On His Birthday, Watch Claire Denis + Wim Wenders Talk Yasujirô Ozu

In an interview with Reverse Shot for her film 35 Shots of Rum, French director Claire Denis recalled legendary Japenese director Yasujiro Ozu’s influence on her, saying:

Late Spring is very personal for me, very close to that relationship between my mother and my grandfather. I took my mother once to an Ozu retrospective to see Late Spring, and she thought it was beautiful—she said ‘I didn’t know you could make a film with such a simple story.’ So I made up my mind. I wanted to make that film for her.”

For myriad directors, writers, and lovers of film and philosophy, Ozu has proved an inspiration and a reason to fall in love with cinema. So why not make your day a little better by watching a clip from Talking With Ozu, featuring Denis exploring her personal connection with the iconic director. And if you’re looking for some more director on director appreciation, below is also the beautiful and wonderful Wim Wenders discussing his love for Ozu.

‘Bastards,’ Faulkner, and ‘Paris, Texas:’ A Conversation With Claire Denis

“Creating gives me the feeling that I’m alive—wrong or right, I’m alive—because when I feel nothing, I would rather be dead,” said Claire Denis in a talk at Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival earlier this fall. “That’s a little exaggerated, but I like to be emotionally involved in things, you know? Otherwise I feel terrified by life.” But as one of cinema’s most audacious and fascinating directors and personalities, Claire Denis has built an oeuvre of films that vacillate between the deeply human and the coldness of a razor’s edge. Through her early work as an assistant director on films like Paris, Texas, Sweet Movie, Down By Law, and Wings of Desire, Denis was impressed by the absolute power that the poetry of images could possess—which has informed her stunning work from Chocolat andBeau Travail to White Material and her latest haunting feature Bastards (Les Saluds).

As perversely sensuous as it is frighteningly chilled, Denis’ penetrating new feature explores a kind of darkness that lurks close to the surface of everyday life, culled from the  stories that read and see everyday that have become second nature to us—their painfulness barely leaving a mark on our skin. It’s a jagged and powerful work inspired by everything from Akira Kurosawa and noir male archetypes to William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and recent French sex ring scandals involving men of wealth and power. Starring Vincent Lindon as Marco, the Parisian noir thriller plays out in the aftermath of his brother-in-law’s suicide when he seeks to rescue is estranged sister and young niece (played by Lola Créton).What follows is a sinister decent into the bleeding heart of darkness that’s tight enough to leave you gasping for air but never fully exposes itself, leaving corners cloaked in shadows with an enigmatic wink.

A few weeks ago, at the tail end of the NYFF, I got the chance to sit down with Denis to discuss her desire to inhabit this kind of story, the lessons she learned from Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch, and her feelings on the move from shooting on film to digital.

I went to your talk on Saturday, which was really lovely. Is this one of the festivals you enjoy the most? You’ve been coming for quite some time now. 
It’s a very special festival. It’s a place where you can discuss film, and it’s a place where you have time to think about the film you just finished. You’re not under the pressure of publicity or competition. It’s an open space with people I like and people I like to meet, and so it makes me a better filmmaker.

What initially intriuged me about Bastards when I read reviews and such, they described the film as nightmarish, and yet the plot seemed to be taken from everyday stories we’ve become accustomed to hearing about so regularly.
Yes, in France too. You can read that in the newspaper and hear that on TV.

Was exposing the sinister undercurrent lurking behind our everyday walls something that interested you? 
Well, I’m not a teacher or a priest that wants to show the darkness of the world—the inferno and flames of the inferno. I just thought that it could be very near and very close to us, but maybe you don’t see it. I always thought about a mother that prefers to be blind. When I read the newspaper, what strikes me is the position of women in those stories—they are victims, and yet, they are always the one to defend the husband or the brother.

And that requires a kind of strength that then men often don’t possess. 
Yeah, and they are the victim, but they have the bad role and they are misjudged often. I hate when people say, “Oh, the mother should have done something.” I’m sorry, but I don’t know how easy it is to be a mother in that condition.

And in this film, you have these women in positions of victims, but without the underpinnings of that. They’re not victimized by the situations. Like Lola Créton walking down the street naked in heels, she has a power to her.
She’s trying to lead to the very truth, but she cannot speak it. So she kind of shows little aspects of the truth—but of course she cannot say exactly the truth.

You’ve mentioned the influence of Kurowsawa and of course The Bad Sleep Well—this very particular kind of tried and true noir man.
It comes from Vincent Lindon, and it made me think of those characters of men in very masculine films like Kurosawa or Michael Mann. I wanted him to be the ideal man you can lean on, the man you can trust but whose in charge of vengence and becomes a victim.

As a filmmaker, literature has informed you a great deal, especially the work of Faulkner, which you return to. In this film, the essence of Sanctuary and the character of Temple is so present. How did that work play a role for you and what is it about Faulkner’s sentiment that has shaped so much of your own life? 
I like that all the women in Sanctuary, whether they’re prostitutes, the one in the farm that is having this baby, or Temple—this little rich girl who is suddenly turning into a woman. In the end, she has nothing to say to her father anymore because she’s been through something that made her know so much about what a woman is that the father will never understand. That’s why I love so much when she’s just opening the powder box and powdering her nose—that’s what a father expects a woman to do and nothing else. But she’s been through something. And I love that in his books, he creates, for the reader, a sense of life that—Christian or not Christian— says you have a burden, that you have a fate and then you have to deal with it. And yes, it is mostly a tragedy, because to be born also means to die and destiny is not so kind. Maybe it’s because he’s from the South that he knows what it means to be on the right side of society and to be on the wrong side of society without judging.

I was just watching US Go Home and I noticed before the party where they’re supposed to be these grown up women they arbitrarily stop and powder their nose for a moment. 
[Laughs] Oh, yes. So I thought that was a nice circle.

But you talk a lot about fate and destiny, especially in regard to Faulkner’s work—is that something that’s important to you as a person and as an artist, to examine the aspect of fate in all of life’s tragedies and that no matter how we try to understand ourselves and avoid these tragedies, they’re out of our power?
I will not say I had William Faulkner’s life, I’m just a reader, but he helped me to understand myself as a human being more than many other writers. Like something I always guessed, even a child knows he’s part of a destiny—he has a certain family, he has a certain life—and a child could be very satisfied with that, but he knows he’s not choosing. I think Faulkner is rather unique for describing a world where redemption is not really that important.

It’s more about how just to live through it. 
Yes, it’s how to go through. You don’t have to be redeemed at the end, because life is so uncertain.

You tend to favor the reflection of monologues over straightforward dialogue— 
I like monologues, yes. Sometimes I don’t use it in film, but it’s true that I like monologues when I can. I like it because it expresses something else.

A more open window into the soul. 
Yeah, yeah a window.

When I think about the best monologues on film, Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas is probably the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. In that scene, and in that speech you learn so much more and feel so much deeper than could have been shown any other way. It’s devastating. 
Oh yeah, the peep show. Oh, so wonderful. [cluthes heart] Yes, I remember it broke my heart. And because Harry Dean Stanton is a singer, I think you find there’s such a melody to it. That…oh [cluthes heart].

When you began your career it was a pretty amazing start, assistant directing Wenders, Jarmusch—
Yeah, I was lucky for sure.

How do you find that those directors—Wim and Jim in particular—have inspired you and left a mark on you as a filmmaker?
I think in a very different way, Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch gave me a trust in film. It was never a job. They have a certain way to be filmmakers, both of them. Maybe that’s why they’re both linked to Nicholas Ray. But although they are different, they both have a trust in the power of an image—either with humor like Jim, or poetry like Wim. Jim is also a poet and musician, though. But they gave me so much, and it’s hard to say how much I really owe them.

They’re also both filmmakers whose essence as a people is really the feeling of their work. You speak with Wim and it’s like being washed over in the feeling of his films.
Yeah, because their interest in film is complex; as artists they are not just filmmakers. I remember working with Wim, I was amazed at the way he trusted the power of image.

And getting back to Bastards, the images in the film are so striking and possessive in their darkness and world that feels existent in shadows. This was your first move to digital—was that difficult for you, and especially for a film like this, did you have to try harder to create that sense of darkness? 
Yes, you can see everything. With digital you don’t need light, but to make digital dark and shadowdy and obscure, then you need light.

Is it important to you to create the aesthetic and feel of the film while it’s alive and happening, rather than in the editing room?
I cannot stand the idea that if you do digital you have rogue dailies, and then only when the film is edited suddenly we will give a look to the film. This to me is unbearable. I think it has to be before and after; we know exactly what we want—the colors, the texture. And so when they said, oh no it can be raw and we will time it after and then what do we do in the editing, in the editing you need the real image or else the cut is wrong. So the big fight for filmmaking with digital is to time the image before editing. So it’s costly, but it’s important.

Throughout all of your films, music is an integral element and adds to the psychology of the picture in a unique way. So as someone who seems so closely tied the sonic element of things, what is your relationship to music? 
Well, it was always important for me. Music probably led me all my life and probably helped me a lot to accept the fact that I wanted to make films. Through music, I was experiencing such strong emotions, and then I was ready to go to filmmaking. But then I was lucky to work with a musician that understood me—to meet Stuart from Tindersticks, just to meet a person that’s an Englishman from the North of England, but that’s such a pure musician and someone that understands film so well. It’s amazing. I think sometimes he understands faster than I do.

In this film were you looking to juxtapose the image and the cold emotional distance of a more electronic sound. 
Yes, yes. We wanted an inhuman music like Tangerine Dream that does not create empathy, but rather the opposite.

 

What Should I Be Seeing in New York This Weekend?

Sundays may be a “wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday” or a day of “forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure,” according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.

And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Bruce Weber documentary or some of 2013’s most wonderful films, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.

From Aronofsky to McQueen, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York – Movies – BlackBook.

From Spike Jonze to Claire Denis, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York

Sundays may be a "wan, stuff shadow of a robust Saturday" or a day of "forced leisure for folks who have no aptitude for leisure," according to Tom Robbins, but a weekend is still a weekend. The pleasure of a Friday night, the knowing the burdens of work week have a brief respite carry themselves into the following two days of leisure, and what better way to indulge in that leisure than heading to the cinema.  

And this weekend, there are more than enough wonderful films showing around New York for you to disappear into. Whether it’s your favorite Claire Denis, Roman Polanski, David Lynch, or the latest NYFF premieres from Jim Jarmusch, Spike Jonze, and the Coen Brothers, there’s surely something to satisfy every cinematic appetite. I’ve founded up the best of what’s playing around the city, so peruse our list, and enjoy.  

IFC Center

The Last Picture Show
Bottle Rocket
Escape From Tomorrow
Design Is One: The Vignellis
Blue Caprice
Dracula 3D
I Used to Be Darker
Frances Ha
Alien (1979)
Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird
Mulholland Drive
Muscle Shoals
A Touch of Sin
Una Noche
Wicker Man: The Final Cut

Film Forum

Un Chambre En Ville
Let the Fire Burn
Russian Ark
Model Shop
The Pied Piper
Donkey Skin
Shall We Dance

MoMA

An Evening With Bruce Dern:
Smile Arabian Nights
I Am Suzanne!
Whistle Down the Wind
Requiem NN
Nightmare Alley
Kundun
Hangover Square
Goha
The Aviator
10 Rillngton Place
Hugo

Landmark Sunshine

A.C.O.D.
The Summit
We Are What We Are
In a World…
Short Term 12
Army of Darkness

Film Linc

Blue is the Warmest Color
Afternoon of a Faun: Le Clercq
NYFF Live: David V. Picker
Inside Llewyn Davis
Sam in the Snow
Weekend
Hail Mary
Her
Nebraska
On Cinema: James Gray
Only Lovers Left Alive
Protecting Arizona
The Senate Speaks
Bastards

Museum of the Moving Image

Beau Travail
His Girl Friday
Red River
Ball of Fire
Sergeant York
A Song is Born

BAM

Trouble Every Day
Enough Said
Gravity 3D

Nitehawk

House of the Devil
Vampire Lovers
Don Jon
Machete Kills
We Are What We Are
Devil and Daniel Johnston
Rosemary’s Baby

Get a Closer Look at Claire Denis’ Thrilling ‘Bastards’

In our upcoming interview with brilliant French director Claire Denis, she explains that she is, “not a teacher or a priest that wants to show the darkness of the world, the inferno and flames of the inferno.” However, with her latest penetrating feature Bastards, Denis explores a kind of darkness that lurks close to the surface of everyday life, culled from the  stories that read and see everyday that have become second nature to us, their painfulness barely leaving a mark on our skin. When Denis spoke at Lincoln Center last Saturday as part of NYFF, she explained that the fragmented nature of her work stems from how she, herself, feels fragmented—"I’ve never felt like just one person.”

And with Bastards, we see a jagged and powerful film inspired by everything from Kurosawa to William Faulkner’s Sanctuary and recent French sex ring scandals involving men of wealth and power. Bastards follows:

"Vincent Lindon (Denis’s Friday Night) stars as Marco, a sea captain gone AWOL to avenge his brother-in-law’s suicide and to rescue his estranged sister and his teenaged niece (Lola Créton, Goodbye First Love); Chiara Mastroianni (A Christmas Tale) is Lindon’s married lover, who has sold her soul in exchange for the security of her young son; and the remarkable Michel Subor is her husband – a sleazy financier who is the very embodiment of an evil beyond comprehension. Denis takes the viewer into the very heart of darkness in her most unsettling film yet, an unforgettable and thrilling commentary on late capitalism."

And now, the first U.S. trailer for the film has been released via Apple, in which we get a direct sense of its style and haunting quality that begins from the very opening and never loses its grip. Scored by Denis close collaborators, Tindersticks, their electro-remove only heighten the chill lurking behind Denis’ powerful images. Enjoy the trailer HERE.  

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New Tim Hecker & Unheard Burial: Your Morning Soundtrack

As I sit in a Lincoln Center Starbucks nauseous from the fact that I’m about to sit down with Claire Denis and haven’t been this nervous in quite a while, it’s been a welcome delight that this morning’s soundtrack has been getting better by the minute. First off, NPR is now streaming the new album Virgins from brilliant experimental electronic composer of fantastically haunting soundscapes Tim Hecker. And as expected, it sinks into your skin and freezes your veins, transporting you in a decaying ballroom filled with winter light and the ghost of horrific silences—or something.

And to top it off, there really aren’t many things that excite me more than reading the words “unreleased Burial track” on a grey Monday morning, so I was thrilled to hear that Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, DJed on Britain’s Rinse FM this weekend and played a never heard before collaboration between he and the enigmatic smoke-fueled perfection that is Burial. There’s no title or information about when it was recored, but you should do yourself a favor and take a listen below. Enjoy.

Totally Random Things That Are Better than the Harry Potter Movie

So you hate Harry Potter. Don’t be embarrassed. It’s them that should be embarrassed, strutting around in their capes, casting spells, lusting after that minx Hermione. Besides, there’s so much other fun stuff to do on a Friday night. While the wizard-wannabes are drooling in the theater, you get to go out and be an adult. My non-magical suggestions after the jump.

1. See the Claire Denis movie instead. It looks fantastic and there won’t be a line. Check out this interview with the auteur behind the film before you do.

2. Save money by staying home at home and laughing at all these idiots with Harry Potter tattoos. (Starts at 929)

3. Watch this clip of a man lying on the hood of his car shooting a gun with his feet on repeat (via videogum) while thinking about everything that’s paradoxically both right and wrong with America (but mostly wrong), and realizing that their are worse things than an overgrown wizard with round glasses.

4. Go see Sam Amidon at The Kitchen. If you really like Bon Iver, but are embarrassed to say you like Bon Iver because he’s gotten so famous, then Sam Amidon might be the big-hearted, soft-voiced, acoustic balladeer for you.

5. Get Ready for Chanukah by making this amazing Latke Meat Sandwich. Then try the Doubledown Latke Sandwich, and see which is better.

French Director Claire Denis on ‘White Material’

Claire Denis’ phone is vibrating. The French director has just begun to field a question about White Material, her tense and haunting latest film about a white family in modern-day Africa. The topic of colonialism has come up and Denis is making it clear that her movie has nothing to do with the subject. Neither, for that matter, does it have to do with post colonialism, Africa, or her childhood, which was spent in several Francophone countries on the continent, including Cameroon, where White Material was shot. After a moment’s hesitation, she answers the call. It is Vincent Gallo. Spryly jumping from the sofa, Denis paces the room speaking loudly and warmly to the star of Trouble Every Day, her 2001 film about marriage and cannibalism (only with Denis would you find such a pairing). “Vincent! Big hugs!” I am not ungrateful for the interruption.

Claire Denis is easily one of my favorite directors. She is not a generous interview subject. The source of her reticence, however, isn’t easily parsed: Denis traffics in images, actions – and bodies and landscape – over dialogue. When a character does dabble in verbal exposition, the result can sound forced. (“They were weird, threatening,” says one character in White Material about two boys wielding spears and machetes.) Her answers in person, similarly, seem bullied out of her consciousness.

Denis’ films take on Big Ideas, like marriage (Trouble Every Day), discipline (Beau Travail), and loyalty (35 Shots of Rum), and show how those conditions of being function – or start to break down – under extreme pressure. White Material, starring the alarmingly sensual Isabelle Huppert as the coffee farmer Maria Vial, who’s struggling to retain her land and workers in the midst of a looming civil war, is about stubbornness – and, therefore, about the limits of rationality.

Dread is built into the structure of the film. As it cuts backwards and forwards in time over a period of two days, you’re always aware that Maria’s decision to guard her coffee plantation – rather than flee from the fast approaching rebel army – cannot but end badly. And yet, however blind to this reality she might seem, you find yourself supporting her decision. In exchange, Denis rewards you with a powerful and devastating film.

I heard White Material was adapted from The Grass is Singing, a novel by Doris Lessing. How loyal did you stay to Lessing’s novel, and what did you change? We didn’t adapt it at all. At the beginning, Isabelle told me, ‘There is a novel written by Doris Lessing I like very much, maybe you should adapt it.’ It was like an indication. She was saying, ‘Let’s go to Africa together.’ I said, ‘Ah, not this novel.’ This novel, not only do I like it, I used the spirit of it when I did my first film, Chocolat, and I am certainly not going to adapt it again. Politically, also, I thought it was completely wrong to adapt a novel that takes place in South Africa before the Second World War when no one was expecting a man like Nelson Mandela would change and transform everything completely. I would never do that. Never, never. Even to work with Isabelle. So I said, ‘No, I’m going to invent a story of today and that’s it. It will take place in Africa and it will maybe be inspired by what Doris Lessing meant, sometimes, about her definition of stableness.’ But it has nothing to do with The Grass is Singing, frankly.

So you wrote the screenplay. Yes.

The film is post-colonial, or post-post colonial, and I was reminded of a several literary classics: the mounting dread and horror of Heart of Darkness, the madness of Jean Rhys, the topography of Passage to India. Was the film in any way a continuation of, or a return to, that dialogue? No, I wanted nothing like that. The Conradian experience of Africa was far from me at that moment. It’s very masculine and it was not my point of view, although I like Conrad very much. It’s not my vision of Africa today, even of a hundred years ago, I would say. It’s a great novel but what it says I do not agree with in a way. Passage to India…it’s so typically British, you know? It has nothing to do with me. I think my history is more French.

Where does the phrase ‘white material’ come from? It’s something that exists in a lot of countries of the west coast [of Africa], even east coast. Two or three countries will be English speaking, and two or three countries will be French speaking, so they have this sort of slang with English words. At the very beginning, maybe like fifteen, twenty years ago, ‘white material’ was people who were selling undercover ivory. Then it became like ‘white trash,’ things belonging to white people. I didn’t invent it.

So everything white people were associated with became white material? Yes, when I was in Ghana, I remember walking in the market. French people would say, “Eh, la blanc,” or “Eh, whitey.” That’s normal.

What drew you back to Africa? You had made Chocolat, Beau Travail Beau Travail was not linked to Africa. [Ed. note: it was filmed in Djibouti]

So… I just think it’s because Isabelle mentioned the novel by Doris Lessing. I had no idea of going back to Africa. I don’t need a film to go there, but it was a good thing, yeah?

Did you write the character of Maria with Isabelle always in mind? Of course. Every single molecule of air, every single dress, every single…We had the jewel made for her. Everything was made for her.

What is it about Isabelle as an actress that you thought would work well with the idea of Maria? She drives me crazy. It’s like being high on drugs. You don’t want to stop when it’s finished. I needed to go to rehab after filming. It’s very exciting because it’s a game she plays. It’s interesting.

[SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD]

Maria stays and stays and stays in spite of every warning that she has to leave. Do you think her character knows on some level that this is all going to end horribly? No, she thinks that if she bets it will work, it will work. She doesn’t want to imagine a bad ending. She wants everything to work, but suddenly she realizes, after the pharmacy has been attacked, that things are going faster than she thought. Then suddenly she is slightly too late. She thought she was in control, but then she’s too late.

At the end of the film, Maria takes a machete and kills her father-in-law. Where does this urge come from? They’re both left, and I think she feels someone is responsible for letting everything happen. Maybe it’s weakness, or everyone’s blindness. But she needs to do something terrifying.

I wanted to ask about The Tindersticks. How did you first discover them? A long time ago. It was their first record and they came to Paris for a gig. I went and I knew. That was it for me. Strangely enough, they also sort of understood me. It’s a good chemistry between us.

The Vials are very much latter-day colonialists, whether they realize it or not. Was colonialism, or what remains of it in contemporary Africa, something you were thinking about while filming? Colonialism exists. It’s not something I bring. It’s there, it exists, a part of history. It left traces and scars, you know? I don’t need to think about it. It’s there.

You grew up in Africa. Yes.

How much did you draw on your own experiences? This film is not my experience at all. My father was not a farmer. I was never working on a plantation. My father was a very dedicated man who fought for independence. I was in contact with intelligent people, the people who were trying to move in politics. My childhood made me grow because in Africa I could…I was explained things, you know? I was never like this white family, never.

Place is almost an extra character in your films. How did you find the location you used in this film? I searched a long time. I went to Ghana, I went to Kenya, and in the end, I always disliked the plantations I found. Then I found three plantations in the west of Cameroon that were in great shape, with great trees. I decided to go there.

Did filming in Cameroon present any unusual difficulties? It’s not difficult, it’s part of the film. A film is difficult. To film in Paris or New York is difficult. Each film contains its own obstacles. Africa offers obstacles but a lot of great opportunities. To shoot in Cameroon was opening, to share the crew with Cameroonian technicians, actors – all this was such an opening thing.