COLUMNS

  • LOST IN SPACE

    THE REVERENT ADEPTS of French director Claire Denis hold her work inviolable, finding in its every lapse and disaster new conduits to her unconscious, mistaking her films’ copious incoherence for visionary poetry and their recurrent absurdity for narrative daring. Like her compatriot Olivier Assayas, Denis cannot resist forays into genre filmmaking: the vampire-cannibal horror movie in Trouble Every Day (2001); the modernist puzzle picture in L’intrus (The Intruder, 2004); film noir in Les salauds (Bastards, 2013); and rom-com in Un beau soleil intérieur (Let the Sunshine In, 2017). From the

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  • Fearful Symmetry

    SOME FILMS demand a second viewing, particularly when something that is revealed at the very end makes you rethink everything that led to the denouement. The second time around, you appreciate the subtlety of certain details you either failed to notice or misunderstood. This is absolutely the case for Jordan Peele’s Us, and particularly for Lupita Nyong’o’s performance. Peele’s script and direction are very smart and often inspired—I’m not going to get into a comparison with his 2017 debut feature, Get Out—but make no mistake, Nyong’o, who can be at once precise and volcanic, holds the film

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  • All the Young Dudes

    BRITAIN’S NATIONAL IDENTITY CRISIS! Angry young white men! The depraved, authority-huffing upper class! The stifling production line of corrupt Western educational institutions! And don’t forget a side of gun violence. If…, Lindsay Anderson’s tale of British boarding school bedlam, was released at the end of 1968 but seems primed to punch the buttons of today’s audiences, which hardly need to set a Google Alert to be inundated with horrific happenings related to the aforementioned topics. Then again, this is a film from a country where more than 90 percent of police officers don’t carry guns.

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  • Kind of Blue

    AS MIKE HOOLIHAN, a New Orleans detective and the gloomy protagonist of Carol Morley’s Out of Blue, Patricia Clarkson sustains an air of sardonic melancholy that nearly rescues the movie. Introduced via the rearview mirror of her sedan, Mike sports sunglasses and dark colors as she navigates the Louisiana daylight toward a crime scene: the shot-dead body of Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), a well-known astrophysicist. A short while later, in an interrogation room with Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors), a colleague (and lover) of Jennifer’s, Mike asks, “You sure you don’t want a lawyer?” As he

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  • Last Hurrah for Chivalry

    WHEN WE FIRST ENCOUNTER ZHAO QIAO, the central character in Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White, she is perhaps a little over twenty, her face untrammeled by time or worry and framed by the most perfectly engineered bangs in Datong, the northern mining town whose streets are run by her boyfriend, Bin, a big man in the local jianghu gangs. The year is 2001, but by the time the story ends, in 2018, Qiao, played by Zhao Tao, is closer to the actress’s own age. At no point does Tao have recourse to actorly affectations in transforming the character from a young, wide-eyed moll to the shrewd, hardened

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  • Tusk Everlasting

    THE SPECTERS OF ITS MAKER may always haunt An Elephant Sitting Still. Born from writer-editor-director Hu Bo, who ended his life at the age of twenty-nine, the film is an odd orphan: a first feature and a last one. Mordant and disconsolate in his final months, Hu blogged on Weibo of his sparrings with producers Liu Xuan and Wang Xiaoshuai (director of Beijing Bicycle, Shanghai Dreams, etcetera) over its elephantine four-hour runtime. Vexed, Wang sutured together an attenuated recut that he sent around to festivals in 2017. Such surgeries are standard, if myopic, for producers; Hu mourned them

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  • LOVE ANOMIE

    “ARTY,” A COINAGE DATING to the heyday of Jugendstil, isn’t a term I like to use, but it seems unavoidable in discussing the work of the Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan. Two features into his career and just shy of thirty, Bi has established himself as the artiest internationally known director this side of the arch-pretensoids Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky. I don’t much care for either of those filmmakers, each a textbook practitioner of what Manny Farber, in the Winter 1962–63 issue of Film Culture, famously called “white elephant” filmmaking, but Bi is something else.

    Farber took issue with

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  • PLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

    THE FILMS of writer-director Christian Petzold are haunted: by the specters of history, by revenants, by shadowy protagonists often in flight or exile. These phantom threads are stitched together to create supple narratives that recall earlier movies—Vertigo especially—or classic genres (noir, the woman’s picture) without being in thrall to them. Petzold, born in 1960 to parents who had recently emigrated from East to West Germany, revitalizes old templates to offer new perspectives on historical rifts and traumas.

    That style is particularly pronounced in Transit (2018), his latest film, based

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  • Danse Macabre

    GASPAR NOÉ’S CLIMAX is an encyclopedia of ways in which the human body can bend and break, a sailor’s knot guide of the contortions possible with four limbs, a trunk, and a head, skulls seemingly empty of thoughts other than sex and death. Set in an isolated school somewhere outside Paris where a troupe of hip-hop dancers has assembled for intensive rehearsals before an impending American tour, the movie unravels in something like real-time. Cutting loose at the end of a day’s work, the dancers dip into a punch bowl of sangria before discovering that one of them has spiked it with LSD, precipitating

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  • Metafictions

    I SAW FEWER FILMS THAN USUAL at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, or “Berlinale,” for the simple reason that there was little in the program that interested me. I suspect I’m not alone. Especially among those of us coming to Berlin from Rotterdam, which—along with Locarno—is one of the continent’s second-tier festivals that increasingly manages to upstage Berlin’s first-tier status. One can only hope that the pronounced lapse in the quality of the programming that critics have been bemoaning in broken-record mode for years now will finally be allayed in 2020, when Carlo Chatrian

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  • Based on a True Story

    SO FAR, IT’S RAINING REALITY at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (or “Berlinale,” for short). If only someone would invent an umbrella that protects against blades, bullets, and toxic masculinity! The world would certainly be a better place, but then what bitter truths would be left for all these cinematic bigwigs to unpack?

    Among the most talked-about films this year is the latest from Fatih Akin, The Golden Glove—named after the trashy Hamburg pub that Fritz Honka frequented in the early 1970s. Honka enjoyed drink and the company of middle-aged to elderly prostitutes, most of them

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  • Stalk Footage

    EARLY ON in Female Human Animal, the docufiction by Josh Appignanesi, novelist Chloe Aridjis makes an observation that will echo throughout the film. “Well, this modern life and modern art and modern love—I don’t know, it all seems a bit soulless to me,” the author laments to an offscreen interlocutor. “I was probably born in the wrong century. But one just has to keep giving the century a chance: See what happens.” Dislocation and disenchantment are central tropes in Appignanesi’s cinematic portrait, which divides its attention between Aridjis and the late artist and writer Leonora Carrington,

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