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From Delight to Desolation

Pedro Costa’s Vitalina Varela (2019)

News broke this week of two intriguing projects in the works, a forthcoming feature from Claire Denis—A24 has already picked up North American rights—and a comedy series cocreated by Josh and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems) and Nathan Fielder (Nathan for You). Collaborating with cowriters Léa Mysius, the writer and director of Ava (2017), and Andrew Litvack, who worked with Denis on High Life (2018), Denis is adapting the 1986 novel The Stars at Noon by the late Denis Johnson, best known for his short story collection Jesus’ Son. Margaret Qualley, who stars in this year’s Berlinale opener My Salinger Year, will play an American journalist who falls for an English businessman—to be played by High Life star Robert Pattinson—in Nicaragua in 1984. Reviewing the novel for the Chicago Tribune, John Blades called it “intensely mystical and poetic; it has the texture and illogic of a nightmare.”

On a far lighter note, Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie have cowritten and will costar in The Curse, which centers on a newly married couple whose home improvement show has been plagued by seemingly inexplicable problems. Showtime has ordered up the pilot, and Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva hears that, while Fielder and the Safdies will executive produce The Curse, the Safdies won’t be directing the show.

In festival news, Film at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art have announced the lineup for this year’s New Directors/New Films (March 25 through April 5), and the New York Film Festival has a new director in Eugene Hernandez as well as a new director of programming, Dennis Lim. The Museum of the Moving Image has fleshed out its First Look program (March 11 through 15), and Tribeca has announced that its nineteenth edition will open on April 15 with Mary Wharton’s documentary Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President, followed by live performances from Willie Nelson, Nile Rodgers, and others.

On to this week’s highlights:

  • All throughout Parasite’s triumphant march through awards season, audiences fell hard for the humbly gracious and often quite funny Bong Joon-ho, his extraordinarily talented cast, and his interpreter, Sharon Choi, who somehow made her formidable proficiency charming. Now, in a winning and beautifully written piece for Variety, Choi, a budding filmmaker herself, tells the story of what she calls a “crazy ride.” There are celebrity cameos, of course, but “the true gifts are the private conversations and one-on-one relationships I got to form with team members and artists I saw on a daily basis during this job. I will spend the next years of my life doing my best to earn the chance to work with these people again. It will take a while.”
  • Memoria, starring Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, and Daniel Giménez Cacho (Zama), will be the first feature Apichatpong Weerasethakul has shot outside of Thailand. Giovanni Marchini Camia spent two months on the set in Colombia, and all week long, Film Comment has been posting entries from his diary. Weerasethakul “isn’t at all bound to his original intentions and will usually start from a more elaborate premise that he gradually distills to its essential elements,” he writes. “This approach, which in large part accounts for the directness of his cinema, isn’t limited to the script but extends all the way to the edit. Arguably, it applies most of all to the edit—he’s certainly not shy of killing his darlings. On [Cemetery of Splendour, 2015], he spent several days shooting the evisceration of a giant monster that looked like a composite of infected sexual organs only to excise it completely from the final cut.”
  • Pedro Costa’s somber yet riveting Vitalina Varela, winner of the Golden Leopard in Locarno, opens this weekend. Playing herself, Varela arrives in Portugal from Cape Verde to reunite with her husband, only to discover he has died. “Vitalina Varela, for all the psychic and economic devastation it depicts, is beautiful to the point of being ravishing,” writes Andrew Chan at 4Columns. “Shot after shot reminds us that Costa’s cinephilic allegiances have always lain not just with austere, high-art divinities like Robert Bresson and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, but also with Jacques Tourneur, a B-movie master who knew how to dazzle the eye on a miniscule budget.” At the A.V. Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky suggests that Costa’s “preference for static tableaux, combined with his own dabblings in installation art, might imply a gallery aesthetic, in which every shot is best appreciated as a still. But the surface quietudes, somnambulant movements, and rigors of a film like Vitalina Varela serve to turn every subtlety, every crinkling plastic bag and squeaky door, into a reverberating event.” Notebook editor Daniel Kasman interviews Costa, who has sent a Vitalina Varela–themed playlist to Film Comment.
  • Back in January, programmer Herb Shellenberger launched a newsletter, Rep Cinema International, featuring smartly annotated notes on upcoming series and special screenings as well as the occasional interview. In the latest missive, he talks with Dara Ojugbele and Steve Macfarlane, who have worked with Marta Zeamanuel at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to put together It’s All in Me: Black Heroines, a series currently running through March 5. The goal is to present “a mix of covered bases and (hopefully) provocative juxtapositions,” says Macfarlane. “Dara had the brilliant idea of pairing Carlos Diegues’s Xica da Silva (1976) with Tracey Moffat’s short Nice Coloured Girls (1987): the feature is a period piece about an enslaved woman who charmed her way into the colonizer aristocracy, while the short threads the plunder of Australia’s indigenous people along with assertions of female sexuality in a 1980s nightclub—and the fear of abuse.” And at 4Columns, Melissa Anderson recommends a few more “deep cuts.”
  • For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Holly Connolly talks with Zia Anger, who has just completed touring My First Film, a blend of cinema and live performance that emerged from her experiences submitting her first feature to nearly fifty festivals and having it rejected by each and every one. Last fall, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody called My First Film “a deeply moving and distinctive creation in itself.” Anger tells Connolly that “the original film would have put me on an entirely different trajectory and probably one that I would have been pretty unhappy with. That doesn’t make me feel better about having been so unhappy and so depressed about my career, my life, for the past number of years. But it certainly has led me to value things taking a longer time.”

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