But it will tear you to pieces.

4) Climates (Iklimler)

Two smart grown-ups who could so love one another, if the guy wasn’t a repressed passive-aggressive manipulator and the girl wasn’t kind of seduced by being manipulated in a passive-aggressive way. Echoing Antonioni’s endless shots and blank faces, Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows his 2002 masterpiece Distant (Uzak) with an equally lustrous but more meditative exploration of how adults cannot or will not get out of their own way. With exquisite landscapes, ferocious sex scenes and monosyllabic arguments that burn like ten pages of Pinter, Ceylan and his wife (Ebru Ceylan) play the alienated couple as supposedly sophisticated people trudging through hurricanes of internal contradictions. That Ceylan can make those contradictions so apparent and heartbreaking is only one facet of his singular gifts.

5) Linda! Linda! Linda!

Three Japanese and one Korean high school girl have to learn and play a punk rock song for their high-school talent show (The Blue Hearts’ ripping tune of the title). That’s it. That’s the entire story. Their route from being thrown together to learning their parts to finally getting onstage is observed with a delicate eye for nuance, and miraculous understatement. And it features one of the great dream sequences of all time: the guitarist’s boyfriend gives her a magic glove made from a legendary bluesman's hand, and takes her to the school auditorium, where all the Ramones await to wish her well. Proof that we should all keep up with Imaginasian’s screening schedule: Pray for the DVD.

6) Sailor Suit & Machine Gun 
(Sailor-fuku to kikanju)

A 1981 mainstream smash hit in Japan of completely perverted, offhand, sincere, utter, impenetrable, weird strangeness. A prepubescent girl’s yakuza daddy gets murdered and she has to take over his gang. It starts like a Hayley Mills vehicle and ends with a yakuza fucking her on the floor and her wiping out a rival gang with a machine gun while screaming: “Kaikan!” (Ecstasy!). Director Somai prefers Tarkovsky-esque one-shot scenes that go on for hours, hypnotizing you as you grow mad with wonder at his skills and impatience at his pace. Proof that we should all keep up with The Japan Society’s screening schedule:

7) The Aura (El Aura)

Fabian Bielinsky’s first film, Nine Queens, played like an indie Mamet caper, only slower. Bielinsky was enamored, like Mamet, by the art of the con, and the symbiosis between player and mark. A quantum leap in style and ideas, The Aura is pure modern noir. A frightened man has fantasies above his station. Fate seems to give him a chance to play them out, but he’s not equipped for the game. He ends up with nada—not the girl, not the money, not the cajones—only blood on his hands up to the elbows. And when he gets to the end, as a frightened man in noir would, he wants to start all over again. Bielinsky’s cool, distanced wide-screen frames, bleached colors and sparse dialogue build an atmosphere of bad luck and dread. No doubt his next film would be even more compelling, if he hadn’t died in June at age 47.

8) Renaissance

What Sin City woulda, coulda, shoulda been: blazingly smart, dizzying, mind-blowing French live action/animation futuro-punk, set in a repressive Paris built thousands of levels above the Seine however many decades from now. Daniel Craig and Catherine McCormack bring an unusual level of schmoove, charm, brains and erotic appeal to B/W animated characters as they stand up to L’Homme. Not exactly the most intelligible plot, but who cares?

9) Sherry Baby

The Straight Time of 2006, told with the same sinister dispassion and acted with the same neorealist star turns. Maggie Gyllenhaal submerges herself to the demands of the character as Dustin Hoffman did 18 years ago. Being a woman, her character has to eat a whole different brand of shit, and cope with an even more parasitical universe. But Gyllenhaal’s removal from her own fate, her indifference to certain indignities and her joys at certain pleasures, make her cycle from jail to freedom to who knows what ring especially true.

10) Little Miss Sunshine

How did this film find an audience? By showcasing the aspects of American life about which Americans remain most in denial: class, drugs, the disconnect between hard work and results, the power of luck, the steamrolling acceleration of bad news and how some views of child sexuality are sanctioned and others are most certainly not. Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear bring the pain of watching real losers really lose, and Paul Dano’s primal scream is among the most harrowing moments of the year (I hope for his sake they did it in one take). That the film looks awful, and occasionally descends into slapstick below its own level, speaks only to its economic realities. That it remains subversive and honest—and that it found an audience—only adds to its grace.


The Descent
Heading South
Le Petit Lieutenant
The Illusionist