Film Festivals and Retrospectives

Paradise, 2009

Something like an unconstructed take on Peter Mettler’s epic essay film, Gambling, Gods and LSD, Michael Almereyda’s Paradise similarly assembles a series of fragmentary, cross-cultural, quotidian images taken from the filmmaker’s video diaries that reflect on fundamental human questions of life, existential purpose, and transcendence. In an early episode in the film, a man passing… read more »

Happy Here and Now, 2002

A young woman named Amelia (Liane Balaban), has arrived in New Orleans to search for her sister, Muriel (Shalom Harlow) after she abruptly and inexplicably lost contact with her, and the key to the beautiful young woman’s disappearance seems to lie in the formatted hard drive of her laptop computer. It is through this mysterious… read more »

Broken Embraces, 2009

Ingeniously constructed as parallel metafilms – one, Ray X’s (Rubén Ochandiano) behind the scenes documentary that illustrates the intersection (and disjunction) between reality and fiction; the other, Mateo’s (Lluís Homar) reconstruction of a doomed film project made 14 years earlier that reflects the role of the filmmaker as archaeologist and conjurer – Pedro Almodóvar’s wry,… read more »

Volver, 2006

Volver ingeniously opens to the title sequence illustrating a familiar All Souls Day ritual in a rural village in La Mancha, a solemn occasion when families visit the gravesites of their loved ones in a day of caretaking, remembrance, and homecoming, as sisters Sole (Lola Dueñas) and Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), along with Raimunda’s adolescent daughter… read more »

Bad Education, 2004

From the Saul Bass-inspired opening credit sequence of peeling, layered billboard posters, Pedro Almodóvar evokes the densely layered cinema of Alfred Hitchchock to create a reverent, yet continuously inventive, exquisitely realized, and brilliantly modulated comic melodrama in Bad Education. Ostensibly a story about a filmmaker (Fele Martinez) suffering from a creative block (who, as the… read more »

Los Muertos, 2004

Los Muertos opens to the visually atmospheric and strangely surreal image of an unpopulated tropical forest, tracking sinuously (and disorientingly) through the lush wilderness, momentary revealing the dead bodies of two young people splayed amid the obscuring brush, before returning to the idyllic shots of foliage that becomes unfocused and diffused, imbuing the image with… read more »

The Sicilian Girl, 2009

Marco Amenta’s potent, yet understated, tightly crafted first feature film, The Sicilian Girl is a fictionalized account loosely based on the life and journals of Rita Atria, the determined, 17 year old daughter of a slain mob boss whose death after her denunciation of the mafia would lead to her martyrdom as a symbol of… read more »

The Fighting Spirit, 2009

In an episode in George Amponsah’s insightful and compassionate documentary The Fighting Spirit, a boxing trainer from the Ghanian fishing village of Bukom, having arrived with his protégée to England for an international competition, marvels at the technological achievement behind the gleaming urban landscape, commenting that the problem of African stagnation does not stem from… read more »

Los Angeles Plays Itself, 2003

Ostensibly named after a notorious gay porn film entitled L.A. Plays Itself (where the systematic degradation of the city was paralleled through increasingly violent sexual encounters), Los Angeles Plays Itself is a thoughtful and sublimely articulate stream of consciousness piece that explores Hollywood’s historical neutering, mythification, and suppression of Los Angeles’ native cultural identity in… read more »

O Aleijadinho, 1978

In the frenzy of festival coverage, a few noteworthy films always seem to slip through the cracks, and for me, this was the case with Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s short film, O Aleijadinho, screened during the filmmaker’s retrospective sidebar at the 2007 New York Film Festival. In hindsight, the film intriguingly prefigures Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Antonio… read more »

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