Originally published in Sight & Sound, June 2019
Lying somewhere near the intersection of high and low culture, experimental and exploitation cinema, pop art and postmodern pastiche, Diamantino is like everything and nothing that’s preceded it. For many, it’ll be an introduction to directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, two young filmmakers and frequent collaborators whose polygamous working methods have, over the course of the past decade, united a small constellation of like-minded aesthetes through a shared interest in the absurd and transgressive. Working in a variety of pairings, this unofficial coterie of co-directors (which at various points has included such artists and filmmakers as Benjamin Crotty, Alexander Carver, and Alexandre Melo) has pioneered a uniquely polymorphous, nonconforming brand of cinema that reorients themes of identity and desire through playfully allegorical frameworks. The results have proved strange, provocative and genuinely unclassifiable. Indeed, despite the frequent art-historical allusions, their combined output continues to resemble nothing so much as itself. Continue reading
Originally published by frieze, March 8, 2018
Shapeshifting in both form and function, the work of Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra extends far beyond the cinema. A frequent disrupter of the medium’s prescribed models, Serra has long moved fluidly between the screen and the gallery, but his recent work in each field has evinced an increasing interest in the stage-bound dimensions of the theatre that was barely suggested in such early, folksy pastoral films as Honor of the Knights (2006) and Birdsong (2008). Bringing this preoccupation to what, for a lesser artist, would seem a logical endpoint, Serra set his most recent feature, the ravishingly macabre historical drama The Death of Louis XIV (2016), entirely in the bedchamber of the slowly withering French patriarch. If, in light of this progression, it seemed inevitable that Serra would one day try his hand at theatre proper, then Liberté, the director’s first large-scale work for the stage, confirms less a disciplinary reappraisal than a formal reallocation by other means. Continue reading
Originally published in Sight & Sound, November 2017
Concerned as much with its subjects and their surroundings as it is the material and aesthetic constituents of its presentation, the work of British artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers conjures highly tactile worlds of objects and ephemera. That Ben Rivers: Ways of Worldmaking, a new hardbound collection of Rivers-related art, essays and ephemera is itself a beautiful object should come as no surprise: all of Rivers’s films exist at once as audiovisual indices of largely anonymous people existing in vivid yet anonymous places, and as physical manifestations (i.e. documents) of their highly unique means and modes of production. Lest we forget, Rivers once titled one of his films Things (2014). Continue reading
Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 15, 2016
French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie made the proverbial splash at Cannes in 2013 with the Un Certain Regard standout Stranger by the Lake. The many laurels the film received in the months following constituted mainstream recognition of a major talent in world cinema – an unapologetic cinematic libertine whose half-dozen prior films casually triangulated European modernism, queer comedy and elements of classic genre cinema. With visceral efficiency, Stranger by the Lake consolidated these disparate threads into a gay cruising thriller pitting man versus man in a hunt for satisfaction as much as survival. Continue reading
Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 20, 2016
A work of resolute social consciousness, Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature and followup to his well-regarded Neighbouring Sounds (2012) is at once a refinement and a deepening of the social and stylistic preoccupations laid out so comprehensively in the critic-turned-director’s debut. Expansive yet focused, Aquarius confirms Mendonça’s commitment to Brazil’s middle-class populace – a caste otherwise underrepresented in international cinema – and asserts a newly evident skill for dramatic storytelling. Continue reading
Originally published in Film Comment, July/August 2016
Post-traumatic stress disorder may be a familiar presence in contemporary cinema, but it’s only one dramatic strand in Alice Winocour’s invigorating second feature. The French writer-director’s interest in genre—in this case, the thriller—is of a practical nature, concerned as much with craft as is with the particulars of plot.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Vincent, an aggrieved ex-soldier hired to protect Jessie (Diane Kruger), the wife of a wealthy Lebanese arms dealer. Disorder unfolds in a manner resembling its no-nonsense protagonist: chiseled and efficient, the film discards all extraneous gestures. The majority of the characters’ psychological development occurs through its three increasingly impressive setpieces: two in and around the secluded mansion where Vincent and Jessie spend their time cautiously considering each other’s intentions; and one in a parking lot where an attempted kidnapping devolves into a brutal, nerve-jangling shoot-out.
Refreshingly, little attempt is made to psychoanalyze Vincent, the cognitive effects of his condition instead rendered through handheld but precise camerawork and an intricate, disorienting sound mix. His and Jessie’s contrived situation likewise forgoes fortuitous romantic complications. Even the film’s ending is left to the viewer’s interpretation rather than neatly packaged with explication. With Disorder, Winocour has skillfully reconfigured established forms, calling upon the medium’s most elemental tools to prompt an intensely physical response. ♦
Originally published in Cinema Scope 67
At the dawn of the decade, a brief break appeared in the first wave of New Romanian Cinema. Though of similar historic and cinematic concern, a number of the films produced during this period—including Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Second Game (2013), Cristi Puiu’s Three Interpretation Exercises (2012), and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010), by elder statesman Andrei Ujica—adopted formal strategies unique in relation to the work that had set the movement’s stylistic coordinates in the mid-’00s. Considering the recognizably austere, culturally interrogative output of these and other filmmakers in the years since (see, most impressively, Porumboiu’s The Treasure and Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below, both from 2015), these otherwise fleeting few years have arguably proven as crucial as they were initially deemed cursory—less a wake than an interlude portending an inevitable re-entrenchment. Continue reading