This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

15Jul/18

BAMCINÉMATEK AND THE RACIAL IMAGINARY INSTITUTE — ON WHITENESS: WHITE MATERIAL / THE VIRGIN SUICIDES

Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is determined to see her coffee crop through to fruition despite the growing dangers in Claire Denis’s White Material

WHITE MATERIAL (Claire Denis, 2009)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Tuesday, July 17, 7:00
Series continues through July 19
718-636-4100
www.bam.org
www.ifcfilms.com

BAMcinématek has teamed up with the Racial Imaginary Institute, a collective that “convenes a cultural laboratory in which the racial imaginaries of our time and place are engaged, read, countered, contextualized, and demystified,” to present the series “BAMcinématek and the Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness.” Continuing through July 19, the festival, which “aims to foster a dialogue about what it means to be white in America,” has already shown such films as Taxi Driver, The Swimmer, The Jerk, Rocky, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It moves to another continent on July 17 with Claire Denis’s White Material. In an unnamed West African nation besieged by a bloody civil war between rebels and the military government, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) steadfastly refuses to leave her coffee plantation, determined to see the last crop through to fruition. Despite pleas from the French army, which is vacating the country; her ex-husband, André (Christophe Lambert), who is attempting to sell the plantation out from under her; and her workers, whose lives are in danger, Maria is unwilling to give up her home and way of life, apparently blind to what is going on all around her. She seems to be living in her own world, as if all the outside forces exploding around her do not affect her and her family. Without thinking twice, she even allows the Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) to stay there, the seriously wounded leader of the rebel militia, not considering what kind of dire jeopardy that could result in. But when her slacker son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), freaks out, she is forced to take a harder look at reality, but even then she continues to see only what she wants to see. A selection of both the New York and Venice Film Festivals, White Material is an often obvious yet compelling look at the last remnants of postcolonial European domination as a new Africa is being born in disorder and violence. Directed and cowritten (with French playwright Marie Ndiaye) by Denis (Chocolat, Beau Travail), who was born in Paris and raised in Africa, the film has a central flaw in its premise that viewers will either buy or reject: whether they accept Maria’s blindness to the evolving situation that has everyone else on the run. Watching Maria’s actions can be infuriating, and in the hands of another actress they might not have worked, but Huppert is mesmerizing in the decidedly unglamorous role.

A family is torn apart by tragedy in THE VIRGIN SUICIDES

A family is torn apart by tragedy in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides

THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Tuesday, July 17, 4:30 & 9:30
Series continues through July 19
718-636-4100
www.bam.org

The Virgin Suicides, which traces the downfall of a suburban Michigan family in the 1970s, is chock-full of period songs, with well-known tunes by Heart, the Hollies, Carole King, Styx, Todd Rundgren, 10CC, the Bee Gees, and ELO all over the film. But it’s Air’s score that gives it added emotional depth, from tender piano lines that evoke Pink Floyd and late-era Beatles to rowdier, synth-and-drum-heavy moments to mournful dirges and hypnotic, spacey sojourns. In the film, nerdy math teacher Ronald Lisbon (James Woods) and his wife (Kathleen Turner) are raising five teenage girls, Therese (Leslie Hayman), Mary (A. J. Cook), Bonnie (Chelse Swain), Lux (Kirsten Dunst), and Cecilia (Hanna R. Hall). As the tale begins, Cecilia is rushed to the hospital after attempting suicide. “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets,” her doctor says, to which she responds, looking directly into the camera, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.” On her next try, Cecilia succeeds in killing herself, leading Mrs. Lisbon to become stiflingly overprotective and domineering. But she starts losing control of her daughters when high school hunk Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) falls hard for Lux. Coppola (Lost in Translation, The Bling Ring) shows a sure hand in her directorial debut, marvelously capturing small-town teen angst, even if things go a bit haywire in the latter stages. The film is narrated by Giovanni Ribisi and also stars Jonathan Tucker, Noah Shebib, Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, and Robert Schwartzman as a group of boys who are rather obsessed with the sisters in different ways. There are also cameos by Scott Glenn as a priest, Danny DeVito as a psychiatrist, and Michael Paré as the adult Trip, and look for a pre-Star Wars Hayden Christensen as Jake Hill Conley. In an interview with Dazed in conjunction with the fifteen-year anniversary of The Virgin Suicides, Air’s Nicolas Godin noted, “I really hated being a teenager. It was a pretty horrible time, and although I had good friends, I am so happy to be out of that time. . . . I definitely brought that to the film score, this idea of not being loved enough.” You can show your love for The Virgin Suicides at BAMcinématek on July 17 at 4:30 & 9:30 when it screens as part of “BAMcinématek and the Racial Imaginary Institute: On Whiteness.” The series continues with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II on July 18 and Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out on July 19, followed by a discussion with culture writer Rembert Browne.

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