What has happened with Matthew McConaughey? He's once again an actor worth watching and the movie "Mud" now in circulation is phenomenally good watching and a perfect vehicle for his talents. Two Arkansas boys, Ellis ((Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), pilot a fishing boat to an island in the Mississippi to investigate the rumor of a larger boat lodged there high in a tree (from a previous flood) and they soon discover they're not alone. A fugitive named Mud (McConaughey) is camping out on the island, using the boat as his shelter. He tells the two youngsters cryptically that he's "waiting for a woman," and he persuades them to return with some food. Revealing more of the plot would only diminish the thrill found here of watching amazing events develop naturally and trying to figure out just where they're going next. (I will add, for Michael Shannon fans, that he's here too in the role of Neckbone's uncle, and once more kicks his every scene into some kind of higher dimension, without ever seeming hammy or out of character.) Many others in the great cast bring their A-game... Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepherd, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Joe Don Baker... in fact a world of interesting characters inhabit the river town where most of the story takes place. Let's credit the director, Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), with a great job juggling so many characters and making each one seem important to an understanding of this coming of age fable. The theater sold out every seat today, and it's safe to say this film will have "legs." Like a modern day Huck and Tom, the curious tale which develops around these two boys has layers of meaning and is rich in social commentary, and it ultimately delivers an emotional wallop. Treat yourself as soon as possible to a unique cinematic experience.
"La Vallée" was Barbet Schroeder's 1972 follow-up film to "More" and is especially notable because of it's soundtrack music by Pink Floyd, a kind of trance-rock, later released as the album "Obscured by Clouds." It is the story of Vivian (Bulle Ogier), the young wife of a French diplomat, who while shopping alone for tribal artifacts in Papua/New Guinea meets up with Olivier (Michael Gothard) and a small band of (hippie) explorers who claim to be able to put her in contact with providers of the rare plumage of the Bird Of Paradise, which has been hunted to near extinction. Trafficking in the colorful feathers is illegal but a few are known to be still available in remote interior outposts. The hunt for the exotic and beautiful feathers is eventually subsumed into a greater search, when Vivian agrees to accompany the band of free-spirited wanderers into the mountainous interior of the island where the leader of the group, Gatean (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), hopes to find "the valley," a legendary, perhaps nonexistent, paradise from which he claims that, if it has ever been found, no one has ever returned. Through the days of journeying, there are encounters with remote inhabitants portrayed (in improvised footage) by members of a real New Guinea tribe. Vivian is introduced to experiences of free sex, natural drugs, nature worship, and vague utopian philosophy that seems to involve mainly the shedding of all vestiges of western mores and civilized conduct. The obviously real slaughter of pigs for a collective aboriginal feast is a disturbing scene - it tells us the director was stretching for verisimilitude and gives us an indication that this fable is hardly a fairy tale. As the group's exotic adventures continue, beautifully photographed by award-winning cinematographer Nestor Almendros, they climb ever higher into the mountains, first surrendering their land rover for horses, and then the horses for an arduous trek on foot. Eventually they are lost in mist on a clouded mountaintop, exhausted and without any remaining food and water. The film ends in a revelation which may be more mystical than real and as the pulsating Pink Floyd music plays us out, one is reminded of the old adage that the journey is sometimes greater than the destination. I cannot call "La Vallée" classic cinema, but the use of exotic locale, the cinema verité style, and the symbolism of the story make this film a curiosity at least, that now, half a century on, reminds us of a time when turning on and tuning out was considered an act of brave artistic exploration.
"Summer with Monica" is a 1953 film by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It stars Harriet Andersson and Lars Ekborg as two working class Stockholm teenagers who are caught up in the throws of youthful passion, which also is a way they can momentarily escape the stifling boredom of their lives. Harry is a lonely boy whose mother died when he was only eight, and whose father has become withdrawn. Harry seems to be always late for his job in a stockroom of glass and porcelain. Monica, who is far from lonely, comes from a large family. Her father is a lovable drunk, who can sometimes be mildly abusive. Monica can't catch a decent night's sleep because of the constant ruckus raised by her younger siblings. She works in a grocer supply where the other employees, all men, are always grabbing and clutching at her. The two youngsters begin to flirt with each other. They go to a movie or dine alone at Harry's place, but mostly they pet and paw and share cigarettes and soon they are in bed together. When Harry's dad goes into the hospital, an aunt comes to help who cleans the apartment energetically until late into the night. With the trysting place of Harry's home blocked, the lovers retire instead to the refuge of a tiny boat at the docks which belongs to Harry's dad. There, in a space not much bigger than a doghouse, their love blossoms into full romance and with the bright Scandinavian summer coming, they devise a plan to leave everything and sail away like bandits to live on a beach of the archipelago. For a while it is paradise... they make love, they cook, they play and bath each other and mostly they just enjoy the sunshine and a freedom neither has ever experienced before. But into these storybook idylls, reality always finds a way of intruding. Food grows scarse, their setting has its own limitations related to cleanliness and order, and Monica finds that her clothes no longer fit, even though she's been eating less. What makes this rather pedestrian tale remarkable is the naturalness of the two lead actors and the great talent of the director. This film made MIss Andersson a star, and shortly afterward she began her own affair with the director who was drawn to her natural charisma. Young Mr. Ekborg, though not as natural before the camera as the female lead, was a very good actor and the moral complexity of the story rests upon his shoulders. The black and white photography is gorgeous and creates some indelible images in the viewer's mind. I will mention a remarkable scene near the end of the film. Monica uses her cigarette to light one for Harry, and then she turns and stares directly into the camera while the background gradually grows darker. The image is held so long that it makes one feel uncomfortable. This device, to break the fourth wall, was never used at the time and Miss Andersson says she felt she was breaking rules just doing it. Her stare into the lens is held for an extended time and it penetrates into the viewers mind and raises questions that are difficult to frame. Are you judging me? What would you have done differently? Do you even know who I am deep inside? You've been watching me... how does it feel to be watched? As this predates the famous final freeze frame that ends Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" by at least six years, I will credit Mr. Bergman with being the pioneer and innovator. It is said that "Summer with Monica" was greatly admired by the French New Wave directors. Now, after my viewing, I can understand why.
Written and directed by Gérald Hustache-Mathieu, "Nobody Else But You - Poupoupidou)" is one of the most intriguing and enjoyable movies I've seen in some time. The posters promise a hint of "Twin Peaks" and lots of the Coen Bros., but I also detected a dash of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (Swedish version) and, as was the intent, a very nice serving of Marilyn Monroe. Thanks for that to Sophie Quinton who, as local weathergirl and cheese advertising model Candice Lecoeur, channels the film icon nicely.
Jean Paul Rouve stars as David Rousseau, a successful crime novelist with a case of writer's block. He arrives in the girl's hometown of Mouthe, on the French-Swiss border, the exact day that the local starlet is found dead in the snow, an apparent drug-overdose suicide. The scene where her body is discovered in a pristine field of snow on the edge of a dark evergreen forest is superbly filmed, and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Rousseau's investigatory instincts come into play at once as he decides that all is not as it seems, and he sees in the case a chance to revive his literary inspiration. Here too another cinematic echo is introduced... any one familiar with the classic film noir "Laura" will guess immediately that our protagonist is soon to fall in love with "the unattainable woman."
The links to MM come fast and furious, including visual tributes, and it's fun sussing them out, even though a few are telegraphed. The scene where Candice plays with a paddleball on a string in front of a group of men (Misfits) is a particular delight. The investigation is paced nicely - the more we learn, the more we want to know. Minor characters are introduced and all contribute to a totally satisfying package. I'll mention in particular Clara Ponsot as the Goth receptioniste who brings a touch of heat to the writer's frigid hotel (the boiler is busted), and Guillaume Gouix as a young assistant policeman who decides to give Rousseau some timely assistance.
The dénoument is surprising but satisfying and I was left with an interior smile, knowing that I had been titillated, stroked, challenged and satisfied by a new filmmaker with great style and a love of the art. I look forward to more from M. Hustache-Mathieu... highly recommended.