Psychology Around the Net: January 20, 2018

Happy Saturday, sweet readers!

So, you’ve heard of mental health days, right? Well, I’m taking a mental health weekend. Earlier this week, I realized I was headed toward a weekend with no plans, no leftover work, and no obligations of any sort.

“Hmm…what am I going to do?” was all-too-easy to answer. “NOTHING!”

Well, I’ll be doing some reading, maybe work on a story, probably continue on with my second binge of Peaky Blinders — but the point is, I have a weekend of absolutely no personal or professional obligations and when I realized that, I also realized it’d been way too long since the last one. I need it.

Now, on with the latest in getting better sleep, how stand-up comedy can boost confidence, why some people think “toxic masculinity” is to blame for mass shootings, and more.

Do You Struggle to Nod Off? Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology Reveals His Top 5 Tips for Restless Sleepers: Sleep deprivation is linked to both mental health and physical health problems. Sleeplessness can cause depression, strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes. Many of us know some of the common ways to improve sleep — such as avoiding alcohol and caffeine — but there are other lesser-known ways like getting out of bed if you can’t fall asleep (what?!). Professor Matthew Walker of the University of California Berkeley explains his tips for people with sleep problems.

Empower Teen Girls by Teaching Them Stand-Up Comedy: New York-based startup Gold Comedy does more than coach teen girls the ins and outs of stand-up comedy. It also helps them build the confidence and self-esteem they need to make it through those often grueling tween and teen years and eventually hit adulthood running.

“Hi, How Are You” Foundation Aims to Inspire Conversations About Mental Health: If you enjoy Daniel Johnston, you’re going to enjoy this.

How Marijuana Use Can Alter Brain Function and Induce Psychotic Behavior: Does marijuana help or hurt mental health? It’s become an age-old question, hasn’t it? We’ve read studies that say it helps; we’ve read studies that say it hurts. The latest in the ebb and flow of whether marijuana hurts or helps suggests heavy marijuana use could cause long-term negative effects, especially for people who begin smoking pot at a young age, and is linked to changes in the parts of our brains associated with habit formation and reward processing.

Key to Willpower Lies in Believing You Have It in Abundance: A new study involving more than 1,100 Americans and 1,600 Europeans and a psychological assessment tool called the Implicit Theory of Willpower for Strenuous Mental Activities Scale suggests Americans believe the have less stamina for mental activities than Europeans.

Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men: Usually the arguments for and against stronger gun control revolve around mental illness in some way. However, some think “toxic masculinity” is to blame for mass shootings.

Source: http://ift.tt/2jgn2Ba

Sundance 2018: ‘Blindspotting’ is a Very Fresh, Bold, Modern Comedy

Blindspotting Review

We’re living in a time where art, including cinema, must speak loudly about today’s times, today’s society and what’s happening all around us. It’s not just important social commentary, but a chance to really make us think and ask questions and hold a mirror up to ourselves. One of the best films from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to do exactly that is a called Blindspotting, from filmmaker Carlos López Estrada making his feature directorial debut. This film is kind of a buddy comedy, about two friends from Oakland, California dealing with the craziness of contemporary times. Half of the film is a hilarious smackdown of hipsters and gentrification, but the other half is a very fresh, bold, in-your-face commentary on society, racism, and the inherent biases that are eroding society these days. I really loved this film, it’s ambitious yet still enjoyable.

Blindspotting introduces us to Collin, played brilliantly Daveed Diggs, who is finishing up the last few days after a year on probation at a half-way house in Oakland. He’s doing his best to steer clear of any more potential problems, cleaning up his life so he can emerge and never have to ever go back to prison again. His life-long friend is Miles, played by Rafael Casal, a fast-talking white boy who is raising a small family, but still gets into trouble running around the streets. The two of them work for a moving company, driving a truck around to various jobs in the Oakland area. There’s so much about this film that is fresh and exciting and fun to watch, recalling great comedies like Half Baked and Do the Right Thing. But it goes beyond just good comedy and juggles a handful of social issues, mainly racism, in an intelligent, doesn’t-hold-back way.

Director Carlos López Estrada shows that he has so much potential beyond just this film, but that doesn’t mean this one will be forgotten. If anything, it is sure to go on and become a cult classic, and should earn a strong following with modern audiences that will admire that audacious social commentary and amusing jokes about green juice and hipsters. It’s a bit tough to balance this tone perfectly, and the film bounces back and forth in a bumpy way. They really try to throw in everything, discussing so much of what’s going on and how we’re all aware of it but not doing much to change it. But remarkably Estrada handles all of this and puts it together in an engaging, entertaining package that hits hard in the last 20 minutes. There’s one scene in particular that I loved, and even though it is in-your-face, it’s exactly the right fearless step for the film.

More than anything, I have to say how totally awesome Daveed Diggs is in the lead role. He plays a person you want to be friends with. He’s deep and smart, but fun, though not a caricature or exaggerated creation. He represents the kind of person you will meet that has so many different sides, and can’t be judged solely by the way he looks. There’s so much more to him, and once you get know him, you realize there’s so much to learn from him if only you can make sure to step out of the way and let him lead. And I think this is one of the good things the film can teach us – to embrace and follow those who do have their shit together, even if we don’t want to believe it based on a biased impression of them. And that’s just the start – this film speaks loudly, and doesn’t mind being all up in your face, in hopes that we will all learn something from it. Dig it.

Alex’s Sundance 2018 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing

Source: http://ift.tt/g0Io3r

Sundance 2018: ‘Blindspotting’ is a Very Fresh, Bold, Modern Comedy

Blindspotting Review

We’re living in a time where art, including cinema, must speak loudly about today’s times, today’s society and what’s happening all around us. It’s not just important social commentary, but a chance to really make us think and ask questions and hold a mirror up to ourselves. One of the best films from the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to do exactly that is a called Blindspotting, from filmmaker Carlos López Estrada making his feature directorial debut. This film is kind of a buddy comedy, about two friends from Oakland, California dealing with the craziness of contemporary times. Half of the film is a hilarious smackdown of hipsters and gentrification, but the other half is a very fresh, bold, in-your-face commentary on society, racism, and the inherent biases that are eroding society these days. I really loved this film, it’s ambitious yet still enjoyable.

Blindspotting introduces us to Collin, played brilliantly Daveed Diggs, who is finishing up the last few days after a year on probation at a half-way house in Oakland. He’s doing his best to steer clear of any more potential problems, cleaning up his life so he can emerge and never have to ever go back to prison again. His life-long friend is Miles, played by Rafael Casal, a fast-talking white boy who is raising a small family, but still gets into trouble running around the streets. The two of them work for a moving company, driving a truck around to various jobs in the Oakland area. There’s so much about this film that is fresh and exciting and fun to watch, recalling great comedies like Half Baked and Do the Right Thing. But it goes beyond just good comedy and juggles a handful of social issues, mainly racism, in an intelligent, doesn’t-hold-back way.

Director Carlos López Estrada shows that he has so much potential beyond just this film, but that doesn’t mean this one will be forgotten. If anything, it is sure to go on and become a cult classic, and should earn a strong following with modern audiences that will admire that audacious social commentary and amusing jokes about green juice and hipsters. It’s a bit tough to balance this tone perfectly, and the film bounces back and forth in a bumpy way. They really try to throw in everything, discussing so much of what’s going on and how we’re all aware of it but not doing much to change it. But remarkably Estrada handles all of this and puts it together in an engaging, entertaining package that hits hard in the last 20 minutes. There’s one scene in particular that I loved, and even though it is in-your-face, it’s exactly the right fearless step for the film.

More than anything, I have to say how totally awesome Daveed Diggs is in the lead role. He plays a person you want to be friends with. He’s deep and smart, but fun, though not a caricature or exaggerated creation. He represents the kind of person you will meet that has so many different sides, and can’t be judged solely by the way he looks. There’s so much more to him, and once you get know him, you realize there’s so much to learn from him if only you can make sure to step out of the way and let him lead. And I think this is one of the good things the film can teach us – to embrace and follow those who do have their shit together, even if we don’t want to believe it based on a biased impression of them. And that’s just the start – this film speaks loudly, and doesn’t mind being all up in your face, in hopes that we will all learn something from it. Dig it.

Alex’s Sundance 2018 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing

Source: http://ift.tt/g0Io3r

First Trailer for Brazilian Teen Drama ‘Rust’ Playing at Sundance 2018

Rust Trailer

"I just want to disappear." The first official trailer has debuted for an indie drama from Brazil titled Rust, which is currently premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival this month in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category. Directed by Aly Muritiba, the film deals with a group of high school teens and a case of sexual abuse that gets even worse when a private video leaks to the entire school. The film specifically focuses on the brewing relationship between teens Tati and Renet, as well as their home lives. The film’s cast is lead by Giovanni de Lorenzi, Tifanny Dopke, Enrique Diaz, and Clarissa Kiste. This looks like a very strong drama from Brazil addressing a very important topic of the times – and how everything gets even crazier when it’s spread among teens in high school. Seems like it’s worth catching at the festival.

Here’s the first official trailer for Aly Muritiba’s Rust, direct from YouTube (via The Playlist):

Rust Film

Description from Sundance: "Tati and Renet are high school students who share an instant connection over social media that deepens during a class trip. Their nascent relationship screeches to a halt the next day, though, once Tati discovers that her lost phone has resulted in the leaking of an intimate video to the entire school. Desperate for answers and frustrated at the shaming that ensues, Tati tries to hold her head high even as her resolve threatens to crumble. Simultaneously, Renet grapples with instability at home, where his separated parents vie for control over what is best for their children, and their fragmented parenting starts to take its toll." Rust, or Ferrugem in Portuguese, is both written and directed by Brazilian filmmaker Aly Muritiba, his second film after To My Beloved previously. The script is also co-written by Jessica Candal. This is premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. It is currently still seeking distribution. Stay tuned.

Source: http://ift.tt/g0Io3r

Fellini’s Fancy: Close-Up on “The White Sheik” and “Nights of Cabiria”

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik (1952) is showing January 20 – February 19, 2018 and Nights of Cabiria (1957) from January 21 – February 20, 2018 on MUBI in the United States. 
The White Sheik
Even the most straight-faced Federico Fellini film veers toward the illusory. From the lackadaisical daydreams of wayward young men to the ingenuousness of a simple-minded woman wanting nothing more than to be loved in a world that is anything but loving, his characters regularly search for something so perceptibly near and so conceivably real, yet something often revealed to be deceptive at best, nonexistent at worst. And when he applies this tendency with extravagant conviction, enhancing the whimsy further toward the fantastic, the result is something for which an adjective had to be created: “Felliniesque.” Variety Lights (1950), the first film Fellini directed—in collaboration with Alberto Lattuada—revolved around the world of vaudeville, so its prevalent leanings were inherent in its contrived subject matter. His first solo effort, however, 1952’s The White Sheik, began to pull the curtain back on how manipulative, misleading fantasy could collide and collude with reality, and by the time of Nights of Cabiria, in 1957, on the heels of the similarly skeptical La strada (1954) and Il bidone (1955), reality had started to triumph in this topical contest, making idealistic contemplation a day-to-day struggle.
Affirming the individual, occasionally opposing nature of desire, there are two separate fantasies at play in The White Sheik. The first belongs to Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), a painfully-stressed man whose primary concern is the proper presentation of he and his ornamental new wife. Fresh off the train from more provincial lands, he plans to present his spouse to his dignified Roman family, who have in turn arranged an appointment at the Vatican to see the Pope. As timid as Ivan is animated, his wife, Wanda (Brunella Bovo), has her own agenda. Aloof and reticent (informed of the papal meeting, the soft-spoken innocent meekly inquires, “Will I have to speak?”), she is enamored with the action-packed, soap opera photo comic, “The White Sheik,” and assuming the fan-girl pseudonym Passionate Dolly, she hopes to meet the gallant hero himself. Obsessed with the flawless execution of his visit, Ivan frets about familial prospects and fervently endeavors to live up to any and all expectations (making sure Wanda does the same). Hinging on a successful first impression, his idealized framework results in strained formality and preparatory rigor, advocating a meticulous itinerary and reluctantly acquiescing to potential frivolities (like extra money for a hot bath). Yet despite his envisaged supervision, Ivan’s best laid plans are upended when Wanda slips away, just as his family enters the picture.
For Wanda, her utopian fixation is part of a resolute inner life, a private passion that not only contrasts with Ivan’s vociferous, superficial preoccupation (keeping up appearances), but suggests the secretive temperament of this burgeoning couple. For however long their courtship has lasted, she has suppressed a reserved identity that will only be exposed when she finally meets the fumetti star, Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi), at which time her quixotic illusions—the illusion of the comic itself and the illusion of the actor’s persona—will mix and mingle and ultimately dissolve. Introduced as he swings impossibly high in the treetops, landing with inflated flourish, Rivoli appears to live up to Wanda’s impressive ideal. In regrettably short order, though, the truth of the situation presents itself, and Rivoli becomes anything but the incarnation of his dashing, daring protagonist. The egotistical celebrity takes advantage of his fictional personality, taking advantage of Wanda along the way, as she struggles to differentiate between the performer and the creation. However, as the layers of illusion unravel, this façade likewise crumbles when the shoot begins and the director steps in as the authoritative voice, illuminating the assembly of the comic narrative and the fictionalized roles. With a diffident, drifting smile, Wanda fails to grasp the display at first; even against the backdrop of fake reactions, affected postures, and the behind-the-scenes indifference of cast and crew, her devotion is so sincere and heartfelt that the deception fades in the face of her piety.
Through the course of her devastating awakening, it’s easy to feel bad for Wanda. “Life is a dream,” she dejectedly concedes, summarizing the core of Fellini’s fancy, “but sometimes a dream is a bottomless pit.” On the other hand, as enacted by high-tension Trieste, who had little prior acting experience, as opposed to Bovo, who had the year prior appeared in Vittorio De Sica’s thematically comparable Miracle in Milan, Ivan’s plight is equally tragic, albeit less heartbreaking. (Interestingly, it would be Trieste who developed an extensive film career, with more than one hundred credits to his name, while Bovo stopped acting in the 1960s.) Ivan expects the worst when he sees Wanda’s gushing fan letter (and maybe, truth be told, she hopes for it a little bit too), so he subsequently spends much of the film in a state of comic bewilderment, tending to his family, maintaining the charade that Wanda is simply sick, and, finally, breaking down in sweaty, tizzy hysterics, eventually going to the police with his “delicate matter.”
During his woeful nocturnal roaming, Ivan encounters an inquisitive prostitute named Cabiria. As he weeps by a fountain, she intrudes: “Hey, you! Are you going to kill yourself?” Cabiria derives hilariously inappropriate amusement from his sorrow, with equal parts sympathy and fascination, which makes his traumatic quandary that much funnier—keep in mind, after all, we know he has nothing to worry about, and when he doles out photos of Wanda as an infant, during grade school, and at her first communion, the mania is rather laughable. In the end, following this night of despair, all is reasonably well-resolved for Wanda and Ivan, and though her conjured notions were thoroughly exhausted, at least his fundamental plot was accomplishment.
But all is not settled with The White Sheik, and it wasn’t for Fellini either. What of this Cabiria character, this diminutive strumpet who made such an imprint during her brief walk-on? Played by Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife of nearly ten years by that point, this peripheral figure evolved into the impetus for her own film, and when she is introduced some five years later in Nights of Cabiria, it is now she who is subject to abuse and ridicule. Robbed and thrown into the Tiber River by her pimp-boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi), Cabiria is rescued by some bystander children (like Masina’s Gelsomina in La strada, she has a way with kids, even one who sardonically calls out: “She lives the life!”). Nearly dead within the first five minutes, it’s an inauspicious start for this errant heroine. Looking like a drowned rat, she trudges home to her friend and neighbor, Wanda (Franca Marzi), who provides cold comfort: that’s life, and this guy was no good anyway. In Cabiria’s world, there is little room for fanciful notions of romance and fidelity (which is why she is later so reluctant to accept the ostensible kindness of François Périer’s Oscar). Bristling with sass and skepticism, Cabiria resists the unlikely deceptions of fictional invention or the tantalizing realities of decency, peace, and prosperity.
Much like Trieste, only more so, Masina is a dynamic physical performer. While he is all gaping eyes and fretful contortions, she inelegantly clomps around and breaks into impromptu dances, with irregular kicks, twists, and a shake of the rump, all supporting the remnants of a bubbling vivacity beneath her taciturn exterior. In these moments of natural movement, there is a hint of latent buoyancy and innocence, a joy ground down by a life on the street. Trieste and Bovo do fine work in The White Sheik, but Masina is the unequivocal star of the show when it comes to Nights of Cabiria. It’s a phenomenal, sensitive performance, which earned her the Best Actress award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival (the movie would also be Fellini’s second straight to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). Inevitable comparisons arise between Masina and Charlie Chaplin, by Fellini himself among others, but that affinity takes away from her own unique gifts, her own brand of tragicomic mimicry, her cosmetic motifs and prominent costuming, and her evocative gestures and facial expressions. It’s everything that makes her the singular female embodiment of Fellini’s visionary reverie.
Masina’s conduct must be vigorous, for Cabiria inhabits a vibrant, dramatic domain, with hot-blooded hustlers teasing and goading one another in an attempt to establish their street side supremacy. It’s a decidedly different setting than that of The White Sheik, where the daytime depiction of Rome is as a dazzling tourist epicenter shaped by aspiring impressions of architectural, historical, and cultural significance. At night, when the city had haunted the solitary paths of Ivan and Wanda, in Nights of Cabiria, this is when Fellini illuminates Rome in all its lively, sordid charm, revealing the illusions of the city itself, the veneer of urbane exhibition and the realities of back alley decadence. Location shooting certainly lends each film an air of authenticity (compared to the formulated sets Fellini would later utilize), but the visuals also designate divergent scenic impressions; see the amiable pliability of Arturo Gallea’s cinematography on The White Sheik against the direct, harsh light of Aldo Tonti’s on The Nights of Cabiria. Correspondingly, while some derided The White Sheik and its political apathy,as a blatant departure from the still-prevailing trend of Italian Neo-Realism, which had all but ceased by the time of Nights of Cabiria, the latter film took a more cynical view of reality, contrasting the social spheres of pimps and prostitutes with that of the callous bourgeoisie. (Tellingly, The White Sheik was conceived as the feature debut of Michelangelo Antonioni, who contributed to the story and had already made a documentary on fotofomanzi magazines in 1948, while Nights of Cabiria included Pier Paolo Pasolini among its originators.) In any case, both films proffer the conservative ideals of home ownership, a stable, heterosexual relationship, and the manifestation of economic success.
For all of her bluster, and as much as she is a hardened product of her environment, Cabiria surrenders to her own wishful, borderline blind naïveté, insisting, for instance, that she fell in the river and Giorgio simply got scared and ran away. Significant insight into her capacity for delusion and truth also develops when she happens upon movie star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari), “Mr. Mustache,” as she soon christens the actor. Dazzled by the notion of a night with a celebrity (making sure the other ladies see her latest patron), her enthusiasm wanes when the evening leads to one awkward scenario after another. His stratum is one in which she clearly does not feel comfortable, despite her professed yearnings. She gets lost in swanky nightclub curtains, is baffled by the rhythms of the Mambo, and is later astounded by classical music, champagne, caviar, and lobster (“I saw it in a movie once,” she says, observing the monstrous shellfish). Indeed, this is just another fantasy ruined by bitter reality, as Lazzari’s jilted lover returns and Cabiria is left to spend the night stuck in his bathroom looking through a key hole; it’s the ultimate image of rejection and detachment, a pain Fellini and Masina later alleviate (for the viewer at least) as Cabiria smacks into a glass door on her way out of the house.
Against her better judgement, Cabiria eventually gives in to the charms of Oscar, the stranger she meets outside a theater. Mutual deception abounds, though, and before long, the bottom drops out. Cruel fate turns this unlikely romance into an all-too-predictable tragedy. Otherwise hardened and incredulous in so many ways, Cabiria remains open to fantasy, a testament to her dormant sanguinity and the buried hope that perhaps things can get better. She isn’t asking for empathy, and it’s not entirely her fault she briefly has faith in humanity—why shouldn’t she have her own illusions! Fellini once said that of all his characters, Cabiria was the only one he was still worried about, yet by the film’s end, seeming to forget the futility of it all, there she is, among a band of revelers, cracking a smile. Only someone like Fellini could have a character bounce back after so much, and only Masina could make it believable.
If not quite to the escalating extent of La dolce vita (1960) and(1963), Fellini was already embracing the satirical, carnivalesque atmosphere that would soon define his cinema. In The White Sheik, one sees this during the extended photo shoot, an absurdly frenzied situation set to the tune of a frenetic and formally reflexive circus score by Nino Rota. Although this sequence isn’t born from the vagaries of a specific character (unlike the cinematic dreams of director Guido in ), it nevertheless imparts the fabricated essence of performance and illusion. With an episodic structure yielding itinerant breaks from its fundamental story, Nights of Cabiria similarly features moments of spectacular richness. This includes the enigmatic delicacy of the so-called “Man with a Sack” sequence, which follows the eponymous character (played by the film’s editor, Leo Catozzo) as he disburses sustenance to impoverished cave dwellers. Representing to Cabiria an image of untarnished compassion, it is a touching digression initially cut from the picture; inexplicably, the Catholic Church decried the depiction of someone other than a clerical representative doing good deeds to help the less fortunate.
Even more astounding is the procession to the Shrine of the Madonna of Divine Love, one of the most powerful and transcendent moments in Fellini’s oeuvre. The overwhelming mood of sacred madness, gaudy adornment, and passionate devotion proves too much for terrified Cabiria. “Stay close,” she implores Wanda. “What happens next? … I feel so strange.” Succumbing to the zealous hysteria, she lets loose and pleads, “Make me change my life!” Still, sometime later, after the crowd has died down and the faithful furor has subsided, Cabiria resentfully reflects: “We haven’t changed,” she laments. “We’re all the same.” And though she later trades the tease of this healing treatment for the potential trickery of another fantasy, this time at the hands of a hypnotist magician, that too disappoints, again leaving no permanent impact.
In a way, the suggestion of this profoundly compelling scene is antithetical to Fellini’s subsequent career, which moved further and further from any semblance of concrete practicality, as if he, too, preferred to fall back on illusion. Despite the negative impact on his early characters, he also opted for fantasy above all else, for fabrication. It became his favored rendering of filmic materiality, and it’s what imbued in his movies that instantly identifiable ambiance and spirit. It wasn’t about presenting life as it was, submitted persuasively for the medium. It was about taking that reality and transforming it into something unique, something beyond everyday experience, something inspired and fertile. It was—and remains—just as Leopoldo Trieste stated: Fellini “brought cinema to life.”

Source: http://ift.tt/KPhYBm

Fellini’s Fancy: Close-Up on “The White Sheik” and “Nights of Cabiria”

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Federico Fellini’s The White Sheik (1952) is showing January 20 – February 19, 2018 and Nights of Cabiria (1957) from January 21 – February 20, 2018 on MUBI in the United States. 
The White Sheik
Even the most straight-faced Federico Fellini film veers toward the illusory. From the lackadaisical daydreams of wayward young men to the ingenuousness of a simple-minded woman wanting nothing more than to be loved in a world that is anything but loving, his characters regularly search for something so perceptibly near and so conceivably real, yet something often revealed to be deceptive at best, nonexistent at worst. And when he applies this tendency with extravagant conviction, enhancing the whimsy further toward the fantastic, the result is something for which an adjective had to be created: “Felliniesque.” Variety Lights (1950), the first film Fellini directed—in collaboration with Alberto Lattuada—revolved around the world of vaudeville, so its prevalent leanings were inherent in its contrived subject matter. His first solo effort, however, 1952’s The White Sheik, began to pull the curtain back on how manipulative, misleading fantasy could collide and collude with reality, and by the time of Nights of Cabiria, in 1957, on the heels of the similarly skeptical La strada (1954) and Il bidone (1955), reality had started to triumph in this topical contest, making idealistic contemplation a day-to-day struggle.
Affirming the individual, occasionally opposing nature of desire, there are two separate fantasies at play in The White Sheik. The first belongs to Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), a painfully-stressed man whose primary concern is the proper presentation of he and his ornamental new wife. Fresh off the train from more provincial lands, he plans to present his spouse to his dignified Roman family, who have in turn arranged an appointment at the Vatican to see the Pope. As timid as Ivan is animated, his wife, Wanda (Brunella Bovo), has her own agenda. Aloof and reticent (informed of the papal meeting, the soft-spoken innocent meekly inquires, “Will I have to speak?”), she is enamored with the action-packed, soap opera photo comic, “The White Sheik,” and assuming the fan-girl pseudonym Passionate Dolly, she hopes to meet the gallant hero himself. Obsessed with the flawless execution of his visit, Ivan frets about familial prospects and fervently endeavors to live up to any and all expectations (making sure Wanda does the same). Hinging on a successful first impression, his idealized framework results in strained formality and preparatory rigor, advocating a meticulous itinerary and reluctantly acquiescing to potential frivolities (like extra money for a hot bath). Yet despite his envisaged supervision, Ivan’s best laid plans are upended when Wanda slips away, just as his family enters the picture.
For Wanda, her utopian fixation is part of a resolute inner life, a private passion that not only contrasts with Ivan’s vociferous, superficial preoccupation (keeping up appearances), but suggests the secretive temperament of this burgeoning couple. For however long their courtship has lasted, she has suppressed a reserved identity that will only be exposed when she finally meets the fumetti star, Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi), at which time her quixotic illusions—the illusion of the comic itself and the illusion of the actor’s persona—will mix and mingle and ultimately dissolve. Introduced as he swings impossibly high in the treetops, landing with inflated flourish, Rivoli appears to live up to Wanda’s impressive ideal. In regrettably short order, though, the truth of the situation presents itself, and Rivoli becomes anything but the incarnation of his dashing, daring protagonist. The egotistical celebrity takes advantage of his fictional personality, taking advantage of Wanda along the way, as she struggles to differentiate between the performer and the creation. However, as the layers of illusion unravel, this façade likewise crumbles when the shoot begins and the director steps in as the authoritative voice, illuminating the assembly of the comic narrative and the fictionalized roles. With a diffident, drifting smile, Wanda fails to grasp the display at first; even against the backdrop of fake reactions, affected postures, and the behind-the-scenes indifference of cast and crew, her devotion is so sincere and heartfelt that the deception fades in the face of her piety.
Through the course of her devastating awakening, it’s easy to feel bad for Wanda. “Life is a dream,” she dejectedly concedes, summarizing the core of Fellini’s fancy, “but sometimes a dream is a bottomless pit.” On the other hand, as enacted by high-tension Trieste, who had little prior acting experience, as opposed to Bovo, who had the year prior appeared in Vittorio De Sica’s thematically comparable Miracle in Milan, Ivan’s plight is equally tragic, albeit less heartbreaking. (Interestingly, it would be Trieste who developed an extensive film career, with more than one hundred credits to his name, while Bovo stopped acting in the 1960s.) Ivan expects the worst when he sees Wanda’s gushing fan letter (and maybe, truth be told, she hopes for it a little bit too), so he subsequently spends much of the film in a state of comic bewilderment, tending to his family, maintaining the charade that Wanda is simply sick, and, finally, breaking down in sweaty, tizzy hysterics, eventually going to the police with his “delicate matter.”
During his woeful nocturnal roaming, Ivan encounters an inquisitive prostitute named Cabiria. As he weeps by a fountain, she intrudes: “Hey, you! Are you going to kill yourself?” Cabiria derives hilariously inappropriate amusement from his sorrow, with equal parts sympathy and fascination, which makes his traumatic quandary that much funnier—keep in mind, after all, we know he has nothing to worry about, and when he doles out photos of Wanda as an infant, during grade school, and at her first communion, the mania is rather laughable. In the end, following this night of despair, all is reasonably well-resolved for Wanda and Ivan, and though her conjured notions were thoroughly exhausted, at least his fundamental plot was accomplishment.
But all is not settled with The White Sheik, and it wasn’t for Fellini either. What of this Cabiria character, this diminutive strumpet who made such an imprint during her brief walk-on? Played by Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife of nearly ten years by that point, this peripheral figure evolved into the impetus for her own film, and when she is introduced some five years later in Nights of Cabiria, it is now she who is subject to abuse and ridicule. Robbed and thrown into the Tiber River by her pimp-boyfriend, Giorgio (Franco Fabrizi), Cabiria is rescued by some bystander children (like Masina’s Gelsomina in La strada, she has a way with kids, even one who sardonically calls out: “She lives the life!”). Nearly dead within the first five minutes, it’s an inauspicious start for this errant heroine. Looking like a drowned rat, she trudges home to her friend and neighbor, Wanda (Franca Marzi), who provides cold comfort: that’s life, and this guy was no good anyway. In Cabiria’s world, there is little room for fanciful notions of romance and fidelity (which is why she is later so reluctant to accept the ostensible kindness of François Périer’s Oscar). Bristling with sass and skepticism, Cabiria resists the unlikely deceptions of fictional invention or the tantalizing realities of decency, peace, and prosperity.
Much like Trieste, only more so, Masina is a dynamic physical performer. While he is all gaping eyes and fretful contortions, she inelegantly clomps around and breaks into impromptu dances, with irregular kicks, twists, and a shake of the rump, all supporting the remnants of a bubbling vivacity beneath her taciturn exterior. In these moments of natural movement, there is a hint of latent buoyancy and innocence, a joy ground down by a life on the street. Trieste and Bovo do fine work in The White Sheik, but Masina is the unequivocal star of the show when it comes to Nights of Cabiria. It’s a phenomenal, sensitive performance, which earned her the Best Actress award at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival (the movie would also be Fellini’s second straight to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). Inevitable comparisons arise between Masina and Charlie Chaplin, by Fellini himself among others, but that affinity takes away from her own unique gifts, her own brand of tragicomic mimicry, her cosmetic motifs and prominent costuming, and her evocative gestures and facial expressions. It’s everything that makes her the singular female embodiment of Fellini’s visionary reverie.
Masina’s conduct must be vigorous, for Cabiria inhabits a vibrant, dramatic domain, with hot-blooded hustlers teasing and goading one another in an attempt to establish their street side supremacy. It’s a decidedly different setting than that of The White Sheik, where the daytime depiction of Rome is as a dazzling tourist epicenter shaped by aspiring impressions of architectural, historical, and cultural significance. At night, when the city had haunted the solitary paths of Ivan and Wanda, in Nights of Cabiria, this is when Fellini illuminates Rome in all its lively, sordid charm, revealing the illusions of the city itself, the veneer of urbane exhibition and the realities of back alley decadence. Location shooting certainly lends each film an air of authenticity (compared to the formulated sets Fellini would later utilize), but the visuals also designate divergent scenic impressions; see the amiable pliability of Arturo Gallea’s cinematography on The White Sheik against the direct, harsh light of Aldo Tonti’s on The Nights of Cabiria. Correspondingly, while some derided The White Sheik and its political apathy,as a blatant departure from the still-prevailing trend of Italian Neo-Realism, which had all but ceased by the time of Nights of Cabiria, the latter film took a more cynical view of reality, contrasting the social spheres of pimps and prostitutes with that of the callous bourgeoisie. (Tellingly, The White Sheik was conceived as the feature debut of Michelangelo Antonioni, who contributed to the story and had already made a documentary on fotofomanzi magazines in 1948, while Nights of Cabiria included Pier Paolo Pasolini among its originators.) In any case, both films proffer the conservative ideals of home ownership, a stable, heterosexual relationship, and the manifestation of economic success.
For all of her bluster, and as much as she is a hardened product of her environment, Cabiria surrenders to her own wishful, borderline blind naïveté, insisting, for instance, that she fell in the river and Giorgio simply got scared and ran away. Significant insight into her capacity for delusion and truth also develops when she happens upon movie star Alberto Lazzari (Amedeo Nazzari), “Mr. Mustache,” as she soon christens the actor. Dazzled by the notion of a night with a celebrity (making sure the other ladies see her latest patron), her enthusiasm wanes when the evening leads to one awkward scenario after another. His stratum is one in which she clearly does not feel comfortable, despite her professed yearnings. She gets lost in swanky nightclub curtains, is baffled by the rhythms of the Mambo, and is later astounded by classical music, champagne, caviar, and lobster (“I saw it in a movie once,” she says, observing the monstrous shellfish). Indeed, this is just another fantasy ruined by bitter reality, as Lazzari’s jilted lover returns and Cabiria is left to spend the night stuck in his bathroom looking through a key hole; it’s the ultimate image of rejection and detachment, a pain Fellini and Masina later alleviate (for the viewer at least) as Cabiria smacks into a glass door on her way out of the house.
Against her better judgement, Cabiria eventually gives in to the charms of Oscar, the stranger she meets outside a theater. Mutual deception abounds, though, and before long, the bottom drops out. Cruel fate turns this unlikely romance into an all-too-predictable tragedy. Otherwise hardened and incredulous in so many ways, Cabiria remains open to fantasy, a testament to her dormant sanguinity and the buried hope that perhaps things can get better. She isn’t asking for empathy, and it’s not entirely her fault she briefly has faith in humanity—why shouldn’t she have her own illusions! Fellini once said that of all his characters, Cabiria was the only one he was still worried about, yet by the film’s end, seeming to forget the futility of it all, there she is, among a band of revelers, cracking a smile. Only someone like Fellini could have a character bounce back after so much, and only Masina could make it believable.
If not quite to the escalating extent of La dolce vita (1960) and(1963), Fellini was already embracing the satirical, carnivalesque atmosphere that would soon define his cinema. In The White Sheik, one sees this during the extended photo shoot, an absurdly frenzied situation set to the tune of a frenetic and formally reflexive circus score by Nino Rota. Although this sequence isn’t born from the vagaries of a specific character (unlike the cinematic dreams of director Guido in ), it nevertheless imparts the fabricated essence of performance and illusion. With an episodic structure yielding itinerant breaks from its fundamental story, Nights of Cabiria similarly features moments of spectacular richness. This includes the enigmatic delicacy of the so-called “Man with a Sack” sequence, which follows the eponymous character (played by the film’s editor, Leo Catozzo) as he disburses sustenance to impoverished cave dwellers. Representing to Cabiria an image of untarnished compassion, it is a touching digression initially cut from the picture; inexplicably, the Catholic Church decried the depiction of someone other than a clerical representative doing good deeds to help the less fortunate.
Even more astounding is the procession to the Shrine of the Madonna of Divine Love, one of the most powerful and transcendent moments in Fellini’s oeuvre. The overwhelming mood of sacred madness, gaudy adornment, and passionate devotion proves too much for terrified Cabiria. “Stay close,” she implores Wanda. “What happens next? … I feel so strange.” Succumbing to the zealous hysteria, she lets loose and pleads, “Make me change my life!” Still, sometime later, after the crowd has died down and the faithful furor has subsided, Cabiria resentfully reflects: “We haven’t changed,” she laments. “We’re all the same.” And though she later trades the tease of this healing treatment for the potential trickery of another fantasy, this time at the hands of a hypnotist magician, that too disappoints, again leaving no permanent impact.
In a way, the suggestion of this profoundly compelling scene is antithetical to Fellini’s subsequent career, which moved further and further from any semblance of concrete practicality, as if he, too, preferred to fall back on illusion. Despite the negative impact on his early characters, he also opted for fantasy above all else, for fabrication. It became his favored rendering of filmic materiality, and it’s what imbued in his movies that instantly identifiable ambiance and spirit. It wasn’t about presenting life as it was, submitted persuasively for the medium. It was about taking that reality and transforming it into something unique, something beyond everyday experience, something inspired and fertile. It was—and remains—just as Leopoldo Trieste stated: Fellini “brought cinema to life.”

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Sundance 2018: “White Rabbit,” “Clara’s Ghost”

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Daryl Wein’s "Lola Versus" had the clear objective of propelling the career of a budding actress named Greta Gerwig further into the film world. At this year’s Sundance, Wein attempts the same with Korean-American artist Vivian Bang. Wein and Bang have co-written a story that essentially introduces her to the world, to the tune of her own fanfare but welcoming us to join. “White Rabbit,” which premiered today as part of the forward-thinking NEXT competition, has the kind of career-making performance that gets you to know a fresh performer so well, but it also leaves a great impression of fer potential. And if Bang is allowed to build on this showcase in future projects, the film scene will be better and all the more original for it. 

With Wein confirming during the World Premiere introduction that the movie is inspired by her work in real life, the movie starts with Bang making her original art: standing in the middle of a corporate grocery store in a blonde wig and white jumpsuit, talking into a microphone and portable speaker using an exaggerated accent. She is creating art that is very much her, and while she does not interact with people in this place or during other occasions, Bang is heard as she successfully occupies the space. It makes for a striking visual, similar to when she presses her face into piles of food in front of her iPhone camera, to later be uploaded to YouTube. But as she later tells her mother, who thinks that she’s a sculptor, “It’s not art that people can buy.” 

Unabashed creative expression is just one compelling facet of Bang, who creates a full character throughout “White Rabbit”’s 71-minute running time, which consists mostly of Wein’s albeit standard cinematic vision filming her character, Sophia, conversing with other women of color but being 100% herself. She meets Victoria Ghana (Nana Ghana), who turns out to be a photographer with similar perspectives on being a “hyphen American,” but they also take genuine interest in each other. Ghana too makes a strong impression in a role that becomes more complicated as Sophia has feelings but Victoria may not, portraying someone who is less lonely than Sophia. 

But the movie is certainly Bang’s moment to shine, taking on moments that are curious (smashing her face into a pile of Cheetos, and then studying herself in the phone) and comedic (an angry conversation, with microphone in hand) with zeal. The script that Wein and Bang have written doesn’t always seem to take advantage of her abilities (and there’s an emotional conversation with an ex-girlfriend that feels forced) but that does leave the viewer wanting more. 

Within the triumphant progressiveness of “White Rabbit” there is also a degree of preachiness that might divide viewers. But even in the way that Sophia speaks into a microphone with a mini-speaker, “White Rabbit” owns this attitude, and creates an immediacy to it. This is the rare movie that feels like it comes from 2018, where people are talking daily about racial tension and various facets of identity. With credit to the script, the movie is funny about this in some cases too, like when the white Wein takes a shot at his own storytelling process by having Sophia interact with a director who wants to cast her for just a few lines, and with the accent. A walking embodiment of white guilt, the director fetishizes her “struggle” as a Korean-American, and shows a counterproductive brand of woke-ness. But even when touching about these ideas, the movie is more than its lead’s race, talking about these things initially so that other ideas can be brought to the forefront, such as Vivian’s artistry, or her difficulty with women. 

In a way that in part makes me like Sundance just a little bit more, there are huge landmarks that happen in this movie. Women of color speak extensively about much more than their gender or their race, and are given space to become complicated, funny, to be creative and to be weird. A lot of what happens in “White Rabbit” should not have to be considered a headline, but with filmmaking’s clear deficit of perspectives, it is. But here’s a much more joyous headline: Vivian Bang is a Star.

I was not aware there were so many artistic Elliotts until I went to Sundance. Meaning, the family of comedian Chris Elliott, from the likes of “Kingpin,” is much more than his familiar face now: it’s burgeoning writer/director Bridey Elliott, former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Abby Elliott, and mother of the house, Paula Niedert Elliott, previously with no acting credit. For her directorial debut, Bridey Elliott writes about what she knows: that she has a funny, raucous family, and that her mother has been relatively out of the spotlight, until now. 

Like a family-cast mumblecore movie with tinges of horror, “Clara’s Ghost” focuses on the Elliotts, starting with her parents. In this case, they are known as the Reynolds, but Chris Elliott’s character is now named Ted, and is alluded to have some type of noteworthy acting career at some point. Clara (played by Paula Niedert Elliott), has taken a more domestic role in the house, always cleaning after. At the beginning of the movie, she’s already a shade of Gena Rowlands in “A Woman Under the Influence,” pleading to cops to help her find a lost shoe. But in a more direct way, something is off with Clara, as she sees visions of a woman who lived in their old Connecticut house years ago. Sometimes the score clues us into an emerging creepiness, and that often involves the mystery woman getting closer and closer each time Clara sees her. 

Writer/director Bridey and sister Abby show up soon enough as two sisters, this time with a juvenile show in their past (an interesting fictional addition to a story that likes to dabble in reality). They’re both actors in different places in their careers, facing the jealousy from their father who just got kicked off a production (for being an asshole, nonetheless). This leads to a type of tension that plays throughout the night as the family drinks a lot, while minimizing the presence of a wacked-out Clara. In this instance, whether the script is trying to be funny or taking a slow-burn psychological route, the movie operates with the flat idea of an outcast family member, and doesn’t build upon it so much as tease it. Sometimes it seems like something wild is about to happen, and in other instances its the ho-hum of a random flower pot almost falling on someone’s head. 

“Clara’s Ghost” has the unique appeal of being an all-out family affair, and we get to see the Elliotts do it all, often to the detriment of a 90-minute running time. They laugh, they sing, they dance, they make pussy jokes and drink a lot. Elliott creates a free flowing atmosphere but having a likable cast only fills the space so much; instead of picking up speed, “Clara’s Ghost” more often feels directionless and tedious. Even the various moments that are given to Paula Neidert Elliott to perform are amusing more than captivating, and overstay their welcome. And as the story makes her at first frightened and then strange, the script dissolves into weak bits of shock laughter.  

Just as the movie is fueled by its personal nature, so does it seem to strictly come from Elliott’s taste and interests, of which your alignment may vary. It greatly depends on how much you enjoy spending time with her family, if you find their off-hand banter funny and their meta references to being Elliotts interesting. It also depends on what you want out of movies that have some inkling of horror. With either of these genre elements, to her credit, she plays by her own rules. But I found neither the family comedy or the ghostly ingredients to be particularly potent, and whenever they did get blended it didn’t make for a strong mix.

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