Films and filmmakers in dialogue

Two new art house releases capture complex exchanges

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Back in 2000, Sofia Coppola emerged from the shadow of an onscreen debut that threatened to sink her legendary father’s epic film saga with “The Virgin Suicides.” Her adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel about a group of boys (led by Josh Hartnett in full-on dreamy heartthrob mode) caught up in an escalating obsession with a quintet of sheltered sisters (with Kirsten Dunst as the brightest burning candle), locked away from a world in cultural turmoil (the early to mid 1970s) by their devout Catholic parents (Kathleen Turner and James Woods). Coppola captured the period, as would be expected by the offspring of Francis Ford Coppola, but she seemed even more attuned to the emotional and psychological perspectives of both the girls and the boys. We tend to see filmmakers a bit more dialed into one gender over the other (generally matched to their own), but Coppola effortlessly transitioned between the two sides, showing us the universality of initial infatuation.

I was reminded of that film while watching Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s “Mustang,” France’s Best Foreign Language Film nominee at this year’s Academy Awards. Ergüven tightens the narrative focus, honing in on the harsh realities faced by the five young girls, orphaned siblings living in a village in northern Turkey. We see them, enjoying an early summer day, walking home from school, playing with a group of male classmates along the shore. It is an instantly familiar situation, until they arrive at home, where they are confronted with the rumors of scandal and immediate reactionary consequences.

When their home becomes a prison and plans are made to marry each of them off as quickly as possible before word spreads and they lose their cache as potential brides, we understand “Mustang” is far removed from the romantic innocence of “The Virgin Suicides.” Ergüven must show us the impact of this social order on these girls, who rebel against the loss of their individuality and freedom.

In the critical world of my mind, I imagine these two sets of siblings encountering one another, experiencing a degree of kinship, but recognizing, too, how very different their societies are. And maybe the sisters of “The Virgin Suicides” would appreciate the choices available to them that simply did not exist for the clan in “Mustang.”

With “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” Kent Jones, a former film critic turned director of programming with the New York Film Festival, collapsed the critical remove, in much the same way that his subject François Truffaut did during his interviews with Alfred Hitchcock. Truffaut worked from a script of sorts, his 1966 classic film guide “Cinema According to Hitchcock.” Jones capitalizes on not only the book but also footage Truffaut shot of interviews with Hitchcock, and then adds commentary from contemporary filmmakers, acolytes of both of these legendary artists.

The film, for me, became an early TIFF event, a must-see for festival attendees. My love of the great master goes back to an English class I took during my undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania, a survey of Hitchcock’s films from his original version of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” through the late 1960s. It was a fascinating walk through his timeline, much more accessible than, say, attempts to peruse the career of a long-form fiction writer. Film opens itself up to such immersive exploration, although it can maintain a casual vibe that belies the depth, especially for audiences fearful of the oppressive intellectual stigma.

Fans of the insider world of cinema know that Truffaut and the French New Wave directors began their careers as critics with an obsessive love for genre filmmaking. Truffaut saw Hitchcock as an idol perched on the high pedestal of great art, but he approached the two-week interview sessions with a heightened degree of professional curiosity. This was his chance to question and learn from Hitchcock, to challenge the technique the filmmaker employed, to likely appropriate elements for himself.

Jones’s film, though brief (a brisk one hour and 19 minutes), feels like a master’s class, picking up on Truffaut’s technical bent and carrying it further, into the exchanges with a comprehensive mix of modern filmmakers (from Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese to Wes Anderson, David Fincher and James Gray). “Hitchcock/Truffaut” is likely the kind of film that might scare off those who might consider “cinema” a dirty (elitist) word, but it might instigate a surprising conversation with the past.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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