Did You See This?

Endings and New Beginnings

Fabrizio Rongione in Andreas Fontana’s Azor (2021)

Monday was vicious. First, we lost Jean-Paul Belmondo. When Breathless made him a star, Belmondo “found himself thrust to the forefront of an artistic revolution, the French New Wave, a movement and a group with which he would forever be identified, even though he didn’t share its extreme artistic ambitions,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “In effect, he became an icon of a cinema to which he didn’t belong.” But he carried on delighting audiences for decades, performing his own stunts in spy movies, war films, and police thrillers.

Hours later, word began to get around that Nino Castelnuovo had died. Though the Italian actor had worked with Luchino Visconti, Agnès Varda, Vittorio De Sica, and Anthony Minghella, as David Parkinson writes for the BFI, Castelnuovo “will always be associated with the backstreet Esso garage in which Guy Foucher romances shopgirl Geneviève Emery (Catherine Deneuve) in Jacques Demy’s sublime French New Wave musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).”

Then came the hardest blow. Belmondo was eighty-eight; Castelnuovo, eighty-four. But Michael K. Williams was only fifty-four. He had appeared in dozens of film and television productions and choreographed and danced in a good number of music videos. For most, though, his single greatest creation was Omar Little, the thief with a strict moral code in David Simon and Ed Burns’s The Wire. “The contact that Williams made with the public through Omar is rare and destabilizing,” writes the New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix. “To be reminded that the actor was ‘more than’ Omar is to acknowledge in the same breath that Omar was a masterpiece. But Williams was, of course, more than that one role. Some fans hold his Boardwalk Empire character, the sneering bootlegger Chalky White, in equal regard. Others, myself included, are partial to his portrayal of Freddy, the suave and mercurial Rikers mentor to Riz Ahmed’s frightened Naz Khan, in The Night Of. Williams is lauded for scene-stealing, but he was a generous partner. Playing against Ahmed, Wendell Pierce, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Wright, Queen Latifah, and others, he was extraordinarily contained.”

This week’s highlights:

  • Celebrating its fortieth anniversary, BOMB Magazine has been pulling up such delectable items from its archive as the interview Quentin Tarantino conducted with Steve Buscemi for the winter 1993 issue. Reservoir Dogs had premiered at Sundance and screened in Cannes but hadn’t yet been released. The director gets the actor to “give me little takes” on the personalities and directorial styles of Bill Sherwood, Abel Ferrara, Joel and Ethan Coen, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Alexandre Rockwell, and, of course, Quentin Tarantino: “At Sundance,” says Buscemi, “you were bursting with energy, so much so, that it freaked out the crew.” On the latest WTF Podcast, Marc Maron talks with Buscemi about the films he’s made since that first terrific run and about the new documentary Dust: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11.

  • Spike Lee ran into some trouble with his own 9/11 documentary last month when he included interviews with conspiracy theorists in the final section of NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½, which airs tomorrow. He’s since cut them out, but for Jason Bailey, the decision to have them in there in the first place “was especially baffling—as Lee also directed what many consider the quintessential film about post-9/11 New York City.” In 25th Hour (2002), “Lee didn’t just capture the way New York looked in those uncertain, shellshocked months after 9/11,” writes Bailey in the New York Times. “His film captured how the city felt, the strange quiet that fell over the streets, the overwhelming melancholy that embedded itself in our collective DNA. 25th Hour was not the story of those attacks, but it was a story about one way of life coming to an end, and another, far less certain one looming on the horizon.” Bailey discusses 25th Hour further on his podcast, Fun City Cinema, and Amy Taubin and Ina Archer talk about Lee’s documentaries with Film Comment editors Clinton Krute and Devika Girish.

  • 4Columns has returned from its summer break! Melissa Anderson revisits a 1978 film starring Lily Tomlin and John Travolta, the only film directed by Tomlin’s partner, Jane Wagner. “The search for signs of intelligible heterosexual life in Moment by Moment may be futile—but all the more intriguing for it,” writes Anderson. In her latest column, Anderson recommends Andreas Fontana’s “superb debut feature,” Azor. Cowritten with Mariano Llinás and set in 1980, Azor features Fabrizio Rongione as a Swiss private banker commiserating with wealthy Argentine clients on quietly friendly terms with the military dictatorship. It’s “a slinky political thriller about deception, dissembling, and self-delusion.”

  • Azor opens today in New York and will soon screen at the London Film Festival, which has lined up an outstanding program for its Treasures program of revivals and restorations. “For anyone who cares about the cinema, for anyone who wants to make cinema,” writes Kent Jones for the Film Foundation, Sarah Maldoror’s Sambizanga (1972) is “as essential to know well as Sunrise or Vertigo or 2001.” The film is “grounded in life as lived, and every single scene develops with layer upon layer of intimate homebound gestural and visual detail . . . like all great films, Sambizanga has a heartbeat. And it constantly pulses with beauty.” At Little White Lies, Pamela Hutchinson offers a quick primer on the life and work of Maldoror, who passed away last year at the age of ninety.

  • “In and Out of Musicals” is the theme of the new issue of photogénie, which features essays on films by Frank Tashlin, Tsai Ming-liang, Terence Davies, Flora Gomes, Agnieszka Smoczyńska, and João Nicolau. “A common theme in this issue is how the musical, with its wide-eyed fixation on the corporeality of performers, inherently dissolves the line between actors and characters,” writes editor Joseph Pomp. “This captures, in miniature, the genre’s almost unwieldy power of toppling over any steady boundaries between reality and fiction.”

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