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Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City (2023)

Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City opens in a few more theaters today before going wide next week. Reviews out of Cannes were mixed, and so far, that pattern has held. David Bordwell considers it to be “one of Anderson’s very best works,” and for Slate’s Dana Stevens, it’s “one of Anderson’s most contemplative and thematically ambitious films. The young man who once majored in philosophy at the University of Texas has become a fifty-four-year-old who wants to know: What is a work of art for, anyway? What good does it do us as we confront the vastness of a seemingly cruel and chaotic universe?”

At the Ringer, though, Adam Nayman finds that Asteroid City, “for all its formal brilliance, feels muted, unwilling to rouse itself from its own narcoleptic torpor.” And at 4Columns, Nick Pinkerton suggests that “the fact that there’s an American movie scheduled for wide release that shows even a modicum of structural experimentation and intellectual ambition should be enough to make one grateful, but for a film doused in declarations of suffering and loss, Asteroid City delivers only a muffled emotional impact.”

However downplayed, the threat of nuclear annihilation hangs over two worlds, the backstage lives of a troupe of Method actors staging a teleplay in 1955 and the sun-singed landscape of the play itself, which is set in a desert outpost hosting a Junior Stargazer convention. “It’s not that you’ve got an idea for a movie, you have an idea for two movies,” Anderson tells Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro. This fall, Netflix will present The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Anderson’s thirty-seven-minute adaptation of a short story by Roald Dahl, and the director hopes to begin shooting his next feature, which he describes as a “three-hander” and a “character study.”

This week’s highlights:

  • Three journals have rolled out new issues. Film Quarterly editor B. Ruby Rich introduces essays by two “very different writers” on “the movie that so disrupted expectations and conventions last year: the Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Contributors to Mediapolis explore the architecture and set design in films by Jacques Tati, Billy Wilder, and Kogonada. And the new Monstrum features essays on work by David Cronenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, and Yorgos Lanthimos.

  • James Baldwin was “a pioneer of intersectional thinking and aesthetics, and his survival during the height of the civil rights era depended upon becoming a transatlantic or supranational writer living in transit among differ­ent cultures and languages,” writes Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi in an essay for the Yale Review that hinges on Sedat Pakay’s 1973 short film James Baldwin: From Another Place. “How does his self-imposed exile speak to our reluctance to relocate American literature within a transnational and internationalist context and to acknowledge the role of Black writers and artists in shaping that literature?” she asks. “And what does the warm, vul­nerable, and playful Baldwin captured on film by Pakay tell us about his need to leave America time and again in search of safety?”

  • Profiling Claire Denis for the Guardian, Claire Armitstead buries the lede, noting in the second half of a sentence about Beau travail (1999) that the director “will be returning to Cameroon later this month to scout for locations for her next project, which she finished writing last week.” The Claires start off on the wrong foot. Armitstead mentions that Denis was a “protege” of Jim Jarmusch, Wim Wenders, and Jacques Rivette—“It’s insulting,” says Denis, “What a vision of women you have”—but Denis eventually warms up to Armitstead and doubles the time allotted for the interview. The two cover a lot of ground: Stars at Noon, #MeToo, drinking, and the current protests in France.

  • Pedro Costa, too, is working on a new feature, and the short he presented in Cannes last month, The Daughters of Fire, is part of the process. “The film will be very structured and organized,” he tells Christopher Small in the Notebook. “I never did anything so planned, at least recently.” Costa has been “thinking a lot about Jean-Marie [Straub] and Danièle [Huillet], because they always said, no, it’s in the most constructed, constrained, prepared forms that you find chance. It’s their grace. And they always talked about music as the perfect art, that filmmaking should work like that. We should practice, practice, rehearse, rehearse. Because for them, it was the only way to find a little bit of freedom, inside the limitations.”

  • New paintings and photographic works by Sharon Lockhart are on view at neugerriemschneider in Berlin through August 19. The show also features screenings of Eventide (2022), a thirty-minute single-take film in which the sun sets, the stars come out, and human figures appear to be searching for something on the ground that they explore with handheld lights. “Without trumpeting itself,” writes Jennifer Lynn Peterson for Texte zur Kunst,Eventide does nothing less than reenvision the sublime for our era of environmental, economic, and political precarity. The piece manages to evoke Renaissance paintings and nineteenth-century seascapes while at the same time, with its young protagonists, satellites, and ultra-realistic high-resolution video, appearing entirely contemporary.”

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