Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marie Antoinette

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/20/06 with Some Edits.

When the name of Marie Antoinette is mentioned in some form of conversation. The first thing some will come to mind is the way she says to her starving people, "Let them eat cake". It's known to some people simply as the Queen of France who found herself in the early stages of the French Revolution where she and her husband King Louis XVI were beheaded in the year 1793. Throughout the years, he story has been told into several variations of biographies, including a widely praised one from Stefan Zweig, and films where in 1938 by director W.S. Van Dyke II with Norma Shearer in the title role. Another version appeared from France in 1955 which was lesser known than the famed 1938 version which based itself on Zweig's novell.

Then came another novel from historian Antonia Fraser where some claimed to be the most precise biography on the infamous queen. Fraser's approach of the novel indicated that the infamous queen was simply a young woman who found herself in the wrong place and wrong time to the point that she was unaware of the world outside of her own palace. The idea of disconnection was simply that American film director Sofia Coppola seems to have connected on in her own film version on Marie Antoinette's story.

Alienation is nothing new to Sofia Coppola's own work as a director where 1998's short Lick the Stars was about a girl who ends up alienating herself from her own middle school clique. Her 1999 film adaptation of Jeffery Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides was a dreamy, teen tale of five young girls trying desperately to connect with young boys only to be imprisoned by their strict parents. Coppola's first feature-length film starred Kirsten Dunst in the role which moved Dunst away from child and teen stardom to more young adult roles. Then in 2003, Coppola gained her biggest film hit to date with her sophomore feature, Lost in Translation starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson about an actor and a woman who find themselves unhappy in their own marriages while being alienated in the aura of Tokyo.

The film gave Coppola her biggest acclaim while winning her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay as well as becoming the first American woman nominated for Best Director. Also nominated as a producer in the Best Picture category, Lost in Translation propelled Coppola's career as well as her mark as a visionary. Though some were critical of the film's slow, elliptical style and its lack of dialogue, there were those who found it to be one of the best films of that year. Those closest to Coppola knew that she wanted to do a film biopic on Marie Antoinette, which originally was supposed to be her second film, but thanks to Lost in Translation. She finally went ahead with her own biopic.

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola while taking notes from Antonia Fraser's novel, Marie Antoinette is a revisionist biography on the young woman who would become Queen of France who would later embark on extravagance and scandal that lead to her beheading in the French Revolution. Playing the role of the doomed queen is Coppola's Virgin Suicides star Kirsten Dunst in the title role. In her film version, Coppola chooses to expose everything that surrounded the young queen's life including the stories of her associates, her marriage to the shy King Louis XVI, and the various, legendary rumors about her including an affair with a count named Axel Fersen. With an all-star cast that includes Jason Schwartzman, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Coogan, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Rose Byrne, Shirley Henderson, Judy Davis, Mary Nighy, Molly Shannon, Danny Huston, Aurore Clement, and Jamie Dornan. Marie Antoinette is a surreal, yet enchanting film from Sofia Coppola.

1768 in Austria as Queen Maria Teresa of Austria (Marianne Faithfull) has decided to send her youngest daughter Antoine to marry the Dauphin of France in Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) as a sign of unity between France and Austria. Accompanied by Austrian ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan), her two courtiers, and her pug dog, Antoine is taken on a trip where she meets Comtesse de Noailles (Judy Davis) just before she is to meet the king and his grandson. Removed of all of her traces of Austrian clothing including her dog and courtiers, she is now worn a new French dress and is taken in a French carriage. On the island where she is to meet King Louis XV (Rip Torn), she is formally introduced to the king, his shy, awkward grandson Louis XVI, as well as many relatives including two gossiping aunts in Sophie (Shirley Henderson) and Victoire (Molly Shannon).

Upon arriving in the palace of Versailles where she is introduced to the French court in a lavish, extravagant wedding viewed by all, she is now a part of France and becomes Marie-Antoinette. On the night she and Louis XVI is to consummate their marriage, nothing happens and nothing will for seven years. The shy, awkward Louis XVI spends his time hunting and making keys while using food to purge his anxieties. Meanwhile, with only the Duchess of Polignac (Rose Byrne), Princess Lambelle (Mary Nighy), and Comtesse de Provence (Clementine Poidatz) as her allies and fellow mistresses, Marie has to contend the emerging gossip from Sophie, Victoire, and Duchess de Char (Aurore Clement) along with the presence of the king's mistress in Madame du Barry (Asia Argento). Largely due to Louis' shyness, the gossiping has become troublesome as Ambassador Mercy reminds her that she must consummate the marriage to create an heir that would unify France and Austria.

Even as the Comtesse de Provence gives birth to a son, Marie chooses to escape all of the pressures with lavish clothing, shoes, and stuff where she preferred to be a girl and have fun. While being reminded of everything from the Ambassador and the letters of her mother, Marie chooses not to think of the political implications while slowly, she and Louis try to form a relationship despite his shy behavior. Even to the point where they would go to the opera where her behavior would cause a stir and later praise while going to masked parties where she would meet the mysterious yet dashing Count Axel Fersen (Jamie Dornan). Returning from the party, news have emerged that the king was falling ill while Madame du Barry has officially left Versailles to the delight of Marie and her court. When King Louis XV has died, Louis XVI is now king as he prayed to God to protect him and his wife as they felt that they were too young to reign.

Now that she's Queen before turning 20, Marie chooses to create a more youthful court surrounded by her friends and courtiers while leaning towards her excess in clothing and hair with help from Leonard (James Lance). With the pressure mounting to create an heir, Marie’s brother, Emperor Joseph (Danny Huston) decides to help out in giving his brother-in-law some advice to help his sexual matters. The plan worked though Marie gave birth to a girl in Marie Therese (Lauriane Mascaro at age 2, Florrie Betts at age 6) while the King unwisely makes a decision to send aid to America during the American Revolution as a resistance against England. To spend time away from the politics of Versailles, the king helped create a new palace home for Marie known as the Petit Trianon. It was a place where Marie would entertain herself and her friends along with a small cottage and farm for everything she needed while wearing simpler clothing. With the American Revolution going on, Louis invited several soldiers including Count Fersen for a honorary contribution as Marie engages in an affair with Fersen in the world of the Petit Trianon.

After Fersen's departure, Marie still has loving feelings for Louis where his decision to aid the Americans in their revolution proved to be costly. Even with the spending of all of the things that Marie spent on dresses, objects, and things including the Petit Trianon has put France into financial troubles. The timing couldn't have been worse in the years as Marie's mother and one of her children both died in different areas. At first of hearing the troubles including a supposed infamous comment of "let them eat cake", Marie ignored what was going on. Then as things got serious, Marie and Louis realize that their future was becoming bleaker where Versailles was no longer safe as they eventually would meet their doom.

Anyone who knows the story of Marie Antoinette can be interpreted as a young woman who has no care in the world and an infamous comment led to her doom where she was eventually beheaded amidst the French Revolution. From the mind of Sofia Coppola, it's an interpretation of a young woman unaware of the world outside other than her own world of monarchy in France and Austria. Taking inspiration from the novel by Antonia Fraser, the film is not really about historical but more about a young woman in the transition of her own life. While Marie Antoinette isn't in the same environment as other Coppola heroines like the Lisbon girls in The Virgin Suicides or Charlotte in Lost in Translation in terms of their situations and what they were dealing with. Coppola sees Marie as a young girl who is stuck in her own girlhood and once she becomes a woman, it becomes too late as she is forced to confront the people of France.

Another interpretation is in the form of the second half of the film where once King Louis XV is gone along with several old courts, youth takes over as they just want to have fun while being unaware of the outside world. The old advisors, courts, and such are forced to watch in the sidelines trying to get the young people including the king on what's going on France. Yet, the result is that Louis XVI is surrounded by people who only care more about France's pride rather than the people that led to the dissolution of their monarchy. Still, Coppola isn't too interested in politics nor choose to take many of the historical context of Marie Antoinette's life too seriously. One incident of Antoinette's life that isn't discussed and probably was a good idea is the famous incident about a jewel necklace that was discussed years ago in a film called The Affair of the Necklace starring Hilary Swank and Adrien Brody.

The lack of serious historical context will upset very serious history buffs though Coppola does tell the story wisely with the film’s first act being about Marie's arrival into France and the pressure to create an heir for France. The second act being about her escape into fun, Louis XV's death, and the arrival of Petit Trianon. The third act features legendary yet debated affair with Count Fersen along with Marie's role of being a mother and the fall of Versailles and its monarchy. The result of the storytelling is elliptical to play to the times which is a similar strategy that Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon chose since time moved slower. Though some parts of the story do drag and get repetitive, only to convey the emotions of what Marie and Louis XVI are going through in the seven years. It's a strategy that is crucial to the storytelling. Then there's the dialogue where half of the dialogue is spoken in a 18th-Century language with French accents on some parts. The rest is more modern to give an interpretation that is something a modern audience can relate to. It's nothing original since Martin Scorsese used the same approach for 1988's Last Temptation of Christ where he wanted a lot of the biblical context to be something that can be heard in the corner of a city street. Coppola's approach is similar since a lot of the gossiping and conversations are something you would hear anywhere today.

The rest of the film in terms of its writing, like Lost in Translation, is not dialogue-driven since half of the film has a lot of non-dialogue moments in rather to show expressions and emotions of what is going on and everything. This is where Coppola is at her strongest when she's a director. Taking an observant view of what everyone is doing, it has a dreamy yet surreal quality of the world of Versailles where the film is shot entirely in Versailles. With most of the film done in hand-held, it's presented from a point-of-view where at first, everything is foreign yet once the story develops, it becomes familiar yet surreal. With the kind of trademark shots of moving transportation from the outside, shots of leaves looking up, Coppola really goes for a dreamy approach to the world of Versailles yet make everything seem completely unreal in what is going on. Yet, the shots are beautiful in the same way that it can be described in some scenes as Malick-esque. Overall, despite flaws with the story and the interpretive approach, Sofia Coppola has proven herself to be a strong, visionary director.

Longtime cinematographer Lance Acord helps Coppola in her worldly vision with wonderful, long exterior shots that are breathtaking in the epic scope of what Versailles is with several shots of blue and green that is a trademark of Acord's work. The interior set-ups aren't similar to the natural-lighting approach of Barry Lyndon but are given great fluidity to the colors of the dresses and floors along with the spacious look of the palaces while the film's opening shot with soft lenses is presented in a wonderful yet surreal way from the talented Acord. Production designer K.K. Barrett along with set decorator Veronique Melery and art director Anne Seibel probably give some of the best production design by using not just several of the same props in Versailles but everything looks 18th Century with an edge and look that is authentic with the times. Legendary costume designer Milena Canonero, who won an Oscar for her work in Barry Lyndon, proves her mastery in the film's look with shiny, excessive dresses that definitely tell the story. Canonero's design where the Austrian clothing is simpler as opposed to the dresses of France where the sides are bigger and springy while the men's clothing as the costumes not just play to the time but have life as Canonero does amazing work.

Editor Sarah Flack brings a wonderfully stylized yet elliptical editing style that is crucial to the film's 125-minute running time. With fade-outs, jump-cuts, and perspective cuts, the film flows naturally to the times as it serves to the serenity of the film's first act, the energy of the second, and the chaos in the third and final act. Sound designer Richard Beggs, a longtime associate to the Coppola family, does some amazing work in the sound design where the noise of church bells, organs, and voices are wonderfully mixed as well as the atmosphere of Versailles. Beggs is a genius with sound as his work is amazing to convey everything that goes on, even to convey silence in the film's final moments as Marie and Louis await their doom.

Supervising the film's unconventional soundtrack is longtime Coppola associate Brian Reitzell. A mix of classical, baroque, post-punk, new wave, electronic, and ambient music, Reitzell creates a soundtrack that is traditional to period films and radical in some ways to that genre. While the use of classical pieces that includes elements of baroque and operatic music not only works for the time but most of all, the emotions of what's going on. Then there's the music of the new wave and post-punk movement from the likes of the Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the Gang of Four, Adam Ant, New Order, and Bow Wow Wow. While it's nothing new since A Knight's Tale did the same thing with rock music to make it momentum-building and for celebration. The approach Coppola and Reitzell did was to convey an energy of what the characters are going through like the masked ballroom scene has an energetic cut from Siouxsie & the Banshees that could've been played in those times but in a different form of music style. It's the energy that creates the intensity while two cuts by Bow Wow Wow are remixed to more energetic heights by the reclusive Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine.

Other stuff from Phoenix, Air, Squarepusher, Radio Dept., Aphex Twin, and Dustin O'Halloran are widely diverse since Air and Phoenix lean more towards classical, baroque Style while Squarepusher and Aphex Twin go for more ambient territory to convey the atmosphere and tone of what's going on in the story. The soundtrack for the most part, doesn't play like a gimmick. Towards the third act, the approach becomes grating when an appearance from the Strokes on the song What Ever Happened? really starts to get old as it's the one track that doesn't fit in with the rest of the soundtrack. Still, it's wonderfully conceived.

Now we come to the film's large, ensemble cast that includes notably small performances from Coppola associate Aurore Clement, Al Weaver, James Lance, Tom Hardy as an advisor named Raumont, the band Phoenix in a role as a band in the Petit Trianon, and the legendary Marianne Faithfull as Queen Maria Teresa, who gives some great voice-over work through letters in her brief role as Marie’s mother. Clementine Poidatz, Mary Nighy, and Rose Byrne are great as Marie's mistresses who give memorable performances and jokes about men and such that audiences can relate to. Molly Shannon and Shirley Henderson are also funny as the gossiping women of the court who play like modern-day mean girls while Asia Argento makes a great impression as the devilish Madame du Barry who wants to be acknowledge while being very scandalous with her own dreary style of clothing. Jamie Dornan is excellent in the somewhat, Trip Fontaine role of Count Fersen as a man who is handsome and flirtatious in ways that women would swoon for.

Judy Davis is great as the Comtesse de Noailles with her duty to serve and give advice on behavior to Marie. Steve Coogan is great as Ambassador Mercy who is the man who tries to remind Marie about her role and realities of the world as Coogan is great in his restraint. Danny Huston is also excellent as the wise, helpful Emperor Joseph who has a great scene with Jason Schwartzman involving an elephant that shows his role as a straight man. In a role that was supposed to be given to the legendary French actor Alain Delon, Rip Torn is funny as the likeable King Louis XV with his brash behavior and fraternal role in how he cared for Marie and Louis XVI while being a man with his own vices. Jason Schwartzman gives an amazing yet restrained performance as the shy Louis XVI who acts very awkward in many ways. While Schwartzman is a natural comedy actor, he brings a lot of that and more into a man who is scared of his role as king and husband. Schwartzman brings a real, natural anxiety to the role that is really one of his best performances from an actor who doesn't get taken very seriously.

In what could be the best role of her career, Kirsten Dunst really captures the spirit and vibrancy of Marie Antoinette as Dunst gives her character much more than she is perceived. Dunst definitely adds an innocence to her character early on while having a personality that people could like despite the fact that she's unaware of the real world. Dunst really brings more of her depth as an actress in some very, heavy emotional scenes while getting to act natural as a person who isn't a monster that some will claim. It's really an amazing yet complex performance from Dunst as she makes Marie Antoinette a young woman caught up in a world that she is really unaware of.

Now that Coppola has finished a trilogy of young women dealing with their own emotional transitions and alienation, it's clear that it marks an end of sorts for Sofia Coppola as she is about have a daughter born at the end of the year. Despite mixed reviews at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival as well as reaction to its revisionist, historical approach, Marie Antoinette remains a very strong, engaging, yet surreal film from Sofia Coppola. While it's nowhere near the dreamy innocence of The Virgin Suicides or the emotional yet spiritual drama of Lost in Translation. Marie Antoinette should stand as one of her finest work despite what people think. If there is someway to sum up the Lisbon girls, Charlotte, and Marie. They are young women who aren't sure what to do in their own environment and place in their own life. While Charlotte ends up being the only character that has a remnant of hope, the rest end up not getting past that. So, it's a very melancholic trilogy that Sofia Coppola has created since two of the stories are about young girls wanting to reach a part of their life while in Marie, it's about a woman who seems to lived it all only to be forced into the dark world of reality.

***Updated DVD Tidbits 3/27/07***

The Region 1 DVD for Marie Antoinette from Sony Pictures presents the film in the 1:85:1 aspect ratio for anamorphic widescreen. Also presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital in both English and French plus their respective subtitles. The DVD includes previews for films like Dreamland, Sam Raimi's upcoming Spider-Man 3, Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, Premonition, The Holiday, and the soundtrack to Marie-Antoinette. Two trailers appear for the actual film. First is the 2005 teaser featuring New Order's Age Of Consent playing in the background. The second is the U.S. theatrical trailer which is more energetic and presented in the same, American style with cuts by Aphex Twin, Gang of Four, and New Order's Ceremony. The U.S. is excellent though is a bit weak compared to the European trailer released in the Spring of 2006.

Three special features come in the Region 1 DVD. First is the 30-minute making-of special directed and shot by Eleanor Coppola, Sofia's mother. The making-of documentary features interviews with Sofia, her legendary father/executive producer Francis Ford Coppola, cast members, collaborators, and novelist/historian Antonia Fraser. In the doc, Sofia reveals her intentions into making the film where she didn't want to go for a typical, historical period piece but rather a film about character and a real-life human being. Francis Ford Coppola, Judy Davis, and Steve Coogan talked about the infamous "let them eat cake" comment that was never really said. The press just exaggerated as well as other stores which some were true. Shot on location in Versailles, Coppola and production designer K.K. Barrett talk about bringing furniture and drapes to use for the palaces since the real furniture in Versailles can't be used. Yet, with the help of consultant and Versailles historian Dominique Avart.

One of the prominent profiles in the documentary is costume designer Milena Canonero whose work in Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon won her an Oscar. For her work in this film (which she won another Oscar), Canonero took the same approach while bringing more life to the clothes and color that would bring new energy to the costume period dramas. Danny Huston said that those films often feel weighty and trapped in their own genre. When discussing the music as well as Jamie Dornan being the Adam Ant version of Count Fersen, Sofia talks about the New Romantic movement which was directly inspired by 18th Century decadence and reveled in its look and style. It was in the New Romantic movement that also became a reaction towards the fall out of punk rock in the late 70s. The casting is discussed where Sofia and Antonia Fraser said that the people in Versailles were eccentric for which, made sense to have a Texan like Rip Torn play King Louis XV and the Italian Asia Argento as Madame du Barry. Marianne Faithfull and Kirsten Dunst were both cast largely due to the fact that they both have Bavarian backgrounds. Faithfull talks about her own family tree which is descended from Austrian royalty.

Fraser talks about Dunst, whom she was impressed by and felt that she was perfect to play Marie Antoinette because Dunst has a German background and has the same jaw line that Antoinette had. Dunst talked about the acting which, she was happy to not do an accent. While some actors chose to, it was in spirit of collaboration for the actors to feel natural and give their own interpretation of the characters they play. Cinematographer Lance Acord talks about the lighting schemes for the film which differentiate in several sequences. From the opening sequence in the Austrian palaces which were darker in contrast to the many scenes in Versailles. For the Petit Trianon phase, Acord goes for more natural lighting, handheld, and looser camera work to convey her energy. For the final sequences, even darker colors and shades to convey her own emotions. Overall, this is a fascinating documentary by Eleanor Coppola.

Two deleted scenes appear in the DVD with each introduction text from Sofia on why they were cut. First is an opera sequence shown after Louis XVI's meeting to give aid to the Americans in the American Revolution. The opera sequence shows Marie presenting a German opera to the people of Paris that is followed by a letter from Ambassador Mercy to Queen Maria Theresa. Coppola explained that it was cut due to the fact that there was one too many opera scenes and that the other two, one right early in the film and the other in the third act were to convey were Marie was to the public at the time. The second deleted scene is Marie's return from the Petit Trianon after Count Fersen's departure. It's a sequence played to a piano track by Aphex Twin, the scene conveys Marie's isolation in Versailles while she's shot entirely in dark blue with everyone else in more, sepia-like colored. It's a great sequence but Coppola cut it because she felt that it was too self-pitying.

The final special feature is called Cribs with Louis XVI which is a parody of the show Cribs. With Jason Schwartzman playing his character, Louis XVI gives a tour of Versailles. Shot by Roman Coppola, Louis (being all hip-hop and in costume) starts off in the Hall of Mirrors while revealing the bedroom that he and Marie sleeps in. Shows off all of the paintings. All in the accompaniment of some cheesy music by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. It's pretty funny while showing a bit of what is inside Versailles. While the Region 1 trailer has some nice features. It's only minuscule to the French DVD box set that includes another disc filled with the same features and more including Sofia's short film for Lick the Stars back in 1998. Also included are a fan and the French book translation of Antonia Fraser's biography on Marie Antoinette.

***End of DVD Tidbits***

In the end, while it's not a perfect film or a disaster, Marie Antoinette is still one of the most interesting and engaging films of 2006. Thanks to an all-star cast led by Kirsten Dunst in the amazing title role along with a dedicated film crew, this is a movie that people will love and hate. While history buffs might be upset over the lack of historical context presented in the film. It's a film that does play with the rules about the idea of bio-pics. Some audiences might love the film for its lush presentation, lavish costumes, and radical approach to music because it's unconventional. Yet, it's a film that isn't for everyone. In the end, Marie Antoinette is still a remarkable film from Sofia Coppola.

Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST) - (Priscilla OST)

© thevoid99 2010

Favorite Films #1: Lost in Translation (5th Year Anniversary Essay)

Author's Note: The Essay was Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/21/08 to Celebrate the Fifth Anniversary of My First Viewing of Lost in Translation, in which I believed to be the best film ever made.

Lost on Earth & In Need of Translation

With American cinema nearing the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, it's clear that for anyone looking for an alternative from the big, mega-blockbusters of Hollywood. They turned to the auteurs that re-defined American cinema as something as interesting and unique as new worlds were explored. Coming from the post-Quentin Tarantino of independent cinema were new voices like Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Brad Anderson, David Fincher, David Gordon Green, and Spike Jonze. Another director coming out of this new wave of American cinema is Sofia Coppola. The granddaughter of famed music composer Carmine Coppola and the daughter of reknowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

Coming from a family of artists and people in the film industry that includes cousins Nicholas Cage, Jason Schwartzman, and Robert Carmine along with her aunt Talia Shire, mother/documentarian Eleanor, and brother Roman. Sofia Coppola redefined the theme of alienation from a new perspective of young women dealing with new environments, adolescents, and life in transition. Starting with 1989's short segment Life Without Zoe for the anthology feature film New York Stories that was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, along with shorts directed by Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. Written by Francis and Sofia, Life Without Zoe tells the story of a rich young girl who is surrounded in an adult world through parental neglect. While it was the most maligned segment of the film, it carried themes that Sofia Coppola would tell in her later films.

Part of Coppola's transition in her own life through her young adult life was her trying to explore things. Something that she felt every young women goes through from one phase to another. In her second feature film Lost in Translation, there's a scene where Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are lying in bed side-by-side where Charlotte contemplates her lack of direction. She had just graduated from Yale studying philosophy yet has no idea what to do with her degree or with her life. She mentions going through a photography phase and then attempting to write. Yet, Bob tells her that she'll figure it out and keep writing.

In the early 90s, following her maligned-performance in The Godfather, Pt. III where she took over for Winona Ryder at the last minute. Sofia went through a modeling phase, did some photography, went into fashion, and started a short-lived TV project with friend Zoe Cassavetes. Yet, it would be the discovery of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel The Virgin Suicides about five young girls dealing with their adolescence as they live in a strict household desperate to connect with young boys. Told in the perspective of one of the boys who live in their suburban neighborhood. Desperate to turn the story into a film, she wrote a script with help from her father to turn it into a film.

Before Sofia directed her 1999 feature film debut with The Virgin Suicides, she had directed a few music videos for Walt Mink and the Flaming Lips while also directing two shorts. Bed, Bath, & Beyond in 1996 and Lick the Stars in 1998. The latter told the story of a young girl in middle school who is popular while her best friend is cast out. Yet, when the popular girl creates a statement that is misinterpreted, she is immediately cast out. Lick the Stars would be the predecessor of what is to come from Sofia in her exploration of alienation from the mind of young women. The Virgin Suicides premiered in film festivals in 1999 and a year later, got a theatrical release to rave reviews. Around the same time, Coppola's personal life with husband and director Spike Jonze, who was coming off his own breakthrough with his 1999 feature film debut Being John Malkovich, was starting to unravel through closed doors.

During that period, Sofia Coppola had a fashion line that was popular in Japan. Yet, her visit included a period of jet lag, depression, and wonderment. Yet, this experience along with her own personal life would be the inspiration for her second feature film Lost in Translation. The story of an aging actor named Bob Harris whose best days are behind him goes to Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial for $2 million while endorsing it. Yet, his own life is unraveling as he forgets his son's birthday while his marriage has lost its sense of passion. Meanwhile, a young woman named Charlotte is dealing with her own marriage being lost as her photographer husband goes off to work while is dealing with the unique world of Japan as she tries to find herself. Yet, Bob and Charlotte would meet through jet lag, depression, and confusion as they share their feelings of confusion and frustration.

The film is a study of two people in transition as the troubles in their personal life and ambitions bring them together in a world that's extremely foreign to them. Inspired by the films of alienation by revered Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni and the dreamy romanticism of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai. Coppola goes for mood instead of gimmicks or stylized cutting and presentation of the Hollywood films of that time. With its sharp, shading color and hand-held camera work of cinematographer Lance Acord, the layered sound design of Richard Beggs, and the slow yet methodical pacing by editor Sarah Flack. It's a film that engages the viewer in giving them a world, whether they've been to Tokyo or not, that is very foreign and also overwhelming.

While the film's technical work that includes notable work from production work from K.K. Barrett and Anne Ross along with Nancy Steiner's costume design. Sofia Coppola also brought back one of alternative rock's unsung heroes back to the forefront in My Bloody Valentine guitarist Kevin Shields. Shields, who had not released new original music since 1991's landmark album Loveless, had been on-and-off experimenting and collaborating in other people's project. With the help of music supervisor Brian Reitzell and Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Shields' contributions to the film helped emphasize its dream-like mood with acts like Squarepusher, Sebastian Tellier, Air, Death in Vegas, and the Jesus & Mary Chain contributing cuts. The film's music and soundtrack is an ode to the shoegaze music scene of the early 90s as well as playing to the emotions of its characters and their situations.

The four tracks Shields contributes to the soundtrack along with Sometimes from MBV's Loveless album play to the loneliness and confusion of Charlotte's character. Yet, music also plays a positive part where Bob Harris sings Roxy Music's More Than This during a kareoke sequence. Harris' voice is filled with emotion as his attraction to the young Charlotte is becoming evident where they connect in a big way. The scene along with a scene of Bob and Charlotte smoking a cigarette is followed by a wonderfully edited, shot, and sound mixed sequence of the Tokyo highway, bridges, and streets to the tune of Sometimes. The emotion and longing for sleep comes arrive with Bob carrying a sleeping Charlotte to her room in a platonic way. That series of scenes and sequences are perfectly executed led by Sofia Coppola's subtle, restrained approach to drama.

Coppola's direction and script definitely underplay a lot of what goes on in the emotional front while a lot of the film is based on life experiences and such. Though some might feel that the supporting characters of John (Giovanni Ribisi) and Kelly (Anna Faris) are caricatures along with a slew of Japanese characters. In a way, it could be true but it's too easy to say that. While John might be based on Spike Jonze and Kelly, rumored to be based on Cameron Diaz. Coppola was revealing painfully about what happened to her failed marriage though she isn't suggesting that John had an affair with Kelly. Yet, maybe nothing did happen and Kelly was just a starlet who was more likeable and energetic to the more introspective yet snobbish Charlotte.

There was an accusation of racism about the Japanese characters and how they were treated on the film. Audiences may be missing the point since Japan is extremely foreign and their tastes in comparison to Americans are very different. It's not fair to say that the Japanese have a sense of excitement and huge smiling personality since not all of them are like that. Bob Harris' encounter with a TV Japanese talk show host is only there for amusement as Harris is bewildered by appearing on the show. Yet, overwhelmed by the sense of culture shock and revealing the dirty laundry of his passionless marriage leads him to having a one-night stand with a singer at the hotel. Yet, the character of Bob Harris is a man confused at where he's at while filled with frustration in both his personal and professional life.

Bill Murray's performance of Bob Harris is wonderfully understated as the legendary comedy-actor goes for a performance that was thought to be unseen. Known as a comedy actor coming out of the TV show Saturday Night Live and hit comedies like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Stripes. Murray's career by the 90s was going through a transition as he mixed comedy and drama in films like Groundhog Day and Wild Things. Yet, it was the films of Wes Anderson like 1998's Rushmore and 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums that gave Murray a new career as a dramatic actor. With Lost in Translation, Murray's sharp, sarcastic, dead-pan sense of humor mixed in with regret and confusion. Murray's approach to under-dramatize his character and make him engaging and funny proves his talents as he won several awards while getting an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role.

Matching Murray in the performance front is Scarlett Johansson. Only 17 when she acted in the film back in 2002, Johansson was a promising actress coming off of such acclaimed films as Manny & Lo, Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, An American Rhapsody, and the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There. Her minimalist, subtle, and entrancing performance as Charlotte is often considered to be her finest work that was matched even more months later in the film adaptation of Girl with a Pearl Earring. Though there were criticism for the fact that she didn't do much, the fact that she didn't do any kind of overacting or melodramatic is what set her apart from her acting peers at the time. Winning a British Academy Award for Best Actress that year along with several nominations including 2 Golden Globe nods for Best Actress in different categories for comedy and drama for both Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Johansson was catapulted to stardom despite the fact that she never gained the same acclaim or promise she had in 2003.

Five years since its release, Lost in Translation is still a favorite among some film buffs though its acclaim has diminished somewhat like other films. Yet, it remains Sofia Coppola's best work though her follow-up film, a revisionist bio-pic on Marie Antoinette, received mixed reviews in its 2006 release. While Sofia Coppola's take on period films and 18th Century dramas did wow some audiences, the film did at least prove that the director is a unique visionary who won't repeat herself though will venture into the same themes that she has visited. Another part of Sofia's genius is in Lost in Translation's much-discussed ending about what Bob Harris whispered into an emotional Charlotte's ear. To this day, it has not been revealed as it remains one of the most discussed and beloved endings in cinema.

Lost in Translation is not a film for everyone. It's not for anyone looking for pop-culture, savvy dialogue. Not for audiences looking for a conventional romance with lots of skin or anything that has a familiar plot. It's also not a film that mainstream audiences would want, especially in the traditional happy ending. Yet, those are the reasons why Lost in Translation is a great film and definitely one of the best films ever made. It's a film that defies expectations, explores themes of alienation and identity, and for those lost souls feeling disconnected by the world. This is a film that connects them in such a way that it could be done with such style and emotion through the mind and heart of its unique visionary, Sofia Coppola.
© thevoid99 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lost in Translation

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/21/03 w/ Additional Edits

"Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world. Moving up and so alive. In her honey-dripping beehive, beehive, it's good, so good, it's so good, so good. Walking back to you is the hardest thing that I can do. For you, I'll be your plastic toy; I'll be your plastic toy, for you. Eating up the scum is the hardest thing for me to ".

-Just Like Honey by the Jesus & Mary Chain from Psychocandy

The lyrics above are a very good description on what Sofia Coppola's film Lost in Translation is all about. It's about two people who find themselves alone and neglected in a world that is foreign to them. Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation is an evocative, romantic masterpiece that transcends all barriers of depth in acting, writing, and direction. Sofia Coppola brings in a film that takes the audience to an area they might have not been before and see the cultural differences between the worlds you live and the new world that that they're being introduced to. In the process, it's an unconventional romantic comedy-drama that is more about trying to identify yourself in the new world while looking at the old world from an eerie distance. What Lost in Translation succeeds in is finding an emotional chord through its actors, plot, and striking visuals.

50-year old Hollywood actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) has just arrived to Tokyo to endorse Suntory Whiskey for $2 million.  Yet, Bob's career isn't hot as it used to be as he arrives at the Hyatt Hilton Tokyo where he receives a fax from his wife that he had forgotten his son’s birthday.  His sullen mood worsens as he's forced to listen to bad jazz renditions of songs like Scarborough Fair from a jazz chanteuse (Catherine Lambert), dealing with fans, and having trouble sleeping. In the same hotel, a young Yale graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is also having trouble sleeping while her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) is on assignment to do photos for a rock band. Charlotte somehow feels neglected in her 2-year marriage as she wanders around in Tokyo looking at temples.  Charlotte suddenly feels like her marriage is falling apart as well as her identity after tearfully calling a friend in the U.S. about what's going on.

Bob and Charlotte for a few days would see each other in the bars or in an elevator but haven’t spoken as Charlotte is exploring the strange culture of Japan with its video games and pop culture references. Bob meanwhile, is shooting the whiskey commercial and finds himself in an awkward position where he has trouble figuring out what the Japanese director wants from him, which is more intensity. Bob also feels alone not just from the array of Japanese television but from the number of faxes from his wife on what shelves or carpet colors he wanted. Charlotte is also having trouble trying to find something she can relate to as her husband has been consumed with his job.  Even as they meet a vapid Hollywood starlet named Kelly (Anna Farris) doesn't help matters for Charlotte.

Then one night, Bob and Charlotte finally talk in the hotel bar as they both couldn't sleep and talk about their own problems. They would meet again after Charlotte leaves a dinner conversation with John and Kelly where Bob asks if she would participate in something that would get them out of this funk they’re in. Charlotte says yes as the two explore Japan by themselves. In the day, Bob will do his promotional work for the whiskey including a hilarious photo shoot where he mimics the Rat Pack and Charlotte would explore Tokyo and the art of Japanese flowers. They meet again and later in the night, they explore the party scene of Tokyo where Charlotte meets an old college friend Charlie (Fumihiro Hayashi) who introduces the two to the rave scene, indie-pop records, and of course, karaoke. Charlie does the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen and Bob does Nick Lowe's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding?. Charlotte later does the Pretenders' Brass in Pockets and Bob responds with a moving rendition of Roxy Music's More Than This.

The night resulted in the two finally getting some sleep while Bob is forced to deal with strange, disconnected communication with his wife while Charlotte is feeling more neglected from John as he is away from business. Bob and Charlotte have lunch together where Charlotte reveals a bruise in her foot resulting from a bump with a small object a few days back. Bob accompanies to the hospital where he talks to an old person despite not understanding what he's saying. They later meet for another night with Charlie at a strip club as they begin to have conversations about their troubles lives in a moving scene of the two of them in bed talking about marriage. With the film progressing from then on, Charlotte and Bob do their day activities while wondering if the relationship they're having is meaningful in the short time they're having.

In her second full-length feature to date after making the 1999 acclaimed film The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola has created something that is dreamlike but also eerie in its framing and tone. With cinematographer Lance Acord, Coppola captures the colorful, modern look of Tokyo that seems beautiful but at the same time, makes the audience feel very isolated in a lot of ways, particularly the characters of Bob and Charlotte. Coppola's original script is filled with wide-range of emotions along with some humor while in scenes with no dialogue, there's no need for her to write words as she makes the actors capture raw emotion through their performances. Even the sceneries of temples, landscapes, clubs, and arcades are filled with enigmatic beauty as the audience is transported into this new world that they're surrounded by. Though it seems to be a clash in cultures, it really opens the mind of the worlds many aren’t familiar to and Tokyo is a perfect setting with its wild look and people.

One noted factor to the greatness of the film is the use of its music. With cuts ranging from karaoke, jazz standards, Japanese pop, and dream-pop, the film exceeds the use of music the way Coppola had approached it with The Virgin Suicides. In Lost in Translation, the music moves and captures the mood of the film. With some of the original music from Brian Reitzell with Beck musician Roger Joseph Manning, Reitzell brings an eerie, cold mood to the culture of Japan along with the electronic music of Death in Vegas, Air, and Squarepusher. The real music star of the film is none other than My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, who finally returns with new music in 12 years after the release of the 90s rock masterpiece Loveless. Shields brings a dreamy, melancholic tone to the music, including the song City Girl used in the film's opening shot of Johansson in pink underwear and in the flower scene for a dreamy, melodic instrumental called Ikebana. Even the classic MBV song Sometimes appears in the film and the Jesus & Mary Chain noise-pop masterpiece Just Like Honey that gives the film its emotional climax.

The supporting performances of Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Farris, and a slew of Japanese actors are all well utilized. Ribisi plays a character that loves his wife but he's also married to his work and has been consumed with the trappings of being around celebrities and all sorts of people stroking his ego while making himself neglectful towards Charlotte. While Ribisi's character is based on Coppola's now ex-husband Spike Jonze, Ribisi's performance isn't an exaggeration of Jonze. Anna Farris does a surprising performance as a brainless Hollywood starlet who is consumed with her own fame and believing that she is the greatest thing in Japan, while she does a hilarious, off-key rendition of Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better. Even the Japanese cast is hilarious to watch from the commercial director (Yukata Tadokoro), the hooker, translators, TV talk show host Matthew Minami (Takashi Fuji) and all sorts of people including Fumihiro Hayashi as Charlie stand out on their own bringing out a sense of comedy while not purveying to the stereotype of the Japanese.

Then there's the two leading performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that are both enigmatic, masterful, and deep in their respective roles and it's no doubt these two should be getting some awards. For Bill Murray, the character of Bob Harris is the best film role of his entire career. While he was hilarious in movies like Caddyshack, Meatballs, Ghostbusters 1 & 2, Scrooged, What About Bob? and Stripes along with more serious performances in Ed Wood, Rushmore, and Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation is his most defining performance as he not only brings out some quick-witted humor that is dry in some cases while he reveals his sense of vulnerability in the film including the poster of him sitting on his bed with his sad, droopy face.

Scarlett Johansson meanwhile, delivers a performance that exceeds all sorts of expectation wanted from a young actress. Though she's only 19 years old, Johansson brings in a mature, fragile performance as Charlotte that I don't think many actresses, including those around her age group could manage. She displays a beauty that transcends all sorts of barriers from the exterior to the more internal torture in her character. Johansson recently won the Upstream Best Actress prize from the Venice Film Festival for her performance and she truly deserved it. Just the way she made the camera look at her and to identify with the character is a true power to what it is to be a great actress. In comparison to early film roles like Manny & Lo, The Horse Whisperer, Ghost World, An American Rhapsody, and The Man Who Wasn't There, this is one of her best performance to date though she recently top that with Girl with a Pearl Earring with Colin Firth as the famous Vermeer painting.

The chemistry between Johansson and Murray are spellbinding as they channel their sadness to find some life around themselves in a foreign world. Even in their karaoke scenes, they bring in some depth into their roles while proving that they're not the best singers in the world. The age difference between the two is thrown out of the window as they play two lost souls trying to find meaning with their drab life. Even in the script's unconventional approach to a love story, the film doesn't give an answer on whether they should sleep together or not because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how these two individuals feel through real emotions and no one could capture those kinds of performances the way Murray and Johansson has done

***Updated Tidbits on the DVD from 2/5/04***

The DVD to Lost in Translation is featured in two versions. The Full-Screen and 1.85:1 Anamorphic Wide-Screen version. For those of you cinematic buffs who saw Lost in Translation multiple times (like I did where I saw the film 3 times in 2003 in the theaters), the Wide-Screen version is the one to own since it captures the film in an exhilarating form. With languages featuring French and Spanish subtitles plus DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in English and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in French. No, the film doesn't have Japanese subtitles but at least now, we can hear what Kevin Shields was saying in his MBV song Sometimes and City Girl that has so many interpretations on what he said.

Aside from the scene selections and language features, the DVD also includes a great menu of Special Features. The only disappointment in the Special Features DVD and probably for good reason is audio commentary from Sofia Coppola (but due to her personal circumstances, it's understandable and there’s no audio commentary from the always reclusive Murray and the workaholic Johansson). Aside from the great trailer (and before the film, some great trailers of films from Focus Features), there are some great special features that include two documentary features, Coppola's video for Kevin Shields' City Girl, five deleted and extended scenes, and the full version of Bob Harris’ visit to the Matthew's Best Hit TV Show.

The video for City Girl includes some shots of the film based on the viewpoint of Charlotte as well as a few scenes that didn’t make into the film. Sofia Coppola, who only had shot three music videos, did an amazing job with the editing and her romantic use of Kevin Shields' new song. The feature for Matthew's Best Hit TV Show is downright hilarious as the audience gets to see the whole episode in its entirety. We get to see Bob Harris trying to talk to the boisterous Minami and we finally see what was revealed in the box that is downright disgusting but overly hilarious.

The five deleted and extended scenes can be played individually or as a whole. The first is a deleted scene of Bob Harris joining in the water aerobics club with some Japanese women as he splashes around and joins in for the fun, showing Murray's offbeat comedy antics. The second is a scene where Charlotte goes into a toyshop outside of Tokyo as she encounters two robot children as she tries to play with them but leave her displaying her sense of neglect with background music of In The Subway by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Brian Reitzell. The third is an extended press conference scene for Anna Faris’ Kelly where she talks about her action film Midnight Velocity and all of the Hollywood clich├ęs that is played to the hilt, especially as Faris is playing a ditzy, Cameron Diaz-like character to the role. Faris isn't trying to be Diaz but she definitely brought some humor to the film's subtle tone. The fourth scene is a scene where Charlotte calls Bob the night after the karaoke party as she asks if he'll join her for lunch. The fifth and final scene is an extended scene of Harris' conversation with a Japanese elder that gets funnier because of the language barrier as they to learn each other's name.

The two documentary features include two different documentaries from Rome and Tokyo. The first is a 10-minute conversation with Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray in Rome, Italy in October of 2003 as they talk about the film where Murray says it's the best film he's ever done and it's his all-time favorite. Coppola and Murray thanked the film's crew for all the work that went through it including the actors and producers. The second is a 30-minute documentary on the making of the film as we see Sofia working on the film with the Japanese film crew. Also featured is Spike Jonze (who also shot the documentary) talking to Sofia about the film as we see the hospital scene, the worst lunch scene, Bob Harris' commercial scenes, and the Hyatt scenes being built with the Murray and Johansson talking and having some fun.

Overall, the DVD is something any hardcore fan of the film must have along with the film's soundtrack. The features are great; especially for film buffs that want to learn how movies are made and the other stuff are cool too. Hopefully, we'll get some audio commentary soon from Coppola and the actors in future editions and maybe, a book on the screenplay but it's likely that no will ever know what Harris whispered into Charlotte's ear. That's a moment only for the actors and its best if audiences never knew.

***End of DVD Tidbits Section***

Lost in Translation is hands-down, the best film of 2003. Though the comic-bio pic of American Splendor is a close second, Lost in Translation is just brilliant with its striking visuals, dreamy music, romantic script, and evocative performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The film is just powerful in its approach and mood, as Sofia Coppola has finally established herself as a filmmaker. Gone forever is the miscast performance of The Godfather Part III and gone now is her being mentioned with father and legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. Now, Sofia is a filmmaker that everyone will have to wait for and it's obvious her next film will be widely anticipated. In the end, Lost in Translation is an enigmatic masterpiece that is filled with beauty and realness thanks in large part to Sofia Coppola’s direction and the performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST) - (Priscilla OST)

© thevoid99 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Double Life of Veronique

Originally Written and Posted on 11/27/05 with New Edits & Additional Content

After taking part in the ambitious, 10-part miniseries of shorts and mini-feature films based on the 10 Commandments called The Decalogue, Polish director Kryzsztof Kieslowski noticed the political change in his native Poland in the late 80s. After years of communist rule, Kieslowski decided to relocate to France for financial reasons where he was given a chance to direct his next feature. A drama about two different women from Poland and France who have the same face, born on the same day, and have the same face in a strange, existential drama entitled La Double Vie de Veronique (The Double Life of Veronique).

Written with longtime screenwriter partner Kryzsztof Piesiewicz, La Double Vie de Veronique is a film that links two different women with similar traits and personalities with the same names of sorts, Veronique in France and Weronika in Poland. Playing both women in the title role is Irene Jacob in her breakthrough international role. Playing two different women with different points in their lives, Kieslowski's harrowing and mysterious existential drama is filled with cerebral and highly emotional moments. Also starring Phillipe Volter, Sandrine Dumas, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Alexander Bardini, and Jerzy Gudejko. La Double Vie de Veronique is a powerful, cerebral drama about two women who might be one soul.

In 1966, two babies were born in different places but have the same eyes and faces. One was a girl named Veronique in France and another was named Weronika in Poland. Now it's 1990 as Weronika is a singer in Poland who lives a happy life while yearning to make her dream as a opera singer to come true. After talking with her boyfriend Antek (Jerzy Gudejko), her aunt (Halina Gryglaszewska), and her own father (Wladyslaw Kowalksi), Weronika vies to audition for a prestigious spot for an upcoming opera. With her enchanting soprano voice, she catches the ear of the orchestra's conductor (Alexander Bardini), she lands an audition. Then on the day when she is walking in the middle of a city amidst a political protest, she sees a group of tourists and a young woman who looks exactly like her. The sight of a that young woman brings a lot of anxiety for Veronika as she waits for the day of her audition in which, she passes. After meeting Antek, her aunt and her father, she performs on that faithful night when something happens that changes everything.

Around the same time in France, Veronique begins to feel a moment of grief. Already having problems with a series of men including a boyfriend and her father (Claude Duneton), Veronique talks with her professor (Thierry de Carbonniere) to announce that she's decided to quit singing. Deciding to teach music instead, Veronique is about to set up her class when she notices a puppeteer/novelist named Alexandre Fabbri (Phillipe Volter) is going to perform that day. The play she sees with fellow teacher Catherine (Sandrine Dumas) was about a dancer whose dream of dancing is shattered after her leg is broken only to become a butterfly in the end provides an existential question for Veronique about this wave of grief.

After a conversation with her father about her mother, she announces to him that she's in love with someone she doesn’t know or met with. Suddenly, objects begin to come to her including a shoelace, a marble, and the result of her cardiology result which reveals that she too has anxiety problems with her heart. When Catherine asks her help with a problem she has concerning Alexandre, Veronique decides she'll do it only to learn more of Alexandre’s involvement. After reading his novels and learning about his whereabouts, she decides to try and meet him. Upon their meeting, they see a destroyed car in the cafe at a train station as she isn't sure what this meeting means. The meeting becomes disastrous at first but they decide to meet again at a hotel where she reveals him the objects he's given her. Then Alexandre notices a picture where Veronique discovers the source of her grief as she tries to look for answers.

While the film's existential and coincidental feel would later play a part in Kieslowski's landmark European trilogy of Trois Couleurs (Three Colors) especially the last part in Rouge (Red) that ultimately became his final film that also starred Jacob. It's a subject that is universal to him since the story is really about two women discovering about the idea if they have another person that's inside them but on the outside is from another world. While his screenplay with Piesiewicz is filled with moments of mysterious and questionable views on life.  It's an existential film where it asks more questions rather than gives answers as it ends on a somewhat, ambiguous note but not in a sentimental tone.  Still, the structure in the screenplay from the first act being about Weronika and the second act about Veronique's newfound grief and the third being her exploration works on many levels.

On a directing scale, Kieslowski doesn't use just the areas and his protagonist to tell the story but objects play a really important to what Kieslowski is trying to say. From the shoelace to the references of heart conditions, marbles, puppets, and music that brings the existential connection of the two women. Using mostly hand-held camera, Kieslowski brings a wonderful perspective to the film making the audience aware of what is going on and to the fact that the story doesn't lose its place where they know where they are and what is happening. It's some of the most inspiring directing from the late Polish filmmaker.

Helping Kieslowski in his visual scope and camera work is Slawomir Idziak who brings an orange, yellowish look to the movie.  Using filters to conveys the emotions and tone of the film in whatever place it's in. Idziak also brings a greenish and absorbing look to some sequences, especially with the use of the marble in the film which features some of the best camera work conceived in European cinema. The locations for Poland and France are inspiring while the production design of Patrice Mercier conveys the different worlds of the two women in its small and intimate apartments that they live in. Helping the film in the editing department is longtime Kieslowski collaborator Jacques Witta whose solid work in editing gives the film a nicely paced feel while being aware of the film's unconventional structure that works on all levels.

Another noted Kieslowski collaborator whose work is prominent is composer Zbigniew Preisner whose orchestral score brings a lot of drive to the film. While it's another singer who does the voice of Veronika, it works with Preisner's ambitious and evocative arrangements. Especially since the music would convey the grief and emotions that would come for the movie. Even in its simplicity, the emotional tone of music is very memorable with the use of the flute that is played. While doesn't have the ambitious variety of his work in the Trois Couleurs trilogy, Preisner's work is solid in every note and melody that is played in the film.

The film's cast is amazing with the sense of parallelism that goes throughout the film since it's often done in a different variety of styles. In the roles of the fathers, Wladyslaw Kowalski and Claude Duneton both provide the comfort figures of the two women. Halina Gryglaszewska also provides excellent work as Veronika's supportive and advising aunt while Sandrine Dumas gives a more troubling performance as Veronique's school colleague looking for a way out only to put Veronique in trouble. Alexander Bardini is brilliant in his role as the Polish conductor while Thierry de Carbonniere is also good in his brief role as Veronique's professor. In their respective roles as lovers, Jerzy Gudejko and Phillipe Volter are excellent with Gudejko providing a great performance as Veronika's boyfriend in their flourishing relationship. Yet it's Volter who really shines as Veronique's love interest who provides the answer to her own growth in grief.

The film's central performance of the title role is wonderfully performed with such complexity and grace by Irene Jacob. Jacob brings the freewheeling innocence and optimism of Veronika along with an illuminating beauty that is made for the cinema. She also brings the anguish and insecurities to both of her characters while it's in Veronique where a lot of the film's emotional depth is concerned. The fact that she plays two characters with similar qualities provides a lot more room for the actress where she would win the Best Actress prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. It's certainly deserving as she brings in one of her best performances to date that is heightened later by her work in Rouge.

***The Following is DVD Content & a New Conclusion Written on 8/27/10***

The 2006 Region 1 Criterion 2-disc DVD presents La Double Vie de Veronique with a brand new high definition digital transfer and remastered stereo sound in French and Polish.  The film is presented in the original 1:66:1 widescreen aspect ratio.  The transfer of the film in comparison to previous home video and DVD releases is phenomenal.  The film plays on the first disc which includes a feature-length commentary track from Annette Insdorf, an expert on Kieslowski.

Insdorf’s commentary goes into detail about Kieslowski’s directing style and how he presents things.  Even as he was shooting the film partially in Poland when it just got out of the era of Communism where he briefly shows a political protest in order to show that he’s moving away from politics.  Insdorf reveals the actress originally was set to play the dual roles of Weronika & Veronique is Andie MacDowell due to her performance in Steven Soderbergh’s landmark film sex, lies, & videotape.  Instead, Kieslowski with Irene Jacob whom he discovered from a small role in the Louis Malle film Au Revoir Les Enfants.

Insdorf also goes into tidbits about Kieslowski’s other collaborators, notably co-screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, and composer Zbigniew Preisner.  Even as they often work together prior to shooting about setting up visuals and other ideas while another collaborator in editor Jacques Witta helps Kieslowski out in the post-production setting.  Insdorf also goes into the presentation of the story and revealed that though Jacob did learn how to speak Polish.  Because of her French-Swiss accent, she had to be dubbed though it was believable enough to win her the Best Actress prize at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.  Insdorf’s commentary is definitely very intriguing to listen to while delving into a lot of Kieslowski’s previous films as well as the Trois Couleurs trilogy that followed.  Even as she talked about the U.S. ending that Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein wanted for American audiences which she didn’t like that much.

One small special feature that appears in the first disc is the U.S. ending of the film which is presented in a grainy copy.  The ending is more sentimental than the original film which was more ambiguous.  Yet, there was an explanation of why there was an alternate ending was because Weinstein wanted something more accessible for American audiences.  While it’s a decent ending, it’s not a strong as the one Kieslowski had intended which is more preferable.

Another special feature content in the first disc are four black and white short films.  Three of which were directed by Kieslowski and another by Kieslowski’s teacher Kazimierz Karabasz.  Karabasz’ 1958 documentary-short film The Musicians is about a group of men who take their free time to play music as a conductor tries to get the men to play right as a way to have joy in their repressed life.  The first of three Kieslowski documentary shorts is with 1970’s Factory is about a group of men struggling to make some changes for the factory they’re running in the hopes of improving it.  The second, called Hospital from 1976, is about the chaos that goes at a Polish hospital in the span of more than 24-hours where doctors and nurses are working with old equipment and machines that are barely working.  The fourth and final short is 1980’s Railway Station about an oppressive railway station where there’s delays, video cameras looking around, and people waiting for trains while dealing with the people who work there.  These shorts are wonderful as it reveals the harsh world of Communist-era Poland from the late 1950s to 1980.

The second disc features two documentaries and three interviews with the people involved with La Double Vie de Veronique.  The first documentary is a 50-minute 1991 making-of documentary called Kieslowski-Dialogue where it explores the making of La Double Vie de Veronique as well as Kieslowski discussing the film and his background.  The exclusive scenes of Kieslowski making the film with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and editor Jacques Witta while showing how he presents things on set.  Kieslowski revels on the importance of collaborators while talking about the theme of the film.  The interview also has him talking about Poland during the Communist era where in 1970, he said he and his other filmmakers were lucky because of the small changes.  Despite the censors, they were able to make the kind of films they made as it is a wonderful, insightful documentary on Kieslowski and his views on cinema.

The second documentary called 1966-1988:  Kieslowski, Polish Filmmaker is about Kieslowski’s career from his early years to the release of The Decalogue as well as a brief insight to his career afterwards.  Directed by Luc Lagier, the film is separated into five parts with the first about Communist Poland after World War II and the emergence of Polish filmmakers in the 1950s that began with A Generation by Andrzej Wajda.  Though it was run by the government, the school was a place of freedom.  Even as it began a new wave of Polish cinema that included Roman Polanski.  Among those influenced by this new wave was Krzysztof Kieslowski who joins the Lodz film school in 1964 at age 23.  Two years later, he creates two short films in which the latter called The Office was a documentary short.

By the mid-1970s, Kieslowski wanted to move into making feature films and dramas that began with a TV Polish film in 1975.  It was around the same time a new era of Polish cinema was emerging where Kieslowski was a part of with his first theatrical-released feature film called The Scar.  This new era explored the harshness of Polish society and how people were living without dignity at the time during a period of political unrest.  Yet, The Scar and other films were being censored by the Polish government as Kieslowski’s 1979 film Camera Buff was a film about a man trying to explore the world through the camera as it expresses Kieslowski’s distaste towards documentaries at the time.

By 1980 when Lech Walsea emerged with the Solidarity movement following some political strikes.  Polish cinema experienced a brief period of freedom as Kieslowski made Blind Chance about a man going into different political parties only to leave it behind in the end.  The film was set for a fall 1981 release in Poland but political unrest by the Communist party and martial law changed everything.  Unable to make films for three years, Kieslowski returned with No End, the first of many collaborations with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz about the mood of Poland during that dark period.  Four years later, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz created The Decalogue that included an expanded short called A Short Film About Killing that became Kieslowski’s international breakthrough.  The documentary is a great insight into not just Kieslowski’s early career but also Polish cinema up to the late 80s.

A 30-minute interview with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak has the cinematographer discussing his collaboration with Kieslowski.  Particularly their friendship that dates back to the early 70s.  The two didn’t work together at school because Kieslowski was a year behind him despite being a few years older.  Yet, they finally did work for a short film project years later as they frequently worked together.  With La Double Vie de Veronique, Idziak recalled the casting for Weronika/Veronique to be troubling as when Irene Jacob was considered.  Not everyone liked her as Kieslowski went to his daughter and her friends and they liked her so he ended up choosing Jacob.  

Idziak also talks about the filters that he created and the look of the film where he and Kieslowski had arguments about the look.  By the time it was to premiere at the 1991 Cannes film festival, Kieslowski learned that the color schemed he had suddenly changed back to what Idziak wanted as Kieslowski accepted the look.  Idziak also reflects on the collaboration between director and cinematographer as he talks about directors taking suggestions from their cinematographers which he feels is very important.  Something he felt is needed as he recalled the same kind of rapport he had with Ridley Scott when they did Black Hawk Down.  Idziak also reveals that he’s amazed by how influential Kieslowski is, even in somewhere like Ecuador where they still play his films in the theaters.

The second interview is with composer Zbigniew Preisner.  The composer talks about his collaboration with Kieslowski that began in the early 80s with No End.   Preisner talks about when composers had to create music for films or TV in order to be recorded because there was no other way at the time.  Preisner had only scored one film prior to meeting Kieslowski in the early 80s at a bar.  Preisner came from a different background from Kieslowski and other collaborators as he came from an arts club.  After No End, the two worked frequently as Kieslowski often invited him to the planning stages of films.

For La Double Vie de Veronique, lots of fragments of music was made prior to the film as they also used the pseudonym of Van Budenmeyer for a few pieces.  Preisner joked about the fact that he got sued by some people over plagiarizing the work of Van Budenmeyer that later got settled because he is Van Budenmeyer.  For a some of the vocal music on film, Preisner discovered a vocal student from a music school in Poland to do the voice while he was worried about how Irene Jacob would lip-sync only to be relieved that she was capable.  Preisner also states on the importance of collaboration between director and composer and how young students should learn from the masters including him and Kieslowski.

The third and final interview is with Irene Jacob as she discusses on working with Kieslowski on La Double Vie de Veronique.  Jacob recalls discovering Kieslowski through A Short Film About Love.  While she was working in the U.S., she got a call about a script from Kieslowski where the two met in Paris and eventually got the part.  Jacob talks about working with Kieslowski where they helped create the character while leaving room for improvisation.  Jacob also talks about how Kieslowski would direct a scene as she holds a picture of her looking in one direction while Kieslowski is talking to her and pointing in that same direction.  She says that’s how their relationship is and of all the film she’s done, La Double Vie de Veronique is the one she treasures the most.

Also included in the Criterion DVD is a booklet that includes three essays and selections from a 1993 book called Kieslowski on Kieslowski.  The first essay entitled Through the Looking Glass by film critic Jonathan Romney.  Romney discusses about the film’s impact at the Cannes Film Festival and its themes.  Romney also delves into Irene Jacob’s performance as well as Kieslowski’s direction and themes as well as its influence on other films.  The second essay entitled The Forced Choice of Freedom by Slavoj Zizek who discusses about Kieslowski’s themes of chance and its outcome as well as the idea of identity.  Even for the character of Veronique who ends up choosing a simpler life following her decision to quit singing.

The third essay called Kieslowski’s Muse by film historian Peter Cowie is about Irene Jacob, the star of La Double Vie de Veronique and Trois Couleurs:  Rouge.  Cowie talks about Jacob’s performance as well as how her performance was the heart and soul of the film.  Even in the little things she did in Veronique as it gave Kieslowski reason to cast her in Rouge.  He also recalled her brave speech at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival where she paid tribute to Kieslowski just after his death.  The last piece of the booklet are selections from the 1993 Faber & Faber book Kieslowski on KieslowskiEntitled Pure Emotion:  La Double Vie de Veronique, the material is essentially Kieslowski talking about the film as well as the trouble of making it when Andie MacDowell was set to be in the film.  He also talked about how much he loved working with Jacob as well as some of the film’s technical pointers and themes.  Even in the idea of creating multiple endings for the film to be played of each theater in Paris but proved to be expensive.

The Criterion DVD is truly superb as it one of the best works that the Criterion Collection has created.  Even as it’s a film that has paved the way for other kinds of film ranging from Sliding Doors to the notorious 2007 flop I Know Who Killed Me.  Yet, it's also a film that would help inspire the hyperlink film genre of the films of Tom Tykwer and Alejandro Gonzalez Innarittu.  It's a film that remains of one of Kieslowski's essential films even after his untimely death in 1996.

La Double Vie de Veronique is a remarkable and powerful film from Krzysztof Kieslowski featuring a radiant, tour-de-force performance from Irene Jacob.  While it’s no doubt that this is one of Kieslowski’s finest films and definitely ranks with the Trois Couleurs trilogy.  It’s also one of the greatest films of the 1990s while it also serves as an excellent introduction to Kieslowski himself.  In the end, La Double Vie de Veronique is a haunting and entrancing yet ethereal film from Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Krzysztof Kiewslowski Films: (The Scar) - (Camera Buff) - (Short Working Day) - Blind Chance - (No End) - (A Short Film About Killing) - (A Short Film About Love) - The Decalogue - Trois Couleurs: Bleu - Trois Couleurs: Blanc - Trois Couleurs: Rouge

© thevoid99 2010