September 2020, arsenal cinema

The Professional – Michael Mann Retrospective

THIEF, 1981

The author, director and producer Michael Mann (*1943) is one of the most outstanding US filmmakers of our time. Over the past four decades, he has set new standards in genre cinema with his artistic expression and precise craft. His visually ambitious films, often made in collaboration with the cameraman Dante Spinotti, are characterized by a joyful enthusiasm for movement, an exposed dramaturgy of colors and a particular feel for music. Because of his intensive preparatory work, meticulous research and perfectionism, Mann has frequently been compared to Stanley Kubrick. A central theme of his work is professional ethos; and the definition of people through their jobs, the relationship between work and morals, between work and masculinity, as well as solitude and loneliness, are recurring motifs Arsenal is showing all 12 of Mann's films.

HEAT (USA 1995, 11.9., Introduction: Verena Lueken & 17.9.) Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his small team usually carry out high-precision but risky robberies in as bloodless a manner as possible. But an assignment with a new accomplice costs the lives of three security guards. It falls to homicide detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) to track down the culprits. Michael Mann's masterpiece, shot exclusively on location in Los Angeles, is a character study of two men who form mirror images of the crime (Hanna: "All I am is what I'm going after"). With its first-class cast, right down to the supporting roles, this thriller takes the genre to its limits and beyond, starting with its epic length, then with its multi-layered characterization of the protagonists and the existential tension between them. "It is the shots of surprisingly contemplative quality, the unusually strong presence of women and the downplaying of an otherwise exaggerated and extroverted genre, which lead the action away from where it usually is in such films and imperceptibly turn the plot into a synonym for life towards the end of the 20th century." (Franz Everschor)

THE JERICHO MILE (USA 1979, 12. & 14.9.) Larry "Rain" Murphy (Peter Strauss) is serving a life term for the murder of his violent father. He keeps to himself to avoid rival gangs and runs around the jail courtyard to stay fit. After breaking a world record, the prison administration decides to register him for the Olympic Games. Mann was the first director to be given permission to shoot a film in California's Folsom Prison. He shot his film with 10 actors and 600 inmates, who were paid and also got a chance to approve the screenplay for credibility, as did the wardens. During the shoot, the gangs agreed to a ceasefire. The success of the TV production, which won several awards, led to a cinema release in several countries, including both German states.

THIEF (USA 1981, 12. & 25.9.) The professional jewel thief Frank (James Caan) is a loner who robs safes with his partners Barry (James Belushi) and Joseph. When mob boss Leo makes him an offer worth millions, he is reluctant at first but he agrees to carry out contract work so that he can fulfil bourgeois dreams faster. Leo finds him a house and an adopted child and immediately starts to exploit him. But then Frank decides to take his revenge. The clarity and elegance of Mann's atmospheric debut, as well as its high technical standards, brought him international recognition.

THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (USA 1992, 13. & 15.9.) This colonial war epic, loosely based on the eponymous novel by James Fenimore Cooper, is set in 1757 during the Seven Years' War, when Britain and France were fighting for control of North America. At the film's center is Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), the white adopted son of the Mohawk chief Chingachcook. He and his brother Uncas try to protect the two abducted daughters of the British officer Munro from the Huron chief Magua (Wes Studi), who has sworn revenge for the death of his family. "Michael Mann not only cleverly tells the story of the colonization wars because his sequences can never be completely detached from a political subtext but also stages them with astonishing sovereignty – astonishing because one might not have expected this 'big city director' to cope so well with other landscapes. With an eye for the vastness and beauty of the forests as well as for the connection between people and the environment in which they move, often down to the smallest physical detail, the film returns to Cooper and to the adventure novel's dreams of freedom." (H.G. Pflaum)

THE KEEP (GB 1983, 13. & 18.9.) In 1941, the Wehrmacht officer Woermann (Jürgen Prochnow) and his troops occupy an old citadel in the Carpathian Mountains to monitor a mountain pass. The walls of the pyramid-like building seem to hold a mysterious being that kills soldiers cruelly at night. When writing in an ancient language appears on the wall, an SS officer named Kaempffer retrieves the Jewish historian Prof. Cuza from a concentration camp so that he can help get to the bottom of the matter. Borrowing from both the horror and war genres, this "World War II Fairy Tale" (Mann) was produced in difficult conditions. The studio cut the final version by 24 minutes against the director's will.

THE INSIDER (USA 1999, 16.9., Introduction: Peter Körte & 22.9.) In a television interview with the CBS journalist Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), Jeffrey Wigand (Russel Crowe) confesses that the tobacco industry adds substances to cigarettes to make them more addictive. He is then subjected to direct threats and psychological terror. The TV station refuses to broadcast the interview for fear of financial losses and suspends Bergman. Based on true events, THE INSIDER is about the power of big corporations and the decline of independent journalism. This breathtaking political thriller consists of nothing but dialogue; it is an action film without any shots or car chases.

MANHUNTER (USA 1986, 18. & 25.9.) At full moon, two families are cruelly murdered, one after the next, but the perpetrator leaves no trace other than teeth marks. Stumped, the police turns to former FBI profiler Will Graham, who is gifted with being able to get into the heads of criminal psychopaths, for help. A few years ago, he put serial killer Hannibal Lektor behind bars but he quit the service after undergoing psychiatric treatment as a result. "Michael Mann transposes the surface aesthetics he developed for the television series Miami Vice to this reduced high-concept thriller, which is staged with somnambulistic precision. William Peterson as the driven, yet exhausted, policeman and Tom Noonan as the vampire-like serial killer drift through monochrome interiors. In the outdoor scenes, their contours often lose themselves completely in the darkness. The images are cold yet vivid, especially in their supposed stasis, at once enchantingly elegant and potentially deadly, like the sedated tiger over whose fur Joan Allen lets her hand slide in a particularly beautiful scene. (Lukas Foerster)

ALI (USA 2001, 20. & 23.9.) This film, which starts with a Sam Cooke medley and is marked throughout by a specific beat, focuses on 10 eventful years in the life of Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali (Will Smith). Between 1964 and 1974, he beat Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight champion, then got involved with the Nation of Islam and started hanging out with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles), then he refused to serve in Vietnam and applied to be classified as a conscientious objector ("Ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger"). As a result, he was stripped of his title and passport. After his conviction was overturned, he triumphantly regained the heavyweight champion title in the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa.

PUBLIC ENEMIES (USA 2009, 21. & 27.9.) In 1933/34, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and his gang keep the Midwest in suspense with their bank robberies. J. Edgar Hoover uses the "crime wave" to equip the federal police against all odds and to enhance the investigative methods of his newly-created FBI. In this gangster film, shot against the backdrop of the Great Depression and structural change in the USA, with a high-resolution digital camera, Mann explores the origins of the pop myth "Public Enemy No. 1". Dillinger, with whom much of the population sympathized, was the first person to be declared a "public enemy". His antagonist was  Hoover's confidant Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), who partly inspired the comic character Dick Tracy.

MIAMI VICE (USA 2006, 24. & 26.9.) The FBI suspects there might be a mole in its own ranks after two agents are murdered. Two undercover agents from Miami, Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) and James "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell), are brought in to pass themselves off as drug traffickers and insinuate their way into the inner circle of the Colombian drug baron Arcángel de Jesús Montoya's and his companion Isabella (Gong Li). A good 20 years after the television series of the same name, in which he played a significant role as executive producer, Mann made a fast-paced neo-noir thriller, with grainy imagery and cold colors that had little in common with the series: "No flamingos, bikinied beauties, guest appearances by old TV stars, light blue Armani suits and Latino pop, but hip-hop, dark shirts and suits in muted colors, international drug lords and neo-Nazis (...) If the TV series was pastel-colored pop, then the film is dark free jazz." (Ulrich Kriest)

COLLATERAL (USA 2004, 26. & 30.9., Introduction: Ulrich Kriest) Max (Jamie Foxx), who has been working as a taxi driver in Los Angeles for 12 years, dreams of running own limousine service. His life takes a dramatic turn when a passenger (Tom Cruise) offers him $600 to chauffeur him that same night. At the first stop, Max realizes that he is dealing with a professional killer who has been hired by a drug cartel to kill the four most important witnesses and the public prosecutor ahead of a trial the next day. Dependent on each other, the two exchange their views on existential questions. Alongside Tom Cruise (in a rare role as a bad guy) and Jamie Foxx, the third protagonist is Los Angeles at night. This is a thriller with echoes of US and French film noir, impressive musicality, nocturnal poetry and breathtakingly choreographed action scenes.

BLACKHAT (USA 2015, 27. & 28.9.) Malware introduced by a "blackhat" causes a serious explosion at a nuclear power plant in Hong Kong. Cyber-attacks carried out at the same time in the USA fail. Chinese experts and FBI agents looking for the perpetrators make a deal with the imprisoned master hacker Nicholas Hathaway for his cooperation. By casting "Thor" actor Chris Hemsworth as Hathaway, Mann rejected the common perception that hackers are lanky nerds who are incapable of social interaction. "It is also fitting that Michael Mann seems to have generally set himself the goal of defending what is tangible and physical against what is digital: His film about the virtualization of crime relies quite literally on physicality and sensuality. This can be seen in the usual shoot-outs and the love scenes as well as in certain brief moments, for example when Hathaway stops on his way towards freedom to allow the vastness of the flat landscape take effect on him". (Felicitas Small) (hjf)

arsenal cinema: Walk on the Wild Side – The Films of Bertrand Bonello

08:00 pm Cinema 1


L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la Maison Close)

L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la Maison Close) House of Tolerance
F 2011 With Noémie Lvovsky, Adèle Haenel, Xavier Beauvois
DCP OV/GeS 122 min

Followed by a conversation with Bertrand Bonello (in English language)