Where to Start With… Jean-Luc Godard

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[Diving into a new cinematic topic can be daunting. This series provides some suggestions on where to begin exploring a director’s body of work, a genre, style or theme. The three suggested films serve as a brief introduction; they’re not complete or authoritative, but will in some way be representative of the topic and hopeful inspire you to watch more, outlined in recommended further viewing.]

At the age of 83, Jean-Luc Godard, a true titan of film, is releasing his newest work, Goodbye to Language, this year. Far from a victory lap, Goodbye to Language is instead a daring experiment on the aesthetic possibilities of 3D. The release of the film is a great excuse to (re)discover the full breadth of Godard’s incredibly provocative, intellectual, confrontational, dazzling and confounding work—the work not just of a great director, but of one of the essential artists of the second half of the 20th century.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting reviews, articles and even a video essay exploring the philosophy, politics and art of Godard’s extraordinary work here. But where to begin with a career spanning numerous decades and experiments in numerous cinematic media? Try starting here.

Read more…

Listen Up Philip (2014)

Listen Up Philip / Alex Ross Perry / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Flawless performances; Emotional honesty; Use of close-ups
Side Effects: Fast pace leave unexplored threads; Abrupt ending

[Listen Up Philip plays through November 12th at the MFA in Boston.]

Listen Up Philip is a small and sincere film, so small and sincere that its uniqueness and genius reveals itself only slowly. Like its main protagonist (though, as we shall see, everyone in the film’s orbit exists as his or her own protagonist), Listen Up Philip is funny, literary, brutally frank, acerbic and brilliant even if the world hasn’t taken notice yet. Read more…

Inherent Vice (2014)

Inherent Vice / Paul Thomas Anderson / 2014 / fivestar Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.44.13 AM

Active Ingredients: Mix of tones; Exceptional cast; Theme of American identity
Side Effects: Overstuffed; Some jarring narrative transitions

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[Inherent Vice made its world premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 4th. It opens in limited release on December 12th.]

Paul Thomas Anderson’s delirious new acid trip of a film is a hazy descent into a surrealized 1970s L.A. full of drugs, paranoia and combustible cultural tension. It’s absurdist, discursive, elegiac, madcap, laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly tender—and most importantly—expertly balanced. Anderson is one of our most ambitious and talented filmmakers, and Inherent Vice shows that his skill reaches beyond bold cinematography into an impressive mastery of tone. Read more…

The Rover (2014)

The Rover / David Michôd / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Central performances; Music
Side Effects: Heavy-handed screenplay; Neutral visual style

Like Michôd’s previous film Animal Kingdom—and perhaps even closer to Killing Them SoftlyThe Rover is a blunt and moralistic fable of the causes and effects of a violent world. Still, it feels sinewy, shifty and more mysterious in tone than those other films, and benefits from this vague ambiance where its heavy plotting and world-building fails. Read more…

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…

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