Stories about male friendship are such exotic creatures in mainstream American cinema that they’re given a condescending nickname: “bromance.” As useful as it is, the term embodies our culture’s persistent undercurrent of homophobia: we have to make the joke to assure ourselves that an emotional bond between men doesn’t always translate into a romantic one.
That’s not a concern of the Belgian filmmaking couple Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, whose new film The Eight Mountains chronicles the decades-long friendship between Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), set against the majestic backdrop of the Italian Alps. It’s there the two first meet as boys: Pietro on vacation with his family from Turin, Bruno a local with an absent father.
Pietro eventually goes off to college, and Bruno becomes a sort of surrogate son to Pietro’s father. After the father’s death, the pair decide to rebuild a collapsed house on a nearly inaccessible glacier that Pietro has inherited. Each summer, they reunite to continue the work, even as their lives diverge both geographically (Pietro ends up living in Nepal) and in other ways.
The Eight Mountains is a testament to the type of friends who can go months or years without contact and pick up right where they left off. Until, one day, they can’t. It’s also a testament to the dedication of its co-directors, and the latest project from them to examine an intense relationship with earnest, but never melodramatic, gravitas. The Broken Circle Breakdown, one of the better films of 2013, portrayed the rise and fall of the marriage of two Flemish bluegrass musicians, and The Eight Mountains has similar rhythms.
As moving as the sparse dialogue and poetic voiceover are, the film owes its success more to the bold, textured performances of its leads and to the authenticity of its settings. Filming on an actual glacier, building an actual house, travelling to the actual Himalayas: these directorial decisions place the characters in the real world, a subtle rebuke of all the movies costing ten times as much that resort to greenscreen for a simple car ride. (Opens on Friday, May 12, at Cinema 21.)
The regularity and quality of director François Ozon’s output is one of cinema’s current underappreciated treasures. The veteran French auteur alternates between kinky delights such as last year’s Peter von Kant and sleek but potent melodramas such as Everything Went Fine. This latest effort could easily, in lesser hands, have been a saccharine, morbid travesty about the delicate issue of assisted suicide. Instead, it’s a nonjudgmental, superbly acted depiction of one family’s experience.
That specificity likely derives from its source, a memoir by Emmanuèle Bernheim about her father’s decision to end his own life following a debilitating stroke. Emmanuèle (the great Sophie Marceau) and her sister Pascale (Géraldine Pailhas) initially hesitate to help their father André (André Dussollier), a wealthy art collector, to arrange a final trip across the Swiss border. (Assisted suicide remains illegal in France, and facilitating someone’s travel to get one is a crime.)
They eventually accede to his request, although their estranged brother isn’t so sure. And their mother (a suitably imperious Charlotte Rampling), is struggling with her own physical and mental decline. But André’s persistence, even as his own condition slowly improves, pushes them to contact a Swiss physician (Hanna Schygulla) and a clandestine ambulance company.
Dussollier, the iconic star who has worked with Truffaut, Rivette, Resnais, Rohmer, and many others over the last 50 years, delivers a raw, sometimes brutal performance in his first Ozon film. Void of vanity, and unafraid of venting his venomous rage at being stuck in a body he doesn’t know anymore, André presents an interesting case.
Mentally competent, and on a slow physical rebound, he relentlessly campaigns for his own dignified death. But would he maintain that position if he continued to heal? What restrictions should society place on his ability to make an irreversible decision? Ozon, like Bernheim, doesn’t attempt to answer those questions definitively, only to offer one example of individuals attempting to wrestle with them. (Opens Friday, May 12, at Living Room Theaters)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the burgeoning mini-genre of the “brand biography.” Whether it’s the riches-to-rags sagas of Theranos and WeWork, or the quirky origin stories of Tetris and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, these odes to products and services (and the people behind them) generally feel like puffed-up documentaries that shill for late-stage capitalism even when they critique it. (The recent Air is the exception that proves the rule.)
Blackberry is about the meteoric life cycle of the personal data assistant that was all the rage before Steve Jobs stole its thunder. And its lightning. And its customer base. Like other brand bios, it benefits from engaging actors. Jay Baruchel gives his most naturalistic performance as Mike Lazaridis, the co-founder of the Canadian tech firm Research in Motion and one of the engineers behind the world’s first smartphone. And Glenn Howerton does a typically effective, understated job as Jim Balsillie, the money guy who’s brought in to shepherd the nerds toward profitability.
This sort of geeks vs. suits story usually ends with either a hubris-induced explosion by the geeks or a hostile takeover by the suits. Here, though, the two sides, despite some friction, seem like they could have made the ‘Crackberry’ stick. Only one problem: they couldn’t come up with the iPhone. (Opens Friday, May 12, at Regal Fox Tower, the Kiggins Theater, and other theaters.)
Set amid the cinder blocks and molded plastic chairs of the Mexican desert and the American Southwest, the latest iteration of Bizet’s Carmen is one of the loosest. French-board choreographer and former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet Benjamin Millepied makes his feature directing debut, although the film doesn’t, all things considered, contain a whole lot of dancing.
Aftersun star Paul Mescal plays Aidan, a former Marine and aspiring musician who reluctantly takes a job with the U.S. Border Patrol. On his first night out, violence erupts, and Aidan ends up accompanying Carmen (Melissa Barerra) on her desperate journey toward Los Angeles following her mother’s murder.
There are operatic touches, of course, including a soundtrack that combines an evocative, textured score by Nicholas Britell (Succession), soaring choral harmonies, and, eventually, a selection of original hip-hop numbers. There’s a dreamlike vibe to the visuals, and a palpable urge to extract every ounce of beauty and meaning from each frame.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much chemistry between Mescal and Barerra, and Millepied directs movement much better than he directs performance. Needless to say, the love forged between the military veteran and the woman with a troubled past isn’t enough to protect them from their fate—this is Carmen, after all. But it’s unfortunate that such a famously tear-jerking ending feels both preordained and bloodless.
LOCAL PORTLAND HIGHLIGHTS:
- “Trans femme drag enigma” Violet Hex hosts a queer celebration of Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, featuring a pre-movie drag show. (Friday, May 12, Clinton St. Theater)
- The Cinemagic Theater puts its new 35mm projector to wonderfully eccentric use with a double feature of the 1982 Italian sword-and-sorcery opus Ator: The Fighting Eagle and the 1988 detective-buddy-zombie-comedy Dead Heat, featuring the immortal pairing of Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. (Saturday, May 13, Cinemagic)
- Portland’s premier drag clown Carla Rossi, host of the Hollywood Theatre’s Queer Horror series, co-stars in the locally made camp sci-fi extravaganza Evil Babylon. (Saturday, May 13, Hollywood)
- Are you ready for the tenth installment in the Fast & Furious franchise? If not, Cinemagic offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch all nine Fast films…if you dare. Check the theater website for dates and times. (Sunday, May 14 through Wednesday, May 17, Cinemagic)
- The documentary Once a Braided River looks at the harmful alterations to the Willamette River over the decades and a possible path to undoing them (Tuesday, May 16, Cinema 21)
- British multi-hyphenate Jane Arden’s 1972 film The Other Side of Underneath is a crazed exploration of fractured mental states, much of it filmed under the influence of massive amounts of LSD (Wednesday, May 17, Clinton Street Theater)
FRIDAY: Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 35mm (Cinemagic); The Iron Giant (Academy, through Thursday); Raging Bull (Academy, through Thursday); The original Super Mario Bros.: The Movie in 35mm (Hollywood)
SATURDAY: Gus Van Sant’s often-overlooked dark comedy masterpiece To Die For (Hollywood, through Wednesday); Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Clinton); The Night of the Hunter (Cinema 21); The Dark Crystal (Clinton); The Holy Mountain (Clinton); E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 35mm (Hollywood, also Sunday)
SUNDAY: The official, if controversial, greatest film of all time, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is perfect Mother’s Day programming. (Hollywood)
MONDAY: Underground auteur Joel Potrykus’ 2016 horror-comedy hybrid The Alchemist Cookbook (Clinton); Famously inept sequel Troll 2 with star George Hardy in attendance (Hollywood)
TUESDAY: Robert Mitchum, Lee Majors, and Valerie Perrine star in the 1980 thriller The Agency, about sinister subliminal advertising (Hollywood, in 16mm); The Last Unicorn (Clinton)
WEDNESDAY: Twilight screens as a fund-raiser for the Columbia Chorale of Oregon (Hollywood)
THURSDAY: The Portland EcoFilm Festival presents Part of the Pack, a documentary about the joys and challenges faced by a human who takes in wolves as pets (Hollywood); Dog Day Afternoon in 35mm (Hollywood)