UK / 2013 / English

Directed by John Akomfrah

Still From 'The Stuart Hall Project'While a Miles Davis LP crackles on the turntable, blue winter light illuminates the window pane, beyond which London’s skyline can be made out. It’s a lot like the skyline that a young Stuart Hall would have seen in the 1950s, albeit more vertiginous and crane-filled. With The Stuart Hall Project John Akomfrah offers a breathtaking ode to one of his primary inspirations, the most visible theorist in the field of cultural studies and, for many years, Britain’s foremost public intellectual, whose voice became familiar to many across innumerable panel shows, television documentaries, conferences and speeches. Hall championed the study of individuals for understanding societies, in turn looking at society, economics and history to better understand an individual. All the while he was grounded in progressive politics that worked to make sense of the vast changes taking place in the second half of the 20th Century. Read the rest of this entry »

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France / 1972 / French & Arabic

Directed by René Vautier

With Alexandre Arcady, Philippe Léotard, Hamid Djellouli

Aures5A hard-nosed lieutenant named Perrin, between stints in Indochina and Chad (he seems to be following France’s colonial disasters as they topple) has found himself, unfortunately, in Algeria. Perhaps his superiors hate him, because he has been inexplicably put in charge of a company of scraggly young men from Brittany who were sent off to be rifle fodder as punishment for having protested the war. They stand in front of him after three months stuck on a remote desert base, having seen no action. Miserable and no doubt smelly, they look restless and not at all happy to see him. He is greeted with a volley of derisive jokes and is serenaded with a raucous drinking song, but he is ready for it. Read the rest of this entry »

In Camera

04/23/2018

India / 2010 / English & Hindi

Directed by Ranjan Palit

Still From 'In Camera'While there’s a lot of inward-looking self-examination from actors and directors about the meaning and implications of cinema, we don’t often hear from the cinematographers. But particularly in documentary, the one holding the camera makes a lot of the choices that have an effect on the real people whose images they capture, and those choices shape how the audience views the subject matter. In this look back through a 25-year career, cinematographer Ranjan Palit wonders if he didn’t do enough analysis of himself and his motives, enough projection of what he and his camera would mean to the stories he documented. Looking back through films that he variously directed and shot, fiction and nonfiction, he tries to trace the impact, both returning to the memories and also retracing them against the present day, to compare image and reality. Read the rest of this entry »

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 final film is as visually-inventive as can be done in a commuter train carriage, the two characters rippled in the window’s doubling reflections, with the camera’s vantage pulsing across 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.

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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 for the station – rarely is it even a stop for trains, 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 correct 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 one train arrives stuffed full of people. The crew inform Kaliński that the last two cars have malfunctioned and must be left behind. He translates the message 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 didn’t make it on trickle, along 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 – that 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.

Anyone 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 »