COLUMNS

  • Strangest Things

    A LOONY FAIRY TALE opens this year’s Projections sidebar of the Fifty-Sixth New York Film Festival. Gabriel Abrantes’s and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino alludes to the immigration crisis, cybernetics, gender-bending, political corruption, internet crime, and global sports mania, yet remains fanciful to the end, replete with a bevy of villains and a too-good-to-be-true hero who gives the film its title. Diamantino Matamouros (Carlo Cotta), like Wagner’s Siegfried, is, as English comedienne Anna Russell’s hilarious spoof described the latter, “very brave, very handsome, and very stupid.” Soccer

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  • SYNC OR SWIM

    “Believe me, we are never sad enough for the world to be better.”

    FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le livre d’image (The Image Book, 2018) could not be more of the moment. It is almost without narrative constraints—the most abstract in the series of collage films that spin off from his epic Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98)—and is thus as ephemeral as a dream. I saw it twice at Cannes in May, and although I still remember the intensity of the experience, the details have fled my mind. Le livre d’image is also the most melancholy of his late films, yet it is framed with an

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  • Fault Lines

    HALFWAY THROUGH director Sofia Djama’s accomplished feature-film debut, Les Bienheureux (The Blessed), about the intertwined lives of five characters struggling with the past and the future in present-day Algiers, a pudgy teenager with obnoxious hair pushes his sister aside at her bedroom door. They’ve been fighting about their dad, a man both demanding and catatonically depressed, and about who is responsible for the housework. Their mother is dead, and the whole family is clearly bereft. The sister, Ferial, has a sharp tongue and an outsize attitude. She isn’t taking any of her brother’s crap.

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  • Sound Off

    “GLOBALIZATION TAKES PLACE ONLY IN CAPITAL AND DATA,” wrote Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her 2012 book An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. “Everything else is damage control.” Networks of information exchange have garbled political messaging; if political art could ever accurately reflect ideology, that mirror is now increasingly clouded. The challenge, argues Spivak, is to relearn how to learn, and an aesthetic education is the only way to deliver global justice.

    Enter Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, the rapper-singer-provocateur better known by her stage name, M.I.A. The logical

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  • Day Shifts

    RAMELL ROSS’S FEATURE DOCUMENTARY DEBUT Hale County This Morning, This Evening isn’t a character study in the usual sense, though it does single out two principal characters, both young black men living in a low-income area of rural Alabama, for name-tag identification. Daniel is an incoming freshman joining the basketball team at tiny HBCU Selma University. Quincy, seemingly around the same age, has already begun shouldering adult responsibilities, raising a son, Kyrie, with his wife Boosie. We get to see into the lives of both young men, and rather more into the vivid life of the community

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  • LADIES OF THE LAKE

    THE STATUS OF female filmmakers in the twenty-first century remains grim. In 2016, two federal agencies began an investigation into discrimination against women directors in Hollywood, prompted by the ACLU’s abysmal findings on sexism in the industry. In June of this year, the Directors Guild of America published a report on the 651 films released theatrically in the US in 2017—from the microbudgeted to the big-studio-backed—which found that women accounted for only 16 percent of directors.

    Against this bleak data, several initiatives from the past five years have reminded us of the

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  • Rise, Resist

    DIRECTOR STEPHEN MAING might just be the next Laura Poitras. Poitras produced his previous short film, The Surrender (2015), on State Department intelligence analyst Stephen Kim’s prosecution under the Espionage Act, and she is the executive producer of his latest inflammatory feature, Crime + Punishment, an account of racist policing in New York and its ripple effects in Ferguson and beyond. The film focuses on two intertwined stories: the NYPD 12, a group of Latinx and black cops who stood up against racial profiling and filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, and a private investigator

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  • Swiss Watch

    THE YEAR’S EDITION OF THE LOCARNO FESTIVAL—held every August along Lake Maggiore in southern Switzerland—was preceded by buzz of a different kind: the news that its artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, would be ending his five-year run to join the Berlinale in 2020. This announcement lent an air of anticipation and ambiguity to a festival that has long embraced the unpredictable in its championing of a conception of cinema as diverse and experimental as one is likely to find at a major festival. Where else would Bruno Dumont (who received a lifetime achievement award) share the eight-thousand-seat

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  • Lost and Found

    NOT LONG AFTER HER HUSBAND, the philosopher and Resistance leader Robert Antelme, was ambushed by the Gestapo in Paris in 1944 and deported to Buchenwald, Marguerite Duras logged the ensuing period of uncertainty in a diary that would spend the next four decades yellowing in a cupboard, supposedly forgotten. In 1985—one year after Duras enthralled the world with The Lover, a slim, fathomless autofiction of scarring desires too often misread as one of brave romance—the journal was finally published, alongside other memoir-like vignettes and two fictions, as La Douleur (Pain). The word is euphemistic.

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  • Square Space

    ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS—the low-resolution artifact of the square monochrome image that leaves cirrus-like trails when in motion, all framed in a black box—what is most striking about the pictures produced by the Pixelvision camera is their sense of intimacy. Designed to be used by young, untutored shooters, the teensy plastic lens holds a foggy but constant approximation of “focus” without need of manual adjustment, in both long shots and close-ups as near as a few centimeters from the subject.

    This ability to get close—extremely close—was taken advantage of by Sadie Benning. While making short,

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  • À La Mode

    EVEN AMID ALL THE FAKE-NEWS FLAPPERY ONLINE, documentary form has seldom been as robust as it is today. Nonfiction film festivals are stretching the already blurred boundaries drawn up by the documentary tradition, and art spaces are increasingly embracing nonfiction media, especially in moving-image form—of which the New Museum’s John Akomfrah exhibition is just the most recent example. One crucial locus for this convergence of documentary cinema, experimental media, and contemporary art is FIDMarseille, an international film festival now in its twenty-ninth year that has long cultured these

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  • Oh Henri!

    THE PHRASE THAT PHOTOGRAPHER HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON IS FOREVER LINKED TO—that of “The Decisive Moment”—seems near to an assertion of the primacy of the still image’s power over that of the moving image, the single absolutely right frame over hundreds of approximate ones, and suspended tension and mystery over unfurling drama. The phrase provides the title for an exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs currently on display at the International Center for Photography, accompanied by a program of moving-image work produced by or dedicated to the photographer at Anthology Film Archives. In a

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