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Arik Reviews Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan [Criterion Collection Blu-ray review]

23 June 2017 12:27 PM, PDT

My grandparents were refugees. My grandfather died when I was very young, but my grandmother was around until only a few years ago. Growing up I asked her many questions about what life was like before, and what she experienced when she came to this country. In this film I saw things that reminded me of some of the things she said. Of course, her life was real, not the over-the-top action-thriller this turns into, but underneath I think the film grapples with many of the same issues that real refugees face.

The film tells a story from the end of the twenty-six year long Sri Lankan Civil War. An ex-resistence soldier, a young woman, and an orphan are paired together because they match the identities of a dead family who can get out. The three principles have never met before, and are suddenly forced to pretend to the world that they are a family unit. They end up in a housing project in France, one that’s completely controlled by a gang of drug dealers. Initially they attempt to quietly make the best of things, but quickly it all falls apart.

My grandparents story was very different from the characters in this film. They weren’t pretending to be in a fake family with assumed identities to start with. Still, some of the themes resonated strongly with what I heard about their experiences. On the surface this is a sad film, and then a surprisingly gritty film, and then a thoughtful film. All of those pieces are reflected in memories from childhood stories, as well as in some of the lingering effects of those experiences.

The biggest issue the film raised for me was that of developing and maintaining identity, during unfathomable circumstance. I’m a big fan of films that use extreme genre-like storytelling mechanics to make otherwise potentially preachy points. That’s why the criticism I’ve seen of this film, that the final act is unrealistically extreme, is missing the point. Audiard is using the trappings of genre films in order to tell a much more sophisticated story. Without them this is a sermon, with them we have something that sticks. The film forces us to decide how we feel.

How do we maintain ourselves when our entire world changes? Is that even the goal? Is it better to assimilate as quickly as possible, or can we find a balance between new and old? All of that is examined in this film, and often in subtle and brilliant ways. It’s in glances, or a few lines of dialogue, or a recited poem. It’s in the way that the characters react to their ever-changing circumstance by simply finding a path through.

The flip-side is that perhaps people who are less familiar with the message will miss the subtler points. Instead they’ll find another superhero film. I think that’s ok. This is where the genre style really helps the film. Those people, the ones who miss the point, can still really enjoy this. If their enjoyment causes them to re-watch it, or even just to keep thinking about it after it’s over, than that’s a win. The power of the subtleness is that it can seep in through the cracks, until a fundamental truth has been absorbed by the viewer.

Our future is one of more and more unexpected mass movements of people. Given that truth, anything that helps society process the effects will be hugely valuable. France is one of the countries that has been most affected in recent decades by immigration and refugee migration. It’s therefore much less of a surprise that this film originated there. This is what European society is currently experiencing, and it’s coming to the USA quickly. I would expect that we’re going to see far more films dealing with these issues, and for that reason alone this definitely has a place in the collection.

The disc isn’t overloaded with special features, but there are new interviews with the director Jacques Audiard, and star/real life Tamil ex-child soldier Antonythasan Jesuthasan. There are also some deleted scenes to check out. The transfer looks perfect, which is hardly surprising given that it won at Cannes in 2015. All in all I think this is an extremely worthy experience. This was my first exposure to the films of Audiard, but it definitely won’t be my last. »

- Arik Devens

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Episode 183 – Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up

23 June 2017 6:00 AM, PDT


This time on the podcast, Scott Nye, David Blakeslee, and Trevor Berrett discuss Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up.

In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni transplanted his existentialist ennui to the streets of swinging London for this international sensation, the Italian filmmaker’s first English-language feature. A countercultural masterpiece about the act of seeing and the art of image making, Blow-Up takes the form of a psychological mystery, starring David Hemmings as a fashion photographer who unknowingly captures a death on film after following two lovers in a park. Antonioni’s meticulous aesthetic control and intoxicating color palette breathe life into every frame, and the jazzy sounds of Herbie Hancock, a beautifully evasive performance by Vanessa Redgrave, and a cameo by the Yardbirds make the film a transporting time capsule from a bygone era. Blow-Up is a seductive immersion into creative passion, and a brilliant film by one of cinema’s greatest artists.

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Episode Links Blow-Up (1966) – The Criterion Collection Blow-Up (1966) – IMDb Blow-Up – Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia Trevor’s review of Blow-Up David and Arik’s conversation about Blow-Up Criterion Now Episode with Blow-Up Episode Credits Scott Nye (Twitter/Website) Trevor Berrett (Twitter/Website) David Blakeslee (Twitter/Website) Products from Amazon.com -43% Blow-Up (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] Price: $22.64 Was: $39.95 -4% Blow-Up (The Criterion Collection) Price: $18.12 Was: $18.86 ‹ › »

- Trevor Berrett

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Joshua Reviews Patrick Shen’s In Pursuit Of Silence [Theatrical Review]

22 June 2017 5:23 PM, PDT

With mindfulness being the latest craze in self care, the human relationship to noise both literal and conceptual (there are few places louder than online or in a movie theater these days) is being reappraised. Be it schools located next to train tracks or the simple hustle and bustle of a work week, noise and noise pollution are effecting everyone on a moment to moment, day to day basis.

That’s ostensibly the thesis behind director Patrick Shen’s latest film, In Pursuit of Silence. Shot over two years across the globe, Shen’s film tries to take a worldwide view of noise and the human interaction with it, ranging from festival season in India to tea ceremonies in Kyoto. However, despite the expansive shoot schedule, the film is at its very best when taking an almost experiential type of aesthetic route.

Opening with a lengthy silent sequence in homage to composer John Cage’s legendary 4’33”, the film blends talking head interviews with sensory moments that offer an almost spiritual response from the viewer. The interviews are intriguing and offer the science side of this argument, yet Shen’s heart seems to be in the spiritual realm of this discussion. At its most compelling when giving itself over to the experience of sitting in silence, the film really comes alive in these sequences. It may be due to Shen’s own interest in the healing powers of silence, but it may also be due to the film’s superlative photography.

Shot digitally, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Rich and textured, there may not be much to take in when we are in the midst of an interview piece, yet Shen’s interest in cultural relationships to art is thrilling. Being thrust into the middle of a parade in Mumbai is captivating, as is our brief visit to the Denali National Park in Alaska. It is in these brief asides, these experiential moments, that the film’s argument that silence (or more so noiselessness, if the difference makes sense) is physically and spiritually healing comes through clearest. Sure, telling the viewer that interacting online may lead to earlier signs of dementia, but there’s something much more impactful, much more tactile in actually seeing the beauty of silence first hand.

That being said, the film is rightly dense for a roughly 80 minute run time. While the experiential moments do take up a majority, the scientific and cultural discussion is quite engrossing. Noise is something one interacts with from the moment they wake up to the moment they fall asleep, yet it’s something few people truly grasp conceptually. Be it walking to work or going to a football game, noise is everywhere and in the volume that one encounters it, it can be unfathomably dangerous.

Again, clocking in at just around 80 minutes, Silence is a captivating meditation (quite literally) on noise, silence and the human relationship with and to them. With noise coming at us from all ends throughout the day, every day, silence is something one should truly strive for, and this documentary hints as to just why it’s worth the effort. »

- Joshua Brunsting

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Joshua Reviews Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist [Theatrical Review]

22 June 2017 4:22 PM, PDT

Sometimes, finding a way into theaters can be a touch difficult. Especially for pieces of world cinema.

This has been the case for director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, and his latest film The Ornithologist. Despite garnering some buzz behind films like Human Capital, Rodrigues is ostensibly a new voice to many cinephiles. Yet, one would assume that if your picture gathered great notices out of festivals as prestigious as Toronto and as critically important as Rotterdam and Locarno, your film would be the talk of the town as soon as festival season was over?

Well, nearly a year after making its first premiere, The Ornithologist has finally fostered a theatrical release with the help of the fine folks at Strand Releasing, and it couldn’t have come at a better, albeit relatively late, moment on the calendar.

Just the pitch perfect type of quiet counter programming to battle the giant robots and caped crusaders taking control of screens across the country, Ornithologist tells the story of the titular bird watcher and a fateful journey into a Portuguese forest.

We meet Fernando (Paul Hamy), a lonesome bird expert as he floats down a river in the northern part of Portugal, hunting for endangered black storks. The premise doesn’t sound enticing, yet when Fernando comes in contact a pair of Chinese girls on their own journey to Santiago de Compostela, things take a decidedly bizarre turn. Saved by the duo after getting swept away by rapids, Fernando finds himself lost deep within the forest, unsure of how (or if he will ever) make it out. Along his journey he’ll meet a variety of men and women who may not seem at first glance like catalysts for great change within him, yet spark an evolution entirely unexpected.

A quiet and unassuming picture, Ornithologist is first and foremost an enticing piece of formalism. Told through softly spoken, static shots marked by the occasional burst of energy (be it a montage or a new discovery happened upon by our lead), the film is one of tones and moods. Much like, arguably, his best film, The Last Time I Saw Macao, Rodrigues crafts painterly, often quietly erotic images that are only elevated by some truly awe-inspiring photography. Sequences shift from warm, waterfront shots of a beautiful Fernando sunbathing in his underwear, to an icy sequence that finds that same topless Fernando tied of to a tree with castration being threatened. From the sun soaked sequences shore side to the deep blacks and blues we encounter as we ourselves get lost in the dense forest in front of us, the photography here is really superlative. The camera work is relatively straightforward, yet each frame is buzzing with an energy rooted squarely in Rodrigues’ use of this camera work.

Throughout his journey, Fernando comes across many a person who will ultimately lead him to the film’s sure-to-be polarizing (read: brilliant) final sequence. Ranging from a mute boy named Jesus to a pack of topless, gun-weilding women speaking Latin on horseback, narratively the film owes a great debt to classical odyssey tales. Drawing comparisons to filmmakers ranging from Bunuel to Weerasethakul, Rodrigues’ use of narrative is not so much baroque (there isn’t much specificity given to the world surrounding our lead) as it is absurdist, offering a great deal of thematic depth through moments that, taken in a vacuum, don’t seem to mean much. The film opens on a quote from St. Anthony, showing its themes from the opening frames. Deeply rooted in existential issues, the film is at once a film of queer self discovery, and also asks large existential questions which it never truly quite answers. The final frame of the picture hints and Rodrigues’ idea of how to combat deep existential angst, but there is an obtuseness, an otherworldliness to this film that makes it something entirely it’s own. »

- Joshua Brunsting

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NYC’s Quad Cinema Debuts New Bertrand Tavernier Retrospective; Runs June 20-29

22 June 2017 3:22 PM, PDT

Since revamping and reopening just a handful of months ago, New York City’s The Quad Cinema has become yet another top tier art house offering up some of the year’s most interesting retrospectives and film series. Be it a retrospective for filmmaker Lina Wertmuller or their superlative look at the immigrant experience through a cinematic lens, The Quad has given cinephiles rather frequent occasion to put down their hard earned cash and take in a film or two.

Now, on the occasion of the release of the director’s latest documentary, the theater is commencing yet another revelatory retrospective, this time of an underrated juggernaut of French cinema.

Rarely uttered in the same breath as the true titans of French cinema, director Bertrand Tavernier has cemented himself as one of the nation’s great cinematic artists through his human and humane portraits of various communities. After getting his start as an assistant to director Jean-Pierre Melville, Tavernier would in many ways jettison with stylistic formalism of his contemporaries for pictures that feel far more tactile and loose. Lived in is a term often thrown around with Tavernier’s work, and it’s fitting despite being something of a cliche. Yes, his pictures feel decidedly of one singular voice and worldview, yet there is an audacious energy to each frame that ultimately turns each picture into a vital document of a very specific subculture. Older than many New Wave directors, it’s clear to see that Tavernier would garner much influence from their work, yet he never lost sight of the specificity of his own aesthetic eye.

So, this retrospective couldn’t have come at a more exciting moment. Not only is Tavernier back with a new picture that is a centerpiece of sorts here, but the director is the type of undervalued auteur that is just the type of discovery cineastes crave. Take Death Watch, for example. A gorgeously composed satire that is only more relevant today as its tale of a reporter capturing the last moments of a woman’s life through the camera in his eye is as prescient as ever. Harvey Keitel stars opposite Romy Schneider, both of whom are truly fantastic here, in what plays like a minor work when taken in context of masterpieces like Coup de Torchon, but is a delightful discovery in its own right.

Speaking of Torchon, Tavernier’s masterpiece and still arguably his best picture is part of this 17 film series, as is the brilliant Round Midnight. Starring Dexter Gordon, the film introduces the viewer to a talented yet deeply troubled saxophone player in late 50’s Paris, and is one of Tavernier’s most moving and stylistically exciting works. The music here is recorded live, with Gordon playing opposite legends like Herbie Hancock and the brilliant Freddie Hubbard. It’s this type of tactile vitality that’s a staple of Tavernier’s work, proving the filmmaker to be something far more than the intellectual-turned-critic-turned-filmmaker that he is oft billed as.

But those seeking Tavernier’s critical lens won’t have to look much further than his dry but profoundly dense new film My Journey Through French Cinema. Clocking in at well over three hours, we watch as Tavernier weaves a yarn about ostensibly his experience with cinema of his homeland, going from the works of Jacques Becker to those of the New Wave generation that would come right after he began working. Looking critically at everything from Casque D’Or to Le Petit Soldat, Tavernier takes a similar route as someone like Martin Scorsese, ostensibly building a critical analysis of cinema out of a deeply personal memoir. Built around Tavernier’s own experiences seeing these respective films (even down to the specific theaters he saw them in), French Cinema doesn’t just see the personal nature of its title as a superficiality. While yes, the picture is quite dry and a lengthy watch, there’s something quietly moving about it, turning the often dull “video essay” into something far more captivating.

For more information on this retrospective, head over to The Quad online. »

- Joshua Brunsting

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Criterion Now – Episode 20 – September 2017 Announcements, Jeanne Dielman, Monterey Pop

20 June 2017 5:45 PM, PDT

Aaron welcomes back Keith Enright, The Completionist, from his lengthy sabbatical to get into the September releases and more. We talk about the scarcity of announcements, whether Othello counts, how great and challenging Jeanne Dielman is, whether there’s a chance for an upgrade of an upgrade, and a number of other Criterion and film related topics.

Episode Links Criterion Completion – Hour 7 How Often Are Announcements Late? Aaron’s Top Films of the 21st Century Monterey Pop – 50th Anniversary Barry Levinson in the Criterion Closet Henry Fool – Boxed Set Kickstarter Episode Credits Aaron West: Twitter | Website | Letterboxd Keith Enright: Twitter | Website Criterion Now: Twitter | Facebook Group Criterion Cast: Facebook | Twitter

Music for the show is from Fatboy Roberts’ Geek Remixed project. »

- Aaron West

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