Last night, the final session of “Cinema of Tomorrow,” a symposium held over the last three days at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival, was my own, derived from an article that just appeared in the Spring issue of Film Quarterly: “Film Writing on the Web: Some Personal Reflections.” But as I interjected at one point, a more accurate title might have been, “Film Writing in English on the Web.”
The symposium was effectively organized by my friend Quintin (see photo, second from left) so that the six presentations over three days had a logical flow and development: two rather pessimistic analyses of the way film festivals operate, including Mar del Plata, by Peter van Bueren from Amsterdam and Mark Peranson from Vancouver (whose papers I briefly summarized in former posts); two looks at contemporary trends in films by Emmanuel Burdeau from Paris (who emphasized themes of globalization in films by Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Jia Zhangke, among others) and Cristina Nord from Berlin (who offered fascinating comparisons between new Argentinean cinema and new German cinema, both strengthened as well as hampered by the task of coping with a dark political past); and on the final day, two rather optimistic analyses of contemporary cinephilia by Alvaro Arroba from Madrid and myself.
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Alain Resnais’ 2006 adaptation of a British play by Alan Ayckbourn is a world apart from his earlier Ayckbourn adaptation, Smoking/No Smoking (1993). That film tried to be as English as possible, but this time Resnais looks for precise French equivalents to British qualities, and what emerges is one of his most personal works, intermittently recalling the melancholy Muriel (1963) and Providence (1977). A bittersweet comedy of loneliness, shyness, and repression, it was shot entirely on cozy sets, with a continual snowfall outside, and its interwoven plots feature Resnais standbys Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, Andre Dussollier, and Lambert Wilson. At 85, the director is not only a consummate master but arguably the last great embodiment of the craft, style, and feeling of classical Hollywood. In French with subtitles. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 16, 2007), slightly corrected (in terms of title and running time).. — J.R.
If Daffy Duck ever became a film critic informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis, this three-part English entertainment (2006) by Sophie Fiennes would surely qualify as his Duck Amuck. Theorist Slavoj Zizek, inside beautifully constructed sets matching various films’ locations, lectures provocatively and dynamically about 43 screen classics, often sputtering like Daffy himself. Hitchcock and Lynch are favored, but among the many filmmakers considered are Coppola, Lang, Powell, and Tarkovsky. Zizek is especially sharp about manifestations of the maternal superego in Psycho and The Birds, maverick fists in Dr. Strangelove and Fight Club, and voices in The Great Dictator and The Exorcist. 143 min. (JR)
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Few recent films have left me feeling more conflicted than Valeska Grisebach’s second feature (2006), which is sensitive, moving, accomplished in its extraordinary direction of nonprofessional actors but also a little bogus. A gentle, happily married metalworker in a tiny village goes away for a weekend to train as a volunteer fireman and has a drunken fling with a waitress, which leads to tragic consequences. The most telling points in this story register in the faces rather than the dialogue, but it’s conceived like a folk ballad and feels self-conscious in some of its plot developments and in its neo-Brechtian finale. In German with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »
I miss the relative funkiness of Raul Ruiz’s low-budget films, but this internationally produced feature (2006) is probably the best of his more opulent work since Time Regained (1999). A series of speculative riffs on the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, it stars John Malkovich in the title role. Unfortunately the Film Center has been able to book only the producer’s cut of the film, which is half an hour shorter than the version shown in France but feels half an hour longer. It’s been cut as if it were a biopic and sometimes registers as a failed one. But it’s still an eyeful. 97 min. (JR)
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A struggling Prague family loses everything in a flood, which pushes the husband into crime and imprisonment and his beautiful wife (Ana Geislerova) into the arms of the kind and wealthy Tuscany-based winegrower who sent him away. Writer Petr Jarchovsky and director Jan Hrebejk collaborated on the formidable Up and Down (2004), and this 2006 feature, which takes its title from a Robert Graves poem, is equally impressive for its mastery, intelligence, and ambition in juggling intricate plot strands and memorable characters. It also treats class difference and right-wing intolerance in the Czech Republic as ferociously as Mike Leigh has done in depicting Thatcherite England. In Czech with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »
The principal characters in this 2005 German feature are two troubled, rebellious teenage girls who meet in a Berlin park and fall in love and a Frenchwoman who’s persuaded that one of them is her long-lost daughter, abducted as an infant. All three are lost souls who sometimes project their fantasies onto other people. Initially director Christian Petzold appears to be cross-referencing Celine and Julie Go Boating with the two girls, but the lack of any humor or sense of fun makes the allusion feel pointless. The enterprising experimental filmmaker Harun Farocki collaborated on the script, said to be derived from one of Grimm’s fairy tales, but I found most of this intractable. In German with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »
James Farentino stars in this 1981 shocker set in a mysterious coastal town. Director Gary Sherman did the fine Raw Meat (aka Death Line) nine years earlier. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »