Solar System


Germany & Argentina / 2011 / Kolla

Directed by Thomas Heise

Still from 'Solar System'Stillness is a form of motion. Even when things aren’t moving, they are moving – that’s one of the dullest platitudes and most amazing paradoxes of our being on a planetary orbit. Let’s look at another paradox, along the same lines: digital cinematography presents us with absolute stillness as film cannot replicate; its illusion of stillness is matchless. Aside from the occasional torrents of grain silting up in low light, inertia is a perennial condition of digital recording. It gets carte blanche in contemporary cinema. Read the rest of this entry »



Chinese Cinema Looks at Ethnic Minorities

There is a strong temptation on the part of those from outside of China to either think of it as a monoethnic mass or to go the other way, to narrow focus onto its ethnic minorities as an antidote to the vastness of the country and wide reach of Han hegemony. Just as orientalism isn’t only a zero-sum game between the West and the East (in spite of what any correspondence-student of Edward Said – and they are legion – will argue), but can just as easily exist across and within Asian societies, so too does that desire to bypass the flawed and simplified notion of homogeneous China and fixate on minority cultures exist among Han Chinese themselves. In visual culture this can be positive, celebrating difference and valuing cultural diversity. But more often than not, it’s used to cement notions in the Han audience of their own dominance, and also create an image of an untroubled coexistence, one lacking in history, humanness, and political implications. Read the rest of this entry »



India / 1985 / Malayalam & Tamil

Directed by Govindan Aravindan

With Bharath Gopi, Smita Patil, Sreenivasan

Still From 'Chidambaram'A Bhojpuri folk song, sung throughout the diaspora (in Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji, and beyond), relates the image of two swans in a pond, a male and a female. The pond, the lyrics go, cannot be beautiful without the lotus. Helen Myers, who documented the song for years in her brilliant ethnomusicology work, generally speaks of it as a song about family ties; the pond represents the wedding tent, and the lotus represents a sister-in-law and her importance to the ritual proceedings. But, like most folk songs, it can have other metaphors snaking away from the central image. Read the rest of this entry »

Crimson Sunset


Iceland / 1977 / Icelandic

Directed by Hrafn Gunnlaugsson

With Helgi Skúlason, Róbert Arnfinnsson, Rúrik Haraldsson

crimsonsunset4Cobwebs may be old, abandoned spider’s webs, but they are still spider’s webs. Couldn’t an insect still find itself caught up in the wispy swaddling, genetic memory of the attendant carnivore bedeviling its tiny brain? Floating innocuously above us they appear empty, or perhaps damning reflections of neglect. But to smaller lifeforms, they are still traps, the stuff of nightmares. Read the rest of this entry »

The Third Sex


West Germany / 1957 / German

Directed by Veit Harlan

With Christian Wolff, Paula Wessely, Friedrich Joloff

Still From 'The Third Sex'Camp and homophobia aren’t often considered entwined, but they also aren’t mutually exclusive; both are epithets retroactively applied to post-war cinema with liberal gusto. Take Veit Harlan’s The Third Sex, middle-brow and of middling quality (even by the director’s low standards), as an example of one such confused chimera of political sensibilities. While it looks pallid and stifling it’s a deceptively good core sample of the almost unjustly prosperous 1950s. Read the rest of this entry »

Mexico / 1972 / Spanish

Directed by Arturo Ripstein

With Claudio Brook, Rita Macedo, Arturo Beristáin

Still from 'The Castle of Purity'There’s this theory that cult leaders are very lonely people – even lonelier than the vulnerable types they attract – and that their power-tripping is just an extreme expression of the strategies we use every day to create and maintain relationships. If that’s the case, Gabriel Lima, the paranoid and autocratic paterfamilias of The Castle of Purity, and in whose cobwebbed house nearly the whole film is set, staves off his staggering loneliness by regulating everything that his family can say, do, and think. Read the rest of this entry »

After the Curfew


Indonesia / 1954 / Indonesian

Directed by Usmar Ismail

With A.N. Alcaff, Netty Herawaty, Dahlia

Still from 'After the Curfew'Iskandar traverses the empty city at night. Perhaps his mind is still far away as he walks towards the lighted window, as he doesn’t hear the soldiers yelling at him until they’ve already begun to give chase. He runs into the twists of the city and loses them. Yesterday he was a soldier himself, today a civilian. Read the rest of this entry »

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 used, and are one example of the Tibetans’ intimate and ritualistic connection to their environment. Read the rest of this entry »