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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with ARBITRAGE, BELOVED, and the film vs. digital doc SIDE BY SIDE!!!

Published at: Sept. 14, 2012, 3:21 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…


ARBITRAGE
This film shouldn't work as well as it does. But first-time feature director Nicholas Jarecki does something very smart in not trying to make us feel sorry for 60-year-old master trader Robert Miller (Richard Gere), who is on the verge of selling his seemingly successful company to a big bank. What few people know is that he has moved and clandestinely borrowed money to make his company seem more thriving than it actually is. And as the clock on the loan is ticking down and the risks of the frauds being exposed increase, the tension levels in Miller's life grow exponentially.

To make matters worse, his hot young French art-dealer mistress (supermodel Laetitia Casta) is putting pressure on Miller to be more part of her life, which I'm guessing would come as a real shock to his wife (Susan Sarandon). ARBITRAGE does a great job of setting up Miller's opulent lifestyle and day-to-day pressures of running a business such as his. Wisely, it doesn't shy away from some of the financial details of his work, which add an authenticity to the proceedings that is often sadly lacking in other films about businessmen. The most unexpected (and gruesome) turn of events comes deep into the movie, and Miller turns to an old acquaintance (Nate Parker) to help him clean up yet another mess as the police (led by Tim Roth) come breathing down Miller's neck.

The morality of this film may not sit well with some people, especially as the various plotlines come crashing together at the end. But there are some good souls in this movie about people who have learned to sacrifice bits of their integrity to get to where they are. In her first film role that she didn't write, Brit Marling (SOUND OF MY VOICE, ANOTHER EARTH) is extremely strong as Brooke, Miller's daughter, heir apparent, and company financial officer, who is kept completely in the dark about his unethical doings. Gee, I wonder how that's going to turn out. Marling strikes the perfect balance of earthiness and the kind of class that comes from growing up with money without being saturated with its benefits. It's clear that Miller treasures her above all others in his life, so naturally the threat of losing her admiration and love is something he would sacrifice a great deal to not have happen.

Despite how the film turns out, no one gets out of ARBITRAGE unscathed. Even those who "win" lose a great deal in the process, and I admire Jarecki's screenplay for making sure that traditionally happy ending have no place in the story he's telling. As in many of his more recent works, Gere is the key to making this entire film succeed. He's got a great warmth when it's appropriate, but he can put on airs as easily as he can act nervous and terrified when it appears he's on the brink of losing everything. He's a consummate actor who hasn't gotten enough credit lately for being so, and probably won't for this movie either, which is a shame. But don't go to ARBITRAGE just to see his superb performance; go because it's an effective, nerve-racking ride set in the usually dull world of finance.


BELOVED
The latest work from Christophe Honoré, the director of such wonderfully melodramatic French films as DANS PARIS and LOVE SONGS, is the sweeping romantic/family drama BELOVED, which begins with a young woman named Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) who discovers that her beauty serves her best as a prostitute (circa the 1960s), but before long she falls in love with a handsome Czech doctor, and the two are off to his homeland just as the Russians are about to invade. Madeleine is a woman of uncontrollable passions, who doesn't think it strange to be in love with many men at once, even when she's married (I did mention this is French, right?). She has a daughter fathered by one of her lovers, and thus begins a story that spans three decades and watches daughter follow in her mother's passionate footsteps.

Catherine Deneuve plays Madeleine as an older woman, while her real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni plays her grown daughter Vera, who has an on-again/off-again relationship with a co-worker (Louis Garrel) and manages to fall in love with an American rock band drummer (Paul Schneider), who just happens to be gay but is still very much turned on by her. Madeleine finds time to rekindle her relationship with Vera's father (played by director Milos Forman) after getting married to another man. And did I mention that every so often, the players break out into song (no dancing, thankfully) when moments reach certain emotional peaks. It's actually rather wonderfully, and somewhat similar to what Deneuve did in her early years as an actress in THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT as well as more recently in DANCER IN THE DARK.

In Beloved, the singing comes at times when the spoken word seems to fail the characters, when emotion gets the better of them and they can't do anything but pour our some of the most heartbreaking songs imaginable. It won't make you laugh or distract you because it flows so naturally in and out of the story that after a while you almost don't notice. I'll admit, I love watching Deneuve and Mastroianni (whose father, not surprisingly, is the late Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni) together; the affection is so genuine that it's impossible to tell where the character begins and the real mother and daughter end.

There is certainly a heightened sense of drama permeating every square inch of this movie, but there is a certain beauty about watching beings of pure emotion glide across the screen like they're on ice skates. BELOVED is front loaded with pain, pure love, betrayal, and an occasion bout of crushing sadness. Going through that array of emotions with the fine actors is the perfect way to spend an evening at the movies in my book.


SIDE BY SIDE
I was speaking with a director recently who has continued to shoot all of his movies on film. He's investigated the countless choices in digital technology and determined that film still looks superior. However, he knows that probably sooner than later, digital technology will equal or surpass film, and he'll happily (maybe that's overstating it) make the transition. In watching the new documentary SIDE BY SIDE from director Christopher Kenneally and producer-narrator-interviewer Keanu Reeves, that seems to be the consensus among many of the filmmakers who have yet to make the digital switch — they know the change is coming, but that doesn't mean they're going to jump in until the new is as good as the old.

SIDE BY SIDE is a comprehensive and well-balanced platform to both tell the story of the rise of digital filmmaking, while providing a platform for directors, cinematographers, actors, the camera makers, color correctors, and others whose jobs are impacted by the way movies are made to debate the merits and drawbacks of digital cameras and film cameras. The lineup of interviewees is an embarrassment of riches that includes Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas, James Cameron, Barry Levinson, Walter Murch, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Vilmos Zsigmond, the Wachowski siblings, Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderbergh and Lars von Trier.

Perhaps my favorite subject is frequent Danny Boyle and Lars von Trier director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle, who became the first ever to win the Best Cinematography Oscar for a film shot digitally for Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. He became convinced when he first worked with Boyle on 28 DAYS LATER that by making this switch, he would never win an Oscar. SIDE BY SIDE shows dozens of examples of classic movie sequences shot with film that could never be duplicated digitally, but we also get some fairly spectacular recent images done with high-end digital cameras. (The high-contrast work in Fincher's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO comes to mind.)

It's fun watching interviews and news clips of technicians and movie fans alike resisting change so strongly, especially when George Lucas announced he would shoot two of the the STAR WARS prequel digitally and projecting them using new digital projectors would be the preferred method of display. Not surprisingly, it's Scorsese who has the healthiest attitude about digital—much as he said when he made HUGO in 3D, he sees digital filmmaking as another tool directors can use when they feel it's appropriate artistically or it's necessary financially.

One of my favorite interviews is with Lena Dunham (TINY FURNITURE, HBO's "Girls"), who essentially says that her youthful dream of being a filmmaker seemed out of reach for her for many years, until the advent of easy-to-use digital cameras that made going to film school seem less necessary. Of course producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has a different take on Dunham's realization; he thinks that if anyone can pick up one of these commercially available cameras and make a movie, it makes movies less special and dilutes the water essentially. However you look at it, I consider SIDE BY SIDE essential viewing for anyone curious about the history and future of cinema.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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