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Our Private Garden: Damien Manivel’s ‘Le Parc’

Tobias Burms

Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc' (2016)

Damien Manivel’s ‘Le Parc’ (2016)

A boy and a girl who hardly know each other go on their first date in a park and at first glance their encounter seems so pedestrian that it borders on banality: French teenagers chat about Freud, then fall in love. What else is new? Yet director Damien Manivel stripes their meeting of its particularities and focuses on the core instead, as if he were creating the theoretical abstraction of a summertime fling. Manivel (with experience in performing arts such as acrobacy and dancing) films his two characters as if they were standing on the edge of a theater stage: they both enter the frame in an almost mechanical fashion, utter phrases that sound rehearsed and perform gestures with pragmatic perfectionism. They know their every movement is being scrutinized – not just by an audience – but by each other as well. A mask of indifference is needed to overcome the initial awkwardness (every suggested conversation topic is nipped in the bud with a casual “d’accord”).

Manivel dissects the different parts of the evolving romance and goes through the motions as if they were obligatory rituals:the exchange of pleasantries is gradually replaced by careful teasing and playfights, tenderness rises when personal issues are shared and eventually, the privacy of secluded bushes is sought out. This last part especially is filmed with solemn sensibility and holds great timelessness, as if the foliage of the earth could serve no greater goal than to hide frolicking couples throughout the ages. Manivel suggests indeed that the infatuation creates a temporary Garden of Eden for these adolescents where no external influences are allowed: the only sound is the wind rustling through the trees, the park seems deserted and the few other visitors exist only as automated entities (example: a lonely jogger suddenly stops in his tracks only to repeat the same trail all over again).

The ethereal world the characters inhabit in is linked to the fact that we’re witnessing puppy love blossom in the purest (and most superficial) form, at a point where it’s still possible to have an idealized, flawless image of one another. This image is evoked through various portrait shots of the teenagers (the film is shot in 4:3 aspect ratio) that have an disarming sweetness to them, like the wallet sized photos of high school crushes that  tend to turn up during spring cleanings. As being confronted with a piercing stare you had forgotten, the second half of the film feels like desperately clutching on to a faded memory. Because, although Le Parc appears to take place in real time, there’s also the suggestion of an immense time lapse in between: “That’s us when we’re old” the girl says to the boy when they pass an endearing elderly couple.

This abrupt change of tone occurs when the romance is cut short and the girl left alone in the park after sundown. Suddenly, the idealized image seems as transient as a summer breeze and the girl is seen gathering romantic souvenirs (a forgotten pack of cigarettes, a botched selfie and a handful of text messages), as if she’s grasping on to the only tangible proof she has to remember their encounter (not unlike Harriet Smith’s pathetic box of memories in Jane Austin’s Emma)

Not only the memory becomes distorted, but the setting as well: the park turns into an eerie, abandoned place and what felt like serenity at first, is now just unbearable solitude. During these sequences, Manivel uses clairobscur compositions and contrasts the darkness of the park with radiant light sources (such as a flashlight, the moon, a bicycle light and a cell phone screen) reflected onto his protagonist, as if she were a tragic ghost roaming a purgatory of lovesickness. “I want to go back! I want to go back!” she yells during a wholly unreal moment where a sinister ferryman (previously presented as the park’s night watchman) is gently floating her down the river, which raises the question: at what point does wallowing in melancholy invoke a definitive loss of reality?

PH Ticker: Gordon Willis, Godard + Other Links

The Ticker, MastJune is a month of beauty and downpour. It’s monsoon season in India and for us, it lends the air and surroundings a rare and special beauty. Beauty is the heart of all things cinema.

Gordon Willis: 1931 – 2014

Willis, reining light in

Willis, reining light in



Among his many achievements, Gordon Willis is revered for his work as cinematographer for The Godfather trilogy.His work on those epochal films has created a particular palette of lighting that film schools identify as “Godfather lighting”, a broad palette of muted colors, yellow burnish, deep shadows and semi-silhouettes that has defined the look of period films and family dramas for more than forty years. It also earned him the title of “Prince of Darkness”, bestowed by fellow genius Conrad L. Hall.

Gordon Willis was a New Yorker, fitting for the man who defined the city for all time in the prologues of The Godfather Part II and Manhattan. The son of Broadway dancers, the performing arts was a natural inclination. He was initially a fashion photographer, before his stint in the Korean War, where he cut his teeth in a motion picture unit for the Air Force Photographic and Charting Service. After that he moved up the ladder and worked in commercials and documentaries. Documentary techniques inspired Willis to work with less light – “You learn to eliminate, as opposed to adding”. His special approach to realism defined the look of several films from the period known as “New Hollywood” – The Landlord (1970), Klute (1971), The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976).

Willis’ most productive collaboration however was with Woody Allen, a man who shared his minimalism, discreet style and subversive spirit to standard Hollywood shooting practices and techniques. Their collaboration began with Annie Hall (1977) and included the most visible and iconic stretch of his career – Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979), Stardust Memories (1980), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Zelig is a special tour-de-force of in-camera special effects matched with bluescreen technology and footage shot on old-fashioned cameras that were strategically damaged to seamlessly insert the titular character into real-life newsreels.

Woody Allen, 2Gordon Willis shot over 19 films that were nominated for the Academy Awards and he won a grand total of two nominations for his work and he has never won an Oscar for his work on either The Godfather films or the many classics of Woody Allen. He did win the inaugural Governor’s Awards at 2009. But Gordon Willis was above and beyond awards.

1) John Bailey A.S.C.(Mishima) writes on “Gordy” at the ASC Magazine’s Blog 

2) Tributes from former collaborators Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, as well as Stephen Pizello who was in the middle of writing a book on Willis at the time of his death:

3) A brief clip from Todd McCarthy’s documentary Visions of Light, where Willis discusses the famous inspiration for The Godfather’s unique look.

4) Steven Soderbergh spearheaded the rediscovery of the Aram Avakian film End of the Road which was Gordon Willis’ first credit as cinematographer. In tribute, he has set up a lengthy transcript of an interview he conducted with him.

Eli Wallach (1915 – 2014)

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach

Eli Wallach represents the famous adage that defines “character actors”: there are no small parts. With a little screentime, like an old money capitalist in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street 2 :Money Never Sleeps and he steels the film with his very presence, his lovely and hilarious mocking “bird” gestures that is essentially a herald of doom to all who see it. He’s also brilliant in cameos in masterpieces like Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River or Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer. His legend of course long preceded these films. In the 40s and 50s, Wallach formed part of the Actor’s Studio revolution that involved the likes of Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando and Lee Strasberg which completely altered the landscape of American theater and film. His film debut was Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll, an uncanny comedy of bad manners that was especially controversial in its release with Wallach as the scheming and ruthless seducer of the “innocent” Caroll Baker. Other notable roles includes the bad guy in The Magnificent Seven (far more interesting than the heroes), a supporting role in John Huston’s The Misfits, and one half of a gay hitman couple in Don Siegel’s The Lineup. Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly provided Wallach with his most enduring and beloved role as Tuco, the supposed “Ugly” who stole the film from both Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood, though Wallach would later note the lax safety standards on the set of that film often led him to needlessly risk his life. His turn as Don Altobello in Coppola’s underrated The Godfather III is quite graceful as well.

1. Richard Corliss writes a detailed obituary on Wallach.

2. The New York Times obituary includes a touching video link of Wallach in his late 90s being visited by his grand nephew, the critic A. O. Scott.



Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with his Golden Palm

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with his Golden Palm


1) Nuri Belge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep won the Palme d’Or, the first Turkish film to win since Yilmaz Güney’s Yol (1982). Alice Rohrwacher won the Grand Prix for The Wonders, Bennet Miller won for Foxcatcher. The great and evergreen Julianne Moore won Best Actress for Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars and Timothy Spall won Best Actor for Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner. The Jury Prize is shared by the unlikely duo of Xavier Dolan (Mommy) and Jean-Luc Godard (Adieu au langage). Full list of winners, here.

2) Godard deigned not to attend the festival this year, despite the fact that he considers Adieu au langage, his best film. He did send the next best thing to himself and his new film, another film, a short “Letter in Motion”. Daniel Kasman hosts the video at MUBI along with a transcript and translation.

3) Abel Ferrara stole the scene as it were when his film Welcome to New York, which played out of competition, ended up having a considerable showing in theatres in Cannes and a tent screening. The film has garnered the kind of attention that has eluded him since the mid-90s, tackling as his subject does with front-page headlines and matters of politics. The result has sparked angry letters from DSK’s wife, and threats from  The film was released on VOD in France and Ferrara is happy at the reception of the film, “call it karma…the film is out there”. A fascinating interview on the film is especially interesting.

4) Other worthy titles that played at Cannes include Olivier Assayas’ The Clouds of Sils Maria, Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, the Dardenne Brothers Two Days, One Night, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu.


Carax / Allen / Beatty / Varda / Mann


1. Leos Carax has recently completed a short film Gradiva made for the Galleria Gradiva an art museum located across the Louvre in Paris. You can see the short in HD.

2. Woody Allen’s next film, the film after his coming film Magic in the Moonlight (2014) will star Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone and the action is set in Rhode Island. The trailer for Magic in the Moonlight is also up.

3. Warren Beatty was one of the greatest stars of his age, one of the few of his generation that embodied the old fashioned glamour typical of the classic Hollywood star, this despite the fact that his greatest performances in Ishtar, Lilith, McCabe & Mrs. Miller subverted and challenged that image. As a director, he made two masterpieces – Reds (1981) and the fearless and funny Bulworth (1999). After a very long gap of fifteen years, he has returned to direct a biopic on Howard Hughes, a film he had planned to make in the 80s. He will play the legendary eccentric himself, alongside a cast comprised of Alec Baldwin, Aldren Ehrenreich, Martin Sheen, Mathew Broderick, Annete Benning, Candice Bergen and Lily Collins. Principal photography has already been completed.

Agnes Varda

Agnes Varda

4. Agnes Varda’s From Here to There, a video-essay/portrait/meetings is the subject of a fascinating article by Fernando F. Croce.

5. Michael Mann’s latest film Cyber, his first in six years, is an action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth, the first images have been released. The subject is pure Mann:

With great facility the people in the film move between Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Chicago. And the film’s story takes you from those places to inside a processor, inside the electron universe, amongst a population of transistors,” he explained. “You have two billion transistors in your cell phone. Bits with either an absence or surplus of electrons, then become ones or zeroes, every two billionth of a second and affect the macro, our lives. That’s the world this film takes place in.

6. The Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam has selected 11 film projects from 11 countries that will receive funding in script and project development. Among the titles is Ashim Ahluwalia’s upcoming project The Boyfriend, Another Trip to the Moon (Ismail Basbeth, Indonesia); The Calm (Song Fang, China); La omisión (Sebastián Schjaer, Argentina); Something Useful (Pelin Esmer, Turkey):


More Godard

1. In the late 70s, Jean-Luc Godard held a course at Montréal’s Concordia University. These lectures are published in Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, by Caboose Books. We hope to review the book as soon as we have a copy in our hands.

JLG, Caboose Book


2. Colin MacCabe, author of Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy (2003), has posted a two-part essay.

3. In addition to this, there’s a mammoth 45 minute interview with JLG for Canon which you can watch online.



The Far Side of Paradise

1. Richard Brody conducted a fascinating interview with Marin Karmitz, legendary producer and founder of MK2, one of the leading labels in French cinema and home video distribution. Karmitz produced films by Godard and Chabrol and remains an auteur’s producer as it were. He touches on the particularities of financing in the France, including a hilarious meeting with the legendary André Malraux, author, adventurer and Minister of Culture to President Charles de Gaulle.

So I saw the Minister, who said this magnificent thing. I explained my problem: “I can’t make the movie under these conditions. I’m compelled to rig the books, I’m compelled to lie, I’m compelled to say that I’m going to lower the budget, to pay people a percentage, etc., all sorts of things—to tell enormous lies. And he said this magnificent thing to me, André Malraux did: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” That was my first dealing with the government. It was my first lesson: “Rig away, young man, rig away.” So you see the idea that I have of the state … I rigged; I made my film.

André Malraux

André Malraux

2. The magazine Cine-Files has posted an interesting exchange between Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore on Film Acting. This is part of a broader feature of their Sixth Issue, which covers performance in cinema in general.

3. David Cairns posted an interesting article by guest blogger Randall William Cook, which also deals with an issue of performance. Namely Motion Capture and its relation to what we understand as conventional acting. Randall Cook was the Direct of Animation on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and he clarifies all sorts of misconceptions concerning mocap,namely if a person supplying expressions to the animators is an actor in any conventional sense. The issues are complicated to say the least.

4. The issue of the dubious nature of Ray Carney’s holdings of Mark Rappaport’s films remains unresolved as far as courts and Mr. Carney is concerned. But for fans who are worried about the visibility of Rappaport’s films, there is a silver lining. Fandor, an exemplary online distributor of films is hosting several titles for live streaming.

5. James Gray’s The Immigrant has released in America and Gray is conducting interviews and press circuit. He recently conducted an interesting podcast with author Bret Easton Ellis (Lunar Park, Glamorama, American Psycho the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons).

6. The Austrian Film Museum website has put up for online viewing Dziga Vertov’s work with Kinonedelja (Kino-Week) newsreels, which as the website confirms, is his ‘first contribution to cinema’.

Vertov's 1926 film Šestaja čast' mira

Vertov’s 1926 film Šestaja čast’ mira

6. There are more links to look at here, as always.

7. La Furia Umana, the multi-lingual online magazine of choice, has put out its 20th online issue, featuring articles in English, French and Italian. King Vidor is the subject of several articles, including one by our very own Sudarshan Ramani.

Mother of Exiles: James Gray’s ‘The Immigrant’

Sudarshan Ramani

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix's hat in The Immigrant

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix’s hat in The Immigrant

For Indians, immigrating to the States is a long investment in VISA applications, work permits and airfare, and a riffling through all the near and distant relatives or friends of relatives we might have in America to save cash on housing. It’s a highly expensive affair and as such restricted for the already middle-class who emigrate for education, money, or to seek flight from Indian society’s conservative nature. As such, the general myth of immigration in American culture that oppressed people from around the world could come to America and start a new life and new identity is something that’s alien to us, obsessed as we are with maintaining roots and links to a real or imagined ethnic identity.

For most of the people around the world, immigrating to the United States of America was the great quest of the 20th Century. A quest lionized in such masterpieces as King Vidor’s An American Romance, where Brian Donlevy’s Hungarian peasant with a few words in English ends up becoming a steel tycoon over fifty years. Elia Kazan’s America America makes this journey a picaresque epic to rival Xenophon’s Anabasis, the story of Kazan’s uncle who braved oppression in Anatolia, life as a dock labourer and the promise of a banal marriage to finally kiss the grounds on the shores of New York.

The definitive image is that of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, where young Vito Andolini is smuggled out of Sicily to America, where a birth register re-baptizes him Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro, Marlon Brando) after the village where he came from. This defined the immigrant, a man who in America was defined by his roots but who in America became greater than the feudal village he hailed from. The story of immigration so far has essentially been triumphant in tone, an enabling story of American promise for all the considerable ironies, caveats and qualifications put in by the film-makers. They have also, not coincidentally, been exclusively male-centered and heroic. These stories are magnificent triumphs of masculinity and male endurance, stories of the young boy turned American patriarch and founder of a new way of life.

This makes James Gray’s The Immigrant an exception.

Here the immigrant experience is redefined as feminine, with a distinct approach to survival and endurance. The earlier films were celebrations of ruthless will to power, of men who became hardened and cold and reserved in order to survive and make it through. This hardness is visible in Marion Cotillard’s Ewa who urges her sister to reign in her sickliness to pass through the line. But it is tempered by her genuine love and compassion for her sister’s plight, indeed her quest in the film is to rescue her sister and look after her. Ewa’s purity never dies despite becoming a prostitute and burlesque performer. A fact not lost on Bruno who falls in love with her even as he continues to pimp her. This same purity inspires the affection of Bruno’s cousin, Emile (Jeremy Renner) who calls himself Orlando the magician and shows promise of breaking out of the ghetto in which they live in.

Sternberg's The Salvation Hunters

Critics have followed the cue of James Gray in fixating the film as a return to the New Hollywood, not only Coppola but also Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller for its burnished period glow. But to me the film’s depiction of 1910s New York is closer to silent cinema. The opening sections on the boat naturally recall Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant but the strong depiction of poverty brings to mind Josef von Sternberg’s film debut, The Salvation Hunters (pictured above), much of which was shot on location in New York’s ghettos which the film recreates with limited means. Marion Cotillard’s Ewa is not exactly Dietrich or Georgia Hill, but in the scene where she pricks her finger and uses blood as lipstick and slaps her cheeks till they glow like make-up rouge (which leads to Jeremy Renner’s coup de foudre), she suggests the Sternberg theme of hard steel beneath flash and filigree.

The depiction of tenement life and the center of activity in Bandit’s Roost takes us to films made contemporaneously in the year of the film’s setting. 1912 was the year of D. W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley, the world’s first gangster film. A madam at the bar which Bruno operates out of complains about the popularity of the motion pictures, which takes away talent from vaudeville performers. The dynamic between the love triangle of Bruno, Ewa and Emile/Orlando is that of Fellini’s La Strada. That dynamic had previously informed Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and Joaquin Phoenix’s wide, round figure and hat, in addition to mental illness from time spent in prison makes him an American Franz Biberkopf, a tragic pimp who as Ewa notes, “brings people to sin but suffers on their behalf.”

The Immigrant is Ewa’s story, her awakening and survival in an America that only has room for the tough and ruthless. It’s a world where as a prostitute her clients include husbands, fathers, bankers and rich sons shaking their virginity. She won’t earn enough money as a seamstress to save her sister but “a lot of fucking” she is assured would lead her there. This makes her hate herself and her people, making her cold to her fellow prostitutes who rightly call her out for putting on airs over them. She lapses into Polish to rudely dismiss the complaints made by another streetwalker over her relationship with Bruno and Emile, only for her to reply back in Polish, taking her aback. It is to Gray’s credit that Ewa doesn’t gain a false toughness, rather he and Cotillard locates her resolve in her longing for their meadows back home(shown in a surprising dream sequence, cut with a bold freedom) and her faith in God.

It’s in this final aspect that The Immigrant becomes audacious. Ewa’s identity as a Catholic, her faith in God and yearning for absolution of her sins is contrasted by Bruno’s indifference. Bruno is a Jewish street kid who is always reminded of this by the police (they call him k-ke and beat him and take his money) when he crosses a line. Through these characters, Gray achieves an incredible synthesis between the Catholic and Jewish notion of suffering and forgiveness. Ewa’s wallowing in sin and compassionate nature leads her to forgive and even sympathize with Bruno while the latter has no illusions about himself and does the little good he does with no hope for succor or any possibility of reward. Ewa is an innocent, a madonna even when she is a whore while Bruno’s life is focused on the common Jewish experience of survival, exile and discretion.

Bringing them together allows Gray to redefine America’s immigrant experience as one of compassion, forgiveness and solidarity, a fitting public service in the present crackdown on illegal immigrants in America and also other parts of the world that continue to be hostile to migrants and expatriates. His perspective is feminine rather than masculine, communal rather than individual, which fits the famous poem by the poet Emma Lazarus (who was Jewish and New Yorker like Gray). This poem, inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty redefines the New Colossus as “the mother of exiles”, or in the contest of the film, a new Madonna of unconditional love for lost immigrants to the New World. Gray brings home the definition by crude means, where Ewa is dressed up as the star, “Lady Liberty” in Bruno’s burlesque show.

Gray fashions immigration into a myth of communal yearning for Catholic redemption measured against a reality of Jewish suffering and humiliation, which makes The Immigrant a special achievement in recent American cinema.