A former theater actor fascinated by the power of improvisation, John Cassavetes made an indelible mark on American independent cinema, bringing to the screen a visionary approach to performance and a relentless candor about the volatility of ordinary American life. Our collection John Cassavetes: Five Films, now streaming in full on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, begins with his directorial debut, Shadows (1959), and continues with Faces (1968) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974), two searing marital dramas; The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, a noirish tale about a gentleman’s club owner (1976); and Opening Night (1977), an unflinching investigation into the creative process. Supplemental features on our edition include Charles Kiselyak’s documentary A Constant Forge—The Life and Art of John Cassavetes (2000), alternate footage, and conversations between Gazzara and Rowlands.
When does art become exploitation? Romanian director Adrian Sitaru’s festival-favorite short Art (2014), a provocative satire about misguided pretensions, observes two filmmakers as they try to convince a mother to let her daughter take the role of a sexually abused child. In order to make their case, they cite Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976), a taboo-shattering art-house film about an all-consuming love affair that created enormous controversy upon its release.
Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy—Paradise: Love, Paradise: Faith, and Paradise: Hope
Like Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noé, Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl has long polarized audiences with his boundary-pushing dramas. Ranging from the exploits of a middle-aged sex tourist in Kenya to the tribulations of a teenage girl at a weight-loss camp, the stories in this ambitious triptych offer disturbing insights on morality and shame on the margins of contemporary European society. The complete trilogy is available to stream on the Channel through April 11 along with a new interview featuring cinematographer Ed Lachman.
The criminal underworld snares the unsuspecting in these two playful gangster films. In Andrew Bergman’s 1990 comedy The Freshman, Marlon Brando parodies his iconic performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, starring as a mob boss who takes a hapless film student (Matthew Broderick) under his wing. A freewheeling mix of thriller, comedy, and tragedy, François Truffaut’s 1960 Shoot the Piano Player accompanies a down-and-out musician as he finds himself swept up in a love affair and caught in the crosshairs of two crooks.