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Omens and Renewed Hope

On Film / The Daily — Sep 18, 2020
Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of Stalker (1979)

This year’s New York Film Festival, a mix of screenings at local drive-ins and streamings accessible from anywhere in the U.S., has opened with Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock. We’ll take a closer look at this party movie set in London in 1980 when the other two films selected by the festival from McQueen’s Small Axe anthology roll out, but we should note that it’s one of ten NYFF 2020 titles recommended by Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott in the New York Times. “Looser and warmer than his best-known features (Widows, 12 Years a Slave), Lovers Rock administers a welcome antidote to the deprivations of quarantined life,” writes Scott.

Introducing Slant’s coverage of the festival, Pat Brown finds “something equal parts twisted and romantic about the left-for-dead format of the drive-in theater uniting with theater-killing streaming technology to preserve the institution of the film festival.” For more NYFF recommendations, turn to the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, Tony Pipolo for Artforum, and the contributors to the Film Stage and the Playlist.

Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ festival, has just opened its virtual doors, and Michael Hawley previews some of his favorites in the lineup. And through the end of this month, all eighty-five titles selected for the eleventh edition of the San Francisco Cinematheque’s Crossroads festival of experimental film and video are freely available. “Artistic director Steve Polta’s diverse, even idiosyncratic programming provides a new urgency, since we find ourselves not just as a ‘crossroads,’ but a clearing, a temporary break in the noise,” writes Michael Sicinski for Cinema Scope. Polta has taken the opportunity, as Jordan Cronk points out in the Notebook, to not only present new work but also to pay homage to two artists we lost this year, Bruce Baillie and Luther Price, “filmmakers with unique ties to San Francisco and two unequivocally major voices in the history of avant-garde cinema.”

On to the highlights of the week:

  • First, we need to catch up with the passing of Robert Bird, a scholar of Russian literature and cinema perhaps best known for his 2008 book, Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema. You can watch Bird discuss Andrei Rublev (1966) on the Criterion Channel. The open source journal Apparatus has published “The Omens: Tarkovsky, Sacrifice, Cancer,” an essay Bird wrote as he reread the entries Tarkovsky wrote in his diary during the final year of his life. Bird, who was only fifty, was fully aware that cancer was taking him, too. “Suddenly the membrane separating Tarkovsky’s world from mine has become finer,” wrote Bird. Tarkovsky’s funeral, “orchestrated by Mstislav Rostropovich, recorded by Chris Marker, was an omen of the end of an entire epoch in the history of the cinema, of Soviet culture, of culture. In my case it’s just mundane, private cancer. An anonymizing force. An omen of nothing. The contingency of these omens is something I hold onto. It drives home the fragile wonder of the world we share, as taut and fluid as the ocean.”

  • Adrian Martin has posted a fresh round of essays he’s written with Cristina Álvarez López, one on the centrality of masculinity in the work of Paul Schrader; another on the “interiority” of Isabelle Huppert’s performances, “the dead opposite of actorly exhibitionism”; and another on Philippe Garrel, whose films often center on “an impulsive, anarchic flight from society, driven by the idealism of romantic love.” There’s also a primer on Chantal Akerman, whose work “can be, on one level, so youthful, free, lyrical, and romantic,” but is also “always transforming itself, on another level, into an angry, probing, sometimes melancholic reflection on the troubled state of things. And then it finds renewed hope and energy, a reason to go on living and struggling, in that selfsame lyricism.”

  • While Kristen Yoonsoo Kim finds “almost all” of Eric Rohmer’s movies “sublime, his underseen and underrated 1987 film Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle—in which men are secondary, if not tertiary characters—stands out as a delightful deviation in his filmography,” she writes in the Nation.Four Adventures is considered neither part of the female friendship canon nor a major Rohmer, but it should be included in both.”

  • In the new issue of photogénie, Patrick Preziosi writes that Mikio Naruse’s final film, Scattered Clouds (1967), “exists in a postwar Japan heavy with emotional, physical, and social limitations that instill thoughts of some sort of escape, but which in reality only evince a perpetual, hemmed-in displacement.” Savina Petkova suggests that Maya Vitkova’s Viktoria (2014) and Nadejda Koseva’s Irina (2018), two films about motherhood, can help us “understand why Bulgarian cinema suffers a more enduring identity crisis” than the cinemas of other former Soviet bloc countries. As a regional cinema, Central America’s is “still taking its first steps,” writes Alonso Aguilar. And David G. Hughes celebrates action star Scott Adkins as “quite literally a working-class hero.”

  • At the Talkhouse, filmmaker Jesse Noah Klein (Like a House on Fire) writes about the day he recently spent watching Sátántangó, Béla Tarr’s 1994 adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel about the dissolution of a small Hungarian farming community. To paraphrase his reasoning, Klein figured that if there were ever a time in his life that he’d be able to take in a film that runs well over seven hours in one sitting, this is it. “Time moves, the world has stopped,” he writes. Sátántangó “adopts an undeniably nihilist viewpoint,” Klein continues, but it is also “awash, in its way, with hope.” And he quotes Tarr from a recent interview: “As a filmmaker, you have to believe in the people—in their power—because if you do not believe in the people, then why do you make film . . . for what?”

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