How would you program this year's newest, most interesting films into double features with movies of the past you saw in 2018?
Looking back over each year at what films moved and impressed us, it is clear that watching old films is a crucial part of making new films meaningful. Thus, the annual tradition, now in its 11th edition, of our end of year poll, which calls upon our writers to pick both a new and an old film: they were challenged to choose a new film they saw in 2018—in cinemas or at a festival—and creatively pair it with an old film they also saw in 2018 to create a unique double feature. Together, the two films form a snapshot of the year's viewings—not limited just to the latest releases—that were important to them.
All the contributors were given the option to write some text explaining their 2018 fantasy double feature. What's more, each writer was given the option to list more pairings, with or without explanation, as further imaginative film programming we'd be lucky to catch in that perfect world we know doesn't exist but can keep dreaming of every time we go to the movies.
NEW: Down Claiborne (Moira Tierney, USA)
OLD: Secrets from the street: No disclosure (Martha Rosler, 1980)
In an interview conducted a decade after Scenes from the street was made, Martha outlined aspects of documentary filmmaking as a mode of social intervention that interested her, to crystallize a few of the points that become apparent: 1) A trust in the revelatory potential of documentary in the postmodern epoch. 2) An embedding of social context in the work. 3) A reflexive mode of engagement with the ‘other' while being conscious of the totalizing power of gaze without throwing in the towel. All these points resonate strongly while watching Down Claiborne. The particular choice of the Rosler work is inspired by a certain deal of thematic overlap; mutating urban landscape, resistance to gentrification, the street and its murals as a melting pot of variegated history and the ingrained class conflict within the appropriation of the term “culture.”
NEW: Anteu (João Vladimiro, Portugal)
OLD: Trás-os-Montes (António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, 1976)
If you had to define the Portuguese year in film, the word to use would be “telluric,” which means “of or relating to the earth.” The adjective came up sporadically in news articles about earthquakes, but often in reviews, articles, and blurbs relating to recent Portuguese films. Over the course of six months, I saw a “wintry telluric animation,” a “make love not war telluric statement,” and a couple of “deeply telluric works,” but the best of the telluric class of 2018 has to be Anteu by João Vladimiro. It tells the tale of a deserted land and the last man who walks it with the weight of death on his shoulders: Who’s going to bury him? This film of the earth has its roots in the work of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, as do many films by active Portuguese filmmakers like João Pedro Rodrigues, Leonor Teles or Marta Mateus. If you search on YouTube, you can find VHS copies of Trás-os-Montes (1976), but that’s a poor approximation of the duo’s work. This past November, Porto/Post/Doc put together a retrospective of Reis and Cordeiro and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. In a crowded theatre I watched for the first time a restored print of the film, an experience that led me by the hand to the corner piece of the telluric puzzle that is modern Portuguese cinema.
NEW: Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina)
OLD: A Ilha Dos Amores (Paulo Rocha, 1982)
These two films, apart from having communicating channels with each other, besides of their fully exemplifying the concept of mise en scène and of managing to convert sensation in form and vice versa, they also molecularly alter the cells of the organism and expand the perception while watching them. Perfect examples of Nathaniel Dorsky's metabolic post-film experience.
Intergalactic characters in search and in battles for gems that can alter reality. Fantastic narratives, non-naturalistic performances and, in some way, anarchic and abstract explorations of color, light and movement. Supposedly, George Méliès used to said that "the cheapest tricks have the greatest impact." I don’t have much more to say.
Airplanes, landscapes, King Crimson or Pink Floyd. Symbolic and phenomenological approaches to Mexican identity and society.
This is not a desirable fantasy double feature if not a confrontational one.If we work on an historical analysis, that would have the intention of search for the understanding of a progressive ideological, formal or structural advance in Mexican cinema, with the dates of the aforementioned films, it would cause just a shocking incomprehension consequent of looking for progress where there’s not.
NEW: Unsane (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
OLD: Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977)
Two tales of imperiled womanhood, both unmistakably colored by their respective time periods. Looking for Mr. Goodbar traffics uneasily in the apparent risks exposed by women's sexual liberation, while Unsane features a potent one-two punch of toxic masculinity and the current horrors of the American healthcare system. Each film is unsettling—Unsane for its claustrophobia (enhanced by Soderbergh's use of an iPhone camera) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar for its streak of simultaneous cruelty and moralism, which hasn't aged very well. Both are defined by dynamic lead performances, which form a kind of ying-yang. Claire Foy has a steely resolve and makes out far better than poor awkward, promiscuous Diane Keaton—we've made some progress, perhaps, but not nearly enough.
A Simple Favor came intoxicatingly close to being an erotic thriller but alas, it didn't quite hit the mark. The film flitted frustratingly between tones, and started running out of steam as twists upon twists piled up. The Last Seduction, on the other hand is definitely an erotic thriller (shoutout to the sexual politics of the mid-90s!) and one gets the sense that Blake Lively wishes she could've been Linda Fiorentino. Both of these dames are duplicitous and impeccably dressed... if they teamed up, they could pull off the scam to end all scams. We need more films in which women wear tailored suits. On that front A Simple Favor certainly delivered, and brought to mind Fiorentino's alluringly sharp monochrome wardrobe. Too bad it didn't fully commit to the genre.
Who can deny the cozy, aspirational pleasures of the Wine Mom Film, especially in such a hellish year? Certainly not me!
NEW: If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, USA)
OLD: Something Good – Negro Kiss (Selig Polyscope Company, 1898)
“It's astounding the first time you realize that a stranger has a body - the realization that he has a body makes him a stranger. It means that you have a body, too. You will live with this forever, and it will spell out the language of your life.”
NEW: The Chambermaid (Lila Avilés, Mexico)
OLD: Vive l'amour (Tsai Ming-liang, 1994)
The world we inhabit continues to starve us of human connection.
NEW: The House That Jack Built (Lars Von Trier, Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden)
OLD: The Goalie’s Anxiety At the Penalty Kick (Wim Wenders, 1972)
Come for the enticing promise of cinematic murder. Stay for the brilliantly bleak and comic investigations into malaise and sociopathy. Von Trier and Wenders’ protagonists/antagonists flaunt their crimes in all our faces, with little regard of fear of capture. From the bloody tracks trailing behind Jack leading anyone who should care to follow directly to his abattoir, to Josef’s refusal to do even as much as grow a beard to alter his appearance (locals at one point talk to Josef, showing him a spitting image of himself in a police composite sketch, while informing him that there is no way the killer would still look like that—he would have altered his appearance), these films question not only our interest in violence, but also our ability to be blind towards it.
Two artistically brilliant and criminally underrated films dealing in race and class consciousness, while not sacrificing one iota of art or entertainment. In addition, Blindspotting features one of the best buddy relationships in quite a long time while Uptight as a funhouse mirror sequence that is required viewing.
First see through the eyes of the colonists, and then witness the “Free” country they left in their stead, full of corporate greed and bribery. A beautiful visual representation of cultural clashes, both in story as well as style. Martel’s film is nearly all close-up. Martel’s focus on the individual places Zama in the foundations of European cinema. In Xala, Sembène attempts to foster and grow an African cinema, focusing on the community, in wide shots that linger and let the action play out.
NEW: The Florida Project (Sean Baker, USA)
OLD: Seeking Asylum (Marco Ferreri, 1979)
Two great films against the infamy of adulthood. Defoe today and Benigni yesterday as the great maternal protagonists of our devastated and vile times. Two films to hold on to what's left of (our) humanity and hope (not) for a second infancy of history.
NEW: Ray + Liz (Richard Billingham, UK)
OLD: No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, 2015)
Don’t ask me why, but movies that deal with the “home” have a special appeal on me. Maybe there is something working there, something rooted in my childhood—not that I didn’t have a house, on the contrary. But watching film at my place, alone, knowing that my parents were somewhere else—near or far—must have had an impact on the things I saw. Anyway, my double bill for 2018 gravitates around the concept of the home. Ray & Liz and No Home Movie are both films that plunge themselves into the past and find in the house the “madeleine” to make it comes alive. If Akerman had no other choice than filming the real house of her mother and show the resilience of a place to time, Richard Billingham’s meticulous research on details creates the framework that makes his film something in between fiction and documentary. This dynamic work with the reality, that doesn’t want to transcend it but offers another angle to deal with memory, is the mirror or rather the diaphragm existing in between the two films. It is important to remind that both films are conceived as a tribute to filmmakers’ parents. Both films are cruel and tender. Despite the differences, one is tragic the other is often comic, both directors describe the house as if it were the last thing on earth. When everything seems to collapse, which is the feeling I often have these months, home is the last rampart. A place where one can be safe. And at same time a soft prison.
OLD: The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974)
As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky suggested on Notebook earlier this year, Luca Guadagnino must have screened a lot of Nicolas Roeg (R.I.P.) as he was crafting his aesthetic 180-degree-turn on Suspiria. But the first and second time I saw this remake, all I could think about was 1974's The Night Porter. Liliana Cavani's film has been as critically polarizing as Suspiria, but a lot more publicly controversial.I'm convinced that my double feature, as disturbing as it may be, could help viewers understand the ambivalence that Guadagnino projects in his film. Some thought it was confused: is this a coven of good feminists or very bad Nazis? This Suspiria wants us to think the protagonists are both. It imagines that their ritual is something like a necessary expiation from the past and an unconscionable repetition of it. Markos angrily tells Blanc, “This is not art!” to indicate as much (and to vindicate the many critics that hated the film). If you're watching 2018 Suspiria in the context of American media's obsession with feminist witchcraft, let me recommend pairing it with a film that's actually about the worst guys possible.
The Night Porter is structured around a ritual of reconciliation that the characters furtively whisper about behind closed doors. It tangles this atrocious historical memory with an erotic imagery attached to a “little girl” that one member thinks is the vehicle of his salvation. But he's simply reliving the sadomasochistic dream. Cavani tries, in her own way, to replicate this fever dream. She throws recognizable aesthetic experiences at us—The Blue Angel, The Magic Flute—and shows us black-coated war criminals lurking in the background. The metatextual parallels between Suspiria and The Night Porter are worth picking apart, but the most notable trait that they share is this sensual, sort of superficial foreground placed against their historical, conceptual background. The way that Swinton's Madam Blanc speaks—gently, her words forming a ring of light around her students—reminds me of the quiet veneer drawn over most of Cavani's film. Why is the movie about the worst crimes so clearly invested in the pleasures of its rituals, so confused about who deserves what? And each film is the least explicable when it is at its most violent.
What gets Suspiria and The Night Porter going are private attempts at exculpating oneself from what is essentially a larger political reality. And there's an argument that they end up stuck in the same loop, too attached to their sensations, too distracted by the idea of history and not the actual stuff of it. But Guadagnino's attempt at historical memory is worth consideration as an object of 2018, a year in which, to paraphrase Susie Bannion, we have reason to believe that the worst is not yet over.
NEW: Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
OLD: Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)
The walking dead. Culturally anemic wastelands sheltered by artificial walls. Two intensely political zombie movies that depict a society drained of its lifeblood. Directors articulating their worldview with allegorical gestures of genre. American funerals.
NEW: The Mule (Clint Eastwood, USA) + OLD: Thunderbolt & Lightfoot (Michael Cimino, 1974) + A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood, 1993)
Highways of false freedom, open roads now closed.
NEW: Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 2018)
OLD: Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940)
When NYFF director Kent Jones introduced Fred Wiseman’s latest at the festival this past October, he said “One thing’s for sure, you won’t be wanting to move to Monrovia, Indiana any time soon.” When Manhattan assistant D.A. Fred MacMurray offers to drive bailed-out shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck to their shared home state of Indiana for Christmas in Mitchell Leisen’s Remember the Night, she has much the same reaction, and when you see the emotionally frigid Heltonville home she grew up in you understand why. Wiseman is famously even-handed (he immediately countered Kent’s assessment by saying that he was in fact moving there) but under his gaze Monrovia is a notably sad and depleted place, with empty supermarkets and bored congregations. By contrast Leisen’s Indiana (or at least MacMurray’s home town “just outside of Wabash”) is portrayed as the warm heart of America: a cocoon of generosity, humanity and Christmas spirit that the soon-to-be-lovers reach after a long, dark drive west.
OLD: Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
“Six acts and an epilogue set in divided Berlin,” according to the Lars von Trier-like title card that opens Guadagnino’s remake (and mash-up) of Argentio’s “Suspiria” relocating the action from the sleepy town of Freiburg to the brutal metropolis of the German capital. The relocation is one of not just time and space, but also if idea/idealogy from the proto-fascist architecture of Germanic pomp and circumstance, to the brutalist proto-communist architecture of Berlin’s famous Volksbuhne. By displacing Suspiria into the époque of the violences of the RAF, this (clever) switch in tradition, has for effect to place the film in a period where the nation is beginning to be forced to face the sins of its past (the anti-Semitism of the RAF notwithstanding).
Where Argento’s film is enthused with the pomp and grandeur of “Germanity” that foreshadows the Nazi horrors, and the evil that lurks within the ancient edifice of a macabre dance company/witches’ coven, Guadagnino’s brings to the surface what Argento’s film hides—putting as the “witness of History” a certain Doctor Klemperer, obvious reference to doctor Victor Klemperer, the conscience of a nation that barely had one. The aesthetics of Argento’s B-grade trashy glory being irreproducible, this second Suspiria is sleeker, cleverer, more refined, without every reaching the punk-rock rawness of the original, and without the clarity of its propos.
In Argento’s original, the victory is clear—that of an individual revolt over the coven’s evil hierarchy, but in the Guadagnino mutation? Is it the Communist committee that must be revolted against? Is it a preference for the violence of the true revolutionaries like the RAF, over that of the centralized group power? When Klemperer naked, and blood-sodden is required to witness Tilda Swinton’s revolt against the corpulent Markos in the witches’ coven, is it to expunge the suffering Klemperer from his remaining guilt, or to accentuate his role as silent collaborator? In the extraordinary and inventive visuals of Guadagnino’s witches’ Sabbath, some clear line of meaning gets lost in the bloodbath.
NEW: Polly One (Kevin Jerome Everson, USA)
OLD: Arnulf Rainer (Peter Kubelka, 1960)
Light is such a fragile thing; it’s there and then it’s not.
These six minute shorts alternate between presence and absence; one an elegy the other a minimalist symphony, and both burnt their ways into my retinas.
NEW: Unrest (Philippe Grandrieux, France)
OLD: Dance of the Hands (Norman Bel Geddes, 1930)
Philippe Grandrieux’s Unrest—the third film and centerpiece of his so-called ‘anxiety’ trio—is a co-production between himself and the Institut Choréographique International in Montepellier. As such, it features performances by two dancers, Lilas Nagoya and Nathalie Remadi, whose backgrounds and own works in interpretive dance greatly inform Grandrieux’s film. The conclusion of Unrest follows Nagoya through a darkened space, where she slowly and methodically moves her hands, covering her face and forehead. Nagoya’s previous filmed works address the tactile experience of the hands: one where she suspends herself from the branch of a tree, another where the back of her palms slam against a camera lens. Such a work is not unlike Norman Bel Geddes’ Dance of the Hands, which features the Austrian dancer and choreographer Tilly Losch of the Vienna Opera in a performance where she methodically moves her hands about her face and neck. Geddes was an industrialist by trade and would only occasionally indulge in filmmaking, and limited his ‘directing’ of the film to simply documenting Losch’s hands in closeup and medium shots (the film’s proper title is “Tilly Losch in Her Dance of the Hands”). Both films portray a figure performing very different interpretive ‘dances’ set against a field of total darkness. The environments they create have stripped away any recognizable ‘setting,’ and thus the hands—being the body’s first means of tactile experience, of ‘touching’ the world—are removed from their function, with Losch’s hands becoming an agent of reaching out into the void, and Nagoya’s an agent of shielding herself from it.
Isao Yukisada’s River Edge and Kevin Phillips’s Super Dark Times are nearly interchangeable. They are both set in the mid 1990s and feature shy, angry teenagers in shapeless clothes getting themselves into trouble with sex and murder, brought about largely by their own sociopathies (narratively, both films are indebted to Tim Hunter’s 1986 classic River’s Edge). One might call the two, reductively, works of ‘nostalgia’—Yukisada’s takes place in 1994, Phillips’s in a kind of atemporal world that combines 1995 and 1996—yet neither operate in the way that so many films and television shows from the last ten years that seek to recreate a precious time (mostly the 1980s) do. Both seem to understand that one’s memory of "the past" is not a landscape of vintage iconography filled references to pop culture—in other words they do not constantly draw your attention to the fact that they’re set in the 1990s. I was a teenager throughout that decade and therefore would be about the same age as these characters. What is most striking about the two films is how they capture the relative insularity of the human experience twenty years ago, particularly if you were young. This is most noticeable in how nobody has a computer or a cel phone, and in how the internet (practically) doesn’t exist. Because of this, the paranoia and guilt a person might feel due to what happens in both films is much greater than what one might feel in a post-internet world. If we define ‘nostalgia’ as a bittersweet reminisce of one’s own past, it appears that films deliberately set in the 1990s (the ones that have been made so far at least) seem more concerned with the bitter than with the sweet.
NEW: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, USA)
OLD: Pickup (Hugo Haas, 1951)
Hugo Haas was my auteurist discovery of the year and Orson Welles’s unfinished work has been an obsession of mine for quite some time: in each case, we see an older man near the end of a once-vaunted career working outside of the system with extreme low budgets in order to bring to life an eccentric vision. In Welles’s case, it was high-modernist hyperbolic montage. In Haas’s case, it was the folk sentimentality of the late silent period mixed with the romanticized poverty of postwar realism. Each man in his own way seemed adrift in these years, making his haggard body the physical sign of his social dislocation, which was itself a byproduct of his aesthetic idiosyncrasy. Each man revels in his failure, in his pathetic sense of himself, which adds an emotional depth to his unconventional formal decisions. It’s a vision of the decay of masculinity, which for these two, is intimately bound up with the decay of auteurism itself.
NEW: Touch Me Not (Adina Pintilie, Romania)
OLD: Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (Kazuo Hara, Hachiko Kobayashi, 1974)
Extreme Private Eros and Touch Me Not are films quite unlike any others I’ve seen on the topic of intimacy. Both are quite distinctively products of their respective times and places, still managing to completely scandalize many—Hara’s documentary is shot during the peak of the sexual revolution, while Pintilie’s hybrid film comes at a moment when non-normative sexualities, bodies, and identities are being openly discussed at a scale that is larger than ever. Yet, both are films which propose a radically subversive attitude towards closely-held beliefs in regards to intimacy, sexuality and, ultimately, the relationship to the Other.
Hara’s process is one of a grieving lover using the camera as his last hook to grasp onto Miyuki, his ex-wife, as she is increasingly exploring her individuality and sexuality in ways which are radically liberating, eschewing monogamy, heterosexuality and traditional gender roles. Pintilie’s process, however, is to unlearn, in a film that is anything but individualistic—the key lies in the unscripted interactions between the myriad protagonists onscreen, a mix of professional actors and of day-to-day people brought together by a slight fictional superstructure and their desire to work towards accepting their own bodies and sexual drives, or helping others to do so.
Beyond sharing very similar topics and ambitions in regard to sexual representation, both films are also highly auto-referential and self-reflexive pieces of cinema. More than simply signaling the presence of their creators, both films are part of an intensely personal, intimate process for their respective filmmakers, whose involvement becomes even more crucial and significant (in both senses).
NEW: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan)
OLD: Venus (Takashi Ito, 1990)
A family traced not by faces but by scars.
NEW: Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)
OLD: The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
Atrocious academics—or atrocity academia—in two distinct studies; one putrid, the other crystalline. Suspiria's doctrine spreads through empty verse, reverberating down the Markos Dance Academy with necrotic shuffles and jabbering homilies. An institutional decay, rot within its walls. The Addiction lithely grips relativism with images like hallucinations on the interior of a body bag—light reflecting on black plastic, casting even darker shadows. A fever running cold.
The Glory of Filmmaking... and all its bother—from broken mics, to broken aspirations. The fact is: you can't make this up.
Reassembled romances of times past (whether the 1590's or 1983); action elegies tempered by formal bravado. Star-crossed and starless, lovers fueled by death drives propel these genre extravaganzas with their bliss, their torment—"the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love" signaled and mourned from their opening frames.
“Goodbye Horses, I’m flying over you.”
—Q Lazzarus, 1988
NEW: Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh, USA) (Screened on DCP at Roxy Cinema Tribeca.)
OLD: The Electric Horseman (Sydney Pollack, 1979) (Screened on 35mm at Metrograph.)
As much as 2018 marked a worldwide decline of human value it likewise marked the year of the horse. Equestrian-centric cinema ranged from the capitalist /cultural satire of Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, the sleek upper crust brutality of Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds, the plaintive sincerity of Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, to my favorite, the emotional risk taker, Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete. Haigh’s film avoids the stamp of a specific year or mention of politics. Still, I could not help but feel it indicating a worldwide suicidal ideation; a loss of meaning and a dire search for the safety and direction which financial security and familial love provide. Lean On Pete tracks a geographical and emotional odyssey at once layered, brutal and touching. Charley steals “Lean on Pete” to save him from imminent slaughter, as well as the lesser violence of the drugging and racing world he slaves in. The relationship Charley forges with his stolen horse “Lean on Pete” is desperate and cathartic. Charley nearly starves to death and Pete is in constant threat from the world of man. If the character of the horse is somewhere in between unknowable cipher and lost soul needing love, the parallel character of Charley is constantly shifting from total obliteration to becoming something more.
In Pollack’s The Electric Horseman, screening as part of the repertory “Jane in the 70’s” Metrograph series, the societal critique is played for laughs, with a mournful resonance underlining the action. The ugly extremism of capitalism humiliates man (Redford’s problem drinker title character is relegated to flashing lights/sequined Vegas horse shows and tacky commercials) and animal (Redford steals a horse to save him) alike. Starved for meaning and affection, Redford is ultimately joined on his journey by love interest Hallie (Jane Fonda.) Redford’s sad showman stands as a less grave iteration of elegant mess Jackson in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born. Both Charley and Redford’s horseman are filmed reverently in flight; escaping an inhumane world and in need of love and salvation.
NEW: KINORAMA - Cinema Fora de Órbita (Self-Propaganda Mix) [work in progress] (Edgar Pêra, Portugal)
OLD: Thirty Years of Motion Pictures (The March of the Movies) (Terry Ramsaye & Otto Nelson, 1927)
One of the earliest essay endeavoring to summarize cinema (which therefore was about a decade in the making - originally it was supposed to be a mere twenty years…—and might never have been properly finished despite many a screening—in various versions) meets the latest, still unfinished (and proud of it) attempt at predicting the possible futures and shapes of moving image culture.
NEW: The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine) + OLD: 13 dnej ("Process po delu 'Prompartii'") (Jakov Posel’skij, 1931)
NEW: Jan Palach (Robert Sedláček, Czech Republic) + OLD: Čechoslovakija, god ispytanij (Anatolij Kološin, 1969)
NEW: Sobibor (Konstantin Khabensky, Russia) & OLD: Vosstanie v Sobibore (Pavel Kogan & Lily Van Den Bergh, 1989)
The short 20th century in an Eastern nutshell. That a film like Jan Palach doesn’t even make it to the local main movie event (Karlovy Vary) anymore sheds a most unflattering light on the state of festivaldom…
NEW: Thálassa, un autorretrato de Jorge Acha (A Selfportrait By Jorge Acha) (Gustavo Bernstein & Carlos García & Alfredo Slavutzky, Argentina) + OLD: Mburucuyá, cuadros de la naturaleza (Jorge Acha, 1992)
NEW: Laika tilti (Bridges of Time) (Audrius Stonys & Kristīne Briede, Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia) + OLD: Senis ir žemė (Robertas Verba, 1965)
NEW: La Separation des traces (Francis Reusser, Switzerland) & OLD: Quatre d’entre elles (Yves Yersin, Francis Reusser, Claude Champion, Jacques Sandoz, 1970)
Memories of cinemas freer in thought and action… Some consolation might be found in the fact that Reusser is still around to ruminate about the worlds he saw, Stonys proudly continues the tradition he reflects on here, and Acha’s so precious œuvre gets cultivated and celebrated by a band of faithful.
NEW: The 15:17 To Paris (Clint Eastwood, USA) + OLD: Vėliava iš plytų (The Brick Flag) (Saulius Beržinis, 1988)
NEW: Drvo (André Gil Mata, Portugal) + OLD: Zadar nije za dar (Zdravko Mustać & Vlado Zrnić & Vedran Cupić & Duško Brala, 1991)
Oh, yes, it can happen here, and it then might very well look like the “found footage” teen slasher nobody dared to imagine (not that Poppe would know what he did here judging by his works so far—formal subversion isn’t exactly what comes to mind apropos stuff like the 2016 Kongens nei…). The 15:17 To Paris shows soldiers who keep their calm under attack even in civilian cloths, while Vėliava iš plytų documents one soldier’s spiritual crack-up in his barracks. Zadar nije za dar and Drvo, finally, offer a lesson about structuralism and war, montage vs. plan sequence, irony vs. melancholia—which seems to be the way the world went.
NEW: The Last Day of Leonard Cohen in Hydra (Mário Fernandes, Portugal) + OLD: Oeste Perdido (Mário Fernandes, 2010)
NEW: C̄hlād kems̄̒ kong (Nạṭ̄hwutʹhi Phūnphiriya) + OLD: Countdown (Nạṭ̄hwutʹhi Phūnphiriya, 2012)
NEW: Neoi5 si6 fuk6 sau4 (Lei5 Gaa1 Wing4) + OLD: Lou5 lap1 (2015; Lei5 Gaa1 Wing4)
NEW: Lembro mais dos corvos (I Remember The Crows) (Gustavo Vinagre, Portugal) + OLD: Nova Dubai (Gustavo Vinagre, 2014)
Five directors we discovered this year—nothing more and nothing less. Fernandes, Lei5 and Broomer are special among these as we wouldn’t have chanced upon them if it hadn’t been for trusted and reliable friends—so, thank you, Zé Manuel, Stefan and Mika!
NEW: Bruja [in: Visions: An Anthology of Short Films] (Chukwudi Joseph Obasi, 2017) + OLD: Ojuju (Chukwudi Joseph Obasi, 2014)
NEW: Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan? [in: The Field Guide to Evil] (Giánnīs Veslemés) + OLD: Norvīgía (Giánnīs Veslemés, 2014)
NEW: This Way to Egress [in: Nightmare Cinema] (David Slade, USA) + OLD: Hard Candy (David Slade, USA)
More of the same, so to speak, but this time the discoveries came courtesy of similar sources: Horror anthologies. Let’s just mention here that in Visions: An Anthology of Short Films (which is a short, and not a feature-length exercise!) all three of the auteurs involved (cum founders of the Surreal16 collective) are worthy of continued interest, so let’s mention here the names of the two: Abba Makama (who did the off-beat 2016 slacker comedy Green White Green (And All the Beautiful Colours in My Mosaic of Madness)) and Michael Omonua (who so far excelled in shorts, eg. Bleed, 2014). Come to think of it: Could Fiery Obasi be the long-lost soul brother of Fire Lee, as Lei5 Gaa1 Wing4 sports himself these days?!
NEW: The Adventure of Magical Michiko (Yamamoto Jun’ichi, Japan) + OLD: Los porno SinSon (Víctor Maytland, 1992)
NEW: Diamond Dogs (Gavin Lim, Singapore) + OLD: Shokushu Acme 12 (Ishikawa Kin, 2012)
NEW: Aufbruch (Ludwig Wüst, Austria) + OLD: Viola Bailey’s Woodman Casting X.com Budapest (Hungary), March 13. 2014 (Pierre Woodman, 2014)
Porn is sometimes the answer—especially whenever it connects with works more (or less) for general consumption in unexpected fashions—who’d have thought that modern masters like Ludwig Wüst will discuss Pierre Woodman as an important aesthetical example alongside Hercs Franks?
NEW: Dachra (Abdelhamid Bouchnak, Tunisia) + OLD: La notte dei diavoli (The Night of the Devils) (Giorgo Ferroni, 1972)
NEW: Tumbbad (Rahi Anil Barve & Anand Gandhi, India) + OLD: Il fiume del grande caimano (Sergio Martino, 1979)
Whatever surprising and refreshing gets done in suspense cinema shrill and subtle today, one can always find Italian examples from the 70s that might have inspired exactly these works!
NEW: La película infinita (Leandro Listorti, Argentina) + OLD: Blood on Méliès' Moon (La Porta sui Mondi) (Luigi Cozzi, 2016)
And back to film history, with a lovely glimpse into an alternative universe, as well as one cinessayistic reverie of many possible ones to be found in the marvelous mess/mass of films unfinished from one country.
NEW: Thunder Road (Jim Cummings, USA)
OLD: Sherman’s March (Ross McElwee, 1986)
In Thunder Road and Sherman’s March—two episodic comedies of manners, each an exploration of gentility and painful male ego against the landscape of the American heartlands - political context goes largely unmentioned, but reverberates through the films’ depiction of their respective eras. Where McElwee’s documentary ruthlessly self-flagellates through sleight of etiquette, Cummings stomps, shrieks, and strips. An anti-comic, despair-for-laughs creation who refines territory often occupied by the Happy Madison machine. Cummings, who wrote, directed, edited, VFX’d and starred in Thunder Road, trains the camera on himself for a majority of his 90 minutes.
McElwee adds another hour and almost never points the camera in his own direction, preferring to probe those closest to him as means to self-portrait. Sherman’s March is one of the great documentary memoirs of romantic mishap, a Philip Roth (RIP) for the documentary set. In a year when personal video blogging has become even more omnipresent, Thunder Road’s Jim is a gab in search of a Youtube channel, and McElwee becomes an inventor of the vlog form with his raw, home video epic. A pair who test patience and sympathy, but perhaps that’s what makes you want to subscribe.
NEW: Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg, USA) + OLD: Josie & The Pussycats (Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 2001)
NEW: A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper, USA)
OLD: Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945)
Shortly after causing the death of his brother, Ellen (Gene Tierney) opens her mouth in order to call for Richard (Cornel Wilde), her husband. But instead of her voice, we hear the sound of a cornet. The score, and by extension the film itself, expresses her feelings (quite tenderly), but at the same time it takes her voice away from her.
Late at night, in a supermarket parking lot, Ally (Lady Gaga) listens to the traumatic life story of Jackson (Bradley Cooper). When he finishes, we expect her to also talk about her past. But she starts singing instead, transforming his life story into her first megahit. While, at the same time, displacing her experience by way of her own voice.
NEW: La Flor (Mariano Llinás, Argentina)
OLD: La Belle Noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)
Though the films bear little stylistic resemblance, Argentine director Mariano Llinás' decade-long undertaking evinces an intense collaboration (and struggle) between artist and subject, the enduring focus of Jacques Rivette's La belle noiseuse. Starring Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa, Laura Paredes, La Flor has a sense of play not unlike that of Rivette, with a similar approach to acting and identity, for which the actresses' theater troupe Piel de Lava (literally, "Lava Skin") provides a fitting visual metaphor. The eventual shift La Flor takes in the last two of its six parts, following the almost intrusively intimate sequence that ends Part Four, might even make one wonder whether, as in Balzac's story, there is some unknown masterpiece hidden away, of which only Llinás and his actresses are aware.
Like the parlor game that makes an appearance in both films, where an unseen object is passed beneath a table from hand to hand, this pairing moves to woozy currents of sensation and ethereal emotion, with adolescence offering a gradual, dawning awareness of all great, unknown things. In Malmros' film, once one partakes of such knowledge, there's no going back; with an aching sense of loss, Lesage looks at what might be if we could.
NEW: Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, China)
OLD: Long Arm of the Law (Johnny Mak, 1984)
At the intersection of the Hong Kong New Wave and the Heroic Bloodshed cycle came Mak’s tale of a gang of desperate Mainlanders who sneak across the border to rob a jewelry store, only to become ever deeper enmeshed in a labyrinthine world of crime and chaos, culminating in a nightmarish chase through the hellish warren of the Kowloon Walled City. Bi Gan’s dreamy epic looks past the crime films of the 80s to an older, film noir world where a man drifts between past and present tragedies, only to find himself and the people he loves trapped in a purgatorial dream world, albeit one with some slim hope of an exit into a better tomorrow.
NEW: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, USA) + OLD: Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, 1986)
The two most inventive, most alive films I saw in 2018. One was made 40 years ago and is only now seeing the light of day, the other is 30 years old and still languishes in obscurity.
Two romances about video game designers. In Chang’s movie, the designer models his heroine after the girl he’s in love with, only to have it cost him his job when she doesn’t meet the Lara Croftian expectations of his employers. In her protégée Liu’s film, the designer builds his game around the failure of his romantic relationship, the conclusion of both game and film being not the winning of the girl, but reconciliation with the fact that losing in love is not the end of the world. His game is a huge success.
A way to make a living.
Twisting genre to polemical purpose, Harada bends the yakuza film into a roundabout exploration of Japanese racism and power dynamics while Lee’s cop movie, with its brilliant multiple endings, resists any kind of easy conclusions about the conflicts between the police and the people they are ostensibly sworn to protect.
I’m fairly new to the Japanese slice-of-life genre, and these were my two favorites of this year, a minutely-observed anime about two girls in a high school band and a wild, sprawling live-action epic about two best friends trying, and mostly failing, to live out their dreams.
Fruit Chan’s crime drama takes place during the last summer of Hong Kong’s independence, the fallout from his heist gone wrong dissolving all plot expectations and social bonds amidst footage he shot himself of the Handover ceremony and subsequent celebrations. Jia’s picks up where Chan’s left off, mapping the dissolution of a relationship over the course of twenty years. Beginning in the familiar world of the urban crime story and ending in emptiness and isolation, who knows what happens next?
NEW: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland)
OLD: In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
Two frustrated love stories—one crushed under the yoke of geopolitical events, one stalled by rules that forbid any extra marital liaisons, both sublimated into something tragic and ethereal. Of course, Cold War’s Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot do consummate their love to an extent In the Mood For Love’s Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung do not—but the Poles’ pan-European exodus percolates with the same sadness of Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 masterwork, bursting with an ineffable sense of timelessness only the classics exude. Kulig’s Zula and Kot’s Wiktor careen through Cold War Europe like shipwrecks, Pawlikowski’s free-floating camerawork turning her drunken dancing into a routine orphaned by almost inexpressible loneliness and sorrow (one on par with Audrey Horne’s swan dance in Twin Peaks: The Return), the same way Wong Kar-wai’s slow-motions and Shigeru Umebayashi’s strings-heavy score undergird Cheung and Leung’s meanderings with an otherworldly sense of grace and grief. Watching Kulig invite Kot into a derelict church to exchange wedding vows, I was jolted back to In the Mood for Love’s final sequence—Leung walking up to the ancient Angkor Wat temples to whisper a secret (his love for Cheung?) into a wall’s cavity. Two run-down, sacred places chosen as repository for memories of love stories so universal to ultimately transcend their own time and space.
When I turn towards you in bed, I have a feeling of stepping into a church that was burned down long ago and where only the darkness in the eyes of the icons has remained filled with the flames which annihilated them.
—H. Nordbrandt, "Our Love is Like Byzantium"
NEW: Niña Errante (Rubén Mendoza, Colombia) + OLD: Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015) and Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
Marooned between the tenderness of Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister and the sensuality of Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, Rubén Mendoza’s La Niña Errante—one of the last gems to grace the festival circuit, world premiered in Tallinn during the Black Nights Film Festival (POFF) in November this year - is a poignant coming-of-age imbued with moments of sisterly love, a road trip through Colombia that kicks off as a mourning travelogue and eventually merges into a process of self-discovery and sexual awakening.
A tour de force into the sex-, drugs-, and booze-fueled lives of four 16 to 18-year-olds Berlin-stranded girls meets a two guys’ Malickian odyssey in Poland’s rave scene. Two visually stunning features trailing behind youngsters as they aimlessly drift in between parties and unrequited love stories - endearing and entrancing odes to youth that neither glamorize nor patronize their characters and their excesses.
NEW: Unsane (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
OLD: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974)
American low-budget cinema has opened up a lot of avenues, and the woman-meets-meathook subgenre of horror is one I'd just as soon prefer it hadn't. But once I got my lightweight self to catch up on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I couldn't help but be enthralled by it as a work of sensory cinema. It is a question of form—and of format—and the grainy, saturated, menacingly askew compositions of Tobe Hooper's midnight classic can harsh your high even before the sound and image ratchet up to an onslaught.
I saw echoes of that sense of perspective in Steven Soderbergh's Unsane, which would make the (comparatively) restrained other half of a good horror double bill, first for all the down-and-dirty obvious reasons, but also for forming a tantalizing vector toward the 21st century. Shot under the radar on an iPhone 7, Soderbergh's second feature after returning from, er, "retirement" takes advantage of the peculiarities it can squeeze out of its chosen format. The warped depth of field, the blooms of light, the uncanny clarity of an HD close-up with little or no makeup—everything that seems "off" befits a smart, creepy little psycho-thriller with plenty of menacingly askew compositions of its own. (The theme is entrapment, and I've never felt so trapped by an aspect ratio alone). Filmmakers in 2018 with much lower budgets than Soderbergh have access to tech that can make their images look clean and crisp, and I'm actually not sure it's a blessing for newcomers. The acting and storytelling weren't always smooth in, say, Stranger Than Paradise, or She's Gotta Have It, or for that matter The Texas Chain Saw Massacre itself. But the grunginess gave them an aesthetic context. So Soderbergh deserves credit, as do Sean Baker and others, for mining a digital aesthetic that's hi-def and grungy at the same time. Here's hoping we see more like it.
Mysteries where the eeriest, most beguiling kind of question mark hang over the crime. How easy it is, in this world, in this system, for someone or something to disappear.
From a late-capitalist sports bar to a Communist shoe factory, working girls make their way when men ain't shit. All you can do is laugh.
NEW: You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA/France) + OLD: The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Down these mean streets a man must walk—but movie-movie heroism doesn't do everything you want it to.
Paranoid threats to the California dream. Both make more sense if you've witnessed the dream up close.
Anthology films of bizarre, humble parts, but whose cumulative effect allows a kind of grandeur to flower in the cracks between the stories. Kurosawa's is an older man's film, though the wall-to-wall morbidity of Buster Scruggs, which matures into surprisingly soulful territory, reminds me that as much as they goof off, the Coens might have realized they aren't spring chickens themselves.
NEW: The Wife (Björn Runge, Sweden/UK/USA)
OLD: Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
Both The Wife and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut playfully scrutinize the mechanics of the bourgeois marriage (the former suffers an infuriating denouement, its melodrama somewhat deadening the impact of the film's feminist politics but still, I found myself reeling at the behavior of this Wife's spouse). Both feature clever wives who keep their domestic lives well-oiled all the while rolling their eyes at their self-involved husbands, in turn, equally irritating, insecure sods similarly lusty for power, deep coat pockets heavy with secrets. Both are 90s period pieces: Eyes Wide Shut was released in 1999, though filming commenced three years prior in 1996; The Wife is set in 1993.
And, importantly, both movies are Christmas confections. The performances are skillful, earnest, even - but the films themselves are black comedies. A little trashy, and a lot of fun. If Eyes Wide Shut is a luxurious, indulgently boozy mince pie, then The Wife is a single, snappable candy cane. Or, perhaps, its Swedish equivalent, Polkagriskola; a slab of toffee studded with shards of peppermint candy that, depending on how it is crunched, either dissolve on the tongue or cut the roof of the mouth.
NEW: Long Day's Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, China)
OLD: Twilight City (Reece Auguiste, 1989)
These were the two most revelatory big-screen viewing experiences I've had over the past year, and while the emerging title is a stylish, twilit slow-cinema drama and the repertory title a radical (in both politics and form) essay film, I feel they'd pair extremely well. Whether it's the exquisitely 4-D cable-car ride in Bi Gan's film or the streets of London at night scored with a pulsing hybrid of dub and free jazz in Auguiste's, these are films that mobilize time and space like few others. Tip of the hat to True/False for their slate of Black Audio Film Collective titles within their 2018 edition, a mini-retro that reinvigorated my appetite for rigorous experimental documentaries at just the right moment, enriching my appreciation for such recent works as Rat Film; Distant Constellation; Black Mother; Island of Hungry Ghosts; and Hale County This Morning, This Evening—not to mention had me reloading Public Enemy's output from the era back onto my phone. For the more sane among you: take note of the TRT of this double feature, and plan a bathroom break, meal, and/or yoga session accordingly.
NEW: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, USA) + OLD: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)
NEW: Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina) + OLD: Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014) and/or Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
NEW: Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor, Chile) + OLD: La Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel, 2001) + Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
NEW: Venom (Ruben Fleischer, USA)
OLD: Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)
A tent pole curio and an all-time masterpiece both featuring wayward outcasts with bodies that won’t cooperate. Their mere existence threatens the hype and spaces of new technologies. Physical disruption equals inspiration, and in each outburst of movement the echoes of vaudevillian performance can be seen. Jacques Tati’s lanky frame turns into the manifestation of chaos, challenging and ultimately infecting the faux-normalcy of art deco Parisian domesticity simply. Tom Hardy’s stocky, beefy Brando parody has no place in the post-modern Marvel Cinematic Universe until his raging alien parasite/alter ego gives him the power to let go: “I’m out of control.” And so is capitalism. The only sensible human response is to wreak havoc, be it through comedy or violence.
Riveting, moving variations on how quickly black lives are threatened with erasure by institutionalized racism and injustice.
NEW: Western (Valeska Grisebach, Germany/Bulgaria/Austria) + OLD: The Brontë Sisters (André Téchiné, 1979)
Gender and genre roles permanently blurring together—masculine/feminine.
Daring set-piece subterfuges done from within the belly of the muscular genre beast.
NEW: Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA, 2018)
OLD: The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1974)
Cinema is dead. And digital has killed it, funded by you and me. When CGI launched for movies, the paying public could have steadfastly rejected a process that converts images and sounds into unnoticeable, but easily permutable bits--at our very first glance, this replacement system delivers a totalitarian purge of the on-scene evidence, an obliteration of so much as a trace of recording. Gone are self-evidently hard-won, artful traveling shots, and likewise all of the former visibility of craftsmanship of physically arranged mise en scène; it would seem that performance is the next and ultimate target for pixelated mimesis. But, does this reality-spurning technology necessarily crouch out the virtuosic accomplishments of production? Aren't there some intrinsic defenses for the pro-filmic left against every twitch and manner of CGI tools? Is cinema called to an ethics of, for example, not pranking the blind, when they are presented within a film? Hou Hsiao-hsien's conscience-struck Flight of the Red Balloon (2007) carves out a place for that much decency, by injecting a sightless character into a plot that threads the consequences of movie digitization into its moral outlook. What about the Bressonian integrity of the animal body?--the French master's strenuous investigations into what bodily posture and motion amount to, viewed through the prism of the innate value of life, would appear to be relevant and applicable, regardless of the motion-picture medium. Some of reality's aspects, then, resist dispensing (not merely falsifying in degree) by this heavily editing-oriented apparatus.
Alfonso Cuarón's new Roma reminds us that the struggle of the solitary individual and a corresponding notion for a "cinema of loneliness" is tightly wound up with cultures which normalize displacement and alienation (such as by the demands of highly-developed industrialization). In contrast, a web of people, bound together by conspicuous group consciousness, might form blocks across space that re-establish a "confirmable" ground for such things as settings, dramatic interactions, frame composition and camera movement. Roma's most preeminent achievement seems to be winning back an invigorating dose of authenticity of the real for the cinema, particularly via the long take. In numerous astonishing ways, Roma connects with Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror. Like Roma transforming its medium, Mirror's shifts into and out of color, and sepia tones which seem to provide bestilling "blankets" upon which their imagery rests, as a whole create a radically distinct base for representation, not unlike using unorthodox grounding materials for an oil painting. Both films take up history from about two generations previous: personally by each director portraying reminiscences of their family life, concretely by depicting family members—in person, through their surviving work or else their heirlooms, symbolically by reconstructing the homes each artist was raised in, and socially by selecting times of crisis that of necessity crunched together family and national identity. The two films eschew sharp culminations in favor of tidal epiphanies—the closest that Mirror approaches a climax may be its famous close-up of moisture evaporating from a dining table. Mirror's camera, at its most emotionally tense, plunges forward, into a space that we can't anticipate yet which uncannily divulges itself to be one's home. Roma's camera, when maximally engaged, slides along firm horizontals, seeming to buffet runners across city pavement or a swimmer over ocean swells, into and past spaces toward a destiny.
NEW: Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy)
OLD: White Shadows in the South Seas (W.S. Van Dyke, Robert J. Flaherty, 1928)
to build on sand
NEW: Overlord (Julius Avery, USA)
OLD: Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)
With the rise of neo-fascism and the resurgence of right-wing hate groups, 2018 was a year where many Western countries began (or continued) interrogating their sense of a mythologized cultural identity within their art. One of these interrogations was the World War Two horror-thriller Overlord, a film where a squadron of American paratroopers parachute into a small French village on D-Day only to discover it occupied by Nazi scientists turning the helpless villagers into nigh-indestructible zombies as part of an immortality serum project. Despite its giddy penchant for Tom Savini-esque gore and carnage, the film is at its core a throwback to 40s and 50s infantry dramas where an outmatched, ragtag team of GIs valiantly free a community from Nazi (or Fascist Italian) captors. These films were deeply steeped in the American mythology of interracial, communal cooperation overcoming existential threats, as these teams were usually comprised of a motley of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds putting aside their differences to stick it to the Jerrys. (It's also reminiscent of the American "democratic liberator" ideal that would plunge the nation into disastrous armed conflicts with North Korea and North Vietnam.) Compare this to Alberto Cavalcanti's Went The Day Well?, a movie made a year after the Blitz that could most charitably be described as a Nazi scare film. The story sees a sleepy British village in the countryside invaded by literal child-murdering, priest-killing Nazi saboteurs serving as the clandestine first wave of a German invasion. Sticking up their stiffest of upper lips, the villagers band together--man and woman, young and old--to thwart their plans and warn the rest of the nation of their mission. If Overlord sings George M. Cohan's "Over There," then Went The Day Well? murmurs "Keep Calm and Carry On." Though they vary in quality—Cavalcanti's film never quite transcends its blatantly propagandistic and jingoistic overtones--they both represent the ideals that carried each country through the worst cataclysm of the twentieth century. With any luck, they'll carry them through the twenty-first, too.
NEW: Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany)
OLD: The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946)
Unkillable fascism, sweeping across the European continent, embedded in small-town America, thrives on the extermination of its enemies, real or perceived. Two refugees flee opposing ideologies, often in disconcertingly bright sunlight.
Variations on a classic set-up: an investigator infiltrates hostile terrain, fully aware that he’s playing with fire. Also, exploding cars.
NEW: The Green Fog (Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, Guy Maddin) + OLD: The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, 2018)
Neither film wants you to forget for a second that it was found at the editing table, and both revel in the texture of celluloid.
NEW: The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland)
OLD: Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat 3D (Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière, 1935)
Old films remixed for a new world.
NEW: Infinite Football (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania) / The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK) + OLD: Girls (Helga Fanderl, 2003)
People making up rules that remake the world.
NEW: Grass (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) + OLD: Not and Or (Simon Payne, 2014)
Inside out, outside in, spaces and places flipped, transformed, inverted.
NEW: aKasha (Hajooj Kuka, Sudan) + OLD: Fango (Mud, José Celestino Campusano, 2012)
Free-form, free-flowing drama: Liberated filmmaking.
NEW: Jamilia (Aminatou Echard, France) + OLD: Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
Two timeless fictional heroines. Maybe one day, now that it's better known, someone will make a documentary about American women talking about Barbara Loden.
NEW: Foreboding (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan) + OLD: The Fair (Wolfgang Staudte, 1960)
Fearing normality, the every day, your home, the people around you.
NEW: Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine) + OLD: Germany in Autumn (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alf Brustellin, Hans Peter Cloos, Alexander Kluge, Maximiliane Mainka, Edgar Reitz, Katje Rupé, Peter Schubert, Bernhard Sinkel, 1978)
Cinema wrought from the very fabric of the present.
NEW: Maison du bonheur (Sofia Bohdanowicz, Canada/France)
OLD: Haru, the Island of the Solitary (Kanerva Cederström & Riikka Tanner, 1998)
These two mid-length documentaries go together in my mind because each is a work of unassuming ladylike joie-de-vivre, and each feels blissfully homemade. Introducing Maison du bonheur for its MUBI premiere, Sofia Bohdanowicz described being soothed by the unabashedly personal films of the French New Wave, and setting out to follow their example. I know just what she means. But to say I was soothed by her diaristic profile of a 70-something Parisian astrologer, undertaken on a sort of calculated whim, is to understate the enormous solace and affirmation I took from it. (Bohdanowicz also explained that her most important priority in making the film was that it be an act of love. Suffice to say it shows.) Meanwhile I’m not even sure how I discovered Haru, though by now surely some media algorithm must know of my fondness for intimate seclusion, Scandinavianness in general, and Tove Jansson in particular. Lately I read her books to my children, and to myself, as often as possible. The film assembles Super-8 footage of Jansson and her partner and muse, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, taken during some of the many summers they spent together at an island cottage in the Gulf of Finland. Its display of cultivated communion is enlightening and restorative. Together, these films tenderly remind me that there really is something to be said for taking creative refuge in real life.
OLD: Only Yesterday (Isao Takahata, 1991)
Puzzle is a beautifully subtle film that seems to have flown under 2018’s radar. Kelly Macdonald plays a suburban working-class wife and mother whose discovery of a new hobby leads to a parallel realization that an entire life that had previously made sense no longer does. It's no coincidence that the puzzle piece has been a controversial symbol for autism since the 60s, and that Puzzle is interested in a woman’s neuro-atypicality. The film neither romanticizes nor pathologizes difference—the pleasure lies in feeling its lived complexity. Studio Ghibli’s 1991 animated drama, Only Yesterday (Omoide Poro Poro), is similar in its meticulous and thoughtful meditation on otherness and identity. Only Yesterday is structured much like Coleridge’s poem, Frost at Midnight, in which childhood memories are mediated by a nostalgia for the quiet simplicity of country life in the hopes that one can reimagine one’s childhood more quietly, more simply. The dialogue in both films is wonderfully strange at times and catches you off guard with its abrupt humor—it’s a perfect pair.
NEW: Ghostbox Cowboy (John Maringouin, USA)
OLD: Treasure of the Bitch Islands (FJ Ossang, 1990)
An end-of-the-year revelation, this pair of journeys into madness are rather dissimilar in their methods but both are low budget boomerangs of style that argue that the pursuits of rewards is folly writ large. Where Ossang’s movie is pure fabrication, including inter-titles that comment upon the crazy and count down to what?, Maringouin’s toys with documentary that gives it a rush of immediacy despite its obvious artifice (most notably, its ace sound design). These are places no one should want to go.
Femmes fatales, though one has her role thrust upon her by circumstance and the other seizes her opportunity to play at a kind of revenge.
Gentle shapeshifters, these movies look a lot simpler than they are.
NEW: If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, USA) + OLD: Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
Period, time, and memory as melodrama.
All the way down to their cores, these guys love women.
NEW: The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/USA)
OLD: Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972)
While the saucy, sardonic tone of Lanthimos’ latest comedy couldn’t be more different than Bergman’s existential drama, both films end on a delirious note of despair and ultimate isolation that relates these two films in more ways than just the obvious period-piece showcase of their powerhouse female ensembles. Power and desire take interesting shape within the pressurized spaces of gaudy living and when manipulated by inscrutable emotional demands of sickness.
NEW: Monrovia, Indiana (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
OLD: Mysterious Object at Noon (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2000)
Part of the charm of the Wiseman doc is its relative resistance to didacticism and its disinterest in clear-cut narrative; the filmmaker’s latest romp takes him to the heart of Trump country, in a visual tapestry that manages to evoke empathy as it does fear. “Joe” Weerasethakul’s feature film is similarly skeptical of the primacy of generalized narrative that intends to speak for people or communities; his response is the surreal assembly and re-enactment of a story invented and compounded upon by different Thai interview subjects he encounters as he makes his way through the country. Both seek to make sense of a people and place, while making interesting departures from the form of conventional documentary.
NEW: The Tale (Jennifer Fox, USA)
OLD: Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971)
A captured image is a ghost, living in the soul of memory that breathes only in recollection, before becoming a fable. Certain things about the image drop away and others become more resonant. The narrative around the image shifts to what we recall, because as we move forward we store more images until the narrative we thought we remembered turns into something altogether different. We can sense what our past was when we were experiencing it, but it is impossible to recall entirely a moment that has already passed away and only now lingers in the mind. Cinema considers this very notion with a full story, but even our memory of movies can be something different than what is actually presented in the film. As humans, we attach additional context into how we engage with art and memory, because memories, ghosts, are really all we have before we become one too. In 2018 I thought about this very idea a lot with the looming threat of inescapable climate change and the possibility that if human beings become extinct then so does cinema. Our stories are fragile and subject to change with perception, but what do we do as humans when the only thing we have isn’t so permanent anymore? When telling our own stories it becomes less important that all the details are correct, than how we remember it happening in that very moment. When I think of Alan J. Pakula’s Klute (1971) I surrender myself to the ghosts within the frame and the shroud that’s pulled over the film when characters who have already lost something, and suffered small deaths, still manage to move forward in hope of an answer. Jennifer Fox is looking for answers too in her deeply personal picture, The Tale (2018). The title itself, telling you that this is a story, and even if the details are hazy, it must be believed because it is her story. When we drift toward oblivion and realize that stories aren’t enough, that cinema is not enough, then what do we do as people? I think we keep telling stories of ghosts, because becoming a story is our only real chance at immortality. If we may fail then that will be our story. We’ll know it to be true, and it will live in the bones of this planet long after we’re gone and it remains.
OLD: The Mafu Cage (Karen Arthur, 1978)
In Suspiria, Susie Bannion, wide-eyed and red-haired, moves into a mansion occupied only by women. In The Mafu Cage, Cissy, wide-eyed and red-haired, has been living there all her life. The grand house of Suspiria is a dance academy in Berlin that fronts for a coven of witches. But for a film so reliant on the figure of the witch, a notion inexorably bound up in discourses of female hysteria and coven-hood, Suspiria is curiously uninterested in exploring the interiority of its protagonist or the women around her. Perhaps it forgoes this in order to keep physicality and performance the focal point of the piece—after all, dance is the women’s key expression. But if Suspiria is a film of exteriors, The Mafu Cage serves as its subconscious. The Mafu Cage is a curiosity: an unsettling tale of two sisters living in a crumbling mansion, one of whom, Cissy, has a penchant for keeping (and eventually killing) large primates. Cissy’s hysteria is unrestrained, wrapped up in unsettling sexual desire, troubling racial appropriation and primal, abusive fits. Both films reveal a profound ugliness, but The Mafu Cage is a limbless and flailing counterpoint to the dancer-like poise of Suspiria. There’s a self-conscious moment in Suspiria where a character (aiming for nonchalance) references Lacan. But if we adhere to Suspiria-as-Lacan, then The Mafu Cage functions like its return to Freud.
NEW: What Is Democracy? (Astra Taylor, USA)
OLD: His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
"Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page! …What?! No, no, leave the rooster story alone, that’s human interest!"
Where do we go from here? As usual, the way the picture looks depends as much on the lens as where you point it. But at the risk of a contradiction in terms, 2018 has been a remarkably vague year. Progress—the elevation of the collective soul—has become eerily difficult to diagnose. In its place, a melodrama of information unfolds, whose most rapid and intense developments render the world all the more ambiguous, while the network that mediates it all grows more beguiling. Sectarian passions flare with untold intensity, and yet the structural levers of power have rarely seemed more out of reach. What binds us is not a sense of communal wellbeing or an optimism for future prosperity, but the word-viruses that stand more for the passions they stir than the realities they presume to shape: Mueller, Caravan, Brexit, MAGA. Meanwhile, in unmediated space, the slow crossfade between the virtual and the real carries on, indifferently, in both directions: extreme weather, mass surveillance, assassination, internment, war without end. Either democracy has failed, we might say, or it has chosen to die.
But this word, “democracy,” too, is vulnerable to mutations. In her ambitious new documentary What Is Democracy? Astra Taylor strains to restore the concept to its philosophical roots, with the likes of Wendy Brown and Cornel West as interlocutors, along with a few of Western democracy’s untenured subjects: those formerly incarcerated, medically underserved, displaced by war, and otherwise marginalized by failed and failing structures. Taylor’s humanism is durable and engaged, even moving at times, but her implicit conflation of ‘democracy’ with ‘the virtuous application of power’ is grounded in an academic liberalism that contents itself in asking questions rather than in making concrete demands. It was Dziga Vertov’s intuition that revolutionary subjectivity could be found in the collective. Today, the space for collectivity is overwhelmingly virtual, but Taylor—apparently burned out from a previous study on the topic—omits the Internet from What Is Democracy? entirely. Instead, the discourse remains trained on the individual, the anecdote, the enlightened opinion, and the result is a bourgeois subjectivity for the age of Netflix. From Silvia Federici, Taylor extracts the film’s final confession: democracy is indeed worth fighting for, depending on what you mean. Mission Accomplished.
For those whose crisis of faith in democracy remains unresolved, consider His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks’ faithless love letter to the institution. For Hawks, democracy is only as virtuous as the authorities executing its charge. In this case, the representatives elected are corrupt party machinists, the police incompetent, and the impending execution all too literal. Hawks, like Orson Welles, sees in journalism an increasing power to imbue such events with meaning, to narrativize them, and potentially influence their outcome. That this power would be used judiciously is miraculous and improbable—as miraculous and improbable, in fact, as the re-marriage of editor Walter Burns and reporter Hildy Johnson. But miracles are the business of cinema. Walter and Hildy act recklessly, futilely—one in the name of justice and the other in the name of love—and in the end, both are victorious because, Hawks assures us, their origins are the same. No bond is so sacred that it can’t be broken, and no breakage so permanent that it can’t be made whole again. Whether this harmony is a myth, and whether that myth can be sustained, Hawks leaves to us to do the asking. The virtue of his cinema, like the journalism it depicts, is in its faith in progress at its most improbable. In 2018, what could be more essential than a belief in the miraculous?
NEW: The Courage to Change (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign, 2018) + OLD: Weekend Passes (George H.W. Bush campaign, 1988)
NEW: Drift (Helena Wittmann, Germany)
OLD: Isole nella laguna (Luciano Emmer, 1948)
Then I live the blue daybreak that comes with its bulge of little birds
NEW: Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes (Graham L. Carter, USA)
OLD: Tennessee’s Partner (Allan Dwan, 1955)
Love blossoms quick out west, in this land of desert flowers. Ronald Reagan prostrate, shirtless and bathed in a pool of Carvaggian light is enough to brighten, if only briefly, those dark circles under John Payne’s eyes, and a kaleidoscopic barroom dance set to the rhythm of Patsy Cline’s “Strange” nearly seduces David Kendrick’s conman away from his life of petty crime. Fast-draw romance is the rule in a country of gamblers and grifters, the kind of people who populate both Allan Dwan’s homoerotic horse opera and Graham Carter’s tenderfoot musical. A steady hand with both genres—and noir and comedy and whatever else the studio was cranking out—was a prerequisite for a man of Dwan’s generation, though Hollywood no longer offers young filmmakers an apprenticeship program of countless one-reelers, if it offers them anything at all. Doubly impressive, then, that Carter’s debut feature demonstrates an old-fashioned facility with those crumbling pillars of American cinema and, more to the point, a rare faith in the dusty romanticism that undergirds them.
The lover’s act in Tennessee’s Partner, despite Rhonda Fleming’s best efforts, is resolutely a two-hander; Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes adds a dangerous third point, making a triangle. Maureen, introduced by a delayed title card as, simply, “The Torch Singer” (quoth Serge Bozon on the Dwan picture: “Nicknames are more than enough.”) is the film’s raspy, Rudolphian center and a genuine marriage prospect for our swooning swindler. But he too has a partner, and he’s not keen to see his buddy settle down for hearth and home. For one thing, they already possess a kind of itinerant domesticity not unlike Payne and Reagan’s: shared motel rooms and bacon-and-egg breakfasts. And for another, they’ve got a score to make; Maureen is the mark. Love’s long-term chances are pretty poor given the circumstances, and the men of both Tennessee’s Partner and Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes are playing bad odds. Well, maybe we all are. Time to roll out of town, I reckon, though we’ll be back to try our luck again. That’s just the American character. But at the moment, to echo the French title for Tennessee’s Partner, marriage is for tomorrow.
The violence of waiting.
The spirit of Diagonale and the specter of AIDS.
The afterlives of flesh.
NEW: Unsane (Steven Sodebergh, USA)
OLD: Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)
Paranoia and grief synthesized into cinema. Neo-exploitation-humanist-anti-capitalist insanity. Genre filmmaking reconfigured for the digital age. Shyamalan and Soderbergh turn space into putty, stretching and compressing their frames, creating a series of increasingly uncertain dimensions, pushing characters and objects together until there is nowhere left to run.
NEW: Image & Illusion (Eli Hayes, USA)
OLD: *Corpus Callosum (Michael Snow, 2002)
Hayes and Snow force the viewer to directly confront the medium and format of their cinema, accentuating the dematerialized nature of the images, breaking free from standardized craft, entering a realm of complete abstraction. A unity of the old and the hypermodern, akin to a palimpsest—recalling a great spiritual and artistic awakening - but with an almost cubist approach to image-making, layering multiple perspectives to create new realities within the frame. Cinema caught between past and future; using elements of what has been to craft what is to come.
NEW: Jellyfish (James Gardner, UK)
OLD: Uski Roti (Mani Kaul, 1970)
This double-bill really came about because I couldn't bear the thought of not including Mani Kaul's incredible Uski Roti in my selection—seeing it at the Essay Film Festival in London was easily my most cherished cinematic experience of the year. I've been thinking about the editing in one scene of the film since March, but it is in its underlying story that the potential for a double-bill emerged. Both Uski Roti and Jellyfish, the debut feature by British director James Gardner, are ultimately about duty. In Uski Roti, it is the duty of Balo (Garima) to her distant and unfaithful husband. In Jellyfish, it is that of Sarah (Liv Hill) to her young siblings in place of their neglectful mother. The films couldn't be more different in style and tone, but both explore the hardship of duty and confront the uncomfortable suffering of a women with limited means to escape their situations.
NEW: Sun Quartet (Colectivo Los Ingrávidos, Mexico) + OLD: La Commune (Paris 1871) (Peter Watkins, 2000)
Radical representations of revolution: from polychrome double-exposures to black and white reenactment.
Unconventional ghost stories of people being haunted by their pasts and battling to avoid being possessed by it.
Subverting the intentions of found footage to challenge the establishment.
NEW: You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, UK/France/USA)
OLD: To Die For (Gus Van Sant, 1995)
Joaquin Phoenix is relentless. Whether he’s playing an adolescent so enamored with a local weatherwoman that he is manipulated into killing off his competition, or a war veteran haunted by his past, Phoenix’s mesmerizing onscreen performances are all-consuming, obsessive in their trajectory. In To Die For he emerges goofy and scrawny in a beat-up denim jacket, all hormones and teen angst with a boombox blaring and cigarette smoke billowing around his mulleted head. Just over twenty years later he appears in You Were Never Really Here, now a bearded tank of a man who says very little but packs one hell of a punch as he rescues girls from a trafficking network with the aid of his trusty hammer. The years may have passed but what has endured throughout Phoenix’s career is that troubled look in his eyes, intoxicating in its intensity, and an unwavering dedication to the mission, whatever form it may take.
NEW: The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack, USA)
OLD: ★ (Johann Lurf, 2017)
★ may only be a year old, but as a structural essay film concerning the cinematic history of the starry sky, it stretches way back—I technically watched hundreds of ‘old’ films, be it in snapshot form, with examples pulled from films regardless of critical opinions, thrusting those frames into a new schema. Formally, it really drives home the cinematic relationships we enter into with light and persistence of vision. Later in the year a chance to Jodie Mack’s The Grand Bizarre on 16mm also bought those associations to light, highlighting a grand variety of grids; those associated with fabric patterns, cut offs, maps, animation, frame rates, musical tempos, phonetics and cinematic framing, whilst actively questioning the existence and exchange of those things in turn. With both films utilizing structuralist techniques and owing their form to the history of special effects and animation, their manner of highlighting the dynamic range of patterns found on each frame of a film constitutes a cinematic experience that causes the screen to feel more like a fabric adorned in patterns (to borrow the sentiment from Giuliana Bruno).
NEW: Feast of the Epiphany (Michael Koresky, Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman, USA)
OLD: The Secret of the Grain (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2007)
Two films, which speak in singular ways to documentary forms and aesthetics, explore how food embodies the human condition of feeling simultaneously alive and mortal. The docufiction Feast of the Epiphany observes in its first half a dinner party hosted amongst friends in Brooklyn, charting with delicacy and meticulousness the food preparation that lays the foundations of the film’s swelling emotional tensions. The film then breaks abruptly (and magically) to follow the day-to-day workings on a farm, where people, machinery, and food exist in synchronized harmony together. In The Secret of the Grain a North African immigrant family attempt to eke out a living by opening a fish and couscous restaurant in a French seaside town. Filmed with documentary-style realism, The Secret of the Grain undulates with sensuous and breathtaking tensions, exploring the fraught dynamics within family relationships and the centrality of food in preserving human connection.
NEW: Drift (Helena Wittmann, Germany)
OLD: The Shooting (Monte Hellman, 1966)
A film-poem dedicated the opaque mystery of the ocean and an existential Western playing out in the end-of-the-world remoteness of the desert; two films that could not be more different from each other bound together by their exploration of inner and exterior landscapes.
Wiseman’s compassion. Henry Fonda’s pensive eyes. Two images of America, its landscape and people, its darkness and light.
The joy, the pleasure of unashamed nerdiness, dedicating your entire life to reading and watching movies.
NEW: The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, USA – Restored & Rereleased, 2018) + OLD: The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 1971)
Dennis Hopper—a wild continent of artistic genius.
“The past is not dead. Actually it’s not even past.”
NEW: Krystal (William H. Macy, USA)
OLD: Swimfan (John Polson, 2002)
There is such a thing as "Good Trash." Good Trash naturally comes in many forms: Space Trash (anything set in outer space), Mercenary Dads (movies featuring soldiers or spies who are 'too old for this shit'), and—in the case of the proposed double feature - Teenage Obsession (late adolescent stalker narratives). The most exquisite cinematic trash shares three qualities: no matter how in(s)ane the proceedings may be, the actors are completely committed to treating the text with respect; the movie sees itself as an artistically significant work (despite its low or bad reputation); and, it is singular in the sense that no comparison properly does it justice. Such is the case the seemingly unrelated Krystal (2017) and Swimfan (2002), films separated by a decade and a half of distance, but that are siblings in their mutual submergence in the world of creepy teens.
Krystal attempts the impossible: to reveal what's comedic about an eighteen-year-old boy falling madly, obsessively in love with a forty-year-old-woman. It's the 'boy next door' narrative, but not as a horror movie or cautionary tale; instead, a romcom (bonus points if you make this a triple feature by including 2015's The Boy Next Door starring Jennifer Lopez). Add to this that the forty-year-old woman is a recovering alcoholic / drug addict, ex-stripper, and former prostitute and the awkward attempts at comedy are weighted down time and time again with reminders of the gravity underlying every goof and gag. Don't get me wrong: I laughed like hell watching it, but in that "I can't believe this actually exists" sort of way that makes you feel blessed to be alive. By contrast, Swimfan represents an entirely other brand of outlandishness - the kind that dresses itself down in baggy khakis as a high school teen drama, but that dresses itself up in an artsy pale blue color palette and manifests as abject horror that stares back at you, unblinkingly, as it threatens to destroy everything you have ever loved. It is a near-perfect erotic thriller—a film somewhat hilariously advertised to teens, but no doubt meant for adults. On the other hand, Krystal seems meant for no one: it desperately tries to be something that it can never be and goes to great, embarrassing lengths to achieve its comedy (i.e. wheelchair stunts, satanic hallucinations, etc.), whereas Swimfan subtly plays with the viewer's expectations and gradually builds in intensity to a horrific conclusion. Neither film is any less trashy than the other, but each is a unique example of good trash: 100% sincere and hugely entertaining low-art extravaganzas.
NEW: Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, France)
OLD: Toute Une Nuit (Chantal Akerman, 1982)
A Lover’s Discourse. Two ways toward togetherness, in avoidance of isolation. In the Assayas, people can’t stop talking (what is the alternative?). Everyone is unfaithful but nobody separates. A lit-world fracas ostensibly about the modernization of professed values, but really about the importance of discourse with loved ones. In the Akerman film, lovers waste away a sweltering, Brusselian night together. There is little talk, the discourse is physical—embracing, dancing, departing. Two seemingly diaphanous films that bestir themselves against eschatological sentiments with a mere attempt at bettering the present. A celluloid double feature that one can hold close.
NEW: The House that Jack Built (Lars Von Trier, Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden) + OLD: I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (Sarah Jacobson, 1993)
An act of parity, perhaps. To quote Liz Lemon, “Why aren’t there more female serial killers?” Look no further than Sarah Jacobson’s I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, in which the eponymous 19-year-old murderer’s victims all have “y” chromosomes. Pair with Von Trier’s new serial killer film, which has, as has been oft reported, nearly all female victims. More then just a gesture of equality these films show the twin motivations of art and violence—aesthetics and politics—and how gossamer-thin the line between them is. In I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, she kills for socio-political reasons but the realities of film’s circumstances—made for $1,600 with volunteers and borrowed equipment—inform the lo-fi, revolutionary aesthetics. In The House that Jack Built, Jack kills for aesthetic reasons, acts of creation through annihilation, but these motives are ensnarled with certain political ideologies. Screen Jacobson’s more playful and perspicacious film first, in case you want to walk out of the Von Trier.
“To have been loved once by someone—surely There is a permanent good in that,”
— John Ashbery, When the Sun Went Down
OLD: I Like It Like That (Darnell Martin, 1994) + Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993) + Le mâle du siècle (Claude Berri, 1975)
I'm cheating a bit by grouping films/episodes together, but the issue of representation of masculinity seems to lend itself to generality. The old films here - two from the US in the 90s, one from France in the 70s - all temper their critical view of masculine excess with a sympathetic identification that bends genre or audience expectation. I Like It Like That divides its attention between a relatable woman and a man whose strutting pride in his sexuality marks him as an antagonist, before director/writer Martin finally pulls him back to the side of the good guys for a romantic ending, without plucking his egotistical plumage to ease the transition. Menace II Society's relatively sensitive protagonist Caine has a taste for bloodshed that gradually reclassifies him from identification figure to classic gangster-film hero/monster; and his sociopathic counterpart O-Dog is neither used by the Hughes Brothers for adrenaline surges nor cast out of his community. Claude Berri's only exceptional quality is his ability to remember and present his past without making it pretty, but that's quite a lot - and Le mâle du siècle is remarkable for its frequent disruptions of its sentimental trajectory with disturbing incrimination of the jealousy and infidelity of its director/star. Looking around the cinema of 2018, one might conclude that this complexity in the depiction of rampant masculinity has been left to the safekeeping of Joe Swanberg. Unlike the Hughes Brothers, Swanberg goes for the adrenaline in the pleasing scene of Easy's "Spent Grain" where Jeff and his brewing bros harness their beer buzz to strike a blow against commercialism - but the problems with their rebellion are baked into the family-and-kids story line, and Jeff joins the forces of domestication without the genre-mandated scene of confrontation. As for the transgressive " Side Hustle," Swanberg's unqualified affection for the poise and power of his call-girl protagonist is complemented by a series of explicit scenes with her clients that leave everyone his or her composure and dignity, without playing down the spectacle of male sexual urgency in all its manifestations.
OLD: Me gritaron negra (Victoria Santa Cruz, Peru, 1978) [watch here]
With the voice performance of two poems, images that primarily belonged to the documentaries El grito, by Leobardo López Arretche, and Black and Woman, by Torgeir Wethal become political avant-garde films. While in Me gritaron negra Santa Cruz claps to words of racial discrimination, in A nuestro tiempo Quagliata recites fragments from Octavio Paz's Visión del escribiente: "No use building walls against the impalpable. A mouth will extinguish all the fires, a doubt will root up all the decisions. [...] Whistling between body and body, crouching between soul and soul". Four decades separate these two 16mm works, but the power of film to channel people's revolution remains the same. Me gritaron negra has been part of the 2018 touring museum exhibition, “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960 - 1985." A nuestro tiempo started its avant-garde film festival circuit this year.
NEW: The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/US)
OLD: Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The two funniest movies I saw in theaters this year, even if Lyndon always makes me cry. Gorgeously designed and arrestingly lensed tales of occasional scoundrels who will claw the best they can over anyone who gets between them and a higher lot in society. "Good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now."
NEW: Halloween (David Gordon Green, USA)
OLD: It’s Always Fair Weather (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1955)
October 1945: after a night of revelry, three ex-GIs, having served together, promise to reunite exactly ten years later at the same bar spot before going their separate ways. They keep their promise, but the three men have taken entirely different paths in the ensuing years.
October 1978: teenager Laurie Strode is traumatized by serial killer Michael Myers, who murders her two best friends and others on Halloween night. She spends the next 40 years preparing for what she believes is an inevitable ‘reunion’ with the imprisoned Myers, intending to kill him.
Both reunions prove sour affairs, to speak lightly of Halloween in particular, but they both end with some form of unity. The three men in It’s Always Fair Weather part ways again after a day of musical mishaps, but as friends, though they leave without forcing plans for another reunion. Laurie Strode, meanwhile, ends her film in the company of her estranged daughter and granddaughter, the trio having seemingly vanquished Myers for good as a team, but there is an inevitable degree of ambiguity to the ending that suggests matters aren’t completely settled; this could and probably will all happen again. Donen and Kelly’s film is narratively, in part, about not being able to recapture the magic of the past and knowing when to move on even if there’s a hint of a new spark to things. Gordon Green’s, meanwhile, demonstrates in its filmmaking that you can’t recreate the feeling of an old dynamic after so many years, even if you ensure some of the key players (Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter, Nick Castle) involved with the fond memories you keep coming back to are willing to make the effort.
NEW: The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard, 2018)
OLD: Fortini/Cani (Straub-Huillet, 1976)
“The old masters should be wary of Bécassine: for she is silent”
"There’s always a pool of blood somewhere that we’re walking in without knowing it”
Two movies about cultural erasure, the cyclical nature of historical violence, and the persistence of social injustice in the Western world made by Marxist filmmakers who realize that the only way to make truly revolutionary political art is to work within a truly radical aesthetic form. The structures of neo-liberal capitalist society ensure that its citizens remain in a state of denial regarding past and present imperialistic atrocities—reinforced through the forces of mass media such as popular cinema, journalism and news broadcasts. These systematic devices which shape the citizen’s understanding of their own history and position within the wider world work to soften the horrors of Western imperialism and therefore quell the possibility of social revolution. Godard and Straub-Huillet share the ambition to render these buried atrocities visible and hence forcefully shake the viewer out of their socially conditioned complacency.
At the center of each film is the relationship between the West and the Arab world – reflecting on the latter’s status as a victim of both economic imperialism and the violence of cultural representation. Within a Western framework, both films acknowledge, Arabs are systematically marginalized, typically represented through de-humanizing images of alterity which portray them as either demonic threats or noble savages. Rather than attempting to ‘speak for’ the Other, both films are aimed at the colonizer with the aim of forcing them to acknowledge the nature of the systems which condition the way they consume the colonized as falsified media images. In doing so, these films highlight the anxiety and paranoia upon which that gaze is founded.
The treatment of the past in each film destabilizes traditional artistic representation of history as following a cause-and-effect pattern of linear development and social progress. Instead, the repetitive nature of imperialist violence is emphasized, as societal oppression is presented not as being an aberration of a more primitive era but a constant in Western society. As such, the viewer is encouraged to perceive themselves as an active participant in changeable historical processes rather than a passive observer of past behaviour. Although both features are scathing indictments of the Occident’s inability to deal with its colonial past, they ultimately demonstrate faith in the possibility of future social revolution and the ability of a truly politically engaged cinema to spark such a development.
NEW: Season of the Devil (Lav Diaz, Philippines) + OLD: Videograms of a Revolution (Harun Farocki, 1990)
Quite simply, two great moments of release. New favourite images, new favourite memories. The two instances of "Black Diamond Bay" in the Benning and the audacious (saying something) final image ofLa Flor, one of the great movie-going experiences of my life. No further spoilers for those with the will as well as the means.
Digital textures rendered in 16mm.
NEW: Sedução da Carne (Julio Bressane, Brazil) + OLD: Bang Bang (Andrea Tonacci, 1970) / Let's Go Native (Leo McCarey, 1930)
Observe the stuff of movies.
NEW: Terra (Hiroatsu Suzuki and Rossana Torres, Portugal) + OLD: Waqai sinin al-jamri (Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, 1975)
This year’s ensemble comedy tracks a trio of overbearing parents on a mission to quash their daughters' prom night deflowerment pact. In an early Cronenberg, a super-rabies epidemic spreads when after a life-saving plastic surgery a beautiful woman seeks human blood. Underlying both of these films, the same terror: female sexuality. Behold its fearsome potential, wreaking havoc through the suburban Chicago and icy Quebec alike.
Slippery slopes and beasts, capitalism and industry. Satires culminating grotesquely in the unthinkable.
The secret lives of older women.
The sins of the father reverberate through generations.
NEW: Burning (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea) + OLD (insofar as the news cycle goes): the tabloid woes of SNL’s Pete Davidson
Lanky masculinity in crisis.
NEW: Annihilation (Alex Garland, UK/USA)
OLD: Waterfalls (F. Gary Gray, 1995)
Women straddling an impossible boundary between experience, trauma and apparitions.
NEW: Black Mother (Khallk Allah, US) + OLD: Something Good - Negro Kiss (Selig Polyscope Company, 1898) + Personal Problems (Bill Gunn, 1980)
Radical images of black life and love more sophisticated than their times or ours.
Will you still love me tomorrow? Please love me. And don't forget me.
NEW: The House that Jack Built (Lars Von Trier, Denmark/France/Germany/Sweden) + OLD: Fade to Black (Vernon Zimmerman, 1980)
Theory can’t turn crime into art. Hell is other movies. I can't tell you how hard it was to not to make my response 40 different rhymes with The House That Jack Built.
The last road trip.
NEW: Shirkers (Sandi Tan, Singapore/USA) + OLD: A High Wind in Jamaica (Alexander Mackendrick, 1965)
Coming of age under a pirate flag.
Our radical fathers mired in the banality of outliving a revolution.
NEW: Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico)
OLD: Blood of the Condor (Jorge Sanjinés, 1969)
I get why many critics are touched by Cuarón’s Roma, it’s a heartwarming tale of a maid’s turmoil and loyalty to the family—she survives common-woman deception, not to mention stillbirth, and still stays true to her white, rich employers (more loyal, for that matter, than the father of the family). Bonus points: when somebody like Cuarón willingly builds a supposedly autobiographical tunnel to the years of his childhood, it’s tempting to rush right through it. It’s so unlikely that one could make Children of Men and Gravity and still take a moment to look back to the “good old days.” What is harder to understand, though, is why a film like this would pass for serious class depiction (serious i.e. longer-than-two-hours serious?), to say nothing of race. Given the common topic—the unsuccessful pregnancy of a non-white South American woman—and their widely differing styles, I think Roma and Blood of the Condor would make an excellent pairing. The latter is the actual political film, not to mention one of the rare Third Cinema specimens to lead to concrete and abrupt political change - evicting the Peace Corps out of Bolivia (it helped that Sanjinés took it way out of the cinema, whereas Roma doesn’t have theatrical distribution in my Eastern European country because the sound is too high-tech for the lights of us). Also, Blood of the Condor raises a still-underdiscussed issue of our neoliberal days—not just who gets the right to make choices about her body, but who affords to pass down her way of life? In the sixties, Bolivian women were sterilized without their consent to decrease the Quechua population, whereas Cuarón’s ‘70s memory-family maid happens to give birth to a dead fetus which she neither wanted, nor could afford to raise on her own. A lucky coincidence, at least to the extent of avoiding a delicate question—would she still be able to look after her employer’s kids as diligently, saving them from drowning and fetching them everything they want, if she was busy providing as best she can for her own?
NEW: The Joke Thief (Frank D’Angelo, Canada)
OLD: She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps (Philippe Garrel, 1985)
The eighth feature by the notorious juice mogul/talk show host/R&B crooner Frank D’Angelo was notably the director’s first after the still unsolved murder of chief financier Barry Sherman. And stripped of what seemingly bare resources and washed-up stars, D’Angelo, who could be in some ways Canada’s successor to Ed Wood, could previously afford, The Joke Thief seems to mark a transition for the man from simply incompetent to the borderline avant-garde.
Though I’m not going to be pompous and compare it to one of Garrel’s best works in the realm of “films of free men.” Rather, it’s that The Joke Thief was shot during the winter of 2018 in Toronto around the block that houses both D’Angelo’s now departed Italian eatery The Forget About It Supper Club as well as the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which at that time of the year was hosting an extensive Philippe Garrel retrospective. And every time we got a peek at King Street in D’Angelo’s film, I couldn’t help but think of that period of my life. A point of unemployment and extreme depression, yet one where I still found myself trudging through the snow a couple times a week to catch everything in the series. Those films were amongst the few points of relief I got that during that dreadful period. And for that reason, or rather association, I may never forget The Joke Thief.
NEW: Jinpa (Pema Tseden, China)
OLD: Strangers in Good Company (Cynthia Scott, 1990)
Lifetimes and their many pathways, dreams, landscapes housed within crystalline mise en scène.
NEW: Leave No Trace (Debra Granik, USA)
OLD: The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
This proved a difficult choice. But The Wild Pear Tree paired with Yilmaz Güney’s Umut, one of the standouts of Il Cinema Ritrovato, but in the end I liked the synergy and relative simplicity of the Granik/Varda pairing. I think this was a pivotal year in terms of recognizing the contribution of female directors to cinema and it was very gratifying to witness both the deep appreciation of Varda, with a significant reissue programme, and for the critical and commercial splash made by Granik’s father/daughter drama. Leave No Trace and The Gleaners and I feel thematically simpatico too, with both works looking at life on the margins and those surviving in the face of rampant consumerism and capitalism. There is a poetry to these films, and they provide a sense of sustenance and succor in increasingly uncertain times.
NEW: Ruins Rider (Pierre-Luc Vaillancourt, Montenegro/Canada)
OLD: Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959)
"If everyone in the world would teach their kids to be just a little bit like Randolph Scott, we’d have a better world."
—Budd Boetticher, 1999.