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AFI Fest 2011: This Is Not a Film, Almayer’s Folly, & Hanaan

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AFI Fest 2011: This Is Not a Film, Almayer’s Folly, & Hanaan

Under house arrest and awaiting a verdict on his appeal from Iran’s supreme court, filmmaker Jafar Panahi spends much of This Is Not a Film remaking, rethinking, and reconstructing his Tehran apartment as a sandbox of cinema. Despite his isolation and self-doubt, every frame becomes a wondrous opportunity for expression, each corner of Panahi’s posh prison cell a mental trap door from his stifling physical entrapment. Panahi’s equipment is expectantly bare boned, consisting of only a PD-150 digital video camera, a smart phone, and some gaffer’s tape used to create spatial designs on the floor. Walls of natural light flood in from the world outside, often illuminating the empty spaces of Panahi’s rooms with a certain unexpected grace. Throughout the film’s tight 75-minute running time, Panahi perfectly captures the haunting illusion of time, how moments of reflection and fear can seamlessly overlap with the mundane, moment-to-moment process of waiting for one’s fate.

As Panahi sits in his penthouse answering calls from lawyers, feeding his pet iguana named Igi, and revisiting previous films like The Mirror and Crimson Gold, fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb charts his every move. The two friends banter back and forth, even hilariously arguing at times about who’s really directing this film. Like the act of filming itself, their camaraderie feels like an act of resistance. In terms of sound design, Panahi and Mirtahmasb simply shoot long enough to hear the loud cracks of gunfire (and later fireworks) from the chaotic streets below, expanding their restrained and limited location in horrific ways. This Is Not a Film ends in one final long take that snakes through an elevator and into a fiery darkness. For a moment, this masterpiece aching with expected pain and unexpected laughter opens up to the world, finalizing a portrait of an artist subtly rattling his cage with class, wit, and mise-en-scène. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Panahi still breathes, laughs, creates, and shoots. Considering the deeply saddening circumstances of This Is Not a Film, each is an act of celebration and defiance, something akin to a miracle.

Almayer's FollyEqually concerned with the threat of mental suffocation is Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly, a simultaneously taxing and alluring adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s novel about rotting souls slow-dancing through rotten landscapes. Set in the dank marshes and jungles of Malaysia at a languid trading outpost, Akerman’s film immerses the viewer in the humidity and sweat of its extreme locations, holding on characters for long durations as they mentally and physically wither. The living corpse at the center of Akerman’s film is Almayer (Stanislas Merhar), a disgruntled European merchant who sends his mixed-raced daughter, Nina (Aurora Marion), to the city in an attempt to give her a Western education. Entirely motivated by spite and hatred for the country he inhabits, Almayer and the scenario he constructs bluntly represent the unflinching cost of colonialist ideology and mental stagnation.

Akerman’s barrage of long takes is impressive by any standard, her stoic, meandering camera lurking through the thick foliage as Almayer mutters aimlessly about guilt, regret, and anger. The nighttime shots hovering above black water, only illuminated by reflections of strobe lights, are equally stunning, focusing on the ripples of each wave as they crest in perfect formation. Still, Almayer’s Folly embraces a level of overt symbolism that is both fittingly abrasive yet completely one-note, miring its European characters in a self-made bog that lacks the power of Claire Denis’s White Material, another film concerned with colonialist angst. For Akerman, life in this part of the world is a devastating waiting game that recycles pain and anguish until there’s nothing left but certain madness.

HanaanRulsan Pak’s Hanaan also plays on the intriguing premise of diverse cultures and personalities crashing together, but in a much more straightforward way than Akerman’s descent into the heart of darkness. A unique spin on the police procedural and drug film, Hanaan dedicates itself to hustlers, dealers, and cops all trying to survive the day-to-day rigor of a low-level existence in Uzbekistan. Stas (Stanislav Tyan), a Korean-Uzbek police detective attempting to navigate rampant corruption and drug trafficking in his district, becomes Pak’s symbolic center and moral litmus test. Haunted by a friend’s murder six year’s prior, Stas descends into a debilitating heroin addiction after a big bust brings him face to face with the killer. Hanaan suffers from a dependence on Hollywood genre conventions even as it’s trying to deconstruct them, a problematic approach that ultimately undermines the power of its more character-driven moments. Even worse, late in the film Stas retreats to the mountains to get clean—a far too easy culmination for such a previously gritty ride. Still, there’s plenty to appreciate here, from the film’s measured pace to its singular lead characterization by Tyan. Both prove Hanaan’s cluttered landscape of displaced people has an intriguing human center at its core.

AFI Fest runs from November 3—10. For more information, click here.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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