COLUMNS

  • Test Drives

    JUST AS, FOR MANY, the pandemic’s repercussions on the movie industry weren’t fully accepted as fact until the Cannes Film Festival canceled their 2020 edition, so too were international film events in physical space not considered a reality until director Thierry Frémaux announced the festival’s return earlier this year. And return it did, belatedly and somehow bigger than ever, with new dates (July instead of the customary May), a new section (Cannes Premiere), new health protocols (mandatory Covid tests every forty-eight hours for non-Europeans), and a handful of films (most notably Wes

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  • Time Regained

    WRITTEN CIRCA 700 BC, the Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days is an 828-line poem that doubles as a sort of farmers’ almanac in which the author instructs his brother on the physical and moral imperatives of agrarian living. Less didactic but equally epic, C.W. Winter and Anders Edström’s The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) takes up the title and major themes of Hesiod’s verse for its own comprehensive look at a vanishing way of life in a small mountain village of forty-seven people in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. Running 480 minutes, the film is structured by the cadences

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  • Sound and Fury

    LEOS CARAX’S ANNETTE IS A MONSTER, a misery, an astoundingly raw movie/musical theater hybrid. It was the first film I saw in a screening room after fourteen months of pandemic isolation so circumstances may have played a part in my being so bouleversé. Also, I was sitting in the first row, the screen was very wide, and Carax doesn’t stint on close-ups. In any case, this is a film about a man who is fucking angry, and his anger went straight to my solar plexus, shaking me around for two hours. It also unleashed a torrent of associations, most of them cued by the director. In the end titles,

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  • Blood Stream

    ESSENTIALLY A VEHICLE for solo performance, TikTok can make individual careers, but the humble Facebook-Twitter-YouTube ecosystem—identified by the British filmmaker Peter Snowdon as the vehicle for “vernacular video”—can make history. The most obvious example: Darnella Frazier’s recording of George Floyd’s murder, arguably the most influential single cinematic event in recent memory.

    The Uprising, 2014, Snowdon’s scandalously underappreciated Arab Spring compilation, is a landmark deployment of vernacular video. So is The Monopoly of Violence, 2020, known in France as Un pays qui se tient sage

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  • Second Nature

    THE SUPERRICH WANT, and can have, luscious gardens of their own. We know the gardens of Versailles, the chateau overlooking them representative of the extreme indulgences of the aristocracy that helped bring on the French Revolution. Those famous grounds were planned by royal architects and constructed through the toil of the working poor. But where do wealthy people’s private parks come from today, in our late-capitalist aftermath? Well, generally speaking, the same place. Nature is, again, plucked from the public, or from private owners tempted by payouts (as the middle class disappears,

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  • Lady in the Lake

    FORGED FROM APOCRYPHA by men who collect tales, the siren—mermaid, Undine, what have you—is marked by a thousand visions and revisions. What endures in the popular imagination: She is piscine from the waist down; calls a body of water home; and boasts, in lieu of a soul, a voice so devastating that Hans Christian Andersen collects her tongue along with her tail. But in Christian Petzold’s new film, Undine, our titular water nymph seems more weary scholar than mythic feminine, working as a docent at Berlin’s Märkisches Museum, where she relays municipal history to curious visitors. Where is her

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  • Urban Studies

    THE WINNER OF THE GOLDEN BEAR at this year’s Berlinale was Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), an irreverent social satire about a teacher who faces judgment by the community after a sexually explicit video she made with her husband—intended solely for private consumption—is leaked online. This send-up of righteousness and opprobrium is set during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Jude never missing a chance to mine distancing protocols and mandated mask-wearing for comic value and contemporaneity. At a festival disrupted by sanitary restrictions, with press and industry screenings

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  • Freedom Songs

    IN 1935, a German ethnomusicologist named Robert Lachmann was fired from his library job and fled from the Nazis to Jerusalem. Born in Berlin to a Jewish family, he had learned to speak fluent Arabic as a young man and had begun to study the forms and structures of Arabic song while working as an interpreter for North African POWs during World War I. He later traveled to Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, conducting extensive fieldwork on secular and liturgical music while developing a wide area of expertise ranging from medieval to modern songs and encompassing everything from Kurdish and

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  • I Shall Not Be Moved

    SPEAKING ON THE CLIMAX of his 1984 period piece Shanghai Blues, which ends on a Hong Kong–bound train from Shanghai, the Saigon-born, Hong Kong–based filmmaker Tsui Hark offered that the Chinese “are caught in something like a migrating curse, moving from one place to another.”

    On the face of it, Tsui’s cinema, with its staccato editing and pop sensibility, might seem to have little to do with that of Jia Zhangke, who has been the most prominent Mainland Chinese filmmaker on the festival circuit since his first feature, Pickpocket, played the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998—the title

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  • Self Composed

    CHAITANYA TAMHANE’S WORK is gaining momentum. His directorial debut, Court (2015), a meditation on the banal evil of India’s judicial system, was praised for challenging the ideological conventions of the legal drama through static shots and long takes. No fast cut, close-up-heavy procedural is staged inside the courtroom; no dramatic monologues are delivered; justice is not served. Tamhane’s second feature, The Disciple (2020), while more kinetic in its camerawork (by Michal Sobociniski), proceeds at a similarly measured pace. Its narrative—about the existential journey of Sharad (Aditya Modak),

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  • Track Changes

    CALL ME A KNEE-JERK PESSIMIST, but I can’t help but feel that America’s about as ready to embrace an emotionally and intellectually challenging art movie in ten parts as it is to come to a full reckoning with slavery and its stubborn, protracted legacy—which is to say, I don’t think it’s ready for Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad.

    As I’m writing this, Jenkins’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s cunning and stormy antebellum picaresque is only beginning to stream its way through Amazon Prime. In the first couple days, I’ve sensed initial confusion from some in the viewing public who may

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  • Pain Quotidian

    RIGID, ASHEN, AND CAMOUFLAGED against backgrounds intricately rendered in fifty shades of greige, characters throughout Roy Andersson’s 2014 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence repeat the line “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.” Paired with the likes of a tortured, electrode-bound lab monkey and a man in an office on the brink of suicide—not to mention the entire film’s haunting by one Boschian vision of colonial terror—this recurring utterance becomes a searingly insipid punch line. Andersson, in Pigeon and the other two films in his “Living Trilogy,” depicts the symbiosis of

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