Daily Postings
film : essay

On the Cinema Tropical Awards

by Gary M. Kramer

Shining a light on Latin American cinema.

Cinema Tropical, founded in 2001, promotes, programs, and distributes many of the Latin American films that get a release in the U.S. Some of these films get only festival play, while others secure a theatrical run in New York and/or Los Angeles—sometimes through Cinema Tropical—and on occasion in other cities as well. However, too few Latin American films seem to get any American exposure at all.

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film : interview

Deborah Stratman

by Pamela Cohn

Sound, image, espionage, and methods of control.

Deborah Stratman displays great mastery at subtly interpreting the subconscious frequencies and amplitudes that give shape to our common experiences, illuminating the viewer through her distinctive representations of power, control, and belief systems. Working within a multiplicity of media from film, video, and audio work, to drawing, architecture, and sculptural projects, she has received Fulbright, Guggenheim and Creative Capital fellowships over the course of her career. For the last decade, she has taught in a multi-disciplinary arts program at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

One of five artists to receive the 2014 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts—an unrestricted prize of $75,000 given annually “to risk-taking mid-career artists … at a moment in their lives when they are poised to propel their art in new and unpredictable directions”—Stratman makes work that engages her perpetually inquisitive mind, a mind that asks a lot of complicated questions, ones to which she really never expects to receive answers. And if she does receive answers with too much facility, it’s likely she’ll decide it’s not worth pursuing after all.

The editing of her film and video work is distinctive, and—perhaps, oddly—reminds me quite a bit of the work of Armenian director, Artavazd Pelešjan, also a brilliant essayist and theorist, who creates highly poetic views of life on celluloid. Pelešjan is also known for developing a style of cinematographic perspective known as “distance montage,” and this is something that Stratman does with high proficiency, as well, particularly with sound, combining perceptions of depth with various visual entities on screen to sometimes uncanny, but always mysteriously moving, affect.

I met with Stratman most recently last October in the Czech Republic at the eighteenth edition of the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival where she was to give a master class and also serve on one of the juries, a particularly intense task at this festival where jurors are expected to view seven to eight films a day in order to deliberate on as many as forty films in one competition. We managed to carve out a bit of time between her screenings for a quick bite of lunch at a deafeningly noisy café in the foyer of one of the cinemas. Stratman’s latest film, called Hacked Circuit, was also in competition in the Fascinations Section at Jihlava. It is dedicated to both Walter Murch and Edward Snowden and won the prize out of thirty-three other films in its category.

Hacked Circuit, a title that beautifully plays upon many ideas presented in the film, is a fifteen-minute piece shot in one take, with superbly realized camerawork by Norbert Shieh. Before we see the context within which the initial sounds we hear are embedded, footage of a mysterious location is accompanied by audio fragments from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film, The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman, specifically the scene where he frantically searches and tears apart a room in order to uncover the “bug” he is convinced has been planted there to record his telephone calls. Stratman uses a Foley studio in the back streets of Los Angeles as her set, exploring violations of privacy by political powers while simultaneously illustrating the power inherent in the various illusions and conflations of our perceptions of sight and sound.

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film : interview

Gabriel Mascaro

by Giovanni Marchini Camia

Cemeteries and mansions by the sea.

After the documentaries High-Rise (2009) and Housemaids (2012), which explored the domestic realities of Brazil’s privileged urban class, Gabriel Mascaro turned his camera to the periphery with August Winds. Set in a remote coastal village in northern Brazil, the film expands the director’s artistic exploration of social divisions in his country. Working within a fictional framework for the first time, Mascaro uses the central story of a young couple—a local boy working on coconut fields and a girl from the city caring for her ailing grandmother and dreaming of becoming a tattoo artist—to initiate a meditation on life and death, with the coast’s rising sea level and its inherent destruction acting as a powerful metaphorical backdrop.

Although Mascaro includes himself in the role of a wind researcher whose arrival catalyzes the protagonists’ existential confusion, the film is uninterested in building a strong narrative. Rather, it is a careful observation of mood made up of a collection of snippets from life in the village, largely held in static shots that embed the characters in the setting’s sumptuous nature. Short, fragmented conversations are interspersed with gorgeous, effortlessly evocative images: the girl tanning supine on a fishing boat out at sea in front of a perfectly limpid horizon; the couple entwined in a post-coital embrace on top of a trailer full of green, freshly-picked coconuts; a cemetery on the beach, its graves eroded by the constant lapping of the waves. The result is beautiful, languid, and thoroughly melancholic.

August Winds was one of the finds at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, earning Mascaro a Special Mention at the awards ceremony. I spoke with the thirty-one-year-old director during the festival and he revealed how reality had dictated the direction of the film’s fiction before discussing his interests and principles as a filmmaker navigating the threshold between reality and fiction.

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film : interview

Bruno Dumont

by Nicholas Elliott

"Chiaroscuro levels of thought."

When French-German public television channel Arte announced in 2013 that it had commissioned Bruno Dumont to write and direct Li’l Quinquin, a comedic mini-series featuring children and a police investigation, many had to double-check their calendars to make sure it wasn’t April Fool’s Day. Known to film lovers for his use of non-professional actors in enigmatic stories juxtaposing the material and the spiritual, Dumont did not seem like the go-to guy for televised entertainment. Yet upon delivery, Li’l Quinquin is beyond what anyone except Dumont could have imagined: a riotously funny, occasionally slapstick comedy that remains utterly faithful to the vision that appeared wholly realized in Dumont’s first feature The Life of Jesus (1997) and has stayed the course through the six features that followed.

With Li’l Quinquin, Dumont returns to the grey skies and muddy earth of his native north of France to follow local Police Captain van der Weyden and his assistant Carpentier as they investigate an accumulation of grotesque murders before the eyes of local kid Li’l Quinquin, his girlfriend Eve, and his gang of friends. As played by non-professional actor Bernard Pruvost, Captain van der Weyden is one of the great comedic characters of recent years, with unpredictably rolling eyes, herky-jerky facial expressions, wild metaphors, and a walk to put Monty Python to shame. Yet in a way that is unique to Dumont’s cinema, van der Weyden also seems touched with a greater knowledge that brings him back again and again to the farm Li’l Quinquin inhabits with his parents and disabled uncle Dany.

A declared atheist, Dumont has always explored issues of good and evil, filming violence and sex acts, newspaper sociology and miracles with the same ambiguous gaze. The comedy in Li’l Quinquin makes you giddy with pleasure, but leads you into that thought-provoking, dangerous zone where you have to check if you are laughing with the characters or at them—or perhaps if they are laughing at you. Li’l Quinquin is sui generis. It feels like nothing if not a Bruno Dumont movie, though anyone who enjoyed the knotting of laughter and the macabre in Twin Peaks will want to see it.

I spoke to Dumont in New York, a few days before his film had its US premiere at the 52nd New York Film Festival and several weeks after the first of the four episodes of Li’l Quinquin attracted 1.5 million viewers on its initial French broadcast, a record for the channel’s original programming. Li’l Quinquin opens theatrically in New York in January 2015.

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film : interview

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

by Liza Béar

The master filmmakers on blending the political and the personal in their new film.

It was a rare privilege and fascinating experience to speak with Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne during the screening of Two Days One Night at the 52nd New York Film Festival. They are auteurs par excellence, keeping tight reins over every aspect of their oeuvre—script, production and mise-en-scene. Their tightly-wound and intensely humanistic films, mostly direct but powerful stories about young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have won two Palme d’Or at Cannes for Rosetta (1999)—along with Best Actress for Emilie Dequenne—and The Child (2005). In addition, Olivier Gourmet was named Best Actor for his role in The Son (2002), and the brothers won Best Screenplay for Lorna’s Silence (2008)—a well-deserved track record for low-budget filmmakers.

Typically working with new or non-professional actors, Two Days One Night is their first film to feature a noted international star, Marion Cotillard, as Sandra, a working mother just fired from a solar energy factory. A new management scam has placed the onus of downsizing on workers, who are offered a bonus if they vote to operate with one less employee, resulting in Sandra’s dismissal. While, in a very different way, unemployment was also the focus of Rosetta, the Dardennes break-out film—it reportedly led to the passing of a labor bill, Rosetta’s Law to protect young people—Two Days One Night addresses the issue of worker solidarity in a toxically competitive world.

In the following interview, the Dardennes discuss their documentary background, modus operandi, and the new film’s genesis. Two Days One Night opens theatrically on December 24.

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film : interview

Agnès Varda

by Sabine Mirlesse

The "grandmother of the French New Wave" discusses her ever-evolving artistic practice.

Agnès Varda is the only woman director to have been officially part of the French New Wave movement—and is perhaps best known for her classic Cleo from 5 to 7, from 1964. Her first film, La Pointe Courte, from 1954, was one of the first films from a member of the New Wave. She also made Vagabond (1984), one of the most important female road narratives to date, and has more recently received praise for her documentaries, including Jacquot de Nantes (1991), about her marriage to fellow filmmaker Jacques Demy, and The Gleaners and I (2000). As the writer and director of more than twenty features and countless shorts she is a bit of a living legend of filmmaking in Paris. But all that is in the past, as Agnès Varda has decided to move into a new chapter of her creative existence.

On the occasion of her winter opening at Galerie Nathalie Obadia last February I set about the project of trying to organize and interview with Agnès Varda on the subject of her new life as a visual artist. That was more than six months ago. The reality is is Ms. Varda has a great many people asking her for interviews and feels frustrated by how often the journalist ‘gets it all wrong no matter how nice they may be as people’ as she told me over the phone—and therefore she tends to turn them down altogether. Weeks and weeks gone by and a score of emails later her assistant suggested I come quickly to her famous address on Rue Daguerre on the left bank because Ms. Varda had agreed to meet with me after all, albeit briefly. Upon arrival I found her dressed all in maroon—to match her two tone hair, her cats wandering playfully around the living room, asking tea to be fetched for us. Ms Varda explained how much work she had to finish so we would have to make it quick. Who would argue with an eighty six year old trailblazer who has outlived the majority of her contemporaries anyway? I tried out some questions on her, and while some were left unanswered … these were the ones that passed the test:

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film : interview

Joshua Oppenheimer

by Pamela Cohn

The Look of Silence, and the price of forgiveness.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence had its Danish premiere last month at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival—CPH:DOX. The Danish capital has been home to Oppenheimer for several years now. He is one of the principals of Copenhagen-based Final Cut for Real, an independent production company specializing in nonfiction and documentary projects for the international marketplace. Shortly after taking the main prize in the DOX:AWARD competition, the film was released in cinemas countrywide in Denmark. Oppenheimer is also a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" award and his previous film, The Act of Killing, was nominated for an Academy Award in addition to winning numerous other prestigious awards.

I first met and interviewed Josh in Copenhagen in 2012 when The Act of Killing débuted. Unlike The Look of Silence, it had not been widely released yet. Even though the films are a cycle unto themselves, with their various narratives and productions overlapping and informing one another over the course of a decade, their entry and reception into the world has been quite different. However hinged together the works are, Oppenheimer has crafted two distinct films that stand on their own as extraordinarily brave and profound pieces. It would be a gross oversimplification to view these films as reflecting two sides of a coin, that is, a film from the point of view of the perpetrators followed by a film that represents the point of view of the victims. The schema they create together is not that simple.

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Film : Interview

Béla Tarr, Fred Kelemen, & Mihály Víg

by Michael Guarneri

Filmmaking as a collective project.

In late 2010 Gary Pollard asked Béla Tarr whether he considered himself a pessimistic or an optimistic person, and the Hungarian director replied that he still had a bit of optimism left, because he still believed in the possibility of communicating with an audience: “If you are pessimistic, you don’t do anything, you don’t want to communicate with people,” he stated.1

A couple of months after that, in February 2011, Béla Tarr presented the world premiere of The Turin Horse at Berlinale by declaring that it was going to be his last film: was this as the definitive victory of disillusion and pessimism?

The following interviews with Tarr, cinematographer Fred Kelemen, and composer Mihály Víg—made in early 2014 via phone calls and e-mail exchanges—originated from the sentence Tarr has been repeating in every press conference for the past three years: “The Turin Horse is my last film as a director.”

However, instead of considering The Turin Horse as the spiritual testament of a “finished” artist, I prefer to see it as a chance for a new beginning. As a matter of fact, Béla Tarr is still alive and kicking. On the verge of his sixtieth birthday, he is working more than ever at the Film Factory of Sarajevo Film Academy, a laboratory for young filmmakers he founded in 2012 with the aim of “educating mature filmmakers who think responsibly, with the spirit of humanism, artists who have an individual outlook, an individual form of expression and who use their creative powers in the defense of the dignity of man within the reality that surrounds us.”2 Thus, as a provocation of sorts, the interview with Béla Tarr that follows deliberately ignores the films he made as a director and focuses on his work as a “school director” instead.

In an attempt to find out more about Tarr’s teaching methods, I also contacted two of his close friends and collaborators: cinematographer—and a great filmmaker in his own right—Fred Kelemen, and composer/actor Mihály Víg, who were kind enough to help me sketch a profile of the auteur.

In my view, what emerged from the three interviews was the absolute continuity between “Béla Tarr, the film director” and “Béla Tarr, the school director,” between what used to happen on film sets in the middle of the Great Hungarian Plain and what happens today at the Film Factory of Sarajevo Film Academy. In particular, it was interesting to find out that Béla Tarr’s interest in teaching (though the words tutoring or maieutics would be more apt, as we will see) dates back to the early ’80s, when the young but already famous filmmaker supplied young Hungarians who wanted to express themselves through moving images with a videocamera.

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film : essay

Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas

by Nicholas Elliott

The American West meets a harsh ’80s reality.

If you have any feeling for film, the first few shots of Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas (1984) will take you captive. The camera coasts above the Mojave Desert, past buttes shaved thin by geological processes you can only begin to consider if you break free from your recollections of the Western and the realization that John Ford never climbed so high to look down on the landscape he defined for generations of moviegoers. The helicopter perspective in Paris, Texas would be entirely regal if the camera didn’t gently list from one side to the other. The whole movie is in that initial shot: continental scale and human frailty. Just as you’re adjusting to the purely American topography, a tiny figure is glimpsed making its way across the landscape. An edit both jarring and eerily graceful delivers a close-up of a vulture alighting, then we cut to the figure as he comes to a halt. He has no horse, no gun. Just a plastic water jug and a face that looks like it’s been dragged over miles of red dirt. The actor is Harry Dean Stanton, poised to step out of the ranks of supporting actors you love and join the icons that broke your heart. His extraordinary, long face seems to have weathered the history of human calamity, yet the way his eyes search out the distance makes him as blank as the desert. He’s funny-looking too, in a red cap and suit jacket with absurdly pointy lapels. Ford would have cast him as a card shark or a traveling preacher with a revolver cut into his Bible, but he also would have been kind enough to provide him with a seat in the stagecoach. In Wenders’s hands, he’s an enigma great enough to fill the wilderness of the movie screen. His eyes pan toward the vulture and we see what he sees. Then he takes the last slug from his water bottle, litters, and heads on into the desert. Ry Cooder’s slide guitar, a whirlpool of metallic hum and drawling notes that has been with us since the credits, pulls us deeper.

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film : interview

Albert Serra

by Steve Macfarlane

Casanova, Dracula, and art in the age of digital filmmaking.

Albert Serra’s maniacally self-effacing The Story Of My Death is a shadow play of European philosophies, clearly shot in DV but somehow blown up to widescreen—nearly panoramic—35mm. The twilight years of the Enlightenment, embodied in the flesh by a grape-gobbling, cheese-snuffing Casanova (Vicenç Altaió), give way to darkness and temptation in the countryside as the aging lothario’s remote getaway is visited by none other than his new neighbor Dracula (Elisu Huertas). To describe Serra’s vision out loud is to parody it, but the picture is drenched in allusions, meanings, and whispers of games; as a viewer, your guess on the narrative significance of any individual scene is as good as anybody else’s. One way of putting it might be that the thirty-eight-year-old Catalan filmmaker builds a narrative with isolated tableaux—his shots linger in my memory like the Met’s most opulent still lifes.

Albert Serra, with glistening jewels wrapped around his knuckles, and with a classic rock soundtrack as backdrop, persistently employed an increasingly meaningful neologism—“performatic”—over the course of our serpentine discussion. He told me he submitted forty-nine scripted scenes to get the movie made, wrote an additional 128 more, shot everything, then spent a year editing The Story of My Death down to a total of fifty-three. Infamously, he shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio and then—without remorse, it seems—cropped his images down, printing them in a vertically tight strip that looks as if somebody cluelessly left the CinemaScope camera setting on. Though his explanations of on-set techniques made me blush, only a fool would call Serra sloppy. Every one of his answers was a passionate counterdefense, hammered out one syllable at a time.

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film : interview

Robert Greene

by Pamela Cohn

Exploring performance in documentary film.

The recent professorship bestowed upon filmmaker Robert Greene by The Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia comes with the title Filmmaker-in-Chief (really). The prolific thirty-eight-year-old could be considered a cine-polymath of sorts since he works in both narrative fiction and documentary/nonfiction film as a producer, director, and editor – on his own films, as well as those of others, including Alex Ross Perry’s recent hit Listen Up Philip.

His is also an emerging critical voice for the never-ending debates surrounding international nonfiction cinema, a topic that’s been close to my heart for a long time. I first met Robert in Columbia at the True/False Film Festival many moons ago when he was exhibiting his feature début called Kati With an I about his much younger half-sister and her drama-filled life. To this day, he is still working with the same producers, 4th Row Films, run by Douglas Tirola and Susan Bedusa, and the same cinematographer, Sean Price Williams.

His latest directorial effort is Actress, a project in which he’s raised the bar on performance in documentary, an obsession, he tells me, he will be devoted to exploring for at least his next twenty-five films. His previous documentary Fake It So Real, about a group of wrestlers, dealt directly with this topic. But for Actress, Greene forged a unique and intimate partnership with his main protagonist, Brandy Burre, a professional actress. The two create a semi-improvised film that explores Burre’s troubled psyche as she is going through a major identity crisis. Simultaneously, the relationship with the father of her children is disintegrating. Burre’s home, where most of the film is shot, is in the picturesque bedroom community of Beacon, New York with just a few feet separating her house from Greene’s. The town, as Greene shoots it, is a Cheever-esque locale that exudes the strange melancholia typical of American suburbia.  

Greene has just completed a successful crowd-funding campaign for music rights clearances for a few of the songs in Actress. He stubbornly refused to replace them because they are too integral and necessary to his story. The campaign had some urgency since the film is set to have its US theatrical release this month through the film’s distributor Cinema Guild. Actress will also have its European festival premiere at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen as a selection in its main competition for the DOX:AWARD. Also appearing in the same competition is a film that Greene edited, Amanda Rose Wilder’s Approaching the Elephant, a beautifully realized profile of a grammar school in New Jersey that untethers itself from conventional classes and school rules—unconventionality and rule-breaking being subjects Greene holds forth about regularly when he talks about nonfiction cinema in his regular column for Sight & Sound Magazine.  

One of Greene’s forthcoming projects has also been selected for this year’s CPH:FORUM. Kate Plays Christine is a continuation of the kind of work he did with Burre. The film follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil of House of Cards as she encounters her own ambivalence about the film industry while role-playing a thirty-year-old TV host named Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide on live television in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. 

Greene and I convened over a Beacon-Berlin Skype connection in early October just as he was launching his crowd-funding campaign. At 8 am in New York, Greene, fueled by coffee and his own boundless energy, spoke to me in a flood of staccato exhortations about his cinematic passions.  

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film : interview

Marshall Curry

by Gary M. Kramer

A crash course on manhood caught on camera.

Documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry’s latest film Point and Shoot is a fantastic portrait of Matthew VanDyke, a young man who left his life in Baltimore to become a freedom fighter in Libya during the Arab Spring. It’s a remarkable story, and Curry has made a remarkable film. In fact, Point and Shoot won the Best Documentary Feature prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. 

The film edits together home movies and footage VanDyke shot overseas with interviews between Curry and VanDyke, showing how this young man went from leading a comfortable life to being an active participant in a war halfway around the world. Moreover, Curry’s film shrewdly addresses the issue of citizen journalism, as VanDyke’s footage is not only a document of his experiences in the Libyan war and elsewhere, but also a comment on the culture of immediacy abetted by YouTube and other online media outlets. 

Curry has helmed two Oscar-nominated documentaries: Street Fight, about Cory Booker challenging incumbent mayor Sharpe James in Newark, and If a Tree Falls, about the Earth Liberation Front. He also directed the terrific Racing Dreams, about a trio of kids who want to one day compete in NASCAR. 

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Film : Interview

Laida Lertxundi

by Katie Bradshaw

Setting soundtracks to the desert, the sea, and the sky.

Laida Lertxundi makes films using landscape and sounds. The first of Laida’s films I saw was Footnotes to a House of Love (2007), a thirteen-minute 16mm film in which a few people spend time in and around a dilapidated house in a southern California desert listening to Shangri-Las cassettes along with other, less immediately recognizable sounds. Footnotes struck me visually and sonically, though at the time I don’t think I was able to fully grasp the complexity in method or the way in which she, as Genevieve Yue has phrased it, “treats feeling as material.” As I moved through her filmography, Laida’s films felt threaded together. They could locate minutes that I felt I had already seen, previously collected but unnoticed till now, almost memories-in-progress—the sun at a particular time of day, the quiet feeling of being at home with another person, simply co-existing.

I am interested in her choice of careful frames, her relation to the body and its representation, and how uniquely and interestingly she succeeds in emphasizing the aural environment so that it directly influences and cannot be pulled apart from the image. There is a mysterious quality to her films that is both natural and unpretentious. I watch her films over and over again, the same way I’ve rewound a mix-tape over and over again to a specific track that pulls me out of myself.

Born in Bilbao, Spain, Lertxundi has had solo exhibitions at Alhóndiga Bilbao (2014) and Marta Cervera Gallery in Madrid (2013), and her work has been exhibited at the 2013 LIAF Biennial, 2013 Lyon Biennial and the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Lertxundi is also a film and video programmer in the US and Spain and has published numerous articles on film, most recently in the anthology La Risa Oblicua and in Bostezo magazine. She teaches film at the University of California San Diego and resides in Los Angeles. Her last film, We Had the Experience but Missed the Meaning (2014) had its New York premiere this summer at BAMcinemaFest and has already exhibited internationally.

A few weeks after a preview screening of Utskor: Either/Or(2013), Laida came to meet me in between screenings at Spectacle, a microcinema in Williamsburg. It was December, in the middle of a blizzard, and I remember the snow was twice as deep when we left a couple hours later as it had been when we’d begun. I program films at Spectacle, and Laida and I began our conversation around curation:

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Film : Essay

On Bridges over Argentine Cinema

by Gary M. Kramer

The cinematic influences of an emerging director.

Given that I strongly believe you are what you watch, filmmakers’ personal choices fascinate me. When Martin Scorsese or John Waters promote some gem that influenced them—be it an Asian action film or an existential French drama—it explains some part of their personalities and artistic sensibility. They, as filmmakers, best understand the craft that went into a film and perhaps consider the work more intently than most viewers—even critics. When filmmakers curate films, they choose titles because they are obscure, because they feature something that makes them special, and because they want to reveal something about their tastes. With the Anthology Film Archive’s series, Matías Piñeiro Selects: Bridges over Argentine Cinema, one can get a sense of what films influenced this emerging director.

Piñeiro previously curated films while at university in Buenos Aires, so he has some experience with programming. When I spoke with him about the series recently, he said that his goal in this New York series was to showcase “neglected” films—titles that never screen in New York. They provide a new perspective on Argentine cinema for American audiences. As evidenced by the thirteen titles in his Anthology series, I’d argue that Piñeiro deliberately selected films that represent his own passions and obsessions. Yet he insists the films he is showing in this series expose what he enjoys watching, not necessarily making.

What may be the unifying factor of the selections is that these films are highly stylized, and resist formal narratives, mixing genres and conventions. Many of these films are challenging, but each one is exceptional in its own way. But they also appreciate the possibilities of cinema, and this, perhaps more than anything else, is what excites Piñeiro and explains why he programmed them.

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Film : Interview

Alex Ross Perry

by Nicholas Elliott

Isolation, writer's block, and break-ups on the road to success.

Alex Ross Perry’s third feature, Listen Up Philip, follows the young New York writer Philip (Jason Schwartzman) over the course of a period during which he publishes his second novel, chooses to reject all promotional efforts, leaves his live-in girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss), and, most significantly, befriends the ornery master of prose, Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce). Perry has remained faithful to celluloid and the sharp dialogue and occasionally scathing portrayal of human relations seen in his previous film The Color Wheel, but made good use of the step up to a sizable indie budget by expanding the scope of his narrative, devising a relatively complex structure, and creating a visually rich experience whose patina remains long after the film is over.

Listen Up Philip captures a self-imposed isolation that is very specific to New York. Perhaps this proximity to the familiar explains why I found the film profoundly demoralizing, despite all the comedy in Philip’s mule-headed pursuit of honesty. I was eager to talk to Alex about his characters and their loneliness, and get a sense of whether or not the title is an injunction to tread carefully with your one life. We had fifteen minutes to toss ideas around a few days before Listen Up Philip screened at the 52nd New York Film Festival.

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Film : Interview

Mathieu Amalric

by Liza Béar

The Blue Room, Simenon, and non-linear narrative.

4:3 is the algebra of Georges Simenon’s terse psychological thriller The Blue Room: four individuals, three couples, two of which are married. 4:3 also happens to be the aspect ratio in which the film was shot. In a small French town, the redundant pair, illicit lovers, meet secretly in the titular blue room of Hotel des Voyageurs overlooking a public square; a passionate affair on the wane morphs into crime the way at high temperatures metal liquefies.

Written and directed by Mathieu Amalric and cowritten with his real-life partner Stéphanie Cléau, this adaptation hews closely to the unusual (for Simenon) non-linear structure of the 140-page novella. Both Amalric and Cléau—in her first major role—star in the film as the defiant lovers: Julien Gahyde, a tractor salesman, and Esther Despierre, a pharmacist—incidentally, very fitting professions for the story. The narrative intercuts the present reality of a magistrate’s criminal interrogation of Julien with Julien’s reminiscences: obsessive memories of love-making and haunting snatches of dialogue that give the film a chamber music quality. In a feat of aesthetic economy, the interrogatory format enables the story to unfold as the facts of the case—a double spousal murder—are unravelled through the minutiae of the legal discovery process.

No spoilers, but in a proactive twist on the femme fatale, Esther’s desire to be with Julien forever is satisfied, though not quite in the way she had envisioned.

A note in defense of small films: Compact at 74 minutes, the film’s Director of Photography Christophe Beaucarne uses the old Academy 4:3 format to box in and highlight visual details. Enhanced by Grégoire Hetzel’s chilling score and François Gédigier’s editing, The Blue Room evokes character and atmosphere better, and creates more mystery and tension than another current 20th Century Fox Oscar-contender, the 150-minute Gone Girl, which also plays with tropes of adultery and crime.

A high-profile, versatile actor (Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Quantum Solace, Arnaud Despléchin’s A Christmas Tale and Kings and Queen), this is Amalric’s fourth feature as a director. His stylistically very different previous film On Tour (2010), in which a group of contemporary American “new burlesque” dancers are taken on tour in France, won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010.

I spoke with the enigmatic Amalric in French following the US premiere of The Blue Room at the 52nd New York Film Festival.

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Film : Interview

Orwa Nyrabia

by Pamela Cohn

Civil war, exile, and documentary as art.

Toward the end of his film Eau argentée, Syrie autoportrait (Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait), director Ossama Mohammed states that his country has made history’s longest film and that the 1001 filmmakers whose images he has used to craft it have recorded and participated in Syria’s longest funeral. Through an ongoing dialogue, both verbal and written, Mohammed and co-director Wiam Bedirxan—a young Kurdish woman whose name in her native language is Simav, which means silvered water—create a poetic lamentation for their disintegrating country caught in a brutal civil war between warring factions entrenched in regime-, ISIS-, and opposition-controlled zones. Over 170,000 civilians and counting have been killed, and there continues to be a massive exodus of refugees. The war has destroyed their homeland, making the landscape of one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet unrecognizable.

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Film : Essay

On Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait

by Nicholas Elliott

Discovering a cinema of civil war.

To read an interview with Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait producer Orwa Nyrabia, click here.

At the Cannes Film Festival this year a gossamer young woman in a red shawl and ankle-length black dress stood before rows of film professionals and sobbed. She was not weeping tears of gratitude for her latest award, nor was her thinness a product of the Paleo DietTM. The woman was Wiam Simav Bedirxan, co-director with Ossama Mohammed of Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait. She was crying because she had just arrived on the Côte d’Azur from Homs, a Syrian city being turned into a vast heap of rubble as we clapped. She was thin because it’s hard to get a square meal in a city under siege. As Wiam Simav Bedirxan stood speechless, buffeted by the prescreening ovation, I felt a little less jazzy about my first taste of the palm tree and cocktail hour life and my fascination with the yachts that glimmered in the harbor as I fought for hors d’oeuvre on the beach. Yet all this pomp and circumstance were supposed to be for movies, right? And Bedirxan and Mohammed were being applauded for what turned out to be an essential movie. It was also one of the most painful things I have ever seen.

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Film : Interview

Matías Piñeiro

by Giovanni Marchini Camia

Shakespeare in Buenos Aires.

Argentinean director Matías Piñeiro has accrued an impressive cult following in the eight years since his first feature. His latest, La princesa de Francia (The Princess of France), was one of the most anticipated films at this summer’s Locarno International Film Festival, which also included new features by such arthouse lions as Pedro Costa and Lav Diaz in its program. The film, which was met with ecstatic reviews and will also play at the New York Film Festival on October 5 and 6, is the latest installment in the director’s ongoing filmic experimentations with the work of William Shakespeare.

While As You Like It and Twelfth Night provided the foundation for Piñeiro’s previous features, Rosalinda (2011) and Viola (2012) respectively, the main source text this time around is Shakespeare’s early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost. Again the play is placed in the hands of a group of Buenos Aires bohemians, played by the director’s regular troupe of actors. Here they are preparing a radio adaptation, a playful wink at the fact that Piñeiro’s films eschew and subvert conventional adaptation as well as a metonymic reflection of the film’s infatuation with language.

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Film : Interview

Michael M. Bilandic

by Gary M. Kramer

The art world, horror rap, and Delaware.

Hellaware is a cheeky satire of the New York art scene. Nate (Keith Poulson) is an uninspired photographer who becomes depressed after his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) dumps him for Jordan (Chuck McCarthy), a more successful artist. However, when Nate sees a rap group, Young Torture Killers, perform their song, “I Cut Your Dick Off,” on the web, he becomes enamored with their “outsider art” and sets out to find and photograph MC Rusty (Brent Butler) and his posse. Nate soon heads to Delaware with his friend Bernadette (Sophia Takai) to check out the band and one of the film’s best jokes is the venue and the turnout at the gig they attend. His photographs soon catch the attention of Olivier LaFleur (Gilles Decamps), a trendy gallery owner, who wants him to do a show.

Hellaware is a very knowing, very funny comedy that skewers white rappers and New York artistes. Writer/director Michael M. Bilandic uses the precise language of the art scene and the rap-rock music world to poke fun at Nate and Rusty and their friends. Bilandic, who attended grad school for film at NYU, and worked at Kim’s Video as well as on several features with Abel Ferrara (including Mulberry Street), spoke about making Hellaware.

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Film : Editor’s Choice
Film : Interview

Martín Rejtman

by Giovanni Marchini Camia

"I prefer the film to be independent of myself. If you and your film are the same, then why make films?"

Martín Rejtman’s Dos disparos (Two Shots Fired) opens on a shot of a teenager dancing by himself at a nightclub. At dawn, he rides the bus home, alone and expressionless. Once there he swims laps in the garden pool, timing himself each round. Then he mows the lawn. Then he finds a gun in the shed. Then he goes up to his room and shoots himself twice.

“It was very hot,” is the boy’s explanation when later asked why he almost killed himself. Whether they’re attempting suicide, dropping acid, or engaging in threesomes—all sensational events in this consummately anti-sensational film—Rejtman’s characters go at it with the same enthusiasm afforded to the insipid hamburgers that comprise almost every one of their meals. That is to say: none.

If all this sounds depressing, it’s because it doesn’t account for Rejtman’s singular and exquisite brand of humor. In his four fictional features, released at intervals of up to a decade following his 1992 debut Rapado, the Argentine director has painted a highly idiosyncratic portrait of urban alienation in his native Buenos Aires, a portrait of a middle class mired in meaningless cycles of repetition and wholly insouciant about it. Rejtman gets great comic mileage out of his urbanites’ deadpan obliviousness, leaving them stranded in a world governed by absurdity and limiting their conversations to exchanges of non-sequiturs like the one above.

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Film : Essay

Feeling Hou Hsiao-hsien

by Nicholas Elliott

Emotion, both authentic and synthetic, in the films of the Taiwanese New Wave master.

Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Good Men, Good Women (1995) was the first film to have such a devastating emotional impact on me that I had to hide my face from my fellow spectators to avoid setting off a sanitation panic. I’m sorry to admit my reaction was at least partially brought on by the comedown from the MDMA I had indulged in at a Goa Trance club in Brixton the previous evening. MDMA provides a momentary rush of global solidarity, which at that time in London was manifested in the sharing of water bottles with total strangers and, I assume, a lot of chemically-enhanced sex. The morning after was rough. The love of your fellow dancer was replaced by the disdain for your fellow commuter, and the knowledge that the glow had been utterly synthetic rolled in with a forecast of heavy depression. My memory of strobe-lit celebrants with pinhole eyes and whistles in their mouths fit well with the contemporary half of Good Men, Good Women, which edged Hou’s cinema into a present of neon nights and fuzzy dawns.

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Film : Interview

Martha Stephens

by Steve Macfarlane

Directing a comedic travelogue set in Iceland.

Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz's Land Ho! emerged as the no-joke feel good movie of the summer, a gently spun yarn about two former brothers-in-law (Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn) who reconvene for a once-in-a-lifetime jaunt to Iceland. With unhurried grace, the film puts time and pleasure into revealing how it's not going to reveal too terribly much of any one thing. Instead, Land Ho! becomes a study in counteracting textures, gorgeous, wind-blown landscapes, agonizingly repetitive conversations, and pivotal character details that rise and fall in conversation without being remarked upon further.

As a comedy, Land Ho! has an eye for naturalism and languidness of pace that connects its gags back to real life, not an attendant sub- or specialty genre. Stephens and Katz's readiness to put their movie in the hands of their leads influences its shape and direction, making it a more performative collaboration than the form normally allows. It's a film as strong as it is light, and its depiction of late middle age is a remarkable contrast to the types of old-folks comedies being churned out by major studios today—which, happily, was a topic brought up by Stephens in our cellphone conversation.

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