Costa Close-Ups

“When one is in prison, the most important thing is the door” — Robert Bresson

Seeking Film Suggestions

What films would you show to illustrate the spirit and lasting influence of the New Wave?

2007 TIFF Day 8

Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, Lee Kang-sheng’s Help Me Eros, Nanouk Leopold’s Wolfsbergen, and Alessandro Capone’s L’Amour Cache.

2007 TIFF Day 7

Catherine Breillat’s Une vieille maitresse, Brian De Palma’s Redacted, and Jose Luis Guerin’s Dans la ville de Sylvie.

2007 TIFF Day 6

Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light, Bernard Emond’s Contre Toute Esperance, and Celine Sciamma’s Naissance des pieuvres.

TIFF 2007: In a Nutshell

I intend to post capsule reviews of every film I saw, but it’ll probably take another week before I get through them all. In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of the festival.

2007 TIFF Day 5

The Coen brothers’ No County for Old Men, Anahi Berneri’s Encarnacion, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Bruce McClure’s Everytwo Circumflicksrent…Page 298.

2007 TIFF Day 4

Lucia Puenzo’s XXY, Lee Chang-dong’s Secret Sunshine, Saverio Costanzo’s In Memory of Myself, Hannes Schupbach’s Erzahlung, and Heinz Emigholz’s Schindler’s Houses.

2007 TIFF Day 3

Naomi Kawase’s Mourning Forest, Bela Tarr’s The Man from London, Jia Zhang-ke’s Useless, John Gianvito’s Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, and Ute Aurand and Maria Lang’s The Butterfly in Winter.

2007 TIFF Days 1 and 2

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Wang Bing’s Fengming, A Chinese Memoir, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge, Peter Hutton’s At Sea, and Sandra Kogut’s Mutum.

A Few Words About Zodiac

David Fincher’s Zodiac is absolutely haunted by the specter of technology and by the present-day confidence we have in its objectivity.

P. Adams Sitney on Film Bloggers

“The other day I was talking to a group of younger filmmakers about a current situation I simply cannot understand. There seems to be a tremendous revitalization of avant-garde filmmaking now, but there’s absolutely no one publishing anything about it.”

Early Lynch

Love and death are ethical and metaphysical issues for Lynch, but they’re bound up in biology, too. Human flesh and organic processes are mysterious, unreliable, and frightening in these films. You can practically smell the decay.

A Toast to Cinephilia!

A total trainwreck of a day had suddenly been redeemed by a simple act of kindness — or acts of kindness, as, first, Girish was looking out for me and then other members of the Cinematheque staff (projectionist Alexi Manis most of all) were, I’m sure, inconvenienced by the sudden change of plans.

Colossal Youth (2006)

Nearly all of the press coverage of Colossal Youth has been accompanied by the same low-angle shot of Ventura, the film’s protagonist. He’s an elderly man, tall and thin. In this particular image, we see little of his face — just one eye peering over his right shoulder. The photo is dominated, instead, by the stark lines and sharp angles of a newly-constructed, State-funded tenement high-rise that blots out the sky behind him.

2007 SFIFF Capsules

A few notes typed at the end of a long flight home.

The End and the Beginning (2006)

“We want to hear stories,” director Eduardo Coutinho says early in this film, which is built almost entirely from interviews he conducted over a two-week period in Paraiba, a backlands town in in the northeast of Brazil. Specific stories. Intimate, personal stories.

SFIFF 2007

This will be my second trip to SFIFF, and I’m really excited about my lineup. I’ll get a second shot at a few TIFF favorites (Colossal Youth and Private Fears in Public Places), I’ll get to see a couple that I missed the first time around (Daratt, Opera Jawa, and The Island), and, of course, there will be several new discoveries. I’m especially excited about Forever, the latest from Heddy Honigmann, who will be in town to receive the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award.

That Narrative Drive

Eye tracking technology now allows us to create “heat maps” of visual spaces. It’s of particular use to those of us with an interest in website layout and navigation. The image above is from a recent study that compares the markedly different ways that psychologists (left) and artists (right) look at photographs.

The Politics of Form

Peter Watkins in a 1981 interview with Scott MacDonald (A Critical Cinema vol. 2), discussing the television miniseries Roots (if the quote seems jerky and repetitive, it’s because I mashed together snippets from several pages).

My Favorite Films (2007 Edition)

According to Your Movie Database, I last compiled a list of my 20 favorite films almost exactly four years ago. I’ve seen nearly 700 more since then, so I thought it was time to give it another go.

Godard’s “Paradise”

A throwaway observation: The many reviewers who have described act 3 of Notre Musique as “pastoral” and “lyrical” are projecting their own desires onto it.

2007 Film Diary

A day-by-day viewing log of my filmwatching habits in 2007, beginning with Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (1969) and ending with Pedro Costa’s In Vanda’s Room (2011).

Best Films of 2006

I find that I now approach the film blog-o-sphere in much the same way that I would behave if we all gathered face-to-face for a massive cocktail party. I grab my drink and find a quiet table over in the corner where I chat with the folks I’ve known the longest and the best and whose tastes are most similar to my own.

Godard ’66-’67

Over the last few weeks I’ve watched for the first time the five features that followed Pierrot le Fou, all of them released in 1966 and 1967.

Schuss! (2005)

Nicolas Rey’s Schuss! is an experimental essay film that is concerned, ultimately, with the spoils of capitalism. More specifically, it’s about the rise of the aluminum industry, the building of a French ski resort, and the economic interests that joined the two.

Counsellor at Law (1933)

In the foreground sits Harry Becker (Vincent Sherman), a young radical who only the night before was beaten and arrested by the police for, as his mother explains it, “making Communist speeches.” He sits here with George Simon (John Barrymore), a high-powered attorney whose office overlooks Manhattan from atop the Empire State Building.

Half Nelson (2006)

It’s rare these days when I find myself identifying with a character in the same way that, say, the 7-year-old version of me identified with Charlie Bucket or the 15-year-old version of me identified with Holden Caulfield. But Dan Dunne, the crack-addicted, idealistic History teacher played by Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, is more like me than any other character I’ve met in quite some time.

Satantango (1994)

Like the coal buckets in Damnation, the opening shot of cows being loosed into the fields in Satantango is as beautifully strange and breath-taking as any image I saw all year. Following it with a hundred more long takes pushes, in interesting ways, the limits of the affect.

Silk Ties (2006)

After seeing the Jennings film and Nathanial Dorsky’s Song and Solitude on the same program, I walked away wishing I could recalibrate my view of the world around me, which, I guess, is one of the more noble functions of a-g cinema.


Last night I watched Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) for the first time in six or seven years. I’m relatively unfamiliar with Fassbinder and have never had much of a sense of his style. What struck me last night was how avant-garde, formally, Ali is.

The Black Dahlia (2006)

I’m nowhere near deciding yet whether or not The Black Dahlia is good, but it’s certainly among the strangest and most fascinating Hollywood films I’ve seen in quite some time.

Getting Ready for Godard

In the next week or so, I’ll finish my five-month “study” of William Wyler (with some write-ups still to come), and I’ve decided for my next project to spend the fall and winter with Godard.

In a Nutshell

The Toronto International Film Festival is exactly the right length. After seeing thirty or forty film programs in nine-and-a-half days, I’m always ready for it to end. I hate that it’ll be another year before I get to walk down Yonge Street again, discuss movies over sushi with friends again, and discover so many great new films again, but, for the time being at least, I’m glad to be home.

History and Politics

These Girls is a difficult film to watch. Rached avoids over-sentimentalizing her subject, and, frankly, the girls have been hardened to the point that, at times, I found it difficult to muster the appropriate sympathy for them. (I say that with embarrassment.)

Three for Three

Perhaps it’s simply the inevitable result of paring down my schedule from 44 films in 2005 (only 35 of which I actually saw) to “only” 33 this year, but my sense while researching and planning over the past weeks was that TIFF’s lineup is stronger, top to bottom, this time around than in previous years.

TIFF 2006

Late last night I received a confirmation email from the Toronto International Film Festival box office, notifying me that I would be seeing all thirty of my first choice films. Given that so many of my friends are still awaiting similar confirmation, mine appears to have been one of the first orders processed — just lucky in the lottery draw this year, I guess.

Impossibly, Even Scarily, Geeky *

The idea of creating an Excel file to collect information about each of the 300+ films occurred to me two years ago, when a friend (and TIFF veteran) told me he chose his films based on very particular and personalized criteria.

Collins and Jost

What most interests me — and what I lack a vocabulary to properly describe — is the direct connection between the form and political content in both of these films. That brief frisson that occurs when the pose drops — when a person who lives in an image-marketed and -mediated culture suddenly finds herself set adrift in the semiological flux — that moment, I think, is an instance of political resistance.


In a couple hours I’ll be joining some friends for a lunch-time discussion of Eyes Wide Shut. A month or so ago, we happened upon the theme of “the philosophy of sex” for our film group, and in the weeks since we’ve watched the remake of Solaris (we did the Tarkovsky last fall), Sex, Lies & Videotape, and, now, the Kubrick film.

Birth (2004)

Anna so quickly and so easily falls in love with the young Sean not because he’s a manifestation of her dead husband but because he so effortlessly performs a role that is wholly the work of Anna’s imagination. She has conjured an idealized version of Sean through the magical incantation of her love letters.

Abel Ferrara’s Battle with the Irrational

To watch the body of Abel Ferrara’s films, as I’ve tried my best to do over the last month and a half, is to see a man wrestling obsessively — sadomasochistically, even — with the Irrational. The stylized violence, the scenery-chewing performances, the gratuitous and exploitative female nudity — all are window dressing. What’s at stake here is nothing less than the very possibility of grace.

Calls to Conscience and Action

Varda, as much an essayist as filmmaker, explores gleaning as a hypertext of ideas: gleaning is an alternate economy; at times it’s a moral choice, at others a lamentable necessity; it’s both transgressive and communal; and, finally, it’s a metaphor for the artistic process itself.

Code Unknown (2000)

“People’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway,” Evans tells us, but why should we believe him? I’m not sure that I do, and Haneke almost certainly doesn’t.

The Human Stain (2003)

But the adaptation of a written text to film also necessarily foregrounds the authority of images, imposing specificity on what an author might have chosen to describe more generally. I was surprised, for example, to find myself suddenly moved by an image of the small boxes in which Faunia stores the ashes of her dead children. In the novel, surprisingly little emphasis is placed on the ashes; Roth does not make of them an excuse for one of his patented ten-page diversions.

Showgirls (1995)

I can’t seem to find it now, but one of my all-time favorite Onion headlines is something like, “Area Man No Longer Able to Enjoy Ironically.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Having already proven his deftness with coming-of-age stories, Cuaron (along with screenwriter Steven Kloves) understands that all the sound and fury of big budget spectacle signifies little unless it’s in the service of character, and so, here, the novel’s 400+ pages are neatly trimmed to show a single but significant stage of Harry’s development.

2006 Film Diary

A day-by-day viewing log of my filmwatching habits in 2006, beginning with Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and ending with Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Tout Va Bien (1972).

Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)

When I was aware of Winterbottom’s mise-en-scene at all, I was frustrated by its haphazardness — odd cuts are scotchtaped together by forced music cues, the camera jumps too often into the subjective perspective of unimportant characters (an after-the-fact narrative justification for Winterbottom’s use of a hand-held, I suspect), and the central story gets lost in the noise of several side-plots.

Best Films of 2005

Of the ten best new films I saw this year, eight were festival screenings, and, of those, only two have a reasonable chance of making it to a theater here in Knoxville. I mention that in passing as a reminder of how these year-end best lists are shaped by distribution and by the brand of popular American film criticism that still ghettoizes the vast majority of world cinema into a single, convenient category, “Foreign Language Film.”