• Where Is My Friend's House?

    Where Is My Friend's House?

    Where Is the Friend’s House? Interesting for how manipulative and suspense-oriented it is: the opening reminds me of Wild River, putting the fear of God in the protag and in us; and then the protag’s journey is severely impeded and interrupted, often unexpectedly. The goal is sometimes hidden from us (for instance, we can’t see the one boy behind visual obstacles and therefore can’t tell if he’s the object of the search) and the plot is reversed arbitrarily (as when…

  • The Nun

    The Nun

    The Nun. It starts out very impressive, and I think its power is mostly due to the compositions: emphasis on masses, slightly diagonal, foreground set off from background in a somewhat theatrical way. The portent of the images seems enough to drive this particular story forward. But the film moved me less overall this time. Rivette makes Karina an angry, rather self-satisfied combatant at Francine Bergé’s convent: she seems a creature of power, which is compatible with her reactions, but…

  • Spawn of the North

    Spawn of the North

    Spawn of the North. It didn’t grab me as much as on my last viewing. The beginning, with its light banter, is reminiscent of A Girl in Every Port. (Some of Furthman’s dialogue would be more or less reproduced the next year in Only Angels Have Wings: “Whatever you do is okay with me,” “You’re not the kind of woman he needs.”) When the film gets dark, Hathaway goes to somber compositions and lighting; and yet the crude aspects of the story kept me from really grooving on these scenes. It’s rather a violent film, which is interesting, though not transformative.

  • Nevada Smith

    Nevada Smith

    Nevada Smith. Not a very good movie. McQueen is badly miscast as a child, and never characterized to boot; the movie is geared to deliver revenge but inveighs against it, barely accommodating its own moral position even at the end. Hathaway’s visual characteristics - continuous use of mountainous vistas, lots of frames within frames - aren’t really used for dramatic purposes, which I think is normal for him.

  • The Shepherd of the Hills

    The Shepherd of the Hills

    The Shepherd of the Hills. Visually impressive, but pegged to that tone of rural allegory that Hollywood was fond of: big gestures, big meaning. Lots of people killed and then revived, which seemed strange. Betty Field is rather sexed up as the barefoot love interest - some serious ogling of her butt.

  • Young Ahmed

    Young Ahmed

    Young Ahmed. (Spoilers ahead.) The film establishes its premise quickly: a gentle but intense boy (perfect casting of Idir Ben Addi, perfect acting) under the influence of a violent imam, to the distress of his family and teacher. The Dardennes film the same way always; they don’t change their style or even think in those terms; they shoot purely in response to what’s in front of them. The film is about watching Ahmed move through the world, with the Dardennes…

  • Souad

    Souad

    Souad. (Spoiler warning.) I liked the film a lot from the beginning. It started in an inchoate state: filmed almost like a documentary, but switching emotional directions frequently and unexpectedly, so that at first it was hard to tell if we were experiencing the protagonist’s erratic character or a narrative style. Natural sound is preserved systematically, sound cuts aligning with visual ones, city noise sometimes almost drowning out the dialogue: a declaration of naturalism that I liked. Then the big…

  • On the Edge

    On the Edge

    Sur la Planche. For a while I thought it too confrontative, too much of an anger festival. But Kilani is really accomplished, and eventually the anger felt more contextualized. The film has a lot of striking aspects: an unusual environment, the underclass world of young women trying to survive in Tangiers; poetic dialogue that is a character trait of the (amazing) lead, a rapid-fire street jargon that eventually stands outside the fiction and becomes the film’s voice (and may not…

  • The Searchers

    The Searchers

    The Searchers. The critical spirit falters before the task of doing justice to John Ford’s 1956 magnum opus, one of those mysterious films that surpasses even what a great director should have been able to achieve. At first remove, The Searchers, the story of a quest to rescue a kidnapped girl from the Comanches, is about the emotional life of the adventurer, the hardened outsider, even the sociopath -- and no one who responds to John Wayne’s chilling performance as…

  • The Disciple

    The Disciple

    The Disciple. It has a rhythm all its own, with wide-angle long shots of events that often follow one upon the other, giving us an almost Kubrickian vantage point on the protagonist’s world, though without expressionist distortion of space or character. The idealistic protag is somewhat unpleasant from the beginning, and his guru is also a semi-unsympathetic taskmaster. The lack of development in the protag’s life slowly becomes clear, and yet he never abandons the purity of the vision that…

  • Court

    Court

    Court. Very good, extremely controlled, never losing its edge. The decoupage is conceived with intelligence: lots of long takes that evolve purposefully while avoiding didacticism. The pleasure of the project is that its continual absurdist humor is not based on exaggeration: all outrages are kept in a naturalistic register, the art-film equivalent of a slow burn. The film shows its anger about the way the system functions, but doesn’t streamline the material to make protest easier: the defendant is cranky…

  • The Big Heat

    The Big Heat

    The Big Heat. I dunno, suddenly I don't think it's that good, on the whole, despite strong scenes. Lots of emotionally charged conversations of the sort I used to love, where the hero has little objective power but still dominates. The script flirts with the idea of the revenge hero gone too far, but not so much that it withholds the pleasure of revenge drama; the Gloria Grahame character is interestingly blithe and teenage-y, but that doesn't affect her story function.