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.
Wrongfully institutionalized for eight years when her crippling shyness is mistaken for schizophrenia, Janet Frame survives to write what critics will call New Zealand’s first great novel. Frame captured the tranquility and horrors around her in rich detail, and director Jane Campion treats all of those colors with equal care, while Kerry Fox’s heartbreaking vulnerability powers the story.
Toggling between wrenching melodrama and local squabbles in a village of fisher-folk, Ritwik Ghatak shows that while we’re distracted by everyday pettiness, profound threats to our very way of life can be moving against us. In a movie full of vivid personalities, Rosy Samad, erupting with righteous fury, is truly devastating.
“We live in a weak and corrupt society where it’s every man for himself. Even imagination is suspect, yet it is required to solve the problems of our planet.”
A pacifist opposition movement is met with blatant political violence. Watching a government scramble to cover for its leaders with inexhaustible depths of shamelessness might sound too on the nose for the moment, but Costa-Gavras’s thriller is galvanizing.
“My verses serve no purpose in this world. In vain have they seen the light of day. So why do we poets busy ourselves among men with our unattainable dreams?”
As we all look for direction at this fraught moment, I found this story of a boy with the soul of a poet but bred to be an instrument of vengeance oddly moving. This collaboration of a Kazakh director and a Korean-Russian writer forced its audience to confront the plight of a million displaced people.
By showing us post-revolutionary Havana through the lens of a disaffected writer, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea subtly highlights the limitations of the intellectual class. His narrator dismisses those around him as “underdeveloped,” but the character’s impotent pity takes no ownership of his own role in his country’s struggles.
Annie Baker inspired this pick. Like Annie, Chantal Akerman details human behavior with endless patience and rigor. As household chores and errands accrue meaning, she opens a portal into a vast, startling inner life.
A father tries to marry off the daughter who’d rather stay to care for him, as they struggle to reconcile traditional duty with modern individualism. Despite the American Occupation’s censors, Ozu gently underscores the tension in a country reckoning with its identity.
As a rudderless med student races for a train to Warsaw, we see three radically different courses his life could take if he caught or missed it. In each timeline, he gets swept along with the people he meets, prioritizing party loyalty, political resistance, or domesticity in a search for direction. As much as he tries to exert control, random events have unexpected consequences.