2014 film series

Beau Travail
, Claire Denis (1999)

“A gorgeous mirage of a movie, Claire Denis’ reverie about the French foreign legion in eastern Africa suggested by Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Foretopman, benefits especially from having been choreographed by Bernardo Montet… Combined with Denis’ superb eye for settings, Agnes Godard’s cinematography, and the director’s decision to treat major and minor elements as equally important, this turns some of the military maneuvers and exercises into thrilling pieces of filmmaking … and converts some sequences in a disco into vibrant punctuations. The story, which drifts by in memory fragments, is told from the perspective of a solitary former sergeant … now living in Marseilles and recalling his hatred for a popular recruit that led to the sergeant’s discharge; the fact that his superior is named after the hero of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat and played by the same actor almost 40 years later (Michel Subor) adds a suggestive thread, as do the passages from Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd. Most of all, Denis, who spent part of her childhood in Djibouti, captures the poetry and atmosphere–and, more subtly, the women–of Africa like few filmmakers before her. A masterpiece.” 90 mins. — Jonathan Rosenbaum, from the Chicago Reader
Claire Denis (b. 1948) is a French film director and screenwriter, born in Paris and raised in several countries in Africa. She is the director of many narrative films, including Chocolat (1988), S’en fout la mort (1990), Beau Travail (1999), and 35 Shots of Rum (2008), and documentaries, including Man No Run (1989).

The Five Obstructions, Lars Von Trier (2003)

“Lars Von Trier…picks on …a fellow Danish filmmaker named Jorgen Leth. In the 1960’s, Mr. Leth made a 12-minute film called “The Perfect Human,” which Mr. von Trier claims to have seen 20 times and which he assigns his elder colleague to remake. The five new versions are made under increasingly exigent and absurd constraints — one is a cartoon, one must be shot in the worst place on earth and one must contain no shot lasting more than half a second — and the results are fascinating and strange. The heart of “The Five Obstructions,” though, is the psychological drama that develops as the mercurial Mr. von Trier faces off against the cool, implacable Mr. Leth. This examination of the arbitrariness and irrationality at the heart of the creative progress makes you wonder why anyone in his right mind would make a movie, and also grateful that oddballs like Mr. von Trier and Mr. Leth, against all reason, bother to do so.” 90 mins. — A. O. Scott from the New York Times

Lars Von Trier (b. 1956) is a Danish film director and screenwriter. He has directed over thirty projects, including the films Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), and Melancholia (2011); the TV miniseries The Kingdom (1994); and the short film Dimension (2010), shot in three minute segments over several years. He co-founded Zentropa, a film company, and Dogme 95, an avant-garde filmmaking movement.

Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick (1957)

Paths of Glory is Kubrick’s “most vivid, most emotional and humane film, and perhaps his best. Based on a real First World War incident, the film explores the morality of conflict as French Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is asked to defend three fellow soldiers accused of cowardice and dereliction of duty. So furiously anti-military that it was withdrawn from circulation in France…, it’s one of the great films about authority, rebellion and men under extreme pressure. But it’s also a visual masterpiece, one of the gleaming greats from the last days of monochrome, and features one of cinema’s great tracking shots as Douglas and his platoon go over the top. The final scene in a crowded bar – featuring the spectral singing voice of Christiane Harlan…– is one of the most riveting, complex and heartbeaking in cinema.” 88 min. —Tom Huddleston from Time Out

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was an American filmmaker who lived in the United Kingdom for much of his life. He directed many widely acclaimed films, including Spartacus (1960), Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett (1977)

“The first feature of …Charles Burnett, who set most of his early films in Watts (including My Brother’s Wedding and To Sleep With Anger); this one deals episodically with the life of a slaughterhouse worker. Shot on a year’s worth of weekends for under $10,000, this remarkable work is conceivably the single best feature about ghetto life. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as one of the key works in American cinema—ironic and belated recognition of a film that, until this recent restoration, had virtually no distribution. It shouldn’t be missed. With Henry Gayle Sanders.” 87 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum from The Chicago Reader

Charles Burnett (b. 1944) is an American film director, producer, writer, cinematographer, and editor. He was born in Mississippi and moved to Watts, in South Los Angeles, in 1947. His other projects include the narratives My Brother’s Wedding (1983), To Sleep With Anger (1990), The Glass Shield (1994), and Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation (2007) and the documentaries America Becoming (1991) and Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003).

The Apple, Samira Makhmalbaf (1998)

“In a poor area in Tehran, some families reveal to the Social Services that one of their neighbors keeps his children. The Apple is a stunning feature film debut from Samira Makhmalbaf …Richly allusive and beautifully photographed, The Apple follows the aftermath of a real-life situation in which a father had kept his two daughters confined to their home since birth. When neighbors reported the situation to the welfare authorities in Teheran, the daughters, who are slightly retarded, were removed from the home and returned to their parents only on the condition that the father allow the two to leave home and explore the outside world. Makhmalbaf heard about the story on a Wednesday and began filming on the Sunday four days later. She follows the return of the girls and their ensuing exploits as their father’s philosophy bridles against the welfare edict. In addition to the father, the two daughters, and their mother-who is blind-the story is populated by a cast of characters including a representative from the welfare department and other children who the young girls meet during their steps into the outside world.” 84 mins. — Jeremy Lehrer from Indiewire

Samira Makhmalbaf (b. 1980) is an Iranian filmmaker. When she was seventeen, Makhmalbaf directed her first feature, The Apple (1998), and went on the direct Blackboards (2000), At Five in the Afternoon (2003), Two-Legged Horse (2008), and the segment “God, Construction and Destruction” in September 11 (2002). She is the winner of numerous international awards.

Grand Illusion, Jean Renoir (1937)

“Grand Illusion” is “an overwhelming experience, with a robust humor and poignancy that tingle afresh …When European unity has again shown how fragile it can be, and polarizing ideologies have fractured democracies everywhere, “Grand Illusion” offers an unsentimental vision of common humanity. … It’s an exhilarating P.O.W. movie …[and] a potent expression of the political-humanist ferment of the nineteen thirties. “Grand Illusion” is about the First World War, but it was filmed at the time of the Spanish Civil War, and that era’s soaring leftist idealism suffuses its textures and storytelling. …Sophistication at the service of innocence, not cynicism or chic: That’s the glory of “Grand Illusion” as a narrative, a showcase for transcendent acting, a piece of philosophy in action, and a leap into pure cinema. 114 mins. — Michael Spargow, The New Yorker

Jean Renoir (1894-1979) was a French film director, screenwriter, and actor. After serving in World War I, Renoir began his film career, directing nine silent films in the 1920s. In the 1930s, he moved on to direct sound films, including La Grande Ilusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939). As a result of the German invasion of France in 1940, Renoir moved to Hollywood, where he continued to make films. Following the war, he went to India to make his first color film The River (1951), before returning to Europe, where he made several more films. He was also the author of a novel, and a memoir, Renoir, My Father (1962), about his father, the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni (1966)
“Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language production was also his only box office hit, widely considered one of the seminal films of the 1960s. Thomas (David Hemmings) is a nihilistic, wealthy fashion photographer in mod “Swinging London.” Filled with ennui, bored with his “fab” but oddly-lifeless existence of casual sex and drug use, Thomas comes alive when he wanders through a park, stops to take pictures of a couple embracing, and upon developing the images, believes that he has photographed a murder. Pursued by Jane (Vanessa Redgrave), the woman who is in the photos, Thomas pretends to give her the pictures, but in reality, he passes off a different roll of film to her. Thomas returns to the park and discovers that there is, indeed, a dead body lying in the shrubbery: the gray-haired man who was embracing Jane. Has she murdered him, or does Thomas’ photo reveal a man with a gun hiding nearby? Antonioni’s thriller is a puzzling, existential, adroitly-assembled masterpiece.” 111 mins. — Karl Williams, Rovi from The New York Times

Michelangelo Antonioni (1912-2007) was an Italian director, screenwriter, and editor born into a middle-class family in Ferrara, Italy. In 1939, Antonioni moved to Rome where he worked at Cinema, the magazine edited by Mussolini’s son, before becoming involved with other directors’ films. He began his own directing career with several documentary shorts in the late 1940s, and in 1953 moved on to direct his first feature film The Lady Without Camelias, which was also his first narrative. His other projects include the trilogy L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962), which brought him international acclaim, and more than a dozen films over the next four decades.