31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Five: “Les Rendezvous d’Anna”, A Sophomore Slump—Yet Also A Deliberate One

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Three excuses for the inexcusable delay:
1) It’s easier to be doing this when unemployed than when employed.
2) The Philadelphia Film Festival.
3) These films are blowing my mind. I am prepared to say that women on average make more consistently good and more provocative films than men. There’s so much I want to put down in these reviews, I can’t do it so quickly. So I will be extending this project into November. Also, while I promise you will hear my thoughts on all 31 films, the order I will publish them in will correspond not with my film schedule but rather with my whims and preferences.

Fame did not change Chantal Akerman. She got the attention of cinephiles everywhere with her radical experiment Jeanne Dielman (1975). She could have stepped up her game, scored a higher budget, made something even more ambitious—a dream project, perhaps. Nope. Her following work of fiction, Les Rendezvous d’Anna (’78), is simpler, not as challenging as, yet somehow more austere than Dielman—notwithstanding the name continental cast, and the themes of what it means to achieve fame as an artist, and what comes after. Anna Silver (Aurore Clément) is a filmmaker touring her latest film across Western Europe. She stays in well-off hotels, gives press interviews, has little trouble bringing men to her bed, and has friends, family and colleagues rather eager to have her as company. There is little doubt she is a thinly veiled Akerman promoting Dielman.

But there is no glitz to Anna’s fame. At 28, Akerman had already developed her signature motifs: immense long takes, voids of silence and of monologue, as few characters as possible, a Spartan narrative thread consumed by quotidian tasks and prolix travelling, a deep and genuine concern with base physical needs (food, shelter, sex, etc.), and an effectively stealthy feminism. We have a few scenes with a few actors to establish the exposition that Anna is an auteur of some esteem. That’s it. There is no ostentation to Anna’s/Akerman’s place in the world of cinema. There are merely tedious sojourns in the posh hotels and restaurants of urban Germany, Belgium and France, punctuated by tedious train and car rides, which it is not uncommon for Anna to spend sitting or lying around, eating, passively listening to whatever the hell the person she’s with is saying, sleeping, staving off sleep, waiting for something—anything—to happen. This is a filmmaker committed to her artistic vision, giving minimal thought to the demands that fame may place on it.

I know of no other filmmaker who depicts waiting—as a process, as a discipline, as an existential state—as well as Akerman. It’s been said and written that she impels her audience to feel time. I half-agree. Dielman clocks in at 3 1/3 hours, yet I can’t say I feel that much time go by as I watch that film (one of my all-time favorites), as time is folded in and made watchable by the domestic chores that set Dielman’s routine, and anyone who’s been through childhood can relate to some degree of necessary domestic duty. In her forty-five-year career, Akerman never made another film even close to that running time. Anna is a standard two hours, yet it is much more languid because of the energy that Anna expends on waiting—waiting to arrive at her destination, waiting for the next errand in her itinerary, waiting for whoever she’s with to shut the fuck up already. As the scope of her filmic projects contracts back to normal, Akerman demands reciprocity and asks her viewers to increase their patience. The shorter the film, the less that happens, of course. Granted, the soliloquies of the peripheral figures that Anna encounters on her travels are not as memorable nor as provocative as those few present in Dielman and in this auteur’s other early masterpiece Je Tu Il Elle. So Anna is a notch down from those efforts—and it is not surprising that critics expecting a match of or an improvement on Dielman’s galvanism (unlikely) were disappointed. The film’s thematic core nonetheless remains valid and poignant. The cult success of one project and the good graces of critics do not, nor should they, assuage Anna/Akerman of the burden of creating more and at-least-as-good art, of staying truthful to one’s aesthetic instincts, and of taking inspiration from real life—even when that may entail listening to someone in your proximity spin a near-insufferable yarn on family troubles and toxic masculinity.

Perhaps I ought to write that I know of no filmmaker who handles time and temporality—and, by extension, space and environment—as well as Akerman, not least for her acute understanding of making and viewing cinema as a time-consuming process, a perpetual self-enhancing feedback loop. That is a more confident statement. Watching her films on Hulu, lights off, snuggled up in my easy chair with laptop and headphones, I find it effortless to plunge into her intimate universe of narrow train corridors squeezed between windows and berths, of familiar hotel rooms and flats providing serene urban views and almost all needed amenities, of train stations and cars cutting modern forms and sharp neon æthers through dusky autobahns of steel and tarmac. (Jean Penzer is the cameraman responsible for this.) The ubiquity of windows and the areas observed beyond them steers us towards a meta-filmic commentary. Anna/Akerman here is the filmmaker as audience, seeing and hearing for ideas and signs of a new story to transmit through her calculated vessel-like self to the cineaste public.

Further, Anna’s/Akerman’s passive, quasi-gendered, ironic silence—comparable to Liv Ullmann’s selectively mute actress in Persona—points to the artist’s struggle to speak through film, or better yet to speak beyond and outside of film. If film is Anna’s/Akerman’s main means of subsistence and communication (which it is), then what does it say about ourselves and our increasingly tech-obsessed and tech-dependent society if we can only live and talk through technological media and membranes? To what extent are they a protective raincoat shielding us from our insecurities? Fame and privilege, travel and sightseeing have not alleviated Anna of her steely interiority—which the film adroitly reflects—and Clément’s enigmatic submission to the top-down wheel-spinning she is subjected to, by people and place alike, is a fitting complement for Akerman, a vulnerable and fearless artist who appears nude and has sex with man and woman in Je Tu Il Elle. The great final scene shows Anna at home, in bed, trying and failing to relax, listening to an answering machine full of friends and colleagues demanding further travel plans. Forever she will face down an audience full of wannabe storytellers who want her to tell the stories they want to be told—perhaps their stories—as opposed to her stories. For her and Akerman, there is no escape from the house of cinema. Ultimately, though, it is Akerman who has decided what stories to tell, and how she will tell them.

(I almost take it as a sign of approval from God—for this 31 Days of Female Cinema project, that is—that without realizing it, I slated myself to watch this—and watched it—on October 5, the first anniversary of Akerman’s death by suicide. She was a great auteur, one of The Greats, and I am only more eager to explore her back catalogue. That said, my advice for Akerman virgins is to start with Dielman, and don’t be intimidated by the running time.)

Grade: B+

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31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Five: “Les Rendezvous d’Anna”, A Sophomore Slump—Yet Also A Deliberate One

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Two: “The Summer of Sangailé”, A Love Letter from Lithuania

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My thoughts on Monsoon Wedding are imminent. I’d like to tell you about this film first.

For most LGBTQ persons today and before, the processes of coming of age and coming out are one and the same. Our current educational paradigm gives disproportionate representation to heterosexuals and straight romances (among other dominating demographics) insofar as to make the very concept of homosexuality an unknown-unknown for most children—so that if a same-sex attraction arises in puberty and post-, it comes as a shock, and seems like a total anomaly. “I thought I was the only one,” is a common refrain in the community. I connect with this because my Asperger’s made me gullible to teachers who associated teenage sex with STDs, pregnancies and general pauperism. I kid you not: I thought I was the only one who masturbated. Literally. The only one. So while most of my peers were either calling bullshit on the system and going their own way (more mature) or rebelling against authority out of spite (less mature), I was only starting to get in touch with myself as a sexual being, just as most homosexuals have to go through an M.O. to get in touch with themselves as homosexual beings. This is why I think I feel particularly strongly about justice and equality for LGBTQ persons. (When I first learned about what homosexuality was, I took for granted that gay men and lesbians could get married anyplace just like straight folks. I did not grasp the revolutionary quality of same-sex marriage until years later.) Yet, it is not enough for us to merely coagulate fictional stories with gay, bi and trans characters. We must give them agency and make them as enigmatic and morally complicated as the best-drawn straight characters—because, of course, they don’t have to be nice for straight audiences—without falling for the stereotypes with which we’ve been conditioned. We must normalize homosexuality so it does not have to be foregrounded, so that it could in some cases be for granted.

Because its two principal characters are lesbian lovers, The Summer of Sangailé has been billed as a primarily lesbian film, and as a weaker Baltic variation on Blue is the Warmest Color. Both labels are unfair. For one, the comparison to Blue is off. Sangailé is half the running time, and where Blue’s camera was handheld and roving, Sangailé is told in the longish, demure, delicately constructed static shots that have become standard in European cinema in the age of Haneke. Sangailé is also the more elliptical film—and, in that way, maybe even the more ambitious and experimental—to the extent that I am not ready to declare that the title character is learning about her lesbianism for the first time during this story. I think the odds are greater that she is settled on being Sapphic, and is merely encountering her first serious adult romance—with a girl selling raffle tickets at an air show. Early on, we see a POV shot of Sangailé (Julija Steponaityte) checking out a girl’s derriere as she strips to swimwear. She later spots said girl humping a guy in the grass, and from her poker face, we get an aura of…well, it’s so nuanced, it’s anyone’s guess. Disappointment at getting interested in yet another girl who turned out straight? Desire for the type of genital pleasure that straight people seem to obtain so much more easily? I’d bet on both. She does have sex with a guy, in the back of a car—but there, a POV shot implies that she derives more rapturous pleasure from the electricity flooding her from the nearby transmission tower than from the penis. (Also, memo to my fellow straights: sexuality is much more protean than you know. I’ve known lesbians who’ve had sex with men, and who are adamantly not bisexual. Because really, what is a penis to a woman but a dildo with a pulse?) The scene of her breakup from him is a smash cut to the same electricity station. She says, “No hard feelings.” He says, “See you,” gets in his car, and drives off bitter, leaving her with her bicycle. It’s so quick, you know it before you register it.

The elisions and caesurae that muddy Sangailé’s sexuality refocus the film on what turns out as its central story. Sangailé has an inclination to become a stunt pilot, but she has two things impeding that: vertigo, and a faint suicidal tendency—she’s self-alienated, estranged from her parents in their own home, and she has a habit of cutting her arms. What makes this film arresting is how those two conflicts play off each other as opposed to how they obstruct her career aspirations. Does she merely want to overcome vertigo so that she can die the epic plane crash death? Can she trust herself to go up into the air without wanting to crash? Is the vertigo a survival instinct that she depends on to live—a contrast to her cutting that brings the life force out from the death force cocoon? Alanté Kavaïte’s direction, Dominique Colin’s camera work, and Joëlle Hache’s editing blend with nary a seam to create startling motifs and counterpoints that reflect Sangailé’s turbulent inner world. Pensive crane shots looking down on urban landscapes from the airplane’s vantage point mirror awestruck angles on high houses, buildings and trees. The former tends towards dizziness, the latter towards stability; Sangailé’s ideal life in the skies remains infected by gnawing acrophobia as the earth remains secure. She must work her way up. Her bedroom is the top loft of her house, her bed perched against the railing over the stairs in an act of Mithridatic defiance. The flat of her art photographer girlfriend Austé (Aisté Dirziüté) is on the top story of her complex. These narrative choices are deliberate; the film’s sense of environment is acute and precise. Where Sangailé is not yet ready to board the plane, cranes and bridges and towers of zigzagging steel beams give her opportunity to practice, while swirls of flower buds and cupcake icing and tulle skirts keep her reminded of the smoke plumes emitted in a barrel roll.

This is an auspicious debut for Kavaité and for all involved, and a criminally underrated one. The critics’ maligning of it as mediocre in the face of the Blue behemoth is mistaken, and I suspect it comes from the notion that if the story were a straight and sterile romance, it wouldn’t receive half the film festival attention it did. (The most grabbing aspect of the film, to me, is that it’s Lithuanian. What do you know about Lithuanian cinema?) A straight story would be a different story. Sangailé and Austé’s romance is organic and invigorating; the sex they have is plausible and filmed purely to convey the rare peace Sangailé gains through it; and where a lesser filmmaker would have tritely paralleled Sangailé’s sexual awakening with her overcoming her vertigo, Kavaité perceives the two as separate if linked. One develops faster than the other. Her falling in love is a stepping stone, if anything, to her being able to fly a plane. This makes for a character with more dimensions. To her, Austé is served as a fascinating foil: a teen-at-heart steeped in fastidious chic, her apartment decked with fabrics, fur, miniatures, mirrors, fashions that she has Sangailé model, and a turntable that acts as a pivot for one of the film’s most evocative shots—where Sangailé’s living space and personality are austere, bare-boned, dry, yet refined and pragmatic. Does Austé help Sangailé realize her potential as a stunt pilot, as the love interest is wont to do in films such as these? Yes, you can count on that—not in the clichéd ways you’d expect to the genre, but rather in unique and uncanny ways that fit Austé’s character, and that don’t always succeed. (Watch her smart, unsentimental reaction to Sangailé’s cutting habit.) This is not a mill-product Sapphic paperback; this is a keen film rich with detail, subtlety and texture. Its best shot—a cloudy sky, which is actually its reflection in a pond—is its most quintessential. Watch this film with care.

Grade: A

31 Days of Cinema 2.0, Day Two: “The Summer of Sangailé”, A Love Letter from Lithuania

31 Days of Cinema 2.0: Women Filmmakers

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At some point, every living film buff needs to sit down and ask him or herself a question: How many women filmmakers can I name off the top of my head, right now? How many films by those women filmmakers have I seen? Of the films I’ve seen, how many pass the Bechdel test, or the Mako Mori test? Enough films? Replace “women” with some other demographic—people of color, LGBTQIA, neuro-atypical—and the questions become even harder, if still possible, to answer. If you click the white-on-steel-blue “W” below the banner that spells out this blog’s name, you’ll be linked to my bio page. (If someone could get in touch and tell me how to turn that “W” into “About [Me]”, which I know is doable, that’d be great. Bio pages shouldn’t have to be goddamn Easter eggs.) I’ve included on that page, for your interest, my current twenty all-time favorite films. A whopping two of them are directed by women. Two. I need to do something about that. So I’m going to.

Last year July, my 31 Days of Cinema challenge got this blog its highest readership yet. This January, I did the same thing with 31 other films in private, without publicizing it online, to see if lightning could strike twice. It did, and I discovered another slew of masterpieces. This October, I’m doing it again, but this time with a theme. Whereas in the previous challenges I made sure I watched one female auteur a week, this month, all of the films will be female-directed. (I’m permitting two co-directed by men.) It’s a curious time to be embarking on something like this. Chances are, this month will build up to America electing its first female president—either that, or we’re giving the nuclear codes to one of the most craven misogynistic bastards in all of American politics. (And a likely amphetamine abuser.) The feminism in the air is propulsive. I polled my Facebook friends to see which project they’d be more interested in: 31 Days of Female-Directed Cinema, or 31 Days of Horror, of course leading up to Halloween. I guessed the wantonness of watching thirty-one horror films consecutively would gain much morbid curiosity. I was wrong: Women received twice as many votes. Democracy in action. So be it.

I compiled my list with rules similar to my prior 31 Days effort: all major continental regions of the world must be represented; all decades since the ’60s must be represented; no country gets more than one film, exceptions allowed for international co-productions; and I must be on my first full viewing of every film. The difficulty I encountered in curating these films was massive, not least because it was twofold. First, I had to do an inordinate amount of research to learn about enough female filmmakers to give me the breadth and diversity that I wanted; and second, I had to narrow down the wealth of discoveries I’d made to a digestible collection of two and a half dozen plus one. And I had to double-check that they were all handily available—read: online. Even now when I’m committing to this, I’m doing so with some trepidation, as any day now, all films being streamed online by the Criterion Collection (without whom such a project would be incomprehensible) will be leaving Hulu and heading to their own domain, a site called Filmstruck that remains shrouded in secrecy. So sometime during what is sure to be a curious and volatile month in more ways than one, this frugal film critic might have to get a new premium subscription. Okay, time to shut up. On with the films:

Oct. 1: Monsoon Wedding (2001, dir. Mira Nair, India)
In with a bang!

Oct. 2: Summer of Sangailé (2015, dir. Alanté Kavaïté, Lithuania)
The Lithuanian Blue is the Warmest Color, or so I’ve read. The critical consensus is that it’s weaker, but right now, I’m very much impelled to curve the critics’ ratings, given the implicit bias against women. Also, this is the first film I’ve heard of to come out of freaking Lithuania!

Oct. 3: An Angel at My Table (1990, dir. Jane Campion, New Zealand)
Campion, best known for The Piano, is probably the most famous filmmaker to emerge from the first nation to give women the right to vote. (There’s also Niki Caro.) This is an epic biopic of Kiwi literary titan Janet Frame, and boasts a pre-Shallow Grave Kerry Fox.

Oct. 4: The Night of Truth (2004, dir. Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkina Faso)
I wrote last year that African cinema is underdeveloped. I was gravely mistaken: turns out, Nigeria’s Lollywood produces enough artistic output to rival the two major film industries that rhyme with it; and Egypt, Senegal and South Africa possess some of the world’s most vibrant filmic voices. The channels by which African cinema may reach the West—surely, those are underdeveloped. And African women’s cinema? Grossly underdeveloped. You can imagine my joy when I found this film online—not to mention, when I found a second African women’s film just as readily watchable.

Oct. 5: Les Rendezvous d’Anna (1978, dir. Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
No way in hell this list is complete without an Akerman. No way.

Oct. 6: The Lesson (2014, dir. Kristina Grozeva [with Petar Valcharov], Bulgaria)
Freaking BULGARIA!

Oct. 7: Ascent (1977, dir. Larisa Shepitko, Russia)
Classic. Shepitko was the wife of Elem Klimov, whose Come and See I currently rank as the greatest war film. If women make better filmmakers, will this outstrip even that? (Maybe you can tell by now I’m trying to get all the Hulu/Criterion picks out of the way early.)

Oct. 8: Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989, dir. Ulrike Ottinger, Germany/France)
Ottinger’s dialogue-less Ticket of No Return (’79) comes championed by none other than Richard Linklater, and would have made this list were it not for another German film I’m dying to see. This film, an epic feminist-fantasy-comedy-history mishmash, looks intriguingly batshit. Notably, this was Delphine Seyrig’s final film.

Oct. 9: Boys Don’t Cry (1999, dir. Kimberly Peirce, U.S.)
Hilary Swank. ‘Nuff said.

Oct. 10: Sepet (2004, dir. Yasmin Ahmad, Malaysia)
MALAYSIA!

Oct. 11: Vagabond (1984, dir. Agnès Varda, France)
I consider Varda as mandatory for this list as Akerman. How fortunate that as I write this, Reverse Shot—one of my go-to film websites—is doing a retrospective on her work.

Oct. 12: Zero Motivation (2014, dir. Talya Lavie, Israel)
By most accounts, the Israeli woman’s answer to Zero for Conduct. Huge box office success in its homeland. Seriously looking forward to this one.

Oct. 13: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975, Margarethe von Trotta [with Volker Schlöndorff], Germany)
Based on, and filmed in tandem with the writing of, the novel by Heinrich Böll, one of the few novels that I’ve read in one day, and one of the few novels to have become even timelier in the Internet age.

Oct. 14: In Darkness (2011, dir. Agnieszka Holland, Poland)
Holland is another mandatory one. This is a true Holocaust-set story about a band of Polish Jews whose plan to survive involves hiding in the sewer.

Oct. 15: After the Wedding (2006, dir. Susanne Bier, Denmark)
Confession: I have a weakness for weddings. Bier, also known for Brothers and In a Better World (an Oscar-winner, albeit a weak one, from what I’ve heard), is Denmark’s most famous female auteur, her biggest competition being Dogme 95 icon Lone Scherfig.

Oct. 16: The Silences of the Palace (1994, dir. Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia)
The Middle East’s first major female cinematic voice.

Oct. 17: Sugar Cane Alley (1983, dir. Euzhan Palcy, Martinique)
MARTINIQUE!!! Fun fact: Palcy made a killing in Hollywood with her adaptation of Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season, which makes her the only woman to have ever directed Marlon Brando.

Oct. 18: Loving Couples (1964, dir. Mai Zetterling, Sweden)
The earliest film I could find before collapsing down the rabbit hole of Ida Lupino, Dorothy Arzner, Maya Deren, and a certain Nazi asshat named Leni Riefenstahl.

Oct. 19: Innocence (2004, dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France/Belgium)
She’s married to Gaspar Noé. So of course, the title is bullshit. Bonus: pre-fame Marion Cotillard.

Oct. 20: XXY (2007, dir. Lucía Puenzo, Argentina)
Puenzo is the leading Argentine woman filmmaker after Lucrecia Martel—whose La Ciénaga was the worst film I watched in last year’s challenge, so there’s no way I’m going back to her just yet. This is the only major film I know of about hermaphroditism. (It must be said that Netflix’s current thumbnail image for this film is triggering, and—as a promotional choice—utterly witless.)

Oct. 21: Faithless (2000, dir. Liv Ullmann, Norway/Sweden)
Liv Ullmann adapting an epic Ingmar Bergman script based on their stormy relationship? Yes, please.

Oct. 22: Adoption (1975, dir. Márta Mészáros, Hungary)
Golden Bear winner of yore.

I am going into this next handful of films just about blind, and have no particularly spiffy commentary to offer on them:

Oct. 23: Ratcatcher (1999, dir. Lynne Ramsay, U.K.)
Oct. 24: Treeless Mountain (2009, dir. So Yong Kim, South Korea)
Oct. 25: Take My Eyes (2003, dir. Icíar Bollaín, Spain)
Oct. 26: Blackboards (2000, dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, Iran)
Oct. 27: Attenberg (2010, dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)
Oct. 28: Dukhtar (2014, dir. Afia Nathaniel, Pakistan)
Oct. 29: Danzón (1991, dir. Maria Novaro, Mexico)
Oct. 30: My Brilliant Career (1979, dir. Gillian Armstrong, Australia)

Oct. 31: Away From Her (2006, dir. Sarah Polley, Canada)
Hard to think of a better way to close the month than with an Alice Munro adaptation.

See you soon with my thoughts on Monsoon Wedding.

31 Days of Cinema 2.0: Women Filmmakers

31 Days of Cinema, Days Twenty-Nine, Thirty and Thirty-One: “Yi Yi” | “Pather Panchali” | “Winter Sleep”

The opening of Yi Yi—the three-hour swansong of the late Taiwanese New Wave master Edward Yang—had me worried: the character introductions are uneven, the musical theme is saccharine. But the film quickly recovered after that. It traces one year in which a well-off Taipei family faces crises of communication, trust, maturation, and the major transitions that we like to package into things called milestones. The father, NJ (Nien-Jen Wu), heads to Tokyo to cement two relationships: one with the Japanese software developer Ota (a tender yet serious Issei Ogata)—with whom he talks in halting English, since neither knows the other’s native tongue and English is a global force—and one with an old flame, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko). His daughter, Ting-Ting, has a crush on Fatty (Pang Chang Yu), the moody boyfriend of her best friend, Lili (Meng-Chin Lin). Her little brother, Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang)—no doubt named for the filmmaker—is precocious and wise for his age, a fact that the adults around him don’t appreciate as much as they should. NJ’s mother is comatose but back at home; doctor’s orders are to keep talking with her as if she were conscious to keep her uplifted in case she does wake up. The family can say anything they want to her yet can’t expect reward from it. She is a vessel for catharsis, and one of the film’s chief themes is whether environment, or at least an unconscious entity, can have a tone, an emotion.

Several scenes occur in an empty room or in a room into which innocuous action is filtered, with the central narrative developing offstage in the actors’ urgent voices. There is a disconnect between sight and sound, yet also an esteem for and an effort to capture urban space unfettered by human presence or perception—an artifact and a memory that will withstand the most pressing concerns of the mortals on its periphery. We’re always on the periphery with these characters, not allowed to get too involved, because we’ve got three hours to hustle through, yet we grow quite attached to them. The standard rituals that form life’s milestones—the wedding, the firstborn birth, the anniversary—are all on display here, but Yang does not use them as clichés, rather as defense mechanisms by which people stave off the stress of transition, insomuch that by the time of the funeral that concludes the film, they’re exhausted and have no walls left to burn. There’s some commentary on globalization—McDonald’s, Coco-Cola, the English language—and we wonder why such staples in society have to promote themselves so aggressively when we all know what they are already (to foist their power, of course, in particular over youths), yet Yang’s view of this urban global culture is always impartial, leaving the people there to set the mood. Fatty does collapse into cliché—as he becomes the mortality-obsessed teen turned homicidal—and I was disappointed in his arc. But the film ends strong, and Yang-Yang’s climactic speech is undeniable.

Grade: A-

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As with most though not all debut films, Pather Panchali—the world’s introduction to West Bengali master Satyajit Ray—has its shortcomings, though it was and is quite an auspicious debut, especially considering the immense poverty and dearth of resources that it was made under and depicts. Based on a novel by B. Bandhopadhyay, and kicking off the filmmaker’s Apu trilogy, the film chronicles the efforts of Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee) to care for her two children, Apu (Subir Banerjee) and Durga (Runki Banerjee and Uma Dasgupta) and her aged cousin Indir—played by Chunibala Devi, in a performance so great, so minimalist and sexless and stoic, that I thought she was a man—in the absence of her husband Harihar (Kanu Banerjee), a poet who goes off to the city for work. Note that none of the Banerjees were related, yet their family unit is plausible throughout, so you could be forgiven for mistaking the coincidence. The story is built from vignettes that are connected perhaps a bit too loosely. There’s a contrast between the urban-industrial and the rural-pastoral that goes undeveloped; one scene set in a field of train tracks and power lines is supposed to suffice. I could have used more of that.

Granted, there is plenty of contrast between wealth and destitution, as is evidenced by Durga’s incessant impulse to steal fruits from the orchard of the family’s neighbor and (in a smattering of irony that I hope I am recalling correctly) once-landlord. And the vignettes host some truly beautiful moments: Apu’s introduction, which is constructed ominously enough to foretell a later death; the aforementioned train; an interaction with a candy vendor; a bathing scene; a play-within-the-play; a brutal monsoon; and an extended, impressionistic shot of a cow standing in the middle of ruins right after it. The photography is by Subrata Mitra, also debuting, and it is baffling that he had no experience with a camera before this. The film’s testament to innate talent over pedigree—to earning a living off artistic merit and not off playing to identifiable tropes, even while not everyone can succeed at that, much less use that to escape poverty—is thus very genuine. I hesitate to give away too much about the film, as it ends in tragedy (the monsoon is the least of it), and it is the sort of tragedy you must feel rather than be told about. Ray constructs this catastrophe with long takes, with set pieces of viscous silence and suspense, and the payoff is loud and vigorous. If there is one element that makes this film worth watching, however, it’s the music of Ravi Shankar. It doesn’t take long to see how he got famous. It’s stunning how broad an emotional range that man was able to create using just a handful of sitars and percussion. The soundtrack here is an aural feast.

Grade: A-

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The last three days of my July challenge saw me going west across Asia, from the Taiwan of Yi Yi to Ray’s India, finally ending with Winter Sleep in Turkey, on the cusp of Europe inasmuch as I was on the edge of the month, looking into an August in which I would not be burdened with thirty-one films. There is something sacred about an ending, something furtive and ethereal about having gone through a film—or a group of films—as a rite of passage, and emerging with the awareness of how it culminates. Spoilers cannot suffice for this feeling. Much of these emotions in fact were conjured by the Cappadocia depicted in this film, a borderland of modern buildings and houses carved into jagged, imbalanced, unstable towers of rock, a clash between nature and man, old and new, tradition and liberty. The most ostentatious of these constructions is an inn, the Hotel Othello, run by Aydin (the superb Haluk Bilginer), a retired actor who spends his days writing hot air for the local news (on his rare Mac laptop, no less), extracting rent from the villagers, and insisting to himself that he will start writing his history of the Turkish theatre very soon. Towards the beginning, he’s riding shotgun in a truck when an indignant kid chucks a stone at his window. The entire plot emanates from that single moment.

Adapted by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who won the Palme d’Or for this, after several attempts) from some Chekhov stories, Sleep runs at over three hours and has been accused of wheel spinning. I disagree with that sentiment. The story uses as an axle two confrontations in its middle act—one between Aydin and his blasé sister Necla (Demet Akbag), the other between Aydin and his younger, more humane and simmering ex-wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen)—that are almost twenty minutes apiece. These scenes and others felt much more to me like real life than contrived cinema. People on different sides of a coin try to get their points across, things boil, they reach a détente and fall silent, then one of them can’t resist muttering a riposte, and the other’s passions grow inflamed, and it all starts up again and repeats itself…and so on. Tensions play out in the void between words, when words are calculated, as much as when they are spoken, and when they are, they aren’t always clear or accurately chosen or what ought to be said. Writing and acting scenes like that is a hundred times easier said than done, and Ceylan and his ensemble pull it off time and again. The effect is more hooking and exhilarating than one might think a three-hour gabfest should be. Throughout, the film shows awareness of time as a straggling process, but not without a pitch-black sense of humor. At one point, Aydin is told that his train is delayed by an hour, and that’s about how much of the film is left. Characters invoke Shakespeare and the tenets of Islam, with as much pretension as one may expect from artists and wordsmiths, yet the film is far from pretentious, as it exploits these references for irony and meta-commentary, which it earns. There is banal hunting scene, a use of English as a universal tongue similar to that in Yi Yi, and a climactic act of pure spite that nearly had me jumping from my seat. I’m with the Cannes jury here; this was a tremendous closer to the month.

Grade: A

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Well, folks, I’ve done it. Yes, it took me longer than I’d hoped to get the reviews finished, and yes, I abandoned my original schedule completely in the final days. Never mind. I watched all thirty-one films I said I’d watch, all within the month of July, and though the execution wasn’t perfect, the challenge was a success. There were a few duds and disappointments, but gratefully, there were no outright bad films in the bunch (except for maybe La Ciénaga), and I discovered five masterpieces (Eternity and a Day; Lore; In Vanda’s Room; Je, Tu, Il, Elle; and Open Your Eyes), several films that were close to, and several films that may grow on me in the coming weeks–which is more or less what I set out to do. Thanks to everyone who watched and read along, or who will watch and read along in the future. This challenge nabbed this blog its greatest number of readers yet (special thanks to the Robert Pattinson fans who recognized my approval of The Rover), and I will definitely do it again in the future (next January, perhaps) and am even contemplating making it an annual or twice-yearly tradition. I already have another list of films to get through. Furthermore, taking the effectiveness of this effort into account, I’m thinking of doing a similar challenge for literature, as God knows there are too many books that I need to read, so giving myself a concrete schedule of books just might do the trick. That’d have to be a yearlong endeavor, though, and the reading of each book would have to be drawn out to a week–two weeks, if it’s long. It’ll be more complicated. But it might be worth it, so don’t be surprised if you see a “52 Weeks of Literature” challenge springing up next year. In the meantime, I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been to take a break from viewing films, and I’ll be glad to turn my focus back onto my Great Films reviews and other projects. Once again: thanks for reading!

31 Days of Cinema, Days Twenty-Nine, Thirty and Thirty-One: “Yi Yi” | “Pather Panchali” | “Winter Sleep”

31 Days of Cinema, Days Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight: “Autumn Sonata” | “In the Name of the Father” | “La Ciénaga”

Autumn Sonata is sui generis in cinema: the only collaboration between Sweden’s two most famous cineastes—actress Ingrid Bergman and director Ingmar Bergman—done just in the nick of time, right before the actress’ death and the director’s retreat into television and theatre. It’s as sensational a mix as Pacino and De Niro in Heat, and as productive. Ingrid plays Charlotte, a concert pianist who takes an invitation to reunite with her estranged daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann)—which results in a long traumatic evening when tensions simmering between the two erupt. Ingrid brings a classical, more expressive edge to Ingmar’s typical modernist austerity, and watching her bravado working with Ingmar’s nostalgic, poetic, rigorous monologues and dialogue is breathtaking. She even has the wisdom to find some humor in Ingmar’s template. Searching for humor in late Ingmar is like combing through a white sand beach for pearls. Indeed, I’ve read that Ingmar hated this approach of Ingrid’s and attempted to squelch it, but he did not. Some black humor is there in the first half, and I imagine Ingrid needed it to play such a narcissistic snob of a character—and one not loosely based on her.

Pay attention, with this as with all of Ingmar, to the actors’ faces; you train yourself after seeing quite a few of his films to register the thaws and cracks in the characters’ façades. The scene where Eva plays some Chopin for Charlotte is one of many standouts: Eva takes just enough admiration in the music but strains to play it well, while Charlotte alternates between pleasure and insecurity in her effort to control Eva. You can sense all of this from each smile, grimace, flicker and bow under pressure seen in Ingrid and Ullmann’s faces. Right after, Charlotte instructs Eva on the proper way to interpret Chopin, and you wonder whether she is talking less about the music than about the approach to life that she is trying to foist upon her daughter. Critics always reveal as much about themselves as they do about art. Nonetheless, I will criticize, because my expectations for Bergman are high: his usually unassailable photographer Sven Nykvist displays his tacit genius, not least in how he often uses dark shades to frame his pale Nordic faces like piano keys, but his lighting of some flashback scenes is too golden and syrupy for this material. The great Ullmann, playing a cloistered shell of a woman, does not get to show her trademark mystery until the film’s second half, while the late I Am Curious alum Lena Nyman’s portrayal of Helena—Eva’s sister, who has ALS and cannot speak intelligibly, and who is the source of much consternation for Charlotte—is iffy, with a tad too much mugging, even if its symbolism is fitting. But hey, you’re not going to see many actress-director combos as exciting as this.

Grade: A

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There are few things that outrage and perturb me more than abuses of power—than when those in authority assault those under them, for personal gain if not out of spite, in an institution that works to sustain and vindicate such power. In the Name of the Father has no scarcity of such abuses and touched me at the core because of it. The narrative is based on a real-life act of political evil (the word “corruption” will not do here) in a developed Western imperialist nation. In 1974, in the wake of the IRA’s bombing of the Guildford Pub near London, eleven Northern Irish civilians are rounded up and charged with the crime on almost no evidence. The two of men focused on here are the wayward metal thief Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his father Giuseppe (the late Pete Postlethwaite). Gerry and three of his peers are tortured into signing false confessions and are sentenced to life in prison. (Between viewing this and reading Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, I am now quite motivated to never confess to anything I didn’t do. I will never attribute my name to anything I didn’t write or approve of.) Giuseppe died in prison; many of the convicted served their sentences in full; Gerry and the other three lifers were exonerated in 1989, after fifteen years. The story is brutal, in life as in cinema—though the execution in the latter suffers a bit from some inaccuracies. For one, Gerry and Giuseppe never shared a prison cell, as they do in the film, so I imagine the director Jim Sheridan (who also worked with Day-Lewis on My Left Foot, et al.) decided to give father and son more proximity to expedite, and to adapt to film, whatever contact and correspondence they may have had with each other in life.

Granted, the decision pays off because the acting and interacting of Day-Lewis and Postlethwaite is superlative. Day-Lewis’ Spartan method acting needs no elaboration here. I do wonder if he is capable of simplicity—of jumping into a role and improvising, of acting and embracing artifice as opposed to being and becoming. But I can respect the angle from which an actor needs to get to know his character, and Day-Lewis’ approach does succeed in getting you to feel how long this man has been imprisoned and lost out on freedom. (And his Belfast accent is so good, I’ve heard it called authentic.) Postlethwaite, as perhaps the film’s most tragic figure, grounds his performance in the character’s astonishing religious integrity, which his son is left to inherit after his death. Emma Thompson, as the solicitor Gareth Peirce, is underused but makes the most of her time, without resorting to cliché and over-righteous fervor. The late Corin Redgrave, as the main nemesis, is appropriately smarmy and officious, more concerned with looking good as a detective than with being good. Don Baker, as the actual IRA bomber, presents a critical moral dilemma when he shows up at the Conlons’ prison. He has confessed to Guildford to no avail and wants to take responsibility for the Conlons’ predicament, but is he genuinely after redemption or does he merely mean to expose the British elite as zealous imperialists, even if they are? The set pieces I will always cherish are the opening Belfast riot; the Jamaicans’ comic relief; Giuseppe’s death; the indignant courtroom scenes; Peirce’s epiphanies; every scene between the two leads; and every scene anchored by Trevor Jones’ taut, haunting, ethereal music. Do yourself a favor, and watch this.

Grade: A

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I’m not going to spend too much time on La Ciénaga, because frankly, I didn’t care that much for it. It did not take that long for the film to lose my investment, and it was the most substantial letdown of the month. The film opens and spends most of its time at a neglected summer home in the Argentine pampas, where an indistinct, churlish mass of characters—a family—loiters around. The matriarch Mecha (Graciela Borges) cuts herself on shards of glass, and everyone rushes with her to the hospital as if they were busybodies running late for a wedding. A cousin of Mecha’s, Tali (Mercedes Morán), learns about the injury and decides to take the opportunity to bring her family to the home to do some loitering around while they can. One waits for the film to expand and blossom from this premise, at least in an artistic and emotional if not in a narrative sense, only to come to the slow and inexorable realization that it won’t. Every scene is like the last: confused, monotonous, repetitive, smug, self-alienating. This is the debut of one Lucrecia Martel, and it comes with a handful of common errors that debuting directors make: obvious religious symbolism, obvious parallels (one son of Tali’s gets his leg sliced shortly after Mecha’s accident), an inability to increase conflict without injury, risk of injury, a sexual interaction, or a sexual coercion.

The Criterion essay tells me that the title is Spanish for The Swamp, and the film means to be swamp-like: lost in the humidity, realistic to excess, dirty, meandering, with none of the clear trappings of plot or character. I think the film is dishonest in this technique; if it really meant to submerge us in a proverbial swamp, it would be slow-paced and longer, not rushed as it is. It would take its time to invigorate or at least intrigue us into following these characters’ lives for two hours, into joining them in their bog, and it would make the effort to distinguish the characters and give them dimension, as all great social realism ought to do. No chance. There are some curious moments that save this from being a failure, such as Tali’s surprisingly convincing account of a friend’s encounter with Mary Magdalena, and an imminent, perhaps hazardous trip to Bolivia—from which the story ultimately cops out. Otherwise, as I was watching this, I failed to keep track of characters’ names and basic personalities and to recall key events, and I felt I was better off checking out early. Days later, I struggle to readily find a synopsis of the film’s story online, and while I could likely say the same for other films I’ve seen this month (Marketa Lazarová, e.g.), I cared for those films and was willing to get lost in their worlds. La Ciénaga shuns audience involvement and sees that as an excuse to disregard developing its world. Skip it.

Grade: C-

To Do: I can confirm that though I have had to play catch-up, I have successfully finished watching all thirty-one of the films that I prescribed myself to watch this past July. Hence, reviews of Yi YiPather Panchali and Winter Sleep are imminent.

31 Days of Cinema, Days Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven and Twenty-Eight: “Autumn Sonata” | “In the Name of the Father” | “La Ciénaga”

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Five: “Eternity and a Day”

I predicted a few days ago that Lore would go down as the best film I’ve seen this month, and I have nothing but to chalk it up to the magic of cinema to always surprise me: Lore has been surpassed by a rather wide margin. Theo Angelopoulos—the master of Greek cinema, killed in a motorbike accident in 2012 at age seventy-six—is poised to become one of my favorite filmmakers, and after much reflection, I am all but ready to induct his Landscape in the Mist into my all-time Top Ten. Eternity and a Day, which won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is much further credit to him. I wrote earlier of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia—which has a script by Tonino Guerra, who also collaborated with Angelopoulos on numerous films including this—and which has an estimated 117 shots in just over two hours. Eternity has fifty-four shots, give or take a couple, in about the same span of time. Long takes were Angelopoulos’ specialty. Each shot to him, and to his photographer Yorgos Arvanitis, was a theatrical construction, slow and patient but never glib and never contrived, always telling a complex, layered narrative in its own right. Many of his shots switch places and time periods without resorting to obvious cuts, gliding between and juxtaposing past and present with rarely matched smoothness and perfect clarity. With one pan, we travel back in time over a century. Later, characters from the present walk into and observe the past from their own era, then move on. That’s just one example. Time gains as much dimensionality and tangibility as space. One adapts to the story’s rhythm, learns to appreciate the artistry of such setups, realizes that such a film is sui generis.

The “eternity” of the title is Alexander (Bruno Ganz), a poet whose goal in life was to complete The Free Besieged, the incomplete epic poem of Dionysios Solomos, the author of the national anthem of Greece and Cyprus. Alexander has failed; he is terminally ill and somehow plans to euthanize himself the next day, or so I guess. He gives away possessions and reconnects with remaining family one last time. He flashes back to happier times with his late wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld). Maybe he is the “day” of the title, since that is all he has left. Or maybe the “day” is the boy (Achileas Skevis), the Albanian runaway who kills time squeegeeing dashboards, whom Alexander rescues on a whim from a black market adoption service—in a ten-minute sequence told almost without dialogue, which is one of the film’s highlights. Or maybe the boy is “eternity,” since that is what it seems like he has to look forward to once Alexander takes him under his wing. The film is rife with such contradictions and clashes. There is an infinitude in a day—in any unit of time, really—and the inverse of that truth is that a day has the ability to encapsulate an eternity. The concept of infinity/eternity itself is a grand paradox: you can add anything to it, and it will retain its character. The concept of “one”—of one day—is literally infinitesimal, is all but nothing, up against it. Or is it? I could go on; such is the nature of endlessness and thought. The film’s signature achievement is that it illustrates such a paradox by fleshing it out in Alexander and the boy, and the age groups they represent. Infinity in the sense of math can be grasped by children and adults alike, and both struggle with it equally.

Is there any theme more significant in the arts and in history than the generations? I don’t think so. All the other great themes of art—among them the negotiation between liberty and security, the fundaments of human dignity, the vain fight against mortality—seem to be subsumed by the crises and interplays between the old and young generations, the development of one into the other, the idea of our offspring as our ultimate legacy in the world. Eternity conveys this universal theme in the simplest way possible—with one kid and one old man on life’s threshold—and expands from there. Throughout time, society as a whole has had nothing much besides contempt for children; look at how they’ve been imprisoned in schools, streamlined into unskilled labor, perceived as innately stupid, tricked into thinking their perspectives and agonies are invalid, used as shock absorbers for the pettier concerns of adults. Respect for children is a standard to which I hold people in general, and few if any filmmakers have more esteem for and understanding of youths than Angelopoulos had. There’s a devastating sequence in which one runaway kid, Sélim, appears dead in a morgue. His fellow street kids gather in a warehouse, where the boy eulogizes his friend as Alexander watches in stunned silence. Listen to the boy’s speech with care, and you will see how his meditations on and experiences with death and the afterlife are no less profound than Alexander’s, maybe even more so. Really, the boy seems to ask, what is the afterlife? Does consciousness cease or go on forever? Will we be forever young or creatures of eternity? Both outcomes have their pros and cons, you know. I once wrote in a poem (of which I am quite proud), “The end is terrifying, so is eternity: heaven the olive branch between the two.” I am confident that Angelopoulos would have agreed with that sentiment.

After Alexander stumbles upon the boy and becomes his guardian by accident, he makes it his life’s final duty to protect and guide the boy for as long as he can. It’s a less ambitious, more manageable, even more immediately humane task for him to take on than wrestling with Solomos, yet his time is limited and the boy will soon have to fend for himself, just like normal. Both use their time with each other as a reprieve—and it is an essential and worthwhile reprieve, which crafts a great story. One John Lennon (not the Beatle) has written, in Boxcar Politics, that political “movement[s]” are often manifested in “physical movement.” This applies well to Angelopoulos, who tracks his characters’ progress and political maturation in terms of their walks, runs and moments of stasis through space, time, history and technology, and across borders social and geopolitical. In one harrowing scene, Alexander takes the boy north to the snow-capped border with Albania, where a tall fence has silhouettes of bodies plastered all over it. Small wonder why the men decide to turn back. After they return to Thessaloniki, they witness a classical wedding party, which Alexander rudely interrupts to give away his dog. Angelopoulos herein is also tracing the movement of motifs across his body of work. In the adoption scene, the boys are lined up against a wall; one kid protests simply by walking forward and is promptly shoved back. This echoes a scene from The Traveling Players, in which the acting troupe faces a firing squad and Aegisthus fights back. As he aged, the filmmaker grew closer to youth—an act of atavism disguised as paradox—and decided to show that rebellion does not develop with adulthood but rather is primal, in us at birth—and, in a way, purer when we are young. (Recall Bob Dylan’s wistful refrain: “Eh, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”) The border crisis harkens back to Landscape, in which a young sister and brother (also named Alexander) head to Germany to reunite with their father, as if Germany bordered Greece and Cold War politics were nonexistent. That film also has a wedding scene interrupted by an animal—a horse, found dead.

Rest assured, the film can stand alone and is no less excellent viewed that way. Ganz as Alexander—hulking yet beaten down, artsy and snooty yet capable of tenderness and innate humanism—is near-perfect. I forgot right away that he was the actor who would go on to play Hitler. Renauld’s Anna is heard mostly in voice-over, from letters she wrote to her husband. Her dialogue is dense, ethereal, but appropriately so, and she imbues her words with enough emotion and poetry to make them compelling, and to get us to trust that she may well be talking to Alexander in some secret language that only they as lovers can understand, that we are not meant to interpret. The Italian actor Fabrizio Bentivoglio, as Solomos (yes, he does show up), has the daunting task of fleshing out a historic figure in a character’s national-mythological imagination without being garish. The key to his performance is its subtlety and nonchalance, and the way he (and Ganz with him) savors each unique Demotic Greek word that he purchases from common folk after his return from Italy. This is Angelopoulos’ way of cluing us in on art—film, in particular—as a constructive, economic process, with money and labor behind it, always a sign of the times it was made in—and on how art and the aural beauty of language and etymology depend on history and the generations to survive. Skevis as the boy is game for the challenge and matches Ganz in every scene. The men’s journey cannot last forever, and when they have two hours remaining, they can do nothing more mundane and unpretentious than go on a bus ride—a simple moment of mentorship made precious by context, which the filmmaker turns into yet another bravura set piece. In his obituary, critic David Thomson writes of the incompleteness that is reflected across Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, and of the irony (or is it?) that he was killed while in the middle of a film production, which will now be left unfinished forever. This is a man who seized at eternity and the eternal journey of man, and failed inexorably, but came up with a fragment of it that is plentiful and that does not fail to somehow symbolize infinity. The film’s denouement is inevitable and brutal; its emotional climax comes when Alexander parks in the middle of the road, longing for the boy to return just so he can clean his dashboard, for the twin youthful sensations of eternity and of carpe diem—of seizing each day, one by one—to return to his very mortal being, as we all do.

Let us hope that this film—and this director’s body of work—lasts for as long as its title prescribes.

Grade: A+

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Five: “Eternity and a Day”

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Four: “Tsotsi”

Tsotsi clues you in on how much disbelief you’re going to have to suspend for it pretty quickly. It begins with a gang of four—the title character (Presley Chweneyagae), the hotheaded Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe), the voice of conscience Boston (Mothusi Magano), and the adipose and likable Aap (Kenneth Nkosi)—robbing a man at knifepoint on a stuffed Johannesburg train. This is risky but doable, from both criminal and storytelling standpoints. But when Butcher loses his shit and stabs the man to death and the quartet have to hold him up and make him seem alive Weekend-at-Bernie’s-style until everyone conveniently gets off at the next stop…well, do you think anyone would get away with that? Yes, it’s a breach of etiquette to check people out on the subway, but in this post-9/11 generation of “If you see something, say something,” I have to believe that in real life, someone would notice such an occurrence happening not six inches away from them, speak the fuck up, and end this story before it begins. (Intriguing, that this is based on an Athol Fugard novel.) So, Tsotsi is a cartoon—albeit a brutal, gripping one, convincingly acted. The hook alone is enough to get an audience to watch through to the end: in a tense moment during a rainstorm, Tsotsi shoots a wealthy woman, jacks her car for shelter, and drives off—only to find her infant child in the backseat. What will Tsotsi do? What would you do? How, if at all, will Tsotsi change from his realization of his actions and the devastation they have caused? The film’s strongest aspect is Tsotsi’s dubious rapport with Miriam (the brilliant Terry Pheto), a neighbor of his and a newborn mother who he forces to act as the baby’s wet nurse. That of course fits the definition of sexual assault, yet Miriam puts the baby’s interests ahead of her own, and a dynamic develops between captor and captive in which each tries to figure out the other. Where lesser films would resort to a half-assed Stockholm syndrome, herein, Tsotsi does slowly change from his involvement with the blunt yet understanding Miriam, yet they do not become friends and their time together is finite. There are other solid moments, such as Tsotsi’s interactions with a homeless paraplegic, and his gradual falling out with the rest of the gang. The tone of melodrama is never quite forsaken; the main characters make some egregiously stupid decisions throughout. But we understand why they make them, and the film earns its heartfelt conclusion. (Not to mention, the stunts performed by the actors playing the baby are baffling.)

Grade: B+

In memory of Sandra Bland.

31 Days of Cinema, Day Twenty-Four: “Tsotsi”