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The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (#110 of 6)

Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration

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Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration
Roger Ebert: A Hero, A Teacher, An Inspiration

My initial reaction to Roger Ebert’s death was a selfish one. I was on my way to a screening, and received the news via text from a friend. “I’m sorry about roger ebert,” the text said. This friend isn’t connected enough to the world of Ebert to have known about his “leave of presence” announcement two days prior, so I immediately took to Google, and saw the flood of headlines. Almost in spite of myself, I cried a bit in the street. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that the film world had lost one of its finest voices, or about the hard truth that someone so integral to my whole life’s film consumption was gone. All of that is still sinking in. My first thought was, “I’ll never meet him.” I felt envy for friends of Slant and The House Next Door who’ve had the pleasure, like House founder Matt Zoller Seitz, Ali Arikan, Steven Boone, Odie Henderson, and Kenji Fujishima, and others, like Simon Abrams and Sheila O’Malley, who, in recent months especially, had earned the privilege to correspond with, and write for, the “Movie Answer Man.” I’ve only had a handful of heroes in my life. Ebert was always one of them, even when I was still a film-enamored art student who hadn’t yet shifted his focus to writing. Despite Ebert’s eventual illness, my vision of one day shaking his hand never wavered. It would happen, at some point, at some festival, once I’d built up enough success, or something like that. And then April 4 hit.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

The highly subjective task of compiling a list of the 10 best films of all time is nearly as daunting as the thought that plagues every film completist: How on earth will I ever catch up with more than a century’s worth of cinema? The answer, of course, is that nobody really can, and in a sense, surrendering to that truth offers a kind of liberation. We all want to devour as many great movies as possible, but there comes a time when we have to accept a certain morsel of defeat. Which is basically my disclaiming way of saying that I came at this project with a highly personal and minimally authoritative approach, selecting a group of favorites instead of stamping my feet and declaring history’s 10 best films. Contributors were encouraged to tackle their lists however they saw fit, and some have certainly delivered what they regard as the definitive cream of the crop. More power to those folks, and to those whose picks are far less populist and more Sight & Sound-friendly than mine. Ultimately, while I gave much consideration to artistic influence and chronological diversity (and winced at the snubbing of films like The Red Shoes, Pulp Fiction, My Own Private Idaho, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), there were really only 10 titles I ever could have chosen. Quite simply, these movies changed my life.

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

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

In trying to whip up a Top 10 for this alternative Sight & Sound poll, I decided from the beginning to try to forgo any extra-cinematic considerations and simply go with 10 films that mean a great deal to me personally. There’s an implicit canon-building aspect to this particular exercise, and surely some would feel a need to take into account not only previous Sight & Sound poll-toppers (Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, , etc.), but also such things as historical importance in coming up with a list for posterity. But where’s the fun in that? Besides, screw posterity: I’m totally willing to admit, at the outset, the possibility that any of my favorite 10 below may decline in estimation over time, to be replaced by another film entirely that I may begin to appreciate more as I grow older. For now, though, these are 10 films that I could not part with in my life.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Jeanne and Hanezu

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Jeanne</em> and <em>Hanezu</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Jeanne</em> and <em>Hanezu</em>

Jeanne opens with a story, told over black, of a young Palestinian woman’s murder by an angry mob. We then see a flat digital image of a young, black-haired, wide-eyed white woman gazing at the camera. For the next 80-odd minutes, she stares at us, and we stare back; sometimes the camera revolves around her, and sometimes the film cuts to move up or down an empty chair. The soundtrack, meanwhile, plays snippets of al-Jazeera reports, sounds of riots, and a young woman’s narration of Joan of Arc’s diaries during her trial, along with the same unsourced voice’s descriptions of being tortured.

The seated young woman seems meant to recall Maria Falconetti’s persistent gaze in The Passion of Joan of Arc. Yet Shahram Varza’s film becomes much more than a Palestinian Joan of Arc story, overlapping several discourses at once. First, there’s the distant, canonical past of the Joan of Arc readings, as well as the number of different films that have been made of that story by very different directors (Roberto Rossellini, Robert Bresson, Luc Besson). Second, there’s the more recent story of the murdered Palestinian woman. Third, there are the al-Jazeera and other archival sounds, conjuring up images of the Israel-Palestine conflict as well as Muslim fundamentalist oppression against women (the film’s multiplicity of seen-and-heard women keeps the latter in mind). Fourth, there’s the still more recent past of the filming of the actress and the recording of voices for the film’s soundtrack. Fifth and finally, there’s the viewer’s present-tense experience of watching the film and combining them all.

SXSW 2010 Postscript: On Cold Weather and Original Live Scoring

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SXSW 2010 Postscript: On <em>Cold Weather</em> and Original Live Scoring
SXSW 2010 Postscript: On <em>Cold Weather</em> and Original Live Scoring

Cold Weather (Aaron Katz). You’re bound to stumble upon a couple of mumblecore movies if you spend enough time at SXSW; regardless of your love or hate for that term and style of low-budget filmmaking, there’s no denying that the festival smiles favorably on the likes of Joe Swanberg, Andrew Bujalski, the Duplass brothers, or anyone in their “extended family,” and having an outlet of this magnitude is one reason why mumblecore hasn’t died out yet, despite seemingly annual proclamations to the contrary from critics. However, because most of these films are only slight variations of one another, the so-called movement will eventually peter out if it doesn’t evolve. This year, SXSW showcased a few examples of that evolution in Cyrus and Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather, a film with polish, wit, and impeccable comedic timing.

Katz’s features have always had a visual refinement that other mumblecore films tend to lack. The warm, sunny cinematography of Quiet City perfectly matched the story of a sweet yet fleeting romance, while Cold Weather, conforming to its title, goes for cooler hues and an overall cleaner, more pristine look. It’s not an unwelcoming style, but a crisp, precise, attractive one, much like Frank Griebe’s work in The International, or more recently, the brisk look of The Ghost Writer. With this visual scheme and a slow but deliberate camera, Katz and his cinematographer Andrew Reed inject a quiet confidence in Cold Weather.

Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM

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Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM
Love One Another: Early Dreyer at BAM

The last five films of Carl Theodor Dreyer are accepted classics of world cinema, written about, shown regularly, and given the full Criterion treatment on DVD. Many who have only seen a few silent films have seen his The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), and Criterion recently put out a comprehensive Vampyr (1932) that helped to shed some light on that misty, eternally disorienting film, with its radical, bizarre use of space. His three late sound films stake their claim in an essential Criterion box set: Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943) continues to exert its nearly unbearable tension; watching it is like working up a sweat, almost dying, then letting the sweat evaporate off of your mind and body until you are as free of fear as the accused witch Anne (Lisbeth Movin). (Dreyer disowned his next film, the nearly never-seen Two People {1945} but I’ve heard that a rare print was screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and I can only hope that this final piece of the Dreyer puzzle will someday play in New York and elsewhere.)