Thursday, December 23, 2010

Discoveries of 2010

Although 2010 turned out to be an extremely disappointing year for contemporary cinema, there were still (and always are) many discoveries to be made. I wanted to use this post to mention some of my significant film discoveries of 2010 to try and end the year on a slightly less pessimistic note than if I were to try and write about the year in film. And despite a slow year, there are always great and interesting films for the cinephile to discover.

The Films of Alexander Kluge - Kluge was my major discovery of the year. He is a filmmaker I had heard and read about for many years, but whose films remained elusive and notoriously difficult to see in the United States until just recently with both a foreign and domestic release of his film on DVD (I want to thank Ben Webster for letting me borrower most of these films). Kluge is one the least known in American, but most important of the New German Cinema filmmakers. His films and ideas predate Schlondorff, Fassbinder, Herzog, and Wenders by at least five years. Kluge's films mix fiction, documentary, essay, politics, genre, pop art, and cinephilia to create completely original and intelligent films that are both difficult and rewarding.
Artists under the Big Top: Perplexed (1968)
The Undomitable Leni Peikert (1970)
Strongman Ferdinad (1976)

Pedro Costa's Fontainhas Trilogy: Pedro Costa's films blur the lines between fiction and reality. He uses real people and places to stage sequences drawn from reality, but largely created by the filmmaker. Costa is one of the most independent filmmakers working today. In these films, he uses a small crew (mostly just himself) and, in the second and third films he shoots on digital, to create minimal, expressive, and beautiful films about poverty.
Ossos (1997)
In Vanda's Room (2000)
Colossal Youth (2006)

Numero Zero (1970) by Jean Eustache: Eustache's films are nearly impossible to see in the United States and always have been. Unless you are lucky enough to stumble across a screening or a retrospective, American audiences won't be able to see anything, but his 1972 masterpiece The Mother and the Whore (available on VHS). I was lucky enough to come across one such screening at Antholohy Film Archives of Eustache's very rare first feature film. The film is a real time "documentary" consisting of an interview with Eustache's grandmother. The film was shot with two cameras and is just Eustache and his grandmother sitting at a table drinking, smoking, and her talking about her life.The film is difficult, but incredibly fascinating. A sort of sociological history of France from the first half of the 20th century.

Les Hautes Solitudes (1974) by Philippe Garrel: Garrel remains elusive in the U.S., but slowly his films have begun to trickle in. This 1974 film is one of his most difficult films. It is ostensibly a film about the actress Jean Seberg, but is mostly various shots of actresses (including Seberg) posing for the camera. The film is completely shot in closeups and medium shots and has absolutely no sound at all (that includes music). It is a strange, mysterious, obscure, yet fasninating and beautiful film from one of the most enigmatic and interesting filmmakers still working today.

Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (2009) by Manoel de Oliveira: Oliveira was over a 100 years old when he made this film, which is a sparse, dreamy, minimal film about class and obsession. This is a perfect film in terms of pacing, mise en scene, and construction. A very beautiful and beguiling film.

L'enfance Nue (1968) by Maurica Pialat: Pialat's first film is an elliptic, stark, and perfectly realized film. Pialat was never afraid to cut scenes which were not totally necessary to the thematic development of this film, even at the expense of the narrative "making sense," and that is what makes his films and, particularly this one, such a discovery. In anyone else's hands, this could have a been a conventional film about a troubled youth being moved from foster home to foster home, but in Pialat's hands it is a deeply personal, interesting, and cinematic film.

Other Notable Films:
Damned If You Don't (1987) by Su Friedrich
The Cool World (1963) by Shirley Clarke
The Girls (1968) by Mai Zetterling
Calamari Union (1985) by Aki Kaurismaki)
Sex is Comedy (2002) by Catherine Breillat
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009) by Werner Herzog

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