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This isn't my favorite of Jean Renoir's films, but it comes first because this edition has my favorite supplement in the entire Criterion Collection - a full hour-and-a-half of outtakes. Renoir and his collaborators at work. Unbelievable.
Because Dave Kehr is a better writer than myself:
"The unmarked editing creates a profound instability in the film. Time,space, and reality are no longer constants; they don’t exist independently, but are instead subsumed by character—by the perceptions of Robert and Sarah. But if the editing is subjective—tied to the specific experiences of the two leads—Cassavetes’s visual presentation is studiously objective. Though he keeps his camera close to Robert and Sarah, he doesn’t privilege their point of view over that of any of the other characters in the scene; in fact, he often introduces moderating figures—minor characters who react more or less normally to the goings- on—who function as bridges between the audience and the eccentric behavior of Sarah and Robert. What Cassavetes creates with this objective/subjective friction is the sense of a terrible disparity between the world of emotions and a world of facts. Both worlds are equally real: the tragedy of Robert and Sarah, and also their glory, lies in their inability to reconcile the two realms. Their feelings—their love and their pain—are too large to be contained by the literal world, and yet they are not large enough to break it."
Depending on the day, my favorite film.
When I was 13 years old, the filmmaker Ramin Bahrani came to the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle to give a masterclass with what was then his new film, Goodbye Solo. I knew I wanted to make movies, and had already directed one short film, but was new to the idea of watching and studying them. I wasn't actually familiar with Bahrani before the announcement of his class! He spoke of many movements and filmmakers, but he kept coming back to Luchino Visconti; specifically Rocco and His Brothers, which wasn't available in its full cut at the time. Bahrani's class was an incredibly formative moment, but I didn't immediately catch up with Visconti. I can't recall why not.
About a year later, Janus Films' restoration of Senso had a one-off screening at the Seattle International Film Festival, and I remember how excited I felt after soaking it in. Visconti is the kind of director I aspire to be; a walking contradiction that can't be tied down or assigned to any particular movement. Labeled in equal measure as a neorealist and aestheticist! Wonderful.
A great film that you probably haven't seen. Evald Schorm had a prolific career in cinema, television, and theatre, but his name is usually brought up only in relation to the Czech New Wave, in which he played an instrumental role. But it's time for a renaissance, and no better place to start than Return of the Prodigal Son. Masqueraded as a satire by its opening title card, we quickly learn this is firmly rooted in Jan's oppressed Czechoslovakia and that this devastating rumination on what it means to be isolated is no parody. I don't know how this squeaked past the censors, but I'm eternally grateful to Schorm and his bravery, as we're all the better for it.
"Performance" as a concept was inherent to the creation of movies, and all films since have dealt with the idea to various extents. Some 120-odd years later, Kiarostami and Assayas completely smash our perception of what performance in cinema looks like. Double feature!
Another pairing, and a slightly odd one at that, but these two films demonstrate the breadth of possibilities within film editing.
Weekend is a film that consistently deconstructs and re-assembles sequences in a very transparent way that one can learn from. The opening sequence reinvents itself three times over due to the changing music over a single shot, and further sequences in the film pull themselves apart and the pieces are exposed to the viewer. Maybe this was Godard's "attack" on what he found trivial in cinema, but the assault on convention can tell you a lot about cinematic construction.
Robert Bresson once said no image has an "absolute value", and if there's a better example of this theory than Le Bonheur, then I haven't seen it. A sequence of unbridled love executed with grace can become deeply disturbing due to the images that precede it. It's a revelation. Both of these films should be required viewing in film school.
"Revolution does not belong on the cinema screen. Never mind if a film ends pessimistically...if it explores certain mechanisms clearly enough to show people how exactly they work, then the ultimate effect is not pessimistic." - R.W. Fassbinder, as read by Todd Haynes.
I don't know if there's a director who has had a more tangible influence on myself than Claire Denis, both as a filmmaker and a person. Earlier I said Love Streams is my favorite film on some days; on others, it's her Friday Night.
A great film that you probably have seen. Kind of useless to have on this list, but I couldn't help it. I've seen it so many times and every time, it's just so good.
"We bloody love you, you stupid girl!"