Tag Archives: blu-ray

DVD Review: Two Days, One Night: Criterion BD Edition

Dir. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
Score: 9.5

The best film of 2014, and it wasn’t terribly close. It comes from the brilliant Belgian directing team, the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre & Luc), whose work has long shimmered with plainspoken elemental human truths. This film is a brilliant addition to their oeuvre. It stars the mesmerizing Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother, just returning to work after a bout with depression, only to find her boss has held a vote with her co-workers to keep their bonuses at the expense of her job. She is given one weekend to change their minds or be laid off. Deceptively simple in its execution, but positively stunning in its effect: It’s as honest and insightful about the human condition as Bicycle Thieves, an assertion I by no means make lightly. In the end, it’s an example of one of the rarest and best forms of morality cinema: It makes no demands, and grinds no axes, but makes its powerful statement in absolute service to its characters. A triumph.

This gorgeous Criterion blu-ray edition also features interviews with the Dardenne brothers, as well as Cotillard and co-star Fabrizio Rongione, a tour of the film’s locations, and When Léon M.’s Boot Went Down the Meuse for the First Time, a Dardenne doc from 1979, among other goodies.

Home Video Review: The Past

Dir. Asghar Farhadi
Score: 8.6

When we first meet the estranged couple Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) they are in a Paris airport, on opposite sides of thick glass partition separating new arrivals from the people there to meet them. Ahmad is returning to the city after mysteriously cutting out on Marie and her two children four years ago to return to Tehran, so the overt symbolism of the two of them trying to communicate silently through a thick wall of impenetrable, sound-proof glass is more than telling. In fact, there are many such loaded moments in Asghar Farhadi’s scintillating follow-up to the brilliant A Separation. In that film, a couple was forced to decide between trying to appease one another or splitting up and following their own necessary paths. This film considers the aftermath of such a split, which in this case has left an enormous amount of complication in its wake.

Ahmad has finally returned on behest of Marie, who wants him to sign their divorce papers in person, and, at the same time speak with his former stepdaughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), a fiery teenager seemingly headed out of her mother’s fragile control. Part of Lucie’s anger, it turns out, is directed at Marie’s boyfriend, Samir (Tahar Rahim), who has moved into their house with his young son (Elyes Aguis), even as his wife lies in a coma in a Paris hospital. Lucie, it turns out, is convinced Samir’s wife attempted to commit suicide because of her mother’s affair with her husband.

Into this den of drama, Ahmad is left just trying to do right by everyone. Put into an incredibly awkward situation by Marie, who never bothered to tell him she was now living with someone else, he struggles to stay out of everyone’s way. Speaking soothingly, cooking authentic Iranian food, he wants to close out his time with Marie and her children in as civilized and caring a manner as possible under the circumstances, but the twisted family dynamics keep threatening to embroil him even as he does his best to clear the air for everyone else.

Much as he did in his previous film, Farhadi remains the most skilled sort of narrative artist, one who refuses to take sides with his characters: Everyone is eventually given the same even-handed treatment, even with someone such as Samir, who we are bound to loathe at first, if for no other reason that we pull so much for the soft-spoken Ahmad. However, Farhadi is far too skilled to leave us with such an obvious villain: What first appears to be cold bluster and unsympathetic harshness with his son melts into something else altogether in a single moment outside a subway train in Paris, and with it, our sympathies begin to collide in complicated ways. Everyone can partake in some of the guilt, but they also can make a strong case for their point of view on the matter.

As noted earlier, Farhadi also enjoys working in lengthy, satisfying metaphor. The house the family shares is a shabby mess when Ahmad first arrives, in constant disrepair, desperately needing the new coat of paint the couple are haphazardly slapping up on the walls, even as the fumes cause Samir’s sensitive eyes to swell up and tear. The sinks get clogged, the yard is unfinished and loaded with junk, and the space is too small by half, but over the course of things, it begins to look more and more homey. During the course of things, Samir and Marie begin to remake it into something they can comfortably share together.

Farhadi’s plots, which he describes as tiny mysteries, are also clever, intricate things, built in small moments and telling gestures, but able to withstand a thousand pressures, like an erector set dipped in titanium, as sound and well-built as a Roman aqueduct. One detail leads to a character’s understanding of something, which, in turn, leads to further questions until, at last, the whole apparatus is revealed by the end.

His frame is filled with the stuff of life, sustaining a threadbare lived-in quality — from the car windshield that remains fogged over even after a character wipes it with his hand, to the claustrophobic, chemical confines of Samir’s dry-cleaning shop — that permeates through his characters and works in subtle ways to render everything imminently believable and as natural as a documentary-style home movie — just, in Mahmoud Kalari, with a much better cinematographer.

Not a shot is wasted, not a dramatic moment unearned, the film is a triumph of art, even as what it points to is nothing less than the insurmountable human condition, our collective method of calibrating our pain and longing and guilt to survive another day.
The title is also more than a simple lamentation for things gone by: The film deals with the very complex way in which we, by concise act or circumstance, are forced to live with our tragically selective memories, shutting out those things that would topple us over if their full weight were placed on our shoulders. In Farhadi’s work, answers are always there in front of us, waiting for those moments we are finally able to see them clearly enough as to be recognizable.

Home Video Review: Wadjda

Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour
Score: 8.0

Like another pretty well known film about parents and their children, Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s drama involves a young child and a bike. It might not quite scale the heights of De Sica’s Bicycle Thief (on many critics’ top-ten-of-all-time lists, including this one), but it a deliriously entertaining and moving film unto itself, with a young child star virtually impossible not to adore.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a precocious pre-teen, attending a formal, highly observant school for girls outside Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Amidst a sea of veils, dark robes and humbled minds, she stands out with a pair of jeans under her abaya and a pair of weathered, black Chuck Taylors on her feet. She’s sweet and dutiful, especially to her mother (Reem Abdullah), a beautiful woman whose husband (Sultan Al Assaf), while good-natured, is considering leaving them both for a new wife who will be able to conceive him a son, something Wadjda’s mother, damaged during Wadjda’s childbirth, can not provide.

Wadjda is smart, but also cagey. A born capitalist, she sells homemade contraband bracelets to the other girls at her school, and is constantly on the hustle with other local businesses, trying to expand her financial possibilities. When she sees and falls in love with a new bike at a local toy store, she also finally has a focus for all her considerable intelligence and guile. She enters a Koran competition, to the surprise of her somewhat beleaguered headmistress (Ahd), in order to win enough money to buy her bike, despite the fact that she lives under a strict regime that frowns mightily on girls doing anything of their own accord, including riding bikes (Wadjda is told by her mother that bike riding will ruin her ability to conceive a child, but she brushes the threat aside).

There are, in fact, a great many things Wadjda is barred from doing, including, it would seem having any kind of say in whether her father will remarry and leave them behind. Despite the oppression all around her, she happily listens to western music, walks around town without a veil and pushes the boundaries of being expelled at school. She’s not a rebel without a cause, or just another angst-filled teen striking out against authority, she’s a willful girl with a head full of dreams who sees no real cause to cut them short.

Al-Mansour, Saudi’s first female filmmaker, has certainly struggled herself in this largely segregated country (reportedly, in order to film exterior scenes, she had to be holed up in a van, as women aren’t allowed to work in the same vicinity as men), but there is nothing but exultant joy in her frame. Some of this comes from the absolutely delightful performance of Mohammed, who brings to Wadjda a spunky irascibility that’s utterly irresistible, but a lot comes from the never-say-die spirit of her narrative. A different, harsher film could have made these same points, but in a punishing way, something that would deeply afflict the audience with indelible images of persecution and oppression — or an emotional pitch that we’d never be able to burn out of our consciousness, a la De Sica’s masterpiece; Al-Mansour’s narrative instead gives us a delightful film of wonder and hope that makes all things seem vaguely possible. In the end, Wadjda’s triumph becomes something of our own.

This BD+DVD edition is available at amazon.com.

DVD Splurge: October 2012

The Artist is Present
The Skinny: A documentary that covers the life and methods of celebrated performance artist Marina Abramovic, whose body of work often consists of her actual own body. Fresh of a much lauded retrospective at MOMA in 2010, the film finds the artist very much still relevant and resonating more than four decades into her career.
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Linkage: The Artist is Present

Crazy Eyes
The Skinny: A good vehicle for actor Lukas Haas, who is often criminally underutilized, he plays a rich, successful Hollywood actor who suddenly confronts his own limitations and mortality when he meets the woman of his crazed fever dreams.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Crazy Eyes

Dial M For Murder

The Skinny: Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller loses absolutely none of its considerable power nearly six decades after its release. The story of a wealthy man (Ray Millard), who plots the murder of his cheating wife (Grace Kelly) was actually shot in primitive 3D, so the restoration of the original format remastered for this release, is actually what the great director might have intended.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Dial M For Murder: Blu-ray 3D Edition

End of the Road

The Skinny: Originally released in 1970, this counter-culture time capsule stars Harris Yulin, Stacey Keach and a young James Earl Jones. Keach plays a man with a bit of an imbalanced streak who gets put into an insane asylum and emerges even more self-destructive than before.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: End of the Road

Fear and Desire

The Skinny: Stanley Kubrick’s feature debut, originally shot in 1953 (and suppressed by the fastidious filmmaker up until his death in 1999), is something of a cross between a standard war picture and a more singular and peculiar vision. It stars future filmmaker Paul Mazursky as a soldier trapped with a few other men behind enemy lines in an unnamed war, and their experience of trying to get back to safety. Available for the first time in home release.
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Linkage: Fear and Desire: Blu-ray Edition

The Game
The Skinny: David Fincher’s stylish follow-up to Se7en features Michael Douglas as a rich Bay Area businessman who gets caught up with his no-good brother’s quasi-birthday gift: Entrance into a bizarre, hugely complex escapade that involves attempts on his life and constantly running from a shadowy organization that may or may not be trying to eliminate him.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: The Game: Criterion Blu-ray Edition

Last Ride

The Skinny: After watching the insanely versatile Hugo Weaving work wonders in the otherwise hit-and-miss upcoming Cloud Atlas, I’m convinced the Aussie can do no wrong. This 2009 film features Weaving as a fugitive father who takes his son across Australia while on the lam from the authorities.
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Linkage: Last Ride>

The Slut

The Skinny: This Israeli film from writer/director Hagar Ben-Asher may be about sexual mores and society’s collective ills, but it never loses sight of the significance of its main protagonist — a beautiful, thirtysomething mother of two who hasn’t lost her sexual identity despite the bombardment of condemnation all around her.
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Linkage: The Slut

Strangers on a Train
The Skinny: One of Hitchcock’s all-time classics, it concerns the titular protagonists who plot a dual murder caper, each taking out the other’s target, as a way of committing yet another installment of the perfect crime. Naturally, things don’t go quite as planned.
Release Date: October 9, 2012
Linkage: Strangers on a Train: Blu-ray Edition

Umberto D.
The Skinny: Vittorio De Sica is recognized as one of Italy’s greatest cinematic storytellers, and with very good reason. This heart-rendering film about a sweet elderly man who attempts to help out one of his neighbors and ends up homeless and utterly bereft as a result, might be amongst the master’s finest works.
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Linkage: Umberto D.: Criterion Blu-ray Edition

Les Visiteurs du Soir
The Skinny: Two supposed minstrels — in actuality envoys of Satan — are dispatched to the castle of a Baron in 15th century France, whose young daughter becomes entranced by one of the fetching men, who may, in fact, be seriously falling for her. As you might guess, such behavior is not condoned by the prince of darkness in Marcel Carné’s classic from 1942.
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Linkage: Les Visiteurs du Soil: Criterion Blu-ray Edition