It's not a hugely engaging film, but it's an important, beautifully assembled document.
German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer has spent the last two decades building elaborate, oversized art at his studio, La Ribaute, in southern France. Previously a silk factory, the derelict buildings are now both a massive studio space and an elaborate network of underground tunnels and chambers. And above the surface there are astonishing tower blocks built from pre-fab concrete slabs. Some of the spaces feel like churches or secret hideouts, others like archaeological digs. Scattered throughout are Kiefer's distinctive sculptures and paintings. And watching him create them is almost like performance art.
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When he's commissioned to paint a local militia group in 1642 Amsterdam, Rembrandt (Freeman) has premonitions of trouble, but goes ahead and creates a fiercely untraditional painting that reveals rather too many secrets about the musketeers depicted in it. While painting it, his sparky wife (Birthistle) gives birth to his son, but becomes seriously ill in the process, eventually causing him to turn to the family nurses (Holmes and May) for company. And when complete, the portrait, The Night Watch, has drastic repercussions on his career.
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Mia (Jarvis) is 15 and lives in a council flat with her peroxide-blonde mum Joanne (Wareing) and her sharp-tongued little sister Tyler (Griffiths). Her only interest is in dance, and she's preparing for an audition that she hopes will get her out of her grim Essex life. In the meantime, she finds herself intrigued by Joanne's latest boyfriend, Connor (Fassbender), although she's not sure if it's as a father figure or something else entirely. And she also decides to free an old horse owned by a neighbour (Treadaway).
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The compulsive listmaking and mathematical precision of Greenaway's earlier films is present and intact, but the center of 8 1/2 Women is ultimately hollow and painfully obvious. His very concept reduces women to childish fantasies such as the sexually repressed nun (Toni Collette), the pregnant woman (Natacha Amal), the nubile bombshell (Polly Walker), the prudish accountant who wears thick glasses (Vivian Wu, from The Pillow Book) and the woman who adores her pet horse and pig (Amanda Plummer). The "half-woman" has no legs, of course.
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Clark teams up with co-director Ed Lachman (lauded cinematographer of Far From Heaven) and his bad-boy Kids screenwriter Harmony Korine to tell us that young people are the most tension-filled, powder keg group in the country. Witness the film's opening credits: the title teen (red-haired Adam Chubbuck) skateboards through a suburban town, enters his local skate park, and puts a bullet through his own head. Roll movie.
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Lest you think I'm joking, consider Greenaway's body of work, which has included plenty of equally perverse nonsense. This time out he's giving us a story -- if you can call it that -- of a doctor whose wife dies in a freak car crash in front of the zoo (think about the title) where his twin brother is researching the aforementioned decaying of dead things. The distraught brothers end up in a love affair with a woman named Alba, who lost one leg in the car accident and later decides to lop off the other one for kicks.
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