Vagabond

12/26/2010

France / 1985 / French

Directed by Agnès Varda

With Sandrine Bonnaire, Yolande Moreau, Setti Ramdane

Still from 'Vagabond'“She came from the sea,” Agnès Varda decides, because she doesn’t know where Mona came from. Well, no – she does have an idea, but the young woman’s origins are far-reaching, the manifold and barely acknowledged crevices in the attitudes of society. This film is not a social problem piece, and Varda does not spend her time speculating on causation. She prefers for the protagonist to remain an enigma to her, the object of fascination that drives this road movie of sorts, one with neither a horizon nor a point of departure. From the very start of the film we know that the homeless wanderer meets with an unhappy end; her frozen body is found at the bottom of a gully in a dormant vineyard, fallen as she was walking. But that ending – her being stopped, finally held in place by the world – is the beginning of her story, as the filmmaker looks back and invents the evidence of her journey through picaresque fragments. Read the rest of this entry »

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Still from 'West of the Tracks, Part 1: Rust'

Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks Trilogy

By freight train, moving slowly through a snow-blanketed city, and surrounded on either side by the low and jagged rooftops of slums, we arrive in the district of sheet metal factories. And here we will remain,  amidst all this epic ugliness, within this seemingly incalculable expanse of industrial misery, for the  duration of Wang Bing’s exhilarating three films that together comprise West of the Tracks. Made with only a hand-held digital camera, the films stand as a monolithic statement on consumption and impermanence. They chronicle many facets of the industrial sector of the Northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, from the professional struggles of workers in its declining factories to the lives of the many unemployed denizens of its surrounding districts who struggle to survive. The overwhelming sense of loss in these films, pounded into the sensory realm by the echoes of empty foundries and the buzz of neon lights, is actually the story of China’s economic rise to the top, but told from underneath it all, in the shadow of wealth being amassed elsewhere and steered by the cold dictates of ever-evolving commerce. Read the rest of this entry »

Yes

12/12/2010

U.K. / 2004 / English

Directed by Sally Potter

With Joan Allen, Simon Abkarian, Sam Neill

Still from 'Yes'She is an American scientist living in a marriage that is brimming with regret, he is an immigrant from Lebanon who works behind the scenes in a classy restaurant, and one night at a gala dinner or fundraiser of some sort their paths converge. He comes onto her with laughable swiftness but, being in the right place at the right time, gets her to accompany him quite willingly into an affair. Sally Potter’s Yes is a film that persistently reminds us of the dramatic veil that it casts over the contemporary world, replete with stereotypes and fantasies. The dialogue is spoken in iambic pentameter, and the proscenium of the cinematic frame is presented more as the stage that it surely is than an honest window into life. But even as the characters speak in breathless rhymes, exchanging and matching each other’s words with panache, there is a more forceful dialogue going on underneath, one that examines how we communicate and identify with one another, and how these activities become convoluted by the artificial sense of the world imposed on us by society’s many dissonances. Read the rest of this entry »

The Exiles

12/05/2010

U.S.A. / 1961 / English

Directed by Kent MacKenzie

With Yvonne Williams, Homer Nish, Tom Reynolds

Still from 'The Exiles'Few texts dealing with the condition of Native Americans in contemporary society are able to avoid the matters of disconnection and economic depression, so long have they been treated as second class citizens in their own homeland, an oppressed minority without the “American dream” of upward mobility in mainstream society. The issues brought up in The Exiles, a film that follows, over the course of a night and a day, a group of youthful expatriates from different reservations who are living in Los Angeles, then, are not surprising ones. What is surprising, however, is the film itself, a naturalistic portrayal of an existence that is at once on the outside and set within a tight-knit community. It is neither a fiction passing itself off as documentary nor is it a documentary staged to the point of unreality. Rather it is an unusual synthesis of fiction and reality, an antecedent to contemporary films that blur the line between the two. Read the rest of this entry »