Thursday, October 20, 2016

Son of Joseph (2016) A Film by Eugène Green

"This principle of elimination—why provide surplus aural and visual stimuli when two or three pieces of information will do?—informs every scene here, from a literary cocktail party that Vincent crashes to a dinner date between Marie and Joseph, both of which play out in a minimum of punctiliously arranged frames and share a blatant disregard for naturalistic ambiance. In many ways, Green's work runs directly counter to the show-don't-tell mode of cinematic thinking that valorizes 'leaving space' for the viewer's imagination. Instead, Green outlines his character's feelings and motivations in dialogue, ensures that nothing interrupts the transmission of the sentiments, and points his camera directly at his character's faces, those apparent vessels of truth—and yet, a sense of psychological complexity, even mystery, remains."

I wrote about Eugène Green's latest film, showing at the New York Film Festival, for Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Gabe Klinger Interview

I interviewed writer/director/critic Gabe Klinger at the Zurich Film Festival for Filmmaker Magazine, in which we discussed his new film Porto, its unique use of various film gauges, and its debt to Manoel De Oliveira, among other things. Here's one of my favorite bits:

"Klinger: When I’ve been in romantic relationships and they’ve run their course, I think there’s still a little bit that you can salvage from whatever’s left. You always ask the person, 'don’t you remember the good moments?' But more often than not, the bad things cloud those things. And it works the other way around, too. The irrational side of us always wants things to stay as they are, but if you’re not in love anymore, you can take the rational posture, which is also kind of irrational, because love isn’t a coherent thing. So the person who wants to stay in the relationship becomes the crazy person and the person who wants to leave the relationship because it’s 'for the best' becomes the rational one, but actually you’re both irrational. There’s no clear-headed way to summarize what happened to you."

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Zurich Film Festival

"It's generally agreed upon that one should allow themselves a few hours of decompression and acclimation when first landing in a faraway city, but as I drowsily touched down for the 12th annual Zurich Film Festival after an arduous 10-hour flight, time was not on my side, so I rushed instead to a film that captures something ineffable about the frazzled traveler's mindset. Gabe Klinger's Porto, my first taste of the festival at an evening showing, is about bemusedly roaming in half-light through a foreign city while periodically drifting in and out of recollections of a potent recent relationship gone sour."

I attended the Zurich Film Festival and covered it across two dispatches for the House Next Door.

Dispatch #1: On Porto, La Reconquista, Lady Macbeth, and Two Lottery Tickets
Dispatch #2: On Vanatoare, Europe, She Loves, Einfach Leben, Sketches of Lou, The Eremites, Misericorde, El Invierno

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hermia and Helena (2016) A Film by Matías Piñeiro

"Matías Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena offers an implicit rebuke to the received notion that the American debuts of eccentric international filmmakers are bids for accessibility. The film's narrative concerns the residency of a young, Bueno Aires-based theater director, Camila (Agustina Muñoz), in New York City, where she's been invited to translate A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish for a new take on Shakespeare's canonical comedy. And while her adventures feature rekindled romances and a familial reunion, Piñeiro takes considered measures to steer clear of saccharine self-discovery drama. In utilizing a temporally and geographically jumpy structure, a series of detours and doublings that frustrate Camila's centrality in the story, and a visual surface that delights in non-narrative distractions, he even goes so far as to obfuscate whatever crowd-pleasing qualities may have existed in the material."

I wrote about my favorite Matías Piñeiro film thus far as part of Slant Magazine's NYFF coverage.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) A Film by Kenji Mizoguchi

"On the back cover of their Blu-ray release of The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, the Criterion Collection heralds the 1939 Kenji Mizoguchi film as 'the first full realization of the hypnotic long takes and eloquent camera movements that would come to define the director's films'—a seductive claim, to be sure, but one with the potential to mislead. The Japanese filmmaker was experimenting with the cited aesthetic as early as 1935 with The Downfall of Osen, which withheld a close-up revelation of its titular protagonist until the tail end of a lugubrious flashback structure, while 1937's criminally underseen The Straits of Love and Hate, inspired by Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, plays like a model for Hou Hsiao-hsien's work in its serene patience and pictorial distance. That's, of course, to account for only Mizoguchi's extant films; within the dozens undiscovered, it's reasonable to assume, given the stylistically bold temperament of something even as early as 1925's The Song of Home, that there's some sophisticated time-sculpting going on elsewhere."

Reviewed the new Criterion Blu-ray.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Contesting History – The Films of Oliver Stone

"Regarded as a politically radical firebrand nearly as often as he’s discussed for his filmmaking, Oliver Stone is one of the monolithic voices of contemporary Hollywood—a figure about whom opinion tends to be divided starkly between derision and adulation, with little room for ambivalence in between. As a veteran of the Vietnam War whose Bronze Star and Purple Heart belie a profound disillusionment with his experience there, Stone has spent a considerable chunk of his directorial career depicting the events of the 1960s and 70s, paying particular attention to the ways in which the era’s tensions and contradictions act as barometers for more enduring problems in American politics. His overarching thesis as a filmmaker—that passive faith in one’s nation leaves one blind to the fact that the interconnected forces of government and national media construct digestible narratives for their citizenry in ways that protect their own interests—doubles as a call to action, which therefore brands Stone as an activist working within the entertainment business, a perch from which he wields a rare influence."

The Harvard Film Archive is hosting a small survey of Oliver Stone's political filmmaking this fall. They generously asked me to contribute the introduction and, with the exception of the blurb on Snowden, all of the program notes for the series, which can be viewed here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Be Sure to Share (2009) A Film by Sion Sono

"An anomalous tearjerker from Sion Sono couched between some of the director’s most outré genre eruptions, Be Sure to Share channels Sono’s own grief over the loss of his father into a modest tale of filial piety renewed against the backdrop of terminal cancer. Shiro (Akira), who’s happily employed in his late twenties and on the cusp of engagement to his mild-mannered girlfriend, Yoko (Ayumi Itô), has his world rocked when his father Tetsuji (Eiji Okada) unexpectedly keels over and is rushed to the emergency room. When the diagnosis consigns Tetsuji to the hospital bed for what will likely be a permanent stay, Shiro, recognizing that his relationship with his dad extends scarcely beyond old-fashioned tough love, endeavors to deepen their connection before it’s too late. The premise is a melodramatic softball right over the middle of the plate, the kind of idea that Hollywood would hypothetically poach and transform into two hours of sad-macho life lessons handed down from an award-sniffing veteran actor to a handsome newcomer."

My second contribution to the Sion Sono retrospective at In Review Online continues here.