Archive

Monthly Archives: February 2016

Director: Sally Potter

Writer: Sally Potter

Stars: Elle Fanning, Alice Englert, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola

Ginger & Rosa takes place in 1962 London, when the Cold War held the world at a standstill. But the mood of the film is not as gloomy as the plotline and color palette would suggest. Actually, the film is more dull than gloomy.

ginger.pngginger-and-rosa-20.pngG&R feels like an exposé or a series of photographs, something that should be seen in print rather than a full-length film. That being said, the consistency of the color scheme is impeccable: cool tones of blue, brown and forest green wash over every frame. The fashion and furniture blend in with their surrounding landscape. G&R has the aesthetic of Inside Llewyn Davis without the wit. But then again, the film is a melodrama and is definitely not directed by the Coen Bros.

G&R is written and directed by Sally Potter, an acclaimed English filmmaker and former choreographer who is known largely for her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Potter’s script is incredibly minimalistic and mostly consists of brief, pointed interactions between characters. The writing is technical and articulate. I enjoyed its quiet simplicity at first, though my appreciation eventually turned to frustration. Ginger is the main character yet she drives almost none of the narrative. In fact for the majority of the film, it feels like we hardly know her at all. The script tries to tell us who she is via the opinions of supporting characters. We are meant to believe that Ginger is a “radical” (this description is used several times by her parents and family friends) yet even her protests feel passive. Ginger is also a self-proclaimed poet, and many scenes feature the young author drafting poetry. Next to Rosa, the expression-less, rather apathetic best friend, we would hope that Ginger would stand out. But if not for Elle Fanning’s poignant performance, her character would have fallen flat.

G&R is in large part a coming-of-age drama, so themes of mortality and the teenage notion of forever are inherently embedded in its script. Ginger seems to understand all too well the fallacy of forever; she is wiser and more mature than Rosa, who seeks “everlasting love.” Ginger is the only character who is seriously concerned with potential oblivion and is sensitive to the instability of her immediate and global surroundings. Ginger’s father is emotionally unavailable and essentially abandons her, falling Lolita-style for her best friend. This betrayal is not unknown territory: American Beauty addresses the attraction between a young woman’s father and her best friend, but it is based more in fantasy than reality. American Beauty works because the characters are motivated by lust and imagination, whereas in G&R, the relationship between an older man and a young woman simply happens. The main conflict thus feels forced and unrealistic.

GINGER_AND_ROSA_D08_2540.jpg

Unfortunately, the film focuses largely on girls’ interactions with men rather than their own friendship. While attention from men is part of many (straight) women’s teenage-hood and is one trope of the coming-of-age story, these repeated flirtations distract from the story rather than add to it. The girls get picked up by men at pubs and accept rides from strangers, actions that speak more to played-out, gendered roles than wild and reckless fun. I think the trailer’s promises of lighthearted adventure fall short here.

A little over an hour into the film, a shift occurs that saves the story. The slow burning pieces of narrative boil together to reach a climax—when Ginger breaks down and the father’s secret is finally revealed. Finally I see the director’s intention: G&R is about a family in crisis. The Cold War backdrop acts as a nice analogy for the instability of Ginger’s world. But ultimately she must face her emotions on the conflict at hand: the betrayal by her best friend and by her father. The threat of the bomb now feels less real than the family’s ultimate implosion.

If nothing else, Ginger & Rosa is an undeniably pretty film. I’m not suggesting you skip the first hour of the movie, although you may want to watch it on mute. (Save for the wonderful soundtrack, of course.)

Advertisements

Director: Sean Baker

Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch

Stars: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karen Karagulian

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.02.28 AM

Rarely in cinema are we lucky enough to experience a film that so fully embodies the present moment without the rose-tinted glam of Hollywood. Sean Baker’s fifth feature length film, Tangerine, is so grounded in the strange and bewildering world of today (granted, the film’s world is rather small) that it almost feels like watching a live-stream report or even a high-brow reality TV program. And I mean this in the most complementary sense.

The plot of Tangerine is essentially this: on the same day that trans sex worker, Sin-Dee, is released from a brief stint in jail, she discovers that her boyfriend/pimp has been cheating on her. The rest of the film follows Sin-Dee and her best friend, Alexandra, as they attempt to track down her pimp and his mistress. But Tangerine is not a simple revenge story. It is part vignette and part traditional narrative. The story follows multiple story-lines: Sin-Dee’s, Alexandra’s, and an Armenian cab driver named Razmik.

From the very first scene, Baker nods toward a multitude of filmmakers, from Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater to Quentin Tarantino. The film opens with an overhead shot of a café table (feat. two pairs of hands and a donut) reminding us of Coffee and Cigarettes. The main characters’ vulgar language, the casual anecdotes, the LA backdrop, the violent manhunt all bring to mind Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Meanwhile, the multiple storylines, the time constraint (specifically, a narrative that occurs over a single day) and the colloquial dialog are reminiscent of Linklater’s Slacker and even Dazed and Confused. There is arguably even a Lynchian aspect to the film: in one scene, Alexandra performs cabaret in front of a red curtain, perhaps a Blue Velvet reference.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.38.05 AM

The script is littered with pop culture references and is set to blaring electronic music as well as classical scores. It is the ultimate mix of realist imagery in a surrealist context. The time is now, but now seems unreal: in one scene, two obliterated men puke all over Raznik’s taxi while one of them yells for him to take them to a holiday after-party. Tangerine moves rapidly, but hangs when a pause is appropriate. At times, the characters themselves are too quick for the camera to keep up, but the more pensive, stagnant shots capture key moments in the film. In one scene, a long take of Sin-Dee at the bus stop is followed by a tracking shot of her briskly returning to her mission. This is just one example of the film’s dramatic mood swings: from over-caffeinated to introspective and vice versa.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.37.47 AM

I could analyze the film from a sociocultural or LGBT perspective, but the truth is, Tangerine does not present with a political agenda. To me it is a film about payback, entangled with themes of friendship and love. The distinction here is that Tangerine is not about what it means to be a sex worker or a member of the trans community. Nor is the film about what it means to live in poverty in present day LA. Instead, Tangerine features marginalized members of society in a small scope, providing a new, open space for a tried and true narrative. This does not mean that the plight of being queer/trans/impoverished is ignored, however. The reality of Alexandra and Sin-Dee’s ostracization comes out in subtle moments: in one scene, a policewoman tells Alexandra that it’s Christmas Eve and she should go back to her family. Alexandra replies, “What family?” As Tangerine progresses, we come to see that Sin-Dee may be the only true family that Alexandra has.

One of Baker and his co-writer’s successes with Tangerine is their ability to portray strongly feminist themes throughout the film. As previously mentioned, Sin-Dee and Alexandra are more than best friends; they are family to each other. Sin-Dee drags her hostage (another sex worker, Dinah) to Alexandra’s singing gig, determined not to miss it. Alexandra cleans up Sin-Dee after an anonymous punk throws piss at her. There are oddly touching moments between Sin-Dee and Dinah: the two share a peace pipe in the club bathroom and Sin-Dee silently does Dinah’s make-up. This sisterly solidarity builds up walls between female and male characters and is reminiscent of feminist separatism.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.06.50 PM

However, we remain sympathetic toward the so-called male “antagonists,” Chester the pimp and Raznik the cab driver. The two possess redeeming qualities and are effectively humanized. Chester may be truly in love with Sin-Dee (he had proposed) and is so downright stupid that you can’t help but feel badly for him. Raznik has an unrequited crush on Sin-Dee and follows her around like a lost puppy. Tangerine is full of shocks, but perhaps the most shocking of all is how heartfelt the film is at its core. The script and cinematography are both explosive and exploitative, but there is much warmth to be found within the scenes.

Tangerine was shot on an iPhone, offering a lesson on a new genre of voyeurism, one that could only exist in this technological age. There is a dualistic intimacy and distance to the camera. Shaky, rushed shots bring an acute awareness to the camera work, keeping us from focusing directly on the characters. In these shots, the filming feels immediate, urgent. Of course, this camera work is entirely purposeful and directed. Yet the same camera tricks us into believing we see the unfiltered truth behind the characters. Baker’s use of the iPhone breaks down walls that have so long been cemented into place by traditional Hollywood cinematography.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.11.08 PM

Tangerine is an honest look at what it means to be a part of today’s world. There are brilliantly captured images of desperation and greed, all side effects of the dysphonic, displaced world in which we currently live. There are booming sounds and hyper dialog, without the special effects.

At the end of a long day, Sin-Dee and Alexandra sit side-by-side, tired but content. As we watch the two of them at the close of the film, we experience the same weary satisfaction.