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Dear White People

You could make a (film geek) party game out of guessing director Justin Simien's influences, but his vision seems to spring directly from what's up…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#82 September 28, 2011

Marie writes: Summer is now officially over. The berries have been picked, the jam has been made, lawn-chairs put away for another year. In return, nature consoles us with the best show on Earth; the changing of the leaves!  I found these at one of my favorites sites and where you can see additional ones and more...

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Of popes and poissons and Kim Ki-duk

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It's Friday the 13th in Cannes, and that has got to mean something good. An overcast sky threatening rain means that there couldn't be a more perfect day to stay inside and watch movies.

The morning began with the 8:30 am press screening of Nanni Moretti's "We Have a Pope." Hmm...a comedy/drama about the Vatican by a self-professed Italian atheist? Moretti is known primarily for his wry, intellectual, and largely autobiographical approach to comedy in films including "My Diary" and "April, " but also for serious drama in films including his 2001 Palme d'Or winner "The Son's Room." Subjects he has often lampooned include leftist politics, psychoanalysis, water-polo, and the cinema itself.

In "We Have a Pope," the funeral of a dead pope has just taken place and the College of Cardinals is convening to elect the new pontiff from among their number. Moretti goes to great lengths to represent this ritual gathering with great accuracy, but injecting an escalating number of comic moments as the film traverses from the ceremonial pomp of its opening scenes to take on a lighter tone.

As if the voting for a pope were an elementary school spelling test, the prelates cross out names on their ballots, look to heaven for guidance, and even cheat, some slyly spying on what a neighbor seated to the left or right is writing. After a few rounds of voting, the winner is revealed to be a candidate who was not even in the running, a stunned Cardinal Melville (surely Moretti's tip of the hat to iconic French director Jean-Pierre Melville), played by veteran French star Michel Piccoli.

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The best feature films of 2010

David Fincher's "The Social Network"is emerging as the consensus choice as best film of 2010. Most of the critics' groups have sanctified it, and after its initial impact it has only grown it stature. I think it is an early observer of a trend in our society, where we have learned new ways of thinking of ourselves: As members of a demographic group, as part of a database, as figures in...a social network.

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#26 September 1, 2010

From the Grand Poobah: Here in Michigan Oink's ice cream parlor exerts a magnetic pull on helpless citizens for miles around. I can no longer sample their countless flavors, but not log ago I took Kim Severson there. She is a New York Times writer doing a piece on The Pot. Oink's is run by my friend Roger Vink, who says, "May the Oink be with you."

(click photos to enlarge)

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Name That Director!

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UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Eric Rohmer: In Memory

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We've lost a gentle and wise humanist of the movies. Eric Rohmer 89, one of the founders of the French New Wave died Monday Jan. 11 in Paris. The group , which inaugurated modern cinema, included Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Agnes Varda, Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette and Louis Malle. Melville, Truffaut and Malle have died, but the others remain productive and creative in their 80s.

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I have lunch with the mayor

May 20, 2009-The premiere of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" will likely dominate the international press for days. The screening itself was a bit less than a crazy event than I had been expecting. After experiencing the wild, all-out adoration of Tarantino fans at a special Cannes screening of "Kill Bill I and II" some years ago, in which the audience consisted largely of French locals, I was prepared for anything.

The guards opened the Grand Theatre Lumiere a half-hour early, and even though I arrive at 7:55 am for the 8:30 am screening, it was already half full. Mild excitement was in the air, some cheers and applause were heard as the lights went down, and another smattering of applause when Tarantino's name appeared on the screen.

I was waiting for some kind of massive reaction at the end, but there really was nothing out of the ordinary. I've never been overwhelmed by Tarantino's films, although the crazed eclecticism of his work is a lot of fun. "Inglourious Basterds" worked for me as a satisfying whole better than most of his other films. He pulls together everything in his arsenal: action, extreme violence, misogyny, film history, pop music and pop culture, and a plot based on a wild premise that rewrites history.

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Saint Agnes of Montparnasse

Dear Agnes Varda. She is a great director and a beautiful, lovable and wise woman, through and through. It is not enough that she made some of the first films of the French New Wave. That she was the Muse for Jacques Demy. That she is a famed photographer and installation artist. That she directed the first appearances on film of Gerard Depardieu, Phillipe Noiret--and Harrison Ford! Or that after gaining distinction as a director of fiction, she showed herself equally gifted as a director of documentaries. And that she still lives, as she has since the 1950s, in the rooms opening off each side of a once-ruined Paris courtyard, each room a separate domain.

That is not enough, because her greatest triumph is her life itself. She comes walking toward us on the sand in the first shot of "The Beaches of Agnes," describing herself as "a little old lady, pleasantly plump." Well, she isn't tall. But somehow she isn't old. She made this film in her 80th year, and she looks remarkably similar to 1967, when she brought a film to the Chicago Film Festival. Or the night I had dinner with her, Jacques and Pauline Kael at Cannes 1976. Or when she was at Montreal 1988. Or the sun-blessed afternoon when we three had lunch in their courtyard in 1990. Or when she was on the jury at Cannes 2005.

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Opening Shots: Le Samourai

From Brandon Colvin, Out 1:

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The opening shot of Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1967 noir masterpiece “Le Samouraï” establishes the tone of Melville’s contemplative crime film, defines its amoral protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon), and introduces the connections between Costello, a hired assassin, and the concept of the Japanese samurai, particularly the ronin, or masterless samurai. The nearly three-minute shot maintains a simple but wonderfully expressive composition throughout, remaining within the drab gray-blue confines of Jef’s apartment.

Jef lies stiffly on his white mattress with black polka dots in the bottom right corner of the frame. Two windows, overflowing with soft light, balance the composition by providing visual anchors in the center of the frame. Jeff’s pet bird chirps away in his birdcage, resting on a table centered between the two windows. Chairs and dressers crowd the outskirts of the frame, completing the layout of Jef’s ascetically simple, disciplined apartment. For minutes, the only sound is the constant drizzle of rain outside the windows and the intermittent whooshing of cars on the street below, punctuated by the light cries of Jef’s bird. Jef’s lights a cigarette and when he puffs, the smoke floats up softly, stagnating in the light of the windows, rolling around as if trying to escape. The completely still shot seems as if it’s attempting to emulate the frozen camera of Ozu. Jef lies with solemnity and his imprisonment in his dreary apartment is analogous to the situation of his caged bird.

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Following the credits, text appears in the top right corner of the shot. The text reads, “There is no greater solitude than that of a samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle . . . perhaps . . .” The quote is attributed to Bushido (Book of Samurai), which Melville fabricated for the film, and illustrates the connection between Jef’s disciplined isolation and the social exile experienced by great warriors, like samurai. Particularly interesting is the connection between Jef and ronin, or masterless samurai. Ronin are noted in Japanese storytelling for their lack of morality and existential listlessness, caring for themselves above all and feeling no loyalty to exterior forces. Jef exemplifies this sort of selfish existence, which, as with the ronin, fates him to a sense of dread and, ultimately, death.

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The "Best" Non-English-Language Films (Round 1)

View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.

An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.

Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")

This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).

Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."

For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...

Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...

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Godard: "It's all showbiz..."

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Following up on my recent posts about the commercial realities behind mid-century European "art films," and the various ways critics make sales pitches to exclusive audiences: Here's something fun and provocative from a 1964 French TV interview with Jean-Luc Godard, excerpts of which are included on the extras disc for the Criterion edition of "Contempt." (I transcribed the subtitles.) Like famed producer Bruce Dickinson, Godard put his pants on one leg at a time, but once they were on he made hits:

Q: Jean-Luc Godard, with "Contempt" you're once again on everyone's lips....

G: So much the better if it helps the movie.... I wouldn't really care as long as they go to my movies. That's what's important.

Q: What do you think of reviews?

G: I think much more highly of them than most people do. It's probably because I was a critic once, and I said a lot of bad things. I was cruel and mean to a lot of people. And though my opinions haven't changed, when I read bad reviews, the important thing for me is the discussion that's taking place. Whether it's good or bad is not the issue for me....

Q: Do you believe there's such a thing as a fair review?

G: (shrugs) Yes, but criticism isn't an artistic creation. It will always be inferior. Seventy-five percent of critics are only in that line of work temporarily. That's why critics are always bitter and sad towards those they praise and those they disparage.

Q: You became a director after having been a critic. Do you think it's a step up?

G: Yes, being a critic was a good experience. It's good training.

Q: Doesn't it run the risk of stifling the imagination?

G: No. It made me love everything. It taught me not to be narrow-minded, not to ignore Renoir in favor of Billy Wilder, or something like that. I like them both, even though they are extreme opposites. [...]

Q: ... Even with all her clothes on, ["Contempt" star Brigitte Bardot is] still a gold mine. [...] Those who would like to see Miss Bardot undress in a movie made by a bad or vulgar director wouldn't dare go see it. But with you their conscience is clean because it's art --

G: Good for them. They're right. If they find her pretty, as I do, there's no --

Q: Some of your films have been failures. How does that affect you?

G: One of my films in particular, "Les Carabiniers," wasn't even a failure. It was... nothing at all.

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Opening Shots: Army of Shadows

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From: Andy Horbal, Mirror/Stage:

"Army of Shadows" actually begins with an epigram: "Unhappy memories! Yet I welcome you… you are my long-lost youth… "

Perhaps a French person would immediately recognize the film's subsequent opening shot as the ultimate unhappy memory, but it took a bit longer for this American viewer to grasp the significance of what he was seeing. The transition from a black screen with white letters to the Arc de Triomphe towering over a frame also marked by a pallid, even sickly, gray morning light is like the shock of abruptly waking up in the middle of a dream. The sound of marching drifts in from somewhere offscreen. ...

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After a few seconds a column of soldiers emerges from the left of the frame. Dwarfed by the monument, they look like a line of black ants. A few more seconds and the cadence of their footfalls (which seem to grow steadily louder and more ominous) is joined by the sound of a military march. The beginning of the column reaches the middle of the Arc and sharply pivots right towards the camera, towards us.

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