A little switch-up, if you will, because I couldn’t watch a 1961 Cannes film at pace, but will get to it soon enough. So 1961 and 1962 have been flipped, after which the order shall return to normal…
Luis Buñuel’s triumphant return to Spain after many years working in Mexico was short-lived but unequivocally rabble-rousing. The lone film he produced was as provocative a film as the world has ever seen. 1961’s Viridiana won the Palme d’Or, was rapturously received by critics, and revolted the Spanish government right from under their noses. The production was, charitably, pure havoc, subject to rigorous and ruthless censorship, and produced with the help of tricks and masquerades on Bu>ñuel’s behalf. It is one of the quintessential works of world cinema, by all means, but it came with a toll. Jagged knives aimed at the Spanish government, it seems, couldn’t but get a little blood on Buñuel’s face. Continue reading →
In my review of Nights of Cabiria, I noted that Federico Fellini grew more fantastical and whimsical with age, and he became forever less entombed in the limits of pure realism. True, and it might be assumed that with whimsy and fantasy come happiness and warmth. To some extent, they did; Nights of Cabiria ends on one of the most singularly uplifting notes in all of cinema. But whimsy does not automatically imply joy, nor a new leaf. Fellini was still an angry, tormented, complicated man; he had simply developed a new filmic vocabulary for exploring his emotions, whatever emotions they may be. New storytelling mechanisms dictated how he would explore emotions, and not what emotions he would explore. His application of Hollywood romance and Italian/ French romanticism was not always an uncomplicated acceptance, but more often a dare. Fellini would follow romanticism and melodrama to their limits and see if he could come out the other side a believer. With La Dolce Vita, melodrama is a slaughterhouse, and you unravel from the other side in shreds. Continue reading →
If you are a cinephile, it is a fair guess that you have seen your share of war-time romances, one of the stodgiest of all film sub-genres. But that does not mean you have a Soviet war-time romance, nor have you seen a Mikhail Kalatozov war-time romance. Kalatozov is one of the masters of world cinema (his later Yo Soy Cuba is both a passionate ode to a lifestyle and a perplexing, dumbfoundingly beautiful exercise in pushing the heights of camerawork to impossible achievements). He is not nearly as well known today as he ought to be (but the same can be said of all post-Eisenstein Soviet cinema, excepting Tarkovsky), largely because political lines in the sand were well entrenched by the time Cranes was made. He was bound to the lingering death of existing in a world with more interest in denouncing art than expressing it. At least Cannes got it right, putting political qualms aside and awarding The Cranes are Flying the Palme d’Or for its luminous artistic achievement, transcendent performances and craft, and its stunning ode to love and loss in a world that no longer knew the meaning of the former term. Continue reading →
Federico Fellini, the grand master of Italian cinema, began his life behind a camera as a young lad among the neo-realists, a protege of sorts to De Sica and Rossellini and their own habits of redefining cinema forever. Fellini, like those masters of the form, sought to reject Hollywood convention and lay down a thick layer of everyday humanity with non-actors and grungier camera techniques less galvanized in Hollywood glamour and melodrama. This shift itself was a towering upheaval to the cinematic tradition, a tangible stimulant to directors everywhere to shake the foundations of film land and brace for impact.
But Fellini was not done shaking. The neo-realist movement, for him, was a jumping off point, a stepping stone for his own more whimsical, more blunted, and dare I say more challenging vision of what cinema ought to be. Beginning with the seminally shattering La Strada in 1954, Fellini married a form of realism to a carnivalesque wonder and an omnivorous desire to break with reality when it could help the emotional truth of his story at the expense of conventional logic. Continue reading →
The two principles of David Lean’s Brief Encounter never consummate their love, or even acknowledge it, but of all the movie characters to have fallen in love over the past century, no two may mean more than Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard). When they meet at a railway station cafe, they fall for one another, but they are denied their romance by social convention; they are both married, and, although the film doesn’t state it, the then-knowledgeable sense that divorce was frowned on in their world becomes palpable almost from the first instant. Which is the essence of Brief Encounter: not ashamed of itself and totally sincere, but minimalist and hauntedly hinting when other movies would openly declare. More than realism, Brief Encounter is the ultimate study in unfulfilled love and the quiet doom of knowing the end is near, only to have it forced upon you against your own terms. Continue reading →
Now, for “Film Favorites”, two of the most beautiful experiments in color ever made: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran and Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, they say, but seldom has a film been so accidentally beautiful as Akira Kurosawa’s final epic of the cinema. Nearing his ’80s, the ever-productive Kurosawa could no longer see across the great distances required to aim a camera at the monumental swaths of chaos and order he wished to assemble and unleash in front of the camera. Functionally, in essence, he couldn’t direct the film he wanted to, but that didn’t stop him, nor did it hamstring him.
Mike Leigh has always been a perfectly sound visualist, a sterling and occasionally stoic bard who let his characters do the talking, but whose films breathed the life of simple human activity more harmoniously than arguably any living director. But never before has his style been so in tune with the substance of his work. His films by and large are social realist works of character and social milieu, and Mr. Turner retains this noble essence, but it remains his most non-naturalist film. Which couldn’t be more fitting for what is obviously a work about the shuddering shadows and brimming light rays of early 19th century painting as much as it is a grounded study of a man who felt so much for that art he sacrificed everything else in his life. It isn’t a given yet – Mr. Turner is still young in the world and will need time to mill about and settle still – but if it isn’t Leigh’s best film, it is his most fascinating, and of all his films, it has the most to whisper to us about cinema. Continue reading →
This week’s pair of Midnight Screenings will return us to the far-flung past of 2006 and 2007, a more innocent time in film history …
It is quite possible that Richard Linklater is the only currently functioning director who really could have directed A Scanner Darkly in the fidgety, twitching tone it so desperately begged for, and thus it is a little bit of magic that he managed to acquire the film at all. Firstly, this is because Linklater, the homegrown Texan with an eye for slacker culture and the distance imparted by time and memory, strips away the science fiction trappings from Phillip K. Dick’s story and renders it all the more pressingly intimate in doing so, without ever sacrificing the essence of the novel about drug abuse and melancholic social anomie. Which is itself important; so many science fiction films rationalize themselves by claiming they are necessarily informing us about the weight of a current world crisis, but as many other Dick adaptations show us, they frequently devolve into glorified techie action flicks. The science becomes a diaphanous masquerade, a meager attempt by a film to convince its audience of its intelligence when it offers nothing but pyrotechnics and quasi-futurism. Linklater doesn’t need a trip to the future; he creates a piercingly grounded tale about trips of a different variety. Continue reading →
There’s something a little bit magical about The American’s devious nature; I’m not sure it was intended by director Anton Corbijn, but you have to admire the way it gallantly seduced American audiences into approaching it like a classical ’70s spy-action film starring George Clooney (a perfect match for that sort of role if ever there was one) and then tricked them into watching what is a deliberately challenging, resistant film. Vaguely setting itself up with a harried narrative about an assassin scoping out and setting up for a contract in a small town in mountainous, rural Italy, the film is instead a thoughtful, reflective, molasses-slow work about an old soul and the resolution only a natural cleansing in a small-town locale can bring. It is a meditative film, above all, and an extremely effective meditation at that. Continue reading →
A white woman and a black nation are the subjects of Claire Denis’ exotic, lush White Material, a sort of harrowing The Tree of Life with meditation on the nature of god replaced with a careful deliberation on colonial identity. Denis has spent the better part of two decades dissecting the aftereffects of colonial rule with a careful mixture of composed authenticity and poetically floating clarity, rejecting the lo-fi approach of many modern indie filmmakers for a more confrontational form of bile-spewing visual splendor. White Material may be her most harrowing film ever, and its cryptic meditation on the nature of identity in a continent where identity is defined primarily by ownership reminds that the after-effects of colonialism still loom large over African conflict, and they may not only effect native Africans anymore. Even though the whites who still live in Africa may deny it, the chickens are finally coming home to roost. Continue reading →