Dennis Lim

  • film May 31, 2019

    Cannes of the Dead

    TYPICALLY A PRESSURE COOKER of divided interests and divergent opinions, the Cannes Film Festival concluded its seventy-second edition last Saturday on a rare note of unanimity: a Palme d’Or for the film that happened also to be the critical and popular favorite. The South Korean director Bong Joon-ho took the festival’s top prize for his virtuosic social satire Gisaengchung (Parasite), which was welcomed across the board as a return to form and perhaps even a career peak after a pair of conceptually elaborate if somewhat unwieldy international coproductions, Snowpiercer (2014) and Okja (2017).

  • Fallen Angels

    IN MOST MOVIES, architecture is simply where things happen: a container for action, a background against which drama unfolds. You can see why cinema has seldom made it an explicit subject: The act of photographing space reduces three dimensions to two, and it seems a doubly perverse exercise to confront the mute, static presence of a building with a movie camera. Discussions of architecture in relation to cinema usually concern films by, say, Michelangelo Antonioni or Jacques Tati, in which the built environment is prominent. But over the past two decades, the German filmmaker Heinz Emigholz,

  • film May 29, 2018

    Off Topic

    OF ALL THE PRESSURES weighing on a major film festival, the most urgent—and in some ways the most absurd—is the one to be topical. How does a behemoth like Cannes meet the moment, and what would that even mean? As the most powerful film showcase and marketplace in the world, Cannes doubles as an annual referendum on the state of the art and the industry, and two framing narratives dominated this year’s pre-festival coverage. The first stemmed from the festival’s ongoing battle with Netflix, with Cannes positioned as the stubborn old guard defending the sanctity of the cinematic experience against

  • performance March 16, 2018

    Liberté or Death

    THE FORTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD CATALAN DIRECTOR Albert Serra has brought his singular sensibility to bear on a remarkable range of works, straddling the film and art worlds with a rare understanding of the contexts of spectatorship and a flair for productive provocation. His films bring the mythic past to life by distilling fabled events to eccentric anecdotes and imbuing figures of legend with the mundane weight of existence. Following the droll anti-adaptations of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (Honor of the Knights, 2006) and the Biblical parable of the Three Kings (Birdsong, 2008), he staged the


    RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER ONCE SAID that he sought to build a house with his films, each one a wall or floor or window—an additive process that would ultimately reveal a representative edifice. This metaphor helps illuminate the wondrous improbability of David Lynch’s eighteen-hour Twin Peaks: The Return (2017). What we have here is not an artist in his twilight years unveiling a crowning capstone, but one with the resources and the will to erect a whole new structure from the ground up: a house built in a single late burst of inspiration, big enough to hold a life’s work.

    Directed in full

  • film June 05, 2017

    Squared Circle

    FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW, a rare consensus emerged at the Cannes Film Festival. If the 2016 edition will be remembered for its farcical jury decisions, this year’s official selection stands a good chance of being barely remembered at all: Rarely does the Cannes competition, world cinema’s most pedigreed showcase, leave so little of a collective impression. In stark contrast to the ceremonial merriment of its seventieth anniversary, which occasioned a star-studded Cannes yearbook photo call and a gala evening of musical numbers (Isabelle Huppert warbling “Happy Birthday”) and speeches about


    THE SEARCHING, striking digital films of Sky Hopinka are complex formal arrangements, conceptually and aesthetically dense, characterized by an intricate layering of word and image. But they are also wellsprings of beauty and mystery, filled with surprising confluences of speech and song, color and motion. A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, Hopinka (three of whose shorts are featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, opening this month in New York) has described his work as “ethnopoetic,” a term that encompasses several imperatives—among them, the mission to reclaim the ethnographic


    IN PATRICK KEILLER’S FIRST FEATURE, London (1994), an unnamed, unseen narrator articulates a theory of landscape on behalf of the film’s equally invisible presiding spirit, a spectral figure named Robinson. Flaneur, aesthete, researcher-for-hire, Robinson believed that “if he looked at it hard enough, he could cause the surface of the city to reveal to him the molecular basis of historical events, and in this way he hoped to see into the future.” Within this curious-sounding assertion lies the very promise of the landscape film, a genre with both materialist underpinnings and mystical overtones,

  • film June 03, 2016

    Toni! Tony! Toné!

    FROM WITHIN the media hothouse that emerges annually around the Cannes Film Festival, every edition unfolds as a narrative in progress, from the off-season speculation to the announcement of the lineup through to the bleary days and boozy nights of the event itself, culminating with the final punctuation of the awards ceremony. Which films were not ready and which were snubbed? Did the official competition snatch up the strongest titles or was it upstaged by the parallel sections? Based on the composite of juror personalities and preferences, and the vagaries of behind-the-scenes politics, what

  • film June 03, 2015

    Competitive Edges

    THE CENTRAL QUESTION of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which made headlines for banning selfies and reportedly insisting that women wear high heels at evening galas, was one of inclusion and exclusion. In other words: What does and doesn’t belong on this hallowed red carpet?

    The nucleus of Cannes has always been its official competition, a closely watched shortlist of twenty or so titles that compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or. An annual snapshot of the state of the art, this is historically where the firmament of world cinema is established. The competition consumes the festival’s media

  • David Lynch in Philadelphia

    PHILADELPHIA LOOMS LARGE in the personal mythology of David Lynch as a place that both terrorized him and changed the course of his life, his Gomorrah and his Rubicon in one. A product of small-town America, Lynch credits this onetime epicenter of urban blight with instilling in him a fear and disgust so extreme it opened a mental pathway to “another world.” He transfigured the city’s postindustrial dereliction into the infernal wasteland of his first feature film, Eraserhead (1977), and the dying gasps of its manufacturing age—clanking gears, droning machines, venting steam—indelibly

  • film June 05, 2014

    Cannes Get Enough

    FORTY-SIX YEARS after he and his comrades stormed the stage at the Cannes Film Festival to shut down the event in solidarity with the workers and students on the barricades, Jean-Luc Godard, now eighty-three, proved that he still has what it takes to stop this circus in its tracks. For those who came here for the films—as opposed to the conspicuous consumption and permanent hangover of this Hollywood-meets-Eurotrash spring break, with its socialite yacht parties, billionaire charity auctions, and luxury-brand pageantry—the single official screening of Godard’s 3-D opus, Goodbye to Language, was

  • film June 02, 2013

    Wild Palmes

    IN THE EYES OF MANY, Steven Spielberg’s jury did the right thing—or, rather, the correct thing—awarding the Palme d’Or to Abdellatif Kechiche’s critically lauded lesbian drama, Blue Is the Warmest Color. Spielberg, who showed his sensitivity to French current affairs by voicing support for his host country’s cultural exception policy at last Sunday’s awards ceremony, presented the Cannes film festival’s top award to Kechiche and his two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, just as another horrifying antigay demonstration was wrapping up in Paris, which has this month seen hundreds

  • Matías Piñeiro’s Viola

    WITH A GROWING NUMBER of hybrid films drawing on the restless energies of documentary, the Argentinean writer-director Matías Piñeiro stands apart for asserting the latent possibilities of drama. Over four wholly distinctive films, Piñeiro has devised his own variant on interdisciplinary cinema, one that treats theater as a mutable raw material for film and insists on the cinematic qualities of text and language. If many recent art films have made prominent use of nonactors, typically cast as some version of themselves, Piñeiro’s beguiling, hyperverbal movies revel in the transportive

  • Pablo Larraín’s No

    THREE TIMES in Pablo Larraín’s No, René Saavedra, an advertising executive in 1980s Santiago, unveils a pitch to his clients. René (Gael García Bernal) is a young hotshot with a then-fashionable rattail and a soothing boardroom manner, and at each meeting, speaking a lingo of practiced buzzwords, he trots out a near-identical spiel: “What you are about to see is in line with the current social context.” “Today Chile thinks of its future.” One sales come-on is for a soft drink called Free. Another promotes a Dynasty-like telenovela. The third makes the case for ending the murderous dictatorship

  • film December 29, 2012

    What’s Up DOX?

    JUST A DECADE OLD, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival—more commonly known as CPH:DOX—already occupies a sizable footprint on the European festival landscape. This ambitious, outward-looking event now boasts multiple ancillary initiatives, including a financing forum and a cross-cultural production project, but at its heart is a strong curatorial stance, an idea of documentary film that is at once distinctive and expansive. Fittingly, one of the themed programs for last month’s tenth anniversary edition was titled “Maximalism,” and it stretched to encompass Leos Carax’s Holy

  • film December 03, 2012

    Rome If You Want To

    FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW this sort of thing, the recently concluded—and newly rebranded—Rome Film Festival doubled as a case study in the ambitions and contradictions of such events today. Seven years into its existence, this upstart festival—stuck, like so many others, in the quagmire of local politics—brought in a big gun, the veteran programmer Marco Müller, just off a widely lauded run at Venice, which happens to be not just the oldest film festival in the world but also Rome’s direct competitor. On paper, Müller’s mandate was clear enough: elevate Rome’s stature and clout by introducing the

  • film November 19, 2012

    Gold Standard

    THE VIENNALE TURNED FIFTY THIS YEAR, and as befits an event that shuns red carpets and festival politics-as-usual, it did not make too big a deal of the milestone. While Vienna’s international film festival is not above populist concessions—this edition’s included a tribute to Michael Caine and Ben Affleck’s Argo as opening-night film—it does not by any means cater to all tastes. As festivals the world over succumb ever more to industry pressures and sponsorship demands, the Viennale’s longtime director, Hans Hurch, has repeatedly stressed the importance of programming without strings. (“On the

  • António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro

    INCUBATED ON THE LITERAL and figurative margins of Europe, Portuguese cinema can often seem a world unto itself, a semiautonomous territory that evolved at its own pace and at a productive remove from the rest of the continent. The lost years of the Salazar dictatorship and the pent-up energies from decades of repression and dormancy; the deep-seated agrarian tradition and the delayed arrival of industrialization; the vast storehouse of local history and myth and the vibrant cinematheque scene of the post-Salazar years—all have conspired to create in Portugal one of the richest and most

  • film May 30, 2012

    Elephant in the Room

    A TUMULTUOUS CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, marked by constant downpours and frequent boos, ended with the restoration of order. For the most part, the decisions of the Nanni Moretti–led jury were a vindication of recent history and the critical consensus. The Palme d’Or went to Amour, by Michael Haneke, who won the top prize in 2009 for his previous film, The White Ribbon. Cristian Mungiu, a Palme laureate in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, took two prizes (screenplay and actress, split between the two leads) for Beyond the Hills. (The Haneke and Mungiu films were also the joint leaders of Screen