Un été brûlant (2011)
Dir. Philippe Garrel
At one point in Un été brûlant, Monica Belluci’s character talks to Louis Garrel’s character about one of his paintings. He accuses her of not liking it. She says it isn’t that she likes it or not, but that she either finds his paintings to be soothing or upsetting (and in this case, upsetting). The films of Philippe Garrel tend to be both at the very same time. There is something reassuring about his gentleness, but all of his films are characterized by deep sorrow. In a Garrel film, sadness precedes the inevitable circumstances that will cause it, yet I would never describe his films as hopeless, even if that’s exactly what they seem to be. If that were the case, I wouldn’t watch them, and moreover they wouldn’t move me like they do. In the torturous, eternally pessimistic universe of his cinema—where suicide exists, even when not articulated—the weight of existence is expressed in every gesture, and each emotion made out to be a desperate plea to live and love. The presence of “the void” is more clearly revealed in Garrel than in any other filmmaker’s work. Un été brulant is ultimately a film about children, of choosing or not choosing life, for oneself, and for others. As with Antonioni, his films are about the acceptance of life as burden, but the latter of these two auteurs is more fragile, as if with each frame there is a chance that Garrel will change his mind—that the burden is too much, and the pull of the void too strong not to succumb to. But then he makes another film. Another desperate plea to live and love.
Dragon Eyes (2012)
Dir. John Hyams
Between Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Dragon Eyes, there is no ambiguity about John Hyams being a legitimate force in the action genre. His proficiency as a director of action—on its own impressive—is drastically outweighed by his more intricate formal control, his manipulation of mood and tone. The inherent reflexivity of his violence is made effective through visual precision. Each frame is unified in creating a world made sad by violence, even as the violence itself is beautiful. It’s in the angles, the faces, the music, the spaces between action (surprisingly gentle pauses) and the digital aesthetic. There is no doubt that a strongly moral force is guiding the camera and what unfolds before it. Hyams sympathizes with action heroes. He admires their physical prowess and talent as performers but also recognizes their burden. The action hero is expected to do his dance and take his leave, again and again. In Hyams’ films one can recognize this limitation tearing at the seams. Jean-Claude Van Damme (in both Regeneration and Dragon Eyes) is presented as a master, an ideal, but one who is used up (even if it’s just those wrinkles, that face). The digital cinematography shatters the artificial façade of the action film. Hyams is boldly articulating this new naked action cinema, stripped of the sheen that made us so complacent as viewers. We are now confronting a much more complicated landscape, an action universe that is evolving to the point of doubting itself—or believing in itself as something new. The strength of ideas in Regeneration may not have been matched by Dragon Eyes, but it has been matched—if not exceeded—by its mise-en-scène (has melting-pot-America ever been aestheticized so effectively?), which confirms Hyams could probably make a good action film out of anything. An affirmation of his auteurism: any universe could be rendered as his own by his camera. It seems redundant to point it out, but with Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning coming later this year, John Hyams is all-but-set to join the ranks of Paul W.S. Anderson, another contemporary auteur creating beauty in the unlikeliest of places.