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Remarkable Women

Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991)

Freely inspired by a 1923 novel by Alexander Grin—a favorite of Tarkovsky’s—Scarlet, directed by Pietro Marcello (Martin Eden), is the story of Juliette, a girl growing up alone with her father in northern France between the world wars. Juliette meets a magician who tells her that a ship with scarlet sails will come and take her away from her village. On the day after Cannes presented the bulk of its 2022 lineup, the Directors’ Fortnight has announced that Scarlet will open its fifty-fourth edition on May 18.

In other festival news, Venice will celebrate its ninetieth anniversary on July 9 with an international conference and the launch of a history of the festival by Gian Piero Brunetta, the author of several revered books on Italian cinema. Rotterdam, in the meantime, has announced that it will slim its staff down by about fifteen percent before next year’s edition opens on January 25. In the U.S., Tribeca will open on June 8 with Amanda Micheli’s Jennifer Lopez documentary Halftime, and Seattle is currently presenting 262 films in theaters and online. The Stranger’s running guide is “a big-ass list that keeps getting bigger.”

We can’t turn to the highlights of the week before noting the passing of French actor Michel Bouquet at the age of ninety-six. Bouquet, “one of France’s great theater actors, found a special niche in film in the late 1960s and ’70s playing ordinary Frenchmen, somber and reserved, with complicated inner lives and deep reserves of emotion,” writes William Grimes in the New York Times. Bouquet worked with Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jean Grémillon, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, and François Truffaut before he won a European Film Award for his performance in Jaco Van Dormael’s Toto the Hero (1991) and two Césars for his turns in Anne Fontaine’s How I Killed My Father (2001) and Robert Guédiguian’s The Last Mitterrand (2005).

  • A new restoration of Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991) opens today at New York’s IFC Center before heading out across the country. Mina (Sarita Choudhury) comes from an Indian family forced to leave Uganda for America, and when she falls in love with Demetrius (Denzel Washington), a Black carpet cleaner, alarms go off in their respective communities. “I remember just looking at the lines marching to see the film,” Nair tells Roxana Hadadi at Vulture. “They were all mixed race, they were all interracial. They were like, ‘This is our anthem.’ And it’s so beautiful because, in the process of making it, we were still unusual. Deeply unusual.” Hadadi asks her if she can foresee a future without racial barriers, and Nair says she sees it now in her community in Uganda. “I definitely live in the zone in which these lines are no longer there. Maybe it is naïve. Maybe it’s a rare thing. [Pauses.] It is, it is. But I can tell you that I feel very much that is utterly transcendable.”

  • Denzel Washington directed Viola Davis in Antwone Fisher (2002) and Fences (2016). Profiling Davis for the New York Times Magazine, Jazmine Hughes draws from the actress’s forthcoming memoir, Finding Me, to describe a harrowing childhood terrorized by a violently abusive father. Looking for a way out, Davis discovered a role model: Cicely Tyson. “Acting is investigative journalism, and we interpret the world differently,” says Washington. “The beginning work is similar: You circle the subject, your character.” Davis, “as an actress, will circle. I don’t know if she goes inside out or outside in, but you circle it, for lack of a better word, and she makes it her own, and you can’t take it from her, and you better keep up with her.”

  • To Michael Sicinski, Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, in which a teenager joins an online role-playing game that promises to change her, “feels like an instant classic, along the lines of Get Out and Donnie Darko. Its of-the-moment trappings (viral challenges, creepypasta) belie something much more timeless and crushing.” Schoenbrun, whose previous projects include the omnibus film Collective: Unconscious (2016) and the “secret” variety TV show The Eyeslicer, tells Sam Bodrojan at Filmmaker that making World’s Fair “was a very raw and scary journey toward becoming comfortable with myself as an artist. I always thought of myself as a ‘professional fan’: someone who could get really excited about other people’s art, but, for whatever reason, the idea of making my own art always felt shameful. The process of working on the film and saying to myself, ‘Yes, I’m trans, and I need to transition to have the life I need to live,’ are all one thing.”

  • In Joan Micklin Silver’s debut feature, Hester Street (1975), Jake, a Jewish immigrant in late nineteenth-century New York, tries to assimilate and falls for a cosmopolitan woman—while his wife clings to the eastern European traditions she knows. In films such as Between the Lines (1977), Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), and Crossing Delancey (1988), “Silver would continue to convert portraits of dyadic intimacy into vehicles for exploring the tensions of historical progress,” writes Alex Kong for the New Left Review’s Sidecar. “In the same way that Jake is torn between the two women, and between the worlds they represent, Silver’s films share in his indecision; they can’t quite make up their mind whether the new ways are better than the old.”

  • With Olivier Assayas preparing to bring a reimagining of his 1996 feature Irma Vep as a limited series to Cannes, now is the perfect time for Sight and Sound to pull Bérénice Reynaud’s 1997 profile of Maggie Cheung up from its archive. Besides Cheung herself, Reynaud spoke with Wong Kar Wai, who had directed Cheung in three features by this point; with Stanley Kwan, who cast her as Ruan Lingyu, the legendary siren of the silent era, in Center Stage (1991); and of course, with Assayas. “You tell her one word, one idea, and she immediately assimilates it, makes it more alive, and gives it back to you with an incredible lightness and grace,” said the French director. “She combined the best of both worlds: the total freedom of independent cinema, and the sovereign poise of a great star.”

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