Pras On World Films: BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS (“Welcome To The Sticks” / FRANCE 2008)

BIENVENUE CHEZ LES CH’TIS (Welcome to the Sticks or Welcome to the Land of Shtis) is a 2008 French comedy film starring Kad Merad, Dany Boon and Zoé Félix. A man born and raised on France’s Southern coast is exiled to the Northern territories in this comedy from actor, director and screenwriter Dany Boon.The film broke nearly every box office record in France: it debuted as the top film at 793 sites. As of 28 February 2010, the film had been seen by 20.5 million people in 23 weeks, thereby breaking the long-standing record held by 1966’s La Grande Vadrouille (17.27 million admissions). The film has grossed US$192,928,551 in the box-office in France alone.

Philippe Abrams (Kad Merad) is the manager of the postal service (La Poste) in Salon-de-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, in southern France. He is married to Julie (Zoe Felix), whose depressive nature makes his life impossible. She has been down in the dumps. At the constant urging of his wife, has long been lobbying for a transfer to one of the much-coveted positions in the more glamorous surroundings of Côte d’Azur,  he thinks would be one way to lift her spirits. As this favourable position will be granted to somebody who is disabled, Abrams decides to pretend that he is. However, Philippe’s attempts to finagle a transfer (by pretending that he is handicapped) fail. The management finds out. When the ruse is discovered, he ends up instead, being transferred to Bergues,  as punishment with a forced relocation.

Bergues is a village in Northern France that lies stuck between Belgium and the English Channel, near Dunkirk in northern France – and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in particular. For years the northern region, Nord-Pas de Calais, has been stereotyped as a miserable hell of disused coal mines and rusting factories, where alcoholic, unemployed or suicidal inhabitants keep warm by beating each other up or gorging on chips with vinegar. The British might think of Calais as a bounteous land of booze cruises and Channel tunnel coach tours, but in France it’s grim up north. These depressed and rain-soaked northerners, nicknamed Ch’tis, spoke an indecipherable patois, Ch’timi, and were thought to have changed little since Emile Zola captured their bleak existence in his 19th century mining novel, Germinal. It is considered “the sticks” – a cold and rainy place inhabited by unsophisticated ch’tis who speak a strange language called “ch’ti” in local parlance, and “cheutimi” in the South (In this area, the indigenes speak a language known as Picard – an amalgam of French, Flemish and Latin).

Scene from Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

For the Abrams, very prejudiced southerners, the North is a nightmare, a freezing region, inhabited by uncouth beings, spluttering out an incomprehensible language. Philippe essentially perceives the region as the “Siberia of France.” Judging by the grim look on his wife’s face, one would suspect that Philippe was being sent to the front-lines, never to return, when he says goodbye to her and his young son. Philippe goes alone.  With misery in his heart, he dons extreme winter clothing and trudges off to his new post, saying goodbye to Julie and their son, who opt to stay behind. On the motorway Philippe is stopped by a policeman for travelling too slowly, but when he hears about the driver’s final destination he can only offer his commiserations and wave him on his lonely way.  To make matters worse, not long after arriving in Bergues, Philippe nearly runs over a man while driving home drunk — who turns out to be one of his new colleagues at the post office. He has to spend his first night at Antoine’s place – Antoine is one of his co-workers. First Philippe dislikes Antoine for his rudeness and because he thinks Antoine is gay (actually, he found photographs of Antoine dressed as a woman, but they were taken during a carnival party).

To his great surprise, he discovers Bergues a charming place, a warm bunch and welcoming people.  After a rocky start in which Philippe finds himself knee-deep in misunderstandings and struggling to grasp the area’s unique dialect, he soon finds his bearings and is given a warm welcome by his fellow post office employees. These include Antoine (Boon himself), the postman and village bell-ringer, who struggles to escape his overbearing mother’s grip and is deeply infatuated with Annabelle (Anne Marivin), often drowning his sorrows on the job when she rebuffs his advances. Philippe begins to love the community and its people, even growing infatuated with Annabelle (Anne Marivin), a beautiful letter carrier. In helping to straighten out various characters’ little problems, Philippe becomes a contented member of the Bergues community. Soon, he is completely won over, eating smelly Maroilles cheese; talking to virtually every local (by delivering their mail, and accepting the recipient’s invitation for a drink); playing at the beach; playing the bells at the bell tower together, drinking beer like a local, going to an RC Lens football match and so forth.  Finally, he becomes best friends with  Antoine.

But for some reason he feels compelled to maintain an unhappy façade in front of his friends and family back home, regaling them with horror stories on his weekend visits.

When Philippe returns to Salon over the weekend he tries to describe the happy turn of events to his wife who has remained in the South with their young son, but  Julie refuses to believe that he likes it in the North. She even thinks that he is lying so as not to upset her. This inspires Philippe to tell her what she wants to believe: that his life is wretched there.   Inevitably, these tall tales come back to haunt him when his wife (Zoé Félix) decides it is her duty to stand by her man in this hellhole. She decides to join him in the North to relieve his gloom. Philippe must either tell the truth, or keep deceiving her. He is also forced to confess to his new friends and colleagues that he has described them as barbarians to his wife. First, they are angry, but they then decide to help him by behaving as such to cover for his lies and to scare Julie so she will depart quickly. Also they let her stay in the old mining place of Bergues, pretending it is the main town. Julie has a very bad weekend. Just when she’s ready to go back south, she discovers that she has been tricked when a local biker tells Julie that the actual town of Bergues is several kilometers away. When Philippe finds Julie at his real Bergues home, he tells her the truth about the happiness and friendship that the town has brought him. Julie is disappointed at first, but after realising her husband is happy, she decides ultimately to move to Bergues to stay with Phillipe, to be supportive.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

Meanwhile, Antoine and Annabelle who had been dating for over a year, but had broken up due to Antoine’s passiveness towards his mother still nurse hopes for their relationship. Anne Marivin, charmante comédienne, remarquée depuis le succès de Despite their split, Antoine still has feelings for Annabelle, who now has a new boyfriend. Upon learning this, Antoine cheers himself up by drinking alcohol during his work hours and behaves in an erratic manner. When Phillipe urges Antoine to take courage and be assertive, Antoine finally confesses to his mother that he loves Annabelle and is planning to move to a new place with her. Unexpectedly, his mother is happy about it – she has waited all these years for Antoine to stand up for himself. As a result, Antoine proposes to Annabelle by the bell tower when it is playing a Stevie Wonder song. Annabelle accepts, and they get married.

Three years later, Phillipe receives a transfer to move south. Accepting the offer, Phillipe and his family move south. Just as he is about to say goodbye, he is reduced to tears, proving Antoine’s theory on the Ch’tis proverb (“A visitor brays [cries] twice up north: once on his arrival and once at his departure.”)

When it was released in February of this year, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis became an instant smash among French cinemagoers, and has subsequently roared towards the decade-long box-office crown that James Cameron’s Titanic has held in that country. Despite even viewers from Marseille and even Normandy admitting they can’t follow parts of the Ch’timi dialogue – a mixture of the Picard dialect of early French with the odd bit of Flemish – ticket sales for this film have been phenomenal.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is based around the perception that life in the south of France is nothing much gorgeous sunshine and happiness, while the north of the country is a cold and miserable place to be; but Boon, a native of Nord-Pas de Calais, wants to show us that things aren’t as grim up north as many might think. One can see why Pathé (the producers) feared this might not fly at the local US multiplex. How could people be expected to laugh at intricate misapprehensions of a language they don’t even understand? But there is no problem whatsoever, such is the ingenuity of the writing, the fluency and comic timing of the actors, and in particular the assured direction of Dany Boon, who happens to be a Ch’ti himself. Such a success can only be attributed to the way Dany Boon’s film touches upon national stereotypes and prejudices. Such a scenario inevitably doesn’t hold as much resonance for viewers outside of France, but Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis possesses a warm sense of humour that should translate for most audiences.

There are two or three hilarious sequences in Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. One occurs early on when Philippe’s attempt to play his non-existent disabled card descend into slapstick; another sees Philippe and Antoine cycling haphazardly around Bergues while growing increasingly inebriated; and the big set-piece in which the whole town try to convince Philippe’s wife that life here is every bit as horrific as she’s heard is very funny indeed. Aside from those instances, however, the comedy in this picture is of a determinedly gentle variety, and while it’s far from unappealing it isn’t quite amusing enough to distract from the film’s laziness in other areas.

The subtitler succeeds in matching French mis-speaks with plausible English equivalents in a tour de force which merits the creation of a whole new Oscar category and provides Bienvenue chez les Ch'tisBritish audiences (insofar as there are any) with an extra layer of entertainment denied to their francophone counterparts. The opening scenes seem to set us up for a classic farce, and I greatly enjoyed Philippe’s first encounter with Antoine, in which both sexual and linguistic confusion come into play. The linguistic element of the film is particularly important. The Ch’ti of the title refers both to the natives of Bergues and their distinctive patois, where the letter “s” is pronounced “ch”, and numerous words find their meaning completely warped. The film’s subtitlers have obviously endeavoured to retain this core component of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis’ humour (office is confused with fish, for example), and the potentially parochial gags Boon likes to trade in come across remarkably well. The film has already been sold in Canada, where it is expected to appeal to the equally stereotype-laden Québécois, as well as in Belgium and Switzerland. “We knew it would be popular but we didn’t expect it to reach this level,” said a publicist for the film.

The acting is very strong across the board, with Boon being a dab hand at playing the likable dolt (as he showed in Patrice Leconte’s My Best Friend), and he is assisted by particularly strong work from both Merad and the heart-stoppingly beautiful Marivin.

The film’s writer, director and co-star, the popular comedian Dany Boon, is a proud Ch’ti and son of an Algerian truck driver and a French cleaner. He has succeeded in turning around the French cinematic cliché that romping comedies take place in the south, usually on a beach, and the north is reserved for depressing social realism. He said: “I wanted to make a very human comedy where the main character, an outsider, discovers the Ch’timi culture and warmth … summed up in the proverb: ‘An outsider who comes to the north cries twice, once when he arrives, and once when he leaves’.”

“Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis” (“Welcome to the Sticks”), has been attracting filmgoers in astounding numbers. The movie has sold close to 19 million tickets in a country of 65 million people, and is on course to overtake the all-time domestic record of 20.7 million set by “Titanic.” Made for $17 million, “Bienvenue” has had sales of about $185 million so far. Local politicians came to blows over funding of the film when the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional council contributed €600,000 to the €11m (£8.4m) budget and local communists objected. But after its premiere in the north, with the publication of Ch’ti phrase books, the region is expecting a tourism boom. Bergues, the town of 4,000 people where the film is set and where the cinema closed more than 20 years ago, is at the centre of a Ch’ti craze. Within a few weeks, “Bienvenue” had turned into a bona fide grass-roots phenomenon: Sales of Maroilles and the local Ch’ti beer have skyrocketed; busloads of tourists swarm Bergues, the town where the action takes place. Suddenly, every French person had an inner Ch’ti.”People have started driving here specially to have their wedding pictures taken in front of the belfry or the post office. We’re thinking of producing a special commemoration envelope,” said Jacques Martel, one of the deputy mayors. “There is a major effect on tourism and hopefully on stereotypes too. Humour is a weapon.”

PRODUCTION CREDITS

DirectorDany Boon  /  ScreenplayDany Boon

ScreenplayFranck Magnier

Executive ProducerEric Hubert

ACTING CREDITS

Kad Merad – Philippe Abrams
Dany Boon – Antoine Bailleul
Zoe Felix – Julie Abrams
Philippe Duquesne – Fabrice Canoli
Jacques BonnaffeLine Renaud – Madame Bailleul
Stephane Freiss – Jean Sabrier, Philippe’s Superior
Michel Galabru – Julie’s Great-Uncle
Anne Marivin – Annabelle Deconninck
Guy Lecluyse – Yann Vandernoout
Patrick Bosso – Policeman ‘A7’
Zinedine Soualem – Momo
Jerome Commandeur – Inspector Lebic
Christophe Rossignon – Brasserie Waiter
Yael Boon – Angry Post Office Customer
Alexandre Carriere – Tony
Lorenzo Ausilia Foret – Raphael Abrams
Fred Personne – Monsieur Vasseur
Franck Andrieux – Monsieur Leborgne
Jean-Christophe Herbeth – Monsieur Mahieux
Jean-Pierre Picotin – Monsieur Tizaute
Jenny Cleve – Grandma ‘Quinquin’
Claude Talpaert – Grandpa Quinquin
Sylviane Goudal – Post Office Customer
Maryline Delbarre – Martine de Momo
Guillaume Morand – Old colleague of Phillipe’s
Yann Konigsberg – Jean’s Salon Colleague 2
Nadege Beausson-Diagne – Salon Employee
Jean-Francois Elberg – Service Station Employee
Eric Bleuze – Man on Moped
Bruno Tuchszer – Bergues Policeman 1
Mickael Angele – Bar Owner in Mining Town
Patrick Cohen – Customer Thrown Out of Bar
Louisette Douchin – Woman with Mussels
Jean-Marc Vauthier – Miner
Cedric Magyari – Miner
Theo Behague – Local Child
Mathieu Sophys – Local Child
Laetitia Maisonhaute – Jean’s Secretary

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PRAS ON WORLD FILMS: Your 2012 Visit Experience Summarized

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012.

 

In 2012, there were 53 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 216 posts.

 

The busiest day of the year was February 20th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was Pras on World Films: THE MILL AND THE CROSS.

 

These five films were the most viewed in 2012.

1 Pras on WorldFilms: RA.ONE                                      October 2011
2 Pras on World Films: BEYOND THE CLOUDS (“Al Di Là Delle Nuvole “)                                                                                         March 2012
3 Pras on World Films: THE MILL AND THE CROSS  February 2012
4 Pras on World Films: EIGHT MILES HIGH              September 2011
5 Pras on World Films: ENGLISH, AUGUST (1994)       October 2011 

The top referring sites in 2012 were:

  1. facebook.com
  2. linkedin.com
  3. cdn.lmodules.com
  4. meetup.com
  5. mail.yahoo.com

Where did they come from?

Visitors to this site came from 128 countries in all. Most visitors came from India. The United States & The United Kingdom were not far behind.

 

The most commented on post in 2012 was Pras on World Films: HUGO (Filmed in 3-D)

The 85 Films You Need To See To Know Anything About Film

Martin Scorsese’s Film School  

With 11 nominations and five wins for Hugo at the 2012 Oscars, Martin Scorsese remains one of the most influential directors in Hollywood. But what influenced him? Here’s an A-Z list of the films that mattered to Scorsese (in other words, the films you need to see to be the film expert you think you are).

Interviewing Martin Scorsese is like taking a master class in film. Fast Company’s four-hour interview with the director for the December-January cover story was ostensibly about his career, and how he had been able to stay so creative through years of battling studios. But the Hugo director punctuated everything he said with references to movies: 85 of them, in fact, all listed below.

Some of the movies he discussed (note: the descriptions for these are below in quotes, denoting his own words). Others he just mentioned (noted below with short plot descriptions and no quotes.) But the cumulative total reflects a life lived entirely within the confines of movie making, from his days as a young asthmatic child watching a tiny screen in Queens, New York to today, when Scorsese is as productive as he’s ever been in his career–and more revered than ever by the industry that once regarded him as a troublesome outsider. Hugo leads the Academy Award nominations with 11 nods, including Best Picture and Best Director. Several Oscar pundits believe he’ll nab his second Directing win. If so, he owes a lot to movies like the ones below.

Ace in the Hole: “This Billy Wilder film was so tough and brutal in its cynicism that it died a sudden death at the box office, and they re-released it under the title Big Carnival, which didn’t help. Chuck Tatum is a reporter who’s very modern–he’ll do anything to get the story, to make up the story! He risks not only his reputation, but also the life of this guy who’s trapped in the mine.” 1951

All That Heaven Allows: In this Douglas Sirk melodrama, Rock Hudson plays a gardener who falls in love with a society widow played by Jane Wyman. Scandale! 1955

America, America: Drawn directly from director Elia Kazan’s family history, this film offers a passionate, intense view of the challenges faced by Greek immigrants at the end of the 19th century. 1963

An American in Paris: This Vincente Minnelli film, with Gene Kelly, picked up the idea of stopping within a film for a dance from The Red Shoes. 1951

Apocalypse Now: This Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece is from a period when directors like Brian DePalma, John Milius, Paul Schrader, Scorsese and others had great freedom—freedom that they then lost. 1979

Arsenic and Old Lace: Scorsese is a big fan of many Frank Capra movies, and this Cary Grant vehicle is one of several that he’s enjoyed with his family at his office screening room. 1944

The Bad and the Beautiful: Vincente Minnelli directed this film about a cynical Hollywood mogul trying to make a comeback. It stars Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell. 1952

The Band Wagon: “It’s my favorite of the Vincente Minnelli musicals. I love the storyline that combines Faust and a musical comedy, and the disaster that results. Tony Hunter, the lead character played by Fred Astaire, is a former vaudeville dancer whose time has passed, and who’s trying to make it on Broadway, which is a very different medium of course. By the time the movie was made, the popularity of the Astaire/Rogers films had waned, raising the question of what are you going to do with Fred Astaire in Technicolor? So, really, Tony Hunter is Fred Astaire–his whole reputation is on the line, and so was Fred Astaire’s.” 1953

Born on the Fourth of July: Produced by Universal Pictures under Tom Pollock and Casey Silver, this Tom Cruise movie (directed by Oliver Stone) was an example of how that studio “wanted to make special pictures,” says Scorsese. 1989

Cape Fear: As he once explained to Stephen Spielberg over dinner in Tribeca, one of Scorsese’s fears about directing a remake of this film was that, “The original was so good. I mean, you’ve got Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, it’s terrific!” 1962

Cat People: Simone Simon plays a woman who fears that she might turn into a panther and kill. It sounds corny, but the psychological thrills that directors Jacques Tourneur got out of his measly $150,000 budget make this a fascinating movie, with amazing lighting. 1942

Caught: “There are certain styles I had trouble with at first, like some of Max Ophuls’ films. It took me till I was into my thirties to get The Earrings of Madame de…, for example. But I didn’t have trouble with this one, which I saw in a theater and which is kind of based on Howard Hughes [protagonist of The Aviator].” 1949

Citizen Kane: “Orson Welles was a force of nature, who just came in and wiped the slate clean. And Citizen Kane is the greatest risk-taking of all time in film. I don’t think anything had even seen anything quite like it. The photography was also unlike anything we’d seen. The odd coldness of the filmmaker towards the character reflects his own egomania and power, and yet a powerful empathy for all of them—it’s very interesting. It still holds up, and it’s still shocking. It takes storytelling and throws it up in the air.” 1941

The Conversation: Gene Hackman stars in this thrilled directed by Scorsese’s friend, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a classic example of stuido risk-taking in the early 1970s. 1974

Dial M for Murder: When discussing the creation of Hugo, Scorsese referred to this Hitchcock film as an example of other directors who have tangled with 3-D over the years. In its original release most theaters only showed it in 2-D; now the 3-D version pops up in theaters from time to time.1954

Do The Right Thing: Spike Lee’s film was the kind of risky production that drew Scorsese to Universal Pictures when it was run by Casey Silver and Tom Pollack. “Then Pollock left,” says Scorsese, “and it all changed.” 1989

Duel in the Sun: Scorsese went to see this movie, which some critics called “Lust in the Dust”, when he was 4 years old. Jennifer Jones falls hard for a villainous Gregory Peck in this lush King Vidor picture. A poster of the movie hangs in Scorsese’s offices. 1946

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse: Rex Ingram made this movie, in which Rudolph Valentino dances the tango. Ingram stopped making films when sound came in. Michael Powell’s father worked for Ingram; living in that milieu gave Michael the cultural knowledge that informed his own movies like The Red Shoes. 1921

Europa ’51: “After making The Flowers of St. Francis, Rossellini asked, what would a modern day saint be like? I think they based it on Simone Weil, and Ingird Bergman played the part. It really takes everything we’re dealing with today, whether it’s revolutions in other countries or people trying to change their lifestyles, and it’s all there in that film. The character tries everything, because she has a tragedy in her family that really changes her, so she tries politics and even working in a factory, and in the end it has a very moving resolution.” [Also known as The Greatest Love] 1952

Faces: “[Director John] Cassavetes went to Hollywood to shoot films like A Child is Waiting and Too Late Blues, and after Too Late Blues he became disenchanted. Those of us in the New York scene, we kept asking, “What’s Cassavetes doing? What’s he up to?” And he was shooting this film in his house in L.A. with his wife Gena Rowlands and his friends. And when Faces showed at the New York Film Festival, it absolutely trumped everything that was shown at the time. Cassavetes is the person who ultimately exemplifies independence in film.” 1968

The Fall of the Roman Empire: One of the last “sandal epics,” this sweeping Anthony Mann picture boasted a stellar cast of Sophia Loren, Anthony Boyd, James Mason, Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer and Anthony Quayle. And it failed miserably at the box office. 1964

The Flowers of St. Francis: “This Rossellini movie and Europa ’51 are two of the best films about the part of being human that yearns for something beyond the material. Rossellini used real monks for this movie. It’s very simple and beautiful.” 1950

Force of Evil: Another picture that defined the American gangster image, this noir stars John Garfield as the evil older brother whose younger sibling won’t join his numbers-running conglomerate. 1948

Forty Guns: Barbara Stanwyck stars in this Sam Fuller Western. She plays a bad-ass cattle rancher with a soft spot for a local lawman. 1957

Germany Year Zero: “Roberto Rossellini always felt he had an obligation to inform. He was the first one to do a story about compassion for the enemy, in this film–it’s always been hard to find, but now there’s a Criterion edition. It’s a very disturbing picture. He was the first one to go there after the war, to say we all have to live together. And he felt cinema was the tool that could do this, that could inform people.” 1948

Gilda: “I saw this when I was 10 or 11, I had some sort of funny reaction to her, I tell you! Me and my friends didn’t know what to do about Rita Hayworth, and we didn’t really understand what George McCready was doing to her. Can you imagine? Gilda at age 11. But that’s what we did. We went to the movies.” 1946

The Godfather: “Gordon Willis did the same dark filming trick on The Godfather as he had done on Klute. And now audiences accepted it, and went along with it, and every director of photography and now every director of photography of the past 40 years owes him the greatest debt, for changing the style completely–until now, of course, with the advent of digital.” 1972

Gun Crazy: A romantic example of film noir, this one features a gun-toting husband and a sharp-shooting wife. 1950

Health: This Altman movie came out at the same time as King of Comedy. They were both flops, and we were both out. The age of the director was over. E.T. was a very big worldwide hit around then, and that changed the whole business of film finance. 1980

Heaven’s Gate: Scorsese was with United Artists in the 70s, with producers he describes as ”understanding and supportive.” Heaven’s Gate, one of the ambitious films UA backed at the time, was a critical and box office bomb, although its reputation has improved over the years. 1980

House of Wax: This was the first 3-D movie produced by a major American studio. It starred Vincent Price as a wax sculptor whose sourcing was, shall we say, unusual. 1953

How Green Was My Valley: “I appreciate the visual poetry of [director John] Ford’s film, like in the famous scene where Maureen O’Hara is married and the wind blows the veil on her head. It’s absolute poetry. No words. It’s all there in the image.” 1941

The Hustler: Scorsese liked the Paul Newman character (Eddie Felson) in this movie so much that when Newman came calling about a possible update of the movie, he agreed to direct The Color of Money. He says the movie’s box office success helped rehabilitate his career after a tough slog. 1961

I Walk Alone: One of several movies that Scorsese says clearly defined the American gangster ideal, this one stars Burt Lancaster and the smoldering Lizabeth Scott. 1948

The Infernal Cakewalk: One of the many George Melies movies that have been restored and can now be seen on DVD. Melies, a French director of silent films, is at the center of the plot of Hugo. 1903

It Happened One Night: “I didn’t think much of this Frank Capra film, until I saw it recently on the big screen. And I discovered it was a masterpiece! The body language of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, the way they related–it’s really quite remarkable.” 1934

Jason and the Argonauts: As part of his film education of his daughter, Scorsese screened a bunch of Ray Harryhausen classics, including this one. 1963

Journey to Italy: “After Rossellini married Ingrid Bergman he wiped the slate clean and left Neo-Realism behind. Instead he made these intimate stories that had a great deal to do with a certain intellectual mysticism, a sense of cultural power. In Viaggio [Viaggio in Italia is the Italian title], for example, the English couple played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman are traveling in Naples on vacation while marriage is faling apart, but the land around them—the people the museums, and especially their visit to Pompeii, these thousands of years of culture around them—work on them like a modern miracle. The film is basically two people in a car, and that became the entire New Wave. Kids may not have seen this film, but it’s basically in all the independent film of today.” 1954

Julius Caesar: “This is another example of Orson Welles’ risktaking, with Caesar’s crew as out-and-out gangsters.” 1953

Kansas City: “This is one of the great jazz movies ever. If you could hang on with Altman, you were going to go on one of the great rides of your lives.” 1996

Kiss Me Deadly: A great example of the noir genre that so inspired Scorsese. This one stars Ralph Meeker as detective Mike Hammer. 1955

Klute: “There are movies that change the whole way in which films are made, like Klute, where Gordon Willis’s photography on the film is so textured, and, they said, too dark. At first this was alarming to people, because they’re used to a certain way things are done within the studio system. And the studio is selling a product, so they were wary of people thinking that it’s too dark.” 1971

La Terra Trema: This Lucchino Visconti film is one of the founding films of Neo-Realism. 1948

The Lady from Shanghai: “The story goes that Welles had to make a film and he was in this railway station, and there were some paperbacks there and he was talking to Harry Cohn of Columbia and he said look, I’ve got the greatest film it’s called Lady from Shanghai, which was this paperback he saw there. And then he made up this story, taking elements of Moby Dick, where he talks about the sharks, and the whole mirror sequence in that picture is unsurpassed. I don’t know if Lady is a noir, but it’s awkward, and it’s brilliant.” 1947

The Leopard: “Visconti and Rossellini and deSica were the founders of Neo-Realism. Visconti went a different way from Rossellini. He made this movie, which is one of the greatest films ever made.” 1963

Macbeth: “This was the first Welles movie I saw, on television. He shot it in 27 days. The look of it, the Celtic barbarism, the Druid priest, this was all very different from other Macbeth productions I’d seen. The use of superimpositions, the effigies at the beginning of the film—it was more like cinema than theatre. Anything Welles did, given his background in radio, was a big risk. Macbeth is an audacious film, set in Haiti of all places.” 1948

The Magic Box: “There were a number of people who felt that they had invented moving pictures. Robert Donat plays William Friese-Greene, one of those people, who’s obsessed from childhood with movement and color. Donat was a great actor. And this is a beautifully done film.” 1951

M*A*S*H: “I saw it at a press screening. That was the first football game I ever understood. Altman developed this style that came out of his life and making television movies, it was so unique–and his movies seemed to come out every two weeks.” 1972

A Matter of Life and Death: “This is another beautiful film by Powell and Pressburger, but it was made after World War II, so people said, ‘You can’t use the word ‘Death’ in the title!’ So it got changed to Stairway to Heaven, that’s what it was called in America. Now it’s A Matter of Life and Death again.” 1946

McCabe & Mrs. Miller: “This is an absolute masterpiece. Altman could shoot quickly and get the very best actors.” 1971

The Messiah: “Rossellini’s last film in this third period, the last film he made before he died, is this beautiful TV film on Jesus. He had planned on making more such films, like one on Karl Marx. He thought TV was the way to reach young people, to educate them. But then of course TV changed.” 1975

Midnight Cowboy: One of the great movies released by UA in its glory days, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. 1969

Mishima: Scorsese describes this Paul Schrader film about the great Japanese author as a “masterpiece.” 1985

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town: In this Frank Capra movie, one of several that Scorsese has screened for his family, Gary Cooper plays a small-town boy who inherits a fortune–and a bevy of big-city sharpies that he can’t quite contend with. 1936

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Jimmy Stewart stars in this Capra movie, one of the all-time greats, which features a dramatic filibuster. 1939

Nashville: “Altman had a point of view that was uniquely American and an artistic vision to go with it. All his early work pointed to this movie.” 1975

Night and the City: “It’s the essential British noir film. Harry Fabien, played by Richard Widmark, is a two-bit hustler running through the London underworld at night, and he always oversteps, particularly with the gangster played by Herbert Lom. From the very beginning you know Fabien’s going to fail, because he’s up against a power he doesn’t understand. 1950

One, Two, Three: A classic Billy Wilder comedy, starring James Cagney as a Coca-Cola exec in West Berlin. The dialogue crackles. 1961

Othello: “It took (Orson Welles) years to finish this. There were tons of quick cuts, and there’s a wonderful sequence where two people are attacked in a Turkish bath, and it works beautifully. They’re wearing towels, and one is dispatched under the boards. It has a strange North African whiteness. It turns out that he was ready to do the sequence, and the costumes didn’t show up. So he said, let’s put it in a Turkish bath. He had the actors there! He had to shoot it!” 1952

Paisan: “This is my all-time favorite of the Rossellini films.” 1946

Peeping Tom: “Michael Powell himself gambled everything on Peeping Tom and lost in such a way that his career was really ended. The film was so shocking to some British critics and the audience because he had some sympathy, sort of, for the the serial killer. And the killer had the audacity to photograph the killing of the women with a motion picture camera, which of course tied in the motion picture camera as an object of voyeurism, implicating all of us watching horror films. He was reviled. One critic said this should be flushed down the toilet. He only got one or two more movies done. He really disappeared. And now in England there are cameras watching everyone all over the street.” 1960

Pickup on South Street: Richard Widmark picks the wrong purse in this classic noir, unwittingly setting off a series of events that come to a violent climax. 1953

The Player: “In the years before this movie, the age of the director who had a free hand came to an end. And yet Altman kept experimenting with different kinds of actor, different approaches to narrative, different equipment, until finally he hit it with this movie, which took him off onto a whole other level.” 1992

The Power and the Glory: “Directed by William K. Howard and written by Preston Sturges, it had a structure that Mankiewicz and Welles used for Citizen Kane.” 1933

Stagecoach: “Welles drew from everywhere. The ceilings and the interiors in John Ford’s classic western inspired him for Citizen Kane.” 1939

Raw Deal: NOT the Arnold Schwarzenegger pic. This one’s a noir directed by Anthony Mann, starring Dennis O’Keefe and Claire Trevor. 1948

The Red Shoes: “There’s something so rich and powerful about the story, and the use of the color, that it deeply affected me when I was nine or ten years old. The archness of the approach, and how serious the ballet dancers were … When they say, “The spotlight toujours on moi,” they mean it! The ballet sequence is almost like the first rock video. It’s almost as if you’re seeing what the dancer sees and hears and feels as she’s moving. It’s like in Raging Bull, where we never went outside the ring for the fighting sequences.” 1948

The Rise of Louis XIV: “In the third part of his career, Rossellini decided to make an encyclopedia, a series of didactic films. This is the first film in that series, and it’s an artistic masterpiece. He shot it in 16mm for TV, and called it anti-dramatic. Yet, I screen it once every couple of years, and when you look at frames of it on the big screen there are shots that just look like paintings. Rossellini couldn’t get away from it, he had an artist’s eye. There’s nothing like the last ten minutes of that film to show the accumulation and the display of power. It’s not done through the sword or the speech, it’s done through the theatre he created around him with his clothes, his food, the way he eats. It’s extraordinary.” 1966

The Roaring Twenties: James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart star in this homage to the gangsters of the 1920s. It was one of the many great films made in 1939 (like Gone with the Wind, The Women, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Stagecoach and many many more.) 1939

Rocco and his Brothers: “This Visconti film was also a major influence on filmmakers.” 1960

Rome, Open City: “I saw Italian movies as a 5-year-old, on a 16-inch TV my father bought. We were living in Queens. There were only three stations. One station showed Italian films on Friday night for the Italian-American community, subtitled, and the family would gather to see the films. My grandparents were there—they were the ones who moved over in 1910. So it became a ritual. [Director Roberto] Rossellini had an intellectual approach.” 1945

Secrets of the Soul:
“This was a silent movie whose flashback structure was unlike anything else. Secrets of the Soul looked almost experimental.” 1912

Senso: “An extraordinary film by Visconti, another Neo-Realist masterpiece.”

Shadows: “I saw Shadows at the 8th Street Playhouse [in Manhattan], and when I saw such a direct communication with the human experience, of conflict and love, it was almost as if there was no camera there at all. And I love camera positions! But this was like you were living with the people.” 1959

Shock Corridor: A wild Sam Fuller movie about a journalist who enters an insane asylum to try to break a story. 1963

Some Came Running: This Vincent Minnelli melodrama is definitely not a musical. It’s a tough story about an alcoholic Army vet returning home. It stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine. 1958

Stromboli: “This too was a very important film of Rossellini’s second period. Very beautiful.” [During the shooting of Stromboli, the star, Ingrid Bergman, who was married to an American dentist, got pregnant with Rossellini’s child. She divorced the dentist, and became persona non grata in America]. 1950

Sullivan’s Travels: “Billy Wilder told me, you’re only as good as your last picture. Sullivan, played by Joel McRae, is in the studio system, under that kind of pressure. He makes comedies, but one day he decides he really wants to make ‘Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?’ He puts it all on the line to learn about the poor. The resolution of the movie is very moving.” 1941

Sweet Smell of Success: Like Ace in the Hole, this classic noir is about an unethical journalist who will stop at nothing to get his way. Burt Lancaster plays the journalist. 1957

Tales of Hoffman: “This was a great risk for Powell and Pressburger. In fact, they lost it on that. He had in mind a composed film like a piece of music, and played the music back on set during the shooting, so the actors moved in a certain way.” 1951

The Third Man: “Carroll Reed made one of those films where everything came together. It made me see, with Kane, that there was another way of interpreting stories, and another approach to the visual frame of the classical films…all those low shots, and the cuts.” 1949

T-Men: Another Anthony Mann noir with great cinematography, this one’s about Department of Treasury men breaking up a counterfeiting ring. 1947

Touch of Evil: “Welles’ radio career with the Mercury Theater made him a master of the soundtrack. Just listen to this movie–you can close your eyes and imagine everything that is happening. (Young people should listen to the radio soundtrack of War of the Worlds, which was so effective that people got in their cars and started to drive away, because they really believed that Martians were attacking.)

The Trial: “This is another film that gave us a new way of looking at films. You’re very aware of the camera, like when Anthony Perkins came running down this corridor of wooden slats and light cutting the image, blades and shafts of light, talk about paranoia!” 1962

Two Weeks in Another Town: The Vincente Minnelli movie stars Cyd Charisse, Kirk Douglas, and Edward G. Robinson. It’s a classic 1960s melodrama. 1962

 

This piece by Rick Tetzeli appeared in FastCompany/Co-Create

Pras on World Films: LA GUERRE DES BOUTONS (“War Of The Buttons”)

In a highly unusual bout of filmmaking madness, two simultaneous adaptations of the French classic, War of the Buttons, were released in France within seven days of one another. The first version (La Guerre des boutons) was written and directed by Yann Samuell. The second version (La Nouvelle guerre des boutons) was directed by Christophe Barratier.  The Button race began last year when the rights to Louis Pergaud’s 1912 novel – on which Yves Robert’s popular and oft-quoted 1962 film was based – fell into the public domain.

VERSION 1:  The first version – written and directed by Yann Samuell (Love Me If You Dare) – offers a predictably polished melange of post-war nostalgia and crowd-pleasing comedy.War of the Buttons

Samuell sets the action in a small village in the south of France in 1960, against the distant backdrop of the Algerian War. A gang of boys, aged 7 to 14 led by the intrepid Lebrac (Vincent Bres) are at war with the kids of the neighbouring township, their sworn enemies.

In this uncompromising battle of honour and allegiances that’s been kept alive for generations, humiliation is the most fearsome defeat and no tactic is too extreme – even if it necessitates fighting as naked as a worm or accepting the help offered by Lanterne (Salome Lemire) – a girl! She’s the gang’s new recruit, a tomboy full of panache and ingenuity — and it seems victory could now just be a skipping stone’s throw away. But it’s not easy to wage war without getting caught by your parents…

A huge success at the French box office in late 2011 with over 1.5 million admissions, THE WAR OF THE BUTTONS is a cheeky family comedy about integration, independence and innocence, about conflicts big and small, and growing up — with a fresh and joyful spirit that speaks to the childish delight of disobedience. Here’s a film to make kids laugh, parents smile and grandparents melt with nostalgia.

Writer-director Samuell has done away with the more dismal and racier aspects of the original – a sequence of frolicking nude boys in the ’62 film has been watered down here to meet current standards – to focus instead on the plight of the story’s main character, Lebrac (Vincent Bres, excellent), a crafty and rebellious tween forced to support his household after his father dies. With a tough-loving mother (Mathilde Seigner) preferring he become a trade apprentice, and a thoughtful schoolteacher (Eric Elmosnino) urging him to continue his studies, Lebrac’s dilemma becomes the crux of the story, with the “war” part pushed more into the background. Prompted by one gang’s decision to cut the buttons off the shirt of a captive (thus the title), the battles slowly intensify as the fate of Lebrac – including his relationship with a feisty tomboy (Salome Lemire) – pans out.

Production companies: One World Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, TF1 Films Production, Les Films du Gorak
Cast: Eric Elmosnino, Mathilde Seigner, Fred Testot, Alain Chabat, Vincent Bres, Salome Lemire, Theo Bertrand, Tristan Vichard
Director: Yann Samuell
Screenwriter: Yann Samuell, based on the book by Louis Pergaud
Producers: Marc du Pontavice, Matthew Gledhill
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Pierre-Francois Limbosch
Music: Klaus Badelt
Costume designer: Charlotte David
Editor: Sylvie Landra

VERSION 2:  The second “reboot” of the original 1912 novel and 1962 film transplants the action to 1944 Vichy France.Buttons Film Still - H 2011

Barratier’s version is probably the more memorable one, adding a somewhat intriguing twist by setting its events during the final months of WWII.There’s a somber side to certain parts of the story. The tykes in question once again involve rebellious pre-teen LeBrac (Jean Tixier, spirited) and his fellow ruffians, who start a playful, rather harmless conflict with kids in the neighboring town. Although the clashes between the two gangs provide early comic relief, they are eventually overshadowed by the larger events of the war, which include the plight of a Jewish girl (Ilona Bachelier) in hiding who soon becomes LeBrac’s love interest, as well as that of a local schoolteacher (Guillaume Canet) forced to comply with Vichy policemen who wield their power all too heavily.

Production companies: La Petite Reine, TF1 Films Production, Studio 37, Mars Films, Longline Studios
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Laetitia Casta, Kad Merad, Gerard Jugnot, Jean Texier, Clement Godefroy, Theophile Baquet
Director: Christophe Barratier
Screenwriters: Christophe Barratier, Stephane Keller, Thomas Langmann, Philippe Lopes Curval
Based on the book by: Louis Pergaud
Producer: Thomas Langmann
Director of photography: Jean Poisson
Production designer: Francois Emmanuelli
Music: Philippe Rombi
Costume designer: Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz
Editor: Yves Deschamps, Anne-Sophie Bion

While in the Samuell film the various play fights are never much more than that, here they’re meant to illustrate the greater battle between partisans and resistance fighters that took place throughout France at the time.

Classically styled with a sweeping score, dramatic crane shots and golden hues, War of the Buttons is adorable but sentimental, an earnest whitewash of a painful period during World War II.

Led by Lebrac (tough newcomer Jean Texier), the boys of one town in rural France declare war on the boys of the next town over. They meet every Thursday to fight with fists and sticks, and otherwise disinterested student Lebrac puts his education to work applying the battlefield tactics he learned from the Greeks during a museum field trip. When captured, prisoners of war are stripped of their buttons and sent on their way with open shirts and sagging pants. These trophies become medals of honor for the victors.

Like in the book, the violence escalates to dangerous levels, but the real action begins when the boys on both sides rally to protect Violette (Ilona Bachelier), the cute new girl who may be a Jew in hiding. In the cat-and-mouse game to save her, the children realize the adults in their lives—their schoolteacher (Guillaume Canet), the beautiful shopkeeper (Laetitia Casta) and Lebrac’s father (Kad Merad)—may not be as ineffectual as they seem. (That the underground resistance movement was so widespread and the bumbling Nazi-sympathizing Vichy officers.

Pras on World Films: THE MASTER

After returning from the Second World War, having witnessed many horrors, a charismatic intellectual creates a faith based organization in an attempt to provide meaning to his life. He becomes known as “The Master”. When he meets a troubled drifter, he invites the man to help him spread the new faith. As their congregation increases, the drifter begins to begins to question the religion he once accepted, the belief system and his mentor (The Master) who gave his life direction.

Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" Hits The Water In New Set Photos (photo)

master posterThe movie is sectioned into three acts, each headlined by a recurring image of water (at times churning violently, at times flowing serenely) trailing in the wake of some unseen vessel. The film opens at the close of World War II, with Navy man Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) emptying fuel out of a torpedo to concoct another batch of his powerful rotgut liquor. Freddy seems to be suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress. He is a loner, a creep and a liar; he is sexually driven and an alcoholic, and he can’t hold down a job for long.During the film, he will also create concoctions from paint thinner, coconut water, and something from a medicine cabinet.

We see short chapters, sliced from Freddie’s time after the Navy, showing what it meant to be knocked aside, rather than swept up, in the nation’s postwar boom. Freddie becomes a photographer in a department store, making out with a model in his darkroom, where he brews a cocktail in a chemical beaker, and then, in one extraordinary passage, taking offense at a customer—a robust and portly type, who wants his picture taken—and laying into him, as though ignited by envy at such unattainable well-being. More startling still is the sudden cut to hard, unglamorous gray-greens, and the sight of Freddie hacking the heads off cabbages in a California field. We sense that he is drifting not because jobs are scarce but because no regular slot can hold him or stop him exploding from within. After he serves a potentially fatal cocktail to a migrant worker in a California cabbage field, he hastens to San Francisco and lurches through peacetime as a drifter until some the_masterenchanted evening, in 1950, Freddie wanders past a wharf, where a fancy yacht is moored, lit like a Christmas tree. Having nothing better in mind, he hops on board, and the ship sails off, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, with the Stars and Stripes, at its stern, barely visible under a dying sky. Next morning, the stowaway is introduced to a fellow who describes himself, in the first of many questionable statements, as “the commander” of the vessel Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—and then, for good measure, as a writer, a doctor, a theoretical philosopher, and a nuclear physicist.

The MasterLancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is the charismatic founder and magnetic core of a movement known as the Cause, which teaches that all humans carry psychic residue from trauma sustained during past lives.That, among other things, our souls, predate the foundation of the Earth, are no more than temporary residents of our frail bodily housing. Any relation to persons living, dead, or Scientological is, of course, entirely coincidental.

PHOTO: Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in 'The Master'He quickly identifies Freddy as a fellow “hopelessly inquisitive man” and, after sampling some of his homemade hooch, invites him to join his band of traveling cultists. In meetings with East Coast followers, especially Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern), we see that the Cause has already attracted many recruits — and doubters, including John More (Christopher Evan Welch), who stands coldly in a doorway at one meeting and fires hostile questions.

The MasterFreddy, carries on drinking,drawn in by the polish of Dodd’s silver tongue, soon becomes one of the Cause’s most ardent followers, acting as a literal attack dog against its many critics. Dodd, in turn, keeps welcoming Freddie—part apostle, part prodigal son—back into the fold. His rabid devotion soon draws the ire of Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams), who fears the angry young man and his ability to rouse her husband’s wild side.

Joaquin Phoenix adopts a strange posture for the role – sloped shoulders and compressed neck muscles – an extreme choice, but it works for him. He also projects a fearsome anxiety as his eyes scan a room; there are flashbacks/fantasies involving a pre-war girlfriend who continued to occupy space in his mind years after she married and had children.

The real impact of the film comes from the performances. An early scene where Dodd “processes” Freddy with a series of increasingly probing questions is absolutely spellbinding, like watching two finely tuned instruments duel in unison. The closing jailthe-master-philip-seymour-hoffman scene of these two characters split by a common wall,  a la falx cerebri, (separating the brain’s two hemispheres), says it all; perhaps a conflict within all of us. In one scene, notably  both men are hauled off to jail, Dodd for embezzling funds, and his sidekick for assaulting the cops. The screen is divided between their two cells: in one, Hoffman stands, relaxed, and leaning on his elbow, while in the other Phoenix whacks his skull on the bunk and stomps a toilet into bone-white shards. The composition alone is open to all manner of symbolic readings, and quite dazzling.

The Weinstein Company

In this performance, Joaquin Phoenix gives 100 percent. The actor’s use of body language, especially the insecure and vulnerable Barney Fife reversal of hands above slouched hips, with rounded shoulders, is brilliant. It’s fun to watch. Here, the actor unzips his torso and willingly let’s us see within, his emotional and physical scars — prenatal included.

the-master-movie-image-joaquin-phoenix-slice

With its expansive 70 mm images, The Master almost pounces on you as it announces its epic scope and ambition — even though the impressive vistas of the sea don’t have anything to do with the heart of the film. You also notice that in particular when Dodd mounts a motorcycle on a huge flat plain and roars into the distance.

The MasterShot in 65mm (and displayed in some theaters in 70mm print), the visual scope of the film is literally twice the size of most movies, and Anderson (working with cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who replaces longtime PTA collaborator Robert Elswit) fills that extra space with picturesque imagery that will be burned into memory  – whether you fully comprehend its meaning or not. From a sequence of Freddie running across a plowed field, to a spectacular  shot of him passed out atop a Naval battleship while sailors below toss things up at him – this film could be viewed without sound and it would still tell a beautiful and captivating story. This is the first movie filmed in 65mm (and projected in 70mm, in select markets) since Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet” (1996). It’s a spectacular visual experience.

The MasterThe style may not be necessary but it can be enthralling, especially in an early sequence, when the camera swoops across the ocean toward Dodd’s yacht. (The cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare Jr., was also dp on Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro and visually stunning Youth Without Youth.)

THE MASTER :
Written and Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson. Exec. Producer: Adam Somner, Ted Schipper. Producer: Paul Thomas Anderson, JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi, Megan Ellison. Co-producers: Albert Chi, Will Weiske. Production Co.: Annapurna Pictures. the-master-posterScreenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematographer: Mihai Malaimare, Jr. Editor: Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty. Sound: Michael Semanick, Christopher Scarabosio, Matthew Wood, Mark Ulano. Music: Jonny Greenwood. Prod. Designer: Jack Fisk, David Crank. U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company. Music supervisor, Linda Cohen; Set designer: John P. Goldsmith; Set decorator, Amy Wells; Costume designer: Mark Bridges; Sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Mark Ulano; Supervising sound editors, Christopher Scarabosio, Matthew Wood; Sound designer, Scarabosio; Re-recording mixers, Michael Semanick, Scarabosio; special effects coordinator, Michael Lantieri; senior visual effects supervisor, Dan Glass; visual effects supervisor, Gregory Liegey; visual effects producer, Andy Foster; visual effects, Method Studios; stunt coordinator, Garrett Warren; assistant director, Adam Somner; casting, Cassandra Kulukundis.

Filmed in: 65mm, 5 perforations, 24 frames per second. Principal photography in: Panavision System 65. Presented in: Panavision Super 70 in selected theatres with _._ track Datasat _-track digital stereo. Aspect ratio: 1,85:1.

“The Master” was shot with a Panaflex System 65 Studio Camera. It was framed for 1.85:1. 80% of the finished film is in 65mm. The remaining 20% is shot in standard 35mm. The reason for using both film formats was a creative choice. The 65mm film stock used was Kodak 5201 (50ASA)

A Minute With: Philip Seymour Hoffman on “The Master”

(Reuters) – Since the release of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie, “The Master”, talk by filmgoers and critics alike has spanned its link to Scientology, themes of control and its Oscar hopes. Much discussion has rested on the film’s main performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays his unhinged protege. Both actors split the top acting award at the Venice Film Festival, where the film debuted.

Hoffman, dispelling suggestions that his character of Lancaster Dodd was purely based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and discussing the broader themes of the film.

Q. You seem to just roll from one great role to the next.

A. “Yes, it’s going awful, I mean, Paul Thomas Anderson … giving me these opportunities. I just can’t bear it.”

Q. How did you create your character, Lancaster, and who did you base him on?

A. “Ultimately it was just knowing what we didn’t want to do. I think most people have been interested about the Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard stuff, and the thing is Paul used that stuff to have a venue to write the story. And a lot of our discussions early on were like, ‘I don’t want to play L. Ron Hubbard because that would be very distracting because that is not the movie.’ So a lot of the choices had to do with how not to be L. Ron Hubbard.

“It is pretty clear we made choices to make sure that the way I behave, the way I talk, it is all very different from L. Ron Hubbard … One person’s religion is another person’s cult. We know that. And so we didn’t want to be too on the nose about it … Ultimately it was about creating a unique person that was a piece of fiction.”

Q. Perhaps fueling that fascination were mysteries about Scientology to begin with?

A. “That’s a worthy discussion, that is a worthy article to write. People’s feelings and what Scientology brings up for people and how would you compare that to other movements of that time and how would you compare that to religion or Catholicism? That is very interesting because to me this guy is the head of anything you want him to be. You know what I mean?

“We always talked about this film being a life-changing moment for both of them, and things happen in your life to change your life. After they happen you think, ‘Did that actually happen? Did I actually go through that?’ Something that is so profound is sometimes so elusive and so hard to nail down. And it becomes a memory and an anecdote and some weird dream.”

Q. People are fascinated by broader themes of what this film is about. What are your thoughts?

A. “It is about an intense emotional connection between two men and how they both need each other, and are both the mirror opposite but ultimately very much alike. So I think all that is very specific and clear in the movie and it creates a strong emotional attachment that both of them are scared to walk away from for fear of finding out they are nothing without the other person.

“I think that is what the movie is getting at. And then what happens, that Paul does so brilliantly – that he doesn’t do in such a simple, banal or obvious way – is he brings in that time period, post-World War Two. He brings in a movement that is somewhat like Scientology, that time-warp kind of movement … It is about all those things and how they feed into the core thing, which is this relationship.”

Q. People also seem focused on the scene where your character sings to Joaquin Phoenix. Can you shed light on that?

A. “I think it is beautiful. And it is not about … sex. It is about intimacy and obsession and wanting to control somebody, because you are so scared to lose them. Anyone who has been in love before understands that. Again, there is a lot of like, well, it must be homoerotic. No. No, can’t men love each other like that, because they do. They really do.”

Q. Was it difficult to establish your own presence opposite Phoenix?

A. “It’s not an everyday occurrence, no, but when I see it I am happy because it makes my job easier. He (Phoenix) is actually playing the part, which is a guy who is obviously severely damaged.

“Lancaster isn’t a walk in the park either. He is a bull in a China shop too. There are a lot of similarities between them if you look hard enough. But they are both pretty volatile guys, but one realizes he wants to control it and the other one can’t.”

Q. What do the Oscars mean to you now that you have one?

A. “I think it is important to respect the attention that gets brought to something that everyone worked really hard on.”

Q. Talking about respect, actors like Meryl Streep sometimes joke about actors’ current high stature. What do you think?

A. “No one wants to be pretentious about what they do or take it seriously, because that is just weird. But I think, too, you have to respect it and to realize where it can take you and what power it can have, I think is important. But that is true of anything.”

Q. Salman Rushdie said recently that movie stars have replaced writers since the ’50s in terms of their influence.

A. “I do feel that there are some really smart people, who are doing that, who are actors. And I think they do it well, I don’t judge that so much.”

Pras On World Films: THE SOUND OF NOISE

Poster art for "Sound of Noise."Sometimes, a movie is so inventive, so unusual, so exciting, that you laugh at the pure audaciousness of what’s happening on screen.

A group of six musical terrorists (led by music-school expellee Sanna Persson) have composed an epic, vandalism-laced symphony with four movements. Each movement will be performed in public, without warning, and usually without a direct audience. They perform complex percussion pieces reminiscent of Stomp, using hospital equipment, banking equipment, and often real people. They see their little pieces of outsider musical art with no audience as a kind of pure act of freedom, capturing the true nature of music.

On their tail, attempting to decipher what the hell they’re up to and to apprehend them, is the business-minded cop Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), the single tone-deaf child in a family of brilliant and massively overbearing musicians. He hates all music, and longs for a day when he can “hear music made of silence.” Amadeus’ situation takes a turn for the worse when a group of six renegade drummers begin wreaking a tuneful, rhythmic havoc on the city, leaving their calling-card metronomes, alarmed citizens — and for Amadeus, unnatural silence — in their wake. The terrorists leave metronomes at the scenes of their crimes/performances, and Amadeus, no doubt the student of many frustrated piano lessons, hates the sight of metronomes. For Amadeus, this is not just about stopping some free-form anarchist vandals. This is about silencing the world.

A tone-deaf cop works to track down a group of guerilla percussionists whose anarchic public performances are terrorizing the city. Amadeus Warnebring (played with a perfectly dutiful survivor’s angst by Bengt Nilsson), who was born tone-deaf into a family of prominent musicians. His name must make him miserable, as does the work of his conductor brother (Sven Ahlstrom, who happily finds notes to play beyond arrogance). When a metronome is discovered at a crime scene, Amadeus, the outsider of his musical family, has found a case destined for him.

At the center of the simple story (written by Simonsson and Jim Birmant) is tone-deaf anti-terrorist cop Amadeus (Bengt Nilsson), who, in a cruel twist of fate, is the sibling of a famous conductor. The ticking bomb that introduces Amadeus to the case of the guerrilla drummers turns out to be a metronome, much to his profound dismay. That puts him on the trail of conceptual composer Magnus (Magnus Börjeson), academy reject Sanna (Sanna Persson Halapi) and their band of outsiders. In four locations, the most far-fetched being a hospital, they’re staging “Music for One City and Six Drummers,” the ultimate expression of their manifesto against musical mediocrity.

Without pounding home its avant-garde cred, this fresh ode to found sound and the music of silence casts an amused gaze at careerism, classical-music reverence and notions of artistic purity and ends with a pitch-perfect change of tune.

What follows is a character study mixed with outlandish crime procedural.  “Sound of Noise” is a dry treat — a solid, self-aware cult pleasure.

The narrative revolves around police officer Amadeus Warnebring, tone-deaf scion of a distinguished musical family, and his attempts to track down a group of six guerilla percussionists whose anarchic public performances are terrorizing the city. The drumming set pieces correspond to an avant-garde score with four hilariously titled movements. Where the short involved the six drummers imaginatively using standard apartment furnishings as their instruments, the feature unleashes them on an unspecified city’s civic and cultural institutions. Including an amusing backstory for each of the soberly dressed drummers as well as their nemesis, music-hating investigator Warnebring, the film creates a treat for the eyes and ears from the dull, repetitive sounds of everyday life.

How can something so simple be so joyful? Maybe that’s the key. Like Jackie Chan, the six drummers in Sound of Noise believe in using everyday objects to make mayhem. As one of them says in a recruiting pitch, “it’s dangerous, it’s illegal, and it will change the world.”

If that quote’s not quite accurate, it still captures the spirit of the Swedish-language film, directed by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson. They made a short film nine years ago, Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers, in which six people enter a stranger’s apartment and make music out of whatever they find in each room. (Sample: toothbrushes, cleansing agents, towels, toilet seats, light switches, and so forth.) The short is played before the film, which, as good as it was, immediately raised the question of how a feature-length version would play.

Sound of Noise expands the idea exponentially. Magnus (Magnus Borgeson) has composed a symphony in four movements: “Music for One City and Six Drummers.” His partner and fellow musician Sanna (Sanna Persson) takes the lead in making the arrangements and recruiting other drummers. This time the idea is to play in different settings throughout the city, ending in a giant crescendo that will surely make a giant statement to the musical establishment and to the entire city.

Review: Sound of Noise

To give away the settings, or the found objects that they turn into musical instruments, would be stealing the fun, but suffice it to say that they are incredibly inventive and thoroughly delightful.

Framing the musical sequences is a story about Amadeus Warnebring (Bengt Nilsson), a tone-deaf policeman who was born into a musical family. Everyone else in the clan has some kind of musical ability; most notably, his younger brother Oscar is a famous orchestra conductor who has returned home for a big concert. Amadeus clearly is a bit resentful of all the attention that his little brother is receiving.

Beyond that, though, Amadeus feels out of place in his own family, and he seems to have developed a grudge against music in general. Oddly enough, that makes him the perfect detective to track down the renegade musicians, who have fallen under suspicion when one of them attacks a motorcycle cop. The suspicion that “musical terrorists” might be afoot is heightened when their first performance, involving a TV star, doesn’t go exactly as planned.

There is one further complication: Amadeus begins to lose his sense of hearing in a very selective way. Certain sounds — metal against metal, an individual’s voice — go silent on him. It’s a mystery that will lead him to a surprising discovery.

Sound of Noise is not like any “musical comedy” you’ve seen. Sure, comparisons to Stomp are inevitable, but Sound of Noise has something slightly more subversive up its sleeve. It’s a funny picture, yet with pauses for poignancy that hit the right note.

If ever there was a film built for Twitch, Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson’s Sound of Noise is definitely one. I don’t throw that kind of praise around willy-nilly, in fact, the last film I gave such high marks was my number one film of 2011, Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus. Yes, Sound of Noise is that good. The combination of completely mental action and intricately designed musical set pieces is truly amazing to watch and gives a niche all its own.

Unlike The Last Circus, which was relatively plot-heavy, Sound of Noise is entirely dependent upon action. There is some skeletal plot about a policeman, Amadeus, who was born tone deaf and a crew of six percussionists looking to wreak havoc and their cat and mouse game across Stockholm. However, these details only exist to give the Six Drummers a reason to stage elaborate performances in the oddest of places with only the strangest of instruments.

The directors of the film had worked together on a couple of short films before deciding to go feature length with the concept. Those two shorts are included in the set and present the pair’s ambitions pretty clearly. It is evident that this is not their first rodeo. Everything from the intricate editing to the complex musicianship tells a story of a well-practiced team. Sound of Noise is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and that’s getting to be a harder and harder task to master, which makes it all the more impressive.

Where the film falters is really a function of the film’s goal, which makes it difficult to count it as a detriment, and that is the plot. The basic story is that these Six Drummers have devised a symphony for a city titled, “Music For Six Drummers and a City”. The symphony has four movements, each to be played in a different non-musical arena, and each to be played with found instruments. There is nothing criminal about that, the problem is that the movements are designed to be more and more daring, one in a surgical theatre, one in a bank, and so on. Because of their illicit nature, Amadeus is put on the case of tracking down and arresting the mad musicians before they do something truly dangerous. There is some side plot about Amadeus’ personal history with music and his own tone deafness, but that is little more than window dressing and a flimsy way to stretch the bare bones plot to feature length.

The beautiful thing about Sound of Noise is that none of those minor quibbles have any effect on my ability to enjoy what is, truly, an original and daring piece of cinema. The film is little more than elaborate performance art pieces strung together with relatively flimsy connective tissue to give the film a shape, however, it is in the vignettes that Sound of Noise finds purpose, and it is within those performances that the film’s heart beats loudly and charms the pants off anyone who may try to resist its primitive charms.

Bengt Nilsson is a tone-deaf cop who comes from a family of musical geniuses. Sanna Persson is an avant-garde artist who’s been terrorizing the city with her lawbreaking pieces of musical street theater. While Persson and her collaborators move forward on their magnum opus, “Music For One City And Six Drummers,” Nilsson is still haunted by their previous crime, which saw Persson speeding through the streets in a van, using the vehicle as an instrument, with her partner Magnus Börjeson playing drums in the back. As they fled the scene, the pair left behind a metronome, which is a device Nilsson saw a lot in his childhood, and which now calls to him, for reasons he can’t fully explain.

Sound Of Noise is similarly difficult to pigeonhole: part quirky comedy, part existential mystery, part flash-mob musical. It’s mainly about two misfits and their tumultuous relationships with different kinds of establishment. Nilsson is a freak to his brother, but while his colleagues on the force accept him as a master at solving cases, they also think he’s a little crazy, and don’t really understand his obsession with Persson or with music (which he claims to hate). As for Persson, she was drummed out of the academy—so to speak—because of her preference for unconventional instruments, but while she’s found musicians who share her interests, they seem to be more into the thrill of defying authority than the beauty of what they create. It’s fairly obvious from the first 20 minutes of Sound Of Noise that Nilsson and Persson are going to find each other eventually, but whether they’ll recognize each other as kindred spirits remains an open question all the way up to the end.

Sound Of Noise works well just as an offbeat cops-and-robbers picture. Early on, Persson and her crew post a program to their concert, and Nilsson tries to piece together the clues, Batman-style, to prevent these costumed villains from staging their next crazy caper. Co-directors Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson then parcel out those capers throughout the film, staging astonishingly choreographed performances using hospital equipment, construction vehicles, power-lines, and more. But what binds the entertaining crime movie to its YouTube-ready musical interludes is the unspoken yearning of its two leads: he for the world of silence in which he’d rather live, and she for all the sounds that slip by every second, uncontrolled and unappreciated.

Bengt Nilsson – Amadeus Warnebring

Sanna Persson – Sanna
Magnus Borjeson – Magnus
Fredrik Myhre – Myran
Anders Vestergård – Anders

  • Sven Ahlstrom – Oscar
  • Peter Schildt
  • Anders Anders
  • Pelle Ohlund
  • Paula McManus
  • Bengt Nilsson – Amadeus Warnebring
  • Sven Ahlstrom – Oscar
  • Director – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Screenplay – Ola Simonsson
  • Screenplay – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Producer – Jim Birmant
  • Director – Ola Simonsson
  • Director – Ola Simonsson
  • Producer – Guy Péchard
  • Producer – Christophe Audeguis
  • Producer – Olivier Guerpillon
  • Story By – Ola Simonsson
  • Story By – Johannes Stjarne Nilsson
  • Story By – Jim Birmant
  • Director of Photography – Charlotta Tengroth
  • Editor – Stefan Sundlöf
  • Editor – Andreas Jonsson Hay
  • Composer – Fred Avril
  • Hair & Makeup – Elisabeth Bukkehave
  • Sound – Nicolas Becker
  • Sound Supervisor – Nicolas Becker
  • Sound – Lasse Liljeholm
  • Producer – Olivier Guerpillon
  • Sound/Sound Designer – Lasse Liljeholm
  • Screen Story – Ola Simonsson
  • Editor – Stefan Sundlof
  • Screenwriter – Ola Simonsson
  • Sound/Sound Designer – Nicolas Becker
  • Director: Ola Simonsson, Johannes Stjärne Nilsson
    Cast: Bengt Nilsson, Sanna Persson, Magnus Börjeson (In Swedish w/ subtitles)
    Rated: R     Running time: 102 minutes