Michael Sicinski

To Sir, with Love: Maria Speth’s Mr. Bachmann and His Class

By Michael Sicinski / September 20, 2021

way through uncertain, liminal spaces. At the same time, the documentary marks a sharp turn in Speth’s filmmaking approach, something all the more notable given the remarkable consistency of her first four films.

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Siberia (Abel Ferrara, Italy/Germany/Mexico/Greece/UK)

By Michael Sicinski / June 15, 2021

Abel Ferrara is a changed man. While the evidence suggests that this is very good news for Ferrara himself and his immediate family, it could result in a minor schism in the manner in which his films are received. For most of his career Ferrara has been the subject of a Romantic cult that glorified his legendarily self-destructive behaviour, and often read this (literal) lawlessness as an integral part of his renegade creative vision.

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth: Fern Silva’s Itinerary

By Michael Sicinski / March 25, 2021

Fern Silva’s films cannot be described as ethnography, personal/mythopoeic film, or essay filmmaking, although they often partake of all of those modes. Though his films are rooted in particular places and cultural spheres, they assiduously avoid the rhetorical or declarative traps of typical nonfiction filmmaking. Instead, they envelop the viewer in a diffuse but concrete ambiance, conveying the palpability of land and water, the weight of the air surrounding hills and trees. They represent a doubled physicality—the world as unavoidably there, inseparable from the cinematic substrate of 16mm filmmaking itself—and the result is a hybridized form of documentary “fiction,” in the classical Latin sense. Silva’s films are made, formed in the interface between reality and those human and mechanical processes that bring it into being.

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The Play for Tomorrow: Steve McQueen’s Small Axe

By Michael Sicinski / December 22, 2020

By Michael Sicinski One of the best known of Steve McQueen’s early video works is Deadpan (1997), a four-minute, 35-second loop in which the artist simultaneously places himself in harm’s way and in film history. The piece is a recreation of the famous Buster Keaton stunt from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) in which the façade…

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Open Ticket: The Long, Strange Trip of Ulrike Ottinger

By Michael Sicinski / September 22, 2020

One of the most surprising things about Ulrike Ottinger’s new documentary Paris Calligrammes is how accessible it is. Some cinephiles may be familiar with Ottinger based on an 11-year period of mostly fictional productions that were adjacent to the New German Cinema but, for various reasons, were never entirely subsumed within that rubric. Others are quite possibly more aware of her later work in documentary, in particular her commitment to a radical form of experimental ethnographic cinema.

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Cross Purposes: The 2020 Crossroads Festival

By Michael Sicinski / September 5, 2020

By Michael Sicinski “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”—Yogi Berra In an ordinary year, the Crossroads Festival, presented by the San Francisco Cinematheque, provides a kind of alternative to other showcases of experimental film and video that, for various historical or institutional reasons, can be less catholic and more risk-averse.…

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Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)

By Michael Sicinski / March 20, 2020

Kantemir Balagov’s debut feature Closeness (2017) garnered significant attention on the festival circuit, for reasons both positive and negative. Primarily a look at an insular Jewish community in a small town in the north Caucasus, the film institutes a tragedy that tests the bonds of immediate versus extended family.

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Garden Against the Machine: Ja’Tovia Gary’s The Giverny Document

By Michael Sicinski / December 29, 2019

By Michael Sicinski Ja’Tovia Gary’s filmmaking is all to some extent grappling with the question of identity, particularly its precariousness in an often hostile world. Early films such as Cakes Da Killa: No Homo (2013) and An Ecstatic Experience (2015) explore the complex histories of African-American life, in particular the role of art and storytelling…

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For a Cinema of Bombardment

By Michael Sicinski / September 23, 2019

Although there have always been intrepid critics and cinephiles who have engaged with films belonging to the non-narrative avant-garde, there has existed a perception that such films, operating as they do on somewhat different aesthetic precepts, could be considered a separate cinematic realm, one that even the most dutiful critic could engage with or not, as he or she saw fit.

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Hope (Maria Sødahl, Norway/Sweden) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2019

By Michael Sicinski This third feature film by Maria Sødahl is less a comeback than a new beginning. As the opening title card announces, Hope is based on a true story, although the director refrains from telling the viewer that the story is in fact her own. This knowledge certainly isn’t necessary, but it only…

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Resin (Daniel Joseph Borgman, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Something sticky this way comes: Resin is not a very good film judged on its own merits, but it also has the additional misfortune of demanding a side-by-side comparison. The story of Jens (Peter Plaugborg), a delusional “naturalist” who has moved his family to the outskirts of town after faking the drowning…

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The Twentieth Century (Matthew Rankin, Canada) — Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Hats off to Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky for selecting this singular, albeit somewhat counterintuitive, homegrown oddity. Certainly a cult item in the making, The Twentieth Century represents the sort of Freudian-perverse take on national mythmaking that one finds in the work of Jim Finn, combined with the stark Futurist abstraction of…

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Un film dramatique (Éric Baudelaire, France) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  Despite the fact that it is both preposterous and technologically untenable, a widespread ideology tends to enshroud childhood, proclaiming it a space to be protected from politics and social concerns, a zone of “innocence.” This is perhaps why, in the United States—a nation where a young person entering a school building doesn’t…

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Devil Between the Legs (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico/Spain) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2019

By Michael Sicinski Well folks, it’s September 2019, and here we have a late-breaking entry for Worst Film of the Decade. I’m not kidding, and I’m not levelling empty hyperbole. I have been a major supporter of director Arturo Ripstein and screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego in the past: The Beginning and the End (1993) and…

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I Am Not Alone (Garin Hovannisian, Armenia/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  An up-close, day-by-day chronicle of the 2018 Armenian revolution that deposed autocrat Serzh Sargsyan and brought reform-minded activist Niko Pashinyan to power, I Am Not Alone is a fascinating look at the contemporary structure of power and protest. While unabashedly pro-Pashinyan, the film reveals a bit more than it probably intends to…

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The Father (Petar Valchanov & Kristina Grozeva, Bulgaria/Greece/Italy) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  In essence, The Father is a Bulgarian Alexander Payne film, and so you should adjust your expectations accordingly. Directors Petar Valchanov and Kristina Grozeva (whose film The Lesson played TIFF back in 2014) combine melancholic family shenanigans with the kinds of broad comic gestures you can see coming a mile away. The…

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Heimat Is a Space in Time (Thomas Heise, Germany/Austria) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2019

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) “Archaeology is about Digging” is the title of an essay by Thomas Heise, included in the DVD booklet for several of his films, including the 2009 film Material, a key film in terms of raising Heise’s profile outside of Europe. In the essay, the filmmaker…

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Truth and Method: The Films of Thomas Heise

By Michael Sicinski / June 27, 2019

“Archaeology is about Digging” is the title of an essay by Thomas Heise, included in the DVD booklet for several of his films, including the 2009 film Material, a key film in terms of raising Heise’s profile outside of Europe. In the essay, the filmmaker describes the circumstances surrounding the making of the films included on the disc, particularly those early works made while living in the GDR prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall

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Encore: Dora García’s Segunda vez

By Michael Sicinski / January 2, 2019

By Michael Sicinski  1. This is the story of a repetition. General Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina for the first time in 1946, and served two terms of office, from June 4 of that year through September 21, 1955. From 1946 through 1952, his first term, he ruled with his wife Eva at…

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The Vice of Hope (Edoardo de Angelis, Italy) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 18, 2018

By Michael Sicinski The Vice of Hope gets its title from a rather sanitized version of a phrase spoken several times during the course of the film. What the characters are actually referring to is “the bullshit of hope,” and although Edoardo de Angelis’ film does end on a somewhat upbeat note, there is no…

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Summer Survivors (Marija Kavtaradze, Lithuania) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 16, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Welcome to Lithium-uania. This downcast, unassuming road movie is a small peak into the lives of ordinary young people who are losing the best years of their lives to mental illness, constantly wavering between a desire to accept help and a countervailing impulse they can’t necessarily trust. Are they actually better? Is…

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The Man Who Feels No Pain (Vasan Balan, India) — Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski / September 15, 2018

By Michael Sicinski It’s a clever enough premise for an action-comedy. Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) is born with a rare condition that doesn’t allow him to experience pain. And though this makes his childhood something of a minefield, short-circuiting the usual learning curve by which the rest of us humans learn to survive, it eventually leads…

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Her Job (Nikos Labôt, France/Greece/Serbia) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 15, 2018

By Michael Sicinski It’s certainly not news to anyone that the economic downturn of recent years has been particularly hard on the Greeks. But Her Job presumes that we won’t get the severity of the situation unless we watch a virtual simpleton get kicked like a dog by family and employer alike. This is a…

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Fig Tree (Aäläm-Wärqe Davidian, Germany/Ethiopia/France/Israel) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 14, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Sometimes debut films are actually frustrating because of the promise they show: I find myself wishing I could skip ahead to the next film, which is almost certain to be richer and more fully realized. But anyone who has ever worked in the creative arts in any capacity knows that this isn’t…

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Before the Frost (Michael Noer, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2018

By Michael Sicinski The latest from Michael Noer (Papillon) exists just on the right side of the dividing line between stodgy and well-appointed; in fact, it is so classically constructed in terms of plot and character organization that I was surprised to learn that it is based on an original screenplay (by Noer and Jesper…

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Redemption (Boaz Yehonatan Yacov & Joseph Madmony, Israel) — Contemporary Word Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Or, Hey, I Know I’m Hassidic Now But Let’s Get the Band Back Together! A charming film that operates quite modestly despite the life-and-death stakes it depicts, Redemption is cinematic comfort food, reasonably predictable in its arc but acted and written well enough to prevent familiarity from lapsing into contempt. Menachem (Moshe…

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Vision (Naomi Kawase, Japan/France) — Special Presentations

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Despite the presence of an international superstar (Juliette Binoche) for the first time in Naomi Kawase’s filmography, Vision will not convert anyone to the Kawase cause. That’s because this new film doubles down on all the elements that so many critics find off-putting about Kawase’s cinema, especially a spiritual sensibility that, in…

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What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2018

By Michael Sicinski The latest philosophical documentary by Astra Taylor (Examined Life, Zizek!) takes on a very timely question, one she can’t be faulted for failing to answer in just under two hours. However, What is Democracy? does suffer from a rather scattershot approach, as though the sheer monumentality of the problem undermined the clear…

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Meeting Gorbachev (Werner Herzog & André Singer, Germany/UK/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2018

By Michael Sicinski While Errol Morris is busy sitting down with unrepentant fascists, Werner Herzog is making time with one of the key figures of the 20th century, a leader so visionary that he essentially reformed himself right out of a job. This is not to say that Meeting Gorbachev is a free meeting of…

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The Factory (Yury Bykov, Armenia/France/Russia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2018

By Michael Sicinski A slice of social criticism so direct that it’s hard to believe it could be made inside Putin’s Russia, The Factory is also a cracking actioner of the first order. Young auteur Yury Bykov (The Major, The Fool) has imbibed lessons from both his black-hearted Russian compatriots (the late Aleksei Balabanov, especially)…

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Tito and the Birds (Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar & André Catoto, Brazil) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Here’s a film that’s virtually guaranteed to snag one of those fourth or fifth slots in the Oscar race for Best Animated Feature: those films that almost nobody has heard of even by the time of the broadcast and that are put in place to serve as also-rans against that year’s big-budget…

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Divine Wind (Merzak Allouache, Algeria/France/Lebanon/Qatar) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2018

By Michael Sicinski The latest film from veteran Algerian director Merzak Allouache is tonally strange. Quiet and stilted, it exhibits an overall seriousness that’s firmly in keeping with its subject: suicide bombers and the warped ideologies that drive them on. At the same time, there is such an exaggeratedly fraught relationship between the two main…

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EXT. Night (Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt/U.A.E.) — Contemporary World Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2018

  By Michael Sicinski Although EXT. Night is not a particularly enjoyable film, credit is certainly due. Few movies are as successful in communicating the protagonist’s point of view to the spectator through structure and form. As you watch, you’ll wonder how Abdalla got you from the opening scenes, which so clearly promise an affable…

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“I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (Radu Jude, Romania/Czech Republic/France/Bulgaria/ Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2018

By Michael Sicinski It’s never a pleasant sight to see a film trying to punch above its intellectual weight class. “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (the quotation marks are an official part of the title) is certainly a film with a lot on its mind. Specifically, director Radu…

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Edge of the Knife (Gwaii Edenshaw & Helen Haig-Brown, Canada) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2018

By Michael Sicinski The first feature film produced in the Haida language, currently spoken by upwards of 20 individuals, Edge of the Knife is notable simply as a cultural survivance project. If there should come a time when Haida is no longer a living language, the film may serve as a kind of Rosetta Stone…

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Belmonte (Federico Veiroj, Uruguay/Spain/Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2018

By Michael Sicinski If there’s a film this year that merits the label “Big Dick Energy” more than Belmonte, it’s going to have to be in Cinerama. This is the story of Javi Belmonte (Gonzalo Delgado), a leading contemporary artist in Uruguay whose large canvases exhibit a hint of Italian Transavantgarde style (especially Francesco Clemente)…

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That Time of Year (Paprika Steen, Denmark) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2018

By Guess what? Families act like assholes at Christmastime. And for some reason, they keep making the same movie about it, over and over, in multiple languages. This one’s in Danish. When one considers the depth and intelligence that Paprika Steen has brought to the cinema over the last quarter-century, it’s truly galling that she…

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Splinters (Thom Fitzgerald, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2018

By Michael Sicinski From its lingering focus on silent theatrical gestures that are ill-suited to the screen, to its narrative that’s structured entirely around an elevator pitch, to its irksome reliance on sub-coffee house white-boy folk music that’s woven right into the diegesis, Splinters could very well serve as Exhibit A for why English Canadian…

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The River (Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan/Norway/Poland) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2018

By Michael Sicinski An austere tone poem of parental oppression, The River is unusual in its application of the rigid principles of “festival cinema.” Rather than employing formalism for its own sake, director Emir Baigazin opts instead to orchestrate controlled rituals that are at odds with the youthful energies that are simmering just below the…

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Jirga (Benjamin Gilmour, Australia) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 6, 2018

By Michael Sicinski An MFA-level piece of short fiction with decidedly honourable intent, Jirga seems blinkered by its Western point of view despite its dogged efforts to leave said perspective behind. Mike (Sam Smith) has returned to Afghanistan where, three years prior, he accidentally killed a civilian during an anti-Taliban raid. He wants to make…

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In My Room (Ulrich Köhler, Germany/Italy) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2018

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope 75 (Summer 2018)   I. In the opening minutes of Ulrich Köhler’s new film In My Room, things don’t seem right. In fact, it’s all a bit glitchy, and the unsuspecting viewer might very well wonder whether the DCP is malfunctioning. The scene appears to be the aftermath…

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Museo (Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2018

By Michael Sicinski A not-very-bright film about a very intelligent topic, Museo tries to hedge its bets one too many times. It’s ostensibly about cultural patrimony, in particular the irony that a nation’s most treasured artifacts (such as those housed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, which features prominently in Museo) are…

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Girls of the Sun (Eva Husson, France) — Special Presentations

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2018

By Michael Sicinski It’s often the case that a film that’s roundly lambasted in the hothouse environs of Cannes will look a little better under less rarified light. I wish I could say this is the case for the deeply well-intentioned but severely ham-fisted women-vs.-Daesh drama Girls of the Sun. For one thing, it’s a…

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Styx (Wolfgang Fischer, Germany/Austria) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / August 31, 2018

By Michael Sicinski So many films about the global refugee crisis are focused on the uniquely Eurocentric task of humanizing those asylum seekers who are risking everything for a better life. To its credit, Styx presumes no such glad-handing is necessary; in fact, the refugees are almost incidental to the film. We only get to…

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Inbetweeners: The 2018 Images Festival

By Michael Sicinski / April 23, 2018

By Michael Sicinski If you happen to frequent experimental film festivals (and, if you’re reading this, there’s a better-than-average chance that you do), you know that each of them has its own unique ambiance. Part of it, of course, has to do with the types of films shown, which in turn affects the community of…

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Sightsurf and Brainwave: Blake Williams’ PROTOTYPE

By Michael Sicinski / December 15, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Blake Williams is a multi-dimensional character. A writer whose work has frequently graced the pages of this magazine, he is also an academic and a film artist. And, as a filmmaker, he has no time for flatness. No filmmaker since Ken Jacobs has been so consistently committed to exploring the aesthetic potentials…

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Film/Art | Meet the Restacks: Dani Leventhal and Sheilah Wilson on Strangely Ordinary This Devotion

By Michael Sicinski / September 28, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Columbus, Ohio-based artists Dani Leventhal and Sheilah Wilson have embarked on an artistic relationship that is formally and emotionally adjacent to their domestic lives, a quotidian zone they share with their young daughter Rose. Both artists have established careers on their own. Neither Leventhal’s video work (written about with customary perspicacity by…

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The Seen and Unseen (Kamila Andini, Indonesia/Netherlands/ Australia/ Qatar) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski / September 16, 2017

By Michael Sicinski The Seen and Unseen is a truly singular film, but it does not relinquish its secrets easily. The story of two young twins, the girl Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and the boy Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena), who share an intense emotional bond that may extend beyond death, The…

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Cocaine Prison (Violeta Ayala, Australia/Bolivia/France/US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2017

By Michael Sicinski There’s a scene early on in Cocaine Prison where we see several of the little brothers of Deisy Torrez, one of the film’s main subjects, rolling around in dried coca leaves, playing in the foliage like so many New Englanders have at the height of autumn. This is beautiful and sad, since…

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Azmaish: A Journey Through the Subcontinent (Sabiha Sumar, Pakistan) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2017

By Michael Sicinski While certainly informative and laudably humanist in intent, Azmaish poses a certain problem for this reviewer, simply from the standpoint of context. This new documentary/road movie from Sabiha Sumar (Dinner with the President) is a kind of primer on the conflicts between India and Pakistan, offering a crash course that starts with…

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The Swan (Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir, Iceland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2017

By Michael Sicinski When someone makes their first film, it’s not uncommon for them to experience some difficulty controlling parameters such as style and tone. But Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s The Swan is something a bit more frustrating. For the first half of its running time, this Icelandic coming-of-age story is simply bizarre, taking visual and…

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Les Affamés (Robin Aubert, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2017

By Michael Sicinski While it could be said that the last thing the world needs is another zombie movie, Québécois director Robin Aubert has managed to offer a solid and at times even original survey of this well-trod terrain. Where so many other genre filmmakers make the mistake of trying to add their unique spin…

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You Disappear (Peter Schønau Fog, Denmark/Sweden) — Special Presentation

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2017

By Michael Sicinski A film just obvious and tiresome enough to be a minor hit, You Disappear is the sort of literary adaptation that gives prestige a bad name. Taken from a novel by Christian Jungerson, You Disappear is the sort of film that recites large passages of the book in voiceover, just in case…

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Oblivion Verses (Alireza Khatami, France/Germany/Netherlands/Chile) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2017

By Michael Sicinski An elderly morgue attendant at a huge urban cemetery (Juan Margallo) is working late one night when a political protest gets out of hand, resulting in the secret police bursting into the morgue to hide the bodies of the protesters they’ve killed. Later, when the authorities come back to clean up the…

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Hannah (Andrea Pallaoro, Italy/Belgium/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Hannah is a bit of a paradox: it is an exceedingly quiet movie, and at the same time a bracing one, with a volatile, superstar performance at its heart. Charlotte Rampling plays the title character, a woman whose life has been dramatically upended just as she and her husband (André Wilms) should…

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Dark is the Night (Adolfo Alix Jr., Philippines) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Dark is the Night is unmistakably a cri de coeur regarding the fascist leadership of Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte and his extrajudicial drug war. At the same time, Adolfo Alix, Jr. has chosen to convey this most urgent of messages in a highly unusual format, making his film a rather strange specimen…

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Killing Jesus (Laura Mora, Colombia/Argentina) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2017

By Michael Sicinski A lot of debut films have structural problems, of course, but Killing Jesus, by Colombian first-timer Laura Mora, is rather unusual in this regard. The beginning and end are exceedingly clunky, while the middle feels uniquely organic and atmospheric. Granted, this assessment has as much to do with what I as a…

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Mademoiselle Paradis (Barbara Albert, Austria/Germany) — Platform

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2017

By Michael Sicinski A film that would make a fine double bill with either Jessica Hausner’s Amour fou or David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Barbara Albert’s Mademoiselle Paradis is a subtle and intelligent film about the historical crisis of female subjectivity and the various men who attempt to control that emerging identity. At the height…

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Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (Tracy Heather Strain, USA) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart is a TV documentary about the life and work of the late African-American playwright/activist Lorraine Hansberry. Produced for PBS’ American Masters series, Sighted Eyes is meticulously researched, well assembled, and has most of the appropriate expert commentary. It is instructive to remember just how much Hansberry accomplished in her…

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Miracle (Egle Vertelyte, Lithuania/Bulgaria/Poland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2017

By Michael Sicinski The TIFF catalogue description trumpets Miracle as “the first film from Lithuania to play the Festival in over 15 years” (sucks to be Sharunas Bartas). While indeed no miracle, this debut film by Egle Vertelyte is certainly pleasant enough, occupying a familiar film-festival category—that’s to say that, if you haven’t marked “wry-yet-rueful…

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Euthanizer (Teemu Nikki, Finland) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Since the old Vanguard section was put to sleep, Contemporary World Cinema is now forced to make room for films like Euthanizer, a bit of four-legged ugliness from Finland. The story of a clearly deranged yet moralistic factotum who offers to euthanize animals for a fraction of what the local vet charges,…

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Of Sheep and Men (Karim Sayad, Switzerland/France/Qatar) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 6, 2017

By Michael Sicinski First of all, let me compliment Mr. Sayad’s directorial prowess: I watched Of Sheep and Men with no foreknowledge, and I honestly thought it was a fictional feature. That’s because this documentary is so tightly structured in terms of its focus on two protagonists and their gradually shifting milieu, and even though…

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A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano, Italy/France/USA/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 5, 2017

By Michael Sicinski In case you had any question as to what to expect from A Ciambra, the latest film from Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea), the TIFF catalogue description clears things up. In a scant 236 words, we are given the following: “unadorned,” “highly naturalistic,” “verisimilitude,” “gritty reality,” “raw vitality,” “stark reality.” Add in the fact…

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Under the Tree (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, Iceland/Denmark/ Poland/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 5, 2017

By Michael Sicinski This would-be black comedy from Iceland starts out in gently grumbling Mike Leigh mode and ends up somewhere in the neighbourhood of Miike Takashi’s Dead or Alive trilogy. That may sound kind of badass, but the trajectory is never really convincing. (Ron Burgundy might opine that things escalate a bit too quickly,…

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Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly Surya, Indonesia/France/ Malaysia/Thailand) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 4, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a post-postmodern grab bag of genre moves and hollow gestures. At times it seems to want to be taken seriously, and at others it is content to revel in pastiche, very much like Ana Lily Amirpour’s films. How exactly are we supposed to take this…

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Strangely Ordinary this Devotion (Dani Leventhal & Sheilah Wilson, USA) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 4, 2017

By Michael Sicinski Published in Cinema Scope 72 (Fall 2017) Columbus, Ohio-based artists Dani Leventhal and Sheilah Wilson have embarked on an artistic relationship that is formally and emotionally adjacent to their domestic lives, a quotidian zone they share with their young daughter Rose. Both artists have established careers on their own. Neither Leventhal’s video…

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Beyond the One (Anna Marziano, France/Italy/Germany) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2017

By Michael Sicinski One of the main images that reappears throughout Anna Marziano’s new film is a shot out of a moving train window, that of a thicket of trees racing by in a blur. Although this type of shot is something of an avant-garde staple, there is something truly unique about the way Marziano…

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On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2017

By Michael Sicinski In describing the histrionic performances that tend to nab Oscars, Mike D’Angelo has noted that voters and juries often mistake “most acting” for “best acting.” I thought of this while watching On Body and Soul, perplexing winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. It isn’t just that this, the comeback…

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Insyriated (Philippe Van Leeuw, Belgium/France/Lebanon) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2017

By Michael Sicinski A film so phony that its makers needed to coin a nonsense word to give it an appropriate title, the irksome Insyriated is the sort of feeble attempt at profundity that crops up in the face of every armed conflict. It’s based on the notion that in extreme circumstances, people show you…

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Occidental (Neïl Beloufa, France) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2017

By Michael Sicinski “You know the word ‘louche’?”—Vince Vaughn, True Detective After a number of impressive short films and one documentary hybrid feature, the 2013 Tonight and the People, French artist Neïl Beloufa offers Occidental, the closest he’s yet come to a conventional feature film. As is often the case with art-world figures and quasi-experimentalists…

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Dusting the Corners: Luke Fowler’s Restorative Histories

By Michael Sicinski / June 22, 2017

By Michael Sicinski “Why are Luke Fowler’s films so hard to get a grip on?” That’s the question that critic/Berlinale programmer James Lattimer posed regarding the Scottish artist and filmmaker last year in a piece for MUBI’s Notebook. While Lattimer concludes that Fowler’s unique style results in “loose, deliberately fuzzy essays” that give the viewer…

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Unseen Forces: Joshua Bonnetta in Sound and Image

By Michael Sicinski / March 20, 2017

By Michael Sicinski  The first thing you should know about El Mar la mar is that it is not a production of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab. The new film, which premiered in Berlin’s Forum and won the Caligari Prize, was made by SEL regular J.P. Sniadecki and Canadian-born, Ithaca, NY-based experimentalist Joshua Bonnetta. Yet…

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The Working Hour: Salomé Lamas’ Eldorado XXI

By Michael Sicinski / December 19, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Salomé Lamas’ experimental feature Eldorado XXI is a film that we might call a “modified ethnography,” in the sense that Lamas has gone to a particular location—La Rinconada y Cerro Lunar settlement in the Peruvian Andes—to observe both the landscape and those individuals who populate it. But as with a number of…

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Under Her Spell: Anna Biller’s The Love Witch

By Michael Sicinski / November 28, 2016

 By Michael Sicinski  “I must say, to my great regret, the cheapest tricks have the greatest impact.” – Georges Méliès Anna Biller’s highly accomplished second feature The Love Witch is a silly, frilly film, but one that regards silly things—a set of cultural assumptions about feminine puffery, the pleasures of being exquisitely, unapologetically femme—with deadly…

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What the Water Said: Peter Hutton (1944-2016)

Deaths of Cinema | What the Water Said: Peter Hutton (1944-2016)

By Michael Sicinski / September 26, 2016

By Michael Sicinski In his 1995 interview with Scott MacDonald published in A Critical Cinema 3, Peter Hutton made a general assessment about his films, one that has been quoted quite a bit in the weeks since the filmmaker’s death. Let’s take a moment and consider it: “I’ve never felt that my films are very…

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Miss Impossible (Emilie Deleuze, France) — TIFF Kids

By Michael Sicinski / September 17, 2016

By Michael Sicinski It may be a painfully obvious point, but the simplest gauge of Miss Impossible’s unassuming success is to consider all the cheap, ingratiating tics you’d see in an American version of the same material. This is a very small film buoyed by a lead character, 13-year-old Aurore (newcomer Léna Magnien), whose snark…

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Once Again (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, India) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 17, 2016

By Michael Sicinski I have to hand it to TIFF. It’s one of the few film festivals in the West that still pays substantial attention to the “parallel cinemas” of India, even though the very idea of independent art film on the subcontinent has gone very much out of style. Back in the ’70s and…

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The Empty Box (Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico/France) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 15, 2016

By Michael Sicinski There are only so many variations on the “watching a family member slip into dementia” story. This is a difficult truism to volley at any work of art, precisely because as each of us experiences that painful eventuality—and more and more of us will, given the rapid greying of our Baby Boomer…

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Katie Says Goodbye (Wayne Roberts, US) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 15, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Full disclosure: I have been seeing most of this year’s Discovery titles without reading any synopses, production notes, or press packets, because I have wanted to evaluate them in as close to a tabula rasa state as possible. So I did not learn until well after seeing Katie Says Goodbye that it…

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The Hedonists (Jia Zhangke, China) — Short Cuts

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2016

By Michael Sicinski This is a bit like Jia Zhangke’s version of a Ken Loach comedy, and actually that’s not bad. In just under 30 minutes, we witness the closure of a coal mine in Fenyang due to a collapse in the Chinese energy sector. The boss, while a garden-variety curmudgeon, doesn’t even seem like…

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In the Radiant City (Rachel Lambert, US) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2016

By Michael Sicinski “A mom is a mom, even if you call it a tree.” So speaks Richard Gonzalez (Jon Michael Hill), the public defender assigned to the parole case at the centre of In the Radiant City, a vague piece of Kentucky regionalism from first-time director Rachel Lambert. (It’s almost tempting to reimagine the…

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Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (Steve James, US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Most of the films related to the 2008 financial meltdown (documentaries and features) have assumed an audience thoroughly cowed by the very topic. In fact, the films themselves have often seemed flummoxed by their very subject, doing their best to present the complexities of 21st-century international finance in broad strokes and simple…

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Kati Kati (Mbithi Masya, Kenya/Germany) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2016

By Michael Sicinski A genuinely surprising film from an unexpected source, Kati Kati is a film that draws on tradition (Nollywood, Senegalese counter-cinema, faith-based films) without falling into the stylistic or genre traps of any of those approaches. The plot is basic enough, but inventive in its execution: Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga) wakes up in a…

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Jeffrey (Yanillys Perez, Dominican Republic/France) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2016

By Michael Sicinski From its aerial opening shots of the massive urban crunch of Santo Domingo, zeroing in on one particular family in a corner of the slums, Jeffrey looks at first as if it’s going to provide a Dominican riff on City of God (2002). Thankfully, first-timer Yanillys Perez foregoes most of the clichés…

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ARQ (Tony Elliott, US/Canada) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Bearing a surface resemblance to Primer (2004) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), ARQ thrusts its viewers into a vaguely futuristic world that [REBOOT] Bearing an unnervingly derivative resemblance to Shane Carruth’s Primer (2004), which did much more with considerably less, the debut feature by TV writer Tony Elliott (most recently of Orphan…

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Park (Sofia Exarchou, Greece/Poland) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Given that we’re now about ten years into the Greek New Wave, it stands to reason that we would begin to see some younger directors rejecting the rigour and clinical distance that characterized the best-known films of the movement. Park shares the bleak attitude of 21st-century breakdown that we find in Dogtooth…

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Heartstone (Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson, Iceland/Denmark) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Heartstone is the type of debut film that is brimming with good intentions but ultimately doesn’t make a strong enough case for its existence. Trading in coming-of-age tropes and stock markers of identity, Heartstone at least has the courtesy to spread its youthful anxieties over a stunning Icelandic coastal landscape, allowing its…

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The Levelling (Hope Dickson Leach, UK) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2016

By Michael Sicinski A promising debut hobbled by the perhaps inherent difficulties of making a first feature, Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling has the mood, tone, and overall feel of so many British TV procedurals of late. Granted this is a family tale, not a police story, but like recent entries such as Southcliffe, The…

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Karl Marx City (Petra Epperlein & Michael Tucker, US/Germany) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2016

By Michael Sicinski An impressive outing from the pair who made the rather shambolic Gunner Palace back in 2004, Karl Marx City is that rarest of objects: an exploration of family history that avoids solipsism and manages to connect the personal to much broader things. Petra Epperlein and her family grew up in the GDR;…

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Ember (Zeki Demirkubuz, Turkey/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2016

By Michael Sicinski In 2003, TIFF showed three of Zeki Demirkubuz’s very best films in a Turkish cinema showcase (a kind of forerunner to the current City to City programme). What made Fate, Confession (both 2001) and especially The Third Page (1999) so lively and inventive was the sense that the director was still figuring…

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Austerlitz (Sergei Loznitsa, Germany) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Throughout his career, as both a documentarian and the director of two feature films, Sergei Loznitsa has explored various facets of one fundamental subject: the way the human race records its own history. At times, this has led him toward excavation and re-examination of the footage of others, in films such as…

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Le Ciel Flamand (Peter Monsaert, Belgium) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2016

By Michael Sicinski The particular circumstances of Le Ciel Flamand turn its plot twists into a rather dire matter of politics. If Peter Monsaert’s film were about an ordinary workplace—if Sylvie (Sara Vertongen) and her mother Monique (Ingrid De Vos) ran a diner or a print shop rather than a brothel—then of course there would…

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El Filibustero: Lav Diaz’s A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery

By Michael Sicinski / June 27, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Certain filmmakers tend to be reduced to memes. Hong Sangsoo, for example, makes the same film over and over again. The late Manoel de Oliveira made stodgy, “old man” films. Guy Maddin is a pastiche artist, Michael Haneke is a scold, Spike Lee lacks discipline, and Lars von Trier is a stunted…

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Field Studies: Mark Lewis’ Invention

By Michael Sicinski / March 21, 2016

By Michael Sicinski Initially talking stock of Mark Lewis’ new feature film Invention, I was reminded of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s remarks in his book Film: The Front Line, 1983 regarding Michael Snow. Rosenbaum compared Snow to Godard, and to another Lewis, that being Jerry. He wrote that Snow, JLG, and The Jer were interested “in fields…

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Happy Hour (Hamaguchi Ryusuke, Japan)

By Michael Sicinski / December 21, 2015

By Michael Sicinski It’s a strange film that calls to mind both Out 1 (1971) and Sex and the City. But Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Happy Hour is defined by that odd tug between spacious, undirected improvisation on the one hand, and an incident-driven examination of the ups and downs of four women friends on the other.…

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TIFF 2015 | My Skinny Sister (Saana Lenken, Sweden/Germany)—TIFF Kids

By Michael Sicinski / September 19, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Although some critics will undoubtedly refer to Saana Lenken’s film about teenage bulimia as Afterschool Special material, let’s be clear: no American or Canadian film would approach the seriousness or cruelty with which Lenken addresses her Swedish audience. More than once, the relationship between Stella (Rebecka Josephson) and her sister Katja (Amy…

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TIFF 2015 | Northern Soul (Elaine Constantine, UK)—City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 19, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Given that these online reviews offer a comments section, I’d like to invite readers to chime in here, as if we were doing a radio call-in show: did anyone who attended TIFF this year, critic or regular filmgoer, actually see any of the City to City films? Honestly, I haven’t heard a…

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TIFF 2015 | SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang, China)—Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski / September 18, 2015

By Michael Sicinski It’s been ten years since Wilson Yip’s SPL (unceremoniously retitled Kill Zone for its North American home video release), and apart from the reappearance of Simon Yam in a completely different role, there’s not much connection between the first film and this supposed sequel. Helmed by Milky Way protégé Soi Cheang (Accident,…

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TIFF 2015 | My Name is Emily (Simon Fitzmaurice, Ireland)—Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 17, 2015

By Michael Sicinski This story of a troubled teenaged girl (Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch) taking a road trip to retrieve her father (Michael Smiley) from a mental institution seems to have the potential to break with the clichés of the coming-of-age template. Emily’s mother died when she was young, and Dad eventually became so…

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TIFF 2015 | Sector IX B (Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, France/ Senegal)—Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 16, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Based on the work of Surrealist anthropologist Michel Leiris (in particular his controversial volume L’Afrique fantôme), this featurette by post-colonial artist Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc begins in the theoretical realm and soon veers into the dense thicket of fantasy. Sector IX B centres on an academic researcher (Betty Tchomanga) who travels to the…

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TIFF 2015 | Men & Chicken (Anders Thomas Jensen, Denmark / Germany, Vanguard)

By Michael Sicinski / September 16, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Not only Anders Thomas Jensen’s best directorial effort by a country mile (faint praise, that), but far more satisfying than many of his scenarios for other, better directors, Men & Chicken is a black comedy about extreme family dysfunction. What begins as a kind of odd-couple brothers’ tale soon goes way off…

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TIFF 2015 | Afternoon (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan)—Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 14, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Following the release of his 2013 film Stray Dogs (a work that some consider his masterpiece), Tsai Ming-liang announced his retirement from feature filmmaking. He’s been busier than ever since this alleged bowing out, producing a stage play and the Walker series of medium-length films (Tsai released the latest one, No No…

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TIFF 2015 | The Event (Sergei Loznitsa, Netherlands/Belgium)—Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 14, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Following Maidan, last year’s impeccable the-revolution-is-live bulletin from Ukraine, Sergei Loznitsa returns to the found-footage format with which he first came to international prominence. The Event is in many respects a logical follow-up to Maidan, and attentive viewers will detect certain formal and ideological echoes. Centred on the military coup that represented…

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TIFF 2015 | A Young Patriot (Du Haibin, China/US)—TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 14, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Hey, look! A film from the New Chinese Documentary Movement! Usually when this happens, it’s because a Wavelengths slot has been given to the latest from Wang Bing. But this somewhat rare appearance in TIFF Docs by a Chinese doc makes a bit more sense once you discover that it’s co-produced by…

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TIFF 2015 | Price of Love (Hermon Hailay, Ethiopia)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Hermon Hailay’s third feature is a somewhat puzzling melodrama centered on Teddy (Eskindir Tameru), a young Addis Ababa cab driver with a chequered past. His attempt to keep on the straight and narrow is disrupted by a chance encounter with Fere (Fereweni Gebregergs), a beautiful sex worker who is “owned” by Marcos…

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TIFF 2015 | Honor Thy Father (Erik Matti, Philippines)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Erik Matti’s recent actioner On the Job (2013) was a big hit at home and even got a moderate release in North America, not that the film managed to bring in those coveted Crouching Tiger, Heroic Grandmaster crossover dollars. But there is a sheen of transnational professionalism that coats Matti’s work—quite distinct…

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TIFF 2015 | Invention (Mark Lewis, UK/Canada)—Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Considering the degree to which Mark Lewis’s work has evolved over the years, its origins in the Vancouver art scene of the ’80s and ’90s can go only so far in explaining it. But however inadequate such periodization may be, perhaps one way to consider Invention is as a kind of conceptual…

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TIFF 2015 | Song of Songs (Eva Neymann, Ukraine)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2015

By Michael Sicinski This is an unusual case, an exceedingly brief (only 76-minute) film that still manages to feel overstuffed and meandering. This could be the result of director Eva Neymann’s decision to freely adapt Sholem Aleichem’s short fiction, yoking together characters and scenarios from no less than ten stories from the eponymous collection. As…

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TIFF 2015 | Return of the Atom (Mika Taanila & Jussi Eerola, Finland/Germany)—TIFF Docs)

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2015

By Michael Sicinski There are plenty of small-town industrial malfeasance stories that could serve as a valid point of comparison for the blinkered corporate idiocy profiled in Return of the Atom, but since it’s the most recent (and most sorely mishandled) let’s choose True Detective Season Two. Instead of the imaginary town of Vinci, California,…

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TIFF 2015 | Girls Lost (Alexandra-Therese Keining, Sweden/Denmark/Norway)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Here we have a film that begins as mere hackwork, and finishes as something actually quite offensive. A teen movie from Sweden that for all its sincerity displays all the subtlety of pulpy Hollywood entries like The Craft or even the recent low-budget B-picture The Sisterhood of Night, Girls Lost has no…

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TIFF 2015 | Minotaur (Nicolás Pereda, Mexico/Canada)—Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 9, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Nicolás Pereda’s recent work, particularly his last two features Greatest Hits (2012) and Los ausentes (2014), already represented a substantial reduction of means when compared to the relatively action-packed Perpetuum Mobile (2009) and Summer of Goliath (2010). But with his latest, Pereda has achieved a genuine comedy of stasis. How much further…

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TIFF 2015 | Francofonia (Alexander Sokurov, Germany/France/Netherlands)— Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 8, 2015

By Michael Sicinski [SPOILER: James Franco does not appear in this film.] There was no reason to expect something playful from Sokurov, especially after his excruciating take on Faust (2011). But with Francofonia we find Russia’s melancholic master offering up an essay-film take on the Louvre that’s downright breezy. After setting up a contemporary framing…

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TIFF 2015 | Koza (Ivan Ostrochovský, Slovakia/Czech Republic—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Ivan Ostrochovský, up to now exclusively a documentarian, draws heavily on that experience for his debut feature, a hybrid work in which the principals play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves. To the credit of all concerned, this was in no way obvious while watching Koza. Ostrochovský worked out the film’s rather slight…

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TIFF 2015 | Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous (Christopher Doyle, Hong Kong)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Christopher Doyle’s status as one of the greatest living cinematographers in the world seems utterly beyond dispute at this point, but his two previous at-bats as a director have been uneven affairs, to put it kindly. This experimental nonfiction film—one can’t really call it a documentary, for various reasons—is easily Doyle’s finest…

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A Perfect Game: Kevin Jerome Everson’s Park Lanes

By Michael Sicinski / March 26, 2015

By Michael Sicinski Kevin Jerome Everson’s latest film, Park Lanes, is a real piece of work. By this I mean a few different things. For starters, I think it’s clearly one of the most significant achievements of his career. It’s also a film that’s fundamentally about labour—the conditions of its accomplishment and the patience required…

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Dead Meat: Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin

By Michael Sicinski / December 18, 2014

By Michael Sicinski P’tit Quinquin, the four-part miniseries that Bruno Dumont made for the ARTE network, had its world premiere earlier this year at Cannes as a 200-minute theatrical feature before screening to a record audience on French television in September. (It screened as a special presentation in the Fortnight, sort of a P’tit Quinquinzaine,…

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TIFF 2014 | Villa Touma (Suha Arraf, no national origin) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2014

By Michael Sicinski This is the directorial debut by Arraf, who is best known as the writing partner of Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis on his two most successful films, The Syrian Bride (2004) and Lemon Tree (2008). At the moment, Villa Touma is most notable for being a film that is “stateless,” officially speaking. Set…

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TIFF 2014 | A Dream of Iron (Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, US/South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2014

By Michael Sicinski To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge, the chief business of cinema is business. As a general rule, festivals like films that can sell; Oscars and acquisitions provide high-level film programmers with industry niches that we critics will never really understand. But now and then, those thoughtful public servants manage to smuggle in something decidely…

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TIFF 2014 | Confession (Lee Do-yun, South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2014

By Michael Sicinski One of the stronger entries in this year’s showcase of Seoul-based filmmaking, Confession, by first-time helmer Lee Do-yun, takes a while to display its true intentions. Following a prologue in which we meet our three main characters as adolescents and witness a traumatic event that cements their long-term friendship, Confession jumps ahead…

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TIFF 2014 | Songs from the North (Soon-Mi Yoo, US/South Korea) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2014

By Michael Sicinski Songs from the North is a work that practically mirrors the provenance pattern of another film in this year’s festival, Kelvin Park’s A Dream of Iron: an essay film from a Korean-born, US-educated multimedia artist. However, Yoo is a more experienced filmmaker, and as a result Songs is a far more nuanced…

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TIFF 2014 | I Am Not Lorena (Isidora Marras, Chile/Argentina) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2014

By Michael Sicinski This is an exceedingly slight debut film about an actress named Olivia (Loreto Aravena) beset by an endless barrage of calls from collection agencies, all looking for someone named Lorena Ruíz. In reality, there are some fairly basic steps to take if one finds oneself in a similar predicament. (I speak from…

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TIFF 2014 | Le beau danger (René Frölke, Germany) — Wavelengths

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2014

By Michael Sicinski “In a world where everything seems programmed, even chaos, chance, or surprise, you’ve got to defy logic and bewilder people.” This is but one of the many lines of prose presented, without overt comment, in Le beau danger, written by the film’s subject Romanian author Norman Manea. However, this sentence seems as…

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TIFF 2014 | Foreign Body (Krzysztof Zanussi, Poland/Italy/Russia) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 10, 2014

By Michael Sicinski This is a complete mess, but I cannot honestly say whether Zanussi constructed Foreign Body to be exactly the film he wanted it to be and thus he’s just off his rocker, or if he has simply lost control of the medium. How best to describe this unhinged but futile film? In…

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TIFF 2014 | Seymour: An Introduction (Ethan Hawke, US) — TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2014

By Michael Sicinski “He’s a very deep guy … It’s like Zen and the Art of Archery, or whatever.” Oh my God, shut up. Ethan Hawke, who has made a very lovely portrait of virtuoso pianist and teacher Seymour Bernstein, is going to be his own worst enemy in terms of getting people to actually…

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TIFF 2014 | Gyeongju (Zhang Lu, South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2014

By Michael Sicinski The deeply antisocial protagonist of Gyeongju, Choi Hyeon (Park Hae-il), is a well-regarded poli-sci professor in Beijing, back in Korea for the funeral of an old colleague. Recalling a memorable time he, the deceased, and another scholar had in the title-city many years ago, Hyeon returns to wander around in a doomed…

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TIFF 2014 | The Equalizer (Antoine Fuqua, US) — Gala

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2014

By Michael Sicinski Looking back, it’s hard to believe that Training Day was as watchable as it was. (And it isn’t faulty memory or collective knuckle-dragging on racial issues. I caught it on cable a while back and it’s fine.) But Antoine Fuqua can’t direct, and this is abundantly clear in the opening seconds of…

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TIFF 2014 | Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2014

By Michael Sicinski Recently, some South Korean masters have made significant inroads into the English market. (We can call them “masters,” if you prefer a grain of salt in your bibimbap: Kim Jee-woon and Park Chan-wook are inevitably problematic figures to some. But I’ll accept no guff regarding Master Bong and his Piercer of Snow.)…

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TIFF 2014 | A Hard Day (Kim Seong-hun, South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 6, 2014

  By Michael Sicinski Part of the difficulty of City to City is uneven programming sensibility. It’s a difficult task, and an unenviable one, to try to represent any city or nation’s cinematic output with an eight-film snapshot, and diversity of approaches has to be a watchword. You can’t program a slate composed entirely of…

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TIFF 2014 | Alive (Park Jung-bum, South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / September 6, 2014

  By Michael Sicinski As with his debut film, 2010’s The Journals of Musan, Park not only wrote and directed but also stars in Alive, his second feature, which would be an impressive enough feat even if the film weren’t a gruelling three-hour workout. It could be overselling Park’s work just a bit to claim…

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TIFF 2014 | Revivre (Im Kwon-taek, South Korea) — Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 4, 2014

By Michael Sicinski A number of TIFF 14’s Korean films are about the working poor or the criminal class eking out an existence on the mean streets of Seoul. Judging from Hwajang, a.k.a. Revivre,being on top of the capitalist mountain is no guarantee of happiness (although I’m sure any peasant would be glad to give…

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TIFF 2014 | Still the Water (Naomi Kawase, Japan) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2014

By Michael Sicinski Despite Naomi Kawase’s claims prior to the film’s world premiere at Cannes, Still the Water is not her masterpiece, and it’s uncertain she will ever actually make one. However, this is her best film since Shara back in 2003, and although the same basic faults that hobbled The Mourning Forest and Hanezu…

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TIFF 2014 | Secrets of War (Dennis Bots, The Netherlands) — TIFF Kids

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2014

By Michael Sicinski This fairly mediocre period piece is what we might call a double-whammy, given that it practically begs for critics to grade it on a curve. Not only is it a perfectly edifying film about World War II and the Nazis, it’s a film for and about children, which presumably excuses the extremely…

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TIFF 2014 | Theeb (Naji Abu Nowar, Jordan/Qatar/UAE/UK) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2014

  By Michael Sicinski This debut feature from Abu Nowar starts out in a very familiar place, even though it still retains a certain exotic mystique for many filmmakers. We’re in the desolate hill country of an as-yet-unspecified part of the Middle East, where tribalism and patriarchal authority are the only real forms of social…

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TIFF 2014 | OBRA (Gregorio Graziosi, Brazil) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 2, 2014

By Michael Sicinski OBRA, the debut feature by Gregorio Graziosi, is a frustrating film. Foregrounding the problem of late modern architecture and filled with analytical cinematography of São Paolo’s urban density, there’s no question that this is a film with things on its mind. (The opening lines of dialogue are a citation of Charles Jencks’…

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TIFF 2014 | The Owners (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, Kazakhstan) — Contemporary World Cinema)

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2014

By Michael Sicinski It’s difficult to evaluate a film as aggressively unusual as The Owners. Despite its grating quirks and featherweight jabs at social commentary, it cannot be summarily dismissed. This is the sort of film that is likely to garner not just defenders but a small coterie of genuine fans, folks who see director…

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City to City 2014 and Beyond: TIFF’s Uneven Seoul Patch

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2014

By Michael Sicinski There’s really no point in discussing the Toronto International Film Festival’s City to City program as such. While the festival’s promotional materials call it “a snapshot of where’s hot right now,” it’s also a way for TIFF to curry favour with certain organizations and governmental bodies involved in international film production and…

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TIFF 2014 | A Girl at My Door (July Jung, South Korea) — City to City

By Michael Sicinski / August 31, 2014

By Michael Sicinski This well-received Un Certain Regard entry (the debut film from a protégée of Lee Chang-dong, who produced) has all the trappings of a serious festival entry, and it superficially shares a number of Lee’s thematic concerns: the big-city transplant stranded in a provincial backwater; the closed-minded, insular nature of said community of…

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TIFF 2014 | The Valley Below (Kyle Thomas, Canada) — Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / August 31, 2014

By Michael Sicinski First things first: this is a pretty good film. Granted, first-time feature director Kyle Thomas makes some strategic errors, most notably a decision to organize his film around semi-independent but ultimately intersecting characters and storylines, which is the last refuge of scoundrels and fiction-workshop MFAs. This manoeuvre has the unfortunate effect of…

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The Sting in the Tail: Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer

By Michael Sicinski / July 18, 2014

By Michael Sicinski [Note: this review contains mild spoilers.] In his most recent film with Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), Slavoj Žižek pauses to diagnose the seemingly endless spate of apocalyptic films in recent years. His analysis, brief though it may be, points the way toward an understanding of cinema’s role in…

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Paolo Sorrentino: A Medium Talent

By Michael Sicinski / March 20, 2014

By Michael Sicinski “Medium talent!” —Bill Murray, to Chevy Chase at the end of their 1977 fistfight, backstage at Saturday Night Live 1. Not unlike such melodramatic European specialties as the Transavantguardia and Robbie Williams, Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino makes a lot more sense in the moment than he does in immediate retrospect, and it…

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Persona Non Grata: Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac

By Michael Sicinski / March 18, 2014

By Michael Sicinski [Note: This review contains SPOILERS.] A few technical notes as we begin to talk about Lars von Trier’s latest film: 1) For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to Nymphomaniac as a single work, rather than treating its two-volume release as an integral part of its construction. 2) I will…

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Indistinct Chatter in Arabic: Jehane Noujaim’s The Square

By Michael Sicinski / March 1, 2014

By Michael Sicinski When compared to its fellow Academy Award nominee The Act of Killing (2013), Joshua Oppenheimer’s supposedly radical examination of memory, myth, and representation in the construction of historical meaning, The Square probably comes across as reflecting a more conventional approach to documentary filmmaking. Its title, of course, refers to Tahrir Square, the…

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An Internal Memo: Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA

By Michael Sicinski / December 12, 2013

By Michael Sicinski To say that Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA was a surprise winner at this year’s Venice Film Festival is something of an understatement. The film became the first documentary ever to win the Golden Lion, and was singled out by jury president Bernardo Bertolucci for its “poetic force,” and its “Franciscan” regard for…

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A Sculpted Homily: Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915

By Michael Sicinski / October 20, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Not long after the release of Bruno Dumont’s third film, his infamous American folly Twentynine Palms (2003), James Quandt published his equally infamous polemic against the “New French Extremity” in the February 2004 issue of Artforum, where he placed Dumont on the naughty list right alongside Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé, and Philippe…

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TIFF 2013 | Salvation Army (Abdellah Taïa, France/Morocco)—Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 13, 2013

By Michael Sicinski In a perfect world, film festivals would be filled with debut films as disciplined and poetic as Salvation Army, a film that first-time director Taïa adapted from his own autobiographical novel. This fact alone should be cause for consideration: How many filmmakers wallow in the self-indulgent excesses of autobiography? So few are…

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TIFF 2013 | The Dog (Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren, US)—TIFF Docs

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Over a decade in the making, The Dog is a relatively straightforward profile of John Wojtowicz, the infamous bank robber immortalized in Dog Day Afternoon. Chiefly constructed around extended interviews with Wojtowicz, The Dog benefits immensely from the man’s natural charisma. But the real star of the film is time. It’s not…

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TIFF 2013 | R100 (Matsumoto Hitoshi, Japan)—Midnight Madness

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Based on Matsumoto Hitoshi’s track record as both a filmmaker and comedian, we have every right to expect the unexpected. But what’s most surprising about his latest film is the fact that he has chosen to take an ostensibly outré subject (sadomasochism) and turn it into a bland mainstream adventure-comedy. To be…

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TIFF 2013 | Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari (Alexey Fedorchenko, Russia)—Vanguard

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2013

By Michael Sicinski The Mari culture is a western Russian ethnic group positioned along the Volga who, after having nearly been wiped out by enforced Sovietization, is experiencing resurgence due to concerted preservation efforts on the part of contemporary ethnic Maris. The cinema of Alexey Fedorchenko is a key part of this; at the moment,…

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TIFF 2013 | Child’s Pose (Calin Peter Netzer, Romania)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2013

By Michael Sicinski The not-so-New Romanian Cinema is still rocking and rolling, more than a decade after commanding the attention of major Western film festivals. This year the festival features strong entries by Corneliu Porumboiu and Cristi Puiu alongside this perfectly average national-spotlight programmer that, rather remarkably, nabbed the Golden Bear at the Berlinale this…

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TIFF 2013 | Sarah Prefers to Run (Chloé Robichaud, Canada)—Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Oh yes indeed, Sarah prefers to run. She prefers it to having articulate conversations, displaying recognizably human emotions, or demonstrating a capability to see her actions as connected to the larger world in any way. This character study of a young Québécer (Sophie Desmarais) whose track-and-field skills get her a spot on…

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TIFF 2013 | Concrete Night (Pirjo Honkasalo, Finland/Denmark/Sweden)—Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 7, 2013

By Michael Sicinski If Pirjo Honkasalo was on the radar of North American cinephiles recently, it was probably with The Three Rooms of Melancholia, her acclaimed 2004 documentary about the Chechen War. Concrete Night is her first fiction feature since Fire-Eater in 1998, and although there’s no question that Honkasalo exhibits a master’s control of…

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TIFF 2013 | The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)—Special Presentation

By Michael Sicinski / September 4, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Paolo Sorrentino has become a sort of go-to Italian auteur for the current regime in Cannes, without having a great deal of support elsewhere. Unlike some members of the International Cinema Scope Cabal™, I have remained somewhat agnostic toward Sorrentino, who is undoubtedly talented but committed to working in a highly unfashionable…

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TIFF 2013 | Closed Curtain (Jafar Panahi & Kambozia Partovi, Iran)—Masters

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2013

By Michael Sicinski [SPOILERS follow.] This Is Not a Film was a hybrid documentary wherein Jafar Panahi showed us what happens when a restless creative mind tries and fails to negotiate various end-runs around the absurd, maddening restrictions imposed upon him. In many respects, the more Panahi “failed”—famously walking off camera in tears, refusing to…

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TIFF 2013 | Bobô (Inês Oliveira, Portugal)—Discovery

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2013

By Michael Sicinski This second film by Oliveira poses a few key questions. First, are European films schools necessarily doing the right thing by basing their training on the auteur theory? Bobô is beautifully shot and paced; the early shots of Sofia (Paula Garcia) in her meticulous, lifeless apartment are notably impressive for how well…

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TIFF 2013 | Southcliffe (Sean Durkin, UK)—Special Presentation

By Michael Sicinski / August 31, 2013

By Michael Sicinski In evaluating Southcliffe as a TIFF entry, I find myself thinking back to one of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s very best lines of criticism: “Why insist on treating good baba ghanoush as if it were bad peanut butter?” We might then be forced to ask what we do, as gourmands or as critics, when…

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TIFF 2013 | Man of Tai Chi (Keanu Reeves, US/Hong Kong/China)—Special Presentation

By Michael Sicinski / August 31, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Probably the most remarkable thing about the whoa!-teur’s directorial debut is that it’s not a complete embarrassment. Given the fact that Reeves chose to make an ersatz HK actioner, the likelihood of a total fiasco was rather high, but Man of Tai Chi isn’t nearly that interesting. Reeves, together with fight choreographer…

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TIFF 2013 | The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher, Germany)

By Michael Sicinski / August 30, 2013

From Cinema Scope #55, Summer 2013 By Michael Sicinski The first five shots of Ramon Zürcher’s debut film The Strange Little Cat (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen) serve as a kind of miniature map for this relatively short (72-minute), highly unusual work, neatly outlining the spatial compression and sonic misdirection that characterizes its aesthetic approach throughout. (Though…

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Shine a Light: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness

By Michael Sicinski / August 30, 2013

By Michael Sicinski With its very title, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is a film that announces itself as being in league with forces not entirely of this world. Nevertheless, its makers are two of the leading lights of contemporary experimental cinema precisely because of their pellucid examination of the world around them.…

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Men With Guns: Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt

By Michael Sicinski / July 19, 2013

  By Michael Sicinski “You can be a one-hit wonder, so long as you make it count.” A film programmer friend of mine made this remark a few years back, regarding a particular avant-garde filmmaker who has essentially been dining out on a particular canonical entry for the past twenty-some-odd years. It’s true, no one…

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The Poetry of Confined Quarters: Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat

By Michael Sicinski / June 24, 2013

By Michael Sicinski The first five shots of Ramon Zürcher’s debut film The Strange Little Cat (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen) serve as a kind of miniature map for this relatively short (72-minute), highly unusual work, neatly outlining the spatial compression and sonic misdirection that characterizes its aesthetic approach throughout. (Though in fact, any fragment of Cat…

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Between the Walls: Images Festival 2013

By Michael Sicinski / April 20, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Was 2013 a strong year for Toronto’s Images Festival? It’s quite possible, although in some ways it depends on where you look and, as per this festival’s unique mandate, how one looks. Unlike most other showcases of experimental film and video, Images has been integrating gallery and museum work into its presentations…

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“No One Can Survive In That Water”: Jane Campion and Garth Davis’ Top of the Lake

By Michael Sicinski / March 31, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Although the new miniseries Top of the Lake had its world premiere this past January at the Sundance Film Festival, it is darkly fortuitous that it should have its television run two months later. March has seen the emergence of details from the rape of a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio, material…

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An Ursine Halfabet: Denis Côté’s Vic+Flo ont vu un ours

By Michael Sicinski / March 21, 2013

By Michael Sicinski In Denis Côté’s Bestiaire (2012), you might have really seen a bear. That’s because it took place in a zoo. As for his latest, au contraire; the grizzlies are not really there. The title’s both a metaphor and a clue: the phrasing, like a picture book, implies that we should take a…

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DVD Bonus | Bleeding and Time: In Praise of Amy Heckerling’s Vamps

By Michael Sicinski / December 16, 2012

By Michael Sicinski Several seasons back, before The Office became an unwatchable shell of its former self, the Dunder Mifflin crew had a customarily awkward Halloween party. Stanley was confused about Andy’s costume, mistaking him for a Twilight character. Andy patiently explained that he was in fact dressed as Bill Compton from True Blood. “Oh,…

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Star Maps: Wachowski/Tykwer/Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas

By Michael Sicinski / October 29, 2012

By Michael Sicinski As a teacher, two things I often find myself coming back to are Speed Racer and Jean-Marie Straub. Lest that sound willfully perverse, let me explain. We all have built-in aesthetic prejudices and predilections, based on our viewing histories and other extrinsic factors. Theorizing taste is a complex matter indeed. But as…

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TIFF Day 8: Wavelengths 2: Documenta

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2012

  By Michael Sicinski Untitled, 35 mm glass slides (Luther Price, USA) Phantoms of a Libertine (Ben Rivers, UK) A Minimal Difference (Jean-Paul Kelly, Canada) Shoot Don’t Shoot (William E. Jones, USA) Sorry Horns (Luther Price, USA) Orpheus (outtakes) (Mary Helena Clark, USA) Pipe Dreams (Ali Cherri, Lebanon/France) UFOs (Lillian Schwartz, USA) Although the first…

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Burru’s Abominable Dialectic: Nicolas Rey’s autrement, la Molussie

By Michael Sicinski / September 11, 2012

In composing this essay on Nicolas Rey’s latest film, I have opted to follow a principle similar to the one that gives his film its overall shape. The essay consists of six semi-autonomous sections, which I have assigned an order using a random-number generating system. There were also additional sections that, according to the randomizing…

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Sifting Through the Guano: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

By Michael Sicinski / July 20, 2012

By Michael Sicinski 1. Every film does at least two things: it enters a broader social context, and it generates its own context. This seems obvious to the point of dullardry, but even by the usual standards of Hollywood blockbusters, the new Batman film (and allegedly final franchise entry—more on that below) emerged, like its…

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This Is Not an Omnibus: The Jeonju Digital Project 2012

By Michael Sicinski / June 24, 2012

By Michael Sicinski Twelve years on, the Jeonju International Film Festival’s Digital Project is only getting stronger. This unique endeavour, whose history and raison d’être has been amply chronicled elsewhere (notably by James Bell in Sight & Sound,), remains impossible to pin down. While the JDP has generally remained focused on Asian directors, the project…

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Michel Gondry

By Michael Sicinski / April 4, 2012

By Michael Sicinski Whereas almost all other music-video directors function in much the same capacity as graphic designers, Michel Gondry, by dint of an unyielding artisanal approach, has made a place for himself analogous to that of an architect. Like Frank Gehry or Peter Eisenman, Gondry is called upon, in essence, to do what he…

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We Sing, But Not Ourselves: Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea

By Michael Sicinski / March 1, 2012

By Michael Sicinski Is Terence Davies a radical conservative? Often one of the signs of a great artist is his or her ability to thwart the comfortable compartmentalization of our thinking, to dislodge the habits with which we navigate our ordinary existence. We are accustomed to thinking of a cinematic “mainstream,” organized around surface realism…

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A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

By Michael Sicinski / December 20, 2011

By Michael Sicinski A Separation is one of the year’s most accomplished films, and like so many films we might characterize as “accomplished,” it hasn’t garnered actual detractors. It merely fosters a coterie of skeptics. Several commentators felt that Farhadi’s film shouldn’t have won the Golden Bear over Béla Tarr’s more deserving The Turin Horse…

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The Systematically Incomplete Dialectical Process, or, Articulations of Structural Mythopoeia in the Para-Classical Realm for the Metrickally Measured Linguistical Motivics and Deeply Felt Cinematic Appoggiatura of Mr. David Gatten, Gentleman by Michael Sicinski

By Michael Sicinski / December 20, 2011

By Michael Sicinski 1. David Gatten’s cinema is probably the clearest articulation of a broader tendency in contemporary experimental cinema. Filmmakers working in this mode are equally influenced by Romanticist and Formalist traditions. Personal expressivity and objective rigour are not so much stances as they are strategies, poles along which to suspend oneself in a…

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A Moment of Silents: Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist

By Michael Sicinski / December 9, 2011

By Michael Sicinski This “serious” breakthrough by French comic director Michel Hazanavicius, best known for his OSS spy-flick parodies, is a head-scratcher, a problem that won’t go away, and above all an object that isn’t worth the ire of any hardcore cinephile. It’s basic mediocrity in a clever new disguise. One can take umbrage, I…

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Port of Forgotten Dreams: Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre

By Michael Sicinski / November 4, 2011

By Michael Sicinski Can there be such a thing as a productive political fantasy? This is far from a rhetorical question, and as I revisit Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film, which is without a doubt a political film for our times, I find myself grappling with this very question. This is because the idea of what…

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Gravity’s Grayscale: Alex Ross Perry’s Cinema of Deaffirmation

By Michael Sicinski / September 28, 2011

By Michael Sicinski One could make a long, sad list of everything wrong with American independent cinema today, but one of the worst things about so much of it is just how desperate it is to be liked. There’s an ugly tendency to simultaneously flatter an audience’s supposed good taste and breeding (“look at you,…

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Between Two Eyes: Four Emergent Avant-Garde Film/Videomakers for the New Decade

By Michael Sicinski / June 28, 2011

By Michael Sicinski One of the difficulties of writing about experimental film and video is that there aren’t as many opportunities as there ought to be to spotlight filmmakers who we might call, for lack of a better term, developing talent. Magazines like this one (of which, sadly, there are few) customarily produce feature articles…

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Time and Time Again: Manoel de Oliveira’s The Strange Case of Angelica

By Michael Sicinski / May 13, 2011

By Michael Sicinski There are, needless to say, certain old saws that we as critics rely upon far too often. They can help us get somewhere in a hurry, make a point or join a gap in an argument so that we can move on to where it is we really want to go—and this…

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Just Passing Through: Mike Ott’s Littlerock

By Michael Sicinski / April 8, 2011

By Michael Sicinski Littlerock, California is, not to put too fine a point on it, a shithole. I’ve driven through it on my way to other places, and that’s really about all you’d ever want to do. It’s located in southern central California, just south of Edwards Air Force Base, and like a lot of…

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When the Salt Attacks the Sea: The Films of Mohammad Rasoulof

By Michael Sicinski / March 12, 2011

By Michael Sicinski The Islamic Republic of Iran v. Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof: A Developing Story Over the past month, there have been a number of promising indications that the heinous, unjust situation in which Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi are ensnared might change. Although at this point most members of the…

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The Muffled Cry: Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man

By Michael Sicinski / March 10, 2011

By Michael Sicinski The opening shot of Chadian director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s third theatrical feature is striking in at least two respects. It serves as an encapsulation of the film’s major conflict, since it introduces the two protagonists in a key environment. Adam (Youssouf Djaoro, also the star of Haroun’s previous film Daratt [2006]) is a…

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In the Long Run: The Robber

By Michael Sicinski / January 27, 2011

By Michael Sicinski If I were a betting man, I’d have put everything I had on Thomas Arslan’s In the Shadows (ably parsed by Christoph Huber in Cinema Scope 45) as breaking out from the German-language fare at last year’s Berlinale. In addition to being sharp, rigorous, and, to quote Charlie Kaufman’s mom, psychologically taut,…

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Spotlight | The Erotic Man

By Michael Sicinski / December 17, 2010

Spotlight | The Erotic Man (Jørgen Leth, Denmark) & Dialogues (Owen Land, US) By Michael Sicinski This fall in Toronto, 73-year-old Danish cultural institution Jørgen Leth world-premiered The Erotic Man, a nubile skinscape of the developing world based on his controversial 2005 autobiography, The Imperfect Man. (That title, of course, is meant to simultaneously conjure…

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Spotlight | Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller, UK)

By Michael Sicinski / September 21, 2010

By Michael Sicinski Robinson in Ruins, the latest essay film/experimental landscape study/cinematic state-of-the-union address from the great British avant-gardist Patrick Keiller, is many things. It’s the conclusion to a trilogy that even most hardcore cinephiles may not have known was in progress. It’s the articulation of a failed politics of “dwelling” and landscape use in…

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Features | Listen to Britain: On the Outskirts with Ben Rivers

By Michael Sicinski / June 18, 2010

By Michael Sicinski The cinema of Ben Rivers is one of the most bracing, refreshing new developments to occur in the experimental film world in recent years. This seems rather incontestable. Rivers’ work has been showcased by major international festivals such as Rotterdam, Oberhausen, Jeonju, and the Viennale, and in Film Comment’s recent poll of…

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Currency | La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, US/France, 2009)

By Michael Sicinski / March 17, 2010

It’s a bit difficult not to feel as if this review is already written. At this particular point in cinema history, the verdict is in on Frederick Wiseman. Much more than his compatriots in the loose confederation once called Direct Cinema, Wiseman has become consecrated as a kind of national institution, so much so that…

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Features | Songs of Innocence & Experience: Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson and the Post-Boomer

By Michael Sicinski / December 16, 2009

By Michael Sicinski Two of this year’s most spectacular auteur-driven releases—“spectacular” used not as an interchangeable superlative, but in the specific sense that the films generate spectacle through unique technical means—have been met with strikingly different expectations, and notably different responses, although both (owing to the wonders of the Internet age) had to put forth…

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Web Only | All Fall Down (Philip Hoffman, Canada)

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2009

Most films address the viewer rather unambiguously from a rhetorical standpoint of either great ambition or relative modesty, a formal speech-act of sorts that inevitably molds our responses and expectations. Such signals are like the filmmaker setting up an implicit contract with our receptiveness. Philip Hoffman’s new film All Fall Down is highly unusual, even…

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Spotlight | The Unbroken Path: Ben Russell’s Let Each One Go Where He May

By Michael Sicinski / September 12, 2009

By Michael Sicinski Ben Russell’s newest film, Let Each One Go Where He May, is the culmination not only of certain aims and tendencies within the filmmaker’s own impressive body of work. It actually represents the culmination of a particular tendency—or energy—that has been at work for a long time within experimental cinema, but has…

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Interviews | Reigniting the Flame: John Gianvito’s Profit motive and the whispering wind

By Michael Sicinski / September 3, 2009

By Michael Sicinski At the 2001 Vancouver International Film Festival I had the good fortune to catch a screening of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a three-hour independent feature by film scholar and curator John Gianvito. I had not heard very much about the film itself, but I had heard Gianvito’s name; a friend…

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Features | Songs Sung Blue: The Films of Michael Robinson

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2009

By Michael Sicinski We’d been to paradise, but we’d never been to Me After the grand phenomenological projects of Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos, the encyclopedic conceptualism of Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton, and the grand syntagmatiques of Yvonne Rainer and mid-to-late Jean-Luc Godard, the going line in experimental film and video criticism was that…

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Features | Spiritual Voice, Material World: The Trouble With Sokurov’s Alexandra

By Michael Sicinski / September 1, 2009

By Michael Sicinski There’s one major filmmaker from the pantheon to whom Alexander Sokurov is usually compared, and it isn’t Godard. But why not? Both men engage in “cinema” in the broadest possible sense, not only including feature-film work but also long- and short-form video, documentary, and television. Both filmmakers conceive of cinema as a…

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Spotlight | When It Was Blue (Jennifer Reeves, US)

By Michael Sicinski / August 29, 2009

By Michael Sicinski One of the principal experiences of viewing When It Was Blue has to do with its fleeting character, the multi-perspective, double-projector film-performance as a particular kind of “rush” that will not necessarily slow down for contemplation. What’s more, there is an anxiety for the viewer that this or that image missed will…

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Features | Return of the Grievous Angel: Richard Dutcher’s Post-Mormon Cinema

By Michael Sicinski / August 21, 2009

By Michael Sicinski While being labelled “the father of Mormon cinema” may not be exactly analogous to being “the dean of Helsinki stage magicians” or “the #1 live reptile merchant in the Quad Cities area,” it inevitably carries a tenor so deeply localized, even parochial, that the designation almost automatically becomes a kind of faint…

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