COLUMNS

  • Pretty Pictures

    THE BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC’S film programming department remains one of the few institutions that has responded empathetically and responsibly in light of the increasing conversation about representation in the medium. Their year-round programs have consistently highlighted underseen female directors, should-be-canon entries from black filmmakers, foreign delights, and more. Their annual BAMcinemaFest, now in its eleventh year, is no different in range and spirit, showcasing festival favorites (fresh from Sundance and elsewhere) and ripe-for-discovery underdogs to a New York audience. All

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  • Hope Against Hope

    LINCOLN CENTER’S ANNUAL “OPEN ROADS” SERIES, now in its nineteenth edition, is a precious opportunity for New Yorkers to see new Italian cinema. Over the years, my experience has been that, even when the quality varies, this national cinema rarely avoids pertinent subject matter, and in the case of narrative films, consistently provides stellar performances. One anxiety that emerges loud and clear this year is the lack of hope and dismal future faced by working-class Italian youth. Given the conviction and heart of these films, it’s hard to conclude that the concern is the obsession of just one

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  • WET DREAM

    SEXY. David Hockney luxuriates in the word, adding extra sibilance to the adjective, one he applies to a friend, the American model Joe MacDonald, who sits with him in a hotel room in Geneva in June 1973. Their flirty conversation occurs early on in Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash (1974), a partly scripted, partly improvised quasi documentary about the English painter, then at the height of his fame and recently broken up with Peter Schlesinger, the subject of some of Hockney’s best-known works. Fact embellished by fiction (and vice versa), A Bigger Splash, protean in structure, explores fluid

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  • Cannes of the Dead

    TYPICALLY A PRESSURE COOKER of divided interests and divergent opinions, the Cannes Film Festival concluded its seventy-second edition last Saturday on a rare note of unanimity: a Palme d’Or for the film that happened also to be the critical and popular favorite. The South Korean director Bong Joon-ho took the festival’s top prize for his virtuosic social satire Gisaengchung (Parasite), greeted across the board as a return to form and perhaps even a career peak after a pair of conceptually elaborate if somewhat unwieldy international coproductions, Snowpiercer (2014) and Okja (2017). Parasite

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  • Well, Well, Weltschmerz

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

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

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  • PUBLISH OR PERISH

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

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  • FANTASY FUTEBOL

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

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

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  • In the Palm of His Hand

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

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  • Leaven Learn

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

    To

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  • All the Rage

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

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  • Utter Chaos

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

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  • In the Midnight Hour

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

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