“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”

I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.

Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.

Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation:

“Vote – this is something I cannot do … because I am a felon”

Opens with camouflaged forest war games, then cut to scraggly Mark and girlfriend Lisa, who are often naked and taking drugs. Such shockingly good photography and uncensored access to the subjects that I had to stop the movie and make sure it’s a documentary. And it’s… complicated. Minervini: “There is no screenplay, there are no fake characters. People aren’t playing themselves, they are themselves. Re-enactment or direction I still consider a necessary tool to successfully to complete a project with such a high degree of difficulty.”

Family visits, political talk, daily life, drug making and taking, a funeral, work and sex and so on… it’s a portrait of ordinary lives, but not the kind we see in movies.

Mark’s grandma:

Working at the junkyard with Jim for $20 per day:

Then the last twenty minutes is something new: a fourth of july weekend training camp and/or drunken party for an alarmingly large white militia group united in their hatred of “Obama” and love of “freedom”.

“Some of the people in the militia are related to the people in the first part. I won’t go any deeper, because there is a certain anonymity that has to be granted there, but there are family ties between the two worlds.”

Celluloid Liberation Front:

Minervini has been observing these communities throughout his filmography with neither ethnographic pretensions nor sentimental bias, counting on that rarest of all aesthetic devices: human empathy. In The Other Side the spectator enters a world alien from his own with a subjective purity … it is that basic formal honesty that makes The Other Side a film to be felt and experienced for what it does to you rather than for what it is supposed to mean.

Minervini in Filmmaker:

I’ve already approached the topics of pain and fear, and I needed to dig into the sociopolitical causes of it. I think my intentions are very clear with The Other Side … This time, it is the angry me that takes over while filming, who wants to look for who’s responsible for this self-destructive, violent social behavior. It was time for me as an American filmmaker, living and working in America, to look for the responsibility at an institutional level.

Minervini in Cinema Scope:

Instead of a revolution, Southerners want devolution. They think that they would be better off with a more powerful local government than with an allegedly intrusive central one. This false belief is partly due to the chronically low level of political knowledge in the US … it remains a largely economically divided, pathologically anxious, and inherently racist country, brainwashed by fallacious information on crime rates, national security threats, and, last but not least, the ever-incumbent fear of the loss of individual freedoms.

“His favorite band was the Electric Light Orchestra. But now, he was president.”

Fascinating story of Muammar Qadaffi, history lessons combined with Tarkovsky and De Palma clips. Not as fanciful with the stock footage as earlier docs since Curtis has real news footage for most of his story now. Been pondering the movie title in different contexts. Might have to watch this again a few times.

Watched the nice HD version, but over streaming, which turns the film grain into digital mush. Would’ve been worth renting the blu-ray for the 2008 Return of the War Room update doc, but maybe it’ll be viewable on Filmstruck eventually.

Covers from the primary to the presidential election, although from Criterion’s notes:

The filmmakers began shooting during the 1992 Democratic convention. Everything in The War Room that precedes the convention was either news footage or, in the case of the New Hampshire campaign meetings, the work of filmmaker Kevin Rafferty, director of Feed (1992).

I also liked that Pennebaker snuck in footage from a 1950’s project and used it as an establishing shot. Anyway that’s a lot of politics to cover in 90 minutes, so this movie flies through the campaign, devoting time to a few episodes and controversies behind the scenes.

L. Menand:

Viewers do enjoy the feeling of being there. The primal appeal of the documentary, though, lies elsewhere. What people respond to, deep down, is the feeling of being in a place where they are not permitted to be, the feeling that they are seeing and hearing things that were not intended for them to see and hear … Today, everyone is a media expert. Virtually everything is recorded, or can be recorded, and there are few places that we feel we shouldn’t be. There are even fewer places that we feel we couldn’t be.

Simply called Taxi (or Jafar Panahi’s Taxi) in the USA since lately we are allergic to descriptive or interesting titles (now playing: Joy, Room, Spotlight, Brooklyn, Trumbo). Panahi plays himself, driving a cab and secretly making a film with hidden dash cameras. It’s a smiling, upbeat comedy for the most part, with a bit of surveillance-state darkness at the end. He’s fond of injecting reality into his fictions, but he doesn’t blend them as completely as his countryman Kiarostami. We never believe for a minute that the dash-cams are capturing reality – each ride and conversation is too funny, poignant or perfect to have been accidental.

Panahi picks up a bootleg DVD salesman, who says all cinephiles (including Pahani’s own family) go through him for uncensored foreign films which are officially forbidden, his niece whose school project is to film something which follows all official rules, which she’s finding difficult, a guy and his young wife who were just in a motorcycle accident and she’s freaking that he might die without writing a will, in which case she’ll inherit nothing under the law. I’m seeing a pattern of protest in all this. Also a crime-and-punishment conversation, a lawyer… and two women who want to ritually release their fish, not sure what that’s about besides it reminding me of fish and ritual in What Time Is It There, which I watched the same month.

A. Cook:

This is a great film, one that, with minimal means, creates a sophisticated formal system that Panahi flourishes in and in such a way that for me surpasses Closed Curtain (though doesn’t touch This is Not a Film). It gets bonus points for being such a lively and lovely picture — one that’s excited to pay attention to every character who enters its frame. The dashboard camera setup makes for a simple and exquisite approach, the swivelling device capturing most of the film’s images. Just as lovely, however, are the formal digressions brought on by Panahi’s niece, who pulls out a camera of her own that the film then intermittently cuts to, reiterating the artistic and technological democracy that This is Not a Film first articulated: anything is cinema and anyone can make it using whatever they wish.

Won the top prize in Berlin, where it played with 45 Years, The Pearl Button and Knight of Cups. Hey Kino, let me know if you need a subtitles proofreader. Happy to help. If you’re not embarrassed by the Taxi subs, you ought to be.

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”

Cluster-bomb:

Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Slogan on cover of the press book: “Ideas separate us, dreams bring us together.”

An essay film without the essay? At least he’s removed the parts of his argument that would allow a simpleton like me to follow along. So far my experiences with Late Godard: I loved Nouvelle Vague even if I rarely understood it. Repetition, layering, stolen quotes as dialogue, showy editing of picture and stereo sound. Also, traditionally gorgeous cinematography and a somewhat decipherable story – both of which disappeared for Histoire(s) du Cinema and Éloge de l’amour, where the layering is increased and I’m less able to follow what he’s on about. Couldn’t make head nor tail of Notre Musique, which I saw in theaters with no preparation.

So now Film Socialism(e) seems like an Éloge de Histoire(s), the onscreen text and stuttery editing and quoting, rambling scenes and an (apparent) essay film with an (apparent) narrative short dropped in between them, all to mysterious purposes. A mix of cameras: wind noise and low-res picture, then sleek HD with the colors enhanced. Apparently full of wordplay that makes no sense in translation, hence the poetically incomplete English subs in the premiere (not the version I watched). Hard stereo panning, as I discovered re-listening to the movie in headphones while searching for articles online.

“It’s impossible to propose an off-the-cuff interpretation of an object we wouldn’t know how to describe” – the Film Socialisme Annotated article found on Moving Image Source.

Film Socialisme in the news: an economist in the first section was killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack and the boat on which it was filmed sank.

Focus of the third section:

“The day will come when language will turn itself against those who speak it,” presumably related to his next feature Adieu au langage, but I prefer to think of Pontypool.

Played in Cannes alongside I Wish I Knew, Aurora and The Strange Case of Angelica.

“Let’s bring back duration.”

Excerpts from A. Picard’s article for Cinema Scope:

The first section of Film Socialisme, or “movement” (as this film, also, is about notre musique, our harmonies and disharmonies), takes place on a cruise ship touring the Mediterranean; the second follows the French family Martin who run a garage and are hounded by a camera crew after one of its members announces a candidacy for the local elections; and the third is a coda collage … Editing images so that they emerge as the visual equivalent to his infamous aphorisms, Godard has increasingly become “interested not only in thought, but in the traces of thought.” … French philosopher Alain Badiou delivers a speech on Husserl to a large, empty room filmed in a long shot emphasizing the space and weight of absence. Godard says an announcement was made over the loudspeaker inviting all passengers to attend and not a single soul showed up.

Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye:

from Godard’s interview in Telerama:

“Palestine is like the cinema: it’s searching for independence.”

“[People] have the courage to live their life, but they don’t have the courage to imagine it.”

All I knew from Guzmán was The Battle of Chile, which is newsreel documentary with explanatory postscript. I heard this was another doc about Pinochet horrors made forty years later and thought ah, more of the same. But this is something very different: a poetic, visual doc encompassing early man, human history and the cosmos, past and present colliding in beauty and horror.

One of the movie’s subjects, Lautaro Núñez, explains:

The astronomers created an enormous telescope … They are in the present recording a past which they have to reconstruct. They have only minute clues. They are archaeologists like us. … Why are there archaeologists and astronomers in the same place? The answer is simple. Here, the past is more accessible than elsewhere. The translucency of the sky is, for the archaeologists of space, what the dry climate is for us. It facilitates our access to evidence from the past.

Guzmán: “And yet, this country has not yet considered its past. It is held in the grasp of the coup d’etat which seems to immobilise it.”

Guzmán slowly brings the focus from ancient archaeology to more recent, focusing on a group of women who have combed the desert for decades looking for the graves of their relatives who were murdered and disappeared by Pinochet’s men. Then he connects even this to the cosmic, all with beautiful photography.

Astronomer Valentina Rodríguez’s parents are among the dead. “Astronomy has somehow helped me to give another dimension to the pain, to the absence, to the loss. I tell myself it’s all part of a cycle… we are all part of a current… like the stars which must die so that other stars can be born… nothing really comes to an end.”

Third movie called Leviathan I’ve seen, and another has just been announced. First Andrey Z. movie I’ve seen since The Return, and this was less mystical and mysterious than I’d expected from that one. But there’s still room for ambiguity in this generally straightforward story of a family’s obliteration by greedy, corrupt government officials as well as typical relationship drama. Wonderful looking movie, making the fact that it’s relentlessly grim easier to take.

Lilya (Elena Lyadova of Andrey Z.’s Elena) is Kolya’s second wife, after the death of his first. She and Kolya seem happy, but his sullen teenage son isn’t taking the replacement mom very well, and she is obviously more attracted to Kolya’s visiting military buddy Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov of Paragraph 78), a lawyer helping try to save the family’s land, home and business from being taken by the city (to “build a town hall” according to court statements, but actually to build a lake house for friends of the mayor (Roman Madyanov of the recent Russian 12 Angry Men remake)). Dmitri’s a good lawyer and investigator, arrives with a folder full of mayor-incriminating documents in order to get a fair price for the property, but then he has a Very Bad Day, getting caught and beaten up by his friend for having sex with his wife while on a picnic trip, then getting kidnapped, beaten again and nearly murdered by the mayor’s thugs. So he straight-up ditches town, returns to the city without telling anyone, and sad Lilya stands atop a rocky cliff, then is washed up dead the following day. Kolya is sent away for murder, mayor has the house demolished and the son is adopted by neighbors. Supposedly Lilya’s murder weapon is discovered by investigators on the property, but the whole justice system has been proven to be corrupt, so we never know if Kolya really killed her (unlikely), if the son did it (he’s shown being extremely bothered by her, but the movie never suggests he’s psycho enough to kill his stepmom), if it was government thugs, or if they’re taking advantage of a conveniently-timed suicide.

Also within: the church collaborates on the corruption deals, and an absolute ton of vodka is consumed. Won best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for a foreign oscar alongside Ida and Timbuktu. In a January interview, Andrey Z says he has four new screenplays and his producer is deciding which to film next. He’s also encouraging piracy of this film within Russia since its profane dialogue has been censored in theaters. On politics: “There is discussion in society, but it’s pointless. I have a feeling of the absolute futility of pretending to the right to have a say in any situation.”

S. Tobias:

Leviathan itself feels like a brave, lonely act of rebellion against the system, deeply pessimistic about the possibility of it ever working in the people’s favor. It advocates for a stiff drink.