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Families and Nations

Joely Mbundu and Pablo Schils in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Tori and Lokita (2022)

In last week’s overview of a few of the standouts at this year’s SXSW, we noted that most critics who caught the sneak preview of Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 4, which opens wide today, had a pretty good time. Shocking news broke just a few days later. Lance Reddick, a stalwart of the franchise, had passed away. He was only sixty.

Reddick was best known for playing Cedric Daniels, a Baltimore police lieutenant on the rise in The Wire. “Reddick, whose voice was well-trained, resonant, and easy on the ear,” writes Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times, “didn’t have to get loud to put the fear of God into a character or viewer; you could sense well enough the roiling currents beneath a placid surface. He made an art of the low boil and the stern stare. When asked, he could deploy a toothy smile fit to charm birds from the trees.”

Italian director Francesco Maselli, whose A Tale of Love (1986) won the Grand Jury Prize in Venice, died on Tuesday at the age of ninety-two. In 1964, Maselli directed Claudia Cardinale, Rod Steiger, Shelley Winters, and Paulette Godard in Time of Indifference, an adaptation of the 1929 novel by Alberto Moravia. “Maselli’s work during the 1970s become more blatantly political,” notes Variety’s Nick Vivarelli, and his final film, The Red Shadows (2009), centers on “a world-renowned leftist intellectual who comes to Rome to set up a center for social activism.”

A sampling of what’s caught our eye this week:

  • Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have been taking questions about their latest film, Tori and Lokita, which the New York TimesManohla Dargis calls “a suspense thriller about moral conscience.” If you’ve seen it, you’re ready for Marshall Shaffer’s interview at Slant, where the Belgian brothers discuss the ending at length. The film was sparked by a newspaper article that “really, really upset us,” Jean-Pierre tells David Katz at the Film Stage. Here were “hundreds of [immigrant] children disappearing and nobody was really doing anything about it, despite the fact that we are in a democracy. That’s really what lit the flame for the film.” For Screen Slate, Chris Shields asks the Dardennes about their early transition from documentary to fiction filmmaking. “When we did our documentaries and we’d go to a festival, they would give us one room with two single beds,” says Luc. “And when we started to do fiction films, they gave us each our own room. We continued with fiction.”

  • Critic-turned-filmmaker Axelle Ropert worked closely with Serge Bozon as a screenwriter and actor before she directed the first of her four features, The Wolberg Family, in 2009. Starting today, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is presenting the first retrospective of her work in the U.S. 4Columns film editor Melissa Anderson notes that these films are “quite modest in scale and subject. All are studies, to some degree, of blood ties, whether of parent to child or sibling to sibling. However small on the surface, though, these films explore, often with great acuity and tenderness, enormous, near-universal conundrums: how to carve out an identity wholly separate from one’s nuclear kin, how not to be suffocated by what Susan Sontag once disparaged as ‘that claustrophobic unit.’”

  • The Film at Lincoln Center series Unspeakable: The Films of Tod Browning carries on through the weekend, and for the Guardian, Charles Bramesco has written an excellent primer on the artist who ran off to join the circus at the age of sixteen and eventually directed Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932). “Caught between his impulse to gawk at the exotic and his flowering compassion for human beings most movies preferred not exist, he located a tragic humanity in every stripe of outcast,” writes Bramesco. Writing for the Village Voice, Michael Atkinson suggests that “Browning’s amperage today is helplessly tied up with his being a figment of a lost past, a fringe-dweller who couldn’t stop lifting rocks and loving what he found there.” For Bramesco, though, “Browning’s vindication takes the form of influence, the acclaimed 1947 carny noir Nightmare Alley (remade in 2021 by Guillermo del Toro to a slew of Oscar nominations) all but paying him royalty checks.”

  • Landscape Theory: Post-1968 Radical Cinema in Japan, a series of screenings and discussions at e-flux Screening Room and the Pratt Institute, takes place today, tomorrow, and Monday. The program showcases films by Masao Adachi, Koji Wakamatsu, and Nagisa Oshima, and e-flux is running a 1971 piece on Oshima’s He Died After the Tokyo War (1970) by critic and anarchist Masao Matsuda, who lays out a radical theory of politics and revolution. “To put it metaphorically,” wrote Matsuda, “landscape, like water in the ocean, is something that becomes visible as a mundane place anywhere the popular masses live. It is a severe space that gently embraces the characters on one occasion, and on another occasion holds one of them tight in its deathly jaws.”

  • After completing My Hand Outstretched to the Winged Distance and Sightless Measure, a cycle of films shot between the mid-1960s and 1980s and then reedited between 1997 and 2002, Robert Beavers has been working on an as-yet-untitled second cycle. “He remains as rhythmically sophisticated as any filmmaker working today,” writes Phil Coldiron for Reverse Shot, “his pans, tilts, and turret turns reliably syncopating into the gentle whorls of a genuinely new music. If the effects he now produces are somewhat less severe, it may be because he tends to order his films around humbler, less iconic objects of late. That is, we are now invited into the texture of lives in progress, rather than encountering their sediment in the form of built monuments. Historical significance is no longer a given.”

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