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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Foreign-language film

Bela Tarr: Hungarian auteur on 'Turin Horse' and quitting cinema

February 29, 2012 |  3:34 pm


Hungarian writer-director Béla Tarr’s art-house bona-fides set up his work, fairly or not, as intimidating, impenetrable and overwhelming. His fierce reputation makes “The Turin Horse,” Tarr’s newest and reportedly final film, opening in Los Angeles on Friday, all the more astonishing for its simplicity. Long takes are carefully orchestrated around the tight space of a remote country cabin as an elderly father and his adult daughter steel themselves against a world that seems to be slowly winding down as resources diminish. It’s a slow-motion apocalypse.

With his graying ponytail, leather jacket, penchant for cigarettes and disarmingly direct manner, the 56-year-old Tarr is something of a central casting ideal of an international art-house filmmaker. He sat down for a conversation over cheeseburgers and draft lagers when he was in Los Angeles last fall for the film’s screenings as part of AFI Fest.

Your films have a reputation for being difficult to get through. It’s a badge of honor for some cinephiles just to say they sat through the seven-hour running time of “Satantango.”

It is easy. Easy to watch. It’s three parts, two intermissions. It’s really not a big deal to watch it. It’s just you are not used to that. Usually, when it’s shown anywhere in the world, it’s a weekend program, they start around 2 o’clock in the afternoon and finish around 10, then afterward everybody can go eat something. It’s really just, who was the stupid man — and I know it was here in Hollywood — who decided a film has to be 11/2 hours or maximum two hours?

Do you limit writers and tell Mr. Tolstoy, ‘‘‘War and Peace’ is nice, but it’s too long. We should take out the peace part because it’s boring and nothing happens”? That’s why I find it so stupid to talk about the lengths. I did a five-minute-long movie and it was my haiku. Sometimes, I only need five minutes.

Do you demand more of the audience? Do you want them to put in more effort when watching your films?

It is not an effort. If you are just sitting and watching, that is totally enough. You don’t need any effort. Just trust your eye and listen to your heart. It’s not difficult. Please do not use this word “effort.”

First of all, when you touch the camera, then you are waking up at four in the morning, in the dark, you are driving to the location and it’s cold and everybody hates everybody, it’s too early and you hate the actors, the actors hate you and the catering is bad, the coffee is bad and you hate the whole world. But you know why you do it? I do it for you. And of course I respect you and I know I have to do my best for you, because you are not a kid, you are an adult and you have to have the best. You are waiting for some good scenes, not just only for the stupid entertainment.... Everybody believes that film is just one thing. Surely not.

The story of “The Turin Horse” has its basis in an anecdote about Friedrich Nietzsche hugging a horse he had seen beaten in the street shortly before suffering a mental collapse. Is the horse in the film meant to be that horse? How did it get from Turin to the cottage?

Who cares about Turin? We just had a question — what could happen to the horse? — and we just wanted to tell you something about the horse. I remember the Milan Kundera book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” and I could say we just did a movie about the heaviness of being. We just wanted to show you how long is life. You are doing your routine but every day is getting dimmer. And the light at the end just disappears, quietly, silent. And that is what we wanted. Not more and not less.

You know what the real human tragedy is? When you are capable, but by the end you cannot do it. You have the capacity, but you have no chance to fulfill your ideas.

Is it difficult for you when someone watches one of your films and then asks you what it was about?

When someone asks, “What about?,” I say, “How can I explain to you a film?” Because film is a picture, you can see with your eyes. How can I explain to you the eye of the horse? I have no words. And that’s the reason I did not become a writer. I’m a filmmaker. I know how to show you. I know the way. It’s impossible to tell you what you will see when you see the eye of the horse.

Why have you decided this will be your last film?

I think I’ve said everything I could.


Indie Focus: Gerardo Naranjo's 'Miss Bala'

'Bullhead' boosts Michael R. Roskam and Matthias Schoenaerts

Indie Focus: A world of drama in Oscar foreign-language race

--Mark Olsen

Photo: Bela Tarr. Credit: Cinema Guild


Oscars winners: 'A Separation's' triumph raises hopes for Iran

February 27, 2012 |  8:37 pm

Sussan Deyhim still worries that saber-rattling rhetoric could escalate into war between Iran and Israel or the United States.

"There are enough crazy people out there ... that this actually could happen," said the Tehran-born singer-composer, whose film music credits include "The Kite Runner" and "The Stoning of Soraya M."

But Deyhim hopes the success of the Iranian domestic drama "A Separation," which won the best foreign language Oscar on Sunday, and its director's carefully-worded acceptance speech could help ease rising tensions and alter Western perceptions of her homeland.

PHOTOS: Best & Worst | Quotes | Red carpet arrivals | During the show | Backstage

In receiving his Oscar, director Asghar Farhadi offered a plea that "At the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.

"I proudly offer this award to the people of my country, the people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment," he added.

Said Deyhim, "He was making it very clear that as people we are very pacifist."

Across Southern California, home to one of the world's largest Persian expatriate communities, other artists voiced similar sentiments. "I think once Americans, they see that and they relate and they understand there is no need for wars and guns," said Andy Madadian, an Armenian Iranian pop singer who has lived in Los Angeles for decades.

A number of Iranian and foreign news reports Monday quoted Iranians voicing pride at their country's first Oscar win. Some Iranian authorities also expressed satisfaction that "A Separation" beat the Israeli film "Footnote," about father-son Talmudic scholars.

But at least for a moment, art may have spoken more loudly than political spin, suggested Aryana Farshad, L.A.-based director of the documentary film "Mystic Iran."

"Every time there is the threat of war, intellectuals, artists, filmmakers always come to the rescue," Farshad said. "The Iranian filmmakers, they're my heroes."


Oscars 2012: Full coverage

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

'Separation' director says Iranians care about the Oscars

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: "A Separation" director Asghar Farhadi (Iran) holds aloft the Oscar for foreign language film. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times.

Oscar voters: From Britain to Brazil, academy members span globe

February 21, 2012 |  2:09 pm

Bertrand tavernier academy voter

As Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountants tally the Oscar votes this week, they are sure to be opening lots of envelopes mailed from motion picture academy members in the 90210 ZIP Code. But they’ll also be seeing postmarks from dozens of foreign countries, including Japan, Britain, Ireland, Denmark and India.

The overwhelming bulk of the academy’s 5,765 voting members, including a substantial number who are foreign-born, make their homes in the United States, primarily in California and New York. But according to an L.A. Times study of the academy, which tracked down 89% of the membership, some 500 others, including actors, directors, makeup artists and hairstylists, reside abroad.

The largest regional bloc is from Britain, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (some 250 members). By The Times’ count, at least 57 members live in Canada and about 45 in Australia.

Oscar voters studyAccording to The Times’ study, most of the rest reside in European countries including France (more than three dozen members), Italy and Spain (about 20 each), Germany, Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Hungary and Norway. Members also can be found in New Zealand, Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Thailand.

Foreign members include director Roman Polanski, whose legal troubles precipitated his flight from L.A. to France years ago; British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, better known for this Broadway hits than his Hollywood smashes; costume designer Bhanu Athaiya, the first Indian to win an Oscar, for “Gandhi,” in 1982; and Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, an Oscar winner for “Apocalypse Now,” “Reds” and “The Last Emperor.”

There are advantages as well as drawbacks to living thousands of miles from Hollywood during Oscar season, some foreign members said. On the plus side: getting to watch screeners of movies that haven’t yet opened at their neighborhood theater. On the minus side: spotty mail delivery of Oscar-related materials, and the fact that foreign nominees often are out of sight, out of mind when voters are marking their ballots.

French director Bertrand Tavernier enjoys voting for the Oscars although, he acknowledges with a chuckle, “I don’t read the rules. I’ve never really understood how they work.” Tavernier looks forward to getting his annual shipments of DVD screeners of Oscar-eligible films –- at least the ones that make it to his house in Paris.

“They used to send copies by Federal Express, but if you aren’t home, they don’t deliver,” he said. “I’m sure 10 or 15 films arrived that I never received.”

Continue reading »

Oscars 2012: Watch an exclusive clip from Belgium's 'Bullhead'

February 17, 2012 | 10:43 am


"Bullhead" is one of the big surprises of this awards season. A moody, stylish crime picture, the Belgian film is something of a surprise Oscar nominee in the foreign-language category, up against a cadre of more conventionally high-toned dramas. "Bullhead" opens Friday in Los Angeles at the Cinefamily.

In this exclusive clip from the film, the audience meets the main character of Jacky (portrayed in a widely celebrated performance by Matthias Schoenaerts) for the first time. Putting on some 60 pounds for the role, Schoenaerts conveys the sense that Jacky is a wounded animal, trying hard to put his past behind him even as he faces an uncertain future. A cattle farmer, Jacky finds himself caught up in a criminal underworld of hormone-dealing hoodlums. As this scene shows, Jacky is no pushover, but nevertheless winds up in over his head.

In an interview in Los Angeles last week, Michael R. Roskam, writer and director of "Bullhead," talked about the scene as the introduction to this uniquely configured character.

"I wanted to do many things in that scene," Roskam said. "First of all, creating the right tone with the camera and the movement. What's the environment: farms. What's it about: something illegal. The way he talks, it's intimidating and you feel immediately this is a gangster style.

"But at the same time, I want you to look at him the way I am looking at him: with a soft eye, tender almost. And that's the complete atmosphere of the scene. He's brutal and then he turns around and is, in a way, nice." 



'Bullhead' boosts Michael R. Roskam and Matthias Schoenaerts

Indie Focus: A world of drama in Oscar foreign-language race

Indie Focus: Gerardo Naranjo's 'Miss Bala'

-- Mark Olsen


Photo: Sam Louwyck in the Belgian film "Bullhead". Credit: Savage Films.

Clip: Drafthouse Films

Oscars: 'A Separation,' 'Footnote' top foreign language film nominees

January 24, 2012 |  5:49 am

A Separation

Iran's "A Separation," from director Asghar Farhadi, topped the list of nominees for the foreign-language film Oscar early Tuesday morning. Competing against the acclaimed movie about a couple's unraveling marriage at the 84th Academy Awards will be Belgium's "Bullhead," from director Michael R. Roskam, Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," from director Philippe Falardea, Israel's "Footnote," from director Joseph Cedar, and Poland's "In Darkness," from director Agnieszka Holland.

"A Separation" is considered the favorite in the category. The film, which nabbed a Golden Globe last week, centers on a couple who must decide whether to leave Iran to offer their child a better life, or stay to take care of an ailing parent. The film has been universally embraced by critics: It currently has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can read Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan's review here.


"Footnote" also scored well with critics when it bowed at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals last year. The film tells the story of father-and-son Talmudic scholars in Israel and the rivalry that sprouts up between them. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in March. SPC also will release "In Darkness" in February. The Polish film centers on Nazi-occupied Poland and one man's efforts to hide a group of Jews in the sewer. It played for a one-week awards-qualifying run last year.

Drafthouse Films will release Belgium's "Bullhead" later this year, while Canada's “Monsieur Lazhar” will be released by Music Box Films in April, or possibly earlier now that the film has earned an Oscar nomination.

The Oscars will be handed out Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. ABC will broadcast the ceremony, which veteran Billy Crystal will host.

-- Gina McIntyre and Nicole Sperling


And the nominees are...

PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees

Pals Clooney, Pitt are rivals; ‘Artist,’ ‘Hugo’ dominate

Photo: Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in "A Separation." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Oscars: How to find 'A Separation,' other foreign-language films

January 18, 2012 |  2:46 pm


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

With Oscar nominations less than a week away, specific academy members invited to review the nine films on the foreign-language shortlist will have a very busy weekend, narrowing the list down to five movies ahead of Tuesday's nominations.

While Mark Johnson, chair of the foreign-language film award executive committee, declined to reveal who is part of this year's Phase 2 selection committee, last year's final selection committee included such high-profile academy members as Anne Hathaway, Julian Schnabel and Richard LaGravenese in New York and Ryan Gosling, Michael Cera and Michael Mann in Los Angeles, among many others. "In the second phase, we really do represent every branch of the academy," said Johnson.

He added, "I'm very proud of this list. I love the plurality of the list. I love that we have a documentary in it. I think we have some major filmmakers represented here. I'm quite pleased."

And though he wishes that the shortlist featured 15 films, rather than 9, his committee left off a fair number of presumed sure things, including Lebanon's "Where Do We Go Now?," from director Nadine Labaki, which landed the Toronto International Film Festival Audience Award; Zhang Yimou's war film "The Flowers of War," starring Christian Bale;  Hungary's official choice "The Turin Horse" from respected art-house director Bela Tarr; and Turkey's murder-mystery "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," among others.

Southern California moviegoers can see only four of the films currently on the shortlist, and some of those not until February or March. Currently in theaters in limited release is Iran's official entry, "A Separation" from director Asghar Farhadi. The film, which nabbed a Golden Globe, centers on a couple who must decide whether to leave Iran to offer their child a better life, or stay to take care of an ailing parent. The film has been universally embraced by critics: It currently has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You can check out Kenneth Turan's review here.

Wim Wenders' 3-D documentary on German choreographer Pina Bausch also has opened in limited release. The dance film follows the legendary Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch ensemble and has generated equally positive reviews since it opened at the end of December. Turan's review is accessible here

Audiences will have to wait a bit longer for Israel's film "Footnote," which scored well with critics when it bowed at the Toronto and Cannes film festivals last year. The film, from director Joseph Cedar, tells the story of father-and-son Talmudic scholars in Israel and the rivalry that sprouts up between them. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in March. SPC also will release "In Darkness" in February. The Polish film, from director Agnieszka Holland, centers on Nazi-occupied Poland and one man's efforts to hide a group of Jews in the sewer. It played for a one-week awards qualifying run last year.

Drafthouse Films will release Belgium's "Bullhead" later this year, while Canada's “Monsieur Lazhar” will be released by Music Box Films in April, or possibly earlier should the film go on to earn an Oscar nomination. Taiwan's "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale" will be released by Well Go USA this April.

The other two films, Denmark's "SuperClasico," and Morocco's "Omar Killed Me" do not have U.S. distribution, and it's not clear if they will secure deals to open in American theaters in the next few months.

[For the Record: 3:20 p.m. Jan. 18: An earlier version of this post said that neither “Bullhead," "Monsieur Lazhar" nor "Warriors of the Rainbow" had distribution deals in place.]


Oscars: 9 foreign-language films make academy shortlist

Christian Bale film among 63 vying for foreign language Oscar

Foreign-language Oscars: Marston's Albanian film deemed ineligible

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Fabian Prioville and Azusa Seyama in Wim Wenders' "Pina." Credit: Donata Wenders


Oscars: 9 foreign-language films make academy shortlist

January 18, 2012 | 10:45 am

Golden Globe winner "A Separation"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has winnowed 63 eligible foreign-language films down to nine potential contenders for the best foreign-language film at the 2012 Oscars. Golden Globe winner "A Separation" made the cut, but China's Christian Bale-starrer, "Flowers of War," didn't make the cut, nor did Mexico's "Miss Bala."

The nine contenders include:

Belgium's "Bullhead," from director Michael R. Roskam

Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," from director Philippe Falardeau

Denmark's "SuperClasico," from director Ole Christian Madsen

Germany's "Pina," from director Wim Wenders

Iran's "A Separation," from director Asghar Farhadi

Israel's "Footnote," from director Joseph Cedar

Morocco's "Omar Killed Me," from director Roschdy Zem

Poland's "In Darkness," from director Agnieszka Holland

Taiwan's "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale," from director Wei Te-sheng

Several hundred Los Angeles-based members screened the 63 eligible films between mid-October and Jan. 13 and chose their six top films. The academy's Foreign Language Award Executive Committe then added three additional selections to fill out the ultimate shorlist.

Phase two of nominations will involve specially invited committees in New York and Los Angeles to spend Friday through Sunday viewing the three films each day and casting their ballots.

The five nominees will be announced Jan. 24.


Christian Bale film among 63 vying for foreign language Oscar

Foreign-language Oscars: Marston's Albanian film deemed ineligible

— Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Star Peyman Moadi in the movie "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi. Photo credit: Berlin International Film Festival.

'Starbuck,' 'A Separation' among Palm Springs Film Fest winners

January 15, 2012 |  4:51 pm

A separation
Winners of awards at the Palm Springs Film Festival were announced Sunday. "Starbuck" won the Mercedes-Benz audience award for best narrative feature. "Starbuck," a Canadian comedy directed by Ken Scott, is about how the past comes back with a vengeance. The film is about a class action suit against prolific sperm donor David Wozniak, a.k.a. Starbuck. Twenty years after his successful moneymaking scheme, all 142 of David’s children want to know is, “Who’s my Daddy?” 

"The Girls in the Band" and "Wish Me Away" tied for the audience award for best doc feature. "Girls," directed by Judy Chaikin, is about the hidden history of female jazz musicians. "Wish Me Away," directed by Bobbie Birleffii and Beverly Kopf, is about singer-songwriter Chely Wright, a devout Christian who also happens to be a lesbian.

"The Turin Horse" received the FIPRESCI Award.  "Turin Horse" is Hungary's official entry for the foreign language film Oscar. The film was directed by Béla Tarr, and the jury said it selected it “for the power of its austerity and radical commitment to its vision.” The film is an end-of-days parable largely confined to an ascetic shack shared by an old man and his daughter as a terrible blight takes hold outside.

Matthias Schoenaerts received the FIPRESCI award for best actor for his role in "Bullhead" (Belgium),  directed by Michaël R. Roskam, “for his superb portrayal of an innocent and sensitive man trapped in a truculent body.” The ensemble female cast (Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi) from "A Separation" (Iran) received the FIPRESCI award for best actress, “for their naturalistic, powerful and fully interdependent portrayals of three women grappling with complex questions of guilt and morality.” The film was directed by Asghar Farhadi.

"The House" took home the New Voices/New Visions Award. Ten new international talents making their feature film debut at the festival were in the running for the prize. "The House" is from  the Slovak Republic and directed by Zuzana Liová. It's a family drama about an ambitious teen, her disowned elder sister and their dour, controlling father that reveals contemporary Eastern Europe’s divisions --  between generations, genders, economic strata, city and country.

"The Tiniest Place" received the John Schlesinger Award, which is presented to a first-time documentary filmmaker.This film was directed by Tatiana Huezo Sanchez,  and is the story of Cinquera, a small town in rural El Salvador that was completely depopulated during the civil war, as told by the survivors who have returned with astonishing resilience to rebuild their lives on their native soil.

The HP Bridging the Borders Award went to "Terraferma," directed by Emanuele Crialese. In Italy’s foreign language film Oscar submission, an elderly Sicilian fisherman who rescues a boatload of African immigrants must decide whether to do what the law demands or what he knows to be right. 

“This year’s line-up encompassed a particularly satisfying blend of challenging but highly compelling works, more broadly accessible crowd pleasers and debut films distinguished by their distinctive storytelling craft and technical prowess," festival director Darryl Macdonald said in a statement. "The audience balloting skewed more highly favorable across the board than in recent years, and our juries have made astute and well-reasoned choices in every instance. In summary, it’s been a very good year for the cinema, and a hugely rewarding year for all who worked on or participated in this labor of filmic love.”

-- Julie Makinen

Leila Hatami and Peyman Moadi in "A Separation." Credit: Habib Madjidi/Sony Pictures Classics

Berlin Film Festival announces 10 world premieres

January 9, 2012 |  9:56 am

The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival has announced 10 more world premieres scheduled to be screened at the event. Among them is "Jane Mansfield's Car," directed by Billy Bob Thornton
The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival has announced 10 more world premieres scheduled to be screened at the event, which starts Feb. 9. Among them is "Jane Mansfield's Car," a 1960s drama directed by Billy Bob Thornton and starring Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon and John Hurt.

The other films announced Monday that are to be screening in competition are:

Alain Gomis' "Aujourd 'hui" from France/Senegal

Christian Petzoid's "Barbara" from Germany

Paolo and Vittorio Taviana's "Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die)" from Italy

Matthias Glasner's "Gnad" from Germany/Norway

Ursula Meier's "l'enfant d'en haut" from Switzerland/France

Spiros Stathoulopoulos' "Meteora" from Germany/Greece

Miguel Gomes' "Tabu" from Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France

Benedek Fliegauf's "Csak a szel" from Hungary/Germany/France

Hans-Christian Schmid's "Was bleibt" from Germany

On the first weekend of the festival, Thornton may run into his ex, Angelina Jolie, who will be presenting her directorial debut, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," out of competition.


Meryl Streep: Awards keep coming, this time from Berlin festival

 -- Susan King

Photo: Billy Bob Thornton arrives at the premiere of "Puss In Boots" on Oct. 22 at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood. Credit: Katy Winn / Associated Press

'A Separation': Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week

January 5, 2012 |  1:56 pm

Leila Hatami, left, and Peyman Moadi star in "A Separation," Kenneth Turan's film pick of the week
Don't wait too long to see "A Separation," an exceptional film from Iran. If you care enough about foreign language films to have heard about this particular gem, don't hold back until all your friends have told you how good it is and put a crimp in your pleasure.

Instead, see it now and relish a thrilling domestic drama that offers acute insights into human motivations and behavior as well as a glimpse behind the curtain separating us from daily life in that country's capital city of Tehran.

Imagine Alfred Hitchcock's intricate attention to plot joined to the devastating emotional impact of Ingmar Bergman: The result is exhilerating enough to be the first foreign language film to win the L.A. Film Critics'  screenplay nod. Go to Laemmle's Royal in West Los Angeles and see exactly why.


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More from Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan on 24 Frames

-- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times film critic

Photo: Leila Hatami, left, and Peyman Moadi star in "A Separation." Credit: Habib Madjid / Associated Press/Sony Pictures Classics


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