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 by Reverse Shot, June 6, 2016
Whether it was the result of an unusually strong and diverse Competition or sheer coincidence, the number of quality films spread throughout the rest of the various sidebars at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival was noticeably few. Even accounting for a pair of pleasing, if very different, features by established veterans in Directors’ Fortnight (Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams and Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog), and a typically agreeable work by Hirokazu Kore-eda in a curiously depleted Un Certain Regard (After the Storm), there wasn’t much on offer in the festival’s two most prominent sidebars that simply met expectations—let alone turned heads in a manner comparable to that of other recent Fortnight or UCR highlights (such as Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights or Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja). Instead the best of this year’s parallel selections came largely from the Critics’ Week and Special Screenings sections of the festival. Between the two strands this ran the age gamut from 86-year-old Paul Vecchiali’s death’s doorstep mediation Le Cancre, to 33-year-old Julia Ducournau’s well-received coming-of-age horror chronicle Raw—as well as across a formal spectrum broad enough to include Alessandro Comodin’s fractured lovers-on-the-lam fable Happy Times Will Come Soon to Cambodian director Rithy Panh’s latest nonfiction memoir, Exile. Continue reading
Originally published by Reverse Shot, May 18, 2016
With its programmers’ predilection for marquee auteurs and icons of international renown, the annual Cannes Competition lineup isn’t traditionally given to touting young or emerging filmmakers beyond a single token selection. After all, the Critics’ Week and Un Certain Regard sections of the festivals are ostensibly designed to provide platforms for directors of such cachet, who may be too green or, more often, too willfully difficult to represent the world’s most famous film festival. Which is all to say that the 2016 Competition stands out amongst recent iterations for its refreshingly youthful complexion. Save for a few requisite standbys (Ken Loach, Pedro Almodóvar, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, among them), this year’s selection features a number of burgeoning talents as well as notable critical darlings, resulting in an uncommonly stimulating first week. Continue reading
Originally published in Senses of Cinema 79
When Gabriel Abrantes’ Taprobana screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival as part of a three-film program of new Portuguese cinema, there was little to suggest what perverse wonder lay in store for the unsuspecting viewer. As one such Abrantes neophyte, the work of the prolific 31 year-old provocateur having somehow eluding me despite a half-decade of relatively high profile festival berths, I can certainly speak to the bewildering rush elicited throughout the film’s brief 24-minute runtime. What transpired was at once beautiful and grotesque, quaint and indulgent, serene and surreal – a far cry from the program’s other two films, The Figures Carved into the Knife by the Sap of the Banana Trees, by Joana Pimenta, and the late Manoel de Oliveira’s last completed work, The Old Man of Belem, neither of which could otherwise reasonably be described as ordinary. No matter individual notions as to the film’s artistic merit (or lack thereof), it’s safe to say that what we witnessed from Abrantes that afternoon was genuinely original, a burst of cinematic ingenuity so unapologetically strange that one couldn’t help but take notice. 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
Originally published by Film Comment, May 22, 2016
Known for his provocative reimaginings of Don Quixote, Casanova, and the Three Kings, Catalonian director Albert Serra has, over the course of 10 years and four features, established himself as an artist of singular talent and irascible temperament. With The Death of Louis XIV, Serra again looks to the past for inspiration, but the results are, surprisingly, more reverent than rebellious. Starring Jean-Pierre Léaud as France’s longest-reigning King during his final days as he slowly succumbs to the effects of cardiac arrhythmia and gangrene, the film observes in a patient, crestfallen manner how one of history’s most famous rulers and a selection of his closest confidants approach an inevitable fate with dignity and reserve. Restricting the drama to the confines of the King’s bedchamber and sparing in his use of extraneous formal gestures, Serra has crafted a ravishing, darkly witty evocation of 18th-century aristocracy and a neoclassical period piece as reminiscent of the historical films of Visconti and Rossellini as the modernist literary adaptations of Rohmer and Oliveira.
Serra sat down with FILM COMMENT at Cannes shortly after The Death of Louis XIV premiered as an Out of Competition selection to talk about his unique on-set process, his film’s more restrained tone, and working with one of French cinema’s most beloved actors. Continue reading
Originally published by Film Comment, May 16, 2016
French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s follow-up to his acclaimed four-part 2014 television film Li’l Quinquin, is a work of madcap inspiration—the second in a fresh comedically minded phase of the notoriously austere director’s career. Starring a roll call of seasoned actors—Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean-Luc Vincent—alongside a Dumontian clutch of amateurs, Slack Bay pits the upper-class Van Peteghems, vacationing for the summer on the coast of Northern France, against the working-class Bruforts, a lowly clan of fishermen. The Bruforts’ strange traditions and macabre rituals peg them as prime suspects in an ongoing series of unsolved disappearances. Investigating the crimes are a pair of detectives, Machin (Didier Desprès) and Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux), a Laurel and Hardy–type duo as prone to pratfalls as they are to misreading clues. Together these characters descend upon the Channel Coast for a carnivalesque romp inspired as much by the comedy stylings of cinema’s earliest stars as by detective yarns and the grotesquerie of early-20th-century expressionist painting.
Dumont sat for an interview soon after Slack Bay premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Continue reading
Originally published by the Los Angeles Review of Books, February 26, 2016
In the fall of 1975, Terry Cannon, a young man newly returned to Southern California from San Francisco State University, launched Pasadena Filmforum: a nonprofit film society that aimed to further the legacy of experimental cinema in Los Angeles. As various forms of risqué cinema (soft- and hardcore pornography, European sex films, etc.) rose to unprecedented levels of mainstream acceptance, Cannon took it upon himself to reestablish a sense of truly autonomous, non-industrial filmmaking in the shadow of Hollywood. Over the next eight years, under Cannon’s guidance, Pasadena Filmforum would dedicate itself to highlighting work from the margins of cinema, extending the 1960s’s experiments in underground and outré art culture into a less recognized but more self-sufficient entity. Four decades later, the since-rechristened Los Angeles Filmforum celebrated its 40th anniversary with the publication of Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980, a collection of essays and historical texts concerning this most fruitful of epochs in Los Angeles avant-garde cinema. Continue reading