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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Thief (Mann)
2. Such is Life in the Tropics (Cordero)
3. The Empty Box (Sainte-Luce)
4. A Wedding (Altman)
5. The Lost City of Z (Gray)
6. The Pirate (Minnelli)
7. Breathless (Godard)
8. Le Cercle Rouge (Melville)
9. To Have and Have Not (Hawks)
10. Breathless (Godard)

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Talking German Cinema in Wilmette

At the Wilmette Public Library this Sunday, April 9 at 2 pm, I will be giving a talk on German cinema before, during and after World War II to coincide with their “One Book Everybody Reads” program. Below is a description of the talk I wrote for the library’s Off the Shelf newsletter.

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From Expressionism to Hitler: German Cinema and World War II

Affinity Konar’s MISCHLING is an acclaimed work of historical fiction about a pair of 12-year-old twin sisters struggling to survive amid the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II. This installment of “Mike at the Movies” acts as a companion to the novel by focusing on German cinema before during and after the War; specifically, how the classic “Expressionist” films of the 1920s can be seen as predicting the rise of Hitler, how the German film industry shifted to propaganda once the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 and, finally, how the immediate post-War years left a vacuum that would be filled by the Italian Neorealists. Among the clips screened: THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, METROPOLIS, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL and GERMANY YEAR ZERO.

Hope to see you there!


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. The Lovers on the Bridge (Carax)
2. Body Snatchers (Ferrara)
3. Branded to Kill (Suzuki)
4. Sherlock Holmes (Berthelet)
5. Black Girl (Sembene)
6. Some Like It Hot (Wilder)
7. Raw (Ducournau)
8. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy)
9. Rear Window (Hitchcock)
10. Get Out (Peele)


DEATH IN THE TERMINAL at the Doc10 Film Festival

A version of the following piece will appear at the Time Out Chicago website sometime before Friday.

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The must-see doc Death in the Terminal will receive its U.S. premiere in Chicago this weekend

The second annual Doc10 Film Festival will take place at the Davis Theater from Thursday, March 30 through Sunday, April 2. As with last year’s impressive debut lineup, Doc10 will again highlight the best in contemporary nonfiction cinema by presenting the local premieres of 10 important documentaries curated by Anthony Kaufman (who also programmed the documentary slate at the Chicago International Film Festival for the past two years). While I was impressed with each of the four titles I have been able to preview so far (at least one of which, the much buzzed about Rat Film, will certainly return to Chicago screens at some point this year), my favorite of the bunch is the lower-profile Death in the Terminal, an Israeli movie still awaiting five user votes on the IMDb that will be receiving not just its Chicago premiere at Doc10 but its U.S. premiere as well. Although the running time clocks in at a lean 52 minutes, this incredibly complex and disturbing documentary by co-directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry does more to explain the culture of violence in the Middle East today than any other single work of art I know of. This is perhaps because it focuses on a single 18-minute incident (a terrorist attack at a bus station in Israel, and its immediate aftermath) in a way that feels like a microcosm of the conflict as a whole.

Death in the Terminal dramatically juxtaposes surveillance video footage from multiple security cameras — plus one eyewitness cell phone video — with interviews with six subjects (including police officers, a falafel vendor, an EMT and a couple of civilian bystanders) in order to piece together what happened in Beersheba in 2015 when an Israeli soldier was senselessly gunned down by a Bedouin terrorist and, equally senselessly, an innocent Eritrean refugee was mistakenly lynched in response. The film plays out like a negative version of Keith Maitland’s Tower, the superb animated doc from last year that focused on the heroism of civilians and police during the 1966 sniper shootings at the University of Texas in Austin; only where Maitland’s humanist movie showed people “doing the right thing” in the face of tragedy, Shemesh and Sudry’s darker and thornier work focuses on people who did the wrong thing, thereby perpetuating an insane cycle of violence and retribution. But Shemesh and Sudry also thankfully have no interest in pointing fingers or casting easy blame: their film explicitly challenges viewer assumptions about how we might react in similar circumstances, a provocation nowhere more apparent than in a haunting final shot where security-cam footage is run backwards. As soon as it’s over you may feel that you need to watch it again.

Death in the Terminal screens on Saturday, April 1 at 9:15pm followed by a Skype Q&A with the filmmakers. More information on DOC10, including the full lineup, can be found on the DOC10 website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Los Olvidados (Bunuel)
2. Tower (Maitland)
3. We Won’t Grow Old Together (Pialat)
4. The Sting (Hill)
5. Raw (Ducournau)
6. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)
7. Contempt (Godard)
8. Germany Year Zero (Rossellini)
9. Rules Don’t Apply (Beatty)
10. The Babadook (Kent)


AUSTERLITZ and THE SON OF JOSEPH at CEUFF

A version of the following piece should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime before Friday.

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The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicked off at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 3 and continues until the end of the month. Here are my “best bets” for the festival’s fourth and final week.

Austerlitz is a provocative and challenging German documentary on the subject of “Holocaust tourism” by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa (Maidan). The film daringly eschews all of the usual contextualizing devices of non-fiction cinema (interviews, voice-over narration, onscreen texts, etc.) and merely presents viewers with static long-take shots of men and women filing into and out of museums on the grounds where the death camps at Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen once stood. Most of the subjects look as though they could be visiting an amusement park or any other major tourist attraction but Loznitsa’s refusal to provide any sort of commentary on the stark black-and-white images means that viewers are left to draw their own conclusions about why people visit these sites and whether or not it’s disrespectful to do so in a shirt emblazoned with the words “Cool Story, Bro.”

American-born French director Eugene Green (La Sapienza) returns to CEUFF with The Son of Joseph, a masterful comedy/drama about a teenage boy (Victor Ezenfis) searching for the identity of his birth father (Mathieu Amalric), a journey that ends up taking on parallels to the Biblical stories of the birth of Christ and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. The film’s extensive meditation on father/son relationships, which offers an optimistic view of how we may not choose the families we’re born into but that we can choose our own surrogate family members, makes it an unlikely companion piece to Warren Beatty’s criminally underrated Rules Don’t Apply. Green’s employment of Bressonian non-acting, direct-camera address and absurd humor (a digression involving a young man selling sperm on the internet is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in years) adds up to a vision as singular as it is satisfying.

Austerlitz screens on Sunday, March 26 and Wednesday, March 29. The Son of Joseph screens on Friday, March 24 and Wednesday, March 29. For more info, including ticket info and showtimes, visit the Siskel Center’s website.


The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Arrival (Villeneuve)
2. Naked Childhood (Pialat)
3. The Islands and the Whales (Day)
4. Death in the Terminal (Shemesh/Sudry)
5. The Cinema Travelers (Abraham/Madheshiya)
6. Rat Film (Anthony)
7. Detour (Ulmer)
8. The Swindle (Chabrol)
9. L’enfer (Chabrol)
10. Betty (Chabrol)


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