James Quandt

  • Jean-Luc Godard at the Centre Pompidou

    Last spring, after months of controversy, Paris witnessed the opening of a complete retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, accompanied by the filmmaker’s first foray into multimedia installation. Artforum dispatched film scholar James Quandt and artist-critic John Kelsey to the Centre Pompidou to assess Godard’s much-anticipated exhibition.


    Everything in life is like that—unfinished.
    —Viveca Lindfors in Joseph Losey’s The Damned

    THE JEAN-LUC GODARD EXHIBITION in Paris is a shambles, a ruin. A seemingly haphazard assemblage of hastily gathered and cursorily installed


    THE SINGLE MOST SHOCKING INSTANT in any film at Cannes this year was not Paul Dawson sucking back a sluice of his own cum in John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus, Sergi López suturing his freshly flayed face with a home sewing kit in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, or the assorted sub-Borowczyk provocations in György Pálfi’s Taxidermia, including a hard-on that doubles as a blowtorch, a speed-eating contest that ends in voluminous puking, giant cats devouring the entrails of their exploded owner, and the autotaxidermy that serves as the film’s flesh-abasing finale. None of those scandal-mongering

  • Cristi Puiu

    We’re just a bunch of miserable people, mister.
    ––Mr. Lazarescu

    THE CINEMA OF death has a new classic to stand with Maurice Pialat’s La Gueule ouverte, Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, and Derek Jarman’s Blue: Cristi Puiu’s Death of Mr. Lazarescu. At first glance an unlikely candidate for the canon, this 153-minute study in protracted mortality is the first of a half-dozen “stories of love” planned by thirty-eight-year-old Romanian director Puiu, who modeled his cycle, with its singularly unfetching title Six Stories from the Bucharest Suburbs, on Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral

  • 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