REVIEWS OF NEW
RELEASES SEEN, SEPTEMBER 2007
All films from U.S.A. unless
(- seen on video; [v] video
piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade
changed upon repeat viewing)
-The Free Will (Matthias Glasner, Germany)
[SOME SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS] I've spent days trying to come up with a less hackneyed, less sensationalist adjective for The Free Will than "ferocious." But it fits; how else to convey the impact of a project that calls to mind a Gaspar Noé film shot in the style of the Dardennes? But even this is misleading, since it implies a clear-eyed objectivity about its subject, and part of what makes Glasner's achievement all the more remarkable is that The Free Will displays the world through the eyes of its deeply damaged protagonist (Theo, played with fearless, uninflected commitment by Jürgen Vogel) but surgically flays that worldview for clinical inspection. Unlike most films that deal with rape in graphic terms, The Free Will never once dabbles in ambivalence, nor does it ever prompt that nagging feeling that on some level the film wants us to take vicarious pleasure in the heinous deeds it depicts. At the same time, Glasner avoids bully-pulpit moralizing or screed-like promulgation of predigested theses. Instead, The Free Will is a crushing trip further and further into misogyny as a force that cripples the very subject from whom it flows effortlessly, like so much semen and saliva. By the same token, however, The Free Will manages a miraculous intellectual coup when, about midway through, it dawns on a viewer that the film is not really about Theo the rapist at all. It's actually about Nettie (Sabine Timoteo), the woman so emotionally disfigured by patriarchal abuse that she becomes Theo's most complete and complicit victim of all. She falls in love with him.
We meet Nettie as she interacts with Sascha (André Hennicke), the man who runs the halfway house where Theo takes up residence upon parole. It remains unclear based on their interactions whether or not they had a relationship. Soon, we meet Nettie's father (Manfred Zapatka), a taciturn, self-pitying factory manager who gives Theo a job as a favor to Sascha. Nettie and her father live together, but as the film introduces us to Nettie she is in the midst of moving out, and apparently severing ties with her dad. Eventually, Glasner drops unmistakable hints that he has abused his daughter, and in time, after learning the truth about Theo, Nettie returns to the fold, confiding to her father that "I am a piece of shit." Soon, they are drunk and slow dancing like lovers. Elsewhere, the film shows us Nettie chasing Theo down after he breaks off their relationship, and Sascha helping him deceive her. In short, Nettie is subject to a network of secret and not-so-secret power collusions between men. As she becomes the focal point of The Free Will, her desire for Theo becomes transformed, in part, into something else -- a radical quest for answers, an almost Rivettian plunge into the world of male abuse that Theo's past exemplifies. Rather than simply wallowing in her victimhood, Nettie undertakes researches (ultimately somewhat fruitless) to explore its etiology. And, in the film's single most shocking moment, Nettie questions one of Theo's victims (Judith Engel) and finds that, being a woman but also apparently on the side of Theo's power, she is the ideal repository for the violence that women truly wish they could wage against their male abuser. In The Free Will's cruelest but most provocatively philosophical irony, psychotic masculine rage is a force that is neither created nor destroyed, only set in motion from point to point throughout a sick society, until women are doing men's dirty work for them.
Many reviews have raised a question about Glasner's title. Is it ironic as well? Theo claims to want to reform, to tame the beast inside and become an inspirational model citizen. In the end, he snaps, and decides to mete out his own self-punishment. Does the film ratify Theo's own point of view, that he is subject to dark forces beyond his control? Throughout so much of the film, particularly those passages between Theo's parole and his final act of rape, we witness his struggle to subdue urges, but Vogel masterfully conveys the tense exertion of self-control necessary at every moment for Theo to function normally, a painful, awkward wrestling match within his own skin. But he does have the power to maintain this self-domination, just as Nettie has the ability to choose to go ahead with a doomed love affair that, in a sense, charts a course for self-destruction. It's as though Nettie perversely turns her victimhood into a plosive set of acts, whereas Theo, the weaker individual, cannot face the thrill he feels when he punches a woman in the face and sexually violates her. He can only posit these capitulations to rogue desires as an external force that overtakes him. And in the end, Glasner seems to tell us, neither Theo nor Nettie is exactly right. The gender norms, the inequalities, and circumstances of our birth all determine our playing field, limiting and structuring our available choices. But the narrow moves we make through the straits of our social and historical "thrown-ness" determine how we become who we will be: oppressor, victim, or simply a human being.
-Angel (François Ozon, U.K. / Belgium / France)
"You've got spunk. I hate spunk." First things first. Is Ozon a good director? I used to think so, since early efforts like Water Drops on Burning Rocks and The Criminal Lovers displayed significant promise, as well as a postmodern bent that actually had the audacity to be sly and playful, not self-consciously trapped under the weight of History. Sure, Ozon was really just riffing off the queer-modernist pantheon (Fassbinder, Pasolini, Sirk), and eventually he even lurched for the brass ring of respectability with Under the Sand, a tightly controlled and moderately effective stab at Antonioni. But waiting around for Ozon to "mature" was sort of pointless, since he never really outgrew the style-cribbing and clearly seemed content to put it to emptier and emptier purpose. (The desiccated Chabrolianisms of Swimming Pool marked a particular low.) His best film in a walk remains his frothiest and most blatantly pointless. 8 Women was just a gloriously garish diva-thon, touching on the obvious points of reference (Sirk, Cukor, Demy), but also practically flouncing around the screen, as though Ozon were mocking the very idea of "gay cinema," staging a collision between the camp sensibility and the high-end bad taste of Watteau and Vlaminck. Oddly enough, 8 Women actually had a heart; the more ostentatiously Ozon displayed his lack of investment, the more empathy he found with these titanic ladies of French cinema, and everything they collectively represented was paradoxically honored rather than subverted. But at the same time, there's no denying that 8 Women hits its stride when it's at its most superficial (no surprise that Ledoyen and Sagnier got the best numbers), and that a blithe lack of commitment brings out the best in Ozon. (Let's remember, Ozon : France :: Winterbottom : Britain :: Tykwer : Germany.) And at the end of the day, whether this "best" of Ozon's is even remotely enough to bother with is going to be mitigated by a viewer's ability to stop peeling the onion in search of Oz behind the big pink taffeta curtain. He's just not there.
Which brings us to Angel, Ozon's latest stab at English-language arthouse Euro-pabulum. Romola Garai stars as Angel Deverell, a poor grocer's daughter and high school ne'er-do-well who spends every spare moment scribbling out her fantastical stories of duchesses, adventurers, and ancient Roman goddesses. She's naive to a fault, writing in one novel that a corkscrew was used to open a bottle of champagne and holding fast to her convictions when her editor (Sam Neill) tries to correct her. Angel is the prototypical young dreamer of women's-picture glory, determined to write her way out of her limiting circumstances. But here's the thing -- Angel is awful. She's rude and condescending to her mother and aunt, she's cocky and unwilling to accept the slightest criticism, and most damningly, she's really just not very talented. Over time, due to the constraints of, you know, actually building a feature film around the Angel character, Ozon and co-writer Martin Crimp (working from the novel by "not that" Elizabeth Taylor) do eventually take the rise and fall of Deverell somewhat seriously. (She's a literary flash-in-the-pan writing trashy escapism for bored middle-class ladies, sort of a cross between Karl May and Barbara Cartland.) But in a way, Angel zeroes in on a trope not only from the movies but from the dominant fictions regarding artistic creation in the Western tradition. Angel is the naturally gifted genius, misunderstood but determined, a force of nature who will not be denied. She should be the heroine for all this, but is really just a mediocre fabulist and a huge pain in the ass. Inasmuch as one were still determined at this late date to locate the "real" Ozon through his films, Angel might come closest to a statement of purpose. Cocksure artistry is little more than a con, and the personality-driven oeuvre fades like pastry left in the sun. And, true to form, the very hideousness Ozon lavishes on Angel (chintzy back-projections! stilted acting! sweeping music cues!) undercuts the authority even of this anti-posturing posture.
-Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino) [114 minute international edit]
Two or Three Things I Know About "Death Proof" -- 1) The additional length doesn't help. Overall it doesn't hurt per se, although editing decisions and overall pacing in the Grindhouse cut were productively slack, giving the B-movie ambiance some elbow room and letting Tarantino's caffeinated fastidiousness ease into a 70s soul groove. Here, it just kind of looks lax, but certainly not enough to tank the enterprise. 2) But the lapdance. Bad decision. Why give Stuntman Mike any onscreen sexual gratification whatsoever? In the interest of throwing a sop to the fanboys (Vanessa Ferlito in Daisy Dukes!), QT scuttles one of the original edit's slickest jokes and undercuts Death Proof's bedrock themes. And it wasn't even that sexy. 3) Why didn't I see it before? "Stuntman Mike" is also "Stunt(ed)man Mike," and his death-proof mecha-phallus, fortified as it is, can never succumb to the weight of an opposing force. That's to say, even his car can't cum. (Death Proof -- the short one -- should be programmed in a double feature with Cronenberg's Crash, actually. Forget the lameass Rodriguez.) 4) QT on Women: In the restaurant scene, Lee mistakenly calls Zoë Australian. She and Abernathy both bust Lee's balls for a split-second about the faux pas of calling a Kiwi an Aussie. But Zoë immediately deflates the tension, laughing it off as a friendly joke. Compare this scene to the infamous Joe Pesci "You think I'm funny?" sequence in Goodfellas. There, Tommy relentlessly torments Henry about a faux pas that isn't even real, the "joke" being the fear of a volatile confrontation. So basically, Scorsese shows men nearly going to the mat over a false slight, whereas Tarantino shows women instantly dismissing what in fact is a rather inconsiderate blunder on Lee's part. Strength through community: sisterhood isn't just powerful. It's volatile as fuck.
Discoveries on the Forest Floor 1-3 (Charlotte Pryce) [s]
Papillon (Olivier Fouchard, France) [s]
-The Walker (Paul Schrader, U.S. / U.K.)
-Zoo (Robinson Devor) [v]
If Devor's previous collaboration with co-screenwriter Charles Mudede, Police Beat, struck you as too airy and disorganized, you'll certainly want to stay the hell away from Zoo. I found quite a lot to admire about it, though, particularly the film's stark use of underlit video. Devor casts nearly every living figure and most of the landscape in near-total darkness, with only the electric blue background of dusk lending forms any actual definition. On the one hand, as dominant visual metaphors go, this is a pretty obvious one. These men and their secret subculture exist in the shadows, and even the men themselves provide little in the way of concrete explanation as to why they are compelled to get fucked by horses. (Oh, you knew that, right? Zoo is an experimental documentary about guys who get together and fuck horses, and the fallout when one fellow takes too much equine schlong and dies from a perforated colon.) But on the other hand, this dense, poetic visual style does lend Zoo a compelling beauty; at times it seems much more like a video artwork you'd see in a museum context than a "film" per se. And in fact, the aspect of Zoo that most of its detractors have found most unatisfying -- its wispy, open-form anti-structure that seems to evaporate on contact -- would become an incontestable virtue in a gallery installation, where viewers would come and go, building their own impressions through fragmented time. Frankly, I'm on the fence about Zoo, since it's true that the experience of watching it is rather like trying to catch mercury in your fingers. Although an essentially linear timeline is observed, and reenactments do sometimes concretize the aftermath of the Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident, Devor and Mudede seem determined to break apart anything resembling not only "argument" in conventional documentary terms, but any sense of build, even in an abstract, musical way. This is an interesting experiment, particularly in relation to the subject matter.
One refrain we hear throughout the film when the "zoos" struggle to describe their attraction to horse sex is their description of its primal intensity. Horses, they explain, are outside culture, largely outside time, and the "connection" one forges by harnessing one up, coaxing his penis out and getting him to thrust it up your human rectum . . . Really, how is this even possible? Talk about the "rugged, outdoor type." Anyway, the "connection" takes the zoophile outside the confines of humanity, puts him in touch with something fundamental and almost prelapsarian, beyond or even before the mere concepts we humans truck with. (Guys, you could've just watched Dog Star Man, and averted lifelong incontinence. But I digress.) So Zoo's refusal to cohere could be an attempt to approximate this inhuman, atemporal experience of life and its data as raw pulsions and surfaces. But of course, such a project is always bound to fail. You can't unlearn language by getting horse-fucked, and you can't adjure conceptual reasoning by working to prevent images from forming logical relationships in the editing process. In the case of Zoo, Devor's solutions sidestep one set of problems only to stumble into another, admittedly more interesting set. But like the "zoos," the film cannot ever really break free. In a strange, ironic twist, it's almost as though Devor and Mudede's insistence on withholding judgment becomes a judgment in itself; Zoo scrupulously avoids making any "statement" whatsoever, implying that the only way to avoid condemnation is to keep silent, just watch and listen. So the film ends up in an untenable position, almost unable to speak. (Is Zoo the first Mumblecore documentary? Discuss.) Eventually, every viewer must emerge from the hypnotic fog of Zoo and draw his or her own conclusions. Trying to avoid one's directorial role in shaping those conclusions is noble, but it's also probably a shirking of responsibility. But no matter -- Zoo is gorgeous. And unlike the dodgy justifications the zoophiles make for others and for themselves, the aesthetic really is a primitive playground of surface and texture. And most of the time, no one gets hurt.
-Energie! (Thorsten Fleisch, Germany) [v/s]
This is one of those instances in which repeat viewings clarified the fact that I had no idea what the film was trying to do the first time around. Or, if not no idea, at least a limited one, based on certain biases of mine with which Fleisch's film only partly intersects. Upon first watching Energie! online twice, I really couldn't shake the sense that this was a film bathed in the surface trappings of experimental cinema but not really so steeped in its deeper ethos, and in some key ways even opposed to it, although unwittingly. The film consists of high-contrast images of electrical charges and ionic phenomena (the press notes on Fleisch's website indicate he drew the imagery from a manipulated cathode ray tube), pulsating in a general black / white flicker. We first see jagged, lightning-like arcs coming off the bottom of the frame, and eventually a spherical form rises from the offscreen space like a black sunrise. In practical terms, what this means is that a basic Gestalt form, the lightning lines -- a set of pulsions that are largely impermanent and radically singular, but all work to convey a general visual idea -- gives way to a solid, concrete shape, a sphere. Soon, the sphere begins to move, the flicker intensifying.
At first, this movement from one idea to the next gave me the sense that Fleisch, like many contemporary avant-garde filmmakers, had taken the wrong lessons from earlier masters. In struggling to understand the work of Brakhage or Jacobs or Gehr, it became useful for critics like Tom Gunning to remind us of early cinema before Griffith, and its "monstrative" mode. That is, the films are not organized around a narrative principle, but around an impulse to show, to display. Likewise, connections drawn between structural cinema and minimalist art (as in the writings of Paul Arthur, Annette Michelson, and Regina Cornwell, for example) offered another way to understand the construction of certain films -- a modular principle, wherein concatenation of like components, all compositionally equal, could obviate the reliance on traditional non-narrative forms, like the fugue or the sestina. But a lot of films have taken all this as license to find a thing to do, and do it to death, with little in the way of an organizing principle, little care for the intricacies of composing in time. Instead, it's "here's some cool stuff, and here's more cool stuff, and here's some more," et cetera. These works have the appearances of avant-garde film, and are indistinguishable to the untrained eye, but in fact have no bone structure, no commitment to the modernist doctrines of compositional integrity, part / whole relationships, the rigorous shaping of time.
In a way, I was wrong. Energie! is not the best example for this argument, partly because what it is trying to do does entail a strict application of measurement, organization, and control. But as it happens, Fleisch's desired effect occurs in the eyeball rather than within the confines of the film itself. (In this regard it has a concrete connection to minimalism's physical address to the spectator and her / his body.) By minute three, Energie! has become a whirling three-dimensional form, harnessing the flicker and the alternation of complementary shapes in order to generate a molecular light-object that emerges from the screen. Although the basic shape of the object remains consistent, its pocks and dents give it a unique life across time. But then, after this point, Fleisch seems to revert to the sorts of formally negligent ideas that prompted my original thesis. The sphere splits into quadrants, then corners-plus-center as in a "5" on a die. The little cellular zones twirl in opposing directions and shoot weblike tendrils out at each other, resulting in a kind of film noir Fruitopia commercial. (Jens Thiele's industrial-drone soundtrack only adds to the sense that we are adrift across time, that if and when surface phenomena synch up in meaningful ways, it's likely to be only a temporary occurrence.) Minute four through four-and-a-half moves from psychotronic Jordan Belson to a thaumatrope flip maneuver, the dark and light rounded parts of the screen changing places to provide a gentler, less distinct form of motion. Before long, these forms are interrupted with those from earlier parts of the film -- the lightning, the now-brainlike molecular orb -- and the visual metaphors come fast and furious. We see eyes, brains, and the zap-zap-zapping of light and shadow burning their data directly into them. And then, Fleisch practically returns us to a narrative world, or at least a palindromic one, as the thick rootlike forms shove the eye-orb back down out of frame. And so, in the end, Energie! is just that, a set of forces unleashed on the eye, and often that is enough to sustain a five minute visual experience. But although deeper structures are implied and, at times, possibly even achieved, the film neither adapts the older templates not forges its own necessary progression. It's a thing, and a thing, and another somewhat related thing, and the eye and the mind are stuck trying to decide whether to submit or cherrypick. [Energie! may be viewed online here.]
Evertwo Circumflicksrent . . . Page 298 (Bruce McClure) [p/s]
-Hotel Chevalier (Wes Anderson, U.S. / France) [s]
It's hard and maybe even a little unfair to evaluate Hotel Chevalier as a stand-alone film, since it's clearly intended as a prologue-slash-hors d'oeuvre for The Darjeeling Limited. But as a short film it does have its merits, most notably the clipped, stylized but still somewhat believable dialogue between estranged lovers uncertainly reunited. Although it may be a personal problem, it's still hard for me to completely buy Jason Schwartzman as a romantic lead, and the Old West handlebar certainly doesn't help matters. But he's appropriately terse, providing a sort of guarded male counterpart to Natalie Portman's mysterious but somehow more vulnerable character. (Well, admittedly, Wes stacks the "vulnerability" deck with highly differential nudity. Here, Portman's bare ass plays the role popularized by Scarlett Johansson's ass at the beginning of Lost In Translation, that of ground zero, the American base of operations in a foreign environment whose emotional valences are not entirely clear.) It's a nifty little short story, I suppose, going for something vaguely Hemingwayesque and not coming close, but being all the more charming for the attempt. Visually, Wes and Yeoman are just doing what they do, but this was the first time I really noticed just what a debt they owe to Ozu, what with the straight-on mise-en-scène and back-and-forth, 180° shifting of fields. Of course, Ozu would have cluttered his compositions in a much cleaner way; Anderson's choc-a-bloc thrift store ambiance is more a suburban American approximation of Nouvelle Vague.
-Superbad (Greg Mottola)
[MILD SPOILERS] Behold! The year's most inexplicably overrated picture to date. (Is Apatow Fever really that contagious?) I suppose Mottola, Apatow, and Seth Rogan are hitting that film-snob sweet spot usually reserved for the Farrellys because, yes, there's a soft goopy humanist center (actually, it's pretty lame even on those dubious terms), but also because it does one really obvious "transgressive" thing. The homoerotic subtext underlying most teen sex comedies is brought out in the open for every frat boy and mall chick to see. (Give those men a chocolate chip cookie! I mean jesus.) I won't deny that when the comedy hits, it hits hard, particularly the bits involving Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fogell / McLovin, a character that could have been just a retread of Revenge of the Nerds geekitude but instead achieves actual reinvention of the trope. Sadly, not as much else in Superbad accomplishes this transformation, despite what the critics' love-in might lead you to believe. It's usually just Porky's '07 only more ambivalent about the grab-ass, which is sometimes enough (cf. Seth's righteous anti-Home Ec riff, or Evan's accidental boob lunge) but often eerily retrograde even for our fucked-up times. Teenage boys chasing pussy are going to be raunchy and there's something disarmingly innocent about it. The shit-talk is always a compensation for boys' innate self-loathing and despite appearances the joke is always on us dudes. But the menstrual blood on the jeans bit is straight-up gynophobic and unwittingly reveals a hidden mean-spiritedness beneath the fun. But apart from qualms such as these, the fact remains, Superbad, even at its best, is just a pretty good teen sex comedy, and it's odd to see it garner kudos far and wide from the cultural establishment. (Even Film Comment calls it a must-see!) Does every B-grade genre eventually age into respectability, like those proverbial buildings, politicians, and whores? At any rate, Michael Cera and Jonah Hill are money in the bank, and my qualms about the film in no way extend to them. No backlash here. Also, for the love of god, why is this movie 114 minutes long? I've got shit to do.
[BRIEF ADDENDUM: Vadim Rizov wrote in to chide me a little bit for underselling (or ignoring, really) the substantive contributions Mottola brings to Superbad, some of which distinguish it cinematically from slack, performer-indulgent Apat-tizers like Knocked Up and even the far superior 40 Year Old Virgin. In Vadim's words, "Mottola is apparently the only one in the Apatow collective who can stage well-timed physical gags . . . Try to imagine Apatow pulling off every time Hill gets hit by a car." Point taken; in fact, my mind was elsewhere when watching Superbad largely, I think, because Apatow's previous efforts had trained my subconscious to tune out formal issues altogether. This meant missing Mottola's notable contribution. And I'll go you one better, Vadim: the final shot, after our heroes have paired up and the bittersweet dissolution of male bonding is underway, is the first (and of course last) real instance of Superbad opening up, from purely functional, televisual space to expansive, cinematic space. The long shot of the teeming depth of the mall echoes the ammivalence beautifully. What exactly is the world that's about to open up for Seth and Evan? Girlfriends, shopping, responsibility, suburban ennui. A dubious new vista indeed.]
Tape Film (Chris Kennedy, U.S. / Canada) [s]
-To Each His Own Cinema (various, France)
-Beyond the Years (Im Kwon-taek, South Korea)
epc 2D: sun (John Price, Canada) [s]
-Taxidermia (Györgi Pálfi, Hunagry / Austria / France)
A lot of my cinephile friends were confused when I didn't appreciate Hukkle, Pálfi's somewhat experimental debut feature. Where others saw a non-narrative exploration of an offbeat rural hinterland, I detected Pálfi's encroaching determinism and inchoate smugness at work. He seemed to me to be coaxing us into Hukkle's world with the promise of spectatorial freedom and observational openness only to clamp down with a silly conclusion that undercut everything that came before. Nobody really agreed with me then. Well, um, I told you so. Taxidermia represents a quantum leap in Pálfi's vision and capability to successfully realize in onscreen, but what kind of leap this is is an open question. Looks to me like a dive into a rather empty void, a great cacophony of symbols and concepts and stunted allegories and vaguely allusive motifs that hover in a kind of intellectual miasma. Pálfi has a sensibility, all right, but a rather nauseating one. With Taxidermia's triptych marking out three successive generations in the Balatony family -- a peeping tom servant and chronic masturbator; an also-ran world champion eater repping for Hungary; a gaunt, deranged taxidermist -- Pálfi is able to set in motion a host of Big Ideas. Among them, we find: anxiety about paternity and paternal birthright; hybrid intersections of the male body with foreign matter both organic and inorganic; the "living death" of Communist ideology and its substitution of pageantry for authentic human relationships; and gluttony and other obsessive behaviors as endemic to male pathology. Pálfi ladles these ideas over a cramped, revoltingly fastidious mise-en-scène, with dark, knotty woodsheds and giant vats of viscous foodlike material and Soviet-style banners and lots and lots and lots of entrails. It's rather like Terry Gilliam but shot through with a perverse, uniquely Eastern European decrepitude (think Kusturica and Makavejev, especially) that actually casts a lacquered glaze over everything in its path, stuffed and mounted, as it were. It's "something," certainly, and it's accomplished, in its own way. But Pálfi is always content to shock or nauseate instead of allowing for a single moment's reflection, and although it's obviously a stylistic choice, it feels like intellectual three-card monty. He fills the frame with more and more disgusting stuff (as a director, Pálfi operates like a professional overeater), all the better to disguise the emptiness at the center. Taxidermia bullies the viewer, and for no good reason.
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (Jeff Garlin)
Basically a sort of witless Rosencrantz and Guildenstern margin-doodle in the corner of a really lame "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode, or proof positive (as if it were needed) that Larry David is the comic genius of the team. Poor fat James (Garlin) gets abuse heaped on him, and then gets used by mean crazy Beth (Sarah Silverman). The look and feel of the thing is a lot like one of those SNL Digital Shorts, padded out to feature length and shorn of anything resembling actual humor. An utter waste of time. Also, I just don't get the whole Sarah Silverman mystique. I suspect that in years to come, she'll be little more than a showbiz footnote, like Totie Fields or Jo Anne Worley. "Oh, look, honey, it's that chick with the long neck who talks about getting her boyfriend's diarrhea on her pussy . . ."
-Poison Friends (Emmanuel Bourdieu, France)
There's so much to say about the challenges of a highly competitive university environment. And as a former graduate student, I've seen my fair share of academic turmoil. But we really must thank Mr. Bourdieu for blowing the lid off the silent terror menacing the world of higher education -- book-bullies. Honestly, this is one of the most preposterous films I've seen in ages, made all the more so by its grinding self-seriousness. It's not just that every single moment bears the clapboard smack of a flimsy premise. It's that there's only one place it can go, and it's just so tedious in the getting. Now I'll admit, I never expected it to become Time Out: The College Years, much less The Painfully Unfunny Henry Fool. But really, there's just no there there. Well, except for a lingering sense that the film implies that the louder you are, the more of a fraud you must be, which is actually not unrelated to some of the more specious claims made by the director's late father, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. The Super-Cliff-Notes version of Distinction: Parvenus try too hard to fit in, and tend to get found out, and besides, most intellectual effort is just a form of bourgeois oneupmanship anyway. So there you go.