James Quandt

  • Joaquim Pinto, E Agora? Lembra-me (What Now? Remind Me), 2013, digital video, color, sound, 164 minutes. Joaquim Pinto and Nuno Leonel.

    Joaquim Pinto’s What Now? Remind Me

    A LIE, A FIRE, and—most drastic—a smile inaugurate Joaquim Pinto’s self-commemorating diary film E Agora? Lembra-me (What Now? Remind Me). (Both query and command, and tenuous in tense, the title in its very unwieldiness imparts Pinto’s precarious state.) In sotto, dolorous voice-over, the Portuguese director introduces himself: “My name is Joaquim. My life is uneventful.” His unadorned declaration—first name only, the simplest diction—prepares us for the mundane events that his film will entail, just as the opening sequence in which a gray-green slug hauls its soft body

  • Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier, The Five Obstructions, 2003, 35 mm, color, sound, 90 minutes. Jørgen Leth.
    film April 16, 2014

    Leth Is More

    “THE HARDBOILED OLD MEN with hearts of stone must die,” Lars von Trier declared in his first manifesto, twenty years ago, fresh from film school and ready to launch a Nordic nouvelle vague by killing the Father—or fathers, Ingmar Bergman in particular. Among the ancients the enfant terrible had in mind to vanquish was perhaps his professor and mentor, Danish icon Jørgen Leth, a poet, novelist, diplomat, and filmmaker whose poetic documentaries form the antonym of von Trier’s aggressive aesthetic. Nursing a grudge for two decades after Leth supposedly snubbed him in the hallway of the Danish Film

  • Lav Diaz, Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 250 minutes. Fabian Viduya (Sid Lucero).

    Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History

    LAV DIAZ turns the syllabic rigors of haiku into a kind of ars poetica in his latest epic, the portentously titled Norte, the End of History. “Five-seven-five, perfect!” Norte’s protagonist, Fabian Viduya, exclaims to his lover early in the four-hour film, admiring the “Japanese” precision of a poetic form that constrains an artist to such a sparse, unvarying structure. The compression and aesthetic impediment of haiku would seem inimical to Diaz, the most searching and philosophical director of the so-called Philippine New Wave, a movement that rivals the New Romanian Cinema as the past decade’s

  • Alain Guiraudie, L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake), 2013, 35 mm, color, sound, 97 minutes. Michel (Christophe Paou) and Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps).
    film January 20, 2014

    Dangerous Liaisons

    “WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE ARCHITECTURE,” Claude Chabrol once claimed. “You can’t actually see it in a film, but it is there. It is abstract but you must have it.” Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake imposes an architecture, more obvious than abstract, on a wild and isolated setting: a gay nude beach and forested cruising area in southern France. The film’s formalist structure—Stranger takes place in a single location over ten consecutive days, all but the final two introduced by a similar fixed shot of an adjacent parking area—intensifies its depiction of the vagaries of desire, an

  • Lav Diaz, Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, the End of History), 2013, digital video, color, sound,
250 minutes.

    James Quandt

    1 NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY (Lav Diaz) Lav Diaz’s Dostoyevskian mini-epic—at four hours, a mere sip for this hitherto-oceanic filmmaker—may prove the greatest work of the Philippine New Wave.

    2 ’TIL MADNESS DO US PART (Wang Bing) This unfortunately named but excoriating documentary examines a mental institution in southwest China, the inmates of which include the insane, the defiant, and the simply inconvenient.

    3 TROIS EXERCISES D’INTERPRÉTATION (Cristi Puiu) Cristi Puiu’s witty trio of extempore acting workshops in Toulouse recalls Éric Rohmer’s late portraits of amorous delusion and

  • Alexander Sokurov, Faust, 2011, 35 mm, color, sound, 134 minutes. Moneylender (Anton Adasinsky) and Heinrich Faust (Johannes Zeiler).

    Alexander Sokurov’s Faust

    “IT WILL BE A VERY COLORFUL, elegant picture with a lot of Strauss music,” predicted Russian director Alexander Sokurov in 2005, envisaging his long-nurtured version of Goethe’s Faust: “There won’t be any smell of war, but you’ll sense the aroma of chocolate in the room.” Six years later, after Vladimir Putin had personally ensured the film’s funding, the Faust that triumphed at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion, proved more metaphysical dirge than frothy operetta. Along the way, the color turned dun and fungal, the elegance to grotesquerie, the Strauss to pastiched Gounod

  • Alain Guiraudie, L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake), 2013, 35 mm, color, sound, 97 minutes. Michel (Christophe Paou) and Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps).

    Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake

    “WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE ARCHITECTURE,” Claude Chabrol once claimed. “You can’t actually see it in a film, but it is there. It is abstract but you must have it.” Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake imposes an architecture, more obvious than abstract, on a wild and isolated setting: a gay nude beach and forested cruising area in southern France. The film’s formalist structure—Stranger takes place in a single location over ten consecutive days, all but the final two introduced by a similar fixed shot of an adjacent parking area—intensifies its depiction of the vagaries of desire, an

  • Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing, 2012, HD video, color, sound, 116 minutes. Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, and dancers. Image: Drafthouse Films.

    Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing

    There are people like me everywhere in the world.

    —Anwar Congo

    SUMANTRAN SLAUGHTERER Anwar Congo and his rotund sidekick, Herman Koto, the latter heavily rouged in a turquoise muumuu and showboating chapeau, sway and shimmy in a sunlit forest, baptized by a burbling waterfall as a chorus line of Balinese beauties in gold lamé gowns slowly vogue their way out of the mouth of a giant concrete carp, everyone exhorted by a zealous offscreen choreographer to exude “peace! Happiness!” and to “smile!” The appalling sight of a war criminal, responsible for the torture and deaths of hundreds of his

  • Nagisa Oshima, Edinburgh, August 21, 1983. Photo: Steve Pyke/Getty Images.

    Nagisa Oshima

    “OSHIMA’S A BASTARD. Whatever you do, don’t invite him!” more than one colleague counseled when I was organizing a retrospective of the Japanese master’s films in 1988. Fortunately, I ignored their advice. Generous, funny, unaccountably serene, Nagisa Oshima proved the most amenable of guests, sharing my (then) passion for the films of Theo Angelopoulos, entertain­ing Toronto audiences with long, scotch-lubricated Q&As—“Please give me money for my next film!” he mock-pleaded after a screening of Max, Mon Amour (1986)—and deflecting with amused resignation a frenzied group of Japanese

  • Terrence Malick, Days of Heaven, 1978, 35 mm, color, sound, 94 minutes. Foreground: Bill (Richard Gere).

    AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES: THE FILMS OF TERRENCE MALICK

    WILL To the Wonder—or TO THE WONDER, as the film’s end credits have it—finally dispel the aura of reverence that has settled over the cinema of Terrence Malick? The late creation of an artist can act as an alembic, concentrating and thereby heightening the qualities of his former work, Robert Bresson’s L’Argent (1983) being only the most imposing example. And To the Wonder, like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986) (both of which Malick has drawn from, particularly in 2011’s Tree of Life), distills all that is intolerable in its maker’s films. Ironically, To

  • Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, 1983, 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, color and black-and-white, sound, 103 minutes.

    James Quandt

    JAMES QUANDT

    PLUCK ANY APERÇU from the Montaigne-like musings of Chris Marker and it soon effloresces into manifold meanings. “A hiker walking in a straight line is always sure to get lost in the forest,” the narrator observes in Letter from Siberia (1957), a warning, perhaps, to the unwary who attempt to traverse his labyrinths of spiraling time and unreliable memory. “I write to you from a far-off country”: That film’s opening line establishes the epistolary, globe-hopping mode of Marker’s cinema, though every distant land represented in his films—Iceland, Cuba, China, Guinea-Bissau, and

  • James Quandt

    1 La Noche de Enfrente and La Maleta (Raúl Ruiz) Life seems untenable without more films from Ruiz, whose final offerings—a feature that merrily journeys toward mortality, and his recently discovered and reworked first film, a mise en abyme short from 1963—returned the exiled Chilean maestro to his homeland and to his initial funhouse style.

    2 The Last Time I Saw Macao (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata) The time-defying precincts of the former Portuguese colony prove to be both an architectural and a semiotic jungle for the film’s unseen narrator in this tranny-noir