The Fall

04/16/2018

Switzerland / 1972 / Swiss German

Directed by Kurt Früh

With Walo Lüönd, Katrin Buschor, Annemarie Düringer

Still From 'The Fall'On a train rushing through countryside and suburban sprawl, a drab private detective named Grendelmann sits in his seat alone. He is returning home after visiting his ailing father in the hospital. Every now and then he casts a glance at the stylish young woman in the adjacent seat, but it’s unclear if he’s taken with her or marveling at the resemblance she bears to the back picture of the fashion magazine that she’s reading. The title sequence of dialect director Kurt Früh’s last film is as visually-inventive as can be done in a commuter train carriage, the two characters distorted with doubled reflections in the windows and the camera’s vantage rippling over the seat cushions. When they arrive at the last station he briefly follows the woman loses track of her. So he goes about his job, tailing a different woman home from work. Read the rest of this entry »

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South Korea / 1990 / Korean

Directed by Jang Dong-hong, Jang Yun-hyeon, Lee Eun, Lee Jae-gyu

With Kang Neung-won, Ko Dong-yeob, Kim Dong-beom

Still From 'The Night Before the Strike'Iron workers line up in the company cafeteria to receive their trays of gloomy food, which, like their jumpsuits, appears prison-issued. And, like prisoners, their lives are bound to a system of cyclical repetition, with not much potential for variation or movement; they wake up, work a numbingly long day, clock out at the end to go get drunk together, and enjoy a cigarette or two. One of the workers, Kim Jeong-min, seemingly sparked by a momentary impulse,  throws down his tray and jumps up onto a table. He exhorts his fellow workers to refuse low wages and mistreatment. No sooner is he able to fire off a few words than he is dragged away by company thugs. A manager in a leather coat advises the men to forget what they’ve just seen, to just enjoy their lunch break. And that’s the end of that. For the moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Poland / 1961 / Polish & German

Directed by Kazimierz Kutz

With Jerzy Block, Janina Traczykówna, Andrzej May

Still From 'People From the Train'It’s an ordinary day at Koriany railway station. There’s not much to be said of the station – it’s rarely even a stop, surrounded by trees in the middle of a quiet nowhere. But the correspondingly small and unassuming stationmaster, Kaliński, does his job with gravitas, saluting each passing train, throwing the switches in his office, and phoning the next station to confirm the schedule. His suit is perfectly ironed. It is in the Fall of 1943, and a train arrives stuffed full of people. The crew inform Kaliński that the last two cars have malfunctioned and have to be left behind. He translates for the German Bahnschutz (railway guard) on board, who makes everyone in those two cars alight. Then begins a huge surge of humanity toward the already-full cars ahead. As shouting people shove and grapple their way on, either pushed or pulled by those aboard, the train abruptly begins moving again. And so those who have been left behind trickle, with their ragged belongings, into the station. Read the rest of this entry »

Scrap Heap

03/26/2018

Senegal / 1997 / French & Wolof

Directed by Moussa Sene Absa

With Ismaël Lô, Ndèye Fatou Ndaw, Thierno Ndiaye Doss

Still From 'Scrap Heap'To get an idea of the place known as Tableau ferraille (a crowded slum that sits near the water), we must look at it from where it meets the sea. The camera pans nearly 360 degrees; we see the port, the horizon, the flaming barrels of trash on the shore, a boy pulling his toy (a miniature scrap iron truck) through the seaweed, women scaling and flaying fish, and men sliding pirogues out into the water to go fishing. There’s a lot of honest work going on here, but so far no one is able to rise above daily labor – at least, no one besides the shady businessman known locally as Président and his monopoly, whose office building looms above the chaotic neighborhood market, and who have their thumbs in seemingly everything that goes on here. This dynamic will change when a local man named Daam, trying to make a name for himself in politics, attempts to launch an honest campaign for parliament. Read the rest of this entry »

USA / 2015 / English

Directed by Thom Andersen

Still From 'The Thoughts That Once We Had'In The Thoughts That Once We Had, filmmaker and professor Thom Andersen takes us on a bumpy, circuitous ride over the trails of memory, his cinema life flashing before our eyes, each frame illuminated from a new angle by the writings of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Andersen seems highly critical of conventional film history and theory. He doesn’t buy into received wisdom, at least that which can’t be substantiated in his personal experience of cinema. Unlike earlier film-essays for which he is known, this one isn’t moored at all to geography or theme. It’s ethereal; short quotations from Deleuze’s analyses of cinema, sometimes no more than clipped, open-ended phrases, are the guide through a succession of film excerpts, which range from well-chosen to puzzling to transcendent.

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Still From 'The Tower of Seven Hunchbacks'

Seeing Madrid From Below

In Edgar Neville’s The Tower of Seven Hunchbacks (1944), an adaptation of a 1920 novel by Emilio Carrere, the hero comes across an underground city originally established by Spanish Jews escaping the inquisition, which now serves as hideout for a cabal of nefarious hunchbacks. The story, which blends comic phantasmagoria with a visual fealty to certain neighborhoods of Madrid, is set in the 19th Century, before construction of the city’s metro system began tunneling through the earth.

However a person who descends the escalators into one of system’s more than 300 stations finds themselves in a place somehow analogous to that gothic lair below the streets, an alternate universe of different customs, in which time, to some degree, has stood still. Perhaps those who spend a good percentage of their existence underneath the city are not so much commuters, but denizens of this subterranean world. They know its paces and rhythms, its sounds and routines, intimately. Read the rest of this entry »

Bastardy

03/06/2018

Australia / 2008 / English

Directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Still From 'Bastardy'We first encounter Jack Charles while he’s sleeping in an alleyway, a flattened cardboard box serving as his bedding. In the daylight he pads through the city like a very small ghost, a frizzled starburst of gray hair and beard exaggerating his appearance. Through clips and photos, though, we learn about who this man once was: a pioneering aboriginal actor, who has appeared in movies and on television, and who, decades ago, started Australia’s first black theater group. He now lives on the streets of Melbourne, sleeping where it’s amenable and buying drugs with whatever money he can forage. But beneath the layers of dereliction, a firecracker of a human being still resides, magnetic and irrepressible, and the subject of Bastardy. Read the rest of this entry »

Still From 'Talking With a Shadow'

Three Blind Owls

Quirky, deranged, and relentlessly cyclical, Sadegh Hedayat’s 1937 novella The Blind Owl has an unusual voice for any work, in any age or place. While it can, at times, feel like a delusional screed, this mysterious piece of prose is amazingly structured, relying on its own set of complex symbols that recur and transpose in an endless continuum. The allure of the book, and the language with which it crumples reality as under layers of plumage, have led to a number of films, whose connections to it range from clear adaptation to the wildly tangential. Read the rest of this entry »

Spain / 2013 / Galician

Directed by Alberto Gracia

With Alberto Gracia, Oliver Laxe, Pedro Soler

Still from 'The Fifth Gospel of Kaspar Hauser'A horse stomps in place and twitches in its cramped quarters. The mottling of its speckled hair, even the texture of the darkness that fringes it, are rendered in pointillist clouds of gray grain. It flicks its tail by the small window, a confined beast, while up in the moldy rafters, bats dance. Certain animals are free while others are enslaved. But even the horse is allowed to run once in a while. From that stable to a hole to the external world, to finally being on the outside, we feel that we are looking from behind Kaspar Hauser’s eyes, which dart all around, bewildered by the outdoors, unaccustomed to the sunlight. Read the rest of this entry »

Dreams of the City

02/12/2018

Syria / 1984 / Arabic

Directed by Mohamed Malas

With Rafiq Sbei’i, Hicham Khchefati, Yasmine Khlat

Still from 'Dreams of the City'It’s a quiet, residential street in Damascus. It’s 1953. Portraits of general Al-Shishakly, copied to infinity, flutter like bunting flags, strung across the street. Bit by bit the city awakens and businesses open, as loudspeakers blare announcements that everyone should be doing their utmost to observe the nation’s Independence Day. A gang of policemen traipse through the neighborhood bullying anyone who has been slow to put up the Syrian flag in their shop window. “Hang this, or your boss will be hanged instead,” they sneer. In this forced-festive air, a truck arrives carrying a newly-arrived family hitching to the city. They’ve come from a village in the far South of the country. Read the rest of this entry »