Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky (2017), color, sound, 119 minutes. Clyde Logan and Jimmy Logan (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum).

LOGAN LUCKY, Steven Soderbergh’s return to theatrically distributed feature filmmaking after an announced retirement, is very far from the grand statement one might expect after a long period of withdrawal and seclusion. In point of fact Soderbergh has never really disappeared from the scene, and he’s never been so precious in conducting his career to succumb to the eventizing ballyhoo that obsesses a Tarantino or a Nolan, and so has kept working at something or another at a brisk clip.

His “comeback,” if we want to call it that, is a piece of candy-colored cracker-barrel Americana. It has a heist at its center, which relates it to his quite successful trio of Oceans films, but its setting is Appalachia—Boone County, West Virginia and western North Carolina, specifically—and, in its interest in the details of lives lived paycheck to paycheck in regions of the country little-depicted in popular cinema, it is closer to something like Bubble (2005), shot in the Ohio River towns of Parkersburg, West Virginia and Belpre, Ohio, or Magic Mike (2012), with its early scenes of men at work laying Spanish tile in west central Florida.

Logan Lucky shares the latter film’s star, Channing Tatum, here playing Jimmy, a Boone County native who lost his shot at football stardom years ago when he blew out his knee, and who, when first encountered, is about to lose his job patching up sinkholes under the NASCAR Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s in the immediate aftermath of this professional humiliation that Jimmy comes to his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver)—a bartender who’s learned to practice mixology with one hand after returning from his military service with a rubber mitt—with a plan to rob the Speedway in broad daylight. The undertaking is to be a family affair, with Jimmy and Clyde enlisting the services of their sister, Mellie (Riley Keough), a hairdresser and notorious speed-demon, and the three Bang brothers, each of whom brings a different liability—Fish and Sam (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) are neither of them the sharpest Crayons in the pack, while safe-cracker big brother Joe (Daniel Craig) will have to be sprung from prison, kept beyond its walls for the duration of the job, and returned undetected with an airtight alibi.

In the planning, execution, and aftermath of the heist, Soderbergh and his screenwriter, a mysterious and possibly fictitious personage credited as “Rebecca Blunt,” make free use of ellipsis. They keep the viewer ever-so-slightly out of the loop in the planning stages of the caper, withholding essential information while allowing us teasing glimpses of objects to be employed therein: Why is Mellie painting cockroaches on the coffee table? What are those firefighting helmets in the trunk for? And—after the deed’s been done—what’s up with Jimmy’s apparent change of heart?

Working in the register of the country-fried caper, Logan Lucky displays a great sense of playfulness towards “authenticity” even while trafficking heavily in the very concept, weaving variations on the theme of the counterfeit throughout the film. Its male leads have honest-to-God flyover-country working-class bona fides—Driver is a Marine Corps vet, Tatum an ex-jock Mississippian who can operate a bulldozer without looking like an impostor. He is introduced digging around under the hood of a dinged-up 1983 Ford pickup in the company of his young daughter, Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie, giving the most charming, unaffected child’s performance in recent memory), while discoursing on the history of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”—an Appalachian anthem, he notes, that was written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert at a time when they’d never set foot in the namechecked West Virginia. And yet, counterfeit abounds: Here we have Georgia locations doubling for the Mountain State; Craig putting on his best hillbilly accent (“Naked” becomes “Nekkid”) while Seth MacFarlane, playing an energy drink magnate and stock car team owner, goes limey; passing references to blackface and whiteface; and Sadie appearing at a Little West Virginia pageant dolled up a Jon-Benet Ramsey–esque pretense of adulthood. The labored sense of gritty legitimacy that weighs down most recent attempts at the blue-collar American action movie (Hell or High Water being one prominent instance) here becomes the stuff of comedy. Sebastian Stan’s salt-of-the-earth NASCAR driver, profiled in a brief digression, is revealed as a raw-food-obsessed nut, an equivalent to the breed of careerist country musicians who sing about cheap beer and honky-tonks but lives off acai bowls and juice bars. There’s also a good bit where Keough needles Jimmy’s ex-wife’s McMansion-dwelling, Ford dealership-owning husband (David Denman) into taking a stick shift off the lot by mocking his dependence on automatics; authenticity, we see, is strictly a preoccupation for the middle-class.

What Soderbergh understands and revels in, as working-class hero Andy Warhol did, is the fact that authentic, homespun American life is shot through with a generous dose of artifice—artificial sweeteners and colors that appear nowhere in nature. Soderbergh is acting as his own DP here under his usual “Peter Andrews” pseudonym, shooting on a RED digital camera with Leica Summilux-C lenses, and these give his widescreen frame—invariably teeming with bright life and incident—an ultra-sharp, pellucid, almost glassy deep focus unlike anything in classic, grain-rich 35mm Cinemascope. In constructing his contemporary Appalachia, Soderbergh gets a sense of everyday life that’s bigger than life. He has, somewhat perversely, made a drive-in movie for the hi-def age, one in which flatscreens are ubiquitous—it’s a nice gag that a mounted TV in a hallway plays the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte as background visual noise throughout the film’s mock “prison riot”—in fact an elaborate put-on covering up other subterfuges. The color palette is a combination of cotton-candy pink, My Little Pony band-aids, manicures that glitter like an Arabian Nights treasure trove, the cacophony of sponsorship logos on stock cars, gas stations worthy of Ed Ruscha, and ubiquitous red-white-and-blue gear—this is one of the only movies to take full advantage of the pomp of a major sporting event preshow, replete with an F-14 flyover and LeAnn Rimes belting out the national anthem and everything.

As a schemer and do-it-yourself-er, Jimmy is a figure after inveterate tinkerer Soderbergh’s own wheeler-dealer heart. In lining up the money for Logan Lucky, the director pursued a new distribution model intended to cut out studio participation (and interference) entirely—a model that leans heavily on his pre-existing celebrity and the participation of salable celebrities, and so no more practicable and sustainable for most filmmakers than Radiohead album giveaways. While the movie exists thanks to its stars, it’s the bit players who make it play: Along with the abovementioned Denman, honorable mentions are due to Rebecca Koon, as a chatty salon patron who comes in for a purple wash and drives a purple El Dorado; eastern Kentucky homeboy Dwight Yoakam as the prison warden; and Jon Eyez as a convict who very nearly walks off with the movie in a single scene. (The credits also list “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia legend Jesco White, star of the cult 1991 documentary Dancing Outlaw and a clear sartorial inspiration for the film, though I failed to catch him in my screening.)

Not every bit of business in this very busy movie lands soundly. MacFarlane, though impeccably cast as a dead-eyed, imminently hate-able creep, occupies an amount of screentime disproportionate to what he brings in terms of narrative drive or comic pleasure, and the introduction of Hilary Swank as an agent investigating the speedway heist comes too late to be anything but an invitation to a sequel. Soderbergh seems content to work loose here, to leave a few plot threads trailing off. His decision might seem counterintuitive, as the heist movie is classically an opportunity to show off directorial chops—see for instance the first half of Bertrand Bonello’s lubricious, machine-tooled Nocturama (2016), which in turn invokes the spirit of Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955). But where those films wear their virtuosity on their sleeves, Logan Lucky feels like the work of a filmmaker with nothing to prove, neither sententious seriousness of purpose nor technical knowhow. Freed from such lofty imperatives, the movie can focus instead on the minutiae that matter—Clyde mixing a martini with dexterous flair, Jimmy’s meet-cute in a mobile medical center, the way Sadie’s mother (Katie Holmes) reaches in from out of frame to twirl one of her daughter’s pigtails—all of which help to create the larger world in which our story is taking place. Logan Lucky isn’t perfect in every measurement, but it has about it a feeling of jerry-rigged ingenuity that’s ultimately more appropriate than perfection would be.

Nick Pinkerton

Logan Lucky is now playing in select theaters.

Bennie and Josh Safdie, Good Time, 2017, 35 mm, color, sound, 100 minutes. Nick Nikas and Connie Nikas (Bennie Safdie and Robert Pattinson).

IN THE SAFDIE BROTHERS’ GOOD TIME, Robert Pattinson does an end run around the cops and anyone and anything that comes between him and the nowhere to which he’s headed. He’s literally on the run almost every time we see him, and when he’s not running his adrenaline is jacked up so high it looks as if he is. As Connie Nikas, a petty criminal with a long rap sheet on a mission to save Nick (Bennie Safdie), his younger and in every way slower brother, from the system, Pattinson jettisons almost everything that made him a romantic leading man—good manners, cultured diction, languorous grace, and, most of all, middle-class impulse control—to find his way inside a feral, lowlife megalomaniac with eyes like headlights, fixed unblinkingly in their sockets and devoid of emotion. It’s the primary reason actors enjoy playing villains—or the kind of antihero that Connie is: Pattinson seems to have checked his superego before each shot and let his id wreak havoc.

Pattinson’s Connie is on a bad trip, and so is the movie—except that it’s so kinetic and exciting to look at and listen to that you just go with it without worrying that you’ll be wrecked in the morning. Its saving grace—besides the riotous beauty of Sean Price Williams’s 35-mm, widescreen, neon-streaked, mega-moving images and a propulsive techno score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), made more immersive by Bennie Safdie and Evan Mangiamele’s sound design—is the Safdies’ commitment to showing us the people and places of a marginal New York. Good Time is set almost entirely in a single twenty-four-hour period, and its accelerating dive-toward-doom trajectory (screenplay by Josh Safdie and Ronnie Bronstein; editing by the aforementioned Benny and Ronnie; direction by both Safdies) resembles nothing so much as Martin Scorsese’s 1985 After Hours, albeit Connie is a lot closer to Robert De Niro’s Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1972) than to Griffin Dunne’s uptown nebbish terrorized by cool and/or crazy Tribeca women. The Safdies know their New York pulp movies, so it’s no wonder that Good Time is being compared to early Scorsese and to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). To those I’d add Nick Gomez’s unforgettable 1992 no-budget indie debut, Laws of Gravity, which has Peter Greene and Adam Trese as wannabe felons every bit as hapless as Connie and handheld cinematography by Jean de Segonzac that is as vertiginous as Williams’s.

Good Time opens with a close-up of Nick, who is mentally challenged, having a bad time in a city-funded psychiatrist’s office. When the shrink questions him about having thrown a heavy metal object at his grandmother, tears well up in Nick’s eyes and roll down his broad, fleshy face. It’s an astonishing sight, in part because the tears seem to catch both the character and the actor by surprise. While we are wondering what to make of this, Connie bursts into the room, absconds with his brother, and the next thing we know they are donning ski masks and robbing a bank. Connie has a vague John Steinbeck–like dream of saving Nick by taking him to live on a farm. For that he needs money, hence the bank robbery. But if Connie knows nothing about robbing banks, he also hasn’t a clue who his brother is or what he needs. This is literally proved midway through the film when he steals a man, wrapped head-to-toe in bandages, from a hospital room. He thinks it’s Nick, who is indeed in the hospital, where he was taken after he plunged through a glass door at the end of the chase that followed the bank robbery and then was beaten up at Rikers. But the guy in the wheelchair who Connie hustles onto an access-a-ride isn’t his brother.

Connie takes refuge with the bandaged man in the house of a trusting elderly woman who lives with her granddaughter, Crystal (Taliah Webster, whose mix of curiosity and nonchalance is one of the movie’s joys). After peroxiding his hair piss yellow as a disguise and putting a few unenthusiastic moves on Crystal, Connie somehow discovers (I forget exactly how or when—that’s how much frenetic activity there is in the movie) that the man he stole is not his brother but Ray (Buddy Duress), a jailbird even more delusional than he is. Ray has stashed a bottle of liquid LSD, which he claims is worth a fortune to his drug-dealer boss, in an amusement park that’s closed for the winter. Leaving Crystal as a lookout, Connie and Ray break in; even before they find the acid things get hallucinatory, what with the rides and the lights. When the cops arrive, they mistake the security guard (Barkhad Abdi, the quietest of scene stealers) and Crystal for the vandals—why not? they’re black—leaving Connie and Ray free to hurl themselves even further into the abyss.

This is the Safdies’ biggest movie, and while the budget allowed them to work with the magnetic and gifted Pattinson and to shoot in an array of complex locations, they also held fast to their guerrilla filmmaking method. The outer boroughs of New York have rarely been shown as realistically and phantasmagorically within a single movie. It is the city of millions of people who live on the economic margins and try to stay sane and safe while keeping out of the way of the desperate in their midst—people like Connie, whose nightmares twist his perceptions and make him incapable of having a good time or gifting his brother with a better life. Nevertheless, he’s more to be pitied than despised. The Safdies give the last word to Iggy Pop, in a song he wrote for Good Time. That word is “love.”

Amy Taubin

Good Time is now playing in select theaters.

Jeff Tremaine, Jackass: The Movie, 2002, 35 mm, color, sound, 98 minutes.

THE FILMS THAT WILL BE PLAYING at Anthology Film Archives in the “This is MiniDV (On 35mm)” are collected according to a simple principle, but for this viewer they conjure up a complicated welter of feelings. In keeping with recent (and welcome) developments following the DCP changeover catastrophe that have raised awareness of projection format and brought us festivals and programs dedicated to nitrate film and 3D restorations, ultraniche “This is MiniDV” looks at a brief moment in the late 1990s and early aughts when the digital revolution was only partially complete: almost totally in postproduction, an outlier in production, and in distribution not at all. With 35 mm still the standard for theatrical projection, this meant that even films shot on the wave of consumer-grade standard-definition DV cameras would have to be printed on celluloid if they were to reach a wide audience, and the reels unspooling at AFA are the remaining artifacts of this bygone era.

The program comes courtesy of rep film listing site Screen Slate, the only website that I check daily which actually gives me pleasure from doing so, and it has a particular poignancy for one of my vintage. This comes from the fact that their heyday happens to approximately correspond to my film school undergraduate years, when I was an Earnest Young Man fired with enthusiasm for the cinema—they are a Proustian madeleine of murky palette and digital artifacting. It was a moment where one might still be taught editing by cutting 16-mm stock of a Gunsmoke fistfight on a flatbed Steenbeck while being told in class that the future of the medium was a movie shot by a young Dane on a Sony DCR-PC3 Handycam: Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998).

Vinterberg’s film, which makes flashy use of the Handycam’s lightweight mobility and ability to burrow into the smallest crevasses, is key for several reasons. Concerning an eldest son’s determination to torpedo the occasion of an assembly for his father’s sixtieth birthday by letting all assembled know that the grand old man molested him, it was an early augury of the relationship between the “raw” aesthetic of early DV and touchy subject matter. The return of the (sexual) repressed was hot stuff at the time, hence Miguel Arteta’s Chuck & Buck (2000), which reunites two preadolescent fuckbuddies as very different adults, a movie whose bouncy twee soundtrack cues, awkward-pause comedy, and “I’m okay, you’re okay” resolution set the stage for a thousand Sundance abominations to come. Digital was also meant to confer authenticity, something that Michael Winterbottom toys with in his glib Manchester music scene panorama 24 Hour Party People (2002), intermixing stock footage with original DV material to recapture the immediacy of this period’s incredible creative ferment, as well as to convey the drab gray-brown cruddiness of northern England in the ’70s. (The film’s stations-of-the-cross treatment of Ian Curtis’s suicide is still leering and ghoulish, though this time through I did appreciate the subtle hints of Alan Partridge that star Steve Coogan brings to the character of Factory Records cofounder and Granada Television presenter Tony Wilson.)

The Celebration is also distinguished as the first film to earn “Dogme 95” classification. The term refers to a manifesto signed by Vinterberg and his countryman Lars von Trier that put forth a list of “Vows of Chastity”—only location shooting, handheld camera, no special effects, and minimal lighting—which, if followed, would supposedly detoxify a film culture corrupted by artifice and filthy lucre. Von Trier is represented at AFA by his Dancer in the Dark (2000), a gallows musical starring Björk that wasn’t Dogme-certified, but did stage its seven production numbers live, capturing them warts-and-all with something like a hundred cameras running simultaneously. When the movie arrived in theaters its star was coming off as good a three-album run (Debut, Post, Homogenic) as any solo artist has ever had, and Dancer in the Dark is of interest in the sense that any document of a once-in-a-generation talent at their prime must be, though it should be said that while something like “Hyperballad” has given me insights with lifelong application, there’s little worth mulling over in this dour reworking of the Dennis Potter/Herbert Ross Pennies from Heavens (1978/81), which contains perhaps the silliest courtroom scene in film history and can barely conceal its snide superiority to showbiz razzle dazzle. (It takes courage to enjoy it, Lars.)

Lars von Trier, Dancer in the Dark, 2000, 35 mm, color, sound, 140 minutes.

Like Protestantism and so many reformative movements, Dogme 95 mostly came down to an excuse to cut corners and not do tiresome things under the guise of purification. It was enormously influential for a spell among young men looking for a creed, as were the jeremiads of blowhard academic and John Cassavetes biographer Ray Carney, but vows of poverty look a little less appealing when the visual impoverishment of cinema is a rule rather than exception. Still, back then Dogme quickly went international, and its challenge was taken up by alleged wunderkind Harmony Korine in his Julien Donkey Boy (1999), an alarming combination of desperate, fraudulent performances and inspired ideas for what to do with a DV camera—take for instance a scene in a thrift store with Chloë Sevigny, not for a moment believable as a working-class Queens girl, given a measure of veracity by the fact that it’s caught with a glasses camera.

The hidden-camera aesthetic is also essential to the two legitimately great American films in the series. The first feature film spinoff of the MTV show of the same name, Jackass: The Movie (2002) was the apotheosis of a decade-plus of suicidal backyard stunts and skate video culture, specifically the tapes produced by Big Brother Magazine and Bam Margera’s CKY contribution. The Jackass films, which move between pranking passersby and vomit-or-testicular trauma-inducing stuntwork, have sometimes been classed up by comparisons to silent comedy, but they have no storylines to speak of, just a series of ingeniously idiotic vaudevillian blackout skits presided over by deadpan emcee/punching bag Johnny Knoxville. The knockabout American tradition is likewise drawn on in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (2000), which has Damon Wayans’s adenoidal Ivy League–educated television writer developing a wildly offensive minstrel show in anticipation of being released from his contract in the ensuing fracas, only to wind up with a massive hit on his hands. While weighed down by some rote dramatic passages in its latter half, the movie at its best is a volatile and highly inappropriate piece of gonzo filmmaking with something to offend everyone. Contemporary reviews were tepid—Roger Ebert found the film “perplexing”—but Bamboozled is alive precisely because it gives a sense of being at war with itself: Wayans’s character is persuasive and cuttingly articulate even as he argues against the film’s apparent thesis, while the scenes of the studio tapings of “Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show” express the depths of Lee’s misanthropy, an outright contempt for the gormless masses. And unlike the ham-handed satire of Lee’s Chi-Raq (2015), the movie is a sick comic riot, from Michael Rapaport’s blowhard wannabe ’hood network exec to Wayans’s over-enunciated voiceover reading of “Needless to say, the Mau Maus did not fit into our plans.”

DV gave access to young filmmakers—AFA’s program includes The Forest for the Trees (2003), the debut of twenty-six-year-old Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade. It also acted as an agent of rejuvenation for those not-so-young. When Agnès Varda made The Gleaners & I (2000), she had her career’s worst debacle just behind her, the woeful, cameo-studded cinephile nostalgia trip A Hundred and One Nights (1994), but the ability to operate as a one-woman crew seemed to refocus and rejuvenate her. Some will also claim Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (2002), a film consisting almost entirely of dashboard-mounted views of the driver (the excellent Mani Akbari) and passengers in a small coupe moving around urban Tehran, as among the Iranian filmmaker’s supreme accomplishments, though it seems to me, while occasionally quite moving, basically a formal experiment exploring DV’s capacity for long takes, particularly suited to shooting with nonprofessional performers without fear of burning through precious film stock.

David Lynch, Inland Empire, 2006, 35 mm, color, sound, 180 minutes.

Pedro Costa was working along not-entirely-dissimilar lines beginning with his 2000 In Vanda’s Room, shooting hundreds of hours of material on DV with the residents of Lisbon’s since-bulldozed Fountainhas slum. With Colossal Youth, Costa established himself as a trailblazer in digital cinematography-as-digital cinematography, not mimicking the effect of film but exploring the new medium in its own right—while, somewhat atypically in this company, keeping his camera locked down on a tripod. Ventura, a retired Cape Verdean construction worker, is at the center of Colossal Youth and appears in every scene, whereas the sunlit sky appears in almost none—a sliver of blue here, a blown-out window there. Costa gets ravishing low-light images, deep blacks in his chiaroscuro compositions, and a remarkable sense of the patina of rooms which have seen so much hardship, contrasted to the immaculate walls of the new housing project which have seen none, free of ghosts but also without a soul.

Colossal Youth was released in 2006, by which time digital had begun to make significant inroads in Hollywood productions—take Michael Mann’s Miami Vice, shot with the high-end high-def Thompson Viper FilmStream—and it forms an outlier in the series with David Lynch’s Inland Empire of the same year. Lynch had for years been an analog holdout, cutting films on a reel-to-reel Kern when the rest of Hollywood had long since gone Avid, but when he went digital he did so with the zeal of a true convert, and in a 2006 Wired interview he can be found rhapsodizing about the computerized future with characteristic “gee whiz” wonderment. (“If we keep our thinking caps strapped on, we could find something beautiful out there in the ether.”) Always attuned to texture like the painter-cum-director that he is, Lynch used his SONY PD-150—formerly a professional-grade camera which by that time had become affordable to consumers—to pursue the possibilities of pixelated impasto, while filtering the tropes of B-noir through an appropriately chintzy-looking twenty-first century aesthetic. From this breakthrough a straight line can be drawn to Lynch’s ongoing Twin Peaks: The Return, a program that suggests the artist, like the rest of us, has seen something altogether more malevolent emerge from the digital ether in the past decade.

Nick Pinkerton

“This Is MiniDV (on 35mm)” runs through August 22 at Anthology Film Archives in New York.

Philippe Garrel, Le révélateur, 1968, 35 mm, black and white, 67 minutes.

SELF-MYTHOLOGIZATION WAS BUILT into the story of the Zanzibar Group from the beginning. A loose confederation of young amateur filmmakers joined together in the late 1960s by radical politics and the shared patronage of twenty-five-year-old heiress Sylvina Boissonnas, they were named retrospectively for a voyage undertaken by one of their number, Serge Bard, a dropout from the ethnology department at the university of Nanterre who had undertaken to cross the African continent to the revolutionary Maoist government of Zanzibar, making a film along the way.

Bard never completed his proposed movie—somewhere en route he converted to Islam, took the name Abdullah Siradj, foreswore representative art, and moved to Mecca—but a passion for the idea of flight from capitalist society, as well as violent revolutionary fervor expressed through oblique means, are among the features that unify the Zanzibar films, several of which will play through the month of August at Los Angeles’s Cinefamily theater. Most of the movies were shot in 1968 and ’69, when Boissonnas was willing to spring for 35-mm film stock. The dream didn’t last long, going to pieces as revolutions have a tendency to do—including the bloodbath in Zanzibar—but it left behind a rich, combative body of work.

Presenting the program will be the multihyphenate Jackie Raynal, former programmer of New York’s Bleecker Street and Carnegie Hall cinemas, who will be introducing her Barcelona-shot film Deux Fois (1969), which opens with the director tucking into a lunch spread before announcing the subjects of vignettes to come, like a table of contents, and proclaiming that “Tonight will be the end of meaning.” The meaning-making interplay between spoken word and image, and a desire to disrupt their accepted relationships, runs through the Zanzibar corpus, found also in Patrick Deval’s Acéphale (1968), a document of youth picking through the post-’68 rubble—the title translates roughly as “headless,” and it contains the exhortation, “It’s time to abandon the bright lights of the civilized world”—and Bard’s Détruisez-vous: le fusil silencieux (Destroy Yourself: The Silent Gun, 1969). Shot on Bard’s old campus shortly before its May ’68 riots spread across France, the film stars Caroline de Bendern as a young woman haltingly discussing the prospect of revolutionary activity with a girlfriend (Juliet Berto), a sullen, quiet young man (Thierry Garrel), or an unseen interlocutor. If the stammering de Bendern is sometimes a less than convincing revolutionary firebrand, we discover this may have something to do with the fact that she is paraphrasing the speeches of a professor, played by Alain Jouffroy, a figure who Zanzibar historian Sally Shafto has identified as “a crucial mentor for these young people.” (De Bendern, an English aristocrat, was disinherited by her grandfather after a photograph of her holding a Vietcong flag on the Boulevard Saint-Michel became an iconic image of ’68.)

Jackie Raynal, Deux Fois, 1968, 16 mm, black and white, sound, 75 minutes.

Détruisez-vous isn’t the proverbial undiscovered masterpiece, but it is of interest as an exploration of the feminine struggle with the macho mode of revolutionary discourse; as an illustration of the impact that Warholian primitivism, then newly introduced to France, would have on the Zanzibar films; and in its interest in communication unhampered by language, in the possible influence that it would have on Thierry’s brother, Philippe Garrel, whose filmography is marked by an preoccupation with capturing thought in motion.

Garrel was the central figure of the group, and the one of their number who went on to a long and historic career. In fact, he’d begun making films before his coevals—his first was completed in 1964, when he was sixteen. Garrel fell in with Bard, Jouffroy, and Raynal at the festival of young cinema at Hyères, where his first feature, Marie Pour Mémoire (1968), had taken a prize, which he accepted while announcing he was leaving cinema behind to pursue the business of prophecy. Like most of the Zanzibar gang, he was good-looking, on the periphery of the fashion world, and could’ve been described as a dandy—he wore Edwardian ruffle and hair down over his collar, helped to spread the gospel of rock ’n’ roll while working on the television show Bouton rouge (1967–68), and took to the barricades like a good Cavalier. It was in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the ’68 uprising that he shot Le révélateur (1968) in Germany’s Black Forest with actors Bernadette Lafont and Laurent Terzieff, two parents dragging their young child across a nocturnal rural landscape mostly devoid of habitation. The child seems mostly oblivious to the distress of his parents, though it can’t be said that he is oblivious to the presence of the camera—indeed, he is seen at times to actually direct it, gleefully breaking the fourth wall. (The film is silent, though Cinefamily’s projection will feature live music by Mary Lattimore and Jeff Ziegler, a harpist and multiinstrumentalist who record for the Thrill Jockey label.)

In Le révélateur, one sees Garrel developing the mythopoetic style that reaches full fruition with his La cicatrice intérieure (The Inner Scar, 1972). Both films concern themselves with figures in vast, open landscapes captured in mostly long shots, following their own obscure trajectories that put them on a course of recurring departure and reunion. In La cicatrice intérieure this is combined with cryptic acts of gift-giving—a bowl of fire, a baby goat, a sword. Shot in the most wasted, lifeless locales in Iceland, Egypt, and Death Valley, the film stars Garrel himself; his muse, Nico, who he had met in Rome while he was editing the Boissonnas-financed Le lit de la vierge (1969); and the actor Pierre Clementi, a pale figure who arrives in a black sailboat wearing nothing but a bow and arrow, his naked form luminous against a backdrop of volcanic rock. Made up of scarcely more than twenty sequence shots scored by selections from Nico’s Desertshore album, it is a movie of magnificent desolation, transposing disappointed idealism into a cryptic vernacular of symbols and, in its frigid, distant circumspection, exemplifying Henry James’s dictum: “Morality is hot—but art is icy!” (New Yorkers will soon have a chance to see the titles discussed at a Garrel retrospective at the Metrograph, the most complete ever launched in North America.)

Clementi, whose curious résumé includes Visconti’s The Leopard (1960), Buñuel’s Belle de jour (1967), and an eighteenth-month prison sentence on drug changes in Rome’s Regina Coeli prison in the early 1970s, was also an avant-garde filmmaker of sporadic but superb output, represented at Cinefamily by his Visa de censure n° X, filmed in 1968 but not completed until 1975. With his glass-cutting cheekbones Clementi could’ve been a superstar, but he’d become radicalized in the ’60s and would wave off a big offer from Fellini to instead work with Garrel and the Zanzibar crew. Comprising footage shot during Zanzibar’s brief, globetrotting heyday, the film is a dense, pulsing collage of double- and triple-exposures set to a careening psych-rock soundtrack by Delired Cameleon Family, whose howls of “Give me more grass… Give me more coke… Give me more LSD…” are well-suited to a work that feels like a yearlong binge compressed into less than an hour.

Etienne O’Leary, Chromo Sud, 1968, 16 mm, color, sound, 21 minutes.

Along with many, many illicit substances, Clementi was working under the influence of the Montreal-born filmmaker Etienne O’Leary, who appears briefly in Visa de censure n° X, and whose twenty-one-minute imagist avalanche Chromo Sud (1968) plays with La cicatrice intérieure. The film is neon-drenched, occult-obsessed, and unbelievably lurid, lurching from Tarot tables to Clovis Trouille canvases to Pigalle sex shops, accompanied along the way by a grating and somewhat nauseating seesaw soundtrack which at times gives the impression of heavy breathing. O’Leary composed and performed his scores largely by himself, using prepared piano, tape distortions, and contributions from Nico on harmonium—among other distinctions, Chromo Sud is the first film to give me tinnitus during home viewing. Clementi and O’Leary’s works, maximalist outliers in largely minimalist company, can be seen as allied to contemporary psych/ prog/ jazz freakout music and liquid lightshow visuals, and in some ways as counterculture analogs to the proto–music video Scopitones made to accompany yé-yé pop tunes earlier in the decade.

Given how brightly Chromo Sud burns for its brief duration, it’s not entirely surprising that O’Leary only managed to complete three films. Daniel Pommereulle’s life as a director wasn’t much longer. Most of his film credits are as an actor—he has a small part as a shepherd in La cicatrice intérieure, and appears in Éric Rohmer’s La collectionneuse and Jean-Luc Godard’s Week-End (both 1967), in which he announces “the beginning of flamboyance in all domains, especially the cinema”—and he worked principally as a painter and sculptor until his death in 2003. (Les amants réguliers, Garrel’s 2005 reminiscence of the May ’68 moment, is dedicated to him.) He owns a small piece of film history, however, thanks to Vite (1969), which brings to the fore the cosmic imagery threaded through a number of Zanzibar productions. Earthbound scenes—crossing rocky terrain and wading through mud—shot in Morocco and scored with hectic drumbeats are contrasted with crystalline views of the moon’s surface and the rings of Saturn, filmed through the lens of the Questar telescope. In a body of films united by discontented wanderlust, here is the most far-flung destination of all—a new home, perhaps, far from the bright lights of the civilized world.

Nick Pinkerton

“The Zanzibar Films” runs August 10 through 31 at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles.

Saving Face


Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).

CORRECTION: I SAID “WE CAN GUESS” that Miriam’s letter, bearing witness to Richard Horne’s (Eamon Farren) manslaughter of a boy, would make its way to the Sheriff, and would be believed. But she is not dead—yet. Emerging on all fours from the woods, she is found and taken to the emergency room, where she, uninsured, requires a life-saving operation. Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster) delivers the update to Ben Horne (Richard Beymer), who says he will pay for it. A bad thought arrives: He could pull a Leland Palmer and suffocate the witness at her bedside. But from now on “we” will refrain from guessing.

Coma and exposition are two of the several tricks David Lynch (and Mark Frost, inspired by the ’60s show Peyton Place) borrow from soap operas, where the former provides suspense without camerawork and sending a messenger to advance the plot is cheap. The borrowing is purposeful, unnecessary: Twin Peaks: The Return has a budget to dwarf that of the 1990–91 Twin Peaks, and has shelved the soap we saw there, a show-within-a show, Invitation to Love. Replacing its communal pulse is Dr. Jacoby’s alt-reality webcast, which keeps time for us: Two or three of its hours equals one day on Twin Peaks. “It’s seven o’clock,” the show begins. “Do you know where your freedom is?” This week’s monologue gets repetitious:

And the fucks are at it again! These giant multinational corporations are filled with monstrous vermin, poisonous, vile murderers, and the eat, drink, and shit money. They buy our politicians for a song. Then these fucking politicians sing as we gag and cough, sold down the river to die. Fuck you who betray the people you were elected to help, elected to work to help to make life better for.”

Once a Reaganite, Lynch is changing the tune, in keeping—uncharacteristically—with the current-affairs beat. Tricky to say where his heart lies, but his hearing aid is tuned to the outcry at a new, buzzy pitch. He’s never been this attentive to the miserabilist vagaries of dead-end life, like at the Fat Trout Trailer Park where Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton) is not only the manager, but also the show’s moral compass. He hands cash to a resident who, troubled with rent, has been selling his blood plasma to the hospital. (Being Canadian, I did not know this was something you could do.) “I don’t like people selling their blood to eat,” Rodd says in the show’s most affecting and tweetable line since Agent Gordon Cole (Lynch) told “those clown comics” to “fix their hearts or die.” The handsome doctor, a melodramaturgical fixture whose role is partly to cure boredom, is no more present than the handsome Agent Cooper, or maybe he too is replaced by Dr. Jacoby. “He’s beautiful,” sighs Nadine with the eyepatch, watching on her desktop from Run Silent, Run Drapes, her too-silent drape store.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie).

Irna Phillips, the “single mother” of American soap operas, began as a daytime dramatist on the radio, with Today’s Children (1933–1950), and her resounding success came because she listened to listeners’ letters. Robert LaGuardia wrote in Soap World (1983) of her belief in “time and character, rather than story,” her sense that “people want to become involved with the lives of other people; that viewers follow soaps not just to see what happens next, but to experience—drink in, as it were—the characters, almost as if they lived in the viewers’ homes.” Characters on the shows she wrote for television, like As the World Turns, lived by “moment-to-moment emotions, expressed to each other in quiet scenes.”

Drink in, drink full. Time and character, in their enormous codependency, drive The Return. At last, at the start of the twelfth episode, it’s stated clearly—clearly for Lynch; I assume Frost wrote the scene—that the roads we are traveling bend back, like Laura Palmer’s arms. Limning the origin of the Blue Rose Task Force, Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) says it’s possible that “these answers” (unpreceded, often, by actual questions) “could not be reached except by an alternate path we’ve been traveling ever since.” He seems to mean “alternative,” but what he says is alternate. Another soap-opera trick is having a single actor play a good and an evil twin, but here the splitting occurs in a single character, too: Cooper, obviously. Laura, less so.

And Audrey? Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), so singular as a precocious teenager, makes her hotly awaited return not in the eleventh hour, where I expected her, but three-quarters through the twelfth, after a sudden jump cut, just standing there, and presents as another of the show’s shrill, dispossessed wives: Janey-E (Naomi Watts), wife of Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan); Doris Truman (Candy Clark), who has been in a petty rage since losing her son to suicide; and Sylvia Horne (Jan D’Arcy), ex-wife of Ben and mother, or babysitter, to the disabled Johnny (Erik Rondell). Audrey’s damage is unclear, but we found out in part seven that, after an explosion at the Twin Peaks Savings and Loan, she—like Ronnette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) before her—landed in a coma for some unspecified time, and was visited by Cooper in one or the other of his forms.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 12. Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn).

Audrey tongue-thrashes her tiny husband (Clark Middleton) for not helping her find her lover, a sober farmer named Billy; and her husband calls a woman she despises, maybe his own lover. This bathetic scene goes on for like forty-five minutes (actually ten), and if Fenn is reprising any character it’s that of Anna Nardini, Luke’s ex-wife and a sort of evil twin to Lorelai, on Gilmore Girls (2003–2007), where she also played a totally separate character, some other guy’s girlfriend. The eyebrows, the maraschino lips are there, but something is glazed and doughy in her face, like she’s just been unwrapped from plastic; and some expressiveness has been lost, maybe to the needle. Ditto in the face of MacLachlan. Maybe they’re both frozen in time, will awake if they kiss. But he does seem evil, and mostly she seems disappointed. Her new characterization spits in the face of her old image—her teenage, dreamy, indefatigable manner and perfervid will to seduce—and of the men (on both sides of the screen) who bought into it. That or more simply: Precocity doesn’t age well.

It’s sad, in any case, but Fenn’s out-of-place performance makes you appreciate the other ones. Even Ashley Judd, playing Ben’s desired assistant, Beverly, seems to have a new, sly ripple in her flattish affect. Likewise, the amateur Chrysta Bell, who plays the FBI’s Tammy Preston with an advanced robotocism, and who displays a surprising range of expression—her facial muscles make the battle to control emotion into a cubist dilemma, or as Don DeLillo would say, her face is avant-garde—as she reacts to a dangerous promotion: She will work with Albert in the Blue Rose Task Force, a latter-day replacement for the disappeared Cooper. The prior members of the Force, and its forerunner, Project Blue Book, are mostly dead or missing; and William Hastings, the layman who got physically closest to the metaphysical origins of the mystery, finds his head exploded (crushed by a Woodsman, invisible to the others) when he takes the agents and Diane to the dilapidated tract at 2240 Sycamore where he first found the portal. Any scene can be stolen by Diane, who has the advantage of being played by Laura Dern: casually, brilliantly. “There’s no backup for this,” she whispers, peering through the windshield into the car at Hastings’s mutilated body while the agents recoil.

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 11. Diane Evans (Laura Dern).

Lynch exacts in every episode, more noticeably in the recent, quieter ones, these little ariosos that balloon, change shape, and deflate. At the Double R Diner we watch with Norma Jennings (Peggy Lipton) as drama unfolds among Shelly Johnson (Mädchen Amick), her daughter Becky (Amanda Seyfried), and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), who turns out to be Becky’s dad. Norma’s expressions shift dramatically but none are scrutable. She watches what is happening as if she is remembering it a decade from now. When Shelly’s new crime-boss boyfriend (Balthazar Getty) shows up outside the diner, appearing with his own neonoirish lighting in his greasy leather, she seems to disappear in a flash, and, on the other side of the glass, to rematerialize as her old teen self. Shelly’s glittering transition dissolves into the old Bobby’s crushedness as he sees her in love, and Becky instantly wises up to see him not as her father, for a second, but as a fellow broken romantic. Ashbrook and Seyfried could play those dogs with eyes the size of teacups and water wheels in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, and their companionship too is doglike, hushed.

Back in the Dakotas, Jennifer Jason Leigh thrills as the gum-smacking, laconic Chantal, henchwoman to Evil Coop, opposite the equally white-trash henchman, Tim Roth’s Hutch. Near the end of episode twelve, Hutch shoots to kill a man—Warden Dwight Murphy (James Morrison)—and Chantal, driving the getaway van, watches him die in front of his child (Luke Judy), licks Cheeto dust from her index finger, seeming to enjoy the orangey tang more than the sight of blood, which makes it sicker. “Next stop: Wendy’s,” says Hutch. Sky Ferreira, the very modern bombshell with an ash-in-ice-cream voice, appears at the Roadhouse at the end of episode nine as one of those locals who, with their unrecurring, relatively heterogenous appearances, make a jangling chorus. She’s a chick on methamphetamine, scratching horribly for too long at a rash in her armpit. She got fired from a burger joint, but it’s ok because she has a new job—where? asks her friend, and she grins with the reply: at another burger joint. Ferreira has never looked worse, making the before-seen single mom on heroin (Hailey Benton Gates) look like a heroin addict in a Calvin Klein ad.

When I said the web was a substitute for the dream-world I did not add that being online feels less phantasmagoric and venturesome as we professionalize, try to grow up, and play limited versions of ourselves. Compared to the nightmarish, as they say, state of the world, online feels lighter, more banal, and at its worst somehow mere, like being stuck in an anxiety dream. Timelines—on Twitter, Instagram—are rearranged to show us what we already know to see. There is constant refreshing, getting nowhere. It’s like that, or like opening the fridge for the seventeenth time, only to find the same undesirable yogurts, every time Cooper as Dougie wanders on screen. The eleventh hour threatens to be his last as the Mitchum Brothers—having lost to him in jackpots and again in a bid to collect, from his insurance company, a thirty-million-dollar payment for arson—plot to end him. I could yell through the screen: Wake up! You’re going to die a meme.

But one of the brothers, Bradley (James Belushi), has a dream and, unlike real dreams, it predicts the day. He remembers it bit by bit as the day catches up, and this for Lynch is a clever if not new way to build suspense. On a one-way road into the desert, in what looks like an homage to the endgame of David Fincher’s Se7en (1995), Dougie arrives with a box; should the box holds what it did in the brother’s dream, the brothers will have to forgive Mr. Jackpots. Ding ding ding, the box holds a cherry pie. Table for three, at the Silver Mustang Casino: “Damn good,” says the other brother digging in, and “damn good” says Dougie, sounding more like Coop. He still might die a meme. ☹️

Twin Peaks: The Return, 2017, still from a TV show on Showtime. Season 3, episode 2. Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie).

The single greatest performance of the series so far belongs to Grace Zabriskie as Sarah Palmer, unsurprising for this magnificent seventy-six-year-old actress but all the same a shake of the bones. Sarah is buying foods she won’t eat and three bottles of Smirnoff at the store when she sees, behind the cash register, a “new” kind of jerky—turkey jerky, which has existed for ages, since Natives were the only Americans—and is rushed by terror, whether of the contents or the packaging, primal symbols. “They” once “came” and are “coming” again, she warns with escalating terror. Maybe she means the Woodsmen, who are a kind of smoked meat incarnate. Maybe the animals she disconsolately watched maul each other on the Discovery Channel, on a big flat-screen television, in the second hour. That shot has become for me the after-image of the show, but any frame of Zabriskie’s untouchable face may trigger the lonesome. Hours after the outburst, a fan whirs monochromatically in a lampless room and she answers the door as old Sarah, scarier with her cold, hard brow, her low-burning eyes, her corroded smile suggesting a mettle twisted to bitter ends.

I watched the last two episodes on a television like that, huge in a small room, dark, the way Lynch intended. To watch a movie on your phone and “think you’ve seen a film” strikes him as nuts, and to defend phone-watching on the basis that we all have phones, and don’t all have televisions, disinterests me since necessity is not inspiring, nor related to the good. (Besides, the television costs less than the phone.) A character’s face in a close-up on a screen should not appear like in a pocket mirror, or even in a regular mirror. The head should be significantly, alarmingly bigger than yours, and in a portrait shot, from the shoulders up, it should be the size of a clock on the wall. Alternatives, conveniences begin to suck. On whatever websites, avatars the size of pencil erasers ease our forgetting the obvious, like that the owners of these avatars also have homes, incomprehensible habits, old haunts on certain square miles in a subdivided country, and especially that they have other faces, shaded minutely by expressions never represented in a reaction gif. “The face is what one cannot kill,” said another thinker of otherness, Emmanuel Levinas, the year I was born. Can representation make us stronger? On The Return it matters that the stories are disparate, that worlds diverge and are weirdly, sparsely populated, so that the faces do not appear in a crowd.

Sarah Nicole Prickett

Sarah Nicole Prickett’s previous recaps of Twin Peaks: The Return:

Episodes 1 & 2
Episodes 3 & 4
Episode 5
Episodes 6 & 7
Episode 8
Episodes 9 & 10

Twin Peaks: The Return plays Sundays at 9 PM on Showtime.

Ingrid Jungermann, Women Who Kill, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes.

A LOVING SATIRE OF MATING AND MORES among Park Slope lesbians, Ingrid Jungermann’s Women Who Kill combines romantic comedy and murder mystery, and a dollop of psychodrama, and lightly stirs it into a summer movie treat. (Since crucial scenes take place in the fraught, rule-bound environment of the Greene Hill Food Co-op—actual name and location employed—a cooking metaphor is apropos.) Jungermann, the director, writer, and star of her debut feature, plays Morgan, a character so awkward and insecure that no one could regard the woman who conceived and embodied her as narcissistic or overreaching. Just scrupulously honest and very funny.

Morgan and Jean (Ann Carr) are minor Park Slope celebrities, thanks to their podcast, “Women Who Kill,” for which they research and interview imprisoned female serial killers. Their signoff line—“I’m Morgan,” “I’m Jean,” “and we are women who kill” (the last phrase spoken together)—is a tease suggesting that not only are they fascinated by their sociopathic subjects but they have absorbed them into their own garden-variety neurotic psyches.

The two are ex-lovers, but neither of them can let go—they share an apartment as well as a podcast—until Morgan is attracted to the secretive Simone (Sheila Vand). But the more infatuated Morgan becomes the more she fears that Simone is hiding something, and that this something might be homicide. You don’t have to be obsessed with female killers to wonder what Simone keeps in the sealed wooden box that occupies a dramatically lit shelf in her apartment. When Morgan gets up the courage to inquire, Simone answers, smiling as enigmatically as Simone Simon in Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 The Cat People, that everyone asks that same question.

Jungermann doesn’t flaunt her references, but her inspired twists on movie genres are really pleasurable. Women Who Kill opens with rapid-fire bickering reminiscent of George Cukor’s 1940 The Philadelphia Story (imagine the push-pull of Katharine Hepburn’s romantic impulses if she had been caught between opposing women rather than Cary Grant and James Stewart), and the wit of the early scenes doesn’t disappear, even as the narrative and Morgan’s thoughts turn inward. The relationship between her best friend, Alex (Shannon Patricia O’Neill), and Alex’s seemingly flaky but oddly grounded partner Kim (Grace Rex) keeps the comedy going. If Women Who Kill were to become a cable series (it evolved from Jungermann’s web series The Slope), I’d want the second season to focus on Alex and Kim.

As Morgan’s affair with Simone grows more intense, her suspicions mount. Who is Simone? Is she a serial killer? The daughter of a serial killer? Or is the mystery of her identity a strategy to make Morgan, whose obsessions have been fully exposed in the “Women Who Kill” podcasts, fall in love with her? The more she ponders the possibilities and the more paranoid she becomes, the more we suspect that her fetishizing of female murderers is a substitute and a shield for her fear of intimacy—of losing herself by falling in love with Simone. It may be asking too much of a spirited romantic comedy that morphs into a disturbing drama to achieve a satisfying narrative resolution. Which is to say that the final twist in Women Who Kill might leave you first shaking your head and then marveling at Jungermann’s courage in allowing a character as alive in her contradictions as Morgan the imaginative luxury of ambiguity to the very end.

Amy Taubin

Women Who Kill is playing through Tuesday, August 1, at the IFC Center in New York, and is available on VOD on August 29.