Conversations conducted for Movie Mutations and Abbas Kiarostami (both 2003). — J.R.
Open Spaces in Iran and Africa:
Conversations with Abbas Kiarostami
by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa
1. Taste of Cherry: spring 1998 (Chicago)
The hero of Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is a 50ish man named Mr. Badii contemplating suicide for unstated reasons, driving around the hilly Tehran outskirts in search of someone who will bury him if he succeeds — he plans to swallow sleeping pills — and retrieve him from the hole in the ground he has selected if he fails. Over the course of one afternoon, he picks up three passengers and asks each of them to perform this task in exchange for money — a young Kurdish soldier stationed nearby, an Afghan seminarian who is somewhat older, and a Turkish taxidermist who is older than he is. The soldier runs away in fright, the seminarian tries to persuade him not to kill himself, and the taxidermist, who also tries to change his mind, reluctantly agrees, needing the money to help take care of his sick child. The terrain Badii’s Range Rover traverses repeatedly, in circular fashion, is mainly parched, dusty, and spotted with ugly construction sites and noisy bulldozers, though the site he’s selected for his burial is relatively quiet, pristine, and uninhabited.… Read more »
Posted on Film Comment‘s blog, February 2, 2016. — J.R.
Consider the lengths of time between Jean Vigo’s death and the first appearances of Zéro de conduite and L’Atalante in the U.S. (thirteen years), or between the first screening of Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 and its recent appearances on Blu-Ray (forty-five years), and it becomes obvious that the popular custom of listing the best films of any given year is unavoidably a mythological undertaking. By the same token, film history in the present should be divided between important filmmakers skilled and successful in hawking their own goods, from Alfred Hitchcock to Spike Lee to Lars von Trier, and those who, for one reason or another, aren’t — a less definitive roll call that includes, among many others, Charles Burnett, Ebrahim Golestan, Luc Moullet, Peter Thompson, Orson Welles, and John Gianvito.
I haven’t seen Gianvito’s early shorts, one of which is called What Nobody Saw (1990), but its very title seems emblematic of his career — as does the epigraph from Cesare Pavese opening the first part of his first feature, The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001), which introduced me to his work and remains my favorite: “Everywhere there is a pool of blood that we step into without knowing it.” His second and best known feature, Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (2007), testifies to the same conviction, and his nine-hour documentary diptych, For Example, The Philippines, which he has been working on for the past decade, is a epic demonstration of the wisdom of Pavese’s remark; Vapor Trail (Clark) (2010, 264 minutes) and now Wake (Subic) (2015, 277 minutes) concentrate on the human ravages left by the Clark Air Force Base and Subic Naval Base — for almost a century, the two largest U.S.… Read more »
From the May 12, 2000 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Chris Petit
With Robert Mitchum, Manny Farber, Dave Hickey, and (as narrator) Petit.
There aren’t many films or videos about film criticism, especially ones that perform the actual work of film criticism. An interesting and ambitious exception is Chris Petit’s Negative Space (1999), an experimental 39-minute video made for BBC TV that’s being shown for free by Chicago Filmmakers at the Chicago Cultural Center this Friday, along with Petit’s The Falconer (1998). Named after the only book by film critic, painter, and teacher Manny Farber — a 1971 collection reprinted in an expanded edition in 1998 — Petit’s video wrestles with American landscape and culture, irony, memory, Las Vegas, the beginning of a new millennium, death, desert, film versus video, J.M.W. Turner’s painting, several movies (including Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy), as well as two critics, Farber and Dave Hickey. Petit also looks at Farber as a painter and an art critic and Hickey as an art critic, a resident of Las Vegas, an appreciator of Farber, and a commentator on American culture.… Read more »
Here are my reviews of two Malick films that I like much more than The Tree of Life, written almost a quarter of a century apart.
First, my review of Badlands from the November 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin:
Director: Terrence Malick
It would hardly be an exaggeration to call the first half of Badlands a revelation -– one of the best literate examples of narrated American cinema since the early days of Welles and Polonsky. Compositions, actors, and lines interlock and click into place with irreducible economy and unerring precision, carrying us along before we have time to catch our breaths. It is probably not accidental than an early camera set-up of Kit on his garbage route recalls the framing of a neighborhood street that introduced us to the social world of Rebel Without a Cause: the doomed romanticism courted by Kit and dispassionately recounted by Holly immediately evokes the Fifties world of Nicholas Ray -– and more particularly, certain Ray-influenced (and narrated) works of Godard, like Pierrot le fou and Bande à part. Terrence Malick’s eye, narrative sense, and handling of affectless violence are all recognizably Godardian, but they flourish in a context more easily identified with Ray.… Read more »