The Party is a small private party held for political party member Kristin Scott Thomas, just appointed (elected?) minister of health – so I thought there’d be more political stuff, but if so, I missed it. The seven people onscreen represent five couples, only two of which are still – tentatively – still together at the end, with an offscreen eighth participant (it’s us! we’re implicated!) possibly about to get murdered in the final shot.

Kristin’s husband Timothy Spall acts comatose for half the film (amusingly so – he’s the most magnetic actor here, usually because he’s doing the least), finally blurts out that he’s been given a death sentence by his doctor and is leaving his wife to spend the rest of his short life with his girlfriend, the wife of Cillian Murphy, a coked-up banker who arrived with a gun to kill Spall having just found out of the affair. Emily Mortimer is pregnant with triplets, and her partner Cherry Jones seems hesitant about parenthood. Cherry also once slept with Spall (over 30 years ago, big deal). KST’s best friend Patricia Clarkson sits on the sidelines sniping at everyone, especially her soon-to-be-ex boyfriend Bruno Ganz, a weirdo “whole body healer”. And this is all… too much. Too many revelations and coincidences and big collisions for a 70-minute movie to contain without seeming overly contrived. Potter and her overqualified cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov shoot some striking black-and-white images in the intro, then there’s no time for more, since they’ve gotta run around following the actors’ mayhem. At least the actors don’t devolve into hysterics, so the thing holds up better than these things sometimes do.

After a light opening scene, we’re suddenly plunged into a street protest that turns violent, in high-color, stuttery shaky-cam. The filmmaker follows protests against Congo’s presidential government (which promised open elections but keeps postponing), primarily following three young guys. Christian is a fiery youth leader. Ben returns from exile, shares his individual ideas with the protest organizations. Jean-Marie was captured and tortured by the secret police, recently released. They have the same goals, just don’t always agree on tactics, and they’re getting nowhere but always feel like they’re close. All their hopes are pinned on an aging Lumumba-era politician – this is who they’d vote for, though his own positions in the present day aren’t clear. At the end of filming, Ben’s back in exile, Jean-Marie is nabbed again, and their politician has died, but the struggle goes on. This year at True/False we saw more than one movie that puts the film crew and their subjects in harm’s way, but this is the one where you feel it the most urgently.

Vadim Rizov in Filmmaker:

Preparations alternate with regular counterpushes of violence, the feeling that something must be done repeatedly butting up against the reality when attempts are made and nothing changes. This is not an excuse to just give up, simply a record of grim odds. Towards the end, we see one subject, bullhorn in hand, dropping truth in the middle of a market, but no one’s listening — they all have shopping to do, and lending an ear might be dangerous anyway. It’s a brilliant micro-image for the oft-futility and necessity of activism; a title card tells us elections delayed in December 2017 were delayed once again in December 2018. That date has yet to come, but a colleague noted the particular poignancy that the card will probably be true by then.

Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:

Unfun intellectual/political word games

Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.

Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.

Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.

“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.

A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.

Sinatra and his girl:

Harvey and his mother:

A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.

“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.

EDIT: watched this again with Katy in the fake world of May 2017.

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.