COLUMNS

  • Blood Stream

    ESSENTIALLY A VEHICLE for solo performance, TikTok can make individual careers, but the humble Facebook-Twitter-YouTube ecosystem—identified by the British filmmaker Peter Snowdon as the vehicle for “vernacular video”—can make history. The most obvious example: Darnella Frazier’s recording of George Floyd’s murder, arguably the most influential single cinematic event in recent memory.

    The Uprising, 2014, Snowdon’s scandalously underappreciated Arab Spring compilation, is a landmark deployment of vernacular video. So is The Monopoly of Violence, 2020, known in France as Un pays qui se tien sage

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  • Second Nature

    THE SUPERRICH WANT, and can have, luscious gardens of their own. We know the gardens of Versailles, the chateau overlooking them representative of the extreme indulgences of the aristocracy that helped bring on the French Revolution. Those famous grounds were planned by royal architects and constructed through the toil of the working poor. But where do wealthy people’s private parks come from today, in our late-capitalist aftermath? Well, generally speaking, the same place. Nature is, again, plucked from the public, or from private owners tempted by payouts (as the middle class disappears,

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  • Lady in the Lake

    FORGED FROM APOCRYPHA by men who collect tales, the siren—mermaid, Undine, what have you—is marked by a thousand visions and revisions. What endures in the popular imagination: She is piscine from the waist down; calls a body of water home; and boasts, in lieu of a soul, a voice so devastating that Hans Christian Andersen collects her tongue along with her tail. But in Christian Petzold’s new film, Undine, our titular water nymph seems more weary scholar than mythic feminine, working as a docent at Berlin’s Märkisches Museum, where she relays municipal history to curious visitors. Where is her

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  • Urban Studies

    THE WINNER OF THE GOLDEN BEAR at this year’s Berlinale was Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), an irreverent social satire about a teacher who faces judgment by the community after a sexually explicit video she made with her husband—intended solely for private consumption—is leaked online. This send-up of righteousness and opprobrium is set during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Jude never missing a chance to mine distancing protocols and mandated mask-wearing for comic value and contemporaneity. At a festival disrupted by sanitary restrictions, with press and industry screenings

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  • Freedom Songs

    IN 1935, a German ethnomusicologist named Robert Lachmann was fired from his library job and fled from the Nazis to Jerusalem. Born in Berlin to a Jewish family, he had learned to speak fluent Arabic as a young man and had begun to study the forms and structures of Arabic song while working as an interpreter for North African POWs during World War I. He later traveled to Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, conducting extensive fieldwork on secular and liturgical music while developing a wide area of expertise ranging from medieval to modern songs and encompassing everything from Kurdish and

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  • I Shall Not Be Moved

    SPEAKING ON THE CLIMAX of his 1984 period piece Shanghai Blues, which ends on a Hong Kong–bound train from Shanghai, the Saigon-born, Hong Kong–based filmmaker Tsui Hark offered that the Chinese “are caught in something like a migrating curse, moving from one place to another.”

    On the face of it, Tsui’s cinema, with its staccato editing and pop sensibility, might seem to have little to do with that of Jia Zhangke, who has been the most prominent Mainland Chinese filmmaker on the festival circuit since his first feature, Pickpocket, played the Berlin International Film Festival in 1998—the title

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  • Self Composed

    CHAITANYA TAMHANE’S WORK is gaining momentum. His directorial debut, Court (2015), a meditation on the banal evil of India’s judicial system, was praised for challenging the ideological conventions of the legal drama through static shots and long takes. No fast cut, close-up-heavy procedural is staged inside the courtroom; no dramatic monologues are delivered; justice is not served. Tamhane’s second feature, The Disciple (2020), while more kinetic in its camerawork (by Michal Sobociniski), proceeds at a similarly measured pace. Its narrative—about the existential journey of Sharad (Aditya Modak),

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  • Track Changes

    CALL ME A KNEE-JERK PESSIMIST, but I can’t help but feel that America’s about as ready to embrace an emotionally and intellectually challenging art movie in ten parts as it is to come to a full reckoning with slavery and its stubborn, protracted legacy—which is to say, I don’t think it’s ready for Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad.

    As I’m writing this, Jenkins’s adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s cunning and stormy antebellum picaresque is only beginning to stream its way through Amazon Prime. In the first couple days, I’ve sensed initial confusion from some in the viewing public who may

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  • Pain Quotidian

    RIGID, ASHEN, AND CAMOUFLAGED against backgrounds intricately rendered in fifty shades of greige, characters throughout Roy Andersson’s 2014 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence repeat the line “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.” Paired with the likes of a tortured, electrode-bound lab monkey and a man in an office on the brink of suicide—not to mention the entire film’s haunting by one Boschian vision of colonial terror—this recurring utterance becomes a searingly insipid punch line. Andersson, in Pigeon and the other two films in his “Living Trilogy,” depicts the symbiosis of

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  • NO REGRETS

    PART MEMOIR, part madly collaged Francophile valentine, Ulrike Ottinger’s Paris Calligrammes recounts the seven formative years (1962–69) the artist spent in the City of Lights while cannily laying claim to her place in history.

    The Ottinger oeuvre is a combination of epic documentaries, fantastic voyages, and ethnographic inquiries. Paris Calligrammes, which premiered in March 2020 at the Berlin International Film Festival and opened at New York’s Film Forum this past April 23, encompasses them all. Invoking the French poet-explorer Victor Segalen, Ottinger presents her pilgrimage from the

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  • Adventure Time

    IN THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION of New Directors/New Films, the hippies pull more weight than the politicos, to borrow a ’60s dichotomy. There is a lot of journeying in these films—too much of it for my taste—couched as quests for spiritual enlightenment, or undertaken to discover the unity in all things, or to let go of the traumas of the past by, well, I’m not sure what means. ND/NF, which is jointly curated by programmers from the Museum of Modern Art and Film at Lincoln Center, is devoted to first and second independently produced features by directors from an ever-expanding world cinema.

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  • Against the Grain

    MIST BLANKETS LUSH YELLOW FIELDS. Mud paths and canals snake between neatly ordered plots. The juddering of tractor engines is drowned out by the plaintive horn of a freight train, which slowly crosses the landscape. The wind picks up and is answered by the murmur of wheat stalks. An aerial shot shows a grid of closely planted holdings, stretching to the horizon.

    This opening sequence evokes a familiarly bucolic image of Punjab, described in developmentspeak as “India’s breadbasket.” There will be other glimpses of the state’s agrarian prosperity: close-ups of dew on paddy stalks; long takes of

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