COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Terra Infirma

    “TODAY WE ARE KNOCKING at the door of the modern world,” says the politician to the villagers of Nazaretha, bloviating into a megaphone’s detachable mic. “Your voice has been heard,” he reassures them, as if they’d asked for this, as if he, this bloated hype-man, their elected official, were doing them a favor. But representation is tricky when you stand out from the masses, clad in a sports coat, button-down shirt, and shiny gold belt buckle. “I assure you it will be worth it.” His constituents gaze at him silently. Meanwhile, throughout this bombast, the camera tracks a petite elderly woman,

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  • Decency and Disorder

    OUR SUBJECT IS A FIGURE SHROUDED IN MYSTERY, his image faded to near-disappearance by the passing of years. “Not much is known about the director Louis Valray, except that he was born in Toulon in 1896 and made two exceptional feature films in the mid-1930s,” reads the press release from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which is featuring both of those films, La belle de nuit (1934) and Thirteen Days of Love (1935), recently restored by Serge Bromberg's Lobster Films, at its virtual cinema through the eighteenth of March. In this case, however, the bare minimum of detail touches on something

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  • This Woman’s Work

    IN SECOND GRADE, I told everyone my mom was a witch. It was the early 1980s, and my mother had long black hair, like Miss Switch—“teacher by day, witch by night”—on the cartoon. I informed the other kids about her candle ceremonies (with her menorah) and her familiar, a mysterious tuxedo cat named Batman. Increasingly fanciful, the stories of my mom’s witchcraft spun out in incantatory free association over recesses and lunchtimes, culminating with a tale of the time she turned a neighborhood bully into a pair of jeans. “And when the jeans ripped . . .” I said ominously, “They bled like skin!”

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  • The Lives of Others

    JAMES BENNING HAS SAID that when he first started making films, in the early 1970s, he was “like a folk artist.” Although he later completed an MFA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he initially came to his medium with no formal training in art or cinema. What he did have were two degrees in mathematics, an education critics often mention when accounting for the metric rigor of Benning’s celebrated 16-mm films, such as TEN SKIES, 2004, comprising ten ten-minute static takes of the Southern California firmament, and One Way Boogie Woogie, 1977, composed of sixty one-minute shots of industrial

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  • Being There

    THE PRIZES WERE AWARDED a month ago, some very big deals have closed in recent weeks, and the Sundance Film Festival has closed its streaming platform, hopefully never to be used again—at least not as the primary means of connecting Sundance’s chosen movies to Sundance audiences. Having covered the festival for thirty-two years, the place—Park City, Utah—and my ten-day routine there is stamped into my neurological pathways, so it’s no wonder that I had flashes of déjà vu while sitting at home watching four or five movies a day on my desktop. One evening, checking in by phone with my Sundance

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  • The New Weird

    “RUN ME OVER,” tremble the lips of a masochist to the woman who bullied him in high school. “Please . . . I want you to run me over with your car.” She doesn’t. Because only one thing sexually satisfies her these days: cooking mapo tofu.

    A wildly aspirational genderqueer version of As You Like It, with all roles played by women, in Mandarin and set in a futuristic Taipei where a burgeoning countercultural resistance to social media has resulted in internet-free zones ornamented with anime sprites, Chinese opera, calligraphy, and divinatory paraphernalia—a cinematic parallel to hyperpop.

    A successful

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  • Greener Pastures

    THROUGHOUT MINARI, seven-year-old David Yi is told not to run. He has a heart murmur, so his parents and older sister just want him to be safe. But how could he not run, surrounded by all the open space of rural Arkansas? His grandmother understands, and prefers caring for him in a different way, coaxing him toward neither recklessness nor idleness but instead toward an openness to risk, vulnerability, and failure. It is this different way that shapes the film.

    A coming-of-age story based on director Isaac Lee Chung’s own experience growing up Korean American with his immigrant parents during

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  • Continental Grift

    EL PLANETAbilled as “a comedy about eviction” and the first feature film by artist Amalia Ulman, is loosely based on the real-life Spanish mother-daughter petty-crime duo Justina and Ana Belén. Arrested in 2012, the penniless yet elegant pair posed as wealthy ladies and scammed countless restauranteurs and shop-owners—who’d trusted the apparently well-heeled women to eventually settle their bill­—out of thousands of euros. In El Planeta, lead actor Ulman (who also wrote the screenplay) plays fashion student Leonor who, in the aftermath of her father’s death, can no longer afford her London

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