• Lost and Found

    IN ITS APRIL CALENDAR NOTES, Anthology Film Archives describes Alain Tanner as “the man who put Swiss cinema on the international film cultural map.” While that may not seem like much of a distinction given the low profile of Swiss filmmaking, Tanner deserves attention for more than being the most recognizable director to hail from the land of cuckoo clocks and expensive watches. He’s also one of the great unsung radicals to emerge during that intense, now heavily romanticized period of cinematic politicization the late 1960s and early ’70s.

    Indeed, the film with which Tanner is usually associated,

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  • Banksy Job

    BORN OUT OF THE NEW YORK graffiti scene of the 1970s and ’80s, street art has come a long way since Revs and Cost were wheat-pasting their block-letter foolscap names in every nook and cranny of the city. Like its sibling rap music, it has gone massive. No one was more responsible for this mainstreaming than an elusive, anonymous Bristol native who goes by the tag Banksy, with a close second going to the ubiquitous Shepard Fairey, he of the Obama “HOPE” poster. Both are featured in Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary about street artists that Banksy took over from its original auteur (and

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  • Soldiering On

    SERGE BOZON’S SINGULAR, extraordinary La France (2007), which never received a proper theatrical release in the US but will be available on DVD from Kino this week, might be thought of as the structural inverse of Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In Demy’s 1964 musical, every word of dialogue is sung; within this audacious exercise lies an achingly antiwar film, its hero shipped off to fight in Algeria. Bozon’s film, similarly daring, unfolds as a drama about the horrors, loneliness, and camaraderie of World War I that intermittently (four times, to be specific) blooms into a delirious,

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  • Don Levy's Herostratus

    MORE THAN FORTY YEARS after its premiere at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 1967, Don Levy’s Herostratus has been given a second chance at recognition, if not at the fame that is, ostensibly, its subject. The British Film Institute, which originally put up most of the minuscule budget for the ambitious 35-mm feature—seven years in the making, according to its director—has digitally restored and issued it on DVD.

    Born in Australia, Levy began making films while he was at Cambridge doing a Ph.D. in theoretical chemical physics. His thirty-minute Ten Thousand Talents (1960) is a scathing

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  • Both Ends Burning

    THE NEW DOCUMENTARY The Sun Behind the Clouds (2009) crystallizes a question that increasingly besets the half-century-old Tibetan struggle for independence: Is a more militant brand of activism possible when the leader of your movement is also a universal symbol of peace? Officially adopted in the late 1980s, the Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” calling not for total independence but instead for cultural and political autonomy, has made no headway with Beijing, and seems more than ever like a dead end to many younger Tibetans.

    In The Sun Behind the Clouds—a companion piece to their 2005 fiction feature

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  • Moving Picture

    IN 2000, American dance patron and philanthropist Anne Bass spotted a Cambodian teenager perform in a classical Khmer dance recital in Angkor. Impressed by his grace and charisma, Bass spirited the kid—Sokvannara “Sy” Sar, then sixteen years old—to Manhattan to study at the School of American Ballet. Thus begins Dancing Across Borders (2009), Bass’s documentary about Sar’s arduous progress and uneasy assimilation into the role nominated for him: a ballet prodigy, modeled after Rudolf Nureyev’s unconventional rise. (Nureyev, too, began his ballet training in his late teens.)

    Undeterred by frustrations

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  • Truth and Reconciliation

    “A TRUE ARTIST is someone who is close to the people,” says Hossein Sabzian, whose trial for impersonating the filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf is the subject of Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary-cum–neorealist drama Close-Up (1990). This common enough sentiment resonates in Close-Up as a bold thesis for a cinema that is not merely populist but thoroughly and originally democratic.

    Newly divorced and, like a quarter of Iranians in 1990, chronically unemployed, Sabzian lives only for cinema. He adopts the identity of his hero, Makhmalbaf, out of a need for self-worth. His victims—the middle-class Ahankhah

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  • Trust Issues

    THERE’S NO OPPORTUNITY for the viewer to position himself comfortably in The Oath. Like many of the best documentaries, Laura Poitras’s film places the audience in an ambiguous and untenable relationship with the movie’s subjects, particularly its central figure, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard and current Sanaa-based cab driver Abu Jandal. Drawing on a diverse array of footage, Poitras presents the sly and charismatic Jandal through direct interviews, television appearances with both the American and Arab press, footage the filmmaker shot of Jandal interacting with his son or meeting with

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  • Inclement Greenberg

    ROGER GREENBERG (Ben Stiller), like the hyperarticulate, acid-tongued narcissists who precede him in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s oeuvre—Bernard Berkman in The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot in Margot at the Wedding (2007)—repels and attracts. Recovering from a crackup, the forty-one-year-old sometime carpenter, vowing to “do nothing” for a while, arrives in Los Angeles from New York to house-sit for his wealthy brother, Phillip, on vacation with his family in Vietnam. Frequently bedecked in a Steve Winwood T-shirt, the resolutely Gen-X Greenberg reminisces with his pal Ivan (Rhys Ifans),

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  • Three’s Company

    WHEN INGMAR BERGMAN said of Andrei Tarkovsky that he had invented a cinematic idiom “true to the nature of film,” what did he mean? Of course, the “true” nature of cinematic language itself remains—quite rightly—the subject of sharp, perennial debate in film theory. At the very least, Tarkovsky’s body of work can be said—in just seven examples—to have informed those polemics with compelling purpose. The Anthology Film Archives’ “Tarkovsky X 3” program presents three films at the core of the director’s (already compact) oeuvre—a primer of sorts to his best-known feature-length films.

    In both its

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  • Ladies Who Lunch

    MID-AUGUST LUNCH (2008) is an easy film to underrate. Its considerable charm lies on its surface; less immediately apparent, but underpinning the whole of the film, is the terror of grappling with the loneliness of aging. Italian actor/writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio demonstrates his multivalent talent, but not in a way that calls attention to itself. The actors, mostly nonprofessionals, are remarkably natural. At times, one can imagine Mid-August Lunch as a documentary.

    A fifty-something bachelor, Gianni (Di Gregorio) lives with his ninety-three-year-old mother. The manager of Gianni’s condo

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  • Nuclear Power

    “LET ME DOWN EASY,” Bettye LaVette begs, in the searing 1965 soul nugget that opens The Wolberg Family, Axelle Ropert’s trenchant, aurally dazzling debut feature. The plea, sung to a lover right before a breakup, could just as easily be the appeal overbearing Jewish paterfamilias Simon Wolberg (François Damiens), a proud small-town mayor, makes to his wife and two children, who, fed up with his grandstanding and prying, insist that he change. This small, modest film explores, with persistent acuity, one of life’s thorniest struggles: how to carve out an identity wholly separate from one’s kin.

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