Bonjour tout le monde, Andrew, who organised this with me, Kevin, Edwin, Nitesh and Alexis, as well as readers of the Notebook. Thank you for accepting the invitation and welcome to our first yearly trans-continental round table. Even if we might be late to the year-end commentary when everyone else has moved on to the Awards season, we may now offer an unrushed perspective with a certain distance.
Let's open this conversation with our favourite discoveries from 2008. We'll give a particular attention to the underexposed films with little or no distribution on our respective local markets.
Some long anticipated films with a late distribution in France :
I could see Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth (2006) in 2007 thanks to a Cahiers special screening, but its public release was postponed several times because of legal issues and conflict with its prior TV broadcast. This wonderful vignette portrait of an adoptive family of a Portuguese slum received its due critical acclaim worldwide, but not enough people saw it, maybe because of its dry experimental narration.
Hong sang-soo's Woman on the Beach (2006), my second favourite of his after Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000), had problems with distribution negotiations, leading to the unusual situation of a simultaneous release with his 2008 film, Night and Day (which happens to be a commission by the Orsay museum in Paris). The privileged relation French distributors enjoyed, always allowing a fast release, degraded when the price for Woman on the Beach raised dramatically, resulting in the absence of Hong's films on our screens since 2005.
Raya Martin's poetical forgery of silent found footage in A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2006) reconstitute a visual archive of Philippines history with a surprising credibility and a sumptuous black & white photography. Cahiers screened it in 2007, but it was distributed only in summer 2008. He is very productive but this is the only film visible in France to date. The wonderful Now Showing (2008) I saw at a festival screening, on my Top 10 this year too, has no release date yet.
Béla Tarr's The Man From London (2007), a French-Hungarian co-production based on a French novel, premièred at Cannes 2007, and still took 1 year and a half to open here, not to mention its difficult production spaced out over 5 years.
What I'm getting at is that the films are ready for distribution, often have a subtitled print from a festival, and an international press coverage following its première, yet they sit on the shelf of the producers or even of the local distributor for unclear reasons. I know the market is saturated, but why should the best films end up on a waiting list before getting a chance to meet the public outside of the festival circuit?
Unfortunately, I saw all my favourite films with a 2008 première, at a festival screening and not in a public theatre. So they will probably sit on the undistributed list for the next couple of years.
Shirin (2008/Kiarostami) is a touching meta-film for cinephiles, expanded from his short segment in the Cannes 2007 omnibus Chacun son cinéma. It shows the emotional faces of an audience of women watching a classic Iranian tale, only heard offscreen. All famous Iranian actresses, plus Juliette Binoche. The spectator is already a voyeur, and we are contemplating the effects of this spectacle on their facial expressions, observing the observer.
I could also cite Milky Way (2008/Fliegauf Benedek/Hungary), Liverpool (2008/Lisandro Alonso/Argentina), Mukhsin (2006/Yasmin Ahmad/Malaysia), Los Bastardos (2008/Amat Escalante/Mexico) all great stories made by young auteurs with a very personal narrative approach. Escalante's film will be released at the end of January.
Let's see what 2008 brought to the USA, The Philippines, India and the UK... we'll compare the difficulties met by artfilms in other corners of the world.