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Structures and Strategies

Pierfrancesco Favino in Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor (2019)

At the top of the week, one round of nominations for awards to be presented in the coming weeks tumbled after another, from the major guilds—directors,producers,writers—to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The BAFTA list was immediately met with an uproar summed up well by Simran Hans in the Guardian: “With its glaringly white, overwhelmingly male and thuddingly boring choices, [BAFTA’s] voting body of film industry members seem to have a limited understanding of ‘excellence.’” Lanre Bakare reports that the BAFTA film committee is now “reviewing its voting process.”

In winter festival news, Rotterdam (January 22 through February 2) has set up talks and master classes with Bong Joon-ho, Pedro Costa, Nina Menkes, Terence Nance, the Quay Brothers, Sarah Gavron, and other filmmakers and artists. And Jeremy Irons will preside over the jury at this year’s Berlinale (February 20 through March 1).

On to this week’s highlights:

  • Film Comment has begun putting a few pieces from its new issue online, including Jordan Cronk’s conversation with Pedro Costa about his “saddest and most spiritual film,” Vitalina Varela, and Soraya Nadia McDonald’s chat with composer Nicholas Britell, who’s currently working with Barry Jenkins on the upcoming limited-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad. This is a special issue on the best of the 2010s, and to take stock of a decade just passed is to assess the state of the art. So far, no one has nailed it like Dennis Lim has. His piece is a succinct explication of his argument that the “defining qualities of the moment are fragmentation and heterogeneity, a messy, amorphous, contradictory too-muchness that has made our waking life an overstimulating hellscape and yet proved remarkably conducive to artistic experimentation.”
  • Juano Hernández, who appeared in Clarence Brown’s Intruder in the Dust (1949), Michael Curtiz’s The Breaking Point (1950), and Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker (1964), could have been a star if Hollywood had known what to do with an Afro–Puerto Rican actor, argues Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture. She particularly admires Hernández’s “ability to reveal untold depths in characters positioned more as narrative devices than as full-fledged human beings, a palpable sense of warmth, and the determination to take up space even when he isn’t afforded any.”
  • For Transit, Cristina Álvarez López, who has recently written about Krzysztof Kieślowski and Maurice Pialat at her own site, has translated an exchange between Adrian Martin and Carles Matamoros that leads to a series of insights into Marco Bellocchio’s densely constructed The Traitor that might not have been happened upon if the two critics weren’t responding to each other’s cues. “The dreams that punctuate the film—an essential element of Bellocchio’s method since the mid 1980s—are a crucial variation on the surveillance and media screens,” observes Martin. “The Traitor is a tightly organized and hyper-structured film, like the corrupt network it depicts: each moment, each incident or detail in it has an immediate correspondence or repercussion and then, further away in time and space, a wider resonance. As a deliberately hollowed-out version of a classic gangster film, it invests the most basic plot mechanics of the genre with an eerie fatalism.”
  • Talking to Hillary Weston here in the Current, Noah Baumbach notes that one of the challenges he faced while writing Marriage Story is that “on one hand you have the story of a marriage, which makes two people’s stories singular by design, but then you have the story of a divorce, which takes the unified couple and turns their lives into two stories.” David Bordwell delves into Baumbach’s narrative strategies at considerable length to make the point that the screenplay “does something daring.” Baumbach “has, in effect, risked using an anticlimax to round out the normal climax section of the film.” Bordwell then turns to Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, fully “aware that some of the narrative strategies are taken from Louisa May Alcott’s original novel. But much of what’s ingenious about Gerwig’s adaptation is of her own devising.”
  • Film Quarterly has posted a piece by Jason Fox dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Kahana, the professor of cinema studies at UC Santa Cruz who passed away at the end of the last year. Dana Polan, who teaches at NYU, remembers Kahana as “one of the very best historians and interpreters of nonfiction modes of visual communication.” As Fox opens “Can Documentary Make Space?,” he notes that poet Eileen Myles “talks about poems as if they were parties . . . Whatever else a poem may be for Myles, it is fundamentally the effort to invent a place to gather where there wasn’t one before. Can documentary be discussed in the same way? I think that it should.”

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