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.
White Material (#1–10 of 6)
The Tindersticks’ mini-tour for their new box set of soundtrack work for Claire Denis films graced Los Angeles Saturday night for a show at the little-known Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The band will be completing the tour tonight at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. I was able to catch the show and keyboardist David Boulter earlier in their tour for an interview.
There were several hundred movies released in New York in 2010, but at the end of the year, critics and journalists and members of film unions receive around thirty or so screeners that represent “the best” of the year, or the end of the year, or the films that have some kind of money behind them and might have a chance of winning something or other. I never wanted to write one of those pieces that begin, “2010 was the year of the underdog,” or “2010 was all about chairs,” etc., but I have some specific problems with the movies that are rising to the top for awards nominations, and I think the problems I have might be germane to a more general discussion of what’s wrong with our movies at this point in time. And by “our” movies, I mean mainly American films produced by some “independent” branch of a big studio.
We’re guessing the CEO of the TV cable company RCN has shares in Halliburton.
Richard Brody grapples with the hipster conundrum.
Ryan Gosling elegantly rips the MPAA a new one.
Below, the Spike Jonze-directed video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”:
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The oldest film festival in the United States packs such a bloated salmagundi of screenings into 14 days that it can feel like cinephiliac punishment, but the necessity of individual choices ensures a singular, specialized experience for every attendee. The San Francisco International Film Festival is nothing if not facilitative of staunch personalization, requiring one to whittle down a surmountable program by gorging on blurbs and scuttlebutt, dismissing titles on capricious whims and educated hunches. It’s something of a vast cinematic sand farm each critical drone ant must dig his path through alone.
And how often it is that our gut reactions to rumors and press pics prove themselves prescient. The films I’ve seen this year have little in common if viewed as a unified program, but remarkably, nearly all of the triumphs I witnessed—by which I mean individual scenes as much as entire movies—have been structurally unexpected and trenchantly subterranean, moments that seemed to undergo a gawky if earthy growth as I witnessed them. The best of international film art is now an industry of softly human moments; even a restored 1970s-era action-themed gem such as Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright simmers masculine tropes down to their molten essence rather than exploding them. And while not all attempts at subtle revelation have stuck with me beyond absorption, SFIFF 2010 has been, and perhaps will be remembered as, a year of successful susurri standing in quiet defiance against elephantine prestige.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done: The other half of the Werner Herzog Nutty Procedural Double Feature, this David Lynch-produced thriller offers far more controlled absurdism than Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but is easily the lesser work. One of the supporting actors playing straight man to Cage’s cyclonic clowning in Lieutenant, Michael Shannon takes center stage here as a San Diego momma’s boy who returns “different” from a trip to Peru and takes an unhealthy interest in playing the matricidal protagonist in a production of The Oresteia. The setting is a hostage negotiation between Shannon and police officer Willem Dafoe, with Chloë Sevigny, Brad Dourif, Grace Zabriskie, Udo Kier, and other kooks duly dropping by. Smooshing near-parodic versions of tropes by both Herzog (maddening jungles, incongruous animals) and Lynch (promiscuous coffee-drinking, tuxedoed dwarves), it’s strenuously deadpan where the other film was organically hysterical. It works most intriguingly as a curious meeting between simpatico but ultimately incompatible artists, not unlike Dali doing his own version of Millet’s Angelus.