For Reel

La Cérémonie (1995)
December 19, 2015, 3:02 pm
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Director: Claude Chabrol
4 Stars
La CérémonieLa Cérémonie is a remarkably tense thriller, its class tensions mirrored with unexpressed eroticism that eventually finds a lethal outlet. While director Claude Chabrol’s narrative approach to murder is often linked to Hitchcock, Jonathan Rosenbaum has rightly claimed that Fritz Lang’s sense of abstract objectivity is undoubtedly a huge influence on his films. In La Cérémonie, the camera’s relationship to the characters is ever-shifting. When Catherine Lelievre (Jacqueline Bisset) arrives at a train station to greet Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire), she fails to see her on the other side of the tracks. Chabrol shoots the sequence from Catherine’s point-of-view–that is, the audience is allied with what Catherine sees, or in this case fails to see. However, much of the film plays in longer takes, shooting characters from a comfortable distance. Sophie’s interactions with Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) are often viewed in prolonged medium or long shots, so much so that the psychology of the characters and their rapidly growing friendship is alienating. Had Chabrol relied on frequent shot-counter-shots that showed Sophie’s reactions to specific encounters with Julie, for example, the eventual flourishing of her adolescent side might have been more conceivable for the audience. As it is, the film is disorienting and mysterious, concluding with a final act that is at once improbable and inevitable.

Whisper of the Heart (1995)
July 19, 2012, 9:07 pm
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Director: Yoshifumi Kondō

Yoshifumi Kondō was primed to become the successor to Studio Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata before his life was tragically cut short in 1998 due to a ruptured aneurysm. Whisper of the Heart, the only feature that he directed (and the first non-Miyazaki or Takahata film for the studio), shows the remarkable promise of a career that could have been – it is among the studio’s most earthbound efforts, though it enchants all the same through its charming romance between two schoolchildren. To compliment the relatively low-key drama, Kondō uses the questionable device of visualizing a fantasy epic that the young girl is in the process of writing, which follows the adventures of an anthropomorphic cat known as The Baron (seven years later, the character would return in a spin-off feature entitled The Cat Returns). It is fair to suggest that the idea might have stemmed from the anxiety of not being fantastical enough – for a Ghibli effort, it is remarkably minimalist in terms of plot, taking more of an interest in lingering with the characters and uncovering the roots of their youthful optimism. The towering shadow of Ghibli’s similarly reflective masterpiece, Only Yesterday, perhaps makes the misjudged Baron sequences a little less palatable, but nonetheless it is only a small misstep in what is otherwise a refreshingly patient ode to childhood.

Ghost in the Shell (1995)
April 3, 2011, 11:52 am
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Director: Mamoru Oshii

A breakthrough anime film for American audiences, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell remains a visionary transhumanist effort that deeply challenges its viewers through the density of the plot and its conceptually abstract ruminations. In a future world in which humans and cyborgs coexist, a supercomputer known as The Puppet Master gains consciousness and navigates the informational sea without restriction. As difficult as it is to gain footing when first entering this wholly unique world, the film is nonetheless successful as a visual spectacle with moody lighting and a number of impressively staged action sequences. Most memorable about the picture is its often nude protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi, whose empowerment is largely unparalleled by most female characters in American film.