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Recent Movies: Hitchcock/Truffaut; Al Purdy Was Here; Youth

January 3, 2016

Recent Movies

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Based on the 1966 book by François Truffaut, this French/American documentary explores the cinematic history of the genius Alfred Hitchcock.

This movie has fascinating footage which includes still photos with audio interviews (with the aid of a translator) between the directors;  thoughtful interviews with contemporary directors from the U.S., France, and Japan;  and deeper analyses of renowned films like “Vertigo” and “Psycho”.  (Sadly, my favourite Hitchcock film, “Rear Window”, did not get such attention.)

It was also a delight to see visual footage of a very young Hitchcock directing silent films in the 1920s.  It was also fun to notice, in other footage, that people used to dress up to go to the movies even until the early 1960s.

There is so much I should have loved about this movie.  I believe that Hitchcock was a genius and I have great admiration for Truffaut as well – some of whose best films also get attention in this film.  But for some unknown reason, I just cannot understand what was missing.

Usually, I get what I liked or didn’t like in a movie.  I can see what I liked in “Hitchcock/Truffaut” but I still don’t see what I disliked.  It’s almost as much as a mystery to me as a Hitchcock movie itself.  But at least there, the mystery is solved within a couple of hours.

It might have been the structure of the film or the high expectations.  In any case, this is a movie I admired but only from a distance.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Al Purdy Was Here

A Canadian documentary explores the life and work of poet Al Purdy (1918 – 2000).  The film also centres around an A-frame cottage in Prince Edward County, Ontario that was built by Purdy and his wife Eurithe.  This location has been used as a gathering for many other artists both established and aspiring.

Director Brian D. Johnson has done a beautiful job in making a film that is as moving and poetic as Purdy’s writings themselves.  He perfectly juxtaposes the lovely rural settings (including older films and photos) with poetry readings and audio interviews.  Some interviews (both audio and visual) were made for the film while others were from wonderful, older footage.

Many artists have made contributions to this film.  The better known include Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, and Michael Ondaatje (voice only for the latter two).  The most moving moments in this fine film are when Purdy’s poems are expressed via musicians.  These moments were magical.  There are also touching poems that pay tribute to the culture of Canada’s First Nations.

It’s worth noting that Purdy was able to make a living only from the 1960s onward.  The A-Frame cottage is now used to nourish aspiring poets during temporary periods.  One such poet is the young and talented Katherine Leyton.

When interviewed, Leyton shows the strong character that also comes through in her fine poetry.  Despite her talent, she is aware that our current economic and cultural climate could not permit her to make a living as a writer as Purdy could.  This monologue left me feeling very nostalgic for the good old 1960s and 1970s.  The collective mindset of that time was so amazing, nourishing, and open-minded, it’s hard to believe it took place on the same planet where we’re all living right now.

Despite these feelings of sadness, melancholy, and yearning, it was yet another great example of the soulfulness and spirit of this beautiful movie.  Can you imagine a time when most Canadians had at least a passing interest in our own artists rather than thinking exclusively of American culture?

And there’s a bonus: watching Margaret Atwood playing pool in a small-town bar – and being damn good at it, too.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

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Youth

At a luxurious spa in the Swiss mountains, two long-time septuagenarian friends reflect on their lives, aging, and what comes next.  One is a retired British composer/conductor (Michael Caine); the other is an American film director (Harvey Keitel) working on a new film project with a group of young actors.  “Youth” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and is an Italian/Swiss/French/British co-production.

The themes of sadness and disappointment are reflected not only in those who are in the later stages of life; even successful younger people show regret such as a young film star played by Paul Dano.  While the average viewer might feel a sense of envy and curiosity of how the rich and famous live, the various characters who show up remind us that the wealthy can be as dysfunctional and unhappy as the rest of us despite their great resources.

Sorrentino’s directing is as compassionate, sweet, and melancholy as it was in “The Great Beauty”.  There are many visual moments that are striking and bizarre (sometimes too bizarre) which add much feeling to the film.  His use of the Swiss scenery is also breathtaking.  (In this way, the film is similar to “Clouds of Sils Maria”, also about a successful performer needing nourishment while staying near Swiss mountains.)

The unusual camera and sound work during a climactic scene at the end created great impact with their uniqueness.  The music by David Lang is also ethereal.  (Be sure to stay for the closing credits for this reason.)

Caine and Keitel do great work as the main characters and the anchors of the film.  But it is scenes including others which had the strongest impact.

One such scene involves Rachel Weisz as Caine’s daughter and his personal manager.  In this particular scene, she expresses grave disappointment in her father’s past behaviour.

The other major scene involves Jane Fonda as a septuagenarian ex-superstar with whom the Keitel character has worked in the past.  In this scene, Fonda chews the scenery as a vile ex-diva.  The scene was so good, it left me disappointed that her role had not been bigger.  It was too brief.  It made me yearn for the era when she was frequently given more substantial roles.

“Youth” is a sweet film that attempts to explore the deeper themes of life.  It doesn’t fully succeed with this ambition but it goes just far enough to be a worthwhile movie experience.

RATING:   * * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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