Tuesday, April 04, 2006

#12 (Film in Review 2005)

In Olivier Assayas's Clean (#12), Maggie Cheung (pictured, of Hero and In the Mood for Love brilliance) plays Emily Wang, a recovering junkie widow who desperately attempts to re-gain control of her life. Her husband is dead of a drug overdose, she is utterly broke, and her estranged son is in the care of his over-protective paternal grandparents. On top of all this, there is always the danger of her relapsing, which threatens to send her plummeting down a black hole of negation. It sounds like the stuff of off-putting melodrama, yet Assayas mutes the emotion, leaving the viewer to feel moved on his or her own terms. Cheung's fantastic, Cannes-prize winning work is similar, refusing to make Emily's journey an outward display of breakdowns. It is a risky performance, because it threatens to taint any sympathy one might have for her character. But Cheung is a smart actor, and we understand that her ferocious anger stems from a deep vulnerability, one that causes her to reject people even before she knows their true intentions. Assayas wrote the part especially for her (they were once married), just as he did with Irma Vep. Equally stellar in a touching performance is Nick Nolte, playing Emily's father-in-law who is torn between wanting to trust her and having his grandson's best interests at heart. I saw the film almost two years ago at the Toronto Film Festival, and it was released quietly in theatres here a couple of months ago. I hear that it is finally releasing in the States this month, although I don't know whether it will be anything more than a tiny, limited release. It is available on video in Canada now, and there are multiple DVD versions floating around the web. Whatever means by which you access it, do give it a try. At the very least, you will be astounded by Cheung's work - it's worth the watch for that.


jesse said...

I think this is finally going to be making US theatres in the near future. Been waiting for it for several years, it seems...

And I love that you saw BEAUTY SHOP. I'd give it the same grade. :)

Ali said...

Years is right. It was shot in 2003 and is getting a release almost three years later? Ridiculous. I hope you get a chance to see it, as I need someone else to champion the film (as well as Maggie's work) with me.

I must say I rather enjoy the Barbershop franchise (even though I haven't seen the first one). Breezy, light entertainment without being offensively stupid (which is what the majority of comedies are). I also am a big fan of Queen Latifah - something about her is just so appealing (her attitude, energy, I don't know).

By the way, thanks for your email! I'll reply in a few days after essay-writing season is over.

jesse said...

Funny, I was talking about Queen Latifah yesterday on another journal. I'm a big fan too-- I just wish they'd put her in better movies, because I think she's one of the best actresses--certainly comedians--working today.

Looking forward to the email, whenever you get the chance.

Nick M. said...

No, no, no -- this is NOT fair.

I skipped the festival screening of "Clean" last year to meet Malcolm McDowell and see "A Clockwork Orange" on the big screen. I don't feel regret, but I'm still agitated that I had to choose between them.

Nevertheless, I will finally be able to see this when it opens in Manhattan on April 28th. Of course, I won't be able to see it until the second week in May, but I'll try to be patient.

Oh, and my friend has it on DVD -- perhaps I'll steal it from him before I leave Boston.

I'm so uncool because I have no yet seen Beauty Shop. I never thought I would feel ostracized because of that, but right now I do. Sure, I like Ms. Latifah also, but not enough to see Beauty Shop, I suppose. I've seen the first one and, despite the bit of praise it got, didn't think it was very good.

Ali said...

Jesse - Agreed. I think with the right (dramatic) material and director, she'd silence all her critics. For the record, I was delighted to learn of her Oscar nomination way back when; I preferred her work in the film to any other of the other (overrated) performances. She has the charisma to be a major star, so I hope she starts avoiding Taxi fare (pun unintended) and moving towards more substantial work. Then again, good roles for African Americans are hard to find in this industry (perhaps Dreamgirls break open more doors?).

Nick - Is there any mainstream film you do like? Aside from 40-Year-Old Virgin? Anyways, if Jesse and I found Beauty Shop lacking, that is a clear sign for you to stay far away.

That is indeed a tough decision (choosing between McDowell and this film); wouldn't have liked to be in your shoes. Similarly, I had the added oppurtunity of seeing Ms. Cheung in person (she's tiiiiny).

Is the DVD a pirate? If so, I'd see it on the big screen (the print is gritty in the first place, so watching it on the small screen would be a little challenging IMO).

Nick M. said...

Don't be silly, of course there are mainstream films I like -- I simply cannot think of any at the moment.

Ok, I kid -- Wallace and Gromit is vying for a position near the bottom of my Top 10. Also, although it played at arthouses (for the silliest reason -- as in, it has gay characters) Saving Face was a full-blown 'mainstream' film and quite a delight to watch.

Keep in mind, I don't often trek out to see many mainstream films. If I was forced to see many, there'd be a good chance that I'd be pleasantly surprised (which is why I think being a paid critic would be fun -- even if I'd have to sit through dozens of vapid and lame trash). Also, I like to think that I am equally discerning (and not biased) with independent/documentary/foreign cinema.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Clean isn't here yet either, love to see it tho.

Ali said...

Nick - I was just teasing, I can remember quite a few commercial releases that you've enjoyed in the past. And now that you mention it, I'm angry at myself for not seeing Saving Face; I saw a trailer months ago and was intrigued.

Glenn - I hear you, the film's shoddy release pattern has been staggering. If you become desperate in the future, the DVD is available on-line in a variety of versions, regions, etc.