A Girl Cut in Two (Chabrol, 2008)

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Claude Chabrol’s most recent release follows his typical trajectory: small coincidences of fate lead to extreme acts of passion which leads to inevitable jealousy and sudden violence. But A Girl Cut in Two seeks to unearth this devastating path not by suspense, or even erotic underpinnings, but through an examination of generational manipulation.

Twenty-something Gabrielle falls for an older writer, who then cuts off communication with the broken-hearted girl just as he’s seemingly done countless times before. Gabrielle then gets approached by a rich, spoilt young man, a cavalier heathen who wants to marry and fulfill some sort of social obligation. The two men have a uneasy past together and the stage is set for a battle of passive-aggressive side comments and savage social lashings, all over this young woman unaware of the twisted game in which she’s wrapped up.

In the end, naivete becomes a key motif, something taken advantage of by the older, wealthy sect, and suffered by the younger crowd eager to rise in the ranks. The film seems acutely benign in Chabrol terms, that is until the final moments, when the director puts his heroine on display in a theatrical gesture of recognition. The twists and turns of her decision-making has literally torn her apart, creating the first graceful step toward grizzled adulthood.

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The Flower of Evil (Chabrol, 2003)

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The slow long take that begins Claude Chabrol’s The Flower of Evil turns out to be a sly flash forward, setting the dire mood of the film beautifully. Yes, this will be another Chabrol exploration of the devastating ramifications human weakness has on the modern French bourgeoisie. Chabrol unravels the inevitable dirty secrets and family skeletons precisely, setting in motion a series of events that seem altogether destined and cyclical. But The Flower of Evil doesn’t pack the punch of the other Chabrol’s I’ve seen, possibly because the snooty characters revel in their own seediness without much care for the outside world, ultimately understanding that their guilt and panic are worth subverting as long as the cars, power, and money keep flowing in.

Frozen River (Hunt, 2008)

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From the opening frame, the icy landscape in Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River remains inescapable and all-consuming for its tragic characters, average people on the verge of economic and emotional collapse. Abandoned by her gambler husband, Ray Eddy (Oscar nominated Melissa Leo) sits in her car lamenting the loss of her family’s life savings more than the man who stole it. Through a series chance occurrences, Ray gets criminally involved with Lila (Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman smuggling illegal aliens over the border through sanctioned Indian Reservation land, in an effort to stave off poverty for her two young children. All character motivation in Frozen River boils down to some form of tradable currency, be it human trafficking, hard cash, and freedom in general. There’s also a fascinating subtextual current of female conviction in the face of male political and social injustices, exemplified best by Lila and Ray’s ability to trust each other over all other familiarities and institutions. Frozen River leans more toward the Neo-noir than any other class, but it uses these stylized genre conventions to highlight an earnestness and honor behind the crimes being committed. Ray and Lila recognize the layered desperation in each other, producing a palpable connection amidst the blinding and suffocating white that dominates their existence.

Oscar Predictions: The Winners

Here are my projected winners, not necessarily who I think deserves to win! If it were up to Match Cuts, I’d go with Milk for Best Picture, Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, Kate Winslet for Best Actress, Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress, Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, and Gus Van Sant for Best Director. Anyways, on to the projected results.

* – indicates actual winner

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire *

Best Director
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire *
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Best Actor
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk *
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Actress
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, The Changeling
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet,  The Reader *

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr, Tropic Thunder
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight *
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona *
Viola Davis, Doubt
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk *
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire *
Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *
Best Cinematography: Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Foreign Film: Waltz With Bashir, dir. Ari Folman, Departures
Best Original Score: WALL-E, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Film: WALL-E, Dir. Andrew Stanton*
Best Costume Design: Michael O’Connor, The Duchess*
Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*
Best Original Song: “O’Saya”, Slumdog Millionaire, “Jai Ho”, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire*
Best Make-Up: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button*
Best Sound Editing: The Dark Knight*
Best Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire, dir. James Marsh*

16/21 correct, not counting those pesky Short Subject Categories.


Best Documentary Short Subject: The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306, Smile Pinki
Best Animated Short: “Presto”, PIXAR, La Maison en Petits Cubes
Best Live Action Short: Manon on the Asphalt Toyland

Le Boucher (Chabrol, 1970)

Everyone talks about the connections between Chabrol and Hitchcock, but what about the French master’s stylistic similarities with Robert Altman? Maybe someone has brought this up before (seeing I’m watching Chabrol for the first time), but the roving zooms, emphasis on ambient sound, and long takes in Chabrol’s hypnotic serial killer film Le Boucher especially remind me of Altman more than anyone else. This steadied, almost lyrical approach to the thriller genre provides an unending amount of discomfort while building toward something horrific.

Le Boucher follows the relationship between a butcher and a headmistress, a romantic entanglement framed by the growing unrest over a serial killer striking a rural French town. Chabrol uses emotional response to play with the viewers expectations about character and genre. In fact, every aspect of Le Boucher, from the aforementioned filmmaking techniques to the muted and stoic performances, subverts the thriller genre, mixing extreme formal devices to reveal Chabrol’s patented spatial menace. While the end result comes across as a bit pretentious, one can’t help but revel in the somber and intoxicating process of repressed desire and brutal, offscreen murder.

The International (Tykwer, 2009)

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Our current economic state tells us the next big villain will be the banking conglomerates/Wall Street honchos primarily responsible for our current recession, and of course Hollywood must follow suit. In Tom Tykwer’s The International, a flashy international thriller with international twists and turns, an epic and greedy German bank creates a stranglehold on the global weapons market, funding coups and plotting assassinations in Third World countries and Europe. An Interpol agent (Clive Owen) and a NYC District Attorney (Naomi Watts) struggle to reveal the conspiracy against truly international odds, jumping continents in the name of righteousness and justice. The International mixes stylized action with outright social commentary, attempting to appease both the masses and us Academic blowhards, and for the most part it’s an entertaining success. But the film never achieves an identity or a thesis, basically leaving the viewer with a simplistic picture of male cynicism forced toward a road to redemption. It’s a shame Tykwer’s genius for dynamic visuals only pops up once – a bravura shootout between multiple characters within the pale white interiors of The Guggenheim Museum, a perfect bleached canvas for bullet holes, blood splatter, and broken glass which becomes a certain painterly masterpiece all itself. In the end, you’re left wondering why more of the film didn’t play to Tykwer’s obvious strengths.

La Ceremonie (Chabrol, 1995)

There’s a brilliant moment at the end of Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie in which housemaid Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and her blue-collar friend Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) stand atop a staircase gleefully overlooking an unbeknownst wealthy family huddled together on the couch listening to Mozart. For a split second, these working class girls have the upper hand. In one shot, Chabrol captures a small and devious victory in the escalating class struggle that’s gone on for nearly the entire film. The small disagreements, the calculating grievances, and the petty discords all lead to a devilish ending drenched in blood and irony, coated in sly subtext.

Chabrol’s film reminded me of a subtler version of Haneke’s Funny Games, yet La Ceremonie is an altogether more accomplished feat.  Instead of relying on shock value, or reflexive artifice, Chabrol enraptures his story in mood, atmosphere, and character, burning through scenes with a manipulative and deceiving mise-en-scene that frames small, fleeting glances of jealousy, indifference, and hate. In La Ceremonie, the corridors of mortal sin, brimful with black humor and underlining menace, “reveal the hidden evil in supposedly the best people,” as one earlier wealthy party-goer so aptly foreshadows.