• Last Danse

    Valentin Noujaïm’s requiem for a razed nightclub

    ONLY ONE PERSON dances in Valentin Noujaïm’s short film Pacific Club, 2023, named for Le Pacific Club Privé, a quondam nightclub once located in a parking garage several stories below an office building in La Défense, the steely, corporate fortress built just outside of Paris. Open tous les nuits to a predominantly Arab, North African, and immigrant clientele for the better part of the 1980s, the Pacific spun bops by Québécois R&B act Boule Noire, American soul singer Lillo Thomas, and Egyptian-born, Franco-Italian chanteuse and gay icon Dalida, among others; the club also introduced Raï music

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  • Sundance Kids

    Amy Taubin on the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

    HUSTLED INTO THEATERS, onto streaming services, or continuing their festival tours, the very fine, the undistinguished, and the (unnamed below) abysmal movies from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival are soon debuting in New York. Not to be missed is Babak Jalali’s coolly deadpan comedy, Fremont, in which a former translator from Afghanistan takes a job in a San Francisco fortune cookie factory and discovers, by chance, her path to a new life. It takes nothing away from Jalali’s distinctive filmmaking voice to say that the economy and sorrowful humor of Fremont is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismäki and

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  • Passion of the Heist

    Willem Dafoe’s Inside and the art of entrapment

    THE SELF-PORTRAIT ISN’T THERE. Otherwise, the heist is going fine. Willem Dafoe has breached the penthouse, thwarted the alarm, located two fairly chaste but still pricey Schieles. There’s just one thing, though. The self-portrait: Dafoe can’t find it. In its place is a sort of picture-book orgy featuring an eerie likeness of the apartment’s owner. Time is running out. The “smart home” glitches and all the doors slam shut. Our hero is trapped, imprisoned, surrounded by priceless art, choice design, and an eight-figure view of Manhattan.

    This is the premise of Vasilis Katsoupis’s Inside: A burglary

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  • Reality Check

    On the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival

    “THIS IS REAL LIFE,” a woman tells her bewildered newborn in Notre Corps, Claire Simon’s empathic nonfiction film about a Parisian gynecological clinic. The sentiment kept coming to mind amid the sheer multiplicity of cinematic visions at the 73rd annual Berlinale. Back in full force after two pandemic editions (one virtual, one constrained), the festival thrived across its sections, all the more impressively for not relying on past premieres or the sort of mind-numbing branding that afflicts some festivals. Nurturing the many ecosystems where all manner of movies can grow, Berlin elegantly

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  • Entropic Thunder

    Albert Serra’s elusive vision of paradise lost

    FICTIONS OF EMPIRE abound in adventure, heroism, spectacle. Swashbuckling swordsmen. Precocious war correspondents. Worldly white men clad in Indigenous garb. Out there, in those wild lands, the promise of transcendence beckons. She is a femme fatale, thrilling you with her darkness. With its postcardlike images of Tahiti, Albert Serra’s Pacifiction offers exotic reveries of its own: pastel-dipped cabanas and bamboo chaises straight out of Emmanuelle; tan natives, seductively deshabille in headdresses and straw skirts of the kind seen in later Gauguins. Yet even as he renders these imperial

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  • Going Dutch

    On the 52nd International Film Festival Rotterdam

    THE FIRST IMAGE of the first movie I watched at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam set the mood: a woman splayed out on a pile of trash next to a kitschy painting of a sad clown. The remainder of Winnie Cheung’s acid-washed pseudo-documentary Residency—made during a “lockdown” residency at Brooklyn’s Locker Room studio—follows suit, tracking Cheung’s crew of cloistered creatives as they work, party, shoot the shit, space out. Forget what’s real and what’s not. The chaotic DIY setting, deliriously rendered in abstracting close-ups and ruby-red atmospherics, resurrects the collective

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  • The Iceman Cometh

    Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland takes a leap of faith

    GODLAND HAS TWO TITLE CARDS: one in Icelandic, the other in Danish. Hlynur Pálmason’s new film exists in the tension between these two languages, which are really two worlds: one wild and unforgiving, the other cramped, rationalistic, “modern.” The film follows Lucas (Elliot Crosset Hove), a Lutheran priest dispatched from Copenhagen to build a church in a remote settlement on the Icelandic coast. It is the nineteenth century, and Iceland is still ruled from abroad, and everything about Lucas sets him at odds with the land to which he has been sent. The priest does not speak Icelandic, and cannot

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  • Ecce PoMo

    The depthless hyperreality of Noah Baumbach’s White Noise

    EARLY IN NOAH BAUMBACH'S ADAPTATION of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), a college professor with ambitions to build a career in the academic study of Elvis Presley, asks his colleague Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) to attend his next lecture on the King. In the sixteen years since Jack founded the college’s Hitler Studies department, he has become one of the world’s preeminent scholars of the Führer, and Murray hopes his presence might lend some much-needed prestige to the Elvis project. Jack drops by the lecture, and the two professors have a good-natured verbal duel on the

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  • Entre Nous

    In search of Annie Ernaux

    IN THE WINTER OF 1972, around the time Manhattan gallerygoers were immersing themselves in Memory—a sprawling installation comprising over a thousand tiled photographs and several hours of tape-recorded text amassed by the American poet Bernadette Mayer—the French writer of memory Annie Ernaux and her then-husband, Philippe, bought a Bell and Howell Super 8 camera. Mayer, who died this year and who in life seemed ahead of the future, once imagined “a computer or device that could record everything you think or see, even for a single day”—a thought Ernaux would echo across space and time: “Someday,

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  • Horse Power

    Travis Jeppesen on the 59th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

    ALTHOUGH THE GOLDEN HORSE traditionally serves as the most coveted launching pad for Chinese-language filmmaking, this year, because of political tensions that have boiled over into official policy, there was a noticeable absence of films from mainland China. Given the brain drain currently afflicting the major cultural capitals of the mainland and Hong Kong, traditionally the intellectual beating heart of the region, it seems obvious that Taiwan, with its rich and dynamic cultural landscape—including an outsized filmmaking tradition that can comfortably stand its ground alongside South Korea

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  • Empire State of Mind

    Sam Mendes’s humdrum ode to movie magic

    IF SAM MENDES’S VISION for Empire of Light was to pay tribute to the faded glory of moviegoing for the era of Covid and streaming behemoths, he could have stopped at the three-minute opening-credits sequence and released it as a standalone piece. Here, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s plaintive piano score plays as Roger Deakins’s camera observes the detritus of a multiplex in the morning: a turned-off popcorn machine, an unoccupied ticket booth, a dusty room stocked with projection equipment. Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), the duty manager at the Empire Cinema, on England’s South Coast, enters

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  • What It Takes

    Christopher Glazek on All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

    IT JUST TAKES ONE: a single dose that forever halts your breath; a killer product that hatches a monstrous fortune; a dead-set activist who barricades herself across history’s turnpike, lying flat, blocking traffic, screaming, “STOP.”

    In our timeline, there is only one Nan Goldin. A singular woman, she is largely responsible for the moral earthquake that in recent years has shaken the foundations of art and philanthropy. For decades, the art world operated as a high-end laundry service: In exchange for cash, museums and galleries would gently scrub the reputations of wealthy families such as the

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