In the murky mirror of cinema, with Natalie Portman and Todd Haynes

25 years ago, news caused a stir in the United States: a mathematics teacher and mother had fallen in love with one of her 13-year-old students, had a son in prison, before marrying him when she was released from prison and expanding her family.

“May December” by Todd Haynes

The film that is inspired by it, May December, sign Todd Haynes, takes place 20 years later. Into this family comes, almost like everyone else, an actress and television star, who will star in the fictional adaptation of this story. In the purest tradition of the Actors Studio Method, she comes to observe her model, in a conflictive game of mimicry that reaches the point of vampirization. It’s not the bad news, at least not directly, that interests Todd Haynes. In what is undoubtedly his best film, the most terrifying and fun at the same time, the American filmmaker, admirer and follower of the princes of melodrama who were Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, leaves aside the mannerist extravagance of Far from paradise and others Carol above all staging and reflecting, with both minimalism and precision, the confrontation between two brilliant actresses: their fetish Julianne Mooreto whom he gave his first major role in 1995 in Sure (May December is their fifth film together), and Natalia Portman, at the origin of this film, since it was she who saw the first script written by a casting director, a certain Samy Burch, and who, for her first film as a producer, proposed it to the filmmaker she dreamed of. labor. So it’s only fitting that we met Natalie Portman and Todd Haynes, who explains how she staged it.

Samy Burch’s script was extraordinary, underlines Natalie Portman, Actually. Simple, but deceptively simple, because when you start getting into the work and grasp all the subtext of each line, each word is loaded, so is each silence; There is a lot of tension all the time. It’s a real gift to be able to play on a stage like this; It raises many questions that have obsessed me since the beginning of my career about role, identity, performance, the morality of art, the question of who gets to tell the story. (…) And when you yourself are an actress and you play an actress, you can laugh at yourself. And then the public arrives with a certain number of expectations that can be subverted. It’s a unique opportunity to take everything that viewers have in mind, everything they bring with them when they come to see the movie, and play with it.“.

"May December"by Todd Haynes
“May December” by Todd Haynes

– ARP selection

What excited me about this scenario, continues as if echoing Todd HayneYes, it is this energy, this work on interpretation, on the aspect of things that are not true, that are not certain. And I asked myself “how am I going to convey this to the attention of a viewer of the film: not knowing what we should think of these characters? “. In some way, the moral data of these characters are really changing: it is an invitation that I make to the spectators. (…) We had to raise awareness of this instability, show the public that they were always going to be on the verge of something, that they were never going to to be completely calm. And today I think it is very difficult for the public not to know exactly what to think of the images we show them. People like to go see a movie about which they already know what they will think at the end, and The challenge, in my opinion, is to put the audience in a position of instability, where, ultimately, our loyalty to one character or another is shifting. And to immerse ourselves in that process. To see this film is to live it. That is cinema. , that’s what it’s always been for me.”

To learn more about the films of Todd Haynes, we cannot recommend enough reading. Todd Haynes, American Chimerasa fascinating book of interviews conducted by Judith Revault d’Allones and Amelie Galli on the occasion of the retrospective that took place at the Center Pompidou last May, by the publishing house De L’Incidence. It will be expanded, the LaCinetekwith Far from paradiseand several films of his muse Julianne Moore and his teacher Douglas Sirk.

The cinema magazine

departures of the week

  • The return of an almost centenarian filmmaker to the images taken, for an aborted documentary project, by the young man who was in Afghanistan in 1960, is very beautiful An Afghan summerof James Ivory ;
  • The transformation, filmed over five years, of an industrial site in Bordeaux into a residential area, is the captivating urban poem Brazza hered’Antonio Boutet ;
  • A style of comedy Goodbye Lenin in the suburbs of Paris, in a context of growing anti-Semitism, is, on the knife’s edge and on the rope, The last of the Jews.of Noah Debrewith the revelation of a great comic temperament, that of Michael Zindel ;
  • TO Melanie Thierry voluntarily admitted to the psychiatric hell of Salpêtrière at the end of the 19th century, is the very carnal and colorful Captivesd’ Arnaud des Palliereswho came to talk to us about it last week;
  • The mysterious journey of a traveling projectionist and his teenage daughter through the post-Soviet margins of the Russian Empire is the magnificently languid The graced’Ilya PovolotskyRussian revelation from the last Cannes Festival;
  • An infinite game of fools and masks that only fall to reveal another, it is The houndgreat last movie Joseph L. Mankiewiczwhich is reissued in a restored version, and which NT Binh will talk to us about next week;
  • An inverted Pygmalion, with a cyclopean colossus like Galatea and a Emmanuelle Devos as the hidden son of Sophie Calle and Marina Abramović, he is the clay manfirst feature film inspired by Anais Tellennewho also came to talk to us about it last week, with his very subtle model, the actor Rafael Thiéry ;
  • The return to the big screen of a lascivious investigator who had the heyday of Club Dorothée in the 90s is Nicky Larson: Angel Dustof Kenji Kodamaanimated version, barely, of the manga City hunter ;
  • And finally, the damage to virility in an American family of fighters under the iron control of a toxic patriarch is uneven but moving. iron clawof Sean Durkin.

Large Plan Announcements

Next Wednesday will be the first. France culture session of the yearwith preview The beastthe beautiful adaptation of Bertrand Bonello of The beast in the jungle by Henry James, with Léa Seydoux and George MacKay. Of course, this will be followed by a meeting with the filmmaker. It is exceptionally at 7:30 p.m., as always at 7:30 p.m. Majestic Bastillein Paris.

Also in Paris, an event that will screen this Sunday the restored version of a legendary and rare surviving film of Yiddish cinema, The Dibbukof Michal Waszynski, It’s 3:30 p.m. Rashi Center39 rue Broca in the 5th arrondissement.

Screening of the event again: Shoahthe definitive and essential film of Claude Lanzmann about the destruction of the Jews of Europe, it is broadcast this Tuesday, January 30 on France 2 at 9:10 p.m., and will also be visible for a month on france.tv starting the following day.north.

In Brussels it is a cinema that is in danger, the cinema New star. To save this unique and self-managed space for clearing and film experiments, in the very center of the city, a cooperative was created by real estate developers, to which everyone can contribute. You will find the information. following this link.

Finally, if you are in Geneva, don’t miss the exhibition. Walkerwhich resumes within the framework of black film festival the series of films shot around the world by Tsai Ming-LiangI had talked about it hereIt is until February 7 at the Le Commun cultural space.

Column by Sandra Onana: “Bellissima”, by Luchino Visconti (which opens in theaters on January 31)

“Mom? What mother?” Mamma Roma!, of course, as Pasolini renamed Anna Magnani in 1961. We are 10 years earlier, in 1951, and the Magnani, it will be said Viscontithe real theme of your Beautiful. In any case, he had to wait a long time to finally film her, the volcanic Romaine, after the missed date withObsessionthe founding film of neorealism in 1942. And it is also neorealism, and its reverse, that is at stake in this film, with this casting of amateur girls in the Cinecittà studios, in search of the most beautiful girl in Rome. But also illusory dreams of a better life promised by the lark mirror of cinema, which only distinguishes to better humiliate…”Anna Magnani sucks the light out of the film, from the beginning, when we see her separate from the crowd at the doors of the Cinecittà, that monumental stage against which strangers collide. And we understand by this force of appearance, of seduction, that the film will be his. Which also tells us about the tension that will inhabit this story, since this hurricane mother competes for our attention to the detriment of the key figure of the plot, her little daughter María de ella. Beautiful It is, therefore, the story of a woman from the town who will bleed herself to turn her son into a star and will live her dreams of greatness by proxy. Even if that means forgetting to take into account the desire of this little Maria whom she loves so much. The film is on the side of baroque adoration, of the excess of her mother, who will squander the house’s savings to pay for theater and dance classes, with only the word sacrifice on her lips. But although Visconti stated that the script served as a pretext to raise a podium for his actress, he at the same time made Beautiful a monument to the tears of a girl, and legitimizes her as a subject. Because this little actress, it’s heartbreaking to watch, will spend the movie crying. And each time the camera iconizes it, in the pictorial sense of the term, as an absolute suffering that is not noticed.“.

"Beautiful"by Luchino Visconti
“Beautiful” by Luchino Visconti

– Camelia Films

sound clips

  • Extracts from May Decemberr, by Todd Haynes (2023)
  • music of Delivery courier by Michel Legrand, revisited by Marcelo Zarvos
  • Mix of releases of the week
  • Extracts from Beautifulby Luchino Visconti
  • Music from the opening credits. Beautifulby Franco Mannino, based on themes from The Elixir of Love by Donizetti

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