"What happens when even the most experienced and investigative critics are confronted with films that bring them out of their 'comfort zone'?" asks de Filmkrant editor Dana Linssen, introducing the third bilingual edition of the Slow Criticism Project. "Going out of the comfort zone stands for: inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, the ability to redefine one's assumptions and convictions, the will to doubt and question, and above all a commitment to cinema that goes beyond tomorrow's deadline and next week's new release. Hence Slow Criticism, although sometimes one needs to act fast, at impulse and intuition. That kind of criticism is akin to improvisational music, it has a kind of immediacy and urgency, based on knowledge and skills, but always open to the radical otherness of what one might encounter along the way. That, indeed, is a moral responsibility. It is critical activism and politique des critiques."
At his justly celebrated blog, Girish Shambu introduces his contribution with a call for a discussion that has, of course, already taken off: "I discuss the need for a dialectical engagement with cinema discourse in this age of social media. The fragmented mode of cinema conversation on Facebook and Twitter is both invaluable (because of its dizzying stream of ideas, insights and stimulation) and challenging (because of its addictive allure). I find that these days I have to work hard to carve out time for engagement with long-form criticism in books or essays. Both modes of engaging with cinema discourse are important; it's a daily balancing act to be able to spend one time's wisely and well. I have a question for cinephiles: Do social media like Facebook and Twitter enhance and fuel your cinephilia? Do you find these social media valuable in your life, specifically your cinephilic life?"
Adrian Martin: "Film criticism (slow or fast, it's all the same) has to give up its abundant fantasies of judgement, discernment, purity; it has to plunge into the space between certified copy and black swan, and seriously visit all stations along the way. To do that, it will need to discard some of its hard-won habits and rituals, and open itself to first-time surprises. It will need to risk itself in its eternal becoming."
"Is making films becoming a job for the rich?" asks Claudia Siefen. Dana Linssen has another question: "How can you critique a film to which you yourself, even if unwittingly, contributed?" A report on a visit to the set of Dick Tuinder's Winterland and being absorbed into the project.
The Ferroni Brigade is ambushed by Ingmar Bergman's The Touch (1971, image above), slated to screen at the Berlinale as part of this year's Bergman retrospective on Sunday and Monday, February 13 and 14. Related viewing: Bergman discusses the film 1972; so, too, does Elliott Gould, just last year.
"In recent years, atrociously bad films have taken me out of my comfort zone a lot more often than astonishingly good ones," confesses Jos van der Burg. Neil Young notes that "the presentation of film critics in movies — the screen acting as (distorting) mirror to those of us scribbling notes with our light-pens in the stalls — is one of those very few areas pretty much guaranteed (one might even use the word calculated) to jar movie journalists, no matter how long-established, battle-hardened or globally-esteemed, out of that cosy 'comfort zone' which is our usual locus operandi."
Pamela Biénzobas considers Pablo Larraín's Post Mortem and "why that closing scene is so disquietingly full of sense." Pepita Hesselberth outlines a possible explanation for the discomfort Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Rosetta (1998) arouses in her. Richard Porton: "What makes It Felt Like a Kiss incrementally more powerful than [Adam] Curtis's previous estimable films is the fact that, whether unwittingly or not, it extends the Situationist legacy of détournement — the appropriation of 'preexisting artistic elements' for parodic or critical purpose."
Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2002) "must be one of the most beautiful films from Japan or any part of the world in the past fifteen years," writes Tom Mes. "'Plasticity' is a term rarely used in English (unlike in French), but it is magnificently applicable when talking about ichi the killer. The unreality of the film is breathtaking."
Gabe Klinger spoke with Rafi Pitts on Christmas Eve, just days after Jafar Panahi and Muhammad Rasoulof were sentenced to six years in prison and banned from filmmaking for 20 years. Pitts: "Jafar is a raging bull — it's the reason I like him so much. He just goes for it. He's very courageous, whereas I tend to believe that we need to be diplomatic. But today it's all gone beyond that. I mean, it's no longer a question of talking about how to change things, because now the question is: how can we exist at all?"
"The Fantastic World of František Vláčil is one of the most important retrospectives to hit New York in recent memory," argues Tony Pipolo at Artforum's site. "Although Vláčil's first feature, The White Dove (1960), drew considerable attention, and his medieval epic Marketa Lazarová (1967) was voted the best Czech film of all time by a poll of European critics, his work is virtually unknown in the US. Pressed to name the notable figures of the Czech New Wave, few critics would cite Vláčil among such better-known directors as Jiří Menzel, Milos Forman, Jan Němec and Ivan Passer. Arguably, Vláčil approached life under communism less directly than his peers, preferring symbolic narratives set in the Middle Ages or in the more recent past under Nazi occupation. Nonetheless, his films reflect the complex cultural and linguistic tapestry of the country's politically divided history and identity."
Ryan Wells notes that "where Forman and Menzel chose a particularly modern setting replete with comedic irony and acerbic political commentary, Vlácil made great strides in historical depictions of the psychology of the human condition and deferring to highly expressionistic, allegorical renderings in much of his work."
The series opens tonight and runs through February 10 and includes Tomáš Hejtmánek's tribute to Vláčil, Sentiment, "a meditative portrait that combines footage of an actor reading Mr Vláčil's words from audiotape interviews with sequences shot in locations from such films as Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees." Kristin M Jones for the Wall Street Journal: "The result is a moving evocation of a visionary's commitment to cinema's visual possibilities, as well as his sorrowful memories. Sentiment, like The Fantastic World of František Vláčil, is a welcome salute to a director whose work should be world-renowned."
Earlier: Roundup on Cinema as Poetry: František Vláčil, a series running last fall in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
ALSO OPENING TODAY
"I am tempted to call Into Eternity the most interesting documentary, and one of the most disturbing films, of the year so far, but such a pronouncement, always dubious in early February, seems especially absurd in this case," begins AO Scott in the New York Times. "The film, directed by Michael Madsen — a Danish Conceptual artist, not the American tough-guy actor — takes an unusually long view. Mr Madsen's ruminative, even-toned narration is directed not at present-day critics but at viewers who may happen upon this visual artifact at some remote date in the future, as much as 100,000 years from now. This almost unimaginable perspective is demanded by the subject of Into Eternity, a Finnish nuclear waste storage site called Onkalo. The name means 'hiding place,' and it has been designed to keep hazardous radioactive material out of reach for as long as it remains dangerous."
"Into Eternity is not so much warning (although it is that) as head trip," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Madsen's crisp, coolly symmetrical images evoke both the clean lines of Finnish functional design and Errol Morris's formalism — as does the gravitas-inducing slo-mo and ironic use of music (Sibelius, Varèse, Kraftwerk). Defamiliarizing the snowy Nordic landscape, this delicately lurid documentary has a somber beauty. It is meant to boggle the mind and inspire awe — and it does. As in 2001 or The Time Machine, the story of the human race comes full circle. The unknown past meets the unknowable future in a wintry ground zero."
More from Mark Jenkins (NPR), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5), Henry Stewart (L) and Ryan Wells. At New York's Film Forum through February 15.
Aaron Hillis in the Voice: "All hail the Troubadour, the landmark West Hollywood nightclub that galvanized the late-60s/early-70s singer-songwriter scene, launching Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, and Elton John (as well as comedians like Steve Martin and Cheech & Chong). As seen at Sundance last week, Morgan Neville's pop-doc celebration features all of said boldfaced names and more waxing broadly about their early days at 'the Troub,' with the obligatory vintage-concert footage and Ken Burns-style zooming and panning over scrapbook finds." More on Troubadours from David Fear (Time Out New York, 2/5), Stephen Holden (NYT), Noel Murray (AV Club, B) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter). For the Los Angeles Times, Amy Kaufman talks with Carole King and Morgan Neville. Troubadours is at the IFC Center through February 10.
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