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Midnight Eye, Cineaste, Olmi

A mid-August Wednesday sees fresh rounds of reviews in Midnight Eye and Cineaste and a screening of Ermanno Olmi's Palme d'or-winning The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) in New York.

"I shall nail my colours to the mast and state straight away that no release in recent years has got me quite so fired up as the new Eureka Blu-ray edition of Profound Desires of the Gods, Shohei Imamura's 1968 epic inquiry into the fundamentals of 'Japaneseness,'" declares Jasper Sharp. "If I have to come out and say it, Imamura is the Japanese director I admire the most" and this work "might be considered something of the Holy Grail within Imamura's filmography.... How to describe this film then? Picture, perhaps, an Okinawan-set The Wicker Man as re-imagined by Herzog and Jodorowsky, portraying the superstitious denizens of a remote island and their reactions to the 'civilising' mission of capitalist interests from the mainland." See, too, Glenn Kenny's rave here in The Daily Notebook.

Also new at Midnight Eye: "The films of Takashi Ito straddle the genres of animation and experimental film," writes Catherine Munroe Hotes. "Most of Ito's films are animation in its fundamental sense of creating the illusion of movement through the rapid display of a sequence of images. Ito's best works strip cinema down to its bare bones of being a series of photographs projected on a screen in rapid succession. His most lauded film, Spacy (1980), was made by filming and re-filming a sequence of 700 photographs with mathematical planning and precision. Image Forum's exciting new release of Takashi Ito's Film Works (Takashi Ito Eiga Sakuhin-shu) marks the first time this visionary artist's work has been available on DVD."

"There are several reasons that justify consideration of Seijun Suzuki as a great filmmaker," argues Joan-Pol Argenter. "One of these is his ability to turn to his own advantage the narrative guidelines of a producer-dictated generic framework, such that his creative needs prevail. This is something for which many great masters of celluloid have been praised: Budd Boetticher achieved this very goal within the patterns of western, and Jacques Tourneur within those of horror and film-noir. Like Suzuki, these men were directors who mainly worked on B-series productions and preferred it that way in order to keep wider room for experimentation. Just like them, Suzuki was sly enough to convey his intellectual proposals by means of the genre dictated to him." Fighting Delinquents (1960), Suzuki's first film in color is "one of his more modest but no less interesting films."

"Based on the autobiographical novel by Japanese comedian Hiroshi Tamura, [Tomoyuki Furumaya's] The Homeless Student [2008] paints an overall serious but occasionally comical cinematic portrait of the trials and tribulations that accompany being homeless," writes Miguel Douglas, adding, "more importantly, that of experiencing it through the eyes of a teenager."

Jasper Sharp reviews Daisuke Miyao's "revelatory" Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, noting that "at the height of his fame during the latter part of the 1910s he was considered one of the world's most popular screen actors, particularly among women, with an image that 'seemed to combine masculinity and femininity,' until he was eclipsed by the comparably exotic though rather more Caucasian figure of Rudolph Valentino."

On to Cineaste's new "Webtakes," beginning with Robert Cashill: "Splice is an apt title for a movie that hybridizes horror, sci-fi, social commentary, ethical dilemmas, and family psychodrama. Genre movies are recombinant organisms these days, built from what's out there, and the chromosomes of this one include the Universal Frankensteins (hip geneticists named 'Clive' and 'Elsa,' for openers), the films of David Cronenberg (skin-crawling subject matter plus wintry, anonymous, filmed-in-Canada locations), and 1995's Species, where alien and human DNA are combined and form a runway-ready monster that's on the make for the perfect mate. But Splice is more than the sum of its spare parts."

"As an antidote to historical amnesia, Connie Field's Have You Heard From Johannesburg, an epic documentary on the struggles, and ultimate success, of the antiapartheid movement from the 40s until the 90s, is both valuable and necessary," argues Richard Porton. "Field is well known for Freedom on My Mind, her moving documentary on the battle to register African-American voters in Mississippi during the 60s, and, in many respects, Johannesburg invites comparisons between the American Civil Rights movement and the decades-long resistance to apartheid. Indeed, historian George Fredrickson's 1982 White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History, which considers similarities and disparities in the two nations' segregation policies, as well as the shifting views of violence vs. nonviolence in both liberation movements, overlaps with the aspirations of both Freedom and Johannesburg."

"Ajami commands attention for its codirection (and writing and editing) by Scandar Copti, a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state (as he describes himself), and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew — a rare, if not unique, cinematic collaboration that seems to have generated an equally unusual mode of production." Robert Skar: "Death frames and dominates the work."

Reverse Shot and Edible Manhattan are presenting The Tree of Wooden Clogs this evening at 92Y Tribeca in New York as part of the Eat This Film! series. Nicolas Rapold for Artforum: "Olmi took a year to edit the film, which he shot, to quote Kent Jones, 'with the care that a Quattrocento master would have lavished on an episode in the life of Christ.' Not everyone has been as admiring: Dave Kehr sees Marxist sentimentalism in what's 'less an advance over the standard film festival peasant epic than an unusually accomplished rendition of it.' But Olmi, who most recently made a documentary about the slow-food movement, doesn't omit ruptures from the canvas: A newlywed couple, journeying to Milan, is almost run down by cavalry charges in the streets. And the convent orphan whom they adopt is pronounced, unequivocally, 'a peasant's son' now, not a gentleman's — which at least is one way of encapsulating Bernardo Bertolucci's rich-man-poor-man capital-e Epic 1900 from two years before."

Film Comment Summer Meltdown, a series at New York's Walter Reade Theater, begins its week-long run today and tonight features a screening of Gaspar Noé's director's cut of Enter the Void. Watch the trailer in all its strobing HD glory at Apple's place.

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