COLUMNS

  • Well, Well, Weltschmerz

    WHEN IT COMES TO THE WILD WORLD of European genre cinema, a few national strains—UK horror, Italian everything—have tended to dominate repertory screentime and suck up critical oxygen, but recent years have revealed something of the depth of the dark horse Teutonic tradition, which has produced an abundance of films giving evidence of repressed rage and verboten desires howling for release behind the open-for-business official façade of West Germany.

    A 2015 documentary, Cinema Perverso: The Wonderful and Twisted World of Railroad Cinemas, examined the checkered legacy of the cinemas opened by

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  • PUBLISH OR PERISH

    THE ACADÉMIE FRANÇAISE, that venerable body of forty “immortal” academicians charged with policing the French language to prevent the infiltration of Anglo-Saxon words and Gallic neologisms, has been in the news lately because of its inability to fill four of its seats—prized positions that Balzac, Zola, and Verlaine once pursued and were denied. Olivier Assayas, whose own passionate concern with the preservation of French culture is evident again in his new film, Non-Fiction, would recognize the académie’s crisis as the ancien régime succumbing to the inexorable advance of modernity. Ironically,

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  • FANTASY FUTEBOL

    THE FIRST FEATURE-LENGTH WORK by the occasional collaborators Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, the delirious Diamantino (2018) centers on a disgraced, spectacularly dumb soccer superstar, his IQ not much higher than his body-fat percentage. The sports-celebrity-industrial complex is merely one target of this robust, rollicking satire, which exposes the idiocy engulfing the world—especially Europe—more nimbly and effectively than anything Michael Moore or the editorial board of The Guardian could ever concoct.

    Although Diamantino premiered a full year ago, winning the grand prize at the

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  • In the Palm of His Hand

    IF ONE IS PRESSED TO EXPLAIN the sensual and often masochistic beauties particular to postwar Mexican cinema, there are perhaps a half-dozen passages in Roberto Gavaldón’s La otra (The Other One, 1946) that could do the job in a trice. Tempting as it might be to go with the sequence of a footsore manicurist María (Dolores del Río) numbly negotiating the streets of a rain-plashed Mexico City while dreaming of a wealth beyond her reach, or the rooftop idyll between María and her cop boyfriend (José Baviera) that owes something to the yearning working-class romanticism of Frank Borzage, or the

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  • Leaven Learn

    “THE JUSTIFICATION FOR [A] PRETENSE TO DISENGAGEMENT,” writes Dave Hickey in Air Guitar, “derives from our Victorian habit of marginalizing the experience of art, of treating it as if it were somehow ‘special’—and, lately, as if it were somehow curable. This is a preposterous assumption to make in a culture that is irrevocably saturated with pictures and music, in which every elevator serves as a combination picture gallery and concert hall. . . . All we do by ignoring the live effects of art is suppress the fact that these experiences, in one way or another, inform our every waking hour.”

    To

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  • All the Rage

    THE CURRENT MINING OF FILM HISTORY for overlooked women directors has unearthed the confrontational oeuvre of the brilliant outsider Nelly Kaplan. An abbreviated retrospective of the Argentinian-born, French-language filmmaker—she has made fiction features, documentaries, and shorts—is playing at the Quad in New York through April 25. “Wild Things: The Ferocious Films of Nelly Kaplan” kicks off with a weeklong run of her best-known movie, the newly restored A Very Curious Girl (aka La Fiancee du pirate) from 1969, followed by more limited showings of six later features, among them 1976’s soft-core

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  • Utter Chaos

    TO DESCRIBE A FILM AS “TALKY” IS, as often as not, to indicate a pejorative judgement; in a thousand screenwriting primers, you can read the adage “show don’t tell”—like any rule in art, to be discarded at will when circumstances demand. Mike Leigh never read any of those books, thank God, and though you could dismiss his latest, the oratory-laden Peterloo, as talky, to do so would be to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his project, which is precisely concerned with the relationship between speech and action, the butterfly effect principle whereby words spoken in, say, the House of

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  • In the Midnight Hour

    THE NOT-TO-BE-MISSED FILM in “Strange Desire,” the nearly complete Claire Denis retrospective at BAM through April 9, is US Go Home, made in 1994 as part of the French television series “All the Boys and Girls of Their Time.” Not only is US Go Home one of Denis’s most affecting and finely made films—it’s right up there with Beau Travail (1999), No Fear, No Die (1990), I Can’t Sleep (1994), and White Material (2009)—it’s also the least available. You will never find it on discs or streaming, and it’s doubtful it will play in a US theater again, unless a programmer is as willing to put in the time

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  • LOST IN SPACE

    THE REVERENT ADEPTS of French director Claire Denis hold her work inviolable, finding in its every lapse and disaster new conduits to her unconscious, mistaking her films’ copious incoherence for visionary poetry and their recurrent absurdity for narrative daring. Like her compatriot Olivier Assayas, Denis cannot resist forays into genre filmmaking: the vampire-cannibal horror movie in Trouble Every Day (2001); the modernist puzzle picture in L’intrus (The Intruder, 2004); film noir in Les salauds (Bastards, 2013); and rom-com in Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sunshine In, 2017). From the

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  • Fearful Symmetry

    SOME FILMS demand a second viewing, particularly when something that is revealed at the very end makes you rethink everything that led to the denouement. The second time around, you appreciate the subtlety of certain details you either failed to notice or misunderstood. This is absolutely the case for Jordan Peele’s Us, and particularly for Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. Peele’s script and direction are very smart and often inspired—I’m not going to get into a comparison with his 2017 debut feature, Get Out—but make no mistake, Nyong’o, who can be at once precise and volcanic, holds the film

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  • All the Young Dudes

    BRITAIN’S NATIONAL IDENTITY CRISIS! Angry young white men! The depraved, authority-huffing upper class! The stifling production line of corrupt Western educational institutions! And don’t forget a side of gun violence. If…, Lindsay Anderson’s tale of British boarding school bedlam, was released at the end of 1968 but seems primed to punch the buttons of today’s audiences, which hardly need to set a Google Alert to be inundated with horrific happenings related to the aforementioned topics. Then again, this is a film from a country where more than 90 percent of police officers don’t carry guns.

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  • 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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