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Fassbinder, Ghobadi, “Johannesburg,” Gordon, Tanner, Crossroads, More

The Auteurs Daily

World on a Wire

"There are movies that make news and movies that are news," begins J Hoberman in the Voice. "World on a Wire is one of the latter. Suddenly: a virtually unknown, newly restored, two-part tele-film directed by long-gone wunderkind RW Fassbinder at the height of his powers.... Fassbinder made World on a Wire immediately after his art-film breakthrough, Effi Briest, and, abetted by many of his regular actors, the 27-year-old filmmaker seemed eager to re-establish his punk bona fides. As wildly ambitious as it is cinephilic, World on a Wire mixes the pop art effrontery of Godard's Alphaville with the cyber-phobic metaphysics of Kubrick's 2001 (to name the two movies most bluntly referenced) while remaining wholly Fassbinderian in its insolently lugubrious ironies."

"In the original treatment for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's In a Year of Thirteen Moons, doomed transsexual Elvira reads American science fiction writer Daniel F Galouye's 1964 novel Simulacron-3 and comes to agree with its premise, that 'the world in which she finds herself is only a rough model for a higher world,'" writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine, where he finds "it's all the more surprising that World on a Wire... less enriches than demystifies this ur-narrative's influence on the obsessions and preoccupations of the enfant terrible director."

"[P]erhaps the most prophetic aspect of this film is that, like Fassbinder's 18-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, it demonstrates how thoroughly and uncompromisingly cinematic television can be," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The small screen can be very large for an imagination that knows no limits."

More from Simon Abrams (Slant), Richard Brody (New Yorker) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York). Earlier: Glenn Kenny and Dennis Lim (NYT). View a clip at Nowness. At MoMA from today through Monday.

Update, 4/16: Nicolas Rapold for Artforum: "In Germany's terror decade, Fassbinder would ascend to further military-industrial complex dread with The Third Generation (1979) (which features its own ominous computer: an Apple II). World on a Wire is pioneering but ironically speaks of real and fake worlds in terms dating back to Wells and Metropolis: There are those who live “over” and those who live 'under.'"

No One Knows About the Persian Cats

"The planet's lone major Kurdish filmmaker, Bahman Ghobadi is also the most satirical and least self-conscious of the big Iranian New Wave voices, which is probably why in 10 years all five of his features have found American release," writes Michael Atkinson in the Voice. "But don't take this to mean that Ghobadi is a lightweight; his films, showing this week at the Walter Reade Theater as his latest opens, bristle with appalling realism and grim truth from one of the world's most troubled landscapes. Among film artists of state-less nations — now there's an idea for a retrospective — Ghobadi may be preeminent because his films are both accessible and uncompromising."

Bearing Witness: The Films of Bahman Ghobadi runs tonight and tomorrow night and features No One Knows About the Persian Cats, opening at the IFC Center on Friday and available on demand today. "Taking its cues from Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up and Jafar Panahi's Offside, both of which employed a blend of fiction and documentary to chronicle extreme cases of fandom, No One Knows About Persian Cats offers a number of Tehran's real-life indie-rock obsessives an opportunity to enact their trials and vent their frustrations on camera," writes Andrew Chan in the L Magazine.

"Having previously favored the poetic pastoralism of most modern Iranian cinema (see A Time for Drunken Horses), Ghobadi opts for a funky-urban feel here, allowing viewers a glimpse of the city's regional interpretations of blues, rap, metal and Pitchfork-approved indie rock," writes TONY's David Fear. "The sheer ecstasy of expression in these performances gives the movie a pulse, though the director's abuse of MTV aesthetics... turns what should be lyrical interludes into karaoke background videos. These artists are risking everything by playing Western-influenced music; that Ghobadi cheapens and cheeses up their subversion with Hollywood tricks makes for a seriously bitter irony."

More from J Hoberman (Voice), Andrew Schenker (Slant) and James van Maanen.

Updates, 4/16: "Jafar Panahi has been in jail for more than a month, as of the time I write this." Steve Erickson for Gay City News: "Even if he were free, he hasn't made a film in four years. Mohsen Makhmalbaf has chosen to work and live outside Iran, but filming in Afghanistan or other Central Asian regions, he seems much less sure of himself than he did in Iran. Expatriate artist Shirin Neshat recreated 50s Iran in Morocco for her film Women Without Men, allowing her to depict women's hair, as well as alcohol consumption and nudity. Bahman Ghobadi, Iran's leading Kurdish filmmaker, has chosen exile as well. It remains to be seen what he'll accomplish outside Iran, but No One Knows About Persian Cats is a hell of a farewell note."

"An Iranian Kurd whose previous films (including A Time for Drunken Horses and Turtles Can Fly) have been set in the rural villages of his native region, he approaches Negar [Negar Shaghaghi], Ashkan [Ashkan Koshanejad] and the other younger, urban characters in this film with sympathetic curiosity," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "His solidarity with them percolates through the film, most concretely in the simple fact that he made it, shooting quickly and clandestinely with a lightweight digital camera, always ready to pack up and flee the unwanted attention of the authorities. This method creates some jumpy narrative rhythms, but it also gives Persian Cats a nervous, freewheeling dynamism."

"It's only when [Hamed] Behdad is onscreen that Ghobadi effectively dramatizes Persian Cats' thorny questions," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club: "Whether it's better to fight or flee, whether a repressive regime forces artists to consort with criminals, and whether some laxly enforced laws are only on the books to give the government an excuse to crack down on non-conformists."

IFC's Matt Singer interviews Ghobadi; so does Livia Bloom for Filmmaker.

Have You Heard from Johannesburg"The moving, triumphant images of Nelson Mandela in the hours and months after his 1990 release from prison bookend Have You Heard from Johannesburg," writes Bill Weber in Slant, "but this seven-part documentary about the decades-long fight to dismantle the murderous apartheid government of South Africa does not bend to the Great Man theory of history. Rather, with Mandela incarcerated and unseen for much of its 50-year narrative, Connie Field's ambitious chronicle emphasizes how slow, steady grassroots action, particularly by Western activists and native exiles, culminated in the capitulation of a racist police state to the reality of its inevitable extinction."

Tony Pipolo for Artforum: "If any one word could describe this epic documentary about the struggle against apartheid in the latter part of the last century, that word is exhilarating." It's "a monumental chronicle not just of one nation and its hideous regime, but of the second half of the 20th century," adds Melissa Anderson in the Voice.

More from Mike Hale (NYT, where Larry Rohter talks with Field), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and James van Maanen. At Film Forum through April 27.

Across the Atlantic, Achtung Berlin, a showcase of local talent, opens today and runs through April 21.



Bette Gordon will be on hand tomorrow evening when the IFC Center presents her 1983 film Variety. Melissa Anderson in the Voice: "Gordon, who co-directed three short works with James Benning between 1973 and 1975, moved to New York in 1980, soon becoming a fixture of the city's No Wave scene of the late 70s and early 80s, an era of prolific DIY filmmaking, when everybody seemed to be collaborating with everyone else. The conspirators on Gordon's 1983 feature debut, Variety — namely scripter Kathy Acker and scene stealers Nan Goldin and Cookie Mueller — make this tale of a porn-house ticket seller who starts to take her work home with her a vital interrogation of the feminist sex wars that raged at the time."

Gordon's latest opens on Friday. "Like its likeable if unevenly cultivated protagonist, Handsome Harry knows what and who it wants to be — it just takes the most self-defeating and inorganic path possible to get there," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. More from Eric Hynes (TONY). Amy Taubin talks with Gordon for the Huffington Post.

Updates, 4/16: "Handsome Harry is a powerfully acted but strident road movie," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. "The message is none too subtle: homophobia = violence = war."

"[T]he remarkable depth of [Jamey] Sheridan's performance will be a revelation for anyone who seeks out Handsome Harry," notes Armond White in the New York Press.

IndieWIRE interviews Gordon.



"In its April calendar notes, Anthology Film Archives describes Alain Tanner as 'the man who put Swiss cinema on the international film cultural map,'" notes Michael Joshua Rowin at Artforum. "While that may not seem like much of a distinction given the low profile of Swiss filmmaking, Tanner deserves attention for more than being the most recognizable director to hail from the land of cuckoo clocks and expensive watches. He's also one of the great unsung radicals to emerge during that intense, now heavily romanticized period of cinematic politicization the late 1960s and early 70s." More from Nicolas Rapold (Voice). The Films of Alain Tanner runs tomorrow through April 22.

Update, 4/16: Benjamin Mercer for the L Magazine: "While [Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, 1976] might not feel quite as tonally controlled as some of these other films in the welcome Anthology series, it's more complete: funnier, more generous, and harder to shake."



"Perhaps out of compassion for punch-drunk filmgoers who might flinch at the addition of another festival to their packed-to-the-gills calendars, SF Cinematheque carefully avoids using the magic word to describe its first-ever weekend bash," writes Michael Fox for SF Weekly. "Neither coyness nor shyness is warranted, however, for Crossroads casts a welcome spotlight on the vibrant state of personal filmmaking."

sleep furiously

Max Goldberg "vouch[es] in particular for the closing night double-bill: Gideon Koppel's tender portrait of a Welsh farming community, sleep furiously, preceded by another scavenged wonder from Ben Rivers, I Know Where I'm Going." As always, Goldberg's is an especially recommended read.

With Underground Films & Termite Art: A Tribute to Manny Farber, for three weekends in a row, "LACMA pays tribute to painter, carpenter, professor and critic Manny Farber (1917-2008) with a film series honoring his eclectic, all-inclusive taste." Update, 4/16: "LACMA's program reflects the painter/carpenter/teacher's sense of immediacy about the moving, graphic, peopled space in front of him," writes Nicolas Rapold in his overview for the LA Weekly. "From Preston Sturges and Michael Snow to Werner Herzog and Chuck Jones, Farber dug into the image, texture and feel of each film with real, rare, unrestrained engagement."

Northern Exposures: Social Change and Sexuality in Swedish Cinema, 1913 - 2010 opens Friday and runs through May 4. "That graduate seminar mouthful of a program title means that Lincoln Center is playing movies from Sweden," writes Nick Pinkerton in his overview of the series for the Voice: "nine new-ish, some shorts, and more than 30 historical films. The latter revisit a bygone moment of cinematic exceptionalism, from silent-era triumphs to the midcentury Svensk Filmindustri, when 'Swedish' was an international byword for 'progressive' dispatches to the world from an apostate, liberated nation."

Update, 4/16: "A committed provocateur — earlier films include My Sister, My Love (1966), about an incestuous romance between a twin brother and sister — [Vilgot] Sjöman is interested more in the consequences and fault lines of 1960s social upheavals than dirty-movie prurience," writes Melissa Anderson for Artforum. "I Am Curious (Yellow) — a companion piece, I Am Curious (Blue), was released the following year; the colors refer to the Swedish flag — shows the influences of Godard's cine-tracts and Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch's cinema-vérité landmark Chronicle of a Summer (1961), in which random Parisians are approached on the street and asked, 'Are you happy?'"

Updates, 4/16: More events. The Academy's "Salute to Noël Coward" happens all weekend-long and Susan King has an overview in the Los Angeles Times.

"Master Akira Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den and Dersu Uzala return to Film Forum for nine days," notes Armond White in the New York Press. "These late films expand Kurosawa's vision of the human condition — considering, respectively, childhood loneliness and multi-cultural Russian-Asian empathy. Among AK's first color films, each is as visually striking as expected. These are the best examples of AK's late career studies of private identity and national character."

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