PRINT December 2017

Film: Best of 2017

James Quandt

1 “THE BOAT IS LEAKING. THE CAPTAIN LIED.” (Fondazione Prada, Venice) This exhibition, curated by Udo Kittelmann, ingeniously interlaced work by Thomas Demand, Anna Viebrock, and German director Alexander Kluge, offering a bracing reminder of the latter’s wit, compassion, political acumen, and formal audacity.

View of “The Boat Is Leaking. The Captain Lied.,” 2017, Fondazione Prada, Venice. Floor: Anna Viebrock, Runners,
2009. Walls: Anna Viebrock, Four Doors, 2017. Center: Alexander Kluge, Die sanfte Schminke des Lichts (The Soft Makeup of Lighting), 2007. Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti.

2 JEAN VIGO (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, Italy) The restoration of Vigo’s tragically abbreviated oeuvre, including a reference print of L’Atalante (1934), proved the high point of this year’s Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, though his silent short À propos de Nice (1930), a film stubbornly resistant to musical accompaniment, was regrettably live scored.

Jean Vigo, L’Atalante, 1934, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 89 minutes. Jean (Jean Dasté).

3 ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel) Martel transforms Antonio di Benedetto’s slim, existential novel of stanched desire and deferred prospects into a fiercely elliptical and political film. The sound design alone is a work of genius.

4 WESTERN (Valeska Grisebach) This complex triple portrait—of a dusty, sun-baked Bulgarian village; of a company of German laborers who arrive to work on its power plant; and of a taciturn, middle-aged loner among the foreigners—confirms Grisebach’s status as a burgeoning auteur of the so-called Berlin School.

Valeska Grisebach, Western, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 119 minutes. Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann).

5 THE NOTHING FACTORY (Pedro Pinho) Pinho touches on everything from political polemics reminiscent of Godard’s Dziga Vertov period to Jacques Demy–like industrial dance routines in his three-hour radical labor film set in austerity-hobbled Portugal.

6 FACES PLACES (Agnès Varda and JR) Varda’s poignant cross-country excursion with photographer JR turns a road movie into an ambulatory essay—on evanescence, resistance, work, and, mostly, the traps of memory.

Agnès Varda and JR, Faces Places, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 89 minutes.

7 CLOSENESS (Kantemir Balagov) The debut feature of the year, Balagov’s harrowing true account of a Jewish family’s struggle to pay the ransom for their kidnapped son in Russia’s North Caucasus in 1998 exhibits formidable maturity and tonal control.

8 12 JOURS (Raymond Depardon) Ultra-rigorous French documentarian Depardon unwisely interpolates three prettifying sequences scored by the unavoidable Alexandre Desplat into his otherwise severely parametric and moving portrait of involuntarily hospitalized patients arguing for their release before a judge.

Raymond Depardon, 12 Jours (12 Days), 2017, 4K video, color, sound, 87 minutes.

9 CANIBA (Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor) The deliquescing flesh of Bacon’s paintings manifests in the claustral close-ups and extreme rack-focusing in Paravel and Castaing-Taylor’s mesmerizing documentary about the cannibal Issei Sagawa and his ailing brother.

10 EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (Frederick Wiseman) Unlike Wiseman’s recent marathons, his portrait of a library system that appears increasingly more non than ex libris warrants its epic length.

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).