CLIMAX – movie review

Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Gaspar Noë
Screenwriter: Gaspar Noë
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 2/13/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

Climax Movie Poster

When the most mature person in an ensemble of some fifteen adults is a 7-year-old kid, you know that you’re in for a cynical view of civilization. And cynical this is, as you might expect from writer-director Gaspar Noë, whose “Love” deals with an American in Paris with an unstable girlfriend who invites a pretty neighbor into their bed. Now he pulls out all the stops in a movie that could be called for want of a more specific title than this, “Lord of the Flies 2: Fifteen Years Later.” Except that the adults are the ones who need chaperoning while the young lad, Tito (Vince Galliot Cumant), the only sober fellow on the screen, gets locked in a room, unable to rescue the adults who are out of control.

Some of the film is fantastic. A later segment, though, is a downer that goes on for too long, some dancers becoming violent, others declaring their love. Opening on a scene in the snow, a look at a woman stretching all body parts therein, Benoît Debie, who is behind the lens somewhere in France listens in. The dancers, all in their twenties, gush about their profession, one saying that dance is everything and that she has no idea what she would do if she were not favored by Terpsichore.

The action takes place in the mid-nineties, far enough past the lifetime of Tchaikovsky who, if he is listening from the grave which accommodated him at age 53, might actually approve. He would realize that Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, however many times they are repeated (that’s what classics are), would give way to body work that would express their own time.

The racially diverse cast put on quite a show, with enough energy to light up a small town that would otherwise be too dependent on coal. And there’s lots and lots of foot work, arm work, and chit-chats about dick work. Characters during a break discuss how many women they’ve balled, whom they would like to ball, and who would be most responsive to their infinite charm.

As for the music, the techno is terrific, with a drumbeat that would drive the mice and bugs screaming from your apartment. The cast rivets. However, Noë should have quit while he was ahead. The word from Cannes is the audience thought that when the movie went on for less than an hour, they figured that it was over. Not so. Someone laced the sangria with LSD, and the results are not pretty. Nobody becomes enlightened. Sorry, Timothy Leary, your theory of the benefits of the hallucinatory drug does not stand up. As the drugged dancers bounce around, this time in slower motion than when they were sober, violence erupts. The young folks are not at all happy that someone dropped the drug into the punch. Accusations are made. Did the guy who does not drink do it? How about the woman who says that she is pregnant and therefore cannot touch the stuff? More flirtations take place, including Valentine-type “you are everything to me” line, while almost everyone is in pain.

At one time we human beings are in paradise. We were chased out, and while we have our moments of bliss, we are a fallen people. This does not mean that we are bound to be intensely involved in the overlong period when the thin veneer of civilization falls away. Given the excitement of the first half, you would do well to see this film.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B



Bleecker Street and 30 West
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Screenwriter: Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 8/1/18
Opens: September 21, 2018

Colette Movie Poster

If you think that Paris has always been a sophisticated city with a reputation for progressivism, think again. Though Renoir’s paintings were accepted by Parisians, the impressionist painter had to bear with years of bad reviews. And in 1913, when Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” was first performed on the Paris stage, there were outright riots as the audience had never heard tones such as those played by the mournful bassoon, the dissonance that has become the watchword of contemporary music, or the knock-kneed women that appeared on the stage when the overture was completed. The public, in fact, had been prepared with choice vegetables, looking for a fight, people who, if they were an elite attending a concert, could be mistaken for some of the deplorables that Hillary cited in her campaign.

But, you say, Paris is still the city of love! Yes, except that while women could be accepted as companions for men three times their age, not so long ago, homosexuality could not. In one of the melodramatic incidents in a movie that moves along smoothly without Hollywood-style mayhem, the crowd became antagonistic only when two women kiss each other on stage. Director Wash Westmoreland, whose “Still Alice” investigates problems when a linguistics professor and family have their bond tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, now finds the title character’s bond with her husband tested as well. There’s plenty of conflict in his “Colette,” a biopic of one of France’s great novelists, who during most of her career suffered the indignity of ghost-writing salacious novels for her husband Willy (Dominic West), the much older husband who notes that a woman simply could not be published in Europe in the early twentieth century. Like the couple in Björn Runge’s “The Wife,” dealing with a talented woman whose books were published under the name of her husband, “Colette” demonstrates yet another way that today’s #MeToo feminism is the happy background for writers and directors who try to compensate for society’s prejudice against creative females.

“Colette” could probably do just fine with any reputable star in the lead role, but Keira Knightley’s awards-worthy performance allows the film to soar both emotionally and intellectually. Though some will grouse that a French woman is the subject of a movie produced in the UK with British actors, you would do well to overlook that and enjoy the delightful unfolding of a career centered on a woman who could have spent her life in obscurity had she not decided to break away from her husband and knock out novels with her own name.

The film opens in 1893 when Colette (Keira Knightley), a country girl from Burgundy, is whisked away to Paris by Willy (Dominic West), a fake novelist who runs a stable of ghost writers and is now to include his beautiful wife among the serfs. One may wonder how Colette put up with the womanizer who even at age 46 had women in the early twenties throwing themselves at him. Noting that his wife, who in at least one instance is locked up in a room with the demand that she spend four hours writing before being freed, emerges with pages showing considerable spice. Willy sees a way out of his perpetual poverty brought about by gambling, dining and whoring. After the repo guys take away his furniture, he is saved financially when Colette” Claudine at School” becomes a best seller.

Colette turns out to be bisexual, carrying on an affair with an American from Louisiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), using her experiences as juice for future novels. The most interesting attraction is between Colette and Missy (Denise Gough), a woman who resembles Ellen De Generis with her suit, close hair style, and masculine carriage.

As with blockbuster thrillers, the women come out on top, so to speak, Colette gets revenge, divorcing her miserable husband, and goes on to write thirty novels. The picture, scripted by the director, Richard Glatzer, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is constructed in a conventional manner (unusual, perhaps, considering the sexual progressivism of the theme) and is not only a great story but highlights a marvelous Keira Knightley as a turn-of-20th-century feminist.

Unrated. 111 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

ISMAEL’S GHOSTS – movie review

ISMAËL’S GHOSTS (Les fantômes d’ Ismaël)

Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Screenwriter:  Arnaud Desplechin
Cast:  Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/17/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

You’re in luck if you take in the director’s cut of “Ismaël’s Ghosts” because the writer-director will keep you and others of your sophistication engrossed for most of its 135 minutes.  Call is episodic, name it a magnum opus, label it anything you want, but if you want to find the meaning of life, you’ll gain a few steps toward answering the most basic of all questions by seeing many of life’s aspects unfold.  This is because Desplechin, in his ninth fiction feature, paints a broad canvas tapping your funny bone, evoking some tears, wondering whether he has packed so much material in this that it comes across as a summation of maybe every type of situation you may find yourself in.  This director’s cut is not the 120 minutes’ version that played in Cannes, but akin to the cut that was shown here in New York at the annual film festival at Lincoln Center.

This is not to say that among life’s experiences many in the audience will  ever see a ghost, though truth to tell Carlotta Bloom (Marion Cotillard), missing from France for 20 years, had long been certified dead.  Because of that long absence, which Ms Cotillard discusses in the film’s juiciest monologue, her great love and partner Ismaël Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric) is free to look elsewhere for female companionship.  Meanwhile the titular character’s mentor Henri Bloom (László Szabó), a filmmaker who has taught his protégé everything he knows, now depends on Ismaël to relieve his loneliness and his slide into depression.

The film is chaotic.  Stories within stories, genres within genres, countries appearing and changing like a global kaleidoscope from France to the Czech Republic and even Tajikistan open up as though Ismaël is taking a survey of writing and direction from the 83-year-old Henri.  He is busy on a script, throwing in some melodrama about his brother Ivan, a diplomat hired by the French ministry because of his non-traditional education.  At the same he is enjoying his affair with the lovely Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but begins losing his sanity when Carlotta returns (or does she?), thereby setting up a romantic triangle which, instead of pleasing Ismaël, who considered himself too old for romantic nonsense, goes off the wall.  In a similar action, his father-in-law Henri, taking a flight to Tel Aviv to receive an award, goes ballistic on the plane when told by the flight crew that he may not open a bottle of his own spirits.

The chaos turns to order eventually when the wrinkled plots and subplots are ironed out

It might be difficult to find a trio more capable of these bold dynamics as Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourgh.  Amalric in particular has been a favorite of Desplechin—well known among cinephiles here for such contributions as
the popular “A Christmas Tale” about a woman whose need for a bone marrow transplant brings a feuding family together, and “My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument,” focusing on a young man with a dual conflict of whether to change girlfriends of whether he really wants to become a professor.  The struggle of this fellow in “My Sex Life” seems ridiculously easy to solve when compared to those of the men and women in this latest feature, bringing together a potpourri of people who can afford to have all the anxieties of modern civilization.a Their woes do not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the problems of Syrian refugees—who presumably have other things to worry about than which men and women to embrace and which to reject.

Unrated.  135 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall –  B+

BACK TO BURGUNDY – movie reveiw

BACK TO BURGUNDY (Ce qui nous lie)

Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Cédric Klapisch
Screenwriter:  Cédric Klapisch, Santiago Amigorena
Cast:  Po Marmaï, Ana Girardot, François Civil, Jean-Marc Roulot
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 314/18
Opens: March 23, 2018

I don’t “get” wine.  I wish I could because wine raises HDL, the good cholesterol.  Beer does that as well, but I don’t “get” beer either.  In a blindfold test, I would take Welch’s Grape Juice over a $1,560 bottle of 1986 Chateau LaFite Rothschild, notwithstanding the latter’s  deep color, medium body, a graceful, harmonious texture, superb length and its penetrating fragrance of cedar, chestnuts, minerals, and rich fruit. So wine provides a good living for many who cultivate it, as we see from “Back to Burgundy,” but money isn’t everything.  Relationships: that’s the key to the good life. And that appears the overriding theme of “Ce qui nous lie,” the original French title which means roughly “What Moves Him.”

Director Cédric Klapisch may be best known to cinephiles for “L’auberge espagnole, which thrusts a young, innocent economics student into Barcelona ostensibly to brush up his Spanish but serves as an initiation to life as he mixes with a diverse array of foreign students.  “Back to Burgundy” has a large cast serving as a background to development, folks who go to a vineyard around Burgundy to pick grapes during the harvest and who in one scene have one the most spirited parties recorded in the cinema—calling out “wine, wine, wine!” while banging on the table.

You can’t go home again might have been in the co-writer-director’s mind when he focuses primarily on a mid-thirties man, Jean (Pio Marmaï), who left the vast vineyard for Australia, marrying one Alicia (María Valverde) there,leaving behind an aggrieved couple of siblings: his sister Juliette (Ana Girardot) and his brother Jérémie (François Civil).  Jérémie and Juliette are particularly angry that the wanderer left them behind to care for the land and, later, for their sick father.  They cannot understand why he did not return to Burgundy for their mother’s funeral (he has a valid reason) and, as in many families with some dysfunction, he does not believe his father cared much for him.  When the native returns, bearing news of his changed status from the antipodes, he is met at first with hostility, giving him the job of reconnecting with brother and sister after a decade way.

The complexity of relationships finds twenty-something Jérémie living away from home with a successful winemaker who may remind you of Trump, as Anselme (Jean-Marie Winling) wants to buy some of the land to build an airport, a spa, and general tourist facilities.  When the three heirs to the land receive a sizable inheritance tax bill, they ponder whether to sell all for $6 million or sell parts to raise the money they need.  This runs counter to tradition: you don’t give up property that has been in the family for decades.

The cinematography is a strong point, some of the scene captured with a drone.  This is a story that leans toward epic complexities but embracing easy-to-define ups and downs of the three siblings.  Typical American moviegoers, however, as opposed to critics and highbrows, might prefer the more informal inputs and recognizable characters from a movie like Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” as those characters are on merely a trip through California wine country without all the complications of ironing out the wrinkles of a partnership when the decision to sell needs the unanimous votes of the three owners.

Unrated.  113 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting –  B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+