Did You See This?

Landscapes Urban and Pastoral

Hou Hsiao-hsien in Edward Yang’s Taipei Story (1985)

The Berlinale has opened with Tim Mielants’s Small Things Like These, starring Cillian Murphy as Bill Furlong, a reserved family man who runs a modest coal delivery service in a sunless Irish town. It’s Christmastime, 1985, but Tim Mielants and cinematographer Frank van den Eeden frame the narrow streets and tight interiors so adeptly we could be anywhere up or down the twentieth-century timeline.

Hauling a load of coal to the convent, Bill discovers a young woman locked away in the freezing cold, and over time, even the Mother Superior (Emily Watson) ceases bothering to keep secret that the “fallen women” taken in by the Church are being forced into hard labor. Years later, the scandal will blow wide open and the Magdalene Laundries will be revealed as one of Ireland’s—and the Church’s—darkest chapters.

But Small Things Like These remains focused on a single conscience. Bill’s wife (Eileen Walsh) reminds him that they have five daughters attending the school run by the nuns, and like Christopher Nolan, who directed Murphy in Oppenheimer, Mielants frequently moves in close to those diamond-cutting blue eyes where a thousand thoughts compete all at once. So far, reviews of Small Things Like These have been strong—see Guy Lodge in Variety, for example, or David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter—but some may take issue with a series of distracting and perhaps unnecessary flashbacks or with just how long Mielants keeps us so very up close to Murphy that the sound of his tortured breath makes up for nearly half of the soundtrack.

Murphy is up for an Oscar for Oppenheimer, and Small Things Like These has premiered in competition, and during the Berlinale’s opening ceremony on Thursday, Murphy was asked which he’d prefer: an Oscar or a Golden Bear? Skipping just half a beat, Murphy replied, “Can I have both?”

In other festival news, New York’s Museum of the Moving Image has announced the lineup for this year’s First Look (March 13 through 17), its “annual festival showcasing adventurous new cinema,” and the fifteenth TCM Classic Film Festival will open in Los Angeles on April 18 with a thirtieth-anniversary screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction on 35 mm. John Travolta will be there, and the festival, featuring screenings of Edmund Goulding’s Grand Hotel (1932), Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953), and Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954), will run through April 21.

This week’s highlights:

  • Edward Yang was “one of the great filmmakers of urban space,” writes Dennis Zhou in the New York Review of Books. Before becoming a filmmaker, Yang was a computer designer, and before that, he aspired to become an architect. For Zhou, “part of his genius” was “his ability to find counterparts to his characters’ domestic dramas in their surroundings . . . Doors, windows, and the grids of streets and buildings frequently orient his scenes; his signature shot is of two or more characters separated by a doorframe, their physical isolation from one another bespeaking larger social, romantic, or intergenerational chasms.”

  • “I don’t have a lover, but I do have a car.” This stunner of line initiates a last-minute detour in Hattie Lindert’s essay on David Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) for the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Perhaps leaning into literal auto-erotica is some sort of perverse surrender to the modern world,” writes Lindert. “But Crash presents us with people who find an endless source of meaning in their lives by brutally colliding into new shapes, new affairs, and new bodies, as a means to wrench themselves free from a familiar metal shell. All the pain and pleasure doesn’t seem so inhumane then—in fact, carving out an unapologetic personhood, through labored ecstasy and disaster and a near-sacrificial conviction, may be the ultimate act of self-love.”

  • Valentine’s Day naturally occasioned a few listicles—Variety’s ranked list of romantic movies is more ambitious than the Hollywood Reporter’s—but the week also brought two rounds of notes on all-time great Italian films. Federico Fellini’s (1963) tops Time Out’s list of fifty, while at the BFI, Pasquale Iannone offers the most rewarding list of the bunch. He concentrates on ten pastoral films that “go beyond the ‘bucolic picture postcard,’” including works by Bernardo Bertolucci, Ermanno Olmi, Alice Rohrwacher, and Vittorio De Seta, whose Bandits of Orgosolo (1961), Iannone notes, is “a favourite of Martin Scorsese’s, who has often spoken of first seeing it at the New York Film Festival and noting how ‘it was as if De Seta were an anthropologist who spoke with the voice of a poet.’”

  • Le Cinéma Club has asked for a list from Wim Wenders, who talks about nine favorite films that were on his mind when he was making Perfect Days. Few will be surprised to see that the only director with two films on that list is Yasujiro Ozu. With both Anselm and Perfect Days in theaters, Wenders has been talking to a lot of journalists, but Interview has paired him with longtime friend and fellow director Michael Almereyda, who worked with Wenders on Until the End of the World (1991). They discuss photography and painting, Tokyo and American landscapes, and two films Wenders has been working on for five years each come up. One is a portrait of architect Peter Zumthor and the other is “a big, monumental science fiction film. Oh god, it’s going to take forever. It’s on the idea of peace and it’s called Peace by Peace.

  • When the Apocalypse Is Over: New Independent Philippine Cinema opens today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and runs through Wednesday. “Characters cautiously yearn for objects, feelings, and companionship with a turn toward the absurd and grotesque,” writes Winnie Wang for Ultra Dogme: “a child fixates upon a ballpen that promises a ‘beautiful human life’; an unclaimed corpse becomes a cherished dinner guest at a funeral home . . . From an action-packed dystopian adventure featuring a talking catfish to an introspective drama about being left behind while the world changes, the series mirrors its larger retrospective, outlining a daring, new movement awaiting the embrace of international audiences.”

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