I don’t normally write capsules for films I haven’t seen, but I wanted to contribute to In Review Online’s yearly You Can’t Stop What’s Coming project, a list of upcoming releases the staff are particularly excited to see. Obviously I’m keen to see more than the five films below, including Nolan’s Inception, Carpenter’s Ward, and even Rodriguez’s Predators re-spawn. I also can’t wait to see Tarr’s The Turin Horse, Assayas’ Carlos, Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee… and Malick’s Tree of Life (even if The New World was a misfire from an otherwise magnificent canon). News from festivals and studio promos has been equally tantalizing with regards to 2010’s latter-half releases (or hoped-for releases; some festival films have yet to find a North American date). Here’s hoping the following movies live up to expectation.
Kiarostami’s projects always attract a great deal of interest — his status among cinephiles guarantees it — but Certified Copy possesses added curiosity factor. This is the director’s first film shot outside Iran and the first to star an international name-brand actor. Juliette Binoche heads up a mostly European cast as Elle, a woman ambiguously attached to a visiting scholar (William Shimmel) while he stumps lectures in Tuscany. They stroll, eat, drive and talk, and their discrete moments together cumulatively reveal monolithic history. This is a difficult film to write about unseen — Kiarostami’s pieces rely on those quiet moments rather than on plot to make themselves felt and understood — but even Going Large as he does here, the auteur’s instincts seem intact. He could do worse than select Binoche for name recognition; she can play subtle when she has to, even though she rarely does. He could do worse than substitute Italy for Iran; both regions get tinged with the same dust-dry golden light when we romanticize them in our minds and when Kiarostami points his lens on them.
And if romance is, at bottom, under that lens in Certified Copy (among other topics), setting can’t hurt, and nor can Binoche’s clever doe-eyes that always seem to know more than we do — that always seem on the verge of dropping a secret into our laps. Typically, Kiarostami’s narrative rests on the pacing of real-time conversation and on a spare framework that allows him to explore personal spirit without distraction. Dialogue-driven, and featuring the requisite car scene as one character chauffeurs another through hot, stony streets, Certified Copy is marked with Kiarostami’s signatures despite his move into new language and location. Reviews have been strong, and writers have picked up on the aesthetic theory at which the title hints. It makes sense that Kiarostami, who questioned the authenticity of art and its relation to life at least as far back as Taste of Cherry, would take on Walter Benjamin. His latest film promises to satisfy us intellectually as much as it will aesthetically.
Never having met a Zhang-ke movie I didn’t love, I can’t help looking forward to his next release with expectations flying high. Moving away from the small epic of village or theme-park life and the mythic frame of the Three-Gorges project, Zhang-ke turns to Shanghai and sets his newest film against the background of two centuries’ worth of bustling history. Like 24 City, I Wish I Knew is built upon interviews with actual citizens who rotate in an urban current spun by potent revolution and even more potent progress. Those lucky enough to see a screening at Cannes report that I Wish I Knew shifts down from fiction or pseudo-fiction and lodges itself firmly in accessible documentary mode. If Zhang-ke’s whimsy is dormant, his strength as a cultural curator and visual storyteller is sure to be as evident as it ever was; this director has yet to show throat, and rumors suggest his latest piece is no weak spot in a mighty portfolio.
The Social Network has two things going for it: post-Zodiac David Fincher at the helm (let’s forget Benjamin Button ever happened) and the potential for a Zuckerberg take-down. It’s not Fincher’s job as an artist to be historically accurate, but it would be nice to see dark history pulled from its cave and illuminated with an uncompromising glare. Too few Facebook users are aware of the origins of Facemash — no, not the savvy ivy-league social tool that broke into the mainstream and became the app we know and use every day. I’m referring to Zuckerberg and his friends’ more sinister doings, when their program was a fratboy-only ‘hot or not’ record of unsuspecting female students and their private deets. Those who’ve caught a peek at Aaron Sorkin’s script assure us that Fincher has concocted a biting exposé, but The Social Network still risks being just another round of cool-in-their-own-minds young Hollywood movers hamming it up, or a showcase for Jesse Eisenberg’s bland smile. Still, the questions of privacy and corporate ethics which Fincher can’t avoid with this subject are timely, and the film is bound to cause a fuss. And I’m always up for that.
We’ve been waiting too long for Sofia Coppola to top Lost in Translation. Alas, the trailer and synopsis for Somewhere indicate that perhaps, well, she doesn’t want to. That’s not to say that what I’ve seen of Somewhere isn’t tantalizing — image and soundtrack are pretty, and I dig the way she treats her hotel-limbo motif — but all we can do at this point is give her the benefit of the doubt. Directors — even great directors — return to the same zone and theme all the time; entire cinematic portfolios have been based on a single character type or living arrangement or psychosis. Good film geeks know this and shouldn’t ever let it blind our appreciation. In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff is a Hollywood player holed up in the Château Marmont whose reverie is broken by the arrival of his daughter (Elle Fanning). Setting and celebrity should provide Coppola with much ironic fodder, and we can do worse than witness another radiant and unlikely marriage of slicing satire and manifest tenderness. What Coppola does, she does well. Benefit of the doubt.
The Way Back isn’t likely to be great, authentic cinema, what with its studio casting and cacophony of fake accents, but Peter Weir is still the man who made Picnic at Hanging Rock, and hope has a way of working its way, catlike, around the reality of Green Card and the rest of Weir’s underwhelming body of work. What this new Weir film could be, however, is a bombastic blast — the casting of Colin Farrell instantly shifts the project from the sagacious to the silly, and the story itself has heady potential. Some of us are always keen for an adventure caper, and The Way Back details one of the greatest: an escape from a 1940s gulag and a 4,000-mile hike into India. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Ed Harris, whose onscreen gravitas might mitigate Farrell’s cross-eyed quivering and blot up some of his spittle. Weir isn’t likely to project the lovely stillness of Picnic onto this project, but there’s serious what-if potential here: what if Weir fosters tranquility in and around Farrell and the whizz-bang subject matter? That’s a promising collision of opposites. — Ranylt Richildis
(Originally published as part of In Review Online’s You Can’t Stop What’s Coming project, on July 12, 2010.)