PRINT December 2011

Film: Best of 2011

James Quandt

Werner Schroeter, Der Tod der Maria Malibran (The Death of Maria Malibran), 1972, still from a color film in 16 mm, 104 minutes. Singer (Anette Tirier) and Maria Malibran (Magdalena Montezuma).

1 Eika Katappa and The Death of Maria Malibran (Werner Schroeter, 1969 and 1972) The restoration of Schroeter’s twin masterpieces anticipates a retrospective of his long-unavailable oeuvre, which will confirm that, as the refrain of the “hillbilly star from Massachusetts” in Eika Katappa has it, “life is very precious, even right now.”

2 The Clock (Christian Marclay) Along with Christoph Schlingensief’s overwhelming Fluxus-urchin altar-boy requiem, Marclay’s temporal epic was the best thing in the Venice Biennale. But one balks at its maker’s deterrence of close analysis; Marclay’s ingenious sport with film form—sound bridging, false edits, incongruent aspect ratios, associational montage—demands sustained, not anecdotal, scrutiny.

3 Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki) The po-faced Finn’s latest proletarian fable revives the communitarian spirit of Jean Renoir’s Popular Front films.

4 This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb) Under mounting repression, Iranian cinema gave us two superb works: Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and Panahi’s courageous, craftily allusive “document” of his life under house arrest.

Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse, 2011, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 146 minutes. Ohlsdorfer’s daughter (Erika Bók).

5 The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr) Tarr’s eschatological final film, part Beckett, part Bible, sets the apocalypse to a churning dirge and strips existence to such stark rudiments—a hovel, a horse, a wind-blasted steppe—that the salt sprinkled on a daily repast of one boiled potato appears ostentatious.

6 Play (Ruben Östlund) Östlund continues the cool, formalist examination of Swedish social codes that he began with 2008’s Involuntary. Far from the ludic mode portended by its title, Play outmanages Michael Haneke in its lockdown of every image and effect.

7 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Ceylan’s metaphysical mystery, staged as a road movie on a darkling plain, repeats the mistake of Cristi Puiu’s Aurora: Its expertly custodial way with information succumbs, in the film’s coda, to over- telling and obviousness.

8 Blood of My Blood (João Canijo) In a magnificent Anna Magnani–like performance as a slum matriarch, Rita Blanco presides over this Portuguese pornomiseria with its hints of Euripides, Pedro Costa, and telenovela.

9 Aita (José María de Orbe) A “dream of light” about a decaying thirteenth-century Basque mansion, de Orbe’s film situates itself at the juncture of the oneiric and the architectural. Its reverie about haunted, vanishing, or abandoned spaces illustrates the poet César Vallejo’s contention: “When someone leaves, someone remains. The point through which a man passed, is no longer empty.”

10 Porfirio (Alejandro Landes) Landes transforms the sensational true story of a Colombian hijacker into a touching, minimalist study of the everyday existence that led to his crime.

James Quandt, senior programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Wallflower Press, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised), forthcoming from Indiana University Press next year.