Quick Crit: ‘After Yang,’ ‘WeCrashed,’ and Tarun Tahiliani
With the AMPAS shenanigans over how some of the Academy Awards will be presented — categories deemed less important will be taped earlier and cut into the main telecast, as if an afterthought, to speed up the show — it’s appropriate for me to praise the work my de facto niece,Alexandra Schaller, did on the sets and locations for Korean director Kogonada’s After Yang.
As I’ve told her too many doddering-old-fool times, Alexandra reminds me of another production designer friend,Patrizia von Brandenstein. Another old friend,Ryuichi Sakamoto, scored the film with pleasing ebbing and flowing cello-based tones that float the many contemplative scenes on the dreams of whales. That’s it with the full disclosures.
After Yang has another, more subtextual relevance to current events: It’s a paean to Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky, with sesame sprinkles of Werner Herzog, I believe, and other auteur directors I couldn’t parse on the fly while also enjoying the film. Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Nostalghia in particular are as obvious as listening to a panel on Russian art films at Cannes.
With Russia having gone full bat-shit berserk in recent weeks, dragging the world into chaos and uncertainty in a scorched-earth tantrum of communal narcissistic rage, a filmed Shinto shrine to a sensitive Rusky auteur, who somehow flourished behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War, is a necessary reminder that Russian arts and culture isn’t all tacky, sadistic mafiosi, clinically depressed vodka and Adidas addicts, and comically long conference tables inspired by Neapolitan wedding cakes.
Here’s what Tarkovsky’s influence means if you’re understandably not aware of the esoteric reference: If you can’t sit through dreamy, contemplative scenes framed and edited mostly in master shot, then ‘After Yang’ probably isn’t for you — irritation will corrupt appreciation. Otherwise, it’s impossible not to love.
Strictly, puristically speaking — like, Cahiers du Cinema pedantic — a director who so heavily references other auteurs means he isn’t sui generis enough to be an auteur himself. However, Tarantino crushed that prerequisite with his postmodernist geek-love pastiches of better and more-inventive directors. All’s fair here, at the end of history.
The fact that Kogonada goes by a mononym — a compound of the first and last names of one of Japanese auteur Kurosawa’s screenwriters — means he probably has auteur ambitions himself. “Kogonada, meet Kurosawa. Kurosawa, meet Kogonada. Kanpai!”
While it’s still a little early to place that laurel wreath around Kogonada’s work, it’s not inconceivable that he might achieve it: His Korean, zen-ish aesthetic tanned with compassionate irreverence is by now firmly embedded in the filmed-content gestalt of this era, and its roots are spreading deeper. For someone as snarky, Asiaphilic and style-conscious as I, it’s an influence I welcome with a mardi gras parade.
Kogonada fosters many of Tarkovsky’s contemplations: the human relationship with the universe and ourselves; our complicated romance with technology; memories that haunt both the organic and artificial/alien mind; the frailties of those minds; love, loss, longing, grief. He packs a lot in there with such a sparse, unhurried style. But that’s East Asia for ya.
The performances, led by the ageless Colin Farrell, are as lovely and pleasing as the other key elements. What is unusual is ‘After Yang’ is one of the few films in which the production design is a secondary character in itself. Alexandra gets decent screen time by herself, when she’s not cosily supporting the human and “tech being” characters.
At every Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner since Alexandra ran off and joined this exhausting, frustrating, addictive circus that we can never leave, I’ve said to her, “You need to find your director, just like Patrizia found Milos Forman.”
This is it, darling: I think Kogonada might be the one.
Uncle James oxox
Leto and Hathaway Should Get Married, For Reals
So far so good with WeCrashed. That’s saying a lot: The disruptive, visionary CEO getting into hot water is a drama subgenre I’m ambivalent about. I thought The Social Network was a fine piece of film-craft, but I have no interest in seeing Super Pumped, the Uber story, or the one about the blood-testing woman, Elizabeth Holmes. I lasted five minutes with Inventing Anna; it wasn’t just her annoying voice, it was the lazy, D-list Sex And The City-style narration in that annoying voice — made my ears ooze irritation. Click!
I’m wary of the neo-Citizen Kanes because I despise workist culture, that geeky, hamster-wheel machismo of busier-than-thou; of now, now, now! no matter how compromised and sloppy the results are; of that really fucking annoying constant prodding to create type A adrenaline rushes that workists are clearly addicted to; of trying to keep up with Elon Musk, a sui generis cyborg on the level of Albert Einstein; of trillions in valuations, and billions in series A, B, C, and millions in VC funding; of charismatic, narcissistic con-men execs with no real talent of their own, other than being wizards at transforming the talents of others into personal enrichment, and coercing 80-hour weeks, which also serve to keep themselves surrounded by narcissistic supply in greedy, insatiable amounts. So far WeCrashed seems to be aware of all that.
Whoever stole my career and gave it to Jared Leto, I forgive you. He’s literally brilliant, in that he sparkles like a sylvan sprite in midsummer. But he knows when to tuck it away and give screen space to others — he’s no Pacino, although he’s at least as talented.
In this case, he allows Annie Hathaway to twirl her talent like the fire dancer she can be. She reminds us of just how brutally unfair early cancel culture was to her — pure schoolyard group bullying, and of such a talented person. She held my heart during her single-take solo in Les Misérables, and I didn’t care what she did with it.
The chemistry between Leto and Hathaway, supported by fine writing and sophisticated narrative structure, is worth giving ‘WeCrashed’ a chance. The marketing might call it an unlikely romance, but it’s one of those utterly authentic onscreen duets that leave you surprised when you remember they aren’t married in real life.
The editing is also notable, even if the initial episodes rely too much on uplifting montages. There are a few clever match shots speckled throughout, used purposefully, judiciously — they can be distracting when they’re too fancy.
I still can’t tell if I love or hate the music supervision. It’s like a generic Spotify playlist of indie hits from the years the plot flits between.
Red Bride, White Groom
My oldest friends in India are the godfather of Indian fashion, Tarun Tahiliani, and his ethereally graceful wife, Sal. Recently he sent me a group picture taken at a wedding at the Taj Palace Hotel in what was then Bombay, March-ish 1988, just before he opened his first boutique, Ensemble, the flagship that kicked off the Indian fashion industry.
It was my first of countless Indian weddings, and Tarun’s first bridal outfit, created for one of his models, Vanessa. I watched in awe as his business did a vertical takeoff from that point on, from zero to booming in a few weeks flat.
Pre-pandemic, the Indian wedding industry was estimated at $50 billion, growing 25% a year. Along with a handful of other designers from our youth, Tarun still reigns over the highest end of the market.
Below is a selection from his latest collection, “Here Comes the Sun,” so named because the pandemic seems to be abating. The craftsmanship and detailing is French couture level, another standard that Tarun set. Now this is how grooms should look, if in the West we didn’t have the sexist tradition that groom shouldn’t upstage the bride. It’s their day, not just hers.