Saturday, December 31, 2022

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2022: my favourites

Dror Moreh: The Corridors of Power (US 2022). For me, the film of the year. Seen in Telluride in the presence of Dror Moreh.

Antti Alanen
Senses of Cinema World Poll 2022

Top tens in viewing order.

Madres paralelas / Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar, 2021). DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.
Pahanhautoja / Hatching (Hanna Bergman, 2022), DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.
Petite maman (Céline Sciamma, 2021) DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.
Babi Jar. Kontekst / Babi Yar. Context (Sergei Loznitsa, 2021) DCP, Midnight Sun Film Festival.
Elvis (Baz Luhrmann, 2022) DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.
On ne sait jamais / You Never Know (Victoria Schultz, 2022) Vimeo
The Corridors of Power (Dror Moreh, 2022), my film of the year, greatly enhanced by seen as a sequel to The U.S. and the Holocaust 1–3 (Ken Burns, 2022). DCP, Telluride, in the presence of Dror Moreh.
Tár (Todd Field, 2022) DCP, Telluride, in the presence of Cate Blanchett.
She Said (Maria Schrader, 2022) DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.
Holy Spider / Ankaboote moghaddas (Ali Abbasi, 2022) DCP, Finnkino Strand, Lappeenranta.

Kahdeksan surmanluotia / Eight Deadly Shots (Mikko Niskanen, 1972) 2022 restoration by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Yleisradio Oy, Fiction Finland ry and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory. World premiere of the long version in 35 mm. Viewed at Midnight Sun Film Festival. I introduced the Bologna and Telluride screenings.
Protéa (Victorin Jasset, 1913). DCP. 2013 restoration. Bologna
À Vendredi, Robinson (Mitra Farahani, 2022). DCP. Jean-Luc Godard and Ebrahim Golestan in long-distance dialogue. Bologna.
The Raid (Hugo Fregonese, 1954). In this annus mirabilis of his, Fregonese also directed Black Tuesday. Both 35 mm, Bologna.
Cheshmeh / The Fountain (Arby Ovanessian, 1972). 35 mm, 2022 restoration by La Cinémathèque francaise, Bologna
Canoa: Memoriade un hecho vergonzoso / Canoa: A Shameful Memory (Felipe Cazals, 1976). DCP, 2022 restoration The Criterion Collection, Bologna
Thamp / The Circus Tent (Aravindan Govindan, 1978). DCP, 2022 restoration Film Heritage Foundation, Bologna
Poznavaya belyi svet / Getting to Know the Big, Wide World (Kira Muratova, 1980). DCP, Telluride, introduced by Kira Kovalenko and Kantemir Balagov
Segundo de Chomón in Barcelona (Segundo de Chomón, 1912), DCP, 2021 restoration by Filmoteca de Catalunya. Pordenone.
Lumière Suisse: Lavanchy-Clarke (Société Lumière, 1896–1904). DCP, curated by Roland Cosandey, Dominique Moustacchi and Hansmartin Siegrist. Pordenone.

2022 is a candidate for the worst year in film history. There were excellent films, but too few. There were big box office hits, but not enough. This is a year in which I rooted for Tom Cruise, the last film star in the sense of being the only one able to break a film everywhere (Top Gun: Maverick). The turmoil of the film industry, the film transport and the film culture continued. Add to that the climate crisis, the pandemic, Putin’s Feldzug against Ukraine, the energy crisis and the financial crisis. But I am an optimist in all counts.

Antti Alanen, film programmer (KAVI / National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki).

Published in the Senses of Cinema web magazine, Issue 104, 1 Feb 2023.

This year was the toughest in my working life. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I usually failed to write about the films I saw. May that soon change.

On 17 July 2022 I quit the social media because of hate speech (against others, not me). I had shared a wonderful interview with the author Rosa Liksom (writer of the novel Compartment Number 6) from the Sunday Helsingin Sanomat in their series "My Russia". Liksom is a well-known critic of the Russian government who has stated that the war against Ukraine has been anticipated since 1991, but she loves the Russian people. That seemed too much to some. In my conviction Russophobia only serves Putin. I miss all the wonderful friends and stimulating conversations in the social media but refuse to provide a platform for hate speech.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Holy Spider / Ankaboote moghaddas

Ali Abbasi: عنکبوت مقدس / Holy Spider / Ankaboote moghaddas / Les Nuits de Mashhad (DK 2022). The figure in the Persian carpet: a prostitute gives the "come on" sign.

Holy Spider / Holy Spider / عنکبوت مقدس /  Ankaboote moghaddas.
    DK/DE/SE/FR © 2022 Profile Pictures / One Two Films (PC) and Nordisk Film Production, Wild Bunch International, Film i Väst, Why Not Productions, ZDF/ARTE and ARTE France Cinéma (co-PC).
    A film by Ali Abbasi.
    In cooperation with DR – Danish Broadcasting Corporation and SVT, in association with The Imaginarium Films, Rotor Film. Supported by The Danish Film Institute, Eurimages, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmförderungsanstalt, Swedish Film Institute, DFFF, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein. 
    Produced by: Sol Bondy, Jacob Jarek. P: Ali Abbasi. Co-P: Eva Åkergren, Calle Marthin, Peter Possne, Fred Burle, Vincent Maraval, Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorlat, Olivier Père, Rémi Burah. Assoc P: Holger Stern, Alexander Bohr, Barbara Häbe, Zar Amir Ebrahimi. EX: Ditte Milsted, Christoph Lange.
    D: Ali Abbasi. SC: Ali Abbasi & Afshin Kamran Bahrami. DP: Nadim Carlsen. PD: Lina Nordqvist. M: Martin Dirkov. ED: Olivia Neergaard-Holm.
    C: Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Rahimi), Mehdi Bajestani (Saeed), Arash Ashtiani (Sharifi), Forouzan Jamshidnejad (Fatima), Alice Rahimi (Somayeh), Sara Fazilat (Zinab), Sina Parvaneh (Rostami), Nima Akbarpour (judge), Mesbah Taleb (Ali).
    Loc: Jordan.
    117 min
    Language: Farsi.
    International sales: Wild Bunch International.
    Festival premiere: 22 May 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
    US festival premiere: 2 Sep 2022 Telluride Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 23 Dec 2022 – released in Finland by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Janne Kauppila / Marcus Hallenkranz.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 2, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 26 Dec 2022.

"Ali Abbasi’s riveting true-crime story follows a serial murderer of prostitutes in Mashhad, Iran’s holy city. Working from a screenplay cowritten with Afshin Kamran Bahrami, Abbas presents Saeed, superbly played by Mehdi Bajestani, not as a frothing-at-the mouth, eye-bulging maniac, but as a hard-working, pious family man who hopes to do something meaningful with his life. In a parallel story, the female investigative reporter Rahimi (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, winner of Cannes Best Actress award for her intense performance) must constantly confront the misogyny of her colleagues, the cops and of Iranian society, which in some cases even encourages the killings. Abbas’ first film BORDER was a delightfully disturbing and comedic erotic horror film that unfolded in Sweden. Here, with a story set in the country of his birth, he transitions to a documentary-style social realism with astonishing skill. –LG (Denmark-Germany-Sweden-France, 2022, 117m) In person: Ali Abbasi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi" (Larry Gross, Telluride Film Festival, 2+3+4 Sep 2022)

"A female journalist travels to the Iranian holy city of Mashhad to hunt a serial killer."
"Female journalist Rahimi travels to the Iranian holy city of Mashhad to investigate a serial killer targeting sex workers. As she draws closer to exposing his crimes, the opportunity for justice grows harder to attain when the murderer is embraced by many as a hero. Based on the true story of the ‘Spider Killer’ Saeed Hanaei, who saw himself as on a mission from God as he killed 16 women between 2000 and 2001." (Holy Spider press notes)
AA: First impressions and remarks:

1. "Everyone must meet what one wants to avoid." The film's motto seems to refer to the protagonist, the journalist Rahimi.

2. Serial killer fiction is a tired trend, but Holy Spider is different in many ways.

3. The account of sexual violence is brutal and unflinching, but Ali Abbasi's gaze is not sadistic. It is revelatory.

4. The story of sexual violence precedes the serial killer narrative. The victims are opium-addicted sex workers. Their customers identify sex with violence. Their agenda is to make women suffer. There is even an explicit purpose to damage the vulva. Women are serially punished, then murdered, the corpses disposed to wasteland.

5. Martin Dirkov's powerful score is hallucinatory, and one might call it hallucinogenic. It seems to connect with the opium-altered state of the sex workers' consciousness.

6. The performances of Zar Amir Ebrahimi as the journalist Rahimi and Mehdi Bajestani as the serial killer Saeed are extraordinary.

7. Saeed is a pious family father. On the topic of whether he is crazy he answers: "I'm crazy about cleansing the world", "I'm crazy about God".

8. The fearless journalist Rahimi knows about harassment. She was fired from her previous job having refused her editor-in-chief's advances. Now in Mashhad she has to fend off a police officer's violent harassment, and refuse her male journalist colleague's unwelcome passes.

9. Themes revealed along the investigation: the post-traumatic stress disorder of Saeed, a veteran of the Iran-Iraqi war. The despair of the women of the street. The complicity of the wife who knows about her husband's murderous ways.

10. The violence escalates. It culminates with the tough woman who proves almost impossible to kill. Followed by Rahimi who risks her life by turning into a decoy.

11. After the journalist Rahimi has exposed the killer, the imam congratulates the police.

12. Like in Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing, the execution procedure is played in almost real time. There is time to reflect on capital punishment. Capital punishment does not reduce crime, on the contrary. It brutalizes society because when a one-time killer knows that he may be executed, he can kill more without concern for further punishment.

13. The film begins when it ends. The next generation may follow in the father's footsteps. Much of the society condones Saeed's acts. But as we know from today's news 20 years later, women of Iran are increasingly following Rahimi's way.

14. The spider is a many-layered image. The spider killer is Saaed. His neighbourhood is his spider's web, and the center is his home where many murders take place.
    But there is more. I quote from the Ali Abbasi interview in the press notes of Holy Spider:
    Q: "Discuss the spider in your title".
    A: "There’s a double meaning there. In the Iranian press, Saeed was referred to as the Spider Killer because he was luring victims into his web — often his apartment itself. The metaphor came out of that. But when I flew into Mashhad, I saw the famous shrine in the center of the city and it looked like a web. Saeed probably visited it often, and many of his victims were picked up in the vicinity. The idea of him coming out of that web and dragging his victims into darkness became a strong image for me, because in his mind he was doing holy work."
    Spider associations in culture run from tarantella dancing and dreamcatchers to arachnophobia and Spiderverse. Luis Buñuel, the great entomologist, and his entire family were obsessed by spiders (Luis devotes a chapter to them in his memoir Mon dernier soupir, the juiciest parts supplied by his sister Conchita).
    I don't know about other countries, but in Finland the sexual symbolism of the spider is familiar even for children, who can draw the female Thing-In-Itself as a stick figure of the eight-legged creature. (See the final image beyond the jump break).

15. Among serial killer films, Holy Spider is exceptional. In many of the best, the elusiveness of the killer seems to evoke that more is at stake than tracking down the singular culprit.
    A prototype of a serial killer stalking sex workers was Jack the Ripper in film adaptations of The Lodger, including Hugo Fregonese's Man in the Attic. (Not forgetting Weimar fascination in Jack the Ripper in Das Wachsfigurenkabinett und Die Büchse der Pandora).
    The distinction of Holy Spider is that it opens into the wider horror of misogyny in religion, society and history.
    Like in The Silence of the Lambs, the investigator protagonist is female.
    In both movies, killers evoke insect imagery. In The Silence of the Lambs, it is the butterfly: "Caterpillar into chrysalis, or pupa, from thence into beauty".
    In Holy Spider, we begin to realize that the monster is sustained by a world wide web of misogyny.

The holy city of Mashhad, the second most populous city of Iran. Photo supplied by Ehsan Khoshbakht. After Mecca, Mashhad is the second most important Holy City. Near the border of Afghanistan, it is a pilgrim hub.


Friday, December 23, 2022

Jeanne Dielman as Number One at the Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll 2022

The cover of Sight & Sound – Volume 33, Issue 1, Winter 2022/2023. Photo from: Chantal Akerman: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce – 1080 Bruxelles (BE/FR 1975) starring Delphine Seyrig as Jeanne Dielman.

The announcement on 2 December 2022 that Number One in Sight & Sound's prestigious The Greatest Film of All Time poll is now Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce – 1080 Bruxelles has elicited a lot of comment, this week also in major Finnish media. Tero Kartastenpää covers Jeanne Dielman in Helsingin Sanomat, and Tuomas Karemo at Yle the Finnish Broadcasting Company website.

Jeanne Dielman has its official Finnish theatrical premiere today, released by the enterprising ELKE society – coincidentally just now, and independently of the Sight & Sound poll.

The status of Jeanne Dielman has slowly consolidated. It featured prominently in Mark Cousins's epic survey Women Make Film (2019). The film historian Gerald Peary conducted in April 2022 a vast survey on the best films directed by women, and Jeanne Dielman was number one also in it.

Jeanne Dielman is far more radical and experimental than any other Sight & Sound Top Ten film during the last 70 years.

These polls started in the year 1952. Those were the days of classical cinephilia, when there was consensus about classics.

Consensus prevailed until the 1980s when home viewing formats and the explosion of films on television and later in the web made us all more aware about the world wide wonders of the cinema.

Simultaneously, a silent film revival took place. Although most silents are lost, we have now wider access to silent goldies than ever.

This is an age of a thousand flowers. The collective top ten is the most boring part of the top ten exercise. Individual top ten lists are more interesting, such as this one:

Alice Rohrwacher

Strike / Stachka (Sergei Eisenstein, SU 1925)
Miracle in Milan / Miracolo a Milano (Vittorio De Sica, IT 1951)
Nights of Cabiria / Le notti di Cabiria (Federico Fellini, IT/FR 1957)
The Earth Seen from the Moon / La Terra vista dalla Luna (Pier Paolo Pasolini, IT/FR 1967)
Getting to Know the Big, Wide World / Poznavaya belyi svet (Kira Muratova, SU 1978)
Tale of Tales / Skazka skazok (Yuri Norstein, SU 1979)
The Blue Planet / Il pianeta azzurro (Franco Piavoli, IT 1982)
Vagabond / Sans noit ni loi (Agnès Varda, FR 1985)
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki, FI/FR/DE 2011)
The Colour of Pomegranates / Nran guyne / Sayat Nova (Sergei Parajanov, SU-Armenian 1969)

What do I make of Jeanne Dielman's new standing?

I think it's a great twist to the consensus.

In Helsinki, Jeanne Dielman has belonged to our programming repertory since 1988 when it opened our series "The Challenge of Feminism" curated by Tuike Alitalo. Before that, I had seen the film in West Berlin where it was regularly screened at Arsenal. Freunde der deutschen Kinemathek possessed a 35 mm print of their own.

Tuike Alitalo in our 1988 program note stressed the revolutionary status of Jeanne Dielman as a feminist film. It was not only about tearing away from a traditional way to portray a woman. It was not only telling different stories about women or portraying women differently. It was about questioning the very idea of the cinema. It was about a totally novel relationship between image and story, cinema and storytelling. For Alitalo, Jeanne Dielman reflects on all subsequent feminist cinema.

Since then, I have been getting to know Akerman's versatile oeuvre better. Her presence was felt at Midnight Sun Film Festival in 1991, hosted by Peter von Bagh at the morning discussion. I have learned to appreciate her talent in non-fiction and also in fresh approaches to unfilmable classics such as In Search of Lost Time in La Captive, based on La Prisonnière.

As her penultimate movie Akerman filmed Joseph Conrad's first novel, Almayer's Folly. It is a veiled confession, a coming to terms with the director's distant father. A deep Conradian bond was based on the theme of exile and a fascination with the Other. Akerman discussed all this in an illuminating interview with Cyril Béghin.

Then came the final movie, a last will and testament: No Home Movie. In Almayer's Folly, Akerman was indirectly discussing her own father. No Home Movie was about her mother, just like Jeanne Dielman.

Both No Home Movie and Jeanne Dielman take place in homes that are spaces of homelessness. No Home Movie could be an alternative title for Jeanne Dielman, and the same could be said about The Captive, as well.

The sense of a philosophy of history is powerful. Akerman's oeuvre can be seen as a coming to terms with the Holocaust, the trauma unhealed, the basic bond of trust in society broken, the faith in humanity unrestored.

Jeanne Dielman is superficially a naturalistic movie, even kitchen sink. But in many ways it is an uncanny film. "No Home Movie" is a possible literal translation of an "unheimlich" movie, "unheimlich" meaning "not homely". But the word has a double sense, since in German the main meaning of "heimlich" is "secret".

Many currents in Jeanne Dielman's world lead to the experience of the uncanny. From the viewpoint of feminist theory, Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection is the most essential. It covers the Jeanne Dielman experience.

Towards the end of Akerman's oeuvre many of those currents connected, made sense and illuminated also retroactively the towering achievement of Jeanne Dielman, which Akerman created with a great sense of purpose at the age of 25 – the same age in which Orson Welles directed Citizen Kane.

To evoke yet another top ten film, Akerman's work, although set at home, also grows into a space odyssey – an interior space odyssey, un Voyage autour de ma chambre. Or Tao Te Ching, as channeled by George Harrison in "The Inner Light":

Without going out of my door
I can know all things on Earth

Without looking out of my window
I could know the ways of Heaven

The Sight & Sound 2022 Poll: All Voters.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Avatar: The Way of Water

James Cameron: Avatar: The Way of Water (US 2022) starring Zoe Saldaña (Neytiri) and Sam Worthington (Jake Sully).

US © 2022 20th Century Studios, Inc. / TSG Entertainment. A Lightstorm Entertainment Production. PC: Lightstorm Entertainment & TSG Entertainment. Distributor: 20th Century Studios. P: James Cameron, Jon Landau.
    D: James Cameron. SC: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Story by: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Josh Friedman, Shane Salerno. Based on: characters by James Cameron.
    Cin: Russell Carpenter. Camera: Sony CineAlta Venice 3D. Source format: X-OCN RAW. Master format: Digital Intermediate 4K. Release format: D-Cinema, 4K, also 3-D: RealD 3D, Dolby Cinema, IMAX ja IMAX 3D. Select showings also support dynamic high frame rate up to 48 fps. Released in Dolby Vision.
    PD: Dylan Cole, Ben Procter. AD: Luke Freeborn, Kim Sinclair. Set dec: Vanessa Cole. Cost: Bob Buck, Deborah L. Scott. Makeup & hair: Sarah Rubano. Senior VFX Supervisor: Joe Letteri. Lightstorm's VFX Supervisor / Virtual 2nd Unit Director: Richard Baneham. Tattoo artist: Michael Krehl. Prosthetics: Jess Reedy (ProFX). Animatronix: Weta Workshop. VFX: Weta FX, Lightstorm Entertainment. AN: Weta FX.
    ED: Stephen E. Rivkin, David Brenner, John Refoua, James Cameron. S: Dick Bernstein, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle. M: Simon Franglen. The Avatar theme: James Horner (1953-2015). Casting: Oryan Landa.
    C: Na'vi / Recombinants (recoms): Sam Worthington (Jake Sully), Zoe Saldaña (Neytiri), Sigourney Weaver (double role as Kiri and Dr. Grace Augustine), Stephen Lang (double role as Colonel Miles Quaritch Recombinant and the original Quaritch in a recording), Kate Winslet (Ronal), Cliff Curtis (Tonowari), Britain Dalton (Lo'ak), Jamie Flatters (Neteyam), Trinity Jo-Li Bliss (Tuktirey), Bailey Bass (Tsireya), Filip Geljo (Aonung), Duane Evans, Jr. (Rotxo), CCH Pounder (Mo'at), Matt Gerald (Corporal Lyle Wainfleet), Alicia Vela-Bailey (Zdinarsk), CJ Jones (Metkayina interpreter).
    Humans: Jack Champion (Spider), Joel David Moore (Dr. Norm Spellman), Edie Falco (General Frances Ardmore), Brendan Cowell (Captain Mick Scoresby), Jemaine Clement (Dr. Ian Garvin), Dileep Rao (Dr. Max Patel), Giovanni Ribisi (Parker Ribisi).
    Studios: Stone Street Studios (Wellington, NZ), MBS Media Campus (Manhattan Beach, CA).
    Filming dates: 25 Sep 2017.
    Languages: English, Na'vi.
    192 min
    London premiere: 6 Dec 2022.
    US premiere: 16 Dec 2022.
    Finnish premiere: 14 Dec 2022, released by Walt Disney Motion Pictures Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Janne Staffans.
    3D HFR DCP viewed at Finnkino Strand 1, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 17 Dec 2022.

AA: I liked the original Avatar (2009) 13 years ago, as I liked Titanic in 1997.

First impressions of Avatar: The Way of Water: there is an irresistible, compelling drive. Although James Cameron had given his permission to go to pee during the movie, I did not go, nor did I glance at my watch, and it took a long while until I was able to start to take notes.

James Cameron belongs to what I call the architectonic-industrial school of the cinema: these directors are like generals or urban planners designing huge public spaces and spectacles. The Way of Water is a new amazing achievement in this major current of popular cinema.

One of the best pieces on James Cameron I know is Daniel Mendelsohn's essay on Avatar in The New York Review of Books. Mendelsohn's point of reference is The Wizard of Oz, Cameron's favourite movie. Like in The Wizard of Oz, there is in Avatar a visual contrast between the drab monotonous world of normality and the staggering colour and the ravishing light from beyond. Mendelsohn names Cameron's visual look, already familiar from The Abyss, "bioluminescence". Mendelsohn found visual ravishment the principal experience of the movie, enhanced by the "surprisingly subtle use of 3-D technology". (I blogged about Mendelsohn in 2010.)

The use of 3-D technology is much more advanced in The Way of Water, and the 3D High Frame Rate (48 fps) presentation I experienced was impeccable. But as in the first Avatar, I noticed the preference for cold colours. Although a celebration of life is intended, the colour world is that of death. Anyway, the waterworld is breathtaking in 3D, the deep focus unique, the composition in depth stunning all the way.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) was the first film I saw in 3-D HFR. It was ultra-sharp and superior to previous 3-D experiences, but the ultra-sharpness also emphasized the uncanniness. The ambiguity remains in The Way of Water, but it is getting more refined.

Avatar: The Way of Water is a science fiction epic, a cyberpunk tale, a disaster film, a dystopia about ecocatastrophe, a fantasy, a myth, a war film and a guerrilla hero saga.

It is not a film of psychological subtlety or immortal dialogue. But it creates compelling worlds of imagination. It is about escapism, but also about the impossibility of escape: everywhere we find ourselves.

In the first Avatar we had destroyed the Earth and attacked Pandora to exploit its resources and suppress indigenous peoples. The war starts again in the sequel. Warlords of "the sky people" (= us) who have already died are resurrected as recoms. They can also assume the form of the indigenous Na'avi.

We encounter a whole new world of sea tribes, the Metkayina clan, and a new and original universe of visual fantasy is introduced. A central role is played by intelligent sea creatures, the tulkun, sentient, whale-like creatures. The entire ecosystem is interconnected in peaceful harmony. Other new creatures include the ilu and the skimwing.

As a poet of the ocean Cameron is a follower of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Rachel Carson. He has explored the oceanic theme before in Titanic, The Abyss, Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. The Way of Water takes the Cameronian "bioluminescence", the term coined by Daniel Mendelsohn, to the next level.

Cameron also connects with the greatest sea tale of all, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. When the "sky-people" attack the tulkun, the usually peaceful creatures finally react like the white whale.

Because life on Pandora is based on peace, love and harmony, it is vulnerable to the brutal attack of the sky people. The fact that the most evil power can brutalize all is one of the greatest tragedies in history. In The Way of Water, the war between the physically superior imperialists and the weaker guerrilla people evokes Russia's Feldzug in Ukraine and the USA's Quixotic attacks in Vietnam and Irak.

At stake is the pacifist's dilemma. The principle of "resist no evil" is an expression of the highest order: the reverence for life. Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived as they taught and were executed or murdered. Did they lose? It is too early to tell. By dying for their cause they became immortal. Leo Tolstoy was devastated when the Czar's Imperial Guard massacred Father Gapon's peaceful demonstrators on St. Petersburg's Bloody Sunday in 1905, a turning-point leading to the violence in 1917.

As always, James Cameron creates strong female roles. Men are incarnations of the death drive. Women are the carriers of the life force. The young generation features prominently. Indigenous Maori actors are highlighted in this film largely produced in New Zealand.

The Avatar movies are milestones of animation, and in animation, human or humanoid characters are still far from being as engaging as actors in regular live action movies. There is still the uncanny valley: it is inherently difficult to relate to digital humanoids. James Cameron has created many fantastic worlds of imagination. The characters inhabiting the Pandora worlds are not yet irresistibly memorable, but they might be in the process of becoming so.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Souvenirs de désir / Memories of Desire

Victoria Schultz: Souvenirs de désir / Memories of Desire (FR/US 2019). "Much of the relationship is conducted via intimate letters". The word on the blackboard is "rakkaus" = love, emerging in various declensions.

FR/US © 2019 Victoria Schultz. PC: Kafard Films / Victoria Schultz Production. P+D+SC: Victoria Schultz. EX+Cin: Paul-Anthony Mille – Arriflex IIC 1958, 35 mm Fujifilm – Academy – mostly b&w. Asst cin+film loader: Juliana Velez. Set designer: Simon Legros. M arrangement: Charly Mandon.
    Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters. Charly Mandon: Quartettsatz Op. 19. Jean Sibelius: String Quartet No. 4, Voces Intimae.
    Manon Galy (I violin), Helia Fassi (II violin), Clara Germont (viola), Anna Sypniewski (cello).
    Sound editor: Simon Legall. Film editor: Guillaume Caramelle.
    C: Milan Marsauche (Monsieur), Victoria Schultz (Girl), Ines Conceicao (Mother), Nick Mancuso (Voice for Monsieur).
    Studio: Cormont Studio, Loiret.
    Two language versions: French and English.
    30 min
    Vimeo link of the English version viewed at home.

AA: Victoria Schultz was born in Finland but has worked all her life in the United States and France and established independent production companies in both countries (Viva Vision and Kafard Films). After a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, documentary filmmaker and photographer Schultz has worked extended periods with the Finnish Broadcasting Company and the United Nations.

Recently Schultz has embarked on a new path of expression with personal, poetic quests, returning at a mature age to painful encounters of youth in Memories of Desire (2019), photographed mostly in bold black and white high contrast Expressionist style, not in pastiche. Memories of Desire is an erotic Bildungsroman of a 17 year old girl in Helsinki in 1958. Victoria Schultz herself plays the part of her 60 years younger self.

The mode has affinities with the Kammerspiel films of the Weimar Republic such as Schatten and the whole théâtre intime cycle written by Carl Mayer. These are film of interiority, starkly abstracted with stylized characters, spaces often overwhelmed by large shadows.

The monologue intérieur quality is deepened by a music score based on Leoš Janáček's Intimate Letters, Charly Mandon's Quartettsatz Op. 19 and Jean Sibelius's Voces intimae played live for the movie.

The film is in black and white with one recurrent obsessive image in colour of a Midsummer bonfire in front of which the man and the woman struggle, the female trying to evade male desire. Love is a play with fire.

The dream stage is stark and powerful. The motifs include dolls and a penis shaped pastry, disassembled by the girl.

Memories of Desire is a bitter, poetic, oneiric confession of a woman's grand disenchantment in love.


Friday, December 02, 2022

Sight & Sound Top Ten 2022: The Greatest Films of All Time: My Top Ten

Louis Lumière: Barque sortant du port / Boat Leaving the Port (FR 1897). Société Lumière. Catalogue Lumière, vue N° 9.

1.    Barque sortant du port / Boat Leaving the Port
Year: 1897
Director(s): Louis Lumière
Comment: Société Lumière. Catalogue Lumière, vue N° 9. The art of observation, the art of the poetic image, a timeless vision in less than a minute.

2.    Lyudyna z kinoaparatom / Man with a Movie Camera
Year: 1929
Director(s): Dziga Vertov
Comment: Dziga Vertov's Cine-Eye vision at its most exciting. All possibilities of the moving image are dynamized, including the capacity of self-reflection. Cinema like this is not for passive consumption but for changing the world, yet a wake-up call like this is also stimulating entertainment.

3.    City Lights
Year: 1931
Director(s): Charles Chaplin
Comment: "You can see now?" The finale is unforgettable, and its grandeur is based on all that has happened before. The figure of the Tramp has never been more topical. There will be hundreds of millions of tramps as refugees from the global climate crisis.

4.    Letter from an Unknown Woman
Year: 1948
Director(s): Max Ophuls
Comment: One of the best-known and least-known films. We seem always to miss the point just like Stefan Brand (Louis Jourdan) always forgets Lisa Berndle (Joan Fontaine) who has loved him all his life. This story of the mysterious power of transference is an anti-romantic tale told in the most tenderly romantic manner as a double narrative.

5.    Kahdeksan surmanluotia / Eight Deadly Shots
Year: 1972
Director(s): Mikko Niskanen
Comment: A rich and engrossing family saga from a period of a violent transformation of an agricultural country. People who have always lived in harmony with nature are about to face modernization, urbanization and globalization. The universal theme is that of being out of time, obsolete: what happens when the world we knew suddenly vanishes around us. It is also a seismic blow to patriarchy and masculinity in general. The father is no longer able to sustain his family and loses respect and self-respect. As a director, Mikko Niskanen is equally talented in scenes of action and duration. As an actor in the leading role he creates an enduring portrait of an alcoholic.

6.    Sambizanga
Year: 1972
Director(s): Sarah Maldoror
Comment: Sarah Maldoror's revolutionary masterpiece about the liberation and resistance movement of the Angolan people against Portuguese colonizers is also a great story of love strong as death, told in the glorious colours of the African light.

7.    Yek etefagh sadeh / A Simple Event
Year: 1973
Director(s): Sohrab Shahid Saless
Comment: Before Abbas Kiarostami, there was Sohrab Shahid Saless and his A Simple Event, focusing on the ordeal of a little boy. The intensity in the account of the everyday is tremendous. Such cinema of duration is about being itself in the same sense as the concept of byt (быт) in Russian literature. In the cinema, Shahib Saless is most clearly a heir to Anton Chekhov.

8.    Hotaru no haka / Grave of the Fireflies
Year: 1988
Director(s): Isao Takahata
Comment: The ordeal of children in the firebombings of the Second World War is a subject that transcends the limits of understanding. Animation is the very means to handle even such a subject. From Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical story Isao Takahata created an anti-war masterpiece of cosmic grandeur.

9.    Dekalog / Decalogue
Year: 1987–1989
Director(s): Krzysztof Kieslowski
Comment: The culmination of Kieslowski's "cinema of moral anxiety": a panorama of life inspired by the ten commandments. In collaboration with the screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and the composer Zbigniew Preisner, Kieslowski obeys the classical unities of action, time and space to a certain extent, although all episodes tell differents stories with different actors and almost all have different cinematographers pursuing different visual expressions. TO THE EDITOR: if Dekalog is ineligible, my selection is: Krotki film o milosci / A Short Film About Love, 1988.

10.    Nomadland
Year: 2020
Director(s): Chloë Zhao
Comment: Female directors have been reinventing the Western, and it took a Chinawoman, Chloë Zhao, to create the greatest work of this recent trend. The powerfully landscape-driven film brings fresh insight into the classic Western figure of the wanderer. It also evokes The Grapes of Wrath, Dersu Uzala and The Ballad of Narayama. It includes a topical sequence at Amazon, and opens to the cosmic view of Shakespeare: "to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow" from Macbeth's "sound and fury" monologue.

Antti Alanen
Film Programmer
National Audiovisual Institute

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The Sight & Sound 2022 Poll: All Voters.

Sight & Sound Top Ten 2022: The Greatest Films of All Time

Chantal Akerman: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (BE/FR 1975) with Delphine Seyrig as Jeanne Dielman.

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (BE/FR 1975) D: Chantal Akerman.
2. Vertigo (US 1958) D: Alfred Hitchcock.
3. Citizen Kane (US 1941) D: Orson Welles.
4. Tokyo monogatari (JP 1953) D: Yasujiro Ozu.
5. In the Mood for Love (HK/FR 2000) D: Wong Kar Wai.
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/GB 1968) D: Stanley Kubrick.
7. Beau travail (FR 1998) D: Claire Denis.
8. Mulholland Dr. (FR/US 2001) D: David Lynch.
9. Lyudyna z kinoaparatom / Man with a Movie Camera (SU-UA 1929) D: Dziga Vertov.
10. Singin' in the Rain (US 1951) D: Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/GB 1968) D: Stanley Kubrick.
2. Citizen Kane (US 1941) D: Orson Welles.
3. The Godfather (US 1972) D: Francis Ford Coppola.
4. Tokyo monogatari (JP 1953) D: Yasujiro Ozu.
5. Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du Commece, 1080 Bruxelles (BE/FR 1975) D: Chantal Akerman.
6. Vertigo (US 1958) D: Alfred Hitchcock.
7. 8½ (IT/FR 1963) D: Federico Fellini.
8. Zerkalo / Mirror (SU 1975) D: Andrei Tarkovsky.
9. Persona (SE 1966) D: Ingmar Bergman.
9. In the Mood for Love (HK/FR 2000) D: Wong Kar Wai.
9. Close-Up (IR 1989) D: Abbas Kiarostami.

Jordan Ruimy / World of Reel / 7 Dec 2022: preliminary collection of directors' individual lists.

The Sight & Sound 2022 Poll: All Voters.