We'll get to what all else is online from the new issue of Film Comment in a moment, but first, here's Joumane Chahine on a film playing at the IFC Center in New York through Tuesday: "Although it actually stands as the final act in Elia Suleiman's loosely linked trilogy of semi-autobiographical 'chronicles' of Palestinian life (Chronicle of a Disappearance, 96; Divine Intervention, 02) The Time That Remains suffered in some ways — and rather unfairly — from the 'curse of the sophomore effort' when it premiered at Cannes in 2009… Subtitled 'Chronicle of a Present Absentee,' The Time That Remains may very well be a much deeper and more mature piece than Divine Intervention — and a much more ambitious one too. Inspired by Suleiman's father's diaries as a resistance fighter during the events that surrounded the creation of Israel, as well as by his mother's letters to exiled family members over the decades that followed, it's filtered through the prism of the director's own memories and distinctive outlook. The film proposes a uniquely idiosyncratic portrait — both tenderly intimate and shrewdly caustic — of the lives of those Palestinians who chose to remain in their land and have come to be known as 'Israeli Arabs.'"
For Steve Erickson, writing in Gay City News, "Suleiman's films bring to mind the debate among some film critics in the late 1960s and early 70s about the differences between making political films and making films politically. At Cahiers du Cinema magazine, some criticized the likes of Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers and Costa-Gavras's Z for trying to express radical content in conventional film language, praising the films of Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub for raising questions about film form instead. Suleiman's work doesn't just speak about Palestinians' disconnection from the political process. They incorporate it into their structure."
"The Time That Remains has the scope of a historical epic with none of the expected heaviness," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "It presents a half-century of tragedy and turmoil as a series of mordant comic vignettes. Imagine a heroic poem boiled down to a flurry of witty epigrams, or a martial statue made of origami, and you will have some idea of the improbable way this filmmaker folds big themes into delicate forms."
More from Ian Buckwalter (NPR), Aaron Cutler (Slant, 3/4), Dan Kois (Voice), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 4/5). Interviews with Suleiman: Ed Champion (audio, 25'07"), Damon Smith (Filmmaker) and Ella Taylor (Voice).
IRANIAN FILM TODAY
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta has launched a series that takes on electric relevance in the immediate wake of the severe sentencing of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof: "Despite the repression of dissenting voices in Iran, its filmmakers continue to produce cinema that holds its own on the world's screens. The 13th Annual Iranian Film Today presents diverse views of Iranian society, from the edgiest documentary to the most elegant art film."
Shalizeh Arefpour's Heiran (2009, image above) screens this evening, followed by Bahman Motamedian's Sex My Life (2008) on January 14, Ramtin Lavafipous's Be Calm and Count to Seven (2008) on the 15th, Nader Takmil Homayoun's Tehroun (2009) on the 21st and Shirin Neshat's Women Without Men on the 22nd.
Ray Pride, at the top of his "Best of 2010" list at Movie City News (and his #1, by the way, is The Social Network): "The true movie of the year is a movie that is not a movie, that is not a script, that is not an idea, that is not even yet a flicker in the filmmaker's mind, and that movie, of course, would be the one not yet imagined by Jafar Panahi, yet sensed by those who governed Iran in 2010 and imprisoned, then released, and have now sentenced the writer-director of Offside and The Circle to six years in prison and, at the age of 49, twenty years without writing, filming, talking to media or leaving his homeland. What a wondrous, momentous, life-changing, world-shaking film it must be! Borges and Kafka are not amused by the Iranian government's presumption."
Before he gets to his own list in the Nation (and to cut to the chase, Olivier Assayas's Carlos is "the one obviously great film released in 2010"), Stuart Klawans notes that he's "asked one of the principal scholars of Iranian cinema, Hamid Dabashi, what might be done. He recommended that Nation readers encourage the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to issue a statement to the Iranian House of Cinema in support of Panahi and Rasoulof. 'The pressure,' he wrote, 'must be public, institutional, non-governmental and above all relentless.' So I refer you to Bruce Davis, executive director of AMPAS, at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Who knows? Maybe the statement can be so public as to be incorporated into the Oscars broadcast."
Thing is, yes, that'd be something and it'd be substantial, a statement heard around the world. What we have to keep in mind, though, is that, by February 27, the opportunity to apply effective pressure on the Iranian government may have passed. The appeals may well have been submitted and ruled on. So let's do keep making noise right now and let's not forget to say Mohammad Rasoulof's name each and every time we mention Panahi's.
So back to that new issue. Amy Taubin talks with Mike Leigh about Another Year, Scott Foundas with Isild Le Besco, who'll be presenting her three films in the Film Comment Selects series in February. Chris Chang calls for a distributor for Patrick Keiller's Robinson in Ruins because "not only is this elegiac work filled with paradoxical hope for humanity's future, it's also an encouraging sign of life — an indication of the robust health of documentary art." Kari Rittenbach, by the way, has just interviewed Keiller for frieze.
Jesse P Finnegan: "By extracting one woman's digital traces and displaying them for the very world of which they were an invisible by-product, I Love Alaska makes the cached permanence of our roving, unconsidered engagements with the Web utterly and unsettlingly tangible." Scott Foundas on Aaron Katz's Cold Weather: "By the end of the film, one mystery is solved (more or less), and clues to an even greater one have appeared on the horizon: what the future of American independent cinema might look like." Plus, Haden Guest on Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica, Nicolas Rapold on Joel and Ethan Coen's True Grit and a string of "Short Takes."
Laura Kern: "As documentary festivals stake their ground more deeply around the world, CPH:DOX, sister event to April's fiction-based CPH:PIX, distinguishes itself by continuing to seek out films that defy the norm, or as festival director Tine Fischer puts it, 'films in the margins of the undefined.' It's a spirited, decidedly modern approach and the result (in its eighth year) is a proudly hip fusion of film, music, and the visual arts."
And then there are the lists. You'll remember the lists of the Top 50 released and Top 30 unreleased films of 2010. This issue's Trivial Top 20® (expanded to 50): "The Most Indelible Songs from 1980s Films." So the real news here, the list to spend some time with, is the Terra Incognita list of "20 unknown pleasures from around the world to look out for" in the coming year. One of them, as it happens, is François Ozon's Potiche, which Robert Koehler's just reviewed for filmjourney.org: "Ozon's steady shift to being a conservative filmmaker (he started off as some kind of radical, and then started making money) serves him well this time."
Certainly the most spectacular-looking list this year is Sam Smith's. He's a done work recently for IFC Films, Criterion and Janus Films and he's created his own unique poster for each of his ten favorite films of 2010. Do go take a look.
Steve Erickson in Gay City News on his #1 film of the year: Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void "isn't without its flaws, particularly its acting and screenwriting, but I'm comfortable calling this French film about the aftermath of a police killing of a young American drug dealer in Tokyo a masterpiece. Few narrative films have pushed so hard at the boundaries of the medium and tried to express the ineffable."
AD Jameson at Big Other in his #1, Around a Small Mountain: "This isn't one of Rivette's best films, and it isn't the best place to start watching him. But it's still marvelous, gaining much power from the impression that it's unfinished, and presumably Rivette's last. (It proved to be the final film for his long-time cinematographer, William Lubtchansky.)"
The German film journal Film Dienst has posted its top ten, while the Playlist has indexed its year-end lists.
The Exiles is at the IFC Center — this weekend only. Richard Brody in the New Yorker: "Kent Mackenzie made this miraculous independent film between 1958 and 1961 by means of scrounged film, borrowed equipment, donated services, and free labor… The resulting drama, a pilgrim's progress of three characters through a night of urban loneliness and dissipation, has an epic grandeur and a monumental intimacy that belies its mere 72 minutes."
The LA Weekly's Karina Longworth recalls Buck Henry comments on Easy Rider: "'It looks like a couple hundred outtakes from several other films all strung together with the soundtrack of the best of the 60s. But it opened up a path. Now the children of Dylan were in control.' LACMA's series True Grit: The Golden Age of Road Movies, starting [yesterday], spans 11 films from a seven-year period (1967-1974) in which the 'children of Dylan' dragged in a wide net full of ideology and iconography that reflected the zeitgeist and temporarily reshaped Hollywood film production to allow for personal expression. The titles range from inarguable classics (Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Five Easy Pieces) to flops that have since inspired their own cults (Electra Glide in Blue, Two Lane Blacktop, Zabriskie Point), to a couple of wild cards unavailable on DVD (Play It As It Lays, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot). The films are united not only by the American roads lacing through their narrative episodes (shot by Conrad Hall, László Kovács, Vilmos Zsigmond and other cinematographic greats) but by their preoccupations with and/or allusions to very of-the-era tropes: hitchhiking, communes, casual sex, hair length as ideological marker, pop music as shared text, jail, fried chicken."
Also in the LA Weekly, David Cotner: "As the economy enters a violently dismal state resembling a depression, what better time to bring back films from the Depression itself? Mixed Nuts: Vaudeville on Film at the UCLA Film and Television Archive recalls a time when comedy, song and dance sometimes were enough to pull an audience out of misery both economic and emotional." Through February 27.
Michael Atkinson in the Voice on Americatown, now at the ReRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn: "A G-rated indie goof set in a mythically perfect American burg that's actually made up, location-wise, of landmarks from San Francisco to New York, this ensemble piece begins moving when a Pleasantville-style imbalance (after a population dip from 1,000 to 999, and a spilled cup of coffee) precipitates a rescue mission of sorts by the town's hapless bureaucrats. But the vibe rarely expands beyond dozy Comedy Central skits sprinkled with ironic cliches rather than jokes." More from Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 1/4), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE) and Michael Tully (Hammer to Nail).
"The corn is as high as a mechanical bull's eye in Country Strong, a runny-mascara melodrama about a country-western superstar warbling, weeping and wailing her way back from another stint in rehab to the glare of the stage," writes the NYT's Manohla Dargis. "Gwyneth Paltrow, working a deep-fried accent and a strategically conspicuous cross necklace, plays Kelly Canter, a high-profile train wreck who, in the wake of a disastrous tour and an alcohol-induced miscarriage, heads back on the road in hopes of setting her life and career straight. As they apparently like to say in Hollywood (still!), the only successful woman is a desperately unhappy woman." More from Mike D'Angelo (Las Vegas Weekly, 2.5/5), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2.5/4), Glenn Heath Jr (Slant, 0/4), Karina Longworth (Voice), Wesley Morris (Boston Globe, 2/4), Michelle Orange (Movieline, 7.5/10) and Keith Phipps (AV Club, C-).
"When it comes to Nicolas Cage performances these days, goofier is infinitely better," declares Nick Schager in Slant. "Once a compelling comedic actor (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck) and, at his dramatic peak, an intensely off-kilter leading man (Wild at Heart, Leaving Las Vegas), Cage has detoured his career into big-budget action spectacles ever since The Rock, becoming a thoroughly phony presence whenever striving for subtlety, introspection, and recognizably authentic human behavior. Wild, bombastic, and severely self-serious are modes that now suit him far better, and not simply because they afford plentiful material for viral YouTube highlight packages; rather, Cage's affectation-overloaded turns bring idiosyncratic, electric personality to his B-grade genre vehicles. Such is certainly the case with Season of the Witch, a relentlessly ineffective, often unintentionally amusing supernatural Crusades saga." More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 2/5), Jeannette Catsoulis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, 2/4), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London, 3/5), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, D) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 5.5/10).
For more goings on around the world, see Criterion's latest repertory roundup.
IN OTHER NEWS
"For the last 53 years, Stanley Kauffmann has presided over our coverage of film, with all the strengths of judgment and temperament, and all the erudition, for which he is justly celebrated," writes New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier. "This magazine is delighted to announce the appointment of a second film critic, and it is David Thomson" who "will now be reviewing movies regularly for TNR Online, in a new section we're calling 'At the Movies,'" which'll also be running reviews from the magazine's archive — beginning with Otis Ferguson on Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
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