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December 08, 2010


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Castle Bravo

Pretty much off-topic, but I Netflixed Across 110th Street last night. The filmmaking was 20 years ahead of its time, and a direct aesthetic correlation between this and Se7en is obvious. One thing, however -- all of the reviews I read called it "blaxploitation." I don't think it was that at all. To my sense, it was basically an old Phil Karlson B-noir updated to 1972 Harlem -- just a brutal meat-and-potatoes crime film. Needs to be reevaluated.

Glenn Kenny

Yep, that's pretty much off-topic, all right.

As for "Across 110th Street," you'll never hear me say anything against it. While not quite as harrowing as Greil Marcus' fevered description of it in "Mystery Train" makes it seem, it's a pretty exceptional piece of work...


I hated FLANDERS -- really, really hated it -- but what the hell, if people are fighting about what happens at the end of a movie, I'm in.

And I never understood the blaxploitation designation of ACROSS 110th STREET either. Just for the record.


Thanks for posting this, Glenn - I had to be vigilant against spoilers, but I'll go back for a more thorough read after I watch the movie. I'm a big booster of Dumont's, although it is true that his work is "problematic" nearly as often as it is brilliant and visionary. For my money, "l'Humanite" is a nearly unqualified masterpiece, 29 Palms a flawed but effective provocation, and Flanders is a kind of repellent but riveting disaster. Bill, I'd recommend giving this new one, as well as his earlier work, a shot or two. There's some real gold in there, especially if you've a taste for serious examinations of God and Good and Evil, however you define those concepts. Dumont is a bit like a stern and idiosyncratic and abrasive and VERY French version of Kubrick (minus any apparent interest in irony or humor), or a much darker and more brooding (although equally receptive to intimations of Grace and/or The Sublime) version of Malick. Fun, but also pretty damn weighty, stuff. Can't wait to see Hadewijch.


Actually, Zach, I was reading up on Dumont after leaving my comment, and I definitely want to see "l'Humanite", so I'm not turned off of his stuff altogether. But I still really hated "Flanders".

warren oates

Can't read the interview yet as I want to see the film fresh, but I'm pleased to see Glenn's even-handed consideration of Dumont's oeuvre. I felt betrayed by the ending of 29 PALMS and by certain twists in FLANDERS that suggest that this foray into Americanized brutality--either in our desert or ones we aspire to conquer--was an aesthetic and narrative dead end. Maybe this will be like Dumont's STRAIGHT STORY? A one-off that resets his vision so we'll get back to darker fare sans violence porn.


29 Palms is one of the most effective horror movies I have ever seen. And saying that Dumont "doesn't know how to make a movie" is like saying Glenn Branca doesn't know how to play the guitar.

James Keepnews

Hmmm...unusual correspondence, CO, though I wonder how much I agree. Maybe if you'd said Loren Mazzacane Conners...

Alors, put this guitarist in the pro-Dumont camp, though I've only seen LA VIE DE JESUS and L'HUMANITE, the latter featuring the single unlikeliest momma's-boy introvert detective in the history of cinema. It's fascinating to read in your interview Dumont's aversion towards realism, since he and the Dardennes do seem to have brought, if not everything, then the kitchen-sink back into Franco-phonic cinematic realism -- and, in BD's case, a couple few salamis, hidden and otherwise. I understand he also despises comparisons of his cinema and Bresson's, but at least in this regard, it strikes me as apt.

I guess, hating on ZABRISKIE as I do, I feared the worst about TWENTY-NINE PALMS (even with Katia Golubeva, sorta the Clara Bow de la nouvelle explicitation), though a few cinephiles I trust have encouraged me to give it a shot. I will, HADEWIJCH also. In danger of being more of a spoiler-sport, I wonder how this plays in contrast to the thematic -- what? ambivalence? -- of the methodically approached terrorist acts in things like DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT or PARADISE NOW.


i remember having a conversation with a friend during the '09 nyff about this so-called flashback business. he'd made a bet with another colleague about it and, after having spoken to dumont, was pluperfectly delighted to report that indeed, there was no flashback! i think i said something on the order of: "dear god! who could possibly have thought that?" and, since only one name was mentioned, took it to be an isolated case. i'm now rather dismayed to learn from yr piece that it was not isolated at all. this the kind of thing that unfortunately makes me want to sit out the dialog altogether. having to hurdle a stupid debate just to get the good (or at least, "real") one isn't worth it.


TWENTYNINE PALMS is maddening and unfair and, yeah, you could argue it's the work of a guy who doesn't completely know what he's doing, or at the very least is figuring it out as he goes (yes, I know those are two distinct things) and yet...it's stuck with me in ways few films have. I was driving by myself in the desert areas outside Lancaster, CA some time ago for work, and guess which film filled my mind? It reminds me, kind of weirdly, of LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, which starts out ostensibly as one kind of film before taking a turn. Thankfully, the ending of TWENTYNINE PALMS isn't anywhere as regressive as GOODBAR.


For the record, the heatedness Glenn mentions regarding discussion of the film's ending had less to do with variant interpretations than with the repeated suggestion—typified by eddie's comment above—that anyone who even suggests that what occurs isn't plain as day must be a cretin. I maintain that if Dumont intended the film's conclusion to be unambiguous—which may well be the case—he did a piss-poor job. And to say, as Glenn does here, that Dumont "actually shows what happens on the screen, within its frames, and so on" is simply false. In fact, positing the narrative as wholly realistic and linear requires that one infer a particular event that is (rather curiously in my opinion) *not* depicted onscreen. Nor is it an especially obvious inference to make. If the film had simply ended following the, shall we say in order to avoid spoilers, explosive incident (which would make it a much lesser film, obviously, but never mind that), I doubt there would be any debate whatsoever about the fate of two of the film's characters. What happened to them would seem unmistakable, based on the visual syntax of the sequence in question, and suggestions that something else must have happened which we just don't see would be dismissed as ludicrous. Subsequent events in the actual film clearly make that suggestion considerably less ludicrous, but an inference it remains, one that I personally find more controverted than supported by "what happens on the screen, within its frames, and so on."

That said, I think Glenn is probably right. His point about Céline's visual appearance is well taken, and all but rules out the flashback hypothesis. The fantasy hypothesis intrigued me when I saw the film over a year ago, but I find it less credible now. I'm inclined to attribute all the confusion (and there really was mass confusion at the time of the film's premiere—look up the reviews) to a sort of willful clumsiness on Dumont's part—I think he didn't recognize (or perhaps just didn't care) that his austere, elision-heavy approach, as applied to that sequence and its aftermath, would cause many viewers to leap to an incorrect conclusion and then attempt to interpret subsequent events based on that conclusion. And how easy and even invigorating that would be to do.

Most of all, though, I regret that discussion of this fine film—Dumont's best yet, I think, though I wasn't previously much of a fan—got hijacked by what was always a minor and unimportant issue. I never really had a dog in that hunt, apart from bridling at being called "blind" and whatnot for suggesting that the matter wasn't cut and dried. I might find on second viewing that I preferred the film when its conclusion seemed more mysterious, but it's well worth seeing through any imaginable lens. And Ms. Sokolowski just got one of my Best Actress votes in the Village Voice/L.A. Weekly poll. Now all I have to do is wait for the check for my ballot to arrive...

Victor Morton

Glenn quotes Julie Sokilowski

"It's true as then Bruno added a belief of God is one of the highest expressions of self love, selfishness, which is what also the Mother Superior says in the film. She's not a nun in real life. On the contrary, she is a professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne. But she says to Julie that she is too much in love with herself. I think that's true of all believers. The believers are too much in love finally with themselves."

I think this gets the Mother Superior says more or less backwards. In fact, it was during this scene, near the start of the movie where she tells Celine to leave the convent, when I first told myself "this could be something special." I speak as someone who approached a diocese's vocations director but was eventually turned away, though not for the reason Celine is or anything especially closely related. And I feel comfortable saying that the teller is not to be trusted on the tale's religious themes.

Obviously Julie Sokolowski is perfectly entitled to a belief that belief in God is just selfishness or self-love. But is what she says -- that the Mother Superior characteras who says the lines thinks this -- even remotely plausible? Particularly given what we've seen of Celine to this point? Oh ... "self-love" certainly applies to her, no doubt. But making a generic claim based on her character is absurd, particularly since the charge comes from someone in religious authority.

As I said, this was when HADEWIJCH first got its hooks into me because the actual matters related to vocational discernment usually are not related in contemporary movies and TV, except for sniggering or as spice. Celine had shown an excessive interest in corporal mortification and fasting, confusing abstinence for martyrdom. It's the religious authorities who tell her not to do it (which is both more realistic and contrary to current cliche) as she's too spiritually immature. She defies them -- a big no-no during formation, where docility and obedience are central virtues that need special cultivation (for the very good reason that our current culture considers these habits to be vices). You must diminish so He can increase, as John the Baptist puts it.

That said, I would not exactly say that Celine's tragic flaw has *nothing* to do with narcissism or an excess of self-love, even in apparent abnegation. But it's really something slightly more specifically religious -- an excess of enthousiasmos, of religious grandiloquence. The same vices that lead her ... the bad place she goes.

S. Porath

I was not nearly as bothered by the ending as others have- it seems to me like an attempt to nail down the film to a simpler, neater one, one which is about extreme fundamentalism. Even if it serves just that purpose -to offer a different talking point to the sensationalistic subway scene- I like the ending. But also as an alternate ending, it's fascinating.
The ending aside, I was exhilirated by the film. For a film pegged as 'provocation'- whether for its content or structure- I found it very thoughtful, somber and serious. It takes Celine's faith seriously, even if it stands aghast at what transpires (I was sold on the film with the first scene of her praying in her room, where Dumont illustrates just how powerfully felt her prayers are).

Victor Morton

Fundamentalism never appears in this movie.

Catholicism does. A form of Islam does.

S. Porath

I don't follow.

Glenn Kenny

@ S. Porath, not to speak for the rigorous Mr. Morton, but I believe he's taking exception to your characterization of the film as saying something about "fundamentalism." I understand his point; when you're dealing with subject matter of this sort, precision of language is important, and it's true that fundamentalism and religious extremism of the sort that leads to terrorist acts aren't mutually exclusive, and that the film really does not draw such lines. My own invocation of fundamentalism in the interview, when I mentioned the notion of a "personal relationship" with Christ, was slightly off-the-cuff, and that, too might have been a not-quite-accurate connection. Where I differ with Victor here is in the implication—which please do correct me if it's not that—that fundamentalist practice or mindset cannot manifest within Catholicism or Islam. Opus Dei is arguably a fundamentalist sect of Catholicism, for instance. But that's got little if anything to do with what's going on in the film.

S. Porath

I agree that it is not the most precise term for what is depicted...but to say that fundamentalism never appears is a bit of stretch, methinks.


@mike: "...I never really had a dog in that hunt, apart from bridling at being called "blind" and whatnot for suggesting that the matter wasn't cut and dried."

Granted, I haven't seen Hadewijch so didn't read Glenn's post or most of your comment. But I skimmed it, and the excerpt above called to mind your scenic routes in the AV Club on Headless Woman a while back... That's exactly how I felt reading you on whether Veronica hit the dog or the boy. Just sayin'...

Victor Morton


I have no problem at all with what you said in the Dumont interview because you used the term "evangelicals" and what you said is both true and grabbed me about HADEWIJCH.

Evangelicals (who are not the same as "fundamentalists") do tend to be much freer and easier than other Christians in using the language of personal love and friendship in describing their relationship with Christ. The real-life Hadewijch was a Catholic mystic and Celine fancies herself that way, and while they also tend more in that direction, they're still a bit of a queer duck. So yes, it is a little jarring to hear that kind of talk coming from Celine. (Indeed, and I apologize in advance if this comes across patronizing, I was impressed that a not-especially-religious journalist/critic made the connection and used the terms correctly.) One other detail about Celine that struck me as more like American evangelicals than devout European Catholics is her fascination with (what I take to be) hipster music and concerts.

As for "fundamentalism," if it is being used with any specificity and respect for history at all, it only applies to some Protestants (and Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker are not among them). Even as a tendency (it's never been a denomination per se), it addresses issues of Biblical authority that can only arise or have bite in a sola-scriptura background. Any other use is analogic at best, has never been self-applied (many protestants who rallied around "The Fundamentals" did this), and is little more than a journalistic-convention-cum-cussword. Lest I be accused of being a homer, its use in the context of Islam and (Vishnu forbid) Hinduism irks me more than promiscuous misapplication to Christians.


Thank you!! I was trying to remember what film it was where Mike took great sport in calling others blind or bad critics or whatever for thinking there was something ambiguous in a scene he thought perfectly straightforward.

(FTR ... this all started in my Twitter conversations with Mike where I said it was perfectly clear to me that HADEWIJCH was a straightforward narrative and expressed credulity that people thought the last scenes were some sort of rupture that needed explanation.)


Victor, you're welcome... So when you say "...this all started" - are you referring only to the "debate" about ambiguity in ending of Hadjewich? Or, was Mike's piece on Headless Woman spurred by said debate about Hadjewich's ending?
To be fair, I think Mike, in his AV Club piece, was specifically calling out critics who [SPOILERS, MAYBE?] assume that the woman actually hit the boy and not the dog. I'll admit to not being the biggest fan of his work in general - and then just go ahead and say that he made his case that she clearly hit the dog and not the boy in a rather strident way.
To put this (that is, the Headless woman) to bed, my whole take was that neither extreme is "correct" and that there's a lot of ambiguity that Mike and the critics he calls out are missing. In what's in the frame and out, in the sound design, in the ellipses that Martel so masterfully employs.

Victor Morton

I meant the former -- strictly HADEWIJCH-related.

I must agree with Miie though that it pretty clearly IS a dog in the Martel film and nothing in the film *requires* that the heroine hit a child and so given that she doesn't show a dead child but does show a dead dog ... Though the real relevance here is that Mike argues above from a critical vox populi that if HADEWIJCH was meant to be a straight-through narrative, which he didn't right away get, then Dumont effed it up. But the exact same result re HEADLESS WOMAN -- widespread crix misunderstanding and attempts at elaborate explanations predicated therein -- only he's on the other side. Well, Martel couldn't have effed THAT up -- gotta be crix failure.

Apropos nothing at all, I tweeter that I was about to go into HEADLESS WOMAN and Mike responded (quoting from memory) "BTW bud, you will hate this film." He was right.


Martel isn't at fault because she does in fact very clearly show what happened. There truly is no reason to be uncertain about what Véro hit. It is shown to you.

Victor Morton

And yet somehow so many people were confused ... I'm inclined to attribute all the confusion (and there really was mass confusion at the time — look up the reviews) to a sort of willful clumsiness on Martel's part — I think she didn't recognize (or perhaps just didn't care) that her austere, elision-heavy approach, as applied to that sequence and its aftermath, would cause many viewers to leap to an incorrect conclusion and then attempt to interpret subsequent events based on that conclusion. And how easy and even invigorating that would be to do.


Cute, Victor, but they're just not comparable. In fact Martel provides *exactly* the clarifying shot that Dumont for some reason chose to omit. And that shot has no other function than to ensure that we, the audience, know exactly what happened. That people still thought they saw something else, or are inventing alternate scenarios based on alleged clues (which, as I pointed out in the piece I wrote, generally make no sense whatsoever), is not Martel's fault.

Whereas all Dumont needed to do was show two people getting off a train.

S. Porath

"Whereas all Dumont needed to do was show two people getting off a train."

I don't believe that's the story he's telling.

Kent Jones

"willful clumsiness" - a provocative concept. Sounds like a Michael Bay action sequence. But a Lucrecia Martel film?

I haven't seen HADEWIJCH, but I'm remembering almost identical exchanges when L'HUMANITE came out a little over ten years ago. And around the same time, there were similar conversations about FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI. A few years later, the exercise was repeated with THE INTRUDER. Then again with TROPICAL MALADY. And CACHE.

Whenever situations like this arise, three questions usually come up: what exactly happened, what was the point of rendering it elliptically, and was it worth it?


As usual, Kent cuts to the chase like few can... To Mike, I'd just say that it's not a question of whether Vero hit the dog (I think that's a closed case). Rather, Martel has created the possibility that she also hit the boy. It's also possible that she just hit the dog. The last thing I'd do with a film like this would be to excise the scene in question and ask people to look at it "objectively" and judge what they've seen or heard without any context for the scene or insight into the director's methods.
The Headless Woman is about many things, but it seems to me this is one of the most important: to think about what's presented - both on the screen but in life, what we see before us but also what we can't see (whether off-screen or behind us, etc.) - and how we process that uncertainty.


Well, Donald, I respectfully disagree, and already wrote a entire piece explaining why. I'm convinced the shot in question exists precisely to rule out that possibility, and I just don't buy the "she hit the kid too but for some reason unlike the dog who's right in the middle of the road the kid went flying into the culvert and is not visible to us" thesis. You are correct, though, that context is important (though getting too deep into that would have been inappropriate for the particular feature I write for the A.V. Club). One of the many reasons I feel confident Martel is showing us Véro didn't hit the boy is that the film is many many times more interesting and pointed if she didn't.

Kent Jones

I haven't seen THE HEADLESS WOMAN in a while, but while I remember the accident exactly as Mr. D'Angelo describes it (and, as it is in the clip he provides), a lot of the force of the movie came, I think, from the efforts of people around her to erase any record of her presence near or relating to the accident. I suppose that whether or not she killed a child is irrelevant, but it is pretty important that she THINKS she's killed a child, no? And that a child has been killed at the same spot, as they find out later - correct?

There are a lot of movies that leave their key narrative events off screen, and the strategy is usually meant to force the audience to search for clues and, as they're looking and listening, to develop a heightened awareness of something else - in this case, the particulars of middle class existence, revealed in furtive behaviors, strange patnologies, sensual details. All 3 Martel films are extremely dense, this one in particular. No critical "huffing and puffing" involved. Just an effort to put togeher the accident with the movie that follows. Without the benefit of a DVD and only one or even two viewings behind you, not easy.


I've only seen The Headless Woman once - two years ago now? And yet, I think it might be an overstatement to say she thinks she's killed the child. It's a very strange sort of somnambulent hysteria from which she occasionally approaches lucidity before sinking (or being pushed) back into the miasma.

I of course am not the first to point out the resonance of horrible things happening "off screen" in Argentina with its Dirty War and the disappeared. I think the association is subtle, like everything in this film, part of the web of suggestive menace and atmosphere that makes it so so difficult to pin this film down. I agree with you, Kent, that ultimately it's not so important to the story whether she killed the child or not - but I bristle at Mike's suggestion that a definitive position on the question, however conclusive it may be in the scene, somehow makes it a richer experience of the film. It seems tantamount to nailing a cobweb to the wall to make sure it sticks...

Anyway, thanks for weighing in Kent. Your comments in general here are eye opening and much appreciated.

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