The Fast Forward Revue


Film Review: The Last Mistress

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFF¾ (3¾ out of 5)

 

The Last Mistress – French director Catherine Breillat’s latest cinematic offering based on the 1851 novel by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly – is a film that explores the precarious border between passion and hate. And thanks to a remarkably strong performance from the title role of Asia Argento, it succeeds in demonstrating that these two seemingly contradictory sentiments can occasionally be synonymous. The Last Mistress, set in 1835, revolves around Ryno de Marigny (Fu-ad Ait Aattou), a notorious Parisian libertine who is engaged to be married to the reputable and infinitely innocent young Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida), granddaughter to the wealthy Marquise de Flers (Claude Sarraute). The pending marriage is however shadowed by the infamous relationship between Marigny and his mistress of ten years, Vellini (Argento), a brutishly seductive woman who declares herself the enemy of all  things feminine – except, of course, when these things are demonstrated in the features of young men.

 

 

The film takes us through the ten-year affair between Marigny and Vellini, as well as their relationship once the former has ventured into supposedly-respectable married life. While its plot is somewhat predictable, the film is carried by Argento’s throaty sensuality and Aattou’s perplexingly effeminate beauty. And seeing as the bulk of the film focuses on these two elements – displayed to the best effect in the unabashedly many bedroom scenes – Breillat demonstrates that she knows what she’s doing, and knows what works to her advantage. While the complex relationship between Marigny and Vellini is truly compelling to witness, the structure and plot that fortify the story-line is easily lost due to the less enthralling performances from periphal characters, who portray the French aristocracy as uni-dimensional gossip-lovers, but not much more.

 

 

In spite of this, the central dilemma of the Marigny-Vellini affair is enough to satisfactorily hold up the rest of the film – which is further aided by the sheer beauty of its visuals. Even the somewhat drawn-out silences are made bearable by the engrossing aesthetic stimulation on screen.

Overall, while The Last Mistress may not be the chef-d’œuvre you were hoping for from Catherine Breillat, it is a satisfying film, and certainly worth seeing. Three and three quarters out of five.

 

Click for the Official Trailer.
Click for Local Movie Listings.



Film Review: Luchino Visconti’s “Lo Straniero” (The Stranger)

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFFFF (5 out of 5)

 

I will always remember the first time I read Albert Camus’s L’Étranger. Details of where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, what my life was like at the time – all are embedded now in those pages of the battered Gallimard paperback. And similarly, I can also say I will always remember the first time I watched Italian maestro Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation, Lo Straniero

 

Starring Marcello Mastroianni as Meursault, it is difficult at first to imagine such an engaging, charming and brilliant actor in such a dispossessed and emotionless role as that of Meursault. But then again, one might argue that only an actor of Mastroianni’s brilliance would be able to understand such a part, and ingeniously portray a man devoid of genius. Upon watching the film, it was easy to be convinced that the latter claim is true: Mastroianni is passive but firm, a follower but independent; he is an outsider.

Playing opposite Mastroianni as Meursault’s love interest Marie is Anna Karina. Intoxicatingly beautiful and yet disconcertingly distant, she is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s quintessential female leads, most notably immortalised by Monica Vitti in L’Eclisse. In fact, this is not the only parallel with Antonioni’s work: Piero Piccioni’s score for Lo Straniero holds the same dysphoric undertones as the work of Giovanni Fusco, who worked with Antonioni on several of his films. It is not surprising that these parallels arise, since both bodies of work deal so heavily with the themes of the characters’ alienation and their futile existential struggle against indifference.

As an adaptation, Lo Straniero is extremely faithful to Camus’s novel. The only major perceptible differences are in the introduction, in which we see Meursault in prison in the very first scene, which works as an instigator for the telling of how he came to be there. Of course, there can be no comparison between this opening and Camus’s calmly indifferent first line “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte” (which figures immediately after the prison scene in the film); however, this discrepancy is understandable from the point of a director, and lends to the film a coherent direction, a visual target to work toward in the film’s otherwise thematically disconnected scenes.

 

 

Although Meursault’s relationship with Marie, his colleagues and neighbours is beautifully captured in scenes from the beaches and streets of Algiers, the strongest and most fascinating scenes of film appear in the second half, after the climax in which Meursault shoots the Arab. Most notable are the court scene – inwhich the weighing of Meursault’s crime and guilt resembles a circus act, as favour swings from one fat sweating lawyer to the other – and the final exchange between Meursault and the priest. In this scene, Mastroianni fully demonstrates the extent of his powers as an actor, as he chillingly expresses the supreme anguish of having no anguish at all in the face of committing murder and his own imminent death.

The only problem I can perceive in the film is the fact that it is impossible to find. It has rarely been seen since its release in 1967, and has never been released on VHS or DVD. As part of this season’s screenings at the Cinematheque Ontario, I was lucky to have the chance to watch it: this is only the third time it has been screened in Toronto for the past two decades. The reason as to why this is the case remains a mystery.

However, there is no doubt that adapting L’Étranger into a film was perhaps one of the most ambitious cinematic undertakings in film and literary history, but Visconti has proven he was worthy of the task. The film is by no means a substitute for the novel, but it is a masterful rendering of Camus’s L’Étranger into the medium of film, done with the utmost sensitivity and adherence to the atmosphere and development of the original. Five out of five.

 

 

Pertinent Links

  • Video: Marcello Mastroianni, François Truffaut and Roman Polanski discuss the casting and direction of Lo Straniero by Luchino Visconti (Français)
  • Video: music from Lo Straniero by Piero Piccioni
  • IMDb: Profile and information on Lo Straniero on IMDb
  • Luchino Visconti.net: Information and detailed summary of Lo Straniero with photos from film and shooting (Italiano)
  • Cinematheque Ontario: For more screenings in Toronto this season (including Visconti, Resnais, Robbe-Grillet)


Vive la France!

Le 14 juillet: Fête Nationale de la France.

In honour of France’s national holiday, here are seven minutes and twenty-two seconds of men in uniforms shifting around the place de la Concorde in inhumanly geometric formations. Quite spectacular to watch, really. 

Fun Fact: France’s Fête Nationale is celebrated on the 14th of July to commemorate the storming of the Bastille on the same day in 1789 – often seen as the symbolic beginning of the French Revolution. Nowadays, Bastille Day falls during the Tour de France and is traditionally a day on which French riders try to take a stage victory for France, working harder than they might otherwise.



Word of the day: Blasé

In the thick of one of my periodic rounds through the old Oxford Concise Dictionary (a badly stitched-up Sixth Edition from 1976), I recently happened upon an old favourite and friend of mine: the word ”blasé”.

Now, it is difficult to describe why I like this word so much… No, that’s a lie: actually, come to think of it, it’s not difficult at all. It’s because the word is French. And the OCD defines it quite simply as follows:

blasé (a.) Cloyed with or tired of pleasure.

It both amazes and terrifies me that pleasure can be tiresome – and still more yet that I know from experience that this is a very true and very common phenomenon. Yes, dear readers, I have had those days when I’ve felt oh-so-blasé. Blah blah blasé, one could say. I think that could be the name of a band. Aha! Yes, upon a brief perusal of the Internet, my suppositions have been confirmed: Blah Blah Blasé is in fact a band, and here is an exciting performance at 93 Feet East of theirs, in which the lead singer is wearing excitingly skinny trousers. Hm… further research indicates that the band has separated. Shame…



Street Style: Transport in Toronto
July 10, 2008, 4:14 pm
Filed under: Author: E. Sempé, Miscellaneous, toronto | Tags: , , , ,

Now, who doesn’t love a green Vespa? [Seen on Spadina Ave. at Harbord]

I love the detail on this model – namely the sticker in back; it reminds me a bit of what the Jacobins and the Assemblée Générale of the French Revolution would wear on their waistcoats and jackets. Though instead of green in the outer ring, they wore blue, of course. But we can ignore that little inconsistency…



Interview: Søren Bonke of Klak Tik
July 10, 2008, 9:19 am
Filed under: Author: E. Sempé, Interview, Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 

Klak Tik is the solo project of Søren Bonke, a Danish musician currently residing in London, United Kingdom. With tags and descriptions ranging from indie, alternative, and acoustic to folk and gypsy, the music of Klak Tik is layered, multi-instrumental and hypnotic – reminiscent of Beirut, DeVotchKa and Arcade Fire. Bonke describes his own sound as “Thom Yorke and Sufjan Stevens, in bed, quarrelling, only you can’t quite make out the muffled words through the wall, so you try to go back to sleep.” Insightful and with a great sense of humour, the Fast Forward Revue got the chance to catch up with this fast-rising musician for an interview. You can check out Klak Tik on Myspace and Last.fm, where his latest album Padangle Studio Sessions is available for download.

 

Let’s start with something simple – though not necessarily easy to answer: who is Søren Bonke?

Søren Bonke is a Danish musician, only days off celebrating his 10th annual 19th birthday, but no less consumed by middle-child-syndrome than he was ten years ago.

 

Originally from Denmark, you’ve now moved to London, UK. What prompted your decision to move? And how have you been finding London?

I lived in Germany for three years before I came to London. I originally didn’t want to go to London, but a combination of not being able to find work in Paris, where both my brothers were living at the time, and a job with Alexander McQueen in London, which my girlfriend at the time got her fashionable hands on, prompted the decision.

Despite being my second choice, or, my only choice, London has certainly proved to be an exciting place to live. Great place to be a musician, bad place to live as one. I miss the sea.

 

How did you begin writing music. What drew you to it and influenced you?

I began playing piano (mother forced us, the witch!) as a three-year-old and I guess I found the rebellious inclination to ditch Eric Satie and make my own little tunes well  before my 10th birthday. The baby grand was a dear friend when coming home from school to a large and sometimes very quiet house in the country. I remember how I would strike a ten finger chord, forte fortissimo, and putting my ear on the wood and then let myself be hypnotised by the endless ringing of the strings. I’d sometimes fall half asleep over the keys and have small dreamy visions in a particular key. The piano gave me my first encounters with the meditative element of playing music, which is something I still cherish.

I don’t remember being drawn into music or beginning to write music, it was just always there, in the center of my life.

I was/am influenced by everything around me, the same as anyone, writer or not writer. I think my songs have become increasingly personal as I’ve got older and less intimidated by my own feelings. I do remember, at 13 or so, beginning to write this symphony style epic piece about a dragon slayer or something fancy like that, and how I lost all motivation as soon as I realised how long it would actually take to complete it. Now that I’ve more or less accepted my pathetic concentration span I tend to stick to slightly more manageable formats of songwriting, i.e. something I can finish while I still feel that way.

 

How would you personally define your sound and your music?

Thom Yorke and Sufjan Stevens, in bed, quarrelling, only you can’t quite make out the muffled words through the wall, so you try to go back to sleep.

 

On the record, you play many different instruments, some conventional and others not as common in music today. How did you pick up each one – and do you have a favourite?

I’ve always had lots of guitars and I guess it was only when we started recorded the first album with my old band that I properly started getting into all the other instruments. It started with a ukulele that my producer bought. Then I got a banjo and a  mandolin, and accordion and a violin. My friend lend me his old trumpet from school before another friend lend me her old cornet from school. I’ve got a 100-year-old auto harp which sounds absolutely beautiful when it is in tune, which it never is. My favourite sound of any instrument would have to be trumpet. Not when I play it, mind you.

 

Favourite musical artist(s) right now?

I’m really into the Ruby Suns at the moment, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped listening to BSS, Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens and Neil Young. Some artists you just never tire of. Others come and go.

 

The first record you ever owned?

Technotronic, Pump up the jam.

Yes, I know… my older brother was a dj at the time and I was trying to copy his style. 

 

Best live show you’ve ever been to?

Ha, maybe that’s what they are arguing about in bed.

Sufjan Stevens at the Barbican in London was absolute beautiful, and is probably only matched by the free Radiohead show, which me and about 150 other jammy bastards enjoyed in the tiny venue 93 Feet East in East London in February.


If you could do a musical collaboration with absolutely anyone, who would you choose?

Russell Crowe. No, maybe Neil Young. Or Duke Ellington.

 

Outside of music, what do you generally do with your free time?

Ride my fixed gear bicycle around London. Watch old films. Grow plants. Sip fair trade lattes from organic farmer’s markets.

 

And finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

“Just add water”,

is the brilliant slogan for the scuba diving gear company Mares. A phrase which I will be putting into practise from tomorrow when I travel to Cambodia for a month.

 

Make sure to check out Klak Tik on Myspace and Last.fm, where his music is available for download. Fast Forward Review’s recommended tracks:

Playlist of Klak Tik favourites on imeem.com

Klak Tik – Culinary Skills of a Modern Man
Play / Download

Klak Tik – Heatwave
Play / Download



Toronto Fringe Review: Between Commutes

 

Fast Forward Rating: FFFF (4 out of 5)

 

Between Commutes is a series of comedy sketches by playwright David Raitt that take a satirical look at modern urban life. This high-energy performance is hilarious and to the point: from workplace anecdotes tobreak-ups, parenting and the daily commute, actors Carly Jones and David Raitt demonstrate impressive versatility, and the ability to captivate an audience from beginning to end. 

Fun to watch, and guaranteed to make you laugh, Between Commutes is smart and satisfying – you won’t want to miss it!

 

 

Between Commutes is playing at St. Vladimir’s Theatre, 620 Spadina Ave. (S. of Harbord) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival.

Wednesday, July 9, 12:30pm
Thursday, July 10, 9:15pm
Saturday, July 12, 1:45pm
Sunday, July 13, 4:15pm