Daily Postings
film : review

Filming the Unspeakable: The Cinema of Yvonne Rainer

by Dana Reinoos

Radical feminist films from the legendary choreographer, artist, and dancer

Yvonne Rainer wears many hats—choreographer, dancer, performance artist, author, and icon of downtown New York City arts—but this month the Film Society of Lincoln Center displays her significant contributions as a film director. Rainer's impressive filmography contains meditations on terrorism, monogamy, infidelity, breast cancer, racism, and lesbianism, among other topics. Through a combination of fictionalized narrative, documentary footage, dance, and reenactment, she creates her own radical feminist language for the screen—a way to speak about the unspeakable.

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film : review

Use the Reality: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Endless Poetry

by Alex Zafiris

The filmmaker speaks about his self-portrait as a young poet

It is difficult to imagine that Alejandro Jodorowsky, an artist of such anarchic self-awareness, could ever have doubted himself. But the creator of irrepressible, game-changing cinematic imagery (El Topo, Holy Mountain), founder of his own therapy, Psychomagic, and author of dozens of comics and books grew up cowering under his father's violence and betrayed by his mother's passivity. This traumatic boyhood was the subject of The Dance of Reality, released in 2014 after two decades of absence. Endless Poetry picks up where the previous film ended: the Jodorowsky family leave the northern Chilean mining town of Tocopilla for Santiago.

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film : review

Toshio Masumoto's Funeral Parade of Roses

by Dana Reinoos

A restored masterpiece unmasks Tokyo's underground gay subculture of the 1960s

"Each man has his own mask," a voice intones in an art gallery filled with paintings of misshapen, monstrous faces. "Some will wear the same mask for their entire life. Some will wear several masks based on their needs." The voice projects from a reel-to-reel tape recorder on the carpeted ground and it sends Eddie, a gender nonconforming Tokyo bar hostess, into a violent reverie about her childhood trauma. Toshio Masumoto's radical 1969 masterpiece of queer cinema Funeral Parade of Roses, currently re-released in a new restoration, portrays Tokyo's underground LBGT culture as a similar gallery of masks, ones that people wear and occasionally let slip.

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film : review

TV Personality

by Rebecca Cleman

The legacy of Jaime Davidovich

Jaime Davidovich, an artist best known for his role as an avant-garde television host, was always quick to suggest "business" dinners at Arte, a self-consciously high-class Italian restaurant that flaunts its status with white tablecloths and mannered waiters. Jaime relished the gaudiness of discussing art at Arte—its dining room décor of heavily framed paintings and flower vases felt like a set for a satire about fine art pretensions.

I had many such dinners with Jaime, but most of our discussions were focused on his current projects or his plans to stage a daring conceptual performance in Las Vegas. There was a lot about his background that never came up. It was a bittersweet experience to belatedly discover the revelations in a new publication featuring Jaime's in-depth conversation with scholar Daniel Quiles co-published by the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros's and the Institute for Studies of Latin American Art. More than an insightful overview of Jaime's career, the dialogue calls attention to the impact of his early life in Argentina during a turbulent political period in the 1950s and '60s, and reframes the nature of Jaime's often playful and entertaining projects to connect them to his passionate belief that artists have a social responsibility to be rebels.

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film : review

Portrait of the Artist as a Room

by Lynne Sachs

On Studio: Remembering Chris Marker

In San Francisco in the mid-1980s, I saw French filmmaker Chris Marker's expansive, enigmatic ciné meditation Sans Soleil (1983). I witnessed his mode of daring, wandering filmmaking with a camera. Alone, he traveled to Japan, Sweden, and West Africa where he pondered revolution, shopping, family, and the gaze in a sweeping but intimate film essay that shook the thinking of more filmmakers than any film I know. Marker's quasi-autobiographical movie blended an intense empathy with a global picaresque. It presented the possibility of merging cultural theory, politics, history, and poetry—all aspects of my own life I did not yet know how to bring together—into one artistic expression. I wrote my own interpretation of the film and then boldly, perhaps naively, sent it to Marker in Paris.

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film : review

The Enigma of Julian Assange

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Risk, a new documentary by Laura Poitras, follows the Wikileaks founder as public perception sours.

Over the course of six years, filmmaker Laura Poitras had unparalleled access to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his closest confidantes. What she captured became Risk, the follow-up to her Oscar-winning Edward Snowden exposé, Citizenfour (2014). Despite such intimate access, Assange remains opaque, at times maddeningly so. Risk is both less exciting and more complex than Citizenfour, because, while Poitras liked and admired the young whistle-blower, she's conflicted about the slippery Assange. "It's a mystery why he trusts me because I don't think he likes me," she comments at one point.

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film : review

The Ruined Map

by Steve Macfarlane

Blunt yet intoxicating, James Gray's The Lost City of Z betrays its outsize ambitions and pained revisionism with every last scene

Few filmmakers' careers highlight the gap between critical consensus and the mass ticket-buying audience (or lack thereof) better than that of writer-director James Gray. Until now, Gray's films have taken place exclusively in New York City, concerning themselves with operatic themes: family dissolution, the cop-crook divide, longings for a better life compromised by the inevitable strictures of class, race, or religion. Gray loves little tweaks of fate that alter his stories' outcomes irrevocably—in his 1994 debut Little Odessa, it's a hanging bedsheet that manages to obscure a character's field of vision just long enough for the wrong person to get shot; in 2007's We Own The Night, it's a pummeling rainstorm (added in postproduction) that sees Joaquin Phoenix's Russian mafioso-cum-police informant unable to prevent the assassination of his deputy NYPD officer father (Robert Duvall). Whether these are desperate MacGuffins or rupture moments of pure poetry is very much the Rorschach blot by which Gray's auteurism can be judged. Just as diehards find this earnestness to be unrepentantly classical, I've struggled to see these movies rise above their tendency for the hoary or literal-minded. (Then again, as Duvall's aforementioned character offers: "You marry an ape, you don't complain about the stench of bananas.")

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film : review

Laurie Simmons's My Art

by Judith Hudson

Taking cinema's portrayal of artists personally

We all lose eventually. In the meantime, we fight as hard as we can. Art, and especially movies can make us forget we will ever grow old, be poor, or get rejected. Laurie Simmons confronts age and loneliness head-on in her film My Art, which has its North American premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, April 22–30. No one is spared, but everyone has a good time with the struggle.

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film : interview

Salomé Lamas

by Matt Turner

"Questions that once belonged to the cinematic institution have been set upon the world of spectacle we live in today. These questions belong to all of us now."

Though less than thirty years old, Portuguese filmmaker Salomé Lamas has already developed an impressive, diverse portfolio of films that fit loosely into the ever-widening bracket of non-fiction. Produced for different purposes and at varying lengths, these films have had her travel around the world, visiting increasingly marginal geographies to produce reflexive, experimental portraits of peoples and places at the fringes of existence. The location for her second feature, Eldorado XXI, must surely be the most extreme yet. Set 5500 meters up in the Peruvian Andes, the film investigates the mining community of La Rinconada y Cerro Lunar, the highest elevation permanent settlement in the world. Beautiful and tragic in equal measure, it's an atmospheric, vivid document of a struggling society; but also maybe the most fully realized example of the methodology of converting theory into practice, or experimenting practically upon conceptual ideas, that connects all of Lamas's films.

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film : interview

Kevin Jerome Everson

by Jordan Cronk

"I don't make films for the audience, I make them for the subjects, and I try to position those subjects and the camera so that there's a element of generosity between the two."

Ohio-born, Virginia-based Kevin Jerome Everson is one of America's most prolific and unpredictable filmmakers. Over a span of fifteen years and upward of 100 films, Everson has worked at a near tireless pace, framing largely anonymous images of working-class African Americans through an impressionistic aesthetic palette that is equally informed by street portraiture and observational nonfiction. From his early work with found footage to the vividly rendered suburban and inner-city social vignettes, Everson—who's currently a professor at the University of Virginia—has continued to move nimbly between academia and the avant-garde.

In typically industrious fashion, he has this year brought new and recent work to the Rotterdam and Courtisane film festivals, New York's Whitney Biennial, and the film program at Knoxville's Big Ears Festival, where a selection of shorts were shown alongside a new installation that cast four otherwise unrelated films in something like a study of twentieth-century American consciousness, linking both industrial evolution with corporeal decline, and traces of early cinema with unknown reaches of a medium in flux. Shortly after Big Ears, I spoke with Everson about these wide-ranging programs, his ever-restless practice, and the nuances of the artist-audience relationship.

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film : review

On Digital Sand

by Rachel Ellis Neyra

Agnès Varda's aesthetic tides change, inviting us to switch positions of viewing, knowing, and feeling, for old narratives to wash away and new portals of sensation to open up.

A trio of self-portraits hang in a hallway at Blum & Poe Gallery's solo exhibition Agnès Varda: a silver print mosaic (1949/2012), from when the artist was twenty-one; a silver print of the artist's profile in the foreground of a Gentile Bellini painting, where a row of men's caps mime Varda's signature Dutch-boy haircut (1962/2015); and a digital photograph Autoportrait morcelé (2009), the artist's face in pieces, reflected in square shards of mirror. When Varda cracks herself open, there are beaches.

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film : interview

Thomas White

by Nicholas Elliott

"If someone hands over their repertory theater group to you, what are you going to do with them?"

Perhaps the craziest thing about Thomas White's sole feature Who's Crazy?, a freewheeling 1966 film starring actors of the legendary New York experimental theater company The Living Theatre and set to a roiling, ecstatic original score by Ornette Coleman, is that a film with its pedigree was basically invisible for half a century. True, it was neither a commercial proposition in 1966 nor is it today: practically without dialogue, Who's Crazy? functions as a 73-minute assault on the senses and, especially, the viewer's interpretive faculties, with music and a sea of faces filling the screen from start to finish in an ever-playful progression from slapstick to ritual. The story features a gang of asylum inmates escaping from a bus in the Belgian countryside and retreating to an isolated farmhouse where they go about recreating society with White's camera apparently floating freely among them.

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film : review

The Human Surge

by Danielle Burgos

Eduardo Williams's debut feature takes us around the world on an ethnographic tour of labor, leisure, and logins.

Barely conscious, stumbling through dark warrens, a young man lit only by his glowing smartphone suddenly reveals a natural force startling to the viewer, mundane to himself. This opening shot of Eduardo Williams's The Human Surge not only sets up the film to come, but encapsulates the young filmmaker's working method. With minimal preparation, cross-language collaboration with non-actors, and spontaneous incorporation, Williams operates semi-consciously—call it automatic filmmaking. Rhythm and environment supersede conventional narrative, with dialogue an additional layer of texture rather than propellant.

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film : interview

Beth B

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"My work is so much about breaking that cycle of trauma, abuse, violence, and disturbance. It brings it out into the open so we can have a dialogue."

Artist and filmmaker Beth B came into her own in the downtown New York arts scene of the early '80s, creating large-scale installations and Super-8 films. Since then, she has released numerous documentaries and features for screen and television. Her non-fiction feature, Exposed, premiered in the Panorama section at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and her most recent film, Call Her Applebroog, chronicles the life and work of her mother—renowned visual artist Ida Applebroog. It premiered at MOMA's Doc Fortnight in February 2016. Voyeur, an installation of her videos, photography, and sculpture, opens at Howl! Happening in New York on February 18, 2017. I've known Beth since the late 1970s, when we helped co-found the radical artist's collective Colab.

Beth B I've made over thirty films, some of them shorts, some features, some hour-long docs. I did eight-hour docs for television, then came back to independent filmmaking. I continue to move from one genre to another in film because the most important thing is the subject matter. I figure out what form it's going to take afterward. I approach studio art in much the same way, looking to the idea to dictate the medium. Sometimes the work is thematic and an installation may take on various mediums, like this exhibition at HOWL! Arts. I'm showing sculpture, photography, video, and publishing a book—Nudes. The show dislocates the concept of voyeurism, which has been described as a psychosexual disorder. But look at the world today. We're living at a time when boundaries surrounding privacy are questioned everyday, and so the show challenges the convention of this secret vantage point, allowing the viewer to choose their engagement.

Coleen Fitzgibbon Let's back up a bit. How did you start making films?

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film : review

Call to Witness

by Nico Wheadon

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro testifies that James Baldwin's embattled America is still our own.

I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary feat that draws much of its complexity from corralling the all-too-obscure history of race in the United States. A brilliant translator of this narrative, Haitian filmmaker and activist Raoul Peck adapts the unfinished, final novel by James Baldwin—provisionally titled Remember This House—as a framing device to unpack broader issues of power and privilege. Peck—to whom the few pages of the original manuscript were entrusted by the writer's estate—expertly matches Baldwin's prophetic lyricism with his own highly innovative approach. He juxtaposes images of today's political movements with Baldwin's manifestos and archival clips from the civil rights era, employing film's ability to collapse time and space to challenge the truth of American progress.

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film : review

Auteur Gone Wild

by Elina Alter

On the risqué drawings of Sergei Eisenstein

At the top of a narrow white staircase off 26th Street, a film shoot is taking place. Two make-up artists daub an actor with rouge; a harried costume designer straps a prosthesis to a toga-clad Nero in a French production; der Regisseur [the director] fusses while his cameraman naps. This affair is polyglot as well as pornographic: the German is chastising a naked couple, the prosthesis is a penis, and one can figure just where the rouge is being applied. Such is the imagery of these captioned drawings, made in 1941, culled from the prodigious paper works of the Soviet film director and theoretician Sergei Eisenstein. Historian Joan Neuberger puts the "conservative estimate" at 5,000; a judicious eighty-four drawings, held in a private collection, are now on view as "Sergei Eisenstein: Drawings 1931–1948," at Alexander Gray Associates. In graphite or pencil, with accents in blue and red, the drawings are cleanly contoured, skillful variations on verboten activities. Couplings and positions include bull athwart man, priest atop steeple, and woman occupied by candelabrum—the latter sporting little martyrs from its seven candlesticks. The woman seems deeply pleased; the martyrs, being martyrs, less so.

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film : interview

Kristi Zea & Jacki Ochs

by Coleen Fitzgibbon

"I wanted to do a movie about a woman I respect—a woman artist."

Everybody Knows… Elizabeth Murray is a new documentary film about the life, groundbreaking work, and legacy of the renowned artist. Notable for her shaped canvases and bold colors, Murray's dynamic career was cut short by cancer in 2007, just a few years after her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (an opportunity seldom afforded to women at the time). Director Kristi Zea—the Oscar-nominated production designer for films by Jonathan Demme, James L. Brooks, and Martin Scorsese—debuts with this intimate portrait of her friend, making use of candid footage, home video, and personal journals. Producer Jacki Ochs, also an experimental and documentary filmmaker (Letters Not About Love and Vietnam: The Secret Agent), joins in for this conversation.

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film : interview

Ognjen Glavonić

by Pamela Cohn

"It's really important that my colleagues, the filmmakers from all Yugoslav countries, turn their cameras toward themselves, so as to dissect and question what really constitutes our recent history."

In his brief filmmaking career, Ognjen Glavonić has made not one, but two works of nonfiction that defy categorization. This is an artist who never planned on making documentaries at all. In fact, his latest work started out as a fiction script about a truck driver who becomes an unwitting participant in the cover-up of a mass murder. But Glavonić, flooded with articles, documents, and tribunal transcripts from The Hague and Belgrade Special Court that recount the discovery of mass graves in Serbia was compelled to dig much deeper into how that discovery came about, in the process creating a profoundly moving ode to the silenced victims.

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film : review

The Villain Is the 20th Century

by William Corwin

With I Had Nowhere to Go, director Douglas Gordon brings the diary of filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas into contact with our own reveries.

Douglas Gordon's film I Had Nowhere to Go—an adaptation of Jonas Mekas's diaries—is akin to the experience of pulling a sleeping mask over one's eyes on a long-haul flight or train ride. The enforced blackness plunges the viewer into a dream-state and even a nightmare at times, both actually lived by one of the most resilient and enigmatic poets and filmmakers of the last fifty years. I Had Nowhere to Go is chiefly about the word: Mekas's voice is the only constant in this complicated, polynomial equation, and Gordon has accomplished a tremendous feat in generating a riveting work of art on the back of another artist's work without stepping on his toes. While it's definitely a biography, it's a hypnotic work of visual poetry as well—a portrait that could only be effected through the film medium, and with the able editing of Ninot Lotet and sound editing by Frank Kruse.

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film : review

Foreign Exchange

by Elina Alter

European Cinema at the 54th New York Film Festival

This October, forty-nine years after its first appearance, The Battle of Algiers returns to the New York Film Festival. It's not a difficult film to see these days—it's on Hulu—but back in 2003, several months into the invasion of Iraq, somebody at the Pentagon thought it merited a special screening. Gille Pontecorvo's 1966 documentary-style account of the Algerian struggle for independence offered, according to a flyer advertising the screening, an excellent case study in "how to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas."

Battle's first American screening, at the 1967 NYFF, was the work of not a Pentagonian but of Amos Vogel, the Festival's founding co-director. The teenage Vogel had fled Austria with his family just before the Anschluss, and through a lifetime of film programming in the U.S., he remained dedicated to "a more liberated cinema"—not a hierarchical project, but one of "constant transformation of all forms and systems." The Festival Vogel helped to start is also, at least nominally, not hierarchical—the films are not in competition for prizes. However, for reasons of merit as well as market, its Main Slate is rarely short on European prize-winners, which this year concern themselves less with winning wars of ideas than with surveying the carnage of those wars.

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film : interview

Kirsten Johnson

by Alex Zafiris

The cinematographer and director on her memoir, Cameraperson.

Over a twenty-five-year career, Kirsten Johnson has captured difficult, hidden images and brought them into the world. Sensitivity and courage inform her instincts and aesthetic, and her frames are deeply intimate, politically charged, and cinematic. She is best known for her work with Laura Poitras on The Oath (2010), Citizenfour (2014), and Risk (2016); with Michael Moore on Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004); and with Ted Braun on Darfur Now (2007).

Cameraperson presents outtakes from over twenty documentaries—moments that have stayed with Johnson: a Christian family preparing dinner in postwar Bosnia, a boxer's humiliation after losing a match in Brooklyn, men praying at a mosque in Afghanistan, and a newborn struggling for life in a Nigerian hospital. The film confronts the nature of seeing, being present, and dealing with memory and trauma. There's also personal footage of her mother's decline with Alzheimer's, her father, and young twins, drawing together seemingly disparate scenes with profound humanity. Johnson demonstrates that truth and objectivity are constantly shifting. [ Read More ]

film : review

Rendezvous in the Alps

by Ratik Asokan

With The Seasons in Quincy, filmmakers Tilda Swinton, Colin MacCabe, and Christopher Roth produce portraits of art critic and novelist John Berger.

Invited to his friend John Berger's house for dinner, Geoff Dyer once found himself seated between very different houseguests. On one side was a local plumber; on the other, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It's an image that neatly captures the two abiding interests of Berger's career. Ever since he began publishing provocative Marxist art criticism in the 1950s, he has written with unparalleled insight about both aesthetics and politics, about the most refined artists and most marginalized communities, about, as he himself put it, "the enduring mystery of great art and the lived experience of the oppressed."

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film : review

Disconnection Notice

by Jon Dieringer

Werner Herzog’s phoned-in tech film, Lo and Behold, is an ad in disguise.

From Walter Rutmann to Hou-Hsao Hsien, there's a rich vein of unlikely sponsored works by esteemed film and video artists. A survey could begin with abstract artists who used commercial patronage as a platform to dodge Nazi censorship, such as Oskar Fischinger, who licensed canonical works of experimental animation like Kreise to ad agencies, and Hans Richter, whose subversive mercantile histories for the Swiss stock exchange represent a leftist chronicle of capital ensconced in heady surrealist montage. In the 1950s, Eyes Without a Face filmmaker Georges Franju twisted a commission from the Army Museum into a grotesque anti-war critique in Hôtel des Invalides, succeeded by Alain Resnais and Oulipo poet Raymond Queneau's blissful and absurd paean to plastics, Le Chant du Styrène. Across the pond, Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero created a bone chilling PSA about the mortality rate of impoverished African-American youth in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and Dara Birnbaum's iconoclastic "MTV: Artbreak" spot presented a dialectical feminist history of animation in thirty seconds. But Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World marks the first time a feature film conceived and developed by a modern advertising agency and its client has landed in theaters, where critics and audiences alike are expected to accord it the dignity of a real movie.

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film : interview

Bingham Bryant & Kyle Molzan

by Nicholas Elliott

"It was meant to kink your head."

In Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan's directorial debut For the Plasma, Charlie (Annabelle LeMieux) joins her childhood friend Helen (Rosalie Lowe) in a remote house on the coast of Maine to help repair the surveillance cameras she uses as a fire lookout. Helen informs Charlie she's also been interpreting the CCTV images of the woods to accurately forecast global economic trends. Charlie tells her about the shit-eating bug featured in the Kobo Abe novel she's reading. Then things get weirder.

Skirting genre conventions to develop its own allusive (and elusive) tone, For the Plasma has the kind of highly specific, confident direction that inspires viewers to sit back and let their brains be scrambled. As I looked at a digital projection of Bryant and Molzan's 16 mm footage of CCTV images of a forest in Maine, I found myself acutely aware of the act of watching and by extension of myself, inside and outside the film. That rare heady experience encouraged me to invite these young New York directors to sit down and talk about the tension between narrative and interpretation, their film's offbeat soundtrack, and Korean filmmaker Hong Sang Soo's art of simultaneity.

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film : interview

Zachary Treitz

by Hannah Holden

Men Go to Battle is the story of two brothers who live in a cabin on the remnants of their family's once-grand Kentucky estate, which they sell piecemeal to survive. The year is 1861, and rumors about the Union Army are a hot topic in the parlor of the town's wealthiest family, the Smalls. When younger brother Henry (David Maloney) is romantically spurned by Betsy Small (Rachel Korine), he enlists in the Union Army without telling Francis (Tim Morton). The brothers' lives diverge for the first time, and they are forced to confront the world alone precisely as the Civil War transforms it forever.

Men Go to Battle eschews the extravagance of conventional period pieces in favor of intimacy and naturalism. The camera lingers on Henry's face as he marches into the Battle of Perryville, and outdoor scenes are scored by cicadas and rustling wind. Contrary to expectations, Men Go to Battle is also very funny. Much of the humor arises from longtime pals Maloney and Morton's prankish brotherly dynamic, which vacillates between hostility and affection. Korine also kills as a romantic, well-bred young woman who gently humors her hapless suitors—that is, until Henry makes the wrong move.

I sat down with director Zachary Treitz to discuss the film, which he co-wrote with Kate Lyn Sheil and for which he was awarded Best New Narrative Director at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Men Go to Battle plays at Anthology Film Archives in New York City through July 14 and opens in Los Angles on July 15, 2016.

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