Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reunion Fireworks

You are more than welcome to use these photos as wallpaper images.

To Purchase this and other full-size Photos from the Daily Princetonian, please see:

for fireworks photos, and

for P-Rade photos



Friday, May 29, 2009

Recent Grads Remain Optimistic After Layoffs

As a recent Princeton graduate in June 2007, Ben Massey planned to work as a paralegal before going to law school. His plans changed when he was laid off in August of 2008. Thatcher, Proffitt and Wood, where he worked, was a boutique firm that specialized in mortgaged-backed securities. After several rounds of lay-offs, it was dissolved in January 2009.

Massey's experience is not unique among recent Princeton graduates. In the midst of the recession, many companies are laying off recent grads. Lucy Xu '08, says she was "cheap labor" for the convertible bond trading desk at Bank of America. But after surviving two rounds of layoffs she was also let go in February 2009. Merrill Lynch laid off "Nick," another 2008 grad, a few months later.

Some new hirees have yet to make it to work after receiving offers. Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm, has pushed back the start dates of many of its 2008 class. Oliver Wyman asked Irene Hu to start in January 2009. But in January, the firm deferred start dates again--until January 2010. Oliver Wyman still guarantees her spot, but has helped her find an internship in the meantime.

Job turbulence was a shock to many grads at first. Xu says, "I was naive. I really thought it wouldn't happen to me." In the first few weeks after leaving Bank of America, Xu felt "embarrassed." Massey obtained another paralegal position on a temporary-to-permanent basis. But when this second firm didn't offer him a full time job, Massey's became a bit cynical. "They're concerned with their bottom line," he says. "And that's fine, they have to make money, they have to survive. But it's not something I thought about before I was laid off from two different law firms." Hu found out about her job delay while she was tutoring in Taiwan last summer. She then returned home and took courses at a local community college while waiting for her job to start. "There was a feeling of hopelessness," she says of that time, "I was feeling not productive. So that was kind of tough."

Some grads find that inexperience is punished in this economy. Since Xu had already obtained four financial licenses, she initially searched for other finance jobs. She noticed that many posted positions looked for people with two or three years of experience. Though she got many interviews based on the her resume, she didn't have the client relationships that firms were looking for.

At the same time, the youth of recent grads also make them more flexible in the job market. Without the responsibility of families and college debts, some recent grads were able to take some time off before looking for new jobs. In the first month after being laid off from Thatcher, Massey biked, worked out and relaxed. Nick has learned to cook, taken up yoga, and went out in New York City more often than he did while at Merrill.

Young job-seekers have also taken time to re-evaluate their career plans. After her big-bank experience, Xu realized she wanted to work at a smaller firm where she could "try many hats" instead of being tied down to one specific job. Massey is now a fellow at the Institute for Justice, a D.C. think tank and plans to go to University of Virginia Law School in the fall. Nick is exploring some non-profit options such as Princeton in Africa as well as opportunities in marketing. At Princeton, Nick used to think that there was a trade off between short term and long term job prospects," but now sees making a career as a "long-term journey."

Older alums have also been helpful in the job search process. After using Bloomberg and Monster to no avail, Xu sent some emails to the regional alumni network email list and found that many people were open to giving her advice. Nick recommends that current job-searching seniors "get out there and start talking to people."

Recent alums remain optimistic about their prospects. Hu is now interning at the parent company of a start-up that Oliver Wyman introduced her to. She still looks forward to working there in 2010. Though not looking forward to the idea of taking out many loans for law school, Massey says "It seems to be that the system is still in place. Unless it undergoes some significant major firms are still going to need recent grads to change to train, to grow, to nature."

Xu's advice for graduating seniors is simple: "Don't lose confidence. The job process is not a reflection of you. You will always get where you want with confidence."


University Names Go Wild

Universities trademark their names to prevent other institutions from benefiting from a perceived relationship, such as was the case with the Princeton College of Medicine proposed by David Wade GS '82. National American University (NAU) has a different kind of problem. Instead of an academic institution trying to benefit from their name, in 2003 a pornography and adult entertainment site with the name Naughty American University (NAU) launched. National American University has sued noting that the names are "nearly identical in sight, sound and commercial impression," according to an AP story.

This may be a case where the University's acronym works in its favor. Who wants to name something PU?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sotomayor '76 yearbook quote socialist?

The Nassau Herald yearbook entry for Sonia Sotomayor '76 is causing a bit of a stir in the blogosphere. Outlets from POLITICO on down to several other sites are taking note of Sotomayor's senior quote-- 14 words from Norman Thomas, a member of the Class of 1905:

"I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won."

Why is Thomas noteworthy? Because he was a six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America. And that's probably why Wikipedia calls him the "the leading American Socialist politician of the 20th century."

Tzvee's Talmudic Blog floats the idea that Sotomayor's inspiration for the quote may have come from a plaque in Forbes, but also asks a few questions. Let's clear up a few things:

The library at the then-Princeton Inn (and now Forbes College) was dedicated to Thomas in a ceremony on May 11, 1975. We're still checking to see if Sotomayor live in the Inn in 1975 or 1976...or may have just been a Thomas fan.

Besides the Forbes library, the "champion of lost causes" quote can also be found on a wall in the Frist Student Center.


Princeton at the Cannes Film Festival: The Award Winners

Well, the 62nd Cannes film Festival has come to an end bestowing its prestigious awards to films across many different national cinemas and genres. After watching 31 movies (16 of them in competition for the Palme d'Or) in my nine days at the festival, I wondered: were the best films awarded or were some gems unjustly left out?

Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) dir. Michael Haneke - In Competition (Palme d'Or Winner)

The White Ribbon Clip

With The White Ribbon, Austrian director Michael Haneke crafts a visually beautiful black and white tale about a quaint though very tense German village on the cusp of World War I. While sometimes narratively obtuse, the film is surprisingly straightforward never relying on the innovative visual conceits that have defined much of Haneke’s recent work (particularly the surveillance-driven Caché). Its selection for the top prize is a decidedly safe choice in a year where the best films shocked.

Seen largely from the perspective of a young schoolteacher, the film examines the dissolution of a seemingly immutable community. The façade of harmony is first shattered after the town's doctor becomes seriously injured in a horse riding accident that smacks of foul play. This is only the first of many events where some of the town's most innocent denizens, such as a mentally retarded boy, are exposed to a mysterious onslaught of violence. Many of the adults in the community stringently attempt to maintain order. One desperate preacher decides to tie white ribbons around his adolescent daughter and son's arms to remind them of their innocence and purity. Although the cast is expansive, the slow-moving film amply develops the most peripheral characters allowing the differing tensions of the village to resonate on a grand scale.

The youngest child actors in the cast beautifully evoke a lingering sense of disquiet. In a futile effort to understand his increasingly wayward son, the morally superior preacher lectures him on the dangers of masturbation. As the rehearsed lecture wears on, the son soon begins to lose his composure adopting a pained expression. The finesse of the young actor to so effortlessly toe the line between taciturn and anguished brings to light the stifling emotional disconnect that exists between him and the elders who attempt to console the mind of a troubled soul with meaningless platitudes. Such sudden flurries of emotionally raw performance come unexpectedly over the course of the film. When a toddler, who typically serves as the main influx of cute in the usually heavy story, asks his sister about the nature of death, his innocent temperament momentarily evaporates. Hearing the news that he will someday die, his infantile features contort into a piercing glare. This short though powerful scene saliently depicts the loss of blissful innocence and is emblematic of a thoroughly excellent young cast capable of expressing the overwhelming fear created when the purest elements of life become tainted.

Haneke's high contrast black and white imagery amplifies the underlying darkness at the heart of the community. Inside the parlor of a manor, a tormented young boy stares at his strict mother playing the piano. As he makes his trek around the room, he fades momentarily out of the light provided by the gas lamps into shadow, a visual that hits upon the growing emotional malaise of the younger generation. Later on, a fire breaks out on the estate of the town's hated baron creating an image where white flames dance against the night sky. For all his successful attempts at visually depicting a village teetering on the edge of chaos, Haneke sometimes presents overly idyllic imagery. When the narrator reflects upon the reigning peace before the outbreak of World War I, the film presents shot after shot of pristine winter landscapes drenched in sunlight. The sometimes clichéd ideals imagery of peace, the final moments of the extended 19th century, speaks to a film whose overarching historical thesis is troublingly simplistic.

An Undeserved Win

Haneke poses with his award

Whenever The White Ribbon references the Great War, the usually unsentimental film finds itself in overly saccharine territory. In its attempts to use the central story of generational divide as a means to encompass an entire historical period, the film begins to falter. At the heart of Haneke's reconstruction lies the argument that social repression will lead to a wider oppression. Essentially, angry and repressed children of World War I are bound to become Nazis (the white ribbons of the past will inevitably transform the black armbands of the fascists). There is something profoundly disconcerting in the way the film tries to condense history in such pat terms. The White Ribbon's sweeping simplicity is not the hallmark of great art, but rather of a work that propagates the easiest of answers creating a recipe for ignorance rather than insight.

Un Prophete (A Prophet) dir. Jacques Audiard – In Competition (Grand Prix Winner)

While the prison drama The Prophet is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic films in the festival, it had to settle for second place (which may not be all that bad considering Monty Python's dark comic masterpiece The Meaning of Life had previously won the Grand Prix). With its pulsating energy and broad ambitions, The Prophet represented the best the festival had to offer.

The film follows Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) who has been sentenced to six years in prison for a minor offense. Slowly, the French Arab makes his way up the echelons of penitentiary power, playing all sides of an ever changing war between a dominant Corsican gang and upstart Muslim groups. As the almost divinely lucky Malik gains respect, he earns the nickname "The Prophet." Director Jacques Audiard injects the well-trodden prison genre with a dose of magical realism infusing the work with an evocative, uncanny life. Malik is continually haunted by the first man he killed on the inside, Reyheb, who coolly dispenses advice with a giant gash in his throat. The most bizarre scene takes place when the ghost whirls around and around praising Allah. As he spins, the camera follows the ghost's outstretched hand moving around the cell. This disorienting perspective lends the sequence a perverse fever dream ambience and captures the twisted high that comes through the sudden attainment of authority.

Tahar Rahim deftly plays Malik combining a deep fear of failure with a growing sense of confidence. The actor's unique vigor allows Malik to be charming even as he very clearly manipulates those around him. After being accused of abusing his connections with some Muslim prisoners for personal gain, he asks what's the harm in a little exploitation if everyone benefits? With his easy smiles and motor-mouth intonation, the actor puts a uniquely charismatic imprint on the Machiavellian gangster archetype. Underneath the disarming charm, lies a deeply angry performance as his character grows to despise the Europeans who see him only as a servile Arab. His rage becomes clear when, after telling his Corsican boss how to assert his power, he adds "But I'm just an Arab who only thinks with his dick" repeating one of the chief's many racial epithets. The pain of Malik's ascent is made clear through Rahim's tortured eyes.

Under Audiard's careful direction, the film becomes a mélange of visual styles continually shifting its aesthetic to mirror the protagonist's grand transformation. This film is appropriately unflinching during the character's first murder capturing the gruesome act in a long take. During a transcendent moment when Malik escapes from underneath the barrel of a gun, the film becomes far more ornate employing both slow-motion and a throbbing Arabian score that fills the soundtrack. The sudden moment of extreme calm within a previously fast-paced, tense scene perfectly illustrates the character's divine inspiration. With his complete grasp of how the visuals can accentuate the emotional core of the story, Audiard takes a familiar premise and makes it profoundly engaging.

As powerful as the film is on a visceral level, it remains most intriguing in its meditation on the divisions of contemporary French society. That the individual capable of crossing racial lines is labeled a prophet shows the impossibility to achieve such cross-cultural dialogue on an everyday basis. Malik's constant isolation from both the Western Corsicans as well as the near Eastern North Africans indicates that such a quality is seen less with reverence than suspicion. On a metaphorical level, Malik's difficult experiences within the realm of the prison stand as a damning indictment of a French society still struggling with rather than embracing multiculturalism

The Prophet proved so riveting, that nothing could distract me from the screen including the exceedingly sharp pain I experienced in both my knees while sitting in the cramped theater (my stream of consciousness inner-monologue went something like this, "Wow, this movie is great! Oh, my knees!! How will I ever realize my dream of becoming a professional tennis player? This movie is really spectacular!" This continued for the entire running time).

Thirst dir. Park Chan-Wook - In Competition (Jury Prize Winner)

Of the top winners at Cannes, Thirst is the most of the festival. The film, about a priest infected with the virus that transforms him into a surprising since Park Chan Wook's vampire thriller was one of the most critically maligned vampire, is an overlong and sometimes derivative affair that has its strongest bite when embracing comedy.

Chan Wook-Park has established himself as one of the more intense voices in contemporary Korean cinema. His latest is a departure from thoroughly dark films like Old Boy and Lady Vengeance where humor was the exception and not the rule in the director’s theater of the macabre. At times, the struggles of the monstrous though fundamentally kindhearted priest are delightfully twisted. To suggest how the vampire is haunted by his lover's husband whom he murders, the film turns into a strange version of Edgar Allan Poe's "Tell Tale Heart." The smiling corpse lies blissfully between the two lovers as they attempt awkwardly to copulate in bed. As the vampire attempts to navigate over the dead man's body, the vampire reminds himself that it's all "psychological." Many of the sharpest moments of humor occur during the sex scenes of the film. After the creature initially throws himself onto his soon-to-be lover, he bites her neck and breasts. In between her moans of ecstasy, the woman asks "Am I a pervert? Are all women like this?" The scene gleefully plays with the eroticism traditionally central to the vampire myth and, in the process, spits in the face of films like Twilight where the romantic and the vampiric are made one.

A Good Approximation of the Best Aspects of Thirst

When Thirst attempts to be a more traditional vampire movie, it becomes completely run-of-the-mill. At one point, a blind priest begs the Catholic priest-turned-vampire to transform him into a monster so that he can finally see. The uber-serious scene feels more overdone than affecting. Unfortunately, the film resorts to this serious tone far too often (notice how the trailer has no indication of the film's more engaging comedic side). It is a shame that the filmmaker feels the need to go through the motions of the genre as Park occasionally crafts very gripping moments. The film expertly ramps up the suspense in one polished sequence where the murdered husband's paralyzed mother tries desperately to show family friends that the killers are stand in the room. Such moments of genuine suspense are disappointingly few.

Even with its odd charm, Thirst is an imperfect film that ranks far below the best in competition and is undeserving of any prize.

Now that the main festival winners have been detailed, in the next blog post I will examine the competition's ignored gem, look at some of the best performances, and distinguish the worst film presented at Cannes.


Sotomayor '76 the RA and "den mother"

In Wednesday's Detroit Free Press, an article on Sonia Sotomayor '76 the "den mother" from Freep columnist Brian Dickerson '79, a Zee of Sotomayor's during his first and her last years at the University.

Though Dickerson says Sotomayor could be "occassionally impatient" or exhibit "exasperation" when kids in her RA group interrupted her studies, the column is fairly positive. Choice excerpts:

Sonia Sotomayor lived across the hall from me during what was, up to that point, the most momentous year of my young life. As a residential adviser at Princeton University, she was assigned to shepherd me and a dozen or so other 17- and 18-year-olds through our freshman year.

Whatever intimidation I experienced as a public school kid from a blue-collar family must have been trebled for Sotomayor, who had the distinction of being both Hispanic and female on a campus that boasted precious few of either. Hers was just the seventh Princeton graduating class to include women.

Confident, somewhat zaftig and relentlessly cheerful, Sotomayor was living proof that one could shatter the male, patrician archetype with which Princeton was still associated in the Vietnam era and excel in the university's high-pressure academic environment. Her designation as a residential adviser represented the university's confidence in her as a responsible role model for freshmen of both genders.


In NYT piece, Malkiel remembers Sotomayor '76 the student

Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel made an appearance in Wednesday's New York Times in an article about Sonia Sotomayor '76, the "Trailblazer and a Dreamer" and her time as a student the University.

Says the article:

"She also readily accepted help. When Ms. Sotomayor arrived in Nancy Weiss Malkiel's history class in the spring of her freshman year, for example, she seemed unprepared, Ms. Malkiel recalled in an e-mail message. But Ms. Malkiel tutored her in how to read sources and write analytically, and by late in the semester, Ms. Sotomayor was flourishing."


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Famous Photos: Obama '85, Sotomayor '76 and Alito '72

The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor '76 raises an important point for Princeton students to consider as they progress through the University. Namely, you should make sure that your senior photo for the Nassau Herald Yearbook is good, because if you become famous it will end up on show for the world or at least the diners at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room.

Some recent examples of yearbook photos which saw interest beyond members of their class and proud parents include Samuel Alito '72, Sonia Sotomayor '76 and Michelle Obama '85.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


President Obama has nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor '76 to replace Justice David Souter. If confirmed, she will be one of two Princetonians, along with Justice Samuel Alito '72 on the Supreme Court.

From The New York Times:

President Obama will nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as his first appointment to the court, officials said Tuesday, and has scheduled an announcement for 10:15 a.m. at the White House.

If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Judge Sotomayor, 54, would replace Justice David H. Souter to become the second woman on the court and only the third female justice in the history of the Supreme Court. She also would be the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Supreme Court....


Monday, May 25, 2009

Recession Creates Uncertainty for 2009 Grads

The headlines are bleak. "Graduating US college seniors entering grim market." "Graduates brace for worst job market in years." "Even Stanford grads Are Hurting in the Downturn."

Indeed, less than twenty percent of graduating seniors nationally who are looking for jobs have found one. Only 60 percent of seniors are even looking.

The recession has affected Princeton students too. It's unlikely that many Princeton seniors will be jobless and destitute next year, but many have changed their expectations and methods used to find jobs. In April, Princeton Alumni Weekly article reported that even though students have landed finance and consulting jobs, many are still uneasy about the future. A senior who got a job with McKinsey worried that her co-workers from a summer internship at Goldman Sachs did not receive offers. Andy Chen, Pyne Prize winner, stated that there's "a culture of anxiety."

Chen is pursuing graphic design. Though this field is only indirectly affected by the recession, Chen has changed his methods of looking for jobs. "This year, I was a lot bolder in the steps I took in terms of reaching out to personal contacts I had formed in my field," he wrote in an email. "While I don't like to think of this as "networking," it does involve some degree of tapping personal relationships for instrumental purposes."

It's unknown how the Class of 2009 has fared in the job hunt. When asked for statistics or comments on the results of the senior check-survey, Anthony Chiappetta, Associate Director of Career Services, wrote "At this time we are still in the process of gathering data concerning the Class of 2009 therefore, we are unable to provide statistics or comment on the future plans of the senior class."

In the mean time, watch this space over the next few weeks for stories on how the recession is affecting the way seniors and recent alums are looking for jobs, thinking about future plans, and exploring options.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Princeton at the Cannes Film Festival: Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds

The fifth day at the Cannes Film Festival started out with a bang thanks to Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Given that the film has such a high profile, I've decided to review it in a special edition of the blog series.

Inglorious Basterds dir. Quentin Tarantino- In Competition

Winner of the 1994 Palm d'Or for Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino has made a career through his energetic visual style and signature dialogue. Since his 1994 masterpiece, Tarantino has often entertained me but rarely impressed. The kung fu revenge pastiche Kill Bill felt like an overloaded exercise in genre, preferring to wallow in its various homages then aim for something truly new and spectacular. His follow-up, the underrated grindhouse thriller Death Proof, was far tighter bursting with an undeniable energy. With its beautiful mix of a kinetic direction and a toe tapping score, the lap dance scene from the exploitation film crackles with a magnetic intensity:

Watching the trailer for his latest World War II flick, I felt that the filmmaker was not going to deliver another Death Proof but a Kill Bill - an epic that never really transcends its genre trappings. Boy, was I wrong! Through the lens of a World War II film, Tarantino gains a new found provocative voice, supplementing his ever-present directorial panache with an unexpected amount of political incorrectness.

The term Inglourious Basterds derives from the moniker of a small group of a Jewish American soldiers sent covertly into occupied France to exterminate as many Nazis as possible. Led by the crazed Lieutenant Aldo the Apache (Brad Pitt), the covert team seeks to inflict cruelty on the Nazis in the attempt to collect hundreds of Nazi scalps. The other main thread of the narrative deals with the beautiful Shoshanna, an escaped Jew in hiding who runs a small Paris movie theater. She gets her opportunity to enact revenge upon her Nazi tormentors when the fascist party decides to hold a premiere of a propaganda film at her establishment. She hopes to achieve vengeance by transforming her cinema into an explosive deathtrap using antique nitrate film (which as the helpful commentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson points out, “burns three times faster than paper.” Who knew?).

With its emphasis on "killing Nazis," the film's original trailer promises a few hours of nonstop violence. Certainly, the film contains enough blood and gore to satisfy even most ardent Reservoir Dogs fans. Hinting at the skewed mentality of the American heroes, Tarantino's camera lingers unflinchingly on the violence they commit. While Brad Pitt's Aldo the Apache interrogates a beautiful German double agent suspected of treason, he nonchalantly presses his finger into a bullet wound on her leg. As he inflicts this pain, the camera cuts to a tilted close-up of the wound being manipulated. Even with such graphic scenes, the film is much more than simply 'Kill Bill Goes to War,' sidestepping constant brutality for a far more intriguing suspenseful tone. The titular Basterds are not the focal point of the film; rather, the narrative focuses more upon Shoshanna and the film's most intriguing creation, the villain Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz).

Nicknamed "The Jew Hunter," Lander dominates the first chapter of the film which begins with the wistful inter-title "Once upon a time... in Nazi occupied France." The long opening, where Landa assesses if a French farmer hides a Jewish family, has little directorial ornamentation signaling that this film stands apart from Tarantino's recent work. Rather it uses the villain's disquieting charm and verbose nature, to build an almost unbearable suspense. He continually complements the interrogated farmer with a sincerity and zeal. This complete disregard for the typical methods of intimidation hints at Lander's unhinged nature. Later on, when he unexpectedly joins the disguised Shoshanna for strudel, he demands that she "Wait for the cream!" before eating. The actor Christoph Waltz spews forth this comment on dining etiquette with an unnerving intensity. His every word, even the most innocuous, becomes a threat transforming Lander into the best type of onscreen villain, one who is as captivating as he is repulsive.

While some supporting performances are great, others feel a bit more derivative, particularly Mike Myers' cameo as a British general. Whereas Tarantino has often reinvigorated actors caught in a rut (see John Travolta), Myers plays his aged military man with all the finesse of an Austin Powers reject. In a film where some of Tarantino's characters are so fresh, the stale quality of Meyer's performance stands out all the more.

The film quickly reveals its intentions to be something quite different from a Saving Private Ryan-like reenactment of history through its opening score. The music quietly brings together Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata with a Western-sounding guitar. Never does the film promise to slavishly reenact the past; rather, it is a cinematic fantasy. And like any good fantasy, Tarantino transports the viewer to another world - refashioning the tired World War II genre anew and making it his own in the process.

His visionary eye leaves its imprint on all facets of the genre from firefights to wartime intrigue. When Shoshana prepares for her evening with the Nazi party, Tarantino transforms her cosmetic process into a warlike ritual. As Shoshana applies rouge to her cheeks, the film captures the stern female as though she applies war paint. Although not a single drop of blood is spilled, the pulsating sequence is riveting in its unfettered view of a powerful femme fatale.

It was rumored that Tarantino was still editing the film a day before its Cannes premiere. While Inglourious Basterds does have an unfinished quality (expect to see more Pitt in the final cut), at its core, it remains something wholly unique for Tarantino. Already the director has fashioned a work that has the indefinable pulse that marks his best films. With a bit more refinement, the tale could possibly be Tarantino's next masterpiece.

Thoughts on the Offensive Side of Tarantino

While I found much to enjoy in Tarantino's latest, several film critics lodged rather intense complaints against the film. One journalist mentioned that she "hated" the film, for presenting an ultra-American slant on European history. I find that this criticism, against its blatant retooling of the war, highlights a larger critical resistance to play by the rules of the film. Never does Inglourious Basterds promise to realistically honor the past and remains clearly a sort of fairy tale from the very first scene. After speaking impeccable French with the farmer he interrogates, Lander states that he has exhausted his vocabulary and asks "mind if we speak English?" The tongue-in-cheek moment illustrates Tarantino's intentions to play with history embracing theatricality rather than reality. Other World War II films at the film festival, including the dull Vincente and the equally blasé The Army of Crime, illustrate how a reverence towards history can be artistically stifling.

L’Armee du Crime (The Army of Crime) dir. Robert Guediguian

Whereas Tarantino takes World War II in strange and new directions, director Robert Guediguian's L’Armee du Crime is a rigidly by the numbers affair. Seen in conjunction with Inglourious Bastards, it only underscores how derivative this type of film has now become.

Detailing the exploits of Parisian-based resistance fighters during the occupation, the film presents an unnervingly glossed over and simplistic view of war. The resistance fighters give grand speeches on the principals of war quickly devolving into pure caricature. Oddly, these exaggeratedly noble aspects of their personalities clash with the very real violence of the struggle. In attempting to capture such ideals in a non-allegorical reality (unlike Tarantino's fairy tale), the film forces history into an uninvolving muddle. Typical of L’Armee du Crime, is a scene where the resistance leader uses very high-minded rhetoric to discuss his changing view upon the validity of revenge. Keep in mind, the leader does not deliver this speech in a public forum but rather in the midst of a quiet conversation. The film is so devoted to detailing the glorious aspects of their struggle that its more compelling subtext, such as the nascent divisions of French society during the Occupation, goes largely unexplored. Its inert and unremarkable presentation falls flat making a convincing case that a change needs to occur in the period war drama. Unlike Tarantino's involving film, L’Armee du Crime did nothing but bore me.

After festival comes to a close in the coming weekend, expect many more reviews from Cannes including Michael Haneker's The White Ribbon and Jacques Audiard's A Prophet.


Friday, May 22, 2009

UPDATED: Could Fisch '11 pull off an upset?

There are now 400 reasons that Mendy Fisch '11 could win the June 2 Democratic primary for the Princeton Borough Council.

Fisch's campaign has helped 399 students request absentee ballots, a number "significantly more than usual," the Princeton Packet reported Thursday night.

What does Borough Council President Andrew Koontz have to say about all this love for democracy Princeton students are showing?

"It is important to verify these requests are coming from the people they say they are coming from."

Not only that, Koontz says while there is "no indication of misconduct", the the high number of absentee ballots means that "caution needed to be exercised." Real classy, Andrew.

WHY are folks nervous? Because candidates in the Borough Council's Democratic primary often win with a lot less than 400 votes.

Will the work pay off? Who knows. Campaign volunteers have gone crazy this spring, knocking on the same dorm doors five or six times to make sure students were registered. But now comes the hard part: Students will receive the ballot in the mail and will have to fill it out and send it back to the Borough.

Three candidates are running for the two seats being contested: incumbent Kevin Wilkes '83, Borough resident Jenny Crummiller and Fisch, who is also a senior writer for The Daily Princetonian. Though incumbent
Margaret Karcher was expected to seek re-election, her name does not appear on the ballot. With no Republican candidates, the two candidates with the most votes on June 2 win the race.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Princeton at the Cannes Film Festival: Days 3 & 4

Over the 3rd and 4th day of the Cannes Film Festival, I dealt with the unique rigors of student journalism (in that I still needed to take exams for class... does Roger Ebert ever have to do such a thing?), saw Almodovar's latest, and came face-to-face with French politics.

Reflecting on Antichrist

All the while, I've engaged in debates with other journalists regarding Von Trier's latest film Antichrist. If you have read any of the other reviews from the festival, you have probably noticed that this is the event's whipping boy. It has been labeled as nothing more than simple shock, and pure intellectual drivel from European cinema's enfant terrible. I've been more than a bit confused by this argument, which seems to be most disturbed by the extreme confluence of gore and sex in the production.

As I've said in an earlier comment, to so ably disturb a room full of journalists who have everything that cinema offers stands as a success in itself (one journalist told me that Antichrist marked the first time that she ever screamed aloud while watching a film). Furthermore, that shock is somehow emblematic of lesser art ignores a fundamental artistic philosophy that views the emotion as a catalyst for change and insight (Dadaism comes for example). The current critical consensus towards Von Trier's latest ignores its nuance in favor of a rather superficial assessment. To get lost in the visceral aspects of Antichrist (or any Von Trier), is to ignore its profound artistic stakes.

Day 3

Studying for my final exam of my Princeton career (as Homer Simpson would say "Woohoo!"), I had to take a breather from movies for the day (again quoting Homer Simpson, "D'oh!"). I did see one film, however, during this most unproductive day.

Tzar dir. Pavel Lounguine - Un Certain Regard

Focusing on the head of the Russian Orthodox Church who stands up against the 16th century monarch Ivan the Terrible, Tzar's most striking feature is its glorious color palette. The film has the same visual excess of golden religious icons and is always visually captivating. At the same time, every performance has a disquieting theatricality about it. While capturing history in operatic terms could have been interesting conceit, the film seems lost within its constant bombast. Instead of pulsating with emotion, the central narrative of a cleric's break away from the clutches of power comes across as oddly empty.

Day 4

With an exam looming in the evening, I set out to view at least a respectable number of films (though the tensions of French life made this simple goal oddly difficult to execute).

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) dir. Pedro Almodovar - In Competition

Another day at Cannes, can mean only one thing: another big name auteur in competition. With Los Abrazos Rotos, Spain's premier director Pedro Almodovar creates a compelling noir tinged tale that manages to cover a myriad of subjects: voyeurism, cinema, sexuality, and (most interesting of all) the filmmakers' fetish for Penelope Cruz.

The film centers on a charming Harry Caine, a successful blind screenwriter who beds women as effortlessly as he writes in the story. Yet Caine has a dark secret, he is nothing more than a pseudonym for the former film director named Mateo Blanco. Slowly, the film unveils the complicated life of the two-faced hero whose life was ruined when he fell in love with Leda (Penelope Cruz), an aspiring actress tied to the deranged millionaire named Ernesto. Through shots that contain acrylic tableaux of revolvers looming behind characters, the filmmaker accentuates the noir elements of the story quietly suggesting how close the characters linger on the precipice of destruction while involved with a scheming millionaire.

The Spanish auteur employs his dark story to commit a very meta-exploration of his medium. The film telegraphs its introspective intentions in the very first shot: an extreme close-up of an eye watching director Mateo. During such moments of reflection, the film gains an affecting sway it otherwise lacks. In one scene, the image of Matheo and Lena embracing is projected onto a TV screen. When the frozen embrace fills this frame, the blind man's hands touch the screen as though he finds the texture and the soul hidden within the image. The film more directly exclaims its love for the medium through such lines as "a film must always be finished, even blindly!" Fittingly, considering the genre of Los Abrazos Rotos, the filmmaker also shows an interest for the more uncomfortable elements of his art.

Almodovar explicitly references the classic film Peeping Tom, a work devoted to all aspects of the obsessive gaze. These allusions illustrate that the filmmaker seeks to play with his almost perverse fetishization at the core of his artistic relationship with Penelope Cruz. No other director lingers so luxuriously on Cruz’s curves and seems so captivated by the actress. Highlighting the inception of the camera for the actress's filed body, the film presents x-rays of Cruz's skeleton. It's a powerful moment where the director confronts his deep-seated and penetrating ardour for his muse.

Penelope Cruz plays Lena as an innocent femme fatale: part loving daughter and part prostitute. When Mateo initially photographs Lena, the actress exudes a convincing radiance. She adopts different wigs and expressions which quietly highlights Cruz's ability to so effortlessly transform when caught under Almodovar's gaze. But unlike her Oscar nominated performance in Almodovar's Volver, Cruz never shows the fierce sensuality nor does the actress ever need to imbue her character with any raw emotion. Due to Cruz's relatively quiet performance limited by the constraints of the narrative, Los Abrazos Rotos lacks an emotional anchor becoming nothing more than a cinematic essay. Like the best essays, the film is intellectually pleasant, but remains more than a bit sterile.

Vincere dir. Marco Bellochio - In Competition

While I have never seen any other of Italian director Marco Bellochio's films, he has been in the competition six times. I initially thought this to be a sign of a filmmaker of remarkable quality and innovation. Boy, was I wrong! Vincere, detailing the struggles of Mussolini's abandoned wife, is a flawed biopic. Nothing more.

The show opens promisingly enough with a scene where the young dictator speaks against a church council. With verve and brio he announces "I defy God!" and asks the creator to strike him down. If he does not end Mussolini's life within five minutes, it will be proof that He doesn't exist. It's an intense scene that stands as a high point in the film which presents the dictator with remarkably little complexity. To detail young Mussolini's grand ambitions while he sits staring straight ahead in bed, the film presents images of war and fascist rallies accentuated by a foreboding and loud score (in case the audience doesn't understand that Italian fascism was, in fact, a bad thing).

Worse still, the film keeps most of its attention not on Mussolini, but upon his abandoned wife Ida Dalser whose union with the dictator has all but been erased from the history books. After their initial dalliance and marriage, Dalser spends the rest of her life trying to get acknowledgment from her fascist love. During her scenes with Mussolini, the woman stares longingly into the distance. When he is off-screen, which is unfortunately far too much of the film, she stares desperately ahead at nothing. In truth, the script gives the lead actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno little to work with outside of the requisite "I'll never give up!" line. Furthermore, the film becomes dramatically dead when she is forced into a mental institution. For long stretches of time, nothing at all happens and the viewer is forced to put up with her overwhelming angst.

Part of the "drama" of the thing is that Dalser is separated not only from her husband but also her son, Benito. You know a movie has failed to resonate emotionally when it uses large portions of the abandonment scene from Charlie Chaplin's The Kid to evoke sympathy from the audience. The film cannot stand out its own.

Vincere is the first selection of the festival to evoke the worst response from me, "meh"... otherwise known as pure indifference. The film actually adds fire to the argument against the selection committee for choosing established filmmakers who have been to the dance before. Director Marco Bellochio's sixth entry should have stayed far away from the festival. Its driving mediocrity makes it by far the worst film I've seen in competition.

Fareed's Unfortunate Brush with French Politics dir. Fate - Out of Competition

Wanting to wash the taste of that blasé production from my mouth, I decided to search out a random action movie D13 Ultimatum (sequel to District B-13) playing in the Marche du Cinema. I thought some spectacular escapist fare would do me good after the pretentious fluff that was Vincere.

Unfortunately, this was a day when French workers decided to express their political right to strike against the Man. In some ways, I guess 'the Man' was me since I certainly felt the consequences of their wrath. Soon after walking into my movie theater's lobby, the lights went out. It was a odd power outage given that Cannes was still enjoying some of that famous Riviera weather. Moments later, the workers at the theater informed the increasingly frustrated journalists in attendance that the strikers had cut off the power. No power=No movies. A devastating formula!

Had I been in negotiations with these people I would've broken down instantaneously and given into all of their demands. After all, you know people are serious when they're willing to take random French action movies away from innocent journalists like myself.

Workers on strike making their presence felt

Rushing to a theater on other side of town, I came face to face with my tormentors. They looked serious and I hoped that they might show some mercy and not completely turn off the light fantastic. Luckily, they showed their generosity towards the other theater and I was able to catch an Israeli comedy Matter of Size playing as part of the Marche du Cinema. Though not quite an action movie, it did serve its purpose as a cinematic tonic. The film about a group of overweight men who form a sumo club in retaliation against the Man (see a theme here?) that is an oppressive diet club, is a fun culture clash film. Although it sometimes needlessly falls into the tropes of the sports movie, where losers somehow go the distance, it did contain one especially subversive and memorable joke.

As the protagonist recounts the death of his equally overweight father, the film flashbacks to the fateful day. Standing on the balcony, the father tells his son to grab a newspaper inside. While the boy completes the chore, the balcony breaks off and the father falls to his death. Rather than react with horror, the son breaks out laughing. This moment of unfettered delight mixed into such a serious situation comes out of nowhere striking an undeniably humorous tone while brazenly defying narrative convention. I laughed so hard I almost wished the scene was longer. Let me tell you, this moment was far better than the entirety of Vincere!

Following these two days of relatively few movies, I'm now back into the groove of things! And let me tell you, movies have been watched. Stay tuned for thoughts on Tarantino's most surprising, political and offensive film Inglourious Basterds.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Colbert, Kirn '83 speaks truthiness to Princeton

Walter Kirn '83, author of the new book Lost in the Meritocracy spoke last night on The Colbert Report with the Class of 2008 Class Day speaker Stephen Colbert. Kirn believes that Ivy League institutions like Princeton are not properly preparing students for the world.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Walter Kirn
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorGay Marriage


Death reported in Harvard shooting

The identity of the "college age" male shot at Harvard yesterday evening has been released and his death has been reported.

Justin Cosbey, 21, was a former Salem State University student who appears to have had no ties to the university. Cosbey died early Tuesday morning after being shot at the entrance to Kirkland House, one of Harvard's residence dorms.

Kirkland House Master Tom Conley told The Crimson that the crime was "in most likelihood, a targeted shooting." The Cambridge Police Department reported last night there was no information on the identity of any suspects.


Monday, May 18, 2009

New Princeton Tell-All

Walter Kirn, author of novel-turned movie Thumbsucker, just came out with a book called Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever . It's supposed to be a memoir about the strangeness of the American education system, but it mostly focuses on Princeton. Its publishers are promoting it this way:
Working his way up the ladder of standardized tests, extracurricular
activities, and class rankings, Kirn launched himself eastward from his rural
Minnesota hometown to the ivy-covered campus of Princeton University. There he found himself not in a temple of higher learning so much as an arena for gamesmanship, snobbery, social climbing, ass-kissing, and recreational drug use, where the point of literature classes was to mirror the instructor's critical theories and actual reading of the books under consideration was optional.
I think things are different now and it should be interesting to compare. The book comes out tomorrow. Expect a review soon!


Kim '01 kicks off campaign for NY City Council

Former USG president PJ Kim ’01 has decided to seek higher office: a seat on the New York City Council.

Kim made things official a couple weeks back and threw his hat into the District 1 race. He’s got a snazzy new website, a Facebook site with 1,300 supporters and has already raised $70,000 for the Sept. 15 Democratic primary in which he will face four opponents, including incumbent Alan Gerson.

The son of Korean immigrants, Kim went to McKinsey after graduation before heading to Harvard for a joint MBA/MPA. A Wilson School concentrator, he also served a four-year tem as Young Alumni Trustee. Not too shabby.

The real estate Kim hopes to represent couldn’t be sweeter: Chinatown, Little Italy, Lower East Side, Tribeca, Soho and the South Street Seaport. Oh, and don’t forget the Financial District and Battery Park. The stretch of downtown Manhattan includes Wall Street, City Hall, the World Trade Center site and NYU.

Kim’s tenure at the helm of the USG was busy time for the University. The trustees voted for the plan to expand the undergraduate population from 4,800 to 5,200 students — a goal that will finally be realized in 2012. Kim also presided over the USG meeting where Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel first announced the idea of a required writing seminar for freshmen. Kim also sat on the selection committee that ultimately made Shirley Tilghman the University’s 19th president.

Kim was also president when the U. decided — without soliciting any undergraduate student input — to convert Chancellor Green, which was a popular café at the time, into academic library and study space. After students piled on the criticism of the move, Kim said the issue meant "[administrators] can't just do business as usual, which is to steam roll it through."


Shooting reported at Harvard

The Harvard Crimson is reporting that a "college aged" man was shot in Kirkland House, one of Harvard's dorms, this evening. House Master Tom Conley stated that the victim was brought to the hospital where he remains in stable condition.

The shooting occurred around 5 p.m. Since then Kirkland House members received an email from Conley and a text message alert was sent to student subscribers informing them of the incident and asking for cooperation with police and staff. The area around Kirkland House has been blocked off by police and students.
This comes less than two weeks after the murder of Wesleyen junior Johanna Justin-Jinich.


Princeton at the Cannes Film Festival: Days 1 & 2

After four years at The Daily Princetonian, I have been able to cover a few interesting film festivals (New York, Tribeca, Philadelphia, Telluride). Now, I set my sights abroad to cover the most venerated cinema event in the world, the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The festival contains a competition for the prestigious Palm D'Or as well as several sidebar series. It runs concurrently with the Marche du Cinema, where dozens of distributors hawk theirs movies quality to potential buyers.
With over a week at the festival, I'll try to get past my all-consuming giddiness (which, don't get me wrong, is very difficult) and uncover whether or not the event actually meets the hype (and I also plan on watching a lot of movies).

This bi-daily multimedia blog is intended as a platform to share my impressions of the festival and should give you an idea of what it's like to be on the ground. A more focused, more traditional feature piece will be posted on the front page following the event. So keep checking out this blog for quasi-exclusive reviews (Princeton is, after all, the only US University covering the festival. We might not be able to beat them in football, but at least we have the movies covered!). I invite you to post your own rants and raves in the comments section.

Day 1:

Free from the burden of comprehensive exams, I made my way to Newark with a spring in my step imagining myself looking over the glittering beaches of the Riviera. Upon my arrival in Nice, I discovered that my preconceptions about the place were right. Southern France really is all about Sun and white beaches. But the best part is that everyone attending Cannes eschews the perfect weather to go to the movies. It's a testament to the festival's allure that such perfect climate can seem so secondary. If this isn't cinema's nirvana, what is?

With its many charming, murals of past movie stars and preponderance of movie theaters, the city of Cannes has clearly been marked by film culture. No theater complex looms larger, then the festival's massive central hub, the Palais du Cinema. The drab cement façade belies a beautiful interior made primarily of pristine marble that continually shimmers under the huge skylight. The tinge of glamor lingers on every facet of the festival from the numerous red carpets to the suit wearing staff members (who, disconcertingly, seem to be better dressed than me).

The whole event is nestled in a pier that embraces the clichés of Mediterranean life with its numerous cafés, pizzerias, and old Frenchmen playing intense games of boules. Whenever you need a freshly made crepe to give you a burst of energy for the last movie of the day, the premier French dessert is always available. Ah, the comforts of a tourist trap!

Kinatay dir. Brillante Mendoza – In Competition

My first film of the festival was the Filipino horror film Kinatay about a police officer-in-training
struggling to support his growing family who becomes embroiled with a gang of corrupt policemen. Kinatay could have been a bold and shocking experiment with the documentary aesthetic if only it had a tighter pace and did not make use of omr cloying horror genre convention.

Although the film has a bold premise, using the horror genre to expose the extremes of Filipino corruption, the slow pacing creates an experience that's more ponderous than engrossing. In an attempt to create the visceral shock of the gruesome acts presented, the film deliberately wallows in the silence that precedes and follows terrible violence. While this initially ramps up the dramatic tension, the film repeats this motif of lingering silence so often, it quickly loses its impact (my jet lag and three hours of sleep might have made things worse).

The stifling pace was somewhat counterbalanced by the film's distinct documentary style. The film never adds a Hollywood style panache to the brutality inflicted by the cops preferring instead to present many scenes of violence almost illegibly. When a girl is bound and gagged in a car, the film shows only interplay of shadows amplified by a few muffled screams. The hand-held style footage adds a heft and authenticity to the extreme violence. What undercuts the power of this snuff film rawness is an ever present horror movie score that attempts to amplify every scene with a foreboding pulse. At its worst, the music makes me meticulously rendered gore appear almost overdone and theatrical.

Kinatay is a film that emphatically illustrates how Cannes does not shy away from more controversial works. Its various flaws left me hoping that the rest of the selection had more substance to support their compelling ideas.

Day 2:

My second day of the festival revealed the controversial trend about this year's competition - it consists mainly of established auteurs who have presented films at Cannes before. Even more exciting was my discovery of a theater that had leather chairs. That's right, real leather chairs. It's all in the details...

Bright Star dir. Jane Campion - In Competition

One of the more buzzed about films in the festival is New Zealand director Jane Campion's Bright Star focusing on the tumultuous romance between the revered 19th-century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. Campion manages to uncover the power behind Keats’ romantic lyrics through her camera lens which imbues its view of the English countryside with a quiet sumptuousness.

Once Keats and Brawne fall in love, Campion presents a sequence that shows the female staring longingly into her billowing curtains over what room. This image is followed by one where the poet lies atop a sun soaked treetop, brimming with quiet satisfaction. Such juxtaposition evokes an emotional transcendence powerfully bringing the characters' inwards passions outwards. Although not a single ounce of flesh is shown, these images of a wild and beautiful nature exude a palpable sensuality.

Besides the lush visuals, Campion's brings out many rich performances from her cast particularly Abbie Cornish, as the increasingly obsessed Fanny. The actress articulates her ecstasy by a small twitch of her hands when her character touches Keats's lips for the first time. Cornish acts with a finesse that ensures her character's ever-increasing ardor never rings false.

At one point in the film, the two lovers walk hand-in-hand freezing in place whenever a young girl looks back at them. This quiet moment, where time briefly stands still, encapsulates a film that perfectly captures the passion of love.

Jaffa dir. Keren Yedaya – Out of Competition

Jaffa is an out of competition film that deftly maintains its suspense throughout its 110 minute running time while chronicling the destruction of a family. Through the increasingly troubled relations between a Jewish car repair shop owner and his Arab employees, the film brings to light the underlying tensions of the everyday Israeli life. While hampered by an unnecessarily showy direction, the film’s cast delivers full bodied performances that lend a texture and life to the film’s often cruel world. As the wife of the elderly car repair shop owner, Ronit Elkabetz gives a terrific angry performance especially when her character attacks her lazy son. With a striking disgust, she spews forth an angered rant against her son's attitude. In an often volatile film, this actress was the most combustible element. I intended to leave the movie early to get a good place for Taking Woodstock, but the film was so gripping, I could not budge from my seat until the credits rolled.

Taking Woodstock dir. Ang Lee – In Competition

I originally saw a few minutes of the film at a screening with the director in Berkeley. The wise cracking clip, where conservative man meets a transvestite, had me worried that the film would never be more than anything but a broad comedy. The final product confirms that, while certainly engaging, the film fails to be up to the caliber of much of Mr. Lee's oeuvre.

This film examines what went on behind the scenes of the famous rock festival Woodstock. Comedian Dimitri Martin stars as Elliott, the ambitious son of parents who own a failed motel. After Elliott provides the Woodstock organizers with the means to host the event in his conservative New York town, his family life is turned upside down. Dimitri Martin shows that he can do more than awkwardly crack jokes, as his quiet demeanor perfectly illustrates the impact of the era-defining event.

Other actors do not fare quite as well particularly the usually consistent Imelda Staunton as Elliott's mother. Her over-the-top performance is too broad for too long ensuring that she comes off as a mere caricature of a home wife rather than a fully realized personality. Staunton points to the difficulties of depicting an iconic event like Woodstock bustling with protesters and millions of hippies. Lee has filled his film with stock characters recognizable throughout pop culture; all are mildly amusing but most unmemorable.

For all its shallow characterization, the film has one scene that makes it worth a look. Taking Woodstock reaches its high, both figuratively and literally, when the protagonist trips out on acid. Lee manages to defy convention here creating a memorable scene of bold colors and oh-so subtle surreal effects. As the protagonist feels the effects of the drug, he sees the colors inside the Volkswagen van slowly blend together. Following these initial strange moments the film cuts to a close up shot of a bright, pulsating mural. When the drugged up Elliott finally happens upon the hundreds of thousands in attendance, tiny figures crowd around a pulsating beam of fluorescent light that is the stage. Remarkably, the filmmaker crafts a sequence that saliently frames the luster and magic of the era. The film rarely reaches such heights of inspiration coasting by on its charming, but forgettable story about a straight-laced guy colliding with the hippie revolution.

Antichrist dir. Lars von Trier - In Competition

There are a few directors I find more exciting than the polarizing Lars Von Trier. He has the uncanny ability to thrive within limits, whether in genre or form, and create films that are at once intellectually engaging and deeply visceral. His latest horror film Antichrist"is no exception.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg star as an intellectual couple who struggle with the loss of their son. The analytical psychologist tries desperately to uncover what drives his wife through a series of tests. Attempting a return to normality, the therapist husband decides to take his wife on a trip to the deserted cabin in the woods, a move that only amplifies their existing fears and neuroses. Increasingly, the shell-shocked wife gains a new dangerous life. She begins to reveal the root of her desperation saying that the forest" once beautiful" was now "made horrible." Both Dafoe and Gainsbourg fully inhabit into their characters, fearlessly exploring the depths of human perversion and malice.

One of the definitive features of many of the director's films are their very intense violence and sex. Here, Von Trier takes these elements to a whole new level of shocking the credit. As though he reevaluates the oft-used phrase "torture porn," the filmmaker intertwines sexuality and violence creating images of gruesome suffering that have rarely been projected on the silver screen before. How do you make a group of jaded film journalist gasp in unison? You show them this almost unbearably violent film.

Yet the frights often go far deeper as Von Trier exposes the twisted and hideous side of everyday nature. When Dafoe comes across a deer within a clearing, he approaches only to discover that its unborn offspring hangs limp outside of it. The film captures the animal hopping away in slow-motion making this quick encounter with the dark side of creation especially searing. Even the landscape is rendered strange constantly distorting as the characters move about it. The image suggests that the forest does not provide any base of reality and remains as mutable as the fragile leads themselves.

Underneath the exploration of the genre, lies a film that poignantly meditates on his artistic failures. In his last film, the comedy The Boss of It All, Von Trier poked fun at his decision to move towards realism with the Dogma 95 movement. His disenchantment with the artistic philosophy manifests itself here in the tension between the scientific psychologist and the fragile wife who embraces the unknown. As they grapple with each other, Lars Von Trier delivers a damning indictment on the movement he created suggesting that any philosophies that claim to be more real are pathetically misguided. Beyond these aesthetic questions, Von Trier confronts the perception that he is a misogynistic filmmaker. By creating a work so deeply vested with the wild and untamed female, the filmmaker explores the troubling ramifications of using femininity as the object of aggression and lust.

The film quickly provides a measuring stick as to whether or not you will enjoy the film. In the first scene, the filmmaker juxtaposes shots of a baby falling to his death with an exquisitely filmed, graphic sex scene marking the first of many memorable penetrations in the film (and not just the kind you're thinking). With the intense and ever audacious Antichrist, the director lays bare the horror genre as well as his art, pondering upon the machinations and merits of both.

Your Reporter

Well, Campion and Von Trier delivered in my first two days at Cannes! Check back Wednesday to find out who really deserves to be at the Cannes Film Festival.