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DVDs. Assayas, Sjöström, More

Criterion releases Carlos (2010) and The Phantom Carriage (1926). Plus: The Old West and Robert Altman.

"A specter is haunting Carlos (both the film and its title character)," writes Budd Wilkins in Slant, "the specter of Che Guevara gazing down from his iconic poster like a pop-cultural patron saint, an image glimpsed often in early scenes, most notably on the wall of the Rue Toullier apartment where, in part one's most stunning set piece, Carlos (Édgar Ramírez) guns down three French Secret Service agents and the man who betrayed him. Comparisons between the two men, and consequently the films that tell their stories, are therefore inevitable. Whereas Steven Soderbergh's two-part Che tarted up its revolutionary philosophy in formalist finery, losing the resonance of personal passions and leeching away any sense of urgency or momentum in the name of rigor, Olivier Assayas's bigger and bolder three-part saga infuses the geopolitical thriller with both dynamism and detail, an always precarious yet thrillingly executed tightrope act of balance."

Carlos is out on DVD and Blu-ray today from Criterion and we've rounded up quite a bit of what's been said about it since its premiere in Cannes in 2010 and its subsequent screenings at the New York Film Festival later that same year. What's more, Glenn Kenny interviewed Assayas in October. Criterion's posted the two essays from the accompanying booklet, one by Greil Marcus, who addresses the film's "improvisational spirit," which makes for "a lot of the reason the viewer is caught up, suspended in the action, in the historical moment it defines, with past and future sucked into the immediacy of what's-happening-now." For Colin MacCabe, it's "no surprise that it comes out of Canal Plus, the media company that has thought most seriously about how to combine cinema and television. And there is no doubt that Carlos is cinema of the highest order, from its CinemaScope frame to its extraordinarily fluid camera work to its astonishing performances." More from Michael Nordine (Hammer to Nail), Bill Ryan and Gary W Tooze.

"The Phantom Carriage [1921], written and directed by, as well as starring, Victor Sjöström, is a ghost story, of sorts, about basic human awfulness. Sjöström plays David Holm, a man who we learn, as the film bounces backwards through time, and across the border of life and death, is a cruel, violent drunk who has destroyed his own life and the life of those who love him," begins Bill Ryan. "Based on a novel by Nobel laureate Selma Langerlöf, the premise of The Phantom Carriage is that whoever is the last to die on New Year's Eve is cursed to take on the role of Grim Reaper, and harvest souls for the next year."

"For all the film's petty social optimism toward persistent acts of kindness," writes Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant, "it remains an accurate portrait of addiction, and the festering microcosms that its adherents assemble around themselves. The story and mise-en-scène ultimately inhabit Holm's experience so precisely that they even repeat his mistakes, particularly in the marginalization of his young and generically affected children. Just as the drunk exists alone with his elixir and his stupor, Holm is often photographed in hauntingly innocuous isolation, a continuum of slurred, unhindered id-exuberance. And by ignoring Holm's filial obligations almost entirely, Sjöström harrowingly (and perhaps inadvertently) renders the most intimidating aspect of being reared by an alcoholic guardian; with enough exposure, the progeny are shudderingly able to see the drunk the way that he sees himself."

Gary W Tooze "whole-heartedly" recommends this Criterion release.


"It's always an event when the National Film Preservation Foundation issues a new anthology," blogs Dave Kehr, "but the fifth volume in their series of DVD box sets, Treasures 5: The West, 1989-1938, is perhaps the richest and most revelatory of their collections yet." And here's his review in the New York Times.

3 Women (1977) "is so psychologically dense and freewheeling that its continuously unnerving effect almost classifies it as horror," finds Michael Nordine at Hammer to Nail. "Altman has aptly described 3 Women as being akin to a watercolor, a metaphor that goes a surprisingly long way toward understanding it — or, failing that, accepting that certain of its elements defy explanation regardless."

DVD roundups. Ambrose Heron, Mark Kermode (Observer) and Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel.

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