Monday, February 24, 2014

Blu-ray Review: Alfred Hitchock's Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Alfred Hitchcock's transition to Hollywood was an inevitability for a director of his growing stature, caliber, and accessibility. After all, many lesser filmmakers had made similar transatlantic leaps as the industry began to boom, first following the introduction of sound and later as large-scale studio productions became the norm—and in the face of Britain's ever-escalating involvement in the war, the move seemed preordained. However, that Hitchcock made the transition so seamlessly, at once refining and accentuating his storytelling prowess and stylistic precision in the process remains one of cinema's foremost examples of artistic evolution. His first two projects, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent, each released in 1940, were in both style and content diametrically opposing entertainments, though they provide a convenient shorthand for Hitchcock's potential future avenues. The former, a sumptuous seaside melodrama made under contract with David O. Selznick and very much in the producer's tradition of grandiose tragedies, brought a doomed elegance and heretofore absent sense of psychological romance to the director's established aesthetic, while the latter tapped the trademark genre elements by which he had made a name for himself in his home country. Rebecca may have, in its own way, perfected a certain lavish, literary psychodrama, but it stands as something of an anomaly in Hitchcock's filmography. Foreign Correspondent, meanwhile, all but predicted where the director would head in the coming decades.

Film Review: Călin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose (2013)

Mommie Dearest
By Jordan Cronk 

Child’s Pose opens mid-conversation as a mother discusses her son’s personal life with another middle-aged woman sitting next to her in an anonymous room. The setting seems muted, the surroundings drab and not very homey—all in all not an unfamiliar setup for a contemporary Romanian film. The texture and shooting of the scene, however, are rather jarring. Many may have come to expect a certain austerity in cinema from this part of the world, but shot handheld on grainy film stock and with restless use of a zoom lens, the discussion between these women has a documentary-like immediacy, pulling from close-ups to cramped two-shots as the noticeably vexed mother airs concerns over her son’s continued disrespect toward her, as well as with his girlfriend’s headstrong attitude. After a decade-long renaissance in Romanian filmmaking, where a sense of compositional determinism and an exacting formalism have become acknowledged aesthetic hallmarks, could this national cinema finally be looking for new ways of expressing itself?

Pearls of the Deep (1966)

I wrote this brief description of Pearls of the Deep for the Cinefamily repertory theater, who are hosting 35mm screenings of the film on March 5th and 6th, 2014.

A diverse omnibus of proletarian life under communism, featuring shorts by Věra Chytilová (Daisies), Jiri Menzel (Capricious Summer), Jaromil Jireš (Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders), and Jan Němec, whose offering, The Imposters, provides an unassumingly insightful consideration of the lies we tell not only strangers, friends, and acquaintances, but more importantly, ourselves. Bringing together a startling cross-section of the Czech New Wave’s most vibrant and dangerous talents, this 1966 collection consists of a variety of adaptations from the landmark novel by provocative author Bohumil Hrabal (considered by Czechs to be one of their greatest authors of the 20th century.) The Imposters observes two aging, hospitalized men as they recall past experiences and artistic triumphs. When tragedy strikes and the realities of their youths are soon revealed, melancholy overtakes the nostalgia, with the casual narrative gathering substantial implications. The film, which begins with the line “If I wasn’t mad about something I couldn’t write a single sentence”, is indicative of Němec’s coming career triumphs, and is thus the heart of Pearls of the Deep, grounding the surrounding films’ more outwardly surreal and allegorical flights of fancy. Dirs. Jan Nemec, Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jires, Jirí Menzel & Evald Schorm, 1966, 35mm, 105 min. [Cinefamily]

Jan Němec's A Report on the Party and Guests (1966)

I wrote this brief description of Jan Němec's A Report on the Party and Guests for the Cinefamily repertory theater, who hosted a 35mm screening of the film on February 19th, 2014.

Nowhere near as clinical as its title suggests, A Report on the Party and Guests is instead a surreal, playfully subversive allegory by one of the great filmic rebels from the Czech New Wave’s insurrectionist posse. Depicting the curious submission of a group of picnicking citizens to a clan of wandering authority figures, Jan Němec’s most notorious work laces its parable of communist command with biting humor and a fantastical sense of cinematic foreplay, shifting moment by moment from absurdist comedy to stark realism, and back again. “All you care about is having fun,” one character ironically declares as a pastoral luncheon turns into a grotesque celebration of totalitarianism run amok—and yet this dark comedy never fully submits to pessimism, nor abandons its critique of the society from which it emanated. Filmed starkly in black­-and-white with an invigoratingly free approach to editing and narrative, A Report on the Party and Guests is at once audacious and approachable, consummate and uproarious. Dir. Jan Němec, 1966, 35mm, 71 min. [Cinefamily]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Capsule Review: Krzysztof Kieślowski's A Short Film About Killing (1988)

A Short Film About Killing (1988)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

Expanded from the fifth episode of Kieślowski’s Polish television series The Decalogue, this feature introduced the master director to international audiences. A parable of grave yet poignant insight set in Communist Warsaw’s dank, damp urban expanse, the film’s simple premise—charting the violent convergence between a mysterious drifter, an opportunistic cab driver, and a newly licensed lawyer left to defend a young man against a likely death sentence—is ably embellished by Kieślowski’s flowering formal and thematic ambition, his penchant for compositional and emotional unrest spilling forth from every frame. Befitting its evocatively blunt title, it's both realist nightmare and expressionist triumph. And yet Kieślowski, as in many of his best films, locates beauty in the direst circumstances and preserves a sense of grace amid life’s moral maelstrom. (Feb 13 at Lincoln Center, part of its Masterpieces of Polish Cinema) [The L]

Sunday, February 9, 2014

To Be (Cont'd): Michael Mann's Thief (1981)

This 4-part conversation between myself and Nick Usen on Michael Mann's Thief was written throughout the month of January for To Be (Cont'd).



As I re-watched Thief in preparation for this conversation, I was immediately struck by something apparent but nonetheless indicative of Michael Mann’s cinema. The film opens at night (in the rain, no less), an obvious yet apt setting for a filmmaker whose most memorable narratives tend to transpire around the witching hour. It’s a correlation that’s not exactly absolute--Mann’s most celebrated set piece, the muscularly staged heist sequence in Heat, occurs in broad daylight--but aside from, say, Wong Kar-wai (or, to name a contemporary American counterpart, Abel Ferrara), few filmmakers utilize evening backdrops as suggestively or consistently as Michael Mann.