The Mongols


Iran / 1973 / Farsi

Directed by Parviz Kimiavi

With Parviz Kimiavi, Fahimeh Rastegar, Aqa Seyyed

Mongols2“The Mongols again. Always the Mongols.”

Their faces all gaze ahead in unison, and then an off-screen voice instructs them: look up, look down, look left, look right. They move accordingly, showing different angles to the camera. “You’re Mongols, not Turks,” they’re told, in a pretzeling ancient histories. This crowd of Turcoman migrants, probably laborers in the city, are being cast for a television documentary about Genghis Khan’s invasion of Persia. One man is singled out for the roundness of his face, which looks particularly Mongolian to the casting director. In Parviz Kimiavi’s extraordinary collision of otherness, modernization and mass communication, The Mongols, these men become the stand-ins for the feared plunderers of eight centuries ago, providing a boundless template onto which he can project his ideas of culture clash and social upheaval. Read the rest of this entry »




China / 2009 / Mandarin

Directed by Xu Xin

Still from 'Karamay'It happens in the same way each time: the camera approaches a grave stone and lingers in front of it, long enough to read the inscription. This is repeated again and again, a ritualized pattern, setting the tone and form of the film that follows. The austere finality of stone, reflected in the flinty grayscale, gives way to the personal stories carved into it. Each marker is for a child who died when a fire broke out at an assembly on December 8th, 1994 – although the ones we see are only a fraction of those that sit in the midst of this flat void, commemorating a lost generation. Read the rest of this entry »



Peru / 1972 / Spanish

Directed by Armando Robles Godoy

With Helena Rojo, Miguel Angel Flores, Hernán Romero

Still from 'Mirage'A violet light fans out over undulating dunes, the sand raked and rippled, as in a Zen garden, by the infinite winds. The smooth parabola of a ridge curls in on itself. Emerging from the noise of the desert, a scream as stark and elemental as the winding hills of sand. Following the scream, from out of those limitless lines, comes running a flickering Giacometti figure, and a long-haired boy watches, distantly, as the figure thickens into a person. Read the rest of this entry »

India / 2015 / Hindi

Directed by Amit Dutta

Evenredcanbesad1While it’s a cliche that 20th Century art tries to express the chaos of life in the 20th Century, if anything, it could be the unnoticed, utilitarian architecture that fulfills that duty more than any other form. In Even Red Can Be Sad, Amit Dutta’s documentary about a modernist  painter named Ram Kumar, buildings bear the essence, the shape of life, serving as silent guides through a collage of decades and lives. Again and again – and quite deliberately – it isn’t art but architecture that captures the focus of the film. Read the rest of this entry »

A Door to the Sky


Morocco / 1989 / Arabic & French

Directed by Farida Benlyazid

With Zakia Tahri, Chaabia Laadraoui, Eva Saint-Paul

Still from 'A Door to the Sky'If religion could be reduced to an essential dichotomy it might look thus: it is daily interactions and customs, and then it is also the mysticism behind them, those things really not meant to be tested against reality. Its two faces shore each other up, protect one another from irrelevance and too much scrutiny. If the necessary degree of mystery wasn’t there, belief might lose its background sense of consequence, of gravity. Practicality keeps spiritualism ensconced in daily life. A film that looks at Islam through the story of a French-Moroccan woman discovering her roots, A Door to the Sky muses on religion’s utility, first cloven by cultural disconnect and then sutured by good intentions for humanity.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Day Shall Dawn


Pakistan / 1959 / Urdu

Directed by AJ Kardar

With Zurain Rakshi, Khan Ataur Rahman, Tripti Mitra

Still from 'The Day Shall Dawn'In a lacquered night scene, fishermen call to each other across the water in sing-song voices. Huge catfish writhe and gulp in the boat. The dark of the water merges with the dark of the night, people’s lucent faces encrusted by lamplight. Here in the Ganges delta, water is everywhere and everything: it acts as road and neighborhood, a collection of capillaries and veins matting at the Bay of Bengal. The water sits all around, hangs vividly in the morning light, and runs with the people’s blood. They live and die by it. Read the rest of this entry »

USA / 1967 / English

Directed by Joseph L. Anderson

With Larue Hall, Ted Heimerdinger, Marjorie Johnson

Still from 'Spring Night, Summer Night'A young man named Carl stands in his backyard shooing the headlights out of a tractor with a shotgun. Well-built, neat, with a crest of blonde hair, he seems out of place – the land around him is muddy, chaotic with refuse both human and natural. But the destructive emptiness of his activity sums up the fact of being stuck where he is, with his quarrelsome family in Southern Ohio. Could this place, between rust belt and Appalachia, have ever been vibrant? If it once was, it now breathes indigence. The mining industry that boomed there has withered up and gone, leaving equally withered people – but who can’t leave – in its place. Read the rest of this entry »



Turkey / 2006 / Turkish

Directed by Özer Kızıltan

With Erkan Can, Güven Kiraç, Meray Ülgen

Still from 'Takva'Muharrem is a follower, in every sense of the word. Middle-aged and solitary, he works as peon for a plastic bag merchant. In the evenings, he joins throngs of men at the mosque of the Sufi sect to which he belongs. Of this world but not in it, he follows God with a similar degree of subservience, living a gray, spartan life in his tiny apartment, and abstaining from any contact with women. He drinks tea, but only makes coffee for his (very infrequent) guests. Thus he keeps his world hermetic, and therefore clean. Read the rest of this entry »


The coffee siphon (also known as the vacuum coffee pot) makes brief, innocuous appearances now and again in films. Its design has changed little since the 1830s, when it was first patented in Germany. And indeed, the glass bell and bulb suspended by a retort stand over a flame suggest both ornamental and scientific Victoriana, its utilization a delicate and ritualistic art, like alchemy or a seance. Mediocre cafés will use it solely for decoration. Its subtle presence as a status symbol persists through occasional sightings in cinema. Read the rest of this entry »

Sri Lanka / 1984 / Sinhala

Directed by Dharmasiri Bandaranayake

With Swarna Mallawarachchi, Cyril Wickramage, Somi Ratnayake

Still from 'Woman in a Whirlpool'The beautiful coloring of a snake – the diamond backs, the coral stripes – are self-defense just as much as they are an aid in killing. The two skill sets are often related. Killing is adaptive, a means of survival, and just like other organisms, people are often pushed by their surroundings to do the same. Woman in a Whirlpool, not plying us with visual poetry or statements about love and sacrifice, illustrates the inherent brutality of survival. Without pontificating on the subject or brooding over its implications, it casts its keen, voracious eyes over a human landscape as desiccated as the unforgiving outback that surrounds it. Read the rest of this entry »