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Sergei Loznitsa (#110 of 4)

Dubai International Film Festival 2017 A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

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Dubai International Film Festival 2017: A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

Wild Bunch

Dubai International Film Festival 2017: A Gentle Creature, You Were Never Really Here, The Message, & More

Even if this paradox applies to a great many film festivals, the notion of flying halfway across the planet to sit in a dark room and watch movies is especially pronounced in Dubai, where little is more than a few decades old, island formations are exploded to resemble Qu’ranic verses, and office buildings look like spaceships retired into the ground at 90-degree angles.

On December 6, a short drive from the canyons of high-rises making up the city-state’s turbocapitalist business district, elites and journalists assembled at the Souk Madinat—a beachside network of malls, restaurants, and luxury hotels connected by artificial seawater canals—for the opening night of the 14th Dubai International Film Festival. Tributes were tendered first to both Patrick Stewart and Cate Blanchett before the kickoff of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, about a bigoted U.S. cavalry officer (Christian Bale) tasked with escorting a Cheyenne war chief named Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) from New Mexico to his original territory in Montana.

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.

New York Film Festival 2010: My Joy

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>My Joy</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>My Joy</em>

And the prize for most ironic title at the New York Film Festival goes to…My Joy, a wrist-slittingly morose Ukraine/German/Dutch coproduction set in Russia. An art-house variation on the post-apocalyptic road movies that are so popular these days (The Road, The Book of Eli, Children of Men), this relentlessly pessimistic parable gave me a new appreciation for its mainstream cousins’ visual flair and narrative clarity. The city life Georgy (Viktor Nemets) leaves in order to deliver a truckload of flour to the boonies looks pretty bleak, but it’s a paradise compared to the predatory world he blunders into, where the scars inflicted by WWII are still raw and there’s barely a hint of kindness or love to be found. Georgy literally loses his way, then loses his innocence and all sense of hope as he is abused, misused, and left for dead by his glassy-eyed countrymen. Deliberately paced and full of weighty silences, the film lurches from scene to scene with the abrupt illogic of a nightmare. Dogs howl, goats bleat, sadistic traffic cops bludgeon citizens pulled over at random, and then it all repeats until we watch him plod from a pool of light into the murk of a deserted nighttime street, his figure eventually disappearing into darkness. In one of those coincidences that hit you when you watch a string of movies at a film festival, it’s the same device that closes Of Gods and Men, whose doomed monks’ fade into the white of a snowy hillside—and it feels equally heavyhanded in both films. By the time Georgy fades to black, I felt as hollowed out and stonyhearted as he looks.

The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.

Cannes Film Festival 2010: Of Gods and Men, My Joy, & Blue Valentine

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Cannes Film Festival 2010: <em>Of Gods and Men</em>, <em>My Joy</em>, & <em>Blue Valentine</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2010: <em>Of Gods and Men</em>, <em>My Joy</em>, & <em>Blue Valentine</em>

The true story of seven French monks in Northern Africa who in 1996 were kidnapped and murdered by Islamic extremists, Xavier Beauvois’s in-competition Of Gods and Men is, no more and no less, a handsomely mounted French prestige picture. Never less than perfectly competent, it’s still somber and respectful to a fault: the Cannes equivalent of Oscar bait.

Beauvois models his film’s rhythm on the monastic life, and a few moments in the monastery toward the beginning of the film have a similar meditative rhythm as Philip Gröning’s marvelous Into Great Silence. But that comparison soon falls apart, as Beauvois is less interested in humanizing the monks (played by an experienced cast of French actors that includes Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale) than in sanctifying them.

Their sacrifice—despite orders from the military to return to France, the monks stay in Africa, knowing full well they will probably not survive—may indeed have been a noble one, in keeping with their commitments to their community and their faith, but it can’t have been an easy one to make. But with the exception of a few scenes of the monks discussing the decision, we never actually see them struggle with the choice. Beauvois treats them as nobly suffering martyrs rather than as human beings, a fundamentally anti-dramatic choice that renders their decision a foregone conclusion and prevents Of Gods and Men from carrying anything close to the spiritual weight Beauvois intends.