New Discoveries & Innovative Cinema at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival | FirstShowing.net

New Discoveries & Innovative Cinema at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

by Alex Billington
May 15, 2024

Another year, another Cannes Film Festival. The 77th Festival International du Film de Cannes has begun this week in the South of France in the lovely beach city of Cannes on the Mediterranean coast. We’re back again, along with thousands (and thousands) of film critics, journalists, cinephiles, industry members, filmmakers, students, and more. Cannes remains the BIGGEST film festival in the world, not only with the most prestigious line-up and the most attendees. It’s always an exciting time, just to be here in the midst of it all. In the weeks leading up to Cannes, it’s particularity challenging to gauge whether everyone is actually excited about coming back, or if there’s some other controversy or snag that will disrupt the festival… With its pandemic years now in the rear-view, Cannes is powering forward with another full-on, fireworks-filled two week celebration of the power of cinema. Artistic director Thierry Frémaux also stated during the announcement of the official selection that due to the strikes in Hollywood last year, there are not as many American films, but there are plenty of other new discoveries and surprises ready to shine on the big screen.

Every year when I return to Cannes (or Venice or Sundance) I always wonder, is it still possible to innovate anymore in cinema? With limitations on production, budgetary problems, changes in the industry, many major crises around the world, can cinema still remain relevant and reinvent what visual art can be? Yes, of course! Cannes is the place to be in May every year because they still have the power to program and screen some of the best films that really are innovative & exhilarating. Of course, they’re showing George Miller’s Furiosa and Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis, two new creations made by Cannes veterans already well known as masterminds of cinema. Yet here they are, returning again decades later to the Croisette, still challenging cinema as we know it with movies that are visually stunning and hard to pull off. It’s important to be in Cannes because it’s the right place to be to get a first look at all this fresh new cinema. Maybe that small film from India might be the most innovative creation? Maybe some other film from no one expected to matter will blow us all away? Better to be here now and find out before any of the marketing kicks in, to go in with an open mind and hope Cannes has brought some truly great filmmakers from around the world.

There’s an interesting quote in a very dour Cannes postmortem article published by Roger Ebert in 2010. He ends his wrap-up saying: “I’ve been to 35 festivals in Cannes. I’ll tell you the truth. I doubt if there will even be a Cannes Film Festival in another 35 years. If there is, it will have little to do with the kinds of films and audiences we grew up treasuring. More and more, I’m feeling it’s goodbye to all that.” Well, first things first, it’s 14 years later and Cannes is still going strong. However, he does bring up a good point – is Cannes moving in a good direction, are they still playing these kind of films that “we grew up treasuring”? Or have they drifted off course? Everyone seems to have a different answer. One thing is for sure – there’s absolutely way too much French control over Cannes these days, with the country’s films dominating the line-up but also everything else about how the festival runs (e.g. no Netflix films because of archaic, oppressive laws about films playing in cinemas in France). However, I do believe that Cannes does still make its mark by having first dibs on incredible movies and giving them a chance to reach audiences by showing them to the huge number of attendees these two weeks. I do hope they don’t drift too far off course in the next decade…

In terms of my most anticipated films at Cannes 2024, aside from Furiosa and Megalopolis, there’s a handful of others I cannot wait to watch. I have high hopes for the two big horror films in the competition line-up: David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds (teaser trailer here) and Coralie Fargeat’s The Substance. I’m always looking forward to animation in Cannes, including Claude Barras’s Sauvages, Yôko Kuno & Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Ghost Cat Anzu (teaser trailer here), Michel Hazanavicius’ The Most Precious of Cargoes, and Gints Zilbalodis’ Flow. As a big fan of her 2017 film I Am Not a Witch, I’m excited to watch Rungano Nyoni’s On Becoming a Guinea Fowl. I’ve also got a really good feeling about all of these films playing at the festival this year: Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez, Zhangke Jia’s Caught by the Tides, Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice, Mohammad Rasoulof’s The Seed of the Sacred Fig, Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine as Light (teaser trailer here), Sean Baker’s Anora, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Parthenope (which was already picked up by A24). The rest we’ll have to wait and see and find out if they’re any good (or not).

I invite you to please follow along as I make my way from screening to screening at #Cannes2024, watching films from all kinds of different countries, catching up with friends and colleagues. And please make sure to follow updates, read reviews, and keep an eye on all of the film critics / journalists in Cannes this year. One thing I love about this festival is that it brings us all together! We fly in to be here at the same time. There’s different voices, different takes, different kinds of coverage, different reviews, always more to read, always more to consider. As strange as it is to say this out loud, I do love arguing about films here! Sometimes it’s fun to have a healthy debate, sometimes it’s fun to disagree about a new film, sometime it’s interesting to think about what someone else saw in a film, and how their interpretation is different (or similar). Festivals should always be about this kind of intriguing discussion, encouraging a vivacious discourse, where any/all voices can participate in the conversation about cinema. Thankfully the Cannes Film Festival is a beautiful place where conversations happen on every street, in bars, in restaurants, in apartments, and yes even in queues for the next screening. I’m ready to start watching, dedicating myself fully to two full weeks of films.

You can follow all of my Cannes 2024 coverage and reviews right here and on my Letterboxd with ratings and thoughts posted daily. I’m also still on Twitter @firstshowing. The festival begins on May 14th and runs until May 25th, and I’ll be watching as much as I can while the films are still playing on the screens in town.

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Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ wins best picture at the Oscars

“Oppenheimer,” a solemn three-hour biopic that became an unlikely billion-dollar box-office sensation, was crowned best picture at a 96th Academy Awards that doubled as a coronation for Christopher Nolan.

After passing over arguably Hollywood’s foremost big-screen auteur for years, the Oscars made up for lost time by heaping seven awards on Nolan’s blockbuster biopic, including best actor for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr. and best director for Nolan.

In anointing “Oppenheimer,” the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did something it hasn’t done for more than a decade: hand its top prize to a widely seen, big-budget studio film.

In a film industry where a cape, dinosaur or Tom Cruise has often been a requirement for such box office, “Oppenheimer” brought droves of moviegoers to theaters with a complex, fission-filled drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb.

“For better or worse, we’re all living in Robert Oppenheimer’s world,” said Murphy in his acceptance speech. “I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers.”

As a film heavy with unease for human capacity for mass destruction, “Oppenheimer” also emerged – even over its partner in cultural phenomenon, “Barbie” – as a fittingly foreboding film for times rife with cataclysm, man-made or not.

Sunday’s Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles unfolded against the backdrop of wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and with a potentially momentous US election on the horizon.

The most closely watched contest of the Academy Awards went to Emma Stone, who won best best actress for her performance as Bella Baxter in “Poor Things.”

In what was seen as the night’s most nail-biting category, Stone won over Lily Gladstone of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone would have become the first Native American to win an Academy Award.

Instead, Oscar voters couldn’t resist the full-bodied extremes of Stone’s “Poor Things” performance.

The win for Stone, her second best actress Oscar following her 2017 win for “La La Land,” confirmed the 35-year-old as arguably the preeminent big-screen actress of her generation.

The list of women to win best actress two or more times is illustrious, including Katharine Hepburn, Frances McDormand, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis.

“Oh, boy, this is really overwhelming,” said Stone, who fought back tears and a broken dress during her speech.

Sunday’s broadcast had razzle dazzle, including a sprawling song-and-dance rendition of the “Barbie” hit “I’m Just Ken” by Ryan Gosling, with an assist on guitar by Slash and a sea of Kens who swarmed the stage.

But protest and politics intruded on an election-year Academy Awards, where demonstrations for Gaza raged outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Late during the show, host Jimmy Kimmel read a critical social media post from former president Donald Trump.

“Thank you for watching,” said Kimmel. “Isn’t it past your jail time?”

Nolan has had many movies in the Oscar mix before, including “Inception,” “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight.”

But his win Sunday for direction is the first Academy Award for the 53-year-old filmmaker. Addressing the crowd, Nolan noted cinema is just over a hundred years old.

“We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here,” said Nolan. “But to think that I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

Downey, nominated twice before (for “Chaplin” and “Tropic Thunder”), also notched his first Oscar, crowning the illustrious second act of his up-and-down career.

“I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the academy, in that order,” said Downey, the son of filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.

“Barbie,” last year’s biggest box-office hit with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales, ultimately won just one award: best song (sorry, Ken) for Billie Eilish and Finneas’ “What Was I Made For?” It’s their second Oscar, two years after winning for their James Bond theme, “No Time to Die.”

But after an awards season that stayed largely inside a Hollywood bubble, geopolitics played a prominent role.

Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza snarled traffic around the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, slowing stars’ arrival on the red carpet and turning the Oscar spotlight toward the ongoing conflict. Some protesters shouted “Shame!” at those trying to reach the awards.

Jonathan Glazer, the British filmmaker whose chilling Auschwitz drama “The Zone of Interest” won best international film, drew connections between the dehumanisation depicted in his film and today.

“Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims, this dehumanisation, how do we resist?”

The war in Gaza was on the minds of many attendees, as was the war in Ukraine. A year after “Navalny” won the same award, Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol,” a harrowing chronicle of the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, won best documentary.

The win, a first for The Associated Press and PBS’ “Frontline,” came as the war in Ukraine passed the two-year mark with no signs of abating.

Mstyslav Chernov, the Ukrainian filmmaker and AP journalist whose hometown was bombed the day he learned of his Oscar nomination, spoke forcefully about Russia’s invasion.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history,” said Chernov. “And I’m honored. Probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I’d never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this (for) Russia never attacking Ukraine.”

In the early going, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein-riff “Poor Things” ran away with three prizes for its sumptuous craft, including awards for production design, makeup and hairstyling and costume design.

Kimmel, hosting the ABC telecast for the fourth time, opened the awards with an monologue that emphasised Hollywood as “a union town” following 2023’s actor and writer strikes, drew a standing ovation for bringing out teamsters and behind-the-scenes workers — who are now entering their own labor negotiations.

The night’s first award was one of its most predictable: Da’Vine Joy Randolph for best supporting actress, for her performance in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” An emotional Randolph was accompanied to the stage by her “Holdovers” co-star Paul Giamatti.

“For so long I’ve always wanted to be different,” said Randolph. “And now I realise I just need to be myself.”

Though Randolph’s win was widely expected, an upset quickly followed. Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” won for best animated feature, a surprise over the slightly favored “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

Miyazaki, the 83-year-old Japanese anime master who came out of retirement to make “The Boy and the Heron,” didn’t attend the ceremony. He also didn’t attend the 2003 Oscars when his “Spirited Away” won the same award.

Best original screenplay went to “Anatomy of a Fall,” which, like “Barbie,” was penned by a couple: director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari. “This will help me through my midlife crisis, I think,” said Triet.

In adapted screenplay, where “Barbie” was nominated — and where some suspected Greta Gerwig would win after being overlooked for director — the Oscar went to Cord Jefferson, who wrote and directed his feature film debut “American Fiction.”

He pleaded for executives to take risks on young filmmakers like himself.

“Instead of making a $200 million movie, try making 20 $10 million movies,” said Jefferson, previously an award-winning TV writer.

The Oscars belonged largely to theatrical-first films. Though it came into the awards with 19 nominations, Netflix was a bit player.

Its lone win came for live action short: Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” based on the story by Roald Dahl.

Historically, having big movies in the mix for the Oscars’ top awards has been good for broadcast ratings.

The Academy Awards’ largest audience ever came when James Cameron’s “Titanic” swept the 1998 Oscars.

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French cinema has its #MeToo moment, sparking growing need for intimacy coordinators

A cascade of sexual violence allegations has rocked the French film industry in recent months, with actor Judith Godrèche leading the charge for a reckoning about gender-based abuse. Calls to safeguard actors on set are growing, as is the need for intimacy coordinators – a job that is yet to be officially recognised in France.

For the first time in history, an actor spoke to MPs in the French upper house of parliament about sexual violence and gender-based abuse in the film industry last week.

Addressing the Senate’s women’s rights committee, actor Judith Godrèche called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into gender-based violence and reprehended the “incestuous family” that is French cinema.

The actor-turned-filmmaker has become a bellwether for France’s #MeToo movement. She recently accused two filmmakers, Benoît Jacquot and Jacques Doillon, of sexually assaulting her as a teenager. Both men have denied the allegations.

In her speech, Godrèche also urged for a “more effective system of control” that would include a “neutral advisor” in shoots involving minors and an intimacy coordinator for sex scenes.

Her words have all the more clout given that there are only four intimacy coordinators currently working in the whole of France.

Breaking power dynamics

Ten years ago, intimacy coordinators were practically unheard of. Although theatre productions have used “intimacy choreographers” in the past, the job of “coordinator” got its first big break in the US in 2017, when a catalogue of sexual violence cases in the film industry were brought to light by the #MeToo movement.

Actors began demanding professional safeguards for their well-being on set and pushed for better regulation of intimate scenes, not only to ensure full consent but also to provide accountability in cases of gender-based violence.

Read more‘Wind of revolt’ sweeps French cinema in belated #MeToo reckoning

“In a 2017 TV series called The Deuce, one of the actors decided she needed more help discussing her boundaries and wanted more support when shooting intimate scenes. So on season two, HBO hired an intimacy coordinator,” says Paloma Garcia Martens, one of the few intimacy coordinators working in France. “And then it kind of spread.”

For scenes involving nudity, simulated sexual acts, sexual violence or assault, or any other form of sexual activity from kissing to fondling – intimacy coordinators act as mediators between the actors and the director.

Much like stunt coordinators, their role is to make sure actors are safe throughout the filming process and that scenes look believable. They act as “neutral advisors”, to use Godrèche’s words, and find a middle ground between in a relationship that is often fraught with power dynamics.

“Filmmakers sometimes have a way of directing actors that is a little violent,” says Pedro Labaig, a first assistant director based in Paris. He says that since intimacy coordinators are so uncommon in French film productions, it is often up to assistant directors to ensure the well-being of everyone on set.

“There have been times I’ve had to intervene and reassure the actors that I’m here, that they’re allowed to speak to the director and that it’s OK to tell them they need to do things differently,” he says. “It’s complicated though. The director is the artist and nobody wants to boss the artist around. But I can, to a certain extent.”

Once intimacy coordinators receive a script, they begin by clarifying the details of intimate scenes with the director. “Screenplays can often have vague phrases like ‘they make love passionately’,” says Marine Longuet, an assistant director and member of the feminist collective 50/50, which combats sexism in French cinema.

“Intimacy coordinators will ask the director what they mean by that phrase. Will the actor be naked? Will they be under a duvet? Do they kiss? Are their bodies covered in sweat? They help directors be more precise … And ensure that actors know exactly what they’ve signed up for,” says Longuet.  

They also work with the cast to define boundaries before scenes are rehearsed, carefully creating a safe space and open dialogue to ensure consent is given throughout the filming process.

“There is such a prevalence of trauma around sex … Most actors I’ve worked with have told me horror stories of intimate things that went wrong on set at some point in their lives,” Martens explains. “Very often, they are put in positions where they have to improvise or they haven’t had the time to go over [what their] boundaries [are]. They never even thought that they could actually consider their own boundaries. And they end up in situations that, although most people are well-meaning, lead to harm.”

Read moreGender-based violence in French universities: ‘I decided something had to change’

While filming, intimacy coordinators stay on set. If an actor changes their mind about a detail in a scene or begins to feel uncomfortable, they can flag this to the coordinator. And if a director wants to change something previously agreed upon, they must go through the coordinator and get approval from the actors before doing so.

“Mostly, it’s all about communication … If at one point the director’s idea isn’t aligned with someone’s boundaries, then we workshop solutions,” says Martens. “We connect with all the different departments [to inform them of boundaries], including costume and make-up to find ways of hiding specific body parts for example, and create closed set protocols to define which essential personnel is allowed during intimate scenes and who is allowed access to monitors, these kinds of things.”  

In the US and the UK, intimacy coordinators are much more prevalent than in France. The profession is widely recognised and regulated. US TV network HBO has required their presence on all of their productions with intimate scenes since 2018, a decision which helped popularise the job.

The US Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) published guidelines for intimacy coordinators in January 2020. And Directors UK, an organisation representing UK screen directors, published a quick guide in 2019.

To date, there are no official guidelines for intimacy coordinators in France. Nor is there an official training course for people to become certified intimacy coordinators.

A budding profession in France

According to a study published by the French National Joint Employment and Training Committee (CPNEF) in December 2023, there are only four intimacy coordinators in the whole of France, compared to 80 in the US.

All intimacy coordinators in France are women, but male intimacy coordinators do exist. David Thackeray from the UK worked on the fourth season of the TV series Sex Education, for example. 

The CPNEF recommends those interested in working as intimacy coordinators to go through SAG-AFTRA for vetted training courses, which all take place in English. The committee says it is currently working on creating a certified training course to encourage more people to take up the profession.

“I’m seeing more and more people who claim to be intimacy coordinators,” says Longuet worriedly. She fears that without proper training, self-defined intimacy coordinators could make matters worse. “We shouldn’t be adding to the risk.”

As of January 2025, the CPNEF plans on training six people a year to become intimacy coordinators.

“This job does not yet exist in France and is currently being defined in order to determine appropriate training,” the French organisation for assistant directors in fiction AFAR wrote on its website in 2020. “The director’s team is currently responsible for ensuring that ‘intimate’ scenes run smoothly.”

Although Martens works on French film productions, she was trained abroad. “I did several training courses in the US and Canada, and right now I’m in the process of updating my certification with Principal Intimacy Professionals,” Martens explains.

There is no requirement for intimacy coordinators on French film sets. Directors or production companies decide for themselves whether or not scenes in a film warrant their presence.

“Sometimes stunt coordinators are called on set for no reason. But I have never come across an intimacy coordinator,” says Labaig.

In the absence of regulations, it is up to the employer to protect the health and well-being of workers. Since producers or a production company are usually considered the employer on film sets, they must implement the appropriate prevention, information and training measures and see that what happens during working hours is in line with the French Labour Code.

Film actors and crews can also turn to “harassment officers” in cases of sexual assault.

“Harassment officers” are in charge of taking on and handling cases of gender-based violence.

According to the French Labour Code, it is mandatory for French companies with more than 250 employers to have a harassment officer, and each officer has to undergo mandatory training.

“Harassment officers are crew members who, on top of their job on set, are there to provide resources in case something happens. But until recently, they have rarely been mentioned, because productions often didn’t have human resources managers,” says Longuet. “Their role is to flag whenever a labour law has been breached and if they see any violence on set, they have a duty to report it.”

“But unlike intimacy coordinators, they are responsible for the entire team. Intimacy coordinators have a very specific role minding the relationship between directors and actors,” she says.

The tide is turning

Longuet explains the lack of intimacy coordinators in France as being twofold. Directors are afraid of losing autonomy, and France has a vision of cinema as a sacred artform rather than an industry.

“Directors often imagine intimacy coordinators to be some kind of moral police,” says Longuet. “And since it can take four, five, six years to make a film … it is so precious to them – they can be afraid that an intimacy coordinator will rob them of something.”

But for Longuet, this is simply a misconception of what the job actually entails. “When we see intimacy coordinators at work, it is clear that they don’t direct scenes. They prepare them.”

Then there is a broader cultural understanding of what cinema is. Longuet explains that in the US, cinema has always been seen as an industry. And where there is an industry, there are protocols. “In France, we have a different model. Since the New Wave, we have prioritised auteur cinema. The auteur is the director, and the director always has the final say, which is not always the case in the US or UK. The auteur writes, directs and generally isn’t asked to share their thoughts on the mise en scène (production),” she says.

“It’s as though directors have some kind of exclusive territory.”

Martens also mentions the fact that the US, Canada and the UK have very powerful actor’s unions. In France, “actors don’t have a lot of power, and a lot of times their agents don’t even support them because they are just chasing the next check”, she explains.

Although intimacy coordinators have yet to become an integral part of French film productions, the industry is seeing a monumental shift in behaviour. More and more women like Godrèche are speaking out about the inherent sexism and abuse they face working in cinema, paving the road for some light at the end of the tunnel.

“Of course, gender-based violence is still rampant, but both in my work with 50/50 and as an assistant director, I try to work from a perspective of solidarity and sisterhood. To me, that’s eminently precious,” says Longuet.

“When I meet colleagues on set, I feel a newfound sense of solidarity. Even if everything seems to be exploding around us, I am seeing change. I see kindness and goodwill around me. And that’s something to celebrate.”

The tide is turning for France’s handful of intimacy coordinators as well. “I’m getting a lot more calls from production companies,” Martens beams.

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Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix | FirstShowing.net

Hey Filmmakers – Stop Selling Your Audience Favorite Films to Netflix

by Alex Billington
February 20, 2024

Every month there’s another headline: Netflix buys that great film that everyone loved watching together for an excessive amount of money. Everyone loves to grumble about the headline, and talk about the film when this news hits, but will they actually watch it whenever it’s released on Netflix? Will Netflix even (properly) promote it? Will they even tell their ~260 million subscribers worldwide about the film when they debut it streaming on their platform? Why does Netflix love buying these great theatrical films and dumping them streaming without any fanfare or celebration or anything at all that connects with the audience experience? Why do care so little for the actual audience? I’m so tired of this routine. I’m not so foolish as to tell Netflix to change their ways – apparently they have no interest in this anyway. Instead, I think it’s up to filmmakers to realize that it isn’t a good idea to sell your movie to Netflix anymore – no matter how much money they want to throw at you. Choose a reputable theatrical distributor first, then let Netflix get the streaming rights later after it becomes an even bigger success. That is the best path to take when your film is a hit at festivals.

The debate about Netflix has been raging for years and years. Old Hollywood doesn’t really like them much, but they’re here to stay whether we like it or not. Netflix’s success means they can continue to do whatever they want and make money and be disruptive – no matter the complaints. However, are they actually being “disruptive” anymore? I don’t think so. They are just being annoying. And everyone knows it – to be frank. What has driven me to write this editorial now is watching Netflix buy three of the best films in the last six months that are three of the best theatrical experiences I’ve had at any film festival. It began with Netflix buying Richard Linklater’s Hit Man out of the 2023 Venice Film Festival – I have never seen an audience of curmudgeonly European critics in Venice go THIS wild during a screening. Pardon my French, but they lost their shit for the film, which was exhilarating. It continued a few months later with Netflix buying Greg Jardin’s It’s What’s Inside and Josh Greenbaum’s Will & Harper at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in January. Once again, two of the most rapturous and exciting audiences I’ve watched films with during any of the 18 years I’ve been going to this fest. That tangibly warm reception, the crowd going nuts, the applause, all of that really, truly matters with cinema. We need to stop ignoring this truth and pretending otherwise…

Netflix doesn’t seem to care anyway. There’s a quote every few months wherein some executive talks about how the theatrical experience is irrelevant or uninteresting to them as a brand. Most recently, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Bela Bajaria stated that Netflix will never do theatrical as “our members love films and they want to see films on Netflix.” Do they? Does she even know what she is saying here? I doubt it. In a big THR article from April 2023, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos offered another frustrating comment: “Driving folks to a theater is just not our business. Having big new desirable content drives value for our members and drives value for our business. There are no major changes in play.” What he seems to not understand is that the way you make your “content” (btw – fuck this word) into “big new desirable content” that drives value is by letting it play in theaters first. There is research on this that confirms it’s beneficial – the most successful streaming titles all opened first in theaters. Huh. Go figure… At what point will Netflix wake up and realize that it will actually benefit their business, and their pathetic “hours viewed” metric (because they’re afraid to release all the other statistics they collect – like how many folks actually watched a film from start to finish).

My rant, this article, or anyone’s rant, won’t change Netflix either. The company recently parted ways with Scott Stuber, who was running their film division for years. Apparently even Stuber was frustrated with their lack of interest in theatrical runs and despite arguing with Sarandos and other execs, they would not budge. In another recent THR article from January 2024, they included this nugget which is pretty telling:

“Even as the pipeline has slowed, Stuber has not been shy about his greatest frustration: Sarandos’ continuing refusal to offer any film a full theatrical release. Hope flickered when the streamer agreed to give Glass Onion, the 2022 Knives Out sequel, a broader run in cinemas than any previous Netflix film, putting it in about 600 theaters for a week. The movie grossed $16 million in that brief window and Stuber dreamed that Sarandos might develop a taste for cash.”

This falls in line with most of the way the extraordinarily stubborn corporate world works right now (see: David Zaslav at Warner Bros). If there’s someone smart on the team who might challenge archaic concepts and wants to make things better: get them out! Kick them out, lay them off, fire them, by whatever means necessary, don’t let anyone with think-outside-the-box “maybe we should try this” thinking in your company anymore! Instead, fill the roles with mindless drones & corporate robots who say exactly what the stubborn CEO wants to hear and never anything else (e.g. Bajaria). If Scott Stuber couldn’t change Sarandos’ mind, why do I (or anyone else) think they could instead? It’s a lost cause, unfortunately. And despite experiments like Glass Onion, or even the facade of Netflix buying classic one-screen cinemas (the Paris Theatre in NYC and the Egyptian in LA), they’re so obsessed with being anti-theatrical they have turned into an anti-cinema company. They’re so obsessed with their “content” and “hours viewed” data that they forgot to actually build awareness and excitement around their “content” to begin with. If they were any smarter, they might realize all of this is connected – and that showing films theatrically does not in any way hurt their numbers, it only boosts them. The proof is in the pudding! It will build them into a better brand. When will they realize this?

This brings me to the point I want to make here and now: filmmakers and sales agents and producers and creators need to stop selling their films to Netflix. Yes, it’s a scary prospect, rebellious (and perhaps a bit disruptive) to even say out loud, especially when they’re the highest bidder. But it’s a better move – for them, for the film, for the industry, for cinema itself. Greg Jardin and Richard Linklater shouldn’t have agreed to the deal that was made for their films It’s What’s Inside and Hit Man, respectively. They should’ve said “no” and waited it out, gone with someone else that would actually give their films a proper theatrical release. I’m sure it’s an irresistible pitch: we’ll give you tons of money and your film will also be available in over 190 countries around the world! We’re a big platform! Everyone will have the chance to watch it! Yes, sure, but there’s more to cinema than just that. And here is the kicker – if you play your cards right, and go with a proper theatrical release first, Netflix will eventually want the rights to play the film anyway. Of course they will! Especially once it becomes a huge theatrical hit and everyone is talking about it and telling their friends – maybe there is an even more lucrative deal in the cards if you wait it out. This is how things used to work. But that means resisting a tempting initial offer, and resisting the highest bidder to go with the right bidder.

I honestly don’t have a problem with Netflix in general, I just wish they’d do the right thing and partner with a theatrical distributor before putting it on Netflix because that will actually boost them and their brand and their films – but they just don’t get it. Let me reiterate that I really like Netflix as a platform – it is amazing that they can release a film and it will be viewable in over 190 countries around the world (without worrying about local distribution rights, which is a whole other industry problem to discuss another day). However, they’re not the right place to go if you really care about cinema, or if you want your film to have an impact in the world. Maybe one or two of Netflix’s big films every year go on to have a cultural impact because they have good PR teams handling their marketing & publicity. Most of their films don’t have this enthusiastic support. If a filmmaker sells their film to Netflix right out of a festival because they offer the most money – will that film ever be available on physical media, will it ever get a theatrical release down the line? Is that even possible with Netflix? What if you want to show it in theaters one day in the future – will Netflix allow that to happen? What if Netflix ever shuts down (unlikely, but let’s just go with the hypothetical) – how will you get your film back and how will you show it to your family & friends? Aside from harddrive copies, it’s not available on DVD or Blu-ray (or VHS) anywhere. Does it exist in the real world or only on their servers?

What I find particularly strange is that even when a filmmaker has a bad experience with Netflix, and even if they know they are bad at promoting films, they still end up selling to them anyway. This is exactly the case with Linklater. Netflix released his latest rotoscoped film Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood in April 2022 and told pretty much no one it was out. Most people didn’t even know it was released. Linklater later expressed frustration in an interview: “Then one day it showed up on a platform with no fanfare. It’s always kind of sad when you realize even your friends don’t know your film is out. To me, if anything good happens from this stage on, it’s just lucky.” Yeah that is the same for most films dumped onto Netflix. I don’t buy the claim that Linklater had nothing to do with Hit Man selling in Venice and instead it apparently was entirely handled entirely by sales agents & producers. Even if it that is the case, why could he not express a very strong opinion and do everything to resist selling to Netflix if he isn’t happy with how they handled his last film. Again, it’s more important that a good film finds an audience eventually, and that’s best achieved by a distributor believing in their stellar “content” and supporting it fully (with proper marketing and publicity).

For those who believe there is still importance in what Netflix does for cinema and how they support indie films and filmmakers who usually don’t get this kind of exposure, that has recently been mostly debunked by a study with Netflix connecting with Africa. A report was recently published from Nigeria and the Nollywood movement, which Netflix stepped into and tried to participate in by sponsoring and investing in filmmakers and the local industry. Good thing to do, right? While it did achieve some success, it didn’t have much of an impact overall, mostly because Netflix doesn’t really know how to actually support cinema and the culture. “On the critical streaming side, the report suggests that Netflix in Nigeria might not be fully tapping into its potential market, given low subscriber numbers relative to population.” Why, exactly? Their findings: “[It] critiques the reliance on streaming rankings as mere marketing tools rather than actionable insights that could drive the industry forward. It proposes using rankings as a prompt for better conversations on audience preferences and using these metrics alongside other data points to develop and market Nollywood projects more effectively.” Almost as if Netflix doesn’t really care about anything except their own internal “hours viewed” numbers and not the industry it’s supposed to be involved with & the artists that inhabit it…

The film industry is in a bad place right now, yet the film industry doesn’t like to admit this or talk about it. They want business to proceed as usual… They want to focus on making money. For much of the industry, that means if Netflix is going to pay the most for a movie, it’s a “good” thing. It’s time that we challenge this belief and confront the frustrating reality that Netflix releasing these audience favorite films is actually quite bad for cinema and for the industry overall (and audiences, even if they don’t quite understand it). Simply selling a film for tons of money is not an objectively healthy thing for the film industry, despite what many profit-driven minds think. Sundance is infamous for many films selling for high prices and failing after the festival (yes, from a few theatrical distributors, but this is a much different conversation). I’m a huge fan of Hit Man and Will & Harper and It’s What’s Inside and I guarantee at least one of (if not all of) these films will be released without much pomp & circumstance. They’ll drop it on Netflix, send a few emails out, buy a few billboards in Los Angeles, and call it a day. Netflix needs to evolve and innovate and disrupt again. That means disrupting the theatrical world by participating in theatrical distribution. Apple knows how to do this correctly with Apple TV films. I hope Netflix ends up realizing their mistake… Until then, filmmakers shouldn’t sell their hit films to this streaming company until they can actually prove they care about cinema.

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‘Oppenheimer’ sweeps BAFTAs, winning best film, director, actor awards

Atom bomb epic “Oppenheimer” won seven prizes, including best picture, director and actor, at the 77th British Academy Film Awards on Sunday, cementing its front-runner status for the Oscars next month.

 

Gothic fantasia “Poor Things” took five prizes and Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” won three.

Christopher Nolan won his first best director BAFTA for “Oppenheimer,” and Cillian Murphy won the best actor prize for playing physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.

Murphy said he was grateful to play such a “colossally knotty, complex character.”

Emma Stone was named best actress for playing the wild and spirited Bella Baxter in “Poor Things,” a steampunk-style visual extravaganza that won prizes for visual effects, production design, costume design, and makeup and hair.

“Oppenheimer” had a field-leading 13 nominations, but missed out on the record of nine trophies, set in 1971 by “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

It won the best film race against “Poor Things,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Holdovers.” “Oppenheimer” also won trophies for editing, cinematography and musical score, as well as the best supporting actor prize for Robert Downey Jr.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph was named best supporting actress for playing a boarding school cook in “The Holdovers” and said she felt a “responsibility I don’t take lightly” to tell the stories of underrepresented people like her character Mary.

“Oppenheimer” faced stiff competition in what was widely considered a vintage year for cinema and an awards season energized by the end of actors’ and writers’ strikes that shut down Hollywood for months. 

“The Zone of Interest” — a British-produced film shot in Poland with a largely German cast — was named both best British film and best film not in English — a first — and also took the prize for its sound, which has been described as the real star of the film.

Jonathan Glazer’s unsettling drama takes place in a family home just outside the walls of the Auschwitz death camp, whose horrors are heard and hinted at, rather than seen.

“Walls aren’t new from before or since the Holocaust, and it seems stark right now that we should care about innocent people being killed in Gaza or Yemen or Mariupol or Israel,” producer James Wilson said. “Thank you for recognizing a film that asks us to think in those spaces.”

Ukraine war documentary “20 Days in Mariupol,” produced by The Associated Press and PBS “Frontline,” won the prize for best documentary.

“This is not about us,” said filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov, who captured the harrowing reality of life in the besieged city with an AP team. “This is about Ukraine, about the people of Mariupol.”

Chernov said the story of the city and its fall into Russian occupation “is a symbol of struggle and a symbol of faith. Thank you for empowering our voice and let’s just keep fighting.”

The awards ceremony, hosted by “Doctor Who” star David Tennant — who entered wearing a kilt and sequined top while carrying a dog named Bark Ruffalo — was a glitzy, British-accented appetizer for Hollywood’s Academy Awards, closely watched for hints about who might win at the Oscars on March 10.

The prize for original screenplay, went to French courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall.” The film about a woman on trial over the death of her husband was written by director Justine Triet and her partner, Arthur Harari.

“It’s a fiction, and we are reasonably fine,” Triet joked.

Cord Jefferson won the adapted screenplay prize for the satirical “American Fiction,” about the struggles of an African-American novelist

Jefferson said he hoped the success of the movie “maybe changes the minds of the people who are in charge of greenlighting films and TV shows, allows them to be less risk-averse.”

Historical epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” had nine nominations for the awards, officially called the EE BAFTA Film Awards, but went home empty-handed.

There also was disappointment for Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro,” which had seven nominations but won no awards. Neither did grief-flecked love story “All of Us Strangers” with six nominations, and barbed class-war dramedy “Saltburn,” with five. 

“Barbie,” one half of 2023’s “Barbenheimer” box office juggernaut and the year’s top-grossing film, also went home empty-handed from five nominations. “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig failed to get a directing nomination for either the BAFTAs or the Oscars, in what was seen by many as a major snub.

Britain’s film academy introduced changes to increase the awards’ diversity in 2020, when no women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white. However, Triet was the only woman among this year’s six best-director nominees. 

The Rising Star award, the only category decided by public vote, went to Mia McKenna-Bruce, star of “How to Have Sex.”

Before the ceremony, nominees, including Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt, Rosamund Pike, Ryan Gosling and Ayo Edebiri all walked the red carpet at London’s Royal Festival Hall, along with presenters Andrew Scott, Cate Blanchett, Idirs Elba and David Beckham.

Guest of honor was Prince William, in his role as president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He arrived without his wife, Kate, who is recovering from abdominal surgery last month.

The ceremony included musical performances by “Ted Lasso” star Hannah Waddingham, singing “Time After Time,” and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, singing her 2001 hit “Murder on the Dancefloor,” which shot back up the charts after featuring in “Saltburn.”

Film curator June Givanni, founder of the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive, was honored for outstanding British contribution to cinema, while actress Samantha Morton received the academy’s highest honor, the BAFTA Fellowship.

Morton, who grew up in foster care and children’s homes, said that “representation matters.”

“The stories we tell, they have the power to change people’s lives,” she said. “Film changed my life, it transformed me, and it led me here today.

“I dedicate this award to every child in care, or who has been in care and who didn’t survive.”

(AP)

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‘Wind of revolt’ sweeps French cinema in belated #MeToo reckoning

French cinema has been rocked by a new wave of allegations of child rape and sexual assault targeting household names in the industry, bolstering talk of a long-awaited breakthrough for the #MeToo movement in France following a nationwide controversy over Gérard Depardieu. The latest accusations shine a stark light on the culture of impunity that prevailed in a country where auteur worship has long served as a cover for abuse.

French cinema’s #MeToo breakthrough has been heralded, and pushed back, often enough to warrant caution – but there are signs the ground is finally shifting, more than six years after cinema’s feminist revolution kicked off across the Atlantic. 

In 2017, at the dawn of the #MeToo era, French actor Judith Godrèche was among the first to speak out against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, telling the New York Times that the film producer assaulted her in a hotel at the Cannes Film Festival two decades earlier, when she was 24. 

Years later, the actor-turned-filmmaker is at the heart of bombshell allegations that are writing a new chapter in France’s troubled reckoning with sex abuse in the film industry. 

French prosecutors opened an investigation last week after Godrèche, now 51, said she was groomed and raped by filmmaker Benoît Jacquot during a “predatory” relationship that started when she was 14 and he was 39.  

Godrèche, who recently delivered the semi-autobiographical series “Icon of French cinema”, was a child actor when she met Jacquot at a casting call for his movie “Les Mendiants” (The Beggars). She told French daily Le Monde she remained “in his grip” for the following six years, in full sight of the film industry and the media. 

“It’s a story similar to those of children who are kidnapped and grow up without seeing the world, and who cannot think ill of their captor,” Godrèche wrote in a statement for the police juvenile protection unit, quoted by the newspaper.  


Judith Godrèche pictured in 1992, the year she broke off her six-year relationship with Benoît Jacquot. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

Paris prosecutors said they were investigating several potential offences including rape of a minor committed by a person in authority, domestic violence and sexual assault. They said they would also investigate a complaint she filed against another prominent filmmaker, Jacques Doillon, whom she accused of sexually abusing her when she was 15. 

Jacquot, one of France’s best known independent directors, told Le Monde he denied all allegations. The 77-year-old said: “It was me, without irony, who was under her spell for six years.” 

Doillon, whose partner at the time of the alleged abuse was the late Jane Birkin, also denied the accusations against him – including claims of sexual assault voiced in the media by actors Isild Le Besco and Anna Mouglalis in the wake of Godrèche’s allegations. “That Judith Godrèche and other women through her have wish to denounce a system, an era, a society, is courageous, commendable and necessary,” Doillon, 79, wrote in a statement to AFP. He added: “But the justness of the cause does not authorise arbitrary denunciations, false accusations and lies.” 


The allegations levelled at two household names in French film have further rattled an industry already under fire for having shrugged off sexism and sexual abuse for decades. Godrèche’s accusations relate to the period 1986-1992, meaning they are unlikely to lead to prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired. The authorities’ decision to investigate them nonetheless suggests a new willingness to shed light on sexual abuse in the arts. 

Two days after Godrèche filed her complaints, prosecutors said they had requested a trial for 59-year-old film director Christophe Ruggia, who has been charged with sexually assaulting actor Adèle Haenel when she was a minor. It will be up to magistrates to decide whether to press ahead with a trial. 

Haenel, now 34, lodged a complaint against Ruggia in 2020, accusing him of subjecting her to “constant sexual harassment” from the age of 12 to 15. Later that year, she stormed out of the César Awards ceremony, the French equivalent of the Oscars, when the Best Director award was handed to veteran filmmaker Roman Polanski, the target of multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors. 

The walkout made her an early champion of the #MeToo movement in France. But her decision three years later, at the height of her fame, to quit the industry over its enduring “complacency” towards sex abuse was seen by many feminist campaigners as evidence of French resistance to change. 

A ‘cover’ for abuse 

French cinema’s troubled relationship with the #MeToo movement stems from traits specific to the film industry and to France itself, said Bérénice Hamidi, a sociologist of gender and the arts at the Université Lumière in Lyon. 

“The arts, and film in particular, are overexposed to sexist and sexual violence, because they are professions that feel apart from society and its rules, in which selection and seduction are very closely intertwined, and in which job insecurity puts many young women in a position of vulnerability,” she said. 

“But there is also a culture that is very French in its veneration of artists and the creative process, which excuses all behaviour,” Hamidi added. “There’s this idea that in order to create you have to be in a transgressive relationship with social norms. In this scale of values, women’s lives count for nothing compared to genius and talent. Excusing the behaviour of aggressive artists is specific to France.” 

French critics of the #MeToo movement have often come from cinema itself, inspired by an entrenched suspicion of American puritanical campaigns and witch-hunts. Some have accused the movement of being fuelled by a contempt for men and the art of seduction. 

In 2018, film icon Catherine Deneuve was among 100 French women who signed a newspaper column accusing the #MeToo campaign of going too far. “We defend a right to pester, which is vital to sexual freedom,” they said. 

It’s a theme Jacquot picked up in his defence last week, lamenting the importation from the US of a “frightening neo-Puritanism”. He suggested his relationship with Godrèche carried an interest for both parties, telling Le Monde: “She wanted to be an actress, she had a filmmaker on hand.” 

The newspaper has exhumed a host of past quotes by Jacquot that, in hindsight, appear to capture much of what the #MeToo movement has denounced. 

In a 2006 interview with arts weekly Les Inrockuptibles, he spoke of a tacit “pact” underpinning his collaboration with Godrèche in his 1990 movie “La Désenchantée” (The Disenchanted), saying: “If I give her the film, she gives herself completely in return. Which can be understood in any sense you like.” 

Nine years later, he told the left-leaning newspaper Libération: “My work as a filmmaker consists of pushing an actress to cross a threshold. Meeting her, talking to her, directing her, separating from her and then finding her again: the best way to do all that is to be in the same bed.” 

In an Instagram post in early January, Godrèche said she decided to name Jacquot after coming across a 2011 documentary in which he described cinema as a “sort of cover” for illicit behaviour. He spoke of his relationship with the then child actress as a form of “transgression” that brought him “a degree of admiration” in the “small world of cinema”. 

Jacquot told Le Monde last week he regretted those words, describing them as arrogant banter. 

French actor Judith Godrèche has accused director Benoit Jacquot of raping her when she was 14 years old.
French actor Judith Godrèche has accused director Benoît Jacquot of raping her when she was 14. He says theirs was a “loving relationship”. © FRANCE 24 screengrab

Godrèche recently moved back to France after a 10-year stint in New York, motivated in part by her desire to get away from the “small world” of French film. Her hit series “Icon of French cinema” tells the story of a French film star’s return to Paris after a decade in Hollywood. Through flashbacks, it revisits the abuse she endured as a 14-year-old child actress groomed by a leading French director. 

Its streaming release in late December came on the heels of the hugely successful theatrical launch of Vanessa Filho’s “Le Consentement”, based on the eponymous 2019 book by Vanessa Springora, a memoir of having been sexually abused from the age of 14 by a celebrated writer who was more than three times her age. Gabriel Matzneff, the accused writer who made no secret of his preference for minors, including preteens, is being investigated for rape, now aged 87. 

In an interview with the Guardian last month, Godrèche stressed the importance of speaking out about the grooming of teenagers by older men in positions of authority. 

“These people usually come to you as protectors. They become a parental figure,” she said, noting that the French film industry was still protecting powerful men and that a form of omerta remained prevalent. She added: “I’m not here to carry out a witch-hunt, but you might expect a little compassion.” 

Fall of the Ogre 

Talk of powerful men turning a blind eye to allegations of abuse, or even siding with purported aggressors, became the subject of a nationwide controversy in late December when French President Emmanuel Macron condemned a “manhunt” targeting French film icon Gérard Depardieu

The world-famous actor has been under formal investigation for rape since 2020 and has been accused of rape or sexual assault by a dozen other women – allegations he denies. His reputation took a further hit in December when public broadcaster France Télévision ran a documentary detailing his history of sexual abuse allegations and featuring interviews with several of his accusers. Entitled “Fall of the Ogre”, the documentary featured a segment filmed in North Korea in which the 75-year-old actor is seen making crude, sexual and misogynistic jokes, including one referring to a child riding a pony. 

In the weeks that followed, Depardieu’s wax statue was removed from the Musée Grevin in Paris, Canada’s Quebec region stripped him of its top honour, and Swiss public broadcaster RTS said it was halting the broadcast of films in which he plays a leading role.  The backlash sparked concern in France that the star of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and some 200 other titles was being cancelled outright. 

Appearing on a television talk show on December 20, Macron rebuked his then Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak – who has since been fired – for suggesting Depardieu might be stripped of his Légion d’honneur, France’s highest decoration. 

“He’s an immense actor, a genius of his art,” Macron said in defence of Depardieu, stressing that the Légion d’honneur was not a “moral” order. He added: “I say it as president and as a citizen, he makes France proud.” 

In his remarks, Macron also suggested the documentary’s North Korea segment might have been edited in a misleading way, though France Télévisions later said it was authenticated by a bailiff who viewed the raw footage.  

The president’s words drew outrage from film workers, rights groups and opposition politicians. Generation.s Feministe, a feminist collective, said they were “an insult” to all women who had suffered sexual violence. Macron’s remarks were “not just scandalous but also dangerous”, added the #NousToutes feminist group.  

Stepping into the fray, his predecessor François Hollande said he was “not proud of Gérard Depardieu”. He also berated the president over his failure to spare a word for the film star’s alleged victims. 

Cult of the auteur 

According to Geneviève Sellier, a professor of film studies at the Université Montaigne in Bordeaux, Macron’s words were indicative of a French “cult of the auteur” that has long been used to excuse or cover up reprehensible behaviour. 

“The cult of the auteur places artistic genius – regarded as necessarily male – above the law,” she explains. “This French tradition explains in part why the country remains largely blind to the realities of male domination and abuse.”

Sellier said auteur veneration underpinned a controversial petition that was published on Christmas Day in the right-wing daily Le Figaro, denouncing a “lynching of Depardieu”, signed by dozens of friends and colleagues of the actor. They included former French first lady and singer Carla Bruni, British actor Charlotte Rampling and Depardieu’s former partner, actor Carole Bouquet.  

“When Gérard Depardieu is targeted this way, it is the art (of cinema) that is being attacked,” read the text, warning against a campaign to “erase” Depardieu. “Depriving ourselves of this immense actor would be a tragedy, a defeat. The death of the art. Our art.” 

Hamidi said the petition reflected a “form of blurring between reality and fiction” that is used to shield artists from scrutiny of their behaviour. “There’s a form of transfiguration at play,” she said. “It’s as if punishing Depardieu meant depriving us of the Cyrano he played.” She added: “You often hear people say of Depardieu that he is larger than life, in the sense that he is also too big for the rules that apply to common mortals, and that those rules therefore should not apply to him.” 

French actor Gérard Depardieu, pictured at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, has faced a string of allegations of rape and sexual assault in recent years.
French actor Gérard Depardieu, pictured at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, has faced a string of allegations of rape and sexual assault in recent years. © Axel Schmidt, AP

The text in support of Depardieu swiftly triggered a flurry of counter-petitions, whose signatories were markedly younger of age.  

The Figaro petition “is a sinister and perfect illustration of an old world that refuses to let things change”, read an open letter signed by more than 600 artists, arguing that the text in support of Depardieu “spat in the face” of his accusers. 

“Art is not a totem of impunity,” read another letter published by Libération. “We are not attacking the art we hold dear: on the contrary, we want to protect it, firmly refusing to use it as a pretext for abuse of power, harassment or sexual violence.” 

As the backlash intensified, several signatories of the original petition scrambled to distance themselves from the text, particularly once it emerged it had been written by a little-known actor and writer for the ultra-conservative magazine Causeur, described as close to far-right pundit and former presidential candidate Éric Zemmour.  

Patrice Leconte, who directed Depardieu in the recent “Maigret” (2022), said he had been a “fool” to sign the petition without checking who wrote it, while reiterating his dismay at the “media lynching” the film star was being subjected to. Roberto Alagna, the operatic tenor, suggested in an Instagram post that he had been “tricked” into signing a petition he “hadn’t even read”.  

Others, like actor and stage director Jacques Weber, expressed greater contrition.  

“Yes, I did sign, forgetting the victims and the fate of thousands of women around the world who are suffering from a state of affairs that has been accepted for too long,” Weber wrote in an article published by Mediapart, under the headline, “Guilty”. He added: “My signature was another rape.” 

France’s rayonnement 

The age gap exposed by the competing petitions has revived talk of a generational divide in attitudes towards sexual misconduct in the arts – a divide previously highlighted by the controversial open letter published in 2018 by Deneuve and her peers.  

“There’s a generation that still doesn’t understand this societal evolution,” Muriel Reus, vice president of #MeTooMedia, which campaigns against sexism and sexual misconduct in the media, told France Info radio at the height of the Depardieu controversy.  

This generational divide conceals mechanisms of social domination that are particularly pervasive in the arts, argued Sellier. 

“In film, powerful men tend to be older, while female victims are younger, poorer and in more vulnerable jobs,” she said. Those women who did speak out, including among older generations, were simply ignored in the past, she added. 

Sophie Marceau, one of France’s best-known actors, told Paris Match weekly magazine in December that Depardieu was “rude and inappropriate” when they worked together on the set of “Police” in 1985. Marceau, 57, said she publicly denounced his behaviour at the time, which she described as “unbearable”, adding: “many people turned on me, trying to make it look like I was being a nuisance”.   

Marceau said part of the reason he got away with it was that he targeted women with low-level jobs on set, not the stars.  

Days later, fellow actress Isabelle Carré denounced a culture of impunity in French cinema and of sexualising young girls in an op-ed piece in women’s magazine Elle. A prominent actress with dozens of films to her name, Carré, 52, said she had been the object of unwanted sexual attention since she was 11. Regarding Depardieu, she wrote: “Isn’t it astounding that it took 50 years to point out to an actor that his behaviour towards female assistants, dressers and co-actors is not acceptable?”  

Protesters hold a placard reading
Protesters hold a placard reading “No producers for rapists” during a demonstration outside a theatre in Bordeaux where Gérard Depardieu is due to perform on May 24, 2023. © Romain Perrocheau, AFP

On Monday, members of the Société des réalisatrices et réalisateurs de films (SRF), an organisation representing French filmmakers, issued a statement in support of Godrèche and others who have spoken out in recent days – and expressing dismay at the industry’s habit of turning a blind eye to abuse.  

“We firmly denounce the confusion between creative desire and sexual enslavement, which has been ideologically encouraged by a large part of our professional environment for decades,” they wrote. “We are also struck by the silence of those who witnessed it then and now.”   

The next day, the writer and film critic Hélène Frappat hailed a “wind of revolt blowing across France”, praising Godrèche for having “broken the spell” that holds young girls in silence. In an op-ed in Le Monde, Frappat wrote: “The girls are rising up! It seems our culturally reactionary country, this time, will not be able to muzzle them.”  

Welcoming the onset of a “French #MeToo” in an interview with France Inter radio last month, actor Laure Calamy praised her colleagues who dared to take on powerful men. She said their courage contrasted with Macron’s support for Depardieu, which she likened to a “slap in their face”.   

At stake in this tussle is the very credibility of France and its film industry, Hamidi argued, highlighting a French “backwardness” on the issue. She said: “Statements such as Macron’s project a catastrophic image abroad, giving the impression that we are still in Ancien Régime France, in which the powerful can take advantage of women.”  

Far from preserving France’s cherished cultural rayonnement (influence), the president’s words achieved the very opposite, Sellier added: “It is precisely this blindness to sexist violence that is undermining France’s cultural influence.” 

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Berlinale 2024 Begins – What Will the Big Discoveries Be This Year? | FirstShowing.net

Berlinale 2024 Begins – What Will the Big Discoveries Be This Year?

by Alex Billington
February 15, 2024

Wir sind wieder da für mehr Kino. The 2024 Berlin Film Festival, known locally as Berlinale celebrating its 74th year, kicks off today in the capital city of Germany. With every year, the festival continues to fade further & further into irrelevance (read my report from last year), with an unimpressive line-up and staunch refusal to make any changes to the way the festival runs. Most major film festivals nowadays need to evolve, adapt, update and improve in so many ways right now. Berlinale is one of the most defiant, standing firm in its badly positioned slot in February (right after Sundance, and just before SXSW & Cannes) focusing on so many bleak and boring films. Not much ever makes it out of his festival anymore… Much like Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, Berlinale is becoming a fest where films go to be forgotten, where they have one big premiere and then are never get talked about again. Many of my colleagues get really grumpy when they hear me say this, but it’s how I feel about this festival and their film selection. But I am always watching new films anyway – hoping for a few discoveries. There’s always a few surprises to be found in any fest’s line-up.

As a participant in film criticism, I do believe it’s important to always be honest and clear when offering criticism – including criticizing a festival and the films they program. Berlinale is a big festival with a big ego that has lost its way, though they do try every year to feature some good films. And I’m happy to encounter them! I do want this festival to program better films again. At the 2023 Berlin Film Festival last year, there were a handful of stand-out discoveries from the selection: Femme (watch the trailer) which opens soon in the US; The Teacher’s Lounge (watch the trailer) which ended up being nominated for an Oscar this year – rightfully so; Samsara (watch the trailer) which many cinephiles describe as an incomparable cinematic experience, Tótem (watch the trailer) one of the best films about family from Mexico; BlackBerry (watch the trailer) the amusing Canadian tech story with Jay Baruchel & Glenn Howerton, and Past Lives (which really is a Sundance film anyway). I’d also name Kiss the Future, the U2 + Sarajevo doc that I really loved (watch the trailer), but my press screening of this was entirely empty (it literally was only me and one other guy) and no one else has talked about it since then. Sadly another (good but) forgotten film from Berlinale…

So what will be the worthwhile discoveries from the 2024 festival? Will there at least be another 3 or 4 great films playing here? Much of the Berlinale 2024 is filled with plenty of Sundance discoveries (and a few from 2023 festivals as well), which is what I recommended in my article from last year anyway. Bring in good films even if they aren’t world premieres! My favorite film from Sundance 2024, The Outrun, is also in the Berlinale line-up. Along with other important Sundance premieres including A Different Man, Love Lies Bleeding, Sasquatch Sunset (watch the trailer), Between the Temples, I Saw the TV Glow, Brief History of a Family, and Reinas. All of these are good films and I am glad they’re showing up at both fests. In the “weird” realm, I’m curious about The Box Man, and Cuckoo (a new supernatural film from the German director of Luz previously). There’s also this very strange Netflix sci-fi film Spaceman starring Adam Sandler and a giant space spider voiced by Paul Dano. Sure, why not. In the Main Competition, Black Tea (watch the trailer) and La Cocina are high on the list of my most anticipated premieres to see. Pepe, the film about a hippopotamus, also sounds like good fun. As usual, the best discoveries are often surprises.

Despite my frustration with this festival and its bland selection the past few years, there are some films that I am happy to have discovered here. Some of my other favorite films from the last few years include Mogul Mowgli with Riz Ahmed, the exhilarating Jóhann Jóhannsson documentary feature Last and First Men, the German family drama System Crasher (from the same director as The Outrun), the Chilly Gonzales music biopic doc Shut Up and Play the Piano, the Norwegian comedy Ninjababy, and the super sweet Language Lessons with Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales (here’s my interview with the two of them). I just really miss the days when films like Snowpiercer and The Grand Budapest Hotel were premiering at Berlinale. But those days are over, that era of this festival is long gone. Next year, a brand new director will be taking over Berlinale – the former head of the London Film Festival, named Tricia Tuttle, will begin her next era running this fest instead. What changes will she make? Or will she not change anything? How will she steer this ship through troubled waters? Only time will tell… The festival doesn’t need to show big Hollywood movies, that isn’t the right choice either, but it does need to figure out how to be relevant again.

For now – it’s time to start watching while keeping an eye on the festival buzz. The best part about Berlinale is how accessible & open this festival is. Anyone can buy tickets for screenings in the city at various cinema venues all over. They borrow many of the city’s best movie theaters (Zoo Palast 1, Cinemaxx, Colosseum) to show festival films during these two weeks and they encourage locals to buy some tickets to see something interesting & different. This is what makes Berlinale great! It’s a festival for everyone! The tickets are still affordable (15€ for most, 18€ for Palast premieres – more info here) so that you can wander in to something that might just blow your mind. Or it might bore you so much you get a nice nap. You never know! I’ve been to both of these kind of films at the festival, and I’ve experienced everything here: empty cinemas, sold out shows, snoring audience members, rapturous crowds. It’s what makes big city festivals so much fun. My goal as a cinephile is still the same: be on the lookout for the best of the best – the real breakouts, go to as many interesting screenings as I can, and engage in conversations with colleagues as much as possible. Viel Spaß.

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From sledgehammers to milking robots: French film charts half a century on a dairy farm

Gilles Perret’s “La Ferme des Bertrand” is something of a rarity in French film: a tale of rural success for three generations of a family of dairy farmers. Its release next week has acquired added resonance as farmers across France rise up in protest at taxes, costs and regulations they say are killing their livelihoods.

The plight of France’s farmers is a well-trodden path in French cinema, typically focusing on the stricken family businesses that modern life has left by the wayside.

In his seminal trilogy “Profils paysans”, Raymond Depardon followed octogenarian farmers and herdsmen scraping a living in remote areas blighted by the rural exodus. Others have investigated the damage wrought by intensive farming and the agrochemical industry, with their trail of livelihoods wrecked and family farms pushed into bankruptcy.

French farmers now number fewer than half a million, a fraction of their postwar total. But their fading world still occupies an outsized place in the national psyche, infused with nostalgia for France’s rural past and tinged with guilt at the hardship experienced by so many. 

Read moreFewer, older, poorer: France’s farming crisis in numbers

La Ferme des Bertrand”, which opens in French cinemas next week, tells a different story: that of a dairy farm’s successful transition to modernity under three generations of the same family.

Its aim is not to belittle or ignore the struggle of others, says Perret, who wrote the film with his partner Marion Richoux, but to showcase an agriculture that is both viable and appealing, and deeply respectful of the environment.

Economic success, human failure

Early on in the film, we meet a trio of shirtless brothers smashing stones with sledgehammers to build the foundation of their future milking parlour. Their lean, muscular bodies hint at an austere life of back-breaking toil and frugality.

The black-and-white footage is taken from a 1972 documentary shot by France’s national broadcaster in the Alpine hamlet where Perret grew up, a few steps away from the dairy farm run by the Bertrand brothers. 

Twenty-five years later, Perret borrowed a camera to film the same trio as they prepared to pass the farm on to their nephew and his wife. He resumed filming another quarter of a century later, with a third generation of Bertrands now at the helm, before merging the three epochs into a fascinating chronicle of half a century of rural resilience and adaptation.

The Bertrand brothers in a 1972 documentary by Marcel Trillat. © ORTF

When they pass the baton in 1997, the three brothers leave behind a healthy business but at a steep cost: all three have remained bachelors, casting aside their personal aspirations to stay tied to their land and cattle throughout a lifetime of personal sacrifice.

As the mustachioed André, the film’s standout character, says in a sobering reflection, their story is one of “economic success and human failure”.

It takes a third generation of the Bertrand family to finally strike a healthier balance between work and family life, aided by an impressive array of machines that has changed the nature of their work beyond recognition.

“The youngsters barely do any manual work nowadays,” mutters André, hunched over his stick, still soldiering on in the film’s most recent footage. “But they sure know a thing or two about machines.”

A protected bubble

André and his brothers provide many of the film’s most endearing scenes, whether expertly wielding a sickle, massaging a chicken, or calling each of their one hundred cows by name.

But Perret’s film does not indulge in nostalgia for a bygone era. It opens with a shot of a brand-new milking machine, which the retiring Hélène, from the second generation of the Bertrand family, jokingly introduces as her “replacement” – one that will make her son’s work less tiring and repetitive.

Hélène (left), her son Marc (right) and her son-in-law Alex: generations two and three of the Bertrand family.
Hélène (left), her son Marc (right) and her son-in-law Alex: generations two and three of the Bertrand family. © Laurent Cousin

The intent is to provoke viewers, says Perret, introducing a form of farming that is in step with society and with the technological evolutions that are shaping our world.

“In many other sectors, mechanisation has led to job losses and a deterioration in working conditions,” he says. “In this case, it appears robots can be of great help to humans, taking over some of the most exhausting tasks in a profession that requires around-the-clock presence, 365 days a year.”

For all the talk of success, the film makes no secret of the physical toll on the Bertrands. André’s two brothers died just weeks into retirement. Their nephew only made it to 50, leaving Hélène with three children and a farm to run.

The fact that the farm powered on owes much to its privileged location in the protected cheesemaking region of Haute-Savoie, home to Reblochon cheese. 

The designation means their milk is sold at twice the price of milk from the plains or industrial farms. They effectively operate in a bubble, protected from the market forces that leave countless other farmers at the mercy of volatile prices they have no control over. 

Toiling with a purpose

In the 25 years since he first filmed the farm, Perret has built up a large body of socially-minded work, sometimes teaming up with the muckraking journalist-turned-politician François Ruffin to denounce the worst effects of unbridled capitalism. His films focus on the human impact of economic and societal transformations, shining a light on spaces of resistance to the coercive forces of globalised economies.

He says growing up alongside the Bertrand family has helped shape his outlook and his interests.

“In all my films I’ve tried to question our relationship to work, the meaning of what we do, how we can improve conditions, and what can be done to preserve our environment,” he says. “These are all things that are at the heart of their lives.”

André's brother Patrick wields his scythe in footage from 1997.
André’s brother Patrick wields his scythe in footage from 1997. © Gilles Perret

In order to qualify for the Reblochon label, the farm is bound to strict guidelines which rule out non-natural foods for the cattle and require the animals to be out grazing in the mountain pastures for a minimum of 150 days a year. 

“It doesn’t quite qualify as organic farming, but it comes very close,” says Perret, stressing the Bertrands’ role in shaping and preserving the pristine environment around the hamlet he still lives in – both a gift of nature and a legacy of their painstaking labour.

“The money we make is for living,” says one of the brothers midway through the film as he soaks in the view, resting on his scythe after a day of toil. “The real satisfaction comes from keeping our nature clean and healthy.”

“La Ferme des Bertrand” (89min) opens in French cinemas on Wednesday, January 31.

France’s farming protests

French farmers have blocked roads, junctions and motorways in protest at pay, low food prices and environmental rules they say are ruining their livelihoods, in an echo of protests taking place in other EU countries.

With convoys of tractors advancing on Paris and threatening to blockade the capital, France’s new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced key concessions on Friday including an end to rising fuel costs and the simplification of regulations.

But the main farming union, the FNSEA, described the measures as insufficient, vowing to maintain its mobilisation until the government meets all of its demands.

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Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023 | FirstShowing.net

Oppie & Miles & Nora & Arthur – Alex’s Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023

by Alex Billington
January 5, 2024

“The world is changing. Reforming. This is your moment.” Another year, another Top 10. After watching more than 400 films throughout 2023 (always logging everything on my Letterboxd for anyone curious) it’s time to share my final selection of My Top 10 Favorite Films of 2023. I try to watch as much as I can and give myself time to catch up with any extra films at the end of the year, but my favorites can come from anytime in 2023. I fell hard for all the major ones – Oppenheimer, Spider-Verse, Past Lives, Poor Things, and American Fiction. Before anyone asks about the ones missing: I’m not that big on Killers of the Flower Moon (it’s good not great), I quite like Anatomy of a Fall but it didn’t make the cut, Godland and The Eight Mountains are on last year’s Top 10, Saltburn is bad (yeah it’s meh), and Godzilla: Minus One is great also didn’t make the cut. I stuck to my gut and chose these 10 that made me passionate for cinema all over again.

For the previous year’s Top 10 of 2022 list, topped by EEAAO of course, click here (also 2021 + 2020). You can check out my selection of Favorite Movie Posters from 2023 with a look at some of the best cinema art.

A few notes: this is a list of my favorite films, not the best films of the year, these are the ones that I love for my own reasons and I’ll try to explain why with each one. As always, I wish I had so much more to time to watch/rewatch films, and see every last film that played in 2023, but that’s impossible so this is just what I decided to run with. Also – my film selection is based on the date when I originally saw the film at a public event, including film festivals (Venice, Sundance) or public releases limited or otherwise. This is not based on only films released in 2023, but the ones I experienced in 2023, and is a good representation of the best cinema has given us, in my opinion. I’m always a bit nervous to finalize my list, but these are all films I love.

#1. La Chimera directed by Alice Rohrwacher

La Chimera

Arthur and his band of Tombaroli. I watched this film three times at three festivals in 2023. It’s that good. There are two songs performed in the film by an Italian folk singer and when the first one kicks in (the song about the “Tombaroli”), I get chills every time. I adore this film. It’s magical, mystical, and special in about 100 ways. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t think anyone else can even attempt to replicate Alice Rohrwacher’s filmmaking. Truly one-of-a-kind. La Chimera is a mesmerizing, alluring journey through the afterlife – exploring the idea of souls and humanity traversing across time from generation to generation. I am in awe of the performance by Josh O’Connor as Arthur, one of my all-time favorite performances. There’s an aching longing that he embodies so perfectly, while maintaining his sense of appreciation for life as he rolls around the Italian hillsides with the Tombaroli. The shot-on-film cinematography by the French DP maestro Hélène Louvart is also heavenly. I can watch this film over & over & over and never tire of it.

#2. Oppenheimer directed by Christopher Nolan

Oppenheimer

“Are you saying that there’s a chance that when we push that button… we destroy the world?” Yes, indeed there is. This might just be Christopher Nolan’s Magnum Opus. It’s an incredible movie. I wasn’t sure if he would pull this off, it’s such a precarious and dangerous story to tell, yet he aced it. A monumental work of cinema and storytelling. The moment I knew it would be on my Top 10 actually hit me during my second viewing. I went to see it in IMAX (after the initial press screening in a regular cinema) and they cranked the volume and when that “Can You Hear the Music” track kicks in and it cuts to the shot of the clouds over the German city while Oppie’s living in Europe, I was completely taken away. My whole body was shook to its core by Ludwig Göransson’s one-of-the-best-of-all-time scores (yes, seriously) perfectly complementing this intricate story of a complicated intellectual and his destructive creation. And that is just one part. Cillian Murphy’s performance is flawless, the set design and production design is extraordinary, the editing are breathtaking. This is the kind of cinematic experience I live for, and once again, Nolan has made my Top 10.

#3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse directed by Joaquim Dos Santos & Kemp Powers & Justin K. Thompson

Across the Spider-Verse

It does not bother me at all that this is only “half of the story,” it’s a phenomenal work of art and completes a strong arc with Gwen anyway. The first Into the Spider-Verse was on my Top 10 of 2018, and I’m happy that the sequel is as good as, if not better, than that masterpiece. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the they-actually-went-and-did-it sequel that lives up to the heart & soul of the original, and again breaks the barriers of visual storytelling by pushing everything further than it has before. I wrote a glowing review when it first came out: “It’s the epitome of cinema as a visual medium, an eye-popping blend of comic book fundamentals, animation (all styles / techniques / formats), and modern storytelling concepts. As always with cinema, story is key – and the filmmakers know this and care deeply. They’ve also outdone themselves in creating one of the most mesmerizing and psychedelic works of art in cinema.” I love how the colors and the stylistic choices in every scene represent the emotions of the characters and what they’re feeling as they go through a moment in their story. I can’t wait to find out what happens next in Beyond the Spider-Verse.

#4. Past Lives directed by Celine Song

Past Lives

What a film. What a beautiful film. What more can I add to the discourse that hasn’t already been said by everyone else who adores this touching film from writer / director Celine Song. I am still so astonished that this is her feature debut, but it also goes to show she really has an eye for cinematic storytelling. There are a few shots that I can never forget just because the cinematography is so lovely to look at, so softly and warmly capturing the moment with a great amount of intimacy focused on Nora. It’s her story after all. I had to watch this film twice before really settling into my appreciation of it, and accepting it as such a moving work of art that does work as well on repeat viewings. I got hit hard by emotions both times when it gets to that end scene, where Nora walks Hae Sung out to his Uber at the end of his trip to NYC. That’s the power of great cinema. Absolutely an iconic performance from Greta Lee taking on Nora, but I also need to praise both John Magaro and Teo Yoo in holding their own with grace as her two great loves. Such charmers.

#5. Poor Things directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

Poor Things

Bella Baxter! Woman of the year! Heartbreaker! Love-maker! Pastéis enjoyer! Ha ha. This film SLAYS. The press screening at the Venice Film Festival was one of the year’s best experiences because you could almost touch the buzz wafting in the air with everyone loving it more & more as it played. Which is not a common occurrence in a room full of snobby critics, to be frank. I also watched this film two times at two different festivals to confirm it holds up and it does. And the audience loved it the second time as well. One of the best performances ever from Emma Stone, though I always think she’s exceptional. At first she doesn’t seem that refined… until you watch her progressively mature and begin to “grow up” over the course of the film, becoming more empowered and insightful as she surfs the waves of patriarchy. The strange score by Jerskin Fendrix is so inexplicably odd yet nicely adds to the weirdness of the whole film, and it’s hard to forget after hearing it. A total knock out, sex-positive, feminist, fearless, freaky creation from the mind of Yorgos Lanthimos. I still think the opening 30 minutes are rough, but other than that, this is a genius film.

#6. Perfect Days directed by Wim Wenders

Perfect Days

A-ha! This is another of my personal favorites from Cannes back in May (my full review) that I haven’t been able to get off of my mind all year. The peace and calm of this film is deeply inspirational and so moving for me. I am profoundly drawn to the Buddhist philosophy found within, the way it shows us how Hirayama has left his life of luxury and wealth to live a simple life, doing the job that no one wants to do yet still finding happiness in every moment. I love that he takes photos of trees. I love his little apartment that he cleans up every day. I love how humble and heartfelt he always is dealing with any situation. Koji Yakusho really does deserve all the awards and accolades for his performance as Hirayama in this, it’s the most soulful and rejuvenating performance in any film of 2023. The soundtrack is great, all of his favorite oldies that make his days brighter. Another film I’ve been recommending and encouraging anyone watch whenever they can.

#7. American Fiction directed by Cord Jefferson

American Fiction

Have a laugh with Monk as he sets out to prove his point about how dumb everyone is right now. This film! Such a joy to watch, some of the best laughs of the year. Such a smart script that slices through the bullshit to show everyone how much the conversation around media right now is total nonsense. Yes of course the meta commentary is obvious, especially considering this is Cord Jefferson’s feature directorial debut, and we have to wonder if he’s thinking about what everyone is saying about this film in the context of what the film is literally about. Jeffrey Wright is always great in any role, no matter how big or small (love him in Wes Anderson’s films), but he’s especially remarkable in this film. Not only does he need to ace the Stagg R. Leigh persona on top of his regular performance, he also needs to hold all the emotional weight of someone going through this and dealing with the loss in his family. I also really do appreciation the more emotional, grounded side of the story about his family and budding romance, it adds depth to the film & Monk’s story.

#8. The Holdovers directed by Alexander Payne

The Holdovers

A new Christmas classic. Yep, it’s already a classic. I watched this film again during Christmas just to see if it holds up to that acclaim, and it really does. There’s just something so cinematically warm and wholesome and endearing about it, even though it’s set during a cold winter. The performances, the vintage 70s vibe, the snowy setting, the soundtrack and song choices, the story about these three lonely people going through the holidays trying to make sense of their lives. How much of a difference good friends and good cheer and good moments can make. A shining example of how to make a great film where everything works together. Paul Giamatti is hilariously unforgettable as the stodgy Paul Hunham, Dominic Sessa is impressive and endearing in his first ever big screen role as Angus Tully, though my favorite performance is still Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb. Her “mhmms” will live on in my mind forever. I’ve been recommending this film to everyone this winter. 🎶 “Crying never did nobody no good, no how… That’s why I don’t cry…” 🎶

#9. The Taste of Things / The Pot au Feu directed by Anh Hung Tran

The Taste of Things

I’m still not sure if this new English title holds up. The Taste of Things is all too bland for such an elegant film. I prefer it as The Pot au Feu, which is what it originally screened under at Cannes this year (though I also don’t care for the longer French title La Passion de Dodin Bouffant). Nonetheless, this magnificent film is one of the best food films ever made. Perfect from start to finish, with some of the finest cinematography all year. Gorgeous shots galore, everything’s framed so perfectly. I actually think it’s better than most of the other food films that other critics reference when they compare this one. Juliette Binoche plays Eugénie with just the right amount of confidence and sophistication, an unforgettable character and incomparably great chef. Benoît Magimel as the Dodin Bouffant also brings his charm to the table to match her, as their chemistry is vitally important in making the heart of this film beat so vividly and so passionately. I may not want to try every dish she makes, but that doesn’t make me like this any less. That pear shot is an all-timer.

#10. The Monk and the Gun directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji

The Monk and the Gun

Another wonderful surprise from the second half of the year. Bhutanese director Pawo Choyning Dorji returns with his second feature film after Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, and its even better with a more potent message. Aside from how terrific it is to see more stories from the tiny mountain country of Bhutan told authentically from the Bhutanese side (which is what makes this one particularly unique), this film becomes something more meaningful once it gets to the core of what it’s trying to convey with this story of “the monk and the gun.” The performances are all exceptional, especially by Tandin Wangchuk as Tashi and Deki Lhamo as Tshomo. As the film plays out (why does he need this gun?) and the story unfolds, I started to feel more and more invigorated by what I was watching, where it was going, what it was trying to say. They don’t know what you to know that this film makes fun of American ideals, but it does so in such a wholesome and uplifting way it’s hard not to be completely charmed by this film. Absolutely worth a watch.

BONUS! Mars Express directed by Jérémie Périn

Mars Express

Another animated movie that deserves to be mentioned alongside all the other movies in this Top 10. Yes, of course I already have Across the Spider-Verse on here, but animation is awesome (and it’s for anyone of any age to enjoy) and so is this movie. I haven’t stopped thinking about this since first catching it at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival back in May. It has stayed on my mind all this time and stands out. Mars Express is a spectacular, thrilling, visually engaging modern animated sci-fi movie. It’s a futuristic noir detective story about robots and AI and technology, borrowing plenty from the classics Ghost in the Shell & Blade Runner, but still delivering something entirely unique in its own ways. Not enough people have been able to see it yet, following its premieres in Cannes & Annecy last summer, but I think the buzz will grow with more time. The characters are memorable, the whole experience is riveting and even better watched on the big screen if at all possible. This is the excellent sci-fi cinema I look forward to encountering and it is worth discovering.

More 2023 Faves: Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, Sam Freeman & Ng Choon Ping’s Femme, Richard Linklater’s Hitman (tore down the house in Venice), Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath, Roger Ross Williams’ Cassandro, Molly Gordon & Nick Lieberman’s Theater Camp, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (yep!), Jeff Rowe’s Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, and Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper.

I could discuss all of my favorites endlessly, so if you ever want to chat about cinema, just ask me something about any of them. You can always find all of my ratings and additional thoughts on every film I watched in 2023 on my Letterboxd profile. There are always a few other films I did not get the chance to watch last year due to time constraints, but I still try to catch as many films as possible that my colleagues have been talking about. I am always watching new work throughout the year, seeking out the most exhilarating cinema – films that leave me in awe. If you have questions or thoughts about my Top 10 picks (or anything else), please get in touch: @firstshowing or @alexb.bsky.social. Now let’s dive right into 2024 with hope for what lies ahead.

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IFFK 2023: Cinephiles explain what brings them to the annual festival of cinema every year

It is that time of the year when Thiruvananthapuram gets set for its annual tryst with the best of world and Indian cinema. As the 28th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala begins on December 8 (Friday), MetroPlus catches up with cinephiles who talk about their IFFK experience.

For many residents in the city, age no bar, this is the time of the year to romance the screen. Long queues outside theatres, heated debates over hot tea and eats, headline-making panel discussions and fashionistas turning heads with their signature style are familiar vignettes of the IFFK.

So, for city residents Praveen Mohan and Murali Krishnan, the buzz around the IFFK was not an unfamiliar one. While Praveen has been a regular since 2011, Murali has been a delegate for the last five years.

Praveen Mohan
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Praveen, 35, vividly remembers his first look at IFFK. “It was exciting, especially watching foreign language films in the same theatre where I used to watch mainstream films. Since the theatres are spread across the city it was like entering a different world. A group of us friends, all of us aspiring filmmakers, gathered every year to enjoy and discuss cinema,” says Praveen.

It is true that the IIFK has shaped the viewing culture of several generations of film buffs in Kerala. UK Mrunal, who did his masters in filmmaking from the University of Reading, UK, has been watching films from his school days. “Since, my father, TK Rajeev Kumar (film director), has been closely involved with different editions of the IFFK, it is difficult to say when I began frequenting the screenings,” he says.

Filmmaker UK Mrunal 

Filmmaker UK Mrunal 
| Photo Credit:
UK Mrunal

In 2017, he helped his father direct the signature film of the fete and also participated as a delegate for the first time. Mrunal has been an avid viewer since then. He says the movies he watched has certainly shaped his decision to become a filmmaker. He recalls with a laugh how he created a furore when he got into a discussion with Shyam Benegal about new stipulations of the Censor Board during a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the festival.

Ahaana Krishna

Ahaana Krishna
| Photo Credit:
NM PRADEEP

Another city resident who found her way to cinema via IFFK is actor Ahaana Krishna. Although she was a regular at all the editions when she was in the city, once she left for Chennai to pursue her graduation, it became difficult to be a part of IFFK.

Keen cinephiles come from all across Kerala as delegates of IFFK. James Thakara, founder and frontman of the band, Thakara, has been attending the IFFK since 2011. “I was staying in Kochi with students of Cochin Media School in Kochi and heard about the festival from them. I travelled all the way to Thiruvananthapuram on my bicycle. Later, I used to come on my Activa. This time it’s on my Royal Enfield Himalayan,” says James.

James Thakara

James Thakara
| Photo Credit:
SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

What brings them to the festival every year?

Learning experience

James says that each edition has helped him learn and unlearn various aspects of cinema. “The films have shaped my world view as I make it a point to watch as many as possible from all countries. That’s how you learn about their culture, history, politics etc.”

Murali, a photographer, writer and short-filmmaker, calls the festival a learning experience as one understands filmmaking, subjects to be chosen and the pulse of the audience.

Murali Krishnan

Murali Krishnan
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Special Arrangement

For Mrunal, what is special about the IFFK is that it screens the best movies from Asia, Africa and South America in addition to films that make an impression at high-brand festivals such as the ones at Cannes and Toronto. “The spectrum of films that IFFK screens is not seen at at any other festival,” he maintains.

Murali points out that the general perception about film festivals is that it includes only slow movies, called in jest as award padam (award-winning movie). “I remember, however, watching the Argentinian movie Back to Maracana at IFFK 2019. What fun it was! You don’t expect to see a light-hearted movie at a film festival.”

For actors Devaki Rajendran and Anumol, the IFFK was their ticket to world cinema. Both of them had their debut films screened at the IFFK.

Devaki Rajendran 

Devaki Rajendran 
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SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“As a student in Mumbai, I had heard a great deal about the IFFK. It was in 2017, however, when my movie, Sleeplessly Yours, was screened that I participated in the festival. It was an unforgettable experience. Since then, I have been a regular at all the editions. It is an opportunity to watch world cinema and interact with people who seem to breathe cinema.”

Actor Anumol

Actor Anumol
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Special arrangement

Engineer-turned-actor Anumol became an IFFK fan in 2012 when her film Akam was chosen for the fete. “Five of my movies were chosen in succession in the following years. It was an eyeopener for me – the films, the delegates, rubbing shoulders with filmmakers, who were household names, the endless cinema discussions…”

She recalls that her mother, Kala Manoharan, a fan of mainstream cinema, was awestruck when she watched French movie Amour. “She said loudly ‘so films can be made this way too’. It was about an elderly couple’s love for each other as they negotiate ailments and ill health! That is what IFFK does – open your eyes to different kinds of naratives, themes, approaches and filmmaking.”

This year too, her film Ennennum is part of the Malayalam Cinema Today category.

The festivals have been special for Praveen. “Sleeplessly Yours in which I worked as an associate director was screened at the IFFK in 2018. This time, I am an assistant director in Shalini Ushadevi’s Ennennum. I had watched her first film, Akam, at my first IFFK.”

Memorable experience

Each delegate usually has a fond IFFK memory to cherish. Ahaana, for instance, remembers watching Parasite on the big screen during an edition of the IFFK. “It was a mind-blowing experience. If I am a delegate, I watch at least 15 to 20 movies with my friends. The movies provide a great learning curve to understand culture, politics and society.”

While the increase in the number of delegates speaks of the festival’s popularity, both Praveen and Murali feel not all the delegates turn up to watch the films. “Some are there to grab everyone’s attention and there are quite a few who come only to have fun at the cultural programmes in the evening,” says Praveen.

Murali adds, “In 2019 I watched 38 films! There might be others like me who watch that many movies. But some of them skip screenings seeing the crowd not knowing that half the delegates have no plans to watch the movies.” Murali hopes for a better website this time. “It often crashes when the registration opens due to heavy traffic. I hope it has been revamped this time.”

Meanwhile, the magic begins as the curtain goes up on the first screening in the morning at theatres across the city.

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