Tag Archives: Charlotte Gainsbourg

If You Noé You Know

Lux Æterna

by George Wolf

For anyone who’s still wary of the Gaspar Noé sensory assault in full feature length form, Lux Æterna offers a slight variation.

Oh, he’s still beating us about the face and neck with psychedelic imaging, pulsating rhythms and immersive colors, he’s just keeping it to under an hour this time. And, even bringing along a dare-I-say lighthearted touch to this meta mashup of cinema and witchcraft.

Most everyone here is playing themselves, starting right at the top with Béatrice Dalle and Charlotte Gainsbourg talking shop. They swap stories, laugh heartily at their “shit films” and eventually get down to the business of making “God’s Work,” a post-modern tale of witches.

Dalle is directing, Gainsbourg is starring, and once on set, the laughter gives way to a cascade of madness and hysterics, rendered even more disorienting by Noé’s consistent use of split screen formatics. Not only is following both sides often challenging, but anyone sensitive to flashing lights might well be overwhelmed.

The “God’s Work” producer is hatching a plan to get Dalle fired from the project. Gainsbourg is juggling trouble at home and unsolicited pitches from an aspiring director (Karl Glusman from Noé’s Love), while her female co-stars (including Abbey Lee and Clara Deshayes) face a string of indignities.

Noé intersperses it all with clips and quotes from films and filmmakers he admires, and when a lighting miscue becomes a flashpoint for total chaos on the production, Noé’s embrace of the breakdown is clear.

This is where his art thrives, and Lux Æterna finds Noé nearly winking at his own reputation. Longtime aficionados may feel a bit slighted, but any neophytes will get a healthy appetizer to help decide if you’re up for bigger portions.

Made in the Shade


by Hope Madden

Usually, when you try to avoid giving any plot synopsis it’s because so much happens in a film that you don’t want to spoil any surprises.

That’s sort of why it’s nearly impossible to describe Michel Franco’s latest drama Sundown. And yet, it’s also kind of the opposite.

The film in its entirety is a sleight of hand. In a way, it’s as if you’re watching a dysfunctional family drama, then an international thriller, but always from the perspective of someone barely involved in what’s going on. The result is simultaneously frustrating and mesmerizing.

Tim Roth provides a slyly empathetic turn as Neil. He and Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) plus two young adult kids are on a pricy vacation. Franco lingers for about 25 minutes on pools and vistas, private beaches and ridiculous accommodations. The dialog—what there is of it—amounts to background noise. The point is there’s love here, a bit of distance, and an absolutely insane amount of money.

Then a tragedy calls the family home, cutting short their holiday. From here the show belongs to Roth. Franco trusts the actor to carry the full weight of this character and this film with no exposition at all, next to no emotion and bursts of action withheld until the last half hour of the film.

Roth delivers. A blend of tenderness and resignation, he fascinates and the less he explains the more confoundingly intriguing he becomes. Neil is the mystery, his every action a surprise delivered in the lowest of keys.

Gainsbourg’s tumult of emotion offers a brash counterpoint, while Iazua Larios balances that drama with something raw and sometimes sweet.  

It’s almost amazing how much happens in a film that feels so meandering and lethargic. Sundown defies expectations, but it’s all the better for it.

Bring a Shovel

The Snowman

by Hope Madden

The Snowman, a Norway-set serial killer thriller, runs like a 3-hour flick that someone gutted for time without regard to sensibility, leaving a disemboweled and incoherent pile in the snow for audiences to puzzle over.

Not what I had expected.

I love director Tomas Alfredson. Well, I love his 2008 gem Let the Right One In and so, by extension, I love him. His writing team, adapting Jo Nesbø’s novel, includes the scribes behind such bits of brilliance as Drive (Hossein Amini) and Frank (Peter Straughan), and Michael Fassbender is the lead. Rock solid, that’s what that is.

And yet, The Snowman went horribly, embarrassingly, head-scratchingly wrong.

Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole. (I swear to God, that’s his name.) He’s a blackout drunk in need of a case to straighten him out. He finds it in one misogynistic mess of a serial killer plot.

All he and his new partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) know is that the killer leaves snowmen at the crime scene and has complicated issues with women. What follows is convoluted, needlessly complicated with erratic and unexplained behavior, ludicrous red herrings and a completely unexplained plot point about prescription pills.

The Snowman is not the first in Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, so a lot of “catch us up on this guy” exposition gets wedged in. From there, the writing team took a buzzsaw to Nesbø’s prose, leaving none of the connective tissue necessary to pull the many, varied and needlessly lurid details together into a sensible mystery plot.

It all leads ploddingly, frustratingly to an unearned climax heavy with needless flashbacks and convenient turns.

Everybody smokes, so it almost works as a cigarette ad, but as an actual story? No.

Fassbender, an inarguable talent, offers little to a clichéd character whose tics are predetermined—a shame because this is an actor who can dig deep when it comes to character tics. Ferguson and Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Hole’s ex, fare even worse. And an entire slew of heavy hitters gets wasted completely, including J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones and a weirdly dubbed Val Kilmer.

Alfredson films snowcapped carnage with a grotesque beauty few directors can touch, but that’s hardly reason enough to sit through this muddled mess.

Nympho, and Proud of It!


Nymphomaniac:  Vol. II

by George Wolf

When we left Joe’s life story at the close of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac:  Vol. I, she had finally married Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), only to find she had lost the ability for sexual pleasure.

Well, she put it a bit more bluntly than that, but you know Joe!

In case you don’t..Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has been telling her tale to the curious intellectual Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). After finding Joe lying in the street badly beaten, Seligman took her to his place for recovery, and has been sitting at her bedside as she recounts a life dominated by her insatiable nature. 

While Vol. I was an effective, if uneven, look at a woman unabashedly in control of her sexuality, Vol. II dissolves into the brilliant but misunderstood filmmaker shaking his fist at an unworthy society.

Joe’s story continues, and we see her exploring more extreme sexual experiences (some depicted graphically enough to earn you college biology credits), including regular appointments for physical abuse at the hands of an S&M “counselor” (Jamie Bell, quietly disturbing).

This behavior naturally takes a toll on Joe’s role as a wife and mother, as well as her ability to hold down a job. But, her experience with men is valued by shady character “L” (Willem Dafoe), and she accepts his offer to go to work in his “debt collection” department.

As Joe brings events closer to the point where Seligman found her, von Trier’s script gives Joe long, philosophical speeches while Seligman serves as the vehicle for convenient straw man arguments von Trier is eager for Joe to knock down.

After years of being of accused of misanthropy, von Trier has been silent since his controversial Hitler comments a few years back. When Joe proclaims she cannot say “whether I left society or it left me,” it’s not hard to guess who “me” really is.

Vol. II‘s main advantage over Vol. I is Gainsbourg. While Stacy Martin was indeed impressive as the younger Joe, she can’t match the emotions Gainsbourg explores. Mining her character’s experiences for every bit of depth, Gainsbourg never allows you to feel it’s safe to take your eyes off of Joe. She’s good enough to almost make up for the absence of Uma Thurman’s comically tragic, absolutely show-stopping performance from the first installment.  Almost.

LvT continues to be a filmmaker that should never be ignored, but Nymphomaniac:  Vol. II ultimately feels like a missed opportunity.

What could have been an expanded take on how society views sexually powerful women instead becomes akin to a public stunt, a vehicle for von Trier to proclaim that he is what he is, and he ain’t ashamed.