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Posts Tagged ‘Emmanuelle Seigner’

Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh

“AT ETERNITY’S GATE” My rating: A-

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-12

Epically poetic yet aching personal, “At Eternity’s Gate” may be the best film ever about Vincent  Van Gogh.

For that matter, it is among the best movies ever made about a visual artist. Undoubtedly much of the insight and emotion radiating off the screen can be traced back to writer/director Julian Schnabel who was, of course, a famed painter long  before he began  making films.

Visually lush and aurally haunting, “At Eternity’s Gate” follows Vincent through the last year or so of his life.

It is told in fragmented fashion, with scenes built around a series of dialogues between Vincent (Willem Dafoe in the best performance of his career) and others: his supportive brother Theo (Rupert Friend), his combative fellow painter Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), a fellow patient in a mental institution (Niels Arestrup), a disapproving priest (Mads Mikkelsen), a sympathetic physician (Mathieu Amalric).

And when he’s not talking, this Vincent is painting, creating before our eyes the colorful masterpieces that would not be appreciated until long after his death at age 37. A good chunk of “At Eternity’s Gate” is devoted to following Vincent on his nature walks, easel and canvasses strapped to his back, head shaded with a floppy straw hat.

This is a transcendental Vincent, a man who stands in the sunshine with his arms outstretched, smiling ecstatically at the light that bathes him.

Our first encounter with this Vincent, though, occurs in darkness. We can only hear his voice. He’s talking about loneliness, about how he feels set apart from the rest of humanity: “I just want to be one of them…I’d like them to give me some tobacco, a glass of wine, or even ask: ‘How are you?’…from time to time I’d make a sketch of one of them as a gift.”

The key to Dafoe’s inspiring, heartbreaking performance is the way in which Vincent’s almost religious love affair with the world’s beauty is undercut by his sad “otherness.”  Most people don’t like him. They make fun of him. His eccentricities, poverty and neediness bring out the worst in his fellow man. (An art dealer of my acquaintance once explained that “Everybody wants a Van Gogh in their dining room; nobody wants Van Gogh in their  dining room.”)

Thus he’s an apologetic mystic, aware that he rubs others the wrong way, but unable to escape the almost epileptic thrall into which he is forever being plunged by the beauty of the world around him.

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Emanuel, Metthie Maur in "Venus in Furs"

Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Almaric in “Venus in Fur”

“VENUS IN FUR”  My rating: B+ (Opens July 18 at the Glenwood Arts)

96 minutes | No MPAA rating

It’s been a bad day for Thomas (Mathieu Almaric). While a raging thunderstorm soaks Paris, the playwright/director has wasted ten hours cooped up in a seedy theater  holding auditions. He’s seeking a cast for his new stage adaptation of Venus in FurLeopold von Sacher-Masoch’s 1870 novella about a fellow who gets off on being whipped by a dominant woman. (Thus the word “masochism.”)

Thomas is alone, complaining to a colleague via cell phone about the talentless, self-absorbed actresses — “ten year olds on helium” — who have wasted his time with their wretched posing and preening. After hours of readings he’s no closer to finding someone to play Wanda, the dominatrix heroine of Sacher-Masoch’s tale.

He’s packing up to go home when the doors at the back of the auditorium blow open and a hyperactive blonde  in a raincoat enters, motor mouthing breathlessly about how she was delayed and can she still audition. The woman (Emmanuelle Seigner) introduces herself as Wanda — coincidence or omen? — and begs to be heard.

Thomas isn’t encouraged. This Wanda seems to be just one more prattling actress, a drowned cat with a mouthful of chewing gum.

She produces a resume that features a stint with the Urinal Theatre.

“I somehow missed their season,” Thomas observes dryly.

He’s even less impressed when she removes her raincoat to reveal an S&M outfit — the last-ditch ploy of a performer who can’t pull it off by skill alone.

Sensing his reluctance Wanda assures him that “I’m not usually in leather and a dog collar.  I’m really demure and shit.”

What she really is is a master manipulator who over the next 90 real-time minutes will take Thomas and the audience on a hell of a ride.

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