The Yale Film Society Blog
Dispatch from Paris - no. 1

If the state of Today’s Cinema has you lying awake at night, weeping softly into your pillow as you mourn the imminent death of the Seventh Art — if you despair of ever again living in a world where movies are appreciated and enjoyed and valued, as products of human creativity and cultural expression that are worthy of both study and celebration — if such ruminations are putting you into a depressive state, then drop everything and pack your bags: the Cinema is alive and well and thriving, and all you need to get in on the fun is a plane ticket, a French phrase book, and a wallet full of euros.

The City of Light is a city deeply in love with the screen. While New York and Los Angeles may lay claim to being superpowers of film production, Paris is indisputably the world capital of the movie audience. In a land that struggles with an international reputation for cold aloofness and hoity-toity arrogance, the affection and enthusiasm that Parisians display for the movies is disarming: with a warm, earnest, inclusive and utterly un-self-conscious puppy-love, the people in this mecca of cultural sophistication devour every scrap of celluloid that can be projected onto a screen, scarcely discriminating between obscure Romanian melodramas and the latest Adam Sandler cringe-fest. All are eagerly anticipated, publicized, reviewed, discussed, and weighed with equal interest and respect, if not always admiration. There’s a frankly charming innocence and an open-mindedness in the French attitude and the way that each new release is received, a genuine interest, and a sense that movies are being enjoyed for all the right reasons, regardless of cultural or commercial pretensions.

There are spots in Paris — the block around the Odeon Metro stop on the throbbing, stylish Boulevard Saint Germain, for instance, or the narrow, fabled alleyways of the student-centric Latin Quarter — where you can stand within sight of three movie theaters, all showing a different slate of films on a given night. There are a few mega-multiplexes — one that I’ve frequented has a dozen screens, plus a chic cafe and a large classy shopping area that sells books, DVDs, and home decor — but the majority of theaters have two or three screens and different screenings each night of the week. Some specialize in mainstream Hollywood and French blockbusters, others in contemporary, “serious” international offerings, and still others in retrospectives of classics, both well-known and obscure. Last night I went to a 7 p.m. showing of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (here translated as “La Taupe” - The Mole) in a packed multiplex theater, then walked a few blocks to a two-screen moviehouse in a quiet back alley, in time for the 9:30 screening ”The Magnificent Ambersons” in 35mm, part of a two-week RKO festival. A couple weeks ago I saw “L’Amour dure trois ans” [“Love Lasts Three Years”], a popular, mildly irritating French romantic comedy, in a packed room with stadium seating; a few days later, it was ”Hugo” in 3D at an old-timey filmotheque, where the lobby was decked in dark red wallpaper and hanging lamps and the original projection equiptment was visible behind glass as you made your way up the cramped staircase to the theater.

And there’s no end in sight. The moviegoing culture here is thriving, because going to the movies is a cherished and vibrant mode of participation in the culture itself. In America, industry executives may be wringing their hands, fearing impending doom — but they have only to hop across the pond to see that, in fact, the movies are alive and well: it’s the audience that makes the difference.

By Madeline Whittle

Oscar Watch: A Dangerous Prediction

On December 31st, 2011, the New York Times published its three top film critics’ picks for the 2012 Oscar nominations. After a month of seeing every film in theaters, I excitedly awaited a lovely sense of accomplishment at having seen most of the movies on the list. Oh, how wrong I was. To my shock (and disappointment), added to my obvious predictions (Tree of Life, The Descendents, Hugo, etc.), were many films that I had missed. And some that I hadn’t even heard of. Even more shocking than the movie list, however, was the complete lack of agreement between the three critics. The only film that A.O. Scott, Manohla Dargis, and Stephen Holden could agree on was David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. I had to see that movie. 

A Dangerous Method has some wonderful attributes. I’m a particular sucker for a period piece and Method's sets, costumes, and make-up were all up to par (especially after seeing J.Edgar, a movie where I couldn’t wait for the main character to die so that the film would be over). Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen both deliver thoughtful and entertaining performances. And I must say that I was impressed by Cronenberg’s variability, especially after seeing Videodrome, which I can safely say is one of my least favorite films of all time. The film also did a nice job of laying out Freud’s principles, his relationship to Jung, and what the field of psychology would have been like at the time that the film is set. Unlike J.Edgar, I felt that I actually knew enough about what was going on to compliment the film. 

Yet, for me, A Dangerous Method failed to elicit any true catharsis. No matter how much I liked or disliked the main characters, I never felt with them, and barely ever for them. On the part of Keira Knightly, this was merely due to poor acting. Although Knightly has never been my favorite, I’ve never been offended by her presence on screen. Until now. From the very beginning, her portrayal of Jung’s patient was forced and unrealistic. Her accent was almost as distracting as the age makeup of J.Edgar. In terms of Fassbender’s character, Jung, acting was not to blame, but rather the character’s overall development. The unsympathetic nature of the main character hindered the plot. I wanted to see the pains of making his decision— to watch him weigh the costs and benefits. Instead, I only saw his decisions’ consequences. In terms of Viggo Mortensen, he was barely in the film at all. I can safely blame the lack of Freud’s character development on script problems rather than completely on acting or directing. Perhaps, in reality, the small character of Jung’s wife, Emma, was actually the film’s most well developed character. I sympathized with her, even though I didn’t necessarily support her viewpoint, desire the same outcome as she did, or really even like her.  

Yet another problem with the film, one that I feel Cronenberg must have had something to do with, was the insistance on bringing telepathy into the plot. In the film, Freud himself says that any preoccupation with telepathy is foolhardy and detracts from the scientific nature of psychology. I would agree with Freud, and advise Cronenberg in the same manner about the use of telepathy in his film: junk it. It made a perfectly realistic, serious film seem flimsy and meandering. 

Apparently the Academy was just as confused as I was about the NYT critics’ selection. Although there were nine Best Picture Nominees, A Dangerous Method was not one of them. In fact, the film actually received a grand total of ZERO nominations. Just what was it about this movie that caused such praise, and then such disappointment? I can’t be sure. Thoughts, film society?  

By Becca Edelman