Itâs Madonnaâs job to create buzz. Hence the name of her Sticky & Sweet Tourâonly slightly less misleading than her 2004 Re-Invention Tour, which suggested a career change but settled for a big-band version of “Deeper and Deeper.” In her latest show, Madge enters stage in an “M”-encrusted throne grinding to “Candy Shop,” but itâs not quite the 50-year-old porn romp you might expect. By the time she transitions to “Human Nature” and Britney Spears shows up in a video trapped in an elevator and echoing, “Iâm not your bitch/Donât hang your shit on me,” itâs the same as all her shows: A remixed mind-fuck.
Before “4 Minutes,” the Top 5 duet with Justin Timberlake, it had been seven years since a Madonna single seriously contended on mainstream radio. (Part of me wanted to think she was selling out with Hard Candy. The same artist who sampled Main Source on “Human Nature” was suddenly tapping…Timbaland? But then the Pharrell-produced “Heartbeat” and “Give It 2 Me” are both as pure and as fake as anything sheâs made since her debut 25 years ago.) But as always, sheâs also in the news for a couple other things: her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, and her maybe-it-did-maybe-it-didnât-happen affair with Alex Rodriguez, which prompted Adam Sternbergh in New York to theorize that her “true art” is that “sheâs so good at making us talk about her.” Itâs a cliché to say Madonna is a queen of self-promotion, but Sternberghâs scarily misogynistic description of the singer as a “hyperbaric cougar” and an “asexual-android” gets at what has nagged the singer for years: the mediaâs constant fascination with eviscerating her.
So itâs no surprise that Madonnaâs new show comes off not unlike an act of self-defense. She dresses in a boxer uniform for a “Die Another Day” backdrop, emphasizing her already-muscular arms. Unlike your run-of-the-mill diva, Madonna is willing to get dirty for her art, and she sometimes gets lost in her backup dancersâ routine, though sheâs quick to remind the audience, “Iâm still the one in control.” Even so, Madonna has always been willing to make fun of her own image. During “Sheâs Not Me,” she makes out with a younger version of herself (the horny bride from the 1984 VMAs), and then kicks her to the curb.
The most overtly political moment is a montage called “Get Stupid,” which starts with an image of a swastika and ends with images of John Lennon and Barack Obama. A song about the freedom to dance (“Beat Goes On”) becomes an anthem for political frustration, and itâs the only moment thatâs generated any real controversy, but she doesnât say anything about either the Republican or the Democratic candidate that she hasnât said before. The power of any great Madonna song is implicit: “Say what you like/Do what you feel/You know exactly who you are.”
Past becomes present at a Madonna show. The singer is known for reinventing her old materialâno classic is sacred (this time she turns “Ray of Light” into even more of a drug-induced European dance party). There are some uninspired rock-star moments (basically anytime she holds an electric guitar), but Madonnaâs ability to redefine and recontextualize every song is still awe-inspiring. A little bit of her Erotica-era cheekiness reappears during Sticky & Sweet, from putting her dancers in bondage outfits during a mashup of “Vogue” and “4 Minutes” to jumping rope during “Into the Groove,” the backdrop of which pays homage to her old friend, the late Keith Haring.
Sternberghâs right in a way: “Of course itâs Madonna.” She makes the rules, but she also breaks them. Like a sex instructor, Madonna rules over her audience and tells them when theyâre allowed to get off (at one point mock-masturbating over someoneâs head). And when the words “Game Over” flash on the screen at the end of the show, youâre just happy to have played along.
The Films of Pedro AlmodĂłvar Ranked
Finding the crux of a Pedro Almodóvar film is not unlike asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.
Finding the crux of a Pedro AlmodĂłvar film is not unlike asking how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. In each case, the supposed science of the issue at hand is often short-circuited by impatience. Lest the comparison seem too glib, AlmodĂłvarâs entire filmography is, to varying degrees, about the performance of taste, where characters often relate to one another not through their minds, but through their fingers, eyes, and teeth. Sweet tooths are more than a matter of dental hygiene; theyâre a means of defining personal placement within the broader spectrum of vivid characters and self-serving interests. The bright color scheme of AlmodĂłvarâs mise-en-scĂšne redoubles these matters by problematizing realism as a dissenting faction amid otherwise psychologically defined characters, whose motivations are typically for sustenance of a rather short-order sort. On that note, AlmodĂłvarâs oeuvre, and the characters that comprise it, can perhaps be best summarized by Carmen Mauraâs character in Matador, who says near the filmâs end: âSome things are beyond reason. This is one of them.â Clayton Dillard
On the occasion of the release of AlmodĂłvarâs latest, Pain and Glory, we ranked the Spanish auteurâs films from worst to best.
21. Iâm So Excited! (2013)
The broad comedy of Iâm So Excited! stays too comfortably on airplane mode throughout the filmâs brisk runtime. Itâs a deliberately frivolous, tossed-off effort, with middling jokes about barbiturates and musical numbers that pander, and too nakedly appeal, to camp impulses. These shortcomings are partially assuaged by the filmâs sheer pep, especially as it becomes evident that actors like Javier CĂĄmara and Carlos Areces are having a great deal of fun in their roles as unperturbed flight attendants. Still, these fairly meager pleasures are unsatisfying consolation prizes when stacked against AlmodĂłvarâs finest films, where thereâs no evidence of an in-flight creative nap. Dillard
20. Julieta (2016)
Arguably the most conventional film of AlmodĂłvarâs career, Julieta consistently renders its titular characterâs recollections in explicit terms as those of a conflicted woman whose life has been spent in the throes of filial grief. Lacking an exuberant production design, the film settles for a predictably varied visual palette that, at this point, operates only as a commercial selling point for AlmodĂłvarâs directorial style. The screenplayâs unimaginative frame narrative isnât helping matters either; instead of reconfiguring memory into emotionally resonant bursts or revelations of desire as in All About My Mother, AlmodĂłvar opts for template melodrama, with cutaways to Julieta (Emma SuĂĄrez) literally scribing her recollections in the present tense. In a career defined by inventive methods of access to his charactersâ lingering duress, Julieta is an unfortunately flat-footed step toward complacency. Dillard
19. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
More compelling in theory than practice, What Have I Done to Deserve This? finds AlmodĂłvar forgoing the punkish abandon of his earlier work for a calmer, if still rambunctious, domestic drama starring Carmen Maura as Gloria, a housewife whose husband and children have little respect for her. AlmodĂłvar regular Chus Lampreave stands out as Gloriaâs cupcake-hoarding mother-in-law, whose mitigating presence within the patriarchal family recalls a similar figure in Carl Theodor Dreyerâs Master of the House, but several of the gags, whether a lizard being the only witness to a murder or a manâs demand for âelegant, sophisticated sadismâŠlike in French films,â donât resound with the same resourcefulness of those from AlmodĂłvarâs sharpest farces. Dillard
18. Broken Embraces (2009)
After the popular and critical success of Talk to Her and Volver, AlmodĂłvar opted for a decidedly reflexive opus (Broken Embraces boasts the longest runtime in his oeuvre at 127 minutes) of self-indulgence, guided through time by the memories of Mateo (LluĂs Homar), a blind filmmaker whose newfound creative partnership with the much younger Diego (Tamar Novas) breeds a series of episodes detailing past love affairs. Unwieldy by nature, Broken Embraces is in some sense the most sprawling presentation of AlmodĂłvarâs telenovella revisionism, but the narrative net is cast so wide, and with such a decided but superficial emphasis on the tortured process of an artist, that few of the passages, let alone characters, are given the necessary affective space to blossom. Dillard
17. Kika (1993)
By the early 1990s, the stakes of both AlmodĂłvarâs perceptions on contemporary sexuality and intertextual play with film history had necessarily reached a point of no return. If the directorâs films were still going to be capable of shocking or at least surprising audiences, they would require a refreshed template, one informed by but not beholden to his films of the past decade. The first of those three efforts was Kika, a wholly postmodern experiment that collages bits and pieces of classical Hollywood with AlmodĂłvarâs fearless bid to fuse rape, cunnilingus, and the music of Bernard Herrmann into a whirligig of excesses. While thereâs a certain je ne sais quoi to the filmâs sheer energy, thereâs also a fundamental hole at its emotional core, with flattened characters and meandering visual motifs. Dillard
New York Film Festival 2019
If cinema is, indeed, the domain of freedom, then the festival doesnât see Netflix as the villain in that struggle.
âCinema is the domain of freedom, and itâs an ongoing struggle to maintain that freedom,â said New York Film Festival director and selection committee chair Kent Jones in a statement last month accompanying the announcement of the films that will screen as part of the main slate of the 57th edition of the festival. And depending on who you ask, Netflix is either the hero or villain in that struggle.
More than half of the 29 titles in the main slate enjoyed their world premiere earlier this year at Cannes, where Netflix had no film in competition, as its battle with festival director Thierry FrĂ©maux, who requires a theatrical run for any Cannes entrant, continues unabated. (The streaming giant did walk away from the festival with acquisition rights to JĂ©rĂ©my Clapinâs I Lost My Body and Mati Diopâs Grand Prix winner Atlantics.) Thereâs no right or wrong here per se, though itâs clear that FrĂ©mauxâs edict is an extension of his nostalgia for the golden age of cinema, which he sees as sacrosanct as the length of the theatrical window, and just how steadfastly he sticks to his guns may determine the fate of the worldâs most important film festival.
The New York Film Festival opens on Friday, September 27 with the world premiere of Martin Scorseseâs hotly anticipated The Irishman, almost one month to the day that it was announced that Netflix could not reach a distribution deal with major theater chains, including AMC, Regal, and Cinemark. The film will drop on Netflix less than a month after opening in some theaters across the countryâa non-traditional distribution strategy that will continue to be seen as short-circuiting a Netflix filmâs best picture chances at the Academy Awards, at least until one comes along and does what Alfonso CuarĂłnâs Roma couldnât last year.
It remains to be seen if The Irishman will be that film. But this much is also clear, and the New York Film Festival is making no bones about it: This streamable movie is very much a movie, and to be able to see a new Scorsese film that might not have run three hours and 30 minutes had it been released by a traditional distributor is very much a win for freedomâor, at least, a certain stripe of cinephileâs idea of freedom.
In addition to The Irishman and Atlantics, Netflix also has Noah Baumbachâs Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, at the festival (the centerpiece selection no less). Baumbachâs divorce drama bowed last month at the Venice Film Festival, alongside Martin Eden, Pietro Marcelloâs first feature since Lost and Beautiful, and The Wasp Network, which marks Olivier Assayasâs 10th appearance at the New York Film Festival. Among the returning auteurs are Kleber MendonĂ§a Filho (Bacurau, co-directed with Juliano Dornelles), Kelly Reichardt (First Cow), Albert Serra (LibertĂ©), Arnaud Desplechin (Oh Mercy!), Pedro AlmodĂłvar (Pain and Glory), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Young Ahmed), and the greatest of the great, AgnĂšs Varda, whose Varda by AgnĂšs premiered earlier this year at Berlinale alongside Nadav Lapidâs Golden Bear winner Synonyms and Angela Schanelecâs I Was at Home, ButâŠ
Among the festivalâs noteworthy sidebars are Spotlight on Documentary, which includes new works by Tim Robbins (45 Seconds of Laughter, about inmates at the Calipatria State maximum-security facility taking part in acting exercises), Michael Apted (63 Up, the latest entry in the filmmakerâs iconic, one-of-a-kind British film series), and Alla Kovgan (Cunningham, a 3D portrait of the artistic evolution of choreographer Merce Cunningham); the MUBI-sponsored Projections, which features the latest films from Ăric Baudelaire (Un Film Dramatique) and Thomas Heise (Heimat Is a Space in Time); and a Special Events section that includes Todd Phillipsâs surprise Golden Lion winner Joker and Francis Ford Coppolaâs The Cotton Club Encore, which brings the 1984 period film back to its original length and luster. Ed Gonzalez
For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, visit Film at Lincoln Center. And check back in the upcoming weeks for reviews of First Cow, The Irishman, Saturday Fiction, and Wasp Network.
Atlantics (Mati Diop)
Starved for work after the depletion of Senegalâs local fishing industry, thousands of young men take to the sea every year aboard pirogues, or small boats, fleeing their country for Spain. Those who have emigrated, died, or been incarcerated as part of the âpirogue phenomenonââreferred to colloquially as âBarcelona or deathâ in Senegalese communitiesâare the ghosts that haunt Atlantics. The forms those spirits take in the film represent just some of whatâs so extraordinary about Mati Diopâs first feature as a director, a work of disparate influences and genres that pulses on its own oblique wavelength. Atlantics transitions into oblique genre fare in a manner reminiscent of Bertrand Bonelloâs Zombi Child, with electronic musician Fatima Al Qadiriâs multifaceted score adding ghostly strings and pop guitar riffs over spiritual, syncopated Middle Eastern arrangements. Despite its wild narrative leaps, the film is undergirded with a holistic mix of serenity and trauma that recalls Apichatpong Weerasethakulâs Cemetery of Splendour. Christopher Gray
Bacurau (Kleber MendonĂ§a Filho and Juliano Dornelles)
Kleber MendoĂ§a Filho and Juliano Donnellesâs Bacurau assembles a vibrant and eclectic collage of reference points. Itâs a wild neo-western that pulls into its orbit UFO-shaped drones, elaborate folklore, limb-flaying and head-exploding gore, and Udo Kier as a villain who shouts in a mockingly high-pitched voice, âHell no!â The Bacurau of the filmâs title is a fictional town in Brazilâs northeastern interior, depicted here at some point in the not-too-distant future. The citizens live in a relatively undisturbed harmonyâuntil Bacuaru is literally wiped off the map (GPS no longer can locate the backwater), local cell service is jammed, and the people find themselves hunted, A Dangerous Game-style, by gringo infiltrators. MendoĂ§a Filho is one of contemporary Brazilian cinemaâs most sharply political filmmakers, and Bacurau solidifies his commitment to rebuking Brazilâs current administration and its willful erasure of the countryâs culture and heritage. Sam C. Mac
Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov)
Kantemir Balagov has set Beanpole largely in tones of dark amber, bright green and red, and filthy yellow redolent of old incandescent lightingâand itâs the red of upholstery, Soviet imagery, and blood that cuts most forcefully through the brightest of those greens. Cinematographer Kseniya Seredaâs color palette recalls that of Krzysztof KieĆlowskiâs The Double Life of Veronique for the way it gives settings an artificiality that nonetheless brings Beanpoleâs grounded sociopolitical commentary into greater focus. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a nurse working at a Leningrad hospital after the end of World War II, feels trapped in trauma, suffering from recurring fits of full-body catatonia. Her psychological state is magnified by the more visible scars of the soldiers recuperating all around her, adding to the sense that Balagovâs hermetically sealed vision of Leningrad only compounds and reflects Iyaâs PTSD back onto her. The filmmaker may depict the pain of his characters in blunt terms, but he traces the aftershocks of collapse with delicate subtlety. Jake Cole
Fire Will Come (Olivier Laxe)
Oliver Laxeâs Fire Will Come refreshingly occupies an almost uncategorizable cinematic realm. Were it a piece of writing it would exist at the crossroads of an essay, a reportage, and a series of haikus singing the praises and the plights of a threatened ecosystem. Although we know its images to be composed and assembled, and as such âfiction,â the filmâs delicate pace and the contemplative choreography of its camerawork conjure a sense of authenticity so organic that weâre almost convinced that thereâs no space between the characters and the actors, between the filmed setting and the actual landscape. This is a film where the charactersâ names coincide with those of the actors playing them. Itâs at once a portrait of a place and a portrait of a personânamely, of the Galician countryside and of Amador (Amador Arias), an arsonist who returns home to see his elderly mother, Benedicta (Benedicta SĂĄnchez). Given the rich simplicity of the scenario, Laxe recognizes that even the smallest amount of traditional plot would feel excessive. Diego Semerene
A Girl Missing (KĂŽji Fukada)
Throughout his 2016 film Harmonium, KĂŽji Fukada favored ambiguous, emotionally charged tableaux over narrative mechanics, and he continues that emphasis in A Girl Missing to ambitious, evocative, and troubling effect. The film is a story driven by kidnapping thatâs almost entirely disinterested in the motivations of the kidnapper and the pain of the victim and her family. Instead, the film is attached, to a consciously insular degree, to a nurse, Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui), whose life is ruined peripherally by the kidnapping due to one peculiarly bad choice on her part. As austere as Harmonium could be, the characters were in their way dynamic and made sense. With A Girl Missing, Fukada may believe that heâs transcended the melodramatic strictures of a regular crime film or of the kind of womanâs martyr vehicle in which Joan Crawford used to specialize. Instead, heâs fashioned an occasionally haunting art object with miserable stick figures. Chuck Bowen
I Was at Home, ButâŠ (Angela Schanelec)
Angela Schanelecâs I Was at Home, ButâŠ take a fairly simple premise and builds a multilayered series of narrative threads around it, one filled with the detours and inconsistencies of life as itâs experienced on a day-to-day basis. In doing so, Schanelec isnât complicating or overthinking the familiar, but, rather, inviting her audience to rethink how these seemingly universal narratives function. The film is at its in moments when Schanalecâs insight into trauma as a menace that asserts itself at inopportune and confusing moments is powerfully dramatized. Itâs less successful when reaching for symbolic associations, as in the strikingly staged but inert passages of Shakespearean recitation that draw out connections between the story of Hamlet and a troubled fortysomething motherâs (Maren Eggert) life, or in the strained, bookending bits of business involving a dog and a donkey. For her part, Schanalec has preached in interviews that an experiential, non-intellectual approach to watching her films is ideal, so itâs telling that, in spite of its occasional academicism, I Was at Home, ButâŠ configures itself most potently in hindsight as a punch to the gut. Carson Lund
LibertĂ© (Albert Serra)
As they move inexorably forward in time, Albert Serraâs films donât crescendo so much as peter out. In Story of My Death, the harbinger on the horizon is the return of irrational, Romantic thinking in the late 18th century, which would effectively smother the enlightened libertinism that the story otherwise wallows in. And in The Death of Louis XIV, itâs the fate promised by the title, to which the film marched with solemn certitude. Serraâs new film, the audaciously perverse and amorphous LibertĂ©, doesnât give up its game so readily. Nearly without narrative conflict, it homes in on a long night of sexual experimentation among a group of libertines hiding out from the French courts on the Prussian border in the late 17th century, and for much of LibertĂ©âs duration, the only things generating forward momentum are the subtly escalating intensity of the acts themselves and the faint expectation, however ruthlessly exploited, that the sun will eventually rise again. Lund
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbachâs Marriage Story initially occupies a rather nebulous spot between broad-strokes comedy and raw melodrama. But as the initially amicable split between a playwright, Charlie (Adam Driver), and his actress wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), takes a sour turn, the film becomes more acerbic, fixating on how familiarity breeds contempt. At one point, we catch a glimpse of old magazine profile of the coupleâwritten at the height of their artistic collaboration and domestic blissâtitled âScenes from a Marriage,â a throwaway allusion to Ingmar Bergman thatâs also a winking promise of the decline and fall to come. But even at its most blistering, the film contains small moments of grace in which Nicole and Charlie reflexively help or comfort each other. These subtle glimpses of their lingering affection for one another and familiarity complicate the bitterness of their separation. Elie Wiesel once said, âThe opposite of love is not hate, itâs indifference,â and only two people who were once as deeply in love as Nicole and Charlie were could have spent so long observing every minute detail of their partner to become so obsessed with each otherâs flaws in the first place. Cole
Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
Pietro Marcelloâs Martin Eden works better as a story of self-loathing and self-destruction than it does as a social critique or political statement. Marcello and Luca Marinelli, as the handsome, uneducated sailor of the filmâs title, donât make the difference between Martin at the beginning and Martin at the end distinct enough for viewers to really appreciate the characterâs transmogrification. But as a piece of filmmaking thatâs about the craft of filmmaking, Martin Eden, which was shot on 16mm, is occasionally brilliant. Itâs an amalgamation of epochal aesthetics and formal styles, from drifty handheld shots and grainy close-ups of emotional faces that recall the French and Italian films of the late-â60s, to static compositions and inky-black shadows that threaten to swallow Martin and the bourgeoisie. The color grading lends an ethereal air to the landscape shots (the ocean, blue and writhing, looks especially beautiful). Marcello splices in clips of silent films and footage of workers in Naples, which further emphasizes the timelessness of the filmâs themes. Greg Cwik
The Moneychanger (Federico Veiroj)
Federico Veirojâs The Moneychanger charts the prosperous, morally rotten career of Humberto Brause (Daniel Handler), a prominent money changer for all manner of neâer-do-wells. Much is made of gestures like hand-tailoring suits to transport money, but the movement of cashâfrom client to Humberto to various far-flung locations around the globeâis by and large curtly presented. The film eventually verges on the farcical, with Humberto engaging in a Force Majeure-esque act of cowardice during a shooting while driving with his wife (Dolores Fonzi) in Argentina and a rushed scheme to steal from a dead man before heâs interred, among other indiscretions. While these scenarios are somewhat absurd and funny, they feel calculated in their attempts to stress just how pitiful Humberto has become that he has to turn to such pathetic ploys to stay afloat. Itâs apparent that Veiroj disdains no one so much as Humberto, but the film makes little of the manâs undoubtedly twisted psyche. Throughout, The Moneychanger maintains a monolithic meanness, skirting even the smallest gesture of sympathy for Humberto and bulldozing him with further proofs of his depravity. Peter Goldberg
Motherless Brooklyn (Edward Norton)
Fans of Jonathan Lethemâs Motherless Brooklyn will be immediately struck by Edward Nortonâs decision to change the novelâs time setting from 1999 to 1957 for his long-gestating film adaptation. Given how effectively the novel transplanted a classic hardboiled noir setup to contemporary New York, Nortonâs popping of the novelâs anachronistic bubble is curious for how it makes literal what Lethem made so playfully postmodern. By setting his film in the â50s, when the noir style was at its most influential, Norton only makes it easier to spot those moments where the dialogue is trying much too hard to capture the snap, wit, and loquacious cynicism of the genreâs best films. Throughout, Nortonâs too-neat visual coverage is indicative of his filmâs greatest failing. At its best, noir leaves enough unsaid that, even if a mystery is solved, one is left with the distinct impression that nothing has been fixed. Motherless Brooklyn feels altogether too tidy, a film that revives many of the touchstones of noir, but never that throbbing unease that courses through the classics of the genre. Cole
Oh Mercy! (Arnaud Desplechin)
Based on a 2008 documentary, Oh Mercy! follows a police precinct in Roubaix as it pursues various cases. Throughout, director Arnaud Desplechin is bracingly concerned less with any isolated crime or character than he is in conveying simultaneousness by seizing on stray details. Thereâs a sense here of the dwarfing mechanics of maintaining process amid chaos, which is rare for films and common of perfunctory crime novels. Before the authorities in Oh Mercy! can comprehend an act of arson, a serial rapist commits another assault in a subway. And before someone can make sense of that action, a girl runs away. Presiding over the madness is a police captain, Yakoub Daoud (Roschdy Zem), whoâs a quiet and dignified model of patience and sobriety, who must navigate nesting strands of social tensions, on the personal as well as the political level. Oh Mercy! is a striking stylistic departure for Desplechin. By the standards of florid pseudo auto-biopics such as Kings and Queen and Ismaelâs Ghosts, this film is an exercise in formal and tonal restraint. Bowen
Pain and Glory (Pedro AlmodĂłvar)
A film about an aging artist struggling to recapture his yen for creation, Pain and Glory has the makings of a deeply personal, career-capping work for Pedro AlmodĂłvar. His name may be Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), but the gay filmmaker, with his tussled hair, white beard, and red turtleneck, may as well call himself Pedro. One of the very few differences between them is that Salvador has stopped making films while AlmodĂłvar continues to work at a relatively steady clip. Pain and Glory is a ballsy admission on the Spanish auteurâs part that he hasnât made a film in more than a decade that can compare with his most outrageous and subversive output, which makes it all the more dispiriting that his latest only occasionally captures the spry, comedic rhythms and impassioned, melodramatic intensity that defined Law of Desire and Bad Education. Still, however much AlmodĂłvarâs formalist bona fides may have cooled, his ability to craft emotionally acute, achingly felt scenes between men in the throes of love is as vigorous as ever. Mac
Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Parasite finds Bong Joon-ho scaling back the high-concept ambitions of Snowpiercer and Okja, in favor of examining a close-knit family dynamic thatâs reminiscent of the one at the center of The Host. Except this time the monster isnât some amphibious abomination that results from extreme genetic mutation, but the insidious forces of class and capital that divide a societyâs people. Parasite is an excoriating indictment of South Koreaâs dehumanizing social culture, mounted by Bong with a dazzling control of genre conventions that he continues to seamlessly bend to his absurd comic rhythms. The film is also reinstates the emotional core thatâs been missing from Bongâs recent work, and even feigns a concise narrative structure. Itâs the kind of bold and uncompromising work that confirms why Bong is one of our most exciting auteurs, for how his sociocultural criticisms can be so biting, so pungent, when theyâre imbued with such great focus and sense of intent. Mac
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (CĂ©line Sciamma)
CĂ©line Sciammaâs Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a taxonomy of gazes thatâs also a discourse on them. This sweeping portrayal of a romance doomed to brevity asks how to memorialize an image, but also how to keep it eternally alive. Sciamma isnât out to question the gazes exchanged between Marianne (NoĂ©mie Merlant) and HĂ©loĂŻse (AdĂ©le Haenel), but to point out that one gaze is always met by another, and whatâs most stirring about her film is the lack of artifice in HĂ©loĂŻse and Marianneâs feelings for one another. The film frustrates when it feels compelled to elucidate those struggles in words, or through a hokey flashback structure (that, it should be said, yields to an ecstatic final shot). Sciammaâs script has more than a handful of dazzling turns of phrase, but itâs also unnecessarily keen to give some present-day relevance to a romance thatâs assuredly timeless. Where her prior films have excelled in situating their protagonists in complex, sometimes hostile societies, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is at its most beguiling and probing when the rest of the world feels far away. Gray
Sibyl (Justine Triet)
Justine Triet uses the relationship between the creative process and the work of psychoanalysis, or its simplified cinematic version, as raw material for her latest dramedy. Sibyl follows the madcap efforts and subterfuges that the eponymous alcoholic therapist (Virginie Efira) deploys in order to finally write a novel. And the first step she takes is to get rid of most of her patientsâmost, not all, so that thereâs always a lifeline connecting the new Sibyl to the old one. That is, so Sibyl never has to truly let go of anything at all. This tactic, beyond mere plot device, is the first crucial clue, or symptom, that Triet discloses about Sibyl as the filmmaker smartly humanizes the figure of the therapist as someone in desperate need of a therapist herself. The initial line in Sibylâs (non-)emancipatory equation, to start anew by keeping her old life handy, is one of the filmâs many instances of mirroring, as some viewers will easily recognize in Sibylâs pursuits their own tendency to make half-decisions. Which is to say, the way we can fool ourselves into thinking that weâre pursuing something whereas weâre secretly pursuing something elseâsomething less avowable. Semerene
Synonyms (Nadav Lapid)
Nadav Lapidâs Synonyms doesnât hew to a steadily progressing plot. The attraction Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevillotte) feel to Yoav (Tom Mercier), and the tensions that drove Yoav away from Israel, will come full circle, but only after the film takes a circuitous route through Yoavâs brief employment in security at the Israeli embassy; his friendship with a militant Zionist who tries to provoke fights he can claim as anti-Semitic attacks; and a required assimilation class he takes as he attempts to legitimately immigrate. A certain calculated inconsistency in style and pacing also makes the film feel elusive and estranging, but thatâs most likely the point. Certainly one concern of Synonyms is the irrational sickness thatâs nationalism: At times it appears that Israeli nationalism has driven Yoav mad, given him his detached affect and his habit of obsessively reciting synonyms in the street. Funny, frustrating, and stealthily sad, Synonyms is a bold film about the refusal to assimilate in one country, and the failure to assimilate in another. Pat Brown
To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Kiyoshi Kurosawaâs latest is a radical departure for the auteur, as it isnât beholden to a taut narrative. Instead, itâs squarely focused on characterâa strategy that results in his most intricately rendered portrait of the psychology of fear to date. To the Ends of the Earth is not, by any measure, a horror film, but it uses aesthetic and philosophical foundations that Kurosawa laid in his genre work to insinuate tensions and anxieties lurking beneath the serene surface of everyday life. The filmâs setup could almost be interpreted as a kind of self-aware joke: A Japanese camera crew arrives in Uzbekistan with the purpose of shooting footage for a travel show and becomes increasingly frustrated over not having enough usable material. As such, generally little in the way of incident occurs for much of the film. However, To the Ends of the Earth isnât just a meandering film born of an auteurâs plane ticket to a foreign country: If Kurosawa is less interested in narrative dynamics, itâs because heâs focused on an acute understanding of societally and sociologically conditioned behavior. Mac
The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio)
Though Pierfrancesco Favino plays Sicilian mob boss turned informant Tommaso Buscetta with the stern poise of a criminal boss, the gangster easily, almost comically buckles under the slightest pressure from the state. But itâs in director Marco Bellocchioâs depiction of the âMaxi Trialâ in a heavily fortified courtroom in Palermo that The Traitor completes its metamorphosis from a grisly, stone-faced drama about mob violence into an almost farcical satire of Italyâs justice system. Unfortunately, as is often the case with contemporary Italian genre pieces, the film is too brutish by half, as well as 40 minutes too long. The comic brio of Bellocchioâs staging of the âMaxi Trialâ invigorates The Traitor, but he surprisingly wraps up that arc with close to an hour left in the filmâs running time. The extended final act, which follows Tommaso and his family as they enter into American witness protection before ultimately returning to Italy for a series of follow-up trials, drifts along without clear purpose, unevenly oscillating between the comedic and the somber. Cole
Varda by AgnĂšs (AgnĂšs Varda)
AgnĂšs Vardaâs final film is essentially a lecture, with the iconic filmmakerâs talks from multiple events threading together highlights from her oeuvre. Throughout, she shares the underlying inspiration for films like ClĂ©o from 5 to 7 and details her creative process. While her other documentaries (among them The Gleaners and I, The Beaches of AgnĂšs, and Faces Places) have often explored the intersection between art and life, Varda by AgnĂšs finds the filmmaker far less able to extend her gaze beyond her own work. She allows herself to go off on tangents, and, ironically, her ancillary thoughts feel a bit less navel-gazing than the filmâs main thrust. For one, the story about directing Robert De Niro for one day for her final fiction film, One Hundred and One Nights, should seem an extraneous bit of boasting, but Vardaâs bashfully excited tone makes it seem generous. And whenever she talks about her beloved husband, director Jacques Demy, who died of AIDS in 1990, the film also approaches a kind of âsharingâ not borrowed from her previous work. Brown
Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)
As in Horse Money, shadows blanket Vitalina Varela, with slivers of light only illuminating people and whatever objects writer-director Pedro Costa wishes to call attention to. This yields images that are arresting on their face but also hint at richer meanings, as in a shot of Vitalina (Vitalina Varela) in silhouette folding the safety vest of a construction worker who stands in a doorway in the background, also in shadow, with only the reflective green-yellow of the vest giving off any light. The sight of immigrants obscured from view as a symbol of their menial labor glows in the foreground speaks volumes to a way of life that consumes the characters. Yet the film is no polemic. It raises delicate questions about postcolonial immigration, such as whether breadwinning vanguards should gamble on the allure of the unknown to make way for a possibly better life or settle for the hard but known life they already have. The filmâs oblique nature elides any simple interpretations, and the irresoluteness of the social commentary mingles with Vitalinaâs personal ruminations over her life. The film, like Colossal Youth and Horse Money, is a ghost story. Cole
The Whistlers (Corneliu Porumboiu)
Mercilessly efficient and righteously cynical, writer-director Corneliu Porumboiuâs The Whistlers is nested with twists that place corrupt Bucharest policeman, corrupt Bucharest policeman, further and further from discovering whoâs manipulating the byzantine plot he finds himself enmeshed within on La Gomera, the âpearlâ of the Canary Islands. Cristiâs inability to make sense of his place in the very case heâs investigating is just one of the filmâs cruel, quite funny jokes. Another is Silbo, a whistled register of the Spanish language that inspires the filmâs title. Composed of a half dozen notes that each represent certain letters of the Spanish alphabet, the ancient language has been used by natives of La Gomera for generations. Throughout, Porumboiu largely handles The Whistlersâs persistent strain of artifice masterfully, hurtling his narrative ahead even as heâs jumbling timeframes and lingering in moments of ironic menace. Though the film is sometimes too liberal in its arsenal of references, Porumboiu executes his plot with a persistently low-key swagger, coaxing his actors into memorable but perfectly blank performances. Gray
The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan)
Diao Yinanâs The Wild Goose Lake is a crackerjack genre exercise, but itâs up to a fair bit more than it might at first seem. Diao joins other contemporary Chinese filmmakers like Vivian Qu (Trap Street) and Xin Yukun (Wrath of Silence) in recognizing that genre movies offer a kind of smokescreen for a form of sociopolitical engagement that the Chinese censors likely wouldnât otherwise approve. Which is to say, the heightened violence and ugliness of a crime film seems to allow for a kind of depiction of Chinese social life that wouldnât be acceptable from a ârealisticâ drama. Diao takes this all a bit further, however, utilizing the sprawling geography of whatâs essentially a chase film to deep-dive into the sordid underbelly of a Chinese society where lawlessness trumps order. The Wild Goose Lakeâs masterstroke is that its fugitive antiheroes are framed by an environment that reflects their criminal lives back at them, seemingly no matter where they turn. Mac
Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
In many of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenneâs films, elliptical structures communicate the scattershot-ness of peopleâs lives, suggesting an endless string of calamity and confusion. But in Young Ahmed, the ellipses suggest an unwillingness to imagine an aspiring radicalâs inner life. Initially, the Dardennes donât exactly engender pity for Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi), as that response would compromise their fetishizing of his impenetrability as a testament to their own humanist bona fides. They maintain a distance from the Belgian teen as a way of celebrating their refusal to reduce him to any easy psychological bullet points, which ironically reduces him to a signifier of their virtue. Yet Ahmedâs seduction by a manipulative mentor, Imam Youssouf (Othmane Mouman), is still fleetingly âexplainedâ with references to family trauma that unsurprisingly suggest that Ahmed has daddy issues and is looking for a mentor. The Dardennes donât dramatize these traumas, as such events might destabilize the plaintive quotidian mood they cultivate throughout and require them to stretch and challenge the strict boundaries theyâve applied to this subject matter. Bowen
Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello)
Restlessly shuttling between 1960s Haiti and present-day France, Bertrand Bonelloâs Zombi Child roils with colonialist tensions. But as with the directorâs prior Nocturama, this quixotic, slow-burn genre film is political largely in the abstract. While there are moments here where a history of exploitation informs the relationship between the French, lily-white Fanny (Louise Labeque) and Haitian refugee MĂ©lissa (Wislanda Louimat)âclassmates at an all-girls school established by Napoleon BonaparteâBonelloâs interests go much deeper than race relations. The dialectical relationship between past and present has become a central organizing principle of Bonelloâs artistry, evident in his anachronistic soundtrack choices and his unmooring of characters from their period settings through decidedly modern behaviors or situations, but here he approaches that dialectic in a crucially different manner. Instead of overlaying modern-day signifiers on a period piece setting, as he did in House of Pleasures, Zombi Child suggests two temporalities that exist parallel to each other. Mac
Interview: Rob Zombie on 3 from Hell, Manson, and the Charisma of Evil
Zombie discusses how he corrals his filmsâ furious sense of energy and how sex appeal can trump common moral sense.
Musician Rob Zombie is also one of the most original and distinctive of modern horror directors, having fused the theatricality of his concerts and videos with the tropes of Southern-fried slasher films to arrive at an aesthetic that captures the narcotic pull of violence. His films, which include House of 1000 Corpses, The Devilâs Rejects, The Lords of Salem, and the dramatically underrated Halloween II, often feature characters who are gutter poets and expert tenders to their own mythology in the tradition of Charles Manson.
Zombieâs villains also often suggest musicians themselves, as theyâre elaborately outfitted and self-conscious of their murder sprees as a kind of performance art, which Zombie films up close with piercing intimacy, fetishizing power while also dramatizing the pain and humiliation of death in extremis. At their best, Zombieâs films are so unnerving because he plunges you unapologetically into their aggression and squalor, which he laces with shards of dark and even unexpectedly loony comedy. (In The Devilâs Rejects, a band of killers has an elaborate argument over whether or not to stop for ice cream.)
Zombieâs latest, 3 from Hell, continues the story of the filmmakerâs most famous characters, the Firefly clan of House of 1000 Corpses and The Devilâs Rejects, played by Sid Haig, Bill Mosley, and Zombieâs wife, Sheri Moon Zombie. Last seen going out in a blaze of glory, the Firefly Clan, newly revived and captured by the law, of course embarks on another bender of ultraviolence. Richard Brake, the MVP of Zombieâs 31, plays a new killer who joins the clan, which eventually winds up in a Mexican town that bears a resemblance to the climactic setting of Sam Peckinpahâs The Wild Bunch. Speaking on the phone with Zombie last week, we discussed how he corrals his filmsâ furious sense of energy, his love of screwing with typecasting, and how sex appeal can trump common moral sense.
Your films have a volatile and intimate style, and Iâm curious about how you achieve that tone. Is there a rehearsal process? Do your actors need to work themselves up?
Well, we do try to rehearse whenever possible. Rehearsal time seems to be harder and harder these days for films. Have you seen 3 from Hell?
Okay, one scene in particular was difficult: the one where everybodyâs held captive in the house, and the warden comes back with Baby. That scene was very difficult because in one room we have, I donât know, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight actors. First of all, itâs a nightmare to block, because you got people going every which way and in every which direction. And it was just falling flat. The actors kept rehearsing and rehearsing and we could just not energize it. It just kept feeling stagey, and we were all confused because everybody was doing it right. And it was like, âWhat is the element thatâs missing? Why is this not igniting the way it should?â It was driving us all crazy.
Was there any decisive âwrongâ thing or was it a matter of fine-tuning everything?
It just wasnât kicking off on the right foot. And we changed it so that Baby comes through the door, sheâs excited at whatâs going on and it was just something about that moment. We made one little tweak to how someone was going to do a line of dialogue, and itâs amazing how it created this domino effect and sent this energy through the room, and the whole scene just became crazy. But itâs really frustrating sometimes when youâre trying to figure things out because weâre all working on such a time constraint. Itâs not like, âAh, we got together and rehearsed for 12 weeks.â That was the first time those eight people had ever been in a room together you know, and weâre trying to make this explosive, very complicated scene happen. You keep searching until you figure it out.
I remember watching that long making-of extra on The Devilâs Rejects DVD, and it seemed then like that tight schedule was a source of inspiration. Is that fair to say?
The tight schedule is a blessing and a curse. But I think the curse part wouldâve happened no matter what. Iâve made movies with much longer schedules and thereâs never enough time. Iâm sure when they were shooting Jaws on day 500 they were like, âWe need more time!â I donât think it matters how much time you have, you still donât have enough time because you always think you can make it better. On most movies, actors shoot something and then go back to their trailer, they play video games, they take a nap, they read a book, they chit chat, have a cigarette. Nobody leaves the set when Iâm shooting, because we never have enough down time for them to go anywhere. And that way, theyâre always there and in the moment. And thatâs what you need: You need to yell âactionâ and theyâre still there. Because itâs really hard when you start a scene, whether itâs a high-energy scene or a low-energy scene, and then people break it down for a half hour while they change the lights. Actors just lose the vibe, and then they come back in and are like, âAh, man, where was I? What was happening?â And whenever you break for lunch, itâs like, âAh, crap.â Thereâs that after lunch lull where everybody comes back full and you gotta ramp everybodyâs energy up. So the short schedule works, because we never stop, we never stop, we never stop. And I think the actors like it better because they donât want to sit by themselves all day in a trailer. They wanna act. Itâs like a play.
In 3 from Hell, I like the energy of Babyâs prison scenes, and I love Dee Wallace. Her role is a great bit of anti-typecasting.
Well, I like anti-typecasting. Weâve worked with Dee several times, and Sheri had worked with Dee quite a bit on Lords of Salem. So, I like when I know that actors have a good working energy together, because sometimes they donât and that can be problematic. When I first offered Dee the role, she didnât say yes right away. She was like, âOh God, this is so different, I gotta think about it.â And then the next day she said yes. Because, you know, she usually plays the nice mom or the nice whatever, I guess sheâs been typecast since E.T. But, you know, now you can be the mean, shitty lesbian prison guard. Youâre an actor, you got it. [laughs]
What makes Dee really pop in this role is that the niceness isnât entirely gone. The character is chilling because she has a strange vulnerability.
Thereâs a weird dynamic we wanted to create, where sheâs not just this prison guard from something like The Big Bird Cage. Deeâs character is in awe of Baby and in love with her but hates her guts at the same time. I always like creating these weird relationships between the characters. Babyâs in Deeâs head and she knows it. To diverge for a second, I remember seeing this footage of Charles Manson. He was coming in to sit down to be interviewed by Tom Snyder or whoever. In the outtakes before the interview started, Manson was standing there bullshitting with the film crew. Itâs so weird. Heâs like, âHey, man, where you from? Oh shit, man, Iâve been there before.â The crew doesnât think of Manson as a murderer, heâs like a rock star to them. Thereâs this weird fascination because heâs so fucking famous. Itâs a sick thing.
Your films have an edge because theyâre willing to tap that fascination. Youâre willing to leave moralism behind and groove on the charisma of these evil people. Youâre honest about the cultural attraction to killers. Do you think of it that way?
Yeah, I totally do. The reason I can get away with the Fireflies doing what they do in these movies, and people liking them, is because theyâre cool and charismatic and sexy. Thatâs who people are drawn to. If they were like hideous to look at and disgusting, audiences would say theyâre horrible. But this guy looks like heâs, you know, Gregg Allman, and this girl looks like sheâs like Farrah Fawcett, these guys are awesome! People are into them.
You have a good point. People donât quite worship David Berkowitz the way they do Charles Manson. One has the sex factor.
Yeah, thereâs a cool factor. Manson does look like Dennis Wilson or John Lennon. Though when you research, when Manson and the family shaved their heads and put the swastikas on their foreheads, they lost the youth culture. Before, people were outside the courthouse in L.A., and they were interviewing people, and some of them were wearing âfree Mansonâ shirts. The Family was on the cover of Rolling Stone and all the hippie rags. But the swastikas made people think, âOkay, heâs not the cool hippie dude we thought he was.â Would Jimi Hendrix have been who he was if he was a big fat bald guy? No, itâs because he was fucking cool. Would the Beatles have been the Beatles if they were all ugly, stupid-looking dudes? No, itâs because everyone thought they were good-looking. That goes so far in the world. More now than ever.
The Best Stephen King Movies, Ranked
Weâve compiled the best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Stephen King is one of the most influential of all contemporary writers, an artist who followed Richard Mathesonâs example in wedding irrational horror with the surreal minutiae of everyday American life. The most distinctive elements of Kingâs remarkably vast bibliographyâhis exacting and uncanny empathy for working-class people and his loose, pop-culture-strewn proseâare rarely accounted for in the dozens of films that have been made from his novels and stories, which often predictably emphasize his propulsive plotting. Consequently, these adaptations often resemble routine genre films with a smattering of Kingâs dialogue, which sounds better on the page than when performed by often self-conscious actors who look as if theyâd rather be anywhere than trapesing around a simulation of Kingâs beloved Maine. But a number of excellent films have been made from the authorâs writing, either by doubling down on the neurotic naĂŻvetĂ© of the authorâs Americana or by striking new ground, recognizing that a good film needs to be a movie, rather than a literal-minded act of CliffsNotes-style embalming. To commemorate the recent release of Cell, weâve compiled the 10 best feature-length adaptations of Kingâs work, excluding the countless, mostly mediocre TV adaptations.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 8, 2015.
10. Stand by Me (1986)
Those who accuse Stand by Me of indulging shameless boomer nostalgia are missing the point, as thatâs precisely what the film is about. Director Rob Reiner dials down the violent hopelessness of Kingâs source material (the novella The Body), but still emphasizes the cruelty and loneliness that mark four boysâ coming-of-age odyssey to see the corpse of a young man nearly their age. The film is framed as one of the grown boyâs remembrances, as he attempts to spin his unreconciled feelings into the more tangible stuff ofâŠcoming-of-age fiction. At times itâs hokey, and, yes, the soundtrack does some major emotional heavy lifting, but the feast of excellent acting compensates greatly, particularly by Wil Wheaton, Kiefer Sutherland, and River Phoenix. Stand by Me remains one of the best adaptations of Kingâs more sentimental non-horror writing, and itâs far superior to preachy, insidiously insulting staples like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
9. Creepshow (1982)
Still one of the great comic-book movies in that it approximates the actual tactile act of reading and flipping through a magazine, ideally on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a can of soda by your side. George Romero directed from Kingâs original script, which pays homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, and the filmmaker displays a visual confidence and tonal flexibility thatâs reminiscent of his Dawn of the Dead. The bright, deep, and garish cinematography is both beautiful and disturbing, enriching Kingâs gleefully vicious writing while providing a framework for the lively performances of a game, celebrity-rich cast. The film straddles an ideal line between straight-faced seriousness and parody, particularly in the unnerving climax of a story in which we can hear the pained gurgling of aquatic zombies.
8. Silver Bullet (1985)
A creepy drive-in horror movie that throws a werewolf into a boyâs sentimental coming-of-age tale. Based on Kingâs slim Cycle of the Werewolf, which was released with gorgeous illustrations by artist Bernie Wrightson, Silver Bullet weds evocative imagery with spare plotting that allows each scene to breathe, giving the film an nightmarish free-associative energy. There are several boffo sequences, particularly when the werewolf seizes a manâs baseball bat, his paw shown to be beating the man to death from below thick fog, or when the wolf is outsmarted by the protagonist, one of his eyes blown to pieces by a bottle rocket. Speaking of the monster, the movie has one of the great wolf designs, which suggests a huge, bitter, upstanding bear with a terrifying snout. The human identity of the creature is a great, characteristically blasphemous King twist.
7. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Five years after her career-making performance in Misery, Kathy Bates returned to Stephen King territory with Dolores Claiborne, which, like the book, disappointed nearly everyone for not being a typical horror story, instead combining the traditions of martyred-woman melodrama with gothic mystery. Critics, who only seem capable of praising melodrama when itâs directed by one of their pre-approved canon placeholders (like Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk), also turned their noses up at Dolores Claiborne, and itâs a real shame. Both the novel and the film get at the heart of Kingâs preoccupations with sexism and classicism, spinning a fractured narrative of a mother, her daughter, the man who nearly ruined their lives, and the all-encompassing pitilessness of aging. Yes, the film is behaviorally broad, but this broadness is utilized by the reliably underrated director, Taylor Hackford, as a form of catharsis. And Batesâs performance as the titular character is positively poetic. Her delivery of a monologue about Doloresâs work routine particularly locate the weird, qualified dignity of thanklessness, reveling in the pride and transcendence that can be wrestled from menial-ness. Perhaps more than any other film on this list, Dolores Claiborne has the feel of Kingâs voice.
6. Misery (1990)
No one performs Kingâs dialogue like Kathy Bates. She embraces and owns the moving cuckoo logic of his best orations, understanding that theyâre almost always rooted in class anxiety. The most disturbing quality of Misery, both the novel and the film, is the fact that we relate to Annie Wilkes, psychotic ânumber one fanâ of author Paul Sheldon (superbly played in the film by James Caan), more than we do her victims. Bates is so intimately in tune with Annie that we feel for her when she fails to impress Paul, somehow temporarily forgetting that sheâs holding him hostage and torturing him. Annie is yet another of Kingâs unleashed nerds, a repressed soul seeking actualization, but she isnât sentimentalized, instead embodying the ferocious self-absorption that fuels obsession, leading to estrangement. Director Rob Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman regrettably trim Kingâs most ambitiously subjective material, but they compensate by focusing pronouncedly on the cracked love story at the narrativeâs center.
Locarno Film Festival 2019: Technoboss, Echo, & A Voluntary Year
A striking number of the titles that appeared in the festivalâs competition slate this year operate in a playful, breezy register.
Locarno often leans into its reputation as Europeâs most unapologetically highbrow summer festival, but a striking number of the titles that appeared in the festivalâs competition slate this year operate in a playful, breezy register. Such as JoĂŁo Nicolauâs Technoboss, an unwaveringly deadpan musical comedy about an aging divorcĂ©, LuĂs (Miguel Lobo Antunes), nearing the end of what seems to have been a tedious career selling and maintaining integrated security systems. His existence is far from enviable, as heâs past his prime as a salesman and baffled by modern technology, while his primary companion is his cat. To compound the overriding sense of ennui, Nicolau presents a decidedly drab vision of Portugal, all cramped offices, cluttered shop floors, and soulless hotels.
LuĂs, though, remains optimistic, as evinced by his tendency to burst into song as he drives between assignments, and by the quietly determined way in which he attempts to regain the affection of an old flame, Lucinda (Luisa Cruz), despite her apparent disdain for him. Antunes, in his first professional acting role, is compelling, with a perpetual twinkle in his eye that hints at a rich inner life. And while his vocal range is limited, to say the least, he brings an earnestness to the musical numbers that elevates them above mere quirky window dressing.
Ultimately, the film is too narratively slight and tonally monotonous to justify its two-hour running time. One running joke in particular, involving a smarmy executive whoâs frequently heard off screen but never seen, runs out of steam in the final act. And yet, when viewed in close proximity to the likes of Park Jung-bumâs dreary crime drama Height of the Wave, which bafflingly won this yearâs special jury prize, Technoboss is a breath of fresh air.
Runar Runarssonâs Echo isnât exactly a laugh a minute: An early scene depicts the preparation for a childâs funeral, while subsequent sequences revolve around police brutality, domestic violence, and the lasting impact of childhood bullying. But itâs delightful to behold Runarssonâs sly execution of a formally bold premise. Clocking in at 79 minutes, the film is composed of 56 standalone vignettes connected by a Christmas setting. The constant narrative shifts are initially jarring, but recurring themes begin to emerge: rising social inequality in the aftermath of the financial crisis; the impact of modern technology on traditional ways of life; the drabness of winter and its impact on the countryâs collective mental health.
Yet while the filmâs underlying tone is melancholic, there are frequent bursts of pure comedy, from the absurd spectacle of abattoir workers bopping along to a jaunty rendition of âJingle Bellsâ amid animal carcasses, to a farmer and her partner earnestly squabbling about the state of their relationship as they document the mating habits of their goats. Humor also arises through the juxtaposition of scenes. The haunting image of a boy in a coffin is followed by a clinical shot of a similarly motionless adult body, and it takes a moment to register that weâre looking at not another corpse, but rather a man lying under a tanning lamp. Later, a heartwarming kidsâ nativity scene cuts abruptly to a shot of bikini-clad bodybuilders performing in a harshly lit, half-empty auditorium.
However, itâs Echoâs sincerity that really impresses. One sequence, in which an emergency services operator calmly reassures a child reporting a violent altercation between his parents, is remarkable in the way it hooks the viewer emotionally in mere seconds. The film ultimately coheres into a vivid portrait of contemporary Iceland thatâs equal parts bleak and beguiling.
A Voluntary Year, co-directed by Berlin School alumni Ulrich KĂ¶hler and Henner Winckler, is a similarly bittersweet affair, walking a fine line between raw domestic drama and precision-engineered comedy of errors. Sebastian Rudolph stars as Urs, an off-puttingly pushy small-town doctor intent on packing his teenage daughter Jette (Maj-Britt Klenke) off to Costa Rica to volunteer in a hospital. Jette, though, would rather spend her gap year at home with her boyfriend, Mario (Thomas Schubert), who seems harmless enough but has been written off as a poisonous influence by Urs. A sequence of mishaps in the thrillingly unpredictable opening act gives the young couple a brief chance to take charge of their own futures, but the decision Jette hastily makes pushes her strained relationship with her father towards breaking point.
KĂ¶hler and Winckler do a fine job of eliciting sympathy for their deeply flawed characters. Jette is maddeningly indecisive and prone to overly dramatic outbursts, but her brash exterior masks deep-seated vulnerability. Meanwhile, itâs easy to share Ursâs disbelief that Jette should be even remotely infatuated with the woefully uncharismatic Mario, but the boyâs earnestness ultimately proves strangely endearing. Urs is much harder to warm to, as heâs the quintessential big fish in a small pond, clearly used to throwing his weight around and getting his own way. To add insult to injury, his handling of sensitive situations is often jaw-droppingly misjudged. And yet, the viewer is given a strong enough sense of his good intentions to at least partially root for him as he attempts to patch things up with Jette.
While it may not do this modest film any favors to make the comparison, there are shades of Maren Adeâs masterly Toni Erdmann in The Voluntary Yearâs nuanced depiction of a fraught father-daughter relationship, and also in the way the filmmakers play the long game when it comes to delivering comic payoffs. An enigmatic narrative thread involving a migrant boy has a laugh-out-loud resolution that also neatly paves the way for a moving final scene.
The Locarno Film Festival ran from August 7â17.
Interview: J. Hoberman Talks Make My Day, Reagan, and â80s Movie Culture
Hoberman discusses how the art of filmmaking, and the business of moviegoing, influenced, mirrored, and altered Reaganâs presidency.
The poster boy of American conservatism, the bar to which all Republicans would unashamedly evaluate future candidates, and yet now seemingly lower on a weekly basis, Ronald Reagan was an ideal movie star with an idealized view of the past. His perfect America would be equivalent to the opening shots of red roses, green lawns, and white picket fences that kick off Blue Velvet, while Americaâs reality would be what transpires once Bobby Vintonâs song concludes and the swarming ants are revealed beneath the surface.
A time of Hollywood blockbusters and silver screen patriots, macho men and teens headed back to the future, the 1980s, while not considered a golden movie age, saw a symbiotic relationship between American film and the nationâs chosen leader. How else to account for Reagan proposing his âStar Warsâ strategic defense initiative in March of 1983, a mere two months before the release of the yearâs top grossing film, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi?
With his methodically researched new book, Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, former Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman takes a sociological approach to discovering how the art of filmmaking, and the business of moviegoing, influenced, mirrored, and altered the goings-on of our 40th presidentâs administration. And on the occasion of the bookâs release and accompanying Film at Lincoln Center series, which samples feature films from the â80s, I spoke with Hoberman about the first Reagan screen performance he ever saw, being a working film critic during the âAge of Reagan,â and the unexpected rise of real estate mogul and Celebrity Apprentice host Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States.
One of your most revered books is Vulgar Modernism, a collection of reviews and essays written during the â80s without the benefit, or trappings, of historical hindsight. Now 30-some-odd years later, youâve taken a step back to take a look at the bigger picture of the decade. What was that experience like?
I should say that this book was the culmination of two earlier books, The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties and An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. Make My Day is the end of a trilogy. When I began writing the trilogy, I didnât realize how central Reagan would be to it, but by the time I started Make My Day, he had become, in effect, the protagonist of the entire trilogy. Make My Day was different from the other two books. Itâs not just that I lived through this period, but that I was then a working critic. How was I going to deal with that? In the earlier books, I went out of my way to quote critics and others who wrote about movies because I was very interested in how these films were initially received. In the case of Make My Day, however, it seemed absurd to quote other critics when I was there myself. It took me a while to come to that conclusion because my impulse wasnât to put myself in the book and yet I realized that I would ultimately have to.
I found that my opinion of the various movies discussed hadnât changed all that much. My opinion of Reagan was modified somewhat, in that I saw him as a more complicated figure than I did during the 1980s, but I also believe my response to him in the â80s was true to the moment. Thatâs why I included a number of longer pieces in the book, while also annotating them, so that one could see that I wasnât just reusing the material without thinking about it.
You note that each volume can be read in chronological order, the order in which they were published, or as standalone installments. I took it up after finishing your and Jonathan Rosenbaumâs Midnight Movies, and it felt like I was emerging from the pre-â80s underground to a Reaganized American society that had become depressingly anything but countercultural. What was it like being on the underground and Hollywood beat as a critic throughout those years?
I didnât really start reviewing the blockbuster films until around 1984. I was the Village Voiceâs second-string critic when Andrew Sarris, the first-string critic, fell ill, and I took his spot for a while. As a result, I was reviewing movies that I might otherwise not have. To make things interesting for myself, I began reviewing these movies from a political and ideological perspective. Even when Andy came back, that stayed with me. So, for example, there were a lot of action films during that period that Andy was very glad not to review, like Top Gun, but I did those while also reviewing foreign films, avant-garde films, documentaries, and so on. I always said that I could never be a first-string critic for a newspaper. I would have lost my mind having a steady diet of big Hollywood movies! I would have had to mix things up.
While midnight movies arenât the primary focus of Make My Day, the underground did find a way into your reviews of â80s blockbusters. I recall a review in the Voice titled âWhite Boys: Lucas, Spielberg, and the Temple of Dumbâ in which you tear down the nostalgic Indiana Jones prequel while praising Jack Smithâs nostalgic Normal Love. Was it maddening for you to review the latest Spielberg while underground artists concurrently made the same points to much smaller audiences?
That was really something that came from the heart. I was outraged by Temple of Doom, by its attitude, and I was really sick of these guys, Spielberg and Lucas. I wanted to bring out that there were other forms of filmmaking and other ways of dealing with this material. I was making a point, yes, but it was something that was fueled by emotion rather than reason.
Were there any Spielberg films, or Spielberg-adjacent films like Gremlins or Poltergeist, that you found less than risible throughout the Reagan years?
There were some that I preferred. I liked Gremlins quite a bit, and I enjoyed Back to the Future, which is Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. At the time, I didnât much care for Poltergeist, but when I looked at it again for the book, I thought it was interesting in terms of its pathology. I should also say that I liked Jaws and E.T., to a degree, although it was no Blade Runner.
Though primarily concerned with Reganâs political reign, you also dig deep into his filmography, noting how his sole villainous role, in The Killers, has always prompted a vocal reaction from every audience youâve watched it with. Why do you think that is?
Well, Iâm not sure thatâs still true. A friend recently saw The Killers at Film Forum and told me he was sort of shocked that people didnât respond to the scene where Reagan slaps Angie Dickinson. The first time I saw The Killers, which was, I think, in June of 1969, I didnât expect to see Reagan in it. I donât think I had seen him in a movie before. I was well aware of who he was, of course, and I hated him because I had been at Berkeley the previous summer, when students were public enemy number one and there were disturbances every nightâthe whole thing was extremely compelling for me as a 19-year-old. The point I wanted to make was that my whole view of Reagan was predicated on The Killers. To me, he seemed to be playing himself. I had a very naĂŻve response. I couldnât understand why he would do the role. I mean, what crazy hubris prompted him to show what he dreamed of becoming on screen? I recognize my response as primitive, but it also demonstrates the power of movie images. I didnât see him as acting, even though he clearly is. I saw it as him projecting his evil, bastardly essence.
Speaking of essence, itâs odd re-watching Donald Trumpâs numerous cameos in American film and television. Unlike Reaganâs silver-screen presence, Trump literally always played himself: an obscenely rich braggadocio. Whereas Reaganâs âlovableâ persona no doubt helped his later career in politics, Trumpâs media appearances helped to fortify his reputation as an arrogant huckster.
This is the point I tried to make at the end of the book. I was surely thinking about Trump a lot while writing the book, but he only became president when I was close to finishing it. Trump may have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, but it doesnât come as a result of the movies. Heâs a celebrity and a celebrity is someone whoâs able to project a cartoon version of themselves, or a larger-than-life version of themselves, into the media world: TV, the tabloid press, and so on. Trump is being true to this persona. I didnât really see Trumpâs presidency coming. For me, he was a New York City character, a local celebrity who was regularly exposed in the Village Voiceâs narrative of New York City corruption. I had no sense of how he existed to the rest of America, in Celebrity Apprentice. Clearly thatâs what put him over, or at least helped to put him over. That and his appearances on Fox News as a kind of pundit and even his involvement with professional wrestling.
As you mention in your book, the uncomfortably awkward 1979 CBS Ted Kennedy sit-down interview with Roger Mudd ultimately derailed Kennedyâs attempt at a presidential run. Itâs hard to imagine, given the feckless attempts by our current political leaders to appear like an everyman, that current presidential candidatesâ chances could be derailed by the televised struggle to answer a basic question. If anything, we might view the guffaw as endearing and humanizing. Trump says dumb stuff on a daily basis, and we all just accept it. Have we become desensitized to politicians being put on the spot and not being able to come up with succinct answers?
I think itâs different for different candidates. Being the younger brother of J.F.K., who was the first real political star, created a lot of expectations. People credit Kennedyâs success in the 1960 election with his appearance in the first debate, for looking so much better than Nixon. That may be simplistic, but itâs not simplistic for people to think that TV had something to do with Kennedy becoming president. I think this is a case of âlive by the sword, die by the sword,â that his brother just stumbled so badly in that interview, in what was essentially his television debut. He did go on all the way to the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but the myth of the Kennedy charm and invincibility was destroyed by that interview.
Looking at subsequent presidents, Reagan certainly had an elastic sense of reality. But in his distortions and lies and misstatements, he was by and large upbeat and, when he wasnât, he was at least coherent. Trump lies so continuously that you feel that that must be part of his appeal for his base, that heâs just going to make this stuff up. They think itâs funny or entertaining or maybe that it represents a âgreater degree of authenticity.â
There had been a very interesting point made by Theodor W. Adorno about Hitlerâs appeal. Iâm not saying that Trump is Hitler, but heâs a demagogue and Hitler was too. Adorno, who lived through Hitlerâs lies, made the point that intellectuals and serious people didnât get Hitlerâs appeal. Before he came to power, he just seemed like a clown. There was something ridiculous about Hitlerâs assertions and his tantrums. What they didnât realize was thatâs precisely what his fans liked about him. I think thatâs also the case with Trump and his supporters.
If Nashville, as you point out in the book, foresaw the real-life presidential assassination attempts that were soon to come, could you see the same cinematic influences happening today? Are there films today that you think are foreshadowing things that could come into fruition within our own political future?
Nashville was a movie made at a time when movies were much more central to American culture than they are now. It was made by a filmmaker, Robert Altman, who was directly addressing, as an artist, what was going on. I bracketed Nashville with Jaws because in some respects, Jaws is a similar movie, although Iâm not sure if Spielberg was consciously making an allegory. Some things in the film are political, for example the behavior of the Mayor of Amity, but beyond that the movie itself was utterly central to American culture. There was nothing more important during the summer of 1975 than Jaws. Thereâs no movie that has that kind of centrality anymore, nor do movies as a whole.
A number of television shows seemed to be predicting Hillary Clinton before the 2016 election. There were shows like Madam Secretary and Veep and Homeland, strong, female, political heroes, or, in the case of Veep, comic. But what were they compared to Celebrity Apprentice? Those aforementioned shows were very feeble in terms of reaching an audience and I think it was more a projection of the people who made it. When I look at movies now, and I have to say that I donât see as many movies as I used to, I see some that seem to manifest things that are in the air. Jordan Peeleâs Get Out would be the best example of this. That movie was made and conceived while Obama was president, but it certainly projected the post-Trump mood. Quentin Tarantinoâs Once Upon a TimeâŠin Hollywood is interesting because, on the one hand, itâs a movie about 1969, and yet itâs also a movie about 2019. It canât help but manifest some of our current fantasies and tensions. But even if it had a bigger audience than Nashville, people just arenât taking it the same way.
And Once Upon a TimeâŠin Hollywood presents a cinematic take that has a romanticized, almost fetishistic view of a 1969 that never truly existed, at least not the way Tarantino wishes it didâŠ
Well, thatâs certainly one way to look at it. I would put it somewhat differently, but we can let people discover for themselves if they havenât seen it!
The book also talks a great deal about the revisionism and idealization of specific time periods that were said to represent wholesome Americana. The â50s is a big one, but as you point out, the moviesâ view of the â50s were drastically different from the one the world actually experienced. I remember growing up in the â90s convinced Happy Days was a TV show not just about the â50s, but from the â50s itself.
That makes perfect sense, and I think other people share that same experience. The genius of that show is that it portrayed the â50s âas it should have been.â Jean Baudrillard has a memorable description of walking in to see Peter Bogdanovichâs 1971 black-and-white film The Last Picture Show and, for a moment, thinking it was actually a movie from the period it depicted: the early â50s. It was a hyper-real version of it. Thatâs what Happy Days was. I think Reaganâs genius was to be able to do that on a larger scale, to conjure up an idealized â60s almost out of whole cloth, vague memories, old television, and old movies in his own conviction, even if that was ultimately a fantasy. It was an idealization of the period.
On the occasion of your bookâs release, youâve programmed a selection of double features for an upcoming series at Film at Lincoln Center. Outside of a closeness in release dates, like The Last Temptation of Christ and They Live, what went into the pairing up of certain titles?
I appreciate that question. I really love the concept of double bills. Whenever itâs possible, I like to teach using double bills, because then the movies can talk to each otherâand I donât have to talk as much. Ideally the movies should comment on each other. The reason for including The Last Temptation of Christ was a bit tricky. I thought that the response that it got certainly looked forward to the culture wars of the â90s. There was such hostility directed toward that movie and, by extension, the movie industry as a whole. As Trump would say, it was as âan enemy of the people.â And to me, They Live seems to be the bluntest, most direct critique of Reaganism ever delivered, and it was delivered at the very, very end of his presidency. In a sense, it was already over, as the film came out just before the 1988 presidential election. I see both They Live and The Last Temptation as political movies, one overtly political and one that was taken in a political manner.
The 100 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time
These films are fearless in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own.
âThe [sci-fi] film has never really been more than an offshoot of its literary precursor, which to date has provided all the ideas, themes and inventiveness. [Sci-fi] cinema has been notoriously prone to cycles of exploitation and neglect, unsatisfactory mergings with horror films, thrillers, environmental and disaster movies.â So wrote J.G. Ballard about George Lucasâs Star Wars in a 1977 piece for Time Out. If Ballardâs view of science-fiction cinema was highly uncharitable and, as demonstrated by the 100 boldly imaginative and mind-expanding films below, essentially off-base, he nevertheless touched on a significant point: that literary and cinematic sci-fi are two fundamentally different art forms.
Fritz Langâs Metropolis, a visionary depiction of a near-future dystopia, is almost impossible to imagine as a work of prose fiction. Strip away the Art Deco glory of its towering cityscapes and factories and the synchronized movements of those who move through those environments and whatâs even left? Itâs no accident that some of the greatest cinematic adaptations of sci-fi novels bear only a passing resemblance to their source material. Ridley Scottâs Blade Runner, for example, simply mines some of the concepts from Phillip K. Dickâs Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? about human-looking androids, using them as the raw material for a haunting urban future-noir that owes more to visual artists like Moebius and Antonio SantâElia than it does to Dick himself. Then thereâs Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker, which transfigures Arkady and Boris Strugatskyâs briskly paced novella Roadside Picnic into a slow, mesmerizing journey into an uncanny space.
Ballard may have been right that literary sci-fi has provided all the interesting themes and ideas for which sci-fi in general has become known, but he failed to grasp how cinema has expanded our understanding of sci-fi by pricking at our collective visual consciousness. The titles on our list of the 100 best sci-fi movies of all time have shown us utopias, dystopias, distant planets, and our own Earth destroyed. Some of these depictions are humorous, others haunting. Some rely on complicated special effects, others use none at all. But theyâre united by their fearlessness in breaking down boundaries and thrusting us into worlds beyond our own. Keith Watson
100. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980)
Ken Russellâs psychedelic Altered States examines one manâs egregious deflection of paternal responsibility in the name of scientific innovation. Fantasy and self-indulgence are the most powerful narcotics in the filmâdrugs that allow Harvard scientist Dr. Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) to flirt with an increasingly volatile dream state where, as he puts it, âtime simply obliterates.â Consumed by religious repression and self-guilt regarding his fatherâs painful death from cancer decades ago, Eddie becomes addicted to medicating his own primal urges through lengthy self-deprivation experiments. The theme of escape dominates the film, especially during Eddieâs visit with a native tribe from Central Mexico where a peyote session causes Eddie to hallucinate, visualized by Russell as a nightmarish dreamscape of striking imagery. Itâs an incredibly subjective sequence, placing the viewer inside Eddieâs headspace during a lengthy and jarring slide show from hell. Lava flows, sexual acts, and animal disembowelment all crash together, images that take on even more symbolic meaning later in the film when Eddie begins to evolve physically into a simian form. Glenn Heath Jr.
99. Tomorrow Iâll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (JindĆich PolĂĄk, 1977)
A film as brilliantly constructed as it is titled, JindĆich PolĂĄkâs Tomorrow Iâll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea is a swinging comedy about a secret cabal of Nazis whoâve discovered the secret of time travel and are intent on using it to go back to World War II and supply Hitler with an atomic bomb. The plot also involves a pair of twins, mistaken identities, and anti-ageing pills, and yet, despite having to keep all these narrative balls in the air, the film never feels convoluted or over-stuffed. Instead, itâs a delightfully wacky farce that treats its potentially terrifying premise with cheerfully irreverent humor, exemplified by the filmâs opening credits, which feature archival footage of Hitler manipulated to make it look like heâs boogieing to disco music. And if all thatâs still not enough, PolĂĄkâs film also offers a nifty showcase of some of the grooviest low-budget futuristic production design the â70s Soviet bloc had to offer. Watson
98. Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges, 1980)
A gleefully cheesy throwback to the sci-fi serials of yesteryear, Mike Hodgesâs Flash Gordon is as pure a camp spectacle as youâre likely to find. A glitzyâat times garishâextravaganza of brightly colored sets, skin-baring costumes, and otherworldly vistas that wouldnât seem out of place in the gatefold of a Yes album, the film is silly and cartoonish in the best sense of those terms. Featuring such outlandish characters as the fu manchu-sporting villain Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow), Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed, bare-legged and sporting giant metallic wings), and the blank-eyed beefcake at the center of it all, Flash (Sam J. Jones), the film is very much in on its own joke. Produced by Dino de Laurentiis to cash in on the post-Star Wars mania for space-opera flicks, Flash Gordon ultimately has more in common with tongue-in-cheek cult musicals like Phantom of the Paradise and Xanadu than it does with George Lucasâs action-packed monomyth. Thatâs thanks in large part to the rip-roaring soundtrack by Queen, whose spirited pomposity seamlessly complements the filmâs flamboyant comic-strip visual delights. Watson
97. The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933)
James Whaleâs anarchically playful The Invisible Man is an outlier among Universalâs line of classic monster movies. More of an inventive mash-up of black comedy and sci-fi than true horror, the film is an incendiary piece of speculative fiction that counterbalances its cautionary-tale tropes by perpetually reveling in the chaos its megalomaniacal protagonist stirs up, even as his intensifying violent impulses shift from harmlessly prankish to straight-up lethal. This pervasive sense of moral ambiguity is only strengthened by Whaleâs decision to keep Claud Rainsâs Dr. Jack Griffin invisible until the filmâs closing seconds and elide his characterâs backstory altogether. Griffinâs unknowability and cryptic motivations are mirrored in his literal invisibility, allowing his corruption and unquenchable thirst for power to take on a universal quality that implicates the audience even as it as it entertains them. Derek Smith
96. The Brother from Another Planet (John Sayles, 1984)
A gentle-hearted satire on race and the immigrant experience, John Saylesâs The Brother from Another Planet follows an unnamed mute extra-terrestrial (Joe Morton) who, after crash-landing in the Hudson River, navigates life in the Big Apple. The hook, of course, is that while this âbrotherâ hails from a far-off planet, to the people of New York, he looks like just another black guy. This premise, which couldâve been mined for easy laughs or obvious platitudes about racism, is instead, in Saylesâs hands, a sensitive, socially observant fable about the difficulties of assimilation. The brother is, in all senses of the term, an alien: far from home, isolated from those around him, unsure how to navigate local social interactions, and, ultimately, unsure if he belongs in this world at all. Bolstered by Mortonâs soulful lead performanceâfew have ever made the act of listening so compelling to watchâSaylesâs film is science fiction at its most succinct and humane. Watson
95. Days of Eclipse (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1988)
Aleksandr Sokurovâs Days of Eclipse opens with a majestic birdsâ eye view tracking shot of a desolate desert landscape. As the camera speeds up, it descends from the heavens, violently crashing into the ground in a poverty-stricken Turkmenistani community. The shot invokes a metaphorical image of invasion, and after a hard cut, weâre offered a blistering glimpse of that invasionâs impact: a landscape neglected to the point of decay, crumbling amid the oppressive heat and other inexplicable natural phenomena. Alternating between drab sepia tones and more vividly colorful footage, Sokurov films a multicultural community through the disoriented, foreign eyes of Malyanov (Aleksei Ananishnov), a Russian physician sent on a vague mission to bring modern science to the village. But Malyanov remains a stranger in a strange land, unable to commune with the shell-shocked villagers, whose trauma and desperation has rendered them alien to all outsiders. Like Andrei Tarkovskyâs Stalker and Aleksei Germanâs Hard to Be a God, both also based on novels by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Days of Eclipse transforms an ordinary landscape into something mystical and otherworldly. And in this film in particular, it perfectly embodies the unbridgeable disconnect between colonizer and colonized. Smith
94. Voyage to the End of the Universe (JindĆich PolĂĄk, 1963)
While some Czech New Wave filmmakers in the 1960s explored the interconnected social and political foibles of people in their home country, Jindrich PolĂĄkâs effects-laden Voyage to the End of the Universe trades the oppressed Soviet-ruled Czech Republic for the outer reaches of the cosmos. The journey of the starship Ikarie XB-1 in searching for life on another planet isnât without the Czech New Waveâs notable playfulness when detailing how travelers cope with the monotony of space travel (hereâs looking at you, dance party sequence), though PolĂĄk expresses a darkly fatalistic worldview as well. If the haunting sequence of Ikarie XB-1 crew members finding a doomed ship that went on a similar mission is any indication, PolĂĄk suggests that sheer advancements in innovation and searching for a new life-sustaining planet is ultimately an exercise in futility, since human life, in both the individual sense and as a species, will end at some point. It seems we might as well, like the filmâs bored cosmonauts, just simply let go and dance the night away. Wes Greene
93. The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951)
Legend has it that The Thing from Another World was helmed not by its credited director, Christian Nyby, but by producer Howard Hawks. The film certainly provides ample evidence to suggest that such a covert switch occurred, as the its controlled atmosphere of dread and abundant rapid-fire repartee between the primary players seem to have been molded according to Hawksâs trademark template. Regardless, what remains most remarkable about the film is its continued ability to function as both a taut science-fiction thriller and a telling snapshot of the Cold War paranoia beginning to sweep the country in post-WWII America. The story, about the battle between a group of stranded military personnel and an alien creature fueled by human blood, is a model of economic storytelling. The conflict between Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) is one between Force and Reason, and represents a debate over whether America should cope with its Soviet adversaries through military confrontation or intellectual and diplomatic study. Given the â50s political climate, itâs no surprise that the filmâs climax answers such a question by painting the sympathetic Carrington as a danger to mankind and the violent Hendry as a heroic warrior. Nick Schager
92. The Worldâs End (Edgar Wright, 2013)
Edgar Wright wrapped up his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy with The Worldâs End, a rollicking alien-invasion ode to boozing up and moving on that bests even Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in its comingling of hilarious buddy humor, aesthetically electric action, and genre shout-outsmanship. The story of a group of high school friends reunited to complete a famed pub crawl at the behest of their once-great, now-pitiful leader (Simon Pegg), only to find that their sleepy rural England hometown has been turned into a picture-perfect haven for extraterrestrial cyborg pod people, Wrightâs film is a blistering barrage of contentious one-liners and CG-ified mayhem. Staged with the directorâs usual high-wire dexterity and bolstered a cast that handles whip-crack dialogue with giddy aplomb, itâs the filmmakerâs most exciting, inventive, and purely entertaining mash-up to dateânot to mention, in its alternately sympathetic and critical portrait of a man-child navigating the literal and figurative pitfalls of growing up, also his most heartfelt. Schager
91. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982)
The world of Slava Tsukermanâs cult classic suggests the neon-tinged flipside of Warholâs Factory. Anne Carlisle memorably plays dual roles: as Jimmy, a male model with a raging drug addiction, and Margaret, a bisexual girl who could easily pass for Aimee Mann during her âTil Tuesday days. Otto von Wernherr (Madonna enemy and early collaborator) plays a German scientist chasing after an alien spacecraft that visits the Earth in order to feed off the opium-producing receptors inside the brains of heroin users. During sexual orgasm, these receptors produce a sensation similar to the feeling produced by the brain during the absorption of heroin. The filmâs aliens (visually represented using negative film stock of a blood-shot eye) feed off of this pleasure principle, spontaneously combusting humans as they engage in sexual intercourse. Aliens, drugs, clubs, orgasms, and big hair! On its crazed surface, Liquid Sky is a celebration of the â80s counter-culture. But more than three decades after its release, the bad behavior and paranoia depicted here seemingly foreshadows both the ramifications of said cultureâs sexual indiscretions and a nationâs political naĂŻvetĂ©. Ed Gonzalez
Interview: Julius Onah and Kelvin Harrison Jr. Talk Luceâs Ambiguities
Onah and Harrison discuss their approach to creating the filmâs central character and how they navigated his many dualities.
âReally, itâs just about peopleâwhether they conform to what we think they are,â says Kelvin Harrison Jr.âs eponymous character in Luce. The high school student is engaged in a classroom debate with his history teacher, the self-appointed respectability politics enforcer Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), but he also speaks to the very essence of the film itself. Luceâs plot takes a number of engrossing turns as characters attempt to reconcile the disparities between the people they know so well and the deeds others allege they committed. But it all comes back to the characters themselves, Luce chief among them.
At his core, Luce is a model student thriving in suburban Arlington after being pulled out of an Eritrean war zone. Describing him further proves difficult because he means so many things to different people, some of whomâespecially his adoptive white parents (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) and school facultyâmaintain an investment in seeing that he fulfills their expectations. From there, it only requires a few misunderstandings to ignite a powder keg of anxieties and assumptions surrounding race, class, immigration, and privilege.
While this description might seem to cast Luce as merely a passive participant in the story, nothing could be farther from the truth. Heâs the filmâs central enigma, with each scene concealing as much about his nature as it reveals. Harrison, a 25-year-old rising star whoâs already turned in psychologically complex work in films such as Monsters and Men and It Comes at Night, endows the film with equal parts pathos and pathology through his performance. Shortly after Luceâs theatrical bow, I sat down with both Harrison and director Julius Onah to discuss their approach to creating the filmâs central character, how they navigated his many dualities, and where they made determinations about his sincerity.
Who is Luce, for each of you? Inasmuch as itâs possible to pin him down.
Julius Onah: Whew!
Kelvin Harrison Jr.: Heâs a 17-year-old kid whoâs insanely intelligent. Heâs gone through, seen, and overcome a lot. As he moves forward, heâs trying to make sure he feels protected and seenâthat heâs not put, like he says, in a box and that his peers arenât doing the same. He feels like the future generation is the future, so shouldnât we all be supporting each other to do that? That makes him the budding revolutionary he wants to beâand is, in a lot of ways.
JO: As Kelvin said, we viewed him as this budding revolutionary, this kid who has incredible intellectual horsepower. But itâs like heâs got a Lamborghini with no license to drive. He contains all these multitudes within him, but, at the same time, has a tremendous amount of expectation on him from everyone around him who wants him to live his life on a symbolic, representational level, in order to prove whatever point they want. This kid is trying to negotiate the balance between âWho am I really?â and âWho do I have to be to make everyone around me happy and survive in America?â
How did you handle the meta consideration of finding the person of Luce without losing his symbolism?
KH: Iâve been telling this story that I grew up in New Orleans, the South, and went to a private school for high school. New Orleans is very laidback, weâve got a lot of slang, which is what it is. But then I went to this majority white school and was one of five, six, less than 10 black people in the entire high school. The first thing they told me was, âYou canât say âyeah.â Itâs âyes.ââ They were like, âWhat do your parents do? Why do you dress like that?â I started judging myself and changing who I was or what I looked like to assimilate to the culture. I took a lot of that and brought it into Luce and his journey coming from Eritrea, and to his parents saying, âWe donât know how to pronounce your name, so weâre changing it.â [laughs] And Harriet being like, âYou need to do these things in order to be great.â Itâs like [to her], âWhatever I am isnât enough for you. Youâre judging me based on where I came from, and now youâre telling my parents I wrote a violent paper.â Itâs insane.
Watching Luce, I wondered if heâs played as if the character is the way that he is at his core and the audience just gets to discover that, or if the events of the film goad him into becoming the way that he is. Did either of you make a decision to play it one way?
JO: As a director, I have a conception of the character, but I always believe that the actor has to live it truthfully. We talked a tremendous amount about where this guy was coming from and the specific biographical details of that. But, at the same time, the beauty of it is these moments that just appear as actors are living it. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Luce is in the shed with his friend, Orlicki, who says, âDeShaun is black black.â And Luce instantly tries to defuse the situation. For a moment, he retreats into himself, but right after, he smacks his friendâs leg, and they start laughing. It tells you so much about who this guy is, constantly measuring every moment, situation and expectation from people.
So, in terms of the overall of the character, thereâs that human part of him thatâs just a 17-year-old kid trying to figure out who he is like most 17-year-old kids are. But then thereâs a part of him thatâs brilliant and well read; heâs been brought out of a real, physical war zone and thrust into this psychological, emotional and sociological war zone of culture in America. Heâs taken some of the skills from survival there and applying it here, constantly reading everything around him looking for incoming fire, ducking and covering, reshaping and reforming himself as he navigates all of this. Thatâs where some of the symbolic version of this character comes from. He knows what he has to represent to literally survive.
You mention incoming fire, and it reminds me that I read about how every time Luce shuts his locker, you added in the sound of gunfire. Where did that idea come from?
JO: A lot of people, and this started at the script level and in friends and family screenings, they would say things like, âIf we just had a flashback to when he was a child soldierâŠâ Which, to me, was like saying, âIf you just made it easier to pigeonhole this characterâŠâ The minute you start doing all that, they can say that this is some PTSD story. But when you see someone walking down the street, unless youâre Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, you canât touch them and flash back to learn what happened to them. All you have are your eyes and ears, and from there we make judgments about who people are. But, at the same time, I did want to suggest some of his history, so I said, âWhatâs a more sophisticated way to make you feel some of the pressure this kid is coming from without spelling it out?â And thatâs where I decided, âWhat if we embedded gunshots throughout the locker, but we changed the pitch of them throughout the movie?â And also, the bells in the hallway that he hears in the school get more pitched up. Slowly, over the course of the film, youâre feeling that pressure rising and donât even know it.
If people wanted a flashback, do you think they really wanted to feel pity for Luce that they didnât otherwise have an outlet for?
JO: For me, I think they want to be able to put him in a box, and we all have that tendency. We want to be able to explain away the things we donât understand, and that defies the purpose of asking the question. Once we make it easy for the audience, thereâs no point to tell the story.
I saw the film for the second time yesterday and found myself watching it like a courtroom drama, building cases for or against characters, looking for silver bullets that might explain themâŠ
JO: Thatâs great to hear.
âŠbut then I realized at some point that this way of viewing was leading me to look for some kind of coherent explanation. Luce is all this one way or Ms. Wilson is all that way, and that one silver bullet will explain who they are, which goes against exactly what the film wants us to think.
JO: Yeah, itâs not like some epiphany weâre stating here, but itâs not the way the world works. I feel like if weâre going to tell these stories, thereâs often a version of the storyâand Iâm not going to criticize any of these films. I understand why these stories are told, whether to give us hope or understanding or a sense of clarity. But, at a certain point, you have to ask when itâs disserving us. There arenât easy morals or digestible answers to hundreds, thousand-year-old questions of identity that are now really bubbling to the surface in this country. When you look at the headlines in this country, the more we continue to think thereâs an easy answer, the more weâre going to deal with these problems in a way that doesnât solve anything. I felt the only wayâand this started with J.C. [Lee]âs brilliant playâto talk about these things is to grapple with the fact that there isnât a silver bullet.
Thereâs such a push and pull between sincerity and deceit for the character of Luce. Itâs tempting, based on what we learn about him, to doubt the authenticity of any given moment. How did you all handle that dissonance that we experience?
KH: Truthfully? Because everything is to be played with the truth, itâs almost hard to keep track of the truth, even as Luce, of when heâs trying to get something that he needs or when heâs genuine. I wouldnât even know at a certain point because it was always being sincere. It all kind of blurs after a while.
JO: I think thatâs a really astute observation of it because, as a 17-year-old kid, you donât know all the time. Youâre just reacting and dealing with the fire of the world around you.
Thereâs a very ambiguous scene about midway through the film when Luce practices his speech before an empty auditorium. Are we meant to know what heâs thinking or how heâs feeling there? Did you make the determination of whether this is true self because heâs not performing before an audience, or just a rehearsal of emotion so he can play convincingly when the seats are full?
KH: I donât think we made that determination, did we?
JO: Not explicitly. We never talked about it on that level. I think whatâs so tricky and interesting with a character like this is that thereâs always going to be an internal emotional life. However, it ends up being projected in that specific moment is going to be up to the audience. Thatâs why I love hearing this interpretation of yours. But what I think is sincere is this 17-year-old boy feeling the suffocating pressure of all these expectations, and itâs almost even harder when thereâs nobody there in front of you because you realize what a performance it has to be. Whether thereâs somebody there or not, you have to be on all the time.
KH: Thereâs some truth to that. I can remember being in the moment, considering the series of events that led up to it with being the star pupil, seeing what happened to DeShaun and Stephanie, and then my black teacherâwho we talked about being in a weird way like a second momâgo behind my back and tell my white parents that maybe Iâm a threat because of who I was is a lot! And then to have my dad turn on me like that [snaps fingers] on the drop of a dime simply because he heard an accusation and be like, âThis is bullshit, youâre full of shit.â Itâs a lot. I think to go through the process of fighting for his identity and rights, in that moment heâs saying this thing about how his mother couldnât pronounce his name, so they renamed me, it hurts. Because it reminds him of the things heâs had to go through since the beginning that heâs had to suppress to move forward. Thereâs a lot of truth. Heâs disappointed, and he feels scared and abandoned. Heâs very alone in that moment, which you can see. But it could be performative because there are moments where heâs like, âIâm good at acting!â [laughs]
There are a pair of instances in the film where itâs alluded to that Luce showed cruelty to a fish. Is that at all a nod to the possibility that he might be a sociopath given that being a commonly recognized trait for them?
JO: Again, weâre just always trying to present things as truthfully as possible. Iâm sure every person in this room has done something as a kid to a living creature where youâre just testing the limits. I remember things with my dogs when I was six or seven like, âWhat if we fold the dogâs legs this way?â Youâre sort of playing, but youâre also testing your power. Down to holding the magnifying glass over ants, whatever the case might be. These are all things where we lay out the story and just tell it. Then itâs up to us as to how we want to view it. Do we want to view this as a child doing something or through the lens of race? His history coming from violence? And then how are we going to choose to feel about it afterwards.
Luce, both the film and the character, rail against the âmodel minorityâ archetype. But while he describes it as a straightjacket, is it possible that he also slyly sees it as a shield under which he can hide some of his actions?
KH: I think heâs aware of that. Thereâs a bit of not completely fully understanding the privilege he gets from his white parents. But at the same time, I do think he knows Principal Dan is like, âThis oneâs my thoroughbred. Heâs on my team, I know how to work him, I know how to get him on my side, I know if I bring my parents theyâll probably donate money to the school.â He can finesse his mother right before, and she might do exactly what he needs her to. But thereâs another part of him that doesnât know how much he can do. Heâs just testing it out. Heâs reactive, just living in the moment and seeing what heâs capable of.
JO: Whatâs interesting about him is his duality. Heâs grown up with a white family, adjacent to white privilege because he can walk into school with his mom and dad. They can offer him the kind of protection that DeShaun would never get. One of the things I would often tell Naomi and Octavia is, âImagine if that big showdown happens in the third act, but it was DeShaunâs parents who walked in.â Thereâs no way they could engage and carry themselves in the way Luceâs parents do! But at the same time, Luce is still black. When he walks out of his house, he will be treated and viewed when heâs not with his parents in the same way that a young black man would be. He alludes to that when it comes to smoking weed.
So, part of all this is how far the model-minority thing can go for Luce. How far does this privilege extend for him? How much can he get away with, or when are they going to decide that heâs not a saint anymore, but a monster? And the inability to negotiate that. Because in either case, whether youâre a saint or a monster, itâs saying that youâre not human. Though one of them comes with privileges, itâs still saying that you donât have access to a full spectrum of humanity. While on some level, everyone around Luce thinks that if they lift him up to perfection, it proves, one, how open-minded and progressive they are and, two, the system works. What they donât always fully recognize is that not only is it discarding the people who arenât doing that, itâs also creatingâon an emotional and psychological levelâan alienation within Luce. And, in this case, both people are hurt as opposed to arriving and doing the real work that makes it a possibility for everyone to have access to that full humanity.
You mention the big third-act showdown, and in both times Iâve seen Luce, the moment that gets the loudest gasp is when his adoptive white parents decide to go all in on a pretty bald-faced lie. What do you hope audiences take away about whiteness and its complicity in perpetuating the monster/saint dichotomy?
JO: An awareness of that complicity. Thereâs often the analogy used that fish donât know theyâre swimming in waterâ[the waterâs] just there. When you have a space thatâs built for your existence, you donât feel the pressure points in the same way. Youâre not always aware of the privileges you have and how those things can be weaponized. Sometimes, your good intentions can be a path that leads downâwe know how the rest of that saying goes. I think the challenge for everybody, and thatâs what I loved about telling this story, is that we are all limited and prisoners of our own perception. For some of us, that perception comes with more privilege. But specifically, for those who live on the top end of that power totem pole, there often isnât an awareness of how even in the best of circumstances, one is contributing to the systems of power and privilege that exist. I think, hopefully, if weâve done our job with the story, weâre not lecturing anybody or pointing the finger per se. Weâre just asking the question.
Watching it again, I was struck by how many instances in the film there are where if the characters were just honest, transparent, or didnât assume something about the other person, they could have avoided so many bad things. Is that a fair statement?
JO: Absolutely! I think we all knowâand this is my first time meeting you, Marshallâhow hard that is. It is so hard. Itâs such a negotiation between ego and beliefs. All you have to do is look at whoâs in power in this country right now and what he has the privilege to ignore. And then, by proxy, the people who choose to support him have the privilege to ignore. What was really interesting about Amyâs arc in the film is that you have her move from a lack of awareness to awareness, but then she has the privilege to decide how aware she wants to be or what she wants to turn off. She says, âYou know, I just want to love my son, forget it!â
KH: Timâs character is interesting because, from the get-go, heâs like, âJust tell him!â
JO: Tim and I often had these conversations about where Peterâs coming from. He came from more of a working-class background and rose to that level. But Amy grew up in the type of environment sheâs already in, with more privilege. Peter very much just wants to parent. Heâs always dealing with that, and this is where it gets so tricky with that negotiation of âwhen am I being a parent who just wants to look after my son? Or when am I being a white man whoâs letting my baggage of privilege and my perceptions and assumptions about my son cloud the way I treat him?â And thatâs where it becomes really messy and complicated.
The National and the Global Intersect at the 2019 Jerusalem Film Festival
Even the most casual exchanges at the festival ended with some variation of a sentiment that arose as a mantra: âItâs complicated.â
Gur Bentwichâs Peaches and Cream contains a running joke that resonated in the context of the 36th Jerusalem Film Festival. Bentwich follows a director named Zuri (played by Bentwich) who undergoes an odyssey after his new film, also called Peaches and Cream, has been indifferently received on its opening weekend. In various encounters, people tell Zuri that they prefer European to Israeli cinemaâclaims that feel ironic given the way that the lurid and feverish nature of Bentichâs film feels pointedly European and American in sensibility. Peaches and Creamâs wandering camera, eroticized women, and narcissistic macho anxiety suggests a Fellini production as viewed through the prism of contemporary American films like After Hours, Listen Up Philip, and Birdman, creating a friction. Zuri and Bentwichâthe two are deliberately indistinguishableâhave both made a quasi-European film only to be discounted for not being European enough for Israeli cinephiles.
I thought of Bentwichâs running joke when the international criticsâ delegation of which I was a partâand which also included writers from China, Poland, Lithuania, Portugal, Russia, and Slovakiaâwas treated to a dinner with a group of Israeli critics. Peaches and Cream came up in conversation, with one Israeli writer voicing his irritation with the filmâs references to Western cinema, the sort of fealty which he said was part of the problem of Israelâs cinematic exposure to the rest of the world. Western films reference one another, he said, creating an echo chamber that serves as an affirmation of legacy, while Israeli cinema tends to emulate not itself but the West as well. This writerâs sentiments echoed comments I heard at the Warsaw Film Festival last year, from critics and filmmakers from various countries.
Such conversations are reminders that pop culture is one of the Westâs great legacies and means of influence. (In Tel Aviv for a few days after leaving the festival, I noticed that every bar in my neighborhood played vintage American music, from Bob Dylan to the Talking Heads to Alice Cooper to the Notorious B.I.G.) Another joke in Peaches and Cream almost subliminally parodies the neuroses that such an attitude may inspire: Zuri fights to keep posters of his film up in public, trying to protect them from being obscured by other notices.
Relatedly, I saw a Peaches and Cream sticker that had been stuck on a large banner for Pedro AlmodĂłvarâs Pain and Glory, a hot-ticket item at the festival. The bannerâs commanding imageâof a tormented and gray-bearded Antonio Banderas, who won the best actor trophy at this yearâs Cannes for his performance, casting a shadow in the shape of AlmodĂłvar himself against a red backdropâhad been merged with an advertisement for Bentwichâs film, the round sticker providing Banderas with a makeshift eyepatch that cheekily embodied the very intersection between Israeli and international cinema that drives the JFF at large. The festival had one of the most eclectic lineups that Iâve seen, including vintage restorations, lurid thrillers, many Cannes entries, notable American films from last year, documentaries, shorts, and homegrown Israeli productions, which were often the most difficult to get into.
Generally, my fellow critics didnât care much for Peaches and Cream, finding it narcissistic and borderline sexistâqualities which struck me as part of the filmâs joke. Thereâs no way that an actor-director, other than maybe Kevin Costner, could give himself this many close-ups without a satirical intent. Peaches and Cream is a messy and unruly film, at least until the requisite redemption provided by the third act, and it indicates the Jerusalem Film Festivalâs taste for bold formalism. Most festivals open with a bland audience-pleaser, while the 36th edition of the festival kicked off with Bong Joon-hoâs Palme dâOr-winning Parasite, which is the very embodiment of confrontational political cinema.
Parasite initially suggests a South Korean cover of a Patricia Highsmith novel, with a family that literally lives under the surface of mainstream society conning its way into jobs with a wealthy household. In the filmâs first hour, the greatest achievement of Bongâs career to date, viewers are encouraged to enjoy the poor familyâs ruse, which the filmmaker renders with svelte long takes and pans that elucidate shifting modes of power while providing visceral visual pleasure. Bongâs kinetics are also a form of misdirection, as the filmâs tone gradually curdles, with the class resentment thatâs been percolating under the narrativeâs surface eventually exploding into a massacre that suggests a microcosm of both revolution and genocide. As always, Bong clinches his themes and symbolism too tightly, but Parasite is still a significant comeback from the exhaustingly broad Snowpiercer and Okja.
The setting of Parasiteâs premiere at the JFF intensified the filmâs power, as it was shown at the Sultanâs Pool, a striking outdoor amphitheater from which you can see the walls of the Old City, the Tower of David, and even, from certain angles, portions of Palestine. Now a legendary venue thatâs hosted the likes of Eric Clapton and Dire Straits, the Sultanâs Pool was a site for childrenâs sacrifices centuries earlier, before it was later modernized by Herod into a portion of Jerusalemâs water supply system. Before Parasiteâs premiere, there were many speeches testifying to Israelâs dedication to cinema, including an appearance by the countryâs president, Reuven Rivlin. This pageantry isnât without tension, given the conservative governmentâs hostility to films that are critical of authority, which was expressed by the audienceâs traditional booing of the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, whoâs wanted to cut the governmentâs funding of the arts, and who appeared at the JFF this year via a pre-taped speech. Which is to say that, in a setting freighted with ghosts and nesting political tensions, in a city and country with as much cultural baggage as any in the world, a left-wing horror film like Parasite carries extra weight. It even feels a bit like a dare.
Film festivals can be a paradox. On one hand, theyâre the ideal of the world most artists and critics would like to live in, one where like-minded people share the experience of art, food, and drink as communion, though theyâre also dream realms that cast a potentially insidious illusion of rebellion, giving audiences a faux catharsis that enables the very repression that artists and critics are often railing against. Arenât festivals, regardless of the politics of the art they program, ultimately P.R. for governments that still do whatever they like? (Perhaps Regev either doesnât understand this possibility or is expertly playing her role as a liberal foil.) In such contexts, I think of Matrix Reloaded, in which the hero learns, in what must be one of the most convoluted speeches in the history of cinema, that heâs a tool for providing an appearance of hope and choice to a population thatâs still nevertheless controlled.
Yet it also feels unfair to single out the festival experience for this train of thought, as all artistic endeavors run the risk of rendering palatable the sources of their ireâa topic we also touched on at the criticsâ dinner. Art opens us up to other cultures and ideas, but it can also lull us into a kind of waking sleep, making us think weâve initiated change merely by going to a festival or watching a film or posting something critical on Facebook or Twitter. And this danger of art is especially material when one gorges on the fruits of creativity for days at a time. The act of sipping a drink and eating nice dishes before the Parasite premiere while surveying the Palestinian landscape does, for instance, carry a certain frisson. Many films playing at the festival were concerned with the legacy of Israel, particularly regarding Palestine, and the Israeli critics and press openly spoke of these ambiguities. Even casual exchanges with journalists and average filmgoers alike ended with some variation of a sentiment that arose as a recurring festival manta: âItâs complicated.â
The JFF seems intent on working within the system by using government funding as well as donations to both preserve and establish an Israeli cinematic canon, which it compares and contrasts with the cinema of the rest of the world. Many of the festivalâs screenings were held in the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which is located near the Sultanâs Pool and houses a film archive. The delegation was invited to take a tour of the archive, and in the labs we saw ravishing silent images of Jerusalem desert that have since been modernized as part of the city. We also spoke with people who are restoring films from Israel and other countries. Several restorations played at the festival, among them Amos Guttmanâs 1986 crime drama Bar 51 and Clemente Fracassiâs 1953 opera Aida, a stagey yet hypnotic Verdi adaptation featuring a gorgeous Sophia Loren and Technicolor that might make the artists of Hammer Films blush.
Color is used to florid and rapturous effect in another JFF selection, Karim AĂŻnouzâs The Invisible Life of EurĂdice GusmĂŁo. The film tells one of the oldest of melodramatic tales, following two sisters whoâre separated from one another in 1950s-era Brazil by a patriarchal system that fetishizes female obedience. EurĂdice (Carol Duarte) is an aspiring pianist, while her older sister, Guida (Julia Stockler), is a free spirit who runs off with a Greek sailor. Returning home single and pregnant, Guida is rejected by their father, Manuel (Antonio Fonseca), who calls her a slut and lies to each girl about the other in order to keep them apart. Itâs a ruse that will haunt the family for the rest of their lives.
Starting with the filmâs opening, a humid fantasy sequence in a tropical forest that serves as a metaphor for the girlsâ eventual plight, AĂŻnouz goes stylistically big, utilizing a swooping camera and a wrenching score to sweep us up in EurĂdice and Guidaâs longing for one another, which resembles romantic passion. This texture gives The Invisible Life of EurĂdice GusmĂŁo, which won the Un Certain Regard prize at this yearâs Cannes, a streak of perversity thatâs amplified by the explosion of harlequin reds and blues that signify dwarfed desire. Though this film has an unimpeachably feminist sensibility, AĂŻnouz also evinces remarkable sympathy for Manuel, a square whoâs stymied by his devotion to a hypocritical culture. A shot of the man waiting for his âgoodâ daughter and her child in a restaurant, while the âbadâ daughter spies on them unseen, is among the most haunting images Iâve seen this year.
Colors serve the story of AĂŻnouzâs film, while color is much of the story driving Diao Yinanâs The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese gangster drama that grows increasingly hallucinatory as it somewhat moseys toward its climax. The narrative opens on a man with a past, Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), as he meets a woman, Liu (Gwei Lun-mei), from the wrong side of the tracks. We soon learn that Zhou is waiting for a different woman, though Liu assures him of her loyalty. But the play of light and rain across these arresting faces is more commanding than this expositional business, with Diao soon splintering his plot into suggestive abstraction, as we learn how Zhou became a hunted man enmeshed in a war between crooks and law enforcers. The plot becomes so riven with betrayals and reversals that oneâs encouraged to digest the film as pure poetry, homing in on the explosive hues and stunning action scenes and foreboding shadows and, particularly, the pervading feeling of rootlessness and loss thatâs occasionally exacerbated by brutal violence. The Wild Goose Lake is a ballad of aggression and decay, relating a shaggy dog story thatâs truly a portrait of a country eating itself alive.
Color has a colder and more sinister purpose in two of the other thrillers I saw at JFF. In Vivarium, through sheer force of will and formalism, director Lorcan Finnegan makes a potentially trite premise eerie and suggestive. Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) are a couple looking to move in together, and on a whim they agree to look at a townhome in a yuppie neighborhood that theyâre sure theyâll despise. The neighborhood is revealed to represent corporate efficiency and impersonality to the ultimate degree, with identical, unforgettably hideous pea-green homes that suggest Monopoly pieces as arranged by the Tim Burton of Edward Scissorhands. The neighborhood is so generic, in fact, that Gemma and Tom get lost trying to leave, until itâs revealed that theyâre trapped here via supernatural means, and forced to raise a child (Senan Jennings) who suggests an ill-tempered robot, screaming at a glass-shattering pitch when he isnât fed on time.
Finnegan understands that to explain his premise too much is to dispel its power, and the vagueness of his narrative serves to place the audience in his protagonistsâ shoes. The filmmaker also doesnât over-emphasize the obvious thematic hook, which is that Gemma and Tomâs no-exit situation suggests a nightmarish version of the disappointment that can arise when people succumb to the social pressure to mate, procreate, and attain boring jobs in the name of respectability. As precisely made as Vivarium is, with irrational images that are worthy of classic horror cinema, itâs all concept. Gemma and Tom are merely sketches of the fear and ennui that arrive on the cusp of reaching middle age. The charactersâ immediate accommodation of their new hell feels truthful, but it also robs Vivarium of urgency. Once one accepts its message, which is clear early on, thereâs nowhere else for the film to go.
In certain fashions, Jessica Hausnerâs Little Joe is reminiscent of Vivarium, though itâs a richer and more unsettling work. Both films feature intensely symmetrical imagery and rich colors that suggest a mockery of the emotions that are being suppressed by the rigid settings. But thereâs more mystery and emotional variety in Little Joe; one canât quite pinpoint the meaning of Hausnerâs aesthetic flourishes, such as deliberately unmotivated dolly shots that cut characters out of certain frames in order to emphasize windows or other passageways. And why does a laboratory for breeding plants suggest a Wes Anderson set, with clothes that match the colors of certain pieces of furniture? This color scheme subliminally complements the plant that Alice (Emily Beech, who won the best actress prize at this yearâs Cannes for her performance) has bred. Her creation, which she calls âLittle Joeâ after her son, Joe (Kit Connor), is obscenely fake-looking, suggesting a combination of a rose and a penis. When the plant is stimulated by human talk, it opens up into full bloom, its bright red head serving to satiate the yearning emanating from Alice, a single mother, and her workaholic compatriots.
The plant is engineered to trigger happiness in humans, a concept that reveals how alien the notion of human interaction is to Alice, who rebuffs her poignantly worshipful colleague, Chris (Ben Whishaw). But Alice, a control freak, stymies the plant in a way that reflects her own alienation, rendering it incapable of reproducing. The plant strikes back, gifting human happiness at a price that steers Little Joe into Invasion of the Body Snatchers territory, leading to a brilliant joke: that Alice, in her self-absorption, canât see the invasion thatâs engulfing the world around her. At times, this stark, sad, weirdly exhilarating film also suggests David Cronenbergâs The Fly, similarly boiling a potentially sprawling plot down to a few settings and characters, evoking an aura of clammy claustrophobia. Cronenbergâs film ended with an operatic crescendo, however, while Hausner keeps us trapped in her hermetic world, in which a plant teaches humans to abandon the possibility of ecstasy.
At the JFF, I missed Yolande Zaubermanâs much-buzzed-about M, a documentary about the child abuse thatâs wrought in an Orthodox Jewish community, due to considerable demand. I did, though, catch a few documentaries that should earn attention outside of the festival circuit. Ai Weiweiâs The Rest continues the artistâs project of exposing the refugee crisis in Europe, in which countries like France, Turkey, and Greece fight over where to store people whoâre fleeing from endless wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others. Thematically and aesthetically, the film is similar to Ai Weiweiâs Human Flow, though the filmmaker has compressed his footage here, editing The Rest down to 79 minutesâ worth of tactile physical gestures that bring home the reality of the refugeesâ lives, divorcing the topic of platitude. We see refugees burning plastic water bottles to start a fire for warmth, people cradling a cat deep into their chest, and, most wrenchingly, Ai Weiwei captures a government destroying a shanty village with a bulldozer, a sequence the filmmaker shoots with a matter-of-factness thatâs unflinching and unforgettably moving. Most importantly, Ai Weiwei reminds us of a harsh reality: Most of the refugees merely want to return to their war-torn countries, willing to risk death over the abuse and contempt that awaits them throughout the rest of the world.
Because of the auteur theory, people have an image of films as springing from a maestro directorâs head, when theyâre really works of communal endeavor. Catherine HĂ©bertâs Ziva Postec reminds us of this fact, following the primary editor of Claude Lanzmannâs Shoah as she goes antiquing and recollects the six years she spent culling hundreds of hours of footage into a nearly 10-hour opus that would help define the worldâs grasp of the Holocaust. A few startling details emerge. Shoahâs most important formal gambitâthe contrast of the aural interviews with filmed footage of Holocaust sites as they looked at the time of the filmâs productionâdidnât crystallize until years into the post-production process. Also, Postec tells us how she remixed the interviews, adding space between sentences so that dense descriptions of atrocity would attain a musical cadence that would help viewers understand the stories. HĂ©bert eventually connects Postecâs astonishing accomplishment with the editorâs own conflict over her Jewish and Israeli roots, and Ziva Postec becomes a testament of a woman facing her cultureâs demons and arising out the mess somewhat cleansed. One senses that this sort of reconciliationâof the demons of the past with the yearnings of the futureâis what ultimately drives the JFF at large. Such a bazaar of art allows us to give voice to anxieties and exaltations that are normally thought to be, well, complicated.
The Jerusalem Film Festival ran from July 25âAugust 4.
Interview: Rick Alverson on The Mountain and Challenging Narrative Convention
The filmmaker discusses his latest, and his antipathy toward the mass machine of modern pop culture.
Writer-director Rick Alverson is as intense and intelligent as films like The Comedy, Entertainment, and the forthcoming The Mountain would lead you to believe, with a pointed distrust of sentiment that indicates an urge to forge a connection that isnât muddied by platitude. Alversonâs protagonists yearn for connection, too, especially Tye Sheridanâs wounded and adrift young man in The Mountain, a pursuit that also mirrors the filmmakerâs urge to discard or challenge narrative convention in order to reach a kind of purity of observation. The Mountain is rich in self-consciously still and idyllic compositions that parody the charactersâ various pretenses, while also capturing their internal reverberations.
Since at least the rise of postmodernism, artists and critics alike have been trying to free certain art formsâparticularly the novel and later cinemaâof the constrictions of plot, presumably to access a free-associative and primordial truth. This struggle was at the heart of Susan Sontagâs essay collection Against Interpretation, and itâs a concern shared by Alverson. Yet the filmmaker, in his art and in conversation, runs into the same irony as Sontag: Their rejection of interpretation, embodied mostly in Alversonâs case by the rejection of plot, is interpretation. Most critics and artists, even if they confine themselves to discussions of formalism (and Alverson and I did not) still run headfirst into ideas of meaning, which could be more prosaically and perhaps more truthfully be described as notions of theme.
However, itâs refreshing that Alverson even bothers to grapple with such paradoxes, and he has a knack for speaking in full and winding sentences that mirror the thorny poetry of his cinema. Alverson and I also happen to live in the same cityâRichmond, Virginiaâand we met last week over coffee in a local spot and chewed over The Mountain, Alversonâs earlier work, and his antipathy toward the mass machine of modern pop culture.
Given that you travel quite a bit, is it comforting to have a central home to return to?
âComfortâ is a complex word. [laughs]
I know. I think Iâm asking if the concept of a nest appeals to you.
Yeah, but thereâs always acclimating to coming home. Thereâs this whole process of reevaluating things around you that have been with you for a quarter century. But, yeah, itâs nice being in a city thatâs oblique and a little removed from the hustle and bustle of the industry obsessions. Now, if I can clean up my Twitter feed to reflect the world as opposed to the film industry, Iâll be a better person.
My Twitter game is extremely rudimentary. A variety of passing fancies.
Where did you go to film The Mountain? California?
It was shot in upstate New York, from the Seneca in the Finger Lakes to the Bronxâ14 different towns. Then we took the production and did a leg out in the Pacific Northwest. Mount Baker and the Canadian border all the way through the rain forest. A company move across the country is substantial. [laughs]
Do you purposefully seek narratives in which characters are wandering?
Yeah, Iâm sort of turned off by certainty in films. Movies that have always meant something to me are open and unmoored. The idea of resolution is so fantastical. In so much of consumer cinema, resolution is pushed as a necessary element. Not only as a cathartic moment in the last act, but the very nature in every journey in most films feels like itâs destined to be resolved. Itâs so uninteresting to me. Itâs so removed from the way we experience life.
When watching The Mountain and Entertainment, I thought at certain points that itâs a relief to be free of exposition. That opens films up, gives them space to do and say something else. Your characters donât talk about a plot. Iâm not saying that those films donât have narratives, but your characters are allowed to say these poetic and surprising things because they are accorded both geographic and emotional space.
Yeah, in the consumer model for cinema, there isnât that air in the thing. The act of âtightening it upââfrom the script reviews to the test audiencesâkills a thing and deprives it of its incoherence, which is poetry, the stuff of life. Also, I never like as a viewer to feel that Iâm being coddled. I love the act of discovery. The act of curiosity. The reason so many films are so boring to me is because itâs all laid out; thereâs no place to maneuver in there. Youâre supposed to be a passive subject that watches the thing live and find you and actually becomes your consciousness, because these movies arenât giving your mind anything to do.
I think of the moment in The Mountain where the father tells his son, Andy, the Tye Sheridan character, that he never thought the boy would stop growing. And then he compares his son to the childâs mother, seemingly unflatteringly. Thereâs a lot of texture there in just a few lines. A conventional film might have elaborated more on the psychology, though we donât need it. And those lines haunt the entire movie.
Well, good, I appreciate that. A lot of audiences are conditioned to let those things pass them by, because movies teach them to look for expositional triggers. Like âwhat is this telling me, does it make sense?ââand if it doesnât they discard it. Theyâre conditioned in films and episodic television to do that. Itâs literally a grammar that says âthis is the particular kind of information thatâs going to be valuable to you to be able to compartmentalize this whole thing when youâre done.â I think weâre being deprived of a lot of the stuff of life in these grammars.
Even in art cinema, thereâs this narrative fixation, and The Mountain looks at this quite a lot, both as a toxic element for these men in this film, and for the audience thatâs imbibing them. Is narrative, in the space of cinema, still functional? Even in a broader space, has narrative outlived its functionality as a delivery mechanism for complexity? Weâre increasingly taught to have caches, and to reduce things down to very simple narrative ideas, and thatâs weaponized by your Trumps and by everybody. The larger concern isnât âOh we should just tell more positive and better stories.â Weâre using something that was designed in the oral tradition, and in the written tradition, for an entirely other space. Can we criticize the rules of the game?
I donât want to put The Mountain in a box myself, but Jeff Goldblumâs character, Wallace, is himself addicted to a narrative, to an idea of how lobotomies work.
Thatâs a reduction of the complexity and nuance of his life into a tidy narrative bubble, essentially. That then allows for a hell of a lot of misfortune, because heâs succumbing to ignorance, and ignorance breeds that shit.
Andy, maybe like his mother, refutes ideas of how we should behave, and you wonder if theyâre actually wrestling with madness. From what you give us lobotomizing Andy feels disproportionate to his actions, which is terrifying. We see the social bridge: Heâs on the bench entirely accepted and a moment later heâs at societyâs mercy.
Itâs about surfaces, signifiers, and clarity. I hope the film looks at problems of clarity. We often speak of clarity in celebratory terms, but what is lost in that? The whole mission statement of the arts is to interrupt that idea somehow.
A scene that struck me in The Mountain, and that testifies to the benefits of how you work, making the audience come to you to a certain extent, is when Andy grasps the face of one of Wallaceâs patients.
Yeah, I like that scene a lot.
Itâs a profound moment. Youâre thinking about the potential similarity of this woman to Andyâs mother, and what Andy thinks about that, and his desire for communion. It is poetryâa pure moment. Itâs not emotion-by-the-yard, like in a more conventional narrative, with waves of catharses. This is a moment where youâre in this room and you have to look at these people. It reminds me a little bit of Bresson. He slows your biorhythms down, and when certain moments come they hit you in the solar plexus.
Itâs funny with Bresson, you, and particularly a contemporary audience, have to be receptive to that state. And there are treasures in there, you know. I think about emotion and the capacity for cinema or whatâs left of it to viscerally engage with you emotionally. The emotions that we typically experience in cinema are nostalgic and reverential. Iâm not a fan of Tarantino because heâs very tightly recirculating something, and thereâs no air in it. I understand heâs a great craftsman, but thatâs not why I go to cinema. This idea of âoh this reminds me of this and now Iâm reminded in the vein of nostalgia for this emotionââitâs all triggering. And when the uncertain events of a natural experience, uncoupled with another experience, occurs to an audience, they just shut it out because it makes them uncomfortable. If your mission statement is to engineer that discomfort, it can be tricky.
I watched your first film, The Builder, last night for the first time. Itâs very good.
It was a petri dish. Me shooting and, at any given time, one other person holding a boom mic, that was the extent of the crew for a year. It was an investigation into the relevance of the medium to me.
The Builder is shaggier visually than your recent films, but your aesthetic seems to be pretty fully formed. You seem to have already known what kind of filmmaker you wanted to be. Is that fair or off-key?
Yeah, I donât believe we change very much as individuals in our lives. [laughs] We have a bandwidth, which is another reason why Iâve been forced to value limitations. Because the fact of the matter is that if we can better understand what that bandwidth is, we can explore it. One of my favorite writers is the novelist Thomas Bernhard, and every one of his books resemble one another. They have surrogates for the same position and value of characters in previous books, and so thereâs this tonal exploration of a very small space over the course of many novels. I think thereâs something beautiful about that.
It seems to me that most major artists have one idea that theyâre seeking to express purely. They seem to be chasing a purity of expression.
Well, expression is a vocalization, and the process of cinema is still complex. Itâs cumbersome itâs so complex, down to the distribution, and the promotion and development, and the number of people and orientations that are involved. Itâs not tidy, but in that process thereâs a potential wrestling with the medium itself, which I think is really vital. And if independent cinema has anything to offer, itâs in that contention with the shape and limitations of the medium, rather than it all being a well-oiled machine that you step into. I envy those directors who have that opportunity to create such enterprises. At the same time, itâs reflexive contention that has value.
Did the wide recognition of The Comedy place any pressure on you to try to broaden your audience, or did it enable you to further mine your own interests?
It did allow me to expand in terms of budget, and so the movies became less scrappy. Fortunately. Thereâre scenes in Entertainment that I couldnât have shot on those earlier budgets. With any sort of mild recognition in a practitionerâs life, there are doors that open and people say, âOh, step in, weâve been waiting for you.â
How do you like to talk to actors? Are you someone who talks a lot to them?
I think there are actors with very particular curiosities that want to work with me, because itâs imperative that the person wrestle a little bit with the process, and that we go into that together and that thereâs a discovery. Iâm very physical, oriented toward physical concerns of the production, blocking, compositionâthose sorts of things. And, in casting, there are conversations about the objectives, so that motivesânot the characterâs motivations but our motivations as creatorsâare somewhat in concert. Thereâs a lot I donât tell because itâs not necessary. During a filmâs release or even a year afterward, an actor might discover something in it and ask me if it was intentional. Theyâll discover something about how they were used.
Jeff Goldblum is extraordinary in The Mountain.
He should get a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for it. He honestly should.
He should. Iâve always liked him. Iâm a very big fan of The Fly.
Yeah, Iâm a Cronenberg fan. I love The Brood. I wish Jeff had played one of the diminutive personalities in that. [both laugh]
Goldblumâs energy in this film has a robustness that contrasts with the withdrawn mood of the other characters, and with the austerity of the film in general.
Heâs incredibly curious as an individual and an artist. And his charisma has a life of its own. Heâs great to work with and is a very kind person, and inevitably some of that comes across in the film.
This next question is motivated by that scene we discussed earlier, when Andy is looking at this woman and caressing her face: Are you minutely advising the physical gestures of the actors? Their movements feel very exact.
Yes. Me and my cinematographer, Lorenzo Hagerman, who I did Entertainment with, designed this movie to be formal to a fault. Itâs supposed to almost verge on the fastidious, with a kind of compulsive artificiality. Itâs supposed to feel stilted. So, yeah, itâs rigorously blocked, even on a short production schedule. We donât do a lot of rehearsals, but there are blocking rehearsals and those are, to me, also gestural. I also talk about physical components, and will give direction like âpart your lips.â Itâs nice to work with people who recognize our limitations of access to this two-dimensional space. First of all, thereâs no interior beyond the screen. It literally is a flat expanse, in which youâre generating the illusion of access, which is really just an event that is occurring in the audience. Someone like Bresson proves that itâs silly to believe that an emotional event canât be generated entirely on the surfaces, though itâs not where we typically look for it.
Do your actors ever resist this sort of direction?
Some, but not who I work with. Nobody has for a long time.
The Mountain reminded me a bit of The Master. Do you admire that movie?
I thought it had problems. I mean, I admire everybody involved in it. Paul Thomas Anderson is the last great steward of a dying part of the industry, heâs an astute craftsman with a conscience and a capacity for nuance that Tarantino doesnât have. I donât know. I can understand that they have some literal similarities: thereâs a photographer in that film, and thereâs this concept of a mentor. Iâm fascinated with these huckster characters, and so is Goldblum, and we bonded over that. Essentially our nation was forged by entrepreneurial fraudulence, even if youâre going back to the entirety of the new world. Whatâs being searched for is a fantastical unreality, and that desire is harnessed by industry whether itâs the Virginia Company or Joseph Smithâs enterprises. I find these characters incredibly fascinating, and I think Paul Thomas Anderson has a mutual fixation with that. Of course, the two films were being made during the same time period.
To return to a familiar theme of this conversation, neither you nor Anderson are cowed by the idea of offering resolution. Youâre both determined to forge your own paths, and you both follow your characters into the ether.
Heâs more generous than I am. [both laugh]
He might be more of a humanist, though I wouldnât call you ungenerous. Thereâs a lot of earnest searching in your films.
I feel deeply about people and their environments and frailties. Iâm sometimes painted as a cynic or a contrarian.
Iâve heard that too, and I think thatâs a misreading of your work.
I appreciate that. Thereâs this fella, I forget who, who said it was evident that I hate the medium, and that I hate humanity. Just because youâre trying to interrupt this greased conduit into self-absorption and validation, just because youâre trying to provide an obstacle. I believe that obstacle is constructive, and I want to become more alive and less pacified. Some critics get kind of personal about me and Iâm like âChrist Almighty you donât even know me.â What did Francis Bacon get for Godâs sake, you know? Talk about obstinate.
Yeah, in Entertainment, I think your refusal to judge or editorialize that central character is humanistic. I think a lot of directors wouldâve scored points off that character.
Well, yeah, and I got shit for The Comedy because there was no on-screen reckoning. The author didnât imprint his morality on the thing and therefore the author is immoral. Thatâs tiredly outmoded. Itâs like postmodernism never happened.
Contemporary moralism is often at war with empathy anyway. If you have this tidy moral point, you arenât dealing with the characters, youâre dealing with the authorâs preconceived intentions.
Yeah, thereâs a lot of maneuvering for comfort, which I think is part of the reason why the medium is changing and some factions of it are dying. The works of someone like Bresson or Godardâalthough Godardâs work is the most experimental itâs ever been, and God bless Kino for releasing his films in the United Statesâare now mostly relegated to the museum set. When people wrestle with the form or the medium now, I would say that itâs strange that itâs not more welcomed in the critical community, since critics romanticize iconoclasts like the French New Wave directors.
Revolution looks better in retrospect, because we know the ending.
And before we go, Iâd just like to say, for all the seriousness of your movies, thereâs certainly a dollop of absurdism.
Oh, yeah, totally. And had The Mountain been less of a difficult process to make, I wouldâve had a lot more fun. Iâve been watching the recent Bruno Dumont movies. With the Quinquin and Coincoin series, itâs fascinating to see how he weaponizes absurdist slapstick in order to have the audience become vulnerable, only to then have those characters moments later become grotesque bigots. Thatâs exactly what I was aiming for in The Comedy: to disarm some faction of the audience so they become complicit in the thing, and so that I become complicit too. A morality tale is uninteresting if itâs merely allowing you to shore up your moral voice.
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