Favorite Films of 2008
During the introduction for the screening of La Question humaine, Nicolas Klotz talked about the film in the context of a "trilogy of modern times" with La Blessure (my favorite film of 2005) and Paria - a means of taking a step back to examine the state of our humanity some one hundred years after the mechanization and technological advancement ushered by the Industrial Revolution. In a sense, Jia Zhang-ke's 24 City poses the same fundamental question at a time when the soul of the state-run factories - its community of displaced, obsolete workers - is being dismantled in the name of modernization, where structural steel and antiquated machinery are salvaged for scrap material destined to shape the landscape of a new China, while the workers who once inhabited their spaces are discarded. Like Klotz's film, 24 City is also searching for the traces of abandoned humanity within the murkiness (or rather, pollution) of history.
For Lucrecia Martel and Mamoru Oshii, the murkiness and disorientation prove to be symptoms of an intrinsic narcissism: one, reflecting a myopic conscience that has been enabled by racial and class privilege (The Headless Woman); the other, a corporate-driven collective amnesia that underlies the quest for eternal youth (The Sky Crawlers).
There is also an unexpected convergence in the idea of a repressed, unreconciled history in La Question humaine that relates to the theme of obsession and doomed love in Jacques Rivette's Ne touchez pas le hache in its perverse games of mannered seduction, and the dysfunction of Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale in its allegorical themes of prodigal son and messianic redemption. In turn, another coincidence appears in the idea of "blood rejection" that runs through Desplechin's film as well as actor and filmmaker Jacques Nolot's stark portrayal of an aging, HIV positive hustler searching for connection and his legacy in Before I Forget.
The tenuous nature of intimacy also connects the characters of the remaining three films on this year's list: from Kiyoshi Kurosawa's upended take on Yasujiro Ozu's dissolution of family in Tokyo Sonata, to the ambiguity of desire that shapes a young man's romantic life in Christophe Honoré's Love Songs, to the manufacturing of logic-driven relationships in an age of fast paced, depersonalized technology in Jean-Marc Moutout's The Feelings Factory.
My Favorite Films of 2008 (in preferential order):
La Question humaine / Heartbeat Detector (Nicolas Klotz, 2007)
24 City (Jia Zhang-ke, 2008)
The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2008)
Ne touchez pas le hache / The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, 2007)
Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré, 2007)
Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot, 2007)
The Feelings Factory (Jean-Marc Moutout, 2008)
The Sky Crawlers (Mamoru Oshii, 2008)
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
America Is Waiting (Bruce Connor, 1982)
Diary of a Yunbogi Boy (Nagisa Oshima, 1965)
Douro, Faina Fluvial (Manoel de Oliveira, 1931)
Eros Plus Massacre (Yoshishige Yoshida, 1969)
Less Dead Than the Others (Frans Buyens and Lydia Chagoll, 1992)
Numéro Zéro (Jean Eustache, 1971/2003)
Occident (Cristian Mungiu, 2002)
The Power of Emotion (Alexander Kluge, 1983)
Raft of the Medusa (Karpo Godina, 1980)
Children of the Wind and Seasons of Children (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937 & 1939)
Related write-up at The Auteurs' Notebook.