Reviews from the Cannes Film Festival of the latest by Abdellatif Kechiche, Justine Triet, and Elia Suleiman.
Sheila writes: Sports fans and ice dance enthusiasts are all focused on Sochi right now for the Winter Olympics. The Olympics always comes with some strain of controversy, and Sochi has been more intense than most. I came across a post about Sochi's well-known history as the "Florida of Russia", where Stalin himself would summer. His vacation home still stands. Messy Nessy Chic has a post with a lot of great images of that vacation home as well as vintage photographs of the holiday resort in its heyday: Postcards from Sochi: Summering with Stalin.
UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.
Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.
Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)
Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.
"It's enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once." -- Alex Ramon, Boycotting Trends
What I like most about Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is its slipperiness. The Tuscan textures are ravishing (it takes place over the course of an afternoon in and around the village of Lucignano -- or does it?), Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are easy on they eyes and ears (good thing, too, since the movie is practically one long conversation -- or is it?), but for me the most enjoyable thing about it is the way the story and characters keep subtly (and not-so-subtly) shifting, refusing to be pinned down. I was fearing one of those overly literalized Kiarostami "button" endings, but this time (as Michael Sicinski observes in his impressive, ambitious essay at MUBI), the thesis statement is placed at the front of the film and it gets slipperier from there:
"Certified Copy" operates almost in reverse of most thematically inclined works of art, which plunge us into a falsely desultory universe and gradually reveal their master interpretive passkey. Kiarostami's film presents a concept, fully formed and cogent, and allows the rest of the film to set to work on that concept, breaking it into Heisenbergian particles, then bringing it back into solid shape, and on and on.
Click above to REALLY enlarge...
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.)
Selznick, Rossellini & Fellini, by Rossellini & Maddin.
Brad Damaré of Ann Arbor, MI, was kind enough to point me to a marvelous YouTube post of the entire 16-minute 2005 collaboration between Guy Maddin ("The Saddest Music in the World") and Isabella Rossellini: "My Dad Is 100 Years Old" (in English, with Italian subtitles). In this personal tribute to Roberto Rossellini, the subject of recent retrospectives and the father of neorealism (and more), Isabella creates imaginary conversations between herself, her papa, producer David O. Selznick, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin and her mother, Ingrid Bergman -- with the actress/daughter playing all the parts. (My delight in her performances is only enhanced by Isabella's recent appearances as Alec Baldwin's volatile ex-wife on "30 Rock.")
Through his daughter, papa Rossellini expounds on his contrarian theories of film -- not as dreams or distractions, manipulations or entertainments, but as works that engage the viewer's conscience. As is often the case on YouTube, the soundtrack slips out of synch partway through, but it's not all that distracting. In some ways it's perfectly appropriate (I wouldn't put it past Maddin to have come up with the effect deliberately), since Italian films were shot without sound (MOS) into the 1960s, with little attention to precisely matching looped dialogue to lip movements.
The great Rufus Thomas, the World's Oldest Finest Teenager, does "The Breakdown" (follow-up to "The Contrarian").
"I enjoy the occasional flaying of a sacred cow." -- anonymous movie critic
Can your monkey do the dog Can your monkey do the dog Well, my dog can monkey just like you But can your monkey do the do the do the dog like I do? -- Rufus Thomas
The first thing you'll notice about an auto-contrarian (or reactionary) piece, whether it's an op-ed column or a movie review, is that it doesn't so much try to build a point-by-point rebuttal or counter-argument. Instead, it prefers to disparage something or someone by association, by making ad hominem attacks on (real or imagined) supporters of whatever it scorns.
So, for instance, when Stephen Metcalf writes a "What's All This, Then?" piece tearing down "The Searchers," he first attributes the film's reputation not to any merits it may or may not possess as a film, but simply to his generalizations about people who like it. Then he derides them as "film geeks," "nerd cultists," "critics whose careers emerged out of the rise of film studies as a discrete and self-respecting academic discipline," and filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius and George Lucas, whom he labels "well-credentialed nerds." So, you get the idea. Rather than make observations about the movie itself, you insult those who admire the movie and use that to smear the movie. It's a schoolyard tactic: If you like "The Searchers," you're a nerd! Notice how the discussion is no longer about the movie, but about who Metcalf thinks is a nerd. (And never mind that "The Searchers" is a "termite" movie : Critically overlooked/dismissed as just another western when it was released, it's a movie that grew in stature over time, as more critics and moviegoers got to see and evaluate it.)
If Metcalf had written a piece that dissected "The Searchers" from a new angle, that demonstrated what the film does (or fails to do) and why he felt that was or was not a worthy achievement, then I might have enjoyed his flailing of a sacred cow, too -- even if it didn't persuade me to change my own view of the cow. Moo. I find this sort of thing happens rather often, where I'll read a critic's take on a movie and think: "Wow, I'd probably feel the same way if I saw that movie, but that's just not the movie I experienced."