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Category Archives: Other Lists

The 40 Best Films of 1975 (on the Occasion of My 40th Birthday)

100_2797Sipping “Monty Python’s Holy Ale” while watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail

A couple of years ago, my wife and I bought a DVD box set of the first season of Saturday Night Live on a whim when we found it used for a ridiculously low price at Chicago’s Reckless Records. Aside from the greatness of its contents (the classic comedy sketches, the genius of two-time musical guest Leon Redbone, etc.) I became fascinated with the set simply because I knew the whole thing was filmed and broadcast live in 1975, the year of my birth. A wave of something like nostalgia for a time I can’t quite remember came over me: this is what the world had looked and sounded like when I entered it. I was immediately filled with the desire to watch as many films as I could from that year in order to better understand the culture into which I was born. The result of that years-long quest is this blog post, two days in advance of my 40th birthday, in which I have compiled a list of my 40 favorite movies of 1975 (each accompanied by a still and a two-sentence review). As you can see, it was a staggeringly great year for movies, one of the best ever. In fact, it’s almost comical how many excellent directors, spanning all six filmmaking continents, made landmark films in 1975.

Let’s start with Europe: in Germany, Fassbinder alone made four movies, and there were also important works from the filmmaking teams of Jean-Marie Straub/Danielle Huillet and Margharethe Von Trotta/Volker Schlondorff; in France, Jean-Luc Godard directed his best film of the decade, and he was joined by his New Wave compatriots Claude Chabrol, who made two superior genre movies, and Francois Truffaut (whose neo-“Tradition of Quality” epic The Story of Adele H. is not listed below); also from France, Marguerite Duras helmed her most acclaimed feature, an avant-garde feminist masterpiece that was mirrored by Chantal Akerman working in Belgium (is it a coincidence that both movies feature the same lead actress?); Russia is represented on the list by Andrei Tarkovsky and Eldar Ryazanov, whose efforts can be seen as representing the twin poles of Russian cinema (i.e., austere arthouse and commercial entertainment), respectively, and they’re joined by interloper Akira Kurosawa whose sojourn to the USSR earned him a Best Foreign Film Oscar. In Italy, Roberto Rossellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini directed their final films (both amazing) while Antonioni made his last masterpiece as an international co-production; and England is, happily, represented by Monty Python’s supreme comedy creation. Meanwhile, over in Africa, the great Ousmane Sembene directed one of his most lauded works. In Australia, Peter Weir made what many consider to be the best Australian movie of all time. South America is represented by the underrated Argentinian director Leopodo Torre Nilsson, as well as Raul Ruiz, who directed his first post-Chilean effort in France with a group of fellow exiles. Asia is represented by King Hu, Li Han-Hsiang and Kaneto Shindo, all working in different countries (in addition to the aforementioned Kurosawa), as well as a certain “curry western” from India that many would call the pinnacle of Bollywood. And in the U.S., the Maysles brothers made a controversial landmark documentary while the “New Hollywood” saw instant-classics from the likes of Arthur Penn, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet and Milos Forman. And this is to say nothing of important films from Angelopoulos, Bergman, Cukor, Kubrick, Wajda, etc.

I hope you enjoy my tour through the cinematic landscape of 1975, and I highly recommend conducting a similar cinematic excursion through the year of your own birth.

40. Like a Bird on the Wire (Fassbinder, Germany)

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This T.V. movie is essentially a filmed stage play of Fassinbder-favorite Brigitte Mira performing an autobiographical one-woman show. Fassbinder devotees really need to track this down just to see “Emmy” from Ali: Fear Eats the Soul singing a spirited rendition of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

39. Farewell, My Lovely (Richards, USA)

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Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novel adapted with greater faithfulness than Edward Dmytryk had done in 1944. While Dick Richards may not be a great director this movie had to happen even if it was decades late: Robert Mitchum and Philip Marlowe were an actor/character match made in tough-guy movie heaven.

38. The Magic Flute (Bergman, Sweden)

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Ingmar Bergman does Mozart for Swedish T.V. My favorite scene is the opening: a montage where close-ups of audience members’ faces, including those of Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann, are brilliantly intercut to the rhythm of the overture.

37. The Travelling Players (Angelopoulos, Greece)

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An itinerant theatrical troupe travels through Greece, literally, and through 20th-century history, symbolically, in Theo Angelopoulos’ four-hour magnum opus. While Angelopoulos’ epic long takes are extremely impressive as cinema, this is also, I must confess, a bit “white elephant arty” for my taste.

36. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, USA)

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Milos Forman was one of the guiding lights of the Czech New Wave before finding even greater fame in the New Hollywood of the ’70s with this celebrated adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel about the inhabitants of a mental hospital. I don’t think this deserved the bonanza of Oscars it received (the one-dimensional Nurse Ratched has always been problematic) but it’s hard to deny that Jack Nicholson was born to play the charismatic and rebellious R.P. McMurphy.

35. The Promised Land (Wajda, Poland)

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The most important Polish director to never leave Poland, Andrzej Wajda, created one of his most famous works with this anti-capitalist parable about three friends opening a textile mill in late-19th century Lodz. Although the insights into the corrupting power of money afforded by plot and characterization are familiar, this is brimming with fascinating social and historical detail from beginning to end.

34. Innocents with Dirty Hands (Chabrol, France)

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Yet another Claude Chabrol film about a murderous love triangle — this time with Romy Schneider as a beautiful housewife who enlists her young lover to help murder her abusive, drunken lout of a husband (Rod Steiger). Not Chabrol at his sharpest but still a delicious thriller that’s loaded with even more plot twists than usual.

33. Dialogues of the Exiled (Ruiz, Chile/France)

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Modeled on Brecht’s Conversations in Exile, this wry piece of political cinema was the first film made in exile by the great Chilean director Raul Ruiz following the CIA-backed military coup of Augusto Pinochet. It’s a modest, no-budget comedy consisting almost entirely of interior dialogue scenes of Chilean expatriates attempting to assimilate to their new existence as political refugees but it’s also a crucial document of the Chilean diaspora and essential viewing for Ruiz fans.

32. Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, USA)

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A crime drama based on a true story about a first-time robber (Al Pacino) attempting to hold up a bank in order to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation, Dog Day Afternoon contains so much of what is great about the American cinema of the 1970s: there’s location shooting in New York City, great performances by Method actors and, thanks to director Sidney Lumet, an emphasis on real human behavior above genre considerations.

31. Diary of the War of Pigs (Nilsson, Argentina)

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Leopoldo Torre Nilsson’s penultimate film is a fascinating quasi-sci-fi parable about growing old. The unsettling premise is that Argentina’s youth have formed marauding gangs who exterminate the country’s elderly after having become fed up with senior citizens who seem to be of no use and are merely living off of social security.

30. Fear of Fear (Fassbinder, Germany)

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Fassbinder heads into John Cassavetes territory with this study of a woman (Margit Carstenson) who, while suffering the pressures of being a housewife and mother, starts to come apart at the seams. This made-for-T.V. melodrama is beautifully written, directed and acted and features a handful of Leonard Cohen songs on the soundtrack to boot.

29. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pasolini, Italy)

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The great Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film is this controversial adaptation of a Marquis de Sade novel about hedonistic aristocrats taking a group of children to a castle and sexually abusing, torturing and killing them over a span of several months. Totally disgusting but necessarily so — as Salo arguably shows how fascism works better than any other single movie.

28. Pleasure Party (Chabrol, France)

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A man (screenwriter Paul Gegauff) in a long-term marriage insists to his wife that they be allowed to see other people but is then hypocritically consumed by jealousy when she follows his suggestion. The most disturbing film that Claude Chabrol ever made is also one of the most brutally honest critiques of the male ego ever committed to celluloid.

27. Cooley High (Schultz, USA)

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This terrific high school comedy — made in Chicago in 1975 but taking place in 1964 — is often referred to as the “black American Graffiti.” It’s so good that I wish American Graffiti were referred to as the “white Cooley High.”

26. Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (Shindo, Japan)

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Kenji Mizoguchi was, in my opinion, the greatest of all Japanese directors and here he gets a fitting tribute from another master, his compatriot Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba). One of the best documentaries about a film director, this is two-and-a-half hours long and chock-full of insightful interviews with many of Mizo’s closest collaborators.

25. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Von Trotta/Schlondorff, Germany)

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Margarethe Von Trotta and Volker Schlondorff (who were married at the time) co-wrote and co-directed this adaptation of Heinrich Boll’s novel, which ambitiously captures the turbulent political climate in Germany in the early-1970s. The titular character is a young woman (the excellent Angela Winkler) whose life becomes a living hell after she unknowingly has a one-night stand with a terrorist.

24. The Romantic Englishwoman (Losey, UK/France)

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Michael Caine is a blocked writer who practically throws his wife (Glenda Jackson) into the arms of another man in order to have something to write about. Director Joseph Losey, who gets my vote for the most underrated major filmmaker, keeps the notion of what is real and what is fiction tantalizingly in flux throughout.

23. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, USA/UK)

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Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s 19th-century novel about an Irish social climber in 18th-century England is full of wonderful cinematic conceits and almost surely looks more interesting today than when it first came out. On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the miscasting of Ryan O’Neal in the lead role.

22. Dersu Uzala (Kurosawa, Russia/Japan)

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The Russian government sends a surveyor on a mission into the wilds of Siberia where his survival ends up depending on his relationship with the title character, a local hunter of Asian descent. I’m not a strong “Kurosawa man” but it’s hard to deny that this film about humanity, friendship and changing times doesn’t touch on things deep and true.

21. Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven (Fassbinder, Germany)

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Incisive social critique from Fassbinder about a working-class woman (the great Brigitte Mira) being exploited by both the Communist party and the media in the wake of her husband’s tragic suicide. Part drama, part satire, 100% offbeat Fassbinderian awesomeness.

20. The Man Who Would Be King (Huston, USA/UK)

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John Huston made one of his very best films with this adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story about two British Army officers who establish themselves as deities in the Middle Eastern country of “Kafiristan” (where caucasians had previously been unknown). Michael Caine and Sean Connery are perfectly cast as the leads in an action-adventure buddy comedy with an unforgettable final scene that mines unexpectedly deep emotions.

19. The Empress Dowager (Li, Hong Kong)

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The Shaw Brothers are most famous in the West for the hundreds of martial arts films they cranked out between the late 1960s and the early 1980s but they made excellent films across all genres as this drama about intrigue in the imperial court at the end of the Qing Dynasty proves. Li Han-Hsiang directs an all-star cast that includes the brilliant Lisa Lu as the scheming title character, Ti Lung as her nephew to whom she has promised the throne, Ivy Ling Po as his wife and David Chiang as a eunuch.

18. Love Among the Ruins (Cukor, USA)

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Laurence Olivier said that working with Katharine Hepburn in this made-for-T.V. movie, the only time they acted together, was his “happiest professional experience.” Small wonder as both actors excel in a touching story about ex-lovers reunited after 40 years, which is beautifully staged by veteran director George Cukor as if nobody told him it was no longer 1940.

17. Sholay (Sippy, India)

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As a Bollywood agnostic, I was overawed by this legendary “curry western” about an ex-cop who hires two notorious but good-hearted thieves to hunt down the vicious bandit who massacred his family. Director Ramesh Shippy liberally borrows from Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Seven Samurai (or is it The Magnificent Seven?) in crafting an outrageous action/revenge epic with a uniquely Indian flavor.

16. Moses and Aaron (Straub/Huillet, Germany)

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Arnold Schoenberg’s notoriously difficult twelve-tone opera finds its ideal cinematic interpreters in Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet. The use of real, sparse desert locations lend a documentary-quality to the proceedings, and the simple but exquisitely calibrated camera pans provide the perfect minimalist visual correlative to Schoenberg’s austere score.

15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Gilliam/Jones, UK)

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The celebrated British comedy troupe Monty Python hit a career high with this ridiculous low-budget comedy about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their pursuit of the Holy Grail. Among the many silly but uproariously funny gags, I am inordinately fond of the killer rabbit.

14. Xala (Sembene, Senegal)

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The father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene, adapts his own novel about a Senegalese businessman who is stricken with impotence on the eve of his marriage to his third wife. Sembene is one of the all-time greats and this satirical portrait of chauvinism in corrupt, post-independent Senegal is one of his finest hours.

13. Grey Gardens (Maysles/Maysles, USA)

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David and Albert Maysles directed this landmark documentary portrait of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, an upper-class but eccentric mother/daughter duo (who also happen to be relatives of Jackie Kennedy) living in squalor in a rundown mansion in East Hampton, New York. Some critics accused the Maysles of “exploitation” due to the “grotesque” nature of their subjects but time has been very kind to this beautiful film, which, in the best verite fashion, allows two incredible characters to tell their story in their own words.

12. India Song (Duras, France)

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Novelist Marguerite Duras proved her directing chops with this avant-garde masterpiece about the wife of a French diplomat in India (Delphine Seyrig) drifting through a series of affairs. Featuring a provocative mixture of dialogue in voice-over with tableaux-like compositions, this has been accurately described as “so boring it’s sublime” (I’m also fond of pointing out that the climax is strangely reminiscent of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes — minus the singing and dancing).

11. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Weir, Australia)

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Picnic at Hanging Rock is a haunting, enigmatic film — often erroneously referred to as being based on actual events — about the disappearance of three female college students and a middle-aged teacher during a Valentine’s Day picnic in the year 1900. Like Antonioni in L’avventura, director Peter Weir refuses to provide a concrete explanation for the disappearance while simultaneously hinting at several possible interpretations (including a supernatural one).

10. Nashville (Altman, USA)

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I’m not one of the many who consider Nashville Robert Altman’s best film (it’s not for me at the level of McCabe and Mrs. Miller or The Long Goodbye) but there’s no denying its incredible filmmaking virtuosity as the great director freely crosscuts between dozens of characters and storylines over a few days in the title city. It’s a grand statement about America and Keith Carradine performs his killer self-penned tune “I’m Easy.”

9. Fox and His Friends (Fassbinder, Germany)

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The fourth(!) and final Fassbinder film on this list is a cynical, darkly comical tale of a gay working-class man who finds himself victimized by his new “friends” after winning the lottery. Fassbinder plays the lead role himself in this highly personal film, which deftly demonstrates the director’s profound understanding of human nature.

8. The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ryazanov, Russia)

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This feel-good, sentimental rom-com is paradoxically both Russian-to-the-bone and universal in its broad appeal: the screwball premise is that a shy doctor, soon to be engaged, goes binge-drinking with friends on New Year’s Eve and ends up passing out in an apartment in Leningrad that he mistakenly believes is his own Moscow apartment (it looks the same and even has the same street name and number). What starts off quite farcical (who knew that the uniformity of Brezhnev-era architecture could yield such comic gold?) slowly, almost imperceptibly, turns into a moving romantic drama.

7. The Messiah (Rossellini, Italy)

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The greatest of all Italian directors, Roberto Rossellini, fittingly ended his late didactic/”historical” phase (and indeed his entire career) with this Jesus biopic, the best such film after only Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew. This is as de-dramatized as anything in Bresson but Rossellini does go buck wild with the zoom lens (as was his wont at the time) in his final masterpiece.

6. Numero Deux (Godard, France)

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This cinematic essay about a contemporary French family, shot on both video and film, is Jean-Luc Godard’s finest work from his least-accessible period. The title can be seen as referring to shit, the status of women as second-class citizens in France, and the fact that Godard received financing for the film by sneakily telling his producer he was making a sequel to Breathless.

5. Night Moves (Penn, USA)

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Arthur Penn’s neo-noir, one of the best American films of the 1970s, stars Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby, an L.A. detective hired to find a runaway teenage girl (Melanie Griffith) in Florida. Nothing is what it seems in this pessimistic, European art-film influenced tale that positively reeks of its era in the best possible sense and which also gets better with every viewing.

4. The Valiant Ones (Hu, Taiwan/Hong Kong)

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During the Ming Dynasty, the emperor of China appoints a group of soldiers (and even a couple bandits) to defend the coast against invading Japanese pirates. King Hu is, for my money, the best Chinese director who ever lived and The Valiant Ones is the wuxia genre at its finest — as impressive for its brilliant cinematography and editing as for its fight choreography.

3. The Mirror (Tarkovsky, Russia)

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This daringly non-linear film shows Andrei Tarkovsky at his most abstract and autobiographical. Scenes based on his childhood memories are freely intercut with fantasy sequences and newsreels then overlaid with narration written by the director’s father to create a visual tone poem of the highest order.

2. The Passenger (Antonioni, Italy/Spain/France)

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Jack Nicholson is a journalist on assignment in war-torn Africa who decides to exchange identities with a dead man. Everything about Michelangelo Antonioni’s globe-hopping movie, the last truly great one he would make, is ambiguous, mysterious and haunting — qualities that reach an apex in the transcendental final tracking shot.

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman, Belgium)

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Chantal Akerman created the ultimate feminist film with this intimate epic, a formally exact and deliberately repetitive masterwork, about three days in the life of a single Belgian mother and part-time prostitute. I could watch Delphine Seyrig chop potatoes all day long.

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The Best of Leonard Cohen in the Movies

Yesterday marked the 80th birthday of Leonard Cohen (AKA the second greatest living songwriter in the English language). Since I have been in the habit of composing an annual Bob Dylan birthday post for the past four years, I thought I’d commemorate this occasion by listing my favorite instances of Cohen’s music in the movies. Enjoy.

“The Stranger Song,” “Sisters of Mercy” and “Winter Lady” in Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

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Robert Altman’s anti-capitalist/anti-western masterpiece stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie — both de-glammed to the point of being almost unrecognizable — as an odd couple who attempt an ill-fated get rich quick scheme of establishing a brothel in the middle of nowhere. The film is essentially a mood piece about the central location, a fledgling mining town named “Presbyterian Church,” rendered by Altman and D.P. Vilmos Zsigmond as a brown, hazy, membranous world of earthy/murky sights and sounds. The glue holding everything together is a suite of Leonard Cohen’s finest songs, all taken from his first album, each of which is associated with a particular character or group of characters: “The Stranger Song” is the theme of Beatty’s McCabe, “Winter Lady” is the theme of Christie’s Mrs. Miller, and “Sisters of Mercy” is associated with the prostitutes. The lyrics of the songs are so fitting, in fact, that it’s almost difficult to believe that they weren’t written expressly for this film, which feels in more ways than one like a precursor to Altman’s cult-classic musical Popeye. For setting tone, there is nothing quite like the opening credits here — with Beatty entering town on horseback while the titles slowly drift across the screen from right to left and Cohen’s monotone baritone intones, “It’s true that all the men you knew were dealers who said they were through with dealing every time you gave them shelter . . .”

“Chelsea Hotel #2” in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980)

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder was obsessed with Leonard Cohen. The invaluable Leonard Cohen Files website shows that the great German director featured the Canadian songwriter’s work in no less than six of his movies. I’ll pick the use of “Chelsea Hotel #2” in the final episode of Berlin Alexanderplatz as my favorite simply because that epic miniseries is my favorite of all Fassbinder’s achievements. The song’s presence is, of course, anachronistic because Fassbinder’s adaptation of Alfred Doblin’s novel takes place entirely in the pre-Nazi Weimar era. Nonetheless, Fassbinder’s bugfuck “epilogue,” the final hour of what is essentially a 15-and-a-half-hour movie, is basically the director’s daring, fever-dream meditation on Doblin’s plot, characters and themes (where the story’s psychosexual subtext is more explicitly spelled out — amidst the symbolic images of a boxing match, frolicking angels and nuclear explosions). As a bonus, this episode features Kraftwerk too!

“Avalanche” in Olivier Assayas’s Cold Water (1994)

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Maverick French director Olivier Assayas’s filmography can be broken fairly neatly into two categories: daring but not-always-successful genre mash-ups (e.g., Irma Vep, Boarding Gate, Demonlover, etc.) and more conventional, autobiographical character studies (e.g., Cold Water, Summer Hours, Something in the Air, etc.). One of the things that binds all of these disparate films together is Assayas’s always-deft use of pop music (especially from his own formative years of the 60s and early 70s). My favorite Assayas film is 1994’s Cold Water, an unsentimental re-imagining of the director’s own troubled teenaged years centering on his alter-ego “Gilles” (who would return in 2012’s Something in the Air) and his relationship with his girlfriend Christine. The highlight of Cold Water is a climactic party scene in which the protagonists smoke hash and dance around a bonfire to a stellar playlist of tunes including Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Around the Bend,” Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Avalanche,” the haunting track that kicks off Leonard Cohen’s great Songs of Love and Hate album.

“I’m Your Man” in Steve James’s Life Itself (2014)

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Although I wasn’t as enamored of Steve James’s adaptation of Roger Ebert’s memoir as a lot of critics, I can find no fault with his almost unbearably poignant use of “I’m Your Man,” the title track of Cohen’s remarkable 1988 comeback album. Ebert explains that the song literally saved his life when he and his wife Chaz lingered for a while in his hospital room to listen to it instead of leaving the hospital following jaw surgery. A blood vessel burst under Ebert’s chin mid-song and, because the Eberts were still in close proximity to doctors (and not, say, in a cab on the way home), the doctors were able to save his life. The fact that the song plays during a scene where Roger and Chaz tell the story allows the lyrics to have a parallel function as a testament to their love for each other: “If you want a boxer,” Cohen sings, “I’ll step into the ring for you / And if you want a doctor, I’ll examine every inch of you / If you want a driver, climb inside / Or if you want to take me for a ride / You know you can / I’m your man.”

“Take This Waltz” in Jean-Luc Godard’s Letter in Motion to Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux (2014)

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Like Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Godard has used the music of Leonard Cohen in multiple projects: the short Puissance de la parole, the mammoth video series Histoire(s) du Cinema and his most recent project Letter in Motion to Gilles Jacob and Thierry Fremaux, the “video letter” he sent to the Cannes Film Festival to explain why he could not be present in person to present his new movie Goodbye to Language. In the manner of much recent Godard, this cryptic short film features clips from the director’s own previous work (notably King Lear, which had scandalized the festival in 1987) intercut with punning title cards and clips of Godard speaking in the present day. The nearly nine-minute film ends with Godard saying: “So, I’m going where the wind blows me, just like autumn leaves as they blow away. Last year for example, I took the tramway, which is a metaphor, the metaphor and . . . to return, to return to pay my dues from 1968 at the Havana Bar . . . and now, I believe that the possibility of explaining things is the only excuse to fight with language . . . as always, I believe it’s not possible . . . this May 21st . . . this is no longer a film but a simple waltz, my president, to find the true balance with one’s near destiny.” Immediately upon saying “a simple waltz, my president,” Cohen’s sublime “Take This Waltz” (also from the I’m Your Man album) can be heard. This is then followed by a clip of Bob Dylan singing, “How long must I listen to the lies of prejudice?” from “When He Returns.” Poetry on top of poetry on top of poetry, folks.

Leonard Cohen’s new album, Popular Problems, drops on September 23rd. You can check out the video for his superb new song “Almost Like the Blues” via YouTube below:


My Student Tomato-Meter: 2014 Edition

Longtime readers of this blog know that every year around this time I post an 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. I’ve now taught 58 classes and shown a total of 237 unique movies over the past five-and-a-half years. Incredibly, I recently realized that I’ve shown at least one movie that was originally released during every single calendar year from 1920 through the present (boo-yah!). Below is a list of all the films I have screened to date, presented in chronological order by release date, along with the average ratings given by my students. Below that I’ve also included a list of the top 10 highest rated films. Enjoy!

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The list in chronological order:

The Golem (Wegener/Boese, Germany, 1920) – 6.0
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, Germany, 1920) – 6.5
The Phantom Carriage (Sjostrom, Sweden, 1921) – 7.3
Nosferatu (Murnau, Germany, 1922) – 6.5
Our Hospitality (Keaton, USA, 1923) – 8.3
Waxworks (Leni, Germany, 1924) – 5.1
The Hands of Orlac (Wiene, Germany, 1924) – 6.2
Sherlock Jr. (Keaton, USA, 1924) – 7.9
Battleship Potemkin (Eisenstein, Soviet Union, 1925) – 5.1
The Last Laugh (Murnau, Germany, 1925) – 7.3
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, USA, 1925) – 8.0
The Navigator (Keaton, 1925) – 8.1
Seven Chances (Keaton, USA, 1925) – 8.2
The Freshman (Newmeyer/Taylor, USA, 1925) – 8.3
Faust (Murnau, Germany, 1926) – 7.0
The General (Keaton, USA, 1926) – 8.5
The End of St. Petersburg (Pudovkin, Soviet Union, 1927) – 5.0
Metropolis (Lang, Germany, 1927) – 6.6
Sunrise (Murnau, USA, 1927) – 7.0
Lonesome (Fejos, USA, 1928) – 6.7
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, France, 1928) – 7.3
Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, Soviet Union, 1929) – 6.0
A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith, UK, 1929) – 8.3
Earth (Dovzhenko, Soviet Union, 1930) – 3.6
City Girl (Murnau, USA, 1930) – 6.5
L’age D’or (Bunuel, France, 1930) – 6.6
M (Lang, Germany, 1931) – 8.1
City Lights (Chaplin, USA, 1931) – 8.4
Vampyr (Dreyer, Denmark/Germany, 1932) – 6.9
Duck Soup (McCarey, USA, 1933) – 6.8
L’atalante (Vigo, France, 1934) – 6.7
Top Hat (Sandrich, USA, 1935) – 8.6
My Man Godfrey (La Cava, USA, 1936) – 8.5
Grand Illusion (Renoir, France, 1937) – 7.0
The Awful Truth (McCarey, USA, 1937) – 8.5
Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, USA, 1937) – 9.4
Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein, Soviet Union, 1938) – 5.0
Bringing Up Baby (Hawks, USA, 1938) – 8.3
The Rules of the Game (Renoir, France, 1939) – 7.1
Stagecoach (Ford, USA, 1939) – 7.7
The Roaring Twenties (Walsh, USA, 1939) – 8.4
The Shop Around the Corner (Lubitsch, USA, 1940) – 7.4
How Green Was My Valley (Ford, USA, 1941) – 6.8
The Lady Eve (Sturges, USA, 1941) – 8.3
Citizen Kane (Welles, USA, 1941) – 8.3
Cat People (Tourneur, USA, 1942) – 5.0
The Palm Beach Story (Sturges, USA, 1942) – 7.5
Casablanca (Curtiz, USA, 1942) – 7.6
Ossessione (Visconti, Italy, 1943) – 5.2
The More the Merrier (Stevens, USA, 1943) – 8.5
To Have and Have Not (Hawks, USA, 1944) – 7.5
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (Sturges, USA, 1944) – 8.0
Double Indemnity (Wilder, USA, 1944) – 8.1
Detour (Ulmer, USA, 1945) – 7.2
Rome, Open City (Rossellini, Italy, 1945) – 7.2
Brief Encounter (Lean, England, 1945) – 8.3
The Big Sleep (Hawks, USA, 1946) – 6.0
My Darling Clementine (Ford, USA, 1946) – 7.3
The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler, USA, 1946) – 8.4
Pursued (Walsh, USA, 1947) – 7.1
Out of the Past (Tourneur, USA, 1947) – 7.6
Body and Soul (Rossen, USA, 1947) – 7.6
The Lady from Shanghai (Welles, USA, 1947) – 7.9
Dead Reckoning (Cromwell, USA, 1947) – 8.2
Germany Year Zero (Rossellini, Italy/Germany, 1948) – 7.4
Fort Apache (Ford, USA, 1948) – 7.5
Bicycle Thieves (de Sica, Italy 1948) – 8.0
The Red Shoes (Powell/Pressburger, UK, 1948) – 8.3
Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, USA, 1948) – 8.8
The Third Man (Reed, UK, 1949) – 8.0
White Heat (Walsh, USA, 1949) – 8.3
A Letter to Three Wives (Mankiewicz, USA, 1949) – 8.4
Devil’s Doorway (Mann, USA, 1950) – 7.3
Los Olvidados (Bunuel, Mexico, 1950) – 7.5
The African Queen (Huston, 1951) – 8.3
Umberto D. (De Sica, Italy, 1952) – 6.8
Singin’ in the Rain (Donen/Kelly, USA, 1952) – 8.8
Ugetsu (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1953) – 6.7
Tokyo Story (Ozu, Japan, 1953) – 6.7
The Naked Spur (Mann, USA, 1953) – 7.0
Strangers on a Train (Strangers on a Train, USA, 1953) – 7.8
The Band Wagon (Minnelli, USA, 1953) – 8.0
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, France, 1953) – 8.1
Pickup on South Street (Fuller, USA, 1953) – 8.2
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, USA, 1953) – 8.3
Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi, Japan, 1954) – 7.0
Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, Japan, 1954) – 8.3
Rear Window (Hitchcock, USA, 1954) – 8.9
All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, USA, 1955) – 8.1
Pather Panchali (Ray, India, 1955) – 6.4
Aparajito (Ray, India, 1956) – 6.6
Bigger Than Life (N. Ray, USA, 1956) – 6.8
The Searchers (John Ford, USA, 1956) – 7.4
A Man Escaped (Bresson, France, 1956) – 8.0
An Affair to Remember (McCarey, USA, 1957) – 8.7
Touch of Evil (Welles, USA, 1958) – 7.7
Some Came Running (Minnelli, USA, 1958) – 7.7
Vertigo (Hitchcock, USA, 1958) – 8.9
Hiroshima Mon Amour (Resnais, France, 1959) – 6.8
Pickpocket (Bresson, France, 1959) – 7.3
Rio Bravo (Hawks, USA, 1959) – 8.0
North By Northwest (Hitchcock, USA, 1959) – 8.6
The 400 Blows (Truffaut, France, 1959) – 8.8
Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959) – 9.2
L’avventura (Antonioni, Italy, 1960) – 7.4
Breathless (Godard, France, 1960) – 7.8
Les Bonnes Femmes (Chabrol, France, 1960) – 8.0
Psycho (Hitchcock, USA, 1960) – 8.8
Viridiana (Bunuel, Spain, 1961) – 5.8
Last Year at Marienbad (Resnais, France, 1961) – 6.8
Le Doulos (Melville, France, 1962) – 7.1
Vivre sa Vie (Godard, France, 1962) – 7.2
Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, France, 1962) – 7.4
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Ford, USA, 1962) – 8.3
8 1/2 (Fellini, Italy, 1963) – 6.5
Black Sabbath (Bava, Italy, 1963) – 7.1
Contempt (Godard, France, 1963) – 8.3
Shock Corridor (Fuller, USA, 1963) – 8.4
Onibaba (Shindo, Japan, 1964) – 8.0
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy, France, 1964) – 8.2
Alphaville (Godard, France, 1965) – 6.0
Pierrot le Fou (Godard, France, 1965) – 8.3
The Pornographers (Imamura, Japan, 1966) – 6.9
Point Blank (Boorman, USA, 1966) – 7.0
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Leone, Italy, 1966) – 8.8
David Holzman’s Diary (McBride, USA, 1967) – 6.9
Le Samourai (Melville, France, 1967) – 8.0
Play Time (Tati, France, 1967) – 8.2
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, USA, 1968) – 7.6
My Night at Maud’s (Rohmer, France, 1969) – 7.8
The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, USA, 1969) – 8.1
Le Boucher (Chabrol, France, 1970) – 7.5
Minnie and Moskowitz (Cassavetes, USA, 1971) – 5.2
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, USA, 1971) – 7.0
Two-Lane Blacktop (Hellman, USA, 1971) – 7.7
A New Leaf (May, USA, 1971) – 8.0
Solaris (Tarkovsky, Russia, 1972) – 6.9
Love in the Afternoon (Rohmer, France, 1972) – 8.6
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, Germany, 1973) – 7.1
The Mother and the Whore (Eustache, France, 1973) – 7.4
Badlands (Malick, 1973) – 7.6
The Long Goodbye (Altman, USA, 1973) – 7.8
Young Frankenstein (Brooks, USA, 1974) – 7.6
Black Christmas (Clark, Canada, 1974) – 8.2
Chinatown (Polanski, USA, 1974) – 8.2
Blazing Saddles (Brooks, USA, 1974) – 8.4
Night Moves (Penn, USA, 1975) – 8.1
The Irony of Fate: Or Enjoy Your Bath! (Ryazanov, Russia, 1975) – 8.5
Mikey and Nicky (May, USA, 1976) – 6.4
Taxi Driver (Scorsese, USA, 1976) – 8.8
One Way Boogie Woogie (Benning, USA, 1977) – 3.4
Annie Hall (Allen, USA, 1977) – 6.6
Days of Heaven (Malick, USA, 1978) – 7.3
Killer of Sheep (Burnett, USA, 1979) – 7.8
Popeye (Altman, USA, 1980) – 5.2
Raging Bull (Scorsese, USA, 1980) – 8.3
The Road Warrior (Miller, Australia, 1981) – 7.4
Rock in Reykjavik (Fridriksson, Iceland, 1982) – 6.3
The Slumber Party Massacre (Jones, USA, 1982) – 6.8
Blade Runner (Scott, USA, 1982) – 7.6
The Thing (Carpenter, USA, 1982) – 8.3
Sans Soleil (Marker, France, 1983) – 6.2
Stranger Than Paradise (Jarmusch, USA, 1984) – 6.2
After Hours (Scorsese, USA, 1985) – 6.7
Bad Blood (Carax, France, 1986) – 7.1
The Dead (Huston, USA/UK, 1987) – 7.8
The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1988) – 7.8
A Short Film About Love (Kieslowski, Poland, 1988) – 8.4
Drugstore Cowboy (Van Sant, USA, 1989) – 8.2
Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990) – 9.2
Close-Up (Kiarostami, Iran, 1991) – 7.6
The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax, France, 1991) – 8.0
The Player (Altman, USA, 1992) – 8.1
Unforgiven (Eastwood, USA, 1992) – 8.6
Deep Cover (Duke, USA, 1992) – 8.9
The Bride With White Hair (Yu, Hong Kong, 1993) – 5.1
Naked (Leigh, UK, 1993) – 6.3
Groundhog Day (Ramis, USA, 1993) – 8.1
Dazed and Confused (Linklater, USA, 1993) – 8.2
Menace II Society (Hughes/Hughes, USA, 1993) – 8.2
The Piano (Campion, New Zealand, 1993) – 8.6
Ed Wood (Burton, USA, 1994) – 6.8
Chungking Express (Wong, Hong Kong, 1994) – 7.9
Dead Man (Jarmsuch, USA, 1995) – 8.1
A Moment of Innocence (Makhmalbaf, Iran, 1996) – 5.8
The Mirror (Panahi, Iran, 1997) – 5.1
The Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, Iran, 1997) – 7.2
L.A. Confidential (Hanson, USA, 1997) – 9.0
The Bird People in China (Miike, Japan, 1998) – 6.6
Beau Travail (Denis, France/Djibouti, 1999) – 5.4
Nowhere to Hide (Lee, S. Korea, 1999) – 7.5
Audition (Miike, Japan, 1999) – 7.6
Ravenous (Bird, UK/USA, 1999) – 8.0
Needing You (To/Wai, Hong Kong, 2000) – 7.1
In the Mood for Love (Wong, Hong Kong, 2000) – 7.4
The Day I Became a Woman (Meshkini, Iran, 2000) – 7.5
Failan (Song, S. Korea, 2000) – 8.0
Dancer in the Dark (Von Trier, Denmark/Sweden, 2000) – 8.1
Yi Yi (Yang, Taiwan, 2000) – 8.4
JSA: Joint Security Area (Park, S. Korea, 2000) – 8.4
Avalon (Oshii, Japan/Poland, 2001) 7 .8
Mulholland Drive (Lynch, USA, 2001) – 8.3
The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, Spain/Mexico, 2001) – 8.6
Far From Heaven (Haynes, USA, 2002) – 7.6
Infernal Affairs (Lau/Mak, Hong Kong, 2002) – 7.8
The Tracker (De Heer, Australia, 2002) – 7.9
Save the Green Planet (Jang, S. Korea, 2003) – 7.0
Oldboy (Park, S. Korea, 2003) – 8.6
Memories of Murder (Bong, S. Korea, 2003) – 8.8
Dumplings (Chan, Hong Kong, 2004) – 6.4
The Island of Black Mor (Laguionie, France, 2004) – 8.1
Moolade (Sembene, Senegal, 2004) – 8.2
3-Iron (Kim, S. Korea, 2004) – 8.8
Before Sunset (Linklater, USA/France, 2004) – 9.1
The Proposition (Hillcoat, Australia, 2005) – 8.1
Grizzly Man (Herzog, USA, 2005) – 8.1
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 2005) – 9.1
A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, USA, 2006) – 8.0
Offside (Panahi, Iran, 2006) – 8.1
Once (Carney, UK, 2006) – 8.8
The Host (Bong, S. Korea, 2006) 8.9
Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007) – 9.1
The Headless Woman (Martel, Argentina, 2008) – 6.1
Me and Orson Welles (Linklater, USA, 2008) – 7.9
The House of the Devil (West, USA, 2009) – 8.1
The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010) – 6.8
The Social Network (Fincher, USA, 2010) – 8.5
Sleeping Sickness (Kohler, Germany, 2011) – 6.6
Drive (Refn, USA, 2011) – 8.1
Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012) – 8.6
Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012) – 9.4
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA, 2013) – 6.3
Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA, 2013) – 7.7
Before Midnight (Linklater, USA, 2013) – 7.8
Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany, 2013) – 9.2
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 8.9
Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014) – 9.8

A countdown of the top 10 highest ranked films:

10. L.A. Confidential (Hanson, USA, 1997) – 9.0
9. Zodiac (Fincher, USA, 2007) – 9.1
8. Before Sunset (Linklater, USA/France, 2004) – 9.1
7. A History of Violence (Cronenberg, Canada/USA, 2005) – 9.1
6. Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany, 2013) – 9.2
5. Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990) – 9.2
4. Some Like It Hot (Wilder, USA, 1959) – 9.2
3. Only Angels Have Wings (Hawks, USA, 1937) – 9.4
2. Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012) – 9.4
1. Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014) – 9.8

boyhood


CIFF 2014: 12 Most Wanted

Here are a dozen of the titles I’d most like to see turn up at the 50th(!) Chicago International Film Festival in October. Even if you don’t know or care anything about the Chicago International Film Festival, consider this a handy guide to a bunch of exciting-looking-and-sounding movies that should hopefully be turning up soon at a theater near you. All but the Alain Resnais and the Pedro Costa films played this past May at Cannes, which struck me as having an unusually strong lineup, or at least an unusually strong lineup of movies by directors I admire.

Bird People (Pascale Ferran, France)

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One of my favorite French films of the 21st century is the adaptation of the second (and more obscure) version of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley made by Pascale Ferran, a female director about whom I know virtually nothing. Her latest, Bird People, got high marks from critics when it screened in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes. It’s an intriguing-sounding comedy about an American businessman (The Good Wife’s Josh Charles) on a 24-hour layover in Paris. The entire film apparently takes place in Charles de Gaulle airport and a nearby Hilton Hotel. This is not a prequel to Takashi Miike’s excellent Bird People in China.

Charlie’s Country (Rolf De Heer, Australia)

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This is the third part of a trilogy of films by Dutch-born Australian filmmaker Rolf de Heer. The first two parts include a folkloric meditation on Aboriginal characters in Australia’s pre-colonial past (Twelve Canoes) and a powerful study of the conflict between European settlers and Aboriginal characters in the outback during the early 20th century (The Tracker). Charlie’s Country, like its predecessors, also stars David Gulpilil (who co-wrote the script and won the best actor award in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes), but tackles issues of racism and the legacy of colonialism from the vantage point of the present.

Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, France/USA)

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An aging actress (Juliette Binoche) performs in a play that made her a star 20 years previously — only in a part supporting that of the main character who is now incarnated by an up-and-coming actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) reminiscent of her younger self. This sounds an awful lot like All About Eve to me but early critical notices have compared this to meta films like Persona. Writer/director Olivier Assayas has always been good with actors and in addition to the exciting prospect of seeing him reteam with Binoche (after the sublime Summer Hours), this also promises to be something of a breakthrough for Kristen Stewart, who plays a personal assistant to Binoche’s character.

Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France)

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The single movie I most want to see play at CIFF is Jean-Luc Godard’s latest (and, some have whispered, last) feature — a 3-D essay that has something to do with a talking dog and the conflict between a married couple. Goodbye to Language was given a rock-star’s welcome at Cannes — in spite of the fact that the 83-year-old director didn’t attend — and generated more positive reviews than usual (many of which marveled at Godard’s use of 3-D technology) for one of the world’s most divisive filmmakers. Still, in spite of the praise, in spite of the Cannes Jury Prize, in spite of the fact that 20th Century friggin’ Fox picked up distribution rights, the question arises: will Chicagoans ever have the chance to see this in 3-D, the way it was intended to be seen? None of the Chicago venues that have screened Godard’s latest works in the past 20 years (Facets, the Music Box, the Siskel Center, etc.) are equipped to show movies in 3-D. If CIFF doesn’t scoop this up, it will be a tragedy for local cinephiles.

Horse Money (Pedro Costa, Portugal)

horse

The great Portuguese director Pedro Costa returns to narrative filmmaking (or at least docu-fiction) for the first time in nearly a decade with this continuation of his celebrated Fontainhas trilogy (are you ready to upgrade that box-set, Criterion — preferably to Blu-ray?). This film, which recently snagged Costa the Best Director prize at the Locarno Film Festival, has something to do with Ventura, the elderly Cape Verdean-immigrant protagonist of Costa’s Colossal Youth from 2006, wandering around a hospital and the ruins of the former slum where he used to live (the destruction of which was documented in 2000’s superb In Vanda’s Room). In Colossal Youth, Ventura was a non-actor essentially playing himself but part of what made that film so fascinating was Costa’s insistence on lighting and framing his physiognomy so that he resembled Woody Strode in John Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge. I can’t wait to see what Costa does with actor and character here. Intriguingly, Variety said this was “less overtly difficult” and even more “striking” than Costa’s other Fontainhas missives.

Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina)

jauja

Argentinian director Lisandro Alonso burst onto the international scene with his formidable 2004 experimental/narrative hybrid film Los Muertos. His penchant for long takes, minimal dialogue and narrative ambiguity made his work destined for the condescending “slow cinema” tag. Yet the fact that his latest stars Viggo Mortensen (a fine actor and a bona fide movie star) also caused some speculation that the result might be some sort of sell-out. Fortunately, advance word from Cannes has pegged this movie — about a father and daughter journeying to an “unknown desert that exists in a realm beyond the confines of civilization” as nothing other than a typically spellbinding Lisandro Alonso film.

Life of Riley (Alain Resnais, France)

life

Alain Resnais’s final film, another in a series of Alan Ayckbourn adaptations, racked up accolades and a couple of prizes when it premiered in Berlin in February. Less than a month later, its creator — one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers — had passed away at the age of 91. Since this theater-set tale is centered on a protagonist who only has a few months left to live, it will be hard not to view it as something like a last testament, although one should remember that this would have been true of many of Resnais’s films (including such death-haunted masterworks as Love Unto Death and You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet). This stars the inevitable Sabine Azema, Resnais’s frizzy-haired wife and muse, who has been his regular leading lady for decades.

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, Canada/USA)

maps

Like all “late Cronenberg,” Maps to the Stars has typically divided critics, but it has its share of ardent supporters, and the premise (a dark satire of a stereotypical Hollywood family that also marks the first time the director ever set down a tripod on U.S. soil) is irresistible. The impressive cast includes Robert Pattinson, Carrie Fisher, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams and Julianne Moore, the last of whom nabbed the Best Actress trophy at Cannes for playing an unhinged actress. If this turns up at CIFF, it will likely only be as a “special gala presentation.”

Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, UK)

turner

Mike Leigh is England’s greatest living filmmaker and Mr. Turner, his first film since 2010’s superb Another Year, sounds like another winner. A dream project of Leigh’s for many years, this biopic of 19th English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) supposedly investigates the artistic process against a richly detailed historical backdrop in a manner similar to Topsy-Turvy, one of the director’s masterpieces. Spall won Best Actor at Cannes for what has been described as a towering performance. He’s always been a superb character actor and I look forward to seeing what he can do in a leading role.

Mommy (Xavier Dolan, Canada)

mommy

A lot of commentators thought this Canadian melodrama had the Palm d’Or sewn up after it premiered at Cannes but, come awards night, writer/director Xavier Dolan found himself “only” sharing third place with Jean-Luc Godard. That’s probably for the best because, at 25-years-old, Dolan’s best work surely lies ahead of him. Dolan makes stylistically and emotionally brash films that have earned him comparisons to everyone from Godard to Pedro Almodovar to Wong Kar-Wai. Many feel that this character study, which focuses on a single mother, her delinquent teenage son and a mousy neighbor, is Dolan’s most assured work to date. As an admirer of the director’s first three films, that makes me eager to check this out.

Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mali)

timbuktu

Bamako, Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s previous film, was a complex, heady, experimental, and all-around disturbing indictment of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This belated follow-up, about jihadists taking over a rural town in norther Mali, didn’t win any awards when it debuted at Cannes but was considered by some to be the very best film in the Official Competition. The Variety review called it “a stunningly shot condemnation of intolerance and its annihilation of diversity, told in a way that clearly denounces without resorting to cardboard perpetrators.” Given the singular brand of political filmmaking on display in Bamako, this sounds, at the very least, like a provocative ride.

Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)

winter

As someone who admired each of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s four previous features but felt that he really made a quantum leap with the last one (2011’s masterful Once Upon a Time in Anatolia), I couldn’t be more excited about this three-hour-plus, Palm d’Or-snatching follow-up. The plot concerns an actor-turned-hotel owner and his tempestuous relationships with his young wife and recently divorced sister. Expect a slow pace, impeccable cinematography (a former photographer, Ceylan has arguably the best compositional eye in contemporary cinema) and lots and lots of psychodrama.


Ten Random Observations About Citizen Kane

kane

Citizen Kane is the movie I have seen more than any other. I have shown it well over 30 times in the past 5 years that I have been teaching film studies classes at the college level, and this is in addition to the dozens of times I watched it previously — in every conceivable format — going back to when I saw it for the first time on VHS at the age of 12. I would estimate I’ve now seen it more than 60 times, a number that will only increase exponentially as I continue to teach it over time. (I once tried teaching an “Intro to Film” class without screening it and it didn’t feel right; it was like teaching a class on the history of rock and roll and not discussing Elvis.)

Anyway, after watching a movie so many times, you begin to notice all kinds of funny things. Small things. Things that nobody would notice after only a few viewings. There are certain tiny details in the movie that you grow to appreciate and look forward to seeing with each successive viewing. Conversely, there are also certain aspects of the movie that you grow to dislike. This post is nothing but a collection of random and, I hope, amusing observations about Citizen Kane from a man who has, by any objective standard, viewed it too many times.

citizen-kane3

1. Agnes Moorehead, who plays Mrs. Kane (Charlie’s mother) only appears in three shots in the entire movie. I’ve always noticed how the shots in which she appears are “long takes” but I never bothered to actually count them until recently. I was astonished to find that her scene consists of so few shots because her character is so important and makes such a big impression that it seems like she’s in many more shots than she is — and that her screen time is greater than it is.

2. Agnes Moorehead gives my favorite performance in the film. Like most of the rest of the cast, she was a theatrical actress making her motion-picture debut and, while one tends to think of theatrical acting as “broad” (since stage performers have to play to the proverbial “cheap seats”), her performance is the most naturalistic in the film. The best moment is when she says, in close-up, “I’ve got his trunk all packed. I’ve had it packed for a week now.” Her face betrays no emotion when she says this. Her line reading is almost entirely flat and neutral, and yet her voice becomes breathy and just the tiniest bit higher-pitched on the words “week now,” which indicates that her character is heartbroken at having to send her son away.

3. My least favorite line of dialogue, by a wide margin, is: “I’ve got to make the New York Inquirer as important to New York as the gas in that light.” Charles Foster Kane says this to his colleagues Bernstein and Leland after staying up all night preparing his first edition of the newspaper as its editor. He concludes the line by turning off the gaslight. This annoys me to no end because it’s the kind of “period dialogue” that nobody would ever actually say. Kane might as well have added, “It sure is great owning a newspaper in the 1890s!”

4. One of the funniest moments in the film is one I didn’t notice at all until I had seen it many times. When Kane gives his “Declaration of Principles” to Solly, the copy boy, and asks him to run it on the front page, Solly is smiling and seems bemused at having to “remake” the front page again at Kane’s insistence. Then, when Leland asks Solly to bring him the declaration after he’s done with it (because Leland feels it will become an historically important document), Solly turns to leave and visibly rolls his eyes. The implication is that Solly likes Kane but not Leland. Ever since noticing it for the first time, it’s a moment that never fails to make me laugh.

5. My favorite bit of acting from Orson Welles comes during his gubernatorial campaign speech, specifically the line, “I would make my promises now . . . if I weren’t too busy arranging to keep them!” The way Welles leans into the crowd, ingratiatingly smiling and nodding, as he delivers the “punchline” after the pregnant pause absolutely nails a very specific kind of obnoxious self-satisfaction and entitlement.

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6. There is one line in the film that is awkwardly dubbed, I suspect for censorship reasons. “Boss” Jim Gettys summons Kane and his wife to the home of Kane’s mistress, Susan Alexander, in the hopes of blackmailing his rival into quitting his gubernatorial campaign. At one point in the middle of a lengthy shot, Gettys says, “We got evidence that’ll look bad in the headlines. Do you want me to give you the evidence, Mr. Kane?” The first of these sentences was clearly overdubbed by Ray Collins, the actor playing Gettys, in post-production and it is obvious that the line he spoke on set was something completely different. If anyone knows what he originally said, and why the line was changed, please let me know!

7. Joseph Cotten is terrific as the young and middle-aged Jedediah Leland but not so good as the elderly Leland. I’m really not sure if this is a problem with Cotten’s acting or with the way his scenes were written and/or directed but the continuity of his character makes no sense to me. I understand that time slows some people down but how does the urbane and sophisticated Leland end up in a nursing home speaking with an exaggerated southern drawl? I’ve entertained the thought that perhaps Leland is putting on an “act” for Thompson, the reporter interviewing him: he does, after all, pretend to forget the name of Xanadu, Kane’s palatial estate. But Roger Ebert notes on the Blu-ray/DVD commentary track that Cotten was unhappy with his old-age makeup, which he felt had been rushed (is that why he’s wearing a visor?). I think it’s more likely that Cotten’s dissatisfaction with his make-up is somehow responsible for his less-than-stellar performance in the scene.

8. A great bit of non-verbal acting in this same scene: when Leland asks Thompson to bring him cigars wrapped up to “look like toothpaste or something,” the nurse who’s closest to Leland turns and shoots a knowing look at the other nurse present. Assuming Thompson does arrange for a delivery of cigars, there’s no way his package is making it past the hospital’s front desk.

9. Everything that Fortunio Bonanova (the actor who plays Matiste, the singing coach) says and does is hilarious.

10. Towards the end of the film, Susan is working on a jigsaw puzzle on the floor of a cavernous room in Xanadu. She asks Kane what time it is. He responds “Half past eleven.” She clarifies, “I mean in New York?” He responds, “Half past eleven.” Does this grown woman really not know that Florida and New York are in the same time zone?

Bonus track: Ever since becoming a teacher, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the notorious, screeching “eyeless” cockatoo. It never fails to wake up sleeping students:


The Best Films of 2014: A Midyear Report

2014 has been an uncommonly good year for the movies. Let me rephrase that: 2014 has been an uncommonly good year to live in Chicago and see the local premieres of great films from around the globe (some of which premiered elsewhere last year). Now that the year is exactly half-way over, I thought it might be interesting to post a mid-year movie report card — taking stock of my favorite films of 2014 thus far. This list of my top 10 favorite new movies from the past six months is more impressive than a lot of the lists I’ve made of my 10 favorite films from entire calendar years in the recent past (and keep in mind that I’m disqualifying films that recently received their first theatrical run here — like Stranger By the Lake and The Immigrant — that I caught at festivals last year). Each title is accompanied by a still and a quote from my original review, as well as a link to said review where applicable. Enjoy!

10. Pretty Butterflies (Mereu, Italy) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 8.3

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“By focusing on pre-adolescent characters who have had to grow up too fast, Mereu illustrates how the world can be a terrible and scary place; and yet, because the friendship between Cate and Luna is so tight, and because they seem so indomitable as characters, this movie is also gratifyingly full of unexpected humor and warmth”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/03/10/2014-european-union-film-festival-pt-2/

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA/Germany) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.4

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“This moral-clarity-in-the-midst-of-screwball-chaos is finally what makes The Grand Budapest Hotel a worthy heir to the films of the great Ernst Lubitsch, its most important cinematic precedents”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/04/07/odds-and-ends-the-grand-budapest-hotel-and-chicago-to-conjure-a-lost-neighborhood/

8. Gloria (Lelio, Chile) – Landmark. Rating: 8.5

gloria2

“Like Cassavetes, Lelio trains a patient camera eye on his lead character and audaciously resists taking easy emotional shortcuts”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/02/24/now-playing-gloria-2/

7. Journey to the West (Tsai, France/Taiwan) – Streaming. Rating: 8.6

journey

“Regardless of how you interpret it, what’s not in dispute is the film’s extreme formal beauty (the shot of the monk, surrounded by what looks like a red halo created by his robe, walking down a flight of subway stairs is astonishing), as well as its unexpected, ineffable sense of humor”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/03/21/odds-and-ends-journey-to-the-west-and-the-men-of-dodge-city/

6. Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA) – Facets. Rating: 8.7

jimmyp

Jimmy P. is a genuinely optimistic movie that never resorts to sentimentality and that’s a very rare thing indeed”: https://michaelgloversmith.wordpress.com/?p=20006&preview=true

5./4. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany/UK) – Landmark. Rating: 9.0

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“Among its many virtues, intellectual as well as visceral, Nymphomaniac is frequently hilarious”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/04/14/now-playing-nymphomaniac-volumes-one-and-two/

3. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Rivers/Russell, Estonia) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 9.1

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“The viewer’s immersion in the music during this climactic scene is total — to witness it is to feel that one has jumped into the abyss”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/03/10/2014-european-union-film-festival-pt-2/

2. The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, Germany) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 9.4

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“Like a miniature version of Jacques Tati’s Playtime, however, this movie is really about space and time, order and chaos, images and sounds, and the relationships between people and objects:” https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/03/10/2014-european-union-film-festival-pt-1/

1. Under the Skin (Glazer, UK) – Landmark. Rating: 9.6

undertheskin2

“It’s a visionary work of art in its own right that doesn’t look or sound like anything other than a ‘Jonathan Glazer movie,’ and that should be higher praise than comparing it to motion pictures by great directors from the past”: https://whitecitycinema.com/2014/04/21/now-playing-under-the-skin/

Runners-up:

11. The Rover (Michod, Australia, 2014) – Century 12. Rating: 8.2
12. Metalhead (Bragason, Iceland, 2013) – Chicago International Movies and Music Fest. Rating: 8.0
13. The Longest Distance (Pinto, Venezuela, 2013) – 8.0
14. The World of Goopi and Bagha (Ranade, India, 2013) – 7.9
15. Anina (Soderguit, Uruguay, 2013) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 7.9
16. All the Women (Barrioso, Spain) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 7.8
17. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA, 2013) – Century 12. Rating: 7.7
18. Beneath the Harvest Sky (Gaudet/Pullapilly, USA, 2013) Rating: 7.6
19. What Now? Remind Me (Pinto, Portugal) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 7.5
20. Those Happy Years (Luchetti, Italy) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 7.5

Special mention for a short: Kevin B. Lee’s Transformers: The Premake, a pounding and vibrant 25-minute essay film, is available to watch in its entirety here.


CIFF ’13: 13 Most Wanted

Here are a baker’s dozen of the titles I’d most like to see turn up at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. I actually compiled this list before the release a couple weeks ago of CIFF’s “Sneak Preview” confirming that Blue is the Warmest Color will indeed receive its Chicago premiere at the Fest. I also forgot that the Jarmusch movie has no chance in hell of making the cut because it’s being released by Sony Pictures Classics, a distributor with a long track record of pointedly not submitting their films to CIFF. But whatever. Even if you don’t know or care anything about the Chicago International Film Festival, consider this a handy guide to a bunch of exciting-looking movies that should hopefully be turning up soon at a theater near you. I’m including links to trailers or clips wherever possible.

Bastards (Denis)

Early reaction to Claire Denis’ latest has been typically divisive but fans of the grand dame of French art cinema have reasons to set expectations high: this stars Michel Subor (who also starred in my two favorite Denis films: Beau Travail and The Intruder) as a sleazy businessman who somehow brings a middle-class family to ruin. More importantly, it has been described as Denis at her grimmest — as well as her most puzzle-like and elliptical. As someone who thinks Denis’ greatest strengths arise from the abstract alchemy she works in collaboration with cinematographer Agnes Godard and composer Stuart Staples, that is music to my ears.

Blind Detective (To, Hong Kong)

The Cannes premiere of Johnnie To’s latest seemed to provoke predominantly quizzical reactions from critics, many of whom condescendingly assumed that its more delirious elements were specifically designed to go over well with Hong Kong audiences. But for fans (who truly span the globe) of the world’s greatest genre filmmaker, this sounds like Johnnie To heaven: it reunites Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng (who first teamed up in To’s Needing You way back in 2000), the former as the title character who comes out of retirement to help solve a cold case. There’s also supposedly slapstick comedy, grisly murders, mystery, romance, cannibalism and “food porn.” Who wouldn’t want to see this?

Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche, France)

I’m still not sure how I feel about Abdellatif Kechiche, the talented Tunisian-born French filmmaker whose latest, a controversial coming-of-age lesbian love story, took Cannes by storm. I like the way he plays with narrative structure: there are scenes in his highly regarded The Secret of the Grain that are “too long” that eventually take on a kind of hypnotic quality (a scene of an extended family eating together, a climactic belly dance) and yet, aesthetically, he also indulges in an overuse of close-ups and a sub-Dardennes style of shaky-cam realism that feels uninspired. If nothing else, Blue is the Warmest Color should be worth seeing for the performances of the lead actresses, who, in an unprecedented move, were asked to share the Palme d’Or with their director by the Steven Spielberg-led Cannes jury.

Closed Curtain (Panahi/Partovi, Iran)

Incredibly, this is Jafar Panahi’s second film to be clandestinely made and smuggled out of Iran since the director was placed under house arrest in 2010 and banned from making films for 20 years. The first, the documentary This Is Not a Film, was shot on a cheap digital camera and an iPhone and dealt explicitly with Panahi’s imprisonment. (It was also one of the best films I saw last year.) This follow-up is a narrative — about a man and his dog on the run from corrupt government officials — in which the fictional story supposedly gives way to something more self-reflexive when Panahi himself appears onscreen. Closed Curtain received raves in Berlin where it won the Best Screenplay prize.

The Immigrant (Gray, USA)

I’m a latecomer in appreciating James Gray, an ambitious writer/director whose mature character-based dramas hark back to the New Hollywood of the 1970s. A year ago I was completely unfamiliar with his formidable body of work but I’ve now seen his first four films and I think each one is better than the last. So I’m especially excited to see The Immigrant, his first period piece, which won raves (but no awards) at Cannes. This deals with a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard) in early 20th-century Manhattan caught between a vicious pimp (Joaquin Phoenix) and a kind-hearted magician (Jeremy Renner).

Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, USA)

With the exception of The Big Lebowski, which I think is a masterpiece of modern comedy, I tend to admire the films of the Coen brothers more than I actually like them (and some of their more smart-alecky exercises I actively dislike). I must admit, however, that Inside Llewyn Davis looks exceptionally promising — not because of the predictable raves at Cannes (where they’ve always been feted, and walked off with the Best Director prize even for The Man Who Wasn’t There) — but because of the subject matter: what looks to be an impeccable recreation of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early Sixties loosely based on the autobiography of underappreciated singer Dave Van Ronk. This has been described as low-key and unusually heartfelt. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and Justin Timberlake star.

Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian) (Desplechin, France/USA)

Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale) is one of the most interesting French directors at work today. Jimmy P., a Michigan-shot Franco-American co-production, tells the true story of the relationship between a French psychoanalyst (Mathieu Amalric) and an American Plains Indian and WWII vet (Benicio Del Toro). This got mixed reviews at Cannes (with the most frequent criticisms being that it’s too talky and cinematically conventional) but it also had its defenders and looks right up my alley in a John Ford-meets-A Dangerous Method kind of way. Kent Jones, one of America’s finest film critics, co-wrote the screenplay.

A Touch of Sin (Jia, China)

For almost 20 years Jia Zhangke has been an important chronicler of China’s present, illustrating how ordinary citizens have been affected by the PRC’s rapidly changing social, political and economic landscapes. A Touch of Sin has been described as something of a departure in that it includes gangster-movie elements, and shows how the lives of four loosely-related characters are touched by violence. Jia took home the Best Screenplay prize for this at Cannes. The title is a play on A Touch of Zen, King Hu’s seminal martial arts movie from 1971.

Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Rasoulof, Iran)

Manuscripts

Mohammad Rasoulof isn’t as well known as Jafar Panahi but he’s a talented filmmaker who has likewise gotten into hot water with the Iranian authorities for his explicitly political work. His latest has something to do with two low-level government workers who are tasked with assassinating a dissident writer and making it look like a suicide. This won the FIPRESCI prize when it screened in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. The title intriguingly alludes to a famous line from Mikhail Bulgakov’s anti-authoritarian masterpiece of Soviet literature The Master and Margarita.

Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA)

Jim Jarmusch’s latest, a vampire film about centuries-old lovers played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, received a lot of love at Cannes. Only Lovers Left Alive has been described as beautiful, poetic and funny, with — as is typical of Jarmusch — a wealth of allusions to the director’s favorite movies, music and literature. It has also been described as a tribute to the city and culture of Detroit where it was partially shot (and which Jarmusch has described as the “Paris of the Midwest”). Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt co-star.

Stranger by the Lake (Guiraudie, France)

Alain Guiraudie has won an ever-expanding cult of admirers since his feature debut Du soleil pour les gueux in 2001. In films like That Old Dream That Moves and No Rest for the Brave, he has crafted a singular style that combines Surrealism, homoeroticism, class observations and a nice feel for provincial locations in the southwest of France. Stranger By the Lake, a thriller set in a park known as a cruising spot for gay men, has upped his profile considerably: critics and audiences at Cannes responded favorably to its mix of sinister and erotic elements (including, apparently, unsimulated sex acts). This has already been picked up for distribution by Strand Releasing; given that distributor’s track record with CIFF (e.g., Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), it’s a good bet that this will turn up at the festival.

The Three Disasters (Godard, Switzerland)

threedisasters

The Three Disasters is a short film by Jean-Luc Godard that is one part of a triptych known as 3X3D (the other segments are directed by Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pera). Godard’s short was named by some critics as the best film to screen at Cannes in 2013 (when it played in the Critic’s Week sidebar). This is Godard’s first movie in 3-D and it has been described, somewhat confusingly, as some kind of rough draft for his forthcoming and long-gestating 3-D feature Goodbye to Language. The Three Disasters contains clips from other films (including Piranha 3-D!) in the manner of the director’s earlier Histoire(s) du Cinema and apparently takes James Cameron to task for using 3-D technology in an uninspired fashion. This is the film I’d most like to see play at CIFF; I fear it may be impossible to see in its proper stereoscopic version otherwise.

Venus in Fur (Polanski, France)

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As with 2011’s Carnage, Venus in Fur is another stage-to-screen adaptation by Roman Polanski, although this one sounds as if it may be a return to more personal territory in terms of its content: it details the sadomasochistic relationship between a tyrannical theatrical director (Mathieu Amalric) and an actress (Emmanuelle Segnier, Polanski’s wife) who insists she is perfect for the lead role in his new play. In spite of the fact that he has lived and worked primarily in France since the late-1970s, this is the first time Polanski has directed a film in the French language. Expect great acting, sexual perversity and expert single-locale mise-en-scene.

The lineup of the 2013 Chicago International Film Festival will be released soon. You can learn more, and see a sneak preview, at: http://www.chicagofilmfestival.com


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