August 15, 2017

Bd. Voltaire — Terror
by Amos Lassen, Amos Lassen Reviews, 14 August 2016.

French poster design © by Kevin Paul Stephens

It is not often that I see a film that is so stunning that I find myself at a loss for words. Bd. Voltaire affected me such and I have no idea how to review it. Quite basically, Bd. Voltaire is about a group of friends that get together for a night of fun just before the series of coordinated terrorist attacks that took place on Friday, November 13, 2015 in Paris, France and the city’s northern suburb of Saint Denis. The attackers killed 130 people, and another 368 people were injured.

Directed by Alex Valles with a screenplay by Valles and Andre Schneider, this is a movie about words and we hear a lot of them as the world heads toward a terrible fate. We focus on three couples and how they are affected not only by the attacks but also by the mood of Paris as we move closer to that fateful date. We get to know the characters through what they have to say and there were times I thought I was in the middle of an existential philosophy debate for which there was no end. Yet was is said is important and allows us to get to know the characters better.

The film is shot in beautiful black and white and the images that you see will stay with you forever. With little action, we concentrate of what the cast that includes Bastien Gabriel, Walter Billoni, Rudy Blanchet, Xavier Theoleyre, the already mentioned Schneider and Valles as well as others and this is where I get lost trying to figure out what to say.

Did I love the film? Yes I did for more than one reason. First, the film deals with a difficult topic and as gay people who have experienced homophobia in the past, we need to be aware of the terrorist movement. Secondly, the entire cast is outstanding and we do not get enough movies where each and every character turns in an excellent performance. (If you get a chance to see the National Theater’s filmed production of »Angels in America«, you know what I mean.) Thirdly, this is a film that makes you think and stays with you long after you have seen. I doubt I will ever forget the first part that is set in a cemetery as we listen to the conversation between two men separated by years yet find a reason to be together. We see how these characters were affected by a terrorist attack and I believe it is important to remember that no matter where we live and where an attack takes place, we all suffer. The very idea that human life is so expendable is something we need to keep in mind all of the time.

I do not doubt that there will be some who will look t this as an intellectual gay movie because of the amount of dialogue and I suppose it is if we consider thinking to be an intellectual activity. I find it really nice to have a different kind of LGBT movie in that we light up one more color of the rainbow.

June 1, 2017

My dear bloggereenos,
once again, it’s been a long while. It’s been two years already since my last visit to England, and I haven’t got any clue whether I will be coming over anytime soon or not. At this point, I rather doubt it. Life’s keeping me rather busy between Berlin and Paris, even though Great Britain and Ireland are (and always will be) in my heart. I’ll never forget the wonderful days and nights I’ve spent there. — I know I should write in English more often, but somehow it doesn’t seem to happen. But please do check back regularly; every now and then I come up with something worth sharing. Recently I stumbled across a fascinating article on Damien Chazelle’s »La La Land« that I’d like to share with you. Enjoy!


Mediocre ›musical‹ »La La Land« deserves to win at the Oscars — it’s a story for our uninspired age
by Will Brooks, The Conversation, 25 January 2017.

»La La Land« deserves its record-breaking 14 Oscar nominations, I now realise. When I saw the movie, I wasn’t blown away. A pleasant entertainment, with a pretty central couple and some nice frocks. Two actors dancing like the celebrity winners of »Strictly Come Dancing« and singing like cruise-ship karaoke. You applaud their efforts and can, to an extent, understand the critical acclaim. We need pleasant distractions right now, in the face of Trump and Brexit. We need nostalgia. I didn’t think it deserved the five star reviews, but I appreciate that people enjoy escapism, especially in a time like this.

But I’ve changed my mind. »La La Land« deserves its nominations and more: it deserves to win Best Picture. Because it isn’t escapism, it’s a story for our age. Ryan Gosling, who pluckily spent three months learning piano to play the protagonist, is the perfect hero in a year when the new president of the United States can take over with no training. His reality-show-standard song and dance routines are perfectly suited to this new era, when a mediocre businessman and second-rate television celebrity can become Commander-in-Chief. If Trump’s Education Secretary can’t write grammatically or answer questions on basic policy, how can we criticise an actor for less-than-perfect performances? Our current culture doesn’t just excuse amateurs, it elevates them to the highest roles.

I thought »La La Land« borrowed its best scenes from earlier, superior musicals; I may have been technically correct, but I was still wrong. When commercial cinema is saturated with reboots and sequels, »La La Land«’s pastiche of »An American In Paris«, »Singin’ In The Rain« and so many others counts as originality. At least it cast actors who are still alive, rather than constructing a CGI simulation of Fred Astaire. At least it patched its borrowed moments together into a kind of story, copying and pasting them onto its cute contemporary narrative rather than just offering a best-of clip show. That’s surely all we can wish for, in a week when President Trump’s inaugural address included an uncited quotation from a Batman villain.

Some have claimed that »La La Land« appropriates the black art form of jazz, with Gosling in the white saviour role as its purist champion. But what could be more 2017 than a movie that celebrates mansplaining and whitewashing, that has Gosling talking loudly over older, African American musicians to impress his date, and then shows them nodding appreciatively, grateful for his support? »La La Land«’s approach to jazz is surely acceptable in a year when Melania Trump got away with delivering a speech seemingly plagiarised from Michelle Obama.

Meanwhile, John Legend’s marginalised appearance as Gosling’s one black friend, who begs him to join a band then sells out the genre with his tacky commercialism, perfectly suits an Academy Awards list that congratulates itself on avoiding “Oscars So White” controversy, yet which nominates white men and women over people of colour in the Best Actor/Actress category by a ratio of 4:1.

I had one remaining reservation about »La La Land«, when I heard it praised as a pioneering new musical, poised to rejuvenate the genre. »La La Land« opens like a musical, sure, with a big opening number by the whole company — including minor roles for people of colour who disappear after this scene — and continues briefly in that vein, with old-fashioned movie montages and Emma Stone’s roommates dancing around the apartment like the girls in Sweet Charity and West Side Story. But after the next routine, »What A Lovely Night«, and the first date (»City of Stars«), the movie gives up on its genre and largely becomes an indie flick with occasional songs.

The opening mode, where characters sing as readily as speak and break unthinkingly into dance, is almost forgotten: compare the relatively realist middle section of »La La Land« with West Side Story, where the songs and choreography are regular punctuation, an alternative expressive language that the cast can’t resist slipping into when emotions run high. Most of »La La Land«’s spectacle is in the trailer, edited into enticing glimpses; in the movie itself, these fantasy moments are paced out, with long stretches between them.

But on second thoughts, I’ve realised that a musical-that-isn’t-a-musical, hailed as the best musical of the decade in a decade with barely any musicals, is just what we need this year, in our post-truth era of alternative facts, where a president who lost the popular vote can boldly lie about things we all saw with our own eyes. A flattering love letter to Hollywood, its film industry and its cinema history, rewarded by an academy whose job it is to celebrate Hollywood, its film industry and its cinema history; what could be more perfectly circular, more self-congratulatory and more suited to the time?

»La La Land« already plays like an awards show, before it’s won any Academy Awards — it’s a tribute reel, like one of those clever end-of-ceremony acts where Neil Patrick Harris does a song and dance and brings the house down. It’s a white male American dream, a story where the alternate version of what happened to the characters is just as persuasive and powerful, and a lot more glamorous, than what we just saw happening. It’s La La Land.

My mistake was in thinking that this was a made-up world. But we are living in »La La Land«. It deserves to win bigly at the Oscars: until we all wake up, this is the Best Picture we deserve.