A Senegalese man wanders Dakar trying to cash the money order his nephew sent him from Paris, but red tape, bad luck, and cynical opportunists thwart him at every turn. Instead of writing to accommodate former colonial powers, Ousmane Sembène made the first African-language feature, focusing on the franc’s poisonous influence still reverberating in a newly independent country.
This “film without actors” cast five Berliners who’d never been in front of a camera to play versions of themselves on an ordinary lazy weekend, in the lull between wars. The laidback style feels decades ahead of its time, and it’s especially fascinating to see writer Billy Wilder and cinematographer Fred Zinnemann experimenting with structure and form before coming to the States and becoming legendary directors in their own right.
After leaving his ailing mother and beloved dog for a summer to stay with his uncle, a boy has to navigate his developing awareness of sexuality and loss when this town of oddballs insists on bringing them both to the surface. A uniquely honest tearjerker, where people sometimes manage to help each other, and sometimes devastatingly fail each other, but everyone is fundamentally doing their best.
To balance out the ratio of men to women, a bunch of leering middle-aged soldiers get shipped into a little Czech town, where a factory girl dodges their fumbling advances in favor of a scrawny young jazz pianist who tells her she looks like a guitar drawn by Picasso. Smitten, she shows up at his parents’ house in Prague, but doesn’t get the welcome she imagined. When the couple try to salvage their reputation by cramming their adult son into their bed, leaving his spurned lover alone and humiliated on the couch, the painful, awkward turmoil that sexual repression sets off is as funny and heartbreaking as it is in life.
Pepper LaBeija. Octavia St. Laurent. Willi Ninja. Dorian Corey. Freddie Pendavis. And Venus Xtravaganza. I can’t believe it took me this long to see Jennie Livingston’s essential documentary on New York’s late-eighties ball circuit. But through their vitality, wit, and passion, each of these unforgettable icons demonstrate how just finding each other was a defiant and resilient act.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.