The Long Day Closes (1992)

The Long Day Closes / Terence Davies / 1992 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Evocations of memory and sensations; Music; Editing
Side Effects: Weightiness in tone; Preference against characterization

[The Long Day Closes is now available on a new Criterion Blu-ray.]

The Long Day Closes is like a memory so delicate, if you blow it away the whole film-spell would disappear on the wind. A wispy and expressive sketch of director Terence Davies’ childhood in 1950s Liverpool, the film seeks to evoke fragments and sensations of the past rather than to build a narrative world. Davies imbues the personal details of his youth—his withdrawn personality, the warmth of his family, the solace he finds in the cinema—with such poetry and sensitivity, however, that the film speaks more to the feeling of memory than the realities of any specific life. Read more…

Manakamana (2014)

ManakamanaStephanie Spray & Pacho Velez / 2014 / fourstarAvailable on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Active Ingredients: Structural design; Playfulness and humanity
Side Effects: Lack of thematic depth, resonance across scenes

The latest experimental documentary from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Manakamana is a playful and contemplative glimpse into culture and human behavior. There’s an obvious and effective structural simplicity to the film’s design—several, 10-minute long takes documenting cable car rides to and from a temple in Nepal—and it’s a pattern that begins to expand in significance from its repetition. Ultimately, the work of first-time directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez doesn’t reach the conscious-shifting brilliance of Sweetgrass and Leviathan, but its pleasures are smaller and more intimate. Read more…

Closed Curtain (2014)

Closed Curtain / Jafar Panahi / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Artistic and political defiance; interior digital cinematography
Side Effects: Limited resonances from fictional/documentary divide

[Closed Curtain plays at the Boston MFA until August 24th.]

Closed Curtain is equal parts defiance and despair. Made by a persecuted filmmaker legally barred from making films, it’s the expression of a man banned from self-expression. Like many Iranian films since that country’s “new wave” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Closed Curtain is full of contradictions, forcibly joining two opposing conditions to observe their strange alchemy. Yet unlike, say, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, Jafar Panahi’s new film isn’t a celebration of the limitless possibilities created by these juxtapositions. Rather, Closed Curtain becomes a sober exploration of the very limited aesthetic possibilities open to a silenced artist who nonetheless feels a deep human need to speak. Read more…

The Strange Little Cat (2014)

The Strange Little Cat / Ramon Zürcher / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Off-kelter perspective; Framing and editing
Side Effects: Emotionally vague

The Strange Little Cat is a strange little film, a brisk, unassuming and cleverly choreographed collection of everyday magic. The whistle of a kettle, a peculiarity of afternoon light streaming through a window, these are the occasions that draw the eye of first-time director Ramon Zürcher. They’re not particular dramatic moments, just opportunities to look at familiar things in a new light. They’re moments we all experience, but perhaps not ones we often pause to consider or bother to put into words. Sometimes it takes a film with a pleasantly askew perspective to conjure them in our minds, and thankfully The Strange Little Cat does exactly that. Read more…

Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood / Richard Linklater / 2014 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Deeply effecting portrait of time and growing up; Warm spirit
Side Effects: Spotty acting; Occasional talky and over-written dialogue

Boyhood is a difficult film to write about, emerging as it does from the constructive interference of two very different sensations. On the one hand is the grand experiment of its construction, by now well-known: director Richard Linklater filmed the fictional narrative of a 6-year-old boy growing into a young man over a dozen years with the same set of actors. It’s a simple formal idea, but the many thoughts it provokes about how we experience time, both in our own lives and through the technology of cinema, are illuminating, profound and significant. And yet, lofty statements such as these don’t do justice to the spirit of the film itself, to its warmth, compassion and approachability. I suppose, then, that Boyhood is a very rare film indeed, and not merely because of its structural ambition or thematic richness. Instead, Boyhood is as moving and powerful as it is because it achieves this richness through simplicity and humility, and with a wisdom, sincerity and depth of feeling it graciously extends to the audience. Read more…

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial / Steven Spielberg / 1982 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Child’s-eye view; Lighting; Exhilarating spectacle
Side Effects: Second act conflict

I’ll never not love E.T., so formative was its role in my own cinematic imagination, yet I was exhilarated and moved all over again rewatching it for the first time since my youth. It helps that E.T.—and indeed, most of Spielberg’s work—seeks to restore this sense of childhood wonder to viewers of all ages. This mode of storytelling then, becomes both text and subtext, and even informs the film’s visual style and sentimental machinations. It might have been easy to undercut this systematic naivety with the cynicism and fatigue of adulthood, but the triumph of E.T. is its profound respect for the emotional experience of childhood, for its joys and tragedies, its fears, and its own unique wisdom.

Read more…

The Clock (1945)

The Clock / Vincente Minnelli / 1945 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Charming and mature romance; Dramatic, mobile camerawork
Side Effects: Odd pacing

In Vincente Minnelli’s elegant and sophisticated war-time romance The Clock, a charming and tender lonely-hearts love story slowly cedes to a sober consideration of the costs of love and commitment. It seems a rare trick for an Old Hollywood genre piece, to indulge in the populist pleasures of its form while undercutting its naiveté with a dose of realism. But it’s the sincerity of Minnelli’s tone that elevates The Clock; the director isn’t interested in easy cynicism, just in engaging with the romance this genre provides in the first place. Read more…

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