James Quandt

  • Jia Zhang-ke, Xiao Wu, 1997, 35 mm, color, sound, 112 minutes.

    James Quandt

    James Quandt, Senior Programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Austrian Film Museum, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (Indiana University Press, 2012).

    Of the hundreds of films I have watched during the coronavirus lockdown, most were classics on the Criterion Channel or Kanopy, so my pandemic Top Ten is culled exclusively from the superbly curated 2020 New York Film Festival.



    THE WOMAN WHO RAN (Hong Sang-soo)

    Hong’s brisk, bucolic social comedy comprises a series of seemingly equable conversations that are inevitably invaded by neighborly dispute,

  • Still from Kantemir Balagov’s Beanpole, 2019, 2K video, color, sound, 137 minutes. Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) and Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina).


    KANTEMIR BALAGOV’S BEANPOLE, set in devastated Leningrad just after the end of World War II, commences with an auditory enigma. Under the credits, an odd, intermittent sound emerges, somewhere between an asthmatic rasp and a death rattle, accompanied by a piercing overtone. The film’s first image finally reveals the source: a close-up of a woman’s pallid face, her eyes wide and fixed on nothing, her throat gently spasming as she emits strangulated gasps. She is Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), nicknamed Beanpole, a nurse in a military hospital who, having been invalided from the front lines with

  • Pedro Costa, Vitalina Varela, 2019, HD video, color, sound, 124 minutes. Vitalina Varela.

    James Quandt

    James Quandt, Senior Programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Austrian Film Museum, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (Indiana University Press, 2012).


    LUC TUYMANS (Palazzo Grassi, Venice) and THE WHITE ALBUM (Arthur Jafa)

    Tuymans’s glorious retrospective of paintings dense with references to the cinematic and Jafa’s justly consecrated video in the Arsenale provided the high points of this year’s Venice Biennale.


    (Pedro Costa)

    Darkness visible. Abandoned by her husband’s death, the eponymous Cape Verdean woman, who returns from


    THE ACADÉMIE FRANÇAISE, that venerable body of forty “immortal” academicians charged with policing the French language to prevent the infiltration of Anglo-Saxon words and Gallic neologisms, has been in the news lately because of its inability to fill four of its seats—prized positions that Balzac, Zola, and Verlaine once pursued and were denied. Olivier Assayas, whose own passionate concern with the preservation of French culture is evident again in his new film, Non-Fiction, would recognize the académie’s crisis as the ancien régime succumbing to the inexorable advance of modernity. Ironically,


    THE REVERENT ADEPTS of French director Claire Denis hold her work inviolable, finding in its every lapse and disaster new conduits to her unconscious, mistaking her films’ copious incoherence for visionary poetry and their recurrent absurdity for narrative daring. Like her compatriot Olivier Assayas, Denis cannot resist forays into genre filmmaking: the vampire-cannibal horror movie in Trouble Every Day (2001); the modernist puzzle picture in L’intrus (The Intruder, 2004); film noir in Les salauds (Bastards, 2013); and rom-com in Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sunshine In, 2017). From the

  • James Quandt

    DEAD SOULS (Wang Bing) Wang’s epic eight-hour-long documentary about the Maoist reeducation camps of the 1950s collects the clandestine testimony of survivors in a heroic act of historical witness.

    2 THE IMAGE BOOK (Jean-Luc Godard) A surging requiem for a world addicted to its own annihilation.

    UN HOMME MARCHE DANS LA VILLE (1950) (Marcello Pagliero) The revelation of the mini-retrospective dedicated to the Italian-French auteur Pagliero at II Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, this neorealist noir set in Le Havre deserves classic status.

    THOMAS BAYRLE (New Museum, New York) The films and videos


    GÉRARD DE LAIRESSE’S 1668 painting Allegory of the Five Senses arrays a quintet of emblematic figures in a Baroque setting full of statuary, arcades, and flora to represent the faculties of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. The Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel might find much to admire in the tableau, since many aspects of it accord with her own art: the painting’s sense of fleshiness and abundance (the director’s corporeal frames exemplify her aesthetic of profusion); its attention to varieties of hair (a marked Martel motif, along with teeth); and its inclusion of a half-hidden monkey,

  • View of “The Boat Is Leaking. The Captain Lied.,” 2017, Fondazione Prada, Venice. Floor: Anna Viebrock, Runners,
2009. Walls: Anna Viebrock, Four Doors, 2017. Center: Alexander Kluge, Die sanfte Schminke des Lichts (The Soft Makeup of Lighting), 2007. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti.

    James Quandt

    1 “THE BOAT IS LEAKING. THE CAPTAIN LIED.” (Fondazione Prada, Venice) This exhibition, curated by Udo Kittelmann, ingeniously interlaced work by Thomas Demand, Anna Viebrock, and German director Alexander Kluge, offering a bracing reminder of the latter’s wit, compassion, political acumen, and formal audacity.

    2 JEAN VIGO (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, Italy) The restoration of Vigo’s tragically abbreviated oeuvre, including a reference print of L’Atalante (1934), proved the high point of this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, though his silent short À propos de Nice (1930), a film stubbornly


    THE TITLE of Abbas Kiarostami’s posthumous film, 24 Frames (2016), both announces the nature of the work—consisting of two dozen shots, all but one statically filmed with a fixed camera—and deviously invokes Jean-Luc Godard’s famous pronouncement, “Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second.” Godard’s formulation, like so much imagery that will soon prove obsolete in relation to movies, referred to celluloid; Kiarostami in fact abandoned that medium long ago for digital filmmaking, in which separate frames do not actually exist. Never mind that the increasingly postmodernist

  • João Pedro Rodrigues, O ornitólogo (The Ornithologist), 2016, 2K video, color, sound, 118 minutes. Foreground: Fernando (Paul Hamy). Background: Huntresses (Juliane Elting, Flora Bulcão, Isabelle Puntel).

    João Pedro Rodrigues

    “THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS we shouldn’t try to understand,” declares the eponymous bird watcher in João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist—including, one surmises, the film he’s in. The most conventional of the Portuguese auteur’s protagonists, who have included a libidinous, latex-encased garbage collector seeking rough sex amid the rubbish (O fantasma [2000]) and an aged drag queen mortally poisoned by silicone breast implants (To Die like a Man [2009]), the solitary ornithologist nevertheless undergoes one wild ride after crashing his kayak on an annual trek to survey birds in a remote

  • Albert Serra, La mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 115 minutes. Louis XIV (Jean-Pierre Léaud).


    “DON’T YOU LIKE THIS HALF-LIGHT?” Casanova inquires of his servant as they travel by carriage through a dim Carpathian forest in Albert Serra’s Història de la meva mort (The Story of My Death, 2013). Like his libertine protagonist, the Catalan director is a connoisseur of obscurity. Shooting his films almost exclusively using available light, which is often scant or even absent, Serra revels in a low-lumen setting—the final scene of his Cant dels ocells (Birdsong, 2008) transpires in a nocturnal murk that renders it indiscernible—so the candlelit interiors of Versailles, the site of

  • Abbas Kiarostami, Doors Without Keys (detail), 2015, fifty digital prints on canvas, audio, dimensions variable.

    Abbas Kiarostami

    ABBAS KIAROSTAMI’S grievously premature death this past July transformed two of his final works, the art installation Doors Without Keys, 2015, and the film Like Someone in Love (2012), into inadvertent requiems. To discern portents of mortality in the last creations of artists whose expiry is untimely—Mozart’s unfinished Requiem being the most famous and vexing example—is a perilous game, but that has never stopped critics from reading Fassbinder’s Querelle (1982) or Pasolini’s Salò (1975) as auguries of their makers’ own willed demise. Though Kiarostami’s optimistic humanism, his