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1. Apu Trilogy, India, 1955-59, Satyajit Ray
2. Au hasard Balthazar, France, 1966, Robert Bresson
3. Diary of a Country Priest, France, 1950, Robert Bresson
4. Ordet, Denmark, 1955, Carl Dreyer
5. Leolo, Canada, 1992, Jean-Claude Lauzon
6. Gospel According to St. Matthew, Italy, 1964, Pier Paolo Pasolini
7. My Dinner with Andre, US, 1981, Louis Malle
8. The Great Adventure, Sweden, 1953, Arne Sucksdorff
9. Fateless, Hungary, 2005, Lajos Koltai
10, Hiroshima Mon Amour, France, 1959, Alain Resnais
11. The Quince Tree Sun, Spain, 1992, Victor Erice
12. Wings of Desire, Germany, 1987, Wim Wenders
13. Broken Wings, Israel, 2002, Nir Bergman
14. Promises, US, 2001, B.Z. Goldberg
15. Smoke, US, 1995, Wayne Wang
16. I’m Not Scared, Italy, 2003, Gabriele Salvatores
17. Forbidden Games, France, 1952, Rene Clement
18. Searching for Bobby Fischer, US, 1993, Steven Zaillian
19. Unbearable Lightness of Being, US, 1988, Philip Kaufman
20. All About Lily Chou Chou, Japan, 2001, Shunji Iwai
21. A Place in the World (Un Lugar en el Mundo), Argentina, 1992, Adolfo Aristarain
22. Ordinary People, US, 1980, Robert Redford
23. La Promesse, Belgium, 1996, Jean & Luc Dardenne
24. Lamerica, Italy, 1994, Gianni Amelio
25. Stolen Children, Italy, 1992, Gianni Amelio
26. Therese, France, 1986, Alain Cavalier
27. The Man in the Moon, US, 1991, Robert Mulligan
28. Wild Reeds, France, 1994, Andre Techine
29. Scrooge (A Christmas Carol), UK, 1951, Brian Desmond Hurst
30. O Lucky Man, UK, 1973, Lindsay Anderson
31. Running on Empty, US, 1988, Sidney Lumet
32. Tokyo Story, Japan, 1953, Yasujiro Ozu
33. Boot Polish, India, 1954, Prakash Arora (Raj Kapoor)
34. Pixote, Brazil, 1981, Hector Babenco
35. The Search, US, 1948, Fred Zinneman
36. Ikiru, Japan, 1952, Akira Kurosawa
37. Black Orpheus, Brazil, 1959, Marcel Camus
38. The Red Balloon, France, 1956, Albert LaMorisse
39. Grand Canyon, US, 1991, Lawrence Kasdan
40. The Dreamlife of Angels, France, 1998, Eric Zorca
41. Z, France, 1969, Con. Costas-Garvas
42. Kes, UK, 1969, Ken Loach
43. Nobody’s Fool, US, 1994, Robert Benton
44. A Man Escaped, France, 1956, Robert Bresson
45. Dad (Oca), Slovenia, 2010, Vlado Skafar
46. The Cup (Phorpa), Bhutan, 1999, Khyentse Norbu
47. The Son (Le Fils), France, 2002, Jean & Luc Dardenne
48 Phoenix, Germany, 2014, Christian Petzold
49. Hero, US, 1992, Stephen Frears
50. Bus 174, Brazil, 2002, Jose Padhilla and Felipe Lacerda
51. Good Will Hunting, US, 1997, Gus Van Sant
52. Resurrection, US, 1980, Nicholas Petrie
53. Love Letter, Japan, 1995, Shunji Iwai
54. La Vie de Jesus, France, 1997, Bruno Dumont
55. The Spectacular Now, US, 2013, James Ponsoldt
56. Daniel, US, 1983, Sidney Lumet
57. Vertical Ray of the Sun, Vietnam, 2000, Tran Anh Hung
58. Barbara, Germany, 2012, Christian Petzold
59. A Bronx Tale, US, 1993, Robert De Niro
60. Ram Dass, Fierce Grace, US, 2001, Mickey Lemle
61. The Lives of Others, Germany, 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
62. The Passenger, Italy, 1975, Michaelangelo Antonioni
63. Milagro Beanfield War, US, 1988, Robert Redford
64. Tricks (Stzucki), Poland, 2007, Andrzej Jakimowski
65. Deep Breath (Le Soufflé), France, 2001, Damian O'Doul
66. The American President, US, 1995, Rob Reiner
67. JFK, US, 1991, Oliver Stone
68. Dave, US, 1993, Ivan Reitman
69. Sundays and Cybele, France, 1962, Serge Bourgignon
70. Taste of Cherry, Iran, 1997, Abbas Kiarostami
71. The Wild Child, France, 1969, Francois Truffaut
72. Good Men, Good Women, Taiwan, 1995, Hou Hsiao-hsien
73. Chunhyang, South Korea, 2000, Kwon-Taek Im
74. Keys to the House, Italy, 2004, Gianni Amelio
75. Close-Up, Iran, 1990, Abbas Kiarostami
76. Intimate Grammar, Israel, 2010, Nir Bergman
77. Medium Cool, US, 1969, Haskell Wexler
78. Woman in the Dunes, Japan, 1964, H. Teshigahara
79. Raise the Red Lantern, China, 1991, Zhang Yimou
80. My Name is Ivan (Ivan’s Childhood), Russia, 1962, Andrei Tarkovsky
81. Dead Man, US, 1995, Jim Jarmusch
82. Umberto D, Italy, 1952, Vittorio de Sica
83. The Tree of Life, US, 2011, Terence Malick
84. Mon Oncle Antoine, Canada, 1971, Claude Jutra
85. How Green Was My Valley, US, 1941, John Ford
86. Days of Heaven, US, 1978, Terrence Malick
87. The Kid with a Bike, France, 2011, Jean & Luc Dardenne
88. Local Hero, UK, 1983, William Forsyth
89. Cyclo, Vietnam, 1995, Tran Anh Hung
90. La Jetee, France, 1962, Chris Marker
91. Devi, India, 1960, Satyajit Ray
92. The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time?, US, 1982, Jim Brown II
93. Matewan, US, 1987, John Sayles
94. Trois Couluers Trilogy, France, 1993-4, Kristov Kieslowski
95. A Girl and a Tree, Slovenia, 2012, Vlado Skafar
96. The Wind Will Carry Us, Iran, 1999, Abbas Kiarostami
97. The River, France, US, India, 1951, Jean Renoir
98. L’enfant, France, 2005, Jean and Luc Dardenne
99. Rocket Science, US, 2007, Jeffrey Blitz
100. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, US, 1982, Steven Spielberg
101. Malcolm X, US, 1992, Spike Lee
102. East of Eden, US, 1955, Elia Kazan
103. Munyurangabo, Rwanda. U.S., 2007, Lee Isaac Chung
104. Lavventura, Italy, 1960, Michaelangelo Antonioni
105. Sweet Sixteen, UK, 2002, Ken Loach
106. The Natural, US, 1984, Barry Levinson
107. Letter to a Child, Slovenia, 2009, Vlado Skafar
108. The Long Day Closes, UK, 1992, Terence Davies
109. He Who Must Die, France , 1957, Jules Dassin
110. Miracle on 34th Street, U.S., 1947, George Seaton
111. Wonder Boys, US, 2000, Curtis Hanson
112. Hoosiers, US, 1986, David Anspaugh
113. L’Humanite, France, 1999, Bruno Dumont
114. It All Starts Today, France, 1999, Bernard Tavernier
115. The Warriors, US, 1979, Walter Hill
116. My Father's Glory/My Mother's Castle, France, 1990, Robert Yves
117. Wild Strawberries, Sweden, 1957, Ingmar Bergman
118. Viridiana, Spain, 1961, Luis Bunuel
119. Hud, US, 1963, Martin Ritt
120. The Jolson Story, US, 1946, Alfred Green
121. A Taste of Honey, UK, 1961, Tony Richardson
122. Where is the Friends Home, Iran 1987, Abbas Kiarostami
123. In This World, UK, 2002, Michael Winterbottom
124. Flowers of Shanghai, Taiwan, 1998, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
125. Tropical Malady, Thailand, 2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
126. Color of Paradise, Iran, 1999, Majid Majidi
127. All the Presidents Men, US, 1976, Alan J. Pakula
128. Nine Lives, US, 2005, Rodrigo Garcia
129. Vanya on 42nd Street, US 1994 Louis Malle
130. The Magic Flute, Sweden, 1975, Ingmar Bergman
131. Through The Olive Trees, Iran, 1994, Abbas Kiarostami
132. Moonlight Whispers, Japan, 1999, Yakihiko Shiota
133. Beijing Bicycle, China, 2001, Wang Xiaoshuia
134. A Midnight Clear, US, 1992, Keith Gordon
135. Two-Lane Blacktop, US, 1971, Monte Hellman
136. Beau Travail, France, 1999, Claire Denis
137. The New World, US, 2005, Terrence Malick
138. The Fugitive, U.S., 1993, Andrew Davis
139. The Green Ray, France, 1985, Erich Rohmer
140. Back to the Future, US, 1985, Robert Zemeckis
141. Home Before Dark, US, 1958, Mervyn LeRoy
142. Field of Dreams, US, 1989, Phil Robinson
143. Moonstruck, US, 1987, Norman Jewison
144. The White Diamond, Germany, 2004, Werner Herzog
145. Blow-Up, UK, 1966, Michaelangelo Antonioni
146. I’m Going Home, France 2001, Manoel de Olivera
147. Son of the Bride, Argentina, 2001, Juan Jose Campanella
148. Casablanca, U.S., 1942, Michael Curtiz
149. Sleeping Giant, Canada, 2015, Andrew Cividino
150. L’Enfance Nue (Naked Childhood), France, 1968, Maurice Pialat
151. Charly, France, 2007, Isild Le Besco
152. The Journey, US, 1959, Anatole Litvak
153. Quiz Show, US, 1994, Robert Redford
154. One Summer of Happiness, Sweden, 1951, Arne Mattson
155. Smiles of a Summer Night, Sweden, 1955, Ingmar Bergman
156. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, France, 2007, Eric Rohmer
157. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, UK, 1968, Peter Hall
158. Fireworks (Hana-Bi), Japan, 1997, Takeshi Kitano
159. Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going, Argentina, 1995, Eliseo Subiela
160. Butterfly, Spain, 1999, Jose Luis Cuerda
161. Elephant, U.S., 2003, Gus Van Sant
162. Blissfully Yours, Thailand, 2002, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
163. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, U.S., 2006, Martin Scorcese
164. Twelfth Night, US, 1996, Trevor Nunn
165. Groundhog Day, U.S., 1993, Harold Ramis
166. Shane, U.S., 1953, George Stevens
167. The Graduate, U.S., 1967, Mike Nichols
168. Kramer vs. Kramer, U.S, 1979, Robert Benton
169. Meet Joe Black, U.S., 1998, Martin Brest
170. Life on a String, China, 1991, Chen Kaige
171. Van Gogh, France, 1991, Maurice Pialat
172. The Turning Point, U.S., 1977, Herbert Ross
173. Grapes of Wrath, U.S., 1940, John Ford
174. Sleepless in Seattle, U.S., 1993, Nora Ephron
175. Ballad of a Soldier, Russia, 1959, Grigory Chukhraj
176. In Between Days, U.S., 2006, So Yong Kim
177. Linda, Linda, Linda, Japan, 2005, Nobuhiro Yamashita
178. Point of Order, U.S., 1964, Emile de Antonio
179. In the City of Sylvia, France, 2007, Jose Luis Guerin
180. Couch in New York, US, 1996, Chantal Akerman
181. The Way Home (Jibeuro), South Korea, 2002, Jeong-hyang Lee
182. Living is Easy with Eyes Closed, Spain, 2013, David Trueba
A Life-Affirming Experience
In the typical Hollywood success story, a talented individual starts out in life with a full head of steam, gets a bad break, and then, with the help of a teacher or other mentor, overcomes adversity and the story ends on a note of triumph and tears. Things are not so simple, however, for Canadian folk artist Maud Dowley Lewis (Sally Hawkins, "The Shape of Water") in Irish director Aisling Walsh's ("Fingersmith", TV miniseries) fact-based film Maudie.
Written by Sherry White and powerfully performed by Hawkins, the film depicts how Maud, a self-taught painter, achieved notoriety at home after her paintings were brought to the attention of then Vice-President Richard Nixon, but had to face a lifelong struggle with crippling rheumatoid arthritis and a contentious relationship with her husband (Ethan Hawke, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."
Spanning several decades beginning in the 1930s in rural Nova Scotia, Maud is constantly berated by her controlling Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose, "The BFG") but reaches the breaking point when she learns that her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett, "Hacker") has sold the family home in which Maud grew up in and to which she was eager to return. When she tells Charles that she could look after the house, he rudely tells her that, "You can't even look after yourself." Eager to leave Aunt Ida, Maud notices an ad in the local dry-goods store seeking a housekeeper and agrees to work for Everett Lewis, an illiterate fish merchant who lives in a tiny 10 by 12 foot house on the outskirts of town, a house without heat or electricity.
Here Maud is happy to cook his meals and sleep every night in his bed in the loft, simply because there is no alternative. Lewis, who was raised in an orphanage and whose gruff communication consists of little more than grunts and groans, tells the young woman that his dogs come first in order of their importance to him, then his chickens, then her. When frustrated, he lashes out not only verbally but physically as well, though the film mercifully only shows one such incident. At age 34, Maud has no place to go and is forced to remain with Everett. Refusing to accept the role of being a martyr, she begins to decorate the walls, doors, and windows of the home and starts to paint birds, flowers, cats, and the landscapes around her.
Things do not really change with Everett, however, until she begins to sell her paintings to Sandra (Kari Matchett, "The Good Doctor" TV series), a summer visitor from New York who falls in love with her post card creations and becomes a good friend. Soon, an article in a local magazine brings further attention to her paintings and she begins to be noticed and accepted in the community, though her work never sold for more than a few dollars and was stashed away by her husband.
As Everett begins to mellow, they marry and the film takes on the semblance of a love story, even Aunt Ida admitting that Maud is the only one in the family who seems happy. As she grows older, however, her arthritic pain becomes worse until she can hardly hold a brush. In spite of her growing frailty complicated by emphysema, a result of a lifetime of chain smoking, Maud was still able to express her joy in life through her art, a testament to her inner strength, one that turns a potentially grim story into a life-affirming experience.
A Wise and Important Film
In 1960, primatologist Jane Goodall, the twenty six-year-old secretary of paleontologist Louis Leakey, was chosen to conduct research in Africa for his study of the influence of apes on primitive man. Though she was not a scientist and never attended university, her open mind, love of animals, and the strong support she received from her mother (who accompanied her to Africa) influenced his choice, one that turned out to be a very wise one. Reconstructed from over one hundred hours of footage shot by nature photographer Hugo van Lavick, Jane Goodall's life is brought to the screen in the riveting documentary simply called Jane.
Directed by Brett Morgen("Cobain: Montage of Heck"), the film, which combines recent interviews with Jane, now 83, with the archival footage only discovered in 2014, transports us to the Gombe Stream National Park in Northwestern Tanzania, shortly before the country gained its independence from Britain in 1961. As narrated by Goodall from an audio recording of her 1999 book "Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey," we witness Jane's groundbreaking research into the behavior of chimpanzees in their natural environment, research that was initially questioned by the entrenched scientific community who said that her findings could not be taken seriously because she was a woman and lacked adequate training.
The first person to observe chimpanzees in the wild, Jane was forced to keep her distance until the animals could accept the presence of the "white ape." Supported by the magnificent cinematography of Ellen Kraus and a moving score by Philip Glass, we see a silent Jane searching for observation points in the immaculate solitude of the mountains she grew to love. It was a process that required patience and fearlessness, which Jane tells us came from the fact that she did not know enough to be afraid. Her first important breakthrough occurred when she observed Greybeard, the oldest male chimp, using a twig tool to dig out termites from a brush. The discovery was contrary to the consensus opinion that only humans could use tools and was met with resistance, especially by religious groups. Though we now know that chimpanzees are among the most intelligent primates and that there is 99% identical DNA between human beings and chimpanzees, the media reported the story of Jane's accomplishments with the usual skepticism. Citing the fact that she gave the animals names instead of numbers, they asserted that it showed her tendency to anthropomorphize them and to over identify with the subjects she was researching. In spite of the critics, Jane received a grant from the National Geographic to continue her work and, though she was initially resistant to the idea, they also sent her a Dutch filmmaker, Hugo van Lavick, to record her work on film.
Developing a relationship with Hugo, they eventually married and gave birth to a son they named Grub. It was Jane's observation of the bond between Flo, an older female, and her baby Flint that provided her with some lessons in child rearing, though the bond between Flo and Flint did not end happily. In one troubling incident, after the chimpanzees began to steal bananas from their tent, Jane and Hugo began to supply them to the chimps, hoping this would prevent a more aggressive intrusion. It was a decision that had to be rethought, however, when the animals invaded their tent and stole everything they could get their hands on.
Even more distressing was an outbreak of polio among the community and the civil war that broke out between two factions of chimpanzees after the death of one of their maternal leaders, lending irony to Jane's assertion that, "The more I learned the more I realized how much like us they were." Unfortunately, Jane and Hugo began to drift apart when he lost the funding for his work in Gombe and left to photograph wild animals on the Serengeti Plain in Northern Tanzania, one of the natural wonders of the world.
Now designated as an engendered species, chimpanzees have already disappeared from four African countries, and are nearing extinction in many others. Millions of chimpanzees used to live throughout equatorial Africa but today there are only 220,000 left in the world, a sad reminder of the increasing degradation of our planet. Thanks to The Jane Goodall Institute, an organization she founded that is dedicated to conservation, she has become an activist, traveling around the world talking about the need to protect endangered species, climate change, and the environment, attempting to build, in Werner Erhard's phrase, "a world that works for everyone."
A wild, mostly improbable but highly entertaining ride
Martin McDonagh's ("Seven Psychopaths") Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a mix of black (and politically incorrect) comedy and heartfelt drama that takes us on a wild, mostly improbable but highly entertaining ride. Set in the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand ("Hail, Caesar!"), who carries the film in one of her best roles, is the recently-divorced Mildred Hayes, a feisty, angry, depressed, but very determined woman with a warrior mentality who lost her daughter Angela only seven months ago in a rape and murder that still has not been solved.
To make things worse, her abusive husband Charlie (John Hawkes, "Everest") has left her for a dim nineteen-year-old zoo attendant, and her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, "Manchester by the Sea") just wants to forget the past and get on with his life. Instead of carrying placards and marching in front of the police station the way many people might protest, Mildred catches sight of three dilapidated billboards along an old highway leading into town that have not been used since Superman peanut butter was all the rage. With the help of Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones, "The Florida Project") who runs the local advertising agency, she rents the billboards and plasters signs on them in flaming red that carry the messages: : "Raped While Dying", "And Still No Arrests", "How Come Chief Willoughby?" Her stated purpose is "to concentrate the mind, some."
The Willoughby referred to is Ebbing's Police Chief played by Woody Harrelson ("War for the Planet of the Apes") who masks a soft heart with a veneer of toughness. Willoughby, who suffers from advanced cancer, takes the opportunity to visit Mildred and take her through what has actually been done on the case. Bottom line, the police are doing everything they can but there are no suspects and nothing has been learned from the DNA evidence. The ensuing media circus, however, brings out the worst in people, many who come to the chief's defense, especially police deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell, "The Way Way Back"), an unabashed white racist who lives with his overbearing mother (Sandy Martin).
Mildred behaves irrationally in her single-minded quest for justice/revenge, at one point tossing Molotov cocktails at the police station and kicking high schoolers in the groin (neither of which resulted in any punishment), yet Dixon's over-the-top antics top hers tenfold. In one scene, he leaves his desk to go to the ad agency across the street to exact vengeance on the unsuspecting Red. There is also tons of snarky dialogue and condescending put-downs, some clever, others not so much, but McDonagh can see the good in people and works to make that available to the viewer.
At a key moment, the characters recognize each other, not as protagonists in the midst of battle, but as human beings and the film becomes more about the complexities of the human condition than the eccentricities of its colorful characters. Willoughby is as frustrated as Mildred by the lack of results in Angela's death but tries to camouflage it with reassuring talk. On her part, Mildred comforts Willoughby when he coughs up blood that splatters in her face, and the vengeance that is eating away at her is, at least momentarily, replaced by compassion.
Even Dixon shows character growth after a violent outburst separates him from his job. While not much of what happens in the film can be confused with reality, what is real is the residue of decency present in even the most hard-edged characters. What is also real, unfortunately, is the not too startling revelation of how the prevailing police culture often results in violence against women going unpunished. GRADE: B+
The Square (2017)
Skewers the hypocrisy of the contemporary art museum world in Stockholm
According to Swedish director Ruben Östlund ("Force Majeure"), society today has turned its back on the social contract, the obligation that people not only express their concerns for other's well-being but act upon them in concrete and meaningful ways. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Östlund's latest film, The Square, mercilessly skewers the moral hypocrisy of the contemporary art museum world in Stockholm, particularly taking aim at Christian (Claes Bang), the museum's chief curator whose pretensions are repeatedly called to task in creative and sometimes bizarre ways during the two hour and twenty minute film.
Christian's current project is to develop marketing for an exhibition that features a piece of artwork called "The Square," a 13 x 13 foot illuminated space that seeks to create the possibility for people to bridge the gap between the ideals they hold and the way they actually behave. It is adorned by a plaque that reads, "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it we all share equal rights and obligations." What this basically translates to is that anyone standing inside the square is afforded whatever help that they ask for from passersby, whether it involves money or just physical or emotional help.
Christian is "likeable enough," but if the definition of hypocrisy is "the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which ones own behavior does not conform, he is a walking example. The film begins with the curator being interviewed by personable journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men," TV series) about his upcoming art project. It all goes well until Christian is asked to explain the meaning of the convoluted phrase, "the topos of exhibition/non-exhibition." His inability to do so in a coherent manner unmasks his artier-than-thou façade and the interview begins to go off the rails.
Later on the street, Christian's insecurity is reinforced when, after intervening to help a woman screaming that a man is trying to kill her, he is played for a sucker by con artists who rob him of his wallet, cell phone, and cufflinks. Using GPS to track his cell phone to an apartment building in a seedy part of town, he is persuaded by his assistant, Michael (Christopher Læssø, "Follow the Money," TV series), to print threatening letters and drop them into each person's mailbox with the address of a place to return the stolen goods. While this tactic eventually leads to the return of his materials, not having foreseen any consequences that might affect someone else, he is forced to deal with a super irate young man (Elijandro Edouard) who is persistent in demanding an apology from Christian who stonewalls the boy until he no longer can.
All of this sounds dark, but Östlund's comic genius lifts the film to a truly innovative level with an abundance (perhaps an overabundance) of impressive set pieces. There is the homeless woman who brazenly asks Christian to buy her a Chicken Ciabatta sandwich without onions. The curator, who only wants to help, reacts testily by buying her the sandwich but tells her to pick out the onions herself. In another sequence, a member of the audience with Tourette's syndrome keeps interrupting a museum Q&A presentation by the artist Julian (Dominic West, "Money Monster"), calling out obscene remarks directed towards the female host.
There is more. A fellow worker insists on bringing a crying baby to every meeting; a tug of war erupts over what to do with a used condom after Christian and Anne have sex together in her room (much to the chagrin of Anne's Chimpanzee roommate); an ill-advised ad campaign promoting the new project showing a young girl being blown to bits inside the square goes viral which forces some changes in the museum's personnel; museum donors rush toward a complementary buffet before the chef even finishes describing what's being offered. The centerpiece of the film, however, involves Oleg (Terry Notary, "Kong: Skull Island"), a performance artist who does more than his share of frightening the attendees at a ball thrown for the museum's well-heeled donors.
Oleg acts the part of an aggressive ape, grunting and screeching while mercilessly hunting its prey. The donors sit transfixed, protecting themselves while ignoring Oleg who jumps on tables, pulls people's hair, and eventually assaults a woman until several men pounce on the aggressor, unleashing their most repressed form of violence. It is a scene that ranges from curious to funny to threatening to violent to just plain sad. While Östlund should be acknowledged for attempting to tackle an issue that has relevance for our times, the film's message that an inordinate attachment to individualism and, what the director calls "The Bystander Effect," threatens our ability to connect with others, is a comfortable illusion, a symbol of our malaise, not the cause.
What is more significant is the prevailing assumption of our culture that we are separate, disconnected human beings living in a random, indifferent, and deterministic universe. As Christian philosopher and priest Thomas Berry puts it, "The world about us has become an "it" rather than a "thou." In The Square, the repetitive inclusion of Bach/Gounod's beautiful Ave Maria suggests, however, that Östlund appreciates the fact that we may not be able to understand the needs and wants of others until we can awaken from the dream of a separate self to the truth of who we really are.
The assault on innocence and the assault on childhood are one
In Una, the powerful screen adaptation of David Harrower's play "Blackbird" about the sexual abuse of a thirteen-year-old girl, Australian director Benedict Andrews does what has become increasingly uncommon in modern cinema he makes us think. While it may be uncomfortable to look outside of the reassuring categories of victim and victimizer, Andrews asks us to look at his characters not as symbols but as damaged human beings who are seeking to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and re-mold them into a coherent and functioning whole.
Rooney Mara ("Song to Song") is impeccable as Una, a 28-year-old woman who still has confused feelings about Ray (Ben Mendelsohn, "Slow West"), the neighbor she had an affair with when she was thirteen, but who abandoned her after promising to take her away with him. Written by David Harrower and backed by an effective score by Jed Kurzel ("The Babadook"), the film does not attempt to justify Ray's actions, making it clear that Una was clearly below the age of consent and that Ray should have known that what he was doing was wrong.
In numerous inter-cutting flashbacks, Andrews shows the events that led us to the present day. The film opens as the teenage Una is sitting quietly under a tree near her home. As remarkably performed by newcomer Ruby Stokes, Una is a bright and articulate teenager who genuinely believes she is in love with Ray, a neighbor and friend of her father. The sexual act is not shown, only the emotional consequences of the thwarted three-month relationship that leaves Una with unanswered questions. The somber atmosphere is suddenly broken with the disorienting thump of rock music amidst a sea of strobe lights as the older Una wends her way through a crowded sleazy nightclub.
When she has rough sex in the bathroom with her face pressed against the bathroom mirror, we sense her rootlessness and troubled life. When she discovers Ray's picture in a trade magazine, she decides to confront him at the warehouse where he is a mid-level manager. Other than some form of closure, it is unclear exactly what she expects from the meeting. When they finally meet and immediately recognize each other, Ray, who is now married and has changed his name to Pete, has no desire to relive the past, a history that has been hidden from his family and co-workers. He tells her that he has done his time and wants to be left alone. "This is my life. I had to fight for this!" he exclaims.
Una responds with barely concealed rage, telling him that her wound is one that will never heal and that he has only lost four years while she has had to pay dearly during the last fifteen years. Under Andrews' direction, Ray is sympathetic, however, and is particularly compelling in pushing back against her accusations, making it clear that he "was never one of "them," though, to his fellow inmates in prison where he served four years for statutory rape, it was apparently too subtle a distinction. To further the chaotic scene, some employees are being laid off and Ray is called on to deliver some clichés about going onward and upward but is too emotionally upset to continue.
Uncomfortable around his fellow employees, Ray and Una move around the cavernous building trying to find a hiding place to continue their painful recollections and recriminations which they do with increasing intensity. Their conversation runs the gamut from violent antagonism to tenderness. At one point, it is unclear if Una wants to kill him or make love to him. One of those looking for Ray is his foreman, Scott (Riz Ahmed, "Jason Bourne") who is used by Una afterwards to insinuate herself into Ray's home life.
As the focus is evenly balanced between Ray and Una, we are left floating in a sea of ambiguity which can only be resolved by the perspective of the viewer. Although Ray claims that he does not "do these things" on a regular basis, and that he loved Una for who she was and never considered her as a "target," the fact that the film shows a scene of Ray's stepdaughter going into his bedroom (innocently looking enough) perhaps provides a hint that his denials should be taken with a grain of salt.
Una is a complex drama that will not appeal to everyone but whose strength does not lie in its cultural or political agenda but in its art. Una explores, in Israeli author Aharon Applefeld's words, "the darkest places of human behavior to show that even there humanity and love can overcome cruelty and brutality." For Una, however, there is no escape from the disappointment and humiliation of a young child and there can be no closure. The assault on innocence and the assault on childhood are one and can only be transformed by a world touched by the possibility of grace.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
It is about compassion, trust, and wisdom
Chiron, in Barry Jenkins' Oscar-winning film "Moonlight," in addition to being gay and black, has to deal with drug abuse, bullying, and the lack of a supportive home environment. In contrast, in Luca Guadagnino's ("A Bigger Splash") achingly beautiful Call Me by Your Name, 17-year-old Elio's (Timothée Chalamet, "Love the Coopers") life is safe, comfortable, and surrounded by love though, like Chiron, he must come to terms with his true identity. Written by three-time Oscar nominee James Ivory and adapted from the 2007 novel by Andre Aciman, Call Me by Your Name is set in the summer of 1983 where Oliver (Armie Hammer, "Free Fire") is an American research assistant studying with art history Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg, "Steve Jobs") at Perlman's gorgeous villa in Northern Italy.
Oliver arrives at this idyllic setting with its gardens, peach trees, and lakes to greet the professor, his wife Annella (Amira Casar, "Planetarium") a lover of German poetry, and his teenage son Elio who speaks several languages and transcribes piano scores for the guitar. Shot by Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom ("Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives") and buoyed by new songs from Sufjan Stevens, it is easy to feel yourself present in the languid summer afternoon, as Aciman expresses it, "with the scent of rosemary, the heat, the birds, the cicadas, the sway of palm fronds, the silence that falls like a light linen shawl on an appallingly sunny day."
With Oliver's arrival, Elio now has to shift his focus from pursuing his French girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel, "Daydreams") to show the American student around town and give him bike tours of the area. Soon, however, he becomes annoyed by the American's brusque manner and his abrupt "later" whenever he's leaving. When Elio, who is Jewish, sees Oliver wearing a Star of David on a chain around his neck, however, he finds a common bond, jokingly telling him that his mother considers their family to be "Jews in discretion." Sharing the same bathroom, their friendship begins to expand when they engage in conversation and go swimming together. Although Oliver gives Elio a neck massage during a volley ball game, the boy seems unable or unwilling to process the feelings that it brings up in him.
When Oliver causally tells Elio that he seems to know everything, the teenager confesses that he knows everything except "what really matters." Even when physical intimacy is established, there is the sense that they hold back from fully expressing their feelings and even prefer not to talk about them. Chalamet, in his first leading role, is a revelation, delivering a deeply affecting performance that shows great promise. Hammer's performance is restrained, but also fully believable, making sure that the age difference does not get in the way of the honest and genuine relationship they have established. As they strengthen their friendship, like lovers, their identities blend into each other and they express it verbally by taking each other's name. Call Me by Your Name is not an "us versus them" movie. There are no antagonists in the film. It is a celebration of love in all its wonder and mystery.
There is gay sex in the movie but, like "Moonlight," it is about more than sex. As Guadagnino says, "it is about compassion, trust, and wisdom." All three of these values are expressed in the conversation between Elio and his dad, an interchange that is moving and wise. Though the film is "gay-themed," Guadagnino does not pigeonhole the characters into familiar categories and his refusal to deal in stereotypes or manufactured emotion gives the film the space to breathe and reach the place where tension can grow. Like "Moonlight," Call Me by Your Name has a universal appeal and can touch anyone, gay or straight, who has ever felt the confused and conflicting longings of first love, or who knows from experience that, in the words of the song "Plaisir d'amour," "The joy of love is but a moment long. The pain of love endures the whole life long."
Reflects the growing emptiness of human relationships
Whether or not it is designed as an allegory of modern Russia, no film in recent memory has examined the growing emptiness of human relationships with such expressive force as Andrei Zvyagintsev's ("Leviathan") Loveless, a heart wrenching drama about a couple on the brink of divorce whose emotional neglect of their son leads to devastating consequences. Though the film has been characterized as "bleak," the feeling tone is more like sadness and regret that many today have lost the capacity for compassion and empathy. Accompanied by Evgeny Galperin's rich cascading piano score, the film opens as cinematographer Mikhail Krichman surrounds us with the quiet beauty of a Russian winter.
Almost immediately, we are staring at an cold-looking stone building that could easily be a prison in Siberia. There is no sound or movement. Suddenly a door opens and children, released from school, swarm through its exits. Though some are laughing, it is not a happy scene. 12-year-old Aloysha (Matvey Novikov) makes his way home through a barren forest but there are no warm greetings awaiting him. The marriage between his mother, beauty-salon owner Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and his father Boris (Alexey Rozin, "Leviathan"), a desk-ridden management functionary, is over. Seeking status, money, and freedom, both are immersed in new relationships. Boris is with the pregnant Masha (Marina Vasilyeva, "Name Me") and Zhenya with the well-to-do business executive Anton (Andris Keishs, "What Nobody Can See").
Though their apartment has been advertised for sale and their divorce is in its final stages, custody of Alyosha has not yet been agreed upon. It is clear that he is an unwanted child, the result of an unexpected pregnancy and a marriage of convenience. Like emotionless machines, the warring couple continue their repetitive spiral of mutual recrimination as Alyosha crouches behind the bathroom door. Fearful and alone he absorbs every last ounce of malice, his face becoming contorted into a mass of silent tears that well up from deep within his being. It is a shocking scene that mirrors every despair the world has ever known.
Since the film takes place in the year 2012, talk radio focuses on the Mayan calendar and its apocalyptic date in December. News reports tell us about the bloody war in the Ukraine. Amidst the barely-controlled paranoia in the air, Boris tells a co-worker that he is afraid to lose his job if his boss, a fundamentalist Christian, finds out about his impending divorce. Fear of losing his job becomes secondary, however, when Zhenya tells him that Alyosha has not shown up for school for two days and is now missing. Far from coming together to patch up their differences, however, the estranged couple only double-down on their mutual acrimony.
The inefficient police offer little expectation that they can find the boy and try to reassure the parents that, in most cases, a missing child is with a friend or relative or out on an adventure and will soon return home. Not satisfied with officialdom's inertia, they turn to a volunteer group who put up posters, talk to teachers and neighbors. An interview with Alyosha's only friend points them to an abandoned apartment in the middle of a forest. In a scene of eerie darkness where there is a palpable feeling of hopelessness and loss, the rescuers, wearing bright orange jackets, comb every space in the decrepit building but Alyosha is not found.
A boy matching Alyosha's description is found at a nearby hospital but it is not him, and a subsequent visit to the morgue only offers more tears. Taking a risk, the two visit Alyosha's mother but the visit only succeeds in bringing hatred up to a level of ecstasy. With no explanation in sight, Zvyagintsev teases us with the sight of an unknown man walking alone into the forest, a man hidden from the camera in a fancy restaurant asking a call girl for her phone number which she provides while looking directly into the camera, a man pausing at a bus stop to read the flier about the missing boy, then turning and walking away, and a teacher cleaning her blackboard after students have left.
These tantalizing scenes, however, do not bring us any closer to a solution to the mystery of Alyosha's disappearance. Loveless is a deeply disturbing film that explores the dark places of human behavior, upending our most cherished beliefs about the bond between parents and children. Making it clear about what can happen when an unwanted child is brought into the world, Anton tells Zhenya that no one can survive a life without love. If Loveless serves as any kind of warning, it may be to help us discover that the world cannot survive either unless we begin to re-envision it as sacred.
Builds suspense through silences
Like a lonely, mysterious gunslinger from the Old West, a tall, slender rugged-looking man with a thick mustache comes to a small Bulgarian village near the Grecian border as part of a German work crew in Valeska Grisebach's ("Longing") Western. The man is Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), in Bulgaria to work on a hydroelectric power station close to the village. He could be Alan Ladd or John Wayne, transported across miles and years to Eastern Europe to conquer the natives, except here the natives are family-oriented local residents who do not carry tomahawks. Alienated by their unfamiliar surroundings, the workers hang the German flag in their camp and mock the local residents whose language they do not understand.
One says, "Everything's messed up here. It's just like traveling through time, going back to the past." Grisebach says that, "It's very interesting when you have the chance to have empathy, but you instead have contempt, or a conflict, instead of identifying yourself with the other one." We can sense that a clash of cultures is inevitable, but we do not know in what direction it will go. Remembering the German occupation of their country during the war, the townspeople themselves are not eager to offer any welcome. Grisebach contrasts the uber-masculine posturing of the construction workers at the camp with the warm family gatherings in the town. With no musical score, the film builds suspense through silences and facial expressions that tell us what words cannot.
Meinhard is treated with disdain by the work crew boss Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), who exacerbates tension with the locals by flirting with a young woman out for a swim, an incident that borders on harassment. Though he claims that he is only there for the money, Meinhard is the only worker who makes an effort to bridge the divide with the locals. Finding himself alone on a country road, he hitches a ride with some villagers and begins a friendship with Adrian (Syuleyman Alilov Letifov), one of the locals. In conversation, Meinhard claims to be a member of the Foreign Legion with service in Afghanistan and Africa which they accept without question. While on a drive in the countryside with Adrian, Meinhard tells him that this is "Paradise," to which Adrian replies in Bulgarian, "We understand each other." It is never clear, however, what is really understood and what is not. Despite the growing closeness of the relationship between Meinhard and the locals, the difficulty in communicating adds to the tension which threatens on several occasions to spill over into violence. There is a dispute about water rights which the crew needs to mix the gravel, a confrontation after a poker game in which Meinhard wins too much money, and an incident when he gets in the middle of a dispute with mafia-like authorities. At one point, after being knocked to the ground, Meinhard asserts that "Violence is not my thing," though, when asked about the planet, he offers his opinion that it is only the strong who survive.
Grisebach keeps our attention by drawing on anecdotal threads that complement the narrative. A white horse, whose custody is a matter of dispute, is injured when Vincent leads him to a mountain he cannot navigate; Wanko (Kevin Bashev), a young boy whose parents are in Greece to find work, is temporarily knocked unconscious when he hits Meinhard falling from a truck. Grisebach expresses her reliance on narrative spinoffs this way, "It's really to find how you have this little plot point or a little suspenseful moment," she says, "and then you create space, more space for atmosphere." There is plenty of atmosphere in Western, but where it is headed and indeed what it is about is a guessing game throughout. The film's well-drawn characters and naturalistic look and feel keep us engaged, however, until it erupts in a dance of humanity and one man's dream of a life filled with the simplicity of friendship and brotherhood.
West of the Jordan River (2017)
A carousel going round and round
"You're right from your side and I'm right from mine. We're both just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind" - Bob Dylan In the Israeli-French co-production West of the Jordan River, Israeli director Amos Gitai returns to the West Bank to interview journalists, politicians, non-profit groups, and ordinary citizens attempting to resolve the seemingly never-ending dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Mainly shot in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, the film's subheading "Field Diary Revisited" recalls the 1982 documentary "Field Diary" in which Gitai visited the occupied territories immediately prior to and after the Israeli army's invasion of Lebanon. Reaction to the film's criticism of Israel settlers, however, led to Gitai's self-imposed 10-year-exile in France.
West of the Jordan River opens in 1994 when the then 35-year-old Gitai interviews Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin about the peace process. According to Gitai, Rabin was "a man with a certain simplicity. Even if you disagreed with him, he was the only Israeli political figure who told the truth. He was rare the only leader who sought dialogue, who sought agreement." Now twenty two years after Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who opposed the Oslo accords, Gitai says "And now we are feeling the lack of a real political figure who wants to move forward, a lack that puts the whole Israeli project in danger." He asks "What can we do? We can make a film. It's a beginning. You have to be optimistic, and you mustn't be bitter about your own country because your country is the source of your inspiration." Though the film is heavily weighted toward an anti-government point of view, Gitai gives space to both sides including the young Israeli foreign affairs minister, Tzipi Hotovely who strongly defends the government's policy in the occupied areas. An editor from the newspaper Haaretz, however, offers a deeply pessimistic comment that if Israel continues to support Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, it is likely to cross the point of no return and disappear within ten years.
As the film progresses, however, a strong desire for peace and reconciliation emerges through the quiet, thoughtful questions posed by the director. In one scene, "The Parents Circle," a support group for both Israeli and Palestinian mothers who have lost sons in the conflict, come together to share the personal impact of their loss. Also featured are discussions with the non-profit group "Breaking the Silence" which encourages Israeli military veterans to talk about the harsh reality they have personally encountered in the West Bank. Though many work for reconciliation including those in the non-profit group "B'Tselem," also known as "The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories," the culture of revenge and martyrdom runs deep.
In a heartbreaking moment, a 10-year-old boy tells Gitai that his dream is to blow himself up and become a martyr for Allah so that Allah will tell him about the good work he did during his life. In a more positive scene, Gitai talks with an Israeli settler who was shot in the hip by a would-be terrorist but who shows sympathy and understanding for the problems of the Palestinians. For those familiar with the issues, West of the Jordan River is a timely reminder of the human cost of the conflict. For those unfamiliar with the circumstances or the political players involved, however, the film does not clarify the issues or offer any background or context.
While Gitai acknowledges that there is intransigence on both sides, dramatized by the circular motion of a carousel going round and round, he neglects to mention that the Palestinians have consistently refused a two-state solution and, even to this day, do not recognize Israel's right to exist. In the Oscar-nominated 2001 film Promises by B.Z. Goldberg, a documentary that looks at the Arab-Israeli conflict from the point of view of seven Israeli and Palestinian children, one Jewish boy asks, "In war both sides suffer, maybe there's a winner, but what is a winner?" That question is still being asked sixteen years later.
Visages, villages (2017)
A life-affirming meditation on friendship, art, and mortality
89-year-old filmmaker Agnès Varda ("The Beaches of Agnès") said, "I have a nice relationship with time, because the past is here, you know? I've spent time, if I have something of my past, I'll just make it, nowadays, I make it now and here." Varda makes both past and present come alive in Faces Places (Visages Villages), 89-year-old filmmaker Agnès Varda ("The Beaches of Agnès") said, "I have a nice relationship with time, because the past is here, you know? I've spent time, if I have something of my past, I'll just make it, nowadays, I make it now and here." Varda makes both past and present come alive in Faces Places (Visages Villages), a life-affirming meditation on friendship, art, and mortality. Co-directed by JR ("Women are Heroes"), a 33-year-old hip French graffiti artist and photographer whom the director met in 2015, Varda and her companion make an unlikely couple. She stands out with her two-toned hair and diminutive stature and JR does a convincing Jean-Luc Godard ("Goodbye to Language") impersonation with his black fedora hat and dark sunglasses which Varda teases him about the entire film.
Both live life on the edges and do not live by the rules. "Chance has always been my best assistant," she says. Driving without any particular destination, they crisscross the French countryside in JR's van decorated to resemble a camera with a large lens on one of its sides. The travelers meet and take pictures of villagers, workers, and townspeople whom they immortalize with gigantic black and white portraits plastered on the sides of walls, old houses, container cargo, trains, and other objects. Playfully, Varda describes it like this, "We ended up with huge images of them after I made them express themselves. So it's a real documentary because we are careful about what they are, what they want to say. But also, we play our game, as being artists, making strange images or enjoying that people we meet becomes actors of our dreams."
The people they meet are former miners, waitresses, plant safety workers, truck drivers, and dockworkers and their wives in Le Havre. By himself on his 2,000 acre farm, a man laments the passing of the social aspects of farming, recalling how it was when three or four workers were always there for companionship. In other vignettes, a man and his son are responsible for ringing the church bell in a small village and farmers enjoy hand-milking horned goats, regretting that others cut off the goats' horns and do their milking with machines.Varda and JR also travel to an abandoned village which is suddenly filled with arriving well-wishers. They go to the Brittany seaside where she remembers the photographs she took of a young friend and fellow photographer during the mid-1950s, pasting an image of him reclining against a beach hut on a German bunker and telling JR how peaceful he looks resting there.
The slow pace of travel allows Agnès to confront other memories from her past, including a visit to a small cemetery where photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck are buried. After visiting JRs 100-year-old grandmother, JR asks her if she is afraid of dying. Varda answers in the negative. "That'll be that," she says." Reflecting on her relationship with the great director Jean-Luc-Godard, she recalls the time she spent with him, his then wife Anna Karina, and Varda's late husband, director Jacques Demy ("The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"). Agnès and her friend then travel to Switzerland to meet with Godard, bringing the director a gift of his favorite pastry but he is not home. Unfortunately, their only communication is an enigmatic message left on his window pane. In her only sense of irritation in the film, Varda uncharacteristically expresses deep feelings of hurt.
Faces Places is a quiet celebration of what is most important in life, simple pleasures of companionship and collaboration, of art made real and accessible, and of the divine in the commonplace. Varda said it best, "I know that the seaside represents the whole world", she remarked, "the sky, the ocean, and the earth, the sand. And it's like expressing where is the world. It's about a calm sea, a calm ocean, just a very, very discreet wave ending on the sand. And that's a landscape that touches me a lot. But I know that also people feel that, too." It is hard not to be touched by her presence.