Saturday, October 15, 2016

New York Film Festival Screenings 5

Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, 2016)
I came in late for this 173-minute film and had to sit on the floor. But as a measure of Puiu's genius for enriching the passage of time, I could've sat through an extra 173 minutes with no qualms (well, maybe a cup to pee in). Most of the film takes place in a cramped apartment where a family has gathered to commemorate the recent passing of their father and Puiu transforms it into an epic battlefield of private vs. public. It's a comedy-drama of closed doors and impossible interiors (There's a *couch* in the dining room? Where? Oh there! Wow.). Much of the fun is imagining where Puiu could possibly put his camera in an endlessly deferred dinner during which the extended family debates 9/11, Communism, and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Indeed, as we discover that Puiu is taking up the position of now the Christmas tree, now the television set, we come to know Sieranevada as a narrative about how our identities derive from the taking up of space (which is why one of the few scenes outside the apartment revolves around an argument about parking spaces). A masterpiece.

Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
Verhoeven planned to film this adaptation of Philippe Dijan's novel Oh... in English but couldn't find an actress to play the role Isabelle Huppert eventually took on. Gawd bless the French. Huppert plays the owner of a successful video game development company who is raped in the first scene of the film. But as Huppert made clear in the Q&A, she's neither a victim nor a rape avenger but rather a new archetype. Me, I'm left with the usual itchy questions. Do we need a new archetype with respect to films about rape or do we need less films about rape overall? Is it a failure of imagination to use rape as a framing device for a story about a successful woman or is it an honest appraisal of what it means for a woman to live in world framed by Gamergate, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby, etc.? Do depictions of rape merely stoke our desire to see one happen, missing an opportunity to forge new pleasures, or do such depictions rub our faces in it enough to blot out that desire? And to what extent is this even a film about rape, a dangerous provocation that likely had much to do with why no American actress would touch this film?

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