Portrait of a Lady on Fire: A Collokino Conversation hosted by Jim Wilson

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Directed by Céline Sciamma, 2019

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Jim Wilson: Michael, thanks for doing this with me again. How have you been doing?

Michael Clawson: Thanks for having me back for another Collokino! I’m doing well, spending much of summer here in Seattle as I usually do… inside, watching movies, and wishing my apartment had air conditioning (that’s an aspect of theater-going that I’m missing more than ever). How are things with you?

Jim: Great, thanks. Enjoying another hot and dry Colorado summer, and watching more movies than should probably be allowed.

With the third edition of Collokino, I’m breaking my own loose rules and having you on to talk about a film that I chose, when it’s the guest who’s supposed to choose (so maybe I’ll put you in the host seat a little). Ever since watching it the first time back in March, I’ve been longing to write or talk about Céline Sciamma’s absolutely incredible film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but I’ve failed over and over again to put together a review that satisfies me. I notice that most reviews for it never get close to doing it justice, as if there’s something about the review format that neglects it, or can’t contain it. That’s why I thought it would be a good idea, or at least a pleasant challenge, to give it a look in a more casual, conversational format instead. Would you be so kind, fine sir, to give a brief synopsis of the film and your first impressions? This is your second watch of Portrait, is that right? Streaming, or have you picked up the disc?

Michael: Even if it is against Collokino guidelines, you didn’t have to twist my arm to get me on board for talking about this one. I saw Portrait towards the end of last year, really enjoyed it, and watched it again recently on Hulu. On both occasions, I was enraptured by Sciamma’s craft, the romance, and the relationship between artist and muse that the film explores. With that, a synopsis:

A gorgeous romantic drama set in 18th century France, the film begins in a classroom, where Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is teaching a small group of young women to paint. Mid-lesson, she stops. She’s noticed a painting she did some time ago sitting in the back of the room, apparently pulled out by a curious student. Composed mostly of dark greys and blues, it’s of a lone woman in a moonlit field, the base of her dress aflame. The sight of it floods Marianne with memories that form the remainder of the film. In flashback, Marianne arrives on the rocky shores of Brittany, where she’s been commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), who’s returned home from a convent after her sister’s death. Héloïse is to be married to a Milanese suitor she’s never met, and in defiance of this unwanted future being thrust upon her, she has refused to pose for other portraitists. Marianne thus begins the portrait in secret, pretending she’s been hired simply as a companion to Héloïse, but stealing glances at her for later reference on their regular, often silent but charged walks along the shoreline. As the painting comes to life, so too does an attraction between Héloïse and Marianne, and who’s gazing at who evolves.

How would you characterize the development of Marianne and Héloïse’s relationship, in terms of either their desire for each other or their statuses as artist and muse? If that question points you in a direction you don’t want to go yet, maybe start by sharing what you responded to, or found compelling, in a more general sense.

Jim: And that’s exactly why I asked you to set it up, lol. You do that really well.

Sure, I’d love to talk about the development of the relationship between Héloïse and Marianne. Adèle Haenel, in an interview included on the Criterion BD (it’s a beautiful thing) talks about three stages in the evolution of the characters, which tracks with the stages in the evolution of their relationship. In the first, she describes the bodies as angular, the faces as masks, with no warmth between them. In the second phase, which she calls intermediary, cracks appear in the masks, there’s a little intimacy, and some warmth is starting to peek through. In the third phase, which she calls the hottest, the bodies are loose, voices are spontaneous, and emotions are strong. I would simplify that, and describe the three phases in the development of the relationship between Héloïse and Marianne as illusion-liberty-love. Marianne performs an illusion, which Héloïse at least senses, which keeps her closed and distant. When illusion is replaced with honesty, the film reaches its apex, right around the one-hour mark, with the liberating middle section, followed by the romantic final section. I’d love to cover all three of those phases, but would first emphasize a crucial point between the first and second phases, when the veil is first lifted from Marianne’s deceit.

Héloïse is looking at Marianne’s first painting of her, the one she does on the sly. It really is terrible, how Héloïse is depicted as an adult-sized little girl, all of her angles rounded off, which is a criminal thing to do to the visage of Adèle Haenel, whose angularity and larger-than-lifeness is what makes her so beautiful. When Marianne explains that the portrait is stylized to conform to certain conventions, Héloïse furrows her generous brow and asks “You mean there’s no life, no presence?” Marianne explains, “Your presence is made up of fleeting moments that may lack truth.” And there the conceptual bomb is dropped. Héloïse snaps back “Not everything is fleeting. Some feelings are deep.”

What Marianne is doing is advocating for an aesthetics of essence, the idea that all people can be reduced to some basic kernel of humanity, which can be captured in graphic representations of people. Without getting into the philosophical weeds of it, suffice it to say that it’s an idea which everything about the film then roundly rejects. Marianne has it exactly wrong. It’s the fleeting moments that tell the deepest truths, as the film, and she, learns to illustrate. What’s distinctive to any human subject, including deep feelings, is what makes that individual person utterly unique. The worldly Marianne, an unusually empowered woman for her time, is being schooled by the provincial Héloïse. Héloïse may be of aristocratic birth, but she’s a rough stone compared to Marianne’s polished rock. Héloïse commands the aesthetic core of Portrait. There’s a purity of heart with her, as cold and jagged as it may be, that has the power to reconfigure Marianne’s deeply rooted ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable.

So that’s a start to talking about the development of Héloïse’s and Marianne’s relationship. As to your question about artist and muse, I think again to what Haenel said on that very point, that there is no muse, that once the work of the painting truly commences, following the scene described above, it is an entirely collaborative effort. Héloïse and Marianne work together, side by side, to create the portrait, which is one of the film’s loudest political messages, about how autonomous women are naturally collaborative.

Michael: Oof, yeah, the first painting is not a satisfying one. Héloïse appears docile, doll-like, and the look of contentment on her face contradicts the intensity and anger we’ve seen behind the real Héloïse’s eyes up to that point. We’ve watched Marianne steal look after look at Héloïse, only for her to disregard the severity she’s witnessed in Héloïse, and instead appeal to what convention tells her a husband expects to see. “I put it the way it is”, Héloïse says earlier in reference to how she describes her impending marriage to a stranger. The first painting doesn’t depict Héloïse as she is, so it’s really no surprise when she looks at it and asks “Is that me?”

I like the word “illusion” to describe the initial phase of the relationship, because I think it speaks not only to Marianne’s deception and the wall it puts up between them, but also because it applies to what frustrates Héloïse about how other portraitists, and Marianne at first, render her with their art. The illusion is dismantled as their attraction to each other grows, because desiring someone compels you to really look at them. The more they know and understand each other, the better and more truthful the art they create together. I love both Merlant and Haenel, but I’m particularly knocked out by how Haenel embodies Héloïse’s softening over time.

Prior to them opening up to each other, I think Marianne, in an unconscious way at least, mistakenly conceives of herself and Héloïse as artist and muse, since that’s a relationship that implies a one-way gaze, and Marianne doesn’t realize Héloïse is looking back at her. Once Marianne realizes she too is being looked at, the idea of them as artist and muse falls away.

Want to tell me more about the three phases you’ve identified: illusion, liberty, and love?

Jim: Actually, that’s a good point, that in the first stage, Marianne is having some kind of an artistic epiphany, though she has no clue yet what it means, or how to express it. That’s what Héloïse’s contribution ultimately teaches her. But yes, at that early point, Marianne is seduced by the impression of Héloïse as her muse, though that is, like so much in the first phase, an illusion.

I love the middle, liberating segment of the relationship, and the film, because it is the freest space, and because it brings to the center Sophie, the housemaid. Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) isn’t given nearly enough attention by fans and critics. Without her, the film would fail. Her unwanted pregnancy leads Portrait to its most touching and funny moments. The three of them cooking, playing cards, reading and discussing Ovid, attempting various folk methods of abortion, attending a festival, and finally completing the abortion, are the truly most beautiful and lasting moments of the film, acute episodes of freedom and self-discovery.

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After the abortion, while Sophie is still weak and recovering, Héloïse has the idea of commemorating the tableau of the abortion, which we’ve just witnessed, into a painting, and assembles Sophie, Marianne, and the props to make it happen, thereby recording an event always erased or avoided from much of documented history. Recall that during the actual abortion, Marianne looks away, cringing, until Héloïse insists “look!” Héloïse is profoundly moved by everything she experiences, though her cynical and embittered perspective tempers her passions. Liberated by those same experiences, she begins to express herself, to assume what agency she can, with the inspiration Marianne and Sophie award her (Héloïse’s muses). Héloïse’s anger fuels so much of her own awakening, which in turn inspires and instructs Marianne (Marianne’s muse). It’s my vote for the film’s most poignant moment, the triumph of sisterhood, as it were, under such difficult circumstances.

I feel like I’ve dominated too much of the subject space here, Michael. Tell me about what matters to you about Portrait; specifically, generally, what is this film for you?

Michael: I’m with you, Portrait was one of the most discussed movies of 2019 (rightly so), but Sophie and the abortion sub-plot seem to have more often than not gone unremarked on, so I’m glad you bring it up. I love Bajrami’s impassiveness, and how despite Sophie being a particularly vulnerable character, Sciamma resists the temptation to turn her into an object of our pity.

All ideas aside, though I’ll turn back to those shortly, the movie wouldn’t matter anywhere as much to me as it does were it not for its ravishing form. I love the rugged coastal setting and the pronounced sound of the crashing waves, the contrasting crimson red and emerald green dresses, the POV shots of Marianne’s canvas as she’s painting. One of my favorite details is how Sciamma brings her camera around corners: there’s the shot where the camera drifts down the stairs and turns to show us Héloïse for the first time, though she’s cloaked and facing away, and there’s a smooth curve the camera follows around a rock wall on the beach when Marianne follows Héloïse into an alcove for their first kiss. Claire Mathon’s cinematography is a huge factor in the film’s success for me.

Another aspect I love but that has already been discussed to no end is the absence of men from nearly the whole movie. It’s great! Cinema has given us more than enough stories about gay couples confronted in obvious ways by intolerant men. Portrait implicitly recognizes the transgression in Héloïse and Marianne falling for each other, but instead of exploiting intolerance for cheap pathos, Sciamma confines it to the background, and instead foregrounds female solidarity, art, and love. It’s very refreshing.

One thing I haven’t seen talked about as much is how the film touches on the relationship between art and memory. It is, after all, framed as a relationship remembered from Marianne’s perspective. I was struck by the dialogue that comes towards the end, when Marianne sketches a small drawing of Héloïse to keep for herself, and then sketches herself in Héloïse’s book. “You can reproduce that image to infinity,” Héloïse says. “After a while, you’ll see her when you think of me.” Altogether, I hear the movie saying that if visual memories can fade and be replaced by the images we create, the pursuit of truth rather than adherence to established artistic norms is only that much more essential.

I’d be curious to hear your take on how the Orpheus and Eurydice myth fits into the narrative, but take us any direction you’d like from here.

Jim: Full agreement on all those points. On the subject of art and memory, Sciamma said it herself, “Art consoles us from lost love.” As you point out, the film is Marianne’s memory of the time spent with Héloïse, a memory sparked by the painting her student uncovers at the beginning, which you describe, a memory that relieves her of her initial sadness. The keepsake paintings Marianne makes for each, the painting of Héloïse that Marianne sees in the gallery, all serve to soften the grief of their lost love. And maybe most powerful of all instances of art consoling the memory of lost love, is the long take of Marianne watching Héloïse react to the Vivaldi number in the end, a piece Marianne introduced her to during their time together. It’s a really stunning bit of performance from Haenel, as she passes through several emotional states, ultimately smiling through her tears at the memory of that magical time in Brittany with Marianne. It gets to me just thinking about it. I think it’s arguably the most important emotional take-away from the film, the imperative of art as a means to capture the permanence of love in the hearts of those who struggle to find comfort when it’s lost. Knowing that Sciamma and Haenel themselves experienced something similar together only makes it all the more compelling a point.

In an interview with Céline Sciamma included on the Criterion disc, she speaks at length about the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Evidently, she included it in the script at the very end of the writing process, because she wanted something for the three women to talk about during that crucial liberating middle section. Since it’s a myth often discussed in feminist circles, as it may suggest the lethality of the male gaze, she went with it, and ultimately found that it fit perfectly with the other themes of the film, especially the centrality of looking, which is something I’d like to come back to. As Sciamma further explains, it serves also as something that can be discussed, debated and theorized about endlessly, with any perspective as valid as any other. Does Orpheus make the poet’s choice, or the lover’s choice, is it maybe Eurydice who commands him to turn around, is it about a loss of faith, is it inevitable, is it a way to share a final farewell? All of the options create a conceptual tension that is very useful to the texture of the film. Personally, I recognize it as a practical device that works in all of those ways, though I’m less taken by its importance to the real gravity of Portrait, which for me remains thoroughly grounded in the evolution of love through art, and the dynamics of the gaze, of looking and seeing.

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I like your observations about the cinematography, which reminded me of another point Sciamma makes about why she chose to shot the film digitally – to provide the high-resolution richness that practically explodes off the screen. What other visual elements of the film did you enjoy, whether costumes, hair, the plain interior settings, or Sciamma’s really unique approach to period details?

Michael: As you talk about it, I feel the self-discipline I’ve practiced in waiting to make my next Criterion purchase is slowing breaking down…

I’m kind of relieved to hear you say that the inclusion of the myth isn’t of huge importance to you. It’s detail that’s ripe for discussion, which I like and have mulled over plenty, but I’m in the same boat. Other aspects of the film, most of which we’re already talking about, have more resonance for me.

The digital look is really interesting. I don’t think I would describe this movie as a particularly transportive period piece, but I don’t mean that pejoratively. Where other filmmakers might apply aesthetics that would either heighten our sense of the story as a memory or as one from over two centuries ago, maybe with the use of ellipses or a grainier look, the digital images have a real immediacy to them because of their clarity. Combine that with how pristine the wardrobes are and the stylishness of the relatively minimal production design, there’s just a feeling of the “now” in the film’s construction. Which I think really works for a film whose themes are as relevant as ever. Social and artistic convention of 18th century France informs what literally transpires, but I don’t think it’s a movie that’s strictly about the period it’s set in. The ideas about art and forbidden love transcend the time period.

If I may share one thing I didn’t care for: I could have done without the shots of Héloïse in her wedding dress, luminous in the castle’s dark halls. For me, they’re just a little on the nose in visualizing how the inevitability of Héloïse’s future keeps sneaking up and tormenting Marianne. Hopefully I didn’t just destroy my chances of being invited back for another Collokino.

That last shot really is stunning. It’s as if Héloïse relives the whole relationship in that short span of time, experiencing that rising wave of desire all over again. She’s so overwhelmed she’s nearly gasping for air. Both Merlant and Haenel really nail the breathing these women do when they’re around each other. The rise and fall of their chests always speaks to the charge between them.

Care to expand on the notion of “looking” that you brought up?

Jim: Surrender to the Criterion Temptation, dude. Trust me, the Criterion BD of this, the whole presentation, is more than worth it.

The apparitions of Héloïse in the halls in her wedding dress are just another expression of the Orpheus-Eurydice tale, though it’s not Hades who steals Héloïse from Marianne, but a Milanese nobleman (the difference being <cymbal crash>).  We’ve agreed it is not the film’s strongest suit, so your good standing in the Collokino rolls remains unblemished. For now.

To get to the stuff about looking, I’ll start with Sciamma’s mise-en-scene. During my last watch, I became fully aware of how much the film is built on a method of composition that Sciamma is deliberately crafting in every frame. I don’t think of Sciamma as a formalist, per se, but here she is literally and formally composing this film as a tableau, or a series of tableaux, in both the English language sense of a graphic arrangement, interlaced with the French meaning of, among other things, a portrait, or a painting. It is, of course, a film about an artist and the portrait she paints, a technique that Sciamma is mimicking in cinematic form. She assembles a fastidious arrangement of graphic signs and applies them to characters testing their own limits of self-determination, through signals, subterfuge, and sincerity.

Neither realism nor naturalism, nor any other method of representation, describes this. Realism is reserved more for the period details, where the stark minimalism of the physical spaces, the clothes, and the food, make convincing historical, and geographical sense. As for character representation, it mimics the montage quality of memory; the characters are usually still, or walking slowly (after one initial mad dash). Mostly what they do is look at each other, and talk to each other in straightforward declarative sentences, and ask basic questions they, and the viewer, want answered frankly. It’s almost like a series of still shots, gorgeous, sensual shots of hair and faces and eyes and hands and paintings, of sea, air, earth and fire, but static at first, sans any reaction. It’s an overwhelmingly powerful cycling of images and atmospheres that hangs more heavily over the film the more you watch it. It’s a visual film about looking, regarding, seeing, not talking, even less moving, just watching, observing. It’s something both Marianne and Héloïse say to each other often throughout the film, “regardez” or “regarde moi”. Look at me.

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You said it yourself: “desiring someone compels you to really look at them”. In the critical middle section there’s another portraiture sitting, during which Marianne describes to Héloïse some of her telling gestures, clearly pleased, if not a little smug, with her powers of insight. In turn, Héloïse commands Marianne to come to her side and asks her what Marianne thinks Héloïse sees when Marianne is studying her. Marianne’s smugness evaporates. The scrutiny of looking is not one way, not restricted to a single perspective, but is dynamic, recurrent, and complementary. The subjects of their gazes – one another – change with this scrutiny, becoming fuller, more complete, and more worthy of love. By looking, they recreate each other and themselves, and draw each other more thoroughly into being. The triptych exchange of glances during one of their earliest walks, when Marianne and Héloïse steal glimpses of one another, is a breathtakingly remarkable encapsulation of the looking theme, and one of the coolest shots I’ve ever seen in any film. It’s such a critical and central theme, to me, that “regarde moi” could easily be the film’s subtitle. Portrait is all about examining its characters as they regard each other, and create art and love from what they see.

Though I could happily go on talking about this amazing film forever, I suspect we should start wrapping it up. Anything more you want to add, Michael?

Michael: I think those points are great ones to end on, they get at the heart of what I really like about this film. You mentioned that you think many reviews have failed to do this film justice. I’d never be so bold as to say, “We’ve done it!”, but I think we’ve covered a lot of ground using this format. And since it was a great pick, I think you’ve retained the right to break Collokino rules again in the future and choose films for discussion.

Jim: Well, I don’t know if we’ve done anything, but I do feel a little unburdened. This will forever be a special film for me, and one I’m always eager to talk about.

I do want to take the opportunity to promote the films of Céline Sciamma and Adèle Haenel. If you’re a fan of Portrait, do not miss Sciamma’s other three features, Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood. She is, I think, one of the most gifted directors working today. She’s a remarkably sharp storyteller with the heart of a philosopher. As for Haenel, there’s a pretty rich range of cool films she’s been in, starting with the just-mentioned Water Lilies, Sciamma’s debut feature, with a then-amateur Haenel, a coming-of-age masterstroke you won’t soon forget. Her performance in Bertrand Bonello’s House of Tolerance earns her my eternal respect. Look out for her, too, in a great German film, alongside Lars Eidinger, called The Flowers of Yesterday. I’m also particular about In the Name of My Daughter, if only because she plays opposite Catherine Deneuve, to whom Haenel is uncannily similar in temperament, and because I love that cross-generational thing.

That’s all. Thanks for doing this, Michael. It was a blast.

Michael: I’ll second your promotion of Girlhood and House of Tolerance, and add the others you mention to my own watchlist. Thanks Jim!

Portrait of a Lady on Fire Trailer

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is currently available to rent and own digitally from most major providers and to stream on Hulu.

You can connect with Jim Wilson on Letterboxd, as well as review his entire list of Film Conversations.

SXSW 2021 Review: WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

Written by Taylor Baker

75/100

With a lengthy title like WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn I was worried that the film may be unfocused and absent of vision, rather than a complete work. However Jed Rothstein did much to assuage my concerns in the first thirty minutes. He lets people that experienced WeWork do the talking for his film, that is when Adam Neumann isn’t. Though Jed is far from a household name at this point you may have heard about or seen one of his previous excellent works, The China Hustle. In which he provides a deep dive look at the manipulation of value in different markets orchestrated by the CCP. A clear building experience for this later work. 

WeWork opens with footage of Adam Neumann attempting to record a pitch video. This footage in essence allows Adam to speak for himself and the film to speak at a deep level quickly. This is a narcissist lost in his own vision, with no one to hold him in check. The timing of the footage is not made clear to the viewer until the end of the film, a brilliant choice by Jed. The documentary relies heavily and exclusively on talking heads and interviews when it’s not showing previously shot footage. As someone who had no interest in the fiasco of WeWork as it was happening this documentary served as a great and comprehensive educational piece. That doesn’t lean heavily on a message it wants to impart to you. 

The cleverness of Jed is in allowing the footage to speak for itself in conjunction with interviews, with voice blending from before the interview begins and switching to a new scene before the audio cuts. Though the pace dips around two thirds of the way in, I think for material is dry as a real estate fraud scheme he did an admirable job with editor Samuel Nalband. They portray multiple voices to provide a cohesive takeaway with an under two hour runtime. Something rare nowadays. The anecdotes of a janitor at an event asking if WeWork was a cult, hearing that one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cousins is at the center of a scheme to sell people bullshit, hearing about how words change meanings around Alex because he can’t handle being wrong, all this put together and passively presented is a delight. It also pokes at bigger questions philosophically about the marketplace and communism, something Jed’s film The China Hustle also did. Rather than express my takeaways, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Recommended.

WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn will release on Hulu on April 2nd and is currently playing at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

Episode 95: RoboCop / Starship Troopers / Miami Vice

“I don’t underestimate audiences’ intelligence. Audiences are much brighter than media gives them credit for. When people went to a movie once a week in the 1930s and that was their only exposure to media, you were required to do a different grammar.”

Michael Mann

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Project Power & She Dies Tomorrow and the Feature Films: RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Miami Vice.

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RoboCop is currently available on Prime Video

Starship Troopers is currently available on Tubi TV

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Episode 93: Preston Sturges: Easy Living / The Lady Eve / Sullivan’s Travels

“When the last dime is gone, I’ll sit on the curb outside with a pencil and a ten cent notebook and start the whole thing over again.”

Preston Sturges

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Undine & Babyteeth and the Preston Sturges Films: Easy Living, The Lady Eve, and Sullivan’s Travels.

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The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels are currently available to rent or purchase digitally

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You can read Michael’s review of Easy Living here.

Episode 89: The Host / The Hunger / The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

I really hate the creature film convention that says you have to wait until the end to see the monster. One hour and all you’ve seen is just the tip of the creature’s tail.

Bong Joon-ho

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of Mank & News of the World. Followed by the Titles: The Host, The Hunger, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

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The Host on Hulu, Prime Video, Criterion Channel and Kanopy

The Hunger and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage are currently available to rent or purchase

Episode 83: An American Pickle / She Dies Tomorrow / Waiting for the Barbarians

“Losing all the preconceptions that I had about storytelling, about the world, you know, and learning to see the world from a different perspective. It sounds romantic, but it’s not an easy process at all.”

Ciro Guerra

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This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Netflix Releases in The Devil All the Time & I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Followed by the Titles: An American Pickle, She Dies Tomorrow, and Waiting for the Barbarians.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

An American Pickle on HBO Max

She Dies Tomorrow and Waiting for the Barbarians on Hulu

Mr. Jones

Written by Taylor Baker

76/100

Agnieszka Holland’s harrowing look at the under discussed Holodomor in the 30’s is one of the many overlooked films of 2020. Mr. Jones features elegant transitional supercuts early on. The effect of which is to display the telephone wire and railways as ideas and functions. Holland evokes a sense of excitement about the promise of these technologies in the 1930’s. A point that begins to wane as the film progresses. The film settles upon the shoulders of James Norton playing the titular Mr. Jones, who was the journalist that first reported the tragedy occurring on the Eastern Front of the Soviet Union.

Cementing the narrative at the beginning is the lead in of Eric Arthur Blair better known as George Orwell sitting at a table looking at a pig in his yard. He is beginning to write one of, if not his best known work, Animal Farm. There is still a spirited debate as to whether the Farmer Jones character was indeed named after Gareth Jones, the hero of our film or not. We will likely never truly know this historical detail. There is a very compelling dissertation on this subject can be read here. Despite that debate you can’t help but see the similarity of the content of Animal Farm and the actions and events of the Soviet Union. An apt point that brings a layer to the story that is not only earnest but rings with a feeling of truth.

The film stays away from some of the more disturbing aspects of the Holodomor. Never venturing into the stories of cannibalism or the reality of the mass graves. It focuses exclusively on what Jones’ experience may have been and minor asides of those around him. It expends a bit more energy than is good for it on a budding romance between Kirby and Norton. Which while enjoyable in the thrust of the film, now in retrospect feels to have dampened the impact of the picture.

There are some consequential lulls in the narrative. The real engagement between myself and the film came from the behind enemy lines journalism segments and slow graduation into understanding how nefarious the “success” of the Soviet Union was. This is precisely the type of Historical Drama I often lament at not being made these days. If you like me are hungry for more stories in film about little seen historical events of great importance I encourage you to view Holland’s Mr. Jones. It’s what Snowball would have wanted. 

Recommended.

Mr. Jones Trailer

Mr. Jones is currently available to stream on Kanopy and Hulu

Episode 76: Best of 2020 So Far

“When I finish a film, I feel like I have overcome a certain hurdle. It’s really good for me as a human being, and I hope that for some people, my films will do the same thing.”

Hong Sang-soo

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This week on the Podcast we discuss our 10 favorite films of 2020 so far, as well as hand out show awards for each of our Wounded Soldiers of the year, The Squanderies, Top Ensembles, Top Doc, Top 3 OST’s, Favorite Actor and Actress(Lead and Supporting), Top 3 Directorial Debuts, 3 Favorite Classic Discovery, and our Top Technically Beautiful Film.

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Episode 75: Da 5 Bloods / Babyteeth / Hill of Freedom

“Before shooting I try to observe as much as I can. I don’t want to work with my strong intention, because if you work with a strong intention I think what you do is you repeat what you’ve heard and what you’ve seen in the past. It’s not new. It’s not interesting. So what I try to do is observe and respond to what is given. What is given is more interesting than what I craft by my intentions. Intentions always dangerous for me, always stereotypical-not interesting at all. If I have to work in the line of intention, I will not work. It’s so boring. It would be like I’d be a construction worker, your whole design would be just like a railroad. I need something new, really unexpected things happen every day. Every day something new has to happen, that way I feel alive and want to work.”

Hong Sang-soo

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 75 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Palm Springs & Bill & Ted Face the Music and the Titles: Da 5 Bloods, Babyteeth, and Hill of Freedom.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Da 5 Bloods on Netflix

Babyteeth on Hulu

Hill of Freedom is currently available to rent from Grasshopper Films.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!

Episode 74: Shirley / The King of Staten Island / Young Ahmed

“Filming is like a house, you have to feel comfortable in it.”

Luc Dardenne

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 74 of the Podcast Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: You Should Have Left & Lovecraft Country. Followed by the Feature Films: Shirley, The King of Staten Island, and Young Ahmed in their lead up to the Top 10 of the year so far Episode.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Shirley on Hulu

Young Ahmed on Kanopy and Criterion Channel

The King of Staten Island is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

Drink in the Movies would like to thank PODGO for sponsoring this episode. You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up for an account here: https://podgo.co/apply If you do please let them know we sent you, it helps us out too!