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Cleo From 5 To 7 (#110 of 6)

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Diego Costa’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I can identify two elements common to the films that ended up on this list. They are either about feminine suffering and/or about the impossibility of language to ever quite translate feeling. The criteria which I came up with for this impossible, unfair, and incredibly fun assignment involved remembering the films that led me to think “This is one of the best films ever made” at the time I first saw them, and which, upon a re-screening, several years later, remained just as remarkable—perhaps for different reasons. Also part of the criteria was my (failed) attempt at not repeating directors, and making a conscious effort to go against a cinematic “affirmative action” that would try to represent different periods of time, countries, and genres. It’s also mind-boggling to notice how half of the list includes films made in the mid 1970s. But the list escapes traditional logic. It’s the warping, re-signifying logic of affect and memory that architected this list, which turns out to be nothing short of this cinephile’s symptom.

AFI Fest 2011: The Day He Arrives, The Silver Cliff, & Oslo, August 31st

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AFI Fest 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Silver Cliff</em>, & <em>Oslo, August 31st</em>
AFI Fest 2011: <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Silver Cliff</em>, & <em>Oslo, August 31st</em>

One city, one day. That Aristotelian unity is an alluring structure for a film. Following a character’s journey through a city over the course of a day is a plot progression that’s popular and visible enough to mark the boundaries of a kind of subgenre defined by films like Cléo from 5 to 7 and Before Sunrise. There are built-in narrative advantages and expectations to the form, and here are three case studies from this year’s AFI Fest that elucidate them.

For one, the form reflects the routine progression of our lives and thus maintains a strong narrative cohesion even in the absence of driving action. If nothing is solved and no loose ends are tied (which in one day tends to be the case unless that one day involves international terrorists of some kind), it feels right to end the story because the day is up. Hong Sang-soo plays with that routine progression in The Day He Arrives, in which a film director, Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang), arrives in Seoul to visit a old friend and goes through some of the motions that are common when revisiting a city: running into familiar faces on the street, meeting people in restaurants, drinking a lot, breaking down in tears in front of his ex-girlfriend—you know, the usual.

A Movie a Day, Day 38: Vagabond

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A Movie a Day, Day 38: Vagabond
A Movie a Day, Day 38: Vagabond

Writing about the latest from Agnès Jaoui yesterday made me think about another Agnès who makes movies in France: Varda, that great soul in a little body. Varda’s late-career autobiography, 2008’s The Beaches of Agnès, was my first taste of her work. Since then, I’ve since seen only Cléo from 5 to 7, so the pleasure of watching everything else for the first time still lies ahead. Except for Vagabond, that is, since I watched that last night on Mubi.com, which is hosting a pretty comprehensive Varda retrospective.

Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions Documentary

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Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
Oscar 2010 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

After AMPAS finally threw a first-ever nomination at Werner Herzog two years ago (for Encounters at the End of the World), we thought they might similarly give props to Agnès Varda this year, which would have been some kind of poetic justice given that this French New Wave pioneer, 81 years young, reminisces at one point during her lovely The Beaches of Agnès about how she flirted with Hollywood filmmaking (after the international success of Cléo from 5 to 7) but had to go back to France after being denied final cut on a proposed project. How quickly we forgot that the Oscars only accord makeup nominations (and statuettes) to Hollywood’s most prized and industrious insiders. C’est la vie and all that rot. Not that Varda’s film would have stood much of a chance, but this contest feels more than ever like a no-brainer without it in the running. It’s probably not even worth tossing around the possibility of a potential upset because, well, as the great Wesley Snipes once said, “always bet on black.” In this case, though, that black is red: Flipper’s blood as it courses through the water outside a mysterious cove in Japan where he and his sisters and brothers are captured and shipped to the Sea Worlds of the planet, and for the runts in the litter, to have their iron-infested bits and pieces fed to unsuspecting Japanese schoolchildren destined to produce deformed offspring in the near future if the AMPAS member, by not voting for this film, doesn’t do something about it.

A Lioness and Her Love: The Beaches of Agnès

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A Lioness and Her Love: The Beaches of Agnès
A Lioness and Her Love: The Beaches of Agnès

Nearing her eightieth birthday, the slightly pixilated but fierce fairy godmother of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda, claims to be “playing the role of a little old lady” in her new documentary, The Beaches of Agnès. Varda turns the camera on herself and her own life, even though she convincingly posits that she’s much more interested in other people; whimsical and childlike, but completely without sentiment, she says that her childhood was not “an inspiration,” and proves it by evincing no particular nostalgia when she visits her childhood home. Yet The Beaches catches her in several moments of passionate sorrow for “the dead.” At a gallery show of her theater photographs, she throws flowers at the image of the supernally beautiful young Gerard Philipe and reserves her deepest feeling, as always, for “the most cherished of the dead,” her late husband, Jacques Demy, the creator of major romantic films like Lola (1961), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967).

Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 on Criterion

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Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 on Criterion
Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 on Criterion

Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7, the film that put the “Grandmother of the French New Wave” on the international map, follows a pop singer (Corinne Marchand) through the streets of Paris as she awaits medical results that will report the severity of her cancer. Captured in approximate real time, her journey begins in a fortune teller’s office; within minutes, a foreboding tarot reading has her convinced she’s done for. But the film that follows is never chained to the heroine’s sense of impending doom. From start to finish, Cléo is a remarkably tonic portrait of urban anxiety, the sloth of the privileged, and the hazards of day-to-day, hour-to-hour living. Usually identified with the more serious and radical Left Bank division of the New Wave (which also included Alain Resnais and Chris Marker), Varda adopts the free-spirited attitude of Truffaut and Godard’s earliest popular successes, resulting in a film that is both a study in stylistic possibilities and a valentine to urban life.