Anthology film, with segments listed in decreasing order of greatness.

IRAN
A schoolteacher, an Afghan refugee in Iran with no equipment or facilities, tries to convey the 9/11 attacks to children whose world doesn’t extend far beyond the local well. By Samira Makhmalbaf (At Five in the Afternoon)
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BURKINA FASO
“Bin Laden, come back, please. We all need you here.” Idrissa Ouedraogo, director of Tilai, turns in an unlikely comedy. A kid has to drop out of school to support his mother, thinks he spots Osama Bin Laden, so he and his friends set out to capture him for the reward money. Osama gets away, the kids pleading for him to return so they can get paid. Kind of hilarious and awesome.
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INDIA
Mira Nair, following up Monsoon Wedding (and working with the same writer), recounts a based-on-true story of a woman whose son goes missing on Sept 11, is accused by the authorities of being a terrorist before he’s discovered to have been trying to help. The mother (Tanvi Azmi, I think) is excellent in this. When first questioned by the FBI, she points to her son’s posters, saying he’s American, he loves Star Wars, but she doesn’t say it defensively, just as a mother delightedly telling someone about her son. The final shot in this segment is my favorite of the whole anthology.
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UNITED KINGDOM
Ken Loach, between Sweet Sixteen and Tickets, takes a completely anti-sympathetic approach, choosing to discuss the American-backed Sept. 11, 1973 coup that killed Salvador Allende, including footage from The Battle of Chile. There was probably a time I would’ve considered this tacky, but now I’m thinking “good for you, Ken Loach.”
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USA
Sean Penn, recently off The Pledge (and I Am Sam, shhh), shoots an Ernest Borgnine one-man show in a grubby apartment in the shadow of the towers. Ernest putters around, laying out clothes for his absent wife, talking constantly, in his own crazy world, tending to a pot of dead flowers. Tower 1 goes down and sunlight flows through Ernie’s window for the first time in decades, bringing the flowers magically to life but waking him up to the reality that his wife is gone. Weird, sad one… I liked it better than Katy did.
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JAPAN
The final film of Shohei Imamura (The Eel, Vengeance Is Mine), with writer Daisuke Tengan (Audition, The Most Terrible Time In My Life), and if Shohei were alive he’d have some explaining to do. A man returns from the holy war (WWII) a spaced-out wreck, thinking he’s a snake (Katy did not appreciate the scene in which he swallowed a rat). Closes with the line “There is no such thing as a holy war.” Very odd way to end the anthology… still not sure what I think of it, though Mr. Grunes has named it one of his ten faves of the decade.
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FRANCE
Claude Lelouch (Roman de gare) directs an offbeat story of a French tour guide for the deaf in NYC. His girlfriend is writing him a note saying she’ll leave him unless there’s a miracle, then he comes home covered in dust. I liked it better the second time through.
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BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
In 2002 director Danis Tanovic was high off his oscar-win for No Man’s Land. Since then, he’s adapted a Kieslowski script (Hell) and made one with Colin Farrell and Christopher Lee that played in Toronto. Women are going out for their weekly protest of something (local war/genocide) when 9/11 hits. They don’t know what to do, go protest anyway. Lightweight.
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ISRAEL
None of my Amos Gitai experiences have been happy ones. Starts with a guy disarming or examining a bomb after another explosion has already killed a few people, then the news team covering the event is told they’re not on the air because of coverage of 9/11. Gitai could be saying local problems feel humble compared to the scope of the 9/11 attacks, or maybe that America is hogging the spotlight away from his country’s problems, or possibly that it’s all Palestine’s fault.
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EGYPT
Youssef Chahine seems like a humorless Elia Suleiman, not that I know more about either of them than their Chacun son cinema segments. Here, Chahine pulls the same trick as in that anthology, a piece where I think he’s full of himself, then I think maybe he’s joking and it’s modesty in disguise, but no, he is just full of himself. Someone said “Youssef, write a September 11th movie” and he scribbled down every thought that came to mind then filmed them in that order.
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MEXICO
Alejandro González Iñárritu, between the great Amores Perros and the not-great 21 Grams, shot ten minutes of black punctuated occasionally by shots of people falling from the towers and closing with this quote.
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Visions of Europe is a 2004 anthology film with shorts by various directors about the current state of the continent, which I’ve already started to watch earlier and still may never finish. Pretty hit or miss.

The Miracle (Martin Sulik)
An immaculate conception story, the girl’s parents and priest trying to get answers. God’s message, via the girl, “We mustn’t build tower blocks. The big ones must heed the small. We need to travel more to resist the false messiah.” Weird, kinda spooky. Not sure if the floating coffee cup at the end helped or not.
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Anna Lives In Marghera (Francesca Comencini)
Briskly edited montage of an Italian student who participates in Rage Against The Machine-soundtracked political protests and prays when she’s not working on her thesis about industrial pollution.
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Children Lose Nothing (Sharunas Bartas)
A girl collects frogs. Two boys fight over a girl. A paper boat! Finely photographed brownish little art short. Symbolic of something!
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Room For All (Constantine Giannaris)
Talking heads tell us about the immigrant experience in Greece. Giannaris just made a movie called Gender Pop – the title alone is more interesting than this.

Prologue (Béla Tarr)
Loooong black-and-white dolly shot (imagine that) with pretty music by Mihaly Vig showing hundreds of people waiting in line to get food. Tibor Takacs was one name in the credits – could it be the director of The Gate?
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Invisible State (Aisling Walsh)
A serious man in a suit tells us angrily about human trafficking. “They will tell of Irish eyes not smiling.” Walsh made a teary Aidan Quinn drama the previous year.
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Crossroad (Malgorzata Szumowska)
The adventures of a catholic cross outdoors at a crossroad. Eventually some coroners take down the classic Jesus and replace it with a blobby new plastic Jesus. Was it supposed to be funny? I found it kinda funny.
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Paris By Night (Tony Gatlif)
Immigrants on the run, one of them injured, run through the Paris streets to some good music. Jarmuschy. Same year as Gatlif’s acclaimed Exiles.
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From skimming the extras, it sounds like this was a labor of love by American Cinematheque programming head Dennis Bartok, friend of Dante and Hellman, who wrote and produced. So on one hand, I respect the years spent assembling this, getting the help of excellent but underworked filmmakers, crafting an old-time hollywood-referencing haunted-house anthology story. On the other hand, it’s neither scary nor visually interesting nor creatively written – not exactly destined to be a horror classic.

Looks like the only non-Dante-directed films Dick Miller has been in since 1995 are a Lou Diamond Phillips thriller and a sci-fi comedy from the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra guy:
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In the wraparound story directed by Joe Dante, bunch of Hollywood residents have received free tickets to tour an abandoned studio. Henry Gibson drives them around, getting an ornery Dick Miller to open the spooky gate leading them to the haunted house set. Or is it a real haunted house?!? The bunch (eight or so) seem to be trapped, so Henry prompts them to each tell a personal scary story in hopes of coaxing the house to let them leave.

Cool model shot from the haunted house:
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GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN BREASTS

The latest work I’ve seen by Ken Russell since I wasn’t able to finish Whore. He’s still at it, making flamboyant, perverse little pictures. Girl gets breast implants to make herself more appealing to casting directors. It works, and soon she’s bonking some stud (both in a picture and behind the scenes), but her breasts have a tendency to bite, which is upsetting her man.

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She goes back to the plastic surgery joint, but her doctor is on ice so she’s confronted with these guys instead:

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The middle one is Mad Ken himself. Boobs, computer graphics and campy hilarity… it’s all downhill from here.

JIBAKU

Sean S. Cunningham (who hasn’t done anything I’ve heard of since Friday the 13th) immediately drags everything down after the blitz of fun provided by Ken a few minutes earlier. Julia and her husband are in Japan for some boring business. They run into a dead guy, so a monk (Ryo Ishibashi – warden in Big Bang Love, star of Suicide Circle and Audition) tries to comfort them.

He was also in Dream Cruise:
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Julia has an affair with a young dude named Seishin (is it the guy who killed himself earlier?), goes to some kinda sex-hell which awkwardly combines live-action and anime. Her husband saves her, whew. Key line: “I was sexually molested by a dead monk and dragged into the mouth of Buddhist hell.”

Hell looks like a Japanese cartoon; Why am I not surprised?
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STANLEY’S GIRLFRIEND

Monte Hellman, formerly known for such awesomeness as Two Lane Blacktop and The Shooting, now this is his first film since Silent Night, Deadly Night III. A shame. The movie itself is a shame, too…

John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm St., Mitchell), looking good for being in his seventies:
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This is a deadly dull segment (with some classic film references, including L’Atalante) about a young filmmaker (no longer played by John Saxon, alas) who hangs out with his talented friend Stanley, who stops going out one month after he gets a hot girlfriend. Stan suddenly disappears, leaving the hot girlfriend to our man Leo, who proceeds to have a torrid affair with her.

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But she ruins his life and sucks away his talent, leaving him a hollow shell of a failed Hollywood burnout for the rest of his life. While Stanley (last name withheld) moves to England, freed from the woman’s curse, and makes such classics as A Clockwork Yellow, Half Metal Jacket, Dr. Lovestrange and The Shinning, leaving Leo in his will a short film from the early 1900’s of the girlfriend, an ageless vampire!

Nice color for 1900:
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MY TWIN, THE WORM

John Gaeta, VFX guy from the Matrix series, shines here. Maybe it’s because he had more to prove, or because he’s had recent practice making decent films, but this is pretty good.

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The story is nothing much… woman is unable to get a tapeworm removed because she’s pregnant, so baby and worm develop together, and as girl grows up, she has a secret worm-sister who avenges her against evil babysitters. Some nice visual style almost makes up for the by-the-books plainness of the previous two episodes. The last three segments need visual style to survive, because they’re talky and the dialogue is boring (I have the feeling Ken did some uncredited writing on his bit).

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Back to our framing story and it turns out everyone here is… dead? Or damned? Or supposed to be dead but escaped Final Destination style and now being rounded up by grim reaper Henry Gibson?

Oh no, Henry Gibson (Magnolia, The ‘burbs, The Nutty Professor) died last month. I hadn’t heard. This was his second to last film.
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“Trapped Ashes is a reflection of Hollywood as a place that’s sort of between living and dying, between being famous and being forgotten.”

Three half-hour Tokyo-set films by three famous non-Japanese filmmakers. I didn’t read the reviews very closely but I gather that some viewers thought the Michel Gondry segment about a struggling couple moving into the city and the Bong Joon-ho segment about socially-dysfunctional residents of an earthquake-prone Tokyo were pretty good and the Leos Carax segment about a sewer-dwelling monster was awful, and some viewers agreed that the Gondry and Bong were pretty good but thought the Carax was brilliant. A fan of Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge, I assumed I’d fall into the latter group, but I wound up finding the whole experience somewhat unsatisfying. By the time I finished watching six previews and an overlong ad for the film festival through an allergy-induced headache I was ready to go home already. Then the movies themselves, a far cry from Paris, je t’aime, seemed awfully down on their host city, and the whole thing was kind of a bummer (and a digital-video-looking bummer at that).

Gondry’s bit featured a wannabe-filmmaker come to the city with his first film, which turns out to be terrible, and his girlfriend (Ayako Fujitani of the Gamera trilogy) who feels like nobody notices her. There’s fanciful talk of dreams and ghosts, and in the end she turns into a piece of furniture, a wooden chair. She’s picked up by a musician, and finally finds happiness – to be of use.

After this portrait of selfish men in an inhospitable city, Carax dives right in with a sewer-dwelling monster (Denis Lavant, of Lovers on the Bridge and Chaplin in Mister Lonely) named Merde walking the street shoving and groping people and being a general nuisance. It’s all jolly and hilarious until he finds a cache of grenades in an underground cave, and on his next rampage he blows up a bunch of people and is arrested for murder. Now we get an achingly prolonged trial where the monster is represented by a lookalike (but more posh) lawyer (Jean-François Balmer of films by Ruiz, Chabrol, Akerman), who speaks our guy’s mythic language of grunts, whines and head-slaps. It’s all over-silly and over-serious at the same time, and I don’t know what to think when the unrepentant Lavant is hung at the end.

Bong tries to restore some whimsy to the proceedings with Shaking Tokyo. His story of a shut-in (Teruyuki Kagawa, in Serpent’s Path a decade ago, starring in the new Tokyo Sonata) is at least the most Japanese of the three stories, the reclusive “hikikomori” being a recent phenomenon of that country – as far as I’m concerned, the other two movies could be set in any major city. Due to an earthquake, our guy accidentally makes eye contact with another person for the first time in a decade, and that person is substitute pizza-delivery girl Yû Aoi, who has button-like tattoos representing different emotions – when one is pushed it determines how she feels. The next day, she decides to shut herself away in her room, along with seemingly everyone else in the city, while our guy steels himself and goes outside to search for her, leading to a cutey happy ending when he presses her LOVE button. The “earthquake changes everything” conceit reminded me of Chan-Wook Park’s short Judgement, and the empty city reminded me of Pulse.

Bong: “I had an image of the people of Tokyo as oddly repressed, defensively lonely… I think I had a desire to wake them up, shake up and liberate such people. That’s where the title, Shaking Tokyo came from and how the motif of the earthquake also came about.”

I guess I’m liking the three movies better now that I’m thinking about them, but at the time they didn’t seem to be working together and I wasn’t sure what the movie’s point was. I’m sure it’ll be like Eros or Three Extremes, where the omnibus concept disappears in time and I start to think of ’em as decent individual shorts.

Anthology films are never great, but are usually at least interesting, so I was surprised when this one started out great. But of course it was just front-loaded, and got less great as the other episodes appeared. Didn’t realize at the time that the great one was by Ermanno Olmi (a director who, like Ronald Neame yesterday, has done a couple criterion-dvd-released movies that I know nothing about). Was less of a straightforward story than the other two – an important-seeming older guy leaves business meeting and boards train with this woman’s help, then sits in the dining car thinking about writing the woman a letter, thinking about falling in love with her, all the while surrounded by other passengers incl. a bunch of army and security guys. Doesn’t sound like all that, but I really dug it, balancing the tense (because of the army guys) train ride with the flashbacks and an almost-love story, seemed very beautifully done.

In the third part, Loach lowers the class level a few more notches (after the woman in Kiarostami’s piece had already knocked it down a little) portraying three excitable young men with shit jobs who have been saving up to see this soccer match in Rome. On the train, one shows off his soccer ticket to a refugee kid, who takes the opportunity to swipe his train ticket. The soccer kids realize what has happened – do they demand their ticket back themselves, have the train personnel mediate, or let the cute kid and his poor jail-threatened family keep the ticket then run away from the cops at the station while fellow soccer fans run interference? The latter, and valuable lessons about humanity are learned by all. Actually I found it pretty lame, a crappy version of the triumphant ending of Offside. A valuable lesson about humanity is learned at the end of the first segment as well, the man getting a glass of milk for the mother of a baby in the standing-room section – not the highlight of that segment, but still less hacky than this one’s ending.

In the center slot, Kiarostami shows a kid assigned (through some community service program) to assist a general’s widow, a horrible woman who steals one man’s seat but does not steal another man’s cell phone, and gets into unbudging arguments with both of them. Meanwhile our kid is trying to have a surreal conversation with a young girl who remembers him from his hometown – he never noticed the girl before but she’s a friend of his younger sister. The conversation seems like she’s telling him about someone else, as if he doesn’t remember his own past, but maybe she remembers his past from a different angle; she only knows the parts he had been ignoring. We don’t get much about this guy in the present, what he’s like, but finally the widow gets to be too much and he hides from her somewhere on the train, letting her exit confused without him (with baggage help from the cellphone-argument man, a minor version of the Valuable Lesson About Humanity).

An alright movie – not much innovation in story or composition or anything else, but I’m glad I watched it, and I might make Katy check out that particularly moving first segment sometime if she’s got a half hour to kill.

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On the DVD: a 40-min behind-the-scenes doc where we learn that it took a while to come up with the transitional segments to join the three main pieces. That’s something I could’ve been told in under forty minutes, thanks.

“Still, it’s very sad.”
“But, my friend, happiness is not a joyful thing.”

Three filmed short stories by Guy de Maupassant, reminding me of Quartet. It wasn’t great and made me not want to seek out any of the author’s books… there it also reminds me of Quartet. Not narrated by the author like Quartet was, since the author is dead, but rather by a sort of author character who shows up as an active participant (the artist’s friend) in part 3.

So, Lola Montes and La Ronde, and even Letter From An Unknown Woman would have been wonderful, but I chose to show Katy Le Plaisir instead and now she thinks I enjoy stodgy period pieces. Sure it had some sparks of life in it, but even the documentary extras on the DVD wanted to talk up the difficulty in finding locations and in making the film rather than giving a reason why people seem to like it. Stanley Kubrick once called it his favorite film, so surely there’s something there.

Movie starts out weird, kicking it into high gear with a creepy-looking masked man dancing gaily at a fancy ball, then quickly passing out. It is discovered that he’s an old man trying badly to recapture his youth and hit on young girls, to his wife’s patient dismay.

Centerpiece segment seems like it wanted to be the entire movie, but wasn’t quite long enough so they tacked on the other two bits… it must be over an hour long, about a whorehouse that the camera can never bring itself to go inside. Fortunately, the whores all come outside, closing up shop to take a trip to the country for an unexpectedly moving wedding, before returning home to the glee of the townsfolk.

Last bit, a model and artist fall for each other, but when things get rough and he might leave her, she tries to kill herself… they end up together forever, she in a wheelchair.

Haven’t seen a Max Ophuls movie yet that takes place in modern day… guy liked to create ornate depictions of times past. Some fantastic shots made the whole thing worth watching, incl. the artist meeting the model in the start of segment 3, and her suicide later, which switches fluidly from an objective to a subjective camera, climbs the stairs with her shadow cast before us then crashes through the window and down.

I am so bad at recognizing people, because Simone Simon played the model and I didn’t know it. Jean Gabin was unmissable as the friend/host in the country in the middle segment at least. Claude Dauphin (President of Earth in Barbarella) was the doctor in the first segment.

Second half of shorts listing from Cannes 60th anniv. celebration (first half is here):

It’s A Dream by Tsai Ming-liang
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Occupations by a hatchet-wielding Lars Von Trier
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The Gift, more weirdness by Raoul Ruiz
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The Cinema Around The Corner, happy reminiscing by Claude Lelouch
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First Kiss, pretty but obvious, by Gus Van Sant.
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Cinema Erotique, a funny gag by Roman Polanksi with one of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s large-faced actors.
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No Translation Needed, almost too bizarre to be considered self-indulgent, first Michael Cimino movie since 1996.
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At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World in the Last Cinema in the World by and starring David Cronenberg, one of his funniest and most disturbing movies.
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I Travelled 9,000 km To Give It To You by Wong Kar-Wai.
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Where Is My Romeo? – Abbas Kiarostami films women crying at a movie.
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The Last Dating Show, funny joke on dating and racial tension by Bille August.
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Awkward featuring Elia Suleiman as himself.
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Sole Meeting, another gag, by Manoel de Oliveira and starring Michel Piccoli (left) and MdO fave Duarte de Almeida (right).
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8,944 km From Cannes, a very pleasurable musical gag by Walter Salles.
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War In Peace, either perverse or tragic, I don’t know which, by Wim Wenders.
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Zhanxiou Village, supreme childhood pleasure by Chen Kaige.
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Happy Ending, ironically funny ending by Ken Loach.
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Epilogue is an excerpt from a Rene Clair film.
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Not included in the DVD version was World Cinema by Joel & Ethan Coen and reportedly a second Walter Salles segment.

Not included in the program at all was Absurda by David Lynch (reportedly he submitted too late, so his short was shown separately). I saw a download copy… some digital business with crazed sound effects and giant scissors.

A program of shorts that played at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to mark its 60th anniversary. Pretty terrific bunch of 3-5 minute shorts by possibly the best group of directors ever assembled… worth watching more than once. Each is about the cinema in some way or another, with a few recurring themes (blind people and darkness, flashbacks and personal stories). Katy watched/liked it too!

First half of shorts (second half is here):

Open-Air Cinema by Raymond Depardon
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One Fine Day by Takeshi Kitano, continuing his self-referential streak.
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Three Minutes by Theo Angelopolous is a Marcello Mastroianni tribute starring the great Jeanne Moreau.
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In The Dark by Andrei Konchalovsky
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Diary of a Moviegoer by Nanni Moretti
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The Electric Princess Picture House by Hou Hsiao-hsien
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Darkness by the bros. Dardenne
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Anna by Alejandro González Iñárritu
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Movie Night, the first of two gorgeously-shot outdoor movie starring chinese children, by Zhang Yimou.
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Dibbouk de Haifa, annoying business by Amos Gitai.
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The Lady Bug by Jane Campion.
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Artaud Double Bill by Atom Egoyan.
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The Foundry, comic greatness by Aki Kaurismäki.
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Recrudescence, stolen cell-phone bit by Olivier Assayas.
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47 Years Later very self-indulgent by Youssef Chahine.
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