Monday, December 9, 2013

IFI Head of Programming Michael Hayden discusses the career of Bruce Dern to coincide with a focus on his work and his new film, Nebraska

In The Wild Angels (1966), Roger Corman’s brash precursor to Easy Rider, Bruce Dern plays a character called Loser, a rebellious biker in a gang of swastika sporting Hells Angels. He’s dead inside the first 30 minutes of the film, a victim of The Man, of course. When Loser’s funeral becomes an anarchic happening inside a church, his corpse is dragged out of its coffin and passed around the party like a leather jacketed rag doll, fags and booze put in its mouth. It is some credit to Dern that he can command a screen he shares with Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra while playing dead meat.

(The Driver)

Much of the press that has greeted Dern’s great performance in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska has focussed on how underrated he has been as an actor, and it’s true that the only significant recognition he has had prior to the Best Actor award at Cannes this year, a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Coming Home in 1979, seems meagre reward for a career as enduring and distinctive as his. It’s likely this has something to do with the roles that he’s most famous for, characters characterised as “wackos and sickos” by David Letterman in an interview, more poetically described by Dern himself as guys who “live just beyond where the buses run”, though neither description does justice to the variety of his roles he has taken. He has been cowboys, cops and criminals, soldiers and swindlers, straight men and fall guys. Dern appeared in Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), though it was in TV and with Roger Corman’s low budget gems where he really cut his chops, emerging from the Corman stable alongside the likes of Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson into a cynical 1970s Hollywood and a generation of filmmakers who were far from happy with the status quo. He worked with Nicholson on Drive, He Said (1971) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), and is particularly brilliant as the bunco artist failing to convince his brother to come in on a dodgy deal in the later of these two BBS productions. Silent Running (1972) became a platform for cult hero worship rather than further leading roles, and he became defined as a character actor, playing opposite the genuine movie stars of the period; Nicholson, Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby (1974), Ryan O’Neal in The Driver (1978). Coming Home and the Oscar nomination were expected to be another stepping stone to bigger roles, and while these never materialised, he never stopped working, and by the 1990s, a younger generation of filmmakers were casting him with due reverence. His performance in James Foley’s underrated Jim Thompson adaptation After Dark, My Sweet (1990) is pitch perfect, sleazy and outsmarted, a character less clever than he thinks he is; playing an alcoholic vet willing to give serial killer Aileen Wuornos (as portrayed by Charlize Theron) the time of day in Patty Jenkins’ Monster (2003), he emerges from the film as its one unambiguously sympathetic character; and he’s along for the ride in Quentin Tarantino’s slavery romp Django Unchained (2012).

(The King of Marvin Gardens)

Tarantino recently referred to Dern as a “national treasure”, and his appearance in two of the year’s key releases, as well as all the seasonal awards buzz around Nebraska, give that claim credibility. Notoriously, Dern was the only actor to have killed John Wayne on screen, shooting Wayne in the back in The Cowboys (1972). After that film, Dern received death threats. It seems that enough time has passed and now Hollywood can forgive him for messing with The Duke.


Michael Hayden
IFI Head of Programming

A focus on Bruce Dern's career runs at the IFI from December 14th to 22nd. His latest film, Nebraska (directed by Alexander Payne) is currently showing.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Three generations of Lithuanian Cinema during the IFI Lithuanian Film Focus

Santa Lingevičiūtė, Artistic Director of the Vilnius International Film Festival, talks about three generations of Lithuanian cinema ahead of the IFI Lithuanian Film Focus (Dec 6th – 8th)

Gytis Lukšas is one of the last of the Mohicans of the so-called ‘golden’ generation of Lithuanian cinema. He is a jack of all trades: director, screenwriter, chairman of the Lithuanian Association of Cinematographers, and member of Culture and Art Council. His films, Autumn of My Childhood (Mano vaikystės ruduo, 1977), Summer Ends in Autumn (Vasara baigiasi rudenį, 1981), and English Waltz (Anglų valsas, 1982), are considered his best and already belong to the Lithuanian classics archive. Lukšas is one of those directors who perceived the cinematic potential of Lithuanian literature therefore most of his films are adaptations. Very often he questions the concept of morality; his films are very intimate and this intimacy forces the spectator to seek connections with one’s biography. Lukšas‘s cinema is a rare example of unity: music supplements the image or acting, or vice versa. His latest film Vortex (Duburys) is an adaptation of a novel written by Romualdas Granauskas, the winner of the Lithuanian National Prize. It is traditional, black-and-white drama where the relationship between people are watched very closely and attentively. As Lukšas himself put it “it is not simply a story of one man’s life, but also of my own generation.”

Šarūnas Bartas is one the most internationally acclaimed Lithuanian film directors, whose career started in the early ‘90s. As most film people of the former Soviet Union, Bartas graduated from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, aka VGIK. During Soviet times VGIK was considered as one of the top film schools. Šarūnas Bartas gained international recognition for his first feature-length film Three Days (1991), which was awarded the prize of the Ecumenical Jury and Special Mention of FIPRESCI in Berlinale in 1992. This festival was a major breakthrough for the director. His following films were also screened in such A-class film festivals as Berlinale, Cannes (Un Certain Regard Section), Rotterdam, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, London etc. Bartas is a true auteur who rejects traditional narrative. All his films are of loose structure, minimalistic, raising philosophical questions. Bartas’ oeuvre is little known and analysed in Lithuania, but he has a lot of fans outside his homeland. In his latest film Eastern Drift the director tries a genre of classic crime film with some deviations: it is a mixture of peculiar existential drama with stylistics of action film and film noir. Bartas uses his trademark – a non-linear montage. The spectator is transferred to the magical world of the film, leaving one’s space of mundane existence.

Kristina Buožytė represents the young generation of Lithuanian filmmakers. She is probalby most hard working and much more mature in terms of filmmaking among her contemporaries. She has made two feature-length films and both achieved wide international recognition. Buožytė already has a distinctive style. She is interested in the confrontation of double-sided reality. Characters of her films are tortured and betrayed by their own thoughts. Kristina Buožytė is like a surgeon who dissects human character and consciousness with the camera. The subject of examination of inner world is supplemented with subtle feminist nuances. Her first film The Collectress (Kolekcionierė, 2008) was the antithesis of poetic realism, so popular in Lithuanian cinema. Her latest film Vanishing Waves (Aurora) is called a fantastic-psychological-erotic techno-thriller. One can recognise references to Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch but without feeling plagiaristic. Buožytė professionally uses a method of appropriation so popular in contemporary art.

Santa Lingevičiūtė

The IFI Lithuanian Film Focus runs at the IFI from December 6th to 8th. Director Kristina Buožytė will attend the screening of Vanishing Waves on December 6th and take part in a Q&A.