COLUMNS

  • Dogma 95

    THREE YEARS BACK, under the aegis of a radical (and largely spurious) Danish filmmaking collective calling itself Dogma 95, Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg issued a directorial manifesto in the daft form of a “Vow of Chastity.” (Later, Christian Levring and Søren Kragh-Jacobsen signed on, effectively doubling Dogma’s membership.) Set forth in ten severe back-to-naturalism commandments, coupled with additional proclamations like “I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste!,” the vows’ monastic regimen is now put to the test in a pair of new movies (both of which premiered this year

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  • Todd Solondz’s Happiness

    THE EXPERIENCE OF CONFRONTING a work of art ideally disorganizes ones systems. Therefore it is difficult, as a critic, to organize one’s responses. Here again I display my disarray not out of careless disregard for common sense and the rules of exposition; rather, I write in a disjunct mode because Happiness, a film by Todd Solondz, has disorganized me.

    Rule no. 1 of criticism: Always blame the artifact.

    Happiness is one of those philosophical categories, strict and unfathomable, on which life depends but which no one understands and which no one has patented. Few have it, many want it; its

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  • High Art and Pecker

    MOVIES ABOUT ARTISTS and their demimondes are notoriously unreliable. We’re not talking old-style Hollywood productions about the titanic geniuses of yore; such fare as The Agony and the Ecstasy, often screened on Ted Turner’s invaluable American Movie Classics cable network, has seen me through many predawn insomniac hours. More contemporary efforts focusing on artists, dealers, or collectors—e.g., Legal Eagles, 9 1/2 Weeks, Wall Street—have been miserable failures from the standpoint of art-world reality. (True, only those who are at best naïf go to any movie in search of la vérité, and I

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  • Sharon Lockhart

    SHARON LOCKHART’S Goshogaoka (1997) provides a much-needed slap on the wrist to the frequently tedious, self-involved goings-on of much American “independent” movie-making, by showing how a few simple and surprising elements—a single camera angle, six ten-minute sequences, a Japanese junior high girl’s basketball team—are all it takes to charm the eye and mind. We hear an extended bell tone, like a sound that might summon initiates to prayer; we see the polished sheen of a basketball-court floor in a gymnasium-cum-auditorium (whose stage and red curtain center the frame); we hear the rumble of

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  • Chow Yun-Fat

    CHOW YUN-FAT moves through a film like a time-traveler from the cinematic past. A violent apparition materializing from the shadows of memory, the Hong Kong star who made his Hollywood debut in The Replacement Killers and is slated to appear next in producer Oliver Stone’s upcoming The Corruptor imbues action with tenderness and regret, having one foot securely in the stoic moral codes of Only Angels Have Wings and the other in the weltschmerz of Wings of Desire. As an actor, Chow balances the innate and self-conscious with a special sort of bemused intensity, reconciling the emblematic qualities

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  • Frozen

    SUICIDE DRAWS a sharp line between the one who goes beyond and those who stay behind. The most painful thing to realize is that not only has the dead man become invisible to us, but we are no longer visible to him. When Qi Lei, a twenty-three-year-old performance artist, killed himself in Beijing in 1994, the living were left with unanswered questions, an unfinished story line, incomplete dialogue, and the cruelty of real or imagined guilt.

    Suicide poses a particular challenge to cinema, weaving a subtle dialectic between the known and the unknown. To investigate the “reasons”—the motives,

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  • Michael Haneke's Funny Games

    AN EXCRUCIATING compendium of banalities posing as “radical” filmmaking, the Austrian movie Funny Games suggests that celluloid serial killers have grown bored with murder sprees, necrophilic rape, and ritual sex mutilations. No longer content with violence—for—violation’s sake, they feel the need to place their acts in the larger context of media representation: using torture and slaughter for educational purposes, homicidal maniacs must now not only kill but comment on the whole death—making process. Indeed, the movie’s cherubic duo, Peter and Paul—suggesting a pair of run-amok

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  • the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival

    WEEKS BEFORE THE LAUNCH of the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival, the competition lineup was eliciting groans. By midfest, finding a film that generated passionate support was like securing a parking space on the Croisette, Cannes’ waterfront main drag. Critical dissent was running unusually high—even for Cannes, where one buff’s noir is often another’s bête. Whereas one critic, for example, proclaimed Curtis Hanson’s L. A. Confidential “a disaster,” another saw it as “the bright spot of the competition.” Decisive trends were visible from the start. Many hoped a spate of literary adaptations,

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  • D'Or Prizes

    AS EVERYBODY KNOWS, the best parties happen all by themselves. Nonetheless, the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival seemed compelled to plan exactly how they’d celebrate 1997 (supposedly Cannes’ fiftieth anniversary, but actually the fiftieth festival, since there wasn’t one in either ’48 or ’50). And they certainly came up with an impressive array of events. There were ceremonies and speeches, balls and fireworks, a ballet by Philippe Decouflé, and a “Palme des Palmes” awarded by all the living recipients of the Palme d’Or to Ingmar Bergman, the greatest of those yet to be so honored. Bergman

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  • Elia Suleiman's Chronicle of a Disappearance

    “MY LIFE MAKES ME LAUGH,” Elia Suleiman writes in his notes to Chronicle of a Disappearance. “I am far from being courageous. I hate venturing. I wish to settle down and lead a linear existence, but even when I purposely attempt to conform, something is bound to go wrong.” Suleiman’s first feature film is like a diary full of such false starts, but it is animated by wary optimism. Screened in New York recently in the “New Directors/New Films” series, copresented by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, this truly thoughtful movie deserves to be seen by a larger

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  • Irma Vep

    FROM THE OUTSET, Olivier Assayas’ breakneck behind-the-camera satire Irma Vep immerses the viewer in the heady desperation of moviemaking. The first shot slowly pans over fresh-faced production assistants blithely hustling investors and creditors with phone solicitations worthy of seasoned bunco artists. Enter cheerfully self-effacing Hong Kong superstar Maggie Cheung as herself; she has arrived to play the title role of a latex-encased femme fatale in a projected remake of Louis Feuillade’s legendary proto-Surrealist 1916 serial Les vampires. This is ironic inasmuch as virtually everyone involved

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  • Nowhere

    IN THE BEGINNING, director Gregg Araki’s reputation was tiny but sterling. His early, so-called no-budget movies Three Bewildered People in the Night (1987) and The Long Weekend (O’ Despair) (1989) were wildly admired for their gentle, depressive tone, seeming smarts, and movingly restrained psychological insight. Few people were making narrative films on the cheap back then, and Araki, a madly ambitious young fellow fascinatingly attuned to the inarticulate speech patterns and confused emotions of his generation, was rightly considered a promising, if blurry talent.

    If 1992’s The Living End—a

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