Kaurismäki thus invites his spectator to read his work in primarily visual terms, attending first to the color continuities in his mise-en-scène, and then, once his schema is established with overwhelming regularity, to those moments of variation where the absence of even one absent hue provides reason for notice. One such instance occurs with Mrs. Marx, Arletty's (Kati Outinen) hospitalization. Here, Kaurismäki initially withholds yellow from his visual field - with Macel's single rose providing the composition's red splash; it is only with the latter's delivery of Arletty's yellow dress that the film's palette is brought to its completion, which as it happens occurs in conjunction with a major narrative revelation. In fact, though Kaurismäki's strategies display a familial relation to Pedro Almodóvar's mannerism, Le Havre does alternately utilize its palette with an eye to the film's narrative subject: even more than the work's primary tones, Kaurismäki's marked introduction of black-and-white to dress his law enforcement officials procures a distinctive metaphorical value, as it suggests a strict, insufficiently flexible and compassionate legal morality. Consequently, the film's more vibrant palette retrospectively secures its own, inverted signification, as a poetic emblem of the bohemian value system that defines the Finnish maestro's latest. Le Havre indeed represents Kaurismäki working at the peak of his filmmaking powers.
Twenty Cigarettes (2011) progresses according to the same theme-and-variation visual logic as Kaurismäki's latest, albeit without its narrative armature. Rather, the Structuralist filmmaker's latest presents another in a series of minimalist, one-take countdowns depicting an eponymous subject: here, the duration required by twenty on-screen smokers to complete a single cigarette. Benning's libertarian-spirited work finds its interest in the differences that the act itself emits - that is, in how the cigarette is held, the manner in which the smoke is exhaled and so on - as well as in the faces themselves, the intractable canvases that have come to replace the filmmaker's landscapes. Benning presents each of his multi-ethnic 'performers' before visually congruent, unfortunately on-the-nose backgrounds that combine with his human figures to produce totalizing spatial fields. If Twenty Cigarettes thus suggests the possibility of an important new direction for Benning, that is in his movement from landscape to face, the filmmaker's HD latest is in every other sense a minor achievement, the product of spare moments plotted and captured during Benning's itinerant globe-trotting. Twenty Cigarettes is a smoke-break in Benning's rich body of work.
Janus Films will begin its limited release of Le Havre on October 21, 2011, while The New York Film Festival will screen Twenty Cigarettes once as part of its "Views from the Avant-Garde" series, Sunday, October 9 at 9:00 PM.