Rewatched on the fancy new blu-ray. I’m not this movie’s biggest fan (some of my favorite film critics revere it) but its depiction of two socially awkward people in love is pretty delightful to watch, and feels more true than your Silver Linings Playbook and other recent attempts. The plot reads like a total Little Miss Sunshine quirk-fest (man finds harmonium on the street, gets robbed and stalked by phone sex operators, buys thousands of puddings in order to make a big romantic gesture) but in practice it never seems lame or trite. This time around I appreciated how the music gets weirder, pinging and scratching, according to Sandler’s frame of mind.

A. Cook:

There is an attractive spontaneity here that is largely absent elsewhere. More importantly it is the first, and perhaps only, Anderson film that feels wholly his. It is much harder to pick out the filmic references this time around. No doubt both Boogie Nights and Magnolia were intense labours of love but this film shows Anderson free from the shackles of Scorsese, Altman and his other inspirations and free from audience and critical expectation.

The adventures of:
Heen, a coughing laryngytic dog
Markl, child with a fake beard
Turnip, a scarecrow

And also:
Sophie, a cursed girl
Howl, a bird-demon

And also:
Witch of the Waste, melty-faced after losing her powers
Calcifer, a fire-demon

Katy says large parts of the source novel were omitted in the movie version, which would explain why the war and dealings with evil queen Suliman seem underdeveloped. But as far as visuals and unique characters go, this movie is unsurpassed.

Indie-drama story of loss, as widow decides to live in hometown of her deceased husband. But then after rumors spread of her buying valuable property, her son is kidnapped for real estate money she doesn’t have, then he’s killed and we get a more traumatic story of loss and the indie-drama template goes off the rails. I wasn’t crazy about it but I appreciate its unique message – religion is crap and major trauma can’t be overcome in the span of a movie.

Do-yeon Jeon of the recent Housemaid remake won best actress at Cannes, and the great Kang-ho Song (the year after starring in The Host) plays a subdued local guy who’s interested in her, becomes a Christian when she starts attending church meetings and stays with the church even after it’s clear that she won’t be dating him and she turns against the church. It’s a good portrayal of despair, if that’s what you’re after.

D. Lim:

He has said that before he starts a movie, he always asks himself, “What is cinema for?” Secret Sunshine is a work of visceral emotions and abstract notions; a study of faith in all its power, strangeness, and cruelty; a look at the particularities of human nature and experience that account for the existence, perhaps even the inevitability, of religion — all of which is to say that it’s an attempt to depict the invisible in what is foremost a visual medium … Put simply, Secret Sunshine shows how religion uses us and how we use religion. A film about the lies we tell ourselves in order to live, it suggests that there may be no bigger lie than religion — but also acknowledges that sometimes lies are necessary.

Iris is brought to a spooky boarding school by coffin (it’s actually not that spooky, except for the fact that it appears in a strange movie called Innocence and people are brought there via coffin), is given a schedule and a colored-ribbon hierarchy, dance lessons, play time and a series of rules to never break, then we wait to see what happens when each rule is broken.

The instructors, including Marion Cotillard, the same year she was so good in A Very Long Engagement, and Hélène de Fougerolles of Va Savoir, are businesslike with a vague sadness – rumor is they’re former students who tried to escape and are punished by remaining here forever. Normal students take dance classes for a few years, then in their final year they perform in front of a paying audience in an underground theater that seems like it’s going to be more sinister than turns out, but the movie sticks to its title until its final images when the graduated students are released into the world, and we see our first glimpse of masculinity for 110 minutes.

“Obedience is the only path to happiness.”

Based on a 1903 story from the author of Pandora’s Box and shot with all natural light by Benoît Debie (Calvaire, Irreversible). Supposed to be less story-driven than a sumptuous sensual experience, so it’s a shame I watched in SD. But I had it on my mind since her new movie is being released and since I was just looking at greatest-film polls (somehow wrongly thinking that this one appeared on the BBC list), so was anxious to watch.

A runaway:

M. D’Angelo:

Another disappointingly blatant allegory — they’re back in fashion, it seems — but in this case it doesn’t matter so much, as Hadzihalilovic’s unnervingly precise direction kept me thoroughly engrossed … the opening sequence of “establishing shots” alone is so exquisitely judged, in terms of composition and juxtaposition and even duration, that it more than compensates for the jejune content.

A movie where nothing happens but with menace everywhere – cutting racism, teens with guns and machetes and driving cars, fistfights, drunkenness, people with bad eyes and extra teeth and covered in cuts, talk of affairs and killer rats.

I’m about a month behind on the movie blog, and this one has stuck with me really well – not the details and specific interactions, but the general atmosphere of doom and stasis, the sense of being stuck, and the one guy José who escaped to Buenos Aires, returns home then can’t seem to leave.

D. Oubiña:

There are too many characters in La Ciénaga (The Swamp, the name Martel gives to her fictionalized version of her hometown), and their relationships remain confusing even after we’ve finally managed to identify their family connections. It is difficult to tell what is central and what is secondary in each image, as the story avoids emphasizing any one situation over another. But that is precisely what is so distinctive about this stunning movie … La Ciénaga is precisely a movie about unproductive pursuits, wasted time, the dissipation of energy, inactivity … the story develops in a sly and calculatedly affecting way. She sets up these disturbing situations, then avoids and ignores the potential damage, as if the eventualities had never existed. But we remain unsettled by the accidents that seemed inevitable, and they stay with us as what could have occurred, or what could still occur at any moment.

There’s a side plot about virgin Mary appearances on the side of a building. Matriarch Mecha (Graciela Borges, in Argentine films since the 1950’s) drunkenly falls and cuts herself up at the beginning. I think Tali (Mercedes Morán, mother in The Holy Girl) is a neighbor or an aunt. Luchi is the boy who falls to his probable death from a ladder at the end.

Been meaning to watch this forever, then picked it on the night after it appeared on someone’s BBC list – someone who voted for Mysteries of Lisbon, Margaret and The New World in his top three, so can be trusted. This won an award in Berlin where it premiered with Fat Girl, Bamboozled, Traffic, Wit and winner Intimacy.

A most unusual movie. Katy loved it and wants to see more like it, if such a thing exists. Opens in Oz, which is like a Miiverse Second Life, then quickly becomes the story of Kenji, a student and not-terribly-important freelance Oz coder, who gets talked into joining cute girl Natsuki at a family reunion to pretend to be her boyfriend.

Family reunion conflict:

Oz gets super-hacked, which has real-world consequences because, unlike Second Life or Miiverse, people and companies use it for actual business, and traffic signals and emergency services can be accessed through it. After the family’s beloved grandma dies, they pool their real and online skills to stop the Oz hacker, with some great digital swarm animation along the way.

One of the few movies I’ve watched recently without reading any critic reviews/comments first – just looked interesting when Alamo programmed it last month – and now all I can find is Adam Cook hating on it at Letterboxd. Good thing I didn’t read that sooner, since we’re now looking forward to more of Hosoda’s movies.

Fourth of July memorial screening for the great Abbas Kiarostami.

As mentioned before, the rosetta stone document that kicked off my art cinema craze was Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top-ten of the 1990’s article, including his thoughts on The Wind Will Carry Us. In 2004 and 2005 I watched every Kiarostami movie I could scrounge from the Videodrome shelves on DVD and VHS. I can’t say I loved them unconditionally and wanted to watch them again and again, but I can definitely say that I shared some of AK’s fascinations, that Close-Up and ABC Africa expanded my ideas of what cinema could do, and I was increasingly impressed by his artistry. In the past year or so, we’ve lost three filmmakers from Rosenbaum’s list of ten: Akerman and Oliviera, and now Kiarostami.

R. Koehler:
[Kiarostami] frequently stated in interviews that his open endings — most starkly experienced in the dense blackness of the final moments of Taste of Cherry — are his invitation to the audience to work at finishing the film for themselves.

He doubles down on the idea of viewers finishing the film for themselves in Shirin, a film visually composed of close-ups of women watching a film, which we hear in its entirety on the soundtrack.

J. Naremore in Film Quarterly:

The result is a metafilm of considerable richness, giving us the opportunity to “see” a movie in our minds as we watch the play of emotion across women’s faces and become conscious of our own role as cinematic spectators.

Opened out of competition in Venice with 35 Shots of Rum and The Beaches of Agnes, but too experimental to get a full theatrical run here. I’ve previously watched Kiarostami’s Cannes short Where Is My Romeo, made from this same material (but with a different soundtrack).

The DVD extra was made by Shirin producer Hamideh Razavi and lacks the artistry of 10 on Ten, but it’s fascinating to see how exactly Shirin was assembled – first each actor was filmed separately, looking at placeholder images lit with handmade flickering effects, then the “film” was created in an audio booth. Kiarostami talks about capturing natural expressions, but he also gives detailed direction for these non-performances. By the time we get to the editing phase, the short doc runs out of steam and the subtitlers quit early.

“It is up to you to define the movie for yourself.”

Other times, he suggests what the women might be watching.

“Those of you who are more experienced know love is always threatened by disappointment, that’s why you don’t show your joy much. Like most classic love stories, it has a tragic end, a certain disappointment which is itself a kind of satisfaction.”

Rosenbaum on Shirin:

One might even say that Kiarostami, an experimental, non-commercial filmmaker par excellence, is perversely granting the wish of fans and friends who have been urging him for years to make a more “accessible” film with a coherent plot, a conventional music score, and well-known actors.

AK:

I think I’ve come very late to this exploration of women’s issues… Leaving women out of my films was not a very intelligent decision. I made this discovery rather late, but there it is, I have made it.

Not gonna run through the whole cast on IMDB, but just limiting to actors with headshots, I see Taraneh Alidoosti (an Asghar Farhadi regular, title role in About Elly), Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, Chicken With Plums, Rosewater), Leila Hatami (star of A Separation), Behnaz Jafari (Blackboards) and Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy). Good to see that at least one woman in the audience also worked on the soundtrack, so was “watching” herself.

Maybe Taraneh Alidoosti:

Maybe Leila Hatami:

AK quoted by Rosenbaum:

I believe in a cinema which gives more possibilities and more time to its viewer — a half-fabricated cinema, an unfinished cinema that is completed by the creative spirit of the viewer, [so that] all of a sudden we have a hundred films.

Also watched:
Roads of Kiarostami (2006)

Road photos, crossfaded, the camera moving along the photos to trace the paths of the roads. Soft music for the most part, with some AK VO explaining that he mostly takes photos of roads and paths, and reading us road-related poetry.

Roads was part of a festival commemorating the anniversary of the WWII atomic attacks.

Kiarostami, speaking with B. Ebiri:

Many of my photographs, they tell stories in a way: They’re fictional, as far as a photo can be. In my films, though, I’m the opposite; I try to get farther away from narrative and try to bring an experimental, visual art element to it. And the poems are very often evocative of image or atmosphere. So there’s definitely interaction between the different forms. And at any rate, they’re all products of the same mind — even if sometimes it doesn’t show on the surface.

Back to Shirin, and Kiarostami’s work in general…

Rosenbaum, from his Taste of Cherry article entitled Fill in the Blanks, one of his all-time greats:

Much of what’s been called innovative in the art of movies over the past half century has at first been seen by part of the audience as boring or as representing a loss — usually because it has somehow redefined the shape and function of narrative … If the major additions to film art offered by Antonioni, Bresson, Godard, Rivette, and Tati — as well as by Chantal Akerman, Carl Dreyer, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Bela Tarr — are at times perceived as subtractions, this is because we tend to bring old habits with us when we go to movies. New habits are unlikely to be formed without some conflict, during which various kinds of seduction and frustration will vie for supremacy … Lately I’ve come to realize that what I regard as the most wondrous thing to happen in cinema in many years, Kiarostami’s movies, strikes a few friends and colleagues as boring and empty, even predictable … I’ve gradually come to think that these disagreements revolve mainly around the issue of why what seems to be essential information in Kiarostami’s narratives is missing. Parts of the sound track in some of the latter portions of Homework and Close-up, for instance, have been suppressed (openly in the first case, and surreptitiously — by faking a technical glitch — in the second). Audience expectations about where the camera goes — and what it finds — are deliberately flouted in Close-up, Where Is My Friend’s House?, and Life and Nothing More. And we’re kept so far away from pivotal bits of action in the closing sequences of Life and Nothing More and Through the Olive Trees that we have to imagine part of what’s taking place — the sound as well as the images. In each case, we’re forced to fill in the blanks as best we can — an activity that isn’t merely part of Kiarostami’s technique but part of his subject. In the most literal and even trivial sense, we are what Kiarostami’s movies are about.

R. Koehler with context:

I would argue that it’s the immensely powerful minimalist features of his contemporary, Sohrab Shaheed Saless — especially A Simple Event and Still Life – that imprint the most visible stamp on the features and shorts that Kiarostami went on to make in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Like never before among Iranian directors, Saless’ storylines and images are stripped away to their essentials, fixed shots are extended to produce the effect of lived-in experience, and ironically sly humor pokes its head up when you least expect it. It was a particularly rigorous modernism, which Kiarostami embraced and adapted to suit his own ends.

D. Ehrlich:

Arguably modern cinema’s most provocatively self-reflexive auteur … his films are so widely cherished in part because they encourage audience participation where lesser directors might simply punish casual spectatorship … For such a committed gamesman, Kiarostami’s films are imbued with a rare emotional lucidity, and yet they still steadfastly undermine the traditional dynamic of film acting, so that any outward show of emotion is first a representation of that emotion before it can be received as an expression of it.

The Film Stage reported at the end of last year that Kiarostami’s next film, composed of tableaux blue-screen shorts, was almost finished. The movie after that, to be named after his own book of poetry, was supposed to be shot in China a month or two before his death, but I suspect that didn’t happen.

Reminder that AK was denied access to the US to present Ten in New York.
In protest, Aki Kaurismaki didn’t attend either, via the Times:

If the United States authorities do not want “an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn either,” he wrote. “We do not even have the oil.”

Kiarostami, on filming outside of Iran:

“I consider cinema a universal language, and I consider human beings as universal beings,” he says. “So there’s no reason why people should not be able to relate to a film, or we shouldn’t be able to make films, in different languages and different cultures than our own.”

B. Ebiri:

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was 76 years old when he died, and his last feature was 2012’s Like Someone in Love — so why does it feel like he’s been taken away from us at a moment of such creative promise and vitality? Perhaps because his cinema always seemed to be in mid-mutation, forever testing the limits of film to convey great complexity and humanity. He was the shape-shifter of modern cinema, a man whose restlessness spoke through the constantly refracting nature of his work.

G. Cheshire:

Beginning with Taste of Cherry, each new film confounded my expectations. It took days, weeks, months or even years to process and finally get a fix on the latest Kiarostami, to feel I had a grasp on what it was about that at least satisfied me. Close-Up was multi-layered in its meanings, but I felt I got it on first look. Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, on other hand, I came to regard as masterworks equal to that film, but on initial viewings they befuddled me — and demanded that I revamp my understanding of Kiarostami yet again. For critics, who are increasingly pressed to deliver cogent judgments within an hour or two of seeing a film, such bafflements are as valuable as they are awkward. What if the greatest artists ultimately are the ones who require time, patience, thought, and perhaps above all, an awareness that views their work as an organically evolving whole rather than one consumerist nugget after another?

Related: I updated my entry on Like Someone In Love this week with a link to a valuable Glenn Kenny article.

P. McGavin:

How do you even begin to assimilate this work? His great skill was taking moments — scenes or images — that feel familiar and transforming them into something charged, poetic, mysterious and finally quite beautiful.

T. Hassannia:

Kiarostami’s films are easy to watch because they’re visually resplendent; they’re challenging to watch because they seem to contain a hidden puzzle. But the more familiar you become with his work, the less you’re sure those puzzles are meant to be solved. They’re not. They’re meant to be explored. If the ending of Where is the Friend’s Home? is any indication, Kiarostami believed in the experiential; to use a cliche, he preferred the journey to the destination. He revelled in the digressions of life, and thanks to the temporal features of cinema he was able to serenely express that vision.

A.O. Scott:

To an extent that we have only begun to grasp, movies invented a new way of thinking, and Abbas Kiarostami’s movies are among the clearest and most challenging applications of cinematic thought.

K. Phipps:

He and other filmmakers of his generation also provided — and continue to provide, alongside their successors — a window into the world of Iran at a time when such windows weren’t always widely available, or created by the country itself. But it’s hard to think of any country as a collection of faceless enemies when you’ve wandered their streets, seen their children, and felt their desires and pains. Kiarostami captured that, and he did it brilliantly with a sense of playfulness and profundity.

Back in theaters… not for the happiest of reasons, but I’ll take it. Electrifying for the first half hour, then gradually settles into a biopic-groove despite all of Mann’s trademark flair. But with energy and performances this good, I wasn’t worried at the time, just floating on the great history and character and love in this movie.

V. Morton:

Best appreciated in a theater, with a real sound system. The sound mix is key to the legendary opening montage, the way Mann brings Sam Cooke forward and backward, providing structure to otherwise-random memory footage that serves as exposition and context, without feeling like it. The sound is also the key to the fight scenes, in which Mann puts on the screen the subjective feel of being in a boxing match in a way rarely-matched.

Unfortunately, sound at the Grand was turned way down, I guess so the retro boxing movie wouldn’t audibly compete with whatever Care Bears nonsense was playing next door. I get better sound from my barely-in-stereo TV at home.

MZ Seitz:

Even when its momentum falters, its visuals never do. Lubezki, the wizard who went storybook-painterly for Tim Burton’s gruesomely entertaining Sleepy Hollow, shoots nearly the entire film with handheld cameras and gyroscopically stabilized Steadicams, shifting focus spontaneously in each shot as if he’s recording history as it happens. It’s arresting, alive and provocative – a documentary affectation reimagined for Hollywood, and it goes a long way toward making Ali exciting even when it’s not making much sense.

You can tell that one was written in 2001/2002, because not since The New World and Children of Men has anyone equated Lubezki with Sleepy Hollow. This points to another reason that the Ali re-release is less revelatory than I hoped – handheld spontaneity has become de rigueur in Hollywood since its first release (not nearly as purposefully as it’s done here)

B. Ebiri:

So there’s another element to Ali — a ghost in the machine that courses throughout the film. Ali the man desires to be free. But the meaning of that word slowly changes. (“Free ain’t easy,” Bundini says. “Free is real. And real’s a motherfucker.”) Ali seeks freedom not just from the reality of America, but also from everything else with dominion over him. He finds this freedom in the construction of his ever-changing, ever-moving identity. (“Your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.”) In essence, he liberates himself by becoming larger than anything that ever tried to control him — larger than the Nation of Islam, larger than the media, or boxing, or even, ultimately, America itself.

I started watching Masters of Horror shortly before starting the movie blog, so in my season one round-up, three episodes are mentioned but got no writeup. Well it turns out MoH blu-rays are cheap, so now I own those three episodes, and am gonna rewatch the two good ones – Mick Garris’s Chocolate is doomed to be the odd man out.

Imprint was the episode I remembered the least. I wanted Miike’s English-language debut to be better than it was, and now that I can enable subtitles I didn’t miss any part of the story, but it seems like he and writer Shimako Iwai were trying to impress by throwing in every shocking thing they could come up with: pregnant prostitute murder, sibling incest, parental rape, aborted babies tossed casually into the river, a syphilitic dwarf (actor familiar from Zebraman 2), birth defects, Audition-reminiscent needle torture, madness, hanging and strangling and… this:

But there’s great color and some arresting images – more than any other MoH episode, I’d guess.

And the actors all acquit themselves well enough with the English dialogue, even native speaker Billy Drago (Papa Jupiter in The Hills Have Eyes Remake). Drago has made his fortune and returned to Prostitute Island to rescue his lovely Komomo (Michié of R100) but is told that she’s dead by a facially-deformed woman (Mystery Train star Yûki Kudô), who proceeds to tell him why, changing the story multiple times making herself more and more guilty of Komomo’s torture (at the hands of an evil needle woman played by the author Iwai) for supposedly stealing a ring from the house madam (Toshie Negishi of Over Your Dead Body and Audition), until Drago has heard enough stories, murders the woman and goes to jail.