Latest Features

New to Streaming: ‘Maps to the Stars,’ ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Serena,’ ‘My Life Directed,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, February 27, 2015 at 1:13 pm 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

1,000 Times Good Night (Erik Poppe)

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Being an embedded photojournalist is a concept I cannot quite wrap my head around. To willingly go into a war zone and risk your life to get a shot, not for plaudits, but to educate the world about atrocities we’d rather turn a blind eye towards? It’s one thing to do it in a place where an errant bullet aimed at a rebel or infidel could miss its target and hit you instead and a whole other at present when terrorist organizations like ISIS seek any western face they can to behead on TV and reinforce their extremist rhetoric. To do so with a spouse, children, and people who love you back home takes a level of courage impossible for me to measure. And despite its selfless quest to eradicate ignorance, one needs plenty of ego too. This is exactly the person screenwriter Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and director Erik Poppe have crafted via Juliette Binoche‘s Rebecca in 1,000 Times Goodnight. – Jared M. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer)

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Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud) arrives off a ferry and bustles up the road to the vacation house he will reside in for the next few weeks. He goes out for a quiet drink, avoids the bustling clubs, and returns to his apartment to tune a few notes on his guitar. It appears, for a while, that he won’t speak. What will bring this poor boy out of what seems like his purgatory? Luckily, Margot (Amanda Langlet), a pretty girl sporting a bright, red two-piece on the beach, invites him to chat. Once they start chatting, they will not stop. A Summer’s Tale might be the sex comedy Eric Rohmer never intended to have branded as such, but his 1996 film – finally getting a US theatrical release in a rather fine digital restoration (more on that later) – is a piercingly funny work of indecision. – Peter L. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson)

This is not necessarily Wes Anderson’s “worst” film — it’s one of the sturdier debuts of the ‘90s, plays loose without seeming inchoate, and functions well as an object that foretells what would come. A fine thing, yes, but it’s also the selection that feels the least anything about, however well this might speak to the film’s relatively even-keeled attitude. I looked at the rest here. – Nick N.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime

House of Cards Season 3

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Yes, we don’t normally cover television, but this release may be the most notable new-to-Netflix selection of the batch. Featuring Frank Underwood bringing his evil ways to the Oval Office, all of season 3 of House of Cards can now be streamed.  - Jordan R.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)

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After making one of the most authentically emotional films of his career with A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg has begun exploring the world of artificiality. Cosmopolis, which may end up standing as the director’s best film, explored the idea of capitalism in the digital age by creating a language, a series of green screen windows, and, essentially, a society in which numbers and data trumped any factors that might be described as physical. The same could be said for Maps to the Stars, except the target here is the artifice of Hollywood. - Peter L. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes

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NYC Weekend Watch: Black & White Cinemascope, Gordon Willis, ‘Kes’ & More

Written by Nick Newman, February 27, 2015 at 12:00 pm 

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BAMCinématek

A new series entitled “Black & White ’Scope: American Cinema” commences this weekend, and, as for the series itself, with a Wilder double-bill on Friday: The Apartment and One, Two, Three. Manhattan screens on Saturday, while The Hustler can be seen this Sunday.

poster3Museum of the Moving Image

The Gordon Willis tribute concludes with four Woody Allen films and Pennies from Heaven.

Film Forum

Ken Loach‘s classic, Kes, can be seen throughout the weekend.

The Princess Bride plays on Sunday.

Nitehawk Cinema

A print of The Blood Spattered Bride screens on Friday and Saturday at midnight as part of “February Midnite: Twisted Romance.”

Say Anything plays, with brunch, on Saturday and Sunday morning.

IFC Films

The Holy Mountain plays on Friday and Saturday at midnight.

Anthology Film Archives

Get your Fifty Shades antidote with the “Cinekink: NYC” program.

What are you watching this weekend?

The 15 Best Documentaries About Making a Film

Written by TFS Staff, February 25, 2015 at 1:30 pm 

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The blood, sweat, and tears that go into creating a film are not often publicized around its release, but for some features we eventually get a peek behind the curtain — or rather, the camera. This week sees the release of one such documentary, My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, which we enjoyed at last year’s Fantastic Fest. Captured by Refn’s wife, Liv Corfixen, during the production of Only God Forgives, it delves into the anxieties and frustrations the director had while making the film in Bangkok.

While there’s great films that cover a career (Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures), the history of the medium (The Story of Film: An Odyssey), or the process of filmmaking (Day For Night) for the occasion, we’re highlighting our favorite documentaries that depict the making of a single film. Ranging from certified classics to films that never saw the light of day, check out our fifteen favorites below, which also includes links to where to watch each feature.

American Movie

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American Movie recognizes the filmmaking hustle as Darwinism, observing an underdog whose small-town/big dream efforts humble the writer/director breakout craze of the indie 90s. Focusing its camera on Wisconsin suburbanite Mark Borchardt (a mullet with a movie camera), director Chris Smith’s droll documentary about a guy he met in an editing room captures raw character and earnest motivation as Borchardt slowly creates his dream short film Coven (pronounced COE-ven). American Movie is a celebration of the filmmaker organism in its first stage, with filmic imaginations having their parallel excitement tested by the forces of nature/by how freaking hard it is to make a movie. No less relevant in the digital era, Smith’s loving comedy also pays tribute to the chores of moviemaking that are as nagging as they are overlooked (recording one line over and over again, making sure someone’s head can crash through a cabinet door, etc.). When Borchardt finally finishes his first feature, Scare Me, in the year TBD, it will be a hero’s victory for all of indie filmmaking. – Nick A. [Watch on Amazon]

The Battle Over Citizen Kane

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When it comes to one of the most acclaimed films of all-time, with countless writings and interviews, it can feel like there’s little new to discover about the process and struggles which went into crafting it. Michael Epstein and Thomas Lennon’s comprehensive PBS documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane takes a different angle on the creation of Orson Welles‘ masterpiece, exploring the young director’s ambitious undertaking as it coincides with the life of the film’s inspiration, William Randolph Hearst. Detailing both of their back-and-forth battles with the studios and the intentional roadblocks of the film’s distribution, it also goes into more personal matters, such as Hearst’s longtime mistress Marion Davies and the influence she had on him. “It’s about 2% moviemaking and 98% hustling. It’s no way to spend a life,” Welles concludes in the final moments, revealing his life was perhaps more similar to Hearst than his 25-year-old-self would have predicted. - Jordan R. [Watch on YouTube]

Best Worst Movie

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Best Worst Movie is less about the making of the infamously bad movie Troll 2 than it is about its rebirth as a cult favorite. Directed by the subject’s lead child actor, Michael Paul Stephenson, who, some 20 years later, decides to embrace his career mistake, the documentary revisits the people behind Troll 2 and its bizarre origins as an unrelated American sequel directed and written by two Italians who barely spoke English. With the help of his movie father, amateur actor/dentist George Hardy, Stephenson also travels to conventions and theaters to examine how the film went from an obscure horror disgrace to an oft-quoted work worshipped by throngs of adoring fans. – Amanda W. [Watch on Hulu]

Burden of Dreams

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Being one who holds Fitzcarraldo as the prime example of more-satisfying-to-discuss-than-watch cinema, it’s unsurprising that I’d ultimately prefer a document of the legendary struggles Herzog endured during its production. Along with a lot of the stuff you’ve heard about — Kinski’s eccentricities, a filmmaker’s intense anxiety, the hell of getting that damn boat over the mountain — there are tidbits and insights that will shock the biggest fans of the director,. (There was an initial attempt with Mick Jagger and Jason Robards? And there’s footage of this?!) But these proceedings aren’t all doom and gloom. As its title might suggest, to see the team get through the worst of these challenges makes Les Blank’s film an uplifting piece of cinema, one of the few I’d consider a testament to the strength people are capable of when they work together. – Nick N. [Watch on Amazon]

Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner

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When Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner showed up in theaters, it worked same seductive sorcery as its director’s previous film, Alien, displaying a squalid, imposing future world that felt organic and fully-formed. The delightful and enduring quality of watching Blade Runner is that you can see how lovingly it was made at the same time that it doesn’t seem ‘made’ at all. How did human beings contrive, conceive and finally construct such a fever-dream? It helps that Ridley Scott himself seems like the biggest Blade Runner fan of all. Rarely has a director not named George Lucas been so obsessed and bewitched by his own creation. Dangerous Days isn’t a simple behind-the-scenes film or solely a document of a troubled, difficult production. With an unbelievable wealth of production information, interviews, extra-footage and directorial insight, Days is nothing short of the documentation of one director’s love-hate affair with one of his grandest films. – Nathan B. [Watch on Blu-ray]

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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Whiplash,’ ‘Watership Down,’ ‘Casablanca,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, February 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm 

Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood)

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Beyond the Lights delights in being exactly what it is — which, unfortunately, is something most will dismiss as standard date-night fare without casting a second glance. Yes, at one level, it is a very good, albeit predictable film perfect for couples looking for something both heartening but intelligent. At another, it delivers to us one of the most compelling and endearing female characters we’ve seen this year, and it turns out she’s hiding right there, beneath the girl everyone has been looking at all along. This is another minor gem in Prince-Bythewood’s directorial crown. - Nathan B. (full review)

Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee)

eat_drink_man_womanTradition! Tradition! Cultures across the globe have been discussing and debating family traditions throughout history. Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) weaves a funny, poignant and always entertaining story of one such family. Centered on a father and his three unmarried daughters living in modern day Taiwan where each Sunday, as is their tradition, they gather around the table to share a meal, stories and digest the wisdom of their all-knowing father. Both love and laughter are endless in Eat Drink Man Woman (Yin shi nan nu). – Olive Films

Watership Down (Martin Rosen)

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With this passion project, screenwriter-producer-director Martin Rosen brilliantly achieved what had been thought nearly impossible: a faithful big-screen adaptation of Richard Adams’s classic British dystopian novel about a community of rabbits under terrible threat from modern forces. With its naturalistic hand-drawn animation, dreamily expressionistic touches, gorgeously bucolic background design, and elegant voice work from such superb English actors as John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Richard Briers, and Denholm Elliott, Watership Down is an emotionally arresting, dark-toned allegory about freedom amid political turmoil. – Criterion.com

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

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I didn’t give many films four stars this year (the top four entries here are it) and, until catching Whiplash, none hit me with the force that demanded I do so. The fact that it would be a breakout to finally give me that visceral punch to the gut makes it all the more astounding. Damien Chazelle‘s look into the dangerously volatile world of genius ran away with the 2014 crown before the last note of its mesmerizing, edge-of-your-seat climax cut to black. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller‘s powerhouse performances highlight the whole, but this thing is so much more than its stellar parts. – Jared M.

Also Available This Week

Big Hero 6 (review)
Fellini Satyricon
Horrible Bosses 2 (review)
The Majestic

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $11.99

21 Jump Street (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Alien Anthology (Blu-ray) – $24.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.74

Atonement (Blu-ray) – $10.00

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.60

Black Swan (Blu-ray) - $9.49

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $10.91

Burn After Reading (Blu-ray) – $6.39

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Casablanca (Blu-ray) – $9.96

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray) – $7.98

Collateral (Blu-ray) – $4.99

Contagion (Blu-ray) – $8.83

Dead Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Do the Right Thing (Blu-ray) – $8.10

Drive (Blu-ray) – $7.99

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $7.99

In the Loop (Blu-ray) – $7.94

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $7.79

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $10.00

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $8.64

Looper (Blu-ray) - $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $9.99

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $8.32

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.26

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.49

The Rover (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $8.17

A Serious Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Seven (Blu-ray) – $7.50

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $8.19

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.49

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $8.87

Snowpiercer (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $7.99

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $7.50

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

To the Wonder (Blu-ray) – $12.49

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.45

Volver (Blu-ray) – $6.55

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.91

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

New to Streaming: ‘Inherent Vice,’ Oscar-Nominated Short Films, ‘Hits,’ ‘Mockingjay,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, February 20, 2015 at 1:21 pm 

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With a seemingly endless amount of streaming options — not only the titles at our disposal, but services themselves — we’ve taken it upon ourselves to highlight the titles that have recently hit the interwebs. Every week, one will be able to see the cream of the crop (or perhaps some simply interesting picks) of streaming titles (new and old) across platforms such as Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and more (note: U.S. only). Check out our rundown for this week’s selections below.

2015 Oscar-Nominated Short Films

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Ahead of the Oscar ceremony this weekend, the nominated short films in the live-action and animation category are now available to stream. Read our reviews of all of them here.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes (Live-Action) // Amazon, iTunes (Animation)

Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (Spike Lee)

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One cannot take lightly the implications of a candid filmmaker opening his latest picture with the words “An Official Spike Lee Joint.” Before we can even imagine what’s to come, his third endeavor in as many years — yet only the second of two joints and, indeed, successor to “A Spike Lee Film” that was publicly encapsulated by its credited maker with the words “tough business” — thus immediately establishes itself as a push against any and all who’d care to silence his voice. A quick introductory scene practically elides over the last title’s existence wholesale, bringing us back to the church of Red Hook Summer’s since-deceased Bishop Enoch — less for the sake of delineating proper continuity between works and more, it seems, for the sake of situating and making comfortable those who are about to be offset and discomfited. As, over mere minutes, the scope rapidly expands and the voice in command only grows louder, soon made into the equivalent of a madhouse blare, his push is now in defiance of many a crucial thing: total coherence, absolute logic, formal consistency, moral decency, and good taste. - Nick N. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Hits (David Cross)

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Comedian David Cross, best known for his work on Mr. Show and his role as Tobias Bluth in Arrested Development, makes his directorial debut with Hits, a scornful satire about hipsters and fame-seeking idiots. Set in upstate New York, the film weaves together several different characters who have unusual expectations of reality and what they are entitled to simply by being American. This film is a scathing critique of modern society in the post-internet era, where people are utterly obsessed with instant gratification. While this seems like a promising milieu for Cross to exercise his wit as both a writer and director, Hits flounders in its slow pace while spending too much building up to one payoff joke in the end. – Raffi A. (full review)

Where to Stream: BitTorrent, Amazon, iTunes, Google

Housebound (Gerard Johnstone)

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Housebound takes the sealed bottle horror genre and waltzes right up to it, telling it that everything you expect, the characters expect as well, and lets things fall where they may. Everyone is immediately on top of their game when the haunted house aspect is revealed, but no one seems particularly good at keeping the bad stuff from happening. Perhaps general ineptitude is where most of the hilarity in director Gerard Johnstone’s newest film comes from, but since when is that anything but funny in spurts? Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is a 20-year-old rebel that manages to fail at the big details during a heist and is sentenced to house arrest at her mother Miriam’s (Rima Te Wiata) house. That wouldn’t be too bad, but between all of her sudden free time and Miriam’s doting, but gossipy, personality she feels like it might just be apt punishment. – Bill G. (full review)

Where to Stream: Netflix

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I (Francis Lawrence)

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At long last, revolution has finally come to Panem, the ruthless, tyrannical society at the heart of The Hunger Games franchise. As it turns out, that revolution doesn’t just apply to the efforts of rebel figurehead Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her cohorts, but to the very structure and nature of the series itself. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 employs the now popular conceit of splitting the final, epic chapter of a long-running series in half, using it to craft a story of a country and its people in the throes of a violent, transformative restoration. – Nathan B. (full review)

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

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At once Paul Thomas Anderson‘s loosest and densest film, Inherent Vice presents a world that’s easy to get lost in. Not because his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel isn’t interested in hand-holding — it is a mystery from the point-of-view of a paranoid and confused pothead, mind you — but its melancholic tone, the Blake Edwards-like comedy, and array of endlessly eccentric characters, all of which add up to a transcendent two-and-a-half hours. This is a movie that washes over its viewers as long as they’re willing to go along for the trippie ride. It’s a strange, funny, and surprisingly sad story, almost more about a bad breakup than the mystery Doc has to unravel. Shasta Fay’s (Katherine Waterston) presence is almost always felt in Inherent Vice. Doc confronts equally confusing internal and external struggles in this dreamlike LA story. Despite a disappointing box-office, it’s up there with Anderson’s best work. –  Jack G.

Where to Stream: Amazon, iTunes, Google

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NYC Weekend Watch: John Carpenter, Buster Keaton, ‘Blue Velvet,’ and More

Written by Nick Newman, February 20, 2015 at 12:06 pm 

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Since any New York City cinephile has a nearly suffocating wealth of theatrical options, we figured it’d be best to compile some of the more worthwhile repertory showings into one handy list. Displayed below are a few of the city’s most reliable theaters and links to screenings of their weekend offerings — films you’re not likely to see in a theater again anytime soon, and many of which are, also, on 35mm. If you have a chance to attend any of these, we’re of the mind that it’s time extremely well-spent.

BAMCinématek

The John Carpenter retrospective winds down with They Live on Friday, Escape from New York / L.A. on Saturday, and Starman on Sunday.

go-west-movie-poster-1925-1020455528Film Forum

California Split plays on 35mm this Friday.

The Charles Laughton retrospective continues with several features, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

A print of Buster Keaton‘s Go West can be seen this Sunday.

Museum of the Moving Image

Films from Woody Allen, Alan J. Pakula, and more screen in the Gordon Willis tribute.

itha4_thumbIFC Center

Blue Velvet, Cosmopolis, and RoboCop play at midnight this weekend.

It Happened One Night can be seen before noon.

Anthology Film Archives

Quick Billy screens this Friday.

A Baillie / Crockwell program can be seen alongside a series of Brakhage films on Saturday; a second series from the latter, as well as Dog Star Man, are available this Sunday.

Nitehawk Cinema

Possession can be seen on 35mm this Friday and Saturday at midnight, as part of “February Midnite: Twisted Romance.”

What are you watching this weekend?

‘Le Pont du Nord’ Hits Blu-ray: Bringing Jacques Rivette to U.S. Audiences

Written by Nick Newman, February 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm 

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Nothing plagues curious neophytes quite like the starting point. On the one hand, it makes sense to begin your exploration with the earliest works, dipping your toes into the pool with essentially the same background as the oldest and best-ingrained of fans. The sense of discovery that this engenders — likely starting with the smaller titles, reaching epochal masterpieces, weathering whatever disappointments often go hand-in-hand with extensive oeuvres, and internalizing the canon in a way that might prove effective for honing personal comprehensions of many other artists — can be thrilling, almost like falling in love without incurring the stress, complications, and heartbreaks. That much being said, the desire to dive into those epochal masterpieces can be overwhelming. This isn’t just an individual, wonderful experience I’m talking about — it’s also an issue of learning the expert’s lingo with few hesitations.

It’d be nice if that was the dilemma U.S. cinephiles found themselves facing with Jacques Rivette, whose already considerable status as a founding father of the French New Wave is compounded only further by an extensive, legendary filmography supposedly filled with essential picture after essential picture. It just so happens that finding about 70% of them is an absolute chore. (And saying “70%” probably makes for a conservative estimate.) An unofficial retirement (sources tell us he’s been debilitated by Alzheimer’s) and ever-expanding reputation notwithstanding, much of his work remains unavailable without the assistance of multi-region players, the rare retrospective screening, or other, less-than-authorized means. There’s a lot of work to be done on that front, and it’ll probably take years before a respectable Region 1 canon is ours to hold. This week, however, Kino Lorber have taken a big step toward some (any) sort of domestic reclamation.

Not a release of Celine and Julie Go Boating, a Duelle / Noroît double-billing, a full cut of Joan the Maid, or a discs-spanning Out 1 set, but 1981’s Le Pont du Nord. Some may wonder why this, in many respects (including its slim-for-Rivette two-hour runtime) a “smaller” endeavor than any of the pictures listed above — I’ve little doubt that the experts among us could rattle off a few more titles — has been granted a preeminence on the U.S. market. For the neophyte described above, there’s the potential that it’s even been exalted to some sort of central position in representing a vast canon. But these quibbles are probably petty, yes? Those who must lower themselves to making these should soon enough (and depending on personal taste) find that they easily fall by the wayside. There’s a great film contained within this release, and, given the circumstances, I think that’s enough, but then there’s the carefully chosen material — a small selection that has the character of a glut when considered in light of said circumstances.

My own experience with Rivette has been a smidge limited, largely on account of both the starting-point conundrum and what little I could actually get my hands on with ease. (La Belle Noiseuse, Duelle, Noroît, and The Story of Marie and Julien are the only other entries that have been seen. Distribution is a bitch.) Having been alternately delighted and confused by the canon, Le Pont du Nord carries something of a revelatory quality, its own peculiarities helping me further understand the idiosyncrasies of what’s preceded and followed it. I’d now go so far as to say I wish this had come first in my own journey, which also means that the uninitiated can indeed breathe easy and finally take those first steps. Acclimation might still be required, however.

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Before some attempt at a brief analysis begins, it should be stated that, when constructing a narrative for Le Pont du Nord, its scribes — Rivette, Suzanne Schiffman, and stars Bulle Ogier and Pascale Ogier — favored the incidental over the “orchestrated” (scare quotes are used because the events are [somewhat obviously] still coordinated). There’s a conspiracy at play, and these two women are caught up in it, yet macro-level narratives either takes a backseat to or, in the case of a few expository scenes, become wholly subsumed into the magic of micro-level occurrences — dialogue, gestures of the body and the camera, the atmosphere of one Paris street versus another, and whatever associations all of these might create in an individual viewer’s mind. In light of a story that’s only laid-out in the lightest of sketches — including the central role of a board game that a) uses the city of Paris as its board and b) will, to non-Parisian viewers who pay attention, make a bit of sense, but maybe not much more than a bit — associations clearly matter more than almost anything stated out-loud.

The real-life mother-daughter duo of Bulle and Pascal play, respectively, Marie and Baptiste, whose first interaction is the result of mere accident, but an accident that soon comes to feel like the sort of cosmic convergence only possible in cinema. In yet another of the film’s many convergences between truth and fiction, these mysterious characters mesh in a way only written personalities could, even as many a viewer are aware of the close ties between the performers. Fitting, then, that the conversations comprising much of Nord’s runtime boil down to Rivette indulging his love of the Ogiers — how they behave, what their personal tics can tell us about these constructs, and the possibilities of what the city might offer. Or, in more academic terms, what the booklet — specifically in its list of questions meant for the director; these were taken from old press notes — calls “moments of pure cinematographic jubilation, when the role of the actor overtakes the character and begins to assert itself.”

And, three decades after its initial reveal, Le Pont du Nord’s unwavering commitment to illustrating Paris — more or less the entire runtime is outdoors-set, the film almost always taking in this city’s multitudes: the beauty, the grime, the everyday citizens, the underground criminals, the banal, the magic, and the magic in the banal — becomes an essential element in the overall importance of Kino’s release. The first thing about this film to strike me, regardless of how seemingly small, was rather immediate in and of itself: whatever expectations build from the brightly lit, white subtitle telling us we’re about to be enter a tale set in the strange, mystical world of “October or November 1980, A Long Time Ago…” are immediately broken apart by grainy, brown-hued 16mm photography brought to vivid-as-ever-life through this disc’s transfer. (Imagine if a Star Wars movie skipped its opening crawl and smash-cut from the first title card to dirty Tatooine.) If that feeling, the sort of energy that much of the remaining two hours will run on in various, slightly modulated forms, neither makes Le Pont du Nord easier to understand on any narrative level — again: this should not be a concern; player, performance, and atmosphere trump all else — nor changes the film in much of any literal sense, it nevertheless stands as another example of what makes proper Blu-rays so vital: current formats bringing us closer to the unreachable past.

Short of suggesting there’s an entire thematic through line to this disc, I’ll just note that the two special features, Composites and Mapping Le Pont du Nord (by Gina Telaroli and Roland-François Lack, respectively), do an efficient, consistent job in collapsing past and present, as well as fiction and reality. The former takes a more abstract direction, superimposing modern-day footage shot by the artist with some of Nord’s standout moments, this juxtaposition revealing heretofore unnoticed (and minute) facets of an emotionally, narratively, and thematically complex picture. Lack’s endeavor looks at the Paris streets Rivette explored decades prior, providing some historical and social context relative to our current day — and this, I now only come to realize, puts it in league with the Dennis Lim-penned essay included in their booklet, which has the benefit of being able to look back on a complete career and proper historical record in supporting its arguments.

Budding Rivette fans will find these documents critical for grasping Le Pont du Nord’s many intricacies, the rest of which can only be accessed via enticing revisit after enticing revisit. The hope, of course, is that Kino Lorber find enough success in this outing to ensure that we soon see more worthwhile releases of the man’s work, be it on the part of themselves or another supplier. A bit optimistic, I know — and asking some excellent, perpetually busy companies to put a bit more weight on their shoulders, admittedly — but one can dream. Neophytes now have a dual opportunity: get started for yourself and help the floodgates open.

Le Pont du Nord is now available on Blu-ray.

The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of the Decade (So Far)

Written by TFS Staff, February 17, 2015 at 2:00 pm 

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During the early life of The Film Stage, we set out to chronicle the 2000s with our 100 favorite features. In the last five years, as we’ve grown and our tastes have evolved, it’s now time to take a look at the demi-decade. In culling from individual lists of 15 contributors, we’ve highlighted our 50 favorite films released since 2010. Check out the cumulative list below, then head to the last page for individual ballots. If you’d like to keep track via Letterboxd, you can do so here.

50. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

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It is a story as old as the ages: man comes face-to-face with himself and chaos ensues. What makes Enemy different, however, is the incredible richness built into and around this simple narrative. For one thing, Jake Gyllenhaal invests both of his characters with so many small physical characteristics that there is never a question about which of the doubles we are looking at in any given moment. This physicality allows him to build fully realized and distinctive human beings out of two men who look exactly the same, and to create a disparity and a tension that is engrossing to behold. Add to this performance the dense layers of rich visual symbolism, and you have a movie that is a strange, wonderful work, and one of the most enthralling and enigmatic films in years. – Brian R.

49. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

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One of the most accomplished directorial debuts of the decade thus far, Sean Durkin‘s Martha Marcy May Marlene is a suffocating, stripped-down character study of manipulation and trauma. Through dream-like editing, we’re trapped in the fractured mind of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, giving a subdued, intoxicating break-out performance) as we weave in and out of her perception of the past and the semblance of life she’s attempting to live in the present. In a rare feat, what Durkin has assembled manages to burrow into one’s psyche and linger long after the exemplary final scene. - Jordan R.

48. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky)

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For those unfamiliar with the cinema of auteur Béla Tarr, his style is marked by a few distinctive traits. From his use of moody black and white cinematography with shots often lingering unbroken for several minutes to the stark portrayal of his local Hungarian culture, the filmmaker creates an uncanny sense of time and place akin to Russian legend Andrei Tarkovsky. Based loosely on a story about Friedrich Nietzsche going insane, The Turin Horse is an existential examination of mundane daily life filtered through Tarr’s unique style. It is also a searing vision of a looming apocalypse, transforming the themes of the film into a metaphor for the weight of mortality that life is forced to bear. – Raffi A.

47. Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)

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Director Radu Muntean takes a style firmly lodged in the Romanian New Wave lineage and applies it to domestic, everyday material: a man’s two-sided love life, his affections split between his wife and a new, younger girlfriend. Muntean’s intricate, ever-evolving single-take feats provide total access to disarmingly convincing snippets of natural human activity — it’s hard to top A.O. Scott’s use of the word “pornographic” in describing our witnessing the catastrophic collapse of one of the movie’s core relationships. The behavior is so real that watching it feels illegal, uncalled-for — and thrilling. – Danny K.

46. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

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A Terrence Malick film is an event, no matter the time or the subject, but it is undeniable that there’s something markedly different and all-together special about To the Wonder. Perhaps it’s Malick’s transition from period pieces into the modern world, or the tight focus on people whose only extraordinary circumstance is their search for love. Either way — and for whatever reason — Malick has never felt more sentimental or raw than he does in this film. There is a reality to this film that even his other masterpieces shied from, and his unflinching gaze at the way in which love ebbs, flows, grows, and evolves lays bare the romantic lies in almost every other film ever made. This is to say nothing of his trademark visual style, which makes even bland suburbs and fast food restaurants looks hauntingly lovely. To the Wonder confused people when it first came out, but, as The Film Stage Show proved, with time and understanding, regard for this film can and does grow stronger. – Brian R.

45. Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara)

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A younger, unchecked Abel Ferrara might have made something louder and more aggressive out of this tawdry material, but this study of a monster is disciplined and startlingly de-sensationalized. Ferrara’s formal approach — dim lighting, long takes — prioritizes depiction over commentary; while there’s no questioning the deplorability of Devereaux’s (Gérard Depardieu) cravings, Ferrara doesn’t waste time moralizing. The reason for this is wise and ingeniously simple: after enough time in Devereaux’s company, the man will simply render himself pathetic. The project couldn’t have clicked without a committed central performance, and the one Depardieu turns in is heroically vulnerable. The excruciating, near-real-time sequence in which the actor is detained, processed, questioned, and stripped in a police department is process-oriented filmmaking at its most revealing. – Danny K.

44. A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel)

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What makes Philippe Garrel’s films so distinct is their blend of autobiographical pain and silent-film mise-en-scène — a failed relationship or revolution rendered not so much through the increasingly dialogue-heavy scripts of his films, but the placement of bodies, gestures, and, furthermore, the dreams that contain and emerge from them. Yet while A Burning Hot Summer may be the only film he’s made in the 21st century not shot in black-and-white, once the senior Maurice Garrel (in his final role) appears as an apparition in his grandson’s hospital bed-bound vision, the personal and the fantastical have formed their most natural relationship. – Ethan V.

43. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)

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A movie is just a movie, unless, of course, it’s the director’s sly way of telling the world that he faked the moon landing. That’s just one interpretation of The Shining presented in Rodney Ascher‘s first feature documentary, which examines the many theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick‘s horror masterpiece. The range of subjects, including a respected journalist, an academic, and a known conspiracy theorist, creates a varied look at just how deep film analysis can go, where everything from minor props to continuity errors come under massive scrutiny. It also demonstrates how our backgrounds and experiences dictate our relationship with film, making it one of the most fascinating documentaries about cinema ever produced. – Amanda W.

42. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn)

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Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyenRush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll documentaries ever made and one of the best movies about music since Almost Famous. Beyond the Lighted Stage is a comprehensive look at three boys from Toronto who make good, and make brilliant music for over 30+ years. A love letter of sorts that’s both personal and historic, Dunn and McFadyen incorporate historic footage, images, performances into present-day sit down interviews with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, along with insightful talking heads of their musical contemporaries. The film’s most fascinating passages demonstrate how Rush has evolved, tackling genres from hair metal to grunge along with electronica and jazz – there’s nothing these three boys can’t do. A triumphant, sweeping behind-the-scenes documentary released just as Rush was finalizing their long awaited Clockwork Angels album, it’s the kind of movie that inspires a standing ovation in the theatre. – John F.

41. Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé)

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Enter the Void is a rare example of pure cinema, a transformative experience so intense that, by the end, your eyes might be bleeding. French filmmaker Gaspar Noé pushes the envelope with amazing aerial camera techniques used to create an enveloping sense of floating like a spirit in the afterlife. It also has arguably one of the greatest opening credit sequences in the history of cinema. This film is a testament to Noe’s ambition and skill, whose rebellious and unconventional attitude makes him akin to a modern day Jean-Luc Godard. While his graphic subject matter may be a turn off for some, at its core Enter the Void is an uncanny experience that will leave you unnerved and mesmerized. – Raffi R.

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Recommended Discs & Deals of the Week: ‘Birdman,’ ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya,’ ‘Le Pont du Nord,’ and More

Written by TFS Staff, February 17, 2015 at 12:31 pm 

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Every week we dive into the cream of the crop when it comes to home releases, including Blu-ray and DVDs, as well as recommended deals of the week. Check out our rundown below and return every Tuesday for the best (or most interesting) films one can take home. Note that if you’re looking to support the site, every purchase you make through the links below helps us and is greatly appreciated.

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

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An energetic and invigorating exploration of the traps of art and commerce, Birdman connects in a way that Iñárritu’s previous films did not. There’s a playfulness and a passion in the one-take gimmick that draws the fraying edges of Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson together, and a previously absent wisdom in the way the marvelous supporting cast is used to populate the vibrating world that surrounds Birdman‘s harried actor. Much has been said about Keaton, and while it’s exciting to watch him stir to life, the film is nothing if not the sum of its parts, one of which is Emma Stone’s best performance to date. A beguiling treat that only grows with additional viewings, Birdman soars. – Nathan B.

Le Pont du Nord (Jacques Rivette)

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The first Region 1 Blu-ray release of a Jacques Rivette film (naturally) has some big expectations to meet; Kino Lorber have not disappointed. Le Pont du Nord is great in its own right — opaque without being frustrating; luscious, but marked by a careful avoidance of glamour; fun, but with a termitic melancholy at its heart — and the disc enhances this experience. Along with a booklet containing the original press notes, writings from the filmmaker, and a fine essay by Dennis Lim, those purchasing this disc will have two video essays. The first, by Roland-François Lack, looks at the Paris streets Rivette explored decades prior, while the other, from Gina Telaroli, superimposes modern-day footage shot by the artist herself with some of Pont’s standout moments to reveal minute facets of an emotionally, narratively, and thematically complex work . Each component of this release impresses on its own; taken as a whole, they create one of 2015’s first essential home-video releases. – Nick N.

Life Itself (Steve James)

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It’s only fitting that documentary filmmaker Steve James, of Hoop Dreams fame, was able to capture the iconic film critic Roger Ebert during the final months of his life. Ebert was one of the voices who championed Hoop Dreams and helped elevate it to a broader limelight, exposing it to audiences who very likely would have never heard of it — as he did with countless other films. It seems almost impossible for any film critic, filmmaker, or filmgoer not to have been in one way or another influenced by Ebert and his vocal opinions. Based loosely on his autobiography of the same name, Life Itself examines the man who was revered for his frank, direct, and articulate opinions on cinema. - Raffi A. (full review)

The Tale of Princess of Kaguya (Isao Takahata)

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As one of the latest (and possibly last) Studio Ghibli releases, Isao Takahata‘s vision of an ancient Japanese folktale adds to a long list of distinguished anime triumphs. While computer-generated animation strives to look real, the hand-drawn Kaguya feels alive with its minimalist sound design and painterly style, which makes it all the more affecting and beautiful. – Amanda W.

Also Available This Week

An Autumn Afternoon
Dumb and Dumber To (review)
The Homesman (review)
The Interview (review)
St. Vincent
The Theory of Everything (review)
V/H/S: Viral (review)

Recommended Deals of the Week

(Note: new additions are in red)

12 Years a Slave (Blu-ray) – $11.99

21 Jump Street (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Alien Anthology (Blu-ray) – $24.96

The American (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Amelie (Blu-ray) - $6.74

Atonement (Blu-ray) – $9.87

Beginners (Blu-ray) – $6.60

Black Swan (Blu-ray) - $9.49

Bronson (Blu-ray) – $10.91

Burn After Reading (Blu-ray) – $6.39

The Cabin in the Woods (Blu-ray) - $7.88

Casino (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Contagion (Blu-ray) – $8.83

Dead Man (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Do the Right Thing (Blu-ray) – $8.10

The Fly (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Gangs of New York (Blu-ray) – $7.50

Goodfellas (Blu-ray) – $5.99

Good Will Hunting (Blu-ray) – $6.99

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Blu-ray) – $11.99

Gravity (Blu-ray) – $4.99

The Grey (Blu-ray) – $6.96

Haywire (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Her (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Hot Fuzz (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Hugo (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Inglorious Basterds (Blu-ray) – $7.99

In the Loop (Blu-ray) – $7.93

Inside Llewyn Davis (Blu-ray) – $9.99

Jackie Brown (Blu-ray) – $8.12

Killing Them Softly (Blu-ray) – $9.74

L.A. Confidential (Blu-ray) – $8.64

Looper (Blu-ray) - $9.99

Lost In Translation (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Margaret (Blu-ray) – $9.99

No Country For Old Men (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Observe & Report (Blu-ray) – $9.29

Office Space (Blu-ray) – $8.99

Persepolis (Blu-ray) – $7.26

Public Enemies (Blu-ray) – $7.99

Reality Bites (Blu-ray) – $9.47

The Rover (Blu-ray) – $9.99

The Secret In Their Eyes (Blu-ray) – $8.17

A Serious Man (Blu-ray) – $8.52

Seven (Blu-ray) – $5.99

sex, lies, and videotape (Blu-ray) – $8.27

Shutter Island (Blu-ray) – $7.50

A Single Man (Blu-ray) – $8.87

Spring Breakers (Blu-ray) - $9.96

There Will Be Blood (Blu-ray) – $8.68

The Truman Show (Blu-ray) – $7.99

This is the End (Blu-ray) – $9.99

To the Wonder (Blu-ray) – $12.49

Vanilla Sky (Blu-ray pre-order) – $8.45

Volver (Blu-ray) – $6.56

We Own the Night (Blu-ray) – $6.91

The Wrestler (Blu-ray) – $6.99

Zero Dark Thirty (Blu-ray) – $9.99

What are you picking up this week?

‘A Day in the Country’ Hits Criterion: Jean Renoir’s Universe of Emotions

Written by Peter Labuza, February 17, 2015 at 11:30 am 

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Film culture loves a mythic production. Georges Méliès discovered editing when his camera accidentally broke. Orson Welles adapted The Lady From Shanghai because a coat check girl happened to be reading the book. Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi for $7,000. Cinema’s origins are even based on a myth: dozens running out of a theater in fear that a train would hit them. Even when we know them to be patently false, we often indulge their status nonetheless—they feed into our conception that cinema is somehow more powerful than the materials of reality. The fear is that deconstructing the myth would constitute a deconstruction of the work — to lose pleasure in the gesture, the composition, the emotion.

A Day in the Country, Jean Renoir‘s 1936 impressionist image of past frivolities drowning in time, is drenched in the myths of its production: a sudden rainstorm halted the production and had to be integrated in the story; Renoir could never return to it because of a “creative block”; the mid-sized length was conceived by its producer while having a creative breakthrough as he hid from the Nazis. And thus the film that developed, which is now out on Criterion Blu-ray, is its own miracle.

None of these are totally true, however. There was a giant rainstorm that delayed filming, but the story had already called for one. Renoir did not return to the set, but mostly out of other projects that had tight scheduling (his assistant, the formidable Jacques Becker, completed shooting based on a very specific blueprint). And the mid-length design of the film was always planned, though certain scenes set in Paris were scrapped. (Much of the film’s production is eloquently demystified by Christopher Faulkner on a video interview included with the disk.)

But even knowing the film is not too much of an accident, there’s still a sense of mystical grandeur in viewing A Day in the Country, that it perhaps contains the entire universe of emotions. At 41 minutes, its slightness of weight rams into focus as the film is suddenly impacted by the medium’s greatest asset, time, revealing all of life’s tragedies. “Some of the happiest moments were here,” we are told, which is to say they are gone and now the past, while the shaking, trembling present awakens.

If some of this feels like weightless posturing (a tendency of most film criticism), let it be said that Renoir and A Day in the Country can be difficult to write about. The what of a Renoir shot is often obvious, composed to directly capture the actions of his characters; thus, the why becomes very difficult. Take, for example, the film’s first outburst of pure bliss. The two fisherman — Henri and Rodolphe — have been lamenting their girl troubles while sharing a bite to eat at a small cafe. They open the window, and like a cinematic dream suddenly appearing, the image of a beautiful, virginal woman, Henriette, lays before them, swinging in nature. But the next shot — the one so many people remember, and so often seen on posters — is, in fact, not the lyrical vision of the girl swinging in close-up. That obvious connection of pleasure (his viewing of her experiencing) is avoided, for Renoir cuts to a rather objective view of the family at an angle that adjusts away from the point-of-view of fishermen, returning us to reality before entering a new subjective. This creates a more harmonious view of both reality and poetics existing within a same dominion, not tethered to a specific subjectivity.

To say Renoir captures action is to say his cinema is one of gestures, movement, emotions, smiles, tears, and kisses. While typically known for a use of deep focus, his formal patterns are more elusive than such a description could suggest. He rarely repeats shots and refuses to establish space, but in lieu of these filmic patterns he captures something akin to contemporary realism. This occurs both in the film’s visual sense of the world around them — trees move their limbs, the air can feel a bit hazy — and the fact that Renoir’s characters are hardly saints. Perhaps it’s not a shock that the two fishermen first announce themselves as archetypes (the hopeless romantic and the philanderer) only to switch sides by the end, but what is sometimes shocking is the casualness this all represents. There’s no tension to this sexual courtship, and Renoir’s camera does little to accentuate their attempts to get these two women, the relaxing mood among the paradise part of the film’s elusive nature.

Some of this goes to the feeling of innocence that A Day in the Country exudes for so much of its running time, much of which is due to a period setting that recalls the paintings of Renoir’s father, Auguste. The women arrive in white, the day couldn’t be more peaceful, and the ignorance of Henriette’s father strays the film away from suspense. This is not to suggest that these moments are irrelevant, but, like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, they attempt to show how one lives in blissful happiness as opposed to create undramatic stakes. (Manny Farber summarized the film in one sentence: “As usual, Renoir maneuvers his motorless plot into splendid landscape to press home the idea that man is a handsome spot in nature.”) Henri and Henriette’s more dramatic romance are juxtaposed against the almost strangely innocent courtship of Rodolphe and her mother, the former imitating a faun out of some Shakespearean comedy. But that materially strange casualness only contrasts with the moments of inexhaustible feeling, and the first meeting of eyes between Henri and Henriette is sexual desire at its most ingenuously romantic.

And then comes the encounter. A few playful grabs rejected, but then, suddenly, a kiss. Is it romance? Is it rape? Is it the thrill of passion? A fear of it? The first time I viewed A Day in the Country, I felt angered by this scene’s inscrutability, that Renoir would contain so many contradictory emotions. Revisiting it, however, Sylvia Bataille’s reaction seems to contain the universe of emotions — as André Bazin described, “In the space of a few frames she expresses all the disenchantment, the pathetic sadness, that follows the act of love.” It is as if her entire past — and then her future — becomes clear.

Her single tear becomes a rain, and the rain a downpour, time passing and life’s innocence gone. It seems almost appropriate that this 19th-century paradise would dissolve years later, just as a film made in 1936 could not be finished until a war had changed everything. The final glances of these two, her aching mouth hoping to return to such innocent times, speaks everything without saying anything. And thus down the river once more, no stopping time itself.

Kubrick and Clarke’s motto for 2001 was that if someone understood it, they had failed as artists. If I truly ever feel I understand the multitude of eye glances between Henriette and Henri at the end of this film, I feel I have failed as a viewer. A Day in the Country is only an unfinished film in the sense that it can’t leave us with the satisfaction that there is always more to say. That is not to reduce what has been created here as simply a reflection of life itself — such categorizations always feel less substantial than the purveyors of such clichés believe — but that it only crafts necessary drama in pockets of what never felt staged, but like the basis of reality. Satyajit Ray transposed it to India, Jacques Rivette pushed it through both documentary and fantasy simultaneously, and many others attempted to find the humanity at the center of his films. Not a humanism of “goodness,” but of understanding that goodness is hard to come by, and even harder to maintain. Perhaps that’s what’s contained in those final moments of A Day in the Country: it was once good, but that’s all there is, was, and ever shall be.

A Day in the Country is now available on Criterion Blu-ray and Hulu Plus.

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