Alex Sitaras: First and foremost this month, I’m looking forward to Annette. The Leos Carax film premiered at Cannes this past month to positive reviews, and earned Carax a surprising win for Best Director. I say surprising since Carax’s films are wildly imaginative, but perhaps a little too much for some audiences. For me, his films strike a balance between zany and thoughtful, so the film is one I’m glad is releasing soon after the festival. The film stars Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard and is a musical, Driver continuing his recent streak of appearances in auteurs’ films and Cotillard perhaps finding in this film a personal touch seeing that Annette explores concepts of fame and performance. What do you make of this film Ian, and is it one you’re looking forward to seeing?
Ian Floodgate: Cannes usually announce their opening films before revealing the official selection, so Annette has been generating some interest for a while. I agree it’s a clever strategy to release it promptly following its positive reception from its premiere. I don’t have any experience with Carax’s filmography. That might be because this is his first feature since 2012’s Holy Motors so I’ve had no recent reminders to check out his work. You mention that his work is often wildly imaginative; the trailer appears to show elements of that, along with an approach to be thought-provoking while also being humorous. Both Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard seem to choose intriguing projects, so their chemistry could be interesting to watch and it might lead me to watch more of Carax’s work.
With quite a stark difference in its release, Pablo Larraín‘s Ema sees a stateside opening this month. The pandemic may have led to a delay with this film, as it premiered almost two years ago in Venice in 2019. I got to see Ema last year, and it has some lovely visuals and choreography. The film follows a couple in the aftermath of an adoption that causes the household to fall apart. What are your thoughts on this film and Larraín’s work, Alex?
Alex: Oddly enough, both of these films involve the addition of a child to a family. In Annette, the daughter develops a “surprising gift” whereas in Ema, the son’s interest in pyromania is perhaps emblematic of the divorce between the film’s two leads played by Gael García Bernal and Mariana Di Girolamo. I’ve followed Larraín’s work since the release of The Club (the film was actually one of the first reviews I wrote for Cineccentric). I thoroughly enjoyed Larraín’s approach to exploring characters and drama, and crafting a thoughtful, yet often uneasy, atmosphere within his films. Jackie perhaps is most representative of the director’s work thus far; however, with Ema, we see the Chilean director return to his home country to direct this film. Larraín seems to be striking a balance between directing Chilean films and Hollywood features, and, as of yet, has been remarkably consistent with crafting excellent films. It seems like Ema will be no exception, so I’m looking forward to seeing the film when it releases August 13th.
The next film I’m looking forward to seeing this month is Lisa Joy‘s directorial debut Reminiscence. Joy is no stranger to film & television having co-created Westworld, and written several episodes of Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice. However, her directing credits up to this point dwarf her writing credits. Reminiscence places Joy in the director’s chair, and also enlists her talents as a writer. The film stars Hugh Jackman and Westworld actress Thandiwe Newton alongside Rebecca Ferguson. Jackman plays the role of Nick in a dystopian future where Miami is flooded due to rising sea levels, and the ability to relive memories is a marketable commodity. Nick meets and falls in love with Mae (Ferguson), who appears in one of Nick’s clients’ memories as a violent criminal. Nick must explore our world and that of memories in order to uncover Mae’s past.
Ian: I have only seen the first season of Westworld but thoroughly enjoyed it. It was well crafted, and I’m sure that is due partly to Joy’s writing. So, for that alone Reminiscence, seems like a very intriguing project. Her understanding of creating a dystopian world looks like it has transferred well to her feature debut. The lighting and production design have similarities with Westworld, which was another successful aspect of the show. The series also had a strong cast, and Reminiscence looks to have that too. As you said, Thandiwe Newton is crossing over from the series, and Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson also star. This film sees the pair reunite after working together on The Greatest Showman. There wasn’t a lot I liked about that film, but one strength was Jackman and Ferguson’s onscreen chemistry, which there wasn’t much of in The Greatest Showman, so I’m looking forward to watching them work together again.
Alex: I forgot that Jackman and Ferguson also shared the screen in The Greatest Showman. Given the history between cast and crew, I imagine shooting the film must’ve been enjoyable. Reminiscence looks to borrow some thematic elements and visual qualities from Christopher Nolan‘s films; however, I’m hoping Joy can take these themes and possibly subvert or add to how she explored them in Westworld. At the very least, Reminiscence should have some flashy action sequences; at best, the film takes advantage of spectacle while also being mindbogglingly fun. I just hope it doesn’t meet the fate that the Wally Pfister-directed Transcendence did (Pfister is also from the “Nolan tree” of directing).
Turning to restorations released this month, I’d like to bring up After Life. The film is Palme d’Or laureate Hirokazu Kore-eda’s breakout film and second film to be restored and released by The Criterion Collection. Those who enjoyed the recent film Nine Days may want to explore this film seeing as both explore the place between life and death, and one concept in Nine Days seems to be borrowed directly from After Life. In Kore-eda’s film, there exists a station where the recently deceased pass through. They are asked to choose one memory that they will be able to experience for eternity within the afterlife. Kore-eda’s pensive view into the unknown is accommodated by a commentary from film scholar Linda C. Ehrlich as well as interviews from Kore-eda and his film’s cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki. Seeing that you’ve watched a number of Kore-eda films, is After Life going to be one you add to your watchlist upon its Criterion release?
Ian: The earliest film I’ve seen in Kore-eda’s filmography is his 2004 film Nobody Knows, and like Shoplifters and my personal favourite, Still Walking, they all tell sensitive stories. So, for that reason, I’m interested to see some of his earlier works. I think Kore-eda is arguably one of the greatest Japanese directors working today. The stories in his films effortlessly encapsulate audiences and are accessible to anyone. When watching his work, I become emotionally invested in his characters, and I’m interested to see some of his earlier work.
Another restoration released this month is Original Cast Album: Company. I am interested to see this because I studied performing arts and have done many Stephen Sondheim musicals, including Company, where I was fortunate enough to play the role of Bobby, of which the story revolves around, who experiences difficulty in committing to a steady relationship. The original production opened in spring 1970 on Broadway. Traditionally the cast recording is done the first Sunday after the opening night, and this film documents this process with Sondheim and the cast. What are your thoughts on this restoration, Alex?
Alex: This cross-section between documentary filmmaking and theatre is one that wasn’t on my radar until Eugene and Ben discussed the film as part of a Living Room Chat. I’m actually not familiar with the bulk of Sondheim’s work, unfortunately, so this restoration and upcoming adaptations of West Side Story will help me become a bit more familiar with Sondheim’s work apart from familiarity with the odd song here and there. It is noteworthy to mention that Original Cast Album: Company is directed by documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and captures the creativity and toils of the legendary 14-hour recording session. The Criterion restoration of the film features an audio commentary from Sondheim himself and numerous interviews. The release is one that should be beloved by fans of musical theatre and a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection.