Essay Film

D’Est, 1993

The opening image of D’Est is of an unhurried, stationary shot of a green hazed, obscured highway at twilight, as the intermittent hum and audibly shifting Doppler frequency of a distant, revving engine from an occasional traversing vehicle – some errantly never materializing on screen – provide the sole, false anticipation of a visual break… read more »

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 »

El Cielo gira, 2004

Part elegy on the dying of a rural village, part exposition on mortality and obsolescence, and part exaltation of quotidian grace, Mercedes Álvarez’s El Cielo gira (The Turning Sky) is a serene, contemplative, and indelible rumination on the permanence of landscape, the transitory nature of existence, the imprint of history, and the eternal cycle of… 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 »

Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, 1967

Commissioned by Italian typewriter manufacturing company Olivetti in 1966 to showcase the construction of Brazil’s newly completed modern capital, Brasilia (and who then promptly shelved the completed work, perhaps because of its implicit critical inquiry), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s exquisitely shot, articulate, and impassioned film, Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, as its name suggests,… read more »

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno, 2009

A reconstruction of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s aborted film project, Inferno assembled from found (or more accurately, negotiated) footage, interviews with film crew and on-set observers, and script reading by actors Jacques Gamblin and Bérénice Bejo in the roles of Odette and Marcel, Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno loosely recalls José Luis Guerín’s cinema… read more »

The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito, 2003

Based on author, choreographer, activist, and filmmaker Lydia Chagoll’s autobiography A Childhood in the Japanese Camps and historical essay Hirohito: Emperor of Japan, The Little White Girl Had to Bow Her Head for Emperor Hirohito is a lucid and impassioned examination of the postwar geopolitics that have led to the cultural amnesia and historical whitewashing… read more »

Less Dead Than the Others, 1992

Composed as a fiction film based on Buyens’s autobiographical novel, re-enacted with the intimacy of a documentary, but framed from the observational distance of an essay, Frans Buyens and Lydia Chagoll’s Less Dead Than the Others resists facile categorization – alternating between poignant crystallization of living memory in the aftermath of his younger brother’s accidental… read more »

The Back of the World, 2000

Composed of three self-encapsulated, cross-cultural, slice-of-life, quotidian portraits that are intrinsically connected by the pervasive sentiment of marginalization – economic, political, ethnic, racial – Javier Corcuera’s The Back of the World is an understatedly observed, indelible, and provocative examination of the inextricable social cycle of poverty, exploitation, disenfranchisement, and disposability. The first chapter, entitled The… read more »