Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hermia and Helena (2016) A Film by Matías Piñeiro

"Matías Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena offers an implicit rebuke to the received notion that the American debuts of eccentric international filmmakers are bids for accessibility. The film's narrative concerns the residency of a young, Bueno Aires-based theater director, Camila (Agustina Muñoz), in New York City, where she's been invited to translate A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish for a new take on Shakespeare's canonical comedy. And while her adventures feature rekindled romances and a familial reunion, Piñeiro takes considered measures to steer clear of saccharine self-discovery drama. In utilizing a temporally and geographically jumpy structure, a series of detours and doublings that frustrate Camila's centrality in the story, and a visual surface that delights in non-narrative distractions, he even goes so far as to obfuscate whatever crowd-pleasing qualities may have existed in the material."

I wrote about my favorite Matías Piñeiro film thus far as part of Slant Magazine's NYFF coverage.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) A Film by Kenji Mizoguchi

"On the back cover of their Blu-ray release of The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, the Criterion Collection heralds the 1939 Kenji Mizoguchi film as 'the first full realization of the hypnotic long takes and eloquent camera movements that would come to define the director's films'—a seductive claim, to be sure, but one with the potential to mislead. The Japanese filmmaker was experimenting with the cited aesthetic as early as 1935 with The Downfall of Osen, which withheld a close-up revelation of its titular protagonist until the tail end of a lugubrious flashback structure, while 1937's criminally underseen The Straits of Love and Hate, inspired by Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, plays like a model for Hou Hsiao-hsien's work in its serene patience and pictorial distance. That's, of course, to account for only Mizoguchi's extant films; within the dozens undiscovered, it's reasonable to assume, given the stylistically bold temperament of something even as early as 1925's The Song of Home, that there's some sophisticated time-sculpting going on elsewhere."

Reviewed the new Criterion Blu-ray.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Contesting History – The Films of Oliver Stone

"Regarded as a politically radical firebrand nearly as often as he’s discussed for his filmmaking, Oliver Stone is one of the monolithic voices of contemporary Hollywood—a figure about whom opinion tends to be divided starkly between derision and adulation, with little room for ambivalence in between. As a veteran of the Vietnam War whose Bronze Star and Purple Heart belie a profound disillusionment with his experience there, Stone has spent a considerable chunk of his directorial career depicting the events of the 1960s and 70s, paying particular attention to the ways in which the era’s tensions and contradictions act as barometers for more enduring problems in American politics. His overarching thesis as a filmmaker—that passive faith in one’s nation leaves one blind to the fact that the interconnected forces of government and national media construct digestible narratives for their citizenry in ways that protect their own interests—doubles as a call to action, which therefore brands Stone as an activist working within the entertainment business, a perch from which he wields a rare influence."

The Harvard Film Archive is hosting a small survey of Oliver Stone's political filmmaking this fall. They generously asked me to contribute the introduction and, with the exception of the blurb on Snowden, all of the program notes for the series, which can be viewed here.