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Andrei Tarkovsky (#110 of 12)

New York Film Festival 2013: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>The Secret Life of Walter Mitty</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>The Secret Life of Walter Mitty</em> Review

There’s a good reason why James Thurber’s short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has endured since its publication in The New Yorker in 1939: In its evocation of an utterly ordinary man retreating into his own private fantasies as an escape from numbing reality, Thurber hit upon a concept as simple as it is profoundly universal. It’s also an idea ripe for cinematic expansion, especially if you view cinema the way Ingmar Bergman once characterized the films of Andrei Tarkovsky: “When film is not a document, it is dream.”

For Ben Stiller, apparently, Thurber’s classic story is grist not for a sympathetic exploration of the universal human desires to dream and live, but to craft what eventually amounts to a totem to his own vanity. How else to explain its increasingly exasperating collapse into scene after scene that extols Mitty’s, and by extension Stiller’s own, heroic goodness?

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.

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

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Elise Nakhnikian’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Elise Nakhnikian’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.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but the most creative periods for the movies seem to occur about every 30 years, usually triggered by the advent of some new technology. First came that short burst of experimentation by people like Georges Méliès during the last few years of the 19th century, right after the medium was invented. The latest is the digital revolution that started around the turn of this century, making it possible for almost anyone to make a movie (and enabling a whole new level of intimacy between filmmaker and subject) by eliminating the need for expensive film processing and slashing the cost and size of professional-quality cameras. But my favorite golden age is the one that stretched from the late ’20s to the early ’40s in Hollywood. Old pros who’d cut their teeth on countless shorts showed us what could be done with silent film while upstarts like Howard Hawks and the Marx Brothers played with synchronous sound, that shiny new toy, in movies crammed to the brim with fast, funny talk. That probably explains why half of my 10 favorites were made during a 14-year period that ended as WWII began.

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.

A Movie a Day, Day 83: Andrei Rublev

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A Movie a Day, Day 83: <em>Andrei Rublev</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 83: <em>Andrei Rublev</em>

When I fall in love at first sight with a movie, I usually see it many times over, revisiting my initial delight over the years and most likely finding new things to love, but Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev somehow slipped through that net. I first saw it a little over 30 years ago and haven’t seen it since, though I remember that viewing as one of my most intense film-watching experiences of all time.

For a long time, I didn’t watch it again because it was hard to find a good version: the Columbia Pictures cut that was first released in the U.S. reportedly butchered the three-hour-plus movie, and this is not the kind of film that pops up much on TV. By the time I got Criterion’s director’s cut DVD, so much time had passed that I was a little afraid of watching it, in case my love for it had been some adolescent infatuation and the second viewing would ruin the memory of the first. I even avoided reading about it, wanting to hold onto that unsullied first impression. But you can’t avoid knowing that Andrei Rublev is considered a masterpiece if you read much at all about movies, so when I finally pulled up my socks and popped it in the DVD player last night, I was reasonably hopeful that I’d still feel the same way.