So here it is: my first Wes Anderson post. I’ve always been a fan of his work, but frankly, I’ve been a bit too intimidated to illustrate any of it. After all, so many talented illustrators have already paid tribute, not least of all being Wes’s brother whose drawings adorn the packaging. But the kick in the pants finally came by way of the blog Cinema Train, which is hosting a Wes Anderson month and asked me to participate. I had no choice but to tackle THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, my favorite Wes Anderson film, and one of my all-time favorite films at that. It centers around a Salinger-esque family of geniuses who come together after years of distance and disappointment to confront and heal old wounds. Like much of Wes Anderson’s work, it’s heavily stylized like a piece of theater or a storybook, emphasized by the fact that the story is being read out chapter by chapter. But what amazes me every time I watch it is that stylized doesn’t equate to stilted. There are so many devices in the film that distance the audience, and so many ways that the characters distance themselves from each other. And yet there’s a humanity underneath the quirkiness, so that when it’s forced to shine through, it’s all the more moving. The fantastic ensemble cast deserves a lot of credit for making that work, even the actors I’m not typically fond of. And Wes Anderson deserves the credit for creating a world in which I never get tired of immersing myself.
Full disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of Lars von Trier. Of his films I’ve seen, it seems to be his goal to make me feel as miserable as possible. And the problem is, he’s usually successful. ANTICHRIST tells the story of a couple whose son falls out of a window while they’re making love. The husband, a dubious psychiatrist, suggests that they retreat into the woods to confront his wife’s grief and fears. Let’s just say things get dark from there. The filming is gorgeous with a lot of, well, memorable imagery, and Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are mesmerizing. There are things in this movie that I never expected or needed to see filmed, but that’s okay. What bothered me wasn’t the shocking violence—it was the moment when the theme changed from grief to the evil of women. I wasn’t going to do an illustration for this, but hey! Let’s draw some cute animals!
SUMMER HOURS is one of those films that, after watching it, I couldn’t stop talking about. And this little blog paragraph won’t be enough to share all my thoughts. The premise is simple: a family’s mother dies, and her three children must decide what to do with her valuable art collection. Do they keep the house and its objects as a legacy for their own kids, or sell it off? The questions, however, go deeper than that. The film examines the value of our possessions, monetary and otherwise. And that serves as a metaphor for the importance of history, or more specifically, family history, and how much of the past we’re able to carry with us in our daily lives. Instead of providing answers, the director, Olivier Assayas, uses these questions as the basis for a beautifully crafted story that I found thoughtful and moving.
I was already a fan of Guy Maddin, with his surreal storytelling, silent film obsession, and melodramatic sense of humor, but this movie still blew me away. Set on an island with a lighthouse that doubles as an orphanage, the film follows a man (also named Guy Maddin) as he navigates the memories of his childhood. The plot is full of suspense, but it’s so chaotic that it’s best described in terms of themes and characters. There is Guy’s tyrannical mother, who sees and controls everything the lighthouse illuminates, and his emotionless father, forever bent over his mysterious work. Then there is the famed teenage sleuth Wendy, sometimes disguised as her brother Chance, who wins the hearts of both Guy and his older sister. I wish I could have seen this when it was first released, accompanied as it was by live musicians and foley artists. But even on DVD, the frantic editing and silent-era title cards make BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! a mesmerizing look at the terrors of youth.
This beautiful, quiet film is a love story of sorts between two neighbors whose spouses are having an affair. Unfortunately, I almost missed all the subtleties that were happening, because I kept getting distracted by the female lead’s collection of gorgeous dresses. (And the light fixtures. And the wallpaper. What can I say? I love 60s design.) Although I don’t recommend being distracted during this film, I do recommend paying attention to the outfits. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE is paced so carefully, and all the scenes flow so effortlessly together, that it almost feels like the entire story slowly unfolds over a single day. If you pay attention to the wardrobe changes, however, you’ll realize that the single day is in fact composed of hundreds of small moments spread out over hundreds of days, each one weighted with its own significance.