This week, I take a look at two under-seen movies about movies now on VOD. Both boast a heightened self-awareness and a director interested in commenting on the medium. Of course, films like Truffaut's "Night and Day," Godard's "Contempt" and Fellini's "8 ½" are the crowning achievements of this meta genre, but more great examples have followed by young and passionate directors who want to make some kind of aesthetic sense of their movie madness.
You're never meant to forget that writer-director Hong Sang-soo's "In Another Country" (MUBI) is a movie, because it is actually three movies, all starring Isabelle Huppert, with subtle details that appear in each vignette, like an umbrella or a broken bottle on the beach, to suggest some sort of connectivity. This delicate, ephemeral feature is from Hong, the Korean auteur who never sleeps. Typically he churns our two or three films in a given year, and they all concern literate film-loving people with a wealth of cultural capital who stay up late talking over pints of beer and cigarettes. There is some of that in "In Another Country," but this is also Hong's chance to play with the possibilities of cinema, bankrupt its conventions and essentially direct a film three different ways.
All smart, highbrow directors eventually come to Isabelle Huppert, the doyenne of the international art film, who plays three women at various stages of existential and romantic crises. In the first segment, she plays a film director location scouting a seaside resort in South Korea (who some say is inspired by Claire Denis); in the next, she's the bored wife of a businessman on a jaunt with her Korean lover; and in the third, Huppert is a divorced housewife looking for a getaway.
The frame story surrounding this airy, charming triptych is that of young Korean woman with family issues of her own who is drafting ideas for a screenplay. These are her sketches. And so "In Another Country" allows us to see that creative process reenacted, as Hong remakes and rewrites a movie thrice over, and finally allowing each to settle into a pleasant, satisfying whole.
A completely different movie about movies, "David Holzman's Diary" is the crude cinema verite equivalent of the Selfie. In Jim McBride's film (now on Fandor) a sociopathic cinephile (L.M. Kit Carson) , after a breakup, wants to make a movie of his life and unpack the artistic demons in his head. The film-within-the-film poses as a documentary but is actually more a mockumentary. Its raffish energy and coarse 16mm look evoke mumblecore as shot and edited by Dziga Vertov.
David's love of movies puts a real strain on his personal relationships. In one of many naked confessions where he faces the camera, David admits that he pursued his ex-girlfriend Penny, a dissolute model, because she looked like a character in a Visconti film. Their split has left him emotionally wrecked and wracked with self-doubt.
So in making a film, he becomes a voyeur of his own life, while also spying on neighbors, assaulting pedestrians with his camera in hopes of capturing life as it happens, unspooling and unpacking everything in his head but with no idea how to put it into a form. It's messy, like life, but "David Holzman's Diary" has a human element often missing from this kind of hip, experimental cinema.