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Chris Marker (#110 of 16)

Berlinale 2015 Counting

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Berlinale 2015: Counting
Berlinale 2015: Counting

Imagine an entire film made up of variations of those occasional free-associative montages of Vienna in Museum Hours and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how Jem Cohen’s follow-up, Counting, operates. Each of its 15 chapters features near-wordless impressionistic evocations of different cities and environments: New York, Moscow, and London, but also Istanbul, Cairo, and Porto, Portugal. The visual material contained in each chapter is as varied as their locations: The untitled third chapter—the film’s shortest, lasting a mere minute—intercuts images of a blurred face that eventually comes into focus with sunlight shining through a window. Chapter seven (“Three Letter Words”) is made up entirely of two-way mirror reflections from a New York bus stop, while chapter 10 (also untitled) focuses not on objects and locales, but on street musicians within those locales.

Gdynia Film Festival 2014: Walerian Borowczyk, No Matter How Hard We Tried, Home Shopping, & More

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Gdynia Film Festival 2014: Walerian Borowczyk, <em>No Matter How Hard We Tried</em>, <em>Home Shopping</em>, & More
Gdynia Film Festival 2014: Walerian Borowczyk, <em>No Matter How Hard We Tried</em>, <em>Home Shopping</em>, & More

The 39th Gdynia Film Festival, one of most prestigious film events in Poland and the only one dedicated exclusively to Polish film, may have lacked in its main competition a jewel as polished as last year’s Ida, but it still shone in the sideline programs. Among those, a retrospective of restored animations by Walerian Borowczyk, a Kinoteatr program of screened theater productions, and a brand-new section, Artists at Cinema, engaged Poland’s contemporary visual artists.

At the Borowczyk retrospective, Daniel Bird, who produced the restorations released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Arrow Films and also directed a biopic documentary, argued for not viewing Borowczyk as a late-life soft pornographer (Borowczyk’s perhaps most infamous feature was 1985’s Emmanuelle 5). Instead, the animated shorts attest to the range of Borowczyk’s themes and not just to his libidinal panache: Renaissance (1963) is a haunting, nearly post-apocalyptic tableau in constant reconstruction and brilliantly shows how sound can override the physical marker we see on the screen, creating new, strange dissonances; The Astronauts (1959), co-scripted with Chris Marker, is a dreamlike ode to solitude in outer space; Holy Smoke (1963), takes on the class struggle via a narrative of tobacco users; while Joachim’s Dictionary (1965) plays with body language and A Private Collection (1973) is a joyful romp through a collector’s cabinet of sexual toys and other erotica.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: The Last Time I Saw Macao

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>

Between Miguel Gomes’s dialectically structured Tabu and, even more radically, João Pedro Rodrigues’s thoroughly elliptical docudrama, The Last Time I Saw Macao, it would seem that hardlined formal rigor is alive and well in Portugal. Rodrigues, like his universally well-regarded national compatriot Pedro Costa before him, is rapidly establishing himself as one of the country’s most progressive, challenging filmmakers and cultural critics, and his latest effort should further his repute in a manner befitting its obliqueness; it follows its own clearly defined rules so closely that its theoretical appeal is precisely what will turn most audiences off. What one might described as an “observational drama” vaguely reminiscent of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, The Last Time I Saw Macoa distinguishes itself stylistically in two key regards. The first, inspired at least distantly by late-period Bresson, is to isolate both benign and propulsive action—from a conversation on the phone to a murder by the docks—and place it just outside the screen, so that what we see at any given moment is permanently removed from what’s actually happening, if only by a few degrees. And the second is that the protagonist of the story, and our direct surrogate in the environment, is never actually shown; because the camera alternates between explicit point-of-view shots and what are essentially travelogue-style snapshots of Macao, we see what he sees and what surrounds him, but never the man himself (his voiceover narration provides the film’s through line and very often serves an important explanatory as well as expository function).

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Eric Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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

I approached this project the exact same way I expect I would’ve handled being given a ballot in the actual Sight & Sound poll: by procrastinating until the very last second and making a lot of spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment rules to dictate how I could possibly whittle down dozens of films into a list of 10. (I know, everyone else probably would’ve said “hundreds of films,” but I’ve always been a little cine-anorexic.)

The list of “obstructions” ought to be familiar to anyone with any exposure to this parlor game: one per decade, one per country, one per genre, one per boyfriend. But having willfully backed myself into the corner of having no more time on hand, I am forced to use a list I’ve already built elsewhere: the list of films I previously designated as favorites on MUBI. I like using that as a starting point because my choices there seem neither too conservative nor too outré (or at least both simultaneously), and I first started ticking them off as an exercise toward building a list of my 50 favorite movies. Plus, I limited myself to one choice per director.

The number of “nominees” there now stands at a slightly lower sum than that original goal (how have I still not picked a Bresson?!), but it still seems the best middle ground I can find between favoring my, well, favorites and giving movies I consider to be among “the greatest” their due. The only major wrench in this plan is that, of the 46 movies shortlisted, all but about a dozen of them are from the U.S. And nearly half are from the span between 1966 and 1976.

Well, no point dancing around statistics. A strategy is a strategy, so onward and upward, in chronological order: