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The Letterboxd Show 2.19: Angelica Jade Bastién
[clip of The Passionate Friends plays]
HOWARD You see if I thought that you and Mary could make any sort of a life together, I might feel very differently about this. But I don’t think you could.
STEVEN How can you possibly judge?
HOWARD You say you love Mary?
STEVEN Yes. I always have.
HOWARD You may love her, but you don’t know her. I do. Our marriage has been very successful until now. It’s based on freedom and understanding and a very deep affection. It’s the marriage Mary and I both wanted. Your love is the romantic kind. The kind that makes big demands, nearness, belonging, fulfillment, priority over everything else. That isn’t the kind Mary really wants. Although you almost persuaded her that it was. Don’t you see the two together a dangerous? I’m not blaming either of you. It can’t help it. You couldn’t have changed it. You just have to keep away from one another. And in future I’m going to see to it that you do.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
GEMMA Hello, and welcome to The Letterboxd Show, a podcast about the movies people love watching from Letterboxd: the social network for people who love watching movies. Each episode your hosts Slim and Gemma—that’s me—are joined by a Letterboxd friend for a chat about their four favorite films, according to their Letterboxd profile. As you listen along, we have links in the episode notes, so there is no excuse not to add these films to your watchlists. Today for Noirvember, our guest is the incredible film critic and spooky dame, Angelica Jade Bastién. [Angelica laughs]
SLIM Angelica is a critic and writer for Vulture among other outlets. She has been on Letterboxd since late 2019, coming in hot with a one-star review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. [Gemma laughs] Oh my word.
ANGELICA That’s right! That was my first. [Angelica laughs]
SLIM I gave it two stars, so this is a safe space for all three of us here. Don’t worry. She keeps an excellent list of films encompassing The Feminine Grotesque and has an ongoing interest in both Keanu Reeves and noir. We could talk to Angelica on literally any day of the year, but she’s here now for Noirvember because her four faves included a notorious film that has just gotten a 4K release—Possession. But we’re also talking with Le Samouraï, The Passionate Friends and The Handmaiden. Could we just spend the next hour talking about Possession? Is that what we should do?
ANGELICA Yeah, I mean, that’s totally fine with me. [Slim laughs] I find it really funny that I’m on this podcast, partially because I am terrible with updating my Letterboxd. I have an ongoing list of like a lot of movies—over about 30, 40 movies I still need to log just from the last two months. [Gemma laughs] And then everything else previously, I’m like, I don’t care. It’s not going to have everything from this year. But, you know, I try! Sometimes I’m just like, who cares? This movie was so boring. I don’t even want to log it! [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA It is all good however you choose to use Letterboxd. You know, there are the people—you see them on TikTok—pulling out their phones just before the credits start rolling and getting that log in. And then there’s me going ‘Wait, I think I watched three Harry Potter films in the last month. I suppose I better throw them in the log.’
ANGELICA Yeah, I started this year and I was like, okay, we’re gonna log everything. We’re gonna log everything in Letterboxd, we’re gonna write down every book we read, every comic book we read. We’re going to keep track of the art we absorbed this year. It didn’t happen. By February, I was like, ‘Wait, what did I say again? I don’t remember what I’ve been watching, whatever.’
SLIM When we were looking at your four faves, I read an interview with you that kind of jumped out at me. There’s a quote that I’ll recite real quick before we get into Possession. “What guides me as a critic first and foremost is my passion and my curiosity. I hope that shows through my work that I really love the forms of film and television. They mean a lot to me and they’re distinctive, and they’re beguiling and they’re challenging.” And I can’t think of any more film that is both beguiling and challenging than Possession, as your number one fave on Letterboxd. Oh my god. And speaking of which, I noticed Gemma, I think you wrote your own Gemma synopsis for this film. You thought the default one couldn’t cut it. So do you want to read that?
ANGELICA Oh, yeah!
GEMMA I do. So this is from 1981. I am embarrassed to say I looked over all over YouTube and attempted to practice saying Andrzej Żuławski’s name and I have already mangled it. So I apologize to our Polish friends listening but anyway. This is a—this is a film from 1981 about Isabelle Adjani, who is Anna. Sam Neill is Mark. Their son is named Bob. That seems really important to a lot of Letterboxd reviewers by the way—the son’s name being Bob. It seems like the worst crime that this film commits above all the other insane things going on—anyway. Anna has left Mark for unspecified reasons and he is determined to uncover the truth. Hiring private detectives, fronting up to Heinrich another of his wife’s lovers who seems unable to button his billowing shirts all the way up, and leaving Bob far too often with Anna’s best friend Margit. Gradually, Mark finds out more. And as Anna’s mysterious double life reveals itself, things get truly insane. I don’t know, I feel like that’s slightly better than just your standard synopsis. But it sort of leaves out a whole bunch of stuff like the cultural context in which this film was made. The fact that it’s sort of filmed in Berlin within view of the wall. That Mark is a spook himself, you know, who is being followed by spooks. There’s all sorts of other stuff going on quite outside the divorcing couple scenario. But anyway, gets a 4.1 on Letterboxd. You are among the 3800 fans of this film. What was your first experience with Possession? Oh, actually, first, how many times do you think you’ve watched it at this point, Angelica?
ANGELICA Oh, not too many times—maybe about like, four or five times? Not like that many times. I guess that’s—that’s relative, I guess, for people.
SLIM Some people I would talk to probably would never want to watch it one time, let alone four or five times. [Gemma laughs]
ANGELICA Yeah, it’s just like, I don’t know. It’s one I really want to write about in a lengthier manner for myself. So I just kind of revisit it every now and then and I’m like, man, this shits weird. Okay... [Gemma & Slim laugh] What is she doing with this slimy looking fucking thing? Okay, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GEMMA So spoilers for those yet to see it—[Gemma laughs]—It’s not just about Isabelle going nuts and going completely bonkers in a subway tunnel is it? It’s a creature feature as well.
SLIM Do you remember the first time you sat down to watch it and what that experience was like?
ANGELICA Yeah, I was just able to track her down a little bit ago, I don’t know, about five or so years ago—no wait, maybe longer. Oh, I don’t want to age myself. [Slim laughs] We’ll just say five years ago. Okay. Yeah, that sounds right. And I just remember being awed by it. It was a film I had heard so much about before watching it though, which I really don’t like usually. I like kind of coming into a movie—it’s fine, you know, having a general sense about things. But when you’ve heard so much of things, when you’ve seen so many grimy little screenshots on a Tumblr—okay, so this was maybe—
SLIM Maybe longer than five years. [Gemma laughs]
ANGELICA I’m talking Tumblr. I’m now realizing this—but anyway. It was long enough ago. And I just remember every time I thought I had a handle on the film, and what it was saying both through the actual divorce setup of the film, and then all the weird doubling aspects of it, like there’s doppelgangers galore, which is something I find truly creepy for whatever reason. It’s one of my favorite little narrative tropes. And so whenever I see that in a film or a fairy tale, you see those, you know, doppelgangers pop up and those a lot. I am very delighted because I think they say a lot about how we view ourselves and others and, you know, it’s a really fun way of thinking about reflections and mirror images and stuff like that.
GEMMA It is so hard—it has been so hard to find. And I guess that’s why I hadn’t seen it until this past week. Although I did listen to Slim’s other podcasts, 70mm, I listened to the Possession episode because I was fascinated by the idea of a film where in order for all the hosts to see, this one kind of DVD or Blu-ray has to do the rounds, has to physically go in the mail and make it to other people before you can record an episode. And then finally, you know, because it’s had the season at Metrograph and the 4K is finally able to buy, I was able to watch it on a Vimeo link sent to us by Metrograph. You know, in my own home and it was like—it’s lovely. It’s a privilege, but it’s so fascinating to sort of arrive at it at a time when there is just review after review landing on Letterboxd from a whole lot of first timers like me.
GEMMA It’s one of those films where I had to go and dive in and find out more about the production of it. I watched like a twenty-minute interview with the director on YouTube just yesterday where I learned all sorts of insane things, like that he cut the film in nine days. And that he treats the editing suite like it’s a lounge. Brings in champagne, the actors drop by for drinks—like I’m thinking, this film? [Slim laughs] Like I can imagine that with some kind of, you know, schlocky Marvel blockbuster. But can you imagine the editing room of Possession just being like this champagne swilling lounge full of the people who worked on it? I don’t know.
ANGELICA I kind of love that energy though for editing. Oh my god, I need to bring that sort of energy into my own creative process I think. [Gemma laughs] I love that.
SLIM Some of the Letterboxd reviews that Jack has pulled, “I can’t believe Isabelle invented acting in that one subway scene.” The subway scene in this movie is an all timer.
ANGELICA It’s a scene that reminds me what film is for—like seriously. What film acting can really do. You know, it’s funny hearing a lot of people’s opinions of the film now that it’s far more accessible. One of my close friends saw it and she hated it. [Angelica & Gemma laugh] She like really hated it. You know? I subtweeted her too. [Angelica & Slim laugh] It’s so mean. But that’s subway scene, I’m like how can you deny the power of that scene? It’s just such primal energy unleashed. And it’s so raw and uncomfortable and hard to like, look at. It almost dares you to look away, her acting in that scene. It’s so bold. Oh, I love it so much.
[clip of Possession subway scene plays]
GEMMA I really want to dig into this concept of The Feminine Grotesque because I watched that scene and my film brain is going, ‘God this is an incredible setup, incredible action. You cannot see a crew member for miles. She’s just obviously going for it. This is amazing.’ My… my wildly hormonal feminine brain which has struggled with rage pretty much since I was born is going, ‘Yeah, girl. I want to do that.’ The number of times I have just wanted to let loose like that or I’ve been afraid of leaving loose like that and had to hold back. And then when you swallow that rage, it comes out in other ways.
ANGELICA Anger is one of my foremost like, thematic obsessions—specifically the way women handle anger. And even within that, you know, culturally and racially, there’s very different experiences with anger amongst women. I’ve never had a problem showing my anger. Because my whole thing was at a young age, I was like, you’re gonna think I’m angry anyway, because I’m a black woman. So you know what? You want to angry? I’ll give you angry. Fuck you. [Gemma laughs] That’s usually been my way towards things but I know for other women, it’s a huge fear to even speak up even a little bit. I’ve always been just a really super independent—also kind of an asshole, to be honest—that kind of makes it easier for me to let loose. Although, the letting loose that she does, is a level I don’t think I’ve ever hit to be honest. I don’t know of anyone who has in day to day life. [Gemma laughs] But it is something to aspire to. Because it’s—how many times can we really say that we’ve let the fuck go? Like really let go and bared every ugly emotion that is inside of us? You know what I mean?
GEMMA Oh, maybe two or three times including at one poor airport attendant who was berating me for walking my child in his push chair across a piece of road that buses go past, but there were no buses there at the moment. And he started shouting, “You don’t cross there, you cross over there. Are you trying to kill your baby?”
SLIM Oh god.
GEMMA At which point well, it all came out.
ANGELICA Oh yikes.
GEMMA But I do remember in this moment, looking around and going, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the crazy lady. I’m the crazy lady.’ But I think I—I don’t really remember what I was saying, I do think I said about twenty times, “Or you could help. Or you could help. Or you could help.” This sort of repetition that that that comes from this—yeah, that’s what I loved about that scene is that it’ so like, they go full film. They do things on film that I have in a real life, but I’m watching that Subway scene and I’m like, that is so—[Gemma laughs] I’m feeling it. That is so true to life.
ANGELICA The subway scene feels like a really stunning lesson in controlled chaos, because it feels like such unbridled emotion. But obviously, there’s an actor who’s making decisions behind it. You know, these movements and these sounds, these facial expressions. So it’s kind of hard to think of an example that walks that line specifically. You know, there’s certain things that even pop up in my head—this is so weird—are films that end with dancing that you weren’t going to expect end with dancing. This isn’t like an obvious comparison, but Mads Mikkelsen in Another Round and how it ends with all that dancing. There’s a similar emotional freedom, although they’re very opposite ends of what emotions are dealing with. Obviously with him, it’s more like this joy after such heaviness and almost like a celebration of life, while Isabelle Adjani in Possession is doing something different and way darker. But for some reason that really popped into my head. Or something like even the lead performance in Holy Motors really has a wildness to it in certain segments.
GEMMA I did want to ask you a question, Slim. Related—bringing it back to Sam Neill, who by the way, I did hear in an excellent episode of the Blank Check podcast with Griffin and David that you are on Angelica, the phrase ‘time travel fuck list’.
GEMMA Can you describe? [Gemma laughs]
ANGELICA Welcome to my church, it’s hedonism, that is my church. So the time travel fuck list, I always like to kind of joke that of course, I would never actually time travel because I’m a black woman. That doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. [Gemma laughs] But if for some reason I somehow was stuck time traveling, I would fuck my way through time. Because why not? You know? And there’s so many hot people throughout recent history. And, you know, a younger Sam Neill on that list for me.
GEMMA Oh yeah.
ANGELICA Paul Newman through various decades on that list. Alain Delon on that list.
GEMMA Well, we’ll come to him soon.
ANGELICA Yeah, he’s a mess in real life. But, you know. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM That’s a good question. I feel like it should be on that list. I put a lot of time and effort and meditation behind the Man Ass list, where bare men asses appear in a film. So I’m going to have to crunch the numbers. I’m going to speak with my team on the Man Ass list and ensure that that’s in there. [Slim laughs] My last thought on Possession, couldn’t find an answer to this in researching. In the beginning of the movie, he’s kind of like talking about someone that he’s following, or he’s responsible for this job that he’s doing and he talks about the color of socks that he wears. And at the end of the movie, a character that you’ve seen already shows up wearing pink socks. What was the connection between all that? Was that just a red herring in terms of the storyline? Angelica, do you remember that?
ANGELICA Yeah, I just kind of looked at it as a weird aside or red herring. I didn’t take it as seriously or found such interesting connections and it didn’t get under my skin the way I think it seems to have gotten under yours. [Slim laughs]
SLIM I went on Reddit like immediately. I think I typed ‘Possession pink socks meaning’.
GEMMA I immediately thought we need to add pink socks to our ever growing Letterboxd podcast merch store. But I think—I don’t know—I’m just gonna hazard a guess because I think it is important to put Possession in the cultural context that it was made in. Which is 1981, Communism still very much intact and alive in the Eastern Bloc. The director had been working on another film, some kind of sci-fi film, which he spent several months on. And then the then Minister of Culture who—like in Poland, the Minister of Culture would sign off a film as kind of the co-producer. Bizarre. That would fund the films as well. So, you know, great public funding for films but also censorship and signing off. And the then Minister of Culture was like, “No, no, this film is not continuing.” The sets were burned, the costumes were buried, the whole thing was shut down. After which he’s walking down one of Warsaw’s miserable, gloomy, grey streets and imagines the story of a woman who cultivated—and I quote—“In a small flat, something unimaginable beyond all systems, beyond the grey street and red flags.” And so I think that the pink socks and the spooks are his way of reminding us that there’s this story about this couple and this woman’s obsession and possession and kind of growing desire for something. And then there’s the society around them that’s kind of always there and always looking.
ANGELICA You add some really interesting context to how we can interpret this film. I think that’s what makes a film like Possession so fascinating is how many readings of it you can do. You can come at it from so many different angles. It’s just a really rich text.
GEMMA Yeah, you can see it purely as a couple who have been together based on each other’s potential, but are not enjoying the reality. Or you can see it as this kind of, you know, this attempt to create something fully unleashed within a quite strict regime. Or you can just watch it for Samuel’s beautiful man ass. [Slim laughs] Speaking of which, shall we talk about Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967, professional hitman film, Le Samouraï, which is rated even higher on Letterboxd at 4.2. It’s beautiful. Where does it sit in your heart Angelica?
ANGELICA I feel like the first time I saw that was like a spiritual experience. [Angelica laughs] Like truly, because it was the first Melville film I had seen. It was in college. I remember the apartment, it was this very small apartment I was living in at the time. I don’t think I had ever seen an Alain Delon film. And I don’t even know how I heard of it, or what originally attracted me to tracking it down. But I just—[Angelica laughs] Alain Delon has like a face made for being put in front of a camera. It’s like, Jesus! I was so taken by his beauty that the rest of the film was like totally a blur to me. I was just like, looking at him. I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just looking at this guy right here.’ So the moment it was over, I was like, let me watch it again. But also pay attention to how the acting is actually interacting with everything else in this film. I just, I really love that movie. It’s just a great beautifully shot in terms of its style, and its use of, you know, its framing. Its use of Alain Delon’s beautiful blue eyes. You know, it knows what it’s doing.
SLIM Yeah, the first time I watched this, I thought the lead was American. I was like, wait, is this an American in a French movie? Because I had never seen this actor before also. And there’s one Letterboxd review Jack pulled: “My main complaint about this movie is what gives Alain Delon the right to be the pinnacle of human beauty like that. He didn’t check in with any of us about it. That was very uncool of him.” [Gemma laughs] That’s from matthewcutchen. I mean, everything he does in this movie, just like using like 50 keys to start a car.
ANGELICA I know.
SLIM The movie could be two hours of that and I’ll be like, yeah, this is really good.
ANGELICA I know. I was just like, this is like, wow. This man is mesmerizing. This is what film acting can do. I have a friend of mine, Shelley, we like to talk a lot about acting because she’s done acting and she’s really into film as well. And she always reminds me that, you know, a lot of acting, people forget is shaped by editing. And it also things happening on set that we will not know about, we can’t. So we’re judging a final product, which is through a very specific curated lens, right? But damn, I feel like Alain Delon could do pretty much anything. Like just him walking across the room of his apartment is somehow so evocative and just so, just his physicality is just really beautiful. [cat meows in the background] And as you can hear it, that’s a cat. I apologize. [Gemma laughs]
SLIM The cat agrees.
GEMMA I just want to say, nobody else could lay on a bed for the first five minutes of a movie smoking a cigarette and not moving otherwise, like him.
ANGELICA Exactly. It’s such an interesting beginning for a film because you’re like—I remembered the first time I watched it, and I’m like, wait, what’s going on? I don’t see—is there anything? What’s happening? And then it’s like, oh, there’s this man! He’s actually just not—he’s barely moving. And so there’s a hypnotizing sort of quality to his physicality, which is really interesting. Also, smoking—hot.
ANGELICA It’s very erotic, even though it’s gross, but it’s erotic too. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA It’s like, people smoking and kissing in real life is so different from the way people smoke and kiss on the movies, right? It’s like, you have to kiss in a different way for the camera, to pick up all the angles and the light falling on cheeks. And, you know, the way people grab each other from behind the neck, which just—I don’t know, speaking for myself—doesn’t generally happen as often in real life.
GEMMA I was thinking though, that for those who have not seen Le Samouraï, we should probably describe the plot in a short amount of detail, so we can dive into a couple of favorite scenes. So Alain Delon, who is the most beautiful man in the world, despite being a far right wing—
ANGELICA Oh, piece of shit. Sorry.
GEMMA Piece of shit, yeah. [Gemma laughs] Is Jef Costello—professional hitman. His latest job is a swift hit on a nightclub owner. But when several witnesses claim to have seen him, he must make sure all his alibis are in place. Can his fedora and extremely well fitting trench coat protect him from both a persistent police investigator and a ruthless employer? Which leads me to I guess the surprise for me about this film as a first time watch, was I was expecting a straightforward kind of hitman chase scenario. But like, firstly, any chases that happen are pretty much on foot. And not just on foot, but strolling slowly through the Paris metro system. And then he does actually get caught and taken in for questioning by the cops, which leads to one of the most incredibly well choreographed scenes that I’ve seen in a film literally ever. Which is a room full of potential suspects and some other people being questioned over there, another room full of cops and investigators on the job. Many, many doors. People coming back and forth and back and forth cross checking stories. It’s so great. We need more. We need more interrogation scenes like that in movies.
ANGELICA Yeah, maybe I’d to give a damn about cop characters if they were so artfully blocked. [Angelica & Gemma laugh] Probably not. But, you know, at least give me some style. And this is a film with so much style. Like it’s just like, every frame feels artful and so beautifully composed. [cat meows] Not as annoying as having a cat who’s as loud as my cat. [Gemma laughs] There’s nothing of annoyance.
GEMMA I feel like your cat is maybe your version of Jef Costello’s canary or whatever that bird is.
GEMMA That very good bird in his apartment. [Angelica laughs] You think, ‘Oh, this is like the companion for loneliness.’ But actually, no, it’s just his alarm system. That bird, that excellent bird.
SLIM Yeah, I was thinking when I first saw this movie—you know, it’s been documented on the show that I watch generally, Steven Seagal movies, Arnold movies and other filth. But this is on HBO Max and Criterion right now for anyone that is able to stream it. But this feels like a gateway movie. You know, for a different kind of filmmaking, depending on if you seek out the Criterion Collection deliberately. If you don’t, and you sit down to watch this, it kind of like raises your eyebrow about, you know, foreign films and different style of drama and thriller. So I had an amazing experience watching this. And I think this probably sent me down a path of French films after this.
ANGELICA Oh good!
SLIM Because you know, it just like opens your eyes because I was like, what is this movie? Like why don’t I watch other movies like this? So, for anyone that hasn’t checked it out, I highly recommend it because maybe it’ll open up some doors for you too.
ANGELICA Yeah, this is definitely, you know, that’s what got me really into Melville’s work. I mean, Le Cercle Rouge, you know, everything he did with Alain Delon. Everything they did together was really great.
SLIM The posters on these movies are ridiculous, by the way. My god. Every poster looks legit as hell.
ANGELICA Yeah. And it’s just like, cool as fuck. It’s like, damn, I want to look like this. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Oh man, I think my only review of this, the only thing I wrote on Letterboxd was that pianists first dress in the jazz club. My god.
ANGELICA So gorgeous.
GEMMA That is like—that is a look, that is a dress, that is just when I get out of lockdown, that’s just my goal. That. [Gemma & Slim & Angelica laugh]
ANGELICA I love it.
GEMMA Also, is anyone’s yet to be convinced about watching Le Samouraï, I just want to say if you’re at all a surveillance or tech nerd, given that this was 19—what was it? 1967. I felt like the entire police surveillance scene as he’s taking the metro was so fascinating for its tech. You know, the map with the bits that light up as he’s moving. Are they giving gaseum arsenide bracelets or something? I googled that, it’s not a thing. It was just really—[Gemma laughs]
SLIM Even the stuff they add to wiretap his apartment too and like hide it up in the drapes. That was like, you know, Batman 1960s technology. It’s always just like a square box with an antenna. And you could just say that that’s whatever, it’ll just work. [Slim laughs]
GEMMA Shall we go...
SLIM We have to move into this movie, Gemma.
GEMMA Yeah, we do.
SLIM This movie, The Passionate Friends from David Lean, 1949. I think Gemma and I both had experience watching this film this week.
GEMMA This was insane.
SLIM 4.0 on Letterboxd. Takes place on New Year’s—well it starts on New Year’s Eve in London in 1939. Mary Justin is at a wild party with her older, rich husband Howard—Claude Rains and Ann Todd—when she sees an old beau, Professor Steven Stratton. Over the course of the film and several years, she juggles her loyalty to Howard, with her love for Steven. So I watched this once to prepare for the episode. And it like stuck with me. And I was like, ‘Am I watching this movie again?’ Something happened in my viewing of this film. But Angelica, how does it hit for you?
ANGELICA I saw it only for the first time last year and it just hit me like a gut punch. I was like, wow, this is just so psychologically profound. The characters just feel so real and like really lived in both through the acting and the writing. The cinematography has a gracefulness to it I really admired. And I’m a huge fan of Claude Rains, and he’s bringing it.
GEMMA Oh my god. Oh my god.
ANGELICA Everyone’s great in this movie. But Claude Rains is really, really fucking good. He is really amazing at the film.
GEMMA He has amazing lines, but he has two big speeches that stop me in my tracks, like instant rewind, watch those things again. And particularly the one when he talks about what their kind of love is.
GEMMA I had the same experience as Slim. I watched the film and it finished and I went, wait, that can’t be right. So I immediately rewatched it. I don’t do that really. [Slim laughs] I don’t have the time to do that. I got a five year old. [Gemma & Angelica laugh]
ANGELICA But it’s a gem. It’s a true gem of a film.
GEMMA It’s interesting to read reviews on Lettboxd of the film. There are the people like us who just love it immediately. And then there are a lot of people who go ah, it’s a kind of B-grade Brief Encounter. And I’m like—
ANGELICA [Angelica whispers] It does for me too.
SLIM There’s so many scenes in this movie where the camera focuses on Ann. You know she’s struggling with ‘Did I make the right decision to marry Claude Rains?’ after her beau kind of like reappears and I thought they were just so amazing. The camera just stays with her for like 30 seconds just sitting and thinking, you know, and her eyes. It just focuses on her eyes. You can see the kind of like, struggle inside her and I thought those were so powerful, those scenes. And also when they’re like, they meet up again years later. They rent these rooms, by happenstance they see each other again in the Alps or wherever they were Switzerland. Nice vacation for them to just happenstance meet up. But then she replays conversations that they have on that trip. You know, where like, she asked if he’s married after all these years, and he says yes, and then later, she’s still kind of ruminating and replays that conversation in her head. And he says, no, you’re the only person I could ever think of. And I just felt so bad for her. And then the ending! The ending of this movie. 1949? Are you kidding me right now in that subway? Sheesh!
GEMMA We’re gonna ask people to just skip forward 30 seconds or a minute while we quickly talk about this.
SLIM Yes, fast forward please.
GEMMA Because I would like to talk about the absolute, absolute banger of a piece of product placement in that London tube station. Do you know what I’m talking about?
GEMMA So Mary has been rejected by both her husband and I guess Steven, because he’s married. She’s taken herself down to the tube station. She’s contemplating—there’s the sound of breaks, something happens, Claude Rains turns up again, he sits her down and right behind them as a poster for Guinness the beer. The life giving stout. And the poster just says, “Keep smiling.” The poster says “Keep smiling.” And that’s just—it’s not an accident. Surely it’s not an accident. Nothing in production design is an accident, but there was a thing of beauty. Yeah.
SLIM What did you think of the ending Angelica? What was your first kind of thought process of this movie wrapped up and you just experienced it for the first time?
ANGELICA Oh, I was like, that’s a gut punch. I was not expecting it to go there. You know, you don’t—you know, mental health struggles, near suicidal attempts, sort of things, not always played well in film in my opinion. I think it takes a really steady hand to kind of, you know, have this sort of turn for a character and it not feel cheap. And it feel earned. And like it’s actually revealing something about what’s going on internally and I think it really works. It’s just like, it’s heavy.
GEMMA It is heavy. And not only that, but they sort of double down on the idea of being saved. You know, especially a woman being saved by a man and somehow managed to pull that off too without us going, ‘Ah, okay, that’s all it takes, the love of a good man.’ It’s actually—because there’s that moment earlier in the film, right? When she’s in Steven’s apartment, after he’s made her that wacky coffee on that weird Bunsen burner. And he’s like, “Why won’t you leave him and be with me?” or whatever. “Why won’t you marry me?” and she says, “Steven, I want to belong to myself.” And he says, “Then your life will be a failure.” And I’m thinking, oh girl, ditch him. [Slim laughs]
ANGELICA Yeah. That is a huge red flag. Like, ‘Oh, you’re satisfied with yourself? Like, disgusting.’ Like what? [Gemma laughs]
SLIM I mean, but also at the same time, it follows the trials and tribulations of a marriage. You know, they go through this and they work it out the first time. And then they have to face it again years later, and Claud essentially reveals that he’s changed over the years. And then what I couldn’t give you, I have been and that’s why he’s so offended this time.
[clip of The Passionate Friends plays]
HOWARD I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean all that. I lost my head. It’s unfair. You see there was one thing I didn’t bargain for in our relationship and I didn’t know it until a few weeks ago. It’s a curious sort of apology to make for behaving so badly now. I fell in love with it.
GEMMA That’s why! That’ why the ending works and that’s why it doesn’t feel like a man is saving a woman. I get it now! Oh my god. [Angelica laughs] The light just went on. That’s why it works. Because Claud has also changed. Yeah, I mean, not Claud. Howard.
SLIM Yeah, I didn’t get that until the second viewing. But I highly recommend. I posted this in my friends Discord and we have like a Letterboxd, like the reviews pipe in and everyone saw this review come in and they’re like “What? Five stars for what?” So I think this got added—hopefully this got added to a bunch of watchlists too just from this episode.
ANGELICA I hope so. It’s an amazing film and just so moving emotionally and I think it’s a tight 90 minutes if I’m remembering right?
GEMMA Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
ANGELICA So it’s also like all you fucking, fucking motherfucking directors these days. ‘Oh, I need to have two hours and 37 minutes for fucking James Bond jerking off’ and whatever the hell else he was doing in that movie—that I saw and I’m so upset about because I still— that’s a movie I haven’t logged yet. And I was like, No Time To Die, bitch, I am tired. I don’t have time for this. [Gemma & Slim laugh] Oh my god, why did they make Léa Seydoux boring in that movie.
ANGELICA Okay, so Dune is a different story. Dune I actually really dig, like more than I was expecting. So it’s not always, you know, the length being the problem. It’s not like I can’t I can’t watch a three hour movie. It’s just a lot of times I feel like films don’t earn the length that they have these days from Hollywood.
GEMMA And I’m so interested in the industry mechanics that go into that because I kind of think surely, if you have a 90-minute film, you can get another session in. You know? If you got a three hour film, that’s that’s one whole season’s worth of ticket sales you’re missing out on. So what is it you’re making them—yeah, I don’t know. Just go back to the 90 minutes.
ANGELICA I want more 90 minute—tight. I want just tighter films. And then if we’re going to have these long films—earn it. You better earn that girl. Otherwise I’m leaving the theater, one. And two, bring back intermissions.
SLIM Ohhh that would be amazing.
GEMMA Oh my god. I’ve watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the other day, Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and there was an intermission. There’s an intermission built into the film. And it’s long enough to get the clothes out of the washing machine and put them in the dryer and make a milo for the kid. But speaking of films that earn their runtime at 145 minutes, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden.
SLIM What a segue.
GEMMA Thank you very much. Been practising that one. [Slim & Gemma laugh] No, it was handed to me on a platter by Angelica just then. We move onto one of the most praised three act structure films of the last decade. And it is the highest rated of your four favorites. Like they’re all in the fours, but this is off the charts—4.4. And in fact, Jack who who does the facts for the podcast, when he came through with the facts for this. He actually wrote “I don’t get it. I don’t get why this, I don’t get all the love for it.” Not that he doesn’t like the film, but it’s just like, why is the Handmaiden a 4.4 over and above all these other films? And I mean, there’s something called recency bias, which we talk a lot about.
ANGELICA I think it’s recency bias, definitely.
GEMMA Recency bias, but it’s also the bisexuals and all of us just fucking loving this right? Let’s be honest.
ANGELICA Hot, hot, hot. [Slim & Gemma laugh]
SLIM It is hot. I remember being warned ahead of time that like, be careful of the time of the day what room you watch this movie in because if you just kind of go in blind you might cause a ruckus in your household. [Gemma laughs] But this is 1930s Korea in this period of Japanese occupation, a young woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering uncle, but the maid has a secret. She’s a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese count, to help him seduce the heiress to elope with him. This one—this has so many twists and turns that I was not expecting at all.
ANGELICA It’s wild! It’s wild. It was a great theater going experience I saw with two friends of mine, two very straight women. Their reactions to the sex scenes were just like—[Angelica laughs]—like yeah, you obviously do not have sex with women if this is that mind boggling to you. [Gemma & Slim laugh] For me, it’s a great example of what I think more filmmakers should do with adaptations. You know, I know I’m saying this like right after saying how much I surprisingly, like Dune, which handles its being an adaptation very differently. But like, The Handmaiden like really, it puts the story in a completely different cultural setting. And I think that’s a really fascinating choice.
GEMMA So we should double back and say that it is Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith and it’s been done before right? In 2005 with Sally Hawkins, Mrs. Brown from Paddington who we love.
ANGELICA Never seen that one.
GEMMA No, me neither. And I’m interested to see it now after seeing The Handmaiden because I’m fascinated to see how the kind of very, very buttoned up corseted kind of British period style would compare with what Park Chan-wook has gone and done, which is amazing.
ANGELICA Yeah, which is delicious and dark and it feels like a fable in a way because there’s a lushness to it and a structure to it. That’s very precise. That’s why I like it so much.
GEMMA I think we need to dive in and just throw in a few Letterboxd takes just to set the mood for where we go from here. Aaron writes “if god hates gays then why do we keep winning?” [Slim & Gemma laugh]
GEMMA Joan “lesbians scamming men and staying together is my favourite film genre.” That’s possibly a little spoilery. But who cares? Sree, I think speaking for all of us, writes “I want to tattoo this movie onto my cornea.” I mean, it is stunning.
GEMMA Oh, yes. And very, very, very important. Make makes a few great lists. Movies which you are at first not sure where they are going but in the last 30 minutes or so everything comes into focus and you realize how brilliant they have been all along. Absolutely. 100%. But also, one of my favorite lists, movies with non age get relationships for lesbians who like to complain. [Angelica laughs]
SLIM I love the one list Help! I Got Too Horny and Now Everything’s Bad. [Slim & Gemma laughs]
ANGELICA That’s good too.
GEMMA There’s a lot of movies in the world. And this is literally your job. Why is The Handmaiden in this top four?
ANGELICA So for me when it comes to film, I really go where the pleasure is. I’m all about the pleasure principle. I want a movie to have graceful physicality with the acting. I want it to be lush, and even sometimes a little ostentatious in terms of its style, which this definitely is like it’s very acute sense of style. This is in my top four because it’s damn good. And all my choices are damn good. No. [Angelica & Gemma laugh] But yeah, I mean, I put it up there because it’s just really lush and evocative and is just so well structured. And you know, I’m really interested in anything that says something about the ways women relate to each other and like the way desire works, and you know, Park Chan-wook is very interested in desire as a filmmaker.
SLIM Yeah also the way the story unfolds I feel like it’s different than any movie I’ve seen recently. You know, you get one perspective to start, and then you kind of reset and you get it from a different angle. And then finally, you see everything come full circle, just like you said, and there aren’t many movies that, you know, kind of have the confidence to pull that off, I guess. You know, the directorial confidence to kind of just, you know, this is how the story is going to play out and it’s going to work, it’s going to be amazing, so just deal with it.
ANGELICA Yeah. And it’s also like, I feel like it’s a very tricky thing to do the whole, we’re going to show you this movie from different—or like, at least in part from different people’s perspective, sort of idea. Like, for example, a film I also did not log into Letterboxd yet, I will. The Last Duel tries to, you know, show different perspectives. And then the last perspective being Jodie Comer’s character which is also set up to be like the truth of the matter. And man, I didn’t like that movie and didn’t feel like it earned doing the whole different perspective thing. So tread lightly filmmakers if you’re going to do it. [Gemma & Angelica laugh]
SLIM Doesn’t Matt Damon have like a really ugly goatee in that movie? What’s that the movie I’m thinking of?
ANGELICA There’s a lot of interesting hair choices happening in that movie. So yes, answer is yes.
GEMMA What have you seen this year that you liked?
ANGELICA Titane—is I guess that’s how you say it?
GEMMA It is Titane. You did it. Yeah. Nailed it. Your French pronunciation is better than my Polish, so there you go.
ANGELICA Oh well, that’s—I don’t know what to say to that. [Gemma laughs] I really dig that so far this year. It’s funny because like, for Vulture our—ugh, it’s so annoying. Our top-ten lists are due sooner than I would like. So I’m just watching a lot of things right now. I actually like C’mon C’mon a lot more than I was expecting to. I really actually like that quite a bit. I’ll be seeing it again coming up the next few days. But there’s a lot of things I haven’t seen yet. Like, I’ll be seeing Spencer tomorrow finally. So, you know, maybe I’ll really love that.
SLIM What about Keanu?
ANGELICA What about Keanu?
SLIM Keanu has a movie coming out not too far away. And it’s been off set about your relationship to one Keanu Reeves. I think we need to get in—
ANGELICA I do not know this man actually. [Slim laughs]
SLIM You can have a certain relationship with someone and not know them.
ANGELICA A parasocial relationship.
ANGELICA Okay. So I’ll start with what I think about this new Matrix. And so like, it’s funny because every time I hear the title, I’m like, no, just say Matrix 4, so we can be honest with ourselves. Matrix 4. Okay?
GEMMA Like, okay, John Wick 4, right? I mean,
ANGELICA Yeah, take it for what it is. Okay. Now, I’m very excited. I will just watch the trailer sometimes just to feel something to be honest. I’m like, wow, remember when blockbusters looked good? Because this looks—
ANGELICA This looks like on a visual level, like just really, you know. So I’m excited. I’m very curious. I want it to be great. You know, sometimes people think when you’re a critic that you want to just hate everything. And it’s like, no, I actually go into movies wanting to like them, hopefully. And then with regards to Keanu, Keanu has just been a star my entire life. So he’s in a very rare class of stars whose stardom has continued on for so long. And someone who you can tell challenges themselves as an actor, and he just brings me a lot of joy whenever I watch him. And you know, he’s a good looking dude which doesn’t hurt.
SLIM He’s is good looking. You mentioned blockbusters, I just rewatched [The] Matrix Reloaded for the first time maybe since I saw it in theaters. You talk about a blockbuster, oh my god, there’s so many set pieces in there that look like they bankrupted most countries. And I kind of said that it was one of the more ambitious movies I can remember. But that era of those two movies coming out, you know, that was an experience.
ANGELICA That was an experience!
SLIM Do you remember the going to see those? Remember the game?
ANGELICA The kids don’t know! The world don’t know how everybody was like dressing up like they were in The Matrix. I lived in Miami, so imagine, like these kids in these trench coats. And I’m like, y’all, it’s hot. What are you doing? [Gemma laughs] Hilarious. Loved it, though. Great. That’s amazing.
SLIM In [The Matrix] Reloaded, you know, they free other people from the Matrix. And they have that like, staff meeting in a dungeon or whatever. They’re all wearing the same thing. They all have the same style. It’s just a trench coat and like red leather. They have no idea that any other clothes exist.
ANGELICA Yeah, it’s like everyone has the same definition of cool on the Matrix, which is kind of funny. Because mine, not exactly that.
GEMMA Where does Neo, in like contemporary, in the world of Noir, where does Neo-noir sit for you? Like who’s doing it well? Are the Wachowskis doing it well?
ANGELICA I mean, Bound was like, great, obviously. I mean, my first big piece for Vulture when I was still a freelancer—I mean, it’ll age me once I say the show was True Detective what I was writing about, the second season, or like, is pegged to the second season of that. But like my problem with Neo-noir, and like, at least the last 20 years, has been that it’s just not good. I feel like modern filmmakers have really lost sight of what makes Noir and intriguing genre and like, kind of get hung up on the style more than what the style is alluding to or signaling.
SLIM I guess Blade Runners consider Neo-noir, right?
ANGELICA Yeah, totally a Neo-noir. Because yeah, cyberpunk stuff always is just taking from Noir. Post nineties I don’t like most Noir that we’re getting in America for the most part. But something like Deep Cover, that’s a great nineties Noir.
GEMMA Oh my god.
SLIM Adding that to my watchlist.
ANGELICA One of my favorite films.
GEMMA I’ve got an amazing stat to share about Deep Cover that will be public by the time this episode comes out, but that I can reveal to you. I mean, it’s highly rated on Letterboxd, it’s like at a 3.7 or something which is great. That’s totally respectable. 3.8. There you go. But we did something because we just turned ten, we decided to have a little bit of fun with—we always like to do stats deep dives. And the one we did for our tenth birthday was well, we’ve been around for ten years now. So we’ve got some pretty decent data to draw from. Which are the movies that have had the most consistent rise in their rating from the start of Letterboxd to now? And we calculated the 50 using linear regression—I don’t know, David Maplesden, who’s our data genius figured it out. So we’re not saying these are the films that have the highest rating, at all. Some of them are like a 2.6, even today, or 2.0. But these are the films that have gone up in estimation consistently and stayed there over those years. And Deep Cover is one of those. Deep Cover, Bones, like there’s a whole bunch of, I guess, Black horror and Black noir that is that due to having more Letterboxd members, who have more wider worldviews than most film critics at the time that these movies came out, constantly giving them the high ratings they deserve—or the higher ratings they deserve—they’ve grown in estimation. And I guess that all leads me to a question I’m desperate to ask you, which is, as a professional working critic today, who does not fall into the traditional monolithic culture that has owned that area for decades—this is all to say, where does that impetus come from? And especially in a pandemic, when you’re at home, writing alone, and being very honest about mental health and loneliness, and anxiety and depression and all those—rage—and all those other things that come into play. Where does the desire to truth tell come from? And how do you stick to it?
ANGELICA Honestly, I don’t know any other way to be. This is just how I’ve always been as a person. very honest, very much a sharpshooter, very much no bullshit. And I just take it into my professional life. And that’s how I move personally, it’s gonna be how I moved professionally. And I stick to it, because—I don’t know, I guess that’s just where my moral standing is, that I really treasure honesty, I guess, to a specific degree. It’s gained me an interesting reputation. But I don’t mind it. [Angelica & Slim laugh]
GEMMA It’s interesting, though, isn’t it? Because you could almost feel that in the past, when it was a smaller pool of critics, who had—and access was smaller as well, you know, creators weren’t on social media, because social media didn’t exist. That there was a sense that even if a critic didn’t like a film, they didn’t want to piss off the director. You know, like, there was a lot of kind of quid pro quo, a little bit of give or take, and there was sort of a progressive anointing of certain filmmakers as a result of not not getting that critical, I guess. Are you scared at all of pissing off directors, writers?
ANGELICA This is the thing, there’s a part of me that’s a little bit of a troll. So when I piss people off, I kind of find it funny. [Gemma laughs] So I don’t really give a shit, whatever. Like don’t make a bad film and I won’t talk shit about it then. What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do? Lie and pretend I like these movies? There are some bad movies. This is my whole thing. This is something my friend and colleague, Alex Jung at Vulture, says is that like America, including art, American art is truly in her flop era. And it’s the truth. Most things are mediocre or just not good. So it’s like, if you’re reviewing, if you’re a professional critic, and you have to review as often as I do, just the way things work, I’m probably going to review more things that are mediocre or not that great or sometimes really shitty, then like masterpieces or even things that I think have values. So, you know, I’m just gonna remain honest and do what I do. Whatever, if people don’t like it, fuck off. I don’t care. Y’all ain’t paying my bills, so I don’t really give a shit. [Gemma laughs]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Thanks so much for listening to The Letterboxd Show and thanks to our guest this episode, Angelica Jade Bastien. As well as following her on Letterboxd, you can find the link to a profile in the episode notes. You can and should read more of her writing on Vulture. Thanks to our crew, composing dynamos Moniker for the theme music Vampiros Dancoteque, and thanks to Jack for the facts as always, our Booker Linda Moulton for looking after our guests and Sophie Shin for the episode transcripts and to you for listening. You can follow the Slim—that’s me—Gemma and our HQ page on Letterboxd using the links in our episode notes. If you have a minute, drop us a review on Apple Podcasts for us. We love feedback like this comments on Reddit from ASAP Robbie. Quote, “People talking about their favorite stuff is always good. If you agree, it’s lovely. If you disagree, it’s interesting, and if you haven’t seen it then you can add it to your watchlist.”
GEMMA Aw, that’s lovely. I agree.
SLIM What a comment.
GEMMA If you have been following the show closely, you’ll know that we’re on the hunt for a perfect podcast nickname for Monsieur Man Ass himself, Slim. That first suggestion is from a good friend of the show, Protolexus, but we have had some more. Here we go. Pod Daddy.
SLIM Oh god.
GEMMA What do you think?
SLIM Pass. Sorry Matthew.
GEMMA No that wasn’t from Matthew. From our boss, Matthew B., Man Ass II—okay the two is like, Roman numerals okay? Man Ass II Society. What do you think?
SLIM That one is pretty good. I like that one.
GEMMA It’s pretty amazing. I like that one. And from Gabb—Slim the 70 Milli from Philly, which I like but it’s related to your other podcast, so I’m not so hot on it now. [Slim laughs]
SLIM We can’t cross the streams. [Gemma laughs]
GEMMA We can’t cross the streams. But also any of those worthy of the free prize of one year of Patron membership or do we keep searching? I mean, if we like Man Ass II Society, like Matthew doesn’t need Patron membership. He built Letterboxd.
SLIM He doesn’t. The search could continue but I think we did—Monsieur Man Ass from last week was pretty good. I think we should at least give a free year to that to that person.
GEMMA To your best friend, Proto.
SLIM Oh that was Proto? [Slim & Gemma laugh] I take it back. Do not give Proto anything. The search maybe will continue. We need to continue on.
GEMMA We will continue. Well that’s us for this week. The Letterboxd Show is a TAPEDECK production. Keep smiling.
[clip of Possession plays]
ANNA Now she will know how much right to sing and she will. She’s getting her to say I—I can do as well. I can be better. I’m the best. Only in best case can she become success. Nobody told me that. Oh, that’s why I’m with you. Because you say “I”’ for me. Because you say “I” for me.
[TAPEDECK bumper plays] This is TAPEDECK podcast.