No Home Movie is a seamless film that is, fascinatingly, composed of pieces that feel almost obstructive - squared shots of tight vertically lined doorway openings, long corridors and passages, bright small rooms and large shaded rooms, where people sit, stand, walk, talk. These are interspersed with long horizontal takes of desert landscapes, filmed from a moving car, and of filmed images of skype conversations between Akerman and her mother. The film opens with a long held shot of a dry thin tree, on a desert hillside, being blown intensely by a wind. The wind’s abrasive, scraping, recognizable sound and the visual of a thin tree resisting an intense force, for the film’s first few minutes, sets the tone of all that follows.
No Home Movie is focused on Akerman’s mother, her life in her home with two women who work for her, her two daughters who visit, her routines, her cheery love for Akerman, her halting words, and her memories of her past, recounting her early life in Belgium after her internment in Auschwitz. Akerman positions herself in the film as a part of the film’s framing, with devices such as sitting against a wall that is also the edge of the screen, or appearing in shadow, while the camera records a distant room where her mother walks in and out, or walking into the scene or sitting, back to camera, with her mother in a small sunny kitchen. These conversations at a kitchen table and the voices heard off screen or the use of direct interviews or the constant walking in and through rooms and the scenes framed by doorways or halls, spacious or lit rooms, and the moving horizontally shot landscapes, that roll like thoughts, all create a large world within a small world.
Akerman has made a film that symbiotically contains all its parts. The film’s form and its sounds are the content and its content - the relationships between the people, the relationships between the interior and the exterior, the inner self and the self in the world - are elusive. But the feelings, alive, real, unnamable and felt, are apparent. No Home Movie is a remarkable achievement.
This became her last film as Chantal Akerman killed herself in Paris on October 5. Her loss in the large world and the small world can’t be filled. In acknowledgment of her life, here is a link to a memory written by her close friend Henry Bean and a link to the suicide hotline.
Todd Haynes has a unique ability to create a film that becomes “a movie,” in that his film itself, its very content and form, is designed to imitate a particular kind of film. Many filmmakers have deliberately imitated a director’s style or the look of an era, but what is radical about Haynes’ work is that, once he recreates the “look,” he then adds a new piece. What he adds, as he did in Far From Heaven, is a story that was forbidden in the original period’s mainstream cinema. In Carol, it is a lesbian relationship; in Far from Heaven, it was a gay one and an interracial one. In so doing, Haynes launches a powerful political activism through the means of cinema.
With moody, sharp cinematography by Ed Lachman, simple, striking costumes by Sandy Powell, and clear score by Carter Burwell, the film recreates the presence of 1950s film and a look of realism that looks, as films often did in the 40s and 50s, like a set. The set atmosphere is made obvious but the production design, by Judy Becker, is also accurate and constantly suggests a lived in world. But material realism, in general, is not the film’s intent. The film points only to one reality: that lesbian attraction is real and nothing is worth denying it, no matter what the consequences. The film isn’t interested in the details of these consequences. They exist but the characters find ways to deal with them off screen. Haynes takes melodramatic tropes and sets inside them a simple, but new, melodrama – which is of two women loving each other in the midst of this 1950s world. It is a subversive act - suggesting that if this topic had been allowed in a mainstream film in the fifties, Carol is what that that film might have looked like.
This makes cinema act as history rather than reflect it, an exercise of imagination that enables a politically driven point to suddenly live in a visible world. Even though lesbian lives were not visible in the mainstream, the film makes clear that they were very much part the public world. Haynes does something so subtle, so mind bending, as to change the past. He materializes lives that were always there in society but were barred from screen life. Carol’s women are as they might have been depicted in a 1950s screenplay. What the film does, brilliantly, is to set the real life story into the fictionalized melodrama, staying strictly, ingeniously, within these confines. As such, other political points, such as a portrayal feminism per se is not the activism or the imagination of this film.
Carol is adapted (by Phyllis Nagy) from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt. It is the story of a wealthy American woman, with a four-year-old daughter, in the process of leaving a marriage, who becomes romantically involved with a younger woman. The breakup is a backstory and there is no ambiguity to it but the story portrays the husband (tensely and subtly played by Kyle Handler) as restlessly wishing to keep his family intact. He knows his wife has had a serious affair with a woman in the past and that it is over but he remains uneasy. The film begins with Carol’s (forcefully played by Cate Blanchette) chance meeting with Therese (delicately played by Roona Mara) and then follows the beginning of their relationship while the marriage dissolves and a child custody fight begins as the husband becomes vengeful.
What the film manages to do is keep all these threats, all these points that drive the story of melodrama, as outlying stories. Yet Haynes also manages to keep the inner story, the storyline of the two women coming together, obvious, central and important but never dramatic. The film moves, remarkably, without peaks or dips yet these intense actions carry it forward.
Todd Haynes has a unique ability to create a movie that is “a movie” and, through the very tools of cinema, he vitalizes Carol with a powerful, contemporary political activism. Must see.
This documentary focuses on the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in Brooklyn, New York, which became famous as a crime that many people witnessed but gave no help. The film follows her youngest brother as he tries to uncover the truth of what happened the night she died. Though a child when Kitty Genovese was in her twenties, he was close to her, and his life has been molded, in part, by his response to the public indifference he thought that his sister had endured that night.
His “obsession,” as he calls it, to find the facts leads him through the aftermath of the crime to discover that the story was inaccurately reported, deliberately, in The New York Times which led to international coverage, books condemning contemporary social conscience as apathetic and cold, and careers built on these wrong ideas. The film digs into the facts that The Times fabricated.
Director James Solomon’s strength lies in some of the inventive recreations through drawings but the film suffers from repetition. However, what Solomon does add to the overall Genovese story is a depiction of her as a person, through home movies and remembrances from workmates in the tough working men’s bar she seems to have joyfully managed, her family, friends, and her lover, that is so strong that Kitty Genovese comes to dominate the film.
But the film’s intrigue is in all the many components that are specific to the 1960s: Genovese’s life as a gay woman in the 60s; her brother who enlisted, fought in Vietnam and lost both his legs; her murderer’s son, a reverend driven to understand forgiveness, who is as enwrapped in lies his father told him about the crime as everyone else has been wrapped in lies of the original reportage and all the subsequent spin offs; the sense of suffering among so many people connected to the crime; and the issues, hidden and propounded in society until recently when they have become enormous topics today: rape, African American identity, veteran identity, gay lives, male deception, long term family suffering from crimes, the need for reparation and more. With the sum of all this parts, the film, in the midst of our horrendously violent times, offers something open-ended, painful, solved, unresolved, and also freeing around this particular violent death.
A poignant documentary that builds in strength and brings new ideas to violence and all its consequences, in its focus on the famous Kitty Genovese murder in 1964.