• Terra Infirma

    Anthony Hawley on Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019)

    “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

    Nick Pinkerton on “Two by Louis Valray” at MoMA

    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

    Alexandro Segade on WandaVision

    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

    Erika Balsom on James Benning’s PLACE

    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

    Amy Taubin on the 2021 Sundance Film Festival

    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

    Travis Jeppesen on the 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam

    “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

    Summer Kim Lee on Isaac Lee Chung’s Minari (2021)

    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

    Gilda Williams on Amalia Ulman’s El Planeta (2021)

    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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  • Passion Play

    Zack Hatfield on Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent (1977)

    LARISA SHEPITKO began work on The Ascent (1977) when she was recovering from a severe spinal injury and pregnant, seized by an afflatus of fear. “I was facing death for the first time,” the Ukrainian director told an interviewer in June 1979. “Like anyone in such a situation, I was looking for my own formula of immortality.” In doing so, she reached for one of the most immortal tales ever told, transposing the Passion of Jesus to the freezing hinterland of Nazi-occupied Belorussia. A Dostoevskian psychodrama of sacrifice and betrayal, The Ascent is her most visually accomplished film, her

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  • Capitol Records

    J. Hoberman on Jayden X’s Shooting and Storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC

    Tape recorders, ordinary cameras, and movie cameras are already extensively owned by wage-earners. The question is why these means of production do not turn up at factories, in schools, in the offices of the bureaucracy, in short, everywhere there is social conflict.

    —Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “Constituents of a Theory of the Media” New Left Review (1970)

    HOW QUAINT that question seems today.

    The assault on the Capitol on the afternoon of January 6—the first hostile occupation of the building since Washington was sacked and set ablaze by British soldiers in 1814—is one of the most shocking attacks

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  • Caste Away

    Skye Arundhati Thomas on Rajesh Rajamani’s The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas (2020)

    “A BRAHMIN MUST BE A CULTURAL SUICIDE BOMBER,” writes Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters (2019). In other words, a brahmin must enter the upper-caste corridors of power to which only they have access, and detonate. Several indisputable facts underscore this statement: Wealth and influence in India are under the sole proprietorship of the upper castes. Maintained primarily through endogamy and nepotism, this hegemony continues to exploit and deplete the labor and emotional reserves of lower caste people. The responsibility of anti-caste work must fall on those that have access to the networks

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  • Blue Velvet

    Sophie Abramowitz on George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

    IN 1929, two years after the setting of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and about seven months after Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues,” made her last recordings, another stylish Southern blues singer—the “Queen” of the genre—cut a song with her new husband. On “When the Levee Breaks,” Memphis Minnie looses her guitar on Kansas Joe McCoy, who starts to sing:

    If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s going to break
    If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s going to break
    And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

    Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, adapted for the screen from August Wilson’s eponymous play by director and dramatist

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