Great news! COLCOA, the exceptional French Film Festival, is continuing on for an extra day today. You can see the updated schedule here: https://colcoa.org.
Last night I was happy to enjoy Cyrano my Love, by Writer/Director Alexis Michalik, pictured above. This outstanding, fast-paced romp of a film is based on the origins of Cryano de Bergerac, and is just a delightful, heart-felt cinematic treat. Mr. Michalik, a multi-talented actor/director and writer, based his film on the play he also wrote. His play is currently enjoying a long, successful theatrical run in France. Cyrano my Love will be released this Fall in the United States, and has my highest recommendation.
I had a wonderful time at the COLCOA French Film Festival last Monday night. This is an outstanding festival offering top-notch films and events, and delicious food and drinks at the receptions. It’s really one of the finest and most elegant film festivals I’ve ever attended. And I’ve had more than my share!
COLCOA runs through September 28th at the Directors Guild of America in Los Angeles, California. The theatre there itself has recently been renovated with the expert input of several top directors. As a result, to see a film in this theatre is an exceptional experience. First of all, when they darken the lights, it is almost completely pitch black. The sound is excellent, as are the theatre details and very comfortable seats.
The Opening Night began with a wonderful reception with terrific food and drinks. Then we lined up to enter the newly renovated theatre. François Truffart, the Festival Executive Producer and Artistic Director, made a speech opening the festival. Paul Williams, the famous musical composer, also spoke. I met him briefly before his talk, and he could not have been kinder.
Finally they screened the opening night film, Les Misérables. This is an updated version of Victor Hugo’s classic film, set in the slums outside Paris. It’s a dark, disturbing film but vitally important to show how easy it is to let gang warfare take over peace and calm.
The film, directed by Ladj Ly, has been submitted by France to the Oscars for the 2020 Best International Feature Film Award, and is generating a great deal of buzz. It certainly captivated the COLCOA audience here. The US release date for Les Misérables is October 18, 2019, and is being distributed by Amazon Studios.
All in all, a most enjoyable evening spent with some of the most elegant film aficionados on the planet.
The COLCOA French Film Festival continues on through September 28 at the Directors Guild of America. Tickets and information can be found here: colcoa.org. More photos are available on my Flicker page here flickr.com/joybennett.
Two weeks ago, on August 12, 2019, I was thrilled to attend La Boheme at the Santa Fe Opera while visiting family in the area. La Boheme of course is Puccini’s famous opera that had its debut in 1896 in Italy. At first critics were lukewarm to the opera when it first came out. Mahler himself was extremely hostile and virtually banned La Boheme in favor of a rival’s work on the same subject.
However, the public immediately took to the work, and critics eventually came around, with the English critic Frank Granville Barker eventually calling La Boheme “one of the wonders of the world.”
The Santa Fe Opera version I saw recently was blessed with humorous and poignant touches that gave it a special emotional import. And seeing La Boheme in the spectacular setting of the Santa Fe Opera is a rare treat indeed.
It was so special too to enjoy the opera itself with my brother, who lives near Santa Fe. I also enjoyed a Backstage Tour the morning of the performance with my dear sister, also a local resident. The tour gave us unique and wonderful insights into the history and structure of the spectacular opera house itself.
The singers in particular were extraordinary, especially Mimi sung by Vanessa Vasquez, making her impressive Santa Fe Opera Debut.
Overall, the day offered a world-class opera in an architectural gem of an opera house, set in the beautiful high desert outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a wonderful experience I won’t soon forget.
The story of La Boheme is a familiar one, the struggles of the bohemian artist to become accepted while keeping a roof over his head. If you recognize some aspects of the story, it’s because it's the same story in Rent, the hit Broadway musical that was also turned into a movie and live TV special.
If you are ever in the Santa Fe area, I encourage you to take in an opera or any other performance in this spectacular venue. You won’t be disappointed. Everything is top notch, from the beautiful views and architecture, to the acoustics and music, to the quality of the food and beverages in the cafes and restaurants. The staff is very kind and helpful, and the quality of the superb productions and tours are remarkable. I personally plan to enjoy the opera each summer while visiting relatives.
For more information and tickets, visit santafeopera.org. For more photos of the opera, visit my Flickr page here: flickr.com/joybennett.
Thank you to the kind staff of the Santa Fe Opera for accommodating me and my family for this very special experience.
If you've never been to Alaska, I highly recommend a visit. Princess Cruises does a terrific job pampering you while you are enjoying this amazing state. It's not nearly as cold as you would think, and I suggest a visit before all the glaciers melt completely. More photos on my Flickr page here: flickr.com/joybennett.
There’s a small refrigerator magnet on my frig that says, “Never apologize for your art.” It’s framed by a Jackson Pollock painting, the paint madly splashing all over the canvas. I live by that sentence. I suspect so does the brilliant and controversial director Rick Alverson. I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Alverson about his new film just out this week, The Mountain.
It’s a difficult, brilliant, emotionally draining film. It tells the story set in the 50’s of a wacked out lobotomist whose controversial procedures are increasingly disputed. However, Dr. Fiennes continues to cavalierly sever the nerves in his patient’s brain that gives them life and vitality and individuality. After the procedure, they shuffle along, a shadow of their former selves.
His younger assistant, Andy, has a job photographing the patients before and after, and journeys with him on his travels. Andy has his own problems. One parent is dead, the other having mysteriously succumbed to the treatment of Dr. Fiennes years ago. The film follows them along this twisted path, and had it not been for the delightful and charming presence of Jeff Goldblum playing the lobotomist, I may not have been able to emotionally tolerate the film.
Despite the highly unsympathetic doctor role he plays, Mr. Goldblum brings life and fun and interest to this dark journey. It’s funny, you know the doctor is a complete monster, yet with Mr. Goldblum playing him, you go along quite happily and willingly for the ride. That is one hell of an actor. The casting throughout is spot on, in fact.
This film, while brilliant, is frankly not for everyone. If you like dark, strange, twisted stuff, great. If you are interested in Avant guard, cutting edge filmmaking, it is just your cup of tea. But if you want to be entertained, and want an easy, escapist movie, head for the multiplex. Or better yet, stay home and watch TV.
This is not entertainment, this is art. Director Alverson implies we are all being slowly lobotomized, drip by drip, with the constant drone of “Make America Great Again” and the crap the Russians, even according to Mr. Mueller, are still doing to our elections and our country. This film uses film itself to expose this. Though it may not always be easy to watch, it is an important narrative on the entertainment industry and our culture as a whole. For that reason, it has merit, and importance, and is not to be missed by the courageous, freethinking hearts and minds brave enough to bear its message.
Jeff Goldblum, of course, is the wonderful Jewish actor and personality. He is charm personified. You will likely never see a more appealing sociopath on film.
Director Alverson, the director, is another matter completely. Born in Spokane, Washington 48 years ago, he is a director of import and singular vision. His prior films include Entertainment (2015) and The Comedy (2012). He also conceived, co-wrote and co-edited this film. The writing excels throughout.
Mr. Alverson is also a gifted musician. You can hear his unique and somewhat unsettling songs he put together with his long-time collaborator Emilie Rex, the singer/cowriter on many of his songs. Their latest album, Lean Year is unusual and unique, just like his films. Very much worth a listen. Look for the album Lean Year by the band of the same name. More music is coming next summer.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Alverson by phone a few days ago. Below are excerpts, edited for clarity, of our delightful, challenging conversation.
I first asked what drew Mr. Alverson to this project. He said it was loosely based on Dr. Walter Freeman, the inventor of the lobotomy procedure. Essentially, Mr. Alverson said that’s where the historical relevance ends. He’s using the lobotomy procedure in the film to show how movies themselves can make us brain dead.
I next asked how his films are financed. He said they were financed by VICE Studios, the folks that make those great news programs that just break your heart.
Much of the film seems ad-libbed by the outstanding actors. To my amazement, Mr. Alverson said the film was mostly scripted. It seems so fresh and improvised! I was quite surprised.
Then I asked if it was emotionally trying to make such a difficult, off-putting, demanding film. Wouldn’t it be easier and more pleasant to make something more palatable to the audience? He said no, it was emotionally not hard, but technically, yes it was. He admitted to playing a tightrope cat and mouse game with the audience, inviting them in, then pushing them out. He said at an early age, he found that experience of being brought in and pushed out to be a very active experience. “Working without anesthesia” he called it. He says this is important for “whatever is left of the possibly dying medium of film.”
I asked about his background. He said he’s of Italian-German Catholic descent. Then I inquired about his interest in music. I wondered what was his primary instrument. He said he plays guitar mostly, and rudimentary piano. He also composes and produces songs as well. Which does he prefer, I asked, creating music or film? He said he likes both equally; he doesn’t prefer one to the other. He did add that filmmaking, like writing, is “torture.”
I asked how Mr. Goldblum came to be associated with the project. He said Jeff saw his previous films and they both wanted to work with each other. They are obviously on the save wavelength, as Jeff likes his work very much.
Mr. Alverson also has a new album coming out next summer. Check out his sounds that are as unique and original as his filmmaking. The album will be released through the Austin based label Western Vinyl, and will also feature his long collaboration with Emilie Rex, the singer/cowriter on the songs. It is as yet untitled, although Mr. Alverson said it might possibly be called Sides.
For the adventurous, I highly recommend this film, especially if you are a fan of the unique, offbeat and Avant guard.
Thanks to Mr. Alverson for the interview, one of the most challenging I’ve ever conducted; and for this important, highly unusual, brilliant film.