From the Chicago Reader (January 5, 2007). — J.R.
A taciturn ex-convict (nonprofessional actor Argentino Vargas) leaves prison after a 20-year sentence and crosses a tropical forest by boat and on foot to find his daughter. This 2004 feature is the second by Lisandro Alonso (La Libertad), a singular and essential figure of the Argentinean new wave; he’s not quite the minimalist some claim, but he can make the simple act of filming feel so monumental that storytelling seems secondary. The hero’s crime, though indicated in the film’s title and opening shot, is acknowledged only fitfully in the spare dialogue, and his killing and gutting of a goat is shown with the same matter-of-factness as his visit to a prostitute. Vargas and the wilderness are such great camera subjects that a sense of quiet revelation is nearly constant. In Spanish with subtitles. 82 min.
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Director Maurice Tourneur (father of Jacques) was far more than a cinematic pioneer; his pictorial and painterly genius (including his use of deep focus, his mastery of decor, and his refined feeling for light and shading) make him one of the creative giants of the silent era. Subtitled An Idyll of Old England, this lovely 1914 feature follows the adventures of an earl’s flighty son (Chester Barnett) who gets expelled from college and, pretending to be a gardener, romances a parson’s daughter (Vivian Martin in her screen debut, doing a nice spin on Mary Pickford). Tourneur and Owen Davis adapted this from Davis’s stage comedy, and though the movie runs only 54 minutes, there’s never any sense of rush. (JR)… Read more »
The title of this 2005 Swedish video is meant literally: directors Pea Holmquist and Suzanne Khardalian spent two years following Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva on her various travels and learned, among other things, that bullshit has its practical uses. The same lesson applies figuratively to this documentary, which is clumsily assembled but worth seeing for its information about Shiva’s antiglobalization arguments and activities. 73 min. (JR)… Read more »
Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara is best known for his second feature, Woman in the Dunes (1964), a collaboration with novelist-playwright Kobo Abe and modernist composer Toru Takemitsu. But Pitfall (1962), the trio’s first project, is no less arty, allegorical, or bold. Combining elements of agitprop, ghost story, and police procedural, it focuses on the murder of an out-of-work coal miner (identified in subtitles as a deserter, but only from the enslavement of his former job) by an enigmatic killer dressed in white. Teshigahara’s visual flair, evident in his sculptural use of wastelands and remarkable superimpositions, is matched by the singular assault of Takemitsu’s unorthodox score, though the film attempts too many things at once to have the impact of its successor. In Japanese with subtitles. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »
A response to a poll, from Sight and Sound (January 2007). – J.R.
In order to write briefly about five films that I first saw in 2006 that are especially important to me, I have to violate a taboo against acknowledging works that aren’t (yet) readily available. More specifically, the first two on my list haven’t yet been seen very widely outside of film festivals and/or the countries where they were made, while the last two, even more rarefied, have only been shown under special circumstances, in both cases because their filmmakers are under no commercial pressures to release them and would like to oversee and monitor their exhibition. Although I’m aware that this may irritate some readers, I’d rather address them like adults than succumb to the infantile consumerist model of instant gratification, according to which works should be known about only when they can be immediately accessed. After all, some pleasures are worth waiting for.
Alain Resnais’ dark, exquisite, and highly personal adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears of Public Places, which I saw at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, is eloquent testimony both to how distilled his art has become at age 84 and how readily Ayckbourn’s examples of English repression can be converted into French equivalents.… Read more »