Did You See This?

Nightmare Cinephilia

Albert Dieudonné in Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927)

Within a span of less than twenty-four hours, Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which draws from David Grann’s account of the murders of wealthy Native Americans in the 1920s, was named the best film of 2023 by the more than forty members of the New York Film Critics Circle, New York Times critics Manohla Dargis and Alissa Wilkinson, and the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “The emotional center is an unspeakably cruel story of love and betrayal, a baroque conspiracy fueled by greed, and an unshakable belief in white superiority,” writes Dargis. “Manifest Destiny makes a hell of a gangster movie.”

Several list-makers this week have pointed to the Barbenheimer phenomenon—that remarkable weekend in July when both Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer opened simultaneously—as a hopeful sign that, despite superhero fatigue, moviegoers are still eager to congregate in the dark. And both films—“one is an existential exploration of a major figure in the worldwide expansion of American power, and the other is about a scientist,” writes Brody—have popped up on year-end lists here and there.

So, too, does Past Lives, which won Best Feature at the Gotham Awards on Monday. Celine Song’s debut feature tops David Ehrlich and Kate Erbland’s list at IndieWire and comes in at #2 on the lists from Wilkinson and Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. For Lawson, Todd Haynes’s May December, “a transfixing and shape-shifting film, sly and sophisticated,” is the year’s greatest achievement, and today sees the launch of a screening series, an exhibition, and a book devoted to Haynes at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

There’s not a lot of overlap between three lists from France, although Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall, the #1 choice of the editorial team at Les Inrockuptibles, also appears on the top tens from Cahiers du cinéma and producer Saïd Ben Saïd (Passages, Last Summer). #1 at Cahiers is Laura Citarella’s Trenque Lauquen, while Saïd Ben Saïd goes for Philippe Garrel’s The Plough.

This week’s highlights:

  • On Saturday and Sunday at Metrograph in New York and on Monday at Mezzanine in Los Angeles, Elisabeth Subrin will present her films Shulie (1998), a reenactment of a 1967 documentary portrait of activist Shulamith Firestone, and Maria Schneider, 1983 (2022), a restaging of a television interview with the actress who resisted talking about her infamous experience on the set of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972). “With Manal Issa, who plays the first Maria, the challenge was the intense performance demands of verisimilitude,” Subrin tells Lisa Darms in the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Whereas in rehearsals with the actresses Aïssa Maïga and Isabel Sandoval, I asked, ‘What are the fewest words you would need to change in Maria’s dialogue to make it true to your own experience in the film industry?’ And what was staggering to me was how few words they wanted to change.”

  • Reviews of Napoleon are mixed, but many critics are anxiously awaiting Ridley Scott’s four-hour cut. The film has sparked more than a few annotated lists of the Emperor’s on-screen incarnations, and the liveliest and most fun by far is Elle Carroll’s for Vulture. Sight and Sound, in the meantime, has republished Paul Cuff’s ridiculously entertaining 2016 timeline of the conception, shooting, various premieres, and restorations of multiple versions of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927). Recreating a riot in the National Convention, “Gance wants spectators to become ‘a wave in the ocean,’” writes Cuff. “Below, cameramen are stumbling in the seething crowd and dodging punches. Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer is on set, watching with alarm as the two parties of extras inflict blows that are more than just historically accurate. Several people are taken away on stretchers. Gance seems delighted.”

  • Sabzian has posted a new collection devoted to Pedro Costa, and at the Film Stage, Nick Newman talks with the Portuguese filmmaker about his latest short film, The Daughters of Fire, which begins its theatrical run today on a double bill with Hong Sangsoo’s in water. The conversation then meanders over to what Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album Innervisions has meant to Costa over the years, a few rare but treasured exchanges with Jacques Rivette, and film festivals as “schools of inattention,” as Costa calls them. “The filmmakers of my generation are a bit, you know—everybody’s on their own. We are living, each man, in his own night. Except for a few ones that I really admire—Wang Bing. Straub is gone. Godard is gone. Rivette is gone. Of course there’s others, there’s friends. Béla Tarr, in a way, is gone. There’s Hong Sangsoo.”

  • One of the most anticipated series of 2024 has to be The Sympathizer, an adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel directed by Park Chan-wook. As part of his ongoing interview project, curator and art historian Hans Ulrich Obrist talks with Park for the Notebook about Decision to Leave (2022) and its roots in Jung Hoon Hee’s 1967 rendition of the song “Mist” and The Laughing Policeman, the 1968 mystery novel by Swedish writers Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. “Literature is most definitely something that creatively affects me and opens the door to my power of imagination,” says Park. “Because it was a difficult political period in Korea when I was in college, a very devastating and painful time, I escaped into literature.”

  • The new special issue of In Media Res launches a series, Critique and the Moving Image, organized by Jordan Chrietzberg and coedited by Navid Darvishzadeh. Writing about Still Film (2023), in which filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins voices the witness, the defense and prosecuting attorneys, and the recorder in a trial focusing on unit photographers over a series of production stills, Genevieve Yue observes: “Our memories, even our present perceptions, mix with the movies we have seen, which are sometimes more vivid than our own lives, and are often confused with them. Call it nightmare cinephilia.”

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