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Journal Notes: 2004 2003 2002 2001

Senses of Cinema End of the Year 'Favorite Film Things' Compilation: 2004

The Story of Marie and Julien (Jacques Rivette)
The World (Jia Zhang-ke)
War at a Distance (Harun Farocki)
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen)
Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang)
Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow (Theo Angelopoulos)
Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin)
2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar)
Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembene).

Honorable mentions: The Seventh Day (Carlos Saura), Born into Brothels (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman), Persons of Interest (Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse), Notre musique (Jean-Luc Godard), Michelangelo Eye to Eye (Michelangelo Antonioni), and Truth and Poetry (Peter Kubelka).


2004 Film Related Reading:

Rows and Rows of Fences - Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema by Ritwik Ghatak.
Editions Dis Voir: Wong Kar Wai by by Jean-Marc Lalanne, David Martinez, Ackbar Abbas, and Jimmy Ngai.
Alain Resnais by James Monaco.


2004 Retrospective, Film Festival, and Series Program Notes:

Spanish Cinema Now
Views from the Avant-Garde
New York Film Festival
Elegance, Passion, and Cold Hard Steel: A Tribute to Shaw Brothers Studios
Raymond Depardon: Profiles from the Road
New York Video Festival
Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema
Film Comment Selects



Journal/Notes

Notes on Spanish Cinema Now at the Walter Reade.

12-18-04: Basque Ball, 2004 (Julio Medem). A melancholic opening ballad tells the tale of a man who Basque Ballhad feared that his beloved pet bird would one day fly away that he once thought of clipping its wings, only to come to the realization that such an act would defy the nature of what he cherished most about the creature...that the bird would cease to be a bird. Prefaced by the filmmaker as an open invitation to dialogue, Basque Ball touches on significant events in the evolution of Basque history, from the indigenous population's distinct, non Indo-European ancestry, to the Carlist Wars (that, in part, appealed to the region because it rejected centralized (Castillian) authority in favor of maintaining medieval fueros that provided for a more localized, native traditional government), to the Nazi bombing of Guernica in World War II, to the entrenchment of the Franco regime (and with it, the suppression of individual identity for the strength of the collective state), to the the gradual democratization of post-Franco Spain (that nevertheless, continued a political legacy of marginalization for the Basque people). Dense and convoluted in its historic and sociopolitical scope, the film is an overwhelming multilayered collage of newsreel footage, re-enactments, film and television excerpts (most notably, Medem's earlier film, Vacas and Around the World with Orson Welles), personal testimonies, and interviews that span the political, academic, and cultural spectrum of the Basque conflict (except for the extreme factions who declined to be included in the project, and who, in many ways, represent the very nature of this centuries-old, intractable conflict): political party representatives, surviving family of assassination victims, suspected ETA sympathizers who were subjected to state torture, writers and musicians who preserve the culture by creating works in their native language, international brokers of peace. Idiosyncratically stitched together with interstitial sequences of the national sport, pelota, and grueling tug-of-war competitions, the recurring images provide an incisive metaphor for the recursive, unresolved existential limbo of the situation, and a filmmaker's perhaps naïve, but sincere and impassioned attempt to break the impasse.

That Happy Couple, 1951 (Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis G. Berlanga). Part vaudevillian camp and part That Happy Couplerealist satire, That Happy Couple is a humorous slice-of-life portrait of an economically struggling, young married couple: an underemployed film production assistant, Luis (Fernando Fernán-Gómez) and his devoted wife Carmen (Elvira Quintanillá), an avid listener of radio soap operas...and perennial entrant in the Florit Soap-sponsored "That Happy Couple" sweepstakes that promises a day in the lap of luxury for the deserving couple. Meanwhile, perpetually enrolled in a series of never-ending correspondence courses and devising opportunities to supplement his income, Luis' constant search for a better life has now brought him into a partnership with a nebulous and enterprising stage extra to make money from the sale of souvenir photographs. However, when Luis' employment is jeopardized by the fledgling venture, he lashes out all his embittered, compounding frustrations on the unsuspecting Carmen. By juxtaposing implausible, soap operatic storyline within a social realist framework, Bardem and Berlanga create an engaging, whimsical, and thoughtful portrait of contemporary life that exposes the inherent myth of unlimited opportunity and "living happily ever after" for the poor, working class in postwar Madrid.

12-17-04: The Seventh Day, 2004 (Carlos Saura). On an isolated pueblo in the heart of the Spanish countryside, the seemingly familiar story of fickle young love unravels to incomprehensible tragedy when the spurned lover, Luciana Fuentes, expresses a vengeful wish on her seducer in the presence of her fragmented, devoted brother Jerónimo who, in turn, executes his sister's wish, resulting in the young man's cold and brutal murder in an open field. Despite Jerónimo's capture and 30-year prison sentence, the shame on the Fuentes family still proves to be terrible burden as the townspeople continue to treat the siblings with open contempt and derision, culminating one day in a suspicious fire that engulfs the family home and escalates the deeply entrenched family feud. Publicly humiliated, forcibly driven out of town, and struggling with Luciana's delusional obsession over her broken engagement, the family's harbored animosity festers with each passing year, awaiting Jerónimo's release and pondering the inevitable day of reckoning against the community that had turned its back against them. From Isabel's retrospective opening monologue to the intimately captured innocence of the children's world, Carlos Saura evokes the provocative and trenchant social observation and disquieting mystery of his seminal film, Cría Cuervos while retaining the musicality and immersive passion of his later, cultural expositions to create a haunting and indelible work. Through the introduction of the slow-witted, drug-addicted witness - the child of an incestuous relationship - Saura illustrates an intrinsic parallel to the town's oppressive isolation and complicity that contributed to the perpetuation of the communal tragedy. Based on a true incident in 1992, the film is a thoughtful, potent, and incisive examination on the insidious nature of collective exclusion, intolerance, implicit collusion, systematic demoralization, and consuming vengeance.

The Archimedes Principle, 2004 (Gerardo Herrero). The Archimedes Principle of buoyancy states The Archimedes Principlethat a body submerged in fluid is acted upon by a force equal to that of the displaced fluid. It is this law of displacement and macrocosmic neutralization that seemingly governs the life of a rising, junior executive named Sonia as well who, unable to find a babysitter one evening, decides to call on her friend and stay-at-home neighbor Rocio and in return, offers to send her freelancing résumé to upper management for possible permanent placement within the agency. Frustrated by her company's increasingly inequitable demands (a sales conglomerate appropriately named Albatross) and troubled over her neglect for her son (appeasing her conscience with by constantly buying him new pajamas), Sonia's life soon reaches an unexpected turning point when Rocio's performance and uncompromising work ethic - along with her fluency in Italian - impresses her superiors and puts her career on an even faster track to upper management in preparation for a multi-national venture, ahead of Sonia. From a screenplay by novelist Belen Gopegui, The Archimedes Principle is a clever and lighthearted, but incisive, elegantly choreographed, and acutely observed portrait of the complex (and often obscured) interrelation between corporate and interpersonal machinations that, unlike Robert Solis' similarly focused complex social dynamics in Grande école, manages to infuse a sense of humanity, acceptance, and understanding (and even understated humor) even to the most egregious acts of conscious, personal betrayal.

Notes on Views from the Avant-Garde at the Walter Reade.

10-17-04: Program 9: Peter Kubelka's Truth and Poetry

Dichtung und WahrheitDuring Peter Kubelka's engaging, humorous, and inspiring presentation (and screening of his latest film), he reinforced several concepts and overarching theories that have fueled his personal philosophy and his craft. The first is humankind's primordial nature as hunter and gatherer, and that as a filmmaker, Kubelka adapts to this primitive instinct though his penchant for collecting and assembling found objects and re-purposing them into "new" art: recycled sound bites, film excerpts, and even discarded outtakes. The second is the filmmaker's societal role as that of an archaeologist, examining the found artifacts of human history and re-interpreting them to ensure continued, modern day relevance. In essence, the filmmaker is entrusted with a cumulative (and collective) cultural legacy. The third is that film plays at 24 frames per second and is therefore, capable of conveying 24 separate images and 24 separate sounds every second. Traditional filmmaking does not exploit this unique opportunity to deliver information so purely and compactly. Therefore, because of the filmmaker's active, hands-on involvement in the gathering, assembling, interpretation, and distillation of the material in order to maximize the amount of information presented for a given footage, Kubelka strongly believes that film is a unique medium that should not be transferred to another medium, like DVD or video. Like other forms of art, film requires physical manipulation - a human imprint - in order to have social relevance.

Dichtung und Wahrheit (Truth and Poetry), 2003 (Peter Kubelka). Assembled from recurring outtakes from several commercial shoots, Dichtung und Wahrheit ingeniously captures the contrast between the moments before filming to the precise instance at which the actor's come "on" and transform from mundane visual "objects" (the film leaders and scraps that invariably end up on the cutting room floor) into figurative works of "art" (the material that is used in the finished product) before the camera. During the Q&A session, Kubelka referred to the underlying goal of advertisement as exaggerated representations of false paradise, humorously noting that in the film, grooming serves as a surrogate display of masculinity, chocolate consumption as a pseudo-orgasmic experience, and shiny, waxed floors as the pathway to the light of Heaven. Within the context of using only found footage played in successive repetition, Kubelka, in essence, innovatively (and humorously) traces the entire gamut of the human cycle through subtle modulations in the performance of the trivial - from attraction, to sexuality, to procreation, and even into the afterlife - and in the process, illustrates a practical application for his all-encompassing social theory on the role and raison d'être of the filmmaker.

Mosiak im Vertrauen, 1954/55 (Peter Kubelka). Kubelka's first feature Mosiak im Vertrauen presents a curious disjunction, yet achieves an integral cohesion between image and sound as seemingly mundane found footage that depict interpersonal episodes of flirtation, courtship, and break-up play out against a series of non-corresponding audio excerpts that coexist independently of the visual, but nevertheless, reveal similar intrinsic behavioral patterns of conflict and desire. Through the discrete layering of aural and visual stimuli, Kubelka creates a fascinating, thematically dense exposition on the essential interactions that invariably define the nature of human relationships.

Schwechater, 1958 (Peter Kubelka). Although not listed on the program, Kubelka also included a screening of his short film masterwork, Schwechater, an ingeniously (albeit irreverently) conceived - but never commercially aired - promotional piece that was commissioned by the Austrian brewery (after which, Kubelka jokingly adds, he was forced to leave the country and eventually settled in New York). Given free reign to film the commercial as he chose with the sole provision that he maximize the number of reinforcing shots of people enjoying a glass of beer within the one minute planned commercial spot, Kubelka concocts a maddeningly fractured montage of strobic, repeated subliminal images of casual beer drinking with intermittently punctuating shocks of color and frenetic white noise to convey the self-indulgent consumer message. Visually dense, structurally innovative, and idiosyncratically offbeat, the film is a delirious and sensorially revitalizing display of novel cinematic syntax and an exhilarating ode to conspicuous consumption.

Program 8: Ernie Gehr

Precarious GardenPrecarious Garden, 2004 (Ernie Gehr). Loosely recalling the split-screened symmetry and bifurcation of unpopulated spaces in the epilogue of Jon Jost's The Bed You Sleep In, Ernie Gehr expounds on the technique of split-screening through obstructed or otherwise baffled images that illustrate juxtaposed, partial and alternate views of the same mundane objects. Presented as a pure, soundless, rigorous study in visual parallelism, Precarious Garden provides an interesting approach to the cinematic presentation of multi-perspective, but at 13 minutes, feels significantly overlong.

The Astronomer's Dream, 2004 (Ernie Gehr). During the highly informative post-screening Q&A, Gehr explained that his preferred title for the film was not actually The Astronomer's Dream - a direct homage reference to the seminal Georges Méliès film (also known as The Man in the Moon) - but rather, Curtains!, which represented for him a broader memory of the experience of going to the local theater in his childhood that, not only showed films, but also on occasion served as a performance stage of sorts, particularly, magic shows for which the filmmaker had expressed fond memories. While the Méliès reference does explicitly provide a concrete, cinematic context to the superimposed (seemingly single frame) fleeting images that mysteriously appear and disappear within the duration of the film, the title Curtains! provides its own appeal by injecting a more personal and human element to Gehr's notoriously rigorous and systematic work. Distilled, spare, and precise in execution, the film is composed of little more than a grainy, black and white shot of closed stage curtains that intermittently reveal instantaneous fragments of a Méliès film and set against a soundtrack of film-based audio excerpts, yet achieves a strangely transfixing paean to film through cinematic history and personal memory.

The Collector, 2003 (Ernie Gehr). A series of stereoscopic photographs taken from the early half The Collectorof the twentieth century is methodically presented one-by-one to the pervasive sound of an old-fashioned steam engine railway train in seeming perpetual motion. Part reflection on the interminable progression of time and part meditation on the meaning of collecting (an ephemeral concept that Peter Kubelka similarly discusses during his presentation), Gehr achieves an intrinsic cadence to the clinical, alienated act of observing a lost and disconnected past. In describing his own thought process in the creation of the film, a visibly emotional Gehr talked about the fact that he does not have any living extended family and that for him, the process of collecting these antique photographs was, in a way, a subconscious act of creating a surrogate familial history to fill that absence...to create roots. Within this context, the question of "Who is the collector?" (and perhaps more importantly "What is being collected?") and takes on a poignant and deeply personal tone.

Passage, 2003 (Ernie Gehr). Composed of two intercutting shots of the S-Bahn elevated train through former East Berlin taken before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gehr presents a mundane, yet illuminating glimpse of the profound cultural and economic changes in his ancestral homeland as seen through the city's transformed - and almost unrecognizable - urban architecture.

Program 7: Nina Fonoroff

The Accursed Mazurka, 1994 (Nina Fonoroff). A series of stark, alienating, and desolate The Accursed Mazurkaexpressionistic images convey a sense of foreboding and dread as a scratched, narrative soundtrack (reminiscent of an early generation, low fidelity audio broadcast recording) presents an anonymous, paranoiac woman's curious hypothesis that the onset of her psychological break from reality had been triggered by repeated exposure to the music of a Chopin mazurka. Tracing the evolution of the woman's breakdown, institutionalization, and tenuous recovery through evocative imagery, sensorial layering, assembled monotonic audio excerpts, and quintessentially atemporal quaintness that obscures existential specificity, Nina Fonoroff creates a sublime, thematically dense, and richly textured collage on alienation, despair, psychological fracture, and modern day prescription panaceas.

The Eye of the Mask, 2004 (Nina Fonoroff). Somewhere, a reclusive, obscured woman inexplicably begins to develop a growth on the side of her face that resembles a mask. Elsewhere, a man innately drawn to the tactileness and sensuality of objects pines for a woman whom he has never met, but still harbors a sense of shared intimacy with her through her photograph that, as the legend goes, had been etched directly from the rays of the sun without any human intervention. Unfolding as a strange and surreal gothic fairytale, The Eye of the Mask is a densely structured exposition on vanity, idealization, isolation, and illusion. Less expressionistic and more linear in narrative than The Accursed Mazurka, the film nevertheless retains Fonoroff's familiar penchant for superimposed textures and densely layered baroque imagery, creating a sumptuous (albeit occasionally baffling) fractured tale of loss, longing, and enlightenment.

10-16-04: Program 4: The Mind Moves Upon Silence.

RedshiftRedshift, 2001 (Emily Richardson). Named after an astrophysics light measurement in order to indirectly calculate the distance between objects (and consequently determine its age), Redshift presents a vast, desolate nighttime landscape in which motion is realized through movements of light through empty spaces (achieved through fixed camera time-lapse photography) that is set to ambient white noise synthesized through the manipulated audio recording of the aurora borealis phenomenon near the magnetic north pole. Alternately familiar and strangely alien, Richardson creates a brief and serene meditation on celestial eternity and universal sense of place.

Behind This Soft Eclipse, 2004 (Eve Heller). Composed of recurring sequences of image negatives and filmed phenomena through aqueous mixed media that create a sense of visual otherworldliness, Heller creates a surreal and evocative, albeit repetitive composition on instinctual object memory and connectedness.

DeliquiumDeliquium, 2003 (Julie Murray). Deliquium is a highly textural and visually multilayered stream of consciousness collage piece based on a poem about Lír, "the king who paid improper attention to his children." Admittedly, I'm not familiar with this poem (the authorship on the program notes is unspecified, perhaps the filmmaker herself), and while elements of the poem are cryptically visible throughout the film, the execution of the piece - much like the poem itself - is highly abstract and baffling without contextual familiarity.

LukeLuke, 1967/2004 (Bruce Conner). Bruce Conner converts a 2 1/2 minute, 8mm "behind-the-scenes" film footage from the set of Cool Hand Luke (as the crew set up for a shot of convicts working alongside of the road) into a 22 minute still by still presentation (three images per second) that has been set to the soundtrack of a grandiose (albeit monotonously repetitive and distractingly prominent), swelling orchestra music. Although an interesting study in the dual quality of celluloid film both as both a still-life and a record of dynamic motion as well as the transformation of the mundane into "art" by the engaged process of visual pause, the manipulated footage is neither aesthetically well composed nor particularly interesting which made for a rather tedious experience.

Tabula Rasa, 1993-2004 (Vincent Grenier). Composed of a series of clinical shots of school hallways, empty stairwells, and classrooms set against the voices of students speaking in ungrammatical, often incoherent English as they describe the characteristics of their envisioned comic book heroes, Tabula Rasa is a thematically admirable, but artless and ultimately forgettable piece on the dehumanizing nature of institutions.

#6 Okkyung, 2004 (Andrew Lampert). Andrew Lampert's sublime and fascinating entry for the continuing series of artist profiles on several New York City based improvising musicians is a silent, highly stylized, and stark black-and-white montage of cellist named Okkyung that conveys the artist's focus and intensity of sound expression purely through assured gestures and passionate articulation.


Mirror, 2003
(Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller). Presented as a highly formalized series of three separate character tableaus whose interrelation with - or disjunction from - each other is intrinsically (and systematically) transformed at each instance of flashing light solely through variations in setting (not in the position or pose of the characters), Mirror is an ingeniously conceived and elegantly crafted experiment on the subtle effects of modulation of mise-en-scène as well as a fascinating corollary to Kuleshov-like visual association of images and significance.

Michelangelo Eye to Eye, 2004 (Michelangelo Antonioni). By the time Michelangelo Antonioni released Michelangelo Eye to EyeBeyond the Clouds in 1995, his keen sense of patient, intimate observation had seemed to give way to a kind of leering, gratuitous voyeurism in the film's repeated, over-lingering shots of the female form. It is, however, precisely this painstaking attention to the voluptuousness of form and tactileness of surfaces that makes his subsequent short film, Michelangelo Eye to Eye particularly sensual and textural in its execution. Prefaced with a text description of the filmmaker's recent health problems (in particular, a debilitating stroke that left him partially paralyzed), the film opens with a shot of a frail Antonioni emerging from the shadows as he walks in slow, awkward gait into an unpopulated hall where Michelangelo Buonarotti's marble statue of Moses - a scaled down version of an ambitiously conceived wall tomb for Pope Julius II - is once again in display after a period of meticulous restoration. Composed of a series of detailed observations of the sculpture's composition from several camera angles and vantage points, Antonioni continually refocuses to the shot of Moses' opaque gaze - an image that is sublimely matched by the filmmaker's own occluded, returned gaze as he examines the object of his attention through limpid, watery eyes. In addition to creating a thorough, meticulous, and deliberative objective study of the Renaissance sculpture's robust physical form and timeless, universal beauty, Antonioni's juxtaposition of his own weakened, aging frame against the larger-than-life sculpture of Moses creates an indelible, thoughtful, and poignant image on human frailty, transience, creative compromise, and the enduring legacy of - and mortal transcendence through - enlightened art.

Notes from the New York Film Festival.

10-16-04: Café Lumière, 2004 (Hou Hsiao-Hsien). Hou's latest film continues in a similar vein Cafe Lumiereof hermetic environment and translucently slight narrative that have come to define his later, apolitical (and largely transitional) works (beginning with The Flowers of Shanghai). Opening with the reassuringly familiar sight of the Mount Fuji Shochiku logo that can be seen at the beginning of many of Yasujiro Ozu's films as well as a train traversing a horizon demarcated by power lines at dusk, Café Lumière then sharply diverges from Ozu's familiar camerawork and images of Japan in the film's inherent asymmetry, aesthetically irregular compositions, awkward angles (during the parents' visit in Yoko's apartment, Hou seemingly attempts an Ozu-like low angle then, faced with a troublesome, truncated image of the stepmother standing in the foreground, inexplicably pans up to reveal her face before resuming the low angle), and opaque and unengaging characters (except for Yoko's stepmother, played by Kimiko Yo). Ostensibly centered on a struggling young writer (and impending single mother) named Yoko (Yo Hitoto) and her distanced relationships with the people around her (including an introverted bookstore owner named Hajime (Tadanobu Asano)), Hou resorts to familiar devices of expounding minimal narrative through telephone conversations, overdistilled ellipses (to the point of incoherence), and distended temps morts. By transposing his recurring themes of rootlessness and fractured families from Taiwan to Japan, Hou forgoes the entrenched historical mooring of his earlier films to create a more abstract - and personally less compelling, familiarly coded (if not formulaic) - image of contemporary urban alienation.

10-15-04: Saraband, 2004 (Ingmar Bergman). Revisiting the irreparably splintered middle-aged couple SarabandMarianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson) of Scenes from a Marriage as they reunite 30 years later, Saraband represents a continuation as well as a culmination of Ingmar Bergman's spare, late period films, most notably in the purgative confessions and emotionally resigned acceptance of Autumn Sonata. Opening with a bookend monologue shot of Marianne sifting through a series of scattered photographs on a large table in her home as she introduces the people in her life (and invariably illustrate her isolation from them): a married daughter in Australia, a second daughter, Martha (Gunnel Fred) whose consuming mental illness has worsened to the point of institutional admission, a reclusive ex-husband Johan who discourages her plans for an upcoming visit, and a troubled, former son-in-law whose life has turned into upheaval since the death of his wife Anna after a long consuming illness (recalling the emotional crisis of Cries and Whispers) and whose very existence has been obsessively refocused to their daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius), an aspiring cellist who seems inevitably - but reluctantly - destined for an international career as a musician away from her adrift, desperately clinging father. Similarly structured in episodic numerical chapters, Saraband retains the penetrating, distilled intensity of Bergman's late period masterworks but infused with the unsentimental, but gentle humor of distanced perspective and thoughtful reflection. Rather than a nostalgic swan song, Bergman has created another provocative chapter in his enduring expositions into the most fundamental human need for connection.

10-14-04: Keane, 2004 (Lodge Kerrigan). The film opens with a disorienting, verite-like shot of desperate Keaneurgency as William Keane (Damian Lewis) walks up to a ticketing booth and insists on speaking with a specific agent before shoving a frayed, newspaper clipping into the narrow glass opening as the agent steps forward and asking him if remembers the girl in the picture after selling two tickets to him several months earlier on a fateful day in September when, en route to returning his seven-year-old daughter to his ex-wife after an appointed custodial visit, he momentary lost track of her in the crowd and she was abducted near the maze of commuter terminal gates. Obsessively returning to the terminal each afternoon in order to look for clues, it is soon evident that Keane has been slowly losing grasp of reality as he recklessly walks onto a busy street to call out to his daughter, channels her thoughts while performing surveillance in order to guide him to the perpetrator, shopping for clothes that would be suitable for her at a department store, and even taking a disability retirement in order to devote all of his time to her search and safe return. It is a tenuous existence that is soon perturbated from its predictable (albeit irrational) routine when he comes to the aid of a financially strapped woman named Lynn (Amy Ryan) and her young daughter Kira (Abigail Breslin). Recalling the raw emotionality and unembellished immediacy of Pierre and Jean-Luc Dardenne, particularly in the surrogate parent-child relationship and integral mystery of The Son, Keane is a haunting and provocative effort from Lodge Kerrigan. Like Kerrigan's fearlessly uncompromising early feature film, Clean, Shaven, the film provides a harrowing and deeply disturbing, but also humane and thoughtful glimpse of psychological instability, despair, alienation, and compassion.

10-13-04: Moolaadé, 2004 (Ousmane Sembene). An early establishing sequence in Moolaadé captures Moolaadethe intrinsic character of the unnamed rural village through its peculiar, indigenous architecture, as the camera lingers on the voluptuous image of the local mosque that has been fashioned in the tactile and simple organic forms of a traditional African mudhut and curiously topped with an ostrich egg. The eccentric, deeply entrenched (and seemingly inextricable) fusion of religion and primitive tribal custom provides an incisive introduction to the film's examination of cultural isolation, obsolete (and often inhuman) customs, fostered ignorance, and repressive social conformity as four frightened young girls appointed for the traditional ceremony of "cutting" (female circumcision) seek refuge in the home of Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), the second (and favorite) wife of a tribal council elder (Rasmane Ouedraogo). Years earlier, Collé had defied tribal custom by refusing to have her only surviving child (her other children having died during complicated births undoubtedly related to irreparable physical injuries sustained during her own "cutting") undergo the ceremonial procedure and remain a bilakoro. Attempting to induce Collé to truncate her imposed moolaadé (harbored protection) in time for the girls to still be included in the ceremony, the council reinforces its solidarity on the stigma of defying the procedure by decreeing that village men not be allowed to marry a bilakoro, compelling Collé's husband to demand their own daughter's excision before her proposed upcoming marriage to a recently returned French immigrant. Novelist and filmmaker Sembene forgoes the heavy-handed metaphors and absurd surreality of his earlier to films to create a distilled and understated, yet equally complex, trenchant, keenly observed, deeply humanist, and profoundly relevant portrait of rural Africa at the crossroads of globalism and modernization.

10-12-04: The World, 2004 (Jia Zhang-ke). Marking Jia's first state-approved film, The World immediately The Worldbears the visual imprint of its "official", non-underground status in its highly polished mise-en-scène: the elaborate pageantry of a flamboyant stage spectacle, ornate costuming, original electronica background compositions, and whimsical, interstitial animation sequences. Following the lives of a group of young adults working at an Epcot Center-like international theme park known as World Park (whose slogan proudly boasts of seeing the world without ever leaving Beijing), the film presents the inherent contradiction between China's state-sponsored campaign towards globalization and the nation's continued international isolation due to vestigial Cold War politics and continuing pattern of humanitarian abuses stemming from repressive domestic policies. Through recurring imagery of kitschy World Park attractions and counterfeit designer goods, as well as dancer Tao (Zhao Tao) and her security guard boyfriend Taisheng's (Chen Taisheng) culturally ambivalent and transient existence - as the couple meet in inexpensive hostels or "travel" to a different, exotic international destination each day in their job assignments through simulated long-range modes of transportation (trains, planes, and even magic carpets) - Jia illustrates not only the illusion of economic prosperity through globalization, but also the loss of indigenous identity in an increasingly metropolitan society (where local dialects are abandoned in favor of communicating in the official language and national character is defined by immediately identifiable tourist landmarks). Although less compelling and immediate than Jia's earlier independent features, particularly Platform and Unknown Pleasures, the film serves as a thoughtful reflection of dislocated humanity's resigned acceptance of a surrogate, delusive reality in the dispiriting realization of the elusive and untenable.

The Rolling Family, 2004 (Pablo Trapero). The Rolling Family is characteristic of the recent wave of The Rolling FamilyArgentinean novo cinema to have hit international shores in the past few years: decentralized and organic narrative, ensemble hybrid casting of professional and non-professional actors that lends itself to muted expressivity (albeit with occasionally spirited outbursts) and contextually immersed, overlapping dialogue, and deliberately paced observations of (and finding humor in) the quotidian. Based on a ten year old screenplay written by Trapero and featuring the filmmaker's own grandmother, Graciana Chironi as the family matriarch Emilia, the film opens to a shot of the sprightly octogenarian as she coddlingly feeds a large assortment of cats according to their individual dietary preferences before sitting at a dinner table for a family get-together with her middle-aged daughters and their families. Receiving an invitation call from her long separated sister from the province to serve as the matron of honor for an upcoming family wedding, the overjoyed Emilia impulsively promises that she will bring her entire family for the celebration. Chronicling the family's (mis)adventures on their reluctant road trip to the remote, underdeveloped pueblos near the outskirts of the Argentinian-Brazilian border in an old, broken down caravan loaded with bickering parents and siblings, amorous teenagers, and bemused children, the film is occasionally amusing and well shot, but unfocused and meandering, leading to an experience that is as mildly entertaining as it is tedious...not unlike the family road trip.

10-11-04: Bad Education, 2004 (Pedro Almodóvar). From the Saul Bass-inspired opening credit sequence Bad Educationof peeling, layered billboard posters, Almodóvar evokes the densely layered cinema of Alfred Hitchchock to create a reverent, yet continuously inventive, exquisitely realized, and brilliantly modulated comic melodrama in Bad Education. Ostensibly a story about a filmmaker (Fele Martinez) suffering from a creative block (who, as the film begins has resorted to pinching potential ideas from salacious tabloid news articles) who is visited by a former schoolmate and choirboy - now a struggling actor and occasional hustler who now goes by the stage name Angel (Gael García Bernal) (and whose only experience is from an obscure, third rate acting troupe called The Bumblebees) - with a disturbingly sensational, semi-autobiographical story of his abuse in the hands of the schoolmaster Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez-Cacho), the film soon evolves into a deeply entangled tale of deception, closely guarded secrets, dubious allegiances, inscrutable motivation, and revenge. Richly (and ingeniously) told in intertwining realities of flashbacks, present day, and filmed re-enactments of Ignacio's deeply troubled life, the film achieves a delicate balance of tension, mystery, deception, and ambiguity (Zahara's introduction is through her performance of the song, Quizás, Quizás, Quizás). Recalling the decadence, creative process, and ambiguous and confused sexuality of Law of Desire, the film features Almodóvar's quintessentially bold, but elegant visual refinement, lush construction, tongue-in-cheek double entendres, surreal humor, and complex pulp narrative that have come to define his exhilarating, idiosyncratic cinema.

The Holy Girl, 2004 (Lucrecia Martel). In the film's understatedly realized catalytic encounter, an The Holy Girladolescent named Amalia (Maria Alché) stands in front of a musical instrument shop window in order to watch a musician perform on a theremin, as an inscrutable physician named Dr. Jeno (Carlos Belloso), visiting from out of town for a medical convention, casually places his hands in his pockets, stands directly (and uncomfortably close) behind the oblivious girl, and begins to repeatedly brush up against her before furtively walking away when she turns around to face the molester. Continuing in the similar vein of the filmmaker's debut film La Cienaga in the dedramatized and surreal, but intrinsically disturbing mundane observations of everyday life, The Holy Girl is a darkly humorous and seductively elliptical, but maddeningly organic dysfunctional tale of awakening, violation, and devotion. Although Martel clearly has an eye for natural composition and admirably seeks to redefine the bounds of traditional storytelling, the resulting narrative is unfocused and meandering, obscuring intriguing ideas and intelligent moral arguments in a mire of superficially constructed, tangential episodes. It is interesting to note that while the title itself is contextually ambiguous with respect to Amalia's religion classes (except perhaps for vague notions about what a calling truly is), the allusion is perhaps more thematically relevant within the context of the idea of virgin birth, a distancing theme that is reinforced with the repeated image of the theremin: an instrument that is not touched, but is played (and manipulated) by disturbing the air molecules in its periphery.

House of Flying Daggers, 2004 (Zhang Yimou). In an age of lawlessness and impotent (and House of Flying Daggerscorrupt) central authority, a member of the notorious, underground alliance of righteous, altruistic warriors known as the House of Flying Daggers is believed to be operating among the pleasure workers of the Peony Brothel. Police officers Leo (Andy Lau) and Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) attempt to root out the assassin by infiltrating the brothel and come upon the brothel's new star entertainer, a captivating blind dancer named Mei (Zhang Ziyi) who immediately demonstrates a skill and agility that may perhaps reveal her true identity. As in Zhang's recent epic fantasy Hero, House of Flying Daggers is a visually stunning, elegantly composed, and intricately choreographed presentation of (what is now) all too familiar period martial arts elements of suspended disbelief, revenge, mysterious identity, treachery, and seduction. Beautifully photographed in tonal and saturated compositions and featuring a series of entertaining, impressively staged acrobatics, the film is nevertheless a slight (if not inexplicably underformed in the appearance of a brief, but narratively integral cutaway shot that is never developed) and ultimately unsubstantive tale of deception, tested faith, and sacrificed love.

10-10-04: The Tenth District Court: Moments of Trial, 2004 (Raymond Depardon). Perhaps better The Tenth District Courtknown for his early career in photojournalism or his austere, yet sublime ethnographic portraitures of the Sahara desert in such docufiction films as Captive of the Desert and Un Homme sans l'occident, Raymond Depardon continues in a similar vein as his earlier exposition into the domestic justice system of Délits flagrants in The Tenth District Court: Moments of Trial. Having been given the rare privilege to film (and use in excerpts) the proceedings of a Paris courtroom presided by an experienced and no-nonsense judge named Michèle Bernard-Requin, Depardon's engaging, animated collage of drunk drivers, harassing ex-lovers, pickpockets, public nuisances, and marijuana dealers is a thoughtful and unprejudiced glimpse into the swift, cursory, and often frustrating prosecution of throwaway petty offenses: defiant motorists who refuse to acknowledge their transgression and realize the potential for tragedy in their reckless, willful actions; mentally ill offenders whose poor, often undereducated immigrant families are unable to seek proper help; undocumented aliens who continue to amass meaningless ten year immigration bans into the country. In the end, what emerges from Depardon's unobtrusive, yet incisive gaze is not merely a lighthearted and salaciously humorous snapshot of nuisance crimes, but a complex and intelligently observed portrait of human frailty, self-righteousness, ignorance, marginalization, and disenfranchisement.

10-09-04: Vera Drake, 2004 (Mike Leigh). The opening sequence of the film shows the titular heroine Vera Drake(in an exquisitely complex performance by Imelda Staunton), a cheerful and diligent middle-aged woman working as a maid for several affluent homes in postwar London, visiting an invalid man at a tenement complex in order to help with household chores, reposition his feet onto his wheelchair in order to make him more comfortable, and fix him a cup of tea before going to one of her employer's homes for her daily housekeeping. It is a compassionate, nurturing image that is later reinforced in her gentle, soothing voice as she tries to reassure an anxious woman who has sought her out through an intermediary (and blackmarketeer) in order to help her terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The episode is (often humorously) juxtaposed against the efforts of her employer's daughter to terminate her own pregnancy after a forced sexual encounter with a family friend as she is put in touch with a psychiatrist who coldly - but procedurally - interviews her before (not surprisingly) accommodating her determined request and transferring her to a private hospital for the operation, presumably under the interventional prescription of protecting her mental health. By contrasting the circumstances of the privileged young woman with those of Vera's impoverished, but equally desperate clientele, Mike Leigh creates an incisive, compelling, and uncompromising, examination of conscience, moral law, humanism, and the disparity of social class.

10-08-04: Kings and Queen, 2004 (Arnaud Desplechin). In a subtly revealing scene that occurs in the first Kings and Queenhour in Desplechin's intelligently conceived, incisive, and immensely engaging film Kings and Queen, a woman in her late thirties named Nora (Emmanuelle Devos) stops to visit a powder room after a frantic all-night drive from Grenoble to Paris in order to check her appearance, fix her hair, and slap her cheeks in order induce color before visiting her ex-lover Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), an affable, but neurotic musician who has been involuntary committed to a psychiatric institution. Having discovered that her father is terminally ill, Nora has decided to ask Ismaël if he would legally adopt her son Elias (Valentin Lelong) in order for him to have a legal guardian in case of her own death. The seemingly cursory episode encapsulates the carefully constructed myth of Nora - a woman whose public persona is that of self-sacrifice and figurative martyrdom - a young widow who fought the courts in order for her son Elias (Valentin Lelong) to bear his late father's name, the devoted daughter who carefully and thoughtfully selected a fine lithograph from a private gallery that correlated to her father's recent work as a birthday present for him, and a pragmatic mother who has seemingly embarked on a loveless, convenient relationship with a wealthy businessman in order to have stability in her life after a series of tempestuous and volatile relationships. Desplechin creates what is perhaps his most accomplished and haunting film to date, a brilliantly modulated tragicomedy that remarkably sustains his idiosyncratic, but thoughtful and vital amalgam of organic, infectious energy, humane observation, trenchant lucidity, and liberating, uninhibited vision.

Notes from Notes from Elegance, Passion, and Cold Hard Steel: A Tribute to Shaw Brothers Studios at the Walter Reade.

10-08-04: The House of 72 Tenants, 1973 (Chu Yuan). Adapted from a stage play, Chu Yuan's enormously The House of 72 Tenantspopular peasant comedy The House of 72 Tenants is a delirious, unabashedly old-fashioned lowbrow ensemble confection that features immediately recognizable film stars from the decade, over-the-top caricatured performances, preposterously convoluted schemes, and a requisite - and justly deserved - comeuppance of the powerful, self-indulgent, and corrupt evil doers. Treading in a similar territory of escapist nostalgia and burlesque comedy that Alain Resnais would subsequently inhabit in his late phase works such as Mélo and Not on the Lips, the film nevertheless presents a meticulously constructed and incisive snapshot of early 1970s Hong Kong as the then-British colony struggled though a period of economic recession (in a running premise of tenants coping with an overnight 100% inflation), while espousing egalitarian ideals of community, self-reliance, and collective strength.

Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan, 1972 (Chu Yuan). From the opening (recurring) sequence of Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesana highly stylized nighttime image of snowflakes trickling through the saturated illumination of a roof opening in a feudal era estate and onto the lifeless body of an assassinated aristocrat, Chu Yuan illustrates his elegant command of composition and atmosphere in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. The film centers on a willful and defiant young maiden named Ainu (Lily Ho) who, kidnapped and sold into prostitution in an exclusive brothel run by a seemingly emotionally frigid Madame Chun (Betty Pei Ti), vows to exact retribution on the people responsible for her traumatic deflowering. Recalling the subversive eroticism and overt Sapphic intimacy of the lead heroines in Yasuzo Masumura's Manji, the film is an elegantly crafted, boldly inventive, and irreverently dystopic epic set in the sumptuously decorated brothels and decadent private bondage rooms of the rich and privileged. Chu's facile command of ornately structured mise-en-scene, elaborately choreographed martial arts sequences, and penchant for freeze-frame ellipses results in a visually sumptuous, timeless, fantastic, and idiosyncratic tale of love, loyalty, and revenge.

09-13-04: Notes on Rows and Rows of Fences - Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema.

Published as an updated version of the compilation Cinema and I - a repository of essays, ancillary working notes, talking scripts, and interviews by Bengali filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak - Rows and Rows of Fences - Ritwik Ghatak on Cinema is an inspired, thoughtful, fascinating, articulate, and insightful collection of articles that at once, serve as impassioned (and often indicting) polemic, intelligent critical discourse, and perceptive observations on the role of cinema as medium for art and social outreach.

Rows and Rows of Fences - Ritwik Ghatak on CinemaThe process of attempting to distill Ghatak's ideas into a few illuminating sentences has proven to be an impossible task. Ghatak was clearly an incisive and inciting activist and great communicator of ideas who had experienced first hand the traumatic disintegration of his beloved homeland and consequently, its rich culture, and who had also served as a passionately outspoken, but ultimately impotent and reluctant witness to the destructive impulses of the world around him. Irrespective of how he may have constructed the presentation of his logical arguments in order to suit his critical positions on diverse subject matter - from an analytical argument into the perceived inadequacies intrinsic in Siegfried Kracauer's sociology-centered film theory, to the innate problems with Indian national cinema, to the creative and moral imperative of art and experimental filmmaking, to scattered, personal impressions of Luis Buñuel's Nazarin, to his thoughts on how to sincerely (and unexploitedly) capture on film the human tragedy of the Vietnam War, to the evolution and role of documentary filmmaking, to the an analysis of the role of music in films, to his underlying narrative strategies for the idiosyncratic incorporation of sound in his films - his writing is always intelligently reasoned, perceptive, confident, seductively persuasive, and intellectually engaged (and engaging). So in deference to Ghatak's superior grasp of language and ability to communicate ideas directly and lucidly, I am instead transcribing some of the presented ideas that truly impressed me. What is clearly evident in these words is a deeply sensitive human being who was equally prone to moments of unparalleled brilliance as he was to horrible lapses of self-destruction: an artist and cultivated thinker so idealistic, passionate, and profoundly humanist that he felt deeply - and consequently, suffered greatly - for the profound rapture and burden of existence in this complex, often terrible, and terrifyingly uncertain world.

In the essay, Film and I, Ghatak lucidly reflects on the perverted meaning of art in the medium of contemporary cinema:

"The word 'art' in films is much abused, both by its friends and its foes... whatever is pretentiously dull or breathtakingly spectacular is not necessarily art. Art does not consist merely of ambitious subjects or outlandish propositions or extensive use of a newly available extreme wide-angle lens. It does not consist of montage and manipulation of filmic time and de-dramatization solely. Rather, it consists of bursts of fancy. Whatever the genre, art brings with it the feeling of being in the presence of living truth, always coupled with enjoyment."

A terse passage in the article, Cinema and the Subjective Factor, channels a similar sentiment of cryptic enlightenment in the fragmented passages of Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer with the abstract comment:

"All art, in the last analysis, is poetry. Poetry is the archetype of all creativity. Cinema at its best turns into poetry... In art, all that is subjective turns poetic. And cinema, sometimes, seems to be an art."

In the essay entitled My Films, Ghatak elegantly and poignantly articulates the pervasive sense of desperate urgency - the liminal, but omnipresent raison d'être - that invariably propels his impassioned, but deeply haunted and intrinsically personal body of work:

"We were born into a critical age. In our boyhood we have seen a Bengal, whole and glorious. Rabindranath, with his towering genius, was at the height of his literary creativity, while Bengali literature was experiencing a fresh blossoming with the works of the Kallol group, and the national movement had spread wide and deep into schools and colleges and the spirit of the youth. Rural Bengal, still reveling in its fairy tales, panchalis, and its thirteen festivals in twelve months, throbbed with the hope of a new spurt of life. This was the world that was shattered by the War, the Famine, and when the Congress and the Muslim League brought disaster to the country and tore it into two to snatch for it a fragmented independence. Communal riots engulfed the country. The waters of the Ganga and the Padma flowed crimson with the blood of warring brothers. All this was part of the experience that happened around us. Our dreams faded away. We crashed on our faces, clinging to a crumbling Bengal, divested of all its glory. What a Bengal remained, with poverty and immorality as our daily companions, with blackmarketeers and dishonest politicians ruling the roost, and men doomed to horror and misery!

I have not been able to break loose from this theme in all the films that I have made recently. What I have found most urgent is to present to the public eye the crumbling appearance of a divided Bengal to awaken the Bengalis to an awareness of their state and a concern for their past and future. As an artist, I have tried to remain honest, and it is for the future to decide how far I have succeeded."

09-05-04: Notes from Raymond Depardon: Profiles from the Road at the National Gallery of Art.

Les Années déclic, 1984 (Raymond Depardon). Composed of a series of personal archives, commissioned Les Annees declicphotographs, and film excerpts projected onto a blank screen by photojournalist and filmmaker Raymond Depardon as he provides a humble and self-effacing stream of consciousness biographical commentary on a self-assembled pictorial curriculum vitae to commemorate 20 years of professional photography, Les Années déclic favorably recalls the meditative film essays of Chris Marker, most notably Sans soleil (albeit narrated in first-person), as Depardon interweaves memory (at times, triggered by the recognition of images and at other times, selectively trivialized or highlighted by the benefit of hindsight), captured images, and vocational (and existential) introspection on the toll of his career on his relationship with his beloved parents. Mapping his bold (if not naïvely reckless) career trajectory from introverted hobbyist and reluctant farm beneficiary, to optical and photography studio apprentice, to freelance celebrity photographer, then to international photojournalist, Depardon assembles an equally fascinating and heartbreaking personal testimony of post World War II global crisis and social upheaval: the Algerian War, the Vietnam War, the secession of Biafra, the May 68 protests, the rise of the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia, the civil war in Chad, and (perhaps the most contemporarily portentous and sobering) the Soviet phase of the Afghan War. Integrating objective commentary of international tragedy with the pensive reflection of personal loss, Depardon achieves a thoughtful, distilled, lucid, and articulate introspection on the human imprint of turbulent history.

Un Homme sans l'occident (Untouched By the West), 1992 (Raymond Depardon). Adapted from the Diégo Un Homme sans l'occidentBrosset novel, Sahara: Un homme sans l'occident, the film chronicles the life of a nomadic tracker called Alifa at the turn of the century African desert as he struggles against the assimilation of increasingly hostile rival hunting tribes (undoubtedly due to the influx of western-made rifles made increasingly available at their disposal) and widespread banditry. From the sublime, high contrast, extended opening sequence that depicts Alifa's rescue as a last survivor of his nomadic family - in a final, desperate act of instinctive human survival (captured in extreme long shot that culminates to an uncomfortably cruel close-up) that willingly sacrifices the most valuable (and viably essential) possession of the tribe in order to offer a chance at survival for its lone (and perhaps, last) descendent - to his "adoption" into a hunting tribe where he hones his instinctual skill as a tracker, to his fall from grace at the hands of a formidable, rival tribe, Depardon creates an exquisitely photographed ethnographic portrait that is unobtrusive and objective, yet intimate. Depardon's raw, yet aesthetically refined, meticulously observed, and intrinsically detailed camerawork powerfully, but understatedly, illustrates the unsentimental brutality and austere, savage beauty of the unforgiving landscape: a forgotten region where relentless sandstorms and indistinct, featureless topography literally erode and sweep away with time the evidentiary tracks of human trespass - and figuratively, man's transgression against nature, humanity, and indigenous culture.

08-28-04: Editions Dis Voir: Wong Kar Wai by Jean-Marc Lalanne, David Martinez, Ackbar Abbas, and Jimmy Ngai.

Wong Kar-wai Consisting of three critical essays and an extended interview with the filmmaker, the Editions Dis Voir publication Wong Kar-wai provides an evocative, thoughtful, and articulate introductory framework into the signature aesthetics and recurring themes of Wong's cinema. In the overview essay Images from the Inside, Jean-Marc Lalanne equates Wong's films to the disintegrating, abstract remnants from the painstakingly detailed maps of novelist José Luis Borges' cartographers whose commission to capture the geographical specificities of an empire had resulted in a sprawling, unusable, full-scale map that exactly covered the entire territory it was intended to represent. In essence, Wong had envisioned such complexly interwoven, large-scale projects that were so ambitious, detailed, and comprehensive that only fragments would remain to provide a tantalizing glimpse into the scope of the unrealized, overarching vision: As Tears Go By was the first film of a larger triptych on urban crime, Chungking Express was to include three other vignettes (noting that Fallen Angels does not exclusively function as an extension of Chungking Express but also as a continuation of As Tears Go By), and Happy Together was initially envisioned as a three hour film on an expatriate couple trapped in a love/hate perpetual limbo of "starting over" in Argentina in 1997 that was subsequently pared down to 90 minutes for the Cannes Film Festival. A similar open-ended ambiguity occurs in Days of Being Wild in the seemingly truncated, extraneous inclusion of Tony Leung near the end of the film as he grooms himself in a Philippine hotel room, providing a visual parallel of an earlier shot of Yudi that was conceived as an introductory segue (in a similar scenario of passing between characters as Chungking Express) to Leung's character in a planned, but ultimately unrealized, diptych. Wong later validates this theory of "integrated" filmmaking in a subsequent interview with Jimmy Ngai through his comment, "To me, all my works are different episodes of one movie."

Lalanne also examines the filmmaker's familiar motif of the "fantasy of pure image, shown before having been seen" as part of a larger methodology of temporal and spatial abstraction, as represented by the prefiguring shot of Iguazu Falls in Happy Together - a destination that the two lovers undertake on a trip together but, upon getting hopelessly lost, never end up seeing. A similar device exists in the recurring use of the magic wine of Ashes of Time, and also in the bookend image of the lush and exotic Philippine jungle as Yudi seemingly experiences an imagined moment of revelation regarding the circumstances of his adoption, a truth that he is earlier shown as having been denied when his birth mother refuses to see him. In Chungking Express, Cop 633 waits for Ping in real-time as people pass by him in accelerated speed. In essence, reality in Wong's films is not absolute and objective, but serves more as malleable, subjective, and coincident existential spheres that allow for the interpenetration of personal desire, longing, and expectation.

The theme of atemporality in Wong's cinema is also addressed in David Martinez' essay, Chasing the Metaphysical Express: Music in the Films of Wong Kar-wai, citing the filmmaker's selection of anachronistic music in Days of Being Wild, a film that is set in the 1960s but whose soundtrack - cha-chas and rumbas by Xavier Cougat - are from the 1940s and 1950s). Similarly, the traditional tango music by Astor Piazzola that is featured in Happy Together may be geographically accurate, but is not intended to be representative of contemporary Argentinean music. Rather, the (zero displacement) movement of the tango mirrors the state of lovers' adrift relationship (note a similar integration of musical structure and narrative strategy in Béla Tarr's Sátántangó). Moreover, Wong's use of pop music, most notably, Happy Together and California Dreamin' (for Chungking Express) also serve as abstract, sentimental expressions of the characters' unarticulated thoughts and unreconciled longing.

In the essay The Erotics of Disappointment, Ackbar Abbas approaches Wong's cinema from a sociopolitical context of Hong Kong's existential soul searching in the years leading to the impending reversion of the British colony to Chinese rule in 1997. Perhaps the most directly allusive of the cultural situation is Happy Together, a film in which the two lovers, Po-wing and Yiu-fai, live out the final days of their passionate, yet volatile and dysfunctional relationship in self-imposed exile on a foreign land - essentially relegated to perpetually reliving their "start over" lives of 1997 - that also serves as a national allegory for the crisis of identity and cultural erasure that seemed imminent with the handover. Abbas equates Wong's use of undefined, shared spaces (such as Faye's presumptive appropriation of Cop 633's apartment in his absence in Chungking Express) and blurred distinction between equally anonymous city landscapes (illustrated by the inverted shot of Hong Kong from Buenos Aires in Happy Together) as the antithesis of uniqueness and individual sense of space. Of this interchangeability, Abbas writes:

"Both cities take on the quality of what Gilles Deleuze has called any-space-whatever: ordinary spaces which have somewhat lost their particularity and system of interconnectedness. In this sense then, Hong Kong and Buenos Aires are repetitions of each other. This ambiguous interchangeability is also part of the experience of what is called globalism, and one important implication is that home loses its specificity, and homelessness its pathos."

Notes from the 2004 New York Video Festival at the Walter Reade.

07-18-04: Program 13: Peep "TV" Show (Yutaka Tsuchiya) - In an illuminating episode in Peep TV Peep Show, an androgynously dressed young man sits in his favorite area of the street corner after he has placed a small yellow gift box on the sidewalk nearby (a ritual that he has repeatedly performed during the course of the film) - his jacket pulled over his head to block out the light - as a young woman, dressed in "Gothic Lolita" baby doll clothes approaches him and comes into the field of view of a surveillance camera that he has hidden inside the box and from which the young man has been watching the resulting images from a remote monitor as he conspicuously hides behind his jacket. It is this curious fusion of exhibitionism, alienation, desexualization, surveillance, and voyeurism that pervades the lives of these young adults living in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, often unemployed or earning a modest living in entry level positions but are still financially supported by absent parents: a generation that prefers to interact through technology (cell phones and internet chat rooms) than in person, assume attention-seeking guises in lieu of expressing (or even knowing) their own true identity, and whose views of the world - and reality - are profoundly shaped by what they see on television. Continuing in the creative vein of independent DV feature films that blur the delineation between documentary and fiction (such as Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Andrew Cheng's underground pseudo-documentaries of contemporary China), Tsuchiya creates a remarkably insightful and thoughtful, albeit a bit overlong portrait of a privileged, but fractured, desensitized, and rootless generation.

Program 12: Foreign Affairs

How to Fix the World (Jacqueline Goss) - Goss approaches the social implications of cultural integration with How to Fix the Worldhumor and incisive observation in the delightful short film, How to Fix the World, an animated sketch drawn from A.R. Luria's cognitive studies of the rural villagers of the Ferghana Valley in the former Soviet central Asian republic of Uzbekistan after the Soviet government sought to increase literacy by introducing a mandated Western-based educational program during the 1930s. The film presents the often bewildered - but indigenously rational - responses to a series of logic questions designed to measure cognitive ability after the introduction of the literacy campaign: a villager is so distracted by the anecdotal idea that Germany does not have native camels that he cannot entertain a question posed that is set in the country; another argues that the distances of two neighboring towns given in an algebraic problem are inaccurate; another villager refuses to entertain the question of how to describe a tree since everyone knows what it is (although the same individual can recite the abstract concept of collectivization by rote). Hilarious, unassuming, and immediately engaging, How to Fix the World is an understated and lighthearted, but perceptive exposition on culture clash and imposed assimilation.

Baghdad in No Particular Order (Paul Chan) - Filmed before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as ordinary Iraqi citizens go about the routines of everyday life while apprehensively pondering a seemingly inevitable war - an avid reader browses through a collection of used books for sale at a sidewalk and lists his favorite Western authors; a wedding celebration that soon spills onto the streets as the beaming groom is goaded into performing a traditional dance in front of the camera; a teenage girl proudly shows off her scrapbook of her favorite pop singer Britney Spears; a group of men spend a lazy afternoon at a café meeting other friends and savoring hookah pipes - Baghdad in No Particular Order is an intimate and profoundly human portrait that debunks the politically expedient myth of cultural aggression and zealotism by a conveniently demonized people innocently caught in the crosshairs of impending war.

Program 11: Mike Kelley - Although illustrating versatility in both technique and content, I found Kelley's films particularly repellant. The first is Out O' Actions, a split-screen installation commissioned as a Visitor's Gallery installation for the inaugural exhibition of Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979). The short film is presented in delirious, rapid fire fast-forward playback of Kelley's preparatory discussions with the museum's organizers (usually office meetings and model scale studies). The second short film is Bridge Visitor (Legend-Trip), Kelley's entry for an exhibition entitled 100 Artists See Satan. In this crude humor piece, Kelley uses a household toilet, simulated (or perhaps real) acts of urination, and what appears to be a borescope to trace fluid flow into the unseen, hidden recesses of the "lair of the devil". The third short film is a tediously overlong entry entitled Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (A Domestic Scene), a hammy, overwrought piece intended to resemble a live television program that is played with embarrassing, caricatured theatricality. The videotape will serve as part of a larger, envisioned installation of 365 tapes - each encompassing a day in a year - that will accompany the artist's sculpture, Educational Complex. The final film is Sod and Sodie Sock (Vienna Cut), a film accompaniment to the installation, Sod and Sodie Sock Camp O.S.O. at the Secession in Vienna, Austria: a military encampment of barracks, tunnels, tents, and shower rooms. Kelley's bizarre, exceedingly lowbrow, and reprehensibly gratuitous film includes inexplicable scenes of an overweight man - naked from the waist down - crawling backwards through a narrow tunnel, a group of transsexuals being peeped on as they shower, and an assembly of soldiers watching instructional demonstrations of erotic paraphernalia and anatomically correct mannequins.

07-17-04: Program 10: Bright Future

War at a Distance (Harun Farocki) - Expounding on Farocki's familiar themes of production and warfare War at a Distance(particularly in the depopulated, automated factory assembly line integration processes of Images of the World and the Inscription of War), War at a Distance is a brilliant, intelligently reasoned, and provocative video essay on the interrelation, not only between war and the advancement of technology, but also between technology and the depersonalization (and redefinition) of modern warfare. Assembling images from advanced military simulation training programs, remote, robotic image sensing and mapping, military-released air strike footages during the Gulf War that present technological warfare as dissociated (and non-aesthetic) visual images that are not intended for the human eye but nevertheless "see" their target, and clinical exercises in synthesized spatial and topographic pattern recognition that are increasingly devoid of human intervention (and in the case of war, human casualty), Farocki creates an intelligent examination on the evolving meaning of images, cognition, and recognition, and a compelling discourse on war as an increasingly abstract, impersonal, dissociated, and alienated form of a historically conventional "human" act of populational engagement.

Das Kapital version .07 (Marcello Mercado) - Mercado's sprawling, abstract, and occasionally lucid film Das Kapital version .07explores similar territory as Farocki in capturing the chaos and unchecked destruction that results from the removal of the human element in the pursuit of automation and artificial intelligence. Presented as a series of debugging commands and overlaid, CAD-like graphics, 3D modeling, and spatial orientation reference points against the uncomfortable din of indecipherable white noise, Das Kapital version .07 is an admirable work in progress, but suffers from its tedious, repetitive fusion of mathematically nonsensical, digitally rendered images and grating, concussive noise. It is one thing to show the audience the alienation of technology, it is another to alienate the audience with (gratuitous) use of technology.

Elevated Nation (Eric Saks) - An amusing short take on the National Security Agency's compilation of surveillance "trigger words" in the age of post 9/11 heightened security, Saks taunts the mysterious and omnipresent national surveillance apparatus with the repeated cueing of the trigger phrase "steak kinife" set to the abstract images of colored liquid droplets dissipating in column of water.

Soothsayer (Bobby Abate) - Excerpting text passages from several renowned celebrity psychics (among them, the infamous Jean Dixon whose claim to fame was the seeming prediction of John F. Kennedy's assassination) set against formally posed, digitally-rendered doomsday scenarios and caricatures of human casualty, Soothsayer is a respectable, well-conceived, and accomplished tongue-in-cheek short film on the folly of political irresponsibility in an age of weapons of mass destruction.

History of the Sea (Alfred Guzzetti) - Guzetti's scenic and beautifully photographed, but thematically slight short film juxtaposes an audio recording of foreign language lessons with picturesque images of tranquil, exotic images that create an indelible visual dreamscapes.

Program 9: Thème Je/The Camera I (Françoise Romand) - It is unfortunate that some filmmakers still Theme Jeseem to confuse self-critical emotional nakedness with physical nakedness, and it is especially unexpected to see this in an artist of Romand's caliber and artistic maturity (her documentary Mix-Up is a sublime and intelligent psychoanalytical discourse on identity in light of two middle-aged British women who were discovered to be switched at birth). Ostensibly a journey of self-discovery through her family and lovers (one can see echoes of Chantal Akerman's Je, tu, il, elle in the mundane interactions between Romand and her lovers in her apartment), Thème Je is, nevertheless, thoughtful and occasionally engaging - specifically, in her dissection of family history (both paternal and maternal grandfathers, for instance, appeared in the earliest Lumière films, and there is perhaps something nebulous about her mother's parentage and her relationship to her affable uncle) - but lapses into what seems to be an unnecessary amount of people in varying stages of undress (having illustrated the point of the physical display within the first ten minutes of the video, I found its continued inclusion for the rest of the film rather off-putting). Thème Je is a respectable effort that could benefit from the filmmaker's return to form in terms of tapping into her innate storytelling ability to create an emotionally honest and equally intimate and fearless deconstruction of the true essence of self, instead of just an anatomic one.

Program 8: Who Do You Love?

Mother, Father, Son (Oliver Hockenhull) - Composed of a series of family photographs and military archival footage, Hockenhull traces his father's reluctant participation in the assault of Dresden as a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force (a bombing that his father would subsequently describe as a "war crime") and in the process, creates a powerful and relevant statement on the government's role (and complicity) as a "weapon of mass destruction" in its pervasive and expedient manipulation of information.

HomeboundHomebound/Balikbayan (Larilyn Sanchez and Riza Manalo) - Homebound is a humorous, engaging, and ironic short film told from the perspective of a letter sent home by an overseas worker through the family matriarch traveling alone, along with a variety of imported goods and explicit instructions on how the care package is to be divided among their extended family. Sanchez and Manalo create a simple, yet affectionate and culturally intimate film on obligation, family, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.

Chubby Buddy (Erika Yeomans) - Inspired by the suspense novels of Patricia Highsmith and the upper, middle-class milieu of John Cheever, Chubby Buddy is an intelligently conceived and well-executed comic mystery that combines original and 1970s television footage (most notably, Hawaii Five-O) on a neglected husband's increasing obsession with the collection of ubiquitous stuffed animals as a surrogate for his wife's estranged affection and to escape the monotony of his predictable, white-collar life.

Dad' Dead (Chris Shepard) - Dad' Dead is a technically accomplished and effectively paced story of two friends whose relationship is irrecoverably severed when one feigns a father's death in order to avoid a meeting. Although Dad' Dead is indeed well crafted and features competent digitally rendered effects, the stylization and self-conscious "hipness" look to the film calls a bit too much attention to itself for my taste.

Crossing the Rainbow Bridge (Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukaçs) - Presented in split screen dual-channel, Crosssing the Rainbow Bridge is a goofy, patently offbeat, and saccharine sweet tale of love and loss told through intentionally dated visual effects and nostalgic, campy, AM radio pop songs; interesting from a retro kitsch perspective, but ultimately forgettable.

Kings of the Hill (Yael Bartana) - An unusual and often amusing, but overlong Reality TV-like video footage of off-road sport utility vehicle owners assembled at a rough terrain sand dune near Tel Aviv for a machismo display of machinery and stubborn persistence as they attempt to plow their way through the steep, scenic overlook into the wee hours of the evening.

Time for Radio Exercise (Daisuke Nose) - Another curious, slice-of-life video entry that stretches too far past the point of novelty and into the realm of tedium, Time for Radio Exercise captures a group of older Japanese assembled at a park performing their morning exercise routines through broadcasted physical instructions that resemble elementary school drills.

DadDad (Stephen Dwoskin) - Dark, ominous, and brooding (in a soundtrack that sounds tonally similar to the Richard Wagner opera, Lohengrin), Dwoskin poetic elegy juxtaposes home videos of his father during various stages of his adult life in slow motion that contrasts his youthful vitality with his increasing frailty shortly before his death. Although clearly heartfelt and sincere, the film is perhaps too indulgent in its almost monotonic, recurring sense of foreboding that the images seem to become more abstract and antithetically depersonalized.

Swf, 29, seeks self (Gretchen Skogerson) - Assembled from the assorted voicemail received by filmmaker Skogerson in response to a newspaper advertisement that enigmatically reads "SWF, 29, seeks self" juxtaposed against stock footage of animal mating rituals and physics demonstrations of magnetic poles, the film is a well crafted and humorous piece on the cultivation of interpersonal relationships.

07-16-04: Program 6: In This World

Ssitkim: Talking to the Dead (Soon-mi Yoo) - My favorite entry from the festival so far, Korean filmmaker Soon-mi Yoo visits Vietnam to examine the suppressed history of the South Korean military's involvement in the annihilation of a rural village during the Vietnam War (due in part to President Park Chung Hee's efforts to win political and economic favors from President Lyndon B. Johnson) and to invoke the traditional custom of commemorating the lives of those who died unhappy deaths (which is defined by custom as any death away from home, through particularly spiritually unresolved for those who died through violent and tragic means). Meeting with the handful of survivors in the village, many of whom still bear the physical and psychological scars from the military campaign, and embarking in a series of rituals that become a symbolic expression for national and personal atonement and reconciliation (the artist makes an incisive comment on how Vietnam is now united while Korea continues to be divided), Yoo's thoughtful and sincere video essay serves as both historical documentary and personal journal on the process of closure and spiritual transcendence. Invoking favorable comparisons with seminal film essayist Chris Marker, Ssitkim: Talking to the Dead is an evocative, contemplative, and intelligently conceived stream of consciousness essay on history and the continuity of human memory.

Travis (Kelly Reichardt) - It seems incomprehensible that the same filmmaker who created the respectably humorous feature film, River of Grass would create this tedious, unsubstantive, nonsensical short film that shows a blurred, subtly modulating abstract, chromatographic spectrum composition unfolding against the grating, endless voice loop of what appears to be fragments of a woman's response to the delivery of bad news (perhaps the war casualty of a loved one): "Oh my God, oh my God...You have to swear to me, swear to me that nothing will happen, I have to truly, truly believe that...We went in there under the assumption that that was what it was...Oh my God..." (Yes, it repeated enough times that I managed to retain the information without even trying.) Far from being experimental filmmaking, this dispensable entry is pointless visual noise.

Buildings and Grounds: The Angst Archive (Ken Kobland) - Composed of five visually distinctive chapters, Buildings and Groundseach representing either a visual or metaphoric landscape and visually connected by the fleeting images of a passing train, Kobland's spare and contemplative framing recalls the desolate framing of Chantal Akerman and the industrial landscapes of Michelangelo Antonioni (although the filmmaker's takes are considerably shorter, usually within 4-10 seconds). The first chapter juxtaposes images of lonely, urban spaces against narrative passages from Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story that reflect on the transience of human existence. The second chapter juxtaposes images of an oil refinery against narrative passages of Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits that allude to humanity's responsibility to the environment and to the world that they inhabit. Another chapter juxtaposes the images of the desert (perhaps in the southwestern United States near the Mexican border) against passages from Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror that evokes a sentiment of illusory, untenable images and mirages. Kobland's evocative use of "borrowed passages" and serene, contemplative framing of landscape creates an immersive and thoughtful exposition on the essence of human existence.

Program 1: Road Trip

Rome, NY (Ada Bligaard Søby) - It is unfortunate that the first program of the festival would prove to be so flaccid, and made even more unappealing by the almost grotesque level of derision and contempt (and arrogant superiority) exhibited by the two local tour guides enlisted by Søby to guide her through the struggling, working class town that had fallen into hard times due to the closure of Griffiss Air Force Base and the lack of sustained industry in the small town. Amateurishly shot with an unsteady handheld video camera, the video also made for a physically unpleasant experience. I question whether the creator's intent (if there was one) was to humorously show the blandness of the town or the caricatured buffoonery of the pathetic tour guides. In either case, it clearly didn't work and at 26 minutes, it was 21 agonizing minutes too long.

Starship (Bernard Gigounon) - A short, lingering, and fairly innocuous piece on the visual study of mundane objects - specifically, cruise ships and elemental truss structures - that is made alien and mysterious by the juxtaposed projection of their symmetric reflection. Gigounon shows an imaginative ability to create tonal compositions from everyday observation.

Fade into White #4Fade into White #4 (Goshima Kazuhiro) - Beautifully shot in high contrast black and white and unfolding with the mysterious and impenetrable logic and infinite recursion of an inanimate Last Year at Marienbad (using action figures), Fade into White #4 is an elegant and well-crafted compositional study of architecture, structural symmetry, impersonal spaces, and the construction and manipulation of memory and impression.

very fantastic (Stella So) - Composed of a series of roughly detailed, quick animation sketches drawn on calligraphy paper, very fantastic is a strange and almost surreal illustration of the curious melding of traditional aesthetics and intimate, deeply rooted culture in Hong Kong with its more impersonal, large-scale urban architecture.

1.1 Flat Acre Screen (Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger) - From the quaint and amusing opening Lamprecht/Modreggerpremise of having won an Ebay auction for a tract of land in the Utah desert, Lamprecht and Modregger create a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek western-styled adventure on the pursuit of the American dream: a dream that comes to rest on the intrepid family's ability to compel the Union-Pacific freight trains to stop near their property in order for their auctioned land value to appreciate. Clocking at 43 minutes and shot in a straightforward narrative, the video lacks visual novelty and overplays its simple joke perhaps a bit too long, but is still a respectable and engaging comedic effort by the amiable duo.

Notes from Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2004 at the Walter Reade.

06-14-04: Born into Brothels, 2003 (Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman). In 1998, photojournalist Zana Briski Born into Brothels came to Calcutta's red light district to live in the subhuman conditions of a typical area boarding house among the prostitutes in order to chronicle their existence and soon became drawn into the world of their children who, because of their parents' involvement in the sex trade, are denied acceptance to schools and a proper education that, in essence, condemns them to the same fate as their parents. Returning to the boarding house with several point-and-shoot cameras, Briski begins to teach the children about photography, composition, and editing, often taking them on field trips to idyllic locations - zoos, rural farmlands, and the beach - that seem far removed from their circumstances in order to inspire their creativity (and perhaps, to show them the possibility of a world outside the red light district). However, realizing that these diversionary excursions were only a transitory escape for these children, Briski then committed herself to finding a way out of the brothels for them. The film then chronicles her attempts to raise awareness for the children's plight with the goal of raising enough money to send them to a boarding house for an undistracted education (and away from the sex trade where a girl is often brought in to work in "the line" by the time she is 14). Perhaps the singularly most humbling and remarkably inspiring film I have ever seen in a long time on selflessness, compassion, instilling hope, and human decency, Born into Brothels is a lucid and unsentimental, yet profoundly moving document of humanitarianism. (For more information on the project, visit: kids-with-cameras.org.)

The Corporation, 2003 (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott). Appropriately presented with the sterile impersonality of a canned, droning informational video business presentation, The Corporation is a wry and acerbic sprawling meditation on the psychology of a corporation as a human entity (as defined by the judicial system with respect to legal rights and responsibilities). Citing examples of blatant irresponsibility and suppression of information towards public and animal health and safety (such as the effects of bovine growth hormones, rBGH and rBST), greed, exploitation of third world countries (such as Walmart's employment of child labor in the Kathy Lee Gifford clothing line), destruction and usurpation of the environment (such as Bechtel's leasing of water rights to Cochabamba, Bolivia that allowed them to tax the public for all water, including rain), biological patenting (including human DNA), and moral culpability towards the economic and material support of dictatorships, corrupt regimes, war criminals, and even genocide (such as the Third Reich's use of IBM's punch card system to process - and disposition for "special treatment", i.e. the gas chamber - prisoners into concentration camps), the film provides an intelligent and incisive discourse on the need for moral and ethical responsibility, vigilance, awareness, and informed activism.

06-13-04: Saints and Sinners, 2004 (Abigail Honor and Yan Vizinberg). Following the wedding preparations of a gay, middle to upper middle-class Catholic couple as they seek to be married in the Catholic faith, Saints and Sinners is a lighthearted and sincere, but largely superficial exploration of the issues faced by homosexual couples searching for inclusion, acceptance, and basic human rights afforded to heterosexual couples in society. Unfortunately, after seeing such seminal issues as life and death, racial intolerance, and abuse of power presented in this year's festival, I had hoped to see an equally compelling and impassioned film on the issue of gay rights (perhaps on the very timely issue of the recent spate of same-sex weddings being conducted throughout the country or something akin to Sandi Simcha Dubowski's Trembling Before G_d on gay Orthodox Jews or Kimberly Peirce's thoughtful Boys Don't Cry on murdered transgender youth, Brandon Teena) instead of watching a fairly privileged couple fretting over whether their nuptials will be listed on the highly coveted New York Times Style section - a bourgeois validation of marital union that isn't afforded to the majority of New Yorkers, irrespective of sexuality.

Deadline, 2003 (Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson). Another highlight in what has proven to be an especially Deadlinestrong line-up for domestic-related human rights issues, Deadline follows the last weeks of outgoing Illinois governor George Ryan, a conservative Republican who had been closely following the cases uncovered by Northwestern University journalism students whose term project had led to the exoneration of 13 death row inmates. Pointing out that in the same year, the state had executed twelve prisoners, Ryan argued that the fates of 25 inmates in Illinois that year were akin to the chances of tossing a coin and consequently, asked the state legislature to enact measures that would overhaul the system to prevent such miscarriages of justice from recurring. However, driven by re-election year cautiousness, the state legislature failed to pass such measures and instead Ryan, frustrated by their inaction, ordered special clemency hearings for the remaining 167 prisoners on death row with the intent of personally reviewing every case to determine if any sentences should be commuted to life without parole. What ensues is a deeply conflicted and heart-rending emotional tug-of-war between the inconsolable grief and the need for retribution by some families of victims, and the equally tragic, life-destroying testimonies of wrongfully imprisoned former death-row inmates and other families of victims who, nevertheless, oppose capital punishment (including families of several, nationally recognizable hate crime victims such as Emmett Till's mother and James Byrd Jr.'s son). Filmmakers Chevigny and Johnson capture an extraordinarily engaging, effectively edited, and unsentimental, yet profoundly moving tale of moral idealism, public service, and personal conscience.

6-12-04: What the Eye Doesn't See, 2003 (Francisco J. Lombardi). What the Eye Doesn't See is a convoluted, yet What the Eye Doesn't Seeacutely illustrative fictionalized account of the desperate, intertwined lives of several Peruvian citizens who represent a cross-section of the country's socio-economic strata during the uncertainty of the ever-increasing scandal surrounding the intricate web of corruption woven by presidential adviser Vladimiro Montesinos that eventually led to the downfall of President Alberto Fujimori. Although incisive and occasionally compelling, the film unfortunately suffers from an inherent unevenness in character development and tone throughout its ample 149 minute duration, ladened by the extraneous inclusion of a tediously repetitive comedy relief subplot involving a deluded legal clerk obsessed with movies and his landlady's capricious daughter, and a narcissistic anchorman diagnosed with a career-ending, subcutaneous cancerous nodule on his cheek - undoubtedly, an allegory for the pervasiveness of corruption during Fujimori's tenure - that breaks the film's otherwise taut structure and observant, sociopolitical relevance.

Down the Wire, 2004 (Pip Starr). A group of activists descend on the Woomera Detention facility on Good Friday in 2002 to protest the involuntary imprisonment of refugees at the remote camp in the Australian desert, leading to an impulsive act of civil disobedience. Starr's short film is an inspiring portrait of activism, advocacy, and compassion for the voiceless, marginalized, and underprivileged.

Persons of Interest, 2003 (Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse). Shot in a spare, cell-like white walled open space Persons of Interest that is sparsely furnished with a table, Persons of Interest is composed of personal and impassioned testaments by twelve New York area Muslims and Arabic surnamed detainees and their families who were indefinitely confined and imprisoned without charges or a trial in the wake of September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack for a period of two months to nearly two years as a Justice Department identified "person of interest". A man from Israel describes being stopped for running a red light on the morning of the terrorist attack and, asked by the traffic officer if he was a Jewish or Muslim Israeli, was promptly arrested after responding that he was the latter. After being cleared of all charges after two months, he was subsequently deported. A second account comes from a Pakistan-born American citizen with a Ph.D. in Criminal Law who has lived in the U.S. for over twenty years with his American wife who was detained for over a year after an unsubstantiated anonymous tip led to a search of his home for nuclear weapons and, after instead finding only his son's flight simulator game and a receipt from the WTC dated a month earlier (having entertained some visiting friends from Ohio with a tour of New York City), was incarcerated at Riker's Island by the government as a key plotter of the 9/11 attacks. Forced to mortgage the family home and sell his business in order to pay for legal defense, he was subsequently cleared of all charges and now drives a limousine. Other accounts prove to be horror stories on finding safe harbors for their entire families after multi-ethnic couples often find their spouses unwelcomed in their native land as they face deportation from the U.S. Filmmakers Maclean and Perse create a provocative, heart-breaking, and deeply humanist portrait of resilience, hope, and courage in Persons of Interest - a potent denunciation of abuse of power, state-sanctioned discrimination, and unchallenged fear mongering. (For more information on the film, visit: personsofinterest.org.)

Juvies, 2004 (Leslie Neale). Juvies is a compelling, powerful, and unsentimental examination of the California juvenile correction system (and the American juvenile correction system in general) that, rather than provide a structure and process for rehabilitating young offenders in order to deter them from becoming career criminals, are increasingly deferred and processed through the adult prison system to serve out arbitrarily tacked on - and often judicially misused - "bonus" terms of 10 to 15 years designed to curb gang-related activity. Perhaps the most compelling story is that of Duk Ta, the American born son of Asian immigrants who, at the age of 16, was the driver of a car when shots were fired between his passenger and rival gang members in which no one was hurt. Advised by his parents to go to the police and inform them of the incident, Duk soon found himself charged with (and later convicted of) attempted murder and branded as a gang member with the moniker "Duke" - a deliberate misspelling of his name fabricated by the prosecutor in order to strengthen her argument of his gang affiliation and therefore eligibility for "bonus" sentencing guidelines - and is now serving a 35 year term in an adult prison. Shot from the point-of-view of a video production class taught by Neale to a randomly selected class of twelve juvenile offenders tried as adults, what emerges is a disturbing trend towards the marginalization of poor, often abused, undereducated, and minority offenders and their convenient and expedient disposal into the adult correctional system.

Three Poems By Spoon Jackson, 2003 (Michel Wenzer). Composed of a series of recorded, monitored musings and readings by California inmate Stanley "Spoon" Jackson (including Jackson's self-exculpatory trivialization of his crime - and deflection of accountability - by characterizing himself as a "political prisoner") set against images of Jackson's family album pictures and recurring shots of trains (and intrusive incremental reminders for remaining time before disconnection), Three Poems By Spoon Jackson is a respectable, but insipid short film that showcases Jackson's naïve and rudimentary - and unremarkable - street-style poems: Pot-Belly Stove, Schools, and Heart of the High Desert.

The Kite, 2003 (Randa Chahal-Sabbag). Poignant, humorous, and exquisitely realized, The Kite follows the plight of The Kitea beautiful and carefree Lebanese girl named Lamia (Flavia Bechara) who, after recklessly tempting fate by briefly trespassing into the mined, Israeli-controlled heavily militarized buffer zone in order to retrieve her kite, is ruled by her village council to be prepared for marriage. Fated to marry a young man from the village to whom she was promised in her youth but whose family had ended up on the other side of the annexed territory, the prospective bride and groom's families - unable to meet in person - resort to transacting their wedding arrangements by shouting into megaphones within earshot of the patrolling Israeli soldiers who, while sympathetic to the families' plights, are compelled by duty to transcribe the personal (and often intimate) details communicated about the young couple for intelligence gathering. Granted a one-time passage through the buffer zone in order to begin a new life (and loveless marriage of convenience) with a complete stranger, Lamia soon longs for escape. Although occasionally lapsing into heavy-handed, highly stylized symbolism that breaks the natural realism and lyrical tone of the film, The Kite is nevertheless a provocative and sincere portrait of the tragic absurdity of territoriality and arbitrarily imposed borders.

06-06-04: Alain Resnais by James Monaco.

In the book Alain Resnais, James Monaco seeks to demystify the prevalent notion of the filmmaker's body of work as being purely "intellectual", arguing that the perceived inscrutability of his films stems more as a result of the absence of familiar, accessible emotional "codes" rather than his realization of abstruse intellectualism. To this end, Monaco chronologically examines the evolution of Resnais' films within the context of the filmmaker's own personal experiences, preoccupations, and their interrelation with contemporary history in order to present an effective examination of the logical precision, visual economy, intelligence, playfulness, and vivid imagination (the author notes that Resnais cultivated his sense of montage from a childhood fascination with comic books) that is innately embodied in his films.

Resnais' early success came with the short film, Van Gogh, in which he sought to capture the "interior world of an artist" through photography - creating what Jean-Luc Godard describes as "blind, trembling pans" - that reflected the bold and erratic brushstrokes of a Van Gogh painting. The success of the film would lead to two more short films on art subjects, Gaughin and Guernica. Monaco further cites Gaston Bounoure's proposition that Resnais' short films are essentially studies of his later, feature films: Guernica and La Guerre est finie (Spain), Night and Fog and Hiroshima mon amour (World War II), Les Statues meurent aussi and Muriel (African versus French culture), Toute la mémoire du monde and Last Year at Marienbad (architectural memories), Le Chant du Styrène and Je t'aime, je t'aime (abstract structural studies).

Resnais' feature film Hiroshima mon amour began auspiciously as a commission to create a short documentary on the atomic bomb. Working closely with novelist Marguerite Duras, the concept for the film emerged from the paradoxical position of having to realize an impossible task - to film what was essentially unfilmable - to create a "false documentary". As a result, Resnais and Duras resolved to circumnavigate the inherent paradox by merging the disparate ideas through sequencing and montage, creating a film that is both intimate and historically epic, personal and representational (the characters known only as archetypal He/She).

Monaco presents Last Year at Marienbad as an exercise in eschewing the formulaic structures of decoupage classique narrative that visually explores the combinations and permutations of a hermetic, self-contained logical (or perhaps, mathematical) puzzle. As in Hiroshima mon amour, Resnais creates archetypal characters (in this case, A/X/M) who play out the game of seduction as a high stakes game of strategy.

Not coincidentally, Muriel marks Resnais' first ascription of character names, with the subject of the title serving as a broader representation of a character's traumatic past. Weaving familiar themes of (haunted) memory, perception, and guilt, the film's fragmentation serves a reflection of failed love, regret, and moral responsibility. This more "personal" approach (and consequently, more emotionally accessible) would also serve as the basis for La Guerre est finie (albeit, more linear in narrative) and Je t'aime, je t'aime.

Monaco also devotes a chapter in the book to Resnais' unrealized projects, the "nonfilms" that provide a different, and perhaps more importantly, an accessible dimension to the filmmaker's reputation. Among these were: The Adventures of Harry Dickson, an adaptation of the Jean Ray pulp comic serial from the 1920s (to which he paid homage in Toute la mémoire du monde), a collaboration with editor and translator Richard Seaver on the Marquis de Sade, a collaboration with Marvel Comics' Stan Lee entitled The Monster Maker (and a second, also unrealized project called The Inmates), and a documentary on 1920s-1930s fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft. Although varied in theme and envisioned format, these nonfilms further serve to illustrate Resnais' penchant for novel storytelling and imagination, as well as his egalitarian view of high and pop art that refutes the general perception of his films as cold, technical exercises in impenetrable intellectualism.

Notes from Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2004 Series at the Walter Reade.

03-21-04. Twentynine Palms, 2003 (Bruno Dumont). In the opening remarks for the film, Bruno Dumont Twentynine Palmsdescribed Twentynine Palms as experimental film in articulating sensation without narrative through abstract, dissociated forms, teasingly remarking that "a Manet without figures is a Rothko". An American photographer named David (David Wissak) and his French-speaking, Eastern European lover Katia (Yekaterina Golubeva) set off from Los Angeles in their Hummer, ostensibly to scout locations in the Twentynine Palms area of the California desert. Restless, increasingly bored with the endlessly barren sights, and unable to have substantive conversations due to language limitations, the two alternately bide their time driving, eating, swimming, and engaging in primal, uninhibited couplings, creating their own romantic (or at least sexual) odyssey in the vast desolation until a terrible act destroys their seemingly primitive existential paradise. In his earlier film (and arguably, his best to date), L'Humanité, the alienated and terrifying opening image is that of a violated body splayed against the eerily tranquil landscape; a similar shot exists Twentynine Palms but without the catalytic mystery (in a scene that is uncomfortably played for humor) nor the depth of torment and personal agony that results from the discovery. Had Dumont cut the final ten minutes of the film (i.e. the aftermath), the resulting indelible parting image would have been equally eviscerating and difficult, but nevertheless, a haunting and effective (albeit tragic) statement on the inviolability of love. In his self-described desire to erase the characters completely - compelling them to dissolve permanently into the landscape - in order to create a more abstract, filmic installation that conveys the essential experience of terror and violence, what seems left is an infinitely more troubling artistic expression: the shell of a Dumont film without the humanism or process of compassionate revelation ...without a soul.

Les Sentiments, 2003 (Noémie Lvovsky). Les Sentiments is a richly textured, humorous, deceptively Les Sentimentslyrical, emotionally lucid, and intelligently crafted exposition on the dynamics of love, marriage, fidelity, and attraction. The film chronicles the genial and affectionate interaction between a happily settled, middle-aged couple, Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) and Carol (Nathalie Baye), and their young, overly amorous tenants, a newly married couple named François (Melvil Poupaud) and Edith (Isabelle Carré) - who have moved into the country so that the young man can assume Jacques' medical practice after his retirement - as their relationships evolve from polite cordiality to friendship, and inevitably, to dangerous, impulsive temptation. Idiosyncratically (and cleverly) integrating a Greek chorus that alternately comments, presages, and contextualizes ellipses in the narrative, Noémie Lvovsky further demonstrates remarkable agility in creating subtle, but profound tonal shifts that propel the engaging and quietly, but astutely realized human observation to increasingly complex, difficult, and ambivalent emotional terrain that, ultimately (and deservedly), takes on the sublime (and equally compelling), emotional weight of a modern-day Greek tragedy.

Grand école, 2004 (Robert Solis). Adapted from a play by Jean-Marie Besset, Grande école auspiciously opens to a lavish party and fireworks display in commemoration of Bastille Day, an overt metaphor for the young men and women in the film who have completed their baccalaureate degrees and are about to shed their insular home lives for shared student dormitories and a rigorous academic curriculum in order to prepare them for their future roles as corporate and world leaders. Although recalling the social, sexual, cultural, and even political power struggles of R. W. Fassbinder's cinema (along with his uninhibited treatment of human sexuality), Robert Solis (whose work is primarily documentary) lacks the iconic German filmmaker's ability to sustain dynamic tension and create essentially flawed, but nevertheless endearingly human characters. Instead, what results is a tenuous amalgam of superficial insights into elitism and class stratification, sexual politics, psychological manipulation, and race relations that attempts to correlate (with limited success) the students' real-life lessons within the privileged walls of the great institution with the inherently complex, isolating, and heartbreaking machinations of their self-inflicted and resolutely mapped out destinies.

Pas sur la bouche (Not on the Lips), 2003 (Alain Resnais). Resnais continues in the direction of his affectionate Not on the Lipsre-adaptation of early twentieth century French burlesque comedies (most notably, Mélo) in Not on the Lips, a faithful (which unfortunately, includes all the stereotypical and derogatory gibes at Americans), accessibly entertaining, technically accomplished, but hollow musical adaptation of the 1925 operetta by André Barde and Maurice Yvain. The film follows the romantic entanglements of a privileged married woman, Gilberte Valandray (Sabine Azéma), and her eclectic circle of friends - her devoted sister Arlette (Isabelle Nanty), an unmarried, perennial guest named Faradel (Daniel Prévost), a young, post-cubist/post-dadaist artist (a tongue in cheek integrated movement called coocooism) named Charley (Jalil Lespert), and a lovestruck ingénue named Huguette (Audrey Tautou). Having concealed the trivial detail of a prior marriage to an American named Eric Thompson (Lambert Wilson) (whose brief union was apparently undone by his reluctance to kiss on the lips) from her husband Georges (Pierre Arditi), Gilberte is compelled to walk a delicate (and amusing) situational tightrope when Thompson becomes her husband's international business partner. Although retaining the musicality and intrinsically operatic nature of Resnais cinema (as well as the baroque, hermetic, and rigid formalism of his early, seminal films Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel), the structural and narrative nouvelle roman experimentation of his early cinema has been replaced by a seeming penchant to regress to the dated modernism of jazz-aged popular theater, creating an ebullient and accomplished, but slight composition.

Chouchou, 2003 (Merzak Allouache). A patently offbeat and whimsical confection, Chouchou recalls the more predictably outré, light comedies of Francis Veber (particularly, La Cage aux Folles), as a displaced foreigner named Choukri (Gad Elmaleh), nicknamed Chouchou by his late mother, claiming to be a Chilean political exile (albeit anachronistically after the fall of Augusto Pinochet), finds refuge in a church run by a compassionate elder priest, Père Léon (Claude Brasseur) and a zealous, chocolate-addicted junior priest (and ex-junkie) named Frère Jean (Roschdy Zem) who sees nightly visions of the Madonna. Rebuilding his life in a supportive community of the rectory, Chouchou obtains a job with a genial and tolerant psychoanalyst (Catherine Frot) who encourages him to re-assert his true identity as a drag queen and consequently, initiates the eccentric, but lovable young man's process of liberation, independence, and self-(re)discovery in Paris.

03-19-04: Time of the Wolf, 2003 (Michael Haneke). Set in the indeterminate milieu of an idyllically pastoral, Time of the Wolfrural province, a family from "the city" arrives at their summer home for a seeming holiday getaway to find a hostile, armed squatter and his family in the premises. Following an unprovoked act of senseless violence, Anna (Isabelle Huppert) and her children, Eva (Anaïs Demoustier) and Ben (Lucas Biscombe) are robbed of home, transportation (except for a bicycle), and provisions and cast out to roam the countryside in search of assistance. Eventually making their way into a loose, cooperative alliance of displaced, multicultural families living under the protection of a pragmatic, armed leader named Koslowski (Olivier Gourmet) at a disused way station, the family soon find themselves struggling with day to day survival, desperately pinning their ever-dimming hopes on a nebulous plan to compel a freight train to make an unscheduled stop for boarding so that they may be transported away from their oppressively inhuman nightmare. Recalling the distilled austerity, psychological desolation, and unconscionable violence of the filmmaker's early Austrian films, Benny's Video (which, uncoincidentally, is the enigmatic son's name) and The Seventh Continent (although lacking the essential concentration of these films), Michael Haneke's allegorical, post-apocalyptic anthropological dissection of catastrophe, alienation, dehumanization, and primalism is compelling, profoundly unnerving, and unrelentingly provocative. The film's recurring elemental motif of fire - like the tribe's literal and figurative existential way station - serves as an ambivalent symbol of destruction, instinctual self-survival, and ultimately, a tenuous glimmer of hope and humanity.

Notes from Film Comment Selects 2004 Series at the Walter Reade.

02-16-04: Gambling, Gods and LSD, 2002 (Peter Mettler). Peter Mettler's rigorous and organic meditative essay Gambling, Gods and LSDis (perhaps intentionally) a mind numbing ethnographic collage of people, places, ideas, and discoveries that collective encompass humanity's innate desire for escapism, commutation, euphoria, and existential transcendence. Originating locally from Mettler's sad and implicitly tragic reunion with a childhood friend who has led most of his inutile adult life in the fog of substance abuse, the filmmaker visually links his roots (in the childhood memory of an idyllic river) with images of migration (in the milieu of the Toronto International Airport) to create an eclectic (and inherently uneven) assembly of personal experience: what Mettler describes as the state of people - at times, rapturous (as members of a religious congregation exhibit episodes of spasmodic spiritual ecstasy), decadent (as people indulge in gambling, strip clubs, and sexual paraphernalia), thrill-seeking (a newly married couple punctuate their wedding vows with a bungee jump), inexplicable (a crowd gathers for the controlled implosion of a disused casino), melancholic (a man recalls his late wife's death from cancer as he displays her remains contained in a headscarf that she had worn while in chemotherapy), tragic (a mass murder on a Native American reservation), and bewildering (a small village in rural India reacts to the curious spectacle of a camera crew) - but all idiosyncratically, fundamentally, and infallibly human.

Shanghai Panic, 2001 (Andrew Cheng). Based on a banned novel by underground writer Mian Mian entitled Welcome to Panic, Andrew Cheng's socially relevant, but technically uneven digital video pseudo-documentary follows a close-knit group of rootless, young adults (apparently played by Mian Mian and her circle of friends) in the urban jungle of Shanghai as a male friend - perhaps struggling to come to terms with the implications of his homosexuality - becomes convinced that he has contracted AIDS. Broaching issues of privacy, confidentiality, escapism, and anonymity in a largely impersonal, yet tightly controlled and repressive country, Shanghai Panic is a brave and admirable attempt to capture the reality of contemporary Shanghai that, to its detriment, is mired by the filmmaker's inexperience and meandering focus and becomes diluted in its caustic potency.

Welcome to Destination China, 2003 (Andrew Cheng). Creating another slice-of-life pseudo-documentary chronicle Welcome to Destination Shanghaiof marginalized people living in impoverished slums along the banks of the Suzhou River (and in the process, deconstructs the romantic vision of Ye Lou's ephemeral Suzhou River), Welcome to Destination China loosely centers on a madam called Jennifer and the desperate people whose meager livelihood rests on her disreputable enterprise: a handsome young man unable to find a decent job, a pragmatic prostitute searching for ways to maximize her income, a naïve young woman from the province determined to earn enough money in order to bring her parents into Shanghai. Perhaps the most compelling story is that of Jennifer's long-time friend, Ah-ling, an aging actress sent down from Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution and whose only means of returning to the city was a marriage of convenience to a gay man (who, unfortunately, was played with ridiculous, exaggerated theatricality by an actor who seems to have learned his craft by training as a circus mime). Creating a paradoxical, irreconcilable vision of Shanghai - one, a destination of privilege and a globalized, urban megalopolis of unlimited possibility, and the other, an inescapable abyss of poverty, want, alienation, and violence - Sixth Generation filmmaker, Andrew Cheng, creates a flawed and unfocused, but incisive dystopic vision of contemporary Shanghai.

No Rest for the Brave, 2003 (Alain Guiraudie). Recalling the surreal, playfully nonsensical logic puzzles of Raoul Ruiz (although lacking the Chilean-born filmmaker's elegantly fluid camerawork and clever storytelling agility), No Rest for the Brave is an absurdist, occasionally humorous, but ultimately pointless and incoherent excursion into the ambiguous, forbidding, and untenable terrain of dream state and the subconscious as a young man, having experienced a troublingly lucid dream that his next sleep would become his last, attempts to outrun his personal demons that seemingly take on the form of a persistent nemesis named Johnny Got. Unfortunately, unable to reconcile the wildly diverging, fast and loose narrative threads of the film, Guiraudie resorts to the tidy, conventional - and reprehensibly unimaginative - tactic of having the young hero articulate his learned life lessons in an unearned, neat summation direct address monologue that concludes the film.

02-15-04: The Story of Marie and Julien, 2003 (Jacques Rivette). Jacques Rivette creates another refined The Story of Marien and Julienand sublimely enrapturing composition in The Story of Marie and Julien, a film that ostensibly chronicles the relationship between a brooding, reclusive restorer of antique clocks and occasional blackmailer named Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) and the elusive object of his affection, a beautiful and enigmatic woman named Marie (Emmanuelle Béart) whom he had once known at a time when both were emotionally unavailable. As the film opens, a pensive Julien sits on a park bench and begins to experience an unsettling, prescient dream involving his passing acquaintance, Marie, and in the process, betrays a sense of regret and missed opportunity at their seemingly star-crossed romantic fate. Now, a year later, his haunted, unrequited melancholy now seems entirely reconcilable when he runs into a hurried Marie once again while she rushes to catch a bus at a busy intersection and he, to an appointment with the subject of his blackmail: a woman called Madame X (Anne Brochet) who had perhaps murdered her sister. Illustrating familiar Rivette imagery of interweaving parallel realities, manifestation of the subconscious, and elliptical mystery, the film evolves into a gorgeously hypnotic, slow simmering, and smoldering tone piece on chance, connection, and destiny.

The Magic Gloves, 2003 (Martín Rejtman). From a seemingly innocuous encounter between a gregarious musician who goes by the stage name Piranha and an impassive and unambitious cab driver, Alejandro, whom he recognizes (perhaps mistakenly) as his brother's childhood friend, Martín Rejtman creates an effervescent comedy of errors as the well-intentioned Piranha and his equally enthusiastic wife attempt to reunite Alejandro with his recently estranged ex-girlfriend, leading to an ever complicating and unraveling web of romantic entanglements and concocted schemes in the pursuit of holistic well-being and self-improvement that culminates in a seemingly fool-proof venture to market one-size-fits-all magic gloves. Unfolding with the droll, gentle humor of Aki Kaurismäki's tragicomic fables fused with the situational absurdity of a subdued Pedro Almodóvar, The Magic Gloves is a lighthearted, gentle, and unassuming human comedy on the mundane rituals of everyday life.

Playing "In the Company of Men", 2003 (Arnaud Desplechin). Arnaud Desplechin's fractured, self-reflexive Mouglalisportrait of corporate anomie, based on British author Edward Bond's play In the Company of Men, is a frustratingly disjointed and excessively soundtracked (often with unnecessarily cranked up, thematically unrelated music from Paul Weller and The Jam that renders the dialogue inaudible) that is punctuated with episodes of fractured clarity. Fusing elements of Shakesperean tragedy and contemporary social realism, artistic performance and real life, as episodes of acting rehearsals and war news footage are intercut into the storyline, the film centers on the difficult, often troubled personal and professional relationships of a rootless, privileged businessman, Léonard (Sami Bouajila), the adopted heir of an arms manufacturer named Henri Jurrieu (Jean-Paul Roussillon), who, impatient with his stalled ascendancy within his ailing father's company, forges a series of disreputable alliances, first, in an attempt to acquire sufficient shareholder stake for board membership, and subsequently, to prevent his father from uncovering the truth behind his duplicity. However, apart of the guerrilla-like tactics of corporate machinations (a subplot that similarly plagues, and ultimately derails, Olivier Assayas' maddeningly unfocused film, demonlover), the most indelible moments in the film result from the seeming synthesis of nightmarish delusion and haunted memory: an image the proves to be the most visceral and elemental in deconstructing the psychological puzzle of an inscrutable, modern day tragic hero.

02-14-04: Los Angeles Plays Itself, 2003 (Thom Andersen). Ostensibly named after a notorious gay porn Los Angeles Plays Itselffilm entitled L.A. Plays Itself (where the systematic degradation of the city was paralleled through increasingly violent sexual encounters), Los Angeles Plays Itself is a thoughtful and sublimely articulate stream of consciousness piece that explores Hollywood's historical neutering, mythification, and suppression of Los Angeles' native cultural identity in its attempts to transform and assimilate the city as a convenient, large-scale studio set for the motion picture industry. Written by Los Angeles native and affirmed cineaste Andersen and narrated by Encke King, the film demystifies the popular misconception and fallacy of the city's economic dependence on the movie industry - a trivialization the he associates with the city's referential abbreviation to L.A. within the context of Hollywood insider truncation - through historically de-contextualized (and often, implicitly sinister) architecture and landmarks, depictions of racial and cultural homogeneity, and the perceptional distortion of his beloved native town as an epicenter for moral corruption (in such noir-toned films as Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential), desolation (in post-apocalyptic films like John Carpenter's Escape from New York and Ridley Scott's Bladerunner), and decadent excess (William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. and Mick Jackson's L.A. Story). Drawing provocative social implications in the bureaucratic decision to curtail development of the public mass transportation system in favor of automobile ownership and the construction of freeways, Andersen traces the development of an indigenous - and consequently, more representationally Los Angeles - cinema presented by groundbreaking early independent features, like Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles on the plight and subculture of Mexican-Americans and Charles Burnett's seminal, semi-autobiographical film Killer of Sheep on a working class African-American family, to create a perceptive, passionate, and unabashedly humanist meditation on social and cultural identity, privilege, race, and inclusion.

The World's Greatest Sinner, 1962 (Timothy Carey). Iconic character actor and inimitable personality Timothy Carey's eccentrically flawed, indescribably lowbrow, and madly egocentric, yet indelible satire, The World's Greatest Sinner, is a commendable exposition on opportunism, moral bankruptcy, and idolatry as a bored insurance salesman, Clarence Hilliard, re-invents himself as a youth attuned, hip-gyrating pop star in order to gain public exposure and build a constituency base for his political ministry. Renaming himself "God", Hilliard's decision to run as a presidential candidate under the unsubstantive, but universally appealing platform of personal empowerment and eternal life - and in the process, attract an ever-widening circle of fanatical followers - serves as a patently bizarre, deliriously kitschy, and idiosyncratically disjointed portrait on spiritual desolation, existential vacuity, and monomania as the once seemingly grounded Hilliard becomes estranged from his family and faith under the intoxicating, corrupting delusion of power.

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