COLUMNS

  • Autumn Leaves

    IN ELIZA HITTMAN’S SUPERBLY UNDERSTATED Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a seventeen-year-old high schooler named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan, in a strikingly honest and emotionally layered screen debut) needs to have an abortion. Need is the operative word, not want. Autumn’s need is not medical. She needs to able to control her life. She needs to get out of the small failed Pennsylvania town where every man treats every woman as if she’s a punching bag, existing only to prove his power. If she is forced to care for a baby, Autumn knows she’ll never be able to get away.

    In Pennsylvania, a minor must

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  • Home Alone

    TO PARAPHRASE X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene: “Oh Anxiety, Up Yours!” Although some readers believe I’m an early ’80s punk, I’m actually eighty-one years old, and find myself in an increasingly dismaying demographic. As of late, I wake up several times a night in a panic, which deep breathing does not alleviate. The only way I can suspend dire thoughts about mortality—my own and that of people I love—is by watching movies on my home screens. Putting aside my preference for dark theaters, where images are big if not always beautiful, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get lost in moving pictures that

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  • Bird Lives

    BARELY A SPECK ON A SATELLITE MAP: That’s Bacurau, an imaginary one-street town in strife-torn northeastern Brazil “a few years from now,” until the moment it isn’t there anymore. Fifteen minutes into this carnival of subterranean cross-pollination, a teacher (Wilson Rabelo) tries to show his students on his iPad where their village is, to find that it’s no longer on the grid, erased from Google Earth. Bacurau is also a name for a “cryptically colored” nighthawk known for its ability to go unseen—a real bird with a place in legend and folklore, also known in some quarters as a “goatsucker.”

    After

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  • Got Milk

    LAST YEAR, in Italy, researchers revealed that a pair of ancient skeletons, found hand in hand and so styled “the lovers of Modena,” were in fact both male. Who were these two people, frozen in an eternal embrace? Kelly Reichardt’s new film begins with a kindred enigma: a dyad exhumed in modern Oregon by a woman (Alia Shawkat) ambling along the riverbank with her dog, who snuffs the bones among the reeds. Brushing aside the pup, she digs first with idle interest, then enthrallment, filmed with a languor that lulls us into Reichardt’s measured rhythms, which swell into quiet suspense. Minutes

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  • SLEAZE EN ABYME

    THE ROMANIAN DIRECTOR Corneliu Porumboiu may be the most epistemologically preoccupied filmmaker this side of Errol Morris, but having spent his first fourteen years living under the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Père Ubu–ist regime, his sense of the absurd is second nature.

    12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), Porumboiu’s first feature, is predicated on a ridiculous controversy as to whether an actual revolution occurred in the director’s hometown. (The Romanian title translates as a question that might be the prelude to an Eastern European folktale: “Was There or Not?”) Police, Adjective (2009), the

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  • Baroque Faith

    THE FIRST IMAGE in Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela is an empty street at night, from which a few headstones marking a cemetery are visible. It’s a grisaille, so denuded of color that you process the image as monochrome, and as such it’s a little disconcerting when a cortege passes through and a few hints of pigment—skin, a brown knit cap—become visible among the mourners, all black, all middle-aged or older, some walking with difficulty.

    I thought I recognized the street, hemmed in by high walls of concrete, though I’ve never been to Portugal. I thought, perhaps, it was one of those corridor-like

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  • Perchance to Dream

    IN ANGELA SCHANELEC’S THIRD FEATURE,  Passing Summer (2001), there is a scene in which one of the characters—you might call her the central character, though it seems misleading to refer to a “center” in one of Schanelec’s films—a young woman, Valerie, played by Ursini Lardi, asks an older male authority figure for feedback on some short stories she has written. His analysis: “Rather nice, when you let yourself go, when you’re not trying to express too much through style alone. . . . To put it plainly, whole sentences are generally better than fragments. . . . Reading it, you start wishing for

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  • Sound Garden

    “You know how the young folks are.” —Woman, to Ja’Tovia Gary

    “Yeah, I do. They’re too crunk.” —Ja’Tovia Gary

    THE GIVERNY DOCUMENT IS A NOISY FILM, full of music, yelling, screaming, crying, scratching, wailing, and laughter. But the most deafening moments unfold in silence, when viewers are left to assess what is missing, what cannot be represented. Consider the deep pauses and puzzled faces of the black women and girls standing on the corner of 116th Street and Malcom X Boulevard in Harlem, thinking of how to answer filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary’s question, the one that structures this movie: “Do you

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  • THE FACE OF WAR

    KANTEMIR BALAGOV’S BEANPOLE, set in devastated Leningrad just after the end of World War II, commences with an auditory enigma. Under the credits, an odd, intermittent sound emerges, somewhere between an asthmatic rasp and a death rattle, accompanied by a piercing overtone. The film’s first image finally reveals the source: a close-up of a woman’s pallid face, her eyes wide and fixed on nothing, her throat gently spasming as she emits strangulated gasps. She is Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), nicknamed Beanpole, a nurse in a military hospital who, having been invalided from the front lines with

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  • In the Wind

    A BARE-BONES DANCE HALL in Shanghai, date unclear. Chinese couples, middle-aged and older, dance slowly to a recording of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren’s 1945 “I Wish I Knew,” sung in English by Dick Haymes. The song has been covered by dozens of crooners, Americans and Chinese, but the most transcendent recording is on the 1962 album Ballads by the John Coltrane Quartet; the instrumental arrangement, particularly Coltrane’s extended solo, expresses more than words can. Still, for Jia Zhangke, who borrowed the song’s title for his 2010 documentary, the lyrics matter. The dance hall scene occurs

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  • Perfect Storm

    FOR HOW MANY EONS have humans looked to the firmaments—for dreaming, for communion with the departed—while they were really looking within? A third of the way through Weathering with You (2019), a film of remarkable beauty by anime auteur Makoto Shinkai, we’re gliding through Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival, as each CGI explosion sprinkles twinkling lights like pixie dust over a lambent, lifelike Tokyo. The film’s two teenaged leads, runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo) and orphan Hina (Nana Mori), are in love. “The way the sky looks can move you so much,” Hodaka says.

    The night is so clear

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  • L.A. Gory

    UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, the 1991 film L.A. Story was hands down the best satire of Los Angeles as told from the perspective of a man experiencing a possible psychotic break. Harris K. Telemacher—a TV meteorologist played by Steve Martin—is an egghead who loves Shakespeare but finds himself drowning in a sea of Angelenos who get furious in traffic, love colonics, order a “half double decaffeinated half-caf, with a twist of lemon,” and remain incapable of enjoying culture unless it happens to be the probiotic kind. He has two love interests: a woman with the unbelievably dumb name SanDeE*, who is

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