A history teacher’s marriage to a wealthy government official has insulated her from the suffering the Argentinian dictatorship is inflicting on the people. As she starts to question the narratives she tells her social set, her students, and her adopted daughter, she realizes the girl’s arrival in her life might have come at a terrible cost. The military government fell right before filming started, and devastating performances from Norma Aleandro and Chunchuna Villafañe turn the film’s immediate political rage into a deeply personal anguish, revealing how we can use the stories we tell to let ourselves off the hook, or how we can instead start to break cycles of lies and complicity in our own lives.
My first Tarkovsky. The scale of this film, in every sense, is absolutely astonishing. Its story about master artists and artisans in medieval Russia contains so many themes that trying to pick at any of them feels reductive. But during the final hour, a monumental section about a frenzied rush to cast a cathedral bell for a prince, I kept thinking about everything that goes into creating theatre. The ways art intersects with ego, how opportunities and expertise are jealously guarded. How patronage empowers but binds artists. The arrogance and magnificence of creation, and that feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing but you’ve got to bluff your way through it because you’re in too deep and everyone’s looking at you. How an entire village comes together to realize a vision, how powerful it feels to be pulling in unison with so many hands. And how even success can be humbling because you see how close you came to failure.
Alain Resnais directed two of my all-time favorite French films, and another that completely baffled me, so I was braced for anything. True to form, he juxtaposes documentary and fictional elements, rapidly intercutting between neurobiologist Henri Laborit’s lectures and fragments of the lives of three characters. As he catalogues each like a novel species, we find ourselves making associations between animal behavior and our own search for fulfillment and patterns of self-sabotage.
In yet another Satyajit Ray triumph, he takes us back to 1860 for a REALLY TIMELY lesson in how fanaticism can destroy lives. A fervently religious rich man dreams that his young daughter-in-law is really Kali, the goddess incarnate, and he whips up a frenzy of devoted worshippers looking for healing and salvation. His rational son pushes back against what he sees as a dehumanization of his wife, but she is unable to free herself from the undertow of those who supplant medicine with superstition, and prioritize religion at the expense of humanity.
One day a guy pointed at his watch and told me he’d remember me forever
because of that minute. That sounded so sweet. But now when I look at that clock
I tell myself I have to forget that guy starting this very minute.
With every breathtakingly stylish shot, Wong Kar Wai’s second film brings all of the aching passion and luminescent star-power that would make him famous. Standing out among the stars: Leslie Cheung as a dangerously charismatic serial heartbreaker, and Maggie Cheung and Carina Lau, who model two very different ways of processing a breakup, one with a quavering but resolved dignity, and the other with a raging refusal to go quietly into the night.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.