Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Let it Rain

With a big storm hovering over the Northeast this weekend, I did my best to prepare beforehand. I made the obligatory stops at the supermarket, the pet store, the gas station, etc. I also dropped into the library to grab a couple of extra books, you know, just in case we were stuck indoors with no power for days and the several dozen unread books I have at home wouldn't be enough. ;) I also considered grabbing a movie while I was there, which wouldn't be very helpful in the case of a power outage but would be good if we were just stuck indoors for a couple of days. As the latter turned out to be the case, it was a good idea that I had grabbed a movie at the last minute. When I was passing by the movie display at the library and still debating whether or not I wanted to spend the time rifling through them all in hopes of finding one I had both never seen before and was interested in seeing, my eyes fell on the one near the top of a pile, which was aptly named Let It Rain. I picked it up and thought the description sounded appealing, so away it came with me and I was happy to have found something without having wasted any time at all.

As Let It Rain is hardly a Hollywood blockbuster movie, I thought I would write about it here to make anyone interested aware of this little gem. This is a French film (subtitles available in English) directed by Agnes Jaoui and co-written by Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, a pair who, by the way, are married in real life. Jaoui and Bacri also co-star in the movie, along with Jamel Dabbouze (who played Lucien in a little film called Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain). Let It Rain is to some degree an example of metafilm, a movie which is about the process of making movies. Michel (Bacri) and Karim (Dabbouze) are local amateur filmmakers who decide to embark on a project filming successful women. The only successful woman they know is Agathe (Jaoui), a best-selling feminist author, a political candidate, and the employer of Karim's housekeeper mother. Supporting characters include Agathe's companion Antoine, her sister Florence and brother-in-law Stephane, Karim's wife Severine and his flirtatious co-worker Aurelie, and Michel's son Guillaume, in addition to the aforementioned mother of Karim.

Let me be clear from the outset. If you like movies that are plot-driven, this is not the movie for you. Materially, excepting perhaps Karim's mother, not much has changed for the characters from the beginning of the movie to the end. Perhaps this is rightly so, as the movie is supposed to take place over about 10 days only, so it would be quite a stretch of the imagination to see the entire lives of these people change dramatically in that time. Nevertheless, enough happens over those days to make the characters examine their motivations and perhaps re-consider some of their values. Therefore, if you like understated movies where you spend a lot of time getting to know the characters, then you might want to check this movie out.

All of the actors did a great job in this movie, but I have to say, I think Bacri stole the day when it came to comedy. There were several lines or scenes where his mishaps were downright hysterical. One of my favorite comic moments was when Karim and Agathe finally hit a good repartee during the interview only to find out that Michel had not been filming them that whole time as he was supposed to be doing. Another great scene was Michel's filming of the baptism towards the end. Comic genius.

Speaking of filming, the cinematography of Let It Rain was spot on. There were perhaps not as many rainy days in the movie as I might have expected given the title and description (or perhaps I was just biased by the deluge I had recently seen), but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The soundtrack was also great; I especially enjoyed the instrumental piece that played a few times during montage scenes. The various tensions seen between the characters makes the movie simultaneously comedic and dramatic. The relationship between sisters Agathe and Florence was particularly interesting to me; if there was anything I would change about the movie, it would perhaps be to see more of these two interacting and learning a bit more about their history, especially their childhood and their mother who clearly favored one daughter over the other for inexplicable reasons (or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, reasons not delved into in the movie). But that is something that makes a movie like Let It Rain so rich. It is a slice of life movie, the type of movie which makes you feel as though these characters had a life before this movie began and will continue to have one afterward. It's not as though a movie failed in giving you appropriate closure; it's that a movie succeeded in portraying characters so real that you forget they aren't actual people. For that reason, Let It Rain is a movie worth seeing - hurricane or no hurricane.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Surrealist Presentations: The Intersection of Art, Freud, and Women

Our trip to the MoMA today and seeing some Surrealist art reminded me of some projects I did in graduate school. Directly below is a presentation based on an annotated bibliography I did as a final project. The subject matter was Freudian psychoanalysis and the Surrealist artist Magritte.

Beneath that is an earlier presentation I did on the representation of women in Surrealist art. (Magritte is included in that one as well, but so are other artists.)

You can click on any of the slides to make them larger to read the sometimes itty bitty text I used.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

“That is modern art”: MoMA and South African art

Today, a friend and I made the trek into New York City to check out the current special exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I’d been interested in exploring Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now from the minute I heard about it, but predictably I made it in just under the wire (the exhibit closes next week). A complex look at race and power, the exhibit is made up entirely of works from MoMA’s own collections. The curator of the exhibit did a fairly good job of explaining the technical aspects of the prints, which was an added bonus. Nearly all of the artists featured were names unknown to me but I was quickly intrigued and absorbed by them all. Of particular interest were the political posters as well as the pages from Bitterkomix on display. (Here is the basic idea – with a slogan I love – of one of the former. The latter cracked me up with their satirical interplay of text and images).

The exhibit featured one artist who I know (and am appreciating more and more all the time) – William Kentridge. I had first learned of him at another trip to the MoMA (to see the excellent but incredibly crowded exhibit on Tim Burton) and then also found his works on display at the Zimmerli Art Museum and the Jewish Museum (where I went last summer for an exhibit on Curious George). I found out about his production of The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera far too late to even consider going, but that looked like an amazing treat for the eyes and ears! Check out the short clip available here to see what I mean. Unfortunately, even though Kentridge’s films had been at the MoMA in the past, they were not on display while we were there today (at least not anywhere that I noticed). While not an example of printmaking, they still would have been a fitting companion to the Impressions from South Africa exhibit.

Altogether, Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now wasn’t a very large exhibit but it had some real gems. If you have the time and access, I would definitely recommend checking it out!

While we were there, we also checked out another special exhibit entitled Talk to Me: Design and Communication between People and Objects. This quirky exhibit looks at the various ways humans and technology interact. One interesting piece was a video about the installation Double-Taker (Snout) at the Pittsburgh Center for Arts. Its ‘curious but shy’ motions reminded me to the movements of a cat and the concept of an emotionally interactive robot reminded me of the Kismet robot I learned about at the MIT museum last month. (Perhaps a post about my recent trip to Boston is forthcoming….) But the take-away piece from this exhibit for me was this hilarious and charming video by a group of Spanish artists: Hi, a real human interface. I challenge you to watch it and not laugh…or at least be amused!

We had a lot of time at the museum today so we also checked out some of the permanent collections, which display works by such greats as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, and my all-time favorite, Rene Magritte. There are also a number of Salvador Dali paintings, including his famous The Persistence of Memory. I always find Dali’s works mind-blowing, especially his Destino short for Walt Disney (beautiful!) and his dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (so fitting to a psychological thriller that pivots around psychoanalysis).

If you can’t find your way out to the MoMA, check out the Great Museums episode about it (video starts loading immediately). It’ll give you a great overview of the history of the museum and a look at its permanent collections.

Update: I forgot to mention that we also saw this small exhibit entitled Harun Farocki: Images of War (at a Distance). It was a bit odd, and not exactly what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.

Further Update: I stumbled upon this blog post today featuring the art work of "the new Salvador Dali," Vladimir Kush. Beautiful!!

I also discovered that The New York Times wrote about MoMA's "Talk to Me" exhibit in this article last month.