Tag: russian cinema

2017: Movies

Cinema February 12, 2018

This is a recap of the best movies I saw in 2017 that I hadn’t seen before. It was a good year (for movies).

I was thrilled to “discover” some women filmmakers’ whose work I wasn’t familiar with (Andrea Arnold, especially) and to watch more Akerman and Varda. I often found myself thinking about “performance”—as in, the thing an actor does that becomes notable, or is notable precisely because it isn’t. I’m not a fan of the Daniel Day-Lewis type . . . thing. I much prefer Robert Bresson’s rejection of the actorliness of actors:

ÊTRE (modèles) au lieu de PARAÎTRE (acteurs).
[BEING (models) instead of SEEMING (actors).]

I generally admire the work of those who use non-actors or not-well-known actors in their films—Bruno Dumont, for example, though he disappointed me terribly by using Juliette Binoche in his Camille Claudel 1915, a film I avoided for a long time out of fears that, turns out, were justified.

All this points to my appreciating restraint, silence, and an absence of gimmickry in the craft of acting. But then there are plenty of performances I love which have none of that. I mean, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy? Divine? James Gandolfini? So genre has something to do with it, but still it’s difficult to say what precisely “it” is, except that it’s inevitably thrown into relief by the ever-perplexing Anglophone awards season that’s now under way. (Isn’t the winner basically always either Meryl Streep or Charlize Theron in “ugly” makeup?)

Anywho, these are my favorite performances from movies I saw in 2017: Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth, Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Ivan Dobronravov in The Return, James Howson in Wuthering Heights, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, Nicole Kidman in Birth, Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils, Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, and the truly gifted and greatly under-valued Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer:

David Lynch. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. 1992.

Even movies I didn’t entirely love but appreciated for some reason or other (and often the reason was the casting) showcased some utterly moving work by actors: Ben Whishaw’s John Keats in Bright Star and Cynthia Nixon’s Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion; James Wilby and Rupert Graves in Maurice; and Ezra Miller as the psychopath progeny of Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin—Miller shall soon appear, I predict, in an Anne Rice-Sally Potter’s Orlando-pastiche about a fashionable vampire coming to terms with this ability to hang out in graveyards in daylight.

I despise Lars von Trier (except for the first season of The Kingdom) and Breaking the Waves is full of Trierisms, but Emily Watson kept me watching to the end. Read More

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2015: Movies

Cinema January 6, 2016

I saw Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire for the first time and thought it was overrated. I watched a lot of movies I love again this year, most notably Sergei Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates. Steven Shainberg’s Secretary is still a fun watch. I also saw Taxi Driver again, finding it much worse than when I first saw it as a college student. I accidentally watched the prequel to Ringu, all the while confused as to why it seemed nothing like the Ringu I’d seen some years before. I saw some terrible in-flight movies. I’d meant to see Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night when it was in theatres in 2014 but eventually saw it on Netflix last year: it was too American for me. Iris Apfel is an extraordinary human being and up there with Tilda Swinton in the fashion constellation–you must see Albert Maysles’s documentary about her, which is still up on Netflix. (Aside: all of last year Netflix kept recommending movies with first names of women as titles: Iris, Ida, Pina, Barbara . . . Barbara was good; I left Ida and Pina for another year, maybe this one.) But this is the stuff I really liked:

Mario Bava. Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped. 1974/1977.

Mario Bava. Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped. Italy, 1974/1977.

Peter Bogdanovich. The Last Picture Show. USA, 1971.

Robert Bresson. Les dames du Bois de Boulogne. France, 1945.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Le fils. Belgium, 2002.

Richard Fleischer. Mandingo. USA, 1975.

Aleksey German. Hard to Be a God. 2013.

Aleksey German. Hard to Be a God. Russia, 2013. Read More

Best Things 2014, Part II: Movies

Cinema January 19, 2015

The most devastating film I watched last year was Kirill Serebrennikov’s Yuri’s Day (Russia, 2008). To my knowledge it is not available on DVD, or via usual other means, so I’m extremely grateful to the kind people who screened this right before I left Bangalore for Denver.

Here are the other films, listed alphabetically by director, I watched last year that affected me equally, or almost as much, or somewhat:

Vadim Abdrashitov. Parade of Planets. 1984.

Vadim Abdrashitov. Parade of the Planets. USSR, 1984.

Michelangelo Antonioni. Blow-Up. UK, 1966.

Have you ever thought you’d seen a movie you hadn’t actually? For years I’ve gone around thinking I’d seen Blow-Up and then a few months ago I realized I was completely mistaken. Rectified.

Gabriel Axel. Babette’s Feast. Denmark, 1987.

Mainly for the crazy food.

Luis Buñuel. Viridiana. 1961.

Luis Buñuel. Viridiana. Spain/Mexico, 1961.

My new favorite Buñuel.

Peter Brooks. Marat/Sade. 1967.

Peter Brooks. Marat/Sade. UK, 1967. Read More

Best Things I Watched in 2013

Cinema, Dance June 24, 2014

I seem to check up on my website/blog about once a month. This month I discovered a draft post listing all the best movies I watched in 2013. I guess it’s all right to post it now, six months after the fact.

I’m fairly certain these are all movies I watched for the first time last year—nothing I re-watched, which, as it turns out, I do a lot these days.

For a brief moment I attempted to categorize these by genre but that didn’t work out. Also, it occurs to me to mention: I watch enormous quantities of television not accounted for in this list, partly because I don’t keep track, partly because the list of truly excellent television is pretty limited.

OK, some random comments may be found below, if I feel like it.

Robert Altman. The Company. USA, 2003.

Robert Altman. The Long Goodbye. USA, 1973.

Robert Altman. Thieves Like Us. USA, 1974.

Altman = my favorite American director. But I always assumed he sort of lost it during the ’80s and after. So The Company quite surprised me—and the video above is stunningly realized. It’s very much in the Altman scheme of things: the way you see and hear everything as it were. It is also unlike most recordings of dance I’ve seen, given that we experience the external conditions of the dance itself—the dispersed energy of the audience, the weather, the anxieties off stage—in this horizontal, cinematic way.

Aleksey Balabanov. Me Too. 2012.

Aleksey Balabanov. Me Too. Russia, 2012.

Balabanov’s last film, eerily prophetic. Read More

Liquid Paper and Other News

Books, Cinema, Journals, Poetry, Prose, Translation December 2, 2013

Wanda Coleman. African Sleeping Sickness: Stories & Poems. 1990.

Wanda Coleman died on the twenty-second of November. I’d been introduced to her work roughly a year ago and hadn’t been able to let go of her long poem, “African Sleeping Sickness.” Some months ago I found her email address and contacted her. She gave me this stunning poem, which Asymptote published in its annual English Poetry Feature.

I knew Ms. Coleman had been ill, and you can find many instances of her thinking on her mortality in this poem:

My urine keeps getting darker, I must be passing.

But that very brief, personal admission is followed by a response—the poem is structured as a dialog—written in an entirely different register: a less inward-looking voice, a voice that opens out to a world of small, happy objects: a voice seeking, offering a sad pleasure, one could say.

Twenty-two cents, and a pack of mints
a rubber band and a paper clip.
Pass the bourbon and give it a kiss.

The title of the poem is “Tremors & Tempests: A Poetic Dialog.” The shaking, the sign of future destruction or pleasure, the barely perceptible movement, and the storm—that’s how I read it. And it’s a useful way to characterize the various natures of speech as well, or what are privately known quantities and what is gathered from public witnessing. Then, how these speak to each other.

I’ve also been thinking, via this poem, on the tension between the local and the international. Read More

10 Netflix Instant Movies

Cinema July 27, 2013

Off late I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how the act of watching movies has changed for me.

The movies I watched as a child were usually on TV (HBO or Star Movies), awkwardly censored by awkward people, interrupted by commercials and by my dad taking the remote away to check cricket scores. We hardly went out to the theatre. If I did, it was with friends. Once I remember the entire family going to the army movie theatre because they were playing a Bollywood movie called Border. My dad’s entire interest in the film lay in the fact that the protagonists were army officers; my father was at the time colonel of his own regiment. He wouldn’t be caught dead watching a Bollywood movie for any other reason, and after we watched Border I think we all wanted to die.

In college I started taking cinema more seriously, in part because film-making was a significant aspect of my vocational media studies cluster but mainly because a friend of mine and I got invited to a film club that met every Saturday. I still go to these club screenings when I’m in Bangalore. The person who curates the films has been a huge influence on the way I watch and think about cinema. Also, I love that there is a place (to which I belong) in which people yell at each other for bad taste and general lack of intelligence. Hey, I’ve had words with people . . . about movies.

The point is, I went from point A (TV and the occasional big screen) to point B (a biggish screen and my computer screen at home—there was no way I’d find the movies I wanted on TV anymore).

Point C is now simply my laptop. I’ve watched a total of four movies in a movie theatre since I moved to the States and three of them were rubbish. That’s little over a movie a year. Now I just torrent things (if I’m lucky I’ll find a DVD in a library) or watch what I can find on Netflix.

Something serious needs to be written about this shift in movie-watching, which I am sure I am not the only one to have experienced. More likely, something already has.

From a somewhat older time than our current Netflix-era is an essay that Susan Sontag wrote for the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of cinema in which she elegizes what once was “the art of the twentieth century” and which is now merely “decadent.” It’s a fascinating piece and one with which I agree on many points. Read More