I did not see the original Japanese anime film with the same name which triggered the idea of Ghost in the Shell and this may be an advantage or a disadvantage. I have read some articles that compare the two works, and also refer to the comics series, as well as to ‘Matrix’ which took apparently many ideas from it. It seems to me that I can enjoy and appreciate director Rupert Sanders‘ film even better without that comparison, although I may be missing some of the nuances or different directions the original work was taking the theme to.
What may have changed in the two decades since the Japanese original works were created is the fact that much of the technology that is described in the film became reality, and for the rest the feasibility is a confirmed fact. Artificial organs are now more and more replacing organs and tissues damaged by diseases or accidents. We know much more about how brain functions, how information circulates between brain and body, and how mechanical actions of the human body or artificial prosthesis are controlled. Brain transplant was not achieved, but it’s considered feasible, as well as a future implant in a completely artificial body. As in the film, many of the humans are or will become hybrids with a higher and higher percentage of replaced parts.
The film deals with a future in which the first brain implant is made in an artificial body. This makes of the lead heroine (Scarlett Johansson) kind of a super-hero, a living weapon to fight terrorists. It’s just that her former identity (her ‘ghost’) comes to haunt her, and while she slowly recovers her human identity the reality around becomes less connected to the truth. What follows is a combination of action (or even super-heroes action) and smart science-fiction genres, which takes place in a world where men coexist with hybrids, or maybe better said almost any man also became a hybrid. It’s a film which succeeds both to entertain as well as to ask difficult questions about the future evolution of mankind and it’s relation with the thinking machines created by men.
Some exceptional work was performed in order to create on screen the possible world of the future described in Ghost in the Shell. The visual concept makes reference to previous art like the one in Metropolis or Blade Runner, but develops those into new directions starting from the images and shapes that define today’s Asian big cities. There are a lot of computerized effects but they all have logic and are backing the story line, and so do the action scenes. The film succeeds to satisfy both action fans as well as viewers who are looking for meaningful science-fiction. Scarlett Johansson is very good in the lead role, she continues her daring undertaking of roles in science-fiction movies, but each one of the roles is different and this should help her avoid automatic casting in a new stereotype which replaces the older beautiful-fragile girl one in the first years of her career. It’s a pleasure to see huge actors as Takeshi Kitano and Juliette Binoche also involved in this project.
There are so many reasons to like this film. First, the cast includes two of the lead actresses of two different generations – the priceless and prize covered Juliette Binoche and one of the top performers of the younger generation Kristen Stewart, who after having started and made herself a name in blockbusters took a turn into her career to more profound and fulfilling roles. Then, it’s a story with multiple threads and subtext, but centered around the show (more specifically theater) business where the two actresses live and breathe. Last but not least, it’s a movie that while well told as a story leaves enough room for mystery and imagination. I am just surprised by the relative low impact the film had in festivals and even with the public – and I suspect that some distribution problems were involved.
The story written and brought to screen by Olivier Assayas is said to have been tailored and designed for Juliette Binoche, and these fine actress really deserves it and makes the best of it. It’s a story about a theater actress who debuted two decades before the action takes place as the younger pole of a feminine couple in a play that is about power fight between ages and a love story built out of that confrontation. She’s now the age of the older woman in the couple and is asked to play the other other on stage, just after the playwright and mentor has passed away. She accepts half-heartily and starts repeating the role in the cottage located in the Swiss mountains that belonged to the author, together with her young assistant (Stewart). Is the relation in life a replica of the one in the play? The borders between the two are blurred away more and more as the story advances … and I will tell no more in order to avoid spoiling any ounce of the pleasure of watching one of the most intelligent and sensitive dialogues and intriguing story line I have seen recently on screens. I will just say that both actresses are magnificent and that the film tells a lot about relations, friendship, art, the borders between art and life, show business cruel rules and the role that ‘smart’ communications play in our lives.
And then we have Switzerland, and its landscapes which play such an important role in the aesthetics and in the drama, maybe exactly because of their beauty and apparent tranquility. I loved the threatening metaphor of the snake that gives the name of the play-in-the-film and shows up only once at a key moment. Or maybe it does not, because there is much that is not told in this movie which is exactly the reason some may not like it, and some other will love it and will continue to be haunted by it after the screening ends. I belong to the later category.
The centennial anniversary of the breaking of WWI was an opportunity for several books to be written and films to be made (most of them documentaries) not only about the war itself, but also about the years that preceded it. Those were the finals years of a period that had started at the end of the Franco – Prussian war in 1870 and had seen a period of more than four decades of peace, never encountered in the written history of Europe. For many people living it those times La Belle Epoque seemed to signal an apparent stability based on the balance between the power of a few Empires and Republics. A middle class appeared in Europe allowing for economic development, arts flourished, and life was good for many. Yet, the political tensions were present at the level of the relations between the big powers in Europe, and many of the national societies were sick. Which is exactly the theme of Bruno Dumont‘s film ‘Ma Loute’.
Dumont is one of the masters of a cinema sub-genre which I will call ‘films about degenerated people’ (or social, or family relations, or a combination of these). Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet ‘s Delicatessen is another example of the genre, so is Dogtooth by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. ‘Ma Loute’ not only takes the genre one step ahead because of the quality of the execution, but also provides political and historical dimensions by locating the story of mysterious disappearances, social conflict between the rich tourists and the poor fishermen and a love story which is impossible for many reasons in a precise place – the North-West of France close to Calais and time – the end of La Belle Epoque.
Viewers should be warned that this is no easy film to watch. 5% of the audience walked out the theater I was in. Among those who stayed I suspect that half disliked what they have seen, with the negative reactions between considering the theme disgusting to ridiculous. The acting style is also very heavily and intentionally exaggerated. It is the description of sick families, of hateful relations between classes, of a non-functional society at all levels. The fact that all these seem to get some rational explanation may satisfy for a moment, but then the film slides in a combination of grotesque and fantastic (the levitation scenes) that is close to genial. Watching fine actors as Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche,or Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is of course a delight but do not expect them to act like in any other movies that you have seen with them in the past. The young couple acted by Brandon Lavieville and Raph both at their first film add some level of innocence, but all is under the sign of the deformed mirrors here.
‘Ma Louche’ is a very different kind of cinema experience, viewers take risks watching it, and they are rewarded with a surprise which according to taste and approach can be very good or very unpleasant.
I am fascinated by Leos Carax. In more than 30 years he made just a handful of long films, but what films these are. Each of them reminds me when I get to see them why I love and I am fascinated by cinema, and what an art film making can be under the hands of a director who knows the secrets and ingredients of turning each film, and each scene in his films in something different, something that charms, shocks, can be enjoyable or repulsive, but cannot leave us indifferent.
Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood is the literal translation) will be 30 years old next year. Yet it is not only as fresh as it was made yesterday, but it also has the quality that will make it relevant 30, 60, and 90 years from now (I do not make bets about future that extend between one century ). It’s a gangster story in the
French tradition, Melville’s movies come to mind immediately, and the fact that some of the bad guys are American is actually also a French noir films tradition. Although the making of the film is closer to David Lynch’s peak period, Mauvais Sang precludes the best of what Tarantino will make 10 or 15 years later. I actually have almost no doubt that both Lynch and Tarantino saw this film several times and were deeply inspired by it. It is however more – it is a double love story, or two love stories which are sensitive and beautifully told. And then, the final scene makes – so it seems to me – a reverence to ‘Casablanca’.
What gives such quality to Mauvais Sang? First, the actors. Michel Piccoli- at the edge of seniority, playing the gangster – combinator whose combines not always succeed best. Breathtakingly beautiful and young Juliette Binoche in one of her first major roles. And, of course, Denis Lavant, Caras’s best acting asset ever. Then the cinematography. I do not know how much we owe to Caras and how much to the director of cinematography Jean-Yves Escoffier but almost each shot is a piece of art, and the colors combinations are sublime and uniquely expressive – just watch the repeated combinations of blue, white and red! There are the ingredients, but the ultimate merit belongs without doubt to Leos Carax, a master chef of the French cinema.