BREATHE: Interview as part of the ROMA SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

My short film, BREATHE, an official selection of the ROMA SHORT FILM FESTIVAL has been featured on the festival’s website, ROMA CINEPHILIA MAGAZINE!! Check it out and enjoy the interview!

https://www.romacinephilia.com/post/breathe-an-interview-with-brendan-lee

WANDA (1970): A look at Barbara Loden’s classic “Woman’s” film from the 70’s

Wanda - Movie Review - The Austin Chronicle

Barbara Loden, writer, director, and star of WANDA chose a very bold introduction

to the main character. The first thing we see of Loden is her hands protruding from

underneath a white bedsheet. She slowly pulls the sheet off herself and sits up. At this

moment we don’t see Barbara Loden, the beautiful blonde Hollywood star, we see

Wanda, the disheveled woman with hair in disarray covering some of her face. As she

rubs her eyes we can already tell that she is a woman under some type of stress. The

scene cuts to an extreme wide shot that slowly zooms to a wide shot of the rural mining

landscape where the film is set. Wanda, dressed in all white, looks ghostly against the

dark and dirty hills behind her. Wanda, strolling casually along, is actually on her way to

court for a custody hearing with her ex-husband.

Inside the courtroom, Wanda is absent while the judge calls her name. Wanda’s

husband then tells the judge how irresponsible and unreliable she is. Wanda is unable to

defend herself because as we see, the scene cuts to outside the courtroom. Wanda stands

outside smoking a cigarette when she should be inside facing the judge. I believe that

this is Barbara Loden’s strongest example of Wanda’s character. Without any dialogue

from Wanda we are shown how careless she is when facing something as greatly

important as a custody hearing for her children. When she finally does she speak to the

judge her answers are not too shocking based on what we’ve already seen. Wanda

pathetically tells the judge that if her husband wants a divorce then “you should just give

it to him.” This scene is based on Barbara Loden’s inspiration for the film. Loden was

inspired by the newspaper story of a woman who accompanied her husband on a crime

spree and was arrested and convicted. When the judge sentenced her to prison the woman

replied “Thank you.”

Another moment that Loden uses appearance and body language to effectively

develop Wanda is at the shopping mall. Wanda strolls through the mall aimlessly until

she stops and looks at a store window display. Wanda is looking at the clothes on display

but it is the mannequins who stand out in the scene. Wearing blonde wigs and positioned

directly behind Loden’s profile, there is a striking resemblance between the inanimate

dolls and Wanda. It is not hard to make the connection that Wanda sadly carries herself

as though she were a mannequin, lifeless and emotionless. The world sees her beauty but

nothing below the surface.

This film has many similarities with the famous “Road movies” of the 1960’s and

70’s. The typical road movie involved a pair travelling together in a car either on the run

from the law or just looking for an adventure. Wanda appears to be a road movie because

of the relationship between Mr. Dennis and Wanda and how they travel around in his car

committing crimes. It almost resembles the classic Bonnie and Clyde. Where Wanda

differs from these classic road movies is in the portrayal of Wanda herself. The road trip

that she takes with Mr. Dennis seems to have no point to it at all. Wanda, not having

anything better to do with herself, just gets dragged along by Mr. Dennis for obvious

reasons. The two characters do not have a good relationship and are not working toward

any major goal other than bank robbery. In Bonnie and Clyde where the characters and

their crimes are romanticized, Wanda plays out as a tragedy where the main character is

swept into a dangerous crime spree by a controlling and abusive man. There is no

romance for Wanda. Only a series of episodes where she exposes herself to be controlled

and used by the men around her.

In the final act of the film Mr. Dennis and Wanda take a bank managers family

hostage while Mr. Dennis tries to rob the bank. The climax of the bank robbery is when

Mr. Dennis is shot and killed by the police. Wanda, who was supposed to be the getaway

driver, arrives late as usual. When she approaches the bank she sees a crowd forming

outside. She tries to walk into the bank but is held back by a policeman. With a shaky

camera, shot from behind the outstretched arm of a police officer, this shot closely

resembles a TV news camera reporting from the scene of the crime. This is the most

obvious example of the documentary style brought to the film by cinematographer

Nicholas Proferes.

Wanda differs from a typical slow film in the sense that Barbara Loden left the

characters in the film totally ambiguous. There is no explanation as to why Wanda is

divorced or why she decides to go on the road with Mr. Dennis. We also have no

explanation as to what happens to her at the end. Will she continue her pursuit of nothing

or has she learned a lesson from her crime spree with Mr. Dennis? The audience is left to

draw their own conclusions and this is difficult because Loden has not left us with the

information we need to understand Wanda. Wanda is a character that is not slow but

almost inanimate. She floats around from man to man like paper on a breeze

FOR SAMA: For Your Consideration

Image result for for sama poster"
photo courtesy of www.forsamafilm.com


In 92 years of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s tradition of awarding filmmakers, only 5 times has a woman been nominated for Best Director. Their names are Kathryn Bigelow(The Hurt Locker/won), Lina Wertmuller(Seven Beauties), Jane Campion(The Piano), Sofia Coppola(Lost in Translation), and Greta Gerwig(Ladybird). When the 2020 Academy Award Nominations came out the usual discussions took place among movie fans. All of the hype surrounds the hottest race: Best Director. Who will it be? Will it be Quentin Tarantino for his two and a half hour film about an aging Hollywood actor and his best buddy that ends with a violent twist to one of the most violent episodes in Hollywood history? Or will it be Martin Scorsese for his even longer three hour epic about a murderer who had to be played by an aging Robert DeNiro made to look like he was 50 years younger? Don’t count out Todd Phillips who decided to throw the Comic Book film model on its head by not making a movie about the Heroes but instead about the Villain who becomes…you guessed it, a murderer! Little do these 3 men, or the Academy for that matter, know that there is a director that in 2019 blew all 3 of their films combined out of the water. And this Director is a WOMAN.

This woman, Waad Al-Kateab, is the director of the Oscar nominated documentary “For Sama.” To say this movie is breathtaking and powerful would be a gross understatement. It is the story of a girl who moved to the city of Aleppo to study and stayed there, fell in love, got married, had a baby girl named Sama, was pregnant with her second child when she was finally forced to flee the city of Aleppo in December 2016. Waad used her camera to document all of those happy moments that I just mentioned but she also wanted to document the siege of Aleppo from a perspective no one else got to see until now which sadly is too late. The footage she captured is beyond shocking. Her original plan for filming the siege was to try and get the outside world’s attention and show them the atrocities being committed by the Syrian and Russian forces. Along with her husband, Hamza Al-Kateab, who is a doctor, and their friends, they set up a makeshift hospital in the city. Watching the camera shake and hearing the blasts of missiles and rockets is nothing compared to seeing the scores of casualties being dragged into the hospital. As a spoiler I can tell you that this is not for the faint of heart and while the efforts of Hamza and Waad and their friends are beyond heroic, they were definitely fighting a losing battle to put it mildly.

Throughout the film Waad narrates and explains that this film is a message to her daughter, Sama. Sama was born in Aleppo in 2015 just as the siege led by the brutal forces of Bashar al Assad and backed strongly by the Russian military, was about to enter its most violent stage. This little miracle named Sama drinks her bottle, plays with her toys, and smiles at the camera all while she is shown at other moments being carried through dust from an explosion or cowering from the loud explosions right outside her window. I don’t know how Waad found such strength, courage, determination to document this horror even if it meant handing off Sama to a friend when there was a missile attack and she wanted to grab her camera to film.

For Sama is a film that the world needs to see. Waad Al-Kateab masterfully tells her story about moving to a new city, studying, making friends, falling in love, getting married and starting a family. This is a universal story. However, she also captures something that some of her male colleagues from Hollywood can hopefully learn from, even at their old age. Waad showed the world the destruction of her city and country by an oppressive regime. More than anything though, she showed violence, only her violence is not “cinematic.” It’s the type of violence most people can’t even imagine exists and at the same time hopes and prays that they never have to experience it the same way Waad and Hamza and most importantly Sama experienced it.

LA JETTE: Study in Photos

Chris Marker’s “La Jette” is a master class in telling a story through images. I believe that the film is stronger as a story told through photos than an actual motion picture. The images I have chosen to analyze come from the first half and the middle of the film. I chose them because I believe in the first half of the film Marker does such an amazing job of grabbing the audience’s attention and creating the world of the film with beautiful still shots.

The first image I chose was that of a little boy standing on a fence at the Orly Airport. The Airport is introduced immediately in the film as an important place. Just before the shot of the little boy’s feet there is a wider shot of the boy with his mother and father in full frame. The narrator explains that a typical family activity on a Sunday afternoon was watching planes take off at the airport. We see the boy standing on the fence to get a better view. In the image I chose, we see a close up of the boy from the knees down. His feet are resting through the bars of the fence. I believe that Marker chose this image because it conveys not only the innocence and playfulness of a child but also the moment this action takes place. In just a few moments we learn that World War 3 has taken place and left Paris in total ruins. This image stood out to me because it underscores the devastation that comes in the following scenes and sets up the anarchy of the underground world that becomesthe main focus of the film.

The next image I chose was the one of 2 “scientists” observing a man in a hammock with a very strange blindfold covering his eyes. This image is very disturbing and immediately lets the viewer know of the darkness that controls the survivors of the war. The image is very well balanced. The brightest light comes on the right side of the frame, illuminating the “subject” in the hammock. The middle of the frame is almost completely dark save for a light on the face of 1 “scientist.” This makes the scientist look very creepy as we can barely see his body, only his face looking down upon the subject in the hammock. The left side of the frame sheds a little more light on the 2nd “scientist”, but not much. He, like his counterpart in the middle, is staring intently at the subject in the hammock. His face and body are awash in shadow. This composition and lighting creates mystery around who these scientists are and what on earth is happening to the man in the hammock.

The final image I chose comes about hallway through the film. It is of the main character and the woman he loves. The main character has been chosen to become a subject in the hammock and has traveled back in time. In the past world he finds the woman he loves. They spend their time wandering happily through Paris in its normal, beautiful stage before the destruction of the war. The composition of this image, the characters walking down the middle of a row of trees in a park, is so strong. The path of trees gives the viewer the perfect leading lines into the heart of the scene, especially with the characters in the center of the frame. We feel the comfort and peace that both characters feel in this beautiful park.

NYFF Review: “FIRE WILL COME”

“Fire Will Come” by director Oliver Laxe is an excellent character study that blends the struggle of a man seeking redemption and the destruction of nature into a gripping story.  These two narratives run parallel for most of the film but when they collide in the final act it leaves devastating consequences for the main character and his immediate surroundings.

The film’s protagonist is Amador, a middle aged man from a small town in the mountains of Galicia, Spain.  At the start of the film Amador is released from prison after serving 2 years of his sentence for committing arson.  Amador, played by Amador Arias, looks nothing like the typical leading man of Hollywood.  He is a broken man in his 50’s whose face shows the strain and intensity of someone who has just served a prison sentence.  We follow him on a bus ride from the prison back to his hometown in Galicia.  Beautiful drone shots that hover over and track the bus as it rides through freeways are used to show the breathtaking mountain landscape of northern Spain.  This same landscape is the one that Amador has been convicted of burning.  When he arrives home at his mother’s house in the rain, we see how the landscape is not just beautiful but rugged and cold.

Another strong decision by the filmmaker was the use of the weather to match Amador’s character arc.  From the moment we meet Amador when he rides the bus home from prison all through the first half of the film, the weather is cold, rainy, and grey.  Seeing the protagonist returning home, attending a funeral, reconnecting with his mother , and having awkward interactions with the people in his town are all underscored by the fact that he is cold and shivering in these scenes.  The grey landscape matches the mood of Amador and his depression.  Just about at the midpoint of the film, when Amador starts showing some signs of life, we see a beautiful scene where he meets and connects with an attractive woman.  Elena, the local veterinarian, responds to help Amador free his cow from a flooded road.  She uses her truck to help free the cow and then give Amador and the cow a ride home.  While riding in the truck Amador and Elena have a friendly conversation.  We finally see Amador opening up and feeling comfortable with someone, even if Elena doesn’t know his past.  This entire scene is shot on a beautiful sunny day and accompanied by Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, which Elena turns up on her car radio.  This shows that Elena and her friendly gestures are giving Amador some warmth and light for the first time since his release.

The climax of the film is truly powerful and tragic.  The protagonist is a convicted arsonist and in the final act his hometown is completely ravaged by a wildfire.  Amador rides home in his car and he is passed by multiple fire engines responding to a fire in the mountains.  The scenes of firefighters fighting a massive wildfire are absolutely stunning.  Wide shots of rows of trees burning are coupled with close ups of firefighters dragging hoses through the forests lit only by the orange glow of the fire and embers.  It is hard to imagine how such a tragic scene can look so beautiful but Laxe pulls it off.  The scene also hits hard due to the fact that wildfires are becoming a global crisis and the film’s narrative shows how nature is being displaced and destroyed by modern industry.  Sadly, when the smoke clears, the townspeople who are devastated by the destruction point the finger at Amador.  Once again his life, like the landscape, is ravaged by fire and he must start all over again to find his way.

This was my first time attending the New York Film Festival and the first time I have seen a film directed by Oliver Laxe.  Unfortunately, Laxe was unable to attend the screening due to his visa being rejected because he had recently visited the country of Iran.  This was a sad note to an otherwise excellent screening and the discovery of Oliver Laxe whom I will be checking up on in the future.

Welcome to my Film Blog!

My name is Brendan Lee and films have always been an essential part of my life. Over the last few years I’ve written and directed a few films using the greatest backlot in the world…the streets of New York City.! While I plan to continue my passion for writing and directing movies, the purpose of this blog is to analyze, critique, and talk about the magic and artistry of the silver screen. Stay tuned for discussions on everything from the Silent-era to the Streaming-era.