PRINT December 2016

Film: Best of 2016

James Quandt

Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Lothringen! (Lorraine!), 1994, 35 mm, color, sound, 21 minutes. Colette (Emmanuelle Straub).

1 JEAN-MARIE STRAUB AND DANIÈLE HUILLET (Museum of Modern Art, New York) MoMA’s comprehensive retrospective, awaited for decades, proved that the deracinated duo were, like Bresson, the most voluptuary of ascetics.

2 FROM THE BRANCHES DROPS THE WITHERED BLOSSOM (Paul Meyer) The much-abused term restoration finds authentic meaning in Belgian director Paul Meyer’s long-forgotten 1960 portrait of immigrant coal miners in the Borinage: an emergent classic of neorealist cinema.

3 SIERANEVADA (Cristi Puiu) Puiu’s brilliant, baleful comedy about a Romanian family gathering could be retitled Waiting for Ciorbă.

4 THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (Albert Serra) Whereas Roberto Rossellini’s 1966 chronicle of the monarch’s rise to power focused on sartorial style as political stratagem, Albert Serra, the Catalan connoisseur of libertinage, concentrates on the king’s attenuated demise by gangrene. Jean-Pierre Léaud as Louis, all but consumed by his peruke, nerves leaping in his powdered cheek, deteriorates magnificently.

5 THE ORNITHOLOGIST (João Pedro Rodrigues) Rodrigues’s River of No Return escalates its homo-pagan-Christian lunacy through a joyous coda that quotes another bird-oriented film, Pasolini’s The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966).

Albert Serra, La mort de Louis XIV (The Death of Louis XIV), 2016, HD video, color, sound, 115 minutes. Louis XIV (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Dauphin (Aksil Meznad).

6 MA’ ROSA (Brillante Mendoza) Mendoza returns to the social realism of his early masterpiece, Slingshot (2007), in this pre-Duterte study of a drug-dealing nanay—infinitely preferable to the year’s other Filipino film about a martyred matriarch, Lav Diaz’s The Woman Who Left.

7 YOURSELF AND YOURS (Hong Sang-soo) Trouble comes double in Hong’s witty work-over of That Obscure Object of Desire.

8 NERUDA (Pablo Larraín) Of Larraín’s two biopics of 2016, this sly—if occasionally too Felliniesque—portrait of the Chilean poet-politician trumps the director’s moribund Jackie, which is primarily about Natalie Portman’s slurred diction.

9 KÉKSZAKÁLLÚ (Gastón Solnicki) Airlessly premeditated and pristinely composed, Solnicki’s preposterous paralleling of the fates of three young Argentinean women with that of the doomed bride in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle manages to lodge in the memory through its sheer audacity. The peerless 1965 recording of the opera under the baton of István Kertész provides the frissons.

10 AS WITHOUT SO WITHIN (Manuela De Laborde) Uncanny framing and lighting transform unidentifiable props into sci-fi whatsits in this hypnotic study in superimposition.

James Quandt, Senior Programmer at Tiff Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Austrian Film Museum, 2009) and Robert Bresson (Revised) (Indiana University Press, 2012).