Critics' Week has already begun celebrating its 50th anniversary by posting 50 video interviews with directors and actors who've seen their work debut in this section at Cannes. We're celebrating, too. In association with the 4+1 Film Festival, MUBI is presenting a retrospective of some of the greatest films first seen in Critics' Week over the past half-century. And even though the first 1000 views of each of the films will be free to you, the viewer, the rights holders will carry on receiving their duly earned revenue.
The retrospective encompasses over 100 titles in all, but please do keep in mind that rights issues can get complicated and not every film can be available in every country. That said, here's a quick overview of just some of the highlights:
Over in the Garage, a La Semaine Blogathon is already on the roll, starting with KJ Farrington's entry on Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know, readily granting that the "potential is great for this to have become something painfully precious, but July is attuned to, and not afraid to needle the underlying anxieties of each character in her ensemble." Some may remember that July had already left Cannes in 2005 when she was called back to pick up a few awards: the Critics' Week Grand Prize, the Golden Camera and the Prix Regards Jeune.
David Robert Mitchell's The Myth of the American Sleepover (2010) is "a dreamy, romantic, and wistful take on the amorous longings of our teenage years," writes Filmmaker editor Scott Macaulay. "It's set during one night in which Mitchell's various teen characters crisscross their Michigan town between several sleepovers, all-night slumber parties, and general hang outs. Without stooping to farfetched plot elements or melodramatic contrivances, the film compels our viewing by nailing just the right tone — it understands enough of adolescent emotion to place us inside these characters' heads while having enough distance from it to impart a wisdom through its storytelling." The film would go on to win a Special Jury Award at the SXSW Film Festival for Best Ensemble Cast and would be nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Our own Joe Bowman on Poison Friends (2006): "Emmanuel Bourdieu, better known as Arnaud Desplechin's co-screenwriter since My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument, won the Critics Week Grand Prize in 2006 for this smart, occasionally thrilling tale of a group of university students, all magnetically drawn to a bold, well-spoken, overtly patronizing classmate who uses their fascination as a tool for manipulation. Think Six Degrees of Separation with the Manhattan elite replaced by beguiled academics."
Another recommendation from Joe: "Winner of the Caméra d'Or in 2004, Keren Yedaya's Or (My Treasure) (2004) isn't likely to put a smile on anyone's face, but it's a very impressive motion picture. Using a stationary camera and eliciting devastating and powerfully unflattering performances from Ronit Elkabetz and Dana Ivfy, Yedaya shows the slow, tragic fall from grace a teenage girl named Or endures while trying to keep her prostitute mother from returning to the streets, praying that what she's witnessing in her mother isn't the inevitable future." Update, 5/14: "Without resorting to didacticism or pandering to easy sympathies, the film emphasizes the point that the main hurdle for the disenfranchised and the impoverished is not that they never encounter opportunities to improve their lives," writes Blue Un Sok Kim in the Garage. "The real challenge for them is that they have only a miniscule margin of error."
"Adieu Philippine is a forgotten classic of the French New Wave, a marvelous, free-spirited film that hasn't received anywhere near the acclaim of the contemporaneous early offerings of the more famous New Wave filmmakers," writes Ed Howard. "It was the first film of Jacques Rozier, shot in 1960 and only finished in 1962 due to production difficulties. Though Rozier is far from a household name in comparison to the other New Wave directors — indeed, after this film failed he didn't make another feature for over ten years — this debut deserves to be mentioned along with Breathless and The 400 Blows as a remarkably assured and joyous first leap into filmmaking."
"Even from his first feature film La Vie des morts [The Life of the Dead, 1991], Arnaud Desplechin was already establishing a quintessentially dynamic framework for his recurring themes on surrogacy, human idiosyncrasies, and the ephemeral nature of desire." Acquarello finds "an unexpected whimsicality, anarchic spirit, and gentle humor innate in everyday life" in this tale of a family coming to terms with the attempted suicide of an adopted brother. Winner of the Prix Jean Vigo. Update: More from KJ Farrington in the Garage.
"Altiplano  hypnotically braids strands of Incan mythology, Catholic voodoo, and campesino outrage to style a sympathetic outsider's portrait of South American mysticism," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant. "Recounting the alternately somber and butterfly-stomached rituals that precede the marriage of town beauty Saturnina (Magaly Solier), and their disruption by the subtly alarming effects of an unnoticed mercury spill, directors Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth delve into the oneiric peculiarities of local culture."
An anthology of ten short films commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution and examining its legacy, Revolución (2010) is also a sampler of sorts, collecting work by ten of the most engaging directors working in Mexico today. Some of these films, writes Reed Johnson in the Los Angeles Times, "have the rounded coherence of short stories. Others are more like dreams (or nightmares) than narratives, registering as impressionistic snapshots or tone poems. Some bristle with caustic humor and bitterness. Others ache with nostalgia, expressed in images of the country's rugged, sweeping landscapes and its stoic, resilient populace."
Gael García Bernal made his directorial debut in 2007 with Déficit, depicting a day in the life of Cristobal (Bernal), a spoilt, rich kid throwing a party for his friends at his parents' luxurious villa. Anton Bitel: "Bernal proves to be a vibrant director, his swooping steadicam and queasy close-ups placing the viewer right in the middle of the party, while the film's sound design offers subtleties all of its own, including a near silence in the closing scenes that echoes the emptiness exposed by the film in the protagonist's life, values and dreams. That Bernal should himself take on the unflattering role of Cristobal is a sign of his mature self-assurance as both performer and filmmaker."
Hiroshi Shimizu, who began as an assistant director for Takeshi Kitano, received the Special Ecumenical Prize at the Locarno Film Festival for his debut film, Ikinai. In his 2002 film Chicken Heart, Iwano (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi), 27, a former boxer, now earns his keep as a human punching bag who lets drunken businessmen take potshots at him for cash. His assistants are his timekeeper, Maru, 36, a former teacher (Matsuo Suzuki), and Sada, 53, a drifter who collects money from customers (Kiyoshiro Imawano). The Japan Times' Mark Schilling finds a "concluding moral: Everything changes, but the spirit, nutty or otherwise, endures. A Buddhist thought, perhaps, but one that, in Shimizu's hands, translates into a universally appealing comedy."
"Anchored by Inès Efron's remarkable performance, Lucía Puenzo's XXY (2007) takes a sensitive approach to a difficult subject (the sexual maturation of an intersex teenager and the ripple effects it has on the immediate family) without resorting to exploitation or oversimplification," finds Joe Bowman. For the Guardian's Cath Clarke, "Puenzo's real achievement" in this winner of the Critics' Week Grand Prize "is to make her film less about Alex's gender than about families and unspoken anxieties. Unexpected and wonderfully thoughtful." Update: More from Christopher Jason Bell in the Garage.
Julie Bertucelli's Since Otar Left… (2003), winner of the Critics' Week Grand Prize and a César for Best First Work, depicts three generations of women live together in a crumbling apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia, struggling with the absence of the one man in their family. Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice: "Bertuccelli, an ex-assistant director to Iosseliani, Kieslowski, and Tavernier, never hurries her characters into emotional corners, and even the most minor individuals have extra dimensions." Update: More from Christopher Jason Bell in the Garage.
Neil Young finds Martine Doyen's Komma (2006) to be "essentially a confidently-handled, off-beat character-drama which coyly plays with romantic and thriller tropes, and the committed, contrasting performances by the two leads, plus an elegantly wasted turn by veteran Edith Scob as Lucie's silver-bobbed mother, keep us absorbed. The script's intermittent flecks of dry humor are a plus, likewise Doyen's jazzily poised visual style, though it's the electronica-flavored score that's the most consistent pleasure here, often hypnotically insectoid in its jittery susurrations."
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw on Roads to Koktebel (2003), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival: "Memories of Tarkovsky's Mirror are conjured by this intensely Russian road movie, much admired on the festival circuit, from first-time feature directors and co-writers Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky. A haggard widower and his small but somehow equally haggard son are making a gruelling journey on foot, across Russia and Ukraine, heading for the Crimea and the coastal town known to them as Koktebel…. There are some beautiful scenes and striking evocations of the landscape in this movie, which has been patiently developed over many years, much of the time being spent in researching locations which are photographed with passionate connoisseurship."
In Lost Persons Area (2009), winner of the SACD Screenwriting Award, Bettina (Lisbeth Gruwez) runs a café while Marcus (Sam Louwyck) heads up a company that maintains giant pylons in a Flemish industrial wasteland. Even as they struggle to keep their eccentric nine-year-old daughter out of trouble, they hope to marry soon — but then tragedy strikes. Gorgeous cinematography by Nicolas Karakatsanis enhances Caroline Strubbe's directorial debut. For those who read French, Olivier Rossignot has more at Culturopoing.
"It's no surprise that The Desert Within swept the Guadalajara Mexican Film Festival for it's a beautiful and powerful film," finds Marina Antunes at Row Three. Rodrigo Plá's 2008 film scored eight Ariel Awards in Mexico as well. More (in French) from Bénédicte Prot at Culturopoing.
"Grounded in the authentic bustle of Hanoi and the uncomfortable interplay of familial relationships [Phan Dang Di's] Bi, Don't Be Afraid!  is a thoughtful cinematic exploration of inchoate longing, the messy consequences of physical decline and encroaching death, and confirmation that sex and youthful exuberance spring eternal," writes Lisa Nesselson in Screen. "Frankly and overtly sensual with scant dialogue, this contemporary portrait of relatives living in close quarters while harboring secrets is conveyed with impressive visual assurance." Winner of both the SACD Screenplay Prize for screenplay and the ACID/CCAS Prize.
Juan Pittaluga's debut feature, Orlando Vargas (2005), is an homage to his father, a diplomat, who was unseated by the Uruguayan dictatorship in 1973. The title character moves his family out of the capital to a small seaside village just this side of the border to Brazil. One night, he goes to the desolate town bar and does not return. Winner of the CNC Award.
In the Year of the Pig (1968), nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, is a vital work from a preeminent force in independent film and political documentary. "The pig of the title is the US involvement in Vietnam, thoroughly roasted by Emile de Antonio's agitprop montage," writes Fernando F Croce. "The theme of de Antonio's tract, assembled with calm anger, is the 'arrogance of power' of the US colossus, dissected and questioned, the path carved for Hearts and Minds and Michael Moore down the decades, as locations change but the song remains the same."
Writing in the Village Voice, Andrew Schenker finds Philippe Diaz's The End of Poverty? (2008) to be a "devastating, radical critique of the colonialist enterprise as inextricable from the current global economic model. While most state-of-the-world docs are content to map the state of the world and leave it at that, Diaz proposes a historical-analytical framework that posits a direct link between the legacy of colonization and the current unequal distribution of wealth that leaves much of the world's population in a stunning state of poverty."
"Alternately delightful and disturbing, The Mosquito Problem and Other Stories  features characters who would do Christopher Guest proud," writes Jay Weissberg in Variety. "Ostensibly a genial look at the town of Belene, situated on the Danube in northern Bulgaria, there's a slumbering heart of darkness thanks to the notorious Communist-era concentration camp that gives the place less than idyllic connotations for fellow countrymen. Andrey Paounov's delicious eye for absurdity never bests his deep respect for the entire range of the human experience." Winner of the Human Rights Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival and Best Documentary in Madrid. Update: More from Christopher Jason Bell in the Garage.
In A Summer Dress (1996), winner of the Audience Award at LA Outfest and the French Grand Prix at the Brest European Short Film Festival, François Ozon "would appear to be on holiday — and enjoying himself immensely," writes Anthony Nield in the DVD Times. "Beautiful people, drama of no consequences (i.e., no darkness), smiles all round and a sing-a-long to camera, it's a pure delight. You could accuse it of being slight, but then it's also unabashedly fun." Update, 5/14: For Alexey Bezhumanov, writing in the Garage, "it wouldn’t be wrong to see A Summer Dress as a movie completely centered on eroticism."
Joe Bowman: "Unpredictable and highly erotic, actor Nicolas Giraud's first outing as a director, the 'moyen métrage' Faiblesses (Weaknesses, 2009), meticulously details a strange afternoon in the lives of two people – a slightly awkward, surprisingly gallant young woman (Faustine Tournan, who could easily pass as the sister of Sylvie Testud) and the vain object of her affection (Giraud)."
And Joe recommends another one, too: "A regular figure in the oeuvre of Claire Denis, actor Grégoire Colin's directorial debut, the twelve-minute short La baie du renard (Fox Bay, 2009), borrows heavily from Denis's more arcane work (L'intrus, Trouble Every Day, Beau travail), crafting a haunting mood piece that shows a good level of promise."
In Delphine Gleize's Medusa, a group of eight adolescents are driving to Paris to see Géricault's Raft of the Medusa in the Louvre. Their car breaks by the sea just as Medusa-like jellyfish are stranded at low tide. More (in French) from Infernalia at Culturopoing.
Update, 5/14: We refer French-speaking viewers to a fine roundup on the retrospective in Culturopoing.
Updates, 5/27: "Those that think Pedro Costa would be better if he had a sense of humor should look no further than Fernando Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe," advises Christopher Jason Bell. Also in the Garage: Bell on Destricted, an effort "to unite art and pornography" from the likes of Matthew Barney, Larry Clark and Gaspar Noé.
Plus, Blue K on a random selection of shorts and Christoffer Boe's 2003 debut, Reconstruction; Alexey Bezhumanov on Duane Hopkins's Better Things; and KJ Farrington on Thierry Jousse's The Invisibles.
Update, 6/5: "Patrik Eklund's aptly titled short film Seeds of the Fall depicts an unlikely moment of renewal in a middle-aged couple's decaying marriage," writes Sarah Latties in the Garage. "Though Seeds of the Fall evokes the sparse and quiet atmosphere usually attributable to Swedish cinema, Eklund has found a warmer brand of minimalism, full of direction and free from bleakness. His film is quickly paced and alarmingly funny, and though his love story takes some subversive turns, it ends in the hopeful reunion of a traditional marriage and sex life."
Also in the Garage: You can now watch dozens of those interviews with directors and actors whose work has screened in Critics' Week over the years.