Did You See This?

Early Hou, and Ceylan, Too

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Boys from Fengkuei (1983)

The lineup for this year’s New Directors/New Films, presented by Film at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, is set. The fifty-third edition will open on April 3 with Aaron Schimberg’s A Different Man and close on April 14 with Theda Hammel’s Stress Positions. Both films premiered at Sundance in January, and this past weekend, Sebastian Stab won a Silver Bear in Berlin for his lead performance in A Different Man. In a dispatch from Sundance to Reverse Shot, Juan Barquin calls Stress Positions “one of the festival’s sharpest comedies.”

We lost two major filmmakers this week. On Thursday, Paolo Taviani passed away. He was ninety-two. Taviani and his older brother, Vittorio, who died in 2018, were favorites at Cannes, where they won the Palme d’Or in 1977 for Padre Padrone and the Grand Prix in 1982 for The Night of the Shooting Stars. In 2012, they won the Golden Bear in Berlin for Caesar Must Die.

In 2016, the brothers recalled seeing Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946) when they were high school students in Pisa: “We had experienced the war as kids, and very deeply. But what we were seeing on screen made that reality so much clearer for us. This movie was telling us things about ourselves that we did not know. So we said to ourselves: ‘If cinema has this strength, this power to reveal to ourselves our own truths, then we will make movies!’” It was Rossellini who handed them the Palme d’Or, and that experience “was for us like the closure of a splendid luminous circle. It’s an extraordinary memory.”

Kumar Shahani, a key figure in the evolution of India’s Parallel Cinema, has died at the age of eighty-three. After studying under Ritwik Ghatak and working with Robert Bresson on Une femme douce (1969), Shahani returned to India to make his first feature, Maya Darpan (1972). He “was said to have been uncompromising,” writes Ashish Rajadhyaksha in the Wire. “That, if any, was the word that famously defined him. He put India to the test, both in the films he actually made, and more in the ones he could not make. In both, he transformed, and eventually owned, the famous question”—What is cinema?—“in an India that has been confusing to historians, economists, and cultural theorists alike.”

This week’s highlights:

  • Starting today, we’re presenting a program of early work by Hou Hsiao-hsien on the Criterion Channel. As he made Cute Girl (1980), The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982), and The Boys from Fengkuei (1983), “three resources of the long lens—the shallow focus, the compressed space, and the narrow angle of view—supplied artistic premises for Hou’s shooting and staging in the later films,” writes David Bordwell in a 2016 blog entry republished this week. “Once the lessons of the long lens had been absorbed, Hou could apply the staging principles that he’d developed to other kinds of shots and story situations. Sometimes he kept his style smooth and limpid, but at other times he offered the viewer some unusual challenges.”

  • In 1962, director Jean Eustache (The Mother and the Whore) wrote a brief review of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942). “At first blush,” writes Peter Goldberg, introducing his translation for the Notebook, “Lubitsch and Eustache seem like unlikely bedmates. The former was a cosmopolitan artificer of a weightless bourgeois world. The latter was a naturalist, a provincial proletarian, a grave chronicler of disillusion and the sad passions. But Eustache’s Lubitsch is a formal master deftly laying bare the fundamental relationship between comedy and drama, the actor and reality. We can find kernels of Eustache’s later filmmaking in this analysis.”

  • Justin Chang’s New Yorker debut is a review of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses, which “may be unhurried, with languid steppe-by-steppe pacing and long, luxuriant, exquisitely sculpted conversations, but it is also nimble, alert, and alive in ways that seem to have taken Ceylan himself by surprise.” In the Nation, A. S. Hamrah writes that Ceylan’s films “often adhere to nineteenth-century dramatic and literary forms while remaining resolute in their cinematic modernity, much in the way that Ingmar Bergman’s and Andrei Tarkovsky’s films did. Those auteurs are two of Ceylan’s avowed masters, and I think it’s time to admit that he has equaled or surpassed them.”

  • Cinema Scope published its ninety-seventh and final issue last month, and the Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz talks with founding editor Mark Peranson, former managing editors Andrew Tracy and Jason McBride, contributors Adam Nayman, Erika Balsom, and Andréa Picard, and several filmmakers—Guy Maddin, Pedro Costa, Denis Côté, Atom Egoyan, Benny Safdie—about what he calls “the most influential English-language film magazine of the past quarter-century.” Nayman recalls “finding out that people like Jim Jarmusch used to subscribe, or a filmmaker seemingly on their own planet like Paul Verhoeven read the magazine, and not only the pieces about him.”

  • The arrival of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two this weekend has prompted Alissa Wilkinson in the New York Times and Borja Bas in El País to revisit Frank Pavich’s 2013 documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune. Wilkinson offers a quick briefing on the never-realized project that would have seen Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo) working with Pink Floyd, artists H. R. Giger and Moebius, special effects wizard Dan O’Bannon (Alien), and a cast that would have included Salvador Dalí, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Udo Kier, and Amanda Lear. Bas’s piece is the deeper dive, and it’s spiced up with fresh interviews. Ultimately, Bas writes, “we will never know if Jodorowsky’s Dune would have resulted in the genius work that his fans claim, or if it would have dissolved into a pompous, tacky delirium.”

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