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Harsh Visions

Sandrine Bonnaire in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours (1983)

It’s been a rough and tumble week, so let’s get to it:

  • There’s a Maurice Pialat retrospective running in London through November, and for those unfamiliar with his work, BFI programmer Geoff Andrew recommends starting “at the beginning with Pialat’s marvelous and very moving first feature, L’enfance nue (1968).” In the new issue of Sight & Sound, David Thompson argues that Pialat’s “mission” was “to show France nue, naked, with all its prejudices, sexual imbalance, and class tensions laid out before his camera, with no apology or direct criticism.” Thompson goes on to describe the volatile atmosphere on Pialat’s sets and to outline what the work does and does not share with that of other directors to whom he’s been compared: Jean Renoir, Jacques Rozier, Robert Bresson, Ken Loach, and John Cassavetes.
  • Karina Longworth has released an audio trailer for the new season of You Must Remember This, her outstanding podcast that explores “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” Starting Tuesday, she’ll be delving into the stories behind and the issues raised by Song of the South (1946), “the most controversial film in the history of Disney Animation.” As Brett White noted at Decider on Monday, when the Disney+ streaming platform launches next month, there’ll be more than six hundred titles to choose from—and Song of the South will not be one of them. In his 2012 book, Disney’s Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South, Jason Sperb notes that the film “depicts plantation life in the late nineteenth century—a time marked by unimaginable cruelty—as a white musical utopia.” Sperb’s book tracks the complex and evolving reception of Song and its “paratexts”—the spoken and musical recordings, children’s books, television shows, toys, board games, theme park attractions, and so on—over the course of more than half a century.
  • Reviewing Edo Bertoglio’s Downtown 81, with Jean-Michel Basquiat more or less playing himself and featuring Debbie Harry, Fab Five Freddy, and John Lurie as well as musical performances by the likes of “No Wave deities” DNA, 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson resists the temptation “to slip into mawkish reverie about one very selective iteration of NYC.” She suggests that Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens (1982) is “in many ways, the gloomy inverse” of Downtown 81, not the least of which is the ultimate fate of the films’ respective protagonists. A new 35 mm print of Downtown 81 opens today at the Metrograph and will soon be heading to more cities in the U.S.

  • Starting today, and then continuing every day for a week, Film at Lincoln Center is presenting a new restoration of retired Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó (1994). As Patrick Dahl points out at Screen Slate, Sátántangó demands “seven internet-free hours to take in the film’s 171 shots (average length: ~2.5 minutes) which chronicle the consistently bleak and often hilarious collapse of a collective farm . . . Like LSD or Star Wars, if you don’t think you’d enjoy yourself, you’re probably right. But the film doesn’t earn a fraction of its reputation as a miserablist ass-punisher. Surrender to the leviathan, and you enter a cinematic space of unparalleled plenitude.” Tarr has been talking to IndieWire’s David Ehrlich about creating his own cinematic language, with David Perrin at the Notebook about working with novelist and screenwriter László Krasznahorkai, and with Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov about what’s next: “I’m working. I’m creating. I’m fine. But I’m not going to do feature films.”
  • Those in the mood this weekend for a harsh vision in black and white but without seven hours to spare are in luck. “I liked the idea that you sit down to watch The Lighthouse,” director Robert Eggers tells River Donaghey at Vice, “and you think, ‘Fuck, I didn’t mean to walk into a Hungarian art house movie,’ and then Willem farts and you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s hope!’” This was a good week for news to break that Eggers has lined up his next project. Collider’s Jeff Sneider reports that Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Anya Taylor-Joy, and brothers Alexander and Bill Skarsgård are in talks to star in The Northman, a story of revenge set in Iceland in the tenth century that Eggers has cowritten with Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón. As for the film at hand, the in-depth profile of the two stars of The Lighthouse to turn to is Alex Bilmess’s for Esquire. Robert Pattinson, “perhaps, still has something to prove, to himself if to no one else,” he writes. “Dafoe, not so much.”

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