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Senses and Dialogues

Sandra Drzymalska in Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO (2022)

What if everyone in Winnipeg spoke Farsi? In Universal Language, cowritten with Pirouz Nemati and Ila Firouzabadi, Matthew Rankin pays overt homage to Abbas Kiarostami with a “peripheral gaze”—a notion he elaborates on in his conversation with Filmmaker’s Scott Macaulay—and a color palette that leans into beiges and grays. “I have this dialogue with Iran through my friends,” says Rankin, “and they have this dialogue with Winnipeg, and in a bizarre way, in this zone that we share, we are part of a strange continuum. And that’s a really interesting, precious, beautiful, and unusual space. It’s difficult to represent a space like that, so the film, that’s what it’s seeking.”

What it’s hit upon is “a delightfully disorienting mix of poetic realism (one that naturally recalls the Iranian New Wave), flights of surreal comedy, and wry, deadpan bleakness,” writes Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri. Universal Language, the winner of the Directors’ Fortnight’s first People’s Choice award, is “a magnificent film, one that feels warm and familiar even as we realize just how startlingly original it is.”

Jonás Trueba’s The Other Way Around has won the Europa Cinemas Label as Best European film in the Fortnight, and in Variety, Jessica Kiang finds it to be “a delightful showcase for the Spanish director’s lithe, airy style, here accented with glistening strands of Madrileño meta-melancholy.” After living together for fourteen years, filmmaker Ale (Itsaso Arana) and actor Alex (Vito Sanz) have decided to part ways—and to celebrate by throwing a party.

Writing for In Review Online, Lawrence Garcia observes that Trueba “manages to harmonize the rhythms of behavior and conversation we find in Rohmer’s films, with their unparalleled realism of image and sound, with the overt narrative interventions of a classical Hollywood movie. The result is a film that goes beyond mere pastiche, demonstrating that the most inventive works are often those which display a deep understanding of the traditions they derive from.” The writers’ union SACD, in the meantime, has awarded its prize for the best French film in the Fortnight to Sophie Fillières’s final feature, This Life of Mine.

Beyond Cannes, Matt Zoller Seitz has written two beautiful tributes this week. At Vulture, he looks back on the work of Dabney Coleman, who relished playing despicable characters such as the sexist boss in 9 to 5 (1980) or the sleazy director in Tootsie (1982). “From the 1970s through the end of the millennium,” writes Seitz, “if there was a hot script with a meaty role for somebody who was good at playing slime bags, cowards, betrayers, bastards, rat bastards, sons of bitches, and pains in the ass, Coleman probably booked it, and if he didn’t, his coffee stains were probably on it.”

For, Seitz writes about attending last weekend’s memorial service for the great scholar and writer David Bordwell. “Dozens of trajectories converged,” he writes. “In that room were gathered filmmakers, film critics, historians, programmers, archivists, and former students, with much Venn diagram overlap between categories. They came from all over.” Seitz spoke with several attendees and notes that “David’s relentless encouragement of seemingly every movie buff he ever read, worked with, corresponded with, or met only once kept coming up.”

This week’s highlights:

  • The new Senses of Cinema features Becoming Nonhuman, a dossier including essays on Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966) and Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO (2022), Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland (2022), and the work of Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. In a timely piece on Twixt (2011), Oliver Parker considers how, in his later years, Francis Ford Coppola has been “entirely reconstructing his own aesthetic style and thematic obsessions in a highly idiosyncratic way.” There are articles on Joanna Hogg and Jonathan Glazer, interviewees include Kazik Radwanski (Matt and Mara) and Nathan Silver (Between the Temples), and Peter Greenaway is the latest addition to the Senses collection of surveys of work by Great Directors.

  • MoMA’s Arlette Hernandez talks with Ken Jacobs and his son, Azazel, about the three films currently on view in Gallery 411. Orchard Street (1955) was Ken Jacobs’s first film, and looking at it today, “I’m impressed by my young self,” he says. Star Spangled to Death was begun in 1956 but not completed until 2004. “The strangest thing about the film,” says Azazel, “is that it’s unrelentingly about depressing, horrific things, and at the same time, I find it an extremely joyful movie, ultimately. It does seem to be an oddly optimistic film about just being grateful to be alive and to have this time on this world and this planet, regardless of the things that we do to each other.” Ken Jacobs says that he had to make Joan Mitchell: Departures (2018) because when he first saw the work, “it stopped me dead.”

  • Two more MoMA series need flagging. Preoccupations: A Jamie Nares Retrospective, on now through June 2, presents moving-image work by the No Wave multidisciplinary artist. “We were conscious that we were making films in the same neighborhood where the old one or two reelers were made at the turn of the twentieth century,” Nares tells Alexandra Coburn at Screen Slate. “The ethos was similar. We would want to shoot a film and we’d say, ‘Okay, let’s do it tomorrow. You do this. I’ll do that. I’ll get the equipment. See you at sundown.’ And then we’d make the movie in a day or two. They were quick. They were snappy. They were on target. And they still had some kind of meaning.” Meantime, the final week of MoMA’s tribute to Bulle Ogier offers films by Marguerite Duras, Manoel de Oliveira, and Olivier Assayas. At 4Columns, film editor Melissa Anderson focuses on Ogier’s collaborations with Jacques Rivette.

  • A still from Peter Whitehead’s The Fall (1969) went viral for a few days after Paul Auster died on April 30. In his latest newsletter, Dan Fox explains that the young and “strikingly handsome” writer had been caught on film “by chance” while Whitehead was documenting Columbia students’ occupation of a building in 1968. Fox walks us through Whitehead’s life and work, focusing on The Fall, which was meant to become—though it never did—a New York counterpart to Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London (1967). “With this film,” writes Fox, “Whitehead was embarking on an inner voyage, reaching for a psychological evocation of his London, edging closer in style to the work of his French New Wave idols or what glimpses of underground cinema he may have caught. But his artistry doesn’t quite hold together. It’s outstripped by his talent for reportage, his remarkable right-place-right-time luck. Over the years, Tonite would suffer the fate of becoming its own Sixties souvenir.”

  • “There is a pervasive way of thinking about film form and style that is synonymous with branding,” writes Zach Campbell in his latest newsletter. “A moving image will be shot so that, if you share a screen grab, the image will be representative of the brand of the product.” Form is vital to Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992), naturally, “but it isn’t important in a way that translates to (a) screenshots and gifs, (b) imitation and emulation, or (c) social media polemics about things like ‘relatability.’ And I suspect this example is particularly instructive in this year 2024 precisely because the kinds of things it does feel in some obscure way overlooked despite the oversaturation of moving images on screens all around us, all the time. The recognition, the discipline, and the practice of Last Days’ sort of movement have been on a gradual, amnesiac decline. I adore this complex, rich movie.”

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