Steven Erickson

  • film December 28, 2010

    Sketchy Comedy

    THE RED CHAPEL (2009) gives one the impression that director Mads Brügger doesn’t care if he makes himself look like a jerk, so long as it’s in the pursuit of some greater truth. Alternately entertaining and unsettling, the documentary depicts a trip to Pyongyang undertaken by Brügger and two young Danish-Korean comedians, Jacob Nossell and Simon Jul Jørgensen. Jacob is a self-described “spastic” who often needs to use a wheelchair; his physical challenges and the North Koreans’ response to them are central to the film’s conceit. The jovial Simon is largely ignored by the director.

    The duo arrive

  • film March 17, 2010

    Ladies Who Lunch

    MID-AUGUST LUNCH (2008) is an easy film to underrate. Its considerable charm lies on its surface; less immediately apparent, but underpinning the whole of the film, is the terror of grappling with the loneliness of aging. Italian actor/writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio demonstrates his multivalent talent, but not in a way that calls attention to itself. The actors, mostly nonprofessionals, are remarkably natural. At times, one can imagine Mid-August Lunch as a documentary.

    A fifty-something bachelor, Gianni (Di Gregorio) lives with his ninety-three-year-old mother. The manager of Gianni’s condo

  • film February 17, 2010

    Rebel Rebel

    “FILM COMMENT SELECTS,” now in its tenth year, seems conscious of its status as the New York Film Festival’s rebellious younger brother. This year, it opens with Jonathan Kaplan’s teens-gone-wild classic Over the Edge (1979) and includes a revival of another landmark film about adolescence, Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (1991).

    Philippe Grandrieux’s Un Lac (2008) raises the use of shakycam to a high art (as if the technique needed the flattery): Rarely has handheld camerawork been so expressive. Shot in French with a cast of Russian actors, Un Lac depicts a close-knit family living in the

  • film December 01, 2009

    Style and Substance

    THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA that blossomed in the 1970s is often reduced to three directors—Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder—for US consumption. The distribution company Facets has slowly been working to counteract this trend: Soon to come is a stream of Alexander Kluge DVDs; for now, Facets has completed its release of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s trilogy of films on the roots of German pathology, following Hitler, a Film from Germany (1977) with Ludwig: Requiem for a Virgin King (1972) and Karl May (1974).

    Ludwig blends the influences of Wagner—who is repeatedly name-dropped by

  • film November 16, 2009

    Loan Star

    SOUTH KOREAN DIRECTOR Hong Sang-soo’s films haven’t yet attained steady American distribution, but they have had an impact on younger Korean filmmakers. Lee Yoon-ki’s My Dear Enemy (2008) is perhaps the first prominent Hong-influenced film to reach stateside screens, and it actually shows more of a flair for light comedy than Hong himself achieved in his latest film, Like You Know It All (2009).

    Lee has a gift for visual style, but he wears this virtuosity casually. The Steadicam Cinemascope shots that kick off My Dear Enemy make clear that the film will be something beyond the humdrum or prosaic.

  • film June 18, 2009

    Decent Exposure

    ALTHOUGH THE NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL’S program notes are adamantly populist, the festival, now in its eighth year, has become most valuable as a showcase for maverick work like Jang Sun-woo’s Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (2002), a Taoist response to The Matrix (1999), and Kôji Wakamatsu’s New Left docudrama United Red Army (2007). Japanese director Kanji Nakajima’s The Clone Returns Home (2008) fails to strike the same sparks as the festival’s past, more inspired, sci-fi choices. Doggedly solemn, the film conflates gravity with depth, using slow pacing and an avoidance of close-ups

  • film April 20, 2009

    Animal Attraction

    THE WORK OF FRENCH SCIENTIST-DIRECTOR Jean Painlevé defies pigeonholing, which may explain why he’s relatively obscure in the United States. Are his shorts documentaries, educational films, or avant-garde experiments? Most of the time they’re a blend. Criterion’s three-DVD set brings together twenty-three of his shorts—he made more than two hundred—along with The Sounds of Science (a cycle of eight films set to a 2001 score by Yo La Tengo) and a lengthy documentary on Painlevé.

    Scott MacDonald’s otherwise comprehensive liner notes remain mum on Painlevé’s sexuality, but it’s worth noting his

  • film February 18, 2009

    Choice Cuts

    SINCE ITS INCEPTION TEN YEARS AGO, “Film Comment Selects” has been an essential supplement to the New York Film Festival, the kind of program equally open to French splatterfests and the poetic musings of Philippe Garrel. This year’s edition may be the first whose revivals are more exciting than its new films; offered up are Robert Aldrich’s lesbian landmark The Killing of Sister George (1968), the complete cinematic oeuvre of Guy Debord, Lou Adler’s punk saga Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains (1981), Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s terrorism satire The Third Generation (1979), and two

  • film December 10, 2008

    To Be Real

    FLASHY AND DELIBERATELY UNREAL, Europa exemplifies a stylistic path quickly abandoned by its director, Lars von Trier. Four years after the film’s 1991 release, he coauthored the Dogme manifesto. Although von Trier wouldn’t make an official Dogme film until 1998, the manifesto’s influence, its emphasis on technical austerity and attention to narrative, was already apparent in Breaking the Waves (1996) and the television series The Kingdom (1994–97).

    Europa takes place in Germany in 1945. Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr), a German-American pacifist, has arrived in the country to work as a

  • film October 24, 2008

    House Calls

    IN THE US, Israeli director Amos Gitai is best known for the narrative films he has made over the past decade, particularly Kadosh (1999) and Kippur (2000). However, he began his career as a documentarian and director of experimental shorts, and his strongest fiction films maintain a direct connection to reality. Perhaps his best narrative film, Esther (1986), is notable for a coda in which the actors break character to speak directly about their own experiences.

    New York’s Museum of Modern Art is screening most of Gitai’s documentaries in a series titled “Amos Gitai: Non-Fiction,” including a