COLUMNS

  • Born Again

    Sundance measures humanity’s depths in a toxic world

    “WOW NANNY,” I texted to one of my Sundance critic pals—she on the West Coast, me on the East—after I had viewed Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature, which a few days later won the grand prize in the festival’s US Dramatic competition. Except for a few screenings in seven “Satellite” locations across the US, the 2022 Sundance Film Festival was entirely virtual. Given that the decision to put everything online was made only two weeks before the January 20 opening date, it was amazing how smoothly things went. I streamed about thirty-five of the festival’s ninety-eight features without a glitch, and

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  • HOW I MET MY MOTHER

    Zack Hatfield on Céline Sciamma’s Petite maman

    THERE ARE NO MOTHERS in fairy tales, a genre of orphans whose winding paths, however enchanted, lead to domestic conventionality. Not so in Céline Sciamma’s elliptical and enigmatic Petite maman, about a girl who encounters a stranger she has known since birth and how their incredible attachment twists the asymmetries of motherhood into a new, beguiling shape. Running to a crisp seventy-two minutes, the film begins with eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) bidding au revoir to the elderly residents of a nursing home one by one before arriving at the room of her maternal grandmother, who recently

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  • Sleepless Nights

    Amy Taubin on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria

    FIRST, WE SEE A ROOM. It is dark, too dark to make out details or even the colors hinted at in various shades of gray. There seems to be a bed and perhaps a person asleep under the covers. Just when your eyes are intent on the little that can be seen, you hear—could it be?—a sonic boom, a sound so loud and dense that it vibrates through your entire body. When we say a film is kinetic, we are usually describing the effect of its images on the viewer. But the kineticism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria is auditory. So overwhelming is its impact that it would be ridiculous to say we watched

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  • Missing Men

    Anna Shechtman and D. A. Miller on Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers

    A SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY of Almodóvar country would duly remark the profusion of single mothers and sisterly subcultures. The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon is the no less abundant population of bad men: fathers who rape, batter, walk out, or otherwise abdicate the paternal function, as psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott called it, of protecting maternity. In Parallel Mothers, Almodóvar’s latest film, Ana (Milena Smit), for instance, is pregnant with a child conceived in a sexual assault involving multiple men. Whoever sired her little Anita will not be coming forward, even if intimidated

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  • Sleepless Nights

    Amy Taubin on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria

    FIRST, WE SEE A ROOM. It is dark, too dark to make out details or even the colors hinted at in various shades of gray. There seems to be a bed and perhaps a person asleep under the covers. Just when your eyes are intent on the little that can be seen, you hear—could it be?—a sonic boom, a sound so loud and dense that it vibrates through your entire body. When we say a film is kinetic, we are usually describing the effect of its images on the viewer. But the kineticism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria is auditory. So overwhelming is its impact that it would be ridiculous to say we watched

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  • Oceanic Feeling

    Arthur Jafa’s new wavelength

    WE’RE IN A JUKE JOINT on a boardwalk overlooking the gulf, now transformed into a sea of magma. The 45s are warped, the turntable spins erratically. We sit on metal chairs and watch the waves of blackness. This is how the world ends—for me, and maybe for you.

    Arthur Jafa’s AGHDRA, an eighty-five-minute moving image and sound installation, is on view in a cavernous warehouse at 439 West 127th Street. Formerly Gavin Brown’s uptown gallery, the building has been sold, and who knows to what purposes its new owner will put it. But right now, Jafa has returned to the space where in 2016 he showed Love

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  • Haute Mess

    House of Gucci loses the thread

    THE HOUSE OF GUCCI trailers and the House of Gucci movie are distinct cultural objects. The former appeared to have been edited in the cutting room of RuPaul’s Drag Race, pouring generously into the bottomless Bellini of camp Lady Gaga serves gay culture. Complete with baffling accent slips (was there a little too much vodka, the commentariat wondered, in Lady Gaga’s penne?), a blasphemous new Holy Trinity, and the foreboding power of a tiny spoon meeting the rim of a demitasse, they achieved cult status months before the film itself even existed.  

    That film, written by Becky Johnston and Roberto

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  • Stage Coach

    Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s dramas of disconnection

    IN THEIR EARLY DAYS, films weren’t as concerned with the realistic elaboration of action as with the various devices writers, directors, cinematographers, and production artists used to convey ideas and emotion through moving images. Theatricality—what Roland Barthes called a “sensuous artifice”—was at the basis of these movies, tasked not with recreating verité on screen but with artfully construing the psyche. Shadows and bursts of light, recurring objects, long takes, static camerawork, expressive acting, and striking (though not necessarily beautiful) faces seared images into a viewer’s

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  • Dog Eat Dog

    Jane Campion makes a western

    “FOR WHAT KIND OF MAN would I be if I didn’t help my mother, if I didn’t save her?” Jane Campion’s unsparing The Power of the Dog opens with this question, spoken in voice-over by teenaged Peter Gordon (Kodi Smit-McPhee), one in the film’s principal-character quartet. Something in the words and the timbre of Peter’s voice instantly called up a memory of Psycho’s Norman Bates and his affectless “A boy’s best friend is his mother,” an association confirmed by the first sight of Codi—tall and skinny, with gestures that are blatantly femme, or in the lingo of the times (1925), a Nancy boy. But if

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  • Take Two

    Blair McClendon on Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II (2021)

    EXORCISMS ARE NOT EASY. A haunting is a spider’s web, a palm across the throat, embers threatening to light again. All of these are better comfort than the world as it is, wracked with absences which go increasingly unremarked upon. There are many ways to finish the phrase “grief is,” but the issue for the bereaved is that grief consumes. The dead remain dead and in their wake there is this thing which devours, doubles back, and devours again even when there is little left to scavenge. This is a dreary state of affairs. The art of grief, when it’s bad, can give into wallowing. Over the course

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  • American Hustle

    Nick Pinkerton on Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s Chameleon Street (1990)

    WILLIAM DOUGLAS STREET JR., a Black Michigan man with an empty wallet, a florid vocabulary, and a naturally patronizing, aristocratic air, doesn’t quite fit in anywhere. This another way of saying that he fits in just about the same everywhere, a valuable trait for a man in his line of work—namely, con artistry.

    In writer-director Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s 1990 Chameleon Street, an embellished version of the life and lies of real Detroit-based con artist Street, Harris, starring in the lead role, gives us a Black Tom Ripley, the most unforgettable underclass antihero this side of Mike Leigh’s 1993

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  • PRACTICAL MAGIC

    J. Hoberman on Neelon Crawford

    NEELON CRAWFORD’S FILMS are at once deeply unfashionable and exactly on time. In making his old-school 16-mm productions in the days of cinepoetry, mostly with a Bolex, his principal concerns were light, movement, and texture, often in the natural world. Crawford’s first film, Freakquently, 1968, is pretty much the sort of movie you’d expect a twenty-two-year-old guy impressed by Bruce Conner and living on the outskirts of Haight-Ashbury to make—a try-anything Kodachrome sound-image collage replete with trippy effects, snatches of Jimi Hendrix, and a nude dancer gyrating in a mirrored cube of

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