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The Mirror (#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

Editor’s Note: In light of Sight & Sound’s film poll, which, every decade, queries critics and directors the world over before arriving at a communal Top 10 list, we polled our own writers, who didn’t partake in the project, but have bold, discerning, and provocative lists to share.

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

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

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.

New York Film Festival 2010: Silent Souls

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Silent Souls</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Silent Souls</em>

When a national cinema produces a great director, it isn’t always a good thing. The country’s film industry can get typecast in the minds of American audiences, who have few reference points. Foreign film distribution in the United States is such that countries end up relying on one filmmaker (Andrzej Wajda for Poland) or on one film (City of God for Brazil) to represent them. While watching the Chinese film Perfect Life earlier this year, I found myself thinking repeatedly about the work of the great filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke; and though the film has many similarities to Jia’s work, and though Jia indeed served as an executive producer, I also kept mentally referring to him because he’s the only current Chinese filmmaker with whom I’m especially familiar.

The problem’s at least 30 years old for Russian filmmakers, many of whom struggle to escape Andrei Tarkovsky’s shadow (ironic, considering that Tarkovsky made his last two films in exile). The director’s films like Andrei Rublev, Solaris, and Stalker cast a meditative spell over the theater by pulling you into quiet moments of astounding beauty. They remain so ingrained for Western cinephiles that even the best subsequent Soviet directors, like Aleksandr Sokurov (The Sun), can’t avoid the comparison.

True/False Film Fest 2010: The Mirror, As Lilith, and Disorder

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True/False Film Fest 2010: <em>The Mirror</em>, <em>As Lilith</em>, and <em>Disorder</em>
True/False Film Fest 2010: <em>The Mirror</em>, <em>As Lilith</em>, and <em>Disorder</em>

Three weeks ago I received an e-mail invitation from Chris Boeckmann, who I’d briefly corresponded with previously about an incredibly negative review I’d written; he seemed to dig it. What I didn’t know was that Chris is an associate programmer at True/False Film Fest, and the reason I didn’t know that is because I’d never heard of it. True/False is a documentary festival in Columbia, Missouri whose seventh installment I just attended; in his e-mail, Chris noted that some of his favorite films from previous years now essentially only exist as reviews, and he wanted people to come write about the films to try to preserve them. So I was invited to come, and when I looked at the line-up, I noticed five of the titles were the big buzz films of Sun-/Slam- dance I was interested in. Then I looked at Chris’ Facebook page (This Is How We Live Now) and saw that his listed favorite films spoke to a taste I could definitely get behind. I was pretty positive there’d be no poky, dutiful activist documentaries which expect you to congratulate them for their bad video and good intentions. Also, New York is an incredibly claustrophobic place oftentimes; the last three months, for a variety of reasons, have been incredibly brutal. I suppose I should tell you they gave me a free hotel room, which definitely helped. So I said yes about 20 minutes later.

The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris

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The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris
The Conversations: Overlooked, Part Two—Solaris

Ed Howard: You selected Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris as the film from the last few years you believe to be unfairly overlooked, and it’s not hard to see why you chose it. There are few types of films that are more often overlooked and forgotten, en masse, than the amorphous category of the “remake.” Fairly or unfairly, critics tend to be inherently skeptical of remake projects, even if audiences flock to genre remakes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the “reboots” of franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween. In Soderbergh’s case, his film couldn’t even be called a commercial success; it was more or less a flop whose memory has almost completely faded from the popular imagination in just a few short years. When Soderbergh’s film came out in 2002, I skipped over it for the same reason that I suspect a lot of other people did: by all appearances, it was yet another Hollywood “updating” of a classic film from years before, a film that if you ask me didn’t really need to be revisited. Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris is a classic of the science fiction genre, as well-loved and admired among art-cinema fans as Stanley Kubrick’s more popularly known 2001: A Space Odyssey, to which Tarkovsky was directly responding in making his own film. Moreover, the 1961 novel of the same name by Stanislaw Lem is also a classic, one of the greatest works of sci-fi literature (and a personal favorite of mine). Soderbergh was stepping into tremendous shoes by attempting to tell this story, and I’m sure he realized that this film would inevitably be compared to its predecessors, making it difficult to evaluate on its own terms.

The question then becomes: on its own terms, what is Soderbergh’s Solaris? What was his rationale for revisiting a classic story? What does he bring to the film to make it his own? Does this new Solaris deserve its current obscurity or should it be remembered simultaneously with its predecessors (or even elevated above them)? I have my own opinions on these questions, but for now I’m interested to know what you think. Does what I’ve described gibe with your own reasons for picking this film? And why do you think Soderbergh’s Solaris deserves a second look?

5 for the Day: Double Bills

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5 for the Day: Double Bills
5 for the Day: Double Bills

I grew up in Berkeley, California when the UC Theatre ran a different double bill every day for much of its lifespan. My relationship with the UC Theatre began early when my father took me to see Star Wars at age four, I think. All three original trilogy films were programmed, but as much as I’ve built a memory of seeing the whole series, my dad tells me we just watched the first one before heading home. That was 1986. I kept attending until the UC closed in March, 2001. There were obvious double bills I had to see like Don’t Look Now with Walkabout. And there were other, less-obvious-to-a-ninth-grader pairings I didn’t quite get when I looked at the calendar (but took in nonetheless because of the big names attached to the films) like Breathless with Days of Heaven. Long before DVD and the Criterion Collection, this is how I learned about movies (along with a hearty video store fetish/friendship/relationship).