I sat up front, enjoyed the opening drum, sax, and knob-twiddling from BSA Gold, and prepared to enjoy the film, which starts strong in sharp black and white then gradually lets me down. A worthwhile story framed as a protracted podcast mystery, withholding information so it can introduce twists, the interviewees frustratingly vague. Lot of archive footage including TV appearances by our participants on alien report shows. Ultimately when unknotted, it seems that Ernesto, who ran sound and acted for Ruiz in 1970, became a Pinochet supporter involved in the disappearance/murder of government critics. In the 1980s he gets into radio and invents a Friendship Island story, maybe playing different roles to expand the conspiracy, becomes friendly with some other radio people who’d planned to travel to the island but who turned back on the day of the Challenger explosion. The alien cult stories spread locally but nobody seems to have found (looked for?) the island. We see Ernesto in person, belatedly, and his funeral. The director previously made an art theft doc.

We didn’t recognize Thao sitting on a chair playing solo slide guitar until she stood up for some vocal songs, including a terrific solo version of “Temple.” Glad we attended because of her – the movie was nothing special, a blow-up of circa-2000 DV home movies shot by their mom while nearby neighborhoods in Palestine were under attack, the family alternating between “it’s fine” and hiding in the basement. I did enjoy this slightly more than Sr – not saying much – and it’s a ton more straightforward. All tension comes from worrying what might happen, whether they should run, and that’s not too much tension since mom is doing the present-day voiceover. Onscreen timecode means you can deconstruct the editing choices.

A missed opportunity, no musician for a full house. Maybe an obvious picturesque crowd-pleaser but I find no cause for suspicion. Bhutan took away citizenship from Nepalese-origin residents, our lead surveyor is in his forties and was born in Bhutan but can’t get a passport to follow his young girlfriend to Australia. Cute onscreen titles showing the happiness quotient of interviewees, then the movie goes in-depth with a trans woman and her mom who has cancer, a schoolgirl upset that her mother won’t stop drinking, a Very Happy man with three wives who like each other more than they like him, a widower who speaks only of his late wife until we see his newborn grandkid at the end. The crew (or the edit) returns to past interviewees, weaves their stories together instead of showing their happiness score and moving on, so when you finally see the calculations of someone whose full story you’ve heard, the quantifying seems absurd. We stayed with the Q&A, our second time seeing these filmmakers after The Next Guardian.

Billed as an essay film, actually a lecture slideshow – literally, with the kachunk slide-change sound. Giraffe trade across the world. Roosevelt drew boos for being a huge animal killer, he is so cancelled. They find ancient artworks and mentions of giraffes in different cultures, tracing their history. Dig the giant rock carving in Niger between a US drone base and foreign-controlled uranium mines. Record of a giraffe gift to the Chinese emperor. Israeli scholars debate whether God (via Moses) intended for giraffes to be eaten, with a follow-up on the presumed origin and final location of the Ark. Exciting return to the place in Kenya where Katy fed a giraffe. Dry German narration. I bet this was great for the woman we met in line who comes to the movies to see views of exotic countries, but it felt to me like a glacial two hours – there must be a more engaging way to get the material across. Pronounced “sir,” more or less. Q&A over zoom, we ditched to get a beer. A guy on lboxd says: “Personally, I had a realization of why girafarig is a psychic type so that was uplifting.” Nona Invie opened on solo keys and vocals, did a Linda Ronstadt cover.

The title phrase is akin to “once upon a time.” Idyllic early scenes, with great light and open spaces, a portrait of some interesting women in Artsakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A year into filming, Azerbaijan attacked the region, eventually conquering it, turning the gentle feminist doc into a war film, and a portrait of a country that no longer exists. Our local heroes – aspiring politician, helper of women in need, mother and landmine-defuser – have to join their countrymen in fleeing to Armenia. Most horrible is the story of Sose: a young, committed judo instructor turned soldier, the light blown out of her eyes. She was present at our screening, wrapped in her homeland’s flag. Opener Lia Kohl played ambient keyboard sounds with birdsong and modem noise, then cello, and was fully drowned out by the post-dinner crowd.

Robert Daniels got the press pack and knows all their names:

Mkrtichian has an intriguing quartet of subjects: Sose Balasanyan is a soft-hearted Judo instructor and world-class competitor; the undeterred Siranush Sargsyan is running for public office in a male dominated political field. While supporting her three daughters, the fearless Sveta Harutunyan defuses landmines littered across the countryside from the previous war; Gayane Hambardzumyan works at a Women’s Center she founded to help heal the scars of abuse. Scenes featuring Sose’s adorable grandmother give the first half of the film a lightness; as do seeing these women living empowering professional lives. That gaiety crumbles in the second half, as missiles shatter the ground and the skies are lit by ammunition. Each woman loses something, only granted a shell of a new life to replace their now destroyed homes.

Ben LaMar Gay opened, solo with recorder, conch, mini gong, rattles and drones. The cornet was by his side but he didn’t feel inspired to pick it up, or miscalculated how much time he’d get. Q&A after, with Lynne Sachs and team giving context on their piece, and the Two Sun director all alone.

Amma ki katha (Nehal Vyas)
Four stories/myths/dreams/histories told by the elephants holding up the world. Mythic and symbolic about India in ways I didn’t usually follow. Some paper animation, a high-school play, some mothlighting. Didn’t see any of this coming after the simple hair-braiding intro.

The Sketch (Tomas Cali)
The speaker is new in Paris, learning to draw. He connects with a trans life model, represented with different drawing styles and also nude/real, the protag visually sketchy until self-realizing at the end. Better than it sounds.

Four Holes (Daniela Muñoz Barroso)
After a half hour of serious metaphor, this one’s comically-presented camera tech issues brought down the house. DIY solo golfer and filmmaker both have hearing issues, hanging out, playing with her sound equipment together.

Two Sun (Blair Barnes)
Dense in language, speech, music, and edit, but light in tone. A poet friend of the filmmaker’s puts on a fashion show for the camera and shares deep thoughts.

Contractions (Lynne Sachs)
Performers with hidden faces in the parking lot outside a former (due to repressive new laws) abortion clinic in Memphis, voiceover of clinic workers’ experiences, fears, and thoughts on the current situation. Artfully done, lovely.

Our first T/F/2024 movie opened with BSA Gold, a chill jazzy trio. Soviet hospital. Ends with narrator in “the nightmare of my country, where the future seems certain and the past keeps changing.” A patient (haha) trip to the secluded building, and inside. We meet patients and staff, but this is equally a portrait of the hospital building itself – a secluded palace now shabby and doomed. Short doc, and slow, so in the middle they place a lively montage of fun outtakes to keep us engaged. Graceful final shot, demolishing the last wall, camera following its dust up into the mountain. A minor movie but well constructed – my second Georgian film watched with Katy. Directors are new, the film’s editor worked on The Red Turtle.

The dialogue in this movie is just okay (except when flashy drug dealer Roger Guenveur Smith is described as having “a life expectancy of about half an hour”) until Jeff Goldblum gets a hold of it – this is my second movie this month that he’s rescued. Larry Fishburne is undercover, takes over the late Roger’s job and teams up with lawyer Goldblum, who gets off on the power and money. “Being a cop was never this easy.” An extremely cynical movie and as great as Hoodlum. Be careful who you pretend to be, etc. LVP Glynn Turman in an opening scene with its own weird tone. Surprising to hear Snoop Dogg in 1992.

The boys:

La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (2009)

Paris Opera, from classes to group and individual rehearsals to grand public performances. The final duo dance was the first music I recognized, a string piece. After my jazz era maybe I’ll get into ballets. At least one Pina Bausch piece, at least I can recognize those. Clicking the dancers’ names on lboxd for fun, I found actors from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, early straight-to-netflix movie Divines, a Binoche feature, two obscure Deneuve movies, and Bonello’s Sarah Winchester short.

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope 42, after quoting C. Huber calling FW’s work the “Great American Novel”:

La Danse … represents both a bend in the river for Wiseman and a sort of coming-to-the-fore of tendencies that were probably there all along but whose presence was difficult to discern … This is a Wiseman film with virtually no struggle on the sociological scale … upping the spectacle and downplaying those detailed, Zolaesque dimensions for which his great novel is usually vaunted … One starts to get the sense that, at this point in his career, the filmmaker may be starting to see the value in letting non-intervention tip over into tacit boosterism.

Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros (2023)

We got caught up in the kitchen drama, but none of the customer/restaurant scenes are as memorable as the one in The Truffle Hunters. Nobody comments on the situation, which I think about constantly, where a French tire company gets to decide which eateries worldwide are legendary/great/decent. More from Will and Filipe.

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope 97:

The four-hour runtime here mimics that of a multi-course sit-down meal, digestible in its digressions … There is no cultural or institutional polemic here … Detours to various rendezvous with suppliers, whose respective practices of raising cattle, goats, and legumes reveal deep commitments to the land and its biodiversity, lessons on the necessity of minimal intervention in nature, but they also lack the immersive tendencies of Wiseman’s more cynical work due to the rather perfunctory blocking of the encounters between chef and farmer, suggesting a choreography of content that inevitably flatters both parties. While not hagiographic, Wiseman’s portrait of this culinary dynasty is no doubt conditioned somewhat by a persistent PR apparatus.