The movie Belle has been in our Blu-ray collection for a year now. I finally got curious enough to take it home and watch it. I’m glad I did. I learned enough from the movie to want to know the facts.
Dido Elizabeth Lindsay, also known as Belle, was the great niece of William Murray, the First Earl of Mansfield and the Lord Chief Justice. Her father was a naval officer and her mother was a slave in the West Indies. When she was just a girl her mother passed away so her father came and got her and entrusted her to his uncle. Belle became a companion to her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, who was living in her uncle’s home, also because her mother had passed away. Belle lived in the Lord Chief Justice’s home for 3 decades. According to most sources (including the movie), she had a generous allowance, spent time with the family but did not eat with them. There was even talk that she was accepted as a member of the family. According to Blackpast.org (An online reference Guide to African American History) and the movie, Belle, Dido’s presence might have had some influence on the way the Earl, the highest ranking judge in Great Britain, ruled in 2 of his cases. In the Somerset Case Mansfield ruled that English law did not sanction slavery and in the Zong Massacre Case he ruled for the insurer who refused to pay a ship’s captain for cargo lost when they purposely threw a number of slaves overboard.
The movie certainly made use of their poetic license. In the movie Dido received an inheritance from her father as well as an unlikely love story. There is speculation that her relationship with her uncle’s family was very close. She did receive a small inheritance from the judge and his wife along with her freedom papers. She married John Davinier, a French gentleman’s steward, the year her uncle past away. She and John had 3 children and lived a comfortable life.
The great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s post-WWII work returns again and again to his interest in domestic drama and the sometimes strained relationship between old and young, traditional and modern. His final film and second photographed in color was An Autumn Afternoon (1962). Like his 1948 masterpiece Late Spring, this final work presents the growing pressure a widower feels to locate for his daughter a husband to marry. Ozu’s style was one of exacting commitment to framing scenes symmetrically with a stationary camera set up on the floor (the “tatami shot”). The graceful simplicity of his films further their overall richness while neither excluding humor nor giving in to empty sentimentality. His poignant films capture the essence of the love between family members even when that love becomes interwoven within changing social roles, expectations and values. His films evoke both the melancholy and lament of an older generation’s realization that modernism, consumerism and technology had become a staple part of post-war Japan.
I've been binge-watching the series Justified of late. Born from a story by Elmore Leonard and starring actor Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood), Justified's strength as a show is in the writing and the strong performances from Olyphant and the other cast members. It's not a show that possesses the kind of dramatic depth of The Wire, Mad Men or Orange is the New Black but what it lacks in narrative complexity and sociological dimension, it makes up for in sheer entertainment value. Set in the backwoods of Kentucky where organized crime and drug dealing is rampant, the straight-talking, quick-shooting U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens finds his commitment to law enforcement at odds with both his scheming father and the various drug-dealing factions that battle for turf in Harlan County.
The films of French director Olivier Assayas are incredibly varied and lack any kind of unifying style or theme. He’s tackled family dynamics with Summer Hours, romantic growing pains and revolutionary politics with Something in the Air, historical biography with Carlos, and biting satire with Irma Vep. His newest film, Clouds of Sils Maria, is a delightful exploration of personal anxieties confronted when art and life coalesce around an actress struggling to embrace time’s inescapability as she plunges into unsettling psychic and emotional territory. The fantastic Juliet Binoche nails the aging actress’ anxiety about returning to the play that launched her career. This time around, she’s cast as the older character, a woman she doesn’t feel that she can play with sincerity even as her young assistant, played by an excellent Kristin Stewart, encourages her to broaden her perspectives on both the play and in life. The title references the setting of the film, a bucolic location in the Alps where clouds slither about the mountain passes like a snake.
It's another installment of Liked That, Try This, where we match movies with similar styles, themes, or intersecting approaches to movie-making. Here goes...
Liked The Royal Tenenbaums try Fanny and Alexander
Liked Late Spring try Yi Yi
Liked Savages try You Can Count on Me
Liked Summer with Monika try A Summer's Tale
Liked To Kill A Mocking Bird try The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Liked Double Indemnity try The Killers
Liked The Third Man try Odd Man Out
Coming of Age--
Liked Boyhood try King of the Hill
Liked Fish Tank try L'enfance Nue
Liked Ratcatcher try The Long Day Closes
Liked Interstellar try Solaris
One doesn't merely watch an Andrei Tarkovsky film, they experience them. They are haunting, enigmatic poems that explore the kinds of questions plumbed by philosophers and theologians. There is nothing commercial nor common place about these slowly paced, gorgeously shot works of art that eschew specific meanings while meditating on the nature of existence, memory and the immaterial. Even among his peers, his creative vision and technical prowess were considered unmatched in their power to evoke and mystify. His movie-making heroes acknowledged his greatness throughout his short life with Ingmar Bergman saying, "When film is not a document, it is dream. That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally."
Of his films, Stalker is my favorite and likely his most accessible for those unfamiliar with his style. The look of this film is almost indescribable. You simply have to see it to fully appreciate the level of artistry (all done without a Hollywood budget no less). Three men venture into the Zone, a quarantined area (ostensibly set in The Soviet Union) where a meteor had crashed. It has been rumored that the zone holds supernatural powers to grant individuals their special requests. A stalker, those who smuggle people into this no-go area, ventures deep into the heart of the unknown with two other characters, a writer and a professor, both of whom have different reasons for wanting to engage with the mysteries of the zone. Writer Geoff Dyer loved this film so much that he wrote an entire book about it called Zona.
Ana Lily Amirpour, the director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, describes her debut film as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western.” It’s the perfect description of this slowly paced, moody film in which a vampire roams the streets of Bad City, preying on its most unseemly citizens. I would guess that Amirpour has been heavily influenced by Jim Jarmusch and David Lynch, and though she’s still honing her director skills, I would recommend this film to fans of Jarmusch and Lynch.
Close-Up is a masterpiece of both poetry and philosophy. Movies like this don’t come around but a couple of times a decade and when this 1990 film was released in the West to much acclaim, it made its Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, an international star. It’s a tremendously moving film that mixes together fictional elements and scripted moments with real people playing versions of themselves as they reenact scenes from a bizarre, true event.
Kiarostami's film functions as a meditation on cinema’s verisimilitude and its power to blur binaries like true/false and fiction/documentary. Viewers will find it difficult to parse out what is true and what was constructed by Kiaraostami because of the inventive way he threads artifice into a depiction of the actual event, infusing it with universal themes in a sympathetic way. One of the most beguiling, radically ingenious films of the last century, Close-Up is widely considered one of cinema’s most important in pushing the art form forward.
Kalamazoo is really fortunate to be home to an Alamo Drafthouse; they are one of the most prestigious theater chains in the world. As a massive film geek, I don’t spend my movie-going dollars anywhere else. One reason for this (beyond the strict no-talking, no-texting policy) is their penchant for bringing independent, foreign, and art-house films to Kalamazoo—ones that would never normally play in our mid-sized market. In fact, the Austin-based company has its very own distribution arm and, as you can imagine, they specialize in “provocative, visionary and artfully unusual films new and old from around the world” (their own words). Some of the many great movies found under the Drafthouse Films label include A Band Called Death, The Act of Killing, The Overnighters, A Field in England, and many more.
One recent favorite of theirs I saw was a creepy indie film called Spring that one promotional blurb perfectly referred to as “Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft.” As a fan of both creators, this intrigued me. The story follows a young man who sets off to backpack around Europe after his mother dies and the rest of his life falls apart. In Italy, he begins a flirtation with an attractive-yet-aloof young woman, and the two spend a lot of time walking and talking around her scenic coastal village, much like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy did in Linklater’s Before Sunrise series. However, the woman is harboring a dark secret—one that evokes the primordial horror of Lovecraft tales, and one that may pose a threat to more than just their relationship. To say more would be to spoil, but I definitely recommend checking the film out if you’re looking for an unusual twist on two familiar genres. And be sure to check other Drafthouse Films, both here at KPL and at downtown’s Alamo Drafthouse location!
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have great chemistry as estranged twins (Maggie and Milo,) who find their way back into each other’s lives as the result of Milo’s personal crisis. It turns out they are both having crises, and each could use the other’s help to get through it. Maggie finds Milo and invites him to stay at her home for a while, to get himself together. At first, Milo acts resentful, prickly—ok, obnoxious and self-centered. Maggie has her own prickly ways. Each have reasons for their resentment. Gradually they soften, and what unfolds is beautiful to observe.
The overall flavor of The Skeleton Twins is poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, laced with humor. In one hilarious scene, Milo tries to cheer Maggie up, and he launches into a camped-up rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Maggie ultimately responds in kind, and they both light up the screen.
Wiig and Hader worked together for years on Saturday Night Live, and they roll well with each other’s comedic styles. They are convincing as brother and sister, who ‘get’ each other, even after years of no contact.