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  • March 17, 2016

    SCREENING NOTES: Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days at the Film Society of Lincoln Center


    The last time we saw Paul Dedalus and Esther, Arnaud Desplechin’s long-term lovers, was twenty years ago in My Sex Life…or How I Got into an Argument, and if Mathieu Amalric has his wish, the next time will be in another 30 years. “We’d be old and so mean. And we’d really hate each other…and it would be good, but just we’d be eighty, not before that,” said Amalric in a story that Desplechin shared after a screening of his newest film, My Golden Days, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    Honey-tinged with nostalgia that an adult Paul claims not to have, My Golden Days is essentially a three part coming-of-age story held together by what Desplechin described as his “Russian song.” “It’s a period film. The main one, with Esther, is happening during the fall of the wall,” he explained. “I knew on a musical level, it would make sense to me to have this Russian song going all the way through the whole film, driving my character.”

    Desplechin’s Russian song also makes a material appearance in the form of a Stravinsky recording, Two Sacred Songs. “It’s a piece that I love of Stravinsky, and it’s influenced by Hugo Wolf,” he said, “and I love to think in the audience there was Herrmann and Stravinsky in Los Angeles, both of them listening to Hugo Wolf, and one of them composed the score of Vertigo and the other one composed The Two Sacred Songs.” In this way, Desplechin’s nod to Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score in My Golden Days becomes obliquely tied to Stravinsky as well, though Desplechin’s love of Herrmann goes far beyond Stravinsky.

    “It’s a complaint that I have from the composer [Gregoire Hetzel],” Desplechin said of his affection for Bernard Herrmann. “We did a few films together, and on each new film he says, ‘will you go on harassing me with Bernard Herrmann?,” said Desplechin before continuing, “And I think…I won’t stop.”

    As in Vertigo, the score for My Golden Days utilizes the concept of the leitmotif to signal Esther’s presence. “When Esther appears the during the party they have at home, you have the slow motion picture on her crossing the corridor,” he explained, “and you have this motif, you know, coming from Vertigo, and it’s as if she was appearing as a ghost or spirit.” Even without the motif, however, Esther’s presence would make itself known—through letters, through direct addresses to the camera, through force of adolescent will.

    Esther’s declaration of self, her toughness, and even her arrogance are what draw Paul to her in the first place. “I love the first appearance of Esther, sitting on this rock. And she’s like a statue, and she’s impenetrable,” said Desplechin. “Nothing can hurt her. She’s the woman with three husbands. She’s the queen.” But it’s Esther’s emotional development that sustains the narrative. She becomes vulnerable: “She was like a statue, and she’s becoming human. She’s becoming a woman at the end of the film.” This is a foil to Paul, whose maturity and rationality at the beginning of the film clash with the enraged, childish man that we find at the end. “It’s as if he was waiting for his late 40s to become an adolescent at last.”

    While we watch Paul and Esther change, their constant pull toward each other remains the same. Throughout the film, in homage to Truffaut, Esther and Paul read and write to each other. The letters allow for the characters to be present despite physical separation. Similarly, the books that the couple share traverse space to bind them to each other. In one of the final scenes, the pages of a book that they once read together fly through the air and surround Paul, bringing Esther and her memory to him once again. The reason, as Desplechin succinctly put it before the screening: “It’s a romance…It’s a romance.”

    My Golden Days opens this Friday (3/18). The Film Society of Lincoln Center will host a Q&A with the director on Friday (3/18) at 6:30 PM and on Saturday (3/19) at 1:30 PM.

    By Brittany Stigler

  • March 17, 2016

    ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMMING: Veritgo, City of Gold, Isabella Morra

    REEL 13 is still on hiatus for March pledge, but we haven’t taken our eyes off the great films playing around the city. While you’re waiting for us to return to your home theater on March 26th, here are some films to help you avert movie malaise. Sticking to the typical REEL 13 lineup, we present you with our favorite classic, indie, and short films playing in a theater near you.


    Metrograph – 3 PM, 9 PM

    Sometimes films of the bygone studio era exist today with a nostalgia that makes them look like mere novelties when rewatched. This is not one of those films. Named the best movie of all time by Sight and Sound in their most recent decennial poll, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo persists as a piece of cinematic mastery. Never before or since has there been a film experience quite like this narrative of crime, desire, and mental illness within the Hitchcockian trademarks of allegory, illusion, and mystery.


    City of Gold
    IFC Center – 10:50 AM, 12:20 PM, 3:35 PM, 5:20 PM, 7:30 PM, 9:35 PM

    In following Los Angeles Times writer Jonathan Gold, the first ever food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, City of Gold explores the enclaves of Los Angeles culture and cuisine found not in high-end restaurants or Hollywood film set craft service tables, but in mini-mall dives, neighborhood delis, and food trucks. Through the simple acts of meals and conversations, Gold frames food as a celebration of the diversity of stories from migrants, natives, and transplants who can come together, if for a moment, to share a tasty experience. Scenes of Gold’s own family and career history add flavor to the documentary, but cuisine remains at the center of it all as the critic, with his endless curiosity and enthusiasm, shows how the real beauty of the city might be found in a mom-and-pop restaurant.


    Isabella Morra
    Museum of Modern Art – 1:30 PM

    In the event you cannot find a short film in the REEL 13 library* to sate your moving image desires, MoMA plans to screen a lineup this Saturday of shorts from all corners of the globe. The last in the lineup, Isabella Morra, illustrates a slice of French suburban life about a group of children left to their own devices in the outdoor confines of a housing project. With a story loosely based on an account of the daughter of an early-16th-century Italian baron, director Isabel Pagliai documents the children’s interactions within an ambience of shouts, silences, and ice-cream van chimes. With the vulgarity of youthful expression and the loneliness of children’s surroundings, the film gives a brief glance at the innocence, futility, and power struggles on the journey to adulthood.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • March 10, 2016

    ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMMING: Masculin féminin, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Ernie Gehr: CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS

    REEL 13 may be taking a break for March pledge, but we haven’t taken our eye off of the great films playing around the city. While you’re waiting for us to return to your home theater on March 26th, here are some films to stave off your cinematic ennui. Sticking to the typical REEL 13 lineup, we present you with our favorite (French) classic, indie, and short films playing in a theater near you.

    Masculin Feminin

    Masculin féminin
    Metrograph – 11 PM

    Critically acclaimed for its portrayal of the political climate of 1960s France, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin is both a critical and comedic take on the philosophical differences between the sexes. Screening as part of newly opened Metrograph’s Jean Eustache series, the film has an important place in the history of Eustache’s career:

    After Jean-Luc Godard finished this rigorous and funny New Wave delight—about the political and pop cultural engagements and blind spots of the newly ascendant “Ye-Ye” youth generation in sixties Paris—he donated unused film from the shoot to an actual child of Marx and Coc-Cola, Jean Eustache. Thanks to the generous gift, Eustache was able to make Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes, also starring Masculin féminin’s Jean-Pierre Léaud. –Via Metrograph


    Songs My Brothers Taught Me
    Film Forum – 9:15 PM

    Set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a place characterized by the beauty of prairie vistas and the melancholy of Wounded Knee, Songs My Brothers Taught Me presents a coming of age narrative within a stunning yet tragic landscape. At the center of a look at Lakota Native American life, a high school senior and his preteen sister make their way through facets of reservation life, such as horseback riding in the Badlands, the illegal sale of alcohol, and the waning yet persistent presence of Native American customs. In her debut feature, writer-director Chloé Zhao mixes moments of tenderness and beauty with scenes of violence, alcoholism, and abject poverty as she illustrates the diversity and complexity of a historically marginalized and stereotyped culture.


    The Museum of Modern Art – Continuous – TRT: ~20 minutes

    While our shorts library is always available, if you are out and about in the Midtown area, why not stop by MoMA Film to take in Ernie Gehr’s multiscreen video installation? Taking early-20th-century shadowgraph toys as inspiration, the digitally projected images, which move across the screen in a way reminiscent of early animation, are adapted from five different paper subjects: At the Circus, Carnival in Nice, John Sellery’s Tour of the World, Street Scenes, and Gulliver’s Travels. The resulting installation is a serious study of abstraction and genre cinema presented in a playful and meditative tone. Accompanying the installation are 30 of the original prints and new photographs by Gehr.

  • February 19, 2016

    Staff Picks: Witches’ Brew at BAMcinématek; Embrace of the Serpent at Film Forum


    BAMcinématek – Witches’ Brew – through February 29

    As a young girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a witch. Beyond the cheeky nose twitchers of family hour television lived my cinema witch, the embodiment of a certain kind of feminine power that I didn’t quite understand but wanted to be part of nonetheless. Like for so many girls in the 90’s, The Craft became a sort of manifesto. Surrounded by tornado candles, we chanted “light as a feather, stiff as a board” at our slumber parties, imagining ourselves as part of a secret sisterhood. For the first time, we had something that the boys couldn’t steal.

    That’s not to say the witch, especially as represented by cinema, is an entirely liberating symbol. Often, she must either slip around in the shadows or stifle her powers into a mundane domestic reality, using her magic to stir batter. And love, if it is be had, comes as a great sacrifice. “Love is stronger than witchcraft,” Veronica Lake assures her lover before sealing her wizard father into a bottle of liquor in I Married a Witch. What we wouldn’t do to have our own family, to not have to live a loveless life obscured in a rotting tree or dusty spell book.

    Luckily, over the next couple of weeks, there are plenty of discussions to be had over the witch’s place in society thanks to BAMcinématek’s program Witches’ Brew (running Feb 16—Feb29). In celebration of Robert Eggers’ chilling directorial debut, The Witch, BAM will be screening “18 tales of female empowerment of the supernatural kind.” The series represents a variety of witches, from Kenny Ortega’s broomstick flyers in Hocus Pocus to Mario Bava’s sumptuous revenge seeker in Black Sunday. While it’s too late to see the silent and Satanic Häxan, there’s still time to catch Dario Argento’s ballet of gore, Suspiria (Feb 20). And of course, one would be remiss to skip out on Richard Quine’s Bell, Book and Candle (Feb 29), which is a perfect mix of love, literature, and magic (and the loss thereof).

    The complete series can be found here.
    By Brittany Stigler


    Film Forum – Embrace of the Serpent – through March 1

    For all its reverence in the history books, the Amazon rainforest as a setting for a Hollywood movie typically exists with an opacity and mystique that lends itself to quests for secret treasure, searches for magical or spiritual transcendence, or conflicts with heathens and cannibals. In temporarily leaving Western civilization, the white protagonist will have to overcome the presumed danger therein, sidestepping threats posed by Mother Nature and a lack of Christianity.

    On the surface Embrace of the Serpent looks that way too. Two white explorers in search of a sacred healing plant experience a cultural clash in meeting dangerous men and animals along the Columbian Amazon. While going back and forth between each explorer’s account, which take place 30 years apart, and telling the whole story through the eyes of their skeptical shaman guide, the film chronicles the appalling change of the region over time.

    Writer-director Ciro Guerra confronts the tragic history of the region while jumping between the explorers’ roughly identical routes. Theo (loosely based on German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg) makes his journey with the Western-clothed native, Manduca, and the shaman, Karamakate, who is the last of a tribe killed off by the rubber barons. Decades later, Evan (loosely based on American biologist Richard Evans Schultes) travels with an older Karamakate, who has become a broken man in his survivor’s remorse.

    Each expedition, in a nod to Heart of Darkness, contains quiet moments of peaceful reflection contrasted with terrifying sequences of violence, illustrating the abuse, enslavement, and murder of indigenous people enacted by white settlers along the Amazon in the early 20th century. The scene of a Spanish missionary’s indoctrination of a group of orphan boys provides a twisted version of a shepherd tending to his flock. The horror culminates in a scene at a mission where a cult-like congregation follows a self-proclaimed white messiah to extreme ends.

    As the film’s fulcrum, Karamakate paces the story with his insights, actions, and presence, as he grapples with his own anger, loneliness, and grief. Through the lens of Western culture, he seems intriguingly exotic and foreign, like a tribal man on the cover of National Geographic. In the context of the colossal sadness of genocide, religious hypocrisy, and social injustice, Karamakate feels like a powerful image of a shell of a man. As the last remnant of a culture, he is a portrait of alienation even in his homeland, and to look at him is to take a glimpse at everything that was lost.

    Film Forum will screen Embrace of the Serpent through March 1. This is the first Columbian film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

    By Aaron Linskens

  • February 5, 2016

    Bulletin Board: From Growing Apart and Coming Together, To Making Some Noise and Trying to Remember

    Waltz with Bashir (2008)
    Museum of the Moving Image
    February 6 – 6:00 PM

    In a piecing together of forgotten wartime events, Waltz with Bashir uses animation to reconstruct a supposed reality as a strange dream. Director and protagonist Ari Folman, who served in the Israeli army in Lebanon during the summer of 1982, seeks clarity of his distorted memories through a series of conversations with old comrades. The notorious event in question is a mass murder of Beirut civilians by Christian militiamen, supposedly in retaliation for the assassination of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel. In a personal journey through unreliable memories, Folman illustrates a therapeutic exercise of trauma and guilt while grappling with the transience of memory and the harsh reality of violence.

    The Shadow (2015)
    UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art
    February 6 – 7:30 PM

    As a synthesis of documentary film and experimental expression, The Shadow covers the dynamics of family relationships in a nature versus nurture context, specifically shown in the comfort of the family house that gets demolished and the pressure created by a father’s expectation of his son. From the innocence of childhood to the authority of fatherhood, the film explores how an individual’s memory and a group’s culture work in tandem to establish identity. Director Javier Olivera employs his training in film, photography, and painting as he experiments with narrative structure in what seems to be a memoir told through sight and sound.

    Daddy Nostalgia (1990)
    Film Society of Lincoln Center
    February 7 – 2:00 PM

    With the setup of a terminally-ill father and a distant daughter, Daddy Nostalgia could easily descend into an overemotional story of a life not fully lived. But the interaction between the affable father (Dirk Bogarde) and his energetic screenwriter daughter (Jane Birkin) plays out as a reawakening of a dormant relationship. But those touching father-daughter moments clash with the quiet presence of the wife/mother (Odette Laure), whose resignation and bitterness tell a different story in the reunion of this nuclear family. Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen the movie as part of the Jane and Charlotte Forever series, which pays tribute to the storied and influential careers of actresses Jane Birkin and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

    We Won’t Grow Old Together (1972)
    Anthology Film Archives
    February 11 – 7:00 PM

    As part of Anthology Film Archives’ aptly named Valentine’s Day Massacre 2016 series, We Won’t Grow Old Together chronicles an inverted love story of a couple seemingly held together by contempt and bitterness in place of desire or comfort. In this modern melodrama, Jean, a struggling middle-aged filmmaker, carries on with his middle-class wife, Francoise, while blatantly maintaining an affair with a younger actress, Catherine. Director Maurice Pialat, with his trademark illustration of emotional violence punctuated with physical violence, depicts a push-pull love triangle in which insult and aggression supersedes any semblance of love. In a portrait of non-nostalgic realism, Pialat confronts the depths of human nature with an unsentimental look at relationships.

    Elektro Moskva (2013)
    February 12 – 7:30 PM

    As American consumer culture was coming into its own after WWII, the Soviet defense industry stuck to its guns, stockpiling rockets instead of refrigerators. But the KGB’s product line also generated an electronic age with an underground of musical instruments. Elektro Moskva documents this Soviet Union subculture of engineers and artists that used spare parts from weapons and computers to create synthesizers, keyboards, and microphones. As the filmmakers rummage through flea markets, storage units, and warehouses, history meets the present in a demonstration of how Soviet era invention stirred artistic expression through collection of sound and bending of circuits.

    By Aaron Linskens

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