COLUMNS

  • Brush Folks

    TWO NEW FILMS ABOUT ARTISTS offer contrasting approaches to the biopic, a genre arguably subject to greater scrutiny of its claims to truth than any other. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away coerces biographical details to augur the future genius of its painter protagonist, scrambling events to connect the dots and keep the story moving. Repudiating such conventions, Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate is a deeply personal portrait of painter Vincent van Gogh, its handheld camera immersing us almost physically in the man’s anguished compulsion to paint in a way no previous film

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  • Steal Magnolias

    IN 2015, the blockbuster novelist Gillian Flynn’s second book––Dark Places, a typically macabre, perspective-shuffling tale of homicide and fucked-up family dynamics straight from an economically blighted American heartland—was turned into a blandly imagined Charlize Theron vehicle by the French director Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Aside from that misfire (for which Flynn received only a “based on the novel by” credit), Flynn’s endeavors into movies and television have produced a string of starry, auteur-caliber collaborations. Her marriage-woes dissection Gone Girl found an ideal interrogator

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  • Table Talk

    IN 1983, Chris Marker released a movie called Sans Soleil (Sunless). Filmed mostly between Tokyo and Guinea-Bissau, Sans Soleil looks at memory and history; for Marker, both were a form of amnesia. “I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining,” says Sans Soleil’s narrator, voiced in the French version by Florence Delay. “We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?” Her voice—an elliptical coo—glides through shots of desert, then ocean, or

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  • The Soprano

    IN THE FALL OF 1971 AND THE SPRING OF ’72, the American-born soprano Maria Callas conducted ten master classes at the Juilliard School of Music at Lincoln Center in New York. Responding to a tiny announcement in the New York Times, I paid the registration fee, along with some equally devoted friends, and each week we sat amid artists, musicians, and other fans for what would become one of the most exhilarating and indelible experiences of my life. The moment Callas walked onstage, she blew out of the water every trite stereotype of the demonic, temperamental diva that dogged her relentlessly—the

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  • DANCE DANCE DEVOLUTION

    A TRIUMPH of riotous style and a lot of fun, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, released in 1977, plays like a Henry James plot drowning in pools of crimson and gore and glutted with witchy jibber-jabber (aka Latin). In the film—the paragon of the giallo, the genre of visually voluptuous Italian horror movies that peaked in the 1970s—a young American dancer named Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at a tanz academy in Freiburg, Germany, and discovers that the school is a front for necromancers conspiring to sacrifice the students to the coven queen. Embracing Suspiria’s loopy story line, J.

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  • CROWD SOURCE

    THE MENTION OF REDDIT most likely conjures the thought of “Ask Me Anything” interviews, or perhaps the alt-right sewers of /r/The_Donald or /r/TheRedPill. In Chris Kennedy’s silent 16-mm film Watching the Detectives (2017), the website figures as something else: a place to witness the ways in which truth claims are made and unmade across distance, in real time, often with little grounding in fact.

    Kennedy begins with a tweet—“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people”—before cutting to footage of the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three and injured some 260 others

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  • Mild Roast

    PYROMANIA AND CLEANSING FIRE play key roles in Burning, Lee Chang-dong’s sixth feature and his first since 2010’s Poetry, but for most of its run time, the film works at a slow smolder. At the heart of the movie is a glowing ember of resentment and suspicion, softly and steadily blown on and piled with kindling from scene to scene, until it has no choice but to ignite.

    The screenplay, by Lee and Oh Jung-mi, was adapted from “Barn Burning,” a ten-page short story by Haruki Murakami. While retaining key scenes and premises, it departs in many crucial ways from its stated model, which is to be

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  • Gross Value

    BOXER’S OMEN (1983) MAY NOT BE THE BEST of the hex-hectored horror films turned out by the Shaw Brothers Studio beginning in the mid-1970s, but it does exemplify the qualities that make these movies prized by a small but dedicated cadre of sickies: the anything-goes spirit of excess, the air of the lurid and the lunatic, and, above all, the sheer viscous nastiness. They are movies that leave you ready to scour your pupils with a Brillo pad, their approach something like the funny-smelling kid on the playground who’d sidle up to you and go, “Hey, wanna see something gross?”

    Directed with garish

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  • Strangest Things

    A LOONY FAIRY TALE opens this year’s “Projections” sidebar of the Fifty-Sixth New York Film Festival. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino alludes to the immigration crisis, cybernetics, gender-bending, political corruption, internet crime, and global sports mania, yet it remains fanciful to the end, replete with a bevy of villains and a too-good-to-be-true hero, who gives the film its title. Diamantino Matamouros (Carlo Cotta), like Wagner’s Siegfried, is, as English comedian Anna Russell’s hilarious spoof described Siegfried, “very brave, very handsome, and very stupid.” Soccer

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  • SYNC OR SWIM

    “Believe me, we are never sad enough for the world to be better.”

    FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING, Jean-Luc Godard’s Le livre d’image (The Image Book, 2018) could not be more of the moment. It is almost without narrative constraints—the most abstract in the series of collage films that spin off from his epic Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98)—and is thus as ephemeral as a dream. I saw it twice at Cannes in May, and although I still remember the intensity of the experience, the details have fled my mind. Le livre d’image is also the most melancholy of his late films, yet it is framed with an

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  • Fault Lines

    HALFWAY THROUGH director Sofia Djama’s accomplished feature-film debut, Les Bienheureux (The Blessed), about the intertwined lives of five characters struggling with the past and the future in present-day Algiers, a pudgy teenager with obnoxious hair pushes his sister aside at her bedroom door. They’ve been fighting about their dad, a man both demanding and catatonically depressed, and about who is responsible for the housework. Their mother is dead, and the whole family is clearly bereft. The sister, Ferial, has a sharp tongue and an outsize attitude. She isn’t taking any of her brother’s crap.

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  • Sound Off

    “GLOBALIZATION TAKES PLACE ONLY IN CAPITAL AND DATA,” wrote Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her 2012 book An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. “Everything else is damage control.” Networks of information exchange have garbled political messaging; if political art could ever accurately reflect ideology, that mirror is now increasingly clouded. The challenge, argues Spivak, is to relearn how to learn, and an aesthetic education is the only way to deliver global justice.

    Enter Matangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, the rapper-singer-provocateur better known by her stage name, M.I.A. The logical

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