Tag Archives: vincent cassel

Sheitan – Review

7 May

Some of my favorite horror movies come out of France. For example, there’s the more modern horror flick High Tension, but also a more classic example like Eyes Without a Face. That’s what brings us to the French horror/dark comedy Sheitan. I was first interested in this movie when I saw that Vincent Cassel was playing the psychotic villain, a role that I have yet to see him play to this degree. Developed by an underground group of French videographers, Sheitan is a movie that is made exactly how the developers wanted it to be made and without any major interference from studios. The end result is something disturbing, hilarious, and unique.

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While at a Parisian night club Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), and Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan) meet two girls, Eve (Roxane Mesquida) and Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). After Bart gets kicked out of the club, Eve invites everyone back to her family’s mansion in the country where they can continue the party for as long as they want to. Upon their arrival, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), the groundskeeper that tends to the house for Eve’s family. As the day goes on, Joseph introduces the group to the people of the village who are all some sort of demented, but things get even weirder that night when they all go home for dinner and it becomes clear that Joseph has something sinister in mind for all of them.

This is one hell of a bizarre movie, and for that reason I give it a lot of credit. It’s a great blend of horror and comedy while still sustaining an ominous atmosphere throughout its entire run time. The story is told in a very weird way, which I will return to later, but I was compelled to stay with this movie until the end. Sheitan slowly but surely leads you on and drops a few clues here and there as to what Joseph has up his sleeve for the unsuspecting group of friends. That being said, this movie also works as a mystery of sorts because the whole time I was trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on. When I finally figured it out, it was so rewarding because I got to see my theory play out in front of me.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was to see Vincent Cassel act like a lunatic, and he sure delivers a memorable performance. In fact, I might say it’s one of my favorite horror performances. There are times where I no longer saw Cassel, but was sure that the character of Joseph had completely taken over. The constant smile that is smeared across his face is made even more eerie by the face crooked teeth Cassel wore for filming. Much like the entirety of Sheitan, Cassel is both horrifying and hilarious. I also have to give credit to the rest of the cast for adding an extra layer of character. Each person felt different and important to the story.

Now, the way the story is told felt very odd. It seemed like for a very long time, nothing was really happening. In fact, the movie only starts getting really intense during the third act. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it made me feel like I was being led along this dark, winding path to some conclusion that I couldn’t even imagine. On the other hand, I started to feel just a little bored towards the middle of the movie. I’m still pleased that the film makers decided to take their time telling the story. Even though there were some boring moments, they never bogged the movie down and I feel like they still helped create a feeling of suspense that made me have to know what happened next.

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Without knowing anything about it before watching it, I can say that Sheitan is a wonderfully underrated movie. It doesn’t even seem to have garnered a cult following, even though it definitely deserves one. It not only works as a grotesque piece of horror, but also a dark comedy full of complete lunacy. The art design and cinematography was even impressive. To all the horror fans out there who are looking for something off the beaten path, Sheitan may be just what you’re looking for.

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Irréversible – Review

2 Oct

Well, ladies and gentlemen, here we are again back with that crazy guy Gaspar Noé. It hasn’t been too long since I’ve last reviewed something by this director, but I’ll do a little refresher. His first feature I Stand Alone  and the short film that preceded it, Carne, were pieces of visceral art that are definitely not for the feint of heart. The same can be said of his 2009 trip down a nightmarish rabbit hole, Enter the Void. Now, however, it’s time to look at his notorious film that was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and made him more known internationally, Irréversible. Like his other films, this is difficult to watch, but unlike his other films, it’s so difficult that at times I found it almost unwatchable. While it is graphic, disturbing, and all too brutal it certainly isn’t trash. Just insanely difficult.

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Much like Christopher Nolan’s film Memento, the action in Irréversible happen in reverse chronological order. Alex (Monica Belluci) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel) are a couple who are going to a party with Alex’s old friend, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The three are having a fine time until Alex, annoyed with Marcus’ intoxication leaves the party. On her way home, she is brutally attacked and raped by a man known as Le Tenia (Jo Prestia), and is soon found by Pierre and Marcus. Marcus then drags Pierre through the underworld of Paris to find where Le Tenia is and get revenge for what he did to Alex and potentially ruining her life and the lives of the three friends.

To get an idea of the intensity of this movie for all those who haven’t seen it, Newsweek called Irréversible the most walked out of movie of the year. People were even leaving during the Cannes Film Festival. Imagine that, people walking out of a movie that was nominated for the festival’s most prestigious prize. It is quite clear that Noé did this on purpose with a lot of fancy film making and editing. The first thing that I noticed was how the camera flew all over the place, following all the action seamlessly, and edited all together to create the illusion of really long takes. He used this same style again in Enter the Void. The camera flies in and out of cars, flips, spins, etc. As if that’s not disorienting enough, the first 30 minutes or so of the movie as a continuous 28Hz droning that actually has a physical effect on humans that make us feel uncomfortable or even sick.

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A lot of credit has to go to the people that were involved in helping Noé’s vision, disturbing as it is, to the screen. Rodolphe Chabrier had what seemed like a really tedious job as this film’s visual effects supervisor. It was his job to fix up all of the crazy, illusory long takes and make the camera look like it’s doing all of the acrobatics almost naturally. There’s a lot more visual effects in this movie than it may seem on the surface, but there were many scenes that had to be cleaned and other actions tweaked. Much props also go to Belluci, Cassel, and Dupontel. Cassel has this intense approach to his acting when appropriate and is menacing for part of this movie, while Dupontel works well as the more hesitant of the two. They work very well off each other and give commendable performances even during the quieter scenes. Belluci deserves more praise than most actresses for stepping up to the challenge of this role and also performing it in such a realistic way. The brutal attack scene is made all the more difficult by how outstanding her ability to act really is.

I may have talked about this before, but it’s something that gets me heated. Many people have condemned Irréversible as trash taken to the most extreme. They seem to be implying that there is no room for films that are disturbing or graphic or show something that makes people uncomfortable and angry. Movies are supposed to stir emotions, be they good or bad, and the worst movies are the one that leave the viewer feeling nothing in particular. Yes, this movie made me feel very uncomfortable and close to physically ill, but that’s good. The movie did what it was supposed to do. There are many films that are graphic and disturbing and are most certainly just trashy entertainment. There is nothing trashy in this film, just brutally realistic and gritty.

I’m not going to recommend Irréversible, because I feel like there are many people out there who may read this review and not be able to sit through this movie. Normally, I think people should try movies like this out and do their best to push through it, but even I had trouble with the intensity and unflinching vision of this movie. It is extremely well made and acted, once again showing that Gaspar Noé is one of the most under appreciated director working today, while definitely remaining one of the most controversial. Irréversible is gritty, brutal art that should be considered as such, but should never be referred to as trashy.

La Haine – Review

21 Aug

In 1993, a young Zairian man, Makome M’Bowole, was shot in the head at point blank range while being interrogated by the police. The Parisian police claimed that the incident was an act of “self defense” but also “accidental,” which I, along with many others, find hard to believe since Makome was handcuffed to a radiator. This brought about inspiration for young film maker Mathieu Kassovitz, who at just the age of 27 too the Cannes Film Festival by storm with his internationally praised film about social conflict, La Haine. With themes of hatred and ignorance, this film has very well stood the test of time and could be used as an example of social uproar at any point in history or the future.

 

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After a friend of his is brutally beaten into a coma, Vinz (Vincent Cassel) vows to take revenge if he dies. His friends Hubert (Hubert Koundé) and Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) think Vinz is all talk until he reveals that he is in possession of a police officer’s pistol that he stole the night before during a riot. The three friends spend the day together, starting in balieue where they all live but eventually they get to the heart of Paris, but one thing remains the same no matter where they go. The hatred that they carry and the hatred put towards them by the police spark numerous confrontations that could possibly end in violence, which only sparks Vinz’s fury even more.

When La Haine ended and I was left sitting on my couch trying to fully process what I just saw, I realized that this was something that was going to take time. I just couldn’t get a read on it right away, partly because of the intense and realistic approach to the subject matter. This movie has definite inspirations rooted in Italian Neorealism, but I think more so in French New Wave, and a sprinkling of American drama on top. The Neorealism can be seen in the use of predominantly unknown actors and the very on the fly style of film making. The New Wave influence can be seen in the wandering narrative where the three main characters just go about their day traveling through their environments. Finally, the American influence, especially in terms of Scorsese, can be seen in the scenes involving the streets and the inner violent tendencies that make up the characters. One scene in particular where Vinz talks to himself in the mirror is very reminiscent of Taxi Driver.

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This film contains very controversial subject matter, but it was especially controversial when it was filmed and released in the early to mid ’90s. Between 1981 and 1993, fatal incidents caused by the police forces in France were at an all time high leading to all of the riots and hatred that you see in this movie. Kassovitz was inspired by this, but wanted everyone to know that this was also just a movie, especially when violence began happening that seemed to mirror that of the movie. It’s clear that Kassovitz wasn’t taking sides in La Haine, which is the best way to possibly tell this story which is about hate, through and through, on both sides. Interestingly enough, when Kassovitz won best director at the Cannes Film Festival, all of the police outside the theater turned their backs to the cast and crew when they exited. This is silly especially since they didn’t even see the movie, and also this movie is not anti-police.

The story of how the movie was made is just as interesting as the movie itself, as you can see by the inspiration for the movie. Kassovitz’s hard work really pays off with La Haine. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to, and all of the mostly unknown actors give it everything they got. Cassel, Koundé, and Taghmaoui are all excellent and have real chemistry together. The setting of the projects is also used to its full advantage, which makes sense since Kassovitz, the actors, and the crew all spent a few months living there to immerse themselves in the environment. All of this technical control and true talent combined with the passion everyone had for this movie really shines in every single frame.

La Haine is Kassovitz’s masterpiece, and with the work that he has been doing recently, I’m worried that he isn’t going to ever find that same passion for a project, as he certainly didn’t with Gothika and Babylon A.D. That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that La Haine isn’t just a pretty movie that has a cool story. It’s actually a hard hitting, intense movie that leaves the audience with questions to answer about themselves, the film, and society in general. This movie is still talked about close to 20 years after it was first released, as it rightly should be. I loved it.

Trance – Review

29 Apr

Hypnotherapy is a pretty crazy concept if you really stop and think about it. If you believe in all of it, the patient is pretty much allowing the therapist to pick the lock of the subconscious in order to help the patient figure something out. Danny Boyle and his writers, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge, tackle this subject using the narrative push of a complex auction house robbery. This brings about some triply scenes and an unbelievable head game that will leave the viewer desperate for answers by the end of the movie.

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Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who is the victim of a heist in which the target is an unbelievably expensive painting, Francesco Goya’s “Witches in the Air.” During the heist, Simon gets hit in the head by Franck (Vincent Cassel), who is participating in the robbery. To Franck’s surprise, Simon has already hidden the painting, but the whack on the head has made him forgot where he hid it.  Through a series of revelations and twists, the crew of robbers and Simon hire Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist, to tap into Simon’s mind and find out where the painting is hidden. What they all find in his subconscious is a multilayered story that connects all of the players and will bring some to their ends.

This is a trippy movie that makes the viewer literally feel like they are being thrust into Simon’s troubled mind. The story at a point becomes very nonlinear and will trick you a number of times. There came a point where I really couldn’t discern what was real and what was not. This seems like a term that is thrown around a lot, but this truly applies to Trance. While McAvoy’s character acts more as just a simple protagonist than a defined narrator, it is his mind we are tapping into making him, I would consider, a very unreliable narrator. Sound and visual trickery become very important to the storytelling, and never felt overwhelming.

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If one were to just look at the surface aesthetics, I feel like this would be considered a masterpiece. There’s almost a visual thematic element to be seen in Trance. One thing that I really noticed was how symmetrical everything appeared to be. One shot showed a building in the dead center of the frame with train tracks on both sides. Another memorable shot was a blown out scene on a balcony in which Simon peeks his head out of the glass door. The sun makes his reflection on the door very defined which makes a really neat sort of mirror effect. Of course a lot of these beautiful shots were done through clever editing, they are still something to marvel at. Another scene on a highway splashes many different colors that appear to be moving on the character’s faces. This reminded me of a living, talking Impressionist painting. As for the sound, the music is what stands out the most. When something serious was about to go down, the thumping electronic score would boost the intensity and pull the viewer deeper into the surreal atmosphere.

Trance‘s narrative is definitely good, but compared to the visuals and music, it doesn’t quite stand on the same level. For one thing, it may be a little difficult for some viewer to really buy into the idea of hypnotherapy and amnesia. It is a little contrived, but the whole movie has an otherworldly feel that serves to remind the viewer that, yes, this is a movie. The acting is great all across the board, with Vincent Cassel’s performance standing out. But, then again, I’ve been pretty biased towards Cassel ever since Black Swan.

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Danny Boyle has once again shown that he is an exceptional film maker, just in case the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics wasn’t enough of a clue. I didn’t find any problem with the movie, personally, although I can see how some people may be turned off by the entire plot of the movie and the highly stylized approach. Trance was a huge treat in a time of final projects, exams, and papers. It’s bursting with creativity and an artist’s love that you can’t always find in thriller films. I definitely recommend Trance.

Eastern Promises – Review

3 Jan

When it comes to David Cronenberg, I’m pretty hesitant. Scanners and A History of Violence were very disappointing movies for me, and The Brood was only acceptable. Eastern Promises is the fourth movie I’ve seen by this film maker, and it surprised me completely. I was concerned going into it knowing it was Cronenberg. He is a great film maker but just doesn’t catch my fancy too well, but this entry in his filmography is a deeply moving and cringe inducing crime thriller.

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After a 14 year old prostitute dies during child birth, hospital midwife Anna Khitrova (Naomi Watts) is determined to find the proper home for the new baby. She asks Russian restaurant owner, and dangerous crime boss, Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), to help translate a diary she found on the dead prostitute. Unbeknownst to Anna, this diary holds incriminating evidence against Semyon and his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel). The only help Anna seems to have comes in the form of the crime family’s driver and “cleaner”, Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) who seems to have a tight grasp on what is actually going on within the family and on the crime riddled streets of London.

This is storytelling at its tightest and its finest. Saying that this movie is about protecting a baby and solving a potential murder mystery wouldn’t be doing the plot any justice. This movie is about the people and how the lives of crime and innocence can blend together. Its a story about strains on families and how violence can take life or save life. Cronenberg doesn’t condemn anyway of life in Eastern Promises by expertly showing the good sides and the bad sides of every character presented in the movie. They’re deep, complex characters who are the real driving forces behind the movie.

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While the violence in this movie is brutal thanks to Cronenberg’s unforgiving film making, it isn’t what the movie is all about. A lot of the violence is actually described in a voice over and not directly shown. While I don’t necessarily agree with the use of a voice over, I will say that the scenes that they describe are brutal and definitely help with the full impact of the story. The violence that is shown onscreen is just as intense as the violence that is described, but never do you think that something like what you are seeing could never happen. It is realistic and an impressive display of brutality.

Viggo Mortensen is out of this world awesome in this movie. In order to prepare for his role, he traveled to Siberia and the area around it without a translator in order to learn how to talk and behave by the people who live there, even if they weren’t the most savory people in the world. Naomi Watts also shows good chops as the sort of eyes and ears into the Russian criminal underworld that plagues the streets of London. Mueller-Stahl is appropriately intimidating, but Vincent Cassel playing his son is more enjoyable. He is borderline psychotic and excruciatingly uncomfortable with himself, which proves to be a dangerous combination.

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Eastern Promises is the first movie I’ve seen by David Cronenberg that I really enjoyed. I recognize that he is a very talented film maker, but I just can’t seem to get into his movies. Luckily, this one brought me hope for my future Cronenberg viewings. It’s a brutal story of violence, but also a tragic story of family. This is an incredible movie that can be ranked with the best gangster movies, and should be seen by anyone who is a fan of the genre or just enjoy excellent movie experiences.