PRINT December 2005

FILM: Best of 2005

James Quandt


1 THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (CRISTI PUIU) Olfactory cinema—one can verily smell the film’s sodden protagonist—and a miracle of observational empathy. In our diminished culture, the title probably qualifies as a spoiler, but the inevitability of Mr. Lazarescu’s demise does nothing to lessen the surprise of his squalid Dantean odyssey toward death.

2 THREE TIMES (HOU HSIAO-HSIEN) Conscious summa or inadvertent sampler of Hou’s career, his triptych of love stories opens rapturously and ends attenuated; no one in contemporary cinema comes closer to Vermeer’s interiors with his pellucid lighting and composed domestic space.

3 THE SUN (ALEXANDER SOKUROV) The Russian director’s “Men of Power” trilogy concludes with a hushed, troubling portrait of Hirohito—a Götterdämmerung made literal by spectral lighting and fungal color. Issei Ogata’s scarily endearing rendition of the emperor, his lips restively testing the air with carplike twitches, is beyond uncanny.

4 GARLANDS (T. J. WILCOX; METRO PICTURES) and 5 PALAST (TACITA DEAN; 51ST VENICE BIENNALE) In contrast to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9— a bloated voyage into japonisme, whale fat, and cockleshell backpacks—these two works are touchingly modest, truly romantic in their rendering of the end of things. The imminent obsolescence of their small-gauge formats adds melancholic force to their respective portraits of futile acts, foreshortened lives, and imperiled sites.

6 INSTRUCTIONS FOR A LIGHT AND SOUND MACHINE (PETER TSCHERKASSKY) Eli Wallach seems condemned to run forever through a graveyard in Tscherkassky’s nightmarishly looping, self-consuming attempt (in the filmmaker’s words) to “turn a Roman western [The Good, The Bad and the Ugly] into a Greek tragedy.”

7 MOMENTS CHOISIS (JEAN-LUC GODARD) Selecting favorite moments from his monumental Histoire(s) du cinéma, Godard leaves out all the joy and juice—the soaring tribute to Italian Neorealism, especially—but what remains is morosely affecting.

8 LA TRAHISON (PHILIPPE FAUCON) A terse, ambiguous, immensely intelligent portrait of harkis during the Algerian war.

9 LAST DAYS (GUS VAN SANT) and 10 GRIZZLY MAN (WERNER HERZOG) Odd, if not peas-in-a-pod, twins: In each a blond, druggy fuck-up first finds Eden and then finds death—man-child innocents destroyed by their own ingenuousness. The first is all mumble and meander, the second irritatingly voluble, but the flashes of early Errol Morris Americana-grotesque in both films seal their strange confraternity.

Senior Programmer at the Cinematheque Ontario in Toronto, James Quandt organized the current traveling retrospective of the films of Mikio Naruse.