Yes, it is kind of “depaysant” to go and see a Belgian film in a cinema theatre in Los Angeles. In particular if this film is not shown once during a festival or a special event but it has been released – even if not extensively – in different parts of the US (New York, Los Angeles and Austin, TX). However this can happen, especially if a film is nominated to the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture, a honour which only five Belgian films had in the past and none of them brought the Oscar home.
Bullhead, this year’s nominee and the film I had the great pleasure to see last night, might therefore become the first ever Oscar in the history of Belgian cinema.
It is a very tough, ambitious and intense film which would be unfair to simply classify as a “noir”. Bullhead has many narrative layers. It is a thrilling crime story about the illegal commerce and use of hormones in the farming milieu. It is also a stark and brave denunciation of the cultural and social poverty of some Belgian province, especially across the so-called “frontiére linguistique“, the linguistic border between Flanders and Wallonia which in certain areas and in certain moments is as solid as a brick wall. And finally, it is a sharp and accurate psychological portrait of many characters and in primis of Jacky, the protagonist, magnificently interpreted by Matthias Schoenaerts (I do not want to exaggerate but sometimes he reminded me Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull”). Possibly the only weakness of this film is its complexity. In the first 15 minutes so many characters and stories are introduced – perhaps too curtly – and for the audience it is not evident to follow the plot. But exactly when one is about to give up, Michael Roskam, the writer and director, is extremely good at calling back the audience and definitely plunging everybody in his film by introducing the shocking past of Jacky in a very timely and dramatic manner.
Bullhead is a tough film also aesthetically. There is not much of beauty or light or color in it with two notable exceptions: the fantastic Belgian skies used as transitions – “un ciel si gris qu’il faut lui pardonner” as Jacques Brel used to sing- and the splendid final view on Liege by night which from the high floor of Lucia’s apartment shows only her best part.
The Belgian press does not seem to believe in Bullhead victory tomorrow – for example, I could not spot any article about the film in today’s online edition of “Le Soir”- and competition, especially from “A Separation”, is fierce. However, I would bet more than one dollar -or better one euro- on the first ever Belgian Oscar…
With no more than 72 hours to go before the Academy Awards Ceremony, it is time for everybody to try and predict who will come home with an Oscar. Here are my picks for ten categories…take the challenge and post yours…
Quest’anno ci saranno (solo) Dante Ferretti e Francesca Lo Schiavio a rappresentare l”Italia alla cerimonia degli Academy Awards con la speranza di conseguire il loro terzo Oscar personale nella categoria “Art Director” per il film Hugo di Scorsese. E sarebbe il cinquantesimo titolo per l’Italia. Addirittura 10 – più’ di ogni altro paese – quelli vinti nella categoria del Miglior Film in lingua straniera. Dal primo di Fellini con “La Strada” nel 1956 a quello esplosivo di Benigni con “La vita e’ bella” nel 1998. Ed e’ proprio Federico Fellini a fare la parte del leone con 4 vittorie con Le notti di Cabiria, Otto e mezzo e l’immenso Amarcord. Vittorio De Sica e’ fermo a due Oscar + due onorari prima dell’istituzione di questa categoria rispettivamente con “Ieri, Oggi, Domani”, “Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini”, “Sciuscia'” e “Ladri di Biciclette”. Infine le vittorie di Elio Petri, Tornatore e Salvatores. Dal 98 pero’ nessuna vittoria e una sola “nomination” con Cristina Comencini.
Prestigiosissime le vittorie di Anna Magnani e Sofia Loren nella categoria miglior attrice protagonista e quella di Roberto Benigni in quella maschile. Marcello Mastroianni invece ottenne ben 3 nominations senza mai portare a casa la statuetta. Bernardo Bertolucci la vinse come miglior regista per “L’ultimo imperatore“. Ben tre ne ha portati a casa Vittorio Storaro per la fotografia e tanti altri sono stati vinti per costumi, musica e montaggio. E i tre oscar di Frank Capra nel 1934, 36 e 38 come li vogliamo considerare?
“Wonderful what Hollywood will do to a nobody. It will make a radiant glamour queen out of a drab little wench who ought to be ironing a truck driver’s shirt, a he-man hero with shining eyes and brilliant smile reeking of sexual charm out of some overgrown kid who was meant to go to work with a lunchbox. Out of a Texas car hop with the literacy of a character in a comic strip it will make an international courtesan, married six times to six millionaires and so blasé and decadent at the end of it that her idea of a thrill is to seduce a furniture-mover in a sweaty under shirt”. The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler.
The “Los Angeles Times” reports that bankrupt camera and film giant Eastman Kodak Co. won court approval on to remove its name from the Hollywood theater that houses the Academy Awards. Kodak has been allowed to terminate its 20-year sponsorship offer signed in 2000, worth an estimated $72 million. However, it is not clear how quickly the Kodak name and signage will be removed from the theater, as it might be not practically feasible before the Academy Awards ceremony on 26 February.
Less than one month ago Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following falling sales and rising speculation about its ability to stay afloat. Since 2003, the company has laid off 47,000 workers and shuttered 13 manufacturing plants and 130 processing labs. Its stock, which ten years ago ago was trading at more than $20, was down in January to 36 cents.
Meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has considered moving the Oscars ceremony to the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles as from 2014. A European sponsor for an American prize…when will it happen that an American brand will associate itself with the European Film Academy Awards?
The best book about Los Angeles has been written by somebody who was born in Cleveland and lives in New York. His name is James Frey and the title of his work is “BRIGHT SHINY MORNING“.
It is an utterly original story, at the same time a novel following multiple tracks and characters, a sociological and urban essay, almost a tourist guide and more than anything else an inexhaustible source of knowledge on the “city of angels”. Los Angeles, the great factory of dreams and nightmares is depicted with strong and direct lights, vibrant colors and the crudeness of a picture of Hyeronimus Bosch. The characters come across the thousand contradictory and conflicting worlds fitting into this city, from the film industry and the star system to the life of Mexican immigrants, gangs and guns, cars, freeways, palm-lined beaches and gridlock, the art business and the porn movie scene. At the same time, the history of LA is tracked from its beginning in September 1781 when a group of 44 “pobladores” established the first settlement of “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula” right in the center of contemporary LA until the 2000s when this city has become the most diverse and fastest growing metropolitan area in the US and – if it was a country -the fifteenth-largest economy in the world.
It is a great book, it is a hard book just as LA is a hard place to be. And a fucking great one as long as “the sun rises in a clear sky that moves from black to grey to white to deep, pure crystal blue”
“I used to like this town. A long time ago. There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the inter-urban line. Los Angeles was just a big dry sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good hearted and peaceful. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America. It wasn’t that, but it wasn’t a neon lighted slum either.” The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler.
Flat films are those films which may even earn an Oscar but still they will be hardly remembered after one day/week/month/year. In these films everything just happens on surface. They live out of beautiful images, some moments of crying and laughing, a star or two with a famous name and a pretty face. Nothing is deep, intense, profound or disruptive and even when they do not have a totally happy ending, they are always re-comforting, they always pat your head.
“The Descendants” – I have seen it last night at a special screening in the presence of George Clooney (famous name and pretty face) and writer/director/producer Alexander Payne – is one of these films. It got five nominations at the Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Clooney. Actually George does not even technically act in the film. He just puts on his sardonic smile and his somehow disoriented expression and travels competently through the film in which the usual story of a family overcoming conflicts and sticking together when facing a disgrace gets superficially developed. In the background, beautiful but touristic images of Hawaiian Islands complete the scene and are used as transitions – the shameless director dared to say that he replicates a technique of Japanese cinema legend Yasujirō Ozu.
George Clooney is definitely much better in real during the poorly animated debate after the screening. He is a great entertainer, funny, intelligent and even auto-ironical. Of course beautiful and somehow charismatic. He is great for example when he jokes on his own reputation of somebody who does not really like children so much. However, if it comes to acting, he’s really far from Hollywood giants like De Niro, Nicholson or Al Pacino just to name a few and probably his best role is still the one of Dr. Ross on the hit NBC drama ER from 1994 to 1999.
To sum up, I see “The Descendants” as a typical product of today’s Hollywood film industry. You are decently entertained for a couple of hours, then the story slowly fades away while you walk home and the sugary warmth of the final scene is the only thing that really sticks.