COLUMNS

  • Kind of Blue

    AS MIKE HOOLIHAN, a New Orleans detective and the gloomy protagonist of Carol Morley’s Out of Blue, Patricia Clarkson sustains an air of sardonic melancholy that nearly rescues the movie. Introduced via the rearview mirror of her sedan, Mike sports sunglasses and dark colors as she navigates the Louisiana daylight toward a crime scene: The shot-dead body of Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), a well-known astrophysicist. A short while later, in an interrogation room with Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors), a colleague (and lover) of Jennifer’s, Mike asks, “You sure you don’t want a lawyer?” As he

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  • Last Hurrah for Chivalry

    WHEN WE FIRST ENCOUNTER ZHAO QIAO, the central character in Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White, she is perhaps a little over twenty, her face untrammeled by time or worry and framed by the most perfectly engineered bangs in Datong, the northern mining town whose streets are run by her boyfriend, Bin, a big man in the local jianghu gangs. The year is 2001, but by the time the film’s story ends, in 2018, Zhao Tao, the actress who plays Qiao, is playing nearer to her own age. At no point does Tao have recourse to actorly affectations in transforming the character from a young, wide-eyed moll to the

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  • Tusk Everlasting

    THE SPECTERS OF ITS MAKER may always haunt An Elephant Sitting Still. Born from writer-editor-director Hu Bo, who ended his life at the age of twenty-nine, the film is an odd orphan: a first feature and a last one. Mordant and disconsolate, in his final months Hu blogged on Weibo of his sparrings with producers Liu Xuan and Wang Xiaoshuai (director of Beijing Bicycle, Shanghai Dreams, et al.) over its elephantine four-hour runtime. Vexed, Wang sutured together an attenuated recut that he sent around to festivals in 2017. Such surgeries are standard, if myopic, for producers; Hu mourned them as

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  • LOVE ANOMIE

    “ARTY,” A COINAGE DATING to the heyday of Jugendstil, isn’t a term I like to use, but it seems unavoidable in discussing the work of the Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan. Two features into his career and just shy of thirty, Bi has established himself as the artiest internationally known director this side of the arch-pretensoids Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky. I don’t much care for either of those filmmakers, each a textbook practitioner of what Manny Farber, in the Winter 1962–63 issue of Film Culture, famously called “white elephant” filmmaking, but Bi is something else.

    Farber took issue with

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  • PLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

    THE FILMS of writer-director Christian Petzold are haunted: by the specters of history, by revenants, by shadowy protagonists often in flight or exile. These phantom threads are stitched together to create supple narratives that recall earlier movies—Vertigo especially—or classic genres (noir, the woman’s picture) without being in thrall to them. Petzold, born in 1960 to parents who had recently emigrated from East to West Germany, revitalizes old templates to offer new perspectives on historical rifts and traumas.

    That style is particularly pronounced in Transit (2018), his latest film, based

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  • Danse Macabre

    GASPAR NOÉ’S CLIMAX is an encyclopedia of ways in which the human body can bend and break, a sailor’s knot guide of the contortions possible with four limbs, a trunk, and a head, skulls seemingly empty of thoughts other than sex and death. Set in an isolated school somewhere outside Paris where a troupe of hip-hop dancers has assembled for intensive rehearsals before an impending American tour, the movie unravels in something like real-time. Cutting loose at the end of a day’s work, the dancers dip into a punch bowl of sangria before discovering that one of them has spiked it with LSD, precipitating

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  • Metafictions

    I SAW FEWER FILMS THAN USUAL at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, or “Berlinale,” for the simple reason that there was little in the program that interested me. I suspect I’m not alone. Especially among those of us coming to Berlin from Rotterdam, which—along with Locarno—is one of the continent’s second-tier festivals that increasingly manages to upstage Berlin’s first-tier status. One can only hope that the pronounced lapse in the quality of the programming that critics have been bemoaning in broken-record mode for years now will finally be allayed in 2020, when Carlo Chatrian

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  • Based on a True Story

    SO FAR, IT’S RAINING REALITY at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (or “Berlinale,” for short). If only someone would invent an umbrella that protects against blades, bullets, and toxic masculinity! The world would certainly be a better place, but then what bitter truths would be left for all these cinematic bigwigs to unpack?

    Among the most talked-about films this year is the latest from Fatih Akin, The Golden Glove—named after the trashy Hamburg pub that Fritz Honka frequented in the early 1970s. Honka enjoyed drink and the company of middle-aged to elderly prostitutes, most of them

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  • Stalk Footage

    EARLY ON in Female Human Animal, the docufiction by Josh Appignanesi, novelist Chloe Aridjis makes an observation that will echo throughout the film. “Well, this modern life and modern art and modern love—I don’t know, it all seems a bit soulless to me,” the author laments to an offscreen interlocutor. “I was probably born in the wrong century. But one just has to keep giving the century a chance: See what happens.” Dislocation and disenchantment are central tropes in Appignanesi’s cinematic portrait, which divides its attention between Aridjis and the late artist and writer Leonora Carrington,

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  • Good with Faces

    WITH ITS EXPANSIVE PROGRAMMING AND BOLD CURATION, the International Film Festival Rotterdam is a standout event on every European cinephile’s calendar. In that regard, this year’s edition was not an exception. Packing into twelve days everything from the latest statements from seasoned auteurs to the distilled essence of the next generation, Rotterdam was the one place this festivalgoer was eager to arrive at and sad to leave (food and weather aside).

    My journey began with a screening of Tsai Ming-liang’s new film, Your Face. Departing from the wandering, dreamlike narratives he has become known

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  • Coercive Theater

    ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi, Mom!, a white woman, dazed and recently raped, gives a fuzzy exit interview on camera. “Well, [New York Times theater critic] Clive Barnes was really right,” she says. “It was some experience. I’m gonna tell all my friends that they’ve gotta come.” The experience she’s referring to is Be Black, Baby, an immersive opportunity (and Hi, Mom!’s film-within-a-film centerpiece) for well-heeled white people to, per the title, temporarily “be black.” If this white woman and her kin had predicted correctly that they would be given “soul food” and be

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  • A GORY TALE OF TERROR!

    “CAN A GENIUS BE UNTALENTED, TOO?” This, for John Waters, is the vital question posed by the films of Andy Milligan, the director behind a prolific streak of distinctively seedy exploitation vehicles. Over the past several years, a number of works by Milligan, the “Fassbinder of Forty-Second Street,” have come back into circulation via home-video distributors specializing in outré offerings—BFI Flipside, Vinegar Syndrome, and, most recently, the American Genre Film Archive, which has just released hi-res scans of Guru, the Mad Monk (1970) and Fleshpot on 42nd St. (1973). Preservation initiatives

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