The Mountain


Taiwan / 2015 / Chinese, Japanese & Truku

Directed by Su Hong-en

Still from 'The Mountain'

His body wound tight from a lifetime of labor/hunting/farming – like a spool of wire with a tough membrane of skin seemingly melted on – the old man walks on his haunches plucking weeds in a vegetable patch. Behind him sits a vast jungle, a dense screen of leaves whose invisible paths he knows intimately. One can almost visualize the similarly deep and formidable immensity of time rising behind him, even as he looks down at the plants in the sodden earth. While it is the land he has always known, it has gone through several changes of identity over the years, which could explain the frequently distressed look we see on his face, not one of puzzlement or the confusion of senility, but a sort of harrowing sadness, like someone powerlessly watching his house burn to the ground in slow motion. Read the rest of this entry »

A Thousand Suns


Senegal & France / 2013 / Wolof & French

Directed by Mati Diop

Still from 'A Thousand Suns'We see his cattle before we see him. They move in a line through the city, causing cars on the highway to stop and wait. The animals walk unhurriedly, dipping their snouts into piles of sand at dig sites to cool off. The thin man walking behind them holding a stick, and with a mop of white hair, could never be described as “old” but, always, “aging.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mountain Patrol


China / 2004 / Tibetan & Chinese

Directed by Lu Chuan

With Zhang Lei, Tobgyal, Qi Liang

Still from 'Mountain Patrol'In the funerary rites of Tibetan Buddhism, a dead body is dismembered and left on a flat rock, out in the open, to be picked clean by vultures. After that, the bones are ground up with tsampa (barley flour), mixed with yak butter tea, and fed to the lesser birds that follow. These “sky burials” were practiced for generations as an alternative to cremation, since firewood is so scarce in much of Tibet. Although sky burials have been declining in recent years (partly due to a decrease in the population of birds of prey in many areas), they’re still widely done, and are an example of the Tibetans’ intimate and age-old connection to nature and the animal kingdom. Read the rest of this entry »

Doomed Love


Portugal / 1978 / Portuguese

Directed by Manoel de Oliveira

With António Sequeira Lopes, Cristina Hauser, Elsa Wallencamp

Still from 'Doomed Love'While the story of Manoel de Oliveira’s Doomed Love, a nearly five-hour adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco’s 1862 novel, could have been pulled off in a feature film (and has, many a time), it finds an extended depiction drawn out over the course of a television mini-series. Explaining its few theatrical engagements, it is a difficult proposal for a single sitting, a bit like reading the book in one go. Nonetheless it’s apparently a faithful rendering, scene for scene, of the book, and goes directly to the text. The characters’ lengthy soliloquies come from its pages, at times they address the audience as a narrator would a reader, and their beautifully-penned letters appear on the screen and are read off in full. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard to Be a God


Russia / 2013 / Russian

Directed by Aleksey German

With Leonid Yarmolnik, Yuriy Tsurilo, Aleksandr Chutko

Still from 'Hard to Be a God'Don Rumata awakens in his room, squeezes the greasy nest of hair on his head, and remembers his grandmother back on planet Earth. He seems to live in a reliquary or a medieval prop closet, surrounded by anthropomorphic suits of armor and Chaucerian paintings. Encircled by cangue-wearing slaves who are tethered by chains and don’t have any conceivable function, he greets the day by blowing a mournful jazz line on his saxophone. Water drips from the ceiling, draughts and fog seep in through the cracks. On this planet, when it’s not torrentially raining – or snowing – a sticky, gray mist coats everything. We have been lowered into the depths of his world. It isn’t pretty, but he relishes it. Read the rest of this entry »

Lust for Gold


Romania / 1974 / Romanian

Directed by Mircea Veroiu & Dan Piţa

With Eliza Petrachescu, Liviu Rozorea, Dora Ivanciuc

Still from 'Lust for Gold'Death shall forget you, Gold.

Life shall ruin you, Gold.

At the pub a drunken man stands up to twirl slowly a solo rondo. A couple of long tracking shots glide across the bustling street, revealing horsedrawn wagons and even a penny farthing, but this is still a time before any cars have trundled its uneven bricks. In this medieval-looking town in the Apuseni mountains, life declares itself in forlorn creaks and rattles, dull, repetitious, cyclical sounds. But underlying the somnolent routines there is a clarity of mission turning the gears, as indivisible as that element all hold dear: Au. No one flashes it ostentatiously. For most it’s a constant companion, guarding all actions and words, a proprietor of the mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Losing Ground


USA / 1982 / English

Directed by Kathleen Collins

With Seret Scott, Bill Gunn, Duane Jones

Still from 'Losing Ground'Is it a necessity for all black filmmakers to feel they have to represent, or at least tap into, “the” black experience with their films? And is that burden twofold for a black woman? Kathleen Collins must have been aware that there was no precedent for what she was doing when directing Losing Ground, the first feature film by an African-American woman. At the same time, she doesn’t seem to have wanted any of those responsibilities, and her film goes beyond questions of what must be said about black peoples’ lives in America, and further than the experiences of women. Read the rest of this entry »

Abuse of Weakness


France / 2013 / French

Directed by Catherine Breillat

With Isabelle Huppert, Kool Shen, Christophe Sermet

Still from 'Abuse of Weakness'There is a scene early in The Abuse of Weakness when Maude, a middle-aged film director recently felled by a brain hemorrhage, is asked by one of her doctors to draw a picture of a clock face. The left side of her own face droops, that entire side of her body having “died”, as she puts it. She draws half of a circle, and fills in the numbers, 1 through 6. But then she’s unable to finish the drawing; the left side of it remains blank. The metaphor of the half-clock persists throughout the film, branding its incomplete figure upon Maude’s life following her stroke. Read the rest of this entry »



USA / 2013 / Nepali & English

Directed by Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez

Still from 'Manakamana'I notice when using the camera that, although he is not at all self-conscious, there is a faint suggestion of concern in the midst of his cordiality that whoever will see what he is doing will acknowledge his performance… I suppose his performance constitutes borderline acting but I cannot think this in any way subverts the process by which the camera finds significant expression.

– Robert Gardner, diary entry from June 21st 1981. Reprinted in The Impulse to Preserve

Since Gardner’s and Jean Rouch’s day, meta-ethnography has come a long way. The act of affixing imagery to people and their cultures was, in the latter 20th Century, awash with deep introspection, much of which has seeped away from it. What remains is Manakamana, a structuralist film that one hesitates indefinitely to call ethnography, a collision of graphic concerns and static people-watching that plies new boundaries for both. Read the rest of this entry »

The Whole Sky


India / 1969 / Hindi

Directed by Basu Chatterjee

With Rakesh Pandey, Madhu Chakravarty, Nandita Thakur

Still from 'The Whole Sky'The camera tracks quickly through the roads and galis of an old city, as brick and lettering, bulls and bicycles stream rapidly by. Things are compressed, almost to abstraction, in a long lens that seems about to abruptly halt and pull focus on one of the many lives contained in the narrow doorways. Intercut is a picture of the Taj Mahal, an ironic rectangle of tranquility that must be on another planet entirely. Once this bracing experience has subsided, we are at once flung violently into the harassed mind of Samar, a young college student who is entering into an arranged marriage. It is possibly the last thing on Earth that he would have chosen for himself. Read the rest of this entry »