"Let it not be said that this session of Film Comment Selects lacks a consistency of vision," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice, previewing the series that opens tomorrow and runs through March 3. "Past attendees of Lincoln Center's not-exactly-a-film-festival should be accustomed to a heaping helping of the antisocial and transgressive, but a perusal of this year's program — advertising a couple of Asian Extreme murderers, a Ciudad Juárez hitman, Nazis, grave-robbers, the Rape of Nanking, the latest from Saw auteur James Wan, and Hobo With a Shotgun — shows a downright dedication to Evil."
"Equally if not more impressive are titles even further left-of-center," finds Michael Joshua Rowin at the L. "French actress-turned-director Isild le Besco receives a mini-retrospective, her digital video features Demi-tarif (2003), Charly (2007) and Bas-fonds (2010) capturing with uncomfortable, diaristic intimacy forsaken children and adolescents who create anarchic dys/utopias beyond the control of a peripherally glimpsed adult world. The three Parisian kids left largely to their own devices in Demi-tarif make for a particularly haunting social experiment in uninhibited freedom and zero future."
As for Bas-fonds, at the House Next Door, Andrew Schenker writes: "Magalie Pichon is a force of nature… As played by Valérie Nataf, the booze-guzzling leader of the makeshift family [of three young women] is fascinating to watch, but despite the director's keen eye for detail, le Besco's film is as much about withholding as it is about revealing. Inculcating the voyeuristic urge, the filmmaker at least partially frustrates its fulfillment through her crisp, elliptical editing often punctuated by fades to black, which ensures that we get just as much information as we need without enough lingering camera gaze to invite gawking. But taken together, the director's observations quickly accumulate into a portrait of an ultra-marginal semi-hierarchical anti-utopia with Mag as the woman at the top."
Steve Dollar at GreenCine Daily on a highlight of nearly every overview of the series so far: "The year was 1971, and in Peter Geyer's documentary Klaus Kinski: Jesus Christ Savior, the occasion was anything but a love-in. Kinski, then 45, was winding down a prolific year with 10 movies released, most of them spaghetti Westerns with names like Il venditore di morte and Giu la testa… hombre (whose tagline read: 'A fistful of DEATH'), plus a few psycho thrillers on the sleazy order of La bestia uccide a sangue freddo. Maybe he wanted to reconnect with a passionate role. Instead, his Nov 20 performance in a large hall in Berlin was a screaming rage-fest, a fourth-wall obliterating extension of the blood-letting that made Kinski the forbidding presence in scores of B movies. And, with his murderous scowl and lacerating tongue, an unexpected warm-up for his next star turn in Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God — the role that would legitimize the actor as a legendary force of nature." Update: At the House Next Door, Nick Schager finds the doc to be "mostly the portrait of the artist as an empathetically committed zealot and hotheaded madman, of a star attempting to communicate (and expunge from within) ideas and emotions that seemingly animate and torment him. And it ultimately proves a quite riveting one at that, even if its dynamite volatility and hypnotic momentum drains by Kinski's third walkout and final, triumphant, post-credits recitation of his divine dissertation."
Back to Andrew Schenker at the House: "Commissioned for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, Jia Zhangke's I Wish I Knew is, at its most basic level, an interview-heavy portrait of China's largest city, its people and their tumultuous relationship with history. But it's also intimately concerned with the experience of the exile, the visual exploration of the contemporary city and the question of the cinematic representation of lived experience." More from Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily: "Where 24 City and Still Life asserted deadpan gazes at strictures often literally in the process of destruction, I Wish I Knew… is exponentially more stylized and occasionally hyperactive. During one sped-up POV shot from a boat passing under bridges where ominously unhappy girls look down, the vibe is momentarily between a Tony Scott movie and J-horror."
David Fear and Keith Uhlich pick five films to highlight in Time Out New York — from which I'll choose two, both of which go back a few years. David Fear on The Velvet Underground and Nico (1966): "Drone-rock aficionados and Warhol Factory fanatics have long considered this portrait of Lou Reed & Co jamming in the painter-filmmaker's headquarters a holy grail of hipster minimalism." Update, 2/23: For Paul Schrodt, writing at the House Next Door, "it offers genuine insight into one of the most groundbreaking bands of its time and city."
Keith Uhlich on I Only Want You to Love Me: "This incisive 1976 German television film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder follows a soft-spoken newlywed (Vitus Zeplichal) who moves to Munich and quickly falls into debt. Working at the height of his powers, Fassbinder adapted the story from an actual case of a man driven to financial and emotional ruin. The writer-director is no stranger to caustic critiques of the unrealistic desires fostered by his country's postwar 'economic miracle,' yet his compassion for every character, even the most corrupt, has rarely felt so potent. Consider this unmissable." Update, 2/18: Simon Abrams at the House Next Door: "Without Rainer Werner Fassbinder's characteristic sense of detachment, the director's Sirkian melodrama I Only Want You to Love Me wouldn't be nearly as engrossing as it is."
Updates: At Twitch, Peter Gutierrez declares himself a major Sion Sono fan, but "with Cold Fish we get the kind of mildly subversive, mildly transgressive fare that any number of directors could have created. The originality that distinguished Strange Circus, not to mention Love Exposure, is sorely absent. It feels, in fact, that here Sono is hanging everything on the supposedly shocking narrative — which summarizes down to a hail-fellow-well-met businessman who turns out to be an opportunistic serial killer. But once you get past that surprise, it's strictly Straw Dogs plus body parts." Update, 2/24: Matthew Connelly at the House: "Perhaps one can appreciate Cold Fish's pitiless vision while still questioning if a particularly visceral wallow in the muck can still leave you feeling anything but dirty."
Updates, 2/18: "In its modest fashion, Film Comment Selects helps offset the calamitous state of foreign-language film distribution by highlighting work that hasn't (yet) inspired the love and guts it takes to put a subtitled movie in American theaters," writes Manohla Dargis in her overview of the series for the New York Times. "Currently without distribution is the French drama Domaine, from Patric Chiha, championed by the filmmaker John Waters as his favorite movie of 2010. It turns on the evolving, increasingly airless relationship between a young student and his aunt, an alcoholic mathematician (a wonderful Béatrice Dalle, who now looks like a somewhat weathered version of Angelina Jolie). Mr Waters was partial to all the walking in Domaine. Yet while the peripatetic interludes have their allure, it's the hypnotic club scene where the aunt all but drowns in an ocean of slow-moving bodies that helps makes this a must-see."
More from Matthew Connolly at the House Next Door: "Most recently known for her roles in Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day and The Intruder as, respectively, a feral cannibal and the Queen of the Northern Hemisphere (how's that for range?), Béatrice Dalle can come off as such a crazy/sexy/cool presence (those eyes! That gap!) that one can easily forget the actress at work beneath the defiantly carnal exterior. Patric Chiha sees both, and uses them to quietly heartrending effect in Domaine, a film shaped by the divide between appearance and reality — or, more to the point, perceived order and underlying chaos." And yet more from Carlos J Segura at Cinespect.
"Each year, Finland's Midnight Sun Film Festival draws crowds with a unique program," writes Jesse Cataldo at the House: "24 hours of movies, played uninterrupted while the sun keeps shining. Drawing at least some inspiration from its namesake, Sodankyla Forever, which takes its title from the festival's Finnish name, is passionate and overstuffed, a dense cinematic treatise as told by the directors themselves."
Updates, 2/21: In The Karski Report, Polish resistance hero Jan Karski argues "that the Allied leaders were incapable of grasping the nature and extent of the horror of the Holocaust when it was unfolding, since nothing remotely like it had ever happened," writes Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door. "'Healthy humanity, rational humanity who did not see it with their own eyes, they could not handle it,' he says. In fact, adds Karski, in a 1978 interview Claude Lanzmann conducted for his nine-and-a-half-hour masterwork Shoah, even he can no longer 'handle' the thought of what he saw, after 35 years in the US." The New Yorker's Richard Brody: "Lanzmann's film confronts epochal conundrums in moral epistemology — the leap of faith required to conceive the inconceivable and to recognize what Karski calls the 'unprecedented,' and the paradoxical primacy of oral testimony as a mode of representation and understanding — which are at the core of “Shoah” and of the cinema itself."
"Baran Bo Odar's German The Silence delivers a Zodiac-style murder mystery about two grief-stricken killers and the cop obsessed with tracking them down," writes indieWIRE's Eric Kohn. "Leisurely paced and impeccably acted, Odar's story revolves around a small town wrecked by the killings of two 14-year-olds several years apart. The director takes the focus off whether or not the crimes will be solved and instead invests in the emotionally draining effect they have on everyone drawn into the intrigue, including the two deranged men responsible for creating it."
Update, 2/22: At the House Next Door, Andrew Schenker on El Sicario, Room 164, "Gianfranco Rosi's riveting feature-length interview with a former hitman for a Mexican drug cartel": "The recitation itself is a fairly straightforward, if nonetheless hypnotically fascinating, account of initiation from a young age, official corruption and unspeakable acts of torture, complicated only by the appearance of the occasional lacuna that makes following the timeline of the hitman's career a tad problematic. The question of his character is considerably more troubling as this professed Christian convert is not nearly as remorseful about his past as one would quite feel comfortable with."
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams was the hottest ticket, as seeing Werner Herzog's mischievous mug in three dimensions is apparently too provocative to miss," notes R Emmet Sweeney in a post for TCM that also covers I Wish I Knew, The Silence, Sodankyla Forever and I Only Want You to Love Me. "I even spied David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson in attendance, which hopefully means an extended blog post from them both looms in the future… The 3D image gives a wondrous sense of depth and curvaceousness inside the cave, but the large segments of interviews with scientists and researchers are a drag in the format. Herzog's patented mystical madman commentary is pushing into self-parody, but in this case the footage alone is worth the price of admission."
Daniel Walber attended an 11 pm screening on Friday night: "And it turns out Hobo with a Shotgun is the perfect film for this late night crowd. They were hungry for blood, guts and absolutely ridiculous dialogue. By the time the lights went back up, the room had burst into uproarious laughter and cheers multiple times, won over by this particular brand of exploitation film insanity."
Update, 2/23: "Perhaps the most significant thing about City of Life and Death is that American viewers will finally get the chance to see it." At the House Next Door, Andrew Schenker sketches a history of rocky road to FCS and an eventual Stateside release in May for Lu Chuan's take on the Nanking massacre. "But is the film worth all the hassle? Clearly the depiction of a perennially touchy historical event remains a sore spot for a Chinese nation seeking to reinvent itself as a world power, but for the American viewer, it unfolds as one more mediocre historical epic, combining black-and-white Scope photography, half-drawn character sketches that edge toward the sentimental, and enough acts of brutality to insist on the significance of its own content."
Update, 2/25: Simon Abrams at the House on Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen: "Leave it to Andrew Lau, the director most famous for co-helming Infernal Affairs, to drown a staid, fool-proof setup for success in grandiose tragedy and pseudo-significance."
Update, 2/28: Jesse Cataldo at the House: "Thomas Harlan's Wundkanal indicates its seriousness through a bevy of distancing techniques: hideous industrial settings, suffocating framing, a washed out palette of blues and blacks, long interrogations that loop back on themselves. These are crucial touches, the first steps the director takes in approaching the mountain of reasons that might have stopped him from making this film. They act as both ritual of purification and a clear signal of what it will not be, flushing away any pretense of entertainment, narrative, explanation, or answers… Wundkanal is a messy, ugly movie, but it's also an outstanding document, one of the few to approach the Holocaust with absolute deference to its enormity."
Update, 3/1: For Slant, Simon Abrams introduces his interview with Alex Cox, who'll be on hand tomorrow night at the Walter Reade: "Straight to Hell Returns includes new footage not previously released from the film's original 1986 theatrical cut and new color correction from cinematographer Tom Richmond. I talked with Cox this past Sunday about the importance of legacy, being blacklisted after making the anti-Reaganite, Sandinista-financed acid western Walker, as well as RoboCop and Sarah Palin."
Update, 3/5: IndieWIRE's Eric Kohn on how the series wrapped on Thursday: "In the early evening, John Landis premiered his black comedy Burke & Hare, and the late night crowd stuck around for Saw director James Wan's crowdpleasing haunted house chiller, Insidious. Landis's movie, a screwball take on the story of two 19th century grave robbers, aims for morbid gags, while Wan focuses on straightforward scare tactics. Landis, a legendary director primarily known for the likes of Blues Brothers and An American Werewolf in London, may not have a lot immediately in common with the 34-year-old Wan, a rising star of the commercial horror scene. Viewed side-by-side, however, the directors' latest works reveal that both men are living in the shadows of their best creations."
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