Monday, June 24, 2013

Frances Ha (2012)

WHO: Greta Gerwig co-wrote and stars in this film directed by Noah Baumbach.

WHAT: I'd heard this was a comedy, and perhaps it is in the grand scheme of things; there's is a lightness to the tone of the film and, at least externally, to the character of Frances, around whom the entire film revolves. But I'm not sure I laughed out loud once, although I appreciated the liberal-art-educated wit exhibited by most of the characters. No, what I felt instead of mirth while watching this was the pang of recognition -- though I'm not much like Frances in many ways, I've certainly been 27 years old and felt the kind of anxiety about becoming "truly" adult that she exhibits. Followed by the heartbreak of her self-sabotaging instincts, and finally the joyful relief of seeing her edge towards growth.

A few words on negative reviews, which are not hard to come by. I'll leave aside Armond White's axe-grinding and skip to Nathan Heller's eloquent expression of disappointment, which reads alternatingly like the voice of a twenty-something finding something fraudulent in this portrayal of his  age group, and like a "middle-aged man" wanting to hammer down all the film's most distinctive traits (unusual pacing, time and story compression) into something more "mature" and palatable. (It turns out Heller is older than Gerwig but younger than Baumbach and than me- but not by much.) And although I of course sensed that the film is evoking a French New Wave spirit, I didn't get as much of a sense that it was being glib or overly specific with references; I didn't think of any of the films Ben Sachs mentions; the only Nouvelle Vague film title that entered my mind while watching was Jacques Rivette's Paris Belongs To Us, and I'm not quite sure why that one felt invoked.

I should note I haven't seen the film that the greatest number of reviews I've found (including perhaps my favorite, Fernando F. Croce's) mention as a directly-quoted referent: Leos Carax's 1986 Mauvais Sang, which is apparently quoted in the pictured-above scene of Frances dashing across Manhattan to the piano-grand rhythm of of David Bowie's "Modern Love". Between this and Holy Motors I'm now desperate to see more of Carax's work, hopefully at a retrospective at a local cinema, some time soon.

WHERE/WHEN: Multiple showtimes daily at various Frisco Bay theatres including the Embarcadero, the Kabuki, the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, the Shattuck in Berkeley, the UA Emery Bay in Emeryville, and the BlueLight Cinemas 5 in Cupertino, at least through Thursday. On Friday at least one of these engagements (the Embarcadero's, see below) ends, and Francis Ha will move to the Opera Plaza for a couple shows daily.

WHY: I saw Frances Ha at the Embarcadero knowing it would almost certainly be my last film watched there before it shuts down thus Friday. No, this is not another closure like that of the Bridge and Lumiere last fall, but rather a four month renovation to the downtown five-screener, rumored to include an upgrade to stadium-style seating and to be unveiled in early November.

I've never had a great attachment to the Embarcadero Cinema as a structure; it lacks the charm of the single-screen arthouses it helped put out of business after it was opened in 1995. But since then it's been the most convenient and consistent place for anyone living near a BART or MUNI Metro stop or working in the financial district to see a high-profile independent film on a decent-sized screen. I must've seen over a hundred films there myself, starting with John Sayles' Lone Star. Perhaps most memorably I once watched a noontime matinee of Run, Lola, Run on an only-slightly extended, adrenaline-packed lunch hour while temping in a nearby office tower.

The main impact this closure will have is in reducing by half (and compared to this time last year, nearly two-thirds) the number of the Landmark Theatre chain screens showing indie fare in San Francisco. Almost undoubtedly this will mean fewer real "niche" titles will get  even week-long releases in the city proper, as the Opera Plaza (which is expected to convert from 35mm film & Blu-Ray presentation to DCP any week now) will likely have its screens full handling the kinds of films that might have played the Embarcadero this summer and autumn if it were open. Nothing could make this clearer than the fact that the entire slate of films currently at the Opera Plaza, including Mud, Kon-Tiki and Kings of Summer in 35mm prints, will be pulled after this Thursday to make room for most of the titles currently screening the Embarcadero, including Before Midnight (which will be brought in as a 35mm print), The East, A Hijacking, and Frances Ha. 

HOW: Frances Ha was shot digitally and will screen in DCP, I believe, everywhere listed above, except for the BlueLight Cinema 5 and the Opera Plaza, which are not yet equipped for DCP. Staffers I talked to at both venues were incredulous when I told them that Camera 3 in San Jose reportedly (as per the Film on Film Foundation's Bay Area Film Calendar) screened this in a 35mm print last week.

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