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Rainer Werner Fassbinder (#110 of 19)

Berlinale 2015 Jia Zhang-ke, a Guy from Fenyang and Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands

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Berlinale 2015: Jia Zhang-ke, a Guy from Fenyang and Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands
Berlinale 2015: Jia Zhang-ke, a Guy from Fenyang and Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands

It’s perhaps only natural that a film festival as wide-ranging as the Berlinale would include a few documentaries about filmmakers, and there are two excellent ones this year as part of the Forum sidebar. One is Walter Salles’s Jia Zhang-ke, a Guy from Fenyang, a portrait of the great Chinese filmmaker mostly in his own words. Much of the doc follows Jia as he wanders around various Chinese towns that are featured in his films, reminiscing both about his own past and about the making of his work. Occasionally, he’s accompanied in his wanderings by some of his actors: Wang Hongwei, his lead in 1997’s Xiao Wu and 2000’s Platform, follows Jia as he walks around in his hometown of Fenyang; later, Han Sanming does the accompanying honors as Jia explores Fengjie, the village along the Yangtze River that is prominently featured in his 2006 film Still Life. (Interestingly, Jia’s frequent leading lady and now-wife, Zhao Tao, is seen only in isolated interviews, not alongside her husband—though, considering how personal Zhao’s own recollections are, perhaps this strategy makes a certain sense.)

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Documentary Short

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Documentary Short
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Documentary Short

It’s decision time and our gurus of gold bring you tidings of great confusion. This year’s nominees for documentary short are all, almost conspicuously, united by their deployment of the canniest of distancing effects. They’re also among the most galvanizing selections we’ve ever had the pleasure of screening—if pleasure is the word to describe how they’ve harpooned our hearts, minds, and seemingly impenetrable tear ducts. Just about the only thing we can agree on is that, as a piece of filmmaking, Gabriel Serra’s The Reaper has no equal here, but that a victory for this haunting, expressionistic, and deeply graphic articulation of a slaughterhouse worker’s relationship to death seems impossible in a world where Richard Linklater is probably the only AMPAS member to have ever made it through the entirety of Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons without covering his eyes.

Review: Jaimey Fisher’s Christian Petzold

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Review: Jaimey Fisher’s Christian Petzold
Review: Jaimey Fisher’s Christian Petzold

Although he’s generally considered among the most critically acclaimed of contemporary German directors, Christian Petzold and his films remain relatively unknown to North American audiences. Perhaps that’s because of the exceedingly specific cultural formations within which Petzold’s films take place, namely the neoliberal spaces of contemporary Germany, where places and setting play just as significant a role as the characters, themselves. At least, these are the foundations of analysis laid out by Jaimey Fisher’s excellent new book examining Petzold’s entire filmography; Fisher seeks to contextualize Petzold’s films within prior scholarship, which has generally discussed their “movement spaces” (space remade by systems of mobility in modern society), but perhaps more importantly, he examines the ways in which neoliberal developments have “changed how individuals experience work, relationships, and themselves.” These combined help articulate what Fisher deems Petzold’s “ghostly archeology,” and terms his films “art-house genre cinema.”

The latter point is likely Fisher’s most provocative and reflexive, given that the neoliberal dimensions of Petzold’s cinema are seemingly their most explicit elements. In films like Yella, these financial motivators are made literal within the narrative, but in Jerichow, they’re more firmly filtered through a genre prism—in its case, film noir and, more specifically, The Postman Always Rings Twice. In fact, Fisher goes so far as to name a genre film in relation to nearly Petzold film, as a barometer for the levels of genre engagement. Sometimes they’re more obvious, as with Jerichow or even Yella, which takes Carnival of Souls as its basis. In other cases, however, the relationships are more opaque and unusual, as with the comparison of The Last Picture Show and Near Dark to The State I Am In, not because of directly identical narrative parallels, but more due to sensibility and style; thus, with Petzold, as with Peter Bogdanovich and Kathryn Bigelow, Fisher talks about each director’s refusal of nostalgia and recognition of creating art at the end of either a cycle or time period—“a fading western lifestyle.”

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

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.

An Enchanting Proscenium: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore

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An Enchanting Proscenium: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s <em>Beware of a Holy Whore</em>
An Enchanting Proscenium: Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s <em>Beware of a Holy Whore</em>

The operative sensibility of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s cinema is panoptical. One is always being watched by the indiscriminating, playful eye of seductress and demagogue, treating filmmaking as a messy encounter between fantasy and reality that transpires across rooms rather than on stage. For Fassbinder, rooms are prosceniums that enchant the camera. His Beware of a Holy Whore, from 1971, makes an inventory of its characters as they slouch on sofas and sprawl across beds. They’re the cast and crew of a troubled film headed by an incongruously tempered director (Lou Castel) supplemented by an aged Eddie Constantine and a Monroe blonde dressed in a skimpy variant from The Seven Year Itch. And as an inventory in images, Fassbinder’s film is peculiarly elusive, its camera almost always panning and surveying, its characters dancing in rococo rooms to the sound of American pop music. It’s a film stocked with incidents that deceive, and with moments of alleged narrative import that devolve ad infinitum into fragments that resist narrative coherence.