Did You See This?

Erice, Varda, Linklater, and More

Víctor Erice during the making of Stone and Sky (2020)

Anyone who’s been able to tear his or her eyes away from the impeachment trial in the Senate may have noticed that it’s been a week full to bursting with festival news. On Wednesday, Rotterdam opened with João Nuno Pinto’s First World War drama Mosquito, a nonlinear story of a seventeen-year-old soldier fighting for the Portuguese in Mozambique. Screen’s Wendy Ide calls this “vivid fever dream” a “harrowing account of conflict at its most base and disgusting.” In stark contrast, Taylor Swift, dressed head-to-toe in plaid, arrived in Park City last night to turn the opening of Sundance into a gala-like affair. In Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana, “the vision Taylor Swift presents of herself is just chancy and sincere enough to draw us in,” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman.

All week long, the Berlinale has been rolling out one lineup after another: Forum,Panorama,Generation,Berlinale Special,Classics, and what looks to be an amazing series of screenings and dialogues pegged to the festival’s seventieth anniversary, On Transmission, featuring fourteen directors including Jia Zhangke, Claire Denis, Roy Andersson, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Margarethe von Trotta. This year’s Berlinale will open on February 20 with Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year, starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley. Meantime, the Berlin Critics’ Week lineup is set, and Locarno has announced that the retrospective of its seventy-third edition (August 5 through 15) will be dedicated to actress and filmmaker Kinuyo Tanaka, who is known primarily for her work with Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Kenji Mizoguchi.

More highlights from a busy week:

  • Over the course of a career spanning six decades, Víctor Erice has made around a dozen short films and just three features: The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), considered by many to be one of the greatest Spanish films ever made; El Sur (1983); and the documentary The Quince Tree Sun (1992). Now Erice has a new audiovisual installation on view at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao through the end of March. The motif of Stone and Sky is a monument to composer Aita Donostia comprising a sculpture by Jorge Oteiza and a chapel designed by architect Luis Vallet. All three are Basque artists. As the eleven-minute Day Space comes to an end, Night Space, running six-and-a-half minutes, begins on an opposing wall. “Just as we are repeatedly led in his films to the realization that, beyond the intensely focused subjectivity of any individual, there is a far bigger, more complex, less easily comprehensible world of signs and wonders,” writes critic and programmer Geoff Andrew, “so in this latest work we are made to see that stone, seemingly immobile, unchanging, lifeless, may look rather different when viewed from the perspective of an ancient and infinite universe.”
  • The recent Agnès Varda retrospective in New York, the theatrical release of her final film, Varda par Agnès, and a “strange, fascinating” surviving cut of a never-released film Varda shot in 1970 and planned to call Nausicaa have Max Nelson reflecting in the Nation on the “sweeping variety” of the work of the late filmmaker, photographer, and installation artist: “Varda often seemed to mistrust the notion that a single cinematic style could capture the private lives of individual people on the one hand and the demands of collective life and political struggle on the other.”
  • Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010), Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018), and Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse (2019) are all “mind games that strain cognition, that impress upon us the power of human irrationality,” writes Raymond De Luca in Bright Lights Film Journal. “The cinematic lighthouse, I want to suggest, is a topography of the mind that throws the supposed stability of the self, vision, and space into chaos. This destabilization of consciousness is especially ironic given the lighthouse’s historic role as a source—a literal beacon—of light and direction.” And the great precursor to all three films, he argues, is Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel To the Lighthouse, “which draws on the perceptual revolution precipitated by moving image technology” and “lays waste to any notion of a knowable self.”
  • Twenty-five years ago, Richard Linklater brought an unassuming little romance he’d shot for just $2.5 million to Sundance. At the time, no one could have known that Before Sunrise would launch one of cinema’s great trilogies. Talking to Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, cowriter Kim Krizan, casting director Judy Henderson, and others, Ashley Spencer has put together an oral history of the film’s making for the New York Times. We learn that Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston auditioned, that Linklater had considered shooting in San Antonio rather than in Vienna, and that every word of this talky little movie was scripted. “To this day,” says Linklater, Delpy and Hawke “don’t really get the credit as actors because everybody thinks they’re improvising.” Will there be a fourth Before movie? “I would be curious about an After series, about something where you really deal with the second half of your life,” says Hawke.
  • The new issue of Senses of Cinema is relatively thin as the Australian journal transitions to a new release schedule. Besides a fresh batch of festival reports and Victoria Duckett’s remembrance of the late filmmaker and theorist Peter Wollen, the bulk of Issue 93 is given over to the World Poll 2019. If the sheer number of lists there is simply too overwhelming, turn to Filmmaker, where Mike D’Angelo has “reconstructed” the Village Voice poll. If the alternative weekly were still around and counting ballots, it’s likely that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman would have come out on top. Meantime, Nick Davis is close to wrapping his outstanding countdown of the best films of the 2010s, while Reverse Shot has just gotten started. For about another week, we’ll be seeing one new essay a day on one of the contributing writers’ top ten films of the decade.

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