Bambi Beltran, Keith Deligero, Norbert Elnar, Donna Gimeno, Christian Linaban, Idden de los Reyes, and Remton Siega Zuasola, Biyernes Biyernes (Friday Friday), 2011, still from a color film, 87 minutes.

This June, Yerba Buena presents twenty-nine films in its second year of programming for “New Filipino Cinema.” Even if one sees only a few of these works, which range from short and abstract works to serious documentaries to whimsical fabrications, a somewhat comprehensive view of contemporary cinema and culture of the Philippines may emerge. The most striking commonality throughout the series is the forthright disposition of the people who appear in them—some actors, some not. For instance, in the documentary Kano: An American and His Harem (2011), by Monster Jimenez, all the women involved speak candidly about their experiences, even at times admitting their lack of understanding of their own experiences.

Kiri Dalena’s short film Requiem for M (2010) opens with the harsh voice-over of a woman ranting about social injustice, blaming those in power and blatantly calling for revolution. This scene is followed by a funeral procession played backward, during which participants often face the camera directly, revealing their grief. Walang katapusang kwarto (An Endless Room, 2011), by Emerson Reyes, another intimate portrait, confronts the audience with continuous close-ups of two lovers in bed, arguing, kissing, and laughing.

Struggle is evident in the lives portrayed in many of the stories, whether real or fictional. The severity of rural life is treated as a given, yet a strong sense of community emerges again and again. One film that veers away from a focus on such hardship is Jade Castro’s playful Zombadings (2011), which deals with rampant homophobia and murder against drag queens in a small village. It weaves magic and folklore into the story to facilitate acceptance within the fictional community.

Each film shares the backdrop of the Philippines’ lush vegetation and the relatively simple ways of life that come from a connection to the land. Still, there are depictions of contemporary life—children at carnivals, teenagers on cell phones, women gossiping. An emphasis on women is found in many of the films, such as Biyernes Biyernes (Friday Friday, 2011), which focuses on the lives of fictional strangers as they search for different forms of comfort. What is most impressive in this program, aside from the stories themselves, is the range of styles and the apparent momentum for independent filmmaking that is building in the Philippines. Increasing interest in and support for filmmakers there suggests that this energy will expand to venues around the world in the years to come.

“New Filipino Cinema” runs June 7–17 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

Courtney Malick

Ben Rivers, Slow Action, 2011, still from a color film in 16 mm, 45 minutes.

ONE TYPICAL SUNDAY at Migrating Forms, the annual ten-day marathon of film and video at Anthology Film Archives, offered screenings of the following: Gonçalo Tocha’s It’s the Earth, Not the Moon (2011), a patient study of everyday life on the mid-Atlantic island of Corvo; Madison Brookshire and Tashi Wada’s Passage (2012), an abstract film with two simultaneous projections overlapping to create shifting fields of color; and Fritz Lang’s big-budget Indian Epic (1959), a thoroughly unhinged Teutonic fantasy of the Orient.

Curators Nellie Killian and Kevin McGarry describe Migrating Forms, now in its fourth year, simply as a “festival of new film and video,” vague parameters that allow for expansive programming. While primarily dedicated to showcasing aesthetically ambitious, unconventional work, the 2012 festival also blurred hard distinctions between commercial movies and avant-garde experiments—as Indian Epic attests, even the definition of “new” is flexible.

This is not to say that Migrating Forms is an exercise in scattershot pluralism. Contained within the festival’s name is a subtle thesis about the sprawling nature of contemporary cinema. With work by more than fifty artists from some dozen countries, the festival’s international scope implies migration. But many of the most exciting films screened this year also move freely across institutional borders on itineraries that intersect with the global art world as much as the international film festival circuit. What makes Migrating Forms so relevant is its sensitivity to the fact that a specialized theater in the East Village may be just one possible site for works that can also exist as multichannel gallery installations, YouTube videos, or components of a performance.

Amie Siegel’s Black Moon (2010) is emblematic of this kind of migration. The twenty-minute video follows a band of armed female guerrillas wandering through a postapocalyptic landscape of foreclosed suburban homes. After the screening, Siegel projected still photographs of the work as she had recently installed it in a gallery alongside other related videos and images. When viewed in its entirety, a loose narrative develops over the course of Black Moon, but it’s easy to imagine how the striking visuals and roughly episodic structure could appeal to the ambulatory museum viewer, who might catch only a five-minute glimpse of the financial crisis figured as a battleground.

As museums and galleries continue to embrace film and video—and artists shape their work for those contexts—institutions like Anthology remain, as always, on the margins. Yet Killian and McGarry have also recognized how the unique context of their venue can serve to aggregate an otherwise fragmented field. In a nod to auteurist comradery, Migrating Forms’ printed programs identified all festival contributors, from the late Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz to Jacob Ciocci of Paper Rad, as “directors.” Documentaries, experimental narratives, and Ciocci’s Internet-inspired freak-outs, all found a place in Anthology’s Maya Deren Theater, where they could be viewed together as part of a shared cinematic culture.

In fact, glimmers of a common discourse did emerge amid the festival’s diversity. No fewer than three feature films, for instance, dealt with the 1970s militant group the Japanese Red Army. Naeem Mohaiemen’s The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army) (2012)—a festival highlight—investigated negotiations between Bangledeshi authorities and JRA commandos who landed a hijacked plane in Dhaka in 1977. More broadly, Mohaiemen’s film considered the power of utopian thinking—and its failures, a theme that recurred in several other works. Likewise, Ben Rivers’s beautifully shot Slow Action (2010) is structured like a catalogue of fantastic utopian communities in various states of decline—imagine Italo Calvino and Robert Smithson teaming up on a science fiction movie produced by Semiotext(e). Redmond Entwistle’s Walk-Through (2012) examined more prosaic utopian impulses in the radical pedagogy of Michael Asher’s post-studio class at CalArts in the late ’70s.

Fritz Lang, The Indian Tomb, 1959. Debra Paget.

There may be a hint of something utopian about Migrating Forms as well: How else to account for the huge amounts of labor and energy expended for the relatively small audiences the festival draws? Migrating Forms’ mission seems less aimed at bringing challenging film and video to a “wider public” than at cross-pollinating specialist audiences that, while operating in adjacent cultural spheres, are often largely isolated from one another. Indeed, all of the works benefited from the special economy of attention that the cinema facilitates: The practice of coming together as an audience, wedging into theater seats, and watching something difficult with full attention is an experience that cannot be replicated in the white cube or on a screen littered with browser windows. The possibility of such a public experience, even if the public is limited, justifies all the effort. Well, that, and Debra Paget’s cobra dance from Lang’s Indian Epic.

William Smith

Migrating Forms ran May 11–20 at Anthology Film Archives in New York.

Sergio Corbucci, Django, 1966, still from a color film in 35 mm, 91 minutes.

THE HISTORY OF SPAGHETTI WESTERNS is a series of increasingly diluted copies and diminishing returns. The first movie in the genre, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), is already doubly derivative. Not only an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), A Fistful of Dollars is also a B-movie repetition of John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven, which had turned Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) into a star-studded Hollywood western in 1960. And the hundreds of spaghetti westerns that followed in the wake of A Fistful of Dollars consisted mostly of imitations and spurious sequels of one film: Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966), itself a loose reworking of the major elements of A Fistful of Dollars. A movie like Django Kill . . . If You Live, Shoot! (1967) is therefore at some remove from its original material in Yojimbo. (A Fistful of Dollars, Django, and Django Kill . . . are among the twenty-six movies screening in “Spaghetti Westerns,” a three-week-long survey of the genre at Film Forum in June.)

Django is less “about” its own material (a taciturn, haunted Civil War soldier caught between Mexican bandits and Ku Klux Klan–style vigilantes) than it is a metacommentary on Hollywood’s idyllic version of America’s past. Before it is a story, it is already an interpretation. While Hollywood had produced its own “de-mythologizing” westerns—John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962)—Django is the bleakest revisionism: the old West as Hobbesian war of all against all, openly and murderously racist, with rape as the national pastime. Instead of a Manichaean clash between good and evil, or between civilization and savage Indians, Django pits a hateful, filthy mob against its exact double, with the nominal hero a selfish, humorless killing machine. The love story is an intentionally off-putting travesty: such well-defined cheekbones, so little human kindness.

Just as Euripides (history’s first hack) looked at the plays of Sophocles and Aeschylus and saw only eye gougings and bathtub axings, which he sought to amplify, Django appropriates the “dark” tropes of late-1950s Hollywood westerns (Anthony Mann’s The Man from Laramie [1955] and Edward Dmytryk’s Warlock [1959]) and empties them of psychology and nuance. Where James Stewart or Henry Fonda brought a kind of desperate, embarrassed sadism to the self-righteousness of the Law of the West, Django’s Franco Nero (badly dubbed) is without the kind of principles that can really get a man in trouble. Among the spaghetti westerns, this quality of being pushed beyond decency by an incensed, bitter claim is achieved only by Nero himself in Enzo Castellari’s very late Keoma (1976), and by Henry Fonda in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). But as Django, Nero is unmoored and unmotivated—driven by a kind of general, free-floating revenge. Perhaps it is this detachment and lack of specificity in the character that opened the door to so many sequels and rip-offs.

If all that Hollywood classics like The Naked Spur (1953) or Destry Rides Again (1939) required was, in Godard fashion, “a girl and a gun,” Django—which began filming without a finished script—imports all manner of atrocities to sustain the action, most memorably a scene where an ear is cut off. Lacking a coherent plot, like most spaghetti westerns Django substitutes a succession of “one thing after another,” peppered with eccentric and attention-grabbing violence. But the exploitation and depravity of the spaghettis, their moral shoddiness, are really not for the viewer. Scenes of human target practice, the whipping of prostitutes, or the bludgeoning of hands into raw pulp are in a sense enacted for the Hollywood archetype itself. The mechanized violence of Django machine-gunning his enemies gives the lie to the heroic individualism of America’s “greatest generation.” It is as though these movies were shoving their grotesqueness directly in the face of John Wayne, demanding, “You like this, don’t you?” The stomach-churning elements in these movies are less titillation and more ritual sacrifice, where the “one who enjoys” the violence is really not the community of onlookers but the abstract other seen as demanding this or that degradation. Spaghetti westerns offer themselves up to the falsely righteous cinematic myth of Hollywood’s West, whose true rancorous bloodlust is here appeased. As Anatole France would have it, “Les dieux ont soif”—the gods are athirst.

This procedure allows Django to disown its nihilism—you see, it is really our nihilism, as Americans—and to smuggle in a moralism not any more complex than what you would find in Stagecoach (1939). Predictably, subsequent films in this vein often devolved into cynical, unstructured decadence, as exemplified in the self-parody My Name Is Nobody (1973) and the eclectic Sabata (1969). As the genre progressed, the better films tended toward explicitly leftist positions—most notably, A Bullet for the General (1966). One exception, however, is Leone’s unwatchable Fistful of Dynamite (1971, screening at Film Forum as Duck, You Sucker!). Despite being the most caustically political film here—James Coburn plays an IRA explosives expert caught up in the Mexican Revolution—it’s an exceptionally distasteful work, almost baroque in its ingenuity of unpleasant, even pornographic one-upmanship. Even composer Ennio Morricone, the true genius behind Leone’s films, is off his game here. There is nothing uglier than cynicism, and the genre’s implosion is a carnival of meaningless spectacle tossed at the viewer like so many bloody scraps. What was initially the target of critique—the ruthless inhumanity (personified in the frequent casting of Klaus Kinski) of American mastery—became an end in itself. The only way to watch these garish late-cycle spaghetti westerns might be as cultural analogues to “End of the 1960s” phenomena like Altamont: a decadence obscurely closing in upon itself.

Ben Parker

“Spaghetti Westerns” runs June 1–21 at Film Forum in New York.

Michael Haneke, Amour, 2012, color film in 35 mm, 127 minutes. Production still. Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva).

A TUMULTUOUS CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, marked by constant downpours and frequent boos, ended with the restoration of order. For the most part, the decisions of the Nanni Moretti–led jury were a vindication of recent history and the critical consensus. The Palme d’Or went to Amour, by Michael Haneke, who won the top prize in 2009 for his previous film, The White Ribbon. Cristian Mungiu, a Palme laureate in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, took two prizes (screenplay and actress, split between the two leads) for Beyond the Hills. (The Haneke and Mungiu films were also the joint leaders of Screen International’s annual critics’ poll.) Matteo Garrone’s Reality won the runner-up Grand Prix, the same prize he picked up in 2008 for Gomorrah. And Ken Loach, who inexplicably holds the record for number of films in the Cannes competition, took the third-place Prix du Jury for The Angel’s Share. This is a festival that, through thick and thin, stands behind its chosen auteurs, but at times like this, the Cannes ecosystem feels more like an echo chamber.

In theory Cannes is a balancing act, an attempt to level the playing field. Installed in the firmament of the competition, veteran auteurs and next big things, movie stars and relative nobodys, get to walk the same red carpet in “holy worship of a common transcendent reality,” as André Bazin once put it. (Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin, this year’s winner of the Camera d’Or for first film, called Cannes “the temple.”) In practice—with some notable exceptions, like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s surprise Palme d’Or in 2010—the hothouse atmosphere of the festival, in bringing certain fault lines to the fore, tends to emphasize the divisions within the art-cinema economy, and the Moretti verdict only underscored the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Cannes can be—depending on your mood, the film in question, deadline pressures, the previous night’s amount of alcohol or sleep, the behavior of the mobs thronging the bottleneck entrances of each screening—the most exhilarating or the most unpleasant place to see movies. An arena of snap judgments, rife with the dangers of groupthink and contrarianism, it is also a particularly challenging environment for the practice of criticism, or whatever it is we zombiefied masses think we are doing when we stagger out of a screening and attempt immediately to offer a coherent opinion, never mind an insight, preferably one that can be expressed in 140 characters or less. It doesn’t help that Cannes’s sense of its own importance tends to infect its attendees, who feel they are part of something special, and are compelled to react with corresponding volume and vigor. Hence the fabled boos, especially loud and belligerent this year and seemingly directed at any film that did not instantly satisfy expectations or disclose its ultimate meaning within a split second of its conclusion.

In the surreal aquarium of Cannes, what sinks and what floats? More than once during the festival, I thought of Manny Farber’s classic 1962 manifesto “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art,” and especially his detailing of the former category: the would-be masterpiece, the self-aggrandizing work of self-conscious gravitas that thinks of “art as an expensive hunk of well-regulated area.” Farber’s classifications don’t exactly apply today (nor were they ever meant to be all that strict), but he did nail the symptoms and traits of what we might broadly term the prestige movie. To a degree, most of this year’s official successes at Cannes fit his conception of artistic elephantiasis: They have legible, laudable, more or less humanist intentions; they draw praise for their obviously impeccable craftsmanship (“well-made” is a common epithet); and they leave little doubt about their streamlined, practically predigested meanings.

Beyond the Hills, which edges the Romanian predilection for farcical disaster procedural into a semiparodic house style, amounts to a single-minded proof of the deadly pieties of religion. Reality has a few thrilling passages of bravura filmmaking—as well as a fairly unsubtle point to hammer home about the vulgarity of Berlusconi’s Italy. Amour is at once the most elegantly wrought and the bluntest example of all, forcing us to face a fact of life rarely shown on screen with such directness or at such great length: the unbearable horror and pain of aging and dying, and of watching our loved ones do so.

Many have observed that Amour is Haneke’s most tender film. True, but I don’t think that precludes its also being his most seamlessly manipulative. The central impulse of Haneke’s work—to confront his audience with something they would rather not contemplate (or, as is often said, to discomfit or even punish them)—is not mitigated here so much as totalized, given ultimate and universal significance. To call the film (which often feels like it was made for the express purpose of winning a Palme d’Or) undeniably affecting is also to acknowledge its screw-turning, Haneke-like aspect. How could anyone fail to be moved by this subject, or by Jean-Louis Trintignant, eighty-one, and Emmanuelle Riva, eighty-four, offering up their fragile bodies as well as the auras of their younger selves? Rarely has Jean-Luc Godard’s assertion that a film is a documentary of its actors been so vividly demonstrated. Watching Riva and Trintignant make their way to the podium at the awards ceremony Sunday night, I found myself no less touched, perhaps even more so, than while watching Amour.

Leos Carax, Holy Motors, 2012, color film in 35 mm, 115 minutes. Denis Lavant.

I should clarify that I don’t especially dislike most of the major prizewinners (the exception being Loach’s pointless trifle). What’s objectionable is the amount of critical adulation that these eminently respectable films hog at the expense of those whose ambitions are out of line, whether for being too modest or too wild or too unclearly stated. This year, for instance, relative miniaturists like Hong Sang-soo (in competition with In Another Country) and Wes Anderson (who opened the festival with Moonrise Kingdom) barely made a dent in the Cannes consciousness. Both, as it happens, are filmmakers often accused of making the same film over and over—a reductive charge that came up again during the festival—and to stick for a moment with Farber’s schema, it’s no surprise that, when it came to the prizes, Hong’s and Anderson’s termitelike tendencies stood little chance against the stampede of the white elephants.

But for a Cannes audience of critics, eager to formulate a retweetable aperçu, there is no worse offense than opacity, because really, how many ways can you say “WTF”? The most indignant hooting of the festival was reserved for Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux and Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love, a pair of films defined by, among other things, their moment-to-moment unpredictability. I won’t make great claims for either—both demand a second viewing—but even on a first encounter, both films were bolder, more sensuous and mysterious, more willing to challenge narrative conventions than almost anything else in competition. Reygadas’s directing prize was the jury’s one concession to risk taking. Kiarostami left with nothing; ditto Hong, Anderson, and David Cronenberg, whose dense, heady Don DeLillo adaptation, Cosmopolis, was summarily dismissed by the press once the Robert Pattinson frenzy subsided.

But the most egregious jury snub, no question, was for Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, which single-handedly enlivened a weak competition and was met with both sustained cheers and jeers. A cinephilic collective dream on the order of Miguel Gomes’s Tabu, the year’s other great movie so far, Holy Motors is a film about life as cinema and cinema as life, about the blurred lines between acting and being, a work that transcends pastiche to summon never-before-seen images and real depths of feeling. Matching a philosophically resonant conceit about play-acting—somewhere between commedia dell’arte and the eerie reenactments of Tom McCarthy’s great novel Remainder—to the remarkable shape-shifting abilities of its lead actor Denis Lavant, it’s a film with an all but boundless capacity to surprise and delight, one I can’t wait to revisit.

All told, it was hard not to read the jury’s conclusions as polemical. In picking Haneke’s Amour over Carax’s amour fou, Moretti and company opted for an allegory of the death of the art film (and its audience) over a glimpse of its possible future reanimation. Maybe this isn’t such a bad fate for Carax, a cinéaste maudit in his youth and clearly no more assimilable in middle age. He gave no interviews in Cannes and, at his press conference, was asked one inane question after another about the meaning of his film and the wisdom of making something so strange for a moviegoing public. With one terse, haunting response he captured the moribund gloom of this year’s festival: “I don’t know who is the public. All I know is it’s a bunch of people who will be dead very soon.”

Dennis Lim

The 65th Cannes Film Festival ran May 16–27, 2012.

Cristian Mungiu, Beyond the Hills, 2012, color film in 35 mm, 150 minutes. Production still. Voichița and Alina (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur).

MANAGING TO AVOID most of the operatic thunderstorm that hit Cannes for several hours this afternoon, I emerged from my apartment to walk in the rain for the last time to the Palais des Festivals—the bunkerlike compound that comprises the Grand Théâtre Lumière and the Salle Debussy—around 6:30 PM to watch a live transmission of the awards ceremony. Guests of the closing festivities had the pleasure of walking the red carpet to the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” (Who are these DJs? “Sunday Bloody Sunday” played soon after.)

Fittingly, the dampest Cannes in decades ended with a particularly dull closing ceremony (no outrageous behavior, no big upsets). Hosted by Bérénice Bejo, who starred in last year’s festival hit The Artist, the seven palmarès went to six different films. Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, a bleak, powerful Romanian Orthodox monastery–set tale about a friendship between two young women who grew up in the same orphanage, won Best Screenplay. In one of the night’s only surprises, the two leads of Mungiu’s project—Cosmina Stratan, who plays novitiate Voichita, and Cristina Flutur, as Alina, who rages at (and feels betrayed by) Voichita’s love of God—shared the Best Actress prize. Beyond the Hills marks the film debut for both women; in her remarks, Flutur very graciously thanked “everyone who has had an opinion about [the movie].”

That line got a laugh from the journalists assembled in the Debussy, all of whom had been doing nothing but judging and hyperbolizing for the past week and a half. As for my own extolling, I would have loved to see an award extended to Holy Motors, but had to settle for that film’s angelic presence, Kylie Minogue, onstage merely as a copresenter of the Best Short Film award—a task she shared with Belgian director Jean-Pierre Dardenne, in the evening’s only delightful incongruity. But I was certainly happy that the Palme d’Or was given to Michael Haneke’s Amour, my second-favorite title in the festival. Haneke, now a two-time Palme d’Or winner, led his actress Emmanuelle Riva up to the stage; they were joined from the wings by Jean-Louis Trintignant. After all three spoke movingly, Haneke was instructed by Adrien Brody, who presented the top prize to the director with Audrey Tautou, where he needed to stand to get his picture taken. It was the evening’s first—and the festival’s last—objectionable incongruity.

Melissa Anderson

David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis, 2012, color film in 35 mm, 108 minutes. Production still. Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson).

UNSPOOLING FOR THE PRESS THIS MORNING, Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel, is the second of two page-to-screen transfers of high-profile American novels playing in competition. Though not as dopey as the first—Walter Salles’s version of On the Road, which screened on Wednesday—Cronenberg’s latest is uncharacteristically inert (especially when compared with his earlier inspired adaptations, 1991’s Naked Lunch and 1996’s Crash). Further to the film’s detriment, the white stretch limousine that serves as a steel-and-metal cocoon for billionaire financier Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he crosses New York to get a haircut in Cosmopolis immediately recalls the vehicle that figures so prominently in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. When Pattinson’s character wonders aloud, early in the film, “Where do all these limos spend the night?” it was impossible not to think of Carax’s answer.

The responses that Cronenberg—witty (sometimes satisfyingly barbed), thoughtful, and eloquent—gave at his press conference proved more satisfying than his film. “To me, the essence of cinema is a person, a face, speaking,” the director noted (a credo especially borne out in his previous film, last year’s masterful A Dangerous Method). Pattinson’s pretty face certainly does a lot of yakking in Cosmopolis, most of it registering as an affectless drone. Before the panel was assembled, moderator Henri Behar made this request: “Let’s try and keep vampires and bats out of the conversation.” The journos obliged, asking Pattinson not about the Twilight series but whether he, as someone who has talked openly about “the difficulties of living life in public,” saw similarities between himself and his character. Pattinson politely considered the query before becoming frustrated with himself: “I’m not the best self-analyst. I can’t seem to consciously bring anything from my life into my work. [. . .] Why can’t I answer the question—this is so annoying!” Cronenberg, who had earlier said of his star, “I always had the feeling he had never seen any of my movies,” gallantly came to the actor’s aid: “The reason you can’t answer the question is because it’s a flawed question.”

Melissa Anderson