Film Responses

Three Sisters (2012)

Wang introduced Three Sisters as “a simple film” that “might be too long.” I appreciate his humility (a hallmark of his filmmaking, too), but I think he’s wrong on both counts. There’s nothing simple about this precise assemblage of footage collected during several visits to the girls’ remote farming village, and the length of the film is, in fact, essential to its success.

TIFF 2012 – Day 6

Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio), Something in the Air (Assayas), Berberian Sound Studio (Strickland), Nights with Theodore (Betbeder), and The Last Time I Saw Macao (Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata).

TIFF 2012 – Day 5

The Master (Anderson), Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica (Gomes), Birds (Abrantes), and Viola (Piñeiro).

TIFF 2012 – Day 4

Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami), Far from Vietnam, Tower (Radwanski), and August and After (Dorsky).

TIFF 2012 – Day 3

Gebo and the Shadow (de Oliveira), differently, Molussia (Rey), and Night Across the Street (Ruiz).

TIFF 2012 – Day 2

Barbara (Petzold), Mekong Hotel (Apitchatpong), Big in Vietnam (Diop), Sightseers (Wheatley), Student (Omirbayev), and Wavelengths 1.

TIFF 2012 – Day 1

In Another Country (Hong), Laurence Anyways (Dolan), Argo (Affleck), and Tabu (Gomes).

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2012)

I expected Ceylan to fill 150 minutes with stunning images; I didn’t expect him to deliver what might be my favorite script of the past decade.

Les rendez-vous d’Anna (1978)

This essay was originally published at Mubi.

Phantoms of Nabua and a Letter to Uncle Boonmee

There are ways of “decoding” this film, I suppose — the soccer ball as a synecdoche for military armaments, the cinema as documentarian, the hovering florescent light as ghost (or Ghost) — but reducing Apitchatpong’s films to points on a symbolic answer key seems beside the point.

Wavelengths: Tamalpais and Hotel Roccalba

Short responses to Chris Kennedy’s Tamalpais and Josef Dabernig’s Hotel Roccalba.

Lumphini 2552

My tendency when describing a film like Lumphini 2552 is to fall back on Modernist rallying cries like that old Ezra Pound chestnut, “Make it new!” Maybe a useful way to think of Nishikawa’s film is as a beautifully defamiliarized — and uniquely cinematic — landscape.

2009 SFIFF Diary 3

Petter Greenaway’s Rembrandt’s J’Accuse and The Other One by Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic.

575 Castro St.

When I spoke to Olson after the screening, she told me how overwhelming it was to visit the set, to listen to Milk’s voice, and to know that it was here — right here — that he contemplated his imminent murder. She’s translated that experience well to her film, which is ghostly and deeply moving. But, of course, it wasn’t right here that Milk made his tape. This is a meticulously dressed set.

2009 SFIFF Diary 2

Heddy Honigmann’s Oblivion, Frazer Bradshaw’s Everything Strange and New, Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum (yes, again), Javor Gardev’s Zift, and Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s Wild Field.

2009 SFIFF Diary 1

Atom Egoyan’s Adoration and Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard.

Films of the ’80s (part 1)

Short responses to films by Maurice Pialat, William Friedkin, Louis Malle, Paul Schrader, Nicolas Roeg, Mike Leigh, and Michel Deville.

Tren de Sombras (1997)

This essay was originally published at Senses of Cinema.

St. Nick (2009)

American “regional” cinema (again with the ironic scare quotes), especially that of the indie variety, has an unfortunate tendency to come off like tourism, in the sense that the camera is too often set up in front of objects that only reinforce our preexisting sense of the place. “The South,” for example, is often reduced to a now-vacant and picturesque block of what was once a small town’s main street before the interstate and Wal-Mart moved in.

Heartbeat Detector (2008)

Heartbeat Detector is a tricky one. Immediately after my first viewing a couple weeks ago, I went searching for decent writing about it but found slim pickings. Judging by the responses of most critics I’ve found online, it’s little more than a too-long and “oh so European” corporate thriller. Unflattering comparisons to Michael Clayton are the norm, and there’s a not-so-subtle (and strangely patronizing) animosity running through the reviews: that a film would seriously compare the workings of modern capital to the Holocaust is just too much, apparently.

Late Spring (1949)

I watched Late Spring for the first time last night (yeah, I know) and had a grand time spotting the details that echo throughout Denis’s film. Mostly, though, I was struck by just how strange a filmmaker Ozu really is, particularly in his cutting. It made me realize that I’m not so sure, exactly, what we mean when we call a film “Ozu-like.”

RR (2007)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Railroad (with apologies to Wallace Stevens)

Revanche and Delta

I’ve developed a lazy habit of saying that I don’t particularly care what a film is about; I care what it does formally. But, while well-directed and wonderfully performed, the standout feature of Gotz Spielmann’s Revanche is the story, which, particularly over the last 80 minutes, is perfectly constructed.

The Unknown (1927)

Melodrama is a matter of narrative and performance style, of course, but, particularly in silent cinema, the core of melodrama is mise-en-scene.

Los Muertos (2004)

What fascinates me about Los Muertos is that it explores the connection between form and content by taking all of the tropes of “transcendental cinema” and staining them, by narrative means, with dread and violence. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s answer (apocryphal, perhaps) when he was asked if he was the father of New Age music: “No, my music has evil in it.”

The Iron Horse (1924)

Along with simply being a tremendous pleasure to watch, The Iron Horse offers a fascinating peek into the evolution of the Hollywood film style. By 1924 — and with four dozen films under his belt — Ford already understood the mechanics of what would eventually be called standard continuity editing, and so, for me, the most interesting moments in the early films are when something breaks, as in the following sequence.

Platform (2000)

With so many directors now throwing in their cameras with the “single-shot scenes from a fixed position” school of filmmaking, there’s a growing problem for those of us who believe that a fundamental job of critics is to accurately describe what we see. Films built almost entirely from images that would have been described traditionally as “establishing shots” beg the question: How does one describe and evaluate this kind of montage (if that’s even the right word)?

Life on Earth (1999)

Dir. by Abderrahmane Sissako “There is an organic unity to village life, but it is both fragile and alienating. In this regard Sissako refuses to either promote some pure, untouched pre-modernity or to mourn for some lost social integration. Sissako’s encompasser always has to make room for those transnational nomads who can’t quite pass muster […]

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Like nearly everyone else, apparently, I was overwhelmed by the sheer force of will in Anderson’s filmmaking but am still unsure of what to make of it, exactly.

Casa de Lava (1994)

Pedro Costa’s second feature, Casa de Lava, opens with a barrage of arresting juxtapositions. The first few minutes pass in complete silence as we watch the simple white-on-black credits, followed by a montage of volcanoes.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fassbinder

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.