Robin Wright” in “The Congress”.

Harvey Keitel and Robin Wright in The Congress.

Har­vey Kei­tel and Robin Wright in The Con­gress.

The Israeli film maker Ari Fol­man shot into inter­na­tional promi­nence with the haunt­ing Waltz With Bashir in 2008. Fol­man, who is one of the head writ­ers on the hit TV show In Treat­ment, needed to revisit what he’d done as a teenager. As a young sol­dier he’d been part of the Israeli army’s appalling assault on Sabra and Shatila, when they invaded the Lebanon in 1982.

But the only way he’d been able to peer into the dark recesses of his psy­che was by using the cloak of ani­ma­tion, which acted like the dark of the con­fes­sional box, allow­ing him close his eyes and re-imagine what might have hap­pened there.

The Con­gress is his much awaited fol­low up. And it’s an almighty mess. Robin Wright plays a ver­sion of her­self, who is forced to sell the rights to her dig­i­tal self so that the stu­dio can go on to make the kinds of films with “her” that they’d like to, with­out hav­ing to actu­ally deal with the moods and tantrums of the actual human being.

Robin Wright as Buttercup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

Robin Wright as But­ter­cup with Cary Elwes in The Princess Bride.

But then the film veers wildly into wholly improb­a­ble sci fi ter­ri­tory, which it can only do by retreat­ing into ani­ma­tion. And not just any old ani­ma­tion, the kind of far out ani­ma­tion that’s meant to make you fondly recall The Bea­t­les in their Yel­low Sub­ma­rine.

I wish I could tell you that it were just too ambi­tious. But none of its Big Ideas are in any way explored, they are just bul­let points in bold. Will CGI allow Hol­ly­wood stu­dios dis­pense with Tal­ent all together? What’s more impor­tant, suc­cess or your fam­ily? Will future gen­er­a­tions be inca­pable of com­mu­ni­cat­ing other than through a screen? Is the dig­i­tal realm this century’s heroin? Our only means of avoid­ing the drudgery and dis­ap­point­ment of our daily lives? Etc, and so on.

Worse again, it’s entirely humour­less. Imag­ine what fun Woody Allen might have had with the idea of sep­a­rat­ing the actress from her dig­i­tal self. Come to think of it, he did have that idea, in his crim­i­nally under­val­ued The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo.

Woody Allen's much funnier The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

Woody Allen’s much fun­nier The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo.

The Con­gress is like that episode of the Simp­sons when Homer is encour­aged by his half brother to design his own car, which itself was a re-working of an old Johnny Cash song. If you take your favourite bits from every car you’ve ever seen and mould them all together, all you end up with is a dys­func­tional eyesore.

Robin Wright and Har­vey Kei­tel are two of mod­ern cinema’s finest actors. Even more remark­ably, both have man­aged that rare feat of nav­i­gat­ing the treach­er­ous waters between a large num­ber of small, inde­pen­dent films, inter­spersed with the occa­sional more com­mer­cial enter­prise. Hap­pily, in ten years’ time, no one will remem­ber that either of them had any­thing to do with this. You can see The Con­gress trailer here.

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Luluc’s New Album “Passerby” Simmers Sublimely.

Luluc's Passerby.

Luluc’s Passerby.

It’s taken the indie folk duo of Zoë Ran­dell and Steve Has­sett six years to come up with their sec­ond album as Luluc. In the interim they signed with Sub Pop, home to Fleet Foxes, Beach House and Wolf Parade as well as, a life­time ago, Nir­vana. And last year they con­tributed the two best tracks on Way To Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake.

Alt coun­try queen Gillian Welch is a fan, and their new album, Passerby was pro­duced by The National’s Aaron Dess­ner in New York’s Val­halla bor­ough of Brooklyn.

So we oughtn’t to have been too ter­ri­bly sur­prised with the result. Nonethe­less, this really is a gor­geous album. Simon and Gar­funkel har­monies cloaked in the ele­giac melan­cho­lia of the afore­men­tioned Drake.

But the fig­ure most clearly evoked through­out is that of Nico. Across the album, Randell’s vocal lines stay unex­pect­edly flat, only occa­sion­ally veer­ing tri­umphantly up. The results are simul­ta­ne­ously sooth­ing and qui­etly thrilling.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before joining Reed and Warhol in The Velvet Underground.

Nico in La Dolce Vita before join­ing Lou Reed and Andy Warhol in The Vel­vet Underground.

All of which was per­fectly cap­tured in the per­for­mance they gave of the title track a year and half ago in Din­gle for RTE’s manda­tory Other Voices here, accom­pa­nied by Mr Dess­ner on keyboards.

Luluc are due to go out on tour with J Mas­cis, who recently res­ur­rected Dinosaur Jr for their excel­lent come­back album I Bet On Sky, reviewed ear­lier here.

That’ll be an inter­est­ing com­bi­na­tion. In the mean­time, have a look at the video for the open­ing track on their album, Small Win­dow here.

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Some Forgotten Classics (and a Turkey) at Dublin’s IFI Dublin this August.

Dorleac and Deneuve in Rochefort.

Dorleac, Deneuve and Gene Kelly in Rochefort.

The Films Mau­dits (cursed films) Fes­ti­val was begun by Jean Cocteau and friends in 1949 to give peo­ple the chance to have a look again at a few films they felt had been unfairly over­looked first time around. This August in Dublin, the IFI hon­ours that tra­di­tion with its own mini mau­dits festival.

Last Wednes­day they screened François Truffaut’s Le Peau Douce (‘64). After the huge suc­cess of his first three films, The 400 Blows (’59), Shoot the Pianist (‘60) and espe­cially the joy­ous Jules et Jim (‘62) this dour exam­i­na­tion of adul­tery was always going to be a hard sell, and they walked out of its screen­ing at Cannes in their droves.

They were try­ing to make a morally neu­tral film about adul­tery in which the man and the two women were treated equally. Unfor­tu­nately, the man is all too believ­ably ordi­nary, and you’re never really sure what either of the two women see in him.

It is though an all too rare oppor­tu­nity to see the effer­ves­cent and radi­ent Françoise Dor­léac. Cather­ine Deneuve’s elder sis­ter was killed in a car acci­dent at the age of 25 in 1967, soon after they’d both fin­ished film­ing the insanely over­looked The Young Girls of Rochefort, a sort of 12th Night to The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg’s Romeo and Juliet. Deneuve said she never really got over it.

Monica Vitt and Alain Delon.

Mon­ica Vitti and Alain Delon.

She, and Nelly Benedetti as the firey wife, make this film worth catch­ing up on.

On Sun­day 10th there’s a rare chance to see Michelan­gelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (‘62). The final part of his Mon­ica Vitti tril­ogy, it wasn’t actu­ally this film that caused such con­ster­na­tion at Cannes, it was the first part, L’Avventura (’60).

But let’s not split hairs, any chance to see one of cinema’s tow­er­ing mas­ter­pieces should be grabbed with grate­ful hands. Vitti and Alain Delon framed by Anto­nioni, scripted by Tonino Guerra and shot by the mas­ter DoP Gianni Di Venanzo, who the fol­low­ing year shot 8 ½ (‘63) and then Giuli­etta Delgi Spir­iti (‘65) for Fellini.

Nicholas Ray's "Johnny Guitar".

Nicholas Ray’s “Johnny Guitar”.

After the polit­i­cally savvy The Manchurian Can­di­date (’62) and Seven Days In May (‘64) John Franken­heimer made Sec­onds in ‘66 with Rock Hud­son. Reviled at Cannes, it too has been com­pletely reassessed. You can see it on Wed 13th.

Then on Sat 16th there an incred­i­bly rare chance to see Nicholas Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again. After the mag­is­te­r­ial Johnny Gui­tar (’54) reviewed ear­lier here and Rebel With­out A Cause (’55) – and in a par­al­lel uni­verse some­where, there’s a ver­sion of that film with the actor he’d orig­i­nally wanted in the lead, one Elvis Pres­ley – Ray ended up teach­ing film stu­dents at Harpur Col­lege in New York.

He made this with them dur­ing his time there, and con­tin­ued edit­ing it before head­ing over to Cannes, where he dis­cov­ered that the ven­er­a­ble film fes­ti­val there was built on a far more lucra­tive porn fes­ti­val that goes on there lit­er­ally under­ground. And so his twi­light years were spent ahem “act­ing”. Which is not some­thing you’ll find on his Wikipedia entry.

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in "Margaret".

Anna Paquin and Matt Damon in “Margaret”.

On Sun 17th you can see Ken­neth Lon­er­gan’s unjustly over­looked Mar­garet (’11), which I reviewed ear­lier here. And if you haven’t yet seen his mag­nif­i­cent You Can Count on Me (’00), lucky you. It’s all ahead of you. Here’s Margaret’s trailer. And, going from the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous, the mini fes­ti­val ends with the ris­i­ble Heaven’s Gate (’80), which I reviewed ear­lier here.

All the above are hap­pily avail­able of dvd. And, the last named aside, they all deserve a re-visit.

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5 Albums You Might Have Missed This Year.

NPR's no 1 choice.

NPR’s no 1 choice.

A few weeks ago the good peo­ple on NPR’s manda­tory All Songs Con­sid­ered pod­cast, reviewed ear­lier here, ran a 50 Best Albums, Songs, Bands and Sur­prises of the year so far set of lists, here. Here are 5 from that list that I’d missed and that, hap­pily, I’ve now caught up on.

5. Say Yes To Love, by Per­fect Pussy.

This was the one album that they all had at the top of their lists. 23 min­utes of un-sanitised, tri­umphantly aggres­sive, raw post punk, that some­how man­ages to be sig­nif­i­cantly more nuanced that it has any right to be. You can hear Big Stars here.

4. High Life, by Brian Eno & Karl Hyde.

Ear­lier this year Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde got together to record Some­day World, reviewed ear­lier here. After they’d fin­ished that more for­mal album, they recorded a num­ber of tracks live, where each would respond to what the other was doing as they were doing it. With Hyde on gui­tar and Eno on assorted synths, this is a far more organic sound­ing album, and is a propul­sive echo of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the album Eno made with David Byrne in 1981. You can hear DBF here.

The debut album from the Family Crest.

The debut album from the The Fam­ily Crest.

3. Syl­van Esso, by Syl­van Esso.

This is the sort of mel­liflu­ous, melody heavy indi­etron­ica we used to hear from Valerie Tre­bel­jahr with Lali Puna, or The Notwist back in the day – and the latter’s most recent, more poppy album was another of their rec­om­men­da­tions. Struc­tured min­i­mal­ism to dig­i­tal beats soft­ened and qui­etly trans­formed by the female lead vocal that gen­tly leads the melody. Here’s their video for Cof­fee.

2. Beneath The Brine, by The Fam­ily Crest.

These clas­si­cally trained, multi instru­men­tal­ist art rock­ers from San Fran­cisco are as happy ref­er­enc­ing jazz, swing or Weill as they are Bowie of Boland. This is the sort of qui­etly sophis­ti­cated, glo­ri­ously epic sound that we had hoped the Arcade Fire would one day pro­duce. Here’s the video for Love Don’t Go.

Dominic Palermo's heady nihilism.

Dominic Palermo’s heady nihilism.

1. Guilty Of Every­thing, by Nothing.

Sent to jail for two years for stab­bing a man, for­mer Hor­ror Show front man Dominic Palermo (yes, that is his real name) dis­cov­ered Niet­zsche and Dos­toyevsky there whilst evi­dently lis­ten­ing to My Bloody Valen­tine and the 4AD Records back cat­a­logue. This is the debut album form the new band he’s formed. Indus­trial, post-apocalyptic noise becalmed by breathy vocals. Majes­tic. You can see the video for Bent Nail here.

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Searching For Sugar Man” finds a Modern Day Epicurus.

"Searching For Sugar Man".

Search­ing For Sugar Man”.

It’s hard to know which is more remark­able, the doc­u­men­tary Search­ing For Sugar Man, or its sub­ject the musi­cian Sixto Rodriguez.

I’ll not in any way spoil the film by reveal­ing the many, many extra­or­di­nary twists and turns that are revealed in the course of its nar­ra­tive. But broadly speak­ing, the story is as follows:

In the early 70s a young singer song writer by the name of Rodriguez pro­duced a cou­ple of albums that were extremely well received crit­i­cally speak­ing, but dis­ap­peared with­out a trace sales wise. So like many before and since, he went back to his day job.

Rodriguez' debut album from 1970 is, surprisingly, a genuine classic.

Rodriguez’ debut album from 1970 is, sur­pris­ingly, a gen­uine classic.

Mean­while, com­pletely unbe­knownst to him his debut album Cold Fact (’70) caught fire in South Africa, sell­ing between half a mil­lion and a mil­lion copies there, a stag­ger­ing quan­tity given the size of the territory.

As one of the inter­vie­wees tes­ti­fies, every white, mid­dle class, would-be rev­o­lu­tion­ary qui­etly seething under the apartheid regime gave three records pride of place in their secretly stashed LP col­lec­tion; The Bea­t­lesAbbey Road, Simon and Gar­funkel’s Bridge Over Trou­bled Water, and RodriguezCold Fact.

With­out giv­ing any­thing away, the film is in two halves. Ini­tially it’s the quest of one of the many, huge fans of his in South Africa who hooks up with a music jour­nal­ist in the 90s, to go in search of their lost mes­siah. Whilst its sec­ond half reveals what hap­pens after they find him.

When the film was nom­i­nated for the Oscar that it went on to win in 2013, Rodriguez politely declined to attend the cer­e­mony, on the basis that he didn’t want to take any of the atten­tion away from Malik Bend­jel­loul, the man who’d actu­ally made the film.

Ordi­nar­ily this is the kind of ges­ture one expects from a con­ven­tion­ally faux mod­est, care­fully cal­cu­lat­ing self-publicist look­ing to gen­er­ate fur­ther air time and head­lines. But what this doc­u­men­tary demon­strates is that not only is Rodriguez a gen­uinely deep thinker, almost uniquely he lives his life accord­ing to the prin­ci­ples he keeps. And those prin­ci­ples are best described as Epi­curean.

The second Rodriguez album from '71, almost as good as the first.

The sec­ond Rodriguez album from ’71, almost as good as the first.

Epi­cu­rus taught that if you find your­self sit­ting with a piece of bread and a glass of water in front of you, and the man next to you has a large steak and a jug of wine, you need to edu­cate your­self to focus on how nour­ish­ing and tasty your piece of bread will be, and on how won­der­fully refresh­ing that glass of water is. Even if you know deep down that it is already luke warm.

If you can teach your­self to be ever less dis­sat­is­fied with what you have and your lot in life, you will nec­es­sar­ily be hap­pier with your life as you live it.

The 4th cen­tury Greek philoso­pher Epi­cu­rus was extolled by the Roman poet Lucretius in the first cen­tury BC. And the redis­cov­ery of the only copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature Of Things, and there­fore our only source on Epi­cu­rus, was bril­liantly charted by Stephen Green­blatt in his won­der­ful The Swerve, reviewed ear­lier here.

Well Rodriguez, remark­ably, is a bona fide mod­ern day Epicurus.

This won­der­ful film does, alas, have a coda. It proved incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to finance. But against all the odds, it was even­tu­ally com­pleted, and quite rightly went on to win both that year’s Bafta and the Oscar a few weeks later. Surely you’d think his next film would be sig­nif­i­cantly eas­ier to finance. We’ll never know. Because six months ago Malik Bend­jel­loul took his own life.

Search­ing for Sugar Man is a cel­e­bra­tion of an extra­or­di­nary singer song writer. And of a won­der­ful film maker. You can see the trailer here.

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