Robert Koehler

The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes, Portugal)

By Robert Koehler / September 20, 2021

2020 may go down as The Year From Hell, but at least it gave us The Tsugua Diaries. Rudely interrupted by the COVID pandemic in proceeding with not one, but two productions—Savagery and Grand Tour—Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes opted to do exactly the opposite of what everyone, including undoubtedly the Portuguese Film Commission, expected: they went and made a movie, deciding, just like the NBA, to create a bubble environment (at a farmhouse compound near the Atlantic coast) and hope for the best.

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TIFF 2021 | Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark)

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2021

By Robert Koehler Jonas Poher Rasmussen, the Danish co-writer and director of Flee, met an Afghan refugee in high school. He’s maintained a friendship with him ever since, but realized at some point that he didn’t really know him. Rasmussen’s heartfelt yet gimmicky attempt at understanding him better isn’t as failed as the 20-year US…

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TIFF 2021 | Whether the Weather is Fine (Carlo Francisco Manatad, Philippines/France/Singapore/ Indonesia/Germany/Qatar)

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2021

By Robert Koehler In early November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the eastern Filipino island of Leyte with wind speeds as high as 195mph—the second-highest ever recorded in the Western Pacific. Haiyan killed over 6,300 and flattened most of Tacloban City, the hometown of filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad. In his feature debut, Manatad has reconceived the…

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TIFF 2021 | Unclenching the Fists (Kira Kovalenko, Russia)

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2021

By Robert Koehler A suffocating, claustrophobic box canyon, lousy with industrial waste, is the dominant landscape of Kira Kovalenko’s second feature, Unclenching the Fists. Kovalenko, who workshopped with Alexander Sokurov but is firmly her own filmmaker, uses this place—Mizur, in the Caucasus highlands of North Ossetia-Alania—as a metonym for the awful, hopeless lives of her…

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TIFF 2021 | The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro & Miguel Gomes, Portugal)

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2021

By Robert Koehler 2020 may go down as The Year From Hell, but at least it gave us The Tsugua Diaries. Rudely interrupted by the COVID pandemic in proceeding with not one, but two productions—Savagery and Grand Tour—Maureen Fazendeiro and Miguel Gomes opted to do exactly the opposite of what everyone, including undoubtedly the Portuguese…

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TIFF 2021 | Jockey (Clint Bentley & Greg Kwedar, US)

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2021

By Robert Koehler The sun is setting on the career of Phoenix-based jockey Jackson Silva, literally, in Jockey, an old-fashioned sports movie that has inexplicably become one of the hits of this year’s North American festival circuit. It was one of the few acquisitions by Sony Pictures Classics at Sundance, a testimony to either how…

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TIFF 2021 | Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Edwin, Indonesia/Singapore/Germany)

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2021

By Robert Koehler One of the dirty little secrets of art cinema is that most directors who make such films can’t do action. (I adore Zama [2017] as much as anybody, but, oh my, those action scenes…) So it is with Edwin and his well-intentioned but bumbling Indonesian martial-arts tribute movie based on Eka Kurniawan’s…

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TIFF 2021 | The Odd-Job Men (Neus Ballús, Spain)

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2021

By Robert Koehler It is advisable to ignore most festival program notes. It is especially advisable to ignore the TIFF program note accompanying The Odd-Job Men, which would set up the viewer to expect a feminist parable on machismo. Catalan filmmaker Neus Ballús and the screenwriting team of Montse Ganges and Ana Sanz-Magallón (under their…

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TV or Not TV | Neutrality is Not an Option: Raoul Peck’s Exterminate All the Brutes

By Robert Koehler / June 15, 2021

In the fourth and final episode of Exterminate All the Brutes, Raoul Peck declares in his commanding voiceover narration, “The very existence of this film is a miracle.” Those are mighty big words for a filmmaker to say about his own work—it’s hard to imagine even the always self-impressed Godard making such a statement—but by the end of Peck’s grand yet accessible essay film, the viewer can’t argue.

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Sundance 2021: In the Year of COVID

By Robert Koehler / March 25, 2021

Now that the cinema world was a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, what movies would be done and available? Would anything premiering be worth a damn after sitting on the shelf for nearly 12 months? Were the good movies being held back in the hope that actual festivals would kick back into gear by, oh, late spring? (Hope springs eternal.) That last question was the one that really mattered, one that pestered the fall festivals of 2020 to a degree but which has now come down hard on festivals in early 2021, as the feeling (is it just a feeling?) grows that the pandemic is coming to the beginning of the end.

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Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, US)

By Robert Koehler / December 22, 2020

By Robert Koehler A passage in Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland describes the unlikely birth and hard death of the life of Empire, a mining town in northwest Nevada. “In 1923,” Bruder writes, “laborers established a tent colony on the site of what later became the town. By some accounts, Empire boasted the longest continuously operating…

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TV or Not TV | Ozark’s America and the Rise of the Longform

By Robert Koehler / June 23, 2020

By Robert Koehler “Why do I have this feeling that it’d be better off if you were dead?” Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) says this to Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) in their first encounter inside a public-park washroom in Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams’ longform series, Ozark. As one of the notorious Langmores—a clan of (mostly)…

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Sundance: Power and Fear in Park City

By Robert Koehler / March 20, 2020

Sundance equals power, and for a good reason: get your movie into the lineup, and you have an excellent chance of securing distribution in the US, a better chance by far than at any other festival. This means that it’s the supreme gateway, and despite or because of this fact, Sundance’s audiences are among the most conservative and rearguard in the international festival world.

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They Are All Equal Now: The Irishman’s Epic of Sadness

By Robert Koehler / December 29, 2019

Since cinema is moving toward television, and since the MCU generation is trying to actually tussle with a good fella like Martin Scorsese, and since all of this is wrapped around a cultural moment steeped in glorious contradictions, the timing of The Irishman couldn’t be more perfect.

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Mariam (Sharipa Urazbayeva, Kazakhstan) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2019

By Robert Koehler  Shot in a stark, rural patch of Kazakhstan and contained inside the frame of a short story—quite often the best model for a feature screenplay to follow—Mariam tells the tale of a woman, wife, and mother who doesn’t realize that she must change her life until outside forces tell her so. Then,…

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Instinct (Halina Reijn, Netherlands) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 6, 2019

By Robert Koehler  Viewed strictly as a vehicle for Carice van Houten, who had a fine European film career for herself before all the world began to know her as Game of Thrones’ Red Queen, Instinct is a serviceable entry on the actor’s resume, but, as a credible psychodrama that pits a therapist against her…

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Synonyms (Nadav Lapid, France/Israel/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 4, 2019

By Robert Koehler Published in Cinema Scope #80 (Fall 2019) Like an alien dropping out of the sky, Yoav, the hero of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, is introduced as a being without a home, a purpose, or even clothes. As he scrambles naked around a vacant Parisian apartment, his strong, lean, athletic body mitigates his desperate…

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Krabi 2562 (Anocha Suwichakornpong & Ben Rivers, Thailand/UK) — Wavelengths

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2019

By Robert Koehler Since Ben Rivers is credited as co-director of Krabi 2562, there could be the assumption that this is another “Ben Rivers film.” The many instances in this project where assumptions are wrong start here, because Rivers has completely given himself over to his collaborator, the gifted Anocha Suwichakornpong, who is absolutely the…

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The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, UK/US)

By Robert Koehler / June 27, 2019

Given the evidence of Federico Fellini’s 8½ (1963) and François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1974), time isn’t kind to moviemakers who decide to leap into autobiography: too often, such an endeavour entails rampant solipsism, a romanticization of history, and getting the practice of moviemaking (and cinema itself) entirely wrong.

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Orange Days (Arash Lahooti, Iran) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler / September 14, 2018

By Robert Koehler For the first several minutes of Orange Days, the script by director Arash Lahooti and writer Jamileh Darolshafaie tries to be mysterious about the livelihood of a woman named Aban (veteran Iranian star Hedieh Tehrani, whose name the TIFF program notes consistently misspell). The big reveal is that she supervises an orange grove…

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The Truth About Killer Robots (Maxim Pozdorovkin, US) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2018

By Robert Koehler In the span of eight months, nonfiction filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has produced two features on what are, on paper, vital topics: Our New President, which premiered at Sundance, addresses his native Russia’s gullible openness to the Putin propaganda machine’s relentless promotion of Donald Trump before and after his US election; now, with…

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Sew the Winter to My Skin (Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, South Africa/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2018

By Robert Koehler If 2018 may be remembered as the year when the movies finally realized that Afro-futurism was a viable genre, it may also be remembered as the year when the African Western finally got some mojo. It’s been a long, long time since Moustapha Alassane’s The Return of an Adventurer (1966), and on…

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Beautiful Boy (Felix van Groeningen, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2018

By Robert Koehler Beautiful Boy plays it safe with the details of the true story of meth addict Nic Sheff and his father, freelance writer David Sheff. At the same time, the movie risks danger with a time-jumping, memory-driven editing scheme that overlaps sound and image in ways that have generally been all but forgotten…

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In Fabric (Peter Strickland, UK) — Midnight Madness

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2018

By Robert Koehler I’ve remarked elsewhere in Cinema Scope’s TIFF coverage (specifically regarding Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro) that one of the manifestations of our current state of Late Auteurism is filmmakers who believe their own press and think that they’re actually “authors” will copy earlier and greater masters. In art, imitation is essential: true originality is…

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Peterloo (Mike Leigh, UK) — Masters

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2018

By Robert Koehler Make no mistake about it: Peterloo, the new movie directed by Mike Leigh, is one weird piece of work. Seemingly created outside of time and space, with no relation to either anything else Leigh has directed nor anything else in contemporary cinema (except for Dick Pope’s ultra HD digital cinematography, which often…

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The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2018

By Robert Koehler Some break the law—it’s their nature. Some go after the lawbreakers—it’s their nature. To capture two characters in these natural states is the aim of The Old Man & the Gun, a free and easy account of the real-life exploits of a gang of elderly bank robbers in the early ’80s led…

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Loro (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France) — Masters

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2018

By Robert Koehler Because of the various creative ways that capital funds cinema, decadence and corruption are never too far away from eating away at its heart. So, beware of movies about decadence: these are movies that tempt fate, walk right up to the line of becoming the very thing they’re observing or satirizing, and…

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Sibel (Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, France/Germany/Luxembourg/ Turkey) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2018

By Robert Koehler A movie like Sibel brings out all the worst instincts in programmers working for festivals striving to present a wide range of contemporary international cinema, and, in the bargain, attract buyers. Sibel ticks off so many currently hot-button-category boxes that it’s a kind of a festival porn piece: Girl Power, physical disability,…

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Sundance 2018: What’s the Story?

By Robert Koehler / March 16, 2018

By Robert Koehler In Park City this January, all of those attending the Sundance Film Festival were told in no uncertain terms on a daily, if not hourly, basis that “the story lives in you.” The statement was right there on the cover of the catalogue, so dominant that it replaced the words—“Sundance Film Festival”—that…

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Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

By Robert Koehler / December 19, 2017

By Robert Koehler SoCal being SoCal, it’s hard to leave it, especially if you were born there. The only good joke in Beatriz at Dinner has someone cracking wise about living in Newport Beach and the problem of going on vacation: Where do you go, since the best weather is here? People who don’t know…

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Kissing Candice (Aoife McArdle, Ireland) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler / September 15, 2017

By Robert Koehler Any discussion about Kissing Candice begins with cinematographer Steve Annis, who, up until now, has been a specialist in music videos for Nick Cave, Florence and the Machine, U2, and Bryan Ferry. Operating in anamorphic widescreen with writer-director Aoife McArdle (herself a music-video veteran, who previously collaborated with the cinematographer for U2’s…

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Don’t Talk to Irene (Pat Mills, Canada) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2017

By Robert Koehler After the dark pleasures of his debut feature Guidance, writer-director Pat Mills wanders into the deep Toronto suburban bush with his considerably less funny follow-up Don’t Talk to Irene. High school seems to be Mills’ bailiwick: Guidance took school counselling to extreme, twisted places, mining good sources of satire; Don’t Talk to…

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Battle of the Sexes (Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton, USA) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2017

By Robert Koehler It is surely awards season and TIFF launch time when a spate of movies appear featuring real-life figures from the recent American and British past (because they must be Anglo-Saxon, just because they must), cast with stars undergoing striking physical transformations, art-designed with meticulous attention to period details down to the wallpaper…

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The Price of Success (Teddy Lussi-Modeste, France) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 8, 2017

By Robert Koehler Considering that a stand-up performer who goes by the singular moniker of Brahim can pack French concert houses and have his face plastered all over Paris, he must have some pretty damn fine comic stylings. Whatever they may be, they pop up at around the 26-minute mark of the erratic and ultimately…

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The Butterfly Tree (Priscilla Cameron, Australia) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2017

By Robert Koehler Is writer-director Priscilla Cameron kidding or not? The recent Melbourne Film Festival reception to her first feature The Butterfly Tree charitably suggests that this treacly tale may be meant in the spirit of camp. But camp must have a funny side, and there isn’t a moment in this quasi-magical realist coming-of-age story…

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Arrhythmia (Boris Khlebnikov, Russia/Finland/Germany) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2017

By Robert Koehler Arrhythmia was originally intended as a comedy about a stressed-out couple in the Russian health-care industry, but co-writers Boris Khlebnikov (who also directs) and Natalia Meshchaninova made the wrong decision by switching gears to the more literal tone of a modest melodrama. The comic possibilities are still visible under the surface, especially…

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Dragonfly Eyes (Xu Bing, China/USA) — Wavelengths

By Robert Koehler / September 5, 2017

By Robert Koehler Anticipating the current political moment of a fake US president attacking perceived enemies as fake, much of which is triggered by a culture drowning in simulacra, conceptual artist Xu Bing’s first foray into cinema seems like an ideal Chinese response to the madness. The result of a massive, years-long project to compile,…

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April’s Daughter (Michel Franco, Mexico) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 4, 2017

By Robert Koehler As long as Michel Franco keeps winning major festival awards, like this year’s Cannes Un Certain Regard jury prize for his atrocious April’s Daughter, it appears that he’ll be able to keep making movies. That, and getting help from the likes of Tim Roth, who has for some reason decided to become…

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Cinema Concrete: Dane Komljen’s All the Cities of the North 

By Robert Koehler / March 24, 2017

By Robert Koehler  There are several ways to measure the greatness of Dane Komljen’s first feature work, All the Cities of the North, and one of them is simply asking people who’ve just seen it if they can compare it to anything else. I’ve played this little game with viewers, many asked randomly, after festival…

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Super-Ornithologist: João Pedro Rodrigues’ Birdman

By Robert Koehler / December 19, 2016

By Robert Koehler It was a reminder of how much we desperately need stories and storytelling to make sense of the world when I saw one guy punch another guy in the face one evening on the UCLA campus in 1977. The guy getting punched had become all agitated arguing for his favourite book at…

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The Bait (Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India) — Masters

By Robert Koehler / September 17, 2016

By Robert Koehler The West Bengali auteur Buddhadeb Dasgupta is sufficiently ignored in the West so that his new movie, The Bait, isn’t listed among his 35 director credits at IMDb. Before watching it at TIFF, I would remark to friends, cinephiles, and fellow critics that I was “about to see the movie by Dasgupta,”…

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Bleed for This (Ben Younger, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 17, 2016

By Robert Koehler Fun fact about the tenacious American boxer Vinny Paz, or as he was known during his heyday, Vinny Pazienza: In his final bid for the WBC world super middleweight title, he lost to Canada, represented by Quebec’s Eric “Lucky” Lucas. No Canadian has made a movie about Lucas, not yet anyway, but…

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Into the Inferno (Werner Herzog, UK/Austria) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 17, 2016

By Robert Koehler Like certain kinds of sports fans, those who are into volcanoes can’t understand those who aren’t. (I’ve met a few, and I’ve found little else in life to discuss with them.) So Into the Inferno, Werner Herzog’s third film addressing volcanoes, and the first taking a global perspective, is not for those…

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The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 17, 2016

By Robert Koehler Since few grieved over the demise of the dead-end genre known as the High School Comedy, it’s hard to fathom the purpose behind debuting writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s gambit to revive it with The Edge of Seventeen. But because James L. Brooks is backing it as producer and Hailee Steinfeld—currently best-of-show among…

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Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog, France/US/Germany/Mexico) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 17, 2016

By Robert Koehler In an ideal world, some things wouldn’t be possible in international cinema, such as Kim Ki-duk making any more movies. (Actually, China is doing its bit for that cause, in its own dubious way, right now.) Another would be that Werner Herzog couldn’t make any narrative features in English. The man, so…

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Yourself and Yours (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea) — Masters

By Robert Koehler / September 16, 2016

By Robert Koehler A parlour game likely to happen at many festivals around the world over the next several months will be this: Is there one Minjung who appears on screen as the central female character in Hong Sangsoo’s Yourself and Yours, or are there at least two, maybe even three? Does she have an…

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Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life (Fariboz Kamkari, Italy) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 15, 2016

By Robert Koehler There’s no excuse making a poor film on the life and work of one of cinema’s greatest cinematographers. A film about Carlo Di Palma should practically direct itself: stitch together clips from his major (and some of his minor) work—from Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style (1961) and Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964), Blow-up…

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White Sun (Deepak Rauniyar, Nepal/US/Qatar/Netherlands) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 13, 2016

By Robert Koehler One of Sohrab Shahid Saless’ earliest masterworks is titled A Simple Event (1973), which could easily be the title—and a better one—for co-writer/director Deepak Rauniyar’s White Sun. The movie comes to TIFF direct from Venice’s Horizons section, which suggests that it may be an adventurous piece of cinema. It’s not, but aside…

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Off Frame AKA Revolution to Until Victory (Mohanad Yaqubi, Palestine/France/Qatar/Lebanon) — TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2016

By Robert Koehler Beyond the rare screening of Far From Vietnam (1967), viewers today have few chances to encounter the Third Cinema movement, that brief but intense burst of nonfiction work generally informed by Marxist-Leninist internationalism whose superstar was a radicalized Jean-Luc Godard. If you attended North American universities in the mid-’70s you would have…

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Daguerrotype (Kurosawa Kiyoshi, France/Japan/Belgium) — Platform

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2016

By Robert Koehler Everybody wants to go to Paris, even Kurosawa Kiyoshi. Usually, these ventures to France by non-French directors in order to make French movies result in seriously messy omelettes. (Asghar Farhadi, anyone?) Kurosawa’s Daguerrotype is certainly a mess, though it’s easy to surmise why he was attracted to bring his interest in ghosts,…

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Buster Mal’s Heart (Sarah Adina Smith, US) — Vanguard

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2016

By Robert Koehler Rami Malek has become the new face of the Disturbed Man, a type owned in the past by Peter Lorre, Ray Milland, Anthony Perkins, Dustin Hoffman and Jake Gyllenhaal. That list suggests that the quality of our Disturbed Men has been somewhat declining. Malek may have reversed that trend purely with Mr.…

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Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (Terrence Malick, Germany) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2016

By Robert Koehler Time was, when he was actually doing good work, Terrence Malick seemed to appear with a new movie once a decade, if that. Now that he’s making drivel, Malick can’t stop himself from churning them out, which, a theory goes, is why they’re drivel. That theory, however, can’t explain the ridiculous new…

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The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America (Paul Dugdale, UK) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2016

By Robert Koehler Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues (1973) remains the gnarliest rock-band tour movie ever made, and the best Stones movie too. Watching the new Stones tour movie, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, will recall Frank’s movie for all the ways in which the band has changed. Once profane and on the verge of…

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Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair, Uganda/South Africa) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2016

By Robert Koehler Disney’s second African movie of the year since The Jungle Book is set in India, Queen of Katwe is deep-dish Disney of the live-action variety, the kind that parents take their kids to to make them better and make themselves as parents feel better. Director Mira Nair, operating far from her Indian…

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Burn Your Maps (Jordan Roberts, US) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 10, 2016

By Robert Koehler A small tale of a boy’s obsession realized, writer-director Jordan Roberts’ Burn Your Maps is the perfect movie for TIFF audiences who want to do some armchair travelling but don’t want to bother with those pesky subtitles. Albertan visitors to the festival will be doubly happy: the landscapes of their wealthy and…

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Snowden (Oliver Stone, Germany/US)

By Robert Koehler / September 10, 2016

By Robert Koehler If Snowden, director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald’s version of the Edward Snowden affair, is remembered for anything, it will be as the first Hollywood movie that turned Barack Obama into a bad guy. Time was, back in the day when Obama walked on water, there was a thing you could…

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The Magnificent Seven (Antoine Fuqua, US) — Gala Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2016

By Robert Koehler Diversity, thy name is The Magnificent Seven 2016: what was once a group of white guys saving a town of poor Mexican campesinos is now a veritable United Nations of the West. The assemblage of these gunfighters is the apotheosis of the Obama Era in the movies. The assemblyman and leader is…

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Souvenir (Bavo Deferne, Belgium/Luxembourg/France) — Special Presentations

By Robert Koehler / September 9, 2016

By Robert Koehler A movie bonbon that melts in your hand before you can pop it in your mouth, Souvenir tries to package its kitsch as dressed-up fun, but all it does is give Isabelle Huppert something to do between her real movies. Huppert, like any actor, needs breathers between the heavy assignments; for example,…

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Hema Hema: Sing Me a Song While I Wait (Khyentse Norbu, Bhutan/Hong Kong) — Platform

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2016

By Robert Koehler As the world’s only Buddhist lama who also makes movies that screen at major international festivals and have received commercial releases, Khyentse Norbu is quite the operator. Under his Buddhist name Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, he conducts sessions in India and his native Bhutan and, as he is thought to be the incarnation…

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Bezness as Usual (Alex Pitstra, Netherlands) – TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 7, 2016

By Robert Koehler Dutch filmmaker Alex Pitstra’s mother Anneke, trying to bounce back from a bitter divorce, vacationed in a Tunisia beach resort in the late ’70s, where she met and fell for local playboy Mohsen Ben Hassen. Together, back in the Netherlands, they had little Alex, soon after she had learned that Mohsen was…

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We Are Never Alone (Petr Vaclav, Czech Republic/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 6, 2016

By Robert Koehler “Miserablism” has long been a term tossed around by lazy critics, mainly when they feel overworked at festivals, and aimed at movies they feel miserable having to sit through. Béla Tarr and Pedro Costa, to name two of the highest on the depth chart, have long been slapped around as “miserablists” by…

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Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil/France) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 5, 2016

From Cinema Scope #67 (Summer 2016) Termite Art: Kleber Mendonça Filho on Aquarius By Robert Koehler The Year of Trump now has its movie. In Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature, Aquarius, a property developer tries to force the last resident to move out of an old but hardly decrepit apartment building on a prime beachside…

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Termite Art: Kleber Mendonça Filho on Aquarius

By Robert Koehler / June 27, 2016

By Robert Koehler The Year of Trump now has its movie. In Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature Aquarius, a property developer tries to force the last resident to move out of an old but hardly decrepit apartment building on a prime beachside lot. The tenant is Clara (Sonia Braga), a respected 65-year-old music critic and…

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TIFF 2014 | The Tribe (Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine) — Discovery

By Robert Koehler / September 1, 2014

From Cinema Scope #59 By Robert Koehler In his third short film, Diagnosis (2009), Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy shows a young working-class man—possibly the father—snuffing a newborn infant with a pillow in a hospital. In his fourth short, Deafness (2010), a cop interrogates a deaf-mute suspect by nearly suffocating him with a plastic bag in his squad…

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Festivals | Berlin: The Forma of Things to Come

By Robert Koehler / March 20, 2014

By Robert Koehler Amongst the certainties of every large festival, three are more certain than the others. One, every large festival shows many bad movies. Second, no two people (unless they’re attached at the hip) see remotely similar lineups of movies and can’t see enough of them to get the truly big picture on the…

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TIFF 2013 | Bastards (Claire Denis, France)—Masters

By Robert Koehler / September 4, 2013

By Robert Koehler The editor/publisher/filmmaker of this fine publication (in Issue 55) accurately termed Claire Denis’ latest her “incredibly divisive and equally irate attack on late capitalism.” Why Bastards is even slightly divisive is just one of the year’s many cinema mysteries, and it’s fairly easy to predict that after the ridiculously hothouse atmosphere of…

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TIFF 2013 | The Mayor (Emiliano Altuna Fistolera, Carlos Federico Rossini & Diego Osorno, Mexico)—TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 3, 2013

By Robert Koehler It’s not surprising that Mexico’s drug war can verge into surrealism, as Mexico oozes with surrealism. But there are many shades to this condition, and The Mayor captures one of them with just about the right deadpan tone. In the wealthy Monterrey suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, the country’s statistically safest…

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TIFF 2013 | Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Marcel Ophüls, France)—TIFF Docs

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2013

By Robert Koehler Long ago in a cinema world far away, Marcel Ophüls made a movie titled The Sorrow and the Pity, an angry jeremiad against French collusion with the Nazis, and it left scars. Ophüls, Max’s son, had none of his father’s gifts for the combined grace and magnificence of mise en scène wrapped…

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TIFF 2013 | Wasted Youth (Argyris Papadimitropoulos & Jan Vogel, Greece)—City to City

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2013

By Robert Koehler Incredibly, Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ and Jan Vogel’s sharply defined, co-written and directed look at an Athens teetering on the edge of mass social violence is only now receiving its Toronto premiere, which means that TIFF 2011 passed on one of the finds of Rotterdam 2011, where Wasted Youth premiered. (Let this be a…

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TIFF 2013 | Le Démantèlement (Sébastien Pilote, Canada)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2013

By Robert Koehler An exceptionally pokey attempt to bring King Lear (and maybe just a bit of Père Goriot) to the Québécois farmlands, Sébastien Pilote’s Le Démantèlement reduces the spectacle of patriarchal self-destruction to the level of watching a cup of tea grow cold on the table. Something happened here, but oh my, how utterly…

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TIFF 2013 | The Summer of Flying Fish (Marcela Said, Chile/France)—Discovery

By Robert Koehler / September 2, 2013

By Robert Koehler The long shadow of Lucrecia Martel casts itself over the atmospherically weighty, metaphorically leaden The Summer of Flying Fish, Marcela Said’s uncertain entry into fiction after a string of non-fiction features. After Martel rewrote the coming-of-age playbook a decade ago in Argentina with La cienaga, Said is late to the same game…

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TIFF 2013 | Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen, Singapore)—Discovery

By Robert Koehler / August 31, 2013

By Robert Koehler Howard Hawks thought that if a movie contained four or five memorable scenes, the movie worked. Anthony Chen, who won Cannes’ Camera d’Or for Ilo Ilo, would please Hawks. Chen knows his memorable scenes, and they usually involve two or more of a quartet of indelible characters stumbling and bumbling about a…

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TIFF 2013 | Quai d’Orsay (Bertrand Tavernier, France)—Special Presentation

By Robert Koehler / August 31, 2013

By Robert Koehler The credits, right there on screen, insist that Quai d’Orsay is “un film de Bertrand Tavernier,” but I don’t believe it. Maybe some imposter named “Bertrand Tavernier,” appropriating the name of a director who, to put it mildly, is hardly associated with satirical farce. Adapting former government speechwriter Abel Lanzac’s autobiographical graphic…

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TIFF 2013 | Heart of a Lion (Dome Karukoski, Finland/Sweden)—Contemporary World Cinema

By Robert Koehler / August 31, 2013

By Robert Koehler Marrying narrative contrivances with topical real-world issues is always a bad idea: the former is dead certain to spell trouble from the start, the latter usually ensures a stolid movie. Thus, Dome Karukoski’s Heart of a Lion, which performs this very shotgun marriage with unearned gusto. Screenwriter Aleksi Bardy strains to justify…

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TIFF 2013 | A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan)

By Robert Koehler / August 30, 2013

From Cinema Scope #55, Summer 2013. By Robert Koehler Jia Zhangke is not an artist who normally trucks in anger. In an era when film criticism and programming have been steadily shifting away from a focus on nationalist tendencies, led by filmmakers who’ve become globalized along with the rest of us, Jia has maintained a…

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Cannes 2013 | A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, China)

By Robert Koehler / June 24, 2013

By Robert Koehler Jia Zhangke is not an artist who normally trucks in anger. In an era when film criticism and programming have been steadily shifting away from a focus on nationalist tendencies, led by filmmakers who’ve become globalized along with the rest of us, Jia has maintained a steady bead on his native Mainland…

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DVD Bonus | Upper West Side Story: Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2012

So, in the end, #teammargaret wins. Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, the first movie rescued from oblivion by Twitter, is now properly viewable. Initially released by Fox Searchlight on two screens in New York and Los Angeles last October with virtually no promotion, the famously beleaguered production appeared to be DOA until Slant’s Jaime Christley’s famously successful…

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Wandering in Vienna: Jem Cohen and the Adventure of Museum Hours

By Robert Koehler / September 11, 2012

“Kunsthistorisches. It’s the big old one.” This is how Vienna’s massive, venerable, lovely and, indeed, elderly central art museum is termed in Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours, and it neatly sums up the film’s warm, casual attitude toward weighty cultural institutions while serving as a way of reframing formerly perceived paragons of elitism in a more…

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The Cheshire Cat Quinzaine

By Robert Koehler / June 24, 2012

By Robert Koehler It was either a sign of the measure of the complete revulsion felt by those who had worked with previous Quinzaine des Réalisateurs director Frédéric Boyer, or an expression of relief that the 44th edition was coming to a conclusion (or both), that new director Eduoard Waintrop was thanked from the Theatre…

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Slow Action / Sack Barrow / Two Years at Sea

By Robert Koehler / December 20, 2011

By Robert Koehler When we first found fire, we had our first movie. Once the flames began to curl around the wood, building up heat and its own thermal momentum, the fire took hold, and began to capture the imagination of those staring into the constantly flickering light, with stories and images emerging. For millennia,…

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It’s the Earth Not the Moon (Gonçalo Tocha, Portugal)

By Robert Koehler / September 28, 2011

By Robert Koehler The lure of islands, their fundamental thereness, their separation from, and fragile connections to, the rest of civilization, their existence as an ideal metonym for individual identity but also for the world as a whole—all these, and more, make islands powerful places for filmmakers to land upon. When they do, they’re hopefully…

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Nicolas Winding Refn and the Search for a Real Hero

By Robert Koehler / September 28, 2011

By Robert Koehler “Hey, do you wanna see somethin’?”—Driver in Drive In the middle of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, a film punctuated by extreme flourishes of violence and vengeance, there is a period of peace. It occurs when Driver (Ryan Gosling), a quietly contained guy who holds down three jobs—auto mechanic, movie stunt driver, and…

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Take Shelter: Jeff Nichols’ Age of Anxiety

By Robert Koehler / June 28, 2011

By Robert Koehler Unlike any recent American film, Jeff Nichols’ Cannes Critics Week winner Take Shelter gives expression to an extremely nervous country. The pleasure of good action, suspense, or horror films is that they elicit a physical response, drawing out a reaction and release in the viewer that can even be transformative. The viewer…

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Interview | The Thinking Image: Fred Kelemen on Béla Tarr and The Turin Horse

By Robert Koehler / March 12, 2011

By Robert Koehler An aging, partially disabled father and his loyal, hard-working daughter endure six days and nights of a fierce windstorm in their lonely farmhouse while their horse—their means of sustenance—gradually loses its will to work or eat. This could be the stuff of a play, but Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse consciously contains…

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The Great American Crack-up: Conspiracies and Crazies at Sundance 2011

By Robert Koehler / February 4, 2011

By Robert Koehler Well before Sundance 2011, it’s been a rough time for America. The Tea Party/Palin acolytes were increasingly scared of the black man in the White House, and with a compliant GOP gave him a “shellacking.” Gun nuts drifted away from the firing range and started shooting at elected officials in Tucson, eliciting…

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Youth in Reboot: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

By Robert Koehler / January 14, 2011

By Robert Koehler Hollywood youth comedy—that genre made for youths featuring youths—once the dream factory of a new wave of bright young things who were supposed to transform that end of the business over a decade ago, now resembles a stuffed doll mangled and torn to shreds by mangy dogs. Before the August arrival of…

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Vancouver: Dragons & Tigers & Children

By Robert Koehler / December 17, 2010

Conventional wisdom says that a film festival jury should always have a talent spread; that is, a director here, an actor there, perhaps a critic or an academic or a programmer tossed in for good measure. This is because, as a rule, in every unscientific study ever done on the matter, directors and actors tend to select more conservatively, close to the mainstream, while non-filmmaking folk tend to lean more radically

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Spotlight | Foreign Parts (Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, US)

By Robert Koehler / September 21, 2010

By Robert Koehler The street—if the patch of 39th Avenue in the Willets Point section of New York’s Queens borough can be termed a street at all—looks stomped on by some giant, angry beast. When the rains come, the street, lined with junkyards, auto-repair shops, auto-body shops, and auto-parts shops turns into a flood zone,…

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Spotlight | Poetry (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea)

By Robert Koehler / June 18, 2010

By Robert Koehler Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry asks no less remarkable a question than this: Can the onset of a person’s loss of language also be the beginning of a new state of consciousness? If poetry can be termed as the elimination of all but the most essential words to convey the most perceptive thoughts, then…

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Columns | Festivals | The Sundance-Rotterdam-Berlin Express

By Robert Koehler / March 17, 2010

By Robert Koehler A tour of Sundance to Rotterdam to Berlin makes one thing clear: The big film festivals share much in common with political parties and their conventions. Each has their agendas, interest groups, constituencies, factions, behind-the-scenes power players, changing leaderships, avant-gardes, and rear guards. And parties. (Or, as we used to call them…

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Spotlight | Between Two Worlds (Vimukthi Jayasundara, Sri Lanka/France)

By Robert Koehler / December 16, 2009

When video games and the American war machine met in an unholy alliance of cultural Armageddon called Desert Storm, the separation between war-making, war games, and war movies eroded and finally dissolved, with its black apotheosis on 9/11, the day New York, in that sickening phrase, felt like a movie. By that point, the notion…

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Features | Agrarian Utopias/Dystopias: The New Nonfiction

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2009

By Robert Koehler In the brave new world of films that have escaped from the categories of “narrative” and “documentary,” the matter at hand isn’t one of—to use another quotable word—“reality.” Indeed, the shattering of the simpler notions of reality is a crucial function of these films, since they’re in part expressions of doubt that…

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Sundance 2009: Lost Frontier

By Robert Koehler / September 12, 2009

By Robert Koehler As if Sundance doesn’t have enough problems already (and no, they don’t include the unexpected departure of artistic director Geoff Gilmore), its one program theoretically divorced from all commercial considerations—New Frontier, a title conjuring up Kennedyesque vision and idealism—has run aground. (Maybe somewhere near that new Mormon Temple venue outside of town…

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Interviews | Vulgar Moralism: Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book

By Robert Koehler / September 4, 2009

By Robert Koehler The arrival of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, his first European film since the medieval softcore epic Flesh+Blood (1985), forces viewers to reconsider World War II in particular, and Verhoeven in general. It’s true that, as many a wag has noted and Verhoeven long ago confirmed, his great twin obsessions are Hitler and…

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Interviews | Ghost Stories: Wang Bing’s Startling New Cinema

By Robert Koehler / September 3, 2009

By Robert Koehler As the winter night begins to swallow up what little light remains in the sky, an old woman trudges up a pathway toward a block of flats. The camera follows her at a respectful distance, acknowledging her importance but never wanting to be so close that it encroaches in on her space.…

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Currency | Eastern Promises

By Robert Koehler / September 3, 2009

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, US/UK/Canada) By Robert Koehler Just as he turned the cameras on the press hordes at Cannes in 2005 by snapping photos of the snapping photographers, David Cronenberg has been in the process of turning the camera—that is, his point of observation and by extension, his concerns—on a 180-degree axis. First, with…

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Spotlight | Death in the Land of Encantos (Lav Diaz, The Philippines)

By Robert Koehler / September 1, 2009

By Robert Koehler Time, it’s on Lav Diaz’s side. “Malay time,” he said after the Toronto screening of his nine-hour-and-five-minute Death in the Land of Encantos. “I’m a Malay as much—maybe more—than I am a Filipino. We Malays are governed more by space and nature than conventional time.” What underlies the shattering and disturbing reality…

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Spotlight | El cant dels ocells (Albert Serra, Spain/France)

By Robert Koehler / September 1, 2009

By Robert Koehler When discussing Honor de cavalleria (2006) in Cinema Scope 29, Albert Serra offered an argument that “a film without errors is a bad one.” And then, rather ominously, he added a general point with the specific example of Aki Kaurismaki: “And every director gets tamed…” This is not completely true; directors as…

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Interviews | Good Times, Sad Times: Azazel Jacobs on Momma’s Man

By Robert Koehler / August 31, 2009

By Robert Koehler As Azazel Jacobs describes below, he went through a teenage phase in which he rebelled against his parents. But these weren’t any parents: He had been raised in the heady and fecund atmosphere fostered by his filmmaker-father Ken and mother Flo, where conventional cinema—or conventional living—of any kind was simply not an…

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Spotlight | Revanche (Götz Spielmann, Austria)

By Robert Koehler / August 29, 2009

By Robert Koehler “Tales from the Vienna Streets” might be the umbrella title for the films of Götz Spielmann, who has crept his way, slowly, surely, to the centre ring of Austrian cinema through two decades. And quietly. In North America, at least, Spielmann is an obscure figure, while in Europe he’s been part of…

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