Richard Porton

It Must Be Heaven (Elia Suleiman, France/Qatar/Germany/Canada/Palestine/Turkey) — Masters

By Richard Porton / September 5, 2019

By Richard Porton Published in Cinema Scope #79 (Summer 2019) In conversations addressing the plight of what was once known as the “Third World,” one of the central debates still involves the inevitable tension between nationalism—as well as the quest for national identity—and the rather amorphous concept known as “cosmopolitanism.” In the Palestinian intellectual milieu,…

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Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 1, 2018

By Richard Porton Poverty porn at its most shameless, Nadine Labaki’s paean to Beirut’s street urchins charmed a number of viewers when it was screened in this year’s Cannes Competition; one can only conclude that otherwise reasonable critics are reduced to quivering sentimentalists when plied with images of adorable children and babies. Few films addressing…

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Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa, Germany/France/Netherlands/ Romania/Ukraine) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Richard Porton / August 31, 2018

By Richard Porton At first glance, Sergei Loznitsa’s new film—unlike his previous, intricately plotted voyages to Hell such as My Joy and A Gentle Creature—seems like a scattershot series of vignettes, but eventually, Donbass’ near-Buñuelian episodic structure (in interviews, Loznitza cites The Phantom of Liberty as an influence) acquires a cumulative power. Adopting a superficially…

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Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia/France/Belgium/Germany) — Masters

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2017

By Richard Porton From all outward appearances, the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintzev is a Putin-era incarnation of what was known during the Soviet era as a “dissident”: Leviathan his previous prize-winning film, did after all manage to upset the powers that be, especially the Russian culture minister Vladimir Medinsky. Produced, unlike Leviathan, without the assistance…

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In the Fade (Fatih Akin, Germany/France) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 1, 2017

By Richard Porton Directed by one of the world’s most heavy-handed directors, In the Fade is nothing if not unremittingly topical. The ultra-schematic plot foregrounds evil neo-Nazis with a yen for terrorism, victimized Kurds, and one kick-ass wreaker of vengeance played with great flair by Diane Kruger, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes…

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Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, US) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 9, 2016

From Cinema Scope #67 (Summer 2016) By Richard Porton Cannes 2016, if nothing else, presented viewers with object lessons in the rudiments of political cinema—from the hoariest agitprop to films that might not even have been perceived as overtly political. I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner, personifies a certain brand of over-determined, melodramatic…

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The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 5, 2016

By Richard Porton Each new film by the Dardenne brothers is soothingly familiar, in the sense that the directors masterfully recycle tried-and true-motifs. For their detractors, the Dardennes are in danger of making formulaic art films, while their equally fervent supporters maintain that, by continuing to plough familiar terrain, they are enriching an already distinguished…

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Loving (Jeff Nichols, US) — Gala Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 4, 2016

By Richard Porton There’s little question that Jeff Nichols’ Loving deals with one of the most fascinating, and little known, incidents in the history of American racial strife. Inspired by Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story (2011), Nichols retells the remarkable saga of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), an interracial couple whose…

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Two Lovers and a Bear (Kim Nguyen, Canada) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2016

By Richard Porton A decidedly whimsical take on amour fou, Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear stretches a thin premise to its limits. Lovers with daddy issues Roman (Dane DeHaan) and Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) reside in the Canadian Arctic. Supremely photogenic, as well as inseparable, the couple weathers a crisis when Lucy decides to…

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Hissein Habré: A Chadian Tragedy (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, France/Chad) — Masters

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2016

By Richard Porton At a time when documentaries are increasingly resorting to gimmicky ruses, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s simple and austere film on the bloody legacy of Hissein Habré, the Chadian dictator who was found guilty of war crimes by a court in Senegal in May, is a breath of fresh air. Completed before the trial ended,…

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The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, Iran) — Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 2, 2016

By Richard Porton “Attention must be paid”—the most famous line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman might well sum up the narrative trajectory of Asghar Farhadi’s latest. The protagonists of The Salesman are both performers in an amateur production of Miller’s play that functions as a de facto framing story, and the late American…

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TIFF 2015 | A Flickering Truth (Pietra Brettkelly, New Zealand)—TIFF Docs

By Richard Porton / September 7, 2015

By Richard Porton New Zealand documentarian Pietra Brettkelly’s A Flickering Truth focuses on some of the most intrepid preservationists to ever apply their talents to resuscitating celluloid: the staff of Afghan Film, the national film institute dedicated to housing Afghanistan’s imperilled film heritage. Brettkelly’s protagonists are a bickering group of cranky but idealistic film buffs,…

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TIFF 2015 | In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel, France)—Masters

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2015

By Richard Porton Like other recent Philippe Garrel films (e.g., Frontier of Dawn, Jealousy), In the Shadow of Women is a ruminative tale of a love triangle gone awry. What makes this latest installment in Garrel’s ongoing faux-autobiographical saga slightly different is the contribution of veteran screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. Best known for his work on…

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TIFF 2015 | Body (Malgorzata Szumowska, Poland)—Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2015

By Richard Porton One of the dreariest films to receive a showcase as a “Special Presentation” at TIFF in recent years, Malgorzata Szumowska’s Elles (2011) starred Juliette Binoche as a journalist investigating the plight of students earning a living as prostitutes, the resulting farrago illuminating neither the intricacies of the French sex industry nor the…

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TIFF 2015 | Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, US)—Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2015

By Richard Porton For those who heaped praise on Sicario after its Cannes premiere, all that mattered—in no particular order—were the virtues of Roger Deakins’ cinematography, Emily Blunt’s kick-ass performance as a FBI agent, and Denis Villeneuve’s assured command of the material. What became lost as critics endorsed the most vapid sort of formalism was…

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TIFF 2015 | Dheepan (Jacques Audiard, France)—Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2015

By Richard Porton Jacques Audiard is up to his old tricks. Just as Un prophète, his 2009 art-house success, cynically recycled an admixture of motifs from old prison films cross-fertilized with a dollop of Scorsese-like pizazz and a superficial veneer of social commentary, Dheepan sheds a few crocodile tears for the plight of a burnt-out…

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TIFF 2015 | Son of Saul (László Nemes, Hungary)—Special Presentations

By Richard Porton / September 1, 2015

By Richard Porton Originally published in Cinema Scope 63 (Summer 2015). Dennis Lim’s Artforum dispatch from Cannes pauses briefly to ponder the merits of László Nemes’ Son of Saul and concludes that, either despite or because of Nemes’ “showboating” tendencies, it’s a film that will “spawn a thousand think pieces.” If the ruminations that follow…

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Son of Saul (László Nemes, Hungary)

By Richard Porton / June 23, 2015

By Richard Porton Dennis Lim’s Artforum dispatch from Cannes pauses briefly to ponder the merits of László Nemes’ Son of Saul and concludes that, either despite or because of Nemes’ “showboating” tendencies, it’s a film that will “spawn a thousand think pieces.” If the ruminations that follow will, I’m afraid, constitute one of the first…

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TIFF 2014 | Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedrixian, Syria/France) — TIFF Docs

By Richard Porton / September 3, 2014

By Richard Porton Susan Sontag once observed how war photography enables us to both regard and consume the “pain of others.” Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedrixian’s powerful film confronts this quandary head on by challenging its audience not to be numbed by a series of horrific images, most of them culled from mobile-phone videos…

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TIFF 2013 | Omar (Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine)—Special Presentation

By Richard Porton / September 2, 2013

By Richard Porton While the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire has some inspired some distinguished non-fiction films since the dawn of the 21st century—notably Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s Route 181; Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel, which remains one of the least seen important documentaries of the last decade—most features tackling this intractable conflict are disappointingly mediocre.…

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TIFF 2013: Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Richard Porton / August 30, 2013

From Cinema Scope #55, Summer 2013 By Richard Porton By contrast to The Past, this year’s predominant Iranian Cannes entry, Mohammad Rasoulof’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn (which screened in Un Certain Regard and took home the FIPRESCI prize for that section), is not at all evasive when it comes to politics. Filmed clandestinely in Iran with…

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TIFF 2013 | The Past (Asghar Farhadi, Frace/Italy)

By Richard Porton / August 30, 2013

From Cinema Scope #55, Summer 2013 By Richard Porton For most critics, there’s an implied schism between conventional, “well-made” films and more challenging, supposedly obscure experimental or modernist cinema. A film such as Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past (a French production that was an entry in the Cannes Competition and won the best actress…

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A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, Canada/Germany)

By Richard Porton / September 28, 2011

By Richard Porton The title of Russell Jacoby’s 1983 polemic, The Repression of Psychoanalysis, suggests that the radical implications of the Freudian tradition have become muddled in an era where nothing seems more safely middle-class than a session on the couch with the shrink of one’s choice. In evoking a juncture at the turn of…

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Cannes 2011 | Melancholia (Lars von Trier, Denmark)

By Richard Porton / June 28, 2011

By Richard Porton “The purpose of provocations is to get people to think,” declared Lars von Trier in Stig Björkman’s documentary Tranceformer—A Portrait of Lars von Trier (1997). By those standards, the provocation von Trier masterminded at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which, in reference to the concomitant Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair that monopolized the television…

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Mildred Pierce’s Bitter Tears

By Richard Porton / March 12, 2011

By Richard Porton In “The Boys in the Back Room,” a famous essay written in 1940, Edmund Wilson damned James M. Cain’s work with faint praise by referring to the hard-boiled novelist as a “writer for the studios” whose “novels are produced in his off-time…they are a kind of Devil’s parody of the movies.” Yet…

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Spotlight | Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy)

By Richard Porton / June 18, 2010

By Richard Porton The lukewarm critical reception accorded Abbas Kiarostami’s Cannes Competition entry, Certified Copy, can be attributed to several factors. Some critics appeared taken aback by Kiarostami’s recasting of some of the themes featured in sober, melancholy films such as Close-up (1990) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) in what doubtless appeared to…

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Currency | Un prophète (Jacques Audiard, France)

By Richard Porton / December 16, 2009

For certain film critics, the encomium “well-made” has near-talismanic powers. While it would doubtless be condescending to damn a novel with faint praise by saying it’s, say, “well-structured,” a number of commentators seemingly believe that film craftsmanship today is so slipshod that merely acknowledging a basic level of competence adds up to a huge endorsement.…

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Currency | The Lives of Others

By Richard Porton / September 4, 2009

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany) By Richard Porton As a sort of postmortem to the aborted East German workers’ uprising of 1953, Bertolt Brecht, despite his own cozy relationship with the regime, wrote a poem entitled The Solution that facetiously urged the State to “dissolve the people and elect another.” The…

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Spotlight | Entre les murs (Laurent Cantet, France)

By Richard Porton / September 1, 2009

By Richard Porton Schoolroom films appeal to both mainstream and radical filmmakers because the setting often functions as a laboratory for—to use the current buzzword—change. Whether in fiercely independent films such as Jean Vigo’s  Zéro de conduite (1933) or Hollywood boilerplate on the order of Blackboard Jungle (1955), or even Dangerous Minds (1995), classrooms invariably…

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Currency | Happy-Go-Lucky

By Richard Porton / August 31, 2009

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK) By Richard Porton Mike Leigh—celebrated playwright, filmmaker, and world-class blowhard—rarely misses an opportunity to pay homage to his own work. In the case of his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, he sums up his agenda as life affirming and “anti-miserablist”—a riposte to critics who consider him an avatar of British realist gloom. Audiences…

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