Congratulations, Robert Altman. Not only are you totally deserving of that Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but as America’s finest living director of narrative films, you have catapulted into my Magnificent Seven. In the year 2006, you stand proud among Film Culture’s seven greatest narrative filmmakers on earth.
The last time I offered my list to Phoenix readers, Billy Wilder was alive as the best of the US, and elsewhere, I bestowed my blessing on Krzysztof Kieslowski (Poland), Stanley Kubrick (England), and Akira Kurosawa (Japan). These splendid four have ascended to cinéaste heaven, leaving three masters from my original grouping: Michelangelo Antonioni (Italy), Ingmar Bergman (Sweden), and Jean-Luc Godard (France). Now Altman makes four. And the final three choices? Werner Herzog (Germany), Roman Polanski (Poland), and . . . Martin Scorsese (USA)? Wong Kar-wai (Hong Kong)? Abbas Kiarostami (Iran)? My favorite woman director, Claire Denis (France)? I think I’ll opt for the filmmaker who of all seven is apt to be the most obscure for those under 40: France’s Claude Chabrol, who made a string of masterpieces in the 1960s (Les bonnes femmes, Que la bête meure|This Man Must Die, etc.) up there with Godard and Truffaut and has made countless features since, often starring Isabelle Huppert.
That’s it. And you, dear readers, what’s your Magnificent Seven? Please email your lists, with commentary if you wish, to email@example.com; in a future Film Culture, I’ll offer some of your thoughts.
At last a really sexy and interesting erotic movie, Lie with Me, a Canadian feature that debuted at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. Alas, this same picture has now gone straight to DVD, its distributor, Thinkfilm, perhaps influenced by the disastrous box office of Michael Winterbottom’s X-rated Nine Songs. But Nine Songs, despite its explicit couplings, was cold and anti-erotic, a deserved audience turn-off. Lie with Me is soft-X but hot, hot, hot, with its on-my-body-again and off-my-body-again tryst between two young Torontonians played with gusto and abandon by attractive TV actors Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word) and Eric Balfour (6 Feet Under, 24).
At Toronto, I interviewed the multicultural-and-married filmmakers, Jamaica-born Clement Virgo, the director (Rude, The Planet of Junior Brown), and Tamara Faith Berger, his Jewish screenwriter wife. The casting? “We found Eric first,” said Virgo. “I’d worked on a TV show with Lauren and didn’t see her in this part. But she sent me a tape in which she had a different color hair and she moved differently. I was amazed. When they got together, the chemistry was there. No chemistry, no film.”
The script comes from Berger’s 2001 novel of the same name, in which she concentrates on the amorous explorations of Leila, a sex-obsessed young woman. “I’d been writing for porn publications before, but this book was more literary, artistic. Some of the first books I’d read were by the Surrealists, Bataille and Apollinaire, which mixed in violence and really hardcore scenes. And I love Kathy Acker, and her book Kathy Goes to Haiti. I found in her writing this yearning for sex and love at the same time.”
How did Virgo direct the sex-and-love scenes? “The actors trusted me implicitly. We never had the conversation, ‘You’re going to have sex.’ But it couldn’t be fake touching. It had to be truthful. If I believed what they were doing, I’d keep shooting. If I didn’t, I’d stop shooting. But it was too embarrassing to say, ‘Give a blow job.’ ”
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