Meet the Director: Yesterday’s Foreign Film Symposium at the American Cinematheque

January 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ronit Elkabetz, co-director of "Gett," and Ruben Ostend, director of "Force Majeure" at the American Cinematheque 1/10/15/Hope Anderson Productions

Ronit Elkabetz, co-director of “Gett,” and Ruben Ostend, director of “Force Majeure” at the American Cinematheque 1/10/15/Hope Anderson Productions

Because my days are mostly spent sitting in front of a computer, playing Words With Friends, going to the gym and running errands, I sometimes think Los Angeles is wasted on me, since all those things could be done as well (and in the case of errands, more easily) elsewhere. Then I remember what keeps me here: films. It’s not just the variety and number of movies that come out each week; it’s the fact that many of them will never run anywhere else in the United States but here and New York. Sure, most will eventually turn up on DVD or online, but by then they’ll be competing with a flood of new releases, both theatrical and online. With greater numbers of films released each year, keeping up is nearly impossible.

But in Los Angeles I can see a great new film from Poland or Estonia as soon as it arrives, and on a big screen. It’s something that I’ve never taken for granted, any more than I take for granted the state-of-the-art sound systems and screens at ArcLight Hollywood, my neighborhood theater. In other cities, even ones that pride themselves on their cultural offerings, the situation is quite different: the Bay Area, where I used to live, gets big studio releases one or two weeks later than Los Angeles, the same as most cities across the country, while independent and foreign ones films open even later, if at all.

There are other perks to being here, too. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “Force Majeure,” Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Film. Yesterday, at the American Cinematheque’s pre-symposium reception for the Golden Globe nominees, I was able to introduce myself to Ruben Ostlund, the director, and tell him how much I loved his film. Although he was gracious, it probably meant nothing to him. But to me it was a vivid reminder of why, twenty-five years after moving to Los Angeles, I’m still here.

“Force Majeure”: Everything “Wild” Isn’t, and More

December 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

Facing the Avalanche in "Force Majeure"/Magnolia Pictures

Facing the Avalanche in “Force Majeure”/Magnolia Pictures

My previous post on “Wild” contained a quote from the film’s location manager that claimed the inaccurate and easily accessible locations were necessary compromises.

Most of the time you just can’t send a movie crew out into some of these places. You need locations that are accessible, cinematic and can serve several purposes so the crew doesn’t have to pack up each day.

Let’s hope she’s had a chance to see “Force Majeure,” Sweden’s entry for Best Foreign Film, because it make a mockery of her claim. Although a psychological drama with comedic elements, “Force Majeure” is a masterpiece of outdoor filmmaking that makes the most of its stunning location, a ski resort in the French Alps. Beyond shots of chair lifts and ski runs, the director, Ruben Ostlund, and his two DPs, Fredrik Wenzel and Fred Arne Wergeland, use beautifully composed long shots to establish the locations and its characters place within them. So along with the medium and close shots of the actors–an attractive young Swedish couple, Tomas and Ebba, and their son and daughter–we see their environment from afar, perched on a plateau surrounded by mountains. We see not only daytime ski runs but the nighttime march of snowcats on the mountainside, and the snow machines at dawn.

It didn’t surprise me to learn later that Ostlund got his start making ski documentaries, since he films every aspect of the resort and the skiers so expertly. When Tomas and his Norwegian friend ski in deep powder in a location that must have been accessed via helicopter, the sequence is not only breathtaking but painstakingly composed. I can only imagine how difficult it was to get the crew and equipment there, and how long it took to shoot.

Johannes Kuhnke in "Force Majeure"/Magnolia Pictures

Johannes Kuhnke in “Force Majeure”/Magnolia Pictures

Of course there’s a fascinating script beyond the perfect cinematography, and great acting. But what stayed with me the most was the way Ostlund, Wenzel and Wergeland matched the film’s visuals with the unfolding drama. It’s rare to come across a perfect film like “Force Majeure.” See it if you can.

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