BFI LFF 2022, Dispatch #9: Peter von Kant, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Lady Chatterley's Lover
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
Life in the Ozon layer: histrionic hermits with too much to say and too little to do. Seems fitting not just that he should choose to remake another's work, but that he should choose Fassbinder, who watches over this film like a digital metatextual mural. Still images and block colours adorn a single space, less a theatre than a chamber, fixed and unchanging; the seasons change, but themselves adopt clear, fixed identities, casting a specific hue and tone over their momentary microcosm of a life lived through the lives of others. Peter von Kant doesn't live out his fantasies, he constructs fantasies from his life - scripts emerge out of his experiences, and the experiences he invents for himself in the same fashion fail to emerge. Everything just goes back to the way it was, in the end, only the returns forever diminish. All that remains the same is the image, fixed and unchanging, whether still or in motion.
Sometimes it's just a joy to watch a filmmaker who knows where to put the camera, where to put the actors, where to put the furniture - and what furniture! There's always plenty to chew on in Ozon's movies, but it's not always worth the masticatory effort; in Peter von Kant, it mostly is, though he's as coy about this movie's purpose as he is about indulging in the kind of passionate sex and full-frontal nudity that one expects from both him and this material. Otherwise, it runs along the lines set out for it by Fassbinder, and its running is very much the meat for our chewing, so it's most apt that it should be so self-reflexive. And Isabelle Adjani had lipstick on her tooth.
I suspect the international critical elites will find much to complain about with Laura Poitras' All the Beauty and the Bloodshed - it was considered a boring pick for the Golden Lion by many, and its portrait of a once-radical young artist now profiled in a relatively bourgeois older life by an Academy Award winner doesn't exactly advance the cinematic form. To be sure, the parts of this documentary focused on Nan Goldin's recent activism smack slightly of smug, middle-class goodyness (as opposed to goodness), of well-meaning people high on their own supply, even if it is for a good cause, and even if that good cause does, ultimately, start to take effect. But it's also a compelling, touching, beautiful movie, artfully measured and sympathetic in its presentation of an artful life. Poitras doesn't gloss, she doesn't glamorize, and she doesn't overly editorialize - one gets the sense that the life she's attempting to document in roughly two hours' worth of audiovisual footage genuinely was as she soberly, respectfully presents it, and that it has been, in its own particular way, a quite extraordinary life so far.
Goldin is as open and honest a subject as one could hope for, and Poitras, as ever, as sharp, probing and compassionate a director. If she's not always entirely prepared to critique her subjects, there's no need for critique in this case, as the movie itself justifies its own existence and its own arguments by promoting Goldin's causes alongside her. It's a less aggressive, less revolutionary tool for the promotion of change than Goldin may be accustomed to, but the changes it seeks are, in truth, somewhat modest, and it's definitely a more direct tool. Where All the Beauty and the Bloodshed succeeds most, though, is in its portrait of the woman before the artist, before the activist, before the movements and the message. That's the Nan Goldin of her first days on Earth, the Nan Goldin who's lived such a noteworthy life, and the Nan Goldin who'll be there for her final days on Earth, and so the movie closes proper with this woman. In these parts, it's uncommonly moving, not least for a movie that might have you think it's some cool, dispassionate timeline of events. It's so much more than that, and so much better for it.
My review proper for Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's Lady Chatterley's Lover is to be found on Awards Watch, so I'll just post a few musings here. It's horribly hurried, despite a few smartly-observed encounters and the odd half-decent erotic outburst. But otherwise, this is shockingly unerotic stuff, given the source material and the talent of the actors, who're given minimal space to work with their characters by David Magee's by-the-numbers adaptation and de Clermont-Tonnerre's mundane directing. There's no nuance, no patience, and almost no interest. D. H. Lawrence as chick-lit, and chick-lit without the gumption to cop to that fact. Nothing for no-one then!