Mariam Ghani interviews Afghan directors, actors, and cinematographers about five films they began under Afghanistan’s Communist regime. They filmed with exorbitant budgets and live ammunition, until party officials deemed them insufficiently compliant and shut them down. It’s eerie now to watch these interviews, which were recorded just a few years before the Taliban took over Kabul and Ghani’s father was deposed. Watching these artists look back further to another period of turmoil reminds us that even when political actors try to frame events to their own advantage, we have a responsibility to try to piece together a fuller picture.
I tend to prefer David Lean’s early work to his massive epics (“Brief Encounter” remains my favorite), and so I was glad to finally get around to his definitive adaptation of Dickens’ fable. For my money, it doesn’t get better than Martita Hunt’s Miss Havisham, whose Gothic decomposing splendor is captivating. Her final screams are truly the stuff of nightmares.
The famously elegant Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren portray two desperately lonely neighbors who forge an unlikely connection the day Mussolini welcomed Hitler to Rome. Loren plays a housewife married to a devoted fascist, and Mastroianni a gay radio broadcaster. By subverting our perceptions of these two icons, Scola shows the futility of romantic ideals, but he maintains that real human connection can break through the groupthink that shunts “undesirables” aside.
Johnnie To’s judo tribute to Kurosawa is fairly quiet and reflective for a contemporary martial arts film, and he withholds conventional exposition. He instead relies on his charismatic performers and beautiful cinematography to pull us in, showing how well-matched fighters (and musicians) achieve a kind of romance.
On an early-pandemic group text thread, Arye Gross shared a video compilation of Bresson’s Hands. As a relative Bresson novice, I’m finally catching up with a movie that carries so much of its tension in images of hands. In his story of a young man who goes from amateur to professional thief, Bresson encouraged affectless performances from his nonactors, leaving room for his pictures to convey incredible weight and feeling.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.