"As befits a film both set in and titled after a city where five million hopeful pilgrims journey every year, Jessica Hausner's Lourdes revolves around an act that seemingly partakes of the miraculous," begins Andrew Schenker for Artforum. "When Christine (Sylvie Testud) — a young woman with multiple sclerosis whose searching gaze contrasts pointedly with her completely immobilized body — tours the eponymous town as part of a group of pilgrims, the heady atmosphere appears to do its work. Halfway through the film, she arises from her bed, apparently cured. But unlike other contemporary 'miracle films' like Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (2007), the alleged marvel is attended by a certain ambiguity... and by placing it in the middle of the film, Hausner makes it a starting point for inquiry rather than the closed-off, Ordet-derived payoff of the Reygadas."
"One of the pleasures of this intelligent, rigorously thoughtful, somewhat sly film is that it takes place in the space between the inexplicable (no explanation is possible) and the unexplained (enlightenment might be around the corner)." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: "Its director, Jessica Hausner, an Austrian working here in French, wants to explore the mysteries of life, not its certainties. One great mystery, of course, is faith itself, how people come to believe what they do and how those beliefs affect not just their thinking and feelings but also their bodies. For Christine, who speaks most profoundly through the eerie quiet of her nearly inert form — and then later through a possibly miraculous physical transformation — belief is inscribed on the body itself."
For Karina Longworth, writing in the Voice, Lourdes "looks and often feels like the work of a modern-day Alfred Hitchcock. And yet this French film unfolds on a lofty, cerebral plane of mystery that's virtually anti-Hitch: Hausner evades procedural elucidation — the What Happened — for a dryly farcical meditation on the inability to know why anything happens at all."
More from Richard Brody (New Yorker), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Benjamin Mercer (L) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, where Keith Uhlich interviews Hausner). Earlier: Daniel Kasman from Toronto; more reviews from Venice. At Film Forum through March 2.
Also in New York: Documentary Fortnight 2010 opesns tonight and runs through March 3. Nicolas Rapold in the Voice: "MOMA's ninth annual docstravaganza arrives with the wishy-washy-sounding theme of 'community' — for part of its program, the fest has culled selections from community-based film initiatives from around the world, including Williamsburg's own pocket-size dynamo, UnionDocs. But, watching the wide-ranging lineup of under-traveled internationalia — movies that showcase the ties that bind, anywhere and everywhere — the ostensible theme quickly becomes a fascinating question: How are communities invented and reinvented?"
And on Friday, Film Comment Selects opens with Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge (1979); it'll close on March 4 with Paul Greengrass's Green Zone. "The film festival that's not quite a film festival returns with 10 repertory programs and 16 features — the movies that persisted in the memories of bimonthly Film Comment's masthead gang after another year of making the rounds at Cannes, Locarno, Venice, Toronto..." Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. Writing for Artforum, Steve Erickson finds the series "seems conscious of its status as the New York Film Festival's rebellious younger brother."
One highlight will surely be the screening on Sunday, February 28, of Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day (1991). Andrew Schenker at the House Next Door: "With Yi Yi an established masterpiece and Summer Day seemingly poised for similar recognition, the director's place in the canons seems secure. Now it remains only to wonder what pleasures the rest of his filmography, when finally brought to light, may yield up at long last."
Time Out New York blurbs its picks from the series and James van Maanen previews ten selections.
Updates, 2/18: For Reverse Shot's Jeff Reichert, Lourdes "exists in a lineage of films that includes Alain Cavalier's Thérèse, Jacques Rivette's The Nun, Robert Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc, and professed inspiration, Carl Dreyer's Ordet. In each, purity of form (often lazily labeled 'minimalism' or even more erroneously 'transcendentalism') dovetails with the main character or filmmaker's intensity of belief. Aesthetically, Lourdes, with its often unadorned and static compositions, fits in with this group nicely. Yet Hausner, for all the honesty of her investigation, and the asceticism of her visuals, approaches the idea of miracles with a detached, quizzical eye."
"Directing with an icy exactitude that she shares with Austrian countrymen Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, Hausner (Lovely Rita, Hotel) reveals so little of her hand pre-miracle that the film seems unnecessarily vague, even mechanical," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "But that same lack of emphasis pays off in the second half, when Testud's extraordinary change of condition is looked upon with curiosity and skepticism rather than transcendence. Lourdes starts from the unexpected position of believing miracles are possible, but it doesn't paper over the religious and practical problems they raise — for the blessed and bereft alike."
Meantime, in the New York Times, AO Scott offers an overview of Film Comment Selects.
Update, 2/19: Tony Pipolo for Artforum: "A highlight of the year's Film Comment Selects series, Juliette Garcias's first directorial feature, Be Good, is a tense thriller that gradually dispels suspicions of its affinities with the lovesick teenager and demonic baby-sitter genres to reveal its more unsettling subject as a study of the psychological effects of early sexual violation."
Update, 2/20: Justin Stewart in the L Magazine on Soi Cheang's Accident, screening this afternoon as part of Film Comment Selects: "Exiting the film, you'll feel suspicious, fearful, and ill at ease — highly recommended."
Updates, 2/23: "The sure-to-be controversial centerpiece of sorts of this year's Film Comment Selects screenings is a three-film retrospective comprising fiction features by French director Phillipe Grandrieux," suggests Glenn Kenny here in The Notebook.
"Accident is a taut, clever, and engaging film that, like its haunted antihero, finds art in coincidence and intrigue in the mundane," writes Acquarello. Also: "Structured as a tale within a tale, Raoul Ruiz's fractured, defiantly illogical Nucingen House returns to the territory of On Top of the Whale and its otherworldly, tongue in cheek sense of foreboding in its hermetic construction of polyglot characters, suspended time, and inescapable limbo."
Updates, 2/25: "Composed as parallel narratives on the status of women in the capitalist-fueled, rapidly expanding economy of contemporary China... Emily Tang's A Perfect Life follows in the vein of Wang Bing and Jia Zhangke in presenting a cultural portrait of the 'other' China," writes Acquarello.
More from Aaron Cutler... And more from Film Comment Selects at the House Next Door: Nick Schager on Hong Sang-soo's Like You Know It All, Hirokazu Kore-eda's Air Doll, Aleksei Balabanov's Morphia and the Romanian omnibus film Tales from the Golden Age, Andrew Schenker on Patrice Chéreau's Persecution, Matthew Connolly on Martin Zandvliet's Applause (more from Acquarello), Garcias's Be Good and Ruiz's Nucingen House, Fernando F Croce on George Romero's Survival of the Dead and Aaron Cutler on Kaplan's Over the Edge and Godard Rarities.
Updates, 2/28: "The secret passion of the cinephile is to find a hidden treasure," writes Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door. "It's often a film that wasn't well-received in its day; its makers were beleaguered; and it is definitely, certainly not on DVD. Check all three for The Victors, a 1963 World War II movie in which a battle emerges between a bulging international cast. The movie's director, Carl Foreman, was one of the blacklisted screenwriters that made up the Hollywood Ten, and The Victors was his only director's credit."
"Persecution is unhurried and episodic, but there are three or four too many episodes," finds the L's Mark Asch.
Update, 3/1: Aaron Cutler at the House Next Door on Luc Moullet's Land of Madness: "Like Orson Welles, Moullet has starred in a number of his movies, whether fiction or documentary. The way he uses his own presence here calls Welles's F for Fake to mind. In Welles's documentary about art forgery, we learn belatedly that Welles has made up many of the events he depicts; in Moullet's movie about madness, we learn that the narrator/writer may be mad himself."
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