Certified Copy


Juliette Binoche in <em>Certified Copy</em>

Certified Copy, which opens on a lecture consigning the concept of originality in art to the Academy of the Overrated, is an awesomely playful intellectual romance (or is it a farce?) from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. When I say playful, I mean confounding in the manner of Last Year at Marienbad, which basically dared viewers to say which competing, contradictory story threads represented real events in the film’s world. I mean bewildering in the style of Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, which had two different actresses playing a single character. And when I say that, what I really mean is that it’s a bracingly reflexive exercise that flouts basic rules of narrative cinema and manages to come out ahead of the game.

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Summer Hours


Summer Hours

Summer Hours is what’s generally referred to as a “small” film, but for Olivier Assayas, it represents a comfortable return to form after several self-conscious attempts at rethinking and reinventing the boundaries of his work. Demonlover was a sort-of thriller about the international sex trade; Clean was a combination Anglo/Francophone recovery drama; and Boarding Gate was aggressively marketed as a globetrotting thriller about a girl (Asia Argento) with a gun and a paucity of clothing. I haven’t seen Boarding Gate (yet), but Demonlover and Clean both felt like somewhat contrived exercises in arthouse empire-building.

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Flight of the Red Balloon


Flight of the Red Balloon is one of

those movies where nothing much happens. It’s a simple, relatively

peaceful film, notable in part because director Hou Hsao-Hsien is shooting outside Asia for the first

time. Hou’s starting point–dictated by Paris’s Musee d’Orsay, which commissioned the film–is La Ballon Rouge, the 1956

Albert Lamorisse film about a little boy and his companion in the streets of

Paris, a floating red balloon.

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Dan in Real Life

Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche in Dan in Real Life


I’m a middle-aged widower with three children and a successful newspaper advice column that espouses my core ideals of wisdom, fairness, and the importance of family. Recently, while traveling on a long weekend with my extended family, I met a woman. She is the sophisticated, European type. I soon learned that this woman was already in a happy relationship with my brother (!), but it was too late. I was attracted to her, and therefore I had already begun leveraging my self-effacing charm and knack for deceit to ensure that she had feelings for me. Eventually, I manipulated her into falling in love with me and dumping my brother. But my girls now resent me, my brother wants to beat me up, and the rest of my family is treating me like a pariah. Am I a hypocrite?

Sign me, Dan in Real Life.


Not only are you a hypocrite, you’re selfish, childish, and morally bankrupt — following your bliss with carefree abandon, oblivious to the needs and emotions of your sibling, your family, and perhaps especially the poor woman whose approach toward happiness you’ve decisively wrecked. Grow up. Learn that the world does not revolve around you, and start setting an example for your kids. Teach yourself the important lessons that your needs do not supersede those of the other people in your life, and that your fleeting sexual desires and skill at cajoling sympathy cannot be conflated with the foundation of a truly meaningful, adult relationship between equals.

Unless your brother’s a douchebag. In that case, go for it!


P.S. B-

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Breaking and Entering


I was walking on 57th Street the other day, heading toward the Hudson River, and noticed the side-street façade of the new Time Warner building, constructed at great expense just off Columbus Circle, for the first time. “It looks just like the Metreon in San Francisco,” I thought to myself. Later, walking down Broadway in Times Square, the glass-fronted building that will house the M&M’s Store caught my eye. “And this looks just like Las Vegas.”

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Michael Haneke’s latest shot across the bow of the bourgeoisie is a suspenseful yarn about a middle-aged French couple who find themselves under surveillance by person or persons unknown — videotapes start showing up at their doorstep, some of them accompanied by crude, vaguely threatening drawings that seem to make all too much sense to the husband who quickly attempts to take matters into his own hands.

This sounds like the kind of thing that would have delighted Hitchcock, and Haneke’s execution crosses one of Hitch’s riveting narratives with the forbidding clinicism of Kubrick. The result is almost spectacular in its pure showmanship and simultaneously devastating in its formal control.

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Three Colors: Blue

Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue

It’s hard to defend the artiness of Blue. With a Kieslowski movie (maybe with all Kieslowski movies), either you get it or you don’t. If you get it, you’re a fan. The movie becomes a mystical, dream-like experience. You recall the most indulgent camera angles and close-ups at the oddest moments of your day. Perhaps you hum a few bars of Zbigniew Preisner’s formidable score as you drink your coffee in the morning, or you have a nightmare about the kind of car crash that sets this story in motion. And when a friend doesn’t appreciate the film — in fact, they think it’s a dull, pretentious throwback to the French New Wave or somesuch — you find yourself speechless. It’s hard to use words to explain the cinema’s moments of great beauty, and you may as well give up before you begin.

Three Colors: Blue is the first film in Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy built around the precious themes of liberty, equality, and fratenity (the second and third films are White and Red, respectively). The concepts correspond to the three colors of the French flag, and the conceit is actually less a stricture than a simple excuse for Kieslowski to make a set of movies that meditate on love, loss, and our essential humanity. Liberty is personified in the newly-widowed Julie (Binoche), who survives the automobile accident that kills her husband Patrice (a famous composer) and daughter Anna. This sea change in her life drives her to divorce herself from familiar people and surroundings, but she’s dogged by an unwelcome artifact from her husband’s life. His unfinished composition, Song for the Unification of Europe, is the subject of intense interest, and although Julie disposes of Patrice’s notes for the piece (and tries to dispose of all her own memories), it continues to insinuate itself into her life until she confronts the music as well as her own devastated psyche.

It sounds very color-by-numbers, but the film is actually anything but. Kieslowski is a bold filmmaker, with a knack for hypnotizing an audience. As much as Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique seemed concerned with lenses, this one dwells on reflections — Julie’s face reflected on the curve of a spoon, a doctor’s face reflected in the iris of her eye, filling the screen. The richness of imagery occasionally rivals that of a novel (Julie touches a sugar cube to coffee; as we watch, the sugar turns the luminous color of her own skin). And Kieslowski works at capturing the essence of memory and the passage of time. At four moments during the film, the screen fades completely and music swells – Patrice’s unfinished piece – and then the music cuts, and the scene fades back in at exactly the moment where it faded out. It’s part of the mystery of the film that a viewer can have an immediate and intuitive grasp on such an abstract device.

Intuition, indeed, is the driving force behind Kieslowski’s films. The relationships and imagery are drawn so intricately that the pictures reward repeated viewing, and it’s only on the second or third time around that the whole power of one of these films really becomes apparent. It’s easy to belittle a film like this, with its languid pace, elliptical dialog, and propensity for introspection (navel-gazing?). Don’t these somber sequences substitute a content New Age-ism for any real statements in response to the questions they pose? Isn’t Kieslowski living in a blithe, egocentric dream world? How can we be expected to identify with the rich widow of a French composer as she mourns her way through Paris?

Yet through Binoche’s performance and Kieslowski’s guidance, we do identify. We feel Julie’s aloneness even as we understand her resolve to cast off her sentiment and distance herself from the inexorable sadness. At the end of Blue, as Preisner’s music swells up on the soundtrack, all of the disparate characters and situations that make up Julie’s story finally come together. Pictures recall pictures as Julie is finally reflected in the eyes of another, and the delicate shape of another character is traced on a video monitor, echoed in shades of blue. These final moments articulate character and contradictory emotion in one crystalline, irrefutable passage of images, absolutely wordless — the very definition of great cinema. If you’re asking the same questions as our director, the simple clarity of such images provides answers enough.