Looking Back: Mia Hansen-Løve: Goodbye, First Love

Honest look at early passion

Hansen-Løve’s first two films tackled subjects like family dissolution, addiction, and suicide. Her delicate, intelligent, naturally cinematic treatment of such challenging material has established her, at 30, as one of today’s best young French filmmakers. That recognition evidently has given her the courage to go back to something simpler and more directly autobiographical, Un amour de jeunesse (the French title) — a young woman’s first passionate love. Nothing quite so harsh here as before in the world beyond the sensitive protagonist: some parents separate, perhaps, but happily, it seems; and nobody crashes. There is just the big task of mastering young emotion. The director’s wonderful previous film, The Father of My Children, was more complex, but this one dares to be simple, and to go over material that may seem over-ridden with associations that risk cliché. Its bitter-sweet honesty in examining the traces left on a life by a first love seems essentially French. There is no cliché here. Again the young director approaches big events with bold honesty.

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Looking Back: Ruben Östlund: Play

Realistic pseudo-documentary about teen robbers

Play is a realistic recreation of actual events using non-actors. The filmmaker read a news story about how in his native Swedish city of Göteborg (Gothenberg) a group of young black boys were convicted of carrying out over forty robberies of cell phones and other objects from white boys over a period of several years. They used ingenious methods they’d obviously worked out over repeated performances of their scam. The took advantage of the stereotype of black males as macho and menacing (and the non-black shame at revealing this fear) to seem to threaten their victims without actually using physical force. They also used what they loosely called a “bad cop – good cop” technique. One or more boys behaved in a threatening manner while another, the “good cop,” would say something like, “He’s angry and unpredictable. I’m not like that. I know you are probably right. But let’s just go along with him, and check out the situation, and then there will be no trouble.” The scam was for one of the robbers to ask one of the victims to show him his cell phone. Then he would say his brother had been robbed and this looked exactly like his phone that was taken away from him, had the same scratches. Then he would ask the victims to accompany him to go to see his brother. And during the long ordeal for the three trapped boys that follows, the five black boys obviously take great pleasure also in the sheer “Play” of making their victims squirmy and fearful.

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Looking Back: Jaafar Panahi: This Is Not a Film

A muzzled artist speaks

It may indeed not be a film. But it is something else: a statement about repression. The celebrated Iranian director Jaafar Panahi (Crimson Gold, Offside) chose this title because he has been prohibited from making films by the Iranian government. This is not a filmbecause if it were, Panahi would be violating the mullahs orders. Apparently for supporting the protests against the reelection of Ahmadinejad, Panahi was arrested several times in 2010. Late in the year he was put under house arrest and officially prohibited by the Iranian government from plying his trade as a filmmaker for the next 20 years: no directing, no screenwriting, no interviews, no departures from the country. And a prison sentence is pending.

So This Is Not a Film, made by Panahi with help from the documentary filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb without leaving his apartment and smuggled out of Iran, it is said, on a USB thumb drive hidden in a loaf of bread, is an act of subversion and protest against his repression by the regime, not to mention the general repression of Iranian filmmakers. Nearly every Iranian film today is an overt or veiled criticism of the situation in the country. But This Is Not a Film is raw evidence of the deteriorating current situation in which one of the most prestigious of the country’s directors can be silenced for nothing other than giving the nod to in demonstrations in which thousands of other Iranians were involved.

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Looking Back: David Cronenberg: A Dangerous Method

A waxen gala

A Dangerous Method is a beautifully made but curiously and depressingly safe film. It tells the true story of a Russian Jewish woman called Sabina Spielrein, at first a patient of Karl Jung, then his lover, who eventually came to be associated with Jung’s Viennese colleague and eventual adversary, Sigmund Freud, and later, through the encouragement of both men, became a pioneer in psychotherapy in her own right. The joint connection came to define and crystalilze the fraught relationship between the two leading early figures in psychological theory and psychoanalysis. Christopher Hampton, the playwright and screenwriter, originally developed the script from a book called A Dangerous Method by John Kerr, for a film that didn’t get made. Undaunted, the tireless adaptor instead turned it into a play called The Talking Cure that was produced on the London stage, and later he turned that into the screenplay from which Cronenberg made this film starring Michael Fassbender (as a sensitive but slightly too dapper Jung) and Viggo Mortensen (as an almost equally dapper, slightly older, constantly cigar-smoking Freud) and Keira Knightly (as a mugging, twisting, Russian-accent affecting Spielrein). The film is beautiful, elegant, and lifeless. Even the S&M scenes are like postcards of a swiss kitchen.

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Looking Back: Wim Wenders: Pina

Modern dance from Germany in 3D

Wenders’ appropriately austere, stylized documentary about the German modern dance master Pina will appeal to her fans and students of her work. Philippina “Pina” Bausch, who was born in 1940, was a German performer of modern dance, choreographer, dance teacher and ballet director. She died in 2009, suddenly after a cancer diagnosis, having collaborated on this film. Wenders’ film which is in 3D, presents a continuum of Pina’s work, usually ensemble dance pieces in a stylized modern urban setting. As the film progresses a succession of Pina’s dancers are seen facing the camera in front of the stage of dancers as a voiceover of that person reminisces or speaks of Pina’s influence on him or her. The style of the film is as pared down as the style of the dances.

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