COLUMNS

  • 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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  • All Over Me

    CLAUDE (ALISON FOLLAND) keeps a fun house–style mirror in the kitchen of the apartment she shares with her mom, the kind of mirror that makes even an average-sized human look like a stumpy whale. When Claude, a henna-haired fifteen-year-old who dresses in what can only be called husky sizes, and her blonde waif of a best friend, Ellen (Tara Subkoff), pass the mirror one afternoon, they fall into a mock-sex routine: Claude, in baggy shorts and tee, playing the butch dude, Ellen his/her femmy conquest. The girls start humping away, grunting and giggling at their warped images. Reflected behind

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  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder

    WHAT CAN YOU SAY about a fat, ugly sadomasochist who terrorized everyone around him, drove his lovers to suicide, drank two daily bottles of Rémy, popped innumerable pills while stuffing himself like a pig, then croaked from an overdose at 37? Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil probably said it all: “He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?”

    Anyway, there’s nothing you can say about Rainer Werner Fassbinder that he didn’t say about himself (in countless interviews and the horrific self-portrait in Germany in Autumn, 1978). He was the faithful mirror of an ugly world

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  • Basquiat

    WELL, IT’S REALLY not that bad.

    That was my gut reaction to a screening of artist Julian Schnabel’s directorial debut. Previous ’80s-artist-becomes-filmmaker vehicles (David Salle’s Search and Destroy, Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic) had been poor precedents at best, and long delays in scheduling the screening had led me and others to speculate that the film’s distributor, Miramax, had gotten cold feet; but I left Basquiat (a flat-footed retitling of Schnabel’s original Build a Fort, Set It on Fire) with a peculiar sense of pleasure and/or relief. The ordinary expectations of schadenfreude had

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  • Trainspotting

    IN BRITAIN, POP CULTURE and drug culture are almost synonymous these days. From Oasis’ anthems of coked-out glory-lust to Pulp’s number-one hit “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” (a brilliantly ambivalent evocation of the dream and lie of rave), from the ganja-delic paranoia of Tricky to jungle’s journeys into the dark side of Ecstasy culture, British pop is all highs and lows, uppers and downers. Other sectors of the culture industry lag behind music in reflecting what every British kid takes for granted: the sheer omnipresence and banality of recreational drug use. Which is why Irvine Welsh, chronicler

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  • Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol

    THE SLEEK PAIR OF dark glasses sitting next to my computer keyboard has teeny portraits of mass murderers embedded in the sides of its plastic frame. Get it? They’re “dark” glasses, made in Austria, of all places, and available only at Moss, SoHo’s echt design store. These stark, degraded images are silkscreen-derived, off-register, generations away from whatever reality they could be said initially to represent.

    Hmm. I don’t see any women in this lineup. These glasses, like so much else, would not have been possible without Andy Warhol, and wearing them, or any other pair of shades, would much

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