"African cinema is generally woefully overlooked by the West, and the filmmaking being done in Republic of Chad has been particularly invisible," begins Farihah Zaman in Reverse Shot. "The oversight is not entirely unreasonable; decades of civil war have left the local film industry all but nonexistent — for thirty years there was not even a single movie theater in the entire country. That changed in 2010 when Mahamet-Saleh Haroun won the Cannes Jury Prize for A Screaming Man. His film, the first from his country to screen in competition at the prestigious French festival, now has another distinction, having convinced a government in the midst of war the importance of investing a million dollars in building a movie theater specifically so that it could be shown."
In this "ingenious and moving take on FW Murnau's classic The Last Laugh," writes the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), a former swimming champion and the proud longtime pool attendant at a luxury hotel, is demoted to gatekeeper — only to see his son, Abdel (Dioucounda Koma), take his place. But, in a brutal irony, Adam gets his job back in the worst way: members of a local militia, siding with the government in the ongoing civil war, press Adam for a financial contribution, and when he can't pay it they kidnap Abdel and force him to fight at the front."
Nick Pinkerton in the Voice: "A Screaming Man's story of economically enforced generational rivalry reflects the division — or, rather, lack of division — of the burden of war between fathers and sons. The characterizations never comfortably accommodate Haroun's pat metaphor, though his stoic visual storytelling has an oblique gravity, suggesting a slightly altered meaning to each surveying shot of the poolside patio."
More from Manohla Dargis (New York Times), David Fear (Time Out New York, 4/5), Kalvin Henely (Slant, 3/4), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Benjamin Mercer (L). At New York's Film Forum through April 26.
The newly digitally restored version of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) is out on Blu-ray from Sony. Rob Humanick in Slant: "For those of us who grew up watching Taxi Driver on VHS and DVD, heretofore unrecognizable details make this disc the next best thing to seeing an actual print of the film. The filth of New York's underbelly practically leaps off the screen, and though the transfer maintains the grainy rawness of Michael Chapman's cinematography with agonizing precision, the near-perfect quality of the image suggests nothing less than a freshly minted reel. Sound is similarly pristine; you may feel as if you're listening to Bernard Herrmann's swan song for the first time all over again." Extras? "Exhaustive." In short, a "high-water mark of American cinema gets its due treatment on this luxurious disc. No respectable collection should go without it." More from Dave Kehr (NYT), W Scott Poole (PopMatters) and Ambrose Heron.
"New from Criterion, White Material is Claire Denis's third feature depicting whites in Africa, following her autobiographical debut Chocolat (1988), and her inspired transposition of Herman Melville's Billy Budd into contemporary Djibouti in Beau Travail (1999)." Josef Braun: "Co-written with novelist Marie NDiaye, the film centers on Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), foreman of a coffee plantation in an unnamed country increasingly consumed by revolutionary (and counterrevolutionary) violence… When government emissaries urge her to depart…, Maria chooses to ignore them, staying focused on the harvest, for which she needs to rally a new group of laborers after their predecessors hastily quit: like the servants in The Exterminating Angel (1962), the staff knows it's time to split long before the bosses. We see her speak to her black neighbors and employees as equals, blind to the fact that in their eyes the new crisis has reduced Maria to 'white material,' just another vestige of the colonial past, less person than troublesome anachronism, a kind of ghost. The era that facilitated her forging a life here is rapidly closing, if not already long-gone with the wind, though Maria's similarity to Scarlett O'Hara ends with her fierce tenacity. It's the quality that defines her, and when it finally breaks nearly the film's very end, it causes a violence to erupt within Maria that's the stuff of Greek tragedy." More from Sean Axmaker (Parallax View), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 3.5/5) and Amy Taubin (Criterion).
"Battleship Potemkin and The Battle of Algiers still serve as timely reminders that the pressure cooker of dictatorship cannot abide," argues Timothy Ledwith at PopMatters.
For James Woodall, writing at the Arts Desk, Murnau's City Girl (1930) is "cinematic poetry, with a new and sensitive score by Christopher Caliendo, and stands as a testament to one of the very last works of genius of the silent era." Out from Eureka/Masters of Cinema.
"Olive Films continues to raid the Paramount vaults, this time with William Dieterle's 1949 Casablanca clone Rope of Sand." For TCM, R Emmet Sweeney argues that it's not only "another strong DVD presentation from the company" but a pretty nifty diversion as well.
"A triumphant feat of television production, Treme's deeply humane treatment of a communal tragedy, not a national one, quite simply blows the doors off the place." 4.5 out of 5 stars from Chris Cabin at Slant. More from JM Suarez at PopMatters. Out from HBO Home Video.
DVD roundups. Gary Dretzka (Movie City News), Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times), Stephen Saito (IFC) and Mike Wilmington (MCN).
From Page to Screen, which has opened today and runs through Sunday, "is the name of a small film festival which takes place in Bridport, Dorset," writes Jonathan Coe in the Guardian. "It's now in its third year and, as its title suggests, is dedicated exclusively to films which are adapted from literary sources. This year, for the first time, the organizers decided that they wanted to invite a guest director to oversee the program. I accepted the offer at once, and then almost immediately wondered what I'd let myself in for." Because, in short, as conventional wisdom has it, the best books don't make for the best adaptations. "The more I thought about it, however, the more determined I became to truffle out – for my own satisfaction, if nothing else – some examples of the rare celluloid exceptions: occasions when a demonstrably fine literary work has been adapted into an equally fine piece of cinema."
Around 80 films realized in part or completely in Berlin and Brandenburg will be screened during achtung berlin - new berlin film award 2011 from tonight through April 20.
IN OTHER NEWS
As if Catherine Grant weren't doing enough for the community with her indispensable Film Studies for Free, she's launched Audiovisualcy: An Online Forum for Videographic Film Studies. And already, it's growing fast, both in terms of the number of videos and contributing members.
"Animation would not be what it is today without Ralph Bakshi," argues Evan Kindley. "The very idea of cartoons for adults, a concept our culture has been comfortable with for going on three decades now, owes its development if not its origination to Bakshi and his efforts." For the next two weeks, Not Coming to a Theater Near You will be exploring Ralph Bakshi's Cool Worlds.
"The new issue (#6) of One+One: The Filmmakers Journal is now out with articles on the Zeitgeist Movement, Imperfect Cinema, Exploding Cinema and offers a filmmaking challenge," notes Mike Everleth. "Oh, and Mary Poppins."