Spring Film Preview: Harmony Korine’s Odd Squad


Maybe enfants terribles can mellow out: Writer-director Harmony Korine’s first feature since 1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy proves to be his most classically structured and least confrontational, if still pretty damn off-the-wall. Mister Lonely stars Diego Luna as a Parisian Michael Jackson impersonator who encounters and follows a Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) home to a commune of fellow celeb look-alikes in the Scottish Highlands. Anita Pallenberg is Elizabeth II, her Performance co-star James Fox plays the Pope, and why are nuns jumping from missionary priest Werner Herzog’s plane? I chatted with Korine about his droll return to cinema.

Where have you been hiding for almost a decade? I was just everywhere, walking around a lot of places. I had some houses that burned down, I lived in Europe for a while, and for about six months, I was with this group of fishermen that I met in Panama called “The Malingerers,” these guys who were searching for a fish. Anyway, I was around, just not doing anything with movies. I was thinking about becoming a lifeguard or bricklayer, something like that.

At an early age, you lived in a commune. Did you have any unusual life experiences there that stuck with you while writing Mister Lonely? Yeah, I know what it’s like to suck on the tit of many a wet nurse. We were just passed around as kids from breast to breast. I have a lot of those stories inside me. I like that Lukas Moodysson film Together, but it wasn’t really like my experience, so I thought there would be little things that I could use in the story.

How did you approach your brother Avi to co-write the film? I read some stuff he wrote that I was impressed by, so I called him up one day. He loves to eat only Chicken McNuggets with the special kind of honey, and he’s a real boxing obsessive. I called him up—he was watching his boxing match—and I said: “Avi, could you come, and I’ll buy you these Chicken McNuggets?” He was living in Philadelphia at the time, so he flew down to Nashville, and I just bought him McNuggets every day. We’d just sit inside, collaborate, and write. It was nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and he basically got paid in McNuggets.

What famous icon do you think you’d be good at impersonating? Muhammad Ali. I think I could tap into him.

Will you ever release the footage of your abandoned 2001 vérité feature Fight Harm, in which you provoked strangers to beat you up? It’s interesting—I just had an editor friend come over yesterday, and we started to go through it. There are still six remaining fights, because I lost three or four of them when my house burned. I’ve been on the fence about putting it out for years, because I don’t know if it would be a let-down. In some ways, it’s better just to know it exists. My intent was to make the Great American Comedy, take what Keaton had done and go further. The repetition of pain is where the humor comes through. Originally, I wanted to release it in shopping malls, maybe have Morgan Freeman do the narration. I was only fighting people of different demographics: One day, I’d fight a lesbian, another day an Arab. But they always had to be bigger, and I never threw the first punch. I had forgotten how short an actual fight lasts when you’re really getting beaten up. After the 10th one, I realized I only had about 12 good minutes.

Mister Lonely starts May 2 at the IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, 212-924-7771.

Spring Film Picks

30 Years of J. Hoberman

March 10–April 3

Sometimes tooting one’s own horn is absolutely called for: BAMcinématek celebrates three decades of Hoberman’s shrewd, engaging, and ever-passionate film criticism here at the Voice. Compiled by the guest of honor from personal faves that have roused his writing, this eclectic mix tape features punk darlings (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), no-wave rarities (three guerrilla sleazies with Lydia Lunch, including She Had Her Gun All Ready), avant-weirdness (a new print of Naked Lunch will accompany the cuckoo conspiracy satire Tribulation 99), and classical gems both old and new (Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Café Lumière). Hoberman will introduce March 10’s kick-off screening of Eraserhead, then sit for a Q&A with minimalist auteur Ernie Gehr following a March 24 block of Gehr’s films. BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

Funny Games

March 14

Austrian shit-starter Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Caché) brings his icy, cerebral provocations to Hollywood, sort of, in his first English-language film ever—an exacting, if not entirely exact, remake of his divisive 1998 meta-thriller of the same name. Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, and son are a bourgeois clan whose lakeside weekend getaway is interrupted by polo-shirted fancy lads Michael Pitt and Bradley Corbit, popping in politely before torturing the family mercilessly and without motive. At opportune moments, the villains address the camera directly about the violent entertainment we’re watching, but why the same lesson a decade later? Is Haneke profoundly scolding the American filmgoer’s bloodlust, or is he just fucking with us? Debates may rage. Warner Independent, in limited release

Contempt / May ’68

March 14-27, May 2-29

Behold, for two weeks, a luscious new 35mm ‘Scope print of Godard’s 1963 odyssey into marital collapse, creative compromise, and the commercial value of Brigitte Bardot’s naked derrière! If you miss out on the master’s finest hour, a second chance awaits when Film Forum pays tribute to the 40th anniversary of the May ’68 riots with a radical dose of Godard’s output from that decade, from 1960’s Breathless through his rarely screened 1969 cine-essay Le Gai savoir. At least 14 features are confirmed, plus shorts and a fireworks finale—one week with a new print of Vivre sa vie. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, 212-727-8110

Boarding Gate

March 21

It’s no longer surprising to see Italian screen vixen Asia Argento brandishing a gun while skulking around half-nude, which somehow makes her more believable as the empowered victim of countless double-crosses in this unapologetically Eurotrashy, psychosexual noir thriller from Olivier Assayas (Clean, Irma Vep). Argento is an ex-prostitute who arrives in Paris to broker a sketchy import-biz deal with her former pimp and demonlover, fading financier Michael Madsen, whom she shoots dead as a final stake in their sick game of one-upmanship. On the run in Hong Kong, our iron-willed heroine engages in shoot-outs and debased sex, and faces down sonic oldster Kim Gordon as a Cantonese-growling underworld boss. Magnet, in limited release

37th New Directors / New Films

March 26–April 14

Courtney Hunt’s border-smuggling-mommies drama Frozen River (winner of this year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize) will open the Film Society and MOMA’s international showcase of work by budding first- and second-timers. Per usual, the lineup has some tasty cuts, including more Park City award winners: the New Orleans rapper-and-husband doc Trouble the Water, the near-unanimously acclaimed Mississippi Delta drama Ballast, and Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer—sort of like Alphaville with Mexican immigrants. Also of note are Jellyfish, an Israeli enchanter that won the Caméra d’Or at last year’s Cannes, and Michelange Quay’s dreamlike Haitian-life puzzler Eat, For This Is My Body. The Film Society of Lincoln Center / MOMA

The Flight of the Red Balloon

April 4

Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien’s second directorial effort in a language not his own is a magical must-see and a loving tribute to Albert Lamorrisse’s 1956 children’s classic The Red Balloon. Floating gorgeous long takes (or sometimes that inflatable cherry) through a cluttered apartment, the streets of Paris, and inside the Musée d’Orsay, this buoyant domestic dramedy stars Juliette Binoche as a workaholic-artist mother in rehearsals for her new puppet show. Under the care of Taiwanese baby-sitter Song Fang—a film student making her own Lamorrisse homage—Binoche’s lonely seven-year-old son, Simon, unwittingly shows us the fleeting splendor of childhood moments: pinball games, piano lessons, and imaginary worlds. IFC Center, 323 Sixth Avenue, 212-924-7771

Tomu Uchida

April 11-30

The late Japanese auteur, who has drawn comparisons to Mizoguchi, Ozu, and Naruse, is an obscure figure on these shores, perhaps because his ever-shifting versatility with tones and genre left him without a classifiable signature style. On loan from Japan, 10 rare Uchida features from 1933 through 1964 should help make the case for canonization. The treasure trove reveals a silent thriller (Policeman), a modernist detective brooder (A Fugitive From the Past), an Aborigine quasi-western (The Outsiders), subverted samurai traditions (The Master Spearman; A Bloody Spear at Mt. Fuji), and a wonderful place to start for overwhelmed newcomers: 1962’s wildly stylized fable The Mad Fox. BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

Mickey One

April 17-23

Neurotic nightclub comic Warren Beatty is on the run from a mob syndicate, but he doesn’t know why or if he’s being chased at all. Barely seen since 1965 but now restored by Sony, Arthur Penn’s Kafkaesque, kaleidoscopic kuriosity—inspired by the experimental freedoms of both jazz and the French New Wave—may have seemed too self-indulgent for the time, or at least too self-conscious. But letting Penn’s existentialist monologues and blunt symbolism settle for a few decades reveals a funny, bitter, uninhibited experience that screams for cult rediscovery. Penn introduces the April 17 screening, which launches MOMA’s “Jazz Score” program, as Mickey One is nothing without its audacious, genre-leaping score by Eddie Sauter and tenor-sax legend Stan Getz. MOMA, 11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400

Walden (Diaries, Notes, and Sketches)

April 24-30

Not long after poet-filmmaker Jonas Mekas—Anthology Film Archives founder, Voice critic, and “godfather to the American avant-garde”—emigrated from Lithuania to NYC in 1949, he began shooting anything and everything with a Bolex camera. The three-hour Walden was Mekas’s first official diary film, an in-camera edited collage of mid-1960s New York moments and impressively casual portraits: Andy and Edie, John and Yoko, fellow film adventurers like Stan Brakhage and Carl Dreyer, plus the first public footage of the Velvet Underground and Nico. Presented nightly in a brand-new print, the film is supplemented with three weekend blocks of preserved Mekas shorts and a curated slice of his “365 Days” project, for which he shot and posted a film online every day in 2007. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, 212-505-5181


April 26-30

There probably wouldn’t be this so-called new wave of rich Romanian cinema emerging now—or at least not sociopolitical critiques like 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days or 12:08 East of Bucharest—if it weren’t for the 1989 fall of Ceausescu, but even communism couldn’t thwart filmmaking greatness. Along with a few contemporary titles gaining widespread critical respect, the Film Society of Lincoln Center offers up 10 pre-revolution classics, including 1964’s Forest of the Hanged (which earned Liviu Ciulei the Director’s Award at Cannes) and more from such names-to-know as Dan Pita, Lucian Pintilie, and Malvina Ursianu. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, 65th Street and Broadway, 212-496-3809