COLUMNS

  • Fear of Fear

    TWO ENTWINED VIGNETTES open Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, a documentary shot among black communities in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi. The first shows a child, brandishing a prop machete, strutting down the middle of a city street, howling challenges into the night in one of the peacockish costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians. The second shows two brothers, one seemingly just into his teenage years, the other a few years younger, cautiously walking the corridors of a strobe-lighted haunted house, the smaller whimpering and begging to leave while the older

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  • Parental Controls

    IT WAS NOT UNTIL the documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang had been living in the United States for several years and was pregnant with her first child that she began to think about China’s one-child policy. “The personal is political” was an axiom of the women’s liberation movement, invoked most powerfully in relation to women’s right to control their own bodies. Just six years after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision made access to obtaining an abortion a fundamental right in the United States—a ruling which has not since been as endangered as it is today—China instituted a policy prohibiting a woman

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  • The Sound of Violence

    IN THE 1820s, British colonizers nearly exterminated Tasmania’s Aboriginal population during the Black War, a genocidal conflict still unacknowledged by many Australians. That any film set during this period would feature scenes of carnage and horror should surprise no one. Yet The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s nuanced follow-up to The Babadook (2014), has ignited controversy regarding the violence audiences are asked to endure. (One aggrieved journalist lashed out in a misogynist attack, calling the director a “whore,” at last year’s Venice Film Festival.) But even more striking is how little

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  • Swarm and Tender

    HATIDZE MURATOVA, THE HERO of Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland, is believed to be the last wild female honey gatherer in Europe. A tall, slim, agile woman in her early fifties with a hawklike nose, a snaggletooth, weathered skin, and extremely kind eyes, she is not merely charismatic but a radiant being. When the filmmakers first encountered Hatidze, she and Nazife, her frail eighty-five-year-old mother, were the sole inhabitants of a centuries-old stone village in an arid region of Macedonia. She told them that she had long dreamed of someone making a movie about her method of

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  • Not My Man

    NICK BROOMFIELD SAYS that his latest documentary, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love, is his most personal. I don’t agree, but then again, “personal” is always complicated. In 1968, twenty-year-old Broomfield visited Hydra, the sun-bleached Greek island bohemia where real estate was cheap and dope was plentiful, and open relationships were cultivated. There, Broomfield took his first acid trip, on LSD supplied by Marianne Ihlen, a Norwegian woman about a decade his senior who’d acquired it from a London friend of her lover, Leonard Cohen. Ihlen, Cohen, and Axel—Ihlen’s son from a defunct

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  • Class Canceled

    WHAT IF YOU COLLECTED SOME SEXY RICH KIDS and abolished not just their trust funds but money itself? The Society, Netflix’s ten-episode YA drama, spins off this premise. Set in a Greenwich, Connecticut, mock-up called West Ham, The Society begins with a smell. The town reeks. It’s TV, so the smell is maybe symbolic, the sins of derivatives-trading, pipeline-investing parents karmically rerouted to their own homes. No worries: The teens, bratty and smoldering, will be sent on a camping trip until the aroma is gone. But after a rockslide forces the bus to turn around, they’re dropped back in West

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  • Now and Then

    IN 2011, the acclaimed visionary filmmaker Béla Tarr declared he was retiring from making movies, and so the recent announcement that he would premiere a new work at this year’s Wiener Festwochen, in Vienna, was met with surprise and, naturally, great anticipation. This new work demonstrates that Tarr has not exactly turned away from filmmaking so much as he has decided to leave feature films behind, having taken narrative cinema as far he could in terms of the form’s expressivity.

    Tarr has always sought to challenge and extend the conceptual and aesthetic elements of contemporary cinema in order

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  • Reason Being

    IN A NORTH INDIAN VILLAGE, a Muslim man is lynched to death after being accused of storing beef in his fridge. Consuming beef is not only prohibited in orthodox Hinduism but it is outlawed in many states of Hindu-dominated India. Framed sitting on a bed in his courtyard, the victim’s Hindu neighbor justifies this grisly murder. Off-camera, we hear the filmmaker point out that the government later ran forensic tests on the meat in the man’s fridge and confirmed that it was mutton, not beef. The neighbor is adamant: “How we can just believe that?”

    This is a scene from Vivek (Reason), the latest

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  • Pretty Pictures

    THE BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC’S film programming department remains one of the few institutions that has responded empathetically and responsibly to the heightening conversation around representation within the medium. Their year-round programs have consistently highlighted under-seen female directors, should-be-canon entries from black filmmakers, foreign delights, and more. The annual BAMcinemaFest, now in its eleventh year, is no different in range and spirit, showcasing festival favorites (fresh from Sundance and elsewhere) and ripe-for-discovery underdogs to a New York audience. All screenings

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  • Hope Against Hope

    LINCOLN CENTER’S ANNUAL “OPEN ROADS” SERIES, now in its nineteenth edition, is a precious opportunity for New Yorkers to see new Italian cinema. Over the years, my experience has been that, even when the quality varies, this national cinema rarely avoids pertinent subject matter and, in the case of narrative films, consistently provides stellar performances. One anxiety that emerges loud and clear this year is a lack of hope, and the dismal future that working-class Italian youth face. Given the conviction and heart of these films, it’s hard to conclude that the concern is the obsession of just

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  • WET DREAM

    SEXY. David Hockney luxuriates in the word, adding extra sibilance to the adjective, one he applies to a friend, the American model Joe MacDonald, who sits with him in a hotel room in Geneva in June 1973. Their flirty conversation occurs early on in Jack Hazan’s A Bigger Splash (1974), a partly scripted, partly improvised quasi documentary about the English painter, then at the height of his fame and recently broken up with Peter Schlesinger, the subject of some of Hockney’s best-known works. Fact embellished by fiction (and vice versa), A Bigger Splash, protean in structure, explores fluid

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  • Cannes of the Dead

    TYPICALLY A PRESSURE COOKER of divided interests and divergent opinions, the Cannes Film Festival concluded its seventy-second edition last Saturday on a rare note of unanimity: a Palme d’Or for the film that happened also to be the critical and popular favorite. The South Korean director Bong Joon-ho took the festival’s top prize for his virtuosic social satire Gisaengchung (Parasite), which was welcomed across the board as a return to form and perhaps even a career peak after a pair of conceptually elaborate if somewhat unwieldy international coproductions, Snowpiercer (2014) and Okja (2017).

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