Alex Sitaras: Let’s get to it. Goodbye 2016 and hello 2017! One of the first films to grace the silver screen this year is a co-production from animation studios Wild Bunch & Studio Ghibli: The Red Turtle (dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit). After the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has been in a period of transition. They haven’t officially released any films of their own since his retirement, but this co-production marks their return to feature filmmaking. The film is about a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island. He attempts to build a raft to escape from the island, but a red turtle destroys his rafts each time he attempts to sail away. The film’s premise sounds a bit Moby Dick-like, but I’ve been advised not to watch the full trailer since it gives away the entire film. However, the first few seconds of the trailer and stills released from the film have me interested. I think the film will be a beautiful movie, visually, with very well-constructed shots.
Matt Schlee: Well this film should certainly be a great way to kick off a new year. It looks like with their return, Studio Ghibli will be busting out a film which promises to be incredibly moving. I can speak to your comment about the trailer, as I’ve likely seen it about a dozen times prior to the starts of other movies I’ve seen in theaters over the last several months. However, even feeling like I know essentially the entire plot arch, this is among the upcoming films I’m most looking forward to. It’ll certainly be a good trip to the movies for families, but it’s been well received thus far as its own mature project.
Alex: I am curious how the film will appeal to families since the film has no dialogue. I like the stripped-down aesthetic and minimalist story, but having no dialogue might be a hard-sell to kids. However, Ghibli has quite the following amongst adults. The film might be made more so for them- a reflective film that likely includes some ‘big’ statement about life.
Matt: Fair point, but I wonder if the sort of enchanting and magical nature that the trailers imply will appeal to younger kids. Either way, it seems that this film shouldn’t have a hard time drawing in crowds. Just the name Studio Ghibli should be enough, and it’s early critical reception is already building pretty widespread intrigue. It’s always refreshing to see a more complex animated film gain some momentum.
Alex: Definitely. Here’s hoping the film has strong legs in America.
I think the next logical film to bring up would be The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi). His films are also among the more meditative of films released today. The neo-realist’s next film is about a couple who play the lead roles in a performance of “Death of a Salesman“. In typical Farhadi-fashion, their relationship is tested, this time after the couple move into a house that was previously owned by a woman who was rumored to be a prostitute.
Matt: It seems like this film won’t be a significant stylistic departure for Farhadi, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. The trailers for The Salesman are visually striking and creative. I’ll be interested to see how this film enters the Foreign Language Oscar conversation after its release. Pre-release it sounds like it might be the most likely film on the shortlist to give Toni Erdmann a significant run for its money. That alone is enough to have me anxious to get an opportunity to check it out.
Alex: Agreed, the trailer for the Salesman would be an example of a trailer that does not give away the entire film. There’s a lot of scenes that look to be in enclosed/small places, which I think made up much of the atmosphere in his last film, The Past. Even in the scenes outside, it seems like there’s walls, building, and glass close to either side of the characters making his films feel more intimate, but also claustrophobic to an extent.
I do love the play Death of a Salesman, but one other feature of the plot that has me curious is Farhadi’s inclusion of prostitution as a theme. He is praised as a director in particular for the strength and complexity of his female characters, and I’m curious how he will tackle a facet of culture with such a reputation as being degrading to women. I think there’s a concept or two to be explored there in the context of Iranian culture that I, and probably many others, aren’t knowledgeable about through growing up with Western culture.
Matt: I find that films from countries like Iran instantly build additional intrigue for me. There’s a cultural insight there that can be difficult to find, and Farhadi is among the best that Iran has to offer. I’ll be particularly interested to see how this film stacks up against Under the Shadow which came out fairly recently, also set in Iran and directed by an Iranian filmmaker, Babak Anvari. It should be a worthwhile exercise to view these two films, observing the same culture but through different lenses, in comparison to each other.
Alex: With the death of Abbas Kiarostami earlier this year, there is reason to focus on Iranian cinema over the next few years in particular. I have optimism for it for certain with directors such as Farhadi and Jafar Panahi receiving international attention and acclaim.
I actually don’t think I remember that film although there’s a good chance I’ve posted about it earlier this year and simply forgot.. Regardless, the DVD/Blu-ray release is January 10th, so I’ll be sure to post about it then. Under the Shadow was even selected as the British entry for Best Foreign Language Film, but didn’t make the shortlist. Would have been notable if both the films ended up competing against each other. Now you’ve got me curious about that film since it’s a horror film and there aren’t too many Iranian horror films. Perhaps some inspiration from Ana Lily Amirpour‘s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
Matt: The recent film it’s generally drawing the most comparison to is The Babadook. It’s sort of that brand of psychological horror and it takes place in war-torn Iran. It was an excellent film that struck a great balance between discussing the relationships and cultural dynamics in the story while mixing in the supernatural horror elements. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is probably also a fair stylistic comparison. Certainly, it’s exciting to see a new wave of Iranian filmmakers rising to prominence after Kiarostami’s sad passing.
The next film that I’m intrigued about this month is Alain Guiraudie‘s Staying Vertical. A lot of quality film has come out of France this past year, and it seems like they’ve overshadowed this one a bit. Still, I’ve been seeing it pop up on a number of year-end top film lists. The film seems stylistically muted, and it’ll likely be a slow burn, but that sort of subtlety often makes for the most beautiful stories. It tells the story of an artist, specifically a filmmaker, and looks to largely make use of a gorgeous outdoor setting. I’m really looking forward to what I’m expecting to be an immersive experience.
Alex: As you said, the reaction to this film has been lukewarm ever since its first screening at Cannes last year but I have the same hopes for the film you do. The plot summary reminds me of Antonioni‘s Identification of a Woman, also about a director seeking inspiration for his next film. That film is also a love-it or hate-it kind of film amongst Antonioni’s viewers, but I enjoyed it and I’ll probably think similarly of Staying Vertical once I see it.
Another film I wanted to bring up, rather late in hearing about it since I just mentioned it to you yesterday, is I Am Michael (dir. Justin Kelly). Kelly directed King Cobra as his sophomore film released earlier this year, but his first film, I Am Michael, didn’t receive a release until later this month. The two are both LGBT-related films that feature James Franco and are based on living people. King Cobra received a bit of criticism from its subject, but I Am Michael has received praise from Michael Glatze himself. Admittedly, the reason I Am Michael caught my eye was that when researching Justin Kelly, I saw that Riley Keough would star in his third film. She’s an excellent actress and if you look at her lineup of upcoming films, it’s absurd. She knows how to choose directors to work with.
So Keough convinced me to read more into I Am Michael, and its plot appears ambitious to cover in a debut film. It concerns a young gay journalist, the co-founder of the magazine Young Gay America, who becomes a Christian pastor and denounces homosexuality. In an interview with Glatze and his wife, it is remarked that half the film is pleasing to homosexuals and half the film is pleasing to the Christian right. The film refrains from conveying any certain message. However, Glatze praised Franco’s performance and has since left the ex-gay movement and noted his regrets in saying some of the statements he said while he was part of the movement.
The film might not be anything spectacular, but the story is certain to generate thought and discussion. It’s crazy when someone experiences such a change of thought- we wonder how or why- and it seems that I Am Michael depicts this well based on Glatze’s praise for the film.
Matt: I’m not especially familiar with the story that the film is documenting, but the subject matter sounds interesting. I’ll admit that I’m a little bit hesitant with this film, as it looks like it could be venturing into melodramatic territory, and I’ve always found James Franco to be very hit-or-miss. I’ve found that he has a tendency to lose track of authenticity to a point that I become very conscious that I am watching James Franco acting. I’m also curious about the choice of Emma Roberts, who has carved out a niche for herself as playing snarky teenage girls, but she is fairly new to flexing her abilities as a very dramatic actress. I am a fan of Zachary Quinto, but I’m a little concerned as a whole that the cast may not be one that is able to lend this subject matter any subtlety. I hope that the film will prove me wrong, as it seems like a story worth telling.
It’s also worth transitioning to the world of Blu-ray for this month, and discussing the upcoming Criterion Collection release of the Howard Hawks classic, His Girl Friday. Hawks is one of the great early Hollywood directors, and along with early filmmakers like Billy Wilder and William Wyler, he showed an impressive ability to jump genres. He made so many films propped up among Hollywood’s greatest works, it’s hard to identify one as his masterpiece, but the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday certainly has a case to be made. The story has been adapted a number of times, including a 1974 film by Billy Wilder, and a 1931 Lewis Milestone adaptation that has been restored in 4K for inclusion in this set.
The script was written by Ben Hecht, one of early Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters, and most well known for writing some of Alfred Hitchcock‘s most renowned films including Spellbound and Notorious. The set will include a piece about Hecht.
I must say that Criterion has pulled out all the stops with this one, and it’s already looking to be one of their biggest releases of 2017. I’m very excited to get my hands on this classic film.
Alex: The film is one of the more loaded ones on Criterion’s lineup. Two Blu-rays with restorations of Hawks’s and Milestones’s versions of the story. I’m afraid I don’t know much about this film- my only exposure to Hawks has been Rio Bravo in a masculinity in cinema course I took. Thanks for the insights into His Girl Friday Matt, and I think we can wrap this up unless you have any final thoughts to add.
Matt: Nothing on my end, I think we’ve pretty much touched on most of the exciting things happening in January.