Preparation and conflagration of a two-day incendiary festival in a fireworks producing town. Day one is the Castles of Fire, then day two is the Bulls. We spend time with participants, mostly paying attention to stories about when things have gone wrong during past festivals leading to death and disfigurement, then watch the pretty sparks with the tension of hoping not to see anybody caught aflame. Missed this at True/False but it played on PBS in an apparently edited version. Lindy Lou, Juror Number Two seems to be cut even more, so this calls for investigation.

Terrific shots of awesome mountains with Willem Dafoe spitting wisdom about the sublime, the combination of beauty and terror that scaling these beasts engenders. Almost the entire movie is in slow-motion, the camera always gliding on helicopters or drones. From the history of mountain climbing forward, it gets more dangerous – now that just anyone can climb Everest if they’re rich enough for the gear and sherpas, the serious new climbers embrace a higher risk factor. This culminates in a Red Bull-branded extreme sports montage, which Dafoe solemnly condemns after showing us rad footage of it for fifteen minutes, the movie getting to have it both ways.

Nicely put-together doc on Mr. Rogers, the fascinating man, his underrated show, and its legacy. The school of critics who claim Paddington 2 as the best film of 2018 have highly recommended this one – you’re supposed to weep from start to finish at the reminder that there used to be such goodness in this world.

Heartwarming characters don’t exactly make for a heartwarming doc, since they still have to live in the real world, working every day to achieve their goal. The price of failure is someone gets shot, and the measure of success is nothing noticeable, just life going on. To get into the spirit, we interrupted our viewing of this movie, taking about a month between the first and second halves, but this didn’t seem to improve the viewing experience.

“This might sound strange, but the whole social infrastructure is slowly crumbling.”

This could be a companion piece to Collapse – it’s another monologue/interview with a lone man about how fragile and doomed our economic system is. Filmed evocatively in the empty office spaces of an abandoned bank, Rainer Voss was a top investment banker, now washed up and telling all about the operations, the personalities, the daily work life, the lies they told to their customers and themselves.

“Is deregulation to blame? No. Was it a prerequisite? Yes.”

He also discusses his family life, and sounds like a terrible dad. For the first half I thought his scarf was a fashion statement, then I realized it’s winter and the empty building is unheated. This movie sounds dry from a description, but people like me who are sure that society as we know it is dying, but not sure how it’s gonna go down, ought to find it gripping

Three-hour diary films about getting HIV treatment aren’t my bag, but I got interested in this because of my The Territory / The State of Things double-feature since Pinto was a crew member on The Territory and includes set footage in this doc. The Ruiz connection accounts for an extremely small percentage of this movie’s long runtime, but it turned out to be worth watching on its own merits, not all the illness-misery I was expecting.

Pinto, a career soundman and a swell photographer as well, is taking experimental medical treatments for a year, staying home with his partner Nuno and their dogs, going through his archives. Unlike, say, the Jonas Mekas diary films that expect you to recognize all his famous friends, Pinto gives us a primer on his career and interests. He’s from Portugal, and the year after the 1974 revolution he watched all the previously banned films and decided he needed to work in cinema.

The first half seems more diary-like, then he seems to be trying to make sense of the world. Focused on his own health, he discusses the histories of different diseases, also his life with Nuno, and friends past and present. They live on farmland, and he cuts in footage of frogs, dragonflies, slugs, spiders and dogs whenever possible.

Rufus and Nuno:

Francisco Ferreira in Cinema Scope:

There’s clearly an emotional and melancholic feel in the film through Pinto’s voiceover, but that melancholy becomes political when he points out during his treatment the shortcomings of a current health service still full of absurd, bureaucratic rules. Avoiding strict social realism and constructing its political message in a much more subtle way, it seems to me that What Now? Remind Me doesn’t have the pretension to speak in the name of a generation, nor does it desire to raise a flag in the fight against AIDS. It is also inconsistent to approach this film as some kind of terminal-care experience, in the manner of such powerful first-person testimonies as Hervé Guibert’s La pudeur ou l’impudeur or Jarman’s Blue, because Pinto’s point of view is luckily coming from that of a survivor. At the same time, a sense of irony necessarily pops up. One of the funniest moments of the film comes when we see Pinto writing on his laptop, exchanging clinical symptoms and prescriptions by mail with Jo Santos, an old friend based in Paris whom he has not seen for over ten years. (She underwent the same treatment as the director and accompanied him to Locarno, where the film was awarded the Special Jury Prize.) It’s difficult to express the beauty of the fact that one reason Pinto made his movie was to reconnect with a longtime friend, to make him feel less alone in his adventure—I’ll only risk saying that if all films were made like this, surely cinema would not be as miserable as it is today.


Bonus: two animated shorts codirected with Nuno Leonel:

Porca Miséria (2007)

Routine of a homeless kid who sleeps under a city bridge and has easy access to the beach, and his friend piggybank. A few variations on daily life, then one evening the kid is missing and pig is busted.


The Keeper of Herds (2013)

Filmed illustration of a poem about finding God in nature, by António Caeiro, I think, but when I search online I find a Joaquim Pinto blog with an article about an António Caeiro, but both men are hairdressers, and I feel like I’ve fallen into another dimension.

Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.

It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.

Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.

The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.

I had to open LNKarno with the Claire Simon film to tie it together with True/False, where she was last year’s True Vision Award winner. Cannes Month got interrupted by vacation this year, represented only by The Salesman and Bright Star, so I didn’t give LNKarno a time limit, just picked some selections and kept watching ’em until it felt over. Simon had two related films at the fest in 2013: the train station-set drama Gare du Nord in competition, and a documentary about people they met at the station, Human Geography, in the out-of-competition Fuori Concorso. It reminded me of the In the City of Sylvia double-feature, another doc/fiction pair set in the same spaces.

Gare du Nord stars Nicole Garcia, a filmmaker in competition four times at Cannes, also a star of Mon oncle d’Amérique and Duelle. Mathilde is taking trains to get treatment for an unspecified illness, and runs across the younger Ismael (Reda Kateb of A Prophet and the most recent Wim Wenders), who talks with people in the station for his sociology thesis. “When you’re here, you’re nowhere really, but at the same time it’s like a village square.” She’s a professor and shows some interest in his project, and he shows some interest in her (she’s married but we only see the husband once).

Meanwhile, a TV host (Francois Damiens of Les Cowboys, The Brand New Testament) has a missing daughter, hangs out at the station waving her photograph around and reluctantly taking photos with fans. A fellow student gets Ismael involved in a health services protest that aims to shut down train service. A giant unstable man wreaks havoc in a lingerie shop. Joan (Monia Chokri of a couple Xavier Dolan movies, this year’s Ravenous) is a harried realtor whose job is destroying her family, runs into each of the other characters. The movie ends abruptly with Mathilde’s offscreen death after some vaguely hippie plot contrivances lead the TV host to his missing daughter. Mostly it’s realistic, but sometimes there are ghosts.

Human Geography is a straightforward doc, the music and photography pretty basic, either the film or the DVD transfer turning black faces into smudges. Claire speaks with station workers and regulars, and also employs her friend Simon as an interviewer, meeting people from Tunisia and Mali and Brittany, Vietnam, Algeria, Cuba, USA, Mauritius, Iran, Congo. They talk with a couple of racist Belgians, and witness so much fare cheating at the turnstiles.

Simon, taking a breather after speaking with the Belgians:

The lingerie shop, the photomat, and at least one local (a diner worker with an economics degree who sells art online) appear in both movies. Gare du Nord didn’t come together for me, and the dialogue felt flat (maybe chalk that up to shady subtitles), and Human Geography is interesting enough – maybe if you’re a station regular who walks past the immigrant workers daily without considering their histories or inner lives it’d be extremely enlightening. Watching both movies in a row, though, is pretty great. Not to harp on the True/False connection, but the real stories in the doc suggest the sheer number of directions the feature could’ve taken – you could make a career’s worth of films in the station.

Opens dramatically, comparing cinema light to the flares signaling the liberation of Tavernier’s city from nazis. Tavernier has been directing features since the mid-1970’s, and I’ve never seen his work, so thought I’d start with this documentary expounding his cinematic influences. He goes long on one artist at a time, each segment feeling like a standalone TV episode.

Long initial piece on Jacques Becker’s films, and I could do worse than bingeing all of these. He discusses Renoir’s great films, sticks up for their technical skill then goes into the man’s sketchy politics, defends Jean Gabin’s politics and his postwar career, then on to Marcel Carne and composer Maurice Jaubert, all these segments linked by actor Gabin. The composer segment is welcome because film music in the 1930’s was almost universally terrible, but Jaubert’s sounds original, and it’s a nice break after 90 minutes of raving about the most obvious choices in classic french cinema. It’s kind of a square doc about square old films.

After Joseph Kosma, another composer I’m less taken with, finally some action: Eddie Constantine crime flicks. A brief look at Godard, through early Truffaut, to the French cinematheque under Langlois. Edmond Gréville looks downright innovative compared to the others, and it starts getting personal with Melville helping Tavernier to start his career in film – these two were highlights, then we coast to a shaky end with Claude Sautet. It’s got me wanting to watch some Becker, Melville and Gréville, I guess, but Tavernier seems to have aimed this at big fans of his work who haven’t seen any Renoir or Carné or Truffaut, and who would that be?