Ruxandra Serban


Numar total de vizualizari: 83

Numar vizualizari de azi: 1


Ruxandra Serban


In a year of seemingly constant transition, cinema is shining a beacon to help point the way forward.

Lost Course (Jill Li)

Jill Li’s Lost Course documents a wave of protests in the Chinese fishing village of Wukan in Guangdong Province that resulted in a failed democratic experiment. In the film’s first part, “Protests,” the camera plunges into the thick of the action as Wukan’s villagers, reacting to the sale of communal land by corrupt government officials, engage in mass demonstrations and petitioning, backed by a general strike. Eventually, the protests force the government to grant the villagers’ demands for a free election, and the movement’s leaders are swept into positions of modest power on the village committee. Part two, “After Protests,” opens one year after the election. Bogged down in bureaucratic rigmarole, the new village committee has succeeded in restoring none of Wukan’s land. The film takes its time, not only to explore Wukan’s struggle as a process, in microcosm, of Chinese politics, but to develop a character study of those involved. Even as their passion and naïveté sour, and even as they abandon the fight, denounce one another, or cling blindly to past successes as their political movement stagnates, Li’s camera remains steadfastly sympathetic. Because her politics are only hinted at through that sympathy, she leaves viewers to interpret the situation how they will. It’s become a commonplace that the personal is political, but Lost Course serves as a reminder that the political is also personal. Repass


MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard)

Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI is an impressive reassessment of an American icon, approaching sensational material in forthright terms and without devolving into sensationalism. Based largely on Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow’s 2015 book The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From “Solo” to Memphis, this knotty and compelling documentary threads together the story of the F.B.I.’s obsession with finding compromising secrets about King with an unusually frank accounting of what some of those secrets were. When Garrow published a blockbuster story in 2019 alleging that King had witnessed or potentially even taken part in a 1964 rape at a hotel, it caused a brief flutter but was largely overlooked in the mainstream media. Pollard handles this explosive issue with restraint and intelligence. The film shows no illusions about the extent of King’s affairs. But it also refrains from any dubious moral calculations by giving his personal deceptions the same weight as his public morality. Pollard also deals carefully with Garrow’s most damning allegation, giving the thinly documented charge its due but carving out space around it for uncertainty. While the film doesn’t try to elevate King’s pedestal any higher, it also doesn’t try to knock him off of it. Chris Barsanti


Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Lili Horvát)

Throughout Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, writer-director Lili Horvát makes room for the slow temporalities of subjective experience writ large, and feminine subjective experience in particular. This is a film that’s less about what a character wants and more about how she feels—one shaped and re-shaped by Márta’s (Natasa Stork) psychic particularities. It delights in wallowing in ambiguity, contradiction, and doubt, even when our protagonist is in therapy giving voice to her uncertainties. Horvát’s most unequivocal commitment to the cinematic contributions that a feminine gaze may yield lies in the way the madness inherent to remembering and loving from a feminine position don’t amount to a pathologizable character state. As a neurosurgeon, it’s Márta who gets to decide what counts as pathological. Even when she’s in the position of patient during her therapy sessions, she feels compelled to be the author of her diagnosis. Unrequited love occupies Márta, even consumes her, but it never disables her at any point. Diego Semerene


PVT Chat (Ben Hozie)

PVT Chat is a wry, observational comedy that could have easily amounted to a condemnation of the darker side of beta-male misogyny, but writer-director Ben Hozie implicates his main characters in a broader critique of the way that the increasing normalization of the internet as a primary means of realizing an intimate connection has also heightened the extent to which people can project whatever version of themselves they want into the world. In an especially memorable scene, Jack (Peter Vack), a web blackjack player by trade, props his laptop on a copy of Ulysses so that he can more easily chat with camgirl dominatrix Scarlet (Julia Fox) while pleasuring himself, a seemingly throwaway moment that actually establishes an unlikely kinship between PVT Chat and James Joyce’s modernist novel. Both are roaming, blackly comic character studies in which a character’s repressed sexual paranoia reflects a more general social malaise. And if Hozie’s film is more narratively driven, complete with a second half that’s chockablock with reveals and betrayals, blending romcom and noir tropes, it nonetheless culminates in an ecstatic, hopeful release not unlike Ulysses, fully centering the woman in the story in a way that frees her from the male protagonist’s limiting gaze while also identifying his good traits better than his own narcissistic self ever could. Jake Cole


A Shape of Things to Come (Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki)

Much of A Shape of Things to Come is an engaging immersion into the day-to-day life of a man, Sundog, who lives alongside various animals in a makeshift ranch-slash-ecosystem in the Sonoran Desert near the Mexican border. The film offers a reminder of how fascinating the contours of various processes—in this case ranging from Sundog’s hunting and butchering of animals to his harvesting of toad venom in the middle of the night—can be when artists have the confidence to observe their subjects without having them fit a prescribed narrative. And this willingness to put aside traditional narrative parallels Sundog’s shunning of conventional society. Sundog’s life appears to be transcendently devoid of noise, of everything from the shrill constancy of advertisements to polarizing political discourse. Throughout, Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki invite us to read all kinds of deep, haunting meanings into their film’s title. It could allude to Sundog’s blossoming madness, or to the madness of a metal and plastic world we’ve constructed almost out of spite to the natural one we inherited, or both. In this rather disturbing light, you may feel as if Sundog will succumb to the machine of corporate modernity, as his understandable rage may destroy his ability to enjoy the remarkable little sanctuary that he’s managed to carve out in the middle of an unforgiving patch of earth. Bowen


Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman)

Adapted from her short film of the same name, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is a refreshingly contemporary twist on the coming-of-age story. The fulcrum of the film is Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a liberal arts major who’s dabbling in both babysitting and sex work to support herself through her studies. Attending a shiva for a distant relative, her efforts to balance the professional and the personal are excruciatingly put to the test when she sees that her married sugar daddy, Max (Danny Deferrari), is also a guest at the event. The film’s action unfolds almost entirely within the confines of a few adjoining rooms, and the sense of overwhelming claustrophobia is enhanced by uncomfortably tight framing, along with a sparse sound design punctuated by minimal, ominous strings. But even as the tension ratchets up, the film mostly unfolds in a naturalistic manner. Its impressive tonal balance is also evident in the frequently hilarious dialogue, which is in the same uneasy register as some of the best cringe comedy of the past couple of decades, without ever feeling too self-conscious to be believable. And the centerpiece of this masterful high-wire act is Sennott, who captivatingly matches her accomplished comic timing and deadpan line delivery with a frazzled nerviness, convincingly showing Danielle teetering ever-closer to emotional and physical collapse. Robb


State Funeral (Sergei Loznitsa)

In State Funeral, Sergei Loznitsa cobbles together archival footage from the various grandiose celebrations that followed the death of Joseph Stalin in order to paint a portrait not of the Soviet politician himself, but of the theatrics that prop up totalitarianism. Crowds gather in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Azerbaijan, East Germany, and beyond, all the various places collapsing into a single mourning square. Statesmen disembark from their planes. Uncountable wreaths are laid. Everyday folk carry larger-than-life photographs of their leader. Some stand still in front of shops, as if unmoored by the news, waiting for guidance on how to go on without “the greatest genius in the history of mankind.” There’s enough certainty in this communal trance to transcend physical distance and the finality of matter itself. Even if, or precisely because, it’s that irreversibility that Stalin’s unresponsive body announces. The images that Loznitsa deftly assembles feature astonishingly consistent angles, mise-en-scène, and gestures: gentle camera pans, stern visual compositions, and people marching along in freakish unison. The shots have also been restored to such uncanny crispness it seems impossible to believe them to have been “found” as fragments devoid of an original vision captured by the same light, with the same film stock, and signed by the same cameraperson. Semerene


There Is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof)

The four shorts that comprise writer-director Mohammad Rasoulof’s Golden Bear-winning There Is No Evil complicate the declarative nature of the film’s title in fascinating ways. There is evil in the world, of course. More specifically, there’s evil in a nation that forces its young men to enlist in military service that may require them to execute their fellow citizens. There’s evil in choosing between killing just one person or many, and in killing some so that one can love others. There’s evil in bureaucracy, in family secrets, in selective rectitude. And there’s evil in selfish refusals masquerading as ethical stances. In fact, for Rasoulof, evil seems to be the most significant organizing force of daily life—the evil of past actions, present decisions, and atemporal structures—in a culture such as Iran’s that accepts murder as a legitimate form of punishment. There Is No Evil, then, doesn’t try to facetiously dispel the statement that its title makes by asking whether or not evil exists. It ponders, instead, how citizens position themselves in relation to the inevitable evil that runs through their country’s core, architecting its every corner and generations of people. Semerene


This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese)

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection explores the impossibility of mourning. Mantoa (Mary Twala Mhlongo), an 80-year-old widow living in a rural village in Lesotho, learns that her last surviving son, a migrant worker laboring in a coal mine in neighboring South Africa, has just died. She has thus lost all of her loved ones and decides to plan her own funeral. She wants a simple coffin. No golden angels or other gaudy nonsense. Mosese’s mise-en-scène and camerawork are breathtaking. This is a story told through the gracefulness of the camerawork, the stunningly lit tableaux, and, most remarkably of all, through fabric. Not many films, especially ones with a documentary sensibility, use texture—wool, mud, cement, ashes, and cloth specifically—as a storytelling device the way that This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection does. In one of the film’s many unforgettable scenes, Mantoa gets up from the chair where she usually sits to listen to the radio and dances with her dead husband, raising her arm as if holding an actual body that isn’t there, a voice in the background telling her to take off her “cloak of mourning.” And she certainly takes it all off in a bewildering final sequence when Mantoa simultaneously surrenders to loss and spurns it. Semerene


Two Lottery Tickets (Paul Negoescu)

In a key scene from Paul Negoescu’s Two Lottery Tickets, Sile (Alexandru Papadopol) dismisses his country’s big-screen output as “doom and gloom,” citing as evidence a touted recent production whose title he can’t recall (he’s referring to Christi Puiu’s 2001 film Stuff and Dough). If this overt intertext weren’t enough, the next layer of structural in-joke in the film is that it’s blatantly composed of the formal DNA of this critically lauded movement: one-shot-equals-one-scene composition, drab realist lighting, and a seldom-budging camera. Two Lottery Tickets’s mission is to find new possibilities in these (in)expressive tools—or rather, in its mining of the time-tested fundamentals of screen comedy, to restore old possibilities not yet fully exploited in the Romanian lexicon. The story concerns three friends who take to the road after misplacing a winning lottery ticket. The uncertainty around the exact circumstances of the ticket’s disappearance is the fuel for hilarious set pieces. Jokes often emerge from the background, as in the best and last punchline in a string of yuks triggered by a dispute with a policeman about a car’s paint job. And in the most striking detour from Romanian New Wave habits, Negoescu eschews determinism and a fixation of logic problems to surrender instead to the forces of chance, saving his funniest expression of this theme for the film’s throwaway postscript. Lund