Written to introduce a dossier in Farsi on Alain Resnais prepared by Ehsan Khoshbakht in March 2012. — J.R.
Alain Resnais is clearly one of our greatest living filmmakers. But he’s also one of the most elusive, for a number of reasons. He started out as the most international of all the French New Wave artists, at least in his early features (especially Hiroshima mon amour,Last Year at Marienbad, La Guerre est finie,Je t’aime, je t’aime, and Providence), but then went on to become the most French of French directors (not only in obvious cases such as Mon oncle d’Amérique, Stavisky…, Mélo, Same Old Song, Not on the Lips, and Wild Grass, but even in films derived from English or partially American sources, such as I Want To Go Home, Smoking,No Smoking, and Private Fears in Public Places). Even before he got around to making features, he made by far the greatest films in the history of cinema about racism and colonialism (Statues Also Die), the Holocaust (Night and Fog), plastic (La Chant du Styrène), and libraries (Tout la mémoire du monde).Among… Read more »
Written for a Persian collection about Béla Tarr, published in May 2016. — J.R.
My first encounter with the work of Béla Tarr was Damnation (1987), seen in 1989, followed soon afterwards by Almanac of Fall (1984), but the point at which I became an acolyte rather than a mere fan was Sátántangó (1994), which remains for me the towering pinnacle of his work. Other favorites include The Turin Horse (2011) and his nearly impossible-to-see short film The Last Boat (1989), but I know plenty of other viewers who were first won over by Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), and another good starting point might be Tarr’s 1982 production of Macbeth (1982), made for Hungarian television in only two shots.
Most of his films qualify as black comedies filmed in black and white, spiritual without being religious and peopled most often by grubby and not especially honorable individuals who are followed with lengthy takes and elaborately choreographed camera movements that implicate the viewer in their activities and thwarted destinies. Starting with Damnation, they are mostly written by the great Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, whose endless and labyrinthine sentences in his novels are as relentless and as passionately serene as Tarr’s camera movements.… Read more »
The words “communist musical” may call to mind tractors and factories — both of which are certainly in evidence here — but this fascinating and enjoyable 1996 documentary by Romanian-born filmmaker Dana Ranga and American-born independent Andrew Horn presents the singular genre as a conflict between capitalist glitz and socialist poetry, revealing both the Marxists’ tragicomic attempts to beat the West at its own game and the homegrown folksiness of their efforts. Reportedly only 40-odd musical features were produced in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, and Romania prior to the collapse of communism, and roughly half of them are excerpted here. Ranga and Horn interview writers, directors, stars, and ordinary viewers of communist musicals, as well as one prestigious film historian (Maya Turorskaya, best known here for her book on Andrei Tarkovsky). The selection of clips isn’t everything it might have been — I regret the absence of any examples by Alexander Medvedkin, some of which are glimpsed in Chris Marker’s The Last Bolshevik, and eastern European critics have cited other omissions. But Ranga and Horn’s insights into communist film production and their story of how the communist musical triumphed or withered in its various settings offer plenty of food for thought.… Read more »