On the Screen

The Chinese Cineaste and the Native Cowboy                                                                    Up-Close and Personal in the Wild West

Fenced In? Chloé Zhao’s The Rider

The Rider has us fooled. We’re set up for a western. Our hero looks like a cowboy, with the face of John Wayne and the demeanor of Gary Cooper with a badge.  In his iconic white hat, crossing the plains on his white horse, he’s the “good guy”– the bad guys wore black. Or were they the “Indians,” more...

Can the Camera Really Change Us?                                                                                    Hong Sangsoo’s Koreans at Cannes 

A Picture for Your Thoughts: Claire’s Camera

Claire is all smiles at Cannes.  In her yellow trench coat and watch, ocean blue Chanel shoulder bag, and straw hat, she’s the walking reflection of Paris at the Riviera.  Her friend has a film at the festival, so  Claire is visiting. She teaches music, writes poetry and likes to take pictures with her Polaroid more... 

An American Independent Heads for London Couture                                                    Talent and Inspiration in Europe’s Muses

Phantom Thread: The Artist as Muse

Reynolds Woodcock.  He is a dressmaker in post-World War II England.  That’s his place.  That’s what he does.  But it means more than sketching designs and draping fabric and measuring bodies.  It means charming heiresses, countesses, princesses, even–and dressing himself to do it–fawning on them more...

China's Gentle Giant in Action
A Documentary for Our Times
                                        Ai Wei Wei’s Human Flow
                      A Titan Takes on the Gods of Wealth and Power

Without any aesthetic pretension yet garnering an undercurrent of sober reflection, Ai Wei Wei introduces three iconic images in the opening sequence of Human Flow: a bird, a boat, and a lighthouse.  The same soft chords establish a parallel cadence for three parallel shots, each of about ten seconds, but each more...

Storytelling as History                                                                                                          A Hungarian Tableau Vivant

Filmmaker Ferenc Török and his co-writer, Gábor T. Szántó bring us a backwater story from the plains of Hungary at a singular transitional moment when the country, in the aftermath of the German surrender on May 7 and the end of wartime Soviet Occupation on April 4, prepares for a democratic election more...

The Story, the Stage, and the Screen in Iran                                                                       Saedi, Mehrjui, and Farhadi

Asghar Farhadi’s The SalesmanLinda Loman, Alive and Well in Tehran

Death of a Salesman has been performed around the world, including in Iran, especially if we consider Asghar Farhadi’s recent staging of it for his film, The Salesman, even if, strictly speaking, we see only a few of the play’s scenes as Arthur Miller wrote them. The Salesman is a film about spaces more...    

Literature and Life
Faucon, Film, and Fatima

Fatima is loosely based on two collections of poetry and prose by an Algerian émigré to France, Fatima Elayoubi: Prayer to the Moon and Finally, I Can Walk AloneShe didn’t start out as an author.  Rather, she moved to France by necessity, following her husband, without any knowledge of the language more...

Truths and Lies                                                                                                                                                                         French Romances Big and Small

Glistening Shades of Gray: Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women

It’s a familiar story, the bohemian in the shabby French apartment clinging to the lifeline of his art.  This one has a wife, but then he takes a mistress (also familiar enough) and not only that, she takes a lover in response (also not unheard of).  And Philippe Garrel is certainly not the first to treat such a story. His last film was more... 

A Bedouin “Western” from Jordan                                                                                                 Debuts of Directing and Acting

Naji Abu’ Nowar’s Theeb: For the Very First Time

Sinister outlaws call him “little doggie,” but his name means “Wolf” — Theeb, the 10-year-old boy who faces off with marauders, freedom fighters, and hired killers in the desert that is Arabia in 1916. Theeb is a film composed with such remarkable symmetry that it plays like a ballad, not of the Old West of cowboys and sheriffs more... 

Disappearance and History                                                                                                                                      Emotions and Aesthetics

Lisandro Alonso, Viggo Mortensen, and Jauja: The Artist’s Way

In faraway Patagonia during the “Conquest of the Desert” in the late 1880s, a Danish Captain, Gunnar Dinesen, has arrived with his 15-year-old daughter, Ingeborg.  He will serve as an engineer in the Argentine army during its genocidal war against the indigenous population.  Both affectionate and cautious with his daughter, more...

A Romanian Visits the Land of Her Childhood                                                                          A Documentary that Plays Like Fiction 

Waiting for August : Teodora Ana Mihai and the Lyricism of Everyday Life

“Films are always showing us those who leave a place, and why, and how it goes when they arrive,” said director Teodora Ana Mihai, introducing Waiting for August at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica as part of the American Cinematheque’s “New Belgian Cinema” series.  “I wanted to focus on those who remain more...

Ibsen Inspires a French Filmmaker                                                                                                An Actress Takes Her Deepest Breath  

Timewaves: Jérôme Bonnell’s Mermaid of Calais in Just a Sigh

Just a Sigh opens as Alix is waiting in the wings to step onto the stage in The Lady from the Sea at a provincial theater in the port of Calais.  Jérôme Bonnell’s film is not exactly an adaptation of the play, but he catches the breath of Ibsen’s “bright summer day” — one day — that will end again in the dark theater the next night more...


Marriage à la Mode                                                                                                                  Roger Michell’s Salute to Godard

Le Week-End: There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel

A throwback to the nouvelle vague reveals a second honeymoon that trades yesterday’s nostalgia for today’s realities, and then some, as two of Britain’s best thespians, Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, are joined by an equally amazing American, Jeff Goldblum, whose intervention sets them reeling… or is it dancing more…


The Odysseus of the Nouvelle Vague                                                                                              The Mermaid Returns the Gaze 

The Gift of Godard: Fifty Years of Contempt Serves Well

Ponder the cosmos in the eyes of Godard and see his sixth feature film as both the most scintillating capsule of his oeuvre and the most tragic embodiment of his life.  Contempt solidly delivers Godard’s vision and his voice, but perhaps like none other of his works, it surprises us with his valor in creating a romantic tragedy more....   

Between France and Senegal                                                                                                                                                Alain Gomis Is at Work in the Here and Now  

Tey — Aujourd’hui — Today:  The Tenderness that Is Africa

From October 3-28, 2013, “Caméras d’Afrique: The Films of West Africa” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater and at Loyola Marymount University’s Mayer Theater offers the chance to see twenty-one films from West Africa through the eyes of the region’s own filmmakers.  A collaboration between more...

A Woman Takes Us Behind the Veil                                                                                                Looking at and Listening to Saudi Arabia Today

Wadjda by Haifaa al Mansour: Pedaling Her Way to the Top

A beautiful bicycle, green as a dream, floats high on the roof of a vehicle that can’t be seen, blocked by a wall along the road it travels.  The bike passes swiftly, but its image remains in the afterglow, a desire that becomes a goal for a pre-teen girl who will make this cinema-like fantasy real. In a kingdom where film is banned, more... 


An Aesthetic Powerhouse in Chile                                                                                                   Violeta Parra and Andrés Wood Both Wear Many Hats 

Violeta Went to Heaven: Andrés Wood Shows Us How

Violeta Parra didn’t “start” at the Louvre. It was one stop on her long path.... She may have been the first Latin American artist—and the first woman—to exhibit there, but she started out in the foothills of the Andes, in a village of southern Chile, with parents who loved music but who gave her a humble life in rural poverty  more...

A Rom-Com in China?                                                                                                                         A Sino-American Co-Production Shows How

Shanghai Calling:  Daniel Hsia’s Valentine to China

A fish out of water finds a new current and, in the end, manages just "swimmingly," but not before he smears lots of egg on his own face in this bright and breezy sociocultural comedy of manners that shines a new light -- call it Shanghai moonlight and starlight -- on what teamwork really means, whether it be ensemble acting more... 

Kiarostami’s Tokyo Affair

A One-Time Painter Plays with a New Idiom

Like Someone in Love: Mr. K Jazzes It Up

On one level, two local critics pretty much summed it up: “”It’s so real!” one told me; the other, “Very smooth and nice.”  Yet Like Someone in Love really shines somewhere between these two lines.  Concrete as it is complex, plain and simple as it is intricate, Kiarostami’s greatest and arguably his best is all of a piece more...

Processions of Everyday Life 
Miloš Forman’s Czech Films at UCLA

If There Were No Music: “Four by Forman” Not to be Missed

The UCLA Film and Television Archive is presenting an illuminating treat for film experts and novices alike in “Four by Forman,” a two-part retrospective of the auteur’s work in what was then Czechoslovakia, with Audition and Black Peter on Dec. 1st and Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball on Dec.15th more...

Writer-Director Nikolaj Arcel Tells of a Radical Trio                                                            Actress Alicia Vikander Speaks of Queen Caroline Matilda

A Royal Affair: The Thinking Woman’s Way in Denmark

Hot on the heels of its Audience Award for World Cinema at the 2012 AFI FEST and also its double Silver Bear Awards at the Berlinale for Best Screenplay and Best Actor as well as its entry from Denmark in the Oscar race for the year’s Best Foreign-Language Film, A Royal Affair looks like a real crowd-pleaser more....   

Lisa Ohlin’s Box Office Hit                                                                                                                 Based on a Swedish Bestseller

Tapping the Personal with Simon and the Oaks

Scenic, voluptuous, pensive, Simon and the Oaks is a classic Bildungsroman that situates itself on the sidelines of history — or so it would seem, but not for long.  Reconstructing nary a battle scene or even events that launched or consolidated Hitler’s power in Europe between 1939 and 1945, filmmaker Lisa Ohlin more...  

Joshua Marston’s Albania                                                                                                                                                        Where Ethnography Meets Epic Drama

The Forgiveness of Blood: Home Is Where the Wall Is

There are a number of profound surprises in The Forgiveness of Blood, Joshua Marston’s most recent success as an American independent filmmaker.  Like Maria Full of Grace, it also takes up the plight of youths in a violent context by focusing on a severely defined life in a specific region abroad, now northern Albania  more...

The Book, the Film, the Music

Art and Politics Always Mix

Sing Your Song: Belafonte Shows What It Means to Act

Early on for Harry Belafonte, “acting” came to mean social and political “action,” and singing was its vehicle.  If his enthralling and indispensable memoir, My Song, devoured in either sips or gulps, catapults us to other times and places with immense urgency and verve, the book also offers a deep reservoir of reflection more...

The Russian Musical Lost and Found                                                                     Stilyagi Rock!

Valery Todorovsky’s Hipsters: Rebels with a Cause

The Russian title for “hipsters,” stilyagi, refers to a youth sub-culture beginning as early as the late 1940s after WWII introduced Western clothes, films and popular music to the USSR.  Stilyagi were a “stylists” from head to toe and morning ‘til midnight, defying Soviet codes for conformity in appearance and behavior by more...

Aleksei Fedorchenko Hails from Russia                                                                                       A Fairy Tale from the Volga

Roads and Bridges: The Fluid Life of Silent Souls

A bicycle makes its way up-screen, as if upstream on a wet road.  On the back wheel two birds are perched in a cage.  The camera tracks them as they ride, straight ahead through the woods.  But then with a jump-cut, the camera still tracking, we see only the rainy road left behind: the rider and birds are now off-screen more...

The World’s Oldest Profession and One of Its Newest

Isabelle Huppert Lights Up the Screen

“Nonsense” Makes Sense in Jeanne Labrune’s Special Treatment

Sans queue ni tête, the original title of Special Treatment, can be translated literally to “senseless or disconnected,” or idiomatically to something one can make neither “head nor tail” of, and this is precisely the irony upon which Jeanne Labrune plays so exceedingly well in her ninth feature filmThe “nonsense” has more...

Manoel de Oliveira Hails from Portugal                                                                                       The Photographer and His Muse — The Cinema

The Strange Case of Angélica:  Dancing Between the Frames

Manoel de Oliveira must be keenly conscious of the fact that he is probably the only active filmmaker — and one prodigiously at work — whose career spans the nascence of the “talkies” and the embrace of computer generated images, because he has made it his task to probe the stages of the cinema’s development as more...  

Kiran Rao Wears a New Hat

A Budding Auteur in India

Dhobi Ghat: Eyes on Mumbai

Our first encounter with the unending grey high-rises that situate Bombay on the map of the world is a street-level tour through the viewfinder of an video camera.  In this opening footage of Dhobi Ghat, shot on a taxi ride through the relentless rain that washes the megalopolis of Mumbai, Yasmin, the novice behind the lens more...

A Swedish Debut

A Transitional Point of View

Little Red in the Looking Glass: Fredrik Edfeldt’s The Girl

The Girl unfolds through the innocent eyes of an always curious and sometimes frightened child, one as sensitive to her world as she is withholding of a reaction, and who can be both coy and mortified at turns.  But let’s back up.  The film opens with an extreme close-up on fidgeting hands and feet as a girl receives an injection more...

The Colombian Tide

Renewing Cinema as an Art Form

Oscar Ruiz Navia’s Crab Trap: Myths in a Minor Key

A curious image lingers in the pre-credit sequence of Crab Trap, a stunning feat of neo-existential, “post-exotic” cinema by Colombian writer-director Oscar Ruiz Navia.  In the mucky earth, perhaps along a jungle river or en route to the sea, an out-sized shoeprint draws the camera near.  From it, a tiny creature struggles to more...   

The Russian Master’s Longest Work of Fiction                                                          A Georgian-Born Israeli’s Film in English

What an enthralling experience it is to watch The Duel — not so much the duel itself (which in theory could give one the queasy-guilty-perverse sensation of attending a lynching or a day at the guillotine) — but the sparring as it plays itself out in so many words, settings, ideas.  Dueling per se was, after all, long out of date by more...

French Producer Par Excellence                                                                                                      A Testament of Humbert Balsan’s Living Presence

The Father of My Children: Mia Hansen-Løve’s Quest for the Invisible

If ever there were a worthy reason to uphold international participation in cinema production, Humbert Balsan embodied it.   So let me begin by looking back, because that is the least that the stunning new film, The Father of My Children, prompts us to do.  Some years ago at a prestigious, well-heeled European film festival, more...

A Cineaste Returns to the Classics                                                                               An Italian Cooks Up a Storm

At Luca’s Table:  Gaudagnino’s I Am Love

Word is out: I Am Love (2009) is a feast for the senses.  Yet a big part of what writer-director-producer Luca Guadagnino serves up is food for thought, which makes the devouring all the richer.  Lest there be doubt, his first feature lays his turf. In The Protagonists (1999), British film star Tilda Swinton takes a film crew to more... 


The Paris Opera Ballet                                                                                                                          A Direct-Access Documentary

The World Inside La Danse: Wiseman’s Latest Reality Fiction

From the grand and stately streets of Paris that deliver us to the front door of the Palais Garnier, we go far below to its dark and seemingly endless catacombs, roaming through them to a room of coiled ropes and pulleys that appear to be part of the stagecraft of the Paris Opera House. Then climbing the stairways of empty halls more...

Between Heaven and Earth                                                                                                                Phil Grabsky Captures the Man and His Music

Bigger than Life, Better than Fiction: In Search of Beethoven

Somewhere between heaven and earth, documentary filmmaker Phil Grabsky has managed to locate Ludwig van Beethoven, and to probe him so piercingly that it’s as if the “Lion” himself had sprung from his resting place and said, “Here, take all of me, heart and soul, but don’t miss a note or a beat of it…”  more...

Dancing on the Head of a Pin

Keats' Moments of Immortality


“Writ in Water”— Bathed in Light: Campion's Keats  in Bright Star

How do we learn about poetry? Through the verses themselves, written and spoken, or possibly through the personal correspondence of the poets or their published discourse on the art?  How do we come to understand the wrestling of a poet’s conscience, or to enjoy the beauty of the words?  In Bright Star Jane Campion more...

The Real World of the Dardennes

The Lyricism of Lorna’s Silence

“His Name Is Claudy”: The Cinematic Language of Lorna’s Silence

 Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who have made some sixty documentaries in their career, have also consistently disarmed fest-goers, jury members, and filmmakers alike with their five theatrical features made over the last twelve years.  For budding independents, these Belgian brothers have become gurus, in a way, modeling more...

Olivier Assayas Returns to France
Property and Place in Summer Hours

Shedding Weight in Summer Hours: Olivier Assayas Paints from Memory

With the royalties he earned from his novel, A Passage to India (1924), E.M. Forster was able to purchase a small estate in England with a “wood” (as he called it), “intersected, blast it, by a public footpath.”  Given all his travels, it was the first property he’d ever owned, and soon enough it begged the question: “What is the more...

Ceylan Visits the Dark Side

Poetic Cinema in Turkey

Flickering Light: Impressions of Truth in Ceylan’s Three Monkeys

Last year the 61st Festival de Cannes named Nuri Bilge Ceylan its Best Director.  Not only had he made five features in eleven years, but he was picking up his fourth major award at that festival in six years, not counting the two Best Actor awards bestowed on his cast there for Distant (2002).  Regardless of his laurels, more...

Form and Feeling

Discovering an Austrian Auteur

Re-Match in the Woods: The Quiet Fire of Götz Spielmann’s Revanche

 The Vienna Woods has always cut two ways.  It played the muse to Schubert’s Lieder, and to Beethoven’s Pastoral and his “Ode to Joy.”  But it also saw the Mayerling deaths of Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Maria Vetsera, whose ghosts hover there still.  Kafka, of all people, is said to have spent happy days more...


Popular Filmmaking in Iran

Majid Majidi Is Back Again

A Fable for Young and Old in The Song of Sparrows

The head of an ostrich is all eyes and mouth — two-inch-wide eyes that can see forever and the rest, a long-jawed beak that honks a low sputtering hiss when the bird is under duress.  Its scanty down “hair” stands on end hiding ears that can hear one of its own feathers fall.  Majid Majidi, one of Iran’s most popular more...


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