Film

A Liquid State

A Liquid State

In Memory of Alexis Arquette

The always deferential Huffington Post noted at the end of its article on Alexis Arquette’s death that it had “reached out to a representative for Alexis for further clarification on how the actor identified at the time of death.”

Kiarostami and <em>The Purge</em>

Kiarostami and The Purge

All the things Kiarostami could not show in his films became the only things Hollywood filmmakers chose to show in theirs.

All of a sudden The Purge: Election Year became a stand-in for America’s violent, cynical, stupid cinema—the exact opposite of everything Kiarostami stood for and everything he achieved over four and a half decades of filmmaking in Iran and elsewhere.

This Quiet Place Today

This Quiet Place Today

Formerly assigned parts as villainous Romans and Nazis, British actors now populate American films as the worst America has to offer, and sometimes as exemplars of the white working class.

Dirty Pretty Things, Never Let Me Go, Under the Skin, and now The Lobster—British art-house cinema is obsessed with organ harvesting. Forcing people into strange rooms to rob them of their organs or, in the case of The Lobster, to recalibrate their organs and thereby change them into animals . . . I don’t think this is something preying on the minds of Americans. Our worries are more immediate. We’re more likely to be mowed down by an assault rifle in public than we are to have our organs harvested for use by the upper class or space aliens.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

Episode 24: At the Movies

Episode 24: At the Movies

Most film critics that write today regularly are essentially publicists for Hollywood films. Their criticism is intermingled with this form of entertainment journalism that really has nothing to do with criticism. So a lot of times when you read a film review now, in addition to getting a lot of plot description—which I don’t think is really necessary in film criticism anymore, because everybody knows everything about films before they come out now because of the internet—you get a lot of histories of the people who are in the films or made the films.

We Other Puritans

We Other Puritans

No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous.

The Witch is effective as a chiller, and the acting is tremendous—everyone’s wound so tight you expect springs to pop out of their heads. But we are aware from the first shot that this is a Serious Film, more Arthur Miller than Eduardo Sanchez, because the cinematography is trendily washed out, the better to show off the blood that spatters every other scene. There are visual echoes of Goya; the end title informs us loftily that much of the dialogue comes from period sources. The filmmakers are so desperate to be taken seriously that they’ve forgotten to have much fun.

We're Not Ugly People

We're Not Ugly People

Oscar Movies, 2016

The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but Earthbound, and worse.

Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

There have been surprisingly few recent English-language films about infidelity, at least once you exclude movies that treat the subject as little more than a secret for characters to hide and reveal, a temptation for them to resist, or a sin for which they’re obliged to atone. It’s striking to see two films that consider their characters’ romantic betrayals so quietly and reflectively, with so little moralizing. That they arrive at very different conclusions—about what it means to be unfaithful, about how much strain a relationship can take, and about the extent to which committed relationships between people are, in the end, possible—suggests how many dramatic possibilities infidelity can give a filmmaker when it’s treated with seriousness and care. It also suggests a good deal about Haigh and Kaufman’s relative degrees of comfort with the kinds of grown-up, advanced-age relationships they’ve chosen to depict.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

On the sequel to The Act of Killing

Eyes gouged; eyes augmented; eyes blinded with old age; eyes guarded, darting, glassed-over; eyes squinting to check if the horizon has sharpened. A boy shuts his hard as he struggles to absorb his history lessons at school. His sister puts on their father’s glasses, giggling at how they warp her world. Eyes multiply, kaleidoscopic, as the structuring metaphor of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a new documentary on the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia that, between 1965 and 1966, killed up to a million people.

For Chantal Akerman

For Chantal Akerman

The “suspended, unproductive time” (in Crary’s phrase) of ordinary people was Chantal’s subject. She has ended up a Simone Weil of the cinema, as her film je, tu, il, elle seems in retrospect to predict she would, an artist hyperaware and sensitive to the world around her, one she apparently couldn’t take anymore.

The Past Is Another Los Angeles

The Past Is Another Los Angeles

Ryan Trecartin’s Priority Innfield

The arrow of time—whichever direction it points—is fraught with guilt. To age is to decline: that’s what we’re always told. To trace is to blame: that’s what we’re afraid of. To the extent that Priority Innfield confounds our understanding of sequencing, iteration, and cause and effect, it also lets us off the hook for crimes of chronology. By the end we may feel confused, exhausted, and epistemologically spent, but we also feel exonerated. We feel disempowered, but ready for play.

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Los Angeles Plays Itself

Psychologically, there are two L.A.’s. One is where Naomi Watts gets to be the sunny aspiring actress Betty and have beautiful teeth and a gorgeous lesbian relationship with an amnesiac Laura Harring. The other is where Naomi Watts is Diane, with fucked-up teeth, an unrequited romantic obsession, and a bullet in her head. They’re both the same movie, and none of it makes any sense. But it says something about how the city sees itself: things are one way, or suddenly another.

Going Her Way

Going Her Way

On Clouds of Sils Maria

In the opening scenes, you can feel Assayas clearing the ground for the drama of persuasion, seduction, and control between Maria and Val that will eventually take up the film’s center. Here there will be no men, and no attempts on the part of men to claim a right to either woman’s body, history, or name.

Neon Wave

Neon Wave

On Tsai Ming-liang

In a way, it is strangely appropriate that Tsai’s first film should have waited twenty-three years to appear in the United States. Tsai is a director obsessed with what the French call décalage, a kind of jet lag. The rhetoric of development used about East Asia—and elsewhere in the “developing” world—presumes a certain kind of linear, progressive time, or movement forward in time. Its voice insists that places like Taipei must catch up.

A Liquid State

A Liquid State

In Memory of Alexis Arquette

The always deferential Huffington Post noted at the end of its article on Alexis Arquette’s death that it had “reached out to a representative for Alexis for further clarification on how the actor identified at the time of death.”

Kiarostami and <em>The Purge</em>

Kiarostami and The Purge

All the things Kiarostami could not show in his films became the only things Hollywood filmmakers chose to show in theirs.

All of a sudden The Purge: Election Year became a stand-in for America’s violent, cynical, stupid cinema—the exact opposite of everything Kiarostami stood for and everything he achieved over four and a half decades of filmmaking in Iran and elsewhere.

This Quiet Place Today

This Quiet Place Today

Formerly assigned parts as villainous Romans and Nazis, British actors now populate American films as the worst America has to offer, and sometimes as exemplars of the white working class.

Dirty Pretty Things, Never Let Me Go, Under the Skin, and now The Lobster—British art-house cinema is obsessed with organ harvesting. Forcing people into strange rooms to rob them of their organs or, in the case of The Lobster, to recalibrate their organs and thereby change them into animals . . . I don’t think this is something preying on the minds of Americans. Our worries are more immediate. We’re more likely to be mowed down by an assault rifle in public than we are to have our organs harvested for use by the upper class or space aliens.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

Episode 24: At the Movies

Episode 24: At the Movies

Most film critics that write today regularly are essentially publicists for Hollywood films. Their criticism is intermingled with this form of entertainment journalism that really has nothing to do with criticism. So a lot of times when you read a film review now, in addition to getting a lot of plot description—which I don’t think is really necessary in film criticism anymore, because everybody knows everything about films before they come out now because of the internet—you get a lot of histories of the people who are in the films or made the films.