Blind Chance


Before Krzysztof Kieslowski became the standard-bearer for the latter-day European art film with ravishing portraits of unspeakably beautiful women living their lives under unutterably mysterious circumstances, he was a gruff but adventurous chronicler, in both documentary and narrative films, of lives lived in the rather more drab surroundings of communist Poland. Well, money changes everything. It was the arrival of funding from Western sources that bestowed the gift of abstraction: Beginning with the internationally-celebrated The Double Life of Veronique in 1991, it made Kieslowski’s expressions of ennui beautiful. But in the 1980s, Kieslowski had less time for beauty. Continue reading


In which director Godfrey Reggio decides his real talent is portraiture. Here he embarks on a visual quest that, early on, sort of combines Sebastiao Salgado‘s social-documentary photography with Leni Riefenstahl’s celebrations of human physical achievement (in Olympia). The rest of the film settles in the cities, where vulgar SimCity apartment blocks have been clone-brushed across the landscape like so many Legos. There are a few real visual flourishes, including some lovely dissolves, but Reggio’s unadorned images feel too much like poverty tourism (these people! their labors! their noble souls!), and his cause isn’t helped enough by the Philip Glass score, which is brimming with specific cultural referents but still comes off in this jumbled context like a high-end Putumayo “world music” compilation. It’s also a good 11 minutes longer than the much superior Koyaanisqatsi, which was a bad call.

For my long review of The Qatsi Trilogy, visit

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom


There’s a tradition among purveyors of BDSM pornography to append a coda to their project in which the participants in various potentially alarming scenarios are finally glimpsed, all smiles, reveling in the afterglow of a clearly consensual exercise. I assume this practice has very practical benefits — for one thing, it might help stave off prosecution for obscenity or sex-trafficking. But it’s also a signal from the community making the videos to the community watching them that the performances are undertaken with high spirits, lest there’s any misunderstanding about the actual circumstances of their making. Despite any apparent unpleasantness, dear viewer, all involved (top and bottom, dominant and submissive) are working toward the ultimate goal of pleasure, not pain.

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Green Zone

Matt Damon in <em>Green Zone</em>

Director Paul Greengrass airlifts Jason Bourne to war-torn Baghdad in this Iraq-occupation thriller that casts Matt Damon as a crusading soldier uncovering evidence of lies and misdirection in the American war on terrorism. It’s a less successful companion piece to his almost unbearably tense United 93. Using the language of action movies to build a much larger-than-life experience, these two films build a post-9/11 cinematic mythology, a snapshot of a long moment in U.S. history that reframes debate in aggressively populist terms. United 93 is some kind of masterpiece, but the grander scope and general lack of nuance in Green Zone fuel some awfully stentorian, ham-handed moments that nearly sink the film.

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The Ghost Writer

Pierce Brosnan in <em>The Ghost Writer</em>

The Ghost Writer opens, appropriately enough given the film’s generally menacing tone, with the death of a ferry passenger. The man’s absence is discovered through the presence of an empty BMW on deck after all the passengers disembark. His body, bloated with liquor and decay, washes up on the beach. Did the poor bastard simply get soused and totter off a slippery deck? In a Roman Polanski movie? Not bloody likely.

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In the Loop


I can’t really think of any way to approach In the Loop except by way of the obvious comparison, so here it is: it’s The Office meets Dr. Strangelove. This film, a political farce filled with smart performances and rich profanity in service of both hilarity and despair, borrows its fly-on-the-wall schtick from The Office (either version, take your pick), but elevates the phony vérité strategy by transposing the action from the television show’s cubicles of inconsequence to the very halls of power. Taking place among mostly unsung functionaries in the governments of Great Britain and the United States in the lead-up to the invasion of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, it never attempts to scale the boldly satirical heights of Dr. Strangelove, or to emulate that film’s depictions of megalomania and insanity as catalysts for war. But it is unfailingly witty in its speculation that international aggression isn’t driven by mania as much as facilitated by banality — the case for war as the unwitting spawn of so much interpersonal dick-waving.

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In the opening shot of Hunger, a small army of protesters — hunger-strikers, perhaps — is bringing the noise by banging empty soup bowls loudly against the ground. That scene is followed, lyrically, by a scene depicting an older, staid-looking gentleman eating his breakfast, tiny crumbs tumbling from his fork onto the napkin tucked away on his lap and then getting brushed away. He heads out to his car, looks up and down the street, and then falls to his knees and peers carefully at the car’s undercarriage before opening the door and getting in. His wife watches from the front-room window, the tension on her face easing slightly as the car roars to life and her husband drives away. This man turns out to be a guard at a prison in Northern Ireland. We see this man washing blood from his knuckles, which have been torn raw by the force of some blunt impact. It’s only later that we’re shown the sadistic behavior that earned him those scars. In a scene that toys with an audience’s mounting sense of dread, we see him taking a smoke break outside the prison walls, enjoying the tactile sensation of a light snowfall before heading back inside to do, we suspect, his worst. It’s a tense, expertly fraught study in contrasts that dramatizes the difference between the haves and the have-nots — the fed and the hungry.

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