Let’s get it right out of the way: by any non-subjective metric—which is to say in spite of my own personal opinion—the Canadian filmmaker of the decade is Xavier Dolan, who placed six features (including two major Competition prizewinners) at Cannes between 2009 (let’s give him a one-year head start) and 2019, all before turning 30. Prodigies are as prodigies do, and debating Dolan’s gifts as a transnational melodramatist and zeitgeist-tapperis a mug’s game, one that I’ve already played in these pages.
The rigorous and vibrant visual rhythms of Jodie Mack’s cinema were first impressed upon me in 2009, when I premiered a short film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in a section titled “Feminist Travelogues.” I was fortunate to have been programmed alongside Jodie, who was screening a 28-minute stop-motion animation musical epic titled Yard Work Is Hard Work (2008). During the screening I sat completely dazzled as I watched an intimidating wall of meticulously cut images pulled from catalogues perform intricate designs, which, in combination with acrobatic camera movements and an original soundtrack, told an allegorical story of the disillusionment of married life. I was overcome by the film: I found that it was suffused with an aura of isolation and defeat; it was impressively impenetrable.
In Porumboiu’s films, I see a connection to the use of “factual” elements in my own work. I often work with non-actors and have used re-enactments of what may seem like insignificant administrative protocols in a few of my films. In one particular instance, while interviewing a caseworker for a film project in Toronto, I came upon a type of document I had not seen before: a court referral for a man who was charged for refusing to appear in court after being caught stealing.
I initially wanted this piece to be about a writer—after all, are not images and words inseparable, delicately intertwined?—but I was gently nudged to stay focused on the image side of things. The task itself seemed like an impossible process of elimination, however, one that was finally alleviated only when I recalled the opening quotation published in this magazine in the article about my film Fausto (2018):
I first encountered Sergei Loznitsa’s work at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Though I was busy watching student films and shorts as president of the Cinefondation jury, I found some time to steal away and watch some other work in the Official Selection. Loznitsa’s feature My Joy was in Competition.
What would Harry Lime say about today? It feels like the time of the Borgias, but without the Renaissance. Oppression, trauma, and war are omnipresent—and that’s just on my list of the decade’s top films, which includes reflections on the scars left by conflicts past (Christian Petzold’s Transit, 2018; Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises, 2013; Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War, 2017), portraits of traumatized soldiers (Laurent Bécue-Renard’s Of Men and War, 2014; Valeska Grisebach’s Western, 2017; Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, 2012), and works that bear witness to atrocities (Wang Bing’s Dead Souls, 2019; Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, 2012,and The Look of Silence, 2014).