I watched Ghatak’s A RIVER CALLED TITAS back in March, and I love how he underpins his melodramas with a deeply truthful central performance. Supriya Choudhury plays a daughter who gives up her studies in order to provide for her family. As she puts everyone’s needs ahead of her own, the Bengali intellectual class she was raised to join is left to flounder as refugees. One night, when she’s on the brink of losing everything, she asks her brother to teach her a song. Their tear-streaked faces barely lit, it’s one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve watched in ages.
Anyone who pays heed to the world is wounded
I am weary of the scars
Yesterday was better than today
I am weary of tomorrows
A man doesn’t stay the same forever
And I am weary of empty song.
Armenian director Sergei Parajanov fills the deceptively simple story of ashugh Sayat-Nova with imagery unlike anything I’ve seen, staging everyday activities to feel both sacred and sensuous, familiar and alien. By creating his own unique, self-described “film poem,” Parajanov lets his cultural heritage and identity shine through a period of Soviet homogeny.
As seismic meteorological events in Sydney grow more and more bizarre, a barrister retained to defend four Aboriginal men from murder charges begins to suspect that the case, the inexplicable weather, and his ominous dreams may all be interconnected. Combining mysticism and political urgency with a mounting apocalyptic dread, Peter Weir hints at a planet turning on a society that refuses to reckon with its crimes.
Bong Joon-ho credits his mentor Kim Ki-young for inspiring PARASITE with this story of a young woman who infiltrates a piano teacher’s household and tears it apart from the inside. Both filmmakers lay bare the middle-class temptation to prioritize upward mobility over the humanity of others.
Raise ravens, and they'll gouge your eyes out.
This movie feels like a haunted companion piece to THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, with both starring Ana Torrent as a young girl obsessed with the incomprehensibility of death. After she watches her mother die horribly of cancer, the adults around her stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the ghosts that fill the house, leaving her to navigate her trauma and rage alone.
In his first feature, Lars von Trier creates a scorched metaphysical purgatory called Europe, where a policeman’s methodical system of retracing the steps of a killer slowly deteriorates his own sense of identity. MELANCHOLIA and BREAKING THE WAVES will continue to be the von Trier movies I return to for emotional heft, but his surreal take on noir is riveting.
This epic is bursting with such emotion the camera starts to shake. Solás portrays three periods of revolution in Cuba through three young women named Lucía. When each respective uprising fails to live up to its ideals, all three vibrantly spontaneous Lucías (Raquel Revuelta in 1895, Eslinda Núñez in 1932, and Adela Legrá in 196-?) have a powerfully different response to that injustice.
Nina Hoss brings churning depth to the role of a Holocaust survivor whose facial reconstructive surgery after the war leaves her unrecognizable to her own husband. Silently begging the man she loves to see her, while pushing down fears he may have been responsible for her capture, she represents a people unable to return to the moment before their country betrayed them.
In the time of Zoom Theatre, I have a special appreciation for the magic trick of taking a play set entirely in a kitchen and expanding it for the camera without letting the urgency dissipate. These caged animals still feel trapped but not stagebound, as Sjöberg’s lyrical direction allows their past traumas to seep through the walls, bringing their competing need to transcend their class and sex into stark relief.
Felipe Cazals recreates this true story with the cold lucidity of a documentary and the creeping dread of a horror movie, showing us how a small-town priest whipped up such anti-communist hysteria in his congregation that he could direct them to murder five young mountain climbers. A chilling example of how fearmongering and otherism can be exploited to drive a community to violence.
The earliest Mike Leigh piece I’ve seen is full of the vivid characterizations and sublimated feeling his process is known for. Ground down by Margaret Thatcher’s austerity, a family on the dole covers their resentment by tearing each other down instead, sabotaging each opportunity any of them have to change their circumstances. Gary Oldman’s manic skinhead is the showy performance, but I found Tim Roth’s debilitatingly shy “Muppet” of a little brother to be captivating.
“We former, present and future colonized people have contributed greatly to the foundation of your industrial and economic capital. Should the interest on that capital not be our right? Please don’t say that we’re costing you dear. The help you’re giving to us is aimed above all at preserving your own markets and maintaining your economic privileges.”
Fifty years ago, Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo took on France’s exploitation of African immigrants in an “authentic act of rage and liberation” that cuts deep to this day.
What shook me most about Salomon Perel’s account of the four years he lived among the Nazis by pretending to be an “Aryan German,” was how effective this teenager was at blending in. He not only survived but thrived, becoming beloved by those who would have killed him if they suspected he were Jewish. Agnieszka Holland's adaptation taps into the seductive urge to belong that fuels even the most repugnant ideologies, and she makes us feel for the boy's struggle to keep a tenuous hold of his identity.
Reasoning that the communal spring is on his land, a farmer claims it for himself, and cuts off his village’s water supply in order to tend to his own tobacco fields. Erksan and his lead Erol Taş nail both the savvy rationalizing and repellent gluttony of the powerful who brazenly hoard resources at the expense of their fellow men.
Rounded up into a detention center and brutalized by vicious guards and police, a young boy and his friends break out and make a life of crime for themselves in São Paulo. Every one of the kids is unforgettable, but especially Lilica, the trans girl who heads up the gang after the corrupt cops murder her lover.
“These things make you gradually come to believe in fate. However meticulous and painstaking you are, the tiniest error can be fatal.”
An executive assistant, cut loose when a competing firm absorbs her company, tries to scrape the money together to move to the States with her boyfriend, a former Little League star. Their irreconcilable priorities pit high-rises and Kenny Loggins against the undertow of family loyalty and nostalgia, subverting any hope of independence.
“What really mattered was the tenderness I felt for the women there with me, like me. Sure, I put up a good front, but I was so relieved to be with a group. I decided to sing in my own way about my family of women, all in the same dorm, the same fix, the same boat.”
In Agnès Varda’s pro-choice musical, two friends’ activism takes them on very different paths–one founds a family planning center, the other a feminist folk group—but a mutual determination to live according to their principles binds them together.
“When you dream and you got different figures in the dream and different people in your dream, they’re all an aspect of yourself. When you’re dreaming every character’s just you in another form. So it’s like all these separate forms we take, we’re all one. Everybody out here is one. Know what I mean?”
The faces and voices of 125th and Lex in the summer of 2014.
“Sometimes I wish I were all alone with you in the world with nobody around us.”
A German cleaning woman and a Moroccan mechanic twenty years her junior fall in love, despite the malignant prejudice that threatens to create a rift between them. The depth of feeling traveling between these actors’ eyes is both powerfully romantic and full of dread.
I’ve loved every taut, honest movie I’ve seen from the Dardennes, and their “fairy tale” of a foster kid trying to scrap his way back to his dad is no exception. Thomas Doret is raw, violent, and vulnerable, and Cécile de France matches him as the foster mother who refuses to let him scare her off.
Thank you Louis Ozawa for making sure I finally watched this masterpiece. After learning he has stomach cancer and only months to live, a low-level city official struggles to make use of the time he has left. I was struck by how unlikely and extraordinary a true push against a system can be; it may not transform a government, but can still make real change in the lives of others.
“Propelled to the stars by pure imagination, an adventurer after my own heart!”
I rang in May the 4th with a different kind of space adventure this year. Karel Zeman puts his actors in fantastical hand-painted environments, then surrounds them with stop-motion animation so inventive and unpredictable that these 60-year-old effects literally made me gasp.
Reichardt uses a journey to a natural hot spring in Oregon to reveal the sad, inarticulable weirdness of a friendship in transition. Trusting her actors with the sparest of dialogue, she lets us map the gulf between them with what goes unsaid, so the tiniest efforts to bridge it feel heroic.
After watching Criterion movies from 41 different countries, I’m going back to Italy for a timely story of an old man with a fever desperately trying to get his government benefits so his landlady doesn’t evict him! It co-stars one of the best movie dogs of all time, and this stubborn couple just about wrecked me.
A widow brings her son to her late husband’s childhood home in search of a clean slate. As the doofy mechanic following her around like a puppy dog, PARASITE’s Song Kang-ho is a perfect counterpoint to Jeon Do-yeon, one of those rare actors with such raw emotional access that you almost need to look away. She taps into the indignity of trying to cope with debilitating grief in public, as well as the limits of forgiveness.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.