Filmmaker Ira Sachs on LOVE IS STRANGE

Love is Strange is the fifth feature by the gifted New York independent filmmaker Ira Sachs. Like his previous film, the beautiful, emotionally muted Keep the Lights On, the movie was written in collaboration with Mauricio Zacharias, and it takes place in Manhattan.

The new work mediates on love and desire, with politics, money and real estate as complicating factors. Steeped in ritual, the movie opens with a wedding of long-time partners, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who have been together for nearly four decades. Their marriage carries political and personal consequences after George loses his job, …

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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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Ceylan’s Winter Sleep

The festival is over, and the best films from Cannes embody what truly matters: the ability to move backward and forward, projecting a sense of the moment, live bulletins of a country’s pulse and state of mind. With his scalding and magisterial new work, Winter Sleep, the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan walked off with the Palme d’Or.

In his acceptance speech, Ceylan dedicated the film to the young people of Turkey who have lost their lives in the last year protesting the country’s unnerving political repression and withholding of essential freedom. Because of its three-hour and 16-minute …

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Grading the Cannes Competition

This year’s Cannes Film festival, the 19th I’ve covered and written about, showcased a strong competition. The trajectory was like a bottle rocket, blasting off with superb work by Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner) and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Winter Sleep), flattening out with an uneven stretch before picking up and soaring with strong new works by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) and French master Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria).

Curatorially, the main competition was tighter than normal (with just 18 films). Only seven of those are given what I …

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