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Tentative Destinies

John Garfield in Lewis Seiler’s Dust Be My Destiny (1939)

Already nominated for four Gotham Awards, Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun is now nominated for sixteen British Independent Film Awards as well. Georgia Oakley’s feature debut, Blue Jean, follows with thirteen, and Sebastian Lelio’s The Wonder has scored twelve. The BIFAs will be presented in London on December 4.

A few items from this past week you won’t want to have missed:

  • With the John Garfield retrospective now playing on the Criterion Channel, Isaac Butler, the author of The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act, writes for the New Yorker about the actor who “pioneered a new, naturalistic approach to acting for the camera.” Garfield’s “performances marry subtle physical shifts with roiling undercurrents of subtext and emotion, revealing as much as possible with the smallest of gestures and shifts of facial expression.” In Lewis Seiler’s Dust Be My Destiny (1939), Garfield plays a drifter, Joe Bell, on the run with his wife, Mabel (Priscilla Lane). “Particularly impressive,” writes Butler, “is a mostly wordless sequence in which Joe and Mabel break up and reconcile in a few longing glances. Garfield’s entire agonized thought process—his love for his wife, his worry about the future, his hurt pride at being unable to provide for her—dance over his face in a matter of seconds.”

  • A good swath of the current issue of the New Yorker is taken up by Rachel Aviv’s astonishingly nuanced and thoroughly reported piece on Asghar Farhadi, whose A Separation (2011) and The Salesman (2016) won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film. In Farhadi’s films, few characters act purely on bad faith, leading to conflicts he describes as “good versus good.” Last year, Farhadi won the Grand Prix in Cannes for A Hero, a film that one of his students, Azadeh Masihzadeh, claims borrows heavily from a documentary she made in 2014. Other students and collaborators tell Aviv about further instances of Farhadi’s freely lifting ideas and stories without offering credit in return. “Despite feeling betrayed or diminished by Farhadi, nearly everyone I interviewed said that they wanted him to continue making films,” writes Aviv. “His moral lapses seem closely related to some of his most profound insights.”

  • Mike Leigh “often cites the painter George Grosz to define his mix of vexatious semi-naturalism and darkly humorous grotesque,” writes Ela Bittencourt in the Nation, “and much like Grosz, there is also a deep sense of commitment underlying his work. As Leigh returns to it again and again in his films, class is not just a matter of money alone but also the social distance that breeds callousness and defines society’s bitter divisions.” Leigh is also “preoccupied with how women, and particularly working-class women, create alternate societies of care in the midst of the carelessness and cruelty of capitalist society . . . Class and gender, for Leigh, are never far apart but instead are intricately entwined.”

  • On November 12, New York’s Light Industry will present Vivre ensemble (1973), the first of two features directed by Anna Karina and “a worthy entry in the post–New Wave, post–May ’68 canon,” as Melissa Anderson writes at 4Columns. In his only role in a fictional film, journalist Michel Lancelot plays Alain, “a besuited secondary-school history professor living with his wife in dull bourgeois comfort and respectability.” Alain falls for Julie (Karina), “an actress (and perhaps a part-time sex worker), beholden to no one person or schedule.” Anderson suggests that Vivre ensemble might be seen as “a kind of gender inverse of another film that premiered at Cannes in ’73: Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore,” a film that “looks askance at the cultural revolution” while “Karina’s film, in contrast, maintains an odd kind of buoyancy.”

  • The new Senses of Cinema features Joy McEntee’s essay on women in the films of Stanley Kubrick and Salvador Carrasco’s close reading of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World as well as festival reports, interviews, and new inductees into the Great Directors database: Wes Craven, Stephen Dwoskin, and Paolo Sorrentino. The issue opens with a dossier on nonfiction cinema from the territories of former Yugoslavia. “No one is altogether innocent when it comes to images from the disintegrated country,” writes guest editor Nace Zavri. “Audiences cannot retreat into a space of interiority, of safe witnessing and observation, just as filmmakers are far from uninvested, objective voices. Every spectator, as Frantz Fanon would have it, is surely either a coward or a traitor; not infrequently, they might even be both.”

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