Blu-ray: Ghost in the Shell 2017

The live-action Ghost in the Shell (2017) is both a big-screen adaptation of the long-running Japanese manga (comic book) by Shirow Masume and a remake of the landmark animated 1995 feature from Mamoru Oshii. No matter how you split the difference, the film had a high bar to clear even before the controversy over the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi, who is simply Major in this adaptation. A veritable weapon—her body is almost entirely artificial, a sophisticated cyborg with a human brain who isn’t sure where the person ends and the technology begins—Major is the leader of the Section 9 strike team, an anti-terrorist division of the government that, at times, battles rival sections as well as external threats. Their biggest nemesis, however, is a cybercriminal named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who hacks into human minds and turns ordinary people into terrorist weapons.

Paramount Home Video

Johansson is remarkably effective in the role, impassive but not blank, both physically fierce and ethereal, morphing in action as the technology flickers into chameleon mode or sends her senses into 360 degree awareness. She is graceful and powerful, still and sudden, woman and machine, and her sense of identity is wrapped up in this alien physicality. Her relationship with Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche), the scientist who created her cybernetic shell and ostensibly saved her life after a terrorist bombing, is somewhere between filial respect and professional collaboration, and for all the maternal care that Ouelet tries to push down, there’s something else creating the emotional distance between them. Major is most at ease with Batou (Pilou Asbæk), her trusted and fiercely loyal number two, and she is completely loyal to their section head Aramaki (‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano), whose impassive expressions (Takeshi’s eternal hint of a smile makes him all the more enigmatic) covers his protective nature. As she has no memory of her past before the accident, they are the closest thing she has to family. At least until Kuze starts dropping hints about her origins and questions the identity she has taken for granted since her cybernetic rebirth.

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Videophiled: Asghar Farhadi’s ‘The Past’ and Bruno Dumont’s ‘Camille Claudel 1915’

The Past (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Digital, On Demand), Asghar Farhadi’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning A Separation, relocates from Iran to Paris to tell an equally nuanced story of the complications of marriage, romance, family, and communication. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) has returned to Paris from Iran to finalize a divorce from Marie (Bérénice Bejo) and steps into a family drama involving his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s new man (Tahar Rahim), their angry and resentful kids, and a mystery that is really none of his business, which he investigates with a gentle remove that allows him to gloss over his own baggage until he, too, must confront his own issues and failings.

Like A Separation, The Past is a beautifully observed portrait of people who fail to communicate and the assumptions that accrue in the void of understanding, and a sympathetic presentation of flawed people who don’t always make the right decisions and aren’t even always honest with themselves, and he takes his time weaving defining details through the fabric of their lives. Bérénice Bejo, so bubbly and bright in The Artist, is remarkable as Marie, struggling to work through her own resentments after four years of separation with Ahmad.

In French and Farsi with English subtitles. The Blu-ray+DVD release features both formats in a single case plus commentary by director / writer Asghar Farhadi, a filmmaker Q&A from a screening at the Directors Guild of America and the featurette “Making The Past.”

Juliette Binoche stars in Camille Claudel 1915 (Kino Lorber, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Bruno Dumont’s portrait of the artist during her imprisonment in an insane asylum and based on her correspondence with her brother Paul Claudel, a poet and Christian mystic whose compassion for his fellow man appears more theoretical than practiced. As Camille, famed sculptor and one-time lover of August Rodin, she is an anxious storm of anger and loss, racked with paranoia (she’s convinced that Rodin and his cronies are engineering her imprisonment and trying to poison her). But her greatest loss is not freedom but the ability to express her artistic drive and she is lucid compared to the other, seriously mentally challenged inmates. Her expression reveals an instinctive revulsion for these fellow patients, no doubt in part for the implicit suggestion that she is one of them, but also a compassion when she faces not the patient but the vulnerable human in need of help. The staff sees it in her too and they trust her to look after one or another of the patients at times. The savage duality of so many of Dumont’s characters and cultural collusions from previous films are seen here, but there’s also caring and compassion, at least until the film shifts to her brother Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent) and the insufferable piety that commits service to God at the expense of those on earth. French with English subtitles.

More new releases on disc and digital, including The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Beauty, and The Punk Singer, are at Cinephiled

DVD/Blu-ray: Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Certified Copy’

The Certified Copy (Criterion) of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami’s first European production refers to artworks – Why do we value a reproduction less than an original and what does authenticity even mean? – but resonates just as effectively with the art of filmmaking and its relationship to reproduction and recreation. “It’s our perception that gives it value,” to quote a debate in the film, and Kiarostami plays with our perceptions in playful and provocative ways.

James Shimmell and Juliette Binoche

Kiarostami’s first film made outside of Iran is a truly cosmopolitan affair: a goddess of a French leading lady (Juliette Binoche), a British opera singer (William Shimell) as his leading man, an Italian location and crew and a meandering conversation that slips between English, French and Italian. Binoche’s antiques dealer and single mother (she’s never called by name in the film and is identified as “Elle” in the credits, which in French means “she”) arranges a kind of date with the assured, unflappable author, driving him through the alleys of her small town (the river of brick and sky rolling across her windshield is both a sublime image and gorgeous metaphor for the gulf between the two) through the countryside to a nearby village to view an “original copy” as they debate the meaning of authenticity. As she spars and flirts with the charming but distant author over an afternoon in a lovely rural Italian village, Kiarostami shifts the ground from under us.

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‘Three Colors: Blue White Red’ on TCM

The three colors are blue, white and red. They are the colors of the French flag, of course, and they are appropriated by director Krzysztof Kieslowski along with the themes of the motto they more or less represent: liberty, equality, fraternity. But the films Blue (1993), Red (1993) and Red (1994) are not hymns to patriotism or national identity and the Polish Kieslowski hasn’t any predisposition to making a statement at France. It’s better to think of this trilogy in similar terms as his The Decalogue, ten short films in which he reflects upon the Ten Commandments in terms more suggestive than literal. They are about morality in terms of life in Poland in 1989 and it is that vast collage of life experience in that time and place that is so powerful.

After Kieslowski completed The Decalogue, the Berlin Wall fell, Perestroika was introduced in the Soviet Union and communism collapsed in Eastern Europe. The Three Colors trilogy may begin in France but it reaches beyond national borders to Poland and Switzerland to become in part a portrait of the new Europe. And, I would say, a rumination on the mysteries behind the faces of his beautiful leading ladies: Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irene Jacob.

Binoche stars in Blue as Julie Vignon, the sole survivor of a car wreck that kills her husband, a revered composer, and their young daughter. Initially bereft to the point of suicide, she’s unable to swallow the pills. It’s more a matter of gag reflex than second thoughts but she embraces the reflex as a way to deal with her grief: she simply rejects all emotional connection to her past and her present life, dropping out of contact with everyone she knew and systematically destroying all extant traces of her husband’s unfinished composition, which we learn she was intimately and creatively involved with. (The title of the composition, “Concerto for the Unification of Europe,” suggests the scope of Kieslowski’s trilogy while commenting on Julie’s aggressive isolation.)

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DVDs for 03/16/10 – Love in Paris, Frog Princess in New Orleans and Broken Embraces in Spain

Less a gourmet meal than a flaky pastry, Paris (IFC) is a slight but sweet love letter to the urban life of the city of lights celebrated through the lives of a dozen of its inhabitants (and as many peripheral characters) as they criss-cross, ricochet or simply graze one another over the course of a few weeks. The film opens on Elise (Juliette Binoche, as radiant as ever), a divorced single mother and social worker, and her brother Pierre (an intense Romain Duris), a nightclub dancer diagnosed with a fatal heart disease. While the lonely Elise, having given up on love, dodges the crude passes and rude comments of men on the street, Pierre casts his gaze over the city from his apartment window and muses over the lives he glimpses. The film casts its gaze out as well, to follow a disenchanted history professor (a hilariously morose Fabrice Luchini) suddenly enchanted by a beautiful young student (Mélanie Laurent of “Inglourious Basterds”), his anxiety-ridden brother (François Cluzet), and a conventionally gruff and earthy group of working class men who sell produce at an open-air market, notably Jean (Albert Dupontel), who works with his ex-wife and barely endures the crude manners of his friends and co-workers. “That’s Paris. Nobody’s ever happy. We grumble. We like it.”

Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris in room with a view of Paris

Written and directed by Cedric Klapisch (L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls), the film is a lightweight mix of sprawling mosaic and intimate portrait that overcomes a few too many clichés and stereotypes with affection and appreciation. For all the mortality the stories touch on, it’s a sunny film of romantic optimism and hopeful endurance. It’s received mixed reviews and most of the critics I respect found it wanting—it certainly has none of the depth or resonance of the films of Arnaud Desplechin (A Christmas Tale) or Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours)—but I found myself won over by Klapisch’s good will and the charm of the superb cast. And yes, Paris looks marvelous as we skip around from (the Eiffel Tower figures prominently in most cityscapes) to neighborhood streets to such off-the-radar locations as the bustling produce night market.

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