CURATOR’S CHOICE SCREENING: LA HAINE (HATE) (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Wednesday, March 20, 7:30
Series runs March 20-28
BAM and Triple Canopy, the New York–based online magazine, have teamed up to present the provocative film series “On Resentment,” which kicks off March 20 at 7:30 with Mathieu Kassovitz’s incendiary 1995 stunner, La haine, inspired by the real-life stories of Makome M’Bowole and Malik Oussekine, two young men who were killed by police in 1993 and 1986, respectively. Kassovitz’s second feature film (following Métisse), La haine, which means “hate,” is set in the immediate aftermath of Paris riots as three friends —the Jewish Vinz (Vincent Cassel), the Afro-French Hubert (Hubert Koundé), and the Arab Saïd (Saïd Taghmaoui) — spend about twenty hours wandering the mean streets of their banlieue (suburban projects) and Paris, causing minor mayhem as they encounter skinheads, stop off for some wine at an art opening, try to get into a hot club, and, over and over, become embroiled with the police.
The disaffected youths are fed up with a system that continues to treat them as outsiders, assuming they are criminals. Hubert wants to get out of the banlieue through hard work, but he keeps running into obstacles that are out of his control; at one point, when something goes wrong, he closes his eyes as if he can wish it away. Saïd is an immature schemer who thinks he can slide out of any untoward situation, especially with the help of his much more grounded older brother. But Vinz is a significant problem; one of their friends, Abdel (Abdel Ahmed Ghili), was arrested at the riots and has been severely injured while in police custody. Vinz has sworn to kill a policeman if Abdel dies, something that becomes more possible when he picks up a gun an officer dropped. “I’m fuckin’ sick of the goddam system!” Vinz proclaims, filled with resentment. The three young men pass by a few signs that say “The World Is Yours,” a reference to Scarface, but that seems far out of reach for them.
Photographed in gritty black-and-white by Pierre Aïm and edited with a caged fury by Kassovitz and Scott Stevenson, La haine is electrifying cinema, a powder keg of a film ready to explode at any second. The time is shown onscreen before each scene, going from 10:38 to 06:00, like a ticking time bomb. The film has a documentary-like quality, complete with actual news footage of riots and violence. Kassovitz shows up as a skinhead, while his father, director and writer Peter Kassovitz, is a patron at the art gallery. The soundtrack features songs by French hip-hoppers Assassin; Cassel’s brother, Mathias Crochon, is a member of the group. And look for French star Vincent Lindon’s riotous cameo as a very drunk man.
Several times Vinz appears to be looking straight into the camera, pointing his gun accusingly at the audience; his complete disdain for all types of authority is reckless and dangerous but also understandable, and Kassovitz is extending that rage beyond the screen. In fact, during the November 2005 riots in France, people looked to Kassovitz for a response, and the writer-actor-director eventually got into a blog battle with Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, who would later become prime minister. Kassovitz wrote, “As much as I would like to distance myself from politics, it is difficult to remain distant in the face of the depravations of politicians. And when these depravations draw the hate of all youth, I have to restrain myself from encouraging the rioters.” Sarkozy replied, “You seem to be acquainted with the suburbs well enough to know, deep inside you, that the situation has been tense there for many years and that the unrest is deep-rooted. Your film La haine, shot in 1995, already showed this unease that right-wing and left-wing governments had to deal with, with varying results. To claim this crisis is down to the Minister of the Interior’s sayings and doings is yet another way of missing the point. I attributed this to an untimely and quick-tempered reaction.”
The BAM/Triple Canopy series is a nine-day program of films that focus on the concept of resentment as it applies to politics, identity, and representation, asking such questions as “How can resentment be reclaimed by those who are used to fits of anger and bitterness being called unproductive, petty, selfish, even pathological?” and “Can — and must — resentment be useful?” The Curator’s Choice screening of La haine will be followed by a discussion with artist and writer Maryam Monalisa Gharavi, series programmer Ashley Clark, and Triple Canopy editor Emily Wang, who cowrote the TC article “A Note on Resentment” with Shen Goodman, which states, “We’re proposing to hold on to resentment not so much as a means of plotting the downfall of our enemies — though why not, it is the resentment issue — but as a starting point for thinking and making and belonging. . . . Who, if anyone, has a right to be resentful? How can resentment be useful? (Must resentment be useful?)” And of course, the film is relevant yet again in light of the Yellow Vest protests held earlier this year in Paris and the many people of color shot by police or who die in custody under questionable, controversial circumstances here in America. The series continues through March 28 with such other films as Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, Lindsay Anderson’s If . . . , and John Akomfrah’s Handsworth Songs.
Thirty-three-year-old London native Phoebe Waller-Bridge has rocketed to cult stardom in a short period of time; since 2016, she has created, written, and starred in two British television series, Crashing and Fleabag, created and wrote the Emmy-nominated BBC America crime drama Killing Eve, and played Lando Calrissian’s (Donald Glover) droid L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Her breakthrough came with the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe debut of her solo show, Fleabag (later developed into the television series), which earned her an Olivier nomination. Waller-Bridge has now brought the sexy, cringy comedy to SoHo Playhouse, where the sold-out coproduction with Annapurna Theatre continues through April 14. Waller-Bridge is the unnamed title character, a strong, defiant woman who doesn’t hide her sexual desires and says what’s on her mind, no matter how politically incorrect or unfeminist it may be. She owns a small guinea-pig-themed café that she started with her best friend, Boo, who has recently died in a bizarre, tragic accident. She flubs a job interview when she starts to take off her sweater, forgetting that she does not have a top on underneath, leading the male interviewer, who is heard in prerecorded voiceover, to demand that she leave immediately. But Waller-Bridge adds a subtle touch that underscores the situation brilliantly: The man says almost as an afterthought, “I’m sorry. That won’t get you very far here anymore.” It’s one of many clever counterbalances that portray the character’s tendency to pursue cringeworthy situations worthy of Lena Dunham and Larry David, all in the name of uncovering truths about daily life.
She also has run-ins with her maybe-boyfriend, Harry; Joe, the “cockney geezer” who comes into the café every morning at eleven; Tube Rodent, a man with a tiny mouth who flirts with her on the train; her father, who is not exactly thrilled when she arrives drunk at his doorstep; and her fashionable married sister, Claire, who meets her at a lecture entitled “Women Speak.” When the speaker says, “Please raise your hands if you would trade five years of your life for the so-called ‘perfect body,’” the sisters are the only ones in the auditorium who throw their hands in the air. “Four hundred women stare at the two of us horrified. We are bad feminists,” Waller-Bridge says. But are they? She is playing a brave woman who is not ashamed of the choices she makes — whether it’s masturbating to Barack Obama while in bed with a lover or wondering about the size of her naughty bits — and even when she knows she’s gone too far, she understands clearly why she’s done it, offering poignant perspective even as she can’t hold back. When her sister tells her “to stop talking to people like I’m doing a stand-up routine,” adding that “some things just aren’t fucking funny,” she tells the audience, “I laugh. And then I don’t laugh.” That exchange gets to the heart of Waller-Bridge’s humor and her unique storytelling ability.
However, Fleabag the play doesn’t work nearly as well as Fleabag the television series. Perhaps it’s partly because many of the episodes described in the play will already be familiar, and feel a bit stale, to fans at the SoHo Playhouse. Director Vicky Jones, the cofounder and co-artistic director of DryWrite with Waller-Bridge and who has worked with her on Fleabag and Killing Eve, keeps it all fairly simple; Waller-Bridge, wearing a red top and thick red lipstick, spends most of the sixty-five minutes sitting on a tall chair with red cushions, on a rectangular red rug. BAFTA winner Waller-Bridge performs the voices of some of the other characters, while a speaker to her right broadcasts the rest, along with various random sound effects, the inconsistency of which is off-putting. (Waller-Bridge’s sister, composer, artist, and musician Isobel Waller-Bridge, did the sound design; the bare set is by Holly Pigott and lighting by Elliot Griggs.) It’s all like a seriocomic confessional, except Waller-Bridge isn’t asking for the audience’s forgiveness, its sympathy, or its approval; she is merely detailing the life of a confident woman trying to maintain control in a complex, judgmental world, dealing with joys and tragedies, sex and love, glamor and ugliness. And that can be a beautiful thing, even when it’s far from perfect.
Since launching in 2014 in response to the lack of affordable rehearsal space in New York City, the CUNY Dance Initiative (CDI) has supported more than a hundred residencies, totaling nearly six thousand stage and studio hours, for established and emerging choreographers and companies at thirteen CUNY colleges across all five boroughs. CDI is now celebrating its fifth anniversary with a dance festival taking place March 20-23 at Baruch Performing Arts Center, featuring two programs of wide-ranging movement works by eleven choreographers who have been CDI residents. “The CUNY Dance Initiative is a vital part of the performing arts ecosystem, providing space for choreographers to experiment and develop work without the administrative and financial burdens that typically come with making work in New York City,” Howard Gilman Foundation executive director Laura Packer said in a statement.
On March 20 and 22, CDI presents Heidi Latsky Dance (preshow living sculpture court installation ON DISPLAY), Urban Bush Women (the solo Give Your Hands to Struggle, choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, with music by Bernice Johnson Reagon), Sonia Olla & Ismael Fernandez Flamenco Company (Ella, with an original score and live vocals by Duke Bojadziev), Andrew Nemr (an excerpt from the autobiographical Rising to the Tap), Miki Orihara (the solo Shirabyoshi, created with Noh artist Tanroh Ishida), and Loni Landon Dance Project (For Three). The March 21 and 23 lineup consists of Kinesis Project (a preshow site-specific performance adapted from Breathing with Strangers), Gabrielle Lamb/Pigeonwing Dance (a world premiere in collaboration with composer James Budinich), Parijat Desai (the solo Pardon My Heart, with Hindustani music and verse by poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Marcus Jackson), MBDance (the spoken-word trio Up and Down Her Back), and Ephrat Asherie Dance (an excerpt from Odeon, set to music by Ernesto Nazareth).
One Sheridan Sq. between West Fourth & Washington Sts.
Wednesday - Saturday through April 6, $20-$30
In 1587, a small English colony of about 115 men, women, and children was established on Roanoke Island. Three years later, the settlement was gone; the only evidence Europeans had ever been there was the word “Croatoan” carved into a wooden post. Axis Company artistic director Randy Sharp uses the mysterious tale of the Lost Colony of Roanoke as inspiration for her dark, flummoxing new play, Strangers in the World, which opened last night at the company’s home on Sheridan Square, inaugurating Axis’s twentieth anniversary season. The play is set in 1623, but many of the Lost Colony elements are there as a group of starving, traumatized Puritans wander almost zombielike through scary woods of barren trees. The addled survivors consist of their selectman, Killsin Henry (Brian Barnhart), who mutters on about his murdered son and dead wife, Jane (Britt Genelin); William Chase (Andrew Dawson), the old teacher; John Coldweather (Jon McCormick), whose wife died on the ship, followed by their twin daughters; Distance (Spencer Aste), Killsin’s brother who is married to Honor (Katie Rose Summerfield); and Constance (Emily Kratter), the youngest, who arrived later on a ship bringing more Puritans and desperately needed supplies.
On a cold day, an odd young man is spotted in the woods. Olean (Phil Gillen) explains his cutter sank on a fishing expedition from its larger vessel, a big ship that should return shortly to give them all salvation. But the marooned castaways suspect he’s a thief come to rob and murder them or else in cahoots with the “savages” they claim have already stolen from them, leaving them with nothing but the ragged clothes on their backs and a few dozen apples. Filled with fear, the Puritans consider locking Olean in a makeshift cage that sports a sign that reads “The Wayward Child” and, curiously, a surreal picture of an eye. There are several clues as to who Olean might be, which lead only to more confusion as the crisis grows ever more discombobulated.
In Strangers in the World, writer-director Sharp (Last Man Club, Dead End, High Noon) has created a Beckett-like story of the settling of America, except in this case Godot may have shown up in the personage of Olean — although the characters don’t realize it. The seventy-five-minute show explores ideas of humanity’s puritanical nature, with numerous references to sin and salvation (such as their names themselves, which include Killsin and Honor); sex and childbirth loom large, as does child murder; they also debate whether Olean might be a Jonah come to reprimand them, not free them. But foraging for meaning in the play is like getting lost in the woods: Is it a parable about the Garden of Eden gone terribly wrong? (Olean begs for water but William only offers him a half-eaten apple.) The return of Jesus? Is it about the dangers of fundamentalist religious beliefs, then and now? Fear of the other, relating to the current battle over immigration? (At one point, they discuss a “godless southern city . . . with a wall round it.”) Or perhaps it’s a stark look at the future of the planet because of climate change? As with all Axis productions, Strangers in the World is technically adept, with solid acting, a compelling set (by Chad Yarborough), fab costumes (by Karl Ruckdeschel), and an appropriately creepy sound design (by Paul Carbonara). But the narrative is as cold and distant as the hellish land where the Puritans have been apparently sentenced to spend eternity. Over the last few years, archaeologists think they may have found what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke; maybe next they can turn their attention to the overly puzzling Strangers in the World.
BABYLON (Franco Rosso, 1980)
Expands Friday, March 15
One of the best, and most important, British films of the last forty years took the long route to reach America, but it’s finally here, and it’s a knockout. In 1973-74, Franco Rosso and Martin Stellman wrote Babylon, a somewhat semiautobiographical story of prejudice and bigotry set around Jamaican sound system culture during the Thatcher era in South London. The BBC rejected it, and after several production companies passed on it as well, it was finally picked up by Mamoun Hassan of the National Film Finance Corporation. The movie was shot in six weeks on location in Deptford and Brixton and received an X rating, despite having limited violence and no sex. It screened at Cannes but was turned down by the New York Film Festival, which considered the subject matter too controversial. The film was restored in 2008, but an old print was shown at BAM in 2012, the only time the film was officially shown in the United States. That is, until now; the scorching tale at last got its American theatrical release March 8 at BAM and has now opened as well at IFC Center, Kew Gardens Cinemas, Nitehawk, and the Magic Johnson Harlem 9. Babylon is a don’t-miss work that is still frighteningly relevant today, even though it was ripped from the headlines of the 1970s.
Brinsley Forde, a former child actor and founding member and original guitarist for the British reggae group Aswad, stars as Blue, a toaster — a Jamaican dancehall deejay who chants over riddims — whose crew, Ital Lion, is preparing for a bit-time competition against their archrival, Jah Shaka (the real-life legend who plays himself). Blue is a mechanic but would rather spend his time toasting, smoking spliffs, and goofing around with his buddies, including Beefy (Trevor Lair), Dreadhead (Archie Pool), Scientist (Brian Bovell), Errol (David N. Haynes), Lover (Victor Romero Evans), and Ronnie (Karl Howman), the only white man in the group. When a racist Caucasian family living above their hangout starts threatening them, some of the Ital Lion crew want to fight back, but Blue tries to prevent any violence. However, following a harrowing night when he’s chased through the dark streets by white men in a car, Blue packs his bags and reconsiders his future.
Babylon is a blistering film, spectacularly photographed by Chris Menges, who would go on to win Oscars for his cinematography on The Killing Fields and The Mission, and expertly edited by Thomas Schwalm, bringing the rhythm of the crew to the fore. In his first feature film, Rosso, a documentarian who spent his career making works about the underrepresented, captures the energy and the rage, the spirit and the fear experienced by Blue (superbly played by Forde, who was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2015) and his friends as they try to survive amid ever-more-threatening xenophobic danger that is almost begging for revolution and rebellion. It echoes what is happening around the world now, particularly the treatment of refugees and immigrants (legal and illegal) and calls to build a wall to keep out “the other.” Perhaps not surprisingly, cowriter-director Rosso (The Mangrove Nine, Lucha Libre) was the son of an Italian immigrant, cowriter Stellman (Quadrophenia, Defence of the Realm) is the son of a Viennese Jewish immigrant, producer Gavrik Losey (Magical Mystery Tour, Agatha) is the son of blacklisted American director Joseph Losey, and NFCC managing director Hassan is the son of a Saudi immigrant. And of course, the music is simply phenomenal, from Dennis Bovell’s pulsating soundtrack to songs by Aswad, Yabby You, Cassandra, Johnny Clarke, I-Roy, and Michael Prophet. In this intensely realistic and deeply involving masterpiece, Rastaman (Cosmo Laidlaw) identifies Africa, Jamaica, and England as the “Babylonian triangle of captivity,” but forty years later it continues to spread far and wide, ensnaring more and more in its hateful reach.
GET OUR YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS (PRÉPAREZ VOS MOUCHOIRS) (Bertrand Blier, 1978)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
French writer-director Bertrand Blier’s Oscar-winning Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is no weepy melodrama. If you need hankies while watching, they’ll be for the tears rolling down your face from laughter. A fortieth-anniversary 2K restoration is screening March 15-21 in the Quad series “Amour or Less: A Blier Buffet,” a nine-film celebration of the five-decade career of the controversial auteur, who has been regularly labeled a misogynist. Get Out Your Handkerchiefs has stirred up its share of naysayers through the years, so it’s fascinating to watch it now, in the midst of the #MeToo movement. The film opens in a restaurant where the brutish, doting Raoul (Gérard Depardieu) is eating with his bored, disinterested wife, Solange (Carole Laure). Suspecting that she is stealing glances at a man seated at a table behind him, Raoul approaches him, a schoolteacher named Stéphane (Patrick Dewaere), and practically begs him to sleep with his wife. Raoul, a driving instructor, loves Solange so much that he is willing to go to great lengths to make her happy, even if it means sharing her bed with another man.
Of course, she has something to say about it and ultimately decides, without much excitement, that the plan is fine with her; she desperately wants to have a baby but has been unable to conceive with her husband. The men begin having quite the bromance themselves as they talk about Mozart while Solange knits, and knits, and knits. (The first scene Blier wrote was when the two men have a less-than-intelligent discussion on Mozart; Blier then built the film around that.) Their green-grocer neighbor (Michel Serrault) starts hanging around as well, concerned about Solange’s search for contentment. Solange, Raoul, and Stéphane spend a summer working together at a camp, where they meet Christian Belœil (Riton Liebman), a thirteen-year-old rich kid who gets bullied by the other boys but takes a liking to Solange as his hormones rage out of control. The film gets more absurdist, and funnier and funnier, as it heads into territory destined to offend politically correct watchdogs everywhere.
Named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics in addition to nabbing the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs is a delightful farce that turns traditional family and societal relationships inside out and upside down, whether it be parents and children, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, teachers and students, or just a couple of dudes. Depardieu and Dewaere, who previously teamed up in Blier’s Going Places, are a comic force as a couple of ordinary guys caught up in a crazy riff on Jules et Jim, Raoul a driving instructor who doesn’t know where he’s going, Stéphane a man obsessed with Pocket Books. Laure (Sweet Movie, La Tête de Normande St-Onge) charmingly underplays the enigmatic Solange: Raoul and Stéphane think she might be a simpleton, but is she? The scenes of her knitting are hilariously deadpan, and the matching sweaters she produces eventually show up on nearly everyone, their prosaic patterns sometimes echoed in the walls, floors furniture, and other elements. Meanwhile, the comedy turns poignant as Christian, who can’t stand his parents (Eléonore Hirt and Jean Rougerie) or the other kids, spends more time with his new adult friends, especially Solange. At one point Christian is in bed reading Ralph Dennis’s super-noir On bricole, the cover showing a man torn in half, as if Raoul and Stéphane are two parts of the same human being (or referencing Christian’s growth from boy to man). And Stéphane is reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, a novel about a rather unusual family. Through it all is a wonderfully evocative score by Georges Delerue. “Amour or Less: A Blier Buffet” continues through March 21 with such other Blier works as Beau-père, Merci la vie, Ménage (Tenue de soirée), and Going Places.
ASH IS PUREST WHITE (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2018)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater, Francesca Beale Theater
144/165 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves., 212-875-5050
Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-255-2243
Jia Zhang-Ke reaches into his recent past, and China’s, in his elegiac Ash Is Purest White. In the film, which opens today at the Quad and Lincoln Center, the Sixth Generation writer-director’s wife and muse, Zhao Tao, stars as Qiao, a combination of the characters she played in Jia’s 2002 Unknown Pleasures and 2006 Still Life. It’s the spring of 2001, and Qiao is living in style with her handsome, ultracool jianghu boyfriend, well-respected local gangster Guo Bin (Liao Fan). She runs a gambling parlor, where she asserts her power with men who are in awe of her. But when a rival gang attacks Bin and Qiao pulls a gun, their lives take a series of unexpected turns as the story moves first to 2006 and then to 2018, when things are decidedly, and sadly, different for both of them in a China that has changed as well.
As in many of his fiction works, Jia includes documentary elements as he touches upon China’s socioeconomic crisis, primarily exemplified by the Three Gorges Dam project, which led to the displacement of families and the literal disappearance of small communities. Working with a new cinematographer, Eric Gautier, who has lensed films for Olivier Assayas, Walter Salles, Leos Carax, Alain Resnais, and Arnaud Desplechin, among others — his longtime cameraman, Yu Lik-Wai, was unavailable — Jia incorporates general footage he shot between 2001 and 2006 of everyday people and architecture that underscores China’s many changes. There are many gorgeous shots of towns and cities, at one point bathed in white volcanic ash, with costumes of bright yellow, red, and blue, as Gautier goes from digital video to Digibeta, HD video, film, and the RED Weapon camera to add distinct textures. (Jia took the title from what was supposed to be Fei Mu’s last work, which was later made by Zhu Shilin.)
Qiao and Bin try to go back, but little is the same, except for some of their old friends, who are still trying to hold on to the way things were. Zhao (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) is slow and deliberate as Qiao, her wide eyes telling a story all their own as she wrestles with disappointment, searching for some meaning in her life, while Fan (The Final Master; Black Coal, Thin Ice) is bold and forceful as a proud, powerful man who undergoes a radical shift. “The city is developing fast. It’s ours for the taking,” Bin says early on. But in Jia’s moving, heartfelt epic, there’s nothing for them to grab on to anymore.