The Best Films to Watch Without Ever Leaving Your Bed This Week

I often wonder if people are simply watching films with the wrong muscle. So many people nowadays enter into a film looking to impress their analytic and intellectual eye upon the work, geared towards their own bent or marching in with an agenda, not allowing the heart to do its job. When making his pastel fever dream 3 Women, Robert Altman said that he wanted to create a film that was pure emotion, that when you walked out of the theater, it wasn’t the ideas you could articulate but the feeling that dripped off your skin. And that’s a sentiment I look for in whatever film I enter, giving myself over to what’s happening before me. But that’s not to say it works every time or that having a critical eye isn’t necessary or films should be void of detailed study and only exist in a realm of feeling, of course, but intellect is not everything. 

So what better way to truly allow yourself to succumb to a great film than from the comfort of your bed? And with an enormous wealth of films streaming at your fingertips, you’re now able to gain access to films that may not have made it into the cinemas near you. From some of 2013’s best films thus far, to classics sure to please any film fan, I’ve rounded up some of the best films to watch this weekend from beneath the sheets. Enjoy.

 

Stoker

As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family….It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style,Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film. (available on iTunes)    

To the Wonder

What’s best about Terrence Malick’s work is how so much of it exists in memory. Time flows with the spirituality of a dream and the scenes presented swim in and out of consciousness like the recollection of a feeling or image existing in an ineffable realm beyond words. And with the follow up to his examination of creation, The Tree of Life, Malick’s To The Wonder takes a poetic look at the hazards of love throughout our lifetime, equating divinity with feeling and compassion. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko star as lovers that weave in and out of a relationship—from the hopeful and tender beginnings of their love in Paris to the detachment that comes upon moving to a rural town in America. David Jenkins said that Terrence Malick "doesn’t make films anymore, he builds cathedrals.” And as a sublime and beautiful companion piece to The Tree of Life, his latest emotional epic  tackles the same questions of existence as his last film, but this time through the eyes of love and the confounding complexities within ourselves that hold us captive and barricade us from connection to our own spirit and that of others. (available on iTunes)    

 

Before Sunset

At one point in Before Sunrise, Jesse begins to admit that in the months leading up to his wedding, he couldn’t stop thinking of Celine. He would see her everywhere, all the time, always in New York—especially once folding up an umbrella and entering a deli on 13th and Broadway. But she was off living in Europe somewhere, so he knew he was crazy. And of course, Celine then tells him that she was actually living in New York at that time—on 11th and Broadway.  It’s a small moment but an absolutely heartbreaking one—knowing that their lives could have been entirely different had he just glanced out of the car window again to see if it was her, knowing that this person whom he met once, yet possessed him so completely as an intangible longing inside him, was in fact right under his nose— and he never knew it. They never knew it.  But yes, that’s is just one of many painfully wonderful and sob-inducing moments in Richard Linklater’s transcontinental love trilogy. And since Before Sunrise’s premiere in 1994, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been our Celine and Jesse, playing out the epitome of rare requited love thwarted by time and space. You watch these films, and for all the tears you cannot help but shed, you’re always left with the pangs of hopefulness. It excites something in you and tickles your heart to know that somewhere on a tram in Europe, your ideal soulmate could be pensively starring out a window wondering if there’s something he’s missing. (available on iTunes)    

 

Prince Avalanche

As a minimalist character study in an isolated and absurd environment, David Gordon Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, takes the buddy comedy genre for a spin, strips it bare, and gives it feeling. Starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as an unlikely duo sequestered in the fire-ravaged woods of Texas, the film grows on you as it unfolds. We watch the men deal with the psychological hurdles of heartbreak and existential dilemmas, as they’re not only forced to confront that which they detest in one another, but also in themselves. ..Taking place in a strikingly beautiful landscape, the film examines two lost and bizarre men working together as highway road workers painting lines down vacant road who spend the summer of 1988 away from their lives in the city. Rudd’s Alvin carries a quiet intensity as the seemingly more mature of the two, who longs for his solitude and true experience in nature while dealing with the frustrations of his fading romance. Playing his foil, Hirsch’s Lance is the goofy younger brother of said girlfriend, whose presence comes as a nuisance to Alvin with his oft idiotic and childish behavior. And although simple in structure, there’s a surreal and mystical tone to the film that lives in the glowing skies and remnant ashes scattered through the woods. (available on iTunes)    

Spring Breakers

Sure, Spring Breakers has an easy allure: sex, drugs, violence, and gun-toting saccharine-sweet Disney stars in bikinis. But there’s more to Harmony Korine’s neon-fueled rite of passage tale than meets the bloodshot eye. Like a candy-coated nightmare, Korine gives a raw portrayal of what at first appears to be a fun and breezy ride filled with sparkles and the promise of escape from life’s mundane ennui, butSpring Breakers cuts deep and goes dark and filthy into places that frighten, mystify, tantalize, and thrill with a mix of pure pleasure and pain. Like a scratched album stuck on repeat, Spring Breakers follows four college girls who rob a diner a in order to fulfill their escapist fantasies of heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida for a debaucherous once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But when their beer-soaked and sexually charged trip goes sour, it’s rapper and drug and arms dealer Alien that comes to their rescue. And that’s when the nefarious story really kicks in as the world becomes much more rough and dark. With the tone of a haunted pop song, the film evokes something physical, leaving you in a trance that’s both erotic and dangerously chilling. It’s entertainment with a bullet, cinema with a bite of fantasy—it’s fizzing and bursting to the surface with color and entirely intoxicating. (available on iTunes)    

 

Mulholland Drive

The movie is hypnotic; we’re drawn along as if one thing leads to another–but nothing leads anywhere, and that’s even before the characters start to fracture and recombine like flesh caught in a kaleidoscope. "Mulholland Drive" isn’t like "Memento," where if you watch it closely enough, you can hope to explain the mystery. There is no explanation. There may not even be a mystery…There have been countless dream sequences in the movies, almost all of them conceived with Freudian literalism to show the characters having nightmares about the plot. "Mulholland Drive" is all dream. There is nothing that is intended to be a waking moment. Like real dreams, it does not explain, does not complete its sequences, lingers over what it finds fascinating, dismisses unpromising plotlines. If you want an explanation for the last half hour of the film, think of it as the dreamer rising slowly to consciousness, as threads from the dream fight for space with recent memories from real life, and with fragments of other dreams–old ones and those still in development…This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. "Mulholland Drive" works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don’t connect in a way that makes sense–again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, "I saw the weirdest movie last night." Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream. (available on iTunes)    

 

The Place Beyond the Pines

Spanning fifteen years, The Place Beyond the Pines unfolds along three brooding story lines—the tale of a motorcycle stunt rider who begins robbing banks in a desperate attempt to prove he can provide for his child and the woman he loves, the story of an intelligent but eager rookie cop who goes after him, and how the consequences of their actions are passed down into the blood of their sons. But one of the most fascinating elements ofPines is how expansive it feels—emotionally and cinematically. By the last moments of the film, you find yourself completely satisfied, feeling as though you’ve truly engaged in the richness of a narrative and were able to be a voyeur into another lifetime. The Place Beyond the Pines penetrates deep into the woe of its characters as they wrestle with what plagues them internally and the inability to confront and change the world around them. Dealing with themes of generational impact, how lives mysteriously intertwine, and the way one moment can effect an entire legacy, Pines is an epic journey about fathers and sons that’s kinetic and full of life yet teeming with secrets that linger in the air like ghosts. It’s a haunted drama that draws you in slowly as the story unfurls piece of piece, taking you on a ride through Cianfrance’s moody and harrowing tale. (available on iTunes)    

 

Mud 

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts."…But what rings true with all the male characters in the film is inverting standard ideas of masculinity. Nichols takes the southern male mentality and exposes its "endearing" weakness. "I wanted to make a romantic film about the male point of view of love, and I don’t think that happens a lot," he says. He takes these hard men, whether it’s Mud, an outlaw, or Blankenship, a reclusive older man, and shows their vulnerability and their devotion to love. "They might be men who don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings but they have all those thoughts, they have all those feelings, and we treat them like humans, like the real people that they are, and we don’t need to fit them into a stereotype of masculinity." (available on iTunes)    

The King of Marvin Gardens 

  One of the most downbeat movies of the time, it features Nicholson as the deeply depressed, anti-charismatic David Staebler, who earns a modest living telling miserable tales about his family in the early hours of the morning on a Philadelphia FM radio station. He’s lured at the height of winter to the once grand, now decaying New Jersey resort of Atlantic City by his estranged brother, Jason (Bruce Dern). This fast-talking, ever hopeful wheeler-dealer and con man is involved with gangsters in a dicey project to buy a Hawaiian island and turn it into a casino…The movie is a flawed masterpiece full of menace, surreal moments and obscure dialogues, with the city photographed in all its desolate, decaying beauty by László Kovácscorrect, who also shot Easy Rider andFive Easy Pieces. Probably the greatest sequence has the four main characters recreating the Miss America pageant in the desolate, deserted Convention Hall. Marvin Gardens (a misspelling by the game’s creator of Marven Gardens, a township south of Atlantic City) is a yellow property on the Monopoly board. The movie is best viewed alongside Louis Malle’s masterly Atlantic City, shot a decade later while the town was in the process of getting a multimillion-dollar facelift. (available on iTunes)    

Reality

With all the charisma and machismo of Fellini and sprinkled throughout a Bunuelian surreality, Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Reality is a bizarre and compelling character study of a man possessed by an elusive fantasy. As the follow-up to 2008’s Gomorrah, Garrone crafts a brightly colored satire of capitalism and celebrity obsession set in the hyper-real world of reality television—juxtaposed by the crumbling facade of Naples. Scored by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat,Reality tells the story of a Neopolitan fishmonger, Luciano, with an natural affinity for entertainment—his larger-than-life personality both charming and excessive. But when his family and neighbors urge him to audition for Grande Frattello—the Italian version of Big Brother—his life begins to spiral out of control. After his successful audition, Luciano eagerly awaits a call from producers, growing more and more intoxicated with the idea of fame and what being on the show could mean for himself and his legacy. He becomes increasingly more consumed by the possibility that his mundane life will be replaced, not only with glamour of celebrity, but with a dream-like sense of wonder and immortality. The upbeat and comedic tone that permeates the first half of the film begin to grow darker and more psychological as we see Luciano unravel into a delusional world of his own. (available on iTunes)    

 

The Artist is Present

Yes, this is life and this is truth. I’m just trying to choose the important things. I’m 65, so I think at least 10 or 15 years to establish something that can stay without me is important. My life is about the work. Suffering purifies you and focuses you and compliments you. Art history is full of suffering. Tell me any art made from happiness, I don’t know. And the movie has really done a good job because people are touched. In Germany we had Germans cry, that’s not easy to do! But I think it’s just honest. And I think that comes across through the film. Mike was with me for one year shooting all this material so I think it does a good job of showing to the public what performance means; it’s not just some hocus-pocus form of art  that nobody gives a shit about, it’s something else and it’s an important form of art and not always mainstream. For me it’s a contribution to performance art, so for the other young artists coming my way there can be some space….Now in the theatre piece, it’s everyone—the comical Marina and the vulnerable one and the one who is so wounded. It’s a piece about my life, and there are so many things I’m ashamed of and playing my life on stage every single day. Every day I cry to be ready [so] I can to go through this one more time. It’s so important to actually stage the most painful time of my life and give that to other artists, because it’s all we have. And just like a mirror, I want to be an example and everyone can project their own life into this. And the Artist is Present film is like that too. If you have a dream or aim anything is possible. (available on iTunes)    

Blithe Spirit

In fact, there has never been a film that captures the theatrical qualities of Coward at his peak, for the simple reason that live performance is a minimum requirement for fully bringing out those qualities. Coward’s great comedies do not hinge on plot, and their much-vaunted wit is mostly a matter of tone and rhythm. Their structures primarily create occasions for setting actors against one another on a stage; ideally, the audience watching a Coward play should feel that they have been granted entry to an exclusive party where even the nastiest quarrels and the most sullen insults become magically entertaining. The very title of Present Laughter—the exercise in farcical self-portraiture that preceded Blithe Spirit—suggests that necessary ingredient of physical presence. This is not to say that Lean’s film of Blithe Spirit is a failure but that Lean clearly recognized the limitations of Coward’s preliminary instruction: “Just photograph it, dear boy.”…Lean’s film becomes almost by default a supernatural fantasy in a way the play is not. Onstage, Elvira is very much there, even when Ruth cannot see her; in Lean’s editing, Elvira goes in and out of visibility, depending on point of view, automatically creating a multilayered sense of space. The séance scene is filmed as if it were a genuinely ominous affair, effectively enough that, for a moment, it becomes so. This has an interesting effect on our perception of Margaret Rutherford, as the medium Madame Arcati. Rutherford’s inspired performance is one of the great comic turns on-screen, as it apparently was onstage, but here she projects something that seems to go a bit beyond the part as written. (available on iTunes and Hulu)    

 

Brief Encounter

"Nothing happens" is hardly a motto for movies today. But at the end of the second world war, when cinemas were packed, desire on the screen was fabulously (and sometimes hysterically) inflamed by self-denial, shyness and censorship. It’s an open question, of course, but consider the possibility that movie romance, and its dream of desire, were stimulated by the various controls that blocked abandon. Those devices include our innocence. In 1945, there wasn’t a hint of irony or parody in the film’s pounding Rachmaninov score (the second piano concerto, played to the hilt by Eileen Joyce)…Today, the set-up begs for satire. But Brief Encounter has survived such threats, because it is so well made, because Laura’s voiceover narration is truly anguished and dreamy, because the music suckers all of us, and because Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfect. I realise, "perfect" seems dangerously prim and old-hat, an ultimate proof of hopeless gentility. But that’s not fair. Howard could be a wild man – as we know from his later work – and you feel recklessness and revolution as a wind tugging at him. (available on iTunes)    

Match Point

One reason for the fascination of Woody Allen’s "Match Point" is that each and every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest — or, as the movie makes clear, the luckiest. "I’d rather be lucky than good," Chris, the tennis pro from Ireland, tells us as the movie opens, and we see a tennis ball striking the net – it is pure luck which side it falls on. Chris’ own good fortune depends on just such a lucky toss of a coin…Let us talk instead in terms of the underlying philosophical issues. To what degree are we prepared to set aside our moral qualms in order to indulge in greed and selfishness? I have just finished re-reading The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James, in which a young man struggles heroically with just such a question. He is in love with a young woman he cannot afford to marry, and a rich young heiress is under the impression he is in love with her. The heiress is dying. Everyone advises him he would do her a great favor by marrying her, and after her death, inheriting her wealth, he could afford to marry the woman he loves. But isn’t this unethical? No one has such moral qualms in Allen’s film, not even sweet Chloe, who essentially has her daddy buy Chris for her. The key question facing the major players is: Greed, or lust? How tiresome to have to choose…Without saying why, let me say that fear also enters into the equation. In a moral universe, it would be joined by guilt, but not here. The fear is that in trying to satisfy both greed and lust, a character may have to lose both, which would be a great inconvenience. At one point this character sees a ghost, but this is not Hamlet’s father, crying for revenge; this ghost drops by to discuss loopholes in a "perfect crime." The movie is more about plot and moral vacancy than about characters, and so Allen uses type-casting to quickly establish the characters and set them to their tasks of seduction, deception, lying and worse. Meyers has a face that can express crafty desire, which is not pure lust but more like lust transformed by quick strategic calculations. Matthew Goode, as his rich friend, is clueless almost as an occupation. Emily Mortimer plays a character incapable of questioning her own happiness, no matter how miserable it should make her. Scarlett Johansson’s visiting American has been around the block a few times, but like all those poor American girls in Henry James, she is helpless when the Brits go to work on her. She has some good dialogue in the process. (available on iTunes)    

Alps

"Alps" is a film peculiar beyond all understanding, based on a premise that begs belief. It takes itself with agonizing seriousness, and although it has the form of a parable, I am at a loss to guess its meaning. Yet I was drawn hypnotically into the weirdness…"Alps" is the new film by the Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos, whose "Dogtooth" shook up Cannes in 2009. That was the film where control-freak parents contain their children within a walled garden and further isolate them from the world by teaching them the incorrect words for things. A Lanthimos film is like a test tube for life, in which the activity depends on what specific ingredients have been introduced. Although "Alps" is provocative and challenging, it is so completely self-contained that it has no particular emotional payoff. There is no greater world in which to evaluate its contents. When mourners are comforted by therapists who propose to represent the loved one, you’d think deep feelings would be stirred up. But "Alps" has the effect of a sterile exercise. (available on iTunes and Netflix)    

Cinema Paradiso

Tornatore’s movie is a reminder of the scenes in Truffaut’s "Day for Night," where the young boy steals a poster of "Citizen Kane." We understand that the power of the screen can compensate for a deprived life and that young Salvatore is not apprenticing himself to a projectionist, but to the movies. Once that idea has been established, the film begins to reach for its effects, and there is one scene in particular – a fire in the booth – that has the scent of desperation about it, as if Tornatore despaired of his real story and turned to melodrama. Yet anyone who loves movies is likely to love "Cinema Paradiso," and there is one scene where the projectionist finds that he can reflect the movie out of the window in his booth and out across the town square so that the images can float on a wall, there in the night above the heads of the people. I saw a similar thing happen one night in Venice in 1972 when they showed Chaplin’s "City Lights" in the Piazza San Marco to more than 10,000 people, and it was then I realized the same thing this movie argues: Yes, it is tragic that the big screen has been replaced by the little one. But the real shame is that the big screens did not grow even bigger, grow so vast they were finally on the same scale as the movies they were reflecting. (available on iTunes and Netflx)

From Xavier Dolan to Matteo Garrone, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing in the City This Weekend

David Lynch once said, "In film, life-and-death struggles make you sit up, lean forward a little bit. They amplify things happening, in smaller ways, in all of us. These things show up in relationships. They show up in struggles and bring them to a critical point."  And that’s the joy with seeing a movie, we’re allowed to fall into another world that both allows us to escape but also informs our own hidden desires.  And this week, if you’re looking for an emotional or psychological trip into the world of another, there are plenty of great movies to dive into around the city. From Xavier Dolan’s beautiful and brutal debut feature J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) to Andrzej Zulawski’s bone-chilling Possession, here’s what you should be seeing around the city this weekend

IFC Center

My Amityville Horror
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Other
Beyond the Hills

Anjelika Film Center

Reality
The Monk
No
Ginger & Rosa

 

Sunshine Landmark

Upside Down
Reincarnated
Batman
Stoker

BAM

Possession
Nosferatu the Vampyre
The Tenant
The Gatekeepers

Museum of the Moving Image

Horse Feathers
Man with a Movie Camera
Julien Donkey Boy
The Blood of  Poet with Un Chant d’Amour

Nitehawk

Weird Science
Body Double
Dead Man Down
Poltergeist III

Village East Cinema

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Greedy Lying Bastards
Quartet
Searching for Sugar Man

Cinema Village

Vanishing Waves
The Silence
K-11
Clip

Film Society Lincoln Center

Jackie Brown
Foxy Brown
Scream, Blacula, Scream
Escape from LA
A Conversation with Pam Grier

MoMA

J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)
Le météore (The Meteor)
Blackbird
Krivina
Laurence Anyways

Director Matteo Garrone on His Darkly Surreal Modern Fairy Tale ‘Reality’

With all the charisma and machismo of Fellini and sprinkled throughout a Bunuelian surreality, Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Reality is a bizarre and compelling character study of a man possessed by an elusive fantasy. As the follow-up to 2008’s Gomorrah, Garrone crafts a brightly colored satire of capitalism and celebrity obsession set in the hyper-real world of reality television—juxtaposed by the crumbling facade of Naples.

Scored by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat, Reality tells the story of a Neopolitan fishmonger, Luciano, with an natural affinity for entertainment—his larger-than-life personality both charming and excessive. But when his family and neighbors urge him to audition for Grande Frattello—the Italian version of Big Brother—his life begins to spiral out of control. After his successful audition, Luciano eagerly awaits a call from producers, growing more and more intoxicated with the idea of fame and what being on the show could mean for himself and his legacy. He becomes increasingly more consumed by the possibility that his mundane life will be replaced, not only with glamour of celebrity, but with a dream-like sense of wonder and immortality. The upbeat and comedic tone that permeates the first half of the film begin to grow darker and more psychological as we see Luciano unravel into a delusional world of his own.

Having premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, Garrone’s mesmerizing dark fantasy took home the Grand Prix, which he had won for Gomorrah as well. But what spins the film into its own realm of the bizarre is at the center of the film: Aniello Arena as Luciano, a man whom Garrone found performing in a prison acting troupe. The talented actor, whose performance feels reminiscent of Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy, has been praised for his grand role, but remains in jail serving his life sentence for double murder. With Reality, we see Garrone explore his incredible neorealist style to tell a fantastical tale that feels at once completely absurd and arrestingly common to our human desires. 

Last week I had the chance to sit down with Garrone in New York to talk about the real Luciano behind the film, the existential fairy tale, and working with Aniello Arena.

Can you tell me about the initial idea for the story? It’s something that feels so much different from your last film; was this an idea you’d been struck with for a while?
Yes, well the story starts from a true story—it happened to the brother of my wife. So I thought this story could be surprising, and also I wanted to switch from Gommorah into a comedy. I know it’s a comedy that’s very dark. We started to work on this project, and then I realized that it was probably not so different from Gommorah. That was a movie about the crime system, but at the same time it was a movie where the characters are victims of the crime system—slaves in a way. And at the same time, Reality is a movie about a victim of the show business system. Reality is a black fairytale, like Gommorah was for me. Of course, the style is different, but the work on trying to make an interpretation of reality and bringing it in another dimension is the same. It’s a movie that I feel very close to.

You’re right—it is still a comedy, although there are elements that are terribly tragic.
Yes, well, it starts like a comedy.

I really enjoyed that and also how it was very much a modern tale, because this obsession with celebrity is a modern issue. But there was something timeless about it, which enhanced that idea of it being a fairy tale.
We wanted to create this fantastic, imaginary journey of Luciano in a place, in a country, that’s full of contradictions. And also a journey—a psychological journey—because the second part of the movie is much more psychological.

And you make it very hard to watch this person that you just want to stop but you can’t.
In the second part of the film, you can relate more with his family than with him. But it’s also a movie that talks about desire, illusion, and the temptation of escape from everyday life. But it’s also a contagion. Luciano is pushed by the family and neighbors to do this and, so it’s not just him—it’s a society. It’s a movie about capitalism, in a way.

It’s not as if he simply had this vacuous need for fame. It was more about the desire to immortalize yourself and make you understand your reason for existence.
Existential, I think. To be there means that he can prove to exist to everybody. For a moment you put your head above the many, above the mass—a certification of existence. It became an existential problem, in a way.

Well that’s certainly something most people can relate to on some level, this desire to elevate their life from the mundane.
Yes, Luciano is very close to me in a way. For me, it’s always very important to create a relationship with the character and find a way to tell the story of this character with humanity. I don’t want to judge, to put myself on the top and say what is wrong and what is right. I always try to find a way to lead this character emotionally on their journey. So many aspects of Luciano are close to me and I hope to many other people.

It didn’t seem like you were judging him or criticizing anyone, moreso just an exploration of one man’s inability to separate reality from fantasy.
He tries to build a character like a saint in a way, and then that’s the beginning of when he begins to lose his identity—the tragedy. And so it’s sort of Pirandello story in a way. I think that’s very interesting, this connection between character and person. It’s very modern.

So can you tell me about casting Aniello Arena as Luciano?
All the actors come from theater and Luciano comes from a company of prisoners.

How did you first come across him?
My father was a critic of theater, so I used to go to the theater a lot with my father and we were big fans of this company. I noticed Aniello and we decided to work together. We wanted to work first on Gommorah, but the judge didn’t allow it because 20 years before, when Aniello was 22, he was condemned for a crime connected to Gommorah; he was in a clan and probably killed an enemy of another clan. And then I tried again with Reality and finally we got permission. It was a great experience for us to work together. I think his performance has something unique because it comes from that experience—not about the experience of his past connected to the crime, but the fact that he stayed for 20 years in jail. So you can see that in his performance: the light in his eyes and surprise that he has when he goes through certain situations, like the disco. He really discovers something and that was very important because the character has to be very naïve and pure, and I think he has that in his eye. He acts with the eyes.

And this must have felt like a fantasy to him, who I am sure never thought he would be starring in a film like this. He was fantastic, it’s just a shame we can’t see more of him. Did it make it difficult for shooting?
No, no we had all the time that we wanted because the permission was for work. Of course, at the end of the day he has to go back to prison, but the only problems were sometimes we couldn’t change locations. We had to give the police all the details where we were shooting because they often come to the set, and I remember the first time they came he was dressed like a woman. It was the beginning scene, so they were really shocked; they were asking for the prisoner and he arrived dressed like a woman, and they were pretty disgusted by that. 

It is a very fantastical absurd, surrealist story but filmed very naturalistically, following the characters’ lives like a documentary. Did you want to set up this juxtaposition between the two realms?
Yeah, it’s part of the subtle line between realism and this surreal dimension. That’s the most difficult, finding the balance between the two. This story could be unbelievable if you don’t have that and don’t pay attention to details and follow this balance between these two dimensions. But it is something I always do in my movies.

Would you say this film and Luciano’s predicament is very specific to Italy and Italian culture? This idea of consumption and media oversaturation is universal, but I suppose the specifics of celebrity differ.
I think it’s connected to capitalism and fate, so I hope it’s universal to the West. Of course, the power of television in Italy is very strong—could probably be stronger than other countries. But I think, as I said before, the desires that this guy has, the illusions of the dreams, are universal—I hope.  When we were working on this project, we were thinking that it could be universal.

Was there a particular reason you wanted to shoot the film in Naples? You said before that it was a place of contradictions.
I also wanted to remain faithful to the true story. It happened in Naples, so and after Gommorah I wanted to change because I like to change often. And if it’s happening in Naples, it’s better to remain faithful to that place. Naples, yes, is wonderful city, and a very rich inspiration, but at the same time full of contradictions. You can see these places that are very connected to the past.

It physically, architecturally, feels very old.
Old, yet at the same time, other parts are very modern, like outlets and commercial centers and water parks. But at the same time, other parts are very crumbling.

Your sister’s brother, who the real story belonged to—has he seen the film?
Of course! The real Luciano participated. He came often on the set to give advice to the actor. And then with the money from the movie he bought a new fish shop in Naples, and it’s going very well now. There are also old ladies that go there to take pictures. So it’s good: a happy ending.

And did you have any other cinematic influences going into the film? I could see possibly hints of Fellini and Bunuel.
Well, probably yes I would say the great Italian directors of the ’60s—Fellini, De Sicca, for sure. Probably for the second part I would say Polanski.

That sort of psychological unraveling.
The Tenant, you remember?

Yes, of course.
So many, but I hope to have found my personal way.

I would say so! And that opening shot from above of the carriage was fantastic. From the moment, you could tell right away that this was going to explore some sort of strange fantasy or fairy tale.
Yeah, a fairy tale from beginning. We made that with a helicopter and it was not easy to find the carriage because it was very small.

All of your characters in the film have these larger-than-life personalities. Is that something you look for in an actor or something you more so enjoy bringing out as a director?
The family members in the film are all from theater; most of them are from cabaret, from comedy. So of course the family was very important for this movie because they’re like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. In the beginning they push him to lose himself in a way, and then by the end they don’t realize they were accomplices. That was something that happened in real life; I don’t think my wife’s family realized they were accomplices because they hoped he could succeed and hoped they could escape from daily life.

Looking Forward to What’s Premiering This Spring

 

Well, it’s March already—who knew? And as we rise out of Oscars season, it’s finally time to look forward to the myriad amazing films debuting in the coming months. March alone will see the premiere of Spring Breakers, The Place Beyond the Pines, Room 237, and Beyond the Hills. But throughout the spring, some of our most anticipated films of the year are set to roll into theaters and I will be more than pleasure to not hear the word “Argo” for quite some time. So, from Matteo Garrone’s Reality to Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer, here are the spring premieres we’re getting excited about.

Reality, Matteo Garrone

The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine

Upstream Color, Shane Carruth

Simon Killer, Antonio Campos

Room 237, Rodney Ascher

Before Midnight

Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

To the Wonder, Terrence Malick

Trance, Danny Boyle

The East, Zal Batmanglij

Beyond the Hills, Cristian Mungui

The Most Anticipated Films of the Spring and Summer (Other Than ‘Before Midnight’)

For the past nine years, we’ve all been waiting to see if Jesse ever got on that plane and what became of him and Celine in Richard Linklater’s 2004 intimate walking-and-talking romance Before Sunset, the follow-up to 1995’s Before Sunrise. And now, eighteen years since that first moment in Vienna, we finally get to see where their story lands. Sony Pictures Classics have acquired Before Midnight, and to our delight it’s been revealed that the film we’ve been waiting so long with baited breath to see will finally have a limited release run starting May 24th in New York and Los Angeles. But Linklater’s decade-spanning drama isn’t the only one getting an official date. Pedro Almodovar’s follow-up to last year’s The Skin I Live in, the vibrant comedy I’m So Excited, will hit New York and L.A. on June 28th. And to top it off, as Woody Allen’s annual film will have a mid-summer’s release. Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love both premiered in early June but his latest, Blue Jasmine (starring Cate Blanchett, Alec baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, and Louis CK), will roll out on July 26th for a limited release.

So as if you weren’t already looking forward to summer, there are plenty of fantastic films headed our way, all sure to tickle your cinematic fancy. So while you’re cracking open your planner, take a look at what else is set to premiere in the season and what we’re most excited about—from Shane Carruth’s haunting sophomore feature to Danny Boyle’s latest masterpiece.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance’s epic triptych drama about a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective. 

Upstream Color

Shane Carrauth’s confounding and stunnigly complex sophomore effort about a man and woman who are drawn together and become entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. 

Reality

Matteo Garrone’s larger-than-life surrealist follow-up to Gommorah, the film is set in the world of reality television and follows a Neapolitan fishmonger who participates in Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother

To the Wonder 

Terrence Malick’s latest sprawling poem of images is a romantic drama that tells the story of a couple who move to Oklahoma, where problems arise as we watch the natural progression of love’s painful ebb and flow.

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Frances Ha 

Co-written by director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, we get a black-and-white look a a floundering young woman who works as an apprentice in a dance company and wants so much more than she has but lives life with unaccountable joy and lightness.

Trance

Danny Boyle’s vibrant and mystifying heist of the mind drama about an art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals that partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

Simon Killer

Antonio Campos’s psychologically distrubing yet visually beautiful drama about a recent college graduate who travels to France, where he becomes involved with a young prostitute.

Beyond the Hills

Cristian Mungiu’s third feature that centers on the friendship between two young women who grew up in the same orphanage; one has found refuge at a convent in Romania and refuses to leave with her friend, who now lives in Germany.

The East

Zal Batmanglij’s sophomore effort is a psycholigically challenging eco-thriller about an operative for an elite private intelligence firm who finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan’s ornate transgender epic about a man who reveals his inner desire to become his true self: a woman. Spanning through the late 1980s into the early 1990s, the story chronicles a doomed love affair.

Pavilion

Tim Sutton’s subtly poignant and ethereal film plays out almost silently as it tells the story of Max, who leaves his lakeside town to live with his father in suburban Arizona. 

Watch the Trailer for Matteo Garrone’s New Film ‘Reality’

With Fellini-esque characters brimming with machismo and personality sprinkled throughout a Bunuelian surreality, Matteo Garrone’s Reality—the follow up to 2008’s Gommorah—is a bizarre look at a man who becomes obsessed by the idea of fame. Set in a hyper-real world of reality television, the film follows a Neapoltian fishmonger who auditions to be on Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. Not entirely dissimilar to Requiem for a Dream‘s Sara Goldfarb, he becomes entirely consumed by the possibility that his mundane life will be replaced with the glamour of being on television and his chance celebrity.  But what’s really crazy, is the story behind the star of the film himself, Aniello Arena who plays Luciano. "Touted as the next De Niro," the Italian actor won’t even be able to hear his praises sung, seeing as he is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his role in a triple homicide while acting as a mafia hit man. Cast after Garrone happened to see him perform in the prison theatre company, Arena was only allowed out to the film’s set on day release. 

Read more about that here and check out the trailer for the wild film.

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