Last year, The Film Experience welcomed a new series, Cannes at Home. While the works of the world’s greatest authors were created on the Croisette, the project was an aid in the fight against FOMO for those who had not had the chance to attend the event. Now is the time to present a new initiative focused on the Venice Film Festival and its official selection. From August 31 to September 10, this series will examine the past works of the many filmmakers currently presenting their films in competition, offering a parallel program that you can enjoy at home. At the same time, Elisa Giudici will be in Venice to inform us of the festivities.
First, there’s the opening movie – White noise. While waiting for the arrival of Noah Baumbach’s latest, let’s recall the director’s story…
Looking at every feature film Noah Baumbach has directed makes it easy to divide the man’s career into phases. From 1995 to 1997, these are the beginnings of the author as we know him, always in the shadow of confirmed filmmakers like Whit Stillman or Woody Allen. Kicks and screams, Mr Jealousyand high ball represent a triptych of youthful cynicism with a city touch and a hint of intellectualist contempt. They feel like they call to mind the work of others due to their cast, language and rhythms while nodding towards a new specificity that will become evident in the director’s later endeavors.
And then, Baumbach didn’t make any feature films until 2005. The squid and the whaleinterrupting his inactivity as a director only to make a quick and cheap short film in 2000, Conrad & Butler take a vacation. Perhaps because of the time between projects, the filmmaker’s return brings a point of rupture and renewal, a new stage in his career where humanist sensibilities gradually temper the cynicism of yesteryear. The mind is always sharp but not insensitive. Whispers of self-criticism turned into caustic cries, reverberating through studies of people whose flaws the camera ruthlessly reveals.
These projects include another triptych composed of The squid and the whale, Margot at the weddingand Greenberg. On the latter, Baumbach worked for the first time with Greta Gerwig, their connection inviting further development in the director’s style and concerns. Significantly, this is also when he split from Jennifer Jason Leigh and began a romantic relationship with Gerwig that would juxtapose their creative partnership. Frances Ha and Mistress America played this actress-turned-muse in high-profile roles while calling her a co-writer.
Indeed, even working in an auteurist state of mind, it is not difficult to see Gerwig as the author of these films alongside his director. Arguably, When we were young is also part of these considerations, reflecting a generational clash between artistic and romantic collaborators. Baumbach began by dissecting a specific generation to which he belongs, and in these films from the 2010s that focus shifts to young people with whom he can identify, albeit from a significant distance. Such concerns continue to surface in The Meyerowitz stories while pointing in the direction of the questions of art and artists.
The From Palma documentary is a journey through the work of another filmmaker, while Marriage story suggests memorial reflections on Baumbach himself, Adam Driver coming to occupy the role of symbolic avatar played until then by Ben Stiller, Jesse Eisenberg and sometimes Noah Baumbach in the rare times he was part of the cast of his film. not having seen White noise, I wonder if it supports these readings on the evolution of the director as an artist, his progressive maturation. On sight unseen, it certainly looks like a departure with its period setting, gargantuan budget, and screenplay adapted from Don DeLillo’s disastrous satire.
And even, White noise it’s also a kind of reunion, a return to the beaten track of Baumbach’s filmography. Greta Gerwig is back for a fourth film with her partner sitting in the director’s chair, while Adam Driver cements his place of honor in Baumbach’s cast of regulars. Do you remember the last time these three apparently worked together on a feature film?
FRENCH HA (2012)
If there’s one Noah Baumbach film I would recommend and happily call my favorite, it has to be this first attempt at co-writing a screenplay with Greta Gerwig. Appealing to New Wave aesthetics and a loose structure, Frances Ha is a picaresque journey through the dilemmas and anxieties of twenty-somethings living in New York. Her struggle to earn a living, to connect, to find a home after her best friend moves from Brooklyn to Tribeca forms the basis of a rapid rumination that feels grounded in authenticity, touched by an immature nostalgia.
Looking back over my 28 years through 28 films, I mentioned the experience of watching Frances Ha in a theatre, how the sensations of this lonely afternoon have marked me over time. Such memories predominate, fragments in an impressionistic collage that makes up his past. I mention these flowery notions because, from a particular point of view, Frances Ha resembles this ineffable collage. What some call meandering and aimless in the film, I find evocative, a bizarre sense of what is both immediate and long gone.
Plus, it’s a generous film that circumvents the sneering attitude of Baumbach’s 1990s portrayals of a similar background. He doesn’t judge too harshly or idealize the characters running through the streets, reciting dances, perhaps to themselves. Frances Ha is that rare case where something is so specific to its time and place that it achieves an eerie version of irrelevant timelessness, ringing true even if infuriating, endearing even if it risks alienation. A storm of contradictions swirls around Greta Gerwig’s Frances, and, miraculously, the performance combined with the text somehow does the undoable job – it anchors Noah Baumbach’s best film yet.
Frances Ha is streaming on AMC+, the Criterion Channel, Kanopy and DirecTV.
What is your favorite Noah Baumbach movie? Are you also fascinated by his collaborations with Gerwig, or do you prefer his earlier works, perhaps the drama of Marriage story?