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Disparate Communities

Issa Perica in Ladj Ly’s Les misérables (2019)

A free film school in a French banlieue, a nineteenth-century inventor, and a lesbian classic are among this week’s highlights:

  • Ladj Ly’s Les misérables, a gripping depiction of police corruption and brutality set against the backdrop of urban poverty and unrest in Montfermeil, a banlieue northeast of Paris, scored a jury prize in Cannes and an Oscar nomination last year. Now it’s heading to theaters in the UK, and talking with Ly for the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries brings up the film’s similarities to Mathieu Kassovitz’s banlieue classic, La haine, which will see a twenty-fifth anniversary release in the UK this fall. “What’s sad is that my film needed to be made,” says Ly. “Things have clearly not changed in France.” For Spiegel Online, Britta Sandberg profiles Mahmadou Kebe and Doğukan Tur, two young filmmakers completing a one-year course at École Kourtrajmé, the free film school Ly founded in the neighboring banlieue, Clichy-sous-Bois. Guest lecturers have included Kassovitz, Spike Lee, and George Lucas. And Ly has set up a second school in Marseille.

  • Starting today, the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting a selection of shorts and features by Michael Almereyda, whose new film, Tesla, reunites him with the stars of his 2000 adaptation of Hamlet, Ethan Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan. “Interrupting itself for fact-checks and inserting playful anachronisms throughout,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR, “this portrait of the perpetually thwarted nineteenth-century inventor implores us to think beyond facile reproductions of what the subject did and instead meditate on what Nikola Tesla means—a genius chewed up and spit out by capitalist machinations beyond his understanding. In form and approach, it’s the most radical deconstruction of the biopic since Todd Haynes had six different actors playing aspects of Bob Dylan in his 2007 masterpiece I’m Not There.” In conversations with novelist Rivka Galchen (Literary Hub), A. S. Hamrah (the Baffler), Nick Newman (Film Stage), Scout Tafoya (RogerEbert.com), and Mike White (Projection Booth), Almereyda proves himself to be a modest but endlessly engaging interviewee. On Monday, Film at Lincoln Center will host a free talk moderated by Richard Linklater.

  • Series such as Atlanta, Russian Doll, Claws, and the recently cancelled Lodge 49 “all portray worlds in which community serves as an antidote to precarity,” writes Elizabeth Alsop for Film Quarterly. “In short, they are essential viewing for the COVID era. These shows may come from the Before Times, but they are about the End Times. None of them, of course, concerns a global pandemic. But all of them argue for the kinds of cooperative, communitarian arrangements that, it’s clear, will be necessary for surviving the now-and-future crisis.”

  • Jenni Olson, who recently paid a visit to our closet, is having quite a year. Her two features, The Joy of Life (2005) and The Royal Road (2015), all of her shorts, and her vast collection of films, videos, and memorabilia documenting the history of LGBT cinema have been acquired by the Harvard Film Archive. Tonight, she’ll be cohosting a virtual presentation of Gay USA (1977), Arthur J. Bressan Jr.’s groundbreaking documentary that, as Melissa Anderson has written at 4Columns, “reflects the liberationist fervor of the ’70s, utopian hopes not yet extinguished.” Olson has also recorded an audio commentary, her first, for Kino Lorber’s release of Leontine Sagan and Carl Froelich’s lesbian classic, Mädchen in Uniform (1931), shot in Weimar Germany just prior to the rise of Hitler. Talking to Drew Gregory at Autostraddle, Olson says that “looking back, we can connect to some sense of our history, to who those people were and what they were grappling with and what we’re grappling with right now.” Olson tells the San Francisco Chronicle’s G. Allen Johnson that she’s now working on a film and a book (“we’ll see which comes out first”), The Quiet World, “a 16 mm urban landscape essay film about San Francisco, California, and being a butch dyke.”

  • Writing for Artforum, Amy Taubin has a suggestion for anyone looking to schedule a double feature this weekend. Taghi Amirani spent ten years working on Coup 53 (2019), a documentary about the British and American orchestration of the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammod Massadegh, and the installment of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah, as head of state. The film, cowritten and edited by Walter Murch, is “dense with detail and yet drives like a thriller.” Barbara Kopple’s Desert One (2019) is “a more conventionally structured documentary” about Operation Eagle Claw, the mission launched in April 1980 to rescue the fifty-two American hostages being held in Tehran. As Taubin puts it, the failure of that mission “made Jimmy Carter a one-term president.”

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