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Film Comment Selects (#110 of 77)

Film Comment Selects 2016 Blood of My Blood

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Film Comment Selects 2016: Blood of My Blood

IBC Movie Rai Cinema

Film Comment Selects 2016: Blood of My Blood

Such good surface manners, such inner madness. After Dormant Beauty’s comparably staid network narrative, Blood of My Blood’s unclassifiable, almost reality-defying mix of religious drama, supernatural fantasy, and whimsical comedy comes as surprise from filmmaker Marco Bellocchio. But the film is hardly the kind of outlandish phantasmagoria Federico Fellini regularly indulged in from onward. Bellocchio’s brand of crazy, at least here, is a more subtle accumulation of askew details so confounding that one can’t help but be drawn in simply to see how it all adds up, if at all.

Film Comment Selects 2016 Return to Waterloo

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Film Comment Selects 2016: Return to Waterloo

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Film Comment Selects 2016: Return to Waterloo

Even though 1984’s Return to Waterloo is the only fiction feature that Ray Davies directed in his long career, it easily announces its auteurist bona fides. The opening sequence, detailing the dreary work commute of a melancholic man known simply as The Traveller (Kenneth Conley), effectively captures the disillusionment with domesticity in British middle-class society that Davies had satirized for years as chief songwriter and frontman for the Kinks. The Traveller is essentially the embodiment of the classic Kinks character of the uptight working man featured in many of the band’s work, most notably in their brilliant concept album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), but Davies takes the majority of the inspiration for the film from his debut solo album of the same name. He even sets Return to Waterloo’s narrative to the album’s music, incorporating very little dialogue in the process, and as such the film suggests a visual LP.

Film Comment Selects 2016 Diary of a Chambermaid

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Film Comment Selects 2016: Diary of a Chambermaid

Cohen Media Group

Film Comment Selects 2016: Diary of a Chambermaid

Benoît Jacquot’s Diary of a Chambermaid is the third major film adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s fin de siècle novel of the same name. The poetic realism of Jean Renoir’s 1946 version teased out the novel’s humanist politics to draw parallels between France’s turn-of-the-century Catholic reactionaries and its WWII fascist collaborators, while Luis Buñuel’s 1964 version, set in 1930s France, emphasized the sexual and moral depravity of a society on the verge of political collapse. If Jacquot’s adaptation lacks the unique auteurial vision of its predecessors, it does skew closer the source material and offers some trenchant commentary about the past and present state of French society.

Film Comment Selects 2016 Malgré la Nuit

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Film Comment Selects 2016: Malgré la Nuit

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Film Comment Selects 2016: Malgré la Nuit

Early in Philippe Grandrieux’s Malgré la Nuit, Lenz (Kristian Marr) encounters a friend (Lola Norda) in a dark, abstract space illuminated only by a faint copper-toned light as smoke billows around them. They call each other out in diaphanous whispers enhanced by the absence of any diegetic noise, until their hands touch. She asks him what he’s doing back in Paris, to which he plaintively responds, “I’m searching for Madeleine,” crystallizing the film’s axis of conflict: the regaining of a lost love. It’s an unusual start coming from a filmmaker who routinely eschews anything that so much as resembles plot markers or sentimentality. Then again, no one accustomed to Grandrieux’s penchant for disruption should be too surprised by this.

Since his startling debut feature, Sombre, Grandrieux has become one of cinema’s most audacious chroniclers of society’s underbelly, maybe even its best articulator of heightened sensations; despair and ecstasy erupt from the fabric of his films with a blistering, almost physical intensity. While Grandrieux’s fourth fiction feature continues his usual investigation into the limits of experience and range of cinematic possibilities, there’s also a strong willingness here to work along a more traditional narrative scheme. Not that Grandrieux has totally softened up. Malgré la Nuit still plays out like a sordid nightmare straight out of Georges Bataille’s imagination.

Film Comment Selects 2015: Cymbeline

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Cymbeline</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Cymbeline</em>

In Cymbeline, director Michael Almereyda, working with cinematographer Tim Orr, strikingly calls attention to the flimsiness of the story’s settings. Characters hatch out a plan at a Chinese restaurant and the audience is allowed to ineffably sense that this location was selected, perhaps the week before shooting, for the strip-mall bareness of its interior and for its overall chintziness, which contrasts with the heightened poetic dialogue that’s taken from Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Other locations, which include warehouses, dilapidated mansions, bridges, and spartanly furnished cabins, exude a similarly purposefully contrived aura of isolated, cherry-picked formality: They’re theatrical sets as found objects, and Orr often casts them in silvery hues that convey a nihilistic impression of decay and apocalyptic impermanency.

Film Comment Selects 2015 The World of Kanako

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Film Comment Selects 2015: The World of Kanako
Film Comment Selects 2015: The World of Kanako

Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako follows ex-cop Akikazu Fujishima (Kōji Yakusho) as he bludgeons and growls his way through the grade schools, shopping malls, drug dens, and criminal underworld of Tokyo in search of his estranged teenage daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Divorced and unemployed, his mind addled from abusing prescription drugs, Akikazu has zero investment in his world. When his ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa) tells him of their daughter’s disappearance, Akikazu uses the event as a pretense to go on a violent rampage, insulting and assaulting everyone he comes across in a journey that quickly reveals itself to be less about finding his progeny than about getting revenge against the world for all of the perceived injustices that he’s ever suffered. Angry, sweaty, and disheveled from the start, he never bothers to change his one increasingly bloodstained suit, though this doesn’t prevent him from entering schools and shopping malls to physically and verbally abuse schoolgirls and their female teachers.

Film Comment Selects 2015 Cristián Jiménez’s Voice Over

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Film Comment Selects 2015: Voice Over

Film Comment Selects

Film Comment Selects 2015: Voice Over

Director Cristián Jiménez’s Voice Over sketches a portrait of an upper-middle-class family in Chile, flitting from one highly charged plot point to the next (a birth, a funeral, an illicit affair, the dissolution of a marriage) without probing too deeply into any of the characters or feelings involved. That can make it feel a bit like an upscale soap opera, as beautiful sisters Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), their flawless skin generally lit to a caramel glow, speculate in upscale settings about other members of their family, with an occasional break to have sex (Sofia with an inappropropriate boyfriend; Ana with a blandly supportive husband) or take care of their children.

Film Comment Selects 2015 Julie Lopes-Curval’s High Society

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Film Comment Selects 2015: High Society

Pyramide Productions

Film Comment Selects 2015: High Society

French cinema has the fortunate tendency of representing girls as actual human beings, instead of pretty adornments twirling around a male lead. Alice (Ana Girardot), the girl in High Society, might have been reduced to a supporting-role function of her own working-class life had she not run into Agnès (Aurélia Petit), a well-connected and well-coiffed designer. Agnès helps take Alice out of the hood to develop her creative skills and get into a renowned fashion school. A support that Agnès soon regrets, as the girl ends up falling for Agnès’ son, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), forcing lower and upper classes to make contact beyond fleeting bursts of philanthropy.

Film Comment Selects 2015: The Golden Era

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>The Golden Era</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>The Golden Era</em>

“I can’t tell if anyone will read my stuff later. But I’m quite sure that the gossip about me will go on and on,” laments writer Xioa Hong (Wei Tang) on her deathbed. Ironically, despite pointedly registering that complaint, The Golden Era does just what she dreads. Shunting her writing to the side to focus on her tragic love life and early death, Ann Hui’s film reduces an intriguing sounding woman—one who, by the film’s own account, made a name for herself as a writer without conforming to conventional mores, either about how to write or how to behave—to a Camille-like figure of pity, picturesquely tubercular, ill-used by men, and admirable mainly for the gallantry with which she faced an avalanche of bad luck.

Film Comment Selects 2015: The Smell of Us

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>The Smell of Us</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>The Smell of Us</em>

Larry Clark is in full-on zeitgeist mode with The Smell of Us, yet another entry in the filmmaker’s growingly tiresome oeuvre, built entirely on the ways desire and disgust necessarily overlap in sexual preference and social formation. At least, these themes roam freely within the director’s work, though only rarely (in, say, Bully) do Clark’s films distance themselves enough from their material in order to gesticulate meaningful expression. That’s because Clark’s understanding of significance is one faultily tied to lived experience, as if all the on-screen toe sucking, ass licking, sagging skin, and hardcore fucking were evidence enough of its chafed authenticity. In an early scene, a bum named Rockstar (played by Clark himself) pisses his pants as he wantonly pours wine all over his face. That seems to be as reflexive a gesture as Clark can muster from the film’s thinly sketched presentation of a group of young Parisian skaters moonlighting as novice hustlers, replete with Clark’s typically poseur-voyeur aesthetics.