Yearly Archives: 2015

My favorite end-of-the-year poll

http://ojosabiertos.otroscines.com/la-internacional-cinefila-2015-las-mejores-peliculas-del-ano/

And here’s my own contribution, in English:

 

In order of preference:

Son-of-Saul-2015

1. Son of Saul (László Nemes)

jauja

2. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

Ex-Machina

3. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

I-DALIO

4. I, Dalio — or The Rules of the Game (Mark Rappaport)

Journey to the East

5. Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang)

 

The adjectives used by Manohla Dargis to describe Son of Saul from Cannes — “radically dehistoricized” and “intellectually repellent” — pinpoint my own responses to The Hateful Eight, which proposes that we be entertained by a treatment of the human race as garbage to be gleefully fed into a garbage disposal, and I can’t even bring myself to sample the genocidal pleasures of the latest Star Wars spin-off. This year, I’ve refrained from participating in most end-of-the-year movie polls because I no longer feel either qualified or inclined to “keep up” with the industry’s market choices, but I feel that the art and moral intelligence of cinema as represented by my five choices are as vibrant as ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 … Read more »

Trapped in Time: Alain Resnais’ JE T’AIME, JE T’AIME

Written for Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray of the film, released on November 10, 2015. — J.R

jetaime-WATCHES

jetaime_BEACH2

Alain Resnais (1922-2014) was the most experimental and adventurous of all the French New Wave directors, but he has rarely been recognized as such, perhaps because he stood apart from his (mainly younger) colleagues in other respects as well. Unlike Godard, Rivette, Truffaut, Chabrol, and Rohmer, he wasn’t a critic or a writer, although as a teenager during the German Occupation of France he was already serving as a mentor to their own critical mentor, André Bazin, by introducing him to silent cinema in general and Fritz Lang in particular. He also preceded them all as a director in the eight remarkable non-fiction shorts he made between 1948 and 1958, the first of which (Van Gogh) won him his only Oscar. Indeed, the moment one compares these innovative shorts to the early sketches of Godard, Rivette, et al., the clearer it becomes that Resnais was already a courageous radical, both formally and politically, long before such a position even occurred to his colleagues. And one could argue that he was also already a film critic and film historian on his own elected turf, namely sound and image, even if he didn’t exhibit his exquisite cinematic taste in writing.… Read more »

POETRY

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

poetry

To explain why Lee Chang-dong’s extraordinary Poetry (2010) is my favorite Korean film, I first need to confess to a feeling of alienation from a good many other South Korean films and what I regard as their excessive reliance on rape and serial killers as subjects. Admittedly, these themes are by no means restricted to South Korean cinema or even more generally to Asian cinema, but they also help to account to my resistance to such highly praised European touchstones involving rape as Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (both 1960), and such American films regarding serial killers as Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Ethan and Joel Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2007). The tendency of all these films to exploit and/or sentimentalize these subjects is scrupulously avoided by Lee and handled throughout with tact, delicacy, and a finely nuanced sense of development in its heroine’s ethical and aesthetic consciousness. Consequently, Poetry offers a profound social critique by addressing the theme of rape and its role in Korean society quite directly,

Poetry

The film centers on the suicide by drowning of a suburban, small-town schoolgirl who had been raped by several of her teenage classmates.… Read more »

THE OWNERS

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). I’m delighted that this prompted Adilkhan Yerzhanov to send me a very kind email along with a fresh link to his film. — J.R.

owners

I’ve seen Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners (2014) only once, and if I dwell on my inability to see it a second time for this review, this is only to pay tribute to the issues and complications of ownership, which are so basic to the film’s universal relevance.

TheOwners

One year ago, I wrote the following as part of my bimonthly column for the Spanish film magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine:  “12 June (Chicago): As preparation for serving as a ‘mentor’ to student film critics at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I watch online a film they’re assigned to write about, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners from Kazakhstan. This is quite a revelation — at least for me, if not, as I later discover, for most of the students. Three city siblings arrive in the county to claim the ramshackle hut they’ve inherited from their deceased mother, and the tragicomic misadventures and forms of corruption that they encounter oscillate between grim realism, absurdist genre parody, and dreamlike surrealism, culminating in a doom-ridden yet festive dance in which both victims and victimizers participate….Yerzhanov’s use of genre staples actually expands his expressive and emotional palette without foreshortening our sense of the people involved.”

TheOwners-560x281

In my efforts to take residence in the film a second time, a year later, I subscribe to the online service FestivalScope.com and contact the film’s owners through this site to gain permission to watch this film again for this review.… Read more »

THE WIND WILL CARRY US

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

TheWindWillCarryUs-villagefromafar

 

This ambiguous comic masterpiece of 1999 might be Abbas Kiarostami’s greatest film to date; it’s undoubtedly his richest and most challenging. A media engineer from Tehran (Behzad Dourani) arrives in a remote mountain village in Iranian Kurdistan, where he and his three-person camera crew secretly wait for a century-old woman to die so they can film or tape an exotic mourning ritual at her funeral. To do this he has to miss a family funeral of his own, and every time his mobile phone rings the poor reception forces him to drive to a cemetery atop a mountain, where he sometimes converses with Youssef, a man digging a deep hole for an unspecified telecommunications project. Back in the village the digger’s fiancée milks a cow for the engineer while he flirts with her by quoting an erotic poem by Forough Farrokhzad that gives the movie its title, in a seven-minute sequence that figures as the film’s centerpiece, summarizing all its themes, conflicts, and power relations. (“I’m one of Youssef’s friends — in fact, I’m his boss,” the media engineer remarks smugly at one point.)  It is also a sequence that both recaps and further develops Kiarostami’s preoccupations with death, darkness, and burial that inform both Taste of Cherry (1997), his preceding feature, and ABC Africa (2001), his following one.… Read more »

Introduction to the Iranian Edition of MOVIE MUTATIONS, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum & Adrian Martin

Reposted in order to include the cover of  Iranian edition (at the beginning), published today (on October 17, 2015), and Adrian’s latest books (at the end). — J.R.

Movie Mutations in Farsi

Revue trafic t.24: Revue Trafic

movie_mutations

Movie Mutations Spanish edition cover

 

May 19, 2014

Dearest Adrian,

I guess it must seem excessive, starting off a book composed largely of letters with yet another letter –- and rounding off a neat dozen of them with an unlucky thirteenth in the bargain. Skeptics who might find the following correspondence too chummy and cozy for comfort are apt to be equally or even more irritated by this Preface, but I can’t see any way out of this dilemma. And the same problem has applied to subsequent translations of these letters, originally written in four separate languages, into five others—Croatian, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and now Persian—and often accompanied or followed by new letters by younger (or older) cinephiles with different tastes and orientations.

Considering that the first and last of the dozen letters by nine individuals that follow, written respectively in April 1997 and March 2002, are already mine, what could I hope to add in an introduction to make them more user-friendly to the world   outside our artificially constructed little circle? To which someone -– meaning any reader –- might reply, “Well, for starters, you might try addressing the reader outside this circle.” And of course I could –- but only at the cost of diluting the spirit of friendship and intimacy now bridging eight languages and over a dozen countries, a kind of togetherness that this exercise was intended to foster.Read more »

Review of THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD

Written for the Fall 2015 issue of Film Quarterly. — J.R.

The Writers jacket

The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and

Their Guild by Miranda J. Banks

 

This is clearly a creditable, conscientious, intelligent, and

useful book, but I feel obliged to confess at the outset that

I don’t feel like I’m one of its ideal or intended readers. The

subtitle loosely describes its contents, but “A Business

History of Hollywood Screenwriters and Their Guild

would come much closer to the mark, even if it might make

the book less marketable to me and some others. And the

unexceptional simplification of the title and subtitle is part of

what gives me some trouble: it’s the business of Hollywood,

after all, to convince the public that “American screenwriters”

and “Hollywood screenwriters” amount to the same

thing. And the moment that any meaningful distinction

between the two collapses, then the studios, onemight argue,

have already won the battle.

 

I don’t expect my own bias about this matter to be shared

by many of Film Quarterly’s readers. Writers who blithely

and uncritically toss about terms like “Indiewood” designed

to further mystify the differences between studio work and

independent work probably don’t think they’re working for

the fat cats, but from my vantage point as a journalist who

thinks that these distinctions deeply matter, they’re the worst

kind of unpaid publicists.… Read more »

THE HOUSE IS BLACK

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

thehouseisblack-mirror

The House is Black is the most acclaimed of all Iranian documentaries. It was directed by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), widely regarded as the greatest of all Iranian women poets and the greatest Iranian poet of the 20th century, who died in a car accident when she was only 32. It was Farokhzad’s only film, produced in 1962 by her lover Ebrahim Golestan (an important filmmaker in his own right, for whom she also worked as an editor, and who serves as one of the film’s narrators). The film observes the tragic life of lepers in an isolated leprosy hospital (a hell on earth and a nest of suffering and death) near Tabriz in northwestern Iran. The Society for Assisting Lepers commissioned the film, and the director’s intention was “to wipe out this ugliness and to relieve the victims.”

thehouseisblack2

Farrokhzad avoids infringement by creating a close relationship with the lepers, and by searching for the seeds of joy and vitality within the hopelessness. She depicts the inhabitants in their daily occupations, having meals, praying, the children playing ball and attending school.… Read more »

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

StoryoftheLastChrysanthemums-Kabuki

storyofthelatchrysanthemums

Though not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi’s period masterpieces, this 1939 feature is conceivably the greatest. (For me the only other contender is the 1954 Sansho the Bailiff.) And according to film analyst Donald Kirihara in his book Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), Mizoguchi himself regarded it “as a creative turning point in his career”. A film set in the 1880s that lasts 142 minutes and contains only 142 shots, it resorts to the more rapid editing style of Hollywood only when Kabuki performances are featured.

 

The plot, which oddly resembles that of the 1950s Hollywood musical There’s No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious adopted son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki (Kiku, played by Shôtarô Hanayagi in his film debut) who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a young working-class servant who loves him but also dares to criticize his acting (Otoku, played by Kakuko Mori), and eventually returns.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Mostly about Extras

My DVD column for the Fall 2015 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

Practically speaking, we should invent our own extras, not necessarily or invariably depend on those that are made on our behalf. To cite four examples of what I mean:

a-marcel

(A) According to normal usage, Icarus Film’s DVD of Frederic Choffat and Vincent Lowy’s 44-minute Marcel Ophuls and Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais contains no extras. But according to my own usage, this DVD itself functions as an extra to a 100-page book that I own, Dialogue sur le cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard & Marcel Ophuls, published by Le Bord de l’Eau in 2011. That book, prefaced by short essays by Vincent Lowy and André Gazut and concluded by Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s essay for Le Monde, ‘Mon ami Godard’, transcribes two encounters between Godard and Ophüls, held in 2002 and 2009 (the first of these focusing more on Marcel’s father Max), whereas the DVD includes most (but not all) of the second of these dialogues, and somehow manages to leave out some of the more interesting parts, either through cuts or incomplete subtitles. Which doesn’t mean that Icarus’s release isn’t worth having — only that its contents are worth contextualizing beyond the material offered by Icarus.… Read more »

Unpublished Letter to the New York Review of Books [June 24, 2015]

To the Editors:
After Django
I’m very grateful to Adam Shatz for drawing my attention to Tom Perchard’s After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France [NYR, July 9] and for offering, along with Perchard, a provocative and useful introduction to a neglected subject. But I was brought up short by the following grotesque sentence: “[André] Hodeir eventually gave up jazz criticism to write novels for children.” In fact, this collapses and distorts a phrase from Perchard: “From the beginning of the 1970s to his death in 2011, Hodeir would devote himself to writing novels and children’s books, often with a musical theme.”
Anna-Livia-Plurabelle
TheWorldsofJazz
Indeed, to account for the two or three books for children and the half-dozen or so books of fiction that Hodeir published at the end of his career, and the singular evolution and development this represented from his former jazz composing, one has to factor in not only his last collection of jazz criticism in English, The Worlds of Jazz, but also his last two major musical works, Anna Livia Plurabelle (which is discussed over five pages by Perchard, but which Shatz fails to mention) and Bitter Ending, each drawn from and built around passages from Finnegans Wake. … Read more »

En movimiento: Collaborators in Croatia (Godard and Welles)

My column for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, written on September 23, 2015. — J.R.

Viennale 2014.

 

 

OjaKodar-with-sculpture

Early last September, the first week of my visit to Croatia was occasioned by Tanja Vrvilo’s ninth annual “Movie Mutations” event in Zagreb, this time devoted to Godard. An illuminating highlight was the visit of Fabrice Aragno, Godard’s cinematographer and all-around technical assistant since Notre Musique. And my last three days in Croatia was a social visit to Oja Kodar at the Villa Welles in Primosten. Kodar was Orson Welles’ muse, companion, and major collaborator over the last two decades of his life, and, I’m proud to say, a valued friend in the three decades since then.

Both Kodar and Aragno qualify as the sort of major collaborators who complicate and even confound the sort of solid auteurist profiles that we usually associate      with both Welles and Godard — profiles that we also paradoxically associate with their uncanny capacities to engage with the creative imaginations of their viewers.  (“I like to think of myself as an airplane, not an airport.” Godard once said to me in   a 1980 interview, implying that the proper destination of one of his films is the spectator and where he or she wants to go, not Godard and his own preferred destination — and the same “open” and interactive principle applies to Welles and his own films.)

FilmSocialisme-deck2

One of the first things that Aragno said to me when I met him in Zagreb was that he doesn’t consider himself a “Godard fan” — his own aesthetic preferences were closer to Antonioni and Kiarostami — but that he loved “working with Jean-Luc”.… Read more »

Unpublished letter to Sight and Sound (9/19/15)

living-together

I’m very glad that Anna Karina’s neglected first feature, Vivre ensemble (1973), wasn’t overlooked in “The Female Gaze” (S&S, October), but I should also point out that the film isn’t quite as inaccessible as James Blackford, who couldn’t find a way of seeing it, assumes. Having been at the film’s premiere at Cannes and then having reseen it shortly afterwards in Paris, I still remembered it almost 40 years later when I selected and presented it on January 21, 2012, at Toronto’s Lightbox, as part of a series celebrating the Cannes’ La Semaine de la Critique. Seeing it again on that occasion, I found it fascinating — very brave, very personal, and also very, very 1973, in quite illuminating ways. The occasional autobiographical echoes reflecting Karina’s earlier relation to Godard only added to the fascination, and Karina herself suggested to me in a brief phone conversation that the film was badly received by the French film industry in part because the decision of a local actress to write and direct her own feature was virtually unprecedented at the time. I should add that she has written and directed a second feature, Victoria (2008), made in French Canada, that is even more obscure and inaccessible than Living Together has been; I haven’t been able to see it myself, and information about it on the Internet is extremely scarce, but I’m still hoping this situation will change.Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Mostly About Extras

My column from the Fall 2015 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

 

Practically speaking, we should invent our own extras, not necessarily or invariably depend on those that are made on our behalf. To cite four examples of what I mean:

a-marcel

a) According to normal usage, Icarus Film’s DVD of Frédéric Choffat and Vincent Lowy’s 44-minute Marcel Ophüls and Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais contains no extras. But according to my own usage, this DVD itself functions as an extra to a 100-page book that I own, Dialogue sur le cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard & Marcel Ophüls, published by Le Bord de l’Eau in 2011. That book — which is prefaced by short essays by Lowy and André Gazut and concludes with Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s essay for Le Monde, “Mon ami Godard” — transcribes two encounters between Godard and Ophüls held in 2002 and 2009 (the first of these focusing more on Marcel’s father Max), whereas the DVD includes most (but not all) of the second of these dialogues, and somehow manages to leave out some of the more interesting parts, either through cuts or incomplete subtitles. Which doesn’t mean that the Icarus release isn’t worth having, only that its contents are worth contextualizing beyond the material offered by Icarus.… Read more »

On a Particular Literary Blind Spot

Bellow book jacketI’m very glad that I recently purchased Saul Bellow’s collected nonfiction — a handsome, interesting, and useful book, even if I tend to regard Bellow as the most overrated of all the “major” contemporary American novelists (certainly talented and smart, but not terribly interesting when it comes to formal inventiveness). And among the many valuable discoveries to be made here is the fact that Bellow served as a film critic for the magazine Horizon in 1962-1963, a stint which yielded four separate columns –  on Morris Engels’ Lovers and Lollipops, on Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, and two think pieces, “The Mass-Produced Insight” (which quotes from his pal Manny Farber) and “Adrift on a Sea of Gore” (mostly about Richard Fleischer’s Barrabas).

I was especially interested in Bellow’s appreciative remarks about Buñuel. But here is where the attentions of his otherwise careful editor,  Benjamin Taylor, come up woefully short. Listing some of the more notable items in Buñuel’s filmography, Bellow comes up with two very puzzling titles, The Roots (1957) [sic] and Stranger in the Room (1961) [sic]. The second of these, which he discusses in some detail, sounds like he might be thinking of La Fièvre Monte à El Pao (1959), while the first is most likely La Mort en Ce Jardin (1956).… Read more »