AFI Fest 2017: Loveless

Zvyagintsev’s films are often described as critiques of modern Russia, but I’m beginning to accept his constant denials of that interpretation, his assertions that he is apolitical and only interested in the human condition. Yes, his films are set in contemporary Russia and track the moral compromises and lack of justice in the lives of his characters, but surely Russia is not the only country in the world with such imbalances? It’s partly why Leviathan (2014) is my favorite of his films—simultaneously his most political (in its examination of small town corruption) and his most allegorical (alluding as he does …

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AFI Fest 2017: Happy End; Call Me By Your Name; Milla

Happy End

Would Michael Haneke throw a party were Europe to collapse in chaos? The event would likely prevent him from making any more movies—although the clever Austrian does have a way of attracting producers and even Hollywood admirers—but it would confirm all of his worst fears that he’s been packing into every movie he’s ever made, except for his American-set remake of Funny Games. Yet it isn’t difficult to detect in his new movie, Happy End (oh Herr Haneke and his sarcastic/ironic titles), that the whole notion of Continental Drift toward yet another Armageddon is beginning to bore …

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The Underworld Story (1950)

The latest issue of Cineaste features an extended excerpt on 1950’s powerful The Sound of Fury (I wrote about the recent restoration here), part of a forthcoming biography on director Cy Endfield, whom author Brian Neve claims is the “least well known of the American filmmakers who came to Europe in the early Fifties to circumvent the Hollywood blacklist.” It’s mostly a historical overview of the production, but hopefully it will help convince some enterprising DVD/Blu-ray distributor to take notice.

Tomorrow, Angelenos can see Endfield’s other film from 1950, The Underworld Story, as part of the annual Noir

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Chris Marker’s LEVEL FIVE (1997)

Chris Marker’s brilliant and passionate but rarely seen (and never before US-distributed) multimedia docudrama reflects on the epic and decisive WWII Battle of Okinawa and its often suppressed historical relevance.  Catherine Belkholdja plays a French computer programmer researching the battle – including its 82-day siege and the loss of a third (roughly 100,000 people) of its island population – and documentary footage is mixed with her monologues as she simultaneously sorts through her feelings regarding a deceased lover.  Less a plot point than a metaphor, Belkholdia’s interactions with the computer (suggested by creative graphics courtesy of Marker’s beloved Macintosh) offer …

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Antonioni’s Red Desert at 50

Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964) corresponds closely in its themes and its form with the three major works that preceded it: L’Avventura (1960), La notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962). In these films, Antonioni addressed the alienating experience of modern, industrial, post-war European life. For his narratives, he privileged carefully constructed images over more conventional methods, such as explanatory dialogue. His muse, the great Italian actress Monica Vitti, starred in three of the films and had a crucial supporting role in another. All four have been, since the 1960s, central to the canon of post-war, experimental …

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Spray’s and Velez’s Ride to Nirvana

Possibly more than the previous feature and short work produced by Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, which includes the groundbreaking Sweetgrass and Leviathan, Manakamana (distributed by Cinema Guild, opening today at Laemmle’s Music Hall) marks a crucial intersection of the three of the most interesting developments in contemporary cinema.

Stephanie Spray’s and Pacho Velez’ 16mm film (blown up to 35mm) embraces the essence of “slow cinema,” in which tempo and rhythm are intentionally geared to andante and beyond. Just as “slow food” allows the senses and palate to take time to absorb and appreciate flavors and textures, the slow cinema …

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