CLAIRE’S CAMERA – movie reveiw

CLAIRE’S CAMERA

Cinema Guild
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Hong Sang-soo
Screenwriter:  Hong Sang-soo
Cast:  Isabelle Huppert, Kim Minhee, Chang Mihee, Jung Jinyoung
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/5/18
Opens: March 9, 2018

You cannot think of French actors without citing the names Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert.  Huppert is as ubiquitous in French films as Gerard Depardieu once was, this time appearing in a feather-light comedy about a tourist from Paris who is, or pretends to be, a fish out of water.  As the title Claire, she runs into some others from a vastly different culture—three Koreans who are in Cannes, at least one on official business while the others are, well, you have to see how they get together and how their meetings  transforms them.  “If I take a photograph of you, you are not the same person anymore,” offers Claire.  That’s not all: if you look into Claire’s eyes, you get the same magical transformation. In these particular cases, Claire’s snapping of her Polaroid camera leads to changes in people quite a bit for the better, while at the same time writer-director Hong Sang-soo may have a subliminal message that attending the movies, particularly any of Hong’s twenty-six entries, will make you a better person.

Hong Sang-soo, whose recent film “On the Beach at Night Alone” finds an actress wandering around a seaside town thinking about her relationship with a married man, is not too different from his thematic concerns in “Claire’s Camera,” This is a multi-lingual project that clocks in at sixty-nine mostly magical minutes, the whole episode graced with performances by Ms. Huppert in the title role and Kim Min-hee, who worked with the director in three of his films, in the role of youthful Manhee.

If major purpose of traveling is to broaden yourself by introductions into different cultures, “Claire’s Camera” not only confirms this but finds a delightful intersection of the cultures of Korea and France, the visitors to Cannes using English when conversing with one another.  In an opening scene as cryptic as it is heartbreaking, Manhee’s boss Nam Yanghye (Chang Mihee) asks her loyal employee for the past five years to have coffee with her.  This is not a friendly meeting but a firing, with Nam’s frustrating her employee of five years and making the movie audience apoplectic. Nam tells Manhee that they must part ways because the employee is dishonest.  She does not back up her contention, but says simply that honesty is something you’re born with and cannot be acquired.  Huh?

In another scene, Claire, dressed like a tourist with a rakish hat, chats up film director So Wansoo (Jung Jinyoung), allowing that she is on vacation from her job as high-school teacher and hobby of poetry.  What she really hopes to do is to bewitch those whose pictures she takes like a good Samaritan, making people honest and sending them off better folks than they were before.  Soon the ensemble are to get together and we find the real reason that Manhee was fired.

French filmmakers know how to create dialogue and good talk is what you get whenever you watch fine Gallic cinema.  The discussions involving the four principals, while perhaps seeming innocuous to anyone doubling as a fly on the wall, is richly textured, delightfully humorous, and wholly satisfying.

Unrated.  69 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

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

THE B-SIDE

THE BE-SIDE
Neon
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Errol Morris
Cast: Elsa Dorfman
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 4/27/17
Opens: June 30, 2017
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography Movie Poster

A

guess: most millennials never took a Polaroid picture or even heard of the camera that revolutionized photography in its day.  You could take a snapshot, pull out photographic paper right from the base of the camera, wait sixty seconds and a copy would emerge.  The quality was not as good as you could get from a traditional camera like a Nikon, but for taking pictures of the dog it was fine.  The folks at Polaroid could not image that a day would come that another type of small photographic equipment, one that became wildly popular with consumers, could take a picture not in one minute but closer to a fraction of a second. And what’s more you could delete any shot that you did not like; and that of course is the digital camera, cheap enough, used primarily for snapshots, smaller than the Polaroid and perfect for people who do not have a minute to spare.

Nor would even people my age consider that one woman would become famous for taking Polaroid shots, not only with the usual snapshot equipment but with the use of a giant camera that could take photos 20” by 40”, an expensive machine not meant for casual moving around the country, and one which somehow in the hands of Elsa Dorfman could give permanence to celebrities especially in music and poetry.

“The B-Side” was produced perhaps because now, at the age of eighty, Dorfman is retiring.  Though hardly a household name, she caught the interest of documentarian Errol Morris, who has done work of a more serious nature than photography.  He may be best known for his recent movie “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara,” which is the former secretary of defense’s view of America; and “Gates of Heaven,” about America’s pet cemeteries and the people who bury their dogs there.

In my view both former pictures are more challenging: the concept of a cemetery for dogs is an idea for which most of the world would consider America crazy; and the McNamara because we look for signs that the former war chief is apologetic about Vietnam.  What’s more, Elsa Dorfman speaks slowly and without what most would consider a tsunami of enthusiasm.  She is Jewish (mentioning that thrice), she went to Tufts undergraduate until 1959, she’s eighty, and her husband’s name is Harvey: all four categories I can relate closely with, and though she was just one year behind me at Tufts I do not remember her name.

Surprisingly she did not mention that she took pictures of people with serious problems: with breast cancer, with AIDS; but in fact reports that she liked to deal with happy subjects.  Her “Beat” celebs include especially Allen Ginsberg, for whom she has many giant photos, one that shows the poet naked with the clothed person standing next to him.  She displays all too quickly shots of Bob Dylan, Jorge Luis Borges, and Joni Mitchell, and could have used the opportunity to tell us her impressions, what made them ask her to take the photos, and how they reacted to what they saw.  When she took shots of ordinary people as well, she would snap twice, then would ask each subject which of the two is preferred.  The rejected ones she called the B-Side, hence the title of the film.

Documentarian Morris stays in the background, posing occasional questions, and treats his movie as a one-hander; which is to say one in which Dorfman dominates.  The last time I recall such a film was André Heller and Othmar Schmiderer’s 2002 “Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary,” in which Traudl Junge, alone on screen, spoke for 82 minutes.  Enlightening but hardly entertaining.

Dorfman is self-deprecating when she says that her photos do not “capture the souls” of her subjects, though Errol Morris tries his best to capture Dorfman’s soul. Still, Dorfman’s casual look at dozens of her photos, huge and small, could make the viewer think that chatting with her in her Cambridge, Massachusetts home over a cup of tea would serve as a pleasant enough afternoon, unintimidating.

Unrated.  76 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online</strong>
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