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Fragility and Resilience

Sohrab Shahid Saless’s Far From Home (1975)

Last fall, Martin Scorsese, Claire Denis, and more than four hundred other prominent filmmakers, programmers, and critics signed an open letter demanding that Carlo Chatrian be kept on as the artistic director of the Berlinale. The organization overseeing the festival, though, the federally funded Kulturveranstaltungen des Bundes in Berlin, is sticking to its decision to restructure the event, and the seventy-fourth edition, running from February 15 through 25, will be Chatrian’s last. With Venice Film Festival president Alberto Barbera’s contract expiring next year, some have suggested that Chatrian might make for an ideal replacement, but as right-winger Pietrangelo Buttafuoco takes over the Biennale, that outcome seems unlikely.

Despite the unsettled air hanging low over the Berlinale, the festival has found something to celebrate, namely, the sixtieth anniversary of the Deutsche Kinemathek, the vital German archive and museum. This week, its director, Rainer Rother, announced that the Berlinale Retrospective will “focus on independent and uncommon productions from our holdings, including work by Hellmuth Costard, Roland Klick, Elfi Mikesch, and Frank Vogel.” And the first event set for the Berlinale Classics program is the world premiere of a new restoration of Ernst Lubitsch’s Kohlhiesel’s Daughters (1920), accompanied by Leopold Hurt’s new score performed live by members of the Berliner Philharmoniker under the direction of Simon Rössler.

Sundance, in the meantime, has unveiled plans for its Opening Night Gala celebrating forty years of the festival, which has had an immeasurable impact on the shape of American independent cinema. On January 18, the inaugural Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award will be presented to Christopher Nolan, and filmmakers Maite Alberdi (The Mole Agent) and Celine Song (Past Lives) will receive Vanguard Awards. Before we burrow too far ahead into 2024, though, let’s note that Alice Diop (Saint Omer) will deliver the State of Cinema 2023 address in Brussels on December 7.

This week’s highlights:

  • Writing about The Boy and the Heron for the New Left Review, James Wham notes that Hayao Miyazaki “has toyed with socialism and Maoism and now seems to have come around to an ecoterrorism led by nature itself.” As Miyazaki sees it, the climate catastrophes brought on by unfettered capitalism will lead to the collapse of civilization, leaving earth to renew itself. “Is Miyazaki a sleeper agent of the Freudo-Marxists, or is this just the nature of children’s films?” asks Wham. “For the Soviet cartoons that inspired Miyazaki, The Snow Queen chief among them, the child was a symbol that existed outside of capitalism, a pure potentiality or budding revolutionary. In Spirited Away (2001), the young girl Chihiro is the only one in her family capable of seeing spirits, while her parents obsess over consumption and turn into pigs—basically red cinema with a sprinkling of Shintoism.”

  • Document Journal is running a conversation between Sandra Hüller, the star of two of the year’s strongest films, Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, and Joachim Trier, who is currently working with Renate Reinsve, the star of his 2021 film The Worst Person in the World, on Sentimental Value. Hüller doesn’t like “to do any background or biographical work—it bores me. I just like to work with the script. I like it when directors let me have my secrets. They don’t need to know where the emotions are coming from.” At one point, Trier notes that he has been “privileged enough that most of the sadness or shortcomings I’ve experienced in life have [not] come from bad will. They’ve come from the tragedy of everyone doing their best.”

  • Paul Schrader has often said that his first viewing of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) was a pivotal moment in his life, and as Robert Rubsam points out in the Baffler, Schrader restages the film’s ending in his own American Gigolo (1980), Light Sleeper (1992), and The Card Counter (2021). “Bresson is concerned with the fate of one man; Schrader looks at the soul of America,” writes Rubsam. “His films have come to chronicle a nation in torment, damned for sins it can only halfway acknowledge, yet unwilling to accept the burden of redemption. He has become, unexpectedly, the premier chronicler of American violence: where it comes from, what it does, and how we might be able to move beyond it.”

  • As Philip Horne wrote here recently, Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 ghost story The Others is “on a level” with such forebears as Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) and Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). For IndieWire’s David Ehrlich,The Others “remains one of the greatest and most instructive movies of its kind because it shows that denial is the real ectoplasm that binds ghost stories together, and love just the most satisfying conduit through which it might be made flesh.” Amenábar’s film is “a multi-tiered and somewhat Möbius strip-like story that begins and ends with the greatest denial of all: the denial of death.”

  • In a Film Comment overview of Iranian Cinema Before the Revolution, 1925–1979, the series running at the Museum of Modern Art through November 27, Imogen Sara Smith zooms in at one point on “the implacably slow, minimalist cinema of Sohrab Shahid Saless, with its muted colors and nearly mute heroes. But anger burns below the cool surface of Still Life (1974) and Far from Home (1975), both of which gaze unblinkingly at working men who are exploited, discarded, and above all ignored by callous economic systems . . . From internationally recognized films like Still Life (which won the Silver Bear at the 1974 Berlinale) to truly obscure flicks like the cheap, sensational genre movies surveyed in [series curator Ehsan] Khoshbakht’s essay collage filmfarsi (2019), the MoMA series demonstrates both the fragility and resilience of cinema.”

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