Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Sacrifice (1986) A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky

"In Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, the distance from hope to despair is a short jump—a chasm crossed with the help of something so immediate as a television transmission. As his birthday celebration winds down on a gloomy summer evening in remote Sweden, retired intellectual Alexander (Erland Josephson) tiptoes half-drunk into his living room to find a small company of friends and family bewitched by the soft blue glow of a TV set’s screen, out of which emanates an announcement of nuclear conflict. The warning winds down, the TV is turned off, and the mood descends—first into stunned silence, then into outright hysteria, and then into a kind of sedated anxiousness from which the film never quite resurfaces. In certain contexts, this dramaturgical pivot might register a bit maudlin, but in 2018, when Twitter and cable news provide an endless gushing stream of outrages, the film’s evocation of being rapidly thrown into disarray by a piece of topical turmoil hits home."

Kino released a new Blu-ray for The Sacrifice, so I reviewed it for Slant.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2018) A Film by Bruno Dumont

"For all its natural beauty and genuine sense of surprise, however, this is a film handicapped by Igorrr’s uniquely terrible music, a near-constant formless riffing that alternately suggests reheated Evanescence tracks, Raffi sing-alongs, and the electronic tinkerings of a GarageBand apprentice. Where the silences in between words in Dumont’s cinema used to be filled with spacious field sounds and feelings of unspoken dread, now they’re stuffed with skittering breakbeats and doomy double-bass-pedal hammering. It’s true that the disorientation produced in the collision of Igorrr’s frenetic style-mashing and Dumont’s unadorned long-take aesthetic ensures that the film feels remarkably distinct from prior cinematic adaptations of Joan of Arc’s life, but it’s also hard not to wonder how this particular story might have played without the farfetched musical conceit grafted atop it. As it stands, Jeannette is admirable in its defiance of recognizable modes and its naked showcase of Dumont’s exploding imagination, but it’s a tedious novelty indeed."

Full review at Slant.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Love After Love (2018) A Film by Russell Harbaugh

"For a film about the breakdown of a bourgeoisie family’s comfortable suburban existence following the death of its patriarch, Russell Harbaugh’s Love After Love is a remarkably cool-headed, composed piece of work. Like John Magary’s The Mend, which Harbaugh helped conceive, this melancholic drama is marked by an acute focus on the quarrelsome collision of various family members’ ideas of themselves and each other, and it benefits from its nuanced, fully inhabited performances. But unlike The Mend, which is as abundant in frantic leaps in style as it is in mood swings, Love After Love displays a commitment to balance, consistency, and a persistent formal idea: In every scene, a steady camera observes Harbaugh’s characters from a careful distance on a zoom lens, and the cutting is dictated less by the tempo of their banter than by the turbulent pace of their inner lives."

Full review continues at Slant.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Drift (2017) A Film by Helena Wittmann

"The ocean has provided fertile territory for visual experimentation in recent years in a number of non-narrative art-house films, from Mauro Herce's hallucinatory Dead Slow Ahead to Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's frantic Leviathan. Helena Wittmann's Drift can now be added to this micro-genre, which isn't so much nascent as inextricably connected to an ancient tradition of storytelling based around the unknowable mystery of the sea. Two examples of this narrative legacy get cited early on in the film when its nameless female protagonists share thoughts at a beachfront café somewhere in wintry Germany prior to their parting from one another after a long weekend. One (Theresa George), who will soon embark on a solo expedition across the Atlantic, paraphrases a Papua New Guinea creation myth regarding a primeval crocodile and the warrior who slays it. The other (Josefina Gill), who plans to return to her native Argentina, responds by mentioning the legend of Nahuel Huapi, a Patagonian riff on the Loch Ness monster."

Full review of this New Directors/New Films entry continues at Slant.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Winter Brothers (2017) A Film by Hlynur Pálmason

"Shot on desaturated Super 16 mm film in a Danish limestone quarry, Winter Brothers is one of the more aesthetically idiosyncratic directorial debuts in recent memory. Icelandic visual artist turned filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason, who decamped with his crew to the film's inhospitable setting for the duration of the production, approaches his chosen location like Michelangelo Antonioni did with that of Red Desert, transforming a place of grim labor and scant sunshine into a punctiliously designed cinematic space. Where Antonioni painted trees and grass to achieve his pallid industrial dystopia, Pálmason creates his by coating the scenery in calcite, dressing his cast in filthy faded denim jumpers, and partitioning the world into a careful visual system, with each location treated to its own rigorous compositional scheme. If nothing else, the film is a feat of formal conception and craftsmanship."

Full review of this incredibly striking directorial debut, part of the New Directors/New Films series, continues at Slant.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017) A Film by Travis Wilkerson

"The documentary Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? begins with a baritone voice intoning the following credo over pin-drop silence: “Trust me when I tell you this isn't another white savior story. This is a white nightmare story.” The voice belongs to director Travis Wilkerson, whose documentaries are often self-narrated, and here, sounding as though it belongs in a scare-mongering PSA, the voice immediately dispels any expectations of casual entertainment or purely pedagogical history lesson. In directly requesting the audience's trust, Wilkerson initiates a not-particularly-inviting proposition for the viewer, and specifically the white American viewer: Follow my lead, the voice seems to say, and my conclusions will make you uncomfortable."

Full review continues at Slant.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pow Wow (2017) A Film by Robinson Devor

"In our drought-ridden Southwest, the sight of a sprinkler left to spray unsupervised for hours tends to cause alarm among the environmentally cautious. While cataloguing civic life on the periphery of Palm Springs, Robinson Devor’s Pow Wow internalizes this quotidian paranoia in its recurring images of golf courses being generously watered, the soothing buzz of which carries into the soundtrack as an uneasy refrain. The predominant subtext of this eccentric community portrait is the use and abuse of land in the Coachella Valley’s hostile ecosystem, a topic with historical and social dimensions that Devor teases out in small doses, all while positing water as a precious commodity with political significance of its own."

Full review continues at Slant.