PRINT December 2012

Film: Best of 2012

James Quandt

João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, The Last Time I Saw Macao, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 85 minutes.

1 La Noche de Enfrente and La Maleta (Raúl Ruiz) Life seems untenable without more films from Ruiz, whose final offerings—a feature that merrily journeys toward mortality, and his recently discovered and reworked first film, a mise en abyme short from 1963—returned the exiled Chilean maestro to his homeland and to his initial funhouse style.

2 The Last Time I Saw Macao (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata) The time-defying precincts of the former Portuguese colony prove to be both an architectural and a semiotic jungle for the film’s unseen narrator in this tranny-noir essay-film, which combines the seedy exoticism and conspiratorial japery of Orson Welles with the displaced poetics of Chris Marker. Proceeding from Cindy Scrash’s version of “You Kill Me” (straight out of von Sternberg’s Macao) to a Kiss Me Deadly finale, Last Time treats cinephilia as a shoring against dissolution.

3 In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo) After the Robbe-Grilletian rigors of The Day He Arrives (2011), Hong decamps from wintry Seoul for coastal Mohang, where Isabelle Huppert and her Korean hosts exacerbate the director’s customary social discomfort with a hilarious lingua franca of strangely cadenced English.

4 No (Pablo Larraín) Having employed Tarkovsky-era Russian camera lenses to achieve the etiolated lighting of Post Mortem, Larraín completes his Pinochet trilogy by shooting a supremely nuanced account of the 1988 Chilean referendum campaign in U-matic murk.

Pablo Larraín, No, 2012, U-matic transferred to 35 mm, black-and-white and color, sound, 110 minutes. René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal).

5 Perret in France and Algeria (Heinz Emigholz) Emigholz’s taxonomic catalogue of Auguste Perret’s modernist buildings re-creates the tension between the ultrarational and the subtly exuberant in the architect’s best work.

6 The Repentant (Merzak Allouache) The unsaid assumes traumatic portent in Allouache’s elliptical portrait of an Algerian couple devastated by jihadist terror.

7 Holy Motors (Leos Carax) From the enfant gris of French cinema, a lovable, execrable, exhilarating, enervating, fiasco–tour de force.

8 Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho) The debut of the year, Mendonça’s examination of class relations in contemporary Brazil ultimately overreaches, but its coolheaded account of the way in which surveillance can turn security into its opposite exerts formal and moral intelligence.

9 Wild Girl (Raoul Walsh, 1932) Joan Bennett’s backwoods Salome certainly fills the bill, skinny-dipping amid the sequoias, routing corrupt politicians and lynch mobs, and falling hard for a hunted criminal in Walsh’s enchanting precode western, resurrected this year by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

10 The Act of Killing (Josh Oppenheimer) Egregious in comparison to Rithy Panh’s films about genocide under Pol Pot, Oppenheimer’s boggling documentary features aged killers who gleefully reenact the methods of torture and murder with which their death squads dispatched a million Indonesian Communists and ethnic Chinese during Suharto’s reign: mass atrocity become kitsch spectacle and nostalgic reminiscence.

James Quandt, senior programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Wallflower Press, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (University of Indiana Press, 2012).