Tsai Ming-liang’s DAYS and Hong Sang-soo’s THE WOMAN WHO RAN

I have two capsule reviews at Cinefile Chicago this week. I’m posting both reviews below. Enjoy!

Tsai Ming-liang’s DAYS (Taiwan)
Available for rent through October 25 here*
DAYS, Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang’s latest ode to urban loneliness, begins with a middle-aged man, Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), simply sitting in a room and staring out the window on a rainy afternoon. Tsai’s patient camera eye observes the man’s expressionless face for a full five minutes before cutting. It’s an astonishing scene in which nothing seems to happen while also suggesting, on an interior level, that perhaps a lot is happening, thus setting the tone for the two hour audio-visual experience that follows. As viewers, we are invited to not only observe Kang as the shot’s subject but also allow our eyes to wander around the beautifully composed frame, noticing the details of what is reflected in the window out of which Kang stares (since the shot is framed from outside) as well as listen to the sound of the gently falling rain. From there, an almost entirely wordless narrative proceeds, in fits and starts, as the daily life of this man, who is suffering from and being treated for an unspecified illness, is juxtaposed with that of a younger man, a Laotian immigrant masseur named Non (Anong Houngheuangsya). Eventually, the lives of both protagonists come together in an erotic hotel-room encounter before breaking apart again, presumably for good. The way these two minimalist character arcs briefly intersect reveals a surprisingly elegant and classical structure lurking beneath the movie’s avant-garde surface and also serves to function as a potent metaphor for nothing less than life itself: We may be born alone and we may die alone but, if we’re lucky, we can make meaningful connections with other people along the way. DAYS is a formally extreme film, even for Tsai, and probably not the best place to start for those unfamiliar with the director’s previous work. But I emerged from it feeling as refreshed and energized as I would if I had visited a spa. (2020, 127 min) [Michael Glover Smith]

Only available in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.

Hong Sang-soo’s THE WOMAN WHO RAN (South Korea)
Available for rent through October 25
The films of prolific South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo have become steadily more oriented around their female protagonists since he began working with Kim Min-hee in 2015’s RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN. This mighty director/actress combo has reached a kind of apotheosis in their seventh and latest collaboration, THE WOMAN WHO RAN, a charming dramedy about three days in the life of a woman, Gam-hee (Kim), who spends time apart from her spouse for the first time after five years of marriage. When her husband goes on a trip, Gam-hee uses the occasion to visit three of her female friends—one of whom is single, one of whom is married, and one of whom is recently divorced—and Hong subtly implies that Gam-hee’s extended dialogue with each causes her to take stock of her own marriage and life. Gam-hee also comes into contact with three annoying men—a nosy neighbor, a stalker, and a mansplainer—while visiting each friend, situations that allow Hong to create clever internal rhymes across his triptych narrative structure. Hong’s inimitable cinematographical style has long favored long takes punctuated by sudden zooms and pans, but rarely have the devices felt as purposeful as they do here. Notice how his camera zooms, with the precision of a microscope, into a close-up of a woman’s face immediately after she issues an apology to Gam-hee during the film’s final act, and how the tears in this woman’s eyes would not have been visible without the zoom. This is masterful stuff. (2020, 77 min) [Michael Glover Smith]

Only available in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.

Steve James’ CITY SO REAL

In the future, when I come across someone who has never been to Chicago but wants to know what my hometown is like, I will tell them to watch Steve James’ CITY SO REAL. Produced by Kartemquin Films (HOOP DREAMS) and soon-to-be-aired on the National Geographic Channel, this brilliant five-part miniseries looks at Chicago in its full complexity — as a major metropolis that serves as a global tourist destination but also as a down-to-earth Midwestern “city of neighborhoods.” Most of the reviews of the series I’ve come across so far have focused on its depiction of the Windy City’s crazy mayoral race of 2019 — when an unprecedented 14 candidates vied for the spot after Rahm Emanuel, tainted by his role in the cover-up of the Laquan McDonald shooting, wisely decided not to run for re-election. To be sure, James’ access to behind-the-scenes machinations of local electoral politics offers some juicy moments (in one amusing scene, then-candidate Lori Lightfoot refers to those caught up in the Ed Burke extortion scandal as “dumb fucks”); but I think it’s truer to say that James uses the mayoral race as a narrative hook that allows him to draw viewers in while also allowing him to do something much more expansive, which is to paint an epic, impressionistic portrait of Chicago at a moment of societal tumult (complete with a digression on Bears fandom, cameos by Chance the Rapper and Kanye West and a song by the great Staples Singers on the soundtrack). A particularly nice touch: Every scene begins by including a graphic of the city showing where the scene takes place and identifying the neighborhood by name.

CITY SO REAL’s complex and provocative fifth episode, an epilogue that flashes forward to a year after Lightfoot’s election, when her “honeymoon phase” has long ended and the city is both ravaged by COVID and rocked by protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, caused me to rethink the first four parts entirely. It is here where James’ and David Simpson’s masterful montage editing, while never being overtly showy or kinetic, becomes worthy of comparison to Eisenstein in its dialectical approach. In addition to showing copious footage of the protests from a wide variety of sources, James gives equal screen time to both Lightfoot’s defense of her aggressive handling of the protests and the criticism of eloquent activists like Miracle Boyd (a teenager whose teeth were knocked out by a cop for merely wielding a cell-phone camera in public). More subtly, James offers a pointed critique of Chicago as a city still largely segregated along racial lines by juxtaposing scenes in both white and black barbershops. My personal favorite moment involves Tim Tuten, owner of the legendary Hideout music venue, trashing FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF as a supposedly “modern classic” in a direct-to-camera address after John Hughes’ movie is programmed at a drive-in theater at the controversial Lincoln Yards development site (where Tuten imagines a grown-up Bueller is now ready to move in). This angry and hilarious scene is my favorite work of film criticism in all of 2020. But James also rightly ends the series on a moment of poignancy and hope — by just hanging out in a residential south-side backyard with a pair of young girls who represent the city’s unwritten future, and a beautiful gospel song.

CITY SO REAL can be screened virtually via the Chicago International Film Festival. The National Geographic Channel will broadcast the television premiere on Thursday, October 29.

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Beau Travail (Denis) - A+
2. The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale) - A
3. Halloween (Carpenter) - A
4. The Crazies* (Romero) - B
5. Antiviral* (B. Cronenberg) - B-
6. A Place in the Sun* (Stevens) - A-
7. Theater of Blood* (Hickox) - B+
8. The Projectionist* (Ferrara) - B+
9. The Woman Who Ran* (Hong) - A
10. City So Real* (James) - A

Garrett Bradley’s TIME

Garrett Bradley’s documentary masterpiece TIME opens today at the Landmark in Chicago and will be available to stream via Amazon Prime on October 23. I reviewed it and interviewed Bradley about it for for Cine-file Chicago. I’m including both pieces below.

Garrett Bradley’s TIME (New Documentary)

Landmark Century Centre Cinema – Check Venue website for showtimes

My favorite movie of 2020 is Garrett Bradley’s TIME, a documentary about Sibil Fox Richardson, a remarkable woman who spent 21 years fighting for the release of her husband, Rob, from Louisiana State Penitentiary after he received an unjustly harsh 60-year-sentence for a first-offense robbery. One of the rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement has been that there are seemingly two justice systems in America, one for white people and another for everyone else; Bradley, a young, second-time feature director, illustrates this tragic maxim in the most human terms possible—by closely concentrating on the love story between Fox and Rob and the sadness of their separation. Given the subject matter, many other non-fiction filmmakers would have undoubtedly chosen to include more information about incarceration inequality (with an emphasis on statistics presented via on-screen text, expert interviews, etc.) but Bradley daringly eschews this approach in favor of a relentless focus on just a few people and their emotions (the Richardsons’ children are also prominently featured). TIME poignantly incorporates Fox’s own SD video diaries from over the years with newer HD footage of the Richardson family in the months leading up to Rob’s release, a strategy that, in Bradley’s own words, allows the narrative to move forwards and backwards through time simultaneously. The resulting accumulation of scenes spans over two decades but has been telescoped into a tight 81-minute run time, one that climaxes with a reunion so intimate and powerful to witness that it bears comparison to the final scene of Mizoguchi’s immortal SANSHO THE BAILIFF. Adding to the film’s spellbinding effect is evocative black-and-white cinematography and a soundtrack comprised of terrific gospel-blues piano songs by the Ethiopian composer Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. (2020, 81 min, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]

More info on the in-person Landmark Century Centre Cinema screenings


Interview with TIME director Garrett Bradley
By Michael Glover Smith

One of the best and most important films of the year, Garrett Bradley’s TIME opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema and Emagine Frankfort. It will be available to stream via Amazon Prime on 10/23. I recently spoke to Bradley via Zoom about the film and her next project. 

Michael Glover Smith: I’d like to start by asking you about the title of the film. Several of the subjects talk about the concept of time – sometimes in a philosophical way. Did you know you wanted to call it that from the beginning or was that something you discovered during the process of making it?

Garrett Bradley: I have a really hard time naming things in general. I think all of my films are one word! It’s funny because I remember Fox asked me a lot, in the process of being in the film, “What do you feel like the title is going to be?” She talked a lot about how, with all her sons, she would name them before they were born. And I was like, “I’m so the opposite. I need the film to be finished in order for me to name it.” I think, ultimately, I settled on that because “Time” is, oddly, very abstract. There’s no image that the word time elicits for me and yet it has a lot of different connotations. I mean, it’s been used as a form of oppression – you know, thinking about the clock as a symbol of the colonization of cultures through time, through “being on time,” through “being late…” And then it can also address these less concrete and more ephemeral and emotional ways that we move through the world. So I decided on the title of the film once it was finished and I was thinking about it in those ways.

MGS: I love how you chose not to include the logistics of how and why Rob was released from prison. I thought that was very daring on a narrative level – similar to how you didn’t focus on the robbery. I found myself Googling about it afterwards in order to find out the full story. But I’m glad you chose not to focus on those things because it was like you were saying, “That’s not what this is about. That’s not the film I’m interested in making.” Did you ever feel any pressure from anyone who was involved in producing or financing the film to make it more “informational?”

GB: Certainly. I think that was a huge part of the conversation while we were editing. I think a lot of it, for me, boiled down to audience and who I was speaking to. In the context of America, it’s very difficult to prove racism. It’s very difficult to prove what that looks like and how it’s articulated on a systematic level. And, in order to do that, I would’ve started to entangle myself into things that I felt the audience I was speaking to already knew. And I think the other part of it is when we really start to investigate this question of universality or accessibility or everybody understanding something, when we want to take that into account in the context of incarceration – if there’s 2.3 million people that are incarcerated there’s double or triple that number that are also affected by this issue – so when we talk about it being universally understood, who are we really talking about? And what is the true percentage of people that wouldn’t understand that? That, to me, is why I decided to go in the direction that I did.

MGS: It’s a beautiful movie to look at. Can you talk about your motivation to shoot in black-and-white and also, since so many of the images came from footage that Fox shot, was it difficult to color grade to get the black-and-white to match across multiple formats?

GB: I had always thought about TIME as being a sister film to ALONE (Bradley’s 2017 documentary short). And ALONE was in black-and-white because I was making another film called AMERICA, which was also in black-and-white (laughs). In my mind, I was only seeing in black-and-white. I wish I could take credit for this but Lon, who is the main woman we see in ALONE, when I showed the film to her and her sons before it premiered – her son, Jay, is the one that made this metaphorical connection of what it means for the subject matter to be in black-and-white, that it creates a sort of timelessness and that it also speaks to the black and white issue in our country. I wish I could take credit for that but I can’t. In my mind, it was really, “If I’m thinking about these as sister films, I always want them to exist together, adopting the same aesthetic and formal choices.” I went back and forth a little bit once (Fox’s) archive became available to me and I was aware of it – myself and Gabe Rhodes who cut the film – because the archive was in color and I did want to see what that would look like. There are so many spectrums with color. You are telling stories by the type of color you’re working with. I really was invested in trying to create – because I wanted this to feel like the story was moving forward but it was also moving backwards at the same time and it was constantly sort of oscillating between the two – and in order to do that there needed to be some visual uniformity. There needed to be an aesthetic linearity, a cohesiveness, and so the black-and-white really was the only thing that was going to let us do that. The color ended up feeling more like a collage and you really could feel kind of the tug and pull of time.

MGS: The music is something else that binds the footage together. I was blown away by this piano score, which I read later was composed by an Ethiopian nun. At what point did that come into play? Was that during the editing and how did you decide it was appropriate for this story?

GB: Yeah! She’s a 96-year-old Ethiopian nun. She’s still alive. I came across the music actually just through YouTube. It popped up in my algorithm. First, I just loved the music. It immediately spoke to me. And then when I laid it with picture, it was like magic. It just worked. And then there were these two other signs: Some of the names of the tracks were “A Mother’s Love,” or “A Young Girl’s Complaint,” or “Homesickness.” There were these themes that were running throughout the music itself that just felt like it spiritually wanted to be connected with those images. And then when I was reading more about Emahoy’s life – as somebody who came from a wealthy family in Ethiopia, became a prisoner of war, was classically trained in music (in Egypt) then returned back to Ethiopia, and essentially created her own genre of music and then recorded this one album in 1963 for the purpose of raising money for an orphanage – I felt like the lives of these two women were beautifully connected and how amazing it would be to bring them together. So it was both a political and musical choice all in one.

MGS: In addition to cinema, one of my other passions is tennis so I wanted to ask where you are with your Naomi Osaka project.

GB: We’ve been shooting for a little over a year and it’s been really great to work with her. Especially at this point in her life where, in many ways, a lot of the questions that she’s asking herself are the same questions the world is asking itself. She’s an incredibly mentally brilliant and strong young woman. It’s been really great to be able to work with Fox to make TIME and then also to be able to work with someone much younger but who I think has the same leadership skills as somebody like the entire Richardson family.

MGS: I can’t wait to see it. Thank you so much for speaking to me and best of luck to you.

GB: Thank you for your time.

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Days* (Tsai) – A-
2. The Hills Have Eyes* (Craven) – B
3. Lawman* (Winner) – C+
4. Man of the West (Mann) – A
5. Time* (Bradley) – A
6. Sea Fever* (Hardiman) – D+
7. The Player (Altman) – A
8. The Lodge* (Franz/Fiala) – C-
9. Paris, Texas* (Wenders) – B+
10. Masques* (Chabrol) – B+

* – First-time watch

Newcity’s Film 50 for 2020

It was an honor to make Newcity magazine’s Film 50 list for the second time (for being one of “50 individuals who shape Chicago’s film scene”). Thanks to Ray Pride for the interview and Sally Blood for the photo. I love seeing pics of all my talented colleagues sitting in an empty screening room at the Gene Siskel Film Center: What could be a better metaphor for the local film industry during the pandemic than seeing filmmakers surrounded by empty seats? I’m #45 just like Donald Trump. Make sure to also check out Clare Cooney (the star, co-producer and casting director of my next film, RELATIVE) at #46: https://www.newcityfilm.com/2020/10/01/film-50-2020-chicagos-screen-gems/

My Student Tomato-Meter: Final Edition

The Fall semester just began, which means it’s that time of year when I post my updated “student tomato-meter” showing the aggregated results of the ratings — on a scale from one-to-10 — that my students have given to every movie I’ve shown in my film studies classes dating back to the Spring 2009 semester. I’ve now taught 138 classes and shown a total of 513 unique movies. Below is a list of all the films I’ve screened to date, presented in chronological order by release date, along with the average ratings given by my students. This is almost certainly the last time I will ever be doing this since the spreadsheet I have that contains this info is getting too large and unwieldy for me to maintain. But please scan the list below and feel free tell me in the comments section if there are any films not listed that you think I should show.

Les Vampires (Feuillade, France, 1915-16)7.0
Sherlock Holmes (Berthelet, USA, 1915)4.3
Broken Blossoms (Griffith, USA, 1919)5.9
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, Germany, 1920)6.9
Within Our Gates (Micheaux, USA, 1920)6.7
The Golem (Wegener/Boese, Germany, 1920)6.0
The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, Sweden, 1921)7.4
Nosferatu (Murnau, Germany, 1922)6.8
Safety Last! (Newmeyer/Taylor, 1923)8.5
Our Hospitality (Keaton, USA, 1923)8.2
Greed (Von Stroheim, USA, 1923)6.9
Coeur Fidele (Epstein, France, 1923)5.2
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, USA, 1924)8.0
The Hands of Orlac (Wiene, Germany, 1924)6.2
Waxworks (Leni, Germany, 1924)5.1
The Freshman (Newmeyer/Taylor, USA, 1925)8.3
Seven Chances (Keaton, USA, 1925)8.2
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, USA, 1925)8.1
The Navigator (Keaton, USA, 1925)8.1
The Last Laugh (Murnau, Germany, 1925)6.6
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, Soviet Union, 1925)5.1
The General (Keaton, USA, 1926)8.3
Faust (Murnau, Germany, 1926)6.9
Secrets of a Soul (Pabst, Germany, 1926)6.6
Sunrise (Murnau, USA, 1927)7.0
Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927)6.6
Hindle Wakes (Elvey, UK, 1927)6.6
The End of St. Petersburg (Pudovkin, Soviet Union, 1927)5.0
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Shub, Soviet Union, 1927)4.0
The Docks of New York (Von Sternberg, USA, 1928)8.4
Speedy (Wilde, USA, 1928)7.5
The Crowd (Vidor, USA, 1928)7.4
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France, 1928)7.0
Lonesome (Fejos, USA, 1928)6.7
Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1928)6.8
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith, UK, 1929)8.3
Lucky Star (Borzage, USA, 1929)8.1
Asphalt (May, Germany, 1929)6.8
Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, Soviet Union, 1929)6.2
City Girl (Murnau, USA, 1930)6.7
L’age D’or (Bunuel, France, 1930)6.6
People on Sunday (Siodmak/Ulmer, Germany, 1930)5.2
Earth (Dovzhenko, Soviet Union, 1930)3.6
City Lights (Chaplin, USA, 1931)8.5
M (Lang, Germany, 1931)8.1
Madchen in Uniform (Sagan/Froelich, Germany, 1931)7.1
Freaks (Browning, USA, 1932)7.2
Vampyr (Dreyer, Denmark/Germany, 1932)6.9
I Was Born, But… (Ozu, Japan, 1932)7.6
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Lang, Germany, 1933)7.6
Duck Soup (McCarey, USA, 1933)6.8
It Happened One Night (Capra, USA, 1934)8.6
The Goddess (Wu, China, 1934)7.6
L’atalante (Vigo, France, 1934)6.8
Top Hat (Sandrich, USA, 1935)8.6
My Man Godfrey (La Cava, USA, 1936)8.5
Modern Times (Chaplin, USA, 1936)8.0
Redes (Muriel/Zinneman, Mexico, 1936)6.9
The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937)8.3
Grand Illusion (Renoir, France, 1937)7.0
Bringing Up Baby (Hawks, USA, 1938)8.2
The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock, UK, 1938)8.1
Holiday (Cukor, USA, 1938)7.9
Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein, Soviet Union, 1938)5.0
Midnight (Liesen, USA, 1939)8.7
The Roaring Twenties (Walsh, USA, 1939)8.2
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, USA, 1939)8.2
Stagecoach (Ford, USA, 1939)7.7
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1939)7.4
The Rules of the Game (Renoir, France, 1939)7.1
The Wizard of Oz (Fleming, USA, 1939)7.4
His Girl Friday (Hawks, USA, 1940)8.3
The Grapes of Wrath (Ford, USA, 1940)7.9
The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch, USA, 1940)7.4
The Lady Eve (Sturges, USA, 1941)8.2
Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1941)8.0
How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941)7.8
The Strawberry Blonde (Walsh, USA, 1941)7.6
The Maltese Falcon (Huston, USA, 1941)6.9
Casablanca (Curtiz, USA, 1942)8.3
The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, USA, 1942)7.5
Aniki Bobo (De Oliveira, Portugal, 1942)7.2
Cat People (Tourneur, USA, 1942)6.0
The More the Merrier (Stevens, USA, 1943)8.3
I Walked with a Zombie (Tourneur, USA, 1943)6.0
Ossessione (Visconti, Italy, 1943)5.2
Meet Me in St. Louis (Minnelli, 1944)8.2
Double Indemnity (Wilder, USA, 1944)8.1
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges, USA, 1944)8.0
To Have and Have Not (Hawks, USA, 1944)7.5
Murder My Sweet (Dmytryk, USA, 1944)7.0
Brief Encounter (Lean, UK, 1945)7.8
Detour (Ulmer, USA, 1945)7.3
Rome, Open City (Rossellini, Italy, 1945)7.2
Notorious (Hitchcock, USA, 1946)8.6
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, USA, 1946)8.4
My Darling Clementine (Ford, USA, 1946)7.5
The Big Sleep (Hawks, USA, 1946)6.0
Dead Reckoning (Cromwell, USA, 1947)8.2
Body and Soul (Rossen, USA, 1947)7.6
Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947)7.6
The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, USA, 1947)7.5
Pursued (Walsh, USA, 1947)7.1
Black Narcissus (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1947)7.1
La Perla (Fernandez, Mexico, 1947)6.5
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, USA, 1948)8.8
Rope (Hitchcock, USA, 1948)8.7
The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1948)8.3
Bicycle Thieves (de Sica, Italy 1948)7.9
Call Northside 777 (Hathaway, USA, 1948)7.5
Germany Year Zero (Rossellini, Italy/Germany, 1948)7.5
Fort Apache (Ford, USA, 1948)7.5
Spring in a Small Town (Fei, China, 1948)6.7
A Letter to Three Wives (Mankiewicz, USA, 1949)8.4
White Heat (Walsh, USA, 1949)8.4
The Third Man (Reed, UK, 1949)8.0
Jour de Fete (Tati, France, 1949)7.8
On the Town (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1949)7.4
Late Spring (Ozu, Japan, 1949)7.2
Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, USA, 1950)8.8
Los Olvidados (Bunuel, Mexico, 1950)7.6
Devil’s Doorway (Mann, USA, 1950)7.3
Union Station (Mate, USA, 1950)7.3
Stromboli (Rossellini, Italy, 1950)6.3
The African Queen (Huston, USA, 1951)8.3
An American in Paris (Minnelli, USA, 1951)8.2
On Dangerous Ground (Ray, USA, 1951)7.5
Singin’ in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1952)9.0
Umberto D. (De Sica, Italy, 1952)6.8
The Big Heat (Lang, USA, 1953)8.5
Pickup on South Street (Fuller, USA, 1953)8.2
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, USA, 1953)8.1
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France, 1953)8.1
The Band Wagon (Minnelli, USA, 1953)7.9
Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, USA, 1953)7.7
The Hitch-Hiker (Lupino, USA, 1953)7.7
City That Never Sleeps (Auer, USA, 1953)7.3
The Naked Spur (Mann, USA, 1953)7.0
Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953)6.7
Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953)6.7
Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1954)8.8
Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, Japan, 1954)8.3
French Cancan (Renoir, France, 1954)8.2
Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954)7.0
Senso (Visconti, Italy, 1954)7.8
The Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955)9.1
All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, USA, 1955)8.0
Artists and Models (Tashlin, USA, 1955)7.8
Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, USA, 1955)7.2
Pather Panchali (Ray, India, 1955)6.4
A Man Escaped (Bresson, France, 1956)8.2
The Searchers (John Ford, USA, 1956)7.4
Bigger Than Life (N. Ray, USA, 1956)6.8
Aparajito (Ray, India, 1956)6.6
An Affair to Remember (McCarey, USA, 1957)8.0
Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958)8.8
Some Came Running (Minnelli, USA, 1958)7.9
Mon Oncle (Tati, France, 1958)7.9
Big Deal on Madonna Street (Monicelli, Italy, 1958)7.7
Touch of Evil (Welles, USA, 1958)7.5
Cairo Station (Chahine, Egypt, 1958)7.0
Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, Poland, 1958)7.0
Throne of Blood (Kurosawa, Japan, 1958)5.9
Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959)9.0
Anatomy of a Murder (Preminger, USA, 1959)8.9
North By Northwest (Hitchcock, USA, 1959)8.5
The 400 Blows (Truffaut, France, 1959)8.3
Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1959)8.0
Pickpocket (Bresson, France, 1959)7.3
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, France, 1959)6.8
Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960)8.7
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse, Japan, 1960)8.1
Les Bonnes Femmes (Chabrol, France, 1960)8.0
Eyes Without a Face (Franju, France, 1960)7.7
Breathless (Godard, France, 1960)7.6
Accatone (Pasolini, Italy, 1960)7.6
L’avventura (Antonioni, Italy, 1960)7.4
Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut, France, 1960)7.1
The Housemaid (Kim, S. Korea, 1960)7.1
Viridiana (Bunuel, Spain, 1961)7.4
Chronicle of a Summer (Rouch/Morin, France, 1961)6.9
Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, France, 1961)6.8
The Ladies Man (Lewis, USA, 1962)8.3
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962)8.3
Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, France, 1962)7.3
Vivre sa Vie (Godard, France, 1962)7.2
Le Doulos (Melville, France, 1962)7.1
Jules and Jim (Truffaut, France 1962)5.5
Shock Corridor (Fuller, USA, 1963)8.4
The Nutty Professor (Lewis, USA, 1963)8.4
The Executioner (Berlanga, Spain, 1963)8.1
Contempt (Godard, France, 1963)7.7
Black Sabbath (Bava, Italy, 1963)7.1
Le Joli Mai (Marker, France, 1963)6.8
8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963)6.5
Onibaba (Shindo, Japan, 1964)8.0
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, France, 1964)7.7
Band of Outsiders (Godard, France, 1964)7.4
Dry Sumer (Erksan, Turkey, 1964)7.4
Pierrot le Fou (Godard, France, 1965)8.3
Repulsion (Polanski, UK, 1965)7.4
Mickey One (Penn, USA, 1965)6.9
Alphaville (Godard, France, 1965)6.0
Happiness (Varda, 1965)6.5
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, Italy, 1966)8.8
Black Girl (Sembene, Senegal, 1967)7.4
Daisies (Chytilova, Czechoslovakia, 1966)7.2
Point Blank (Boorman, USA, 1966)7.0
The Pornographers (Imamura, Japan, 1966)6.9
Persona (Bergman, Sweden, 1966)6.4
The Graduate (Nichols, USA, 1967)8.9
The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy, France, 1967)8.6
Play Time (Tati, France, 1967)8.2
The Firemen’s Ball (Forman, Czechoslovakia, 1967)8.0
Le Samourai (Melville, France, 1967)7.9
Branded to Kill (Suzuki, Japan, 1967)7.8
Bonnie and Clyde (Penn, USA, 1967)7.5
Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker, USA, 1967)7.4
La Collectionneuse (Rohmer, France, 1967)7.0
David Holzman’s Diary (McBride, USA, 1967)6.9
Dragon Inn (Hu, Taiwan, 1967)6.5
Rosemary’s Baby (Polanski, USA, 1968)8.3
Night of the Living Dead (Romero, USA, 1958)7.8
High School (Wiseman, USA, 1968)7.7
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968)7.6
Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Straub/Huillet, Germany, 1968)5.3
The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, USA, 1969)8.1
The Unfaithful Wife (Chabrol, France, 1969)7.9
My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, France, 1969)7.8
Inquiring Nuns (Quinn, USA, 1969)7.1
Medium Cool (Wexler, USA, 1969)7.0
Antonio das Mortes (Rocha, Brazil, 1969)5.2
The Red Circle (Melville, France, 1970)8.4
Le Boucher (Chabrol, France, 1970)7.5
La Rupture (Chabrol, France, 1970)7.0
Wanda (Loden, USA, 1970)6.0
The Emigrants (Troell, Sweden, 1971)8.8
A New Leaf (May, USA, 1971)8.2
Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, USA, 1971)7.7
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, USA, 1971)6.9
Minnie and Moskowitz (Cassavetes, USA, 1971)5.2
The Godfather (Coppola, USA, 1972)9.4
The New Land (Troell, Sweden, 1972)8.8
Love in the Afternoon (Rohmer, France, 1972)7.8
Solaris (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1972)6.9
The Men Who Made the Movies: Howard Hawks (Shickel, USA, 1973)
American Graffiti (Lucas, USA, 1973)8.8
The Exorcist (Friedkin, USA, 1973)8.1
The Long Goodbye (Altman, USA, 1973)8.0
The Sting (Hill, USA, 1973)7.9
Badlands (Malick, 1973)7.6
The Mother and the Whore (Eustache, France, 1973)7.4
The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)7.4
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, Germany, 1973)7.2
Touki Bouki (Mambety, Senegal, 1973)6.8
Blazing Saddles (Brooks, USA, 1974)8.4
Chinatown (Polanski, USA, 1974)8.2
Black Christmas (Clark, Canada, 1974)8.2
Young Frankenstein (Brooks, USA, 1974)7.6
Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, France, 1974)6.8
The Irony of Fate: Or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ryazanov, Russia, 1975)8.5
Cooley High (Schultz, USA, 1975)8.1
Night Moves (Penn, USA, 1975)7.4
Grey Gardens (Maysles/Maysles, USA, 1975)4.2
Insiang (Brocka, Philippines, 1976)8.7
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, USA, 1976)8.2
In the Realm of the Senses (Oshima, Japan, 1976)6.9
Mikey and Nicky (May, USA, 1976)6.4
Annie Hall (Allen, USA, 1977)6.6
House (Obayashi, Japan, 1977)6.4
One Way Boogie Woogie (Benning, USA, 1977)5.1
A Wedding (Altman, USA, 1978)8.4
Halloween (Carpenter, USA, 1978)8.3
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Lau, Hong Kong, 1978)8.3
Dawn of the Dead (Romero, USA, 1978)7.8
Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978)7.4
My Brilliant Career (Armstrong, Australia, 1979)7.1
Killer of Sheep (Burnett, USA, 1979)7.8
The Blues Brothers (Landis, USA, 1980)8.9
Raging Bull (Scorsese, USA, 1980)8.3
The Shining (Kubrick, USA, 1980)8.2
Melvin and Howard (Demme, USA, 1980)7.0
Popeye (Altman, USA, 1980)5.2
Thief (Mann, USA, 1981)8.5
An American Werewolf in London (Landis, USA/UK, 1981)8.3
Body Heat (Kasdan, USA, 1981)8.1
Possession (Zulawski, France/Germany, 1981)7.9
The Road Warrior (Miller, Australia, 1981)7.5
Trances (El Maanouni, Morocco, 1981)6.2
The Thing (Carpenter, USA, 1982)8.3
Blade Runner (Scott, USA, 1982)7.7
The Slumber Party Massacre (Jones, USA, 1982)6.8
Rock in Reykjavik (Fridriksson, Iceland, 1982)6.3
A Nos Amours (Pialat, France, 1983)8.5
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Oshima, Japan, 1983)8.0
Sans Soleil (Marker, France, 1983)6.2
Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, USA, 1984)6.2
Vagabond (Varda, France, 1985)7.4
After Hours (Scorsese, USA, 1985)6.7
The Fly (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 1986)8.0
Bad Blood (Carax, France, 1986)7.1
The Green Ray (Rohmer, France, 1986)6.1
The Dead (Huston, USA/UK, 1987)7.8
The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1988)7.7
A Short Film About Love (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)7.6
Time of the Gypsies (Kusturica, Yugoslavia, 1988)7.0
A Short Film About Killing (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988)6.9
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Almodovar, 1988)8.0
Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, USA, 1989)8.2
Do the Right Thing (Lee, USA, 1989)7.6
Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990)9.0
King of New York (Ferrara, USA, 1990)8.9
House Party (Hudlin, USA, 1990)6.7
Defending Your Life (Brooks, USA, 1991)8.5
To Sleep with Anger (Burnett, USA, 1991)8.4
The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax, France, 1991)8.0
Close-Up (Kiarostami, Iran, 1991)7.6
Slacker (Linklater, USA, 1991)7.0
Basic Instinct (Verhoeven, USA, 1992)9.0
Unforgiven (Eastwood, USA, 1992)8.6
Deep Cover (Duke, USA, 1992)8.3
The Player (Altman, USA, 1992)8.2
Candyman (Rose, USA, 1992)7.3
The Long Day Closes (Davies, UK, 1992)4.7
The Fugitive (Davis, USA 1993)9.0
The Piano (Campion, New Zealand, 1993)8.4
Dazed and Confused (Linklater, USA, 1993)8.4
Groundhog Day (Ramis, USA, 1993)8.4
Sonatine (Kitano, Japan, 1993)8.3
Menace II Society (Hughes/Hughes, USA, 1993)8.3
Matinee (Dante, USA, 1993)8.2
Naked (Leigh, UK, 1993)6.3
The Bride With White Hair (Yu, Hong Kong, 1993)5.1
Hoop Dreams (James, USA, 1994)8.1
Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994)8.0
The Last Seduction (Dahl, USA, 1994)7.2
Wild Reeds (Techine, France, 1994)7.1
Ed Wood (Burton, USA, 1994)6.8
Fallen Angels (Wong, Hong Kong, 1995)7.5
Devil in a Blue Dress (Franklin, USA, 1995)8.5
The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, USA, 1995)8.2
Dead Man (Jarmsuch, USA, 1995)8.1
The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera (Simon, USA, 1996)
Irma Vep (Assayas, France, 1996)7.2
A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf, Iran, 1996)5.8
Jackie Brown (Tarantino, USA, 1997)9.2
L.A. Confidential (Hanson, USA, 1997)8.8
Cure (Kurosawa, Japan, 1997)8.2
Lost Highway (Lynch, USA, 1997)8.0
Happy Together (Wong, Hong Kong, 1997)7.4
Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, Iran, 1997)7.2
The Mirror (Panahi, Iran, 1997)5.1
The Big Lebowski (Coen/Coen, USA, 1998)8.7
The Last Days of Disco (Stillman, USA, 1998)8.4
Shattered Image (Ruiz, USA, 1998)7.0
The Bird People in China (Miike, Japan, 1998)6.6
The Hole (Tsai, Taiwan, 1998)5.8
Dead or Alive (Miike, Japan, 1999)
Office Space (Judge, USA, 1999)8.5
Peppermint Candy (Lee, S. Korea, 1999)8.2
Ravenous (Bird, UK/USA, 1999)7.9
Nowhere to Hide (Lee, S. Korea, 1999)7.6
Audition (Miike, Japan, 1999)7.5
Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999)7.2
JSA: Joint Security Area (Park, S. Korea, 2000)8.6
High Fidelity (Frears, USA, 2000)8.5
Yi Yi (Yang, Taiwan, 2000)8.4
La Captive (Akerman, France, 2000)8.0
Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier, Denmark/Sweden, 2000)7.8
The Day I Became a Woman (Meshkini, Iran, 2000)7.6
In the Mood for Love (Wong, Hong Kong, 2000)7.4
Needing You (To/Wai, Hong Kong, 2000)7.1
Sexy Beast (Glazer, UK, 2000)6.9
Italian for Beginners (Scherfig, Denmark, 2000)6.4
The Gleaners and I (Varda, France, 2000)5.4
Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (Gowariker, India, 2000)8.8
The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, Spain/Mexico, 2001)8.6
Failan (Song, S. Korea, 2001)8.2
Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, USA, 2001)7.9
Avalon (Oshii, Japan/Poland, 2001)7.9
Fat Girl (Breillat, France, 2001)7.0
What Time Is It There? (Tsai, Taiwan, 2001)6.6
The Tracker (De Heer, Australia, 2002)7.9
Infernal Affairs (Lau/Mak, Hong Kong, 2002)7.8
Bollywood/Hollywood (Mehta, Canada/India, 2002)7.6
Far From Heaven (Haynes, USA, 2002)7.6
Distant (Ceylan, Turkey, 2002)5.0
Memories of Murder (Bong, S. Korea, 2003)8.8
Oldboy (Park, S. Korea, 2003)8.6
A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim, S. Korea, 2003)7.8
Save the Green Planet (Jang, S. Korea, 2003)6.9
Love Actually (Curtis, UK, 2003)7.6
Before Sunset (Linklater, USA/France, 2004)8.9
3-Iron (Kim, S. Korea, 2004)8.7
Moolade (Sembene, Senegal, 2004)8.1
The Island of Black Mor (Laguionie, France, 2004)8.1
The Holy Girl (Martel, Argentina, 2004)6.9
Dumplings (Chan, Hong Kong, 2004)6.4
Ten Skies (Benning, USA, 2004)4.1
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 2005)8.5
Grizzly Man (Herzog, USA, 2005)8.1
The Proposition (Hillcoat, Australia, 2005)8.1
The Ice Harvest (Raimis, USA, 2005)7.8
Three Times (Hou, Taiwan, 2005)7.5
Pan’s Labyrinth (Del Toro, Spain, 2006)9.3
The Host (Bong, S. Korea, 2006)8.9
Once (Carney, UK, 2006)8.8
Shaun of the Dead (Wright, UK, 2006)8.5
Black Book (Verhoeven, Holland, 2006)8.4
Offside (Panahi, Iran, 2006)8.2
A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, USA, 2006)8.0
Woman on the Beach (Hong, S. Korea, 2006)7.1
12:08 East of Bucharest (Poromboiu, Romania, 2006)6.6
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik, USA, 2007)9.6
Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007)9.1
Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, Canada/UK, 2007)8.7
My Winnipeg (Maddin, Canada, 2007)6.3
Let the Right One In (Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)8.7
35 Shots of Rum (Denis, France, 2008)7.8
Me and Orson Welles (Linklater, USA, 2008)7.6
Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh, UK, 2008)7.2
The Headless Woman (Martel, Argentina, 2008)6.1
The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, USA, 2008)9.4
3 Idiots (Hirani, India, 2009)8.5
The House of the Devil (West, USA, 2009)8.1
Change Nothing (Costa, Portugal/France, 2009)6.0
Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA, 2010)9.5
The Social Network (Fincher, USA, 2010)8.5
Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Italy/France, 2010)8.5
Another Year (Leigh, UK, 2010)8.1
The Ghost Writer (Polanski, Germany/France, 2010)8.0
The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010)6.8
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2010)6.6
Audrey the Trainwreck (Ross, USA, 2010)6.4
Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011)8.9
The Skin I Live In (Amodovar, Spain, 2011)8.6
Drive (Refn, USA, 2011)8.1
Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011)7.9
Midnight in Paris (Allen, USA/France, 2011)7.7
Le Havre (Kaurismaki, France/Finland, 2011)7.6
Mildred Pierce (Haynes, USA, 2011)7.5
This Is Not a Film (Panahi, Iran, 2011)7.1
Sleeping Sickness (Kohler, Germany, 2011)6.6
Twenty Cigarettes (Benning, USA, 2011)4.6
Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA, 2012)8.9
Frances Ha (Baumbach, USA, 2012)8.7
Silver Linings Playbook (Russell, USA, 2012)8.4
Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012)8.3
Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012)8.3
Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio, Italy, 2012)8.1
Barbara (Petzold, Germany, 2012)8.0
Empire Builder (Swanberg, USA, 2012)7.7
The Master (Anderson, USA, 2012)7.6
Cosmopolis (Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2012)7.0
The Unspeakable Act (Sallit, USA, 2012)6.9
A Fuckload of Scotch Tape (Grant, USA, 2012)6.8
Neighboring Sounds (Mendonca, Brazil, 2012)6.4
Tabu (Gomes, Portugal, 2012)6.0
Shoals (Bass, USA, 2012)5.7
Snowpiercer (Bong, S. Korea, 2013)9.4
Stoker (Park, USA, 2013)8.9
Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany, 2013)8.5
About Time (Curtis, UK, 2013)8.5
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, Japan, 2013)8.2
The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong/China, 2013)8.2
Top of the Lake (Campion/Davis, New Zealand, 2013)8.1
Upstream Color (Carruth, USA, 2013)8.1
Before Midnight (Linklater, USA, 2013)8.1
A Touch of Sin (Jia, China, 2013)7.9
The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, Japan, 2013)7.8
Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA, 2013)7.7
Under the Skin (Glazer, UK, 2013)7.3
Black Box (Cone, USA, 2013)7.2
Gloria (Lelio, Chile, 2013)7.2
Contracted (England, USA, 2013)7.0
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA, 2013)6.3
Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater (Klinger, USA, 2013)6.1
Stranger By the Lake (Guiraudie, France, 2013)5.7
The Girls on Liberty Street (Rangel, USA, 2013)5.5
Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014)9.4
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014)8.9
Actress (Greene, USA, 2014)8.3
Inherent Vice (Anderson, USA, 2014)8.3
Li’l Quinquin (Dumont, France, 2014)7.9
The Babadook (Kent, Australia, 2014)7.7
Goodbye to Language (Godard, France, 2014)7.6
Heaven Knows What (Safdie/Safdie, USA, 2014)7.5
Buzzard (Potrykus, USA, 2014)6.7
Wild Canaries (Levine, USA, 2014)6.3
Cool Apocalypse (Smith, USA, 2015)
Brooklyn (Crowley, UK, 2015)8.3
Thao’s Library (Van Meter, 2015)8.2
Mustang (Erguven, Turkey, 2015)8.2
Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong, S. Korea, 2015)8.1
Timbuktu (Sissako, Mauritania/Mali, 2015)7.6
Bloomin Mud Shuffle (Ross, USA, 2015)7.5
Tangerine (Baker, USA, 2015)7.5
Malaria (Shahbazi, Iran, 2016)8.8
The Wailing (Na, S. Korea, 2016)8.5
Donald Cried (Avedisian, USA, 2016)8.5
The Lost City of Z (Gray, USA/UK, 2016)7.9
Toni Erdmann (Ade, Germany, 2016)7.6
Aquarius (Mendonca, Brazil, 2016)6.6
Porto (Klinger, USA/Portugal, 2016)6.1
Mercury in Retrograde (Smith, USA, 2017)
Good Time (Safdie/Safdie, USA, 2017)8.6
Faces Places (Varda/JR, 2017)8.6
Signature Move (Reeder, USA, 2017)7.6
The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki, Finland, 2017)6.9
Rendezvous in Chicago (Smith, USA, 2018)
Burning (Lee, S. Korea, 2018)8.0
Madeline’s Madeline (Decker, USA, 2018)7.6
Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO (Felker, USA, 2018)7.0

The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Joni Mitchell: A Woman of Heart and Mind* (Lacy) – B+
2. Jimmy Carter: Rock and Roll President* (Wharton) – B
3. Mr. Klein* (Losey) – A
4. Odds Against Tomorrow* (Wise) – A-
5. The Lady Eve (Sturges) – A+
6. Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami) – A+
7. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen) – A-
8. I’m Not There (Haynes) – B
9. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Scorsese) – A+
10. Gun Crazy (Lewis) – A

Preliminary Thoughts on the Complete Films of Agnes Varda


The Criterion Collection’s recent Blu-ray release of the Complete Films of Agnes Varda is one of the most impressive home video box sets ever devoted to a single filmmaker. This mammoth set includes 21 feature films, 17 “official” shorts and a lengthy television miniseries (not to mention a Varda-directed made-for T.V. feature, the long-suppressed Nausicaa, and even more Varda-directed shorts among its many special features), the life’s work of a prolific director whose professional career spanned a whopping 65 years. The set makes the case that Varda, who has never gotten the full credit she is due as a filmmaker despite becoming a beloved icon of arthouse cinema in her later years, is one of the greatest artists to ever step behind a camera. Varda arguably founded the French New Wave when she made her first feature, the startlingly innovative La Pointe Court, in 1954, four years before Claude Chabrol supposedly accomplished the same feat with Le Beau Serge in 1958. And the winding path she pursued afterwards, first as a member of the “Left Bank” wing of the nouvelle vague (along with fellow cinematic titans Alain Resnais, Chris Marker and her husband, Jacques Demy), then as a fiercely independent filmmaker who always followed her own muse, was always exciting and edifying: From France to California to Iran, Varda made films wherever she pleased and about whatever subjects struck her fancy. After watching all 39 of her films, I can also now say that she never made a bad movie.

From a documentary short about the Black Panthers in 1968 to a magical-realist fable in which the then-100 year old cinema is personified by an old man played by Michel Piccoli in 1995, Varda’s filmography can also feel almost impossibly diverse in terms of subject matter and style. And yet binding together all of the disparate works collected in this box set is the sheer force of Varda’s winning personality. She always seemed genuinely curious about and sympathetic to the people who appeared in front of her camera – something that is especially true of “ordinary” people. In the segment devoted to Russia in her superb 2011 minisersies Here and There, for instance, Varda seems as interested in her working-class chauffeur as she does in the famous director Aleksandr Sokurov. Another through-line is her playful and humorous approach to film form. Varda’s painterly, always-meaningful use of color and her singular sense of composition and cutting frequently exhibit a sharp visual wit, a quality that is evident in everything from Coasting Along the Coast, a travelogue she was commissioned to make about the French Riviera at the dawn of her career, to her mature masterpiece (and the ostensibly dour) Vagabond in 1985. To be completely honest, her humor doesn’t always work for me. I find her sense of whimsy, manifested most explicitly in the more representational aspects of Lion’s Love (…and Lies), Jane B. par Agnes V. and One Hundred and One Nights, where actors self-consciously don exaggerated costumes and wigs and engage in “play acting,” to be a little grating.

But does any filmmaker who has made at least 10 narrative features and 10 documentary features have such a high batting average across both disciplines? I highly doubt it. Most of the time, when filmmakers known for their fiction work make non-fiction films, or vice-versa, they are merely dabbling. Varda’s friend Martin Scorsese has made some great documentaries, to be sure, but he will always be thought of and rightly celebrated primarily for his narrative work. By contrast, if one were to “disappear” all of Varda’s narrative films, she would still be considered a giant of the documentary form based on The Gleaners and I, Mur Murs, Daguerreotypes, Uncle Yanco and other films. And if, for some reason, Varda had never made any of those non-fiction works, she would still be considered a master of cinema because of extraordinary movies like Vagabond, Cleo from 5 to 7, Documenteur, Le Bonheur and more. Of course, it is somewhat counterproductive to think of her career in terms of “fiction vs. non-fiction” since part of Varda’s project from day one was to intertwine the two. La Pointe Court is essentially two movies in one: the (fictional) story of a disintegrating relationship told against the (documentary) backdrop of a rural fishing village. Later, Varda made the documentary Mur Murs about the public murals of Los Angeles, which she became fascinated by while making the fictional Documenteur; and the provocative narrative Kung-Fu Master! arose from the making of the non-fiction Jane B. par Agnes V. when the subject of the latter film, Jane Birkin, pitched a story idea to her director; Vagabond is a fiction feature that contains pseudo-documentary interview interludes. And so on.

It is probably impossible to do justice to the Complete Films of Agnes Varda in a review so soon after its release because the set is so elaborate it feels like it will take years before anyone reaches the bottom: almost every film is accompanied by a video introduction by Varda, even the shorts (in at least one instance her intro is longer than the film itself), and the features are contextualized by copious special features, many of which I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing. But suffice it to say that I could not recommend this set more highly. There have been few filmmakers in the history of cinema whose work has meant as much to me as Varda’s has. I saw my first film by her, The Young Girls Turn 25, at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1993 when I was an impressionable 18-year-old transplant from North Carolina and it was a life-changing experience. (You can hear the full story of that cinematic encounter on the first episode of my now-defunct podcast, the White City Cinema Radio Hour, where I discuss Varda’s career with critics Ben and Kat Sachs here.)  You can also read my interview with Agnes for Time Out Chicago, conducted in 2015 when she was in town for a retrospective of her film career and a photography exhibit/installation, “Photographs Get Moving (potatoes and shells too),” at the University of Chicago. Finally, you can read my obituary of her on this site from last year here. I loved her as a filmmaker and person and I couldn’t be happier that her complete works have been so lovingly preserved, collected and presented in this box set so that I can revisit them again and again in the future.

Below are my highly subjective rankings of all the features in the Complete Films of Agnes Varda. (Her work in the short-film format is also extremely important, and her best shorts are masterpieces, but they don’t lend themselves as easily to being ranked as the features do.)

Fiction Features

11. One Hundred and One Nights (1995) – B
10. Lions Love (…and Lies) (1969) – B
9. La Pointe Court (1954) – B+
8. The Creatures (1966) – B+
7. Jacquot de Nantes (1991) – A-
6. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977) – A-
5. Kung-Fu Master! (1988) – A
4. Le Bonheur (1965) – A
3. Documenteur (1981) – A+
2. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) – A+
1. Vagabond (1985) – A+

Non-Fiction Features

10. Varda by Agnes (2019) – B
9. Faces Places (2017) – B
8. Jane B. by Agnes V. (1988) – B
7. The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later (2002) – B+
6. The World of Jacques Demy (1995) – B+
5. The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993) – A-
4. The Beaches of Agnes (2008) – A-
3. Daguerreotypes (1975) – A
2. Mur Murs (1981)  – A
1. The Gleaners and I (2000) – A+


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Tesla* (Almereyda) – A-
2. Nausicaa* (Varda) – I’m unable to give this a rating as it was reconstructed from a battered workprint and therefore incomplete. But, like all of Agnes Varda’s films, it is worth seeing.
3. The Gleaners and I: Two Years Later* (Varda) B+
4. Jacquot de Nantes* (Varda) – A-
5. Kung-Fu Master!* (Varda) – A
6. Jane B. par Agnes V.* (Varda) – B
7. Les Creatures* (Varda) – B+
8. Relic* (James) – B
9. Daguerreotypes* (Varda) – A
10. The Narrow Margin* (Fleischer) – A-

* First-time watch

%d bloggers like this: