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December 26, 2007

Senses of Cinema End of the Year 'Favorite Film Things' Compilation: 2007


If there's one common theme that continues to surface in these year's selection, it is probably the idea of "ghost people" - living in the periphery, taking refuge in the shadows, abandoned and forgotten in their desolation, or who, in their absence, continue to haunt the imagination of those left behind.

My Top Ten for 2007 (in preferential order):

Alexandra (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2007)
Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (Mamoru Oshii, 2006)
Memories (Jeonju Digital Project) (Harun Farocki, Pedro Costa, Eugène Green, 2007)
Destiny (Zeki Demirkubuz, 2006)
En la ciudad de Sylvia/In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, 2007)
Juventude Em Marcha/Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, 2006)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
Quei loro incontri/These Encounters of Theirs (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 2006)
Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
Paranoid Park (Gus van Zant, 2007)


Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Enemies of Happiness (Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem, 2007)
Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara, 2007)
La Leyenda del tiempo/The Legend of Time (Isaki Lacuesta, 2006)
Quand j'étais chanteur/The Singer (Xavier Giannoli, 2006)
Sanxia haoren/Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, 2006)
Sehnsucht/Longing (Valeska Grisebach, 2006)
Stellet licht/Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
La Soledad/Solitary Fragments (Jaime Rosales, 2007)
Une vieille maîtresse/The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat, 2007)
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Steven Okazaki, 2007)

Posted by acquarello on Dec 26, 2007 | | Filed under 2007


Acquarello, I look forward to your list every year. And this year, for a change, I actually got to sit with you at a few of these screenings. A privilege!

I haven't made my list, yet. I liked Alexandra, but I don't think it'll be quite as high on mine. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days tops my list of movies to see, although -- as usual -- you've mentioned several here that haven't been on my radar, until now.

Memories has been lingering, for sure. I'm finding that I was so taken with the Farocki and Green segments that I don't remember the Costa short as well. I'll have to revisit it. Maybe the powers that be will add Memories to the traveling Costa retro, which hasn't yet stopped in my neighborhood. I did get to see Colossal Youth twice. My favorite thing about that film: doorways.

I think I'm going to have trouble making a list this year, mostly because I've seen a lot of whack stuff that I find really exciting even if it's really messy, or disjoint, or somehow not quite what I'd hoped. I'm thinking of Youth Without Youth, Secret Sunshine, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, In the City of Sylvia ... Where to begin?

Posted by: davis on Dec 26, 2007 3:52 PM | Permalink

Hi Rob, it was pretty cool meeting you too, although I think we spent more time talking behind the "line forms here" stanchions than in any actual movie theater. :) Yup whack is a good way to categorize this year's selections (that also rings true of Tachigui)! ...Like Go Go Tales or even stuff like I'm Not There which didn't quite make my short list. That's also a big reason why I had as many honorable mentions this year, I kept toggling films from one list to another, and for the most part, I'd say they're pretty much interchangeable this year.

I think I was pleasantly surprised by Alexandra more than anything, especially since I found his last few films a bit clinical. There's something very voluptuous and operatic about the film that really suits Vishnevskaya. The Demirkubuz was a very pleasant surprise too. I'd say it's as much a vote for his body of work as it is for Destiny which is a culmination of ideas from his earlier films.

I agree with you about Memories and Costa's short, which, at about 20 minutes, was also half of the Farocki and Green's. I'd say the Farocki short is probably one of his best films, not only chock full of insight, but also constantly challenging the way we see images. It's right up there with Images of the World...

I was thinking that Costa should have paired Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters together and make something along the lines of Straub and Huillet's A Trip to the Louvre x 2, which were essentially the same film with subtle variations on each take. The latter half of both Tarrafal and The Rabbit Hunters are identical, but the first half of Tarrafal follows a conversation between José Alberto and his mother about a grim reaper-type sorcerer, while The Rabbit Hunters follows Ventura and Alfredo. Both play on the idea of dislocated ghosts, one, as an mystical incarnation, the other, as a real-life metaphor.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 27, 2007 12:47 AM | Permalink

Acquarello, I share Rob's sense of anticipation towards your list. Unfortunately, though, several in your top ten were all misses for me; as in, they played at TIFF but I couldn't fit them into my schedule for one reason or another -- Sokurov, Guerin, Mungiu, Lee, Van Zant. Some people might wonder what the heck I actually did see at TIFF. :) I'm hoping to catch up with those films as soon as I can, and I have a feeling that at least one or two of them might retroactively be among my favorites of 2007. At the moment, I'm currently compiling my year-end list (and accompanying commentary) of films I have seen, and it will likely include White Light, Black Rain, which you introduced me to and which might be one of the best documentaries on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I've yet seen. Those images of each survivor standing on a street in modern-day Hiroshima and Nagasaki while holding a photo are just a few of the many moments that make it such a compelling documentary.

Out of curiosity, do you know if Tachigui will receive distribution (or if it has already)? I'd love to see it. And your list as a whole gives me some additional films to look out for.

Posted by: Michael Smith on Dec 27, 2007 1:22 AM | Permalink

Hi Michael! Hey, I think it's great that you have a random dart approach to TIFF. It's almost impossible to do that NYFF since nothing really overlaps, except for the avant-garde programming. It makes for a more personal, less consensus-driven year end list. I have a similar approach to some of the festivals, like the African, Film Comment Selects, and Human Rights Watch and it's always fun stumbling onto those hidden gems, like Tachigui and La Blessure from a few years back...and I'm still raving about. :)

Speaking of which, I'm not quite sure why Tachigui hasn't been picked up yet. It's not as though Oshii is an obscure name (after all, he did make Ghost in the Shell and Patlabor), but maybe it's just so outside what people expect of anime that there's not a built in market for it. I would have thought that the Asian DVD market was a sure bet though, like Avalon, but only Japan seems to have released it so far, with no subs. Cool cover though.

I really like that everything about White Light/Black Rain was original and from a fresh perspective, not the same stock footage that we've been accustomed to seeing. You're right about the images of the survivors holding their photos as children. The footage from This Is Your Life was another, it reeked of tacky jingoism that the participants were obviously not comfortable with.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 27, 2007 12:45 PM | Permalink

Yeah, the one painful overlap I had at NYFF -- probably exacerbated by being there only 5 days -- was In the City of Sylvia at the same time as At Sea, the latter playing in the a-g program. I saw the first half of At Sea and then raced to Sylvia, and I'm glad I did that instead of choosing just one. The taste of At Sea was really great.

Your comment about waiting in line reminds me also that I came this close to missing Memories because of a technical snafu with either the Ernie Gehr or Robert Beavers shorts at the Walter Reade, which pushed things very late and threatened the end-of-day program, Memories. I saw it very late with about 10 people, but I'm sure glad they decided to project it.

It was a mini-fest of near misses.

Posted by: davis on Dec 27, 2007 1:36 PM | Permalink

With TIFF, there's either major overlap or in some cases a film gets all of its screenings at the beginning or end of the festival. In 2006, I missed Ceylan's Climates because it screened the first two days and I didn't arrive until the 3rd. I missed the Sokurov this year because it screened after I left Toronto. But, overall, Acquarello, you're right -- I have a very random dart approach, and I'm much less methodical than some other TIFF-goers (though I admire the more careful approach as well). TIFF is a festival, but for me it's also a vacation, and that influences how I select films.

Well, it's a pity about Tachigui, but I'll keep my eye out in case a subtitled DVD appears. And that This Is Your Life footage -- really amazing to see that, particularly for the kind of feeling (as you point out) that pervaded the whole thing.

Posted by: Michael on Dec 27, 2007 5:02 PM | Permalink

Indeed. To make it worse, there was only one screening for both At Sea and In the City of Sylvia so there was no way to arrange your schedule to fit both anyway, even if you had more time. I was also catching Alexandra before Sylvia, and with the temporary digs at Rose Hall at 60th instead of Alice Tully at 65th, it really made it a pain to go from one venue to the other.

I remember the snafu actually starting with the Helga Fanderl program, which was projecting very dark. Then everything started running late after that because of the 16mm projector problems. Gavin Smith inadvertently made it worse though by telling everyone that the delay before the Beavers/Markopoulos program would be at least 30 minutes before they would even decide if they would go ahead with the program, so people started leaving. Then about ten minutes later, he told everyone to go in. The a-g programming tends to be ambitious and not follow their posted schedule durations to begin with, so even the slightest hiccup really grinds it to a halt. I can't complain too much about the delays though, those Abel Ferrara stories were pretty hilarious! :)

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 27, 2007 5:08 PM | Permalink

I have a similar experience with NYFF, Michael. Since they space out the program over two weeks, I invariably miss a week's worth of films no matter how I arrange my schedule, even with trying to catch some of press screenings. I missed Jia's latest and the Tarr, as well as the Rohmer. But for the most part, I tend to play these festivals by ear too because it's just as much a trip home for me as it is going into buffet mode and taking in everything in sight.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 27, 2007 5:28 PM | Permalink

Acquarello, I'm so pleased that the Palm Springs International affords the chance to catch up on films I missed at TIFF and elsewhere. Off your lists, I'll be able to catch In the City of Sylvia, Secret Sunshine, and Solitary Fragments. As ever, thanks for the guidance!

Posted by: Maya on Dec 28, 2007 1:04 AM | Permalink

Hi Maya, it sounds as though you have some pretty cool films on tap for Palm Springs. Enjoy!

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 28, 2007 10:48 AM | Permalink

An excellent list as always, Acquarello. After seeing so much great first run anime this year, I was really disappointed that Taguichi never opened in my neck of the woods. One of TIFF's oversights (ditto many festivals) is animation of any kind--I'm also very much looking forward to Michel Ocelot's new film, Azur and Asmar, which is also MIA.

I'm very happy to see The Legend of Time on your list; Lacuesta is one of several auteurs I discovered this year (including Adoor Gopalakrishnan) whose previous work I want to track down--now you've piqued my interest with Demirkubuz, too.

And I agree with you regarding top tens and honorable mentions, I was switching titles around myself for some time, and still could be if I hadn't published. And I could have more honorable mentions than ten. If there wasn't a lot of best-of-the-decade films this year, there was a ton of very good films, warts and all. :)

Posted by: Doug Cummings on Jan 05, 2008 12:09 PM | Permalink

Hi Doug! Yeah, I pretty much stopped toggling only because I had already made up my mini banners and didn't want to keep tweaking them with my minimal Photoshop skills. :)

Animation tends to be scarce in Lincoln Center too. It's not set in stone, but NYFF seems to just have one "token" (feature) animation in the festival too, and this year, it was Persepolis. I don't see why, they seem to be well received when they do play.

I completely agree with you about Lacuesta. Like compatriots José Luis Guerín and Mercedes Álvarez (and to some extent, Jaime Rosales too), there seems to be this aesthetic drive to erase the bounds of fiction and non-fiction filmmaking.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 05, 2008 6:01 PM | Permalink

That aesthetic drive is particularly welcome in an age when cinema seems to be losing its grip on reality (in terms of Bazinian "imprints" versus CGI, as well as "reality TV" and whatnot).

I'm regretting having missed Alexandra at a couple fests this year after someone shared a lukewarm response to it. As a matter of fact, I think their complaint was that it was in a much more realist vein than Sokurov's more formally challenging films. I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Posted by: Doug Cummings on Jan 05, 2008 6:53 PM | Permalink

Acquarello, even I look forward to your list every year :) Your list always gives a glimpse into an array of fascinating international titles that I usually end up chasing for a few years. But this year, I have made some progress. I have actually seen three of the titles (Sylvia, 4 months & Secret Sunshine) and have heard of all the films on your list. Yah :)

I could have seen Tachigui at the Vancouver festival in 2006 but I ditched it for some other movie. Reading a lot of comments afterwards made me regret that decision slightly as everything else I saw at VIFF in 2006 has made it to DVD in one form or other.

Posted by: Sachin on Jan 07, 2008 11:19 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Sachin! Heheh, I like that..."some other movie". I guess the other one really stayed with you. ;)

I must admit, I was looking at that VIFF catalog mighty closely last year when the NYFF came out and didn't have the new Rivette, along with a few others that I'd been wanting to see. They had a really strong line-up and have been pretty successful in forging their own identity. Tachigui is another example of how they've been ahead of the curve, since it didn't play FCS until 2007. (Didn't they have the Rivette retro also as part of the festival?) It was right on top of NYFF though and work was pretty crazy, so I opted to stay close to home and just do extended screening weekends when I could.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 08, 2008 5:17 AM | Permalink

Yeah I suppose it says something when you remember the film you missed rather than the one you saw. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of cinema :)

I don't believe VIFF had a Rivette retro last year but they did have a spotlight on France and I saw the new Rivette as part of it. Yeah you are right in that VIFF has carved its own identity. They are so far ahead when it comes to Asian films that even TIFF pales in comparison. Like last year, they showed the two Mendoza films whereas TIFF only had one, plus VIFF also showed Night Train, which I missed. And over the years, VIFF has been using the Dragons and Tigers category to showcase the works of emerging Asian film-makers.

Interestingly, I saw one of the head festival director of TIFF at a few VIFF screenings because those movies didn't play in Toronto. For example, VIFF has the premier of Guerin's Fotos, the living breathing video diary about Sylvia. The diary truly enriched and complimented the experience of seeing En la ciudad de Sylvia.

Posted by: Sachin on Jan 08, 2008 11:47 AM | Permalink

Yeah, the Film Society of Lincoln Center plays it very safe when it comes to Asian films. They do okay with older Chinese and Japanese films in their sidebars, and the more established Asian filmmakers like Hong, Wong, Hou, or Apichatpong, but they really don't venture too much beyond their comfort zone. Mendoza? Forget it...the last Filipino film to play at NYFF was a retrospective screening of Brocka's Insiang last year. And odds are, those films are the ones that will end up on DVD somewhere in the world anyway. For the most part, they're leaving the cutting edge stuff to other outlets, like Subway Cinema.

Unas fotos was definitely a coup for VIFF. I'm still hoping it will turn up in one form or another since it was a no-show at Spanish Cinema Now last year. Good news though is that Rivette's Ne touchez pas la hache is screening at this year's FCS. Now I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Nicolas Klotz's latest film, La Question humaine. Elisabeth Perceval is also involved in the film, the same writer for La Blessure, so I'm really hoping that it will turn up somewhere in this part of the hemisphere.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 08, 2008 9:13 PM | Permalink

Regarding fotos, Guerin mentioned before the film that he was afraid to show the movie but a few friends (or critics?, can't remember exactly) convinced him it should be shown. I can see why he was hesitant about showing it. It feels like a very intimate work, like viewing someone's personal diaries. He essentially lets others in on his musings and things that captivated his attention. But I am sure fotos will turn up. Although it would probably be only in a cinematheque (or the art theatre equivalent) as part of a double-billing. The absence of dialogue and sound might make only for a limited audience.

The funny thing regarding films is that no matter how many one sees, there are always others that escape one's viewing. I have often complained about missing quite a few titles but others friends point at my luck in seeing the ones I did :)

Posted by: Sachin on Jan 08, 2008 11:00 PM | Permalink

Heheh, yeah, we're a spoiled, demanding bunch, aren't we? :)

I think what interests me most about Unas fotos is how "Sylvia" translates or supplements as a non-fiction work. The demarcation is so subtle in En la ciudad de Sylvia that it could have just as easily have been a documentary.

Posted by: acquarello on Jan 09, 2008 11:34 AM | Permalink

Actually yeah it does not feel like scripted cinema at all. What I like about fotos is how it completes a cycle with ciudad film. In ciudad, we see the guy's diary. But we only get a full look into it in Fotos. But Fotos is more than just about Sylvia. In a way, En la ciudad de Sylvia is a subset of Fotos. Yes this sounds cryptic but I am sure I could explain this better with a Venn diagram :)

Posted by: Sachin on Jan 11, 2008 5:56 PM | Permalink

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