James Quandt

  • James Quandt


    1 THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (CRISTI PUIU) Olfactory cinema—one can verily smell the film’s sodden protagonist—and a miracle of observational empathy. In our diminished culture, the title probably qualifies as a spoiler, but the inevitability of Mr. Lazarescu’s demise does nothing to lessen the surprise of his squalid Dantean odyssey toward death.

    2 THREE TIMES (HOU HSIAO-HSIEN) Conscious summa or inadvertent sampler of Hou’s career, his triptych of love stories opens rapturously and ends attenuated; no one in contemporary cinema comes closer to Vermeer’s interiors with his


    SIDE LIT AND GLIMMERING, the billiard balls in the opening sequences of Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien’s new film Three Times, look more like objets d’art, so aestheticized is the atmosphere in which they exist—a hushed, radiant world of robin’s-egg shantung, green baize, and crisp muslin. As if observing Emily Dickinson’s instruction that “the Truth must dazzle gradually,” the film hangs fire, exquisitely, in that manner familiar to those who know their Hou: time suspended, natural light spilling into domestic space, a sense of reverie and yearning quietly cumulating in the idle air.

  • Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tropical Malady, 2004, still from a color film in 35 mm, 118 minutes.


    When APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL’s fourth feature shared the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes last year, it made official his standing as the preeminent Thai filmmaker—and one of the freshest voices in cinema anywhere. In anticipation of Tropical Malady’s arrival in American theaters this summer, JAMES QUANDT spoke with the director about his films.

    “Princess Tea,” Apichatpong Weerasethakul murmurs, inspecting the tag on a tea bag fetched by a publicist before our interview at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival. “Princess Tea,” he repeats, as if hypnotized by the phrase. When I joke that they could

  • View of “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project),” Haus der Kunst, Munich, 2003–2004.

    James Quandt on Cinévardaphoto

    THE COBBLED QUALITY of Agnès Varda’s latest film, a suite assembled from three shorts, is belied by its cunning design. Structured as a kind of reverse retrospective, Cinévardaphoto—in limited release nationally—begins with her latest work, Ydessa, the Bears and Etc. . . . (2004), and travels backward in two-decade leaps to Ulysse (1982) and, finally, Salut les Cubains (1963). The portmanteau approach may be more pragmatic than poetic—film distribution renders any short film an instant orphan—but the wily Varda turns necessity into conceptual invention. Her triptych offers three variations on

  • James Quandt


    1. The World (Jia Zhang-ke) Baudrillard goes to Beijing. In Jia’s sad, encompassing vision of the new China, all is fake, forgery, or facsimile—except the desire to escape.

    2. Notre Musique (Jean-Luc Godard) Godard’s Dantean triptych spills us into the abyss of the last century and suggests we will live forever with its slaughterous legacy.

    3. 10e Chambre, Instants d’audiences (Raymond Depardon) The French photographer turns the proceedings of a Paris courtroom into a Balzacian fresco; funny and flinch-making.

    4. Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (Rodney Graham) A massive, clattery, ’50s Italian

  • Manoel de Oliveira

    THE TENDER, NOSTALGIC QUALITY of Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira’s recent films I’m Going Home and Oporto of My Childhood suggests that he has succumbed to the serenity expected of the artist in old age—a senescent “late style” of harmony and reconciliation, as Edward Said described it in one of his last essays. Now in his mid-nineties and as prolific as ever, Oliveira has for decades maintained his august reputation with a series of often cryptic and demanding works. Where much Portuguese cinema tends toward reticence and melancholy, toward the sad, soulful qualities of fado and saudade

  • The Five Obstructions

    “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

  • Bruno Dumont, Twentynine Palms, 2003, still from a color film in 35 mm, 130 minutes. Katia (Katia Golubeva) and David (David Wissak).


    THE CONVULSIVE VIOLENCE OF BRUNO DUMONT’S NEW FILM Twentynine Palms (2003)—a truck ramming and a savage male rape, a descent into madness followed by a frenzied knifing and suicide, all crammed into the movie’s last half hour after a long, somnolent buildup—has dismayed many, particularly those who greeted Dumont’s first two features, Life of Jesus (1997) and L’Humanité (1999), as the work of a true heir to Bresson. Whether Palms’ paroxysm of violation and death signals that Dumont is borrowing the codes of Hollywood horror films to further his exploration of body and landscape or whether it

  • James Quandt


    1. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Rapturous Thai long-take languor; the copious sex and strangeness camouflage the film’s political intent.

    2. Come and Go (João César Monteiro) The Portuguese master’s serenely scabrous requiem, a three-hour relinquishing of the world.

    3. Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Adrift and bereft in Istanbul’s snowy gloaming; the insistent homages are to Tarkovsky, but in their glowering shroud, the city and sea suggest Sokurov.

    4. The Ground and The Hedge Theater (Robert Beavers) Exquisite in their precision, gorgeous and mystifying in their slant

  • Richard Massingham in What a Life!, 1948, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 12 minutes. Mr. A (Massingham) and Mr. B (Russell Waters).

    James Quandt on Richard Massingham

    HOW IS IT THAT A BRITISH DOCTOR fifty years dead, an oddball amateur who made advertisements and corporate training films, instructional works, and propaganda for the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Information, is suddenly being discovered as one of the great eccentrics of film history? The coercive power of arcana has seen masters displaced by marginals in many fields, but until recently it did little for the reputation of Richard Massingham (1898–1953). Massingham once seemed destined for posthumous stardom after Henri Langlois, cofounder of the Cinémathèque Française and mentor to the French

  • Guy Maddin, The Saddest Music in the World, 2003, still from a black-and-white and color film in 35 mm, approx. 100 minutes. Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini).


    “CULT” AND “COTERIE” CLING LIKE BARNACLES to the reputation of Winnipeg director Guy Maddin, a situation that may change with the release later this year of his new film, The Saddest Music in the World, starring Isabella Rossellini and scripted by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. Maddin’s work—five previous features, eighteen short films, and an installation piece commissioned by Toronto’s Power Plant, where it debuted in March—is eccentric, even hermetic in its pursuit of the filmic primeval. “I work under the banner of primitivity,” Maddin has proclaimed, and for the past two decades he has invoked