REVIEW: Abuse of Weakness

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Abuse of Weakness
Directed by: Catherine Breillat
Written by: Catherine Breillat
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Laurence Ursino and Christophe Sermet

Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness is the semi-autobiographical story of a struggling director whose latest film is impeded by pseudo-romantic entanglement and a debilitating stroke.  The first 20 or so minutes of this movie are profoundly horrifying, as Breillat hovers over Maud (Isabelle Huppert) being jolted out of sleep by that stroke.  “Half of my body is dead!” she yells to an emergency dispatcher on the phone.

Huppert’s intensely physical performance in this moment and in the rest of the film are crucial to its success, and Breillat films her agony at an often disturbingly close proximity. Abuse of Weakness doesn’t feel intrusive, though, because it is fused with Maud’s subjectivity and not simply a chronicle of her gradually losing her dignity.

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REVIEW: Amour

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Amour
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke (screenplay)
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert and William Shimmell

Michael Haneke’s latest film is a good poster child for why mainstream movie audiences fear and avoid many foreign films; it is quiet, slow and relentlessly depressing.  After winning the Palme d’Or in 2009 for The White Ribbon, Haneke officially established himself as a “Cannes auteur,” a director whose latest work would forever and always have a place in the festival’s cannon.

Amour is wondrously, deliberately hopeless.  Its depiction of an elderly woman’s slow, painful crawl toward death after suffering a series of strokes is not peppered with melodrama or any sort of dramatic flourish.  Haneke seems to think this would make the situation too comfortable, too much like a movie.  The goal of this film is to show the situation in as realistic light as possible, but from a removed distance.

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CANNES REVIEW: In Another Country

In Another Country
Directed by: Hong Sang-soo
Written by: Hong Sang-soo (screenplay)
Starring: Isabelle Huppert and Yu Jun-Sang

With all the serious, morbid narratives taking root of the festival imagination in places like Cannes, it’s refreshing to see an exceptional movie with a light touch and a very warm sense of humor.  In Another Country, from Korean director Hong Sang-soo, is exactly that.  It is the story of stories, an examination of how a narrative takes form and is altered and rearranged until it is the most effective.

A barely-seen Korean woman dictates these stories into a notepad.  All of them star roughly the same cast of characters, though their roles and importance often change.  Isabelle Huppert plays the main woman in all of them, always a wayward traveler in Korea looking around for a lighthouse and meaning.  There is also the woman she is staying with, an attractive young lifeguard and various other acquaintances along the way.

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REVIEW: White Material

White Material
Directed by: Claire Denis
Written by: Claire Denis, Marie N’Diaye, & Lucie Borleteau (screenplay)
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle, and William Nadylam

When viewed through an American lens, the new film by French director Claire Denis has an almost eerily identifiable allegory to our society.  It follows Maria (Isabelle Huppert) as she tries to cling to her way of life as the French colonial society in Africa crumbles.  The economy and the very fabric of society are tanking, and she and her family’s wealthy coffee plantation are at stake.

Maria is not solely sympathetic.  Her stubbornness and white arrogance have led her to a place where she thrives while many around her are left to suffer in poverty and death.  Denis gets this point across not just by putting Maria in the midst of this chaos, but by showing us first-hand the toll of poverty in the form of child soldiers.

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And the winners should be…. 2011 Oscar Predictions (Matt’s Picks)

Best Picture

The Social Network
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
Winter’s Bone
The Kids Are All Right
Inception
Toy Story 3
The Fighter
True Grit

Should Win I’d be the most happy with Social Network, Black Swan, or The Kids Are All Right.  There’s no real Blind Side this year, but The King’s Speech is the least deserving… and it’s also one of the front-runners.
Will Win: The Social Network has a real shot, but so does The King’s Speech. Many have already handed it to King George, but I’m leaning toward King Zuckerberg.
Snubbed: There’s really no Blind Side this year among the nominees. However, over The King’s Speech I would’ve nominated The Ghost Writer, Enter the Void, White Material, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Splice or I Am Love.


Best Director

Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech
Darren Aronofsky- Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen- True Grit
David Fincher- The Social Network
David O. Russell- The Fighter

Should Win: Aronofsky.  His direction on Black Swan was the best thing about the movie, which is saying a lot.  Fincher is also great, but so many other elements of Social Network would’ve worked on their own if not as well.  You can’t really say that about Black Swan.
Will Win: Fincher.  Even if The Social Network doesn’t walk away with the night’s biggest trophy, this one is a pretty safe bet.
Snubbed: Yes, yes, Christopher Nolan deserved a nomination  for Inception here over Tom Hooper, but don’t forget Danny Boyle.  His direction on 127 Hours was impeccable and his movie was better than both Inception and The King’s Speech.   I’d also throw in Lisa Cholodenko’s low-key genius in The Kid’s Are All Right, Gasper Noe’s hallucinatory brilliance in Enter the Void, Roman Polanski’s artful storytelling in The Ghost Writer and the mesmerizing work of Claire Denis in White Material.

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