Friday, April 22, 2016

Nosh 12: 'Krisha,' 'Marguerite' and 'City of Gold'

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of Krisha, Marguerite and City of Gold)
Krisha is not one of the gummy feel-goods for seniors. At the start, Krisha is a mask of ravaged endurance. By the end, she is devoid of cover. In her 60s, Krisha goes to her sister’s comfy Southern California home for Thanksgiving, facing a family rich in resentment of her busted marriage, alcoholism, pills, rampant insecurity. Her grown son won’t even look at her.

The cynical husband of Krisha’s sister, played by scene-grabber Bill Wise, uncorks Nicholson-ian zingers (fireballs like “I eat leather and shit saddles”). Dogs run around, underscoring the family tensions. When Krisha suffers a humiliating turkey moment, everyone appears to be considering how to carve her up. Everyone occupies an ego cage, but only Krisha is truly alone.

Trey Edward Shilts wrote, directed and plays the son. Employing his aunt Krisha Fairchild and a few other relatives, he has carved a digital bar of soap with great intimacy. He found just the moment to unleash Nina Simone’s “Just in Time,” and his movie recalls, in its hunger for thespian catharsis, actor-loving auteur John Cassavetes. Fairchild, using every mood and unflattering close-up as if cashing in a bucket of career tokens, ranks close to Cassavetes spouse and star Gena Rowlands. Krisha is almost a “reality show” pilot, yet with the cutes and compromises removed, exposing moments so vulnerable that you may wish to turn away, but can’t.

Director-writer Xavier Giannoli floods Marguerite with beautiful music, as if to emphasize that Baroness Marguerite Dumont can’t sing (echo of Groucho’s Margaret Dumont, and also the chanson “Si Tu Vuex Marguerite” in Renoir’s The Grand Illusion). Though her estate’s peacock screeches better high notes, Marguerite is drunk on music. At lavish private performances, invited listeners cringe, suppressing laughs because she sounds like a constipated parrot from a tone-deaf planet. In 1920s Paris, her public demolition of “La Marseillaise” provokes a scandal.

Somewhat inspired by fabled awful singer Florence Foster Jenkins (whom Meryl Streep portrays in a coming movie), the film is wonderfully populated. While Marguerite’s husband (subtle AndrĂ© Marcon) squirms in embarrassment, and comforts himself with a mistress, her huge black servant (formidable, Congo-born Denis Mpunga) sustains her mad fantasy, like Erich von Stroheim did for Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. A fading Italian tenor (funny Michel Fau) is bribed to prepare her for a public recital. Though he doesn’t say “Some people can sing, some people can’t,” like exasperated opera coach Fortunio Bonanova in Citizen Kane, he does prompt her to sing “like a Chinese whore.”

Marguerite has a Parisian taste for overstated concepts, but Giannoli’s almost satirical approach finds a poignant, sobering metronome: Catherine Frot as delicately dreamy Marguerite. She cannot hear her vocal sound (a case of psychic ear wax), but her love of great music surpasses deluded egotism. In her head, her rendition of Mozart’s aria “Queen of the Night” is sublime. Frot makes us want to hear what she does – at least in the shower.      

Not since Jiro Dreams of Sushi has food been so humanly garnished as in City of Gold, Laura Gabbert’s documentary salute to prize-winning restaurant critic Jonathan Gold. A Los Angeles native, Gold raises small, often ethnic eateries to fame and profit (dining pundits can impact more potently than movie critics). Sampling dishes on repeat visits, Gold opens up a vast diaspora of nabes, cuisines and kitchen crews. He is an aesthetic anthropologist, a gourmand whose taste buds of  reflective curiosity devour Ethiopian banquets, glorious pastas, Oaxacan grasshoppers, Thai pepper dishes that napalm the tongue. Gold's romantic, cruising feel for L.A.’s ugly-duckling beauty is the film’s dominant spice, and we stuff it all in.  

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
In 1941, in an elevator at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, Citizen Welles met up with Citizen Hearst and said: “Mr. Hearst, my name is Orson Welles …A movie of mine called Citizen Kane is opening tonight here in town, at the Geary Theater on Mason St. If you’d care to attend I’d be glad to have some tickets sent to your room.’ Hearst ignored the speaker. The elevator doors stopped, the doors opened, and he stepped out. ‘I’m disappointed in you, Mr. Hearst,’ Welles couldn’t resist calling out, as the doors closed. ‘Kane would have accepted!” (From John Evangelist Walsh’s vivid, under-sung Walking Shadows.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
After Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson topped Funny Face: “Loud, tall and long-jawed, Kay at 48 was a queen bee thrilled by her royal jelly. She had dropped the name Cathy Fink, gotten a nose job, and become a swing band canary. After MGM service, she left to form an act with Andy Williams and his brothers, and they dazzled fans into a cult. She educated the Williams boys, and in his memoir Andy would say, ‘whatever it was, I loved everything about her.” (From the Hepburn/Funny Face chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, coming next month).

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Kay Thompson in Funny Face, 1957 (Paramount Pictures; director Stanley Donen,  cinematographer Ray June)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

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