James Quandt

  • Michael Haneke, Amour, 2012, 35 mm, color, sound, 127 minutes. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva).

    Michael Haneke’s Amour

    I do view the society I live in as pretty loveless.

    —Michael Haneke

    “I WAS SO YOUNG ONCE!” cries the unnamed woman played by Emmanuelle Riva in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour (1959). More than a half century later, the octogenarian Riva first appears in Michael Haneke’s Amour as a corpse, ceremoniously laid out on a bed in her Paris apartment in a long, dark dress, her head wreathed with desiccated flower petals. Her body has, apparently, remained in the sealed room for days, the smell of decay repelling the pompiers who force the door in the film’s cataclysmic opening shot. Violent

  • Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Le Menu de maigre (The Fast-Day Menu), 1731, oil on copper, 13 x 16 1/8".

    CLOSE-UP: FRAMED

    BEFORE THE MASSACRE OF INNOCENTS in the final twenty minutes of Robert Bresson’s L’Argent, the director’s last and most drastic film, Bresson pauses his tautly vectored tale of exploitation and revenge to fasten his camera on a coffeepot nestled in a warming pan sitting alongside a café bowl that holds only a mote of light. This tabletop still life, lasting just a few seconds but granted eloquent implication through Bresson’s rapt close-up, signifies far more than mere calm before the slaughter. Marguerite Duras once commented that “Bresson’s filmic immensity is contained as much in a single

  • Werner Schroeter, Der Tod der Maria Malibran (The Death of Maria Malibran), 1972, still from a color film in 16 mm, 104 minutes. Singer (Anette Tirier) and Maria Malibran (Magdalena Montezuma).

    MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION: THE FILMS OF WERNER SCHROETER

    What Schroeter does with a face, a cheekbone, the lips, an expression of the eyes [is a] multiplying and burgeoning of the body, an exaltation.

    —Michel Foucault

    One must regain a sense of wonder.

    —Werner Schroeter

    WERNER SCHROETER’S ECSTATIC FARRAGOES OF death and transfiguration aspire to the florid corporeality of Comte de Lautréamont’s Chants de Maldoror (1869). The German director—who died in 2010 at the age of sixty-five, with twenty-three feature-length films and as many shorts to his credit—revered the Surrealist avant la lettre’s sextet of prose cantos, given to impulsive

  • Pablo Larraín, Post Mortem, 2010, still from a color film in 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, 98 minutes. Mario Cornejo (Alfredo Castro).

    Pablo Larraín’s Post Mortem

    ETIOLATING LIGHT turns Chile into a nation of wraiths in Post Mortem, Pablo Larraín’s baleful allegory set at the time of the US-backed coup that deposed Salvador Allende in 1973. “Nothing can escape the wheel of history,” Dr. Castillo, chief coroner and dialectician at a Santiago hospital, proclaims early in the film, a point made literal in Mortem’s first image, a pulverizing long take from the undercarriage of an army tank as it grinds its way down a debris-strewn avenue. The film’s two self-absorbed protagonists do their best to ignore the imminence of history, falling into a catatonic love

  • Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse, 2011, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 146 minutes. Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bók).

    Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse

    “WHAT IS THIS DARKNESS?” a woman asks her father near the end of Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse as a sudden, fathomless obscurity descends on their isolated hovel. Of all contemporary filmmakers, the Hungarian director is the one most acquainted with the night, the cosmic desolation he infers from the vileness of humanity manifest in stark, tenebrous settings besieged by relentless elements. In Tarr’s sodden, seven-and-a-half-hour masterwork Sátántangó (1994), his characters walk out in rain—and back in rain. In The Turin Horse, a fierce, incessant wind shrieks across the steppe, awhirl with

  • Steve McQueen, Shame, 2011, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 101 minutes. Brandon (Michael Fassbender).

    Steve McQueen’s Shame

    THE MARTYROLOGY of Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008) and his new film, Shame, is founded on the male body, stripped and in extremis. The British artist’s acclaimed first feature chronicles the final days of Irish Republican Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), who starved himself to death in Belfast’s Maze Prison in 1981 in protest against the British treatment of IRA inmates as criminal, not political, prisoners. Expelled from their shit-smeared cells to be clubbed and flayed by their jailers, their hair bloodily hacked from head and face, the naked IRA men have only their pitiful flesh to

  • James Quandt

    1 Eika Katappa and The Death of Maria Malibran (Werner Schroeter, 1969 and 1972) The restoration of Schroeter’s twin masterpieces anticipates a retrospective of his long-unavailable oeuvre, which will confirm that, as the refrain of the “hillbilly star from Massachusetts” in Eika Katappa has it, “life is very precious, even right now.”

    2 The Clock (Christian Marclay) Along with Christoph Schlingensief’s overwhelming Fluxus-urchin altar-boy requiem, Marclay’s temporal epic was the best thing in the Venice Biennale. But one balks at its maker’s deterrence of close analysis; Marclay’s ingenious

  • Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 93 minutes. From left: Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).

    Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre

    ONLY IN AN AKI KAURISMÄKI film would someone comfort a dying woman by reading Kafka to her, as happens near the end of the po-faced Finn’s latest proletarian fable, Le Havre. Though still capable of such mordant jokes, Kaurismäki here largely forgoes the defining characteristics of his early cinema—battery-acid irony; mannerist compositions; elaborate conceptual jokes; the blithe and reckless jumbling of moods, sources, tones, and genres—in favor of the autumnal humanism and neo-Christian charity of his latter-day comedies of desperation Drifting Clouds (1996) and Man Without a Past

  • Raúl Ruiz, Mistérios de Lisboa (Mysteries of Lisbon), 2010, still from a color digital video, 257 minutes.

    Raúl Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon

    I will tell you everything at the appropriate time.

    —Dom Álvaro de Albuquerque, in Mysteries of Lisbon

    A TWOFOLD RESURRECTION, of both the life and the career of Chilean maestro Raúl Ruiz, Mysteries of Lisbon was made as the itinerant director neared death from liver cancer. The majestic control and sustained intricacy of Ruiz’s nesting epic, four and a half hours of false, mistaken, multiple, and discarded identities—the six-part television version runs more than an hour longer—seem doubly miraculous, given Ruiz’s dire health and his propensity for off-leash excursus and

  • Michelangelo Frammartino, Le quattro volte (Four Times), 2010, still from a color film in 35 mm, 88 minutes.

    Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte

    THE FIRST CALABRIAN animist-Neorealist process film inspired by Pythagoras’s conception of metempsychosis, shot in long takes with no dialogue or music track, Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte (Four Times) sounds daunting but is far from. A mystical chronicle based on the Greek philosopher’s four stages of spiritual reincarnation—human, animal, vegetable, mineral—the film maintains an aura of rigor and mystery but ends up more ingratiating than austere. The residue of decay forms its central motif: primordial loam venting smoke in the film’s precredit images; dirt swept from

  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 2010, still from a color film in 16 mm transferred to 35 mm, 114 minutes. Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee)

    Apichatpong Weerasethakul

    WE HAVE SEEN THEM BEFORE: the austere bedroom whose windows frame a vastness of grass and swaying forest; lozenges of light mysteriously shimmering in nighttime jungle; the young monk tired of isolation, yearning for human contact and popular diversion; an old woman weeping in bitter loneliness by a river; the sacred cave where souls are reborn; a Buddhist funeral bier gaudily lit like a Coney Island ride to the great beyond. The work of Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has always been one of recurrence and reincarnation—of characters, images, and settings, returning both within and

  • Eric Rohmer, Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon), 2007, still from a color film in 35 mm, 109 minutes. Léonide (Cécile Cassel) and Céladon (Andy Gillet).

    COMING OF AGE: LATE STYLE AND THE FRENCH NEW WAVE

    In the history of art, late works are the catastrophes.

    —Theodor W. Adorno

    The lucky ones are the defeated.

    —from Jean-Luc Godard’s Notre Musique (2004)

    THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the French New Wave in 2009 proved to be both milestone and death knell. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol subsequently passed away, Jacques Rivette made his final film, and, from his sanctuary in Rolle, Switzerland, Jean-Luc Godard announced his ultimate project, Film Socialisme (2010), before disposing of the visual matériel he had spent decades hoarding for his montage essays. (The fifth member of the Nouvelle