InRO's Best Films of 2022

You also want an ePaper? Increase the reach of your titles

YUMPU automatically turns print PDFs into web optimized ePapers that Google loves.



OF <strong>2022</strong>

TOP 25 FILMS OF <strong>2022</strong><br />

We can call <strong>2022</strong> a significant year in film not because a consensus favorite emerged, but rather for the consensus<br />

<strong>of</strong> divisiveness that was encouraged, embraced, even. Split opinions stimulate more than lukewarm ones, and the<br />

threat <strong>of</strong> meeting most new releases with a shrug looms larger than a slate populated with misfires and curios.<br />

Cannes, and the festival industry at large, made an expectedly splashy return, heavy on the empty calories, while<br />

we continued our pursuit <strong>of</strong> a more cross-platform intake <strong>of</strong> cinema, throwing streaming releases, prestige bloat,<br />

and old masters all onto the same, wonderfully disagreeable list (unfortunately, we had Sight & Sound to compete<br />

with this year). One could draw a line from James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way <strong>of</strong> Water’s development <strong>of</strong> 3D and<br />

high-framerate technologies to Dominik Graf’s perennially undisciplined formal play in his emotive, Weimer-era<br />

epic, Fabian: Going to the Dogs. Elsewhere, a Jackass return is as heartening as Hong Sang-soo’s prolificness. And<br />

then there’s the new (Alice Diop) mingling with the once-maligned old (Michael Bay), while the donkey in EO suffers<br />

as much as the father and daughter in Aftersun. <strong>2022</strong> proves that we’re still learning how to watch — hopefully, we’ll<br />

never be finished. . — PATRICK PREZIOSI<br />



Martin McDonagh<br />

Set against a backdrop <strong>of</strong> gunfire and cannons on the nearby<br />

mainland during the dying days <strong>of</strong> the Irish Civil War, the drama<br />

<strong>of</strong> The Banshees <strong>of</strong> Inisherin is dwarfed by historical events while<br />

also reflecting the confusing and, some would argue, arbitrary<br />

nature <strong>of</strong> them. There’s never any question that the conflict on<br />

the fictional island community is intended as an implicit<br />

commentary on the war: from how it pits friend against friend or<br />

came about “suddenly” after years <strong>of</strong> simmering resentment to<br />

the way observers are left wondering how they all got to this<br />

place or even who’s on which side. And then there’s the<br />

self-defeating nature <strong>of</strong> it all, with Brendan Gleeson’s gruff Colm<br />

proclaiming out <strong>of</strong> the blue that he wants to be left alone by<br />

affable dullard Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and the terrible toll to be<br />

paid for ignoring his wishes: a finger removed from his own hand<br />

every time his former friend bothers him. A fiddlist maiming<br />

himself so he has more time to compose music has a certain<br />

amount <strong>of</strong> senselessness to it, a bit like going to war to reunite a<br />

country.<br />

It’s a baldly theatrical conceit from playwright-turned-filmmaker<br />

Martin McDonagh in a film where there’s no shortage <strong>of</strong> them.<br />

Populated by colorful busybodies, cute animals, fools and<br />

perhaps even the mythical harbinger that gives the film its florid<br />

title (the double “sh” sound really does have a lovely ring to it),<br />

the film has a musicality to its dialogue which also betrays the<br />

stage origins <strong>of</strong> its filmmaker. Lines are repeated back to their<br />

original speaker almost as if in call and response, with<br />

characters regularly talking past one another, all peppered with a<br />

healthy amount <strong>of</strong> “fecks” and “shites.” As if to head <strong>of</strong>f any<br />

accusations <strong>of</strong> staginess, McDonagh sets much <strong>of</strong> the film<br />

against rolling emerald hills (punctuated by a sprawling network<br />

<strong>of</strong> stone walls) and towering cliffs, <strong>of</strong>ten filmed in soaring drone<br />

shots and framed in ultra-wide compositions. Like the quarrel at<br />

its center, the film feels simultaneously intimate and expansive,<br />

pulling in innocent victims carried along by the squabbles <strong>of</strong><br />

thick-headed men. But no mere historical allegory, the film<br />

speaks to an all too prescient sense <strong>of</strong> despair and wanton<br />

cruelty — the way people project their own shortcomings onto<br />

others, perpetuate a chilling sense <strong>of</strong> isolation, and find their<br />

hearts irrevocably hardened by childish disagreements (all<br />

exacerbated by the internet). Though set a century ago, is there a<br />

more <strong>2022</strong> sensation than feeling alone on an island yet still<br />

being surrounded by boring fecking men and their piddling<br />

grievances? — ANDREW DIGNAN<br />


#24 — THE CATHEDRAL<br />

Ricky D’Ambrose<br />

When a film is as formally driven as The Cathedral (one need only<br />

to know that director Ricky D’Ambrose has been compared to<br />

Straub-Huillet with some frequency), the critical instinct is to<br />

prioritize image. In 2007, David Bordwell expressed<br />

disappointment in “most pr<strong>of</strong>essional [critics’ disinterest] in the<br />

film shot as a shot.” Bordwell having co-written several <strong>of</strong> the<br />

most used film textbooks for introductory classes, even his blog<br />

posts are <strong>of</strong>ten encountered early in film school. And though his<br />

exhortation to discuss form is well taken, and discussing image<br />

may seem the most obvious way to do that, film is exciting<br />

because it is inherently interdisciplinary as a medium. The form<br />

is image, but it is also sound, and, though Bordwell’s counterpoint<br />

to the shot is “plot and acting,” it is also text.<br />

D’Ambrose does nothing to dissuade the viewer from attending to<br />

the image from the beginning. The film begins with a photograph<br />

<strong>of</strong> an outdoor gathering, before the rustling <strong>of</strong> blankets reveals a<br />

long, static shot, as nearly every shot in the film will turn out to<br />

be, <strong>of</strong> a disembodied hand wearing a hospital bracelet. This is<br />

not the way you expect a film to start, even on MUBI, the<br />

adventurous streaming service distributing the film. But the film<br />

also begins, and also turns out to continue, with third-person<br />

narration — similarly unusual. Let’s look at the start <strong>of</strong> that text:<br />

“Jesse Damrosch was born in 1987, two years after the<br />

death <strong>of</strong> his father’s brother, Joseph. Jesse’s<br />

grandfather, Dominic, a retired printer, had been<br />

reluctant to allow his younger son to return to the family<br />

home [...] It would seem that Jesse’s late uncle was<br />

subject to two deaths: The <strong>of</strong>ficial death, as confirmed<br />

by medical tests, was AIDS. The un<strong>of</strong>ficial death, as<br />

Joseph’s father would have it, was a sudden bout <strong>of</strong> liver<br />

disease, which he is said to have contracted from<br />

unclean silverware. Some years later, Jesse’s own<br />

father, Richard, would urge caution on his son when<br />

dining at restaurants, stressing to him the importance<br />

<strong>of</strong> wiping down his forks and knives.”<br />


The Cathedral is a film <strong>of</strong> familial schisms. Such a schism forms<br />

quickly between Jesse’s parents, his maternal grandfather acting<br />

as a wedge. He is born into a world in which one already exists<br />

between his maternal grandmother and her sister Billie, one that<br />

Jesse and thus the film can never fully grasp. The film starts,<br />

however, not with a schism, but with an absence. After<br />

introducing Jesse, the film’s protagonist and his own alter ego,<br />

D’Ambrose introduces not any <strong>of</strong> the characters Jesse will meet,<br />

but his queer uncle. Growing up during the Clinton and Bush<br />

administrations — both presidents appear among the film’s<br />

archival intrusions — Jesse isn’t exposed to much queerness, and<br />

the film has not generally been referred to as a “queer film,”<br />

whatever that would mean. But, not to discount the image, its<br />

first is that <strong>of</strong> his uncle’s hand; and it’s Jesse’s grandfather and<br />

father’s active erasure <strong>of</strong> his uncle’s queerness that sets the<br />

stage for the separation he will experience among his family.<br />

Much later in the film, after Jesse has discovered video, the<br />

narrator notes that his early films “reflected less an interest in<br />

memory than in measure.” Given Jesse’s position as a director<br />

insert it’s natural to see this as a mission statement for the film<br />

and, in an interview with Lawrence Garcia, D’Ambrose said it was<br />

meant to be taken literally — to convey “the fact that there is a<br />

gap, a frame, a perspective on [Jesse’s] situation that filming<br />

permits.” D’Ambrose applies this thought to objects, but in The<br />

Cathedral there is also a distance between people, one <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

made infinite by the film’s precisely isolating framing. It’s this<br />

distance that Jesse’s parents and grandparents open up that<br />

leads Jesse to fear his father and grandfather occupying the<br />

same physical space, and that, in the film’s emotional climax, his<br />

great aunt Billie hopes to close between her and her sister, but<br />

that, in the end, no one manages to traverse. — JESSE<br />


#23 — FIRE OF LOVE<br />

Sara Dosa<br />

A mainstream breakthrough for documentarian Sara Dosa, Fire <strong>of</strong><br />

Love frames devotion for Earth’s most dangerous wonders<br />

through the romance between its subjects. A chronological<br />

recantation <strong>of</strong> volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft’s meeting,<br />

curiosity, advocacy, and, yes, death, the film reconstructs the<br />

footage the couple produced, <strong>of</strong>ten the first moving images <strong>of</strong><br />

remote geologic anomalies, interspersed with collage animation<br />

to recreate the pair’s awe. Their images are scientifically<br />


important, yes, but also richly textured, with playful asides to the<br />

looming danger they walk straight toward (we see Maurice burn<br />

himself in a rock pool and laugh it <strong>of</strong>f as a near miss, Katia<br />

repeatedly dressing in heat shields as if to go into space, and<br />

Maurice again rowing in a pool <strong>of</strong> concentrated acid, shrugging<br />

at the sizzling risk). The singularity <strong>of</strong> the point in research they<br />

attain finds itself running parallel to the dedication between the<br />

couple, one where they know it is only the other who would allow<br />

them to venture so close to the fire. The pair do not share a<br />

concentration within the field; Katia is fascinated by the<br />

minutiae left behind after the clouds clear, studying rock<br />

formations and the way life reacts to this newly hostile<br />

environment. Maurice is instead struck by motion; he ventures<br />

closer to the live fire, and dreams <strong>of</strong><br />

riding a titanium canoe down a lava<br />

stream, holding the camera for much <strong>of</strong><br />

the footage used in order to study how<br />

the magma, and later smoke, dances.<br />

<strong>of</strong> our control. After all, as Maurice repeats, understanding that<br />

which we are taught to fear brings us closer to the world around<br />

us, and to the core <strong>of</strong> our own existence. — SARAH WILLIAMS<br />

#22 — AFTERSUN<br />

Charlotte Wells<br />

Through the fog <strong>of</strong> memory and under the glaring Turkish sun,<br />

British social realism gets a new look in writer-director Charlotte<br />

Wells’ debut feature, Aftersun. The film follows Sophie (Frankie<br />

Corio/Celia Rowlson-Hall) as both a pre-teen and an adult as she<br />

pieces together memories <strong>of</strong> her young father Callum (Paul<br />

Mescal) and the holiday they took together for her eleventh<br />

birthday, weaving memory with home video with imagination into<br />

The Kraffts were to volcanology as<br />

Jacques Cousteau was to<br />

contemporary diving — except their<br />

painstaking video documentation <strong>of</strong> the<br />

natural world is closer in artistry to that<br />

<strong>of</strong> surrealist Jean Painlevé. Rarely do<br />

the recent wave <strong>of</strong> found footage<br />

documentaries further the material<br />

(even Questlove’s recent Summer <strong>of</strong> Soul hardly served to<br />

contextualize its striking content); in this case, Dosa’s romantic<br />

tragedy narrativization structured from the couple’s research is a<br />

reminder <strong>of</strong> how easy primordial destruction can come for even<br />

the most prepared. When the couple dies in an eruption (<strong>of</strong> one<br />

<strong>of</strong> the more volatile grey volcanoes they monitor), it isn’t shock<br />

value, because from the start they know the inevitability <strong>of</strong><br />

disaster. This event serves to deepen their earlier warnings, as<br />

they had traveled to rural communities to warn <strong>of</strong> the dangers <strong>of</strong><br />

living so close to a ticking time bomb. Fire <strong>of</strong> Love utilizes the<br />

couple’s dynamic footage as a reminder that there is so much out<br />

there grander than humanity, and how many forces are out<br />

a quiet and deeply moving portrait <strong>of</strong> parenthood. Wells chooses<br />

for her locale the sort <strong>of</strong> holiday resort that will be familiar to UK<br />

audiences, an almost liminal world <strong>of</strong> family-friendly faux luxury<br />

where time feels suspended between bouts <strong>of</strong> sunbathing,<br />

playing pool, and the occasional outside excursion. Wells remains<br />

subtle when observing Brits abroad, supplanting the usual<br />

overcast grays and blues <strong>of</strong> kitchen sink realism in favor <strong>of</strong><br />

bright, if paled, sunlight. This choice casts Wells’ subject matter<br />

within a hazy glow, taking Sophie and Callum’s precarious<br />

situation as a young, fractured, and financially unstable family<br />

and refusing to submit them to the grim aesthetic that usually<br />

accompanies such characters and stories.<br />


As young father Callum, Mescal is revelatory, performing a<br />

restraint that animates the puzzle at the center <strong>of</strong> Aftersun.<br />

Whether it can be attributed to masculine stoicism or Sophie’s<br />

incomplete memory, Callum is just as much a mystery to the<br />

audience as he is his own daughter, but Mescal’s turn,<br />

melancholic and full <strong>of</strong> an anguish that lies just beneath the<br />

surface <strong>of</strong> his persona, brings a pr<strong>of</strong>ound humanity to his<br />

enigma. Callum may be fundamentally unreachable across the<br />

gulf <strong>of</strong> memory and whatever clearly lies between the pair in the<br />

present, but Mescal never feels distant in his portrayal,<br />

embodying both Callum’s personal pain and the noble strength he<br />

adopts for Sophie’s sake. It’s a balancing act <strong>of</strong> a performance,<br />

and a testament to Mescal’s talent that he never loses control <strong>of</strong><br />

that balance for even a second.<br />

Where Aftersun truly transcends its own premise is in its design,<br />

sitting at the intersection <strong>of</strong> memory, imagination, and digital<br />

record. While between its two wonderfully cast leads the film<br />

succeeds at examining<br />

parenthood and the complications inherent in that relationship,<br />

Wells forces her audience to consider the very ground she lays<br />

her story upon, with Sophie’s morphing is constantly drawn to<br />

moments <strong>of</strong> heterosexuality but grows to queer womanhood,<br />

seems to theorize, as though puzzling out what she thought <strong>of</strong><br />

those early encounters, why she started noticing them in the<br />

first place, and eventually even extending<br />

her re-examination to her father, recalling conversations about<br />

women he found attractive and imagining his platonic<br />

encounters with other men. As narrator, Sophie adopts subtext<br />

and abandons it, searching for significance in events that may<br />

not have any, leading the film to a magnificent climactic<br />

sequence that poetically encapsulates the entire film:<br />

surrounded by noise and confusion and fragments <strong>of</strong> images,<br />

we understand how the search for meaning in our own lives can<br />

define us and, crucially, the only way we may have <strong>of</strong> reaching<br />

the ones we love. — MOLLY ADAMS<br />


Catarina Vasconcelos<br />

In The Singularity <strong>of</strong> Literature, David Attridge writes that artistic<br />

singularity inheres in the encounter between reader and text —<br />

the reader, in encountering the text for the first time, creates art<br />

anew through the act <strong>of</strong> interpretation. There’s no way to<br />

anticipate how a text from the past will be received in the future,<br />

and it’s precisely this element <strong>of</strong> surprise which sustains art’s<br />

alterity. The radical potential <strong>of</strong> art to endlessly create new<br />

possibilities is brilliantly illuminated in Catarina Vasconcelos’ The<br />

Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong> Birds, a hybrid documentary which paints a<br />

rich and expansive portrait <strong>of</strong> Vasconcelos’ family through<br />

re-imagining their histories, memories, and letters. As<br />

Vasconcelos’ grandfather Henrique wishes to burn his<br />

correspondences with his wife, Beatriz, The Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong><br />

Birds also doubles as a physical<br />

archive, a desperate attempt to<br />

reconcile an entire life. It’s through<br />

artistic reinvention that Vasconcelos<br />

learns how to meet her grandmother,<br />

who died before she knew her, for the<br />

first and last time.<br />

What’s most striking about Vasconcelos’<br />

re-imagination <strong>of</strong> Beatriz, however, is<br />

the way that the latter’s interior life is<br />

portrayed with tender sensitivity:<br />

generic and domestic<br />


images <strong>of</strong> cut grapefruits, raw meat, or even an electrical socket<br />

imbue her life with a deep loneliness, even as the laughter <strong>of</strong><br />

children reverberates across the house. After all, Henrique was<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten away at sea, leaving Beatriz on her own to raise five<br />

children. Unlike the empirical trappings <strong>of</strong> most documentaries,<br />

The Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong> Birds universalizes the particular;<br />

Vasconcelos uses Beatriz’s experience to speak for generations<br />

<strong>of</strong> mothers whose stories were not worthy <strong>of</strong> the camera. It’s also<br />

why the film refuses to clarify the litany <strong>of</strong> actors who stand in<br />

as Beatriz. As deeply personal as Vasconcelos’ film is, it’s also a<br />

love letter to women like her grandmother — their letters may not<br />

have been burned, but it’s entirely possible that they, too, have<br />

been tragically lost to time in one way or another.<br />

During the film’s narration <strong>of</strong> Beatriz’s death, we see a woman<br />

swimming in a lake; with every passing second, she swims<br />

further out away from the audience and, presumably,<br />

Vasconcelos herself. Up to this point, the first half <strong>of</strong> The<br />

Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong> Birds largely comprises shots that are confined<br />

within tight 4:3 frames where images and people look like<br />

portraits and still lifes, an effect which reflects Vasoncelos’<br />

aching desire to capture Beatriz’s story before the<br />

correspondences are lost. But as tight compositions give way to<br />

this poignant image <strong>of</strong> a woman swimming away from us in a<br />

vast lake, The Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong> Birds astutely revises the<br />

traditional archive — it no longer seeks to document Beatriz’s life<br />

in relation to her children or her husband. Instead, Vasconcelos<br />

lets Beatriz go, and this generous act <strong>of</strong> artistic freedom is how<br />

she finally meets her grandmother for the first time. The<br />

Metamorphosis <strong>of</strong> Birds wants us to meet our grandmothers and<br />

mothers before we knew them; this is a gentle kindness that we<br />

can only wish that our stories will be told with. — SHAR TAN<br />

#20 — NOPE<br />

Jordan Peele<br />

In many ways, we’re still living in the shadow <strong>of</strong> Jordan Peele’s<br />

Get Out — rare is the American horror film these days that doesn’t<br />

come with a prefabricated, paint-by-numbers allegory for the<br />

social ills <strong>of</strong> our time. Few <strong>of</strong> them have matched the originality<br />

and potency <strong>of</strong> Get Out, and Peele’s follow-up, Us, suffered from a<br />

labored foregrounding <strong>of</strong> metaphor over the genre’s more<br />

essential pleasures. What makes Nope, Peele’s third and most<br />

ambitious feature, so exciting, then, is how daringly it rides the<br />

knife’s edge between its director’s instincts as a sociologist and a<br />

showman. As uneasy as the marriage can be at times, the result<br />

is undeniably one <strong>of</strong> the richest and densest blockbusters to<br />

grace American screens in years.<br />

“To reduce Nope to its<br />

thematic content would be a<br />

mistake, the same one…<br />

Peele’s elevated horror<br />

contemporaries make.<br />

The heady mixture Peele is after comes baked into his film’s<br />

premise, which concerns brother-sister duo Emerald (Keke<br />

Palmer) and OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) as they take over the<br />

ranch owned by their father, a Hollywood horse trainer, after his<br />

mysterious death. Many <strong>of</strong> the film’s myriad thematic currents<br />

sprout from here, from the film industry’s history <strong>of</strong> exploitation<br />

(whether <strong>of</strong> Black workers like the Haywoods behind the camera<br />

or <strong>of</strong> animals in front) to the very nature <strong>of</strong> iconography and how<br />

meaning is read into images, which Peele identifies in Eadweard<br />

Muybridge’s studies <strong>of</strong> movement as readily as he does TMZ and<br />

Twitter.<br />

But to reduce Nope to its thematic content would be a mistake,<br />

the same one that many <strong>of</strong> Peele’s elevated horror<br />

contemporaries make themselves. The imaginative flair and<br />

formal bravado Peele brings to the set pieces here establish him<br />

as a first-rate large-scale director, and his handling <strong>of</strong> the<br />

movie’s “monster” — a massive UFO known only as “Jean Jacket”<br />

— is worthy <strong>of</strong> the Spielberg-sized hole the filmmaker seems<br />

intent on stepping into. Even more impressively, Peele never<br />

loses sight <strong>of</strong> the movie’s intellectual framework within these<br />

sequences; rather, its function as thrilling entertainment is<br />

central to its critique <strong>of</strong> our own desensitization to visual<br />

spectacle.<br />


Nope’s welding <strong>of</strong> blockbuster and art film forms was bound to<br />

show a few seams, and for many those are most prominent in the<br />

Steven Yeun sections <strong>of</strong> the film, where Peele paradoxically<br />

pushes the envelope the furthest and is most clearly weighed<br />

down by the allegorical needs <strong>of</strong> his movie. But when the movie<br />

takes flight, Peele shows us as exciting a vision <strong>of</strong> commercial<br />

genre cinema to come as I can remember: not one <strong>of</strong> dull<br />

aesthetics and duller messaging, but <strong>of</strong> new forms <strong>of</strong> filmmaking<br />

that carry with them new ideas, a cinema both indebted to and in<br />

challenging conversation with everything that came before it. —<br />


#19 — IL BUCO<br />

Michelangelo Frammartino<br />

Michelangelo Frammartino’s Il Buco stands out in a <strong>2022</strong> field <strong>of</strong><br />

films not just for the exhilarating beauty <strong>of</strong> its images — though<br />

it is the year’s most gorgeous film — but for the shifting<br />

definition <strong>of</strong> beauty it evokes and the clear harmony <strong>of</strong> its<br />

disparate images. Leaving the film’s historical and contextual<br />

details for a quick pre-end-credits scrawl, the film drops viewers<br />

directly into its titular setting: the camera shoots out through its<br />

cragged and crescent-shaped opening, as night turns to day and<br />

a few Podolico cows amble into the frame <strong>of</strong> the Bifurto Abyss’s<br />

gaping maw. A quick array <strong>of</strong> vista shots, the region’s<br />

mountainous backdrop and green grazing land blanketed in white<br />

cloud and mist (an initial contrast to Il Buco’s immense<br />

darkness), then cuts to a shepherd perched upon a steeply<br />

sloped hillside overlooking the plateau’s bucolic character.<br />

“Il Buco stands out… not just<br />

for the exhilarating beauty <strong>of</strong><br />

its images… but for the<br />

shifting definition <strong>of</strong> beauty it<br />

evokes.<br />

The trajectory <strong>of</strong> these early few minutes works to communicate<br />

both the pictorial nature <strong>of</strong> the film to follow and to establish the<br />

first halves <strong>of</strong> a few essential dichotomies that Il Buco is built<br />

upon. No mere exercise in empty, postcard-approved slow<br />

cinema aestheticizing, Frammartino’s film takes as study a series<br />

<strong>of</strong> considered inversions: the lush, easy beauty <strong>of</strong> the bright<br />

Calabrian verdance and the more beguiling allure <strong>of</strong> the dark<br />

unknown <strong>of</strong> Il Buco; the rhythm <strong>of</strong> ambered shepherd tradition,<br />

cyclical in its time-stands-still intimation, and the clear linearity<br />

<strong>of</strong> progress spearheaded by the deep-delving speleologists; the<br />

curious, nebulous line between fiction and nonfiction filmmaking;<br />

and, most distinctively, the unflagging mystery <strong>of</strong> both human<br />

and terrestrial life, each always bearing witness to the other —<br />

here, a flickering pulse on the back <strong>of</strong> a dying man’s hand and a<br />

headlamp’s light dancing upon the rock formations in a<br />

heret<strong>of</strong>ore unseen crevasse both bear secrets <strong>of</strong> immense,<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>ound meaning.<br />

Lest that sound overly academic, however, Frammartino takes<br />

conscious care to remember the medium he’s working within. Far<br />

from plodding along through these intellectual suggestions, Il<br />

Buco instead effortlessly moves between understated but still<br />

riveting scenes <strong>of</strong> exploration — without imbuing any faux<br />

gravitas or saturating this with dramatic emphasis, these<br />

otherwise unassuming scenes still sneakily shred the nerves —<br />

and pastoral domesticity, allowing the dance between the two to<br />

build both theme and aesthetic organically, the shifting<br />

perspective <strong>of</strong> the images speaking to the grandiosity <strong>of</strong> both the<br />

seen and unseen. All <strong>of</strong> this is punctuated by the director’s play<br />

with light and dark, the expansive wide-angle shots in constant<br />

conversation with the cramped, blotted-out images <strong>of</strong> what lies<br />

beneath. And then there’s the meta-textual layering Il Buco<br />

employs in bearing witness to this all: there’s us, the audience,<br />

observing a shepherd, who is observing the Il Buco explorers,<br />

who are themselves observing that which has never before been<br />

seen. Dark and light, seeing and unseeing: these are both<br />

objective truths and false constructs <strong>of</strong> our human creation, a<br />

means <strong>of</strong> flattening the inexplicable into the digestible<br />

imprecision <strong>of</strong> language. Frammartino seems fascinated by that<br />

which is always ever only outside <strong>of</strong> our human understanding<br />

and articulation — the mystery, you could say — and in Il Buco<br />

brilliantly captures that specific shadow in moving visual terms.<br />




Dominik Graf<br />

In the sloganeering spirit <strong>of</strong> its source material, the Erich Kästner<br />

novel Fabian,: Going to the Dogs, Dominik Graf’s epic-length film<br />

adaptation opens with a tracking shot that might as well<br />

announce one <strong>of</strong> that text’s chapter headings: “The Past Comes<br />

Round the Corner.” Graf’s film, pointedly unfashionable and<br />

gleefully esoteric even as its fascism-on-the-rise trajectory<br />

might seem to suggest something au courant, is never easy to<br />

make sense <strong>of</strong>: its mix <strong>of</strong> formats, frame rates, split-screen<br />

collisions, zooms, and assorted handheld disorientations suggest<br />

a house in the process <strong>of</strong> flying apart. The tone somersaults<br />

between senses: the cynical bonhomie <strong>of</strong> literary outsiders;<br />

secluded, starving romanticism; and an essentially sweet<br />

disposition toward family take shelter underneath an inevitably<br />

tragic structure. We know, because the year is 1931, that<br />

everyone’s either going to end up dead, exiled, an apolitical<br />

facsimile <strong>of</strong> a person, or a member <strong>of</strong> the Party.<br />

What Graf wrings out <strong>of</strong> this material, though imperfect and at<br />

times overloaded with televisual signals and undigested plotting,<br />

is an exhilarating sense <strong>of</strong> public intrusion. The energy <strong>of</strong> any<br />

given scenario is transferred to asides, interruptions, street<br />

noise, and detective flashes <strong>of</strong> intuition, then back again, to the<br />

three lively children <strong>of</strong> Goethe that populate Fabian’s inner circle:<br />

Stephan Labude (Albrecht Schuch), a pampered but tortured<br />

idealist; Cornelia Battenberg (Saskia Rosendahl), a law<br />

student-turned-actress as self-determined as any Verhoeven<br />

heroine, and Jakub Fabian himself (Tom Schilling), the would-be<br />

literary hero who, as Joyce wrote in his Portrait <strong>of</strong> the Artist as a<br />

Young Man, “defiles with patience whatever image had attracted<br />

his eyes.”<br />

Time here slides in and out <strong>of</strong> sync between our experience and<br />

these characters’, a concept that shares some features with,<br />

though far from exactly aligns, with Christian Petzold’s, Graf’s old<br />

neighbor from Dreileben. And this may be because, unlike the<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>essorial guide in Undine or the autodidact political refugee in<br />

Transit, Graf’s ultimate form <strong>of</strong> narration is the sentimental<br />

education, albeit a haunted and accelerated one. He pays his<br />

duties to historical implications, but Graf’s inventions exist to<br />

power an in-the-moment sense <strong>of</strong> one decision leaping into<br />

another, the fractal explosions <strong>of</strong> small differences. It remains to<br />

be seen if Graf, who mostly continues to work in television, is<br />

doomed to obscurity for his choices <strong>of</strong> industry, aesthetics, or<br />

both; but for those in search <strong>of</strong> other paths to be taken in the<br />

realm <strong>of</strong> literary-derived subjectivity, he remains an essential<br />

director. — MICHAEL SCOULAR<br />



Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes<br />

Few films will be remembered as pandemic-era classics like<br />

Miguel Gomes & Maureen Fazendeiro’s The Tsugua Diaries. Its<br />

title, which features the word August backwards, plays out in<br />

reverse-chronological order, with day-by-day accounts <strong>of</strong> a film<br />

and its filmmaking process capturing both the malaise and small<br />

comforts <strong>of</strong> its circumstances. It begins with one <strong>of</strong> the most<br />

memorable scenes <strong>of</strong> the year: after a title card reading “Day 22”<br />

flashes on screen, we’re dropped into the midst <strong>of</strong> a modest<br />

dance party set to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ “The<br />

Night.” As moody colors wash the interior in a seductive veneer,<br />

the lyrics foreshadow foolhardy aspirations for ecstasy in a time<br />

<strong>of</strong> standstill: “If that day could last forever / You would fall in love<br />

completely / But the night begins to turn your head around.” Still,<br />

The Tsugua Diaries moves swiftly, with a romantic kiss leading us<br />

into the everyday realities <strong>of</strong> “Day 21,” which skitters <strong>of</strong>f to “Day<br />

20” shortly thereafter. Some days last longer than others, but<br />

everything starts to blend together on this Portuguese farm in<br />

the summertime heat.<br />

For their own entertainment, Gomes and Fazendeiro spent<br />

lockdown working through John Ford’s films from last to first,<br />

and were inspired by seeing John Wayne grow younger<br />

throughout their viewings. This isn’t to say that The Tsugua<br />

Diaries is anything like Linklater’s Boyhood or Nolan’s Memento,<br />

but that there’s a joy they’re trying to embody in observing<br />

minute changes. They succeed on a purely visual level, with<br />

different hues <strong>of</strong> light blanketing a single image, allowing for<br />

deep appreciation <strong>of</strong> film at its basest levels. One <strong>of</strong> the movie’s<br />

most striking scenes is little more than flashes <strong>of</strong> colored dots<br />

flitting across a black screen, meant to resemble the stars that<br />

characters view through a telescope.<br />

Gomes and Fazendeiro also succeed because their structural<br />

gambit is wondrous: with every little bit we learn about the film’s<br />

creation, it seems like a miracle that anything comes out <strong>of</strong> such<br />

an increasingly complicated situation. Most notably, Fazendeiro<br />

is absent for much <strong>of</strong> the film’s runtime, her voice only appearing<br />

via walkie-talkies due to her pregnancy (she’s encouraged by her<br />

doctor to lie down). When Gomes appears on screen and has<br />

conversations with his actors, it feels less like a momentous<br />

breaking <strong>of</strong> the fourth wall than an invitation to understand how<br />

challenging all this is for everyone. But The Tsugua Diaxries is<br />

foremost light and cozy, eager to showcase the comforts and<br />

humor and delight found in being around others and simply<br />

creating. The Tsugua Diaries may not contain the overt magical<br />

realism <strong>of</strong> Gomes’ other films, but it does understand that there’s<br />

always something enchanting one can conjure up, even in a time<br />

<strong>of</strong> unprecedented crises. — JOSHUA MINSOO KIM<br />


#16 — AMBULANCE<br />

Michael Bay<br />

In a year where the American blockbuster achieved its<br />

all-or-nothing final form for commercial performance, almost<br />

any movie not named Top Gun: Maverick became emblematic <strong>of</strong><br />

movies’ depreciating mainstream appeal. So too for Ambulance;<br />

directed by titan <strong>of</strong> excess Michael Bay — he <strong>of</strong> malcontent men<br />

and robots in disguise — its meager returns on a $40 million<br />

budget were interpreted as a harbinger <strong>of</strong> ill winds in Hollywood,<br />

from which even the superhero industrial complex would emerge<br />

diminished. Yet these mercenary concerns obscure the value <strong>of</strong><br />

watching a maximalist doing more with less, Bay substituting his<br />

usual explosion quotient with explosive star power and visual<br />

language (and smaller explosions) to match. Conceived with<br />

Covid-19 filming conditions in mind, the title <strong>of</strong> Ambulance<br />

doubles as its primary setting, commandeered by Jake Gylenhaal<br />

and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from paramedic Eiza González’s<br />

vehicle after a bank robbery goes wrong; a volatile road trip<br />

through the streets <strong>of</strong> Los Angeles ensues.<br />

The downsizing also repositions Bay as Michael Mann’s<br />

improbable heir apparent, relocating Mann’s<br />

machismo-stricken, system-antagonistic operators within Bay’s<br />

signature moral universe. If more cinematically persuasive than<br />

ideologically, Ambulance’s heist <strong>of</strong>fers a fitting parallel for<br />

its real-life context, with its characters failing to achieve their<br />

score with unparalleled (and highly watchable) flair and style.<br />

At any rate, the plot <strong>of</strong> Ambulance is largely immaterial — so<br />

much so that Bay reportedly did not watch the original 2005<br />

Danish film from which it was adapted — instead relying on<br />

larger-than-life symbology to evoke brotherhood, Americana,<br />

economic disparity, cynicism and hope. None <strong>of</strong> the above<br />

thematic totems are unfamiliar within Bay’s oeuvre, though their<br />

presentation here skews the hyper-modern filmmaker even<br />

closer than ever to a kind <strong>of</strong> unreal realism. Frenetic imagery<br />

contrasts shaky close-ups <strong>of</strong> Ambulance’s stars inside the title<br />

vehicle with renderings <strong>of</strong> advanced technology deployed in their<br />

pursuit, like infrared grids and<br />

sweeping drones. This airborne<br />

imagery comprises an<br />

immediate highlight in an<br />

already visually arresting and<br />

disorienting filmography, Bay’s<br />

drones shooting down the sides<br />

<strong>of</strong> skyscrapers and underneath<br />

soaring automobiles, yet the<br />

exterior chaos is arguably<br />

secondary to that within the<br />

title vehicle. Inside the<br />

ambulance, fights escalate into<br />

brawls, exploratory surgery is<br />

performed, and brothers belt along to Kris Kross, all while the<br />

car itself barrels forward in pursuit <strong>of</strong> a dream already deferred.<br />

Particular credit is due to Gyllenhaal, who exceeds earlier<br />

maniacal performances with a pantheon showing <strong>of</strong> coked-out<br />

glory, attempting to make the world around him conform to his<br />

designs as both ground and sky collapse. The creation <strong>of</strong><br />

Ambulance achieves a similar feat. — MICHAEL DOUB<br />


Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher<br />

The Zürcher brothers, Ramon and Silvan, have returned to us<br />

almost a decade after what is ostensibly one <strong>of</strong> the finest works<br />

11<br />


<strong>of</strong> the 2010s. Their labyrinthine social dynamics, uproarious and<br />

deftly concentrated, solidify here as incisive authorial<br />

machination. The Girl and the Spider reconvenes with these<br />

sensibilities to observe a matrix <strong>of</strong> intensely and unabashedly<br />

horny freaks: freaks and their secret gazes, gleaning sensual<br />

pleasure from brief, clandestine acts <strong>of</strong> looking. All the character<br />

drama is inundated with riddles and confidential histories,<br />

instigating a deathless ephemera, a temporary mold through<br />

which transitory souls enter and exit. Each scene reconstitutes<br />

positionality, drawing anew and over again the fickle relations in<br />

play, incited only by an individual's capacity to see and re-see the<br />

other; <strong>of</strong>ten incidentally, <strong>of</strong>ten for purposes unknown to even<br />

them, and most certainly unknown to us. People move in melody:<br />

there is, here, a comedy <strong>of</strong> manners, <strong>of</strong><br />

mannerism. This is not a function <strong>of</strong><br />

logical dramaturgy, but an inquiry into<br />

embodiment and its tenuousness. A<br />

point <strong>of</strong> relation might be Bresson,<br />

where he distinguished in models<br />

(actors) their entrances and exits <strong>of</strong><br />

space, as well as their passage through<br />

thresholds. The brothers, in The Girl and<br />

the Spider, distinguish the matched<br />

stare, the reciprocated proximity <strong>of</strong><br />

one and the other. The whole ordeal —<br />

here a simple act <strong>of</strong><br />

moving residence — plays out in gesticulation, flamboyant<br />

scrupulousness, delivering a fable that inverts the moral<br />

reductionism <strong>of</strong> Bresson into unmitigated heterogeneity. This is<br />

an abstract portrait <strong>of</strong> human character, itself reduced into a<br />

poorly kept secret: a private glimpse that lingers on into an<br />

incommensurable but discerned act, a cinema’s framing <strong>of</strong><br />

perpetually antagonized human relations.<br />

The Zürchers’ blocking maps people in a similar fashion to how<br />

many filmmakers approach the navigation and representation <strong>of</strong><br />

architecture. We understand the narrative space as mundane<br />

and simple, as visualized through a floor plan that is the first<br />

image <strong>of</strong> the film. It is then the incessant mobility <strong>of</strong> people, a<br />

stringent choreography, which pr<strong>of</strong>fers the aforementioned<br />

labyrinthian logic. No one remains still in this film, and therefore<br />

our static, spectatorial gaze cannot possibly keep up. The<br />

simplicity <strong>of</strong> the setting provides a capacity for total<br />

estrangement as dictated by the very lack <strong>of</strong> open space, further<br />

defined by a strict continuity <strong>of</strong> medium shots. This lacking,<br />

however, becomes opportune for our characters as they attempt<br />

their coup d’œil, to imprint desires whilst everyone else is, to<br />

their imagination, too busy to notice. But <strong>of</strong> course, we know this<br />

not to be true. We know someone, as it goes in the movies, is<br />

always watching: voyeurism as locus <strong>of</strong> seduction and allure.<br />

However, the directing duo abscond with this fundamental <strong>of</strong><br />

cinema and construct a baroque formalism around it.<br />

What’s delineated in The Girl and the Spider, more so than any<br />

insight or observation on intimate relations, plausible<br />

sociopathic tendencies, or brooding sexual fervor, is a state <strong>of</strong><br />

surveillance. In the conceived solitary <strong>of</strong> aching leers, another<br />

pair <strong>of</strong> eyes, whether strange or aqua-tinted, assuredly burns<br />

holes in the back <strong>of</strong> each character’s neck. Everyone, therein,<br />

becomes a cypher, unveiling to us only their sight lines,<br />

punctuated always by the camera itself. A precise cartographic<br />

exercise, perhaps? I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to discern<br />

this work as an extrapolation <strong>of</strong> structural film; <strong>of</strong>, if we choose<br />

to believe it, a fantasy that further elucidates the anonymity <strong>of</strong><br />

bodies entering and exiting the frame in Michael Snow’s<br />

Wavelength. Here, they are instead caught between the confines<br />


<strong>of</strong> that frame, caught in this unwieldy and stirring narrative<br />

circumstance, their desire always explicit and expressed yet<br />

organized only by the reveal <strong>of</strong> the cut. Never is any <strong>of</strong> our<br />

troupe given the opportunity or allowance to waver away into the<br />

periphery, to exist outside <strong>of</strong> our purview, and therefore the<br />

whole ethos must shift to accommodate: apparatus now<br />

supplanted by anatomy. — ZACHARY GOLDKIND<br />

#14 — SAINT OMER<br />

Alice Diop<br />

On its surface, the way that Alice Diop structures her first<br />

narrative film (she’s been making documentaries for over a<br />

decade) is pretty straightforward: We’re introduced to our<br />

protagonist, French-Senegalese academic Rama (Kayije Kagame),<br />

with a handful <strong>of</strong> scenes that show her life with a white<br />

boyfriend, Adrian (Thomas De Pourquery), as well as visits to see<br />

her mentally handicapped mother and other family members. We<br />

learn that Rama is a novelist, and that she’s attending the trial <strong>of</strong><br />

a Senegalese immigrant whom committed infanticide —<br />

drowning her 15-month old daughter — as research for a new<br />

book. Diop interrupts her focus on Rama (narratively, at least)<br />

“[Saint Omer] feels impossibly<br />

massive… unlike any other<br />

drama released this year.<br />

with two very long sequences inside the courtroom, as the judge,<br />

both attorneys, the accused woman herself — philosophy student<br />

Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga, the year’s best performance by<br />

the way) — and various other witnesses go into detail about the<br />

circumstances <strong>of</strong> the crime and attempt to piece together a<br />

motive. The last and most crucial component <strong>of</strong> Saint Omer’s<br />

structure involves muted flashbacks to Rama’s youth, most<br />

involving memories <strong>of</strong> her mother (with whom, in the present<br />

day, she’s no longer able to communicate verbally). These scenes<br />

slip in subtly, when Rama returns alone to her hotel room during<br />

breaks from the trial; they provide no skeleton key to Rama’s past<br />

(nor to her mother’s), but instead expand the psychological<br />

breadth <strong>of</strong> what can feel (especially in its early going) like a staid<br />

courtroom drama, by gesturing to the shared connection<br />

between mothers and daughters and the different ways their<br />

trauma comes to be passed down through generations.<br />

By the time that Saint Omer arrives at its emotional crescendo <strong>of</strong><br />

an ending, the film feels impossibly massive — and unlike any<br />

other drama released this year. Diop is able to draw out dense<br />

layers <strong>of</strong> meaning both by honing in on small moments (the<br />

parallel between the racism that informs Coly’s white former<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>essor’s skepticism toward her interest in Wittgenstein, and<br />

the surprise that Rama’s publisher voices after hearing Coly’s<br />

sophisticated French accent) and through the great sensitivity <strong>of</strong><br />

her filmmaking, which intuitively shifts between the antiseptic<br />

sense <strong>of</strong> remove with which she films the first courtroom<br />

sequence toward something much more anchored to a<br />

perspectival experience, as Rama’s own sense <strong>of</strong> identification<br />

with Coly begins to intensify later. Above all, Diop recognizes and<br />

identifies exactly where the tensions in her own film are located,<br />

and how they criss-crosses between both intimate and more<br />

broadly representational modes <strong>of</strong> engagement. Rama’s own<br />

experience <strong>of</strong> the trial starts as an academic assignment, as<br />

she’s performatively presented a series <strong>of</strong> narrative details; it<br />

changes, though, as she begins to see a reflection <strong>of</strong> herself in<br />

the narrative; and finally, it shifts again, once that reflection<br />

prompts a self-examination that leaves her grappling with even<br />

more questions about how to understand herself and her social<br />

environment. The film, then, hits a meta-textual vein — the<br />

courtroom as proxy for cinema (something enforced when Rama<br />

gives a college lecture on Hiroshima, mon Amour), and Rama’s<br />

own crisis <strong>of</strong> conscience (as she starts to visibly resent the idea<br />

<strong>of</strong> commodifying Coly’s trauma) an extension <strong>of</strong> Diop’s, who<br />

based Saint Omer on a trial that she herself sat through. All that<br />

may sound overly intellectualized and inaccessible, but there’s so<br />

much grace in Diop’s approach — never more so than when the<br />

needle drops on a certain very early Nina Simone song about the<br />

racism that she felt kept her out <strong>of</strong> a North Carolina<br />

conservatory. There’s clarity in Saint Omer’s careful consideration<br />

<strong>of</strong> the interconnected experience <strong>of</strong> young Black women in<br />

predominantly white spaces. — SAM C. MAC<br />


#13 — RRR<br />

S. S. Rajamouli<br />

<strong>2022</strong> may end up proving to be the year Indian cinema breaks out<br />

big in the U.S. Then again, it’s equally as likely it won’t be,<br />

America’s interest in non-Western, non-English language media<br />

remaining decidedly spotty and inconsistent, after all. But<br />

however it shakes out, one can’t deny that Variance <strong>Films</strong> (in<br />

partnership with original distributor Sarigama Cinemas) moved<br />

the dial with their strategic rerelease <strong>of</strong> S.S. Rajamouli’s RRR,<br />

bringing the Telugu historical epic to Alamo Drafthouses and<br />

various college town cinemas across the country following a<br />

moderately successful multiplex run. A savvy play that paid <strong>of</strong>f<br />

big time financially (just over $11,000,000 stateside) and lead<br />

directly to a fruitful FYC campaign akin to the one Variance ran<br />

for Drive My Car last year with Janus, RRR has thusly been<br />

positioned as both blockbuster crowd pleaser and prestige<br />

powerhouse here in the states.<br />

A rare accomplishment for any film, it makes some sense that<br />

Rajamouli would be the Indian filmmaker to pull <strong>of</strong>f this cultural<br />

crossover in this particular fashion, his previous Baahubali films<br />

commanding massive, record-breaking budgets and box <strong>of</strong>fice,<br />

as well as positive critical attention internationally and at home.<br />

It also surely helps that these films are, to a certain extent,<br />

indebted to a sense <strong>of</strong> Hollywood grandiosity and mythmaking<br />

informed by Disney films and Mel Gibson’s directorial efforts (as<br />

confirmed by a recent Sight & Sound ballot), their appeal<br />

translating across language barriers and cultural divides rather<br />

cleanly, the outrageous spectacle <strong>of</strong> Rajamouli’s work<br />

immediately satisfying in a way that tracks with these points <strong>of</strong><br />

influence, while going way beyond them.<br />

Like 2012’s Eega and the aforementioned Baahubalis, RRR<br />

embraces an unabashed maximalism that makes Gibson look<br />

stodgy by comparison, while also introducing gleeful anti-colonial<br />

(i.e. British) violence Disney would never consider touching, all to<br />

tell the stories <strong>of</strong> real-life Indian revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama<br />

Raju and Komaram Bheem. The resulting<br />

combination is something powerfully irresistible, a film that, at<br />

times, creeps into the realm <strong>of</strong> propaganda (an element U.S. fans<br />

mostly avoided contending with) to celebrate the fictionalized<br />

friendship <strong>of</strong> these two modern folk legends and their fanciful,<br />

totally brutal assault on the thoroughly evil agents <strong>of</strong> British<br />

colonial rule. And while it remains difficult to say if any <strong>of</strong> its<br />

successes will trickle down to more modestly budgeted, less<br />

pronouncedly sensational Indian cinema, RRR has at least<br />

established its director as a globally recognized auteur through<br />

sheer imagination and verve. What’s certain is that Rajamouli ‘s<br />

film leaves audiences with more hope than ever before that there<br />

may be growing space for Telugu action films in American<br />

cinemas going forward. — M.G. MAILLOUX<br />


Park Chan-wook<br />

While investigating the death <strong>of</strong> retired immigration worker Ki<br />

Do-soo (Yoo Seung-mok), the insomniac Det. Jang Hae-jun (Park<br />

Hae-il) meets Ki's mysterious widow Song Seo-rae (a brilliant<br />

Tang Wei), and even though he suspects that she might be<br />

involved in her husband's death, the kind-eyed detective grows<br />

obsessed with the beautiful Chinese immigrant, soon finding<br />

himself in an ill-fated, quasi-romantic relationship with her. His<br />

thoughts completely consumed by Seo-rae, Hae-jun's own<br />

marriage to the odd but lovable Jung-an (Lee Jung-hyun) begins<br />

to disintegrate, as his mind continues to run on the murder<br />

“Shares more <strong>of</strong> its formal<br />

DNA with the knotty The<br />

Handmaiden than it does the<br />

relentlessly bleak Oldboy.<br />

suspect even while he's making love to his wife. However, as the<br />

central relationship deepens, so too do Hae-jun's suspicions, but<br />

no matter how hard he tries, he can't pull himself away.<br />

Park Chan-wook's labyrinthine romance thriller continues the<br />

gradual move away from the bloody genre exploitation that<br />

marked the South Korean auteur's early filmography, sharing<br />


more <strong>of</strong> its formal DNA with the knotty The Handmaiden than it<br />

does the relentlessly bleak Oldboy. Decision to Leave is an<br />

audacious spin on Vertigo, and while Park's ostentatious style is<br />

comparatively muted here, he still pulls <strong>of</strong>f his twisty neo-noir<br />

plot with characteristic flamboyance. But beyond the flashy<br />

formalism, the film frequently amplifies quiet character<br />

moments — Seo-rae watching from her car as Hae-jun arrests a<br />

suspect might just be the year's most sensual scene — even as it<br />

appears to revel in frustrating their desires at every turn.<br />

Taking cues from Hitchcock, as well as Hitchcock disciple Brian<br />

De Palma, Park's visuals dazzle with elaborate beauty, but it's the<br />

story <strong>of</strong> the star-crossed lovers that ultimately proves to be most<br />

resonant. The director's films have <strong>of</strong>ten contained romantic<br />

themes, although rarely presented in a manner as<br />

straightforward (and non-icky) as this. Instead, Park dedicates<br />

himself to sweeping romanticism: love and desire prove to be the<br />

motors powering the story, not violence or revenge. And much<br />

like late-period De Palma, characters find themselves in the tech<br />

tangle <strong>of</strong> video and audio recordings, text messages, and<br />

constant surveillance. Even their personal interactions are<br />

colored by technology, as Seo-rae and Hae-jun <strong>of</strong>ten<br />

communicate with the help <strong>of</strong> a translation app.<br />

Acquired through a steady diet <strong>of</strong> Korean period dramas,<br />

Seo-rae's Korean, which she herself describes as "inadequate," is<br />

littered with archaic words and phrases, much to the fascination<br />

<strong>of</strong> Hae-jun. The lovers revel in the messy excitement and<br />

authenticity that their verboten romance provides them with, and<br />

yet they prove incapable <strong>of</strong> moving beyond their repressed<br />

longing, only ever consummating their relationship with a single,<br />

albeit passionate, kiss, their love defined as much by what<br />

remains hidden as by what they learn about each other. There is<br />

an allure to not knowing, to never being able to fully grasp what's<br />

playing out in someone else's head. What finds its earliest<br />

expression in small linguistic speed bumps eventually culminates<br />

in her securing a place in his memory as the ultimate object <strong>of</strong><br />

desire, an object permanently out <strong>of</strong> reach — a case destined to<br />

remain unsolved forever. — FRED BARRETT<br />



FAIR<br />

Jane Schoenbrun<br />

Jane Schoenbrun’s first feature is one designed to be watched on<br />

a laptop, which if we’re being honest is the way that most<br />

cinephiles watch movies most <strong>of</strong> the time, especially since the<br />

pandemic began. But more than most films that have used the<br />

laptop screen as a zeitgeist-y extension <strong>of</strong> found footage, We’re<br />

All Going to the World’s Fair understands its strange asynchronous<br />

effect. There is an immediacy in looking right back into Casey’s<br />

(Anna Cobb) eyes, as if only a tilt <strong>of</strong> the head would reveal them<br />

literally behind the screen, but there’s also a distance. Casey is<br />

seen as they show themselves, not through a webcam capturing<br />

everything, but<br />

through the videos<br />

they choose to<br />

create. Fading are<br />

the fears <strong>of</strong><br />

post-Snowden<br />

surveillance; an<br />

excess <strong>of</strong><br />

oversight almost<br />

seems desirable<br />

next to being left<br />

alone with nothing,<br />

where all you can do is talk into a void. It becomes clear Casey<br />

isn’t looking back at all when they perform the ritual for the<br />

titular world’s fair challenge, repeating “I want to go to the<br />

world’s fair” three times — as with Bloody Mary or the Candyman<br />

— into a different, more modern kind <strong>of</strong> mirror: a camera.<br />

This challenge is supposed to summon some spirit or force that<br />

will bring a powerful change from the inside out. It speaks to the<br />

mixture <strong>of</strong> fear and desire for transformation felt through most<br />

people’s teenage years, and, more specifically, by someone<br />

whose transness has not quite reached the surface. Maybe it’s<br />

just a fantasy, an alternative reality game in which you can<br />

imagine the process <strong>of</strong> transition taken over for you. Or maybe it<br />

has to be seen through the lens <strong>of</strong> horror because that’s the only<br />

language that’s been given to describe these feelings. But the<br />

fact that the question <strong>of</strong> Casey’s transness is left answered<br />

suggests that it can’t be understood in these terms, that the<br />

medium speaks louder than the message.<br />

Casey is encouraged by this atomized community — who mostly<br />

communicate through video, if at all — to document their<br />

transformation. But to express these feelings is to dramatize<br />

them, especially within the confines <strong>of</strong> this micro-genre <strong>of</strong> online<br />

video, using passed-down horror tropes. In one video Casey<br />

dances boisterously until they are possessed by a screaming fit<br />

that disappears as suddenly as it came. They go straight back to<br />

dancing in a way<br />

that doesn’t quite<br />

fit their edgy style,<br />

that it would seem<br />

strange for them to<br />

film in the first<br />

place. Whether<br />

they’re conscious <strong>of</strong><br />

this performance or<br />

not, it does seem<br />

contrived. But this<br />

is how social media<br />

works, creating a performance <strong>of</strong> self-expression that doesn’t<br />

allow the feelings being expressed to take form. Otherwise there<br />

can be no more content to feed the algorithm, and in this case, to<br />

create a deeper rabbit hole for the next person to slip into.<br />

Another reason Schoenbrun doesn’t reveal whether or not Casey<br />

is trans is so that there is only intuition and personal experience<br />

to draw upon. By being alienated from Casey, the audience is<br />

unmoored in a similar way that they are, left only with their own<br />

suspicions, unsure if they’re only protection. That’s also why the<br />

film doesn’t stay solely on-screen, it would give too clear a form.<br />

None <strong>of</strong> this alienates from the film itself; it makes it more<br />

enticing, drawing deeper, and more personally, into that<br />

16 4

downward spiral. Like the black screen in the film’s YouTube<br />

analogue that stays for half a beat too long before the hypnotic<br />

wheel loads the next video, it separates in a way that only blurs<br />

everything further together.<br />

In the drift between algorithmically chosen videos, Casey<br />

discovers one from another player called JLB warning that they<br />

are in danger. He’s an older man whose motivations are as<br />

ambiguously predatory to Casey as they are to himself (the<br />

internet’s obfuscation also allows malice to go unspoken, left to<br />

express itself subconsciously without the fear <strong>of</strong> being labeled).<br />

And so by cuts to his side <strong>of</strong> the screen, Schoenbrun makes it<br />

strikingly clear that what’s shown <strong>of</strong> Casey is much like what JLB<br />

has seen: only a fragment filtered.<br />

When they suddenly disappear from us<br />

and from JLB, it, therefore, feels<br />

incomplete. For one, it doesn’t seem<br />

like Casey has anywhere else to go,<br />

their small town is like any other<br />

abandoned by capitalism. In evoking<br />

the world’s fair, these huge expositions<br />

celebrating nations’ grandest<br />

advancements, the film recalls the<br />

once-promised future <strong>of</strong> a prosperity<br />

that never came, that was never going<br />

to come. The screen is a mirror not just<br />

to look at ourselves, but away from<br />

anything else; to obscure the crumbling world around us, without<br />

even a false promise <strong>of</strong> it getting better. — ESMÉ HOLDEN<br />

#10 — PETITE MAMAN<br />

Céline Sciamma<br />

On a visit to her mother’s childhood home, a young girl befriends<br />

another, and their friendship, tinged with a hint <strong>of</strong> magic, guides<br />

her through a difficult turning point. At first glance, Céline<br />

Sciamma’s follow-up to the remarkable Portrait <strong>of</strong> a Lady on Fire<br />

looks like a stark change <strong>of</strong> pace, but closer inspection reveals<br />

this delicate fairy tale is not just in communion with the film and<br />

the rest <strong>of</strong> her oeuvre, but, in fact, a blossoming evolution.<br />

Sciamma has always proven adept at capturing the tender heart<br />

<strong>of</strong> youth in her work; from the awkwardness <strong>of</strong> emerging<br />

sexuality in Water Lilies to the rending gender dysphoria <strong>of</strong><br />

Tomboy, Girlhood’s tug <strong>of</strong> war between family and identity, and<br />

even Portrait’s rapturous awakening; all <strong>of</strong> her films can be seen<br />

as comings <strong>of</strong> age <strong>of</strong> a different kind. They are united by acute<br />

depictions <strong>of</strong> intimate inner worlds shared by these girls and<br />

young women, hidden away from parents or figures <strong>of</strong><br />

patriarchal authority.<br />

At times, Sciamma constructs these as dreamy physical spaces<br />

where characters are free to be themselves — the pool in Water<br />

Lilies, the hotel in Girlhood, the island in Portrait — and within<br />

these liminal zones, the world’s stark rules bend to their whims,<br />

allowing for powerful, if brief, moments <strong>of</strong> transgression and<br />

self-actualization. In this, Petite Maman is no different, but for<br />

one crucial respect: here, Sciamma breaks past the limits <strong>of</strong><br />

reality and pushes into the fantastic to express the heartache<br />

buried within a young girl's imagination. The magic trick <strong>of</strong> Petite<br />

Maman’s forest, commanded here with such ease and grace, has<br />

drawn quick reference from the lush animated wonders <strong>of</strong> Hayao<br />

Miyazaki, but a film from another Studio Ghibli director echoes<br />

louder: Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s achingly beautiful When Marnie<br />

Was There, playing like a perfect companion piece. Even more<br />

intriguing is the thematic overlap with another <strong>of</strong> this year’s<br />


est: Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, which similarly navigates both loss<br />

and the thorny distance between parent and child.<br />

The mother/daughter relationship at the heart <strong>of</strong> Petite Maman,<br />

much like the father/daughter relationship in Aftersun, finds an<br />

alternate means <strong>of</strong> expression and understanding leading their<br />

respective pairs to heartfelt common ground. In Sciamma’s film,<br />

the young girl Nelly, having just lost her grandmother, struggles<br />

to process the loss magnified by watching her grief-stricken<br />

mother withdraw. The forest behind the house becomes a space<br />

for Nelly to not just play, but allow herself room to process the<br />

looming distance building between her and her mother, and the<br />

sense that her mother too may one day slip away. There, in that<br />

liminal space, Nelly’s imagination forges a pathway to connect<br />

with her mother in a direct way that would seem otherwise<br />

impossible. This simple narrative, relaxed in its telling and<br />

captured by Sciamma with unassuming naturalism and playful<br />

nonchalance, is an elegant heartbreak.<br />

This is perhaps the smallest and quietest <strong>of</strong> this year’s greats,<br />

but there’s a reason that despite its April release, it has endured<br />

in our collective memories all the way through to the end <strong>of</strong><br />

December. Its gorgeous simplicity and effortless evocation <strong>of</strong><br />

childhood places it alongside modern classics like Where Is the<br />

Friends House?, belonging to a rare type <strong>of</strong> children’s film that is<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>oundly insightful and deeply moving for both parent and<br />

child. At its core, Petite Maman is about letting go and learning to<br />

say goodbye, an act that doesn’t get any easier as we get older,<br />

let alone when it comes to letting go <strong>of</strong> a parent. And so, as she<br />

has done in film after film before this, Sciamma once again<br />

carves a space for her characters to explore these fraught<br />

emotions and pulls us in alongside them, because if by the end,<br />

Nelly can see her mother clearly for who she is, there may be<br />

some hope for us to open our eyes as well. — IGOR FISHMAN<br />


Jeff Tremaine<br />

Jackass Forever shouldn’t work. It’s been a decade since our<br />

golden boys have declared themselves too old for the franchise,<br />

yet here they are for presumably one last hurrah. In that time, the<br />

feral “I’ll take any drug handed to me” Steve-O hopped on the<br />

wagon, ringleader Johnny Knoxville turned fifty, and the spirit <strong>of</strong><br />

Jackass (reduced in a MadTV sketch to a small child hitting his<br />

genitals with a hammer while watching MTV) has diffused into<br />

YouTube pranksters and two-bit imitators who are invariably<br />

much meaner and much less funny. Bam Margera, the perfect<br />

Jackass-er whose bizarre Satanic Little Lord Fauntleroy<br />

costumes heavily influenced a young yours-truly, is missing,<br />


thanks to a series <strong>of</strong> relapses and threats to the production team<br />

continuing years after the death <strong>of</strong> his best friend and Jackass<br />

regular Ryan Dunn. This is not the winning formula that made<br />

Jackass the most successful non-narrative film in history.<br />

But, though it arose out <strong>of</strong> skate magazine Big Brother, Jackass<br />

never sold tickets based on skating or athletic prowess. Jackass<br />

placed ever-so-loosely over Ehren’s most delicate region, is hit<br />

with a cartoonish amount <strong>of</strong> force by pr<strong>of</strong>essional athletes<br />

(including MMA fighter Francis Ngannou whose punch is<br />

compared to getting slammed by a car to a shaking Ehren). Part<br />

<strong>of</strong> the pleasure <strong>of</strong> Jackass is the pure glee <strong>of</strong> seeing pure glee,<br />

and every athlete seems very, very proud <strong>of</strong> themselves as Ehren<br />

enters his crocodile death roll.<br />

“Part <strong>of</strong> the pleasure <strong>of</strong><br />

Jackass is the pure glee<br />

<strong>of</strong> seeing pure glee.<br />

has always been a demented variety show with a deep love <strong>of</strong><br />

classic entertainment. Vaudeville, slapstick comedy, cartoons,<br />

game shows, geek and freak shows, musicals, monster movies,<br />

Candid Camera, and the simple pleasure <strong>of</strong> filming your friends<br />

worrying that they’ve been hit in the testicles so hard that one<br />

could very well be found across the room: these have all kept the<br />

blood <strong>of</strong> the franchise pumping, and age is no barrier to putting<br />

on the greatest show on earth.<br />

Plenty <strong>of</strong> screen time is also given to the newcomers, all <strong>of</strong> whom<br />

grew up on Jackass’s antics and know that flinching results in<br />

another, likely more painful, take. The best <strong>of</strong> these tenderfoots<br />

is one who wasn’t even originally cast: Davon Wilson’s father,<br />

Dark Shark. A Gary Cooper disposition and post-prison-life<br />

composure make Dark Shark the perfect straight man to our<br />

gaggle <strong>of</strong> clowns, but the gags that bring out his fear <strong>of</strong> spiders<br />

and vultures (who wouldn’t be afraid <strong>of</strong> a vulture that’s right<br />

there?) initiate him into the crew. This is not the first time that<br />

family members have made their way to a Jackass production<br />

(April and Phil Margera are given special thanks here), proving<br />

that love and care are central to the project, something the<br />

nihilistic live-streaming imitators should note well.<br />

A gray-haired Knoxville, once the man who would take the most<br />

dangerous stunts when nobody else would (N.B. his producer<br />

credit), now plays our impish barker and host, accidentally giving<br />

the nut-whacking punishment to a correct answer in the quiz<br />

show segment and orchestrating an inflatable punch to a<br />

correctly nervous Eric André. That’s not to say that Knoxville’s<br />

passive; he’s also keen to use their biggest budget yet in order to<br />

remake classic bits that never worked in their DIY days, such as<br />

igniting a fart underwater. (Thanks to a very pleased engineer<br />

and an elaborate fart-catching gizmo, Paramount can consider<br />

their money well-spent.) To his credit, Knoxville does perform the<br />

most dangerous stunt in the movie, as the team yet again travels<br />

to the same bullring featured in every Jackass movie for one last<br />

bout with the bull; it results in the worst injury in Jackass history,<br />

as well as Knoxville’s retirement from what he calls “big stunts.”<br />

And perhaps the most memorable gag is Ehren McGhehey’s<br />

repetition <strong>of</strong> the classic “cup test” wherein an athletic cup,<br />

Though it may be the silliest film featured on this list, what other<br />

films from this year put those behind the camera on screen?<br />

They torture the below-the-liners, yes, but also celebrate them by<br />

doing so. Legendary Jackass cameraman Lance Bangs once<br />

again fights vomiting from the stench <strong>of</strong> the gross-out gags, and<br />

everyone from producer Spike Jonze to the youngest PAs report<br />

a sort <strong>of</strong> anxiety that only comes from working on the<br />

prank-happy set <strong>of</strong> Jackass. Like Hal Needham’s Hooper and<br />

Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s also a celebration<br />

<strong>of</strong> stuntmen, that dying breed who once cared about the movies<br />

so much that they would die for them. Finally, it’s the only film<br />

that unironically vaunts love and friendship, those most<br />

important simple qualities that, if lost, make a person, artwork,<br />

or critique rudderless and without direction. Alone, a<br />

Jackassateer falls, writhing in pain. Together, and scored to<br />

Knoxville’s signature exasperated cackle, they get back up. One<br />

more take. — ZACH LEWIS<br />




Hong Sang-soo<br />

As ever, the pace <strong>of</strong> Hong Sang-soo’s film production outpaces<br />

the capabilities <strong>of</strong> the international art house film circuit. The<br />

result is three <strong>of</strong> his films making their US theatrical debuts this<br />

year (although two <strong>of</strong> them saw their initial festival releases in<br />

2021), while his second <strong>2022</strong> festival film will have to wait for<br />

next year’s awards season (where it will presumably be<br />

competing with at least one more Hong, rumored to be ready for<br />

the early year festivals). His first eligible film, Introduction, surely<br />

saw some support in this poll, but it is In Front <strong>of</strong> Your Face (from<br />

late 2021) and The Novelist’s Film (from early <strong>2022</strong>) that place<br />

among the very best films <strong>of</strong> the year. Both are among the finest<br />

examples <strong>of</strong> what I’ve been calling Late Hong, the films made<br />

since 2018 which see him move past the jumbled romances and<br />

even more jumbled realities <strong>of</strong> his Early and Middle periods into a<br />

more open embrace <strong>of</strong> old age, spirituality, true love, and death.<br />

producer on several projects in the 1960s. Lee plays an actress<br />

who comes home after a long time away. The first half <strong>of</strong> the<br />

film sees her visit various spots and engage in the kind <strong>of</strong><br />

awkward conversations that are a Hong staple, small talk about<br />

c<strong>of</strong>fee and real estate and such that masks a deep melancholy.<br />

The second half sees Lee meet with a film director (played by<br />

Late Hong avatar Kwon Hae-hyo). Their conversation is full <strong>of</strong><br />

references to Hong’s own work (the Kangwon Province setting <strong>of</strong><br />

his second feature, a shot from The Day After in which Lee is<br />

suggested to have played the part Kim Min-hee played in that<br />

film, etc.), and the director wants very much to make a film with<br />

Lee. But <strong>of</strong> course, what he really wants is sex. Lee, though, lives<br />

by a kind <strong>of</strong> mantra, repeated at the beginning and end <strong>of</strong> the<br />

movie: that everything is full <strong>of</strong> grace, an admonition to live in<br />

the moment, neither the past nor the future, but with what is in<br />

front <strong>of</strong> her face. In the end, this wisdom leads her to the only<br />

appropriate response to the director’s illicit desires (he is, <strong>of</strong><br />

course, married) and the moral quandary he agonizes over: she<br />

laughs.<br />

In Front <strong>of</strong> Your Face introduces a new star to the Hong stock<br />

company, actress Lee Hye-young. A longtime star <strong>of</strong> Korean film,<br />

television, and theater, Lee is the daughter <strong>of</strong> director Lee<br />

Man-hee, with whom Hong’s mother Jeon Ok-sook worked as a<br />

The Novelist’s Film sees Lee return as the eponymous novelist.<br />

Initially she visits an old friend, a bookstore owner, for the now<br />

customary introductory awkwardness. Then another meeting<br />

with Kwon, again playing a director, for some barely contained<br />


hostility (apparently he was supposed to adapt one <strong>of</strong> her books,<br />

but didn’t follow through, though it may as well be residual<br />

antipathy from In Front <strong>of</strong> Your Face). But then, walking through<br />

the park, Lee meets Kim Minhee, playing a mostly retired actress.<br />

Kim and Lee hit it <strong>of</strong>f immediately, and after meeting Kim’s<br />

nephew, an aspiring filmmaker, Lee decides to make a movie <strong>of</strong><br />

her own, starring Kim and her husband. The plot will be a generic<br />

romance, but the charge in the film will come from our seeing<br />

two people who are very much in love in real life on screen<br />

together. A jump ahead in time takes us to the film’s screening at<br />

a local theater, where it will play for an audience <strong>of</strong> Kim alone<br />

(much as she watched movies more or less solitary in The Woman<br />

Who Ran and Right Now, Wrong Then).<br />

The film that then plays might be the film that Lee made, but<br />

then again it might not (as always, everything is contingent in a<br />

Hong movie). It plays a little like the coda to Abbas Kiarostami’s<br />

Taste <strong>of</strong> Cherry, with Kim on-screen gathering and arranging a<br />

bouquet <strong>of</strong> flowers while she sings and chats with what appears<br />

to be the cameraman (presumably Hong himself). She asks if he’s<br />

shooting in black and white or color. He says black and white;<br />

she suggests color. Actress and cameraman whisper “I love you”<br />

to each other, and the film shifts to color. In In Front <strong>of</strong> Your Face,<br />

as in many Hongs past, film is a stand-in for, or at least a means<br />

to, sex. In The Novelist’s Film, for a few brief moments, film is love<br />

itself, which is not necessarily the same thing at all. — SEAN<br />

GILMAN<br />


James Cameron<br />

The term “tech Romanticism” is a paradox, but James Cameron’s<br />

Avatar films are best defined by this seemingly self-contradicting<br />

concept. Indeed, both Avatar and its visionary sequel, The Way <strong>of</strong><br />

Water, are fascinating works <strong>of</strong> art precisely because they are so<br />

bound up in tensions and dissonances. Sometimes these<br />

tensions are less than easy to resolve; for example, in both<br />

pictures the representational politics <strong>of</strong> appropriation bump up<br />

against anti-imperialist, environmentalist, and anti-colonialist<br />

ideologies, and these problems warrant serious critical<br />

discussion. At almost all other times, though, the Avatar films’<br />

interior conflicts <strong>of</strong>fer excellent points <strong>of</strong> entry for critical<br />

thought.<br />

Consider both films’ aesthetic and philosophical engagements<br />

with the late-eighteenth to early-nineteenth century Romantic<br />

movement, which presents a riposte not only to the Industrial<br />

Revolution, but also to excesses <strong>of</strong> technological advancement<br />

more broadly (look no further than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein<br />

[1818] for a text soaked in Romantic opposition to scientific<br />

hubris). Cameron’s Avatar pictures align with the Romantic ethos<br />

in many ways: they celebrate anti-Enlightenment spiritual belief,<br />

denigrate the industrial destruction <strong>of</strong> ecosystems, and bask in<br />

mystically William Blake-esque awe at the natural world. At the<br />

same time, though, they are helmed by an auteur whose entire<br />

body <strong>of</strong> work is defined by the growth and demonstration <strong>of</strong><br />

technology, which culminates astonishingly in The Way <strong>of</strong> Water.<br />

The Avatar movies are almost entirely defined by the sheer<br />

spectacle <strong>of</strong> immersive images, rendered by the development <strong>of</strong><br />

obsessively implemented, futuristic special effects. They are<br />

paeans to the organic, but they are born almost completely from<br />

the digital.<br />

As such, attempting conventional critical analysis <strong>of</strong> The Way <strong>of</strong><br />

Water feels counterintuitive. It’s an anti-rational artwork in the<br />

purest and most authentically Romantic sense, and this is<br />

integral to its function. The plot serves as a navigational tool for<br />


aesthetic majesty rather than vice versa. In other words, image<br />

doesn’t serve story here — image is the substance. Experienced<br />

in 3D and played on a massive screen at the proper high<br />

framerate (technically a projected variable frame rate) with<br />

powerful speakers, The Way <strong>of</strong> Water reveals nothing less than<br />

unprecedented possibility for its medium. This is a showcase <strong>of</strong><br />

contemporary cinema at its furthest possible aesthetic limits,<br />

bringing the notion <strong>of</strong> immersion into exhilaratingly new and<br />

vivid places.<br />

To experience The Way <strong>of</strong> Water is to wade into a sci-fi-smeared,<br />

hyperreal Blake painting. It’s about the weight, movement, and<br />

texture <strong>of</strong> imaginary creatures rendered just as real (if not<br />

realer) than the live-action human actors with whom they<br />

interact. It’s about the intricate fictional world <strong>of</strong> Pandora,<br />

constructed by Cameron and his army <strong>of</strong> gifted animators as a<br />

rippling, fantasy-boldened mirror <strong>of</strong> Earth, and as a canvas for<br />

urgent calls to eco-activism, decolonization, and veganism. The<br />

film stuns with its sprawling, elaborate, gloriously orchestrated<br />

action sequences and its meticulously drawn vistas: vibrantly<br />

forested landscapes, bioluminescent spectacles on land and<br />

underwater, exhilarating flights around floating mountains, and a<br />

newly introduced, beautifully alien oceanic dreamscape.The Way<br />

<strong>of</strong> Water, then, is fixated on its own vision <strong>of</strong> the natural sublime,<br />

which <strong>of</strong>ten recalls Edmund Burke’s On the Sublime and Beautiful<br />

(1757), a key text for the Romantics that describes our<br />

amazement when confronting natural majesty, but also<br />

emphasizing the element <strong>of</strong> terror imbedded in that amazement.<br />

The film’s view <strong>of</strong> the spectacular nonhuman world feeds into its<br />

intense empathy for nonhuman animals, and into its indictment<br />

<strong>of</strong> anthropocentrism. Its richest and most interesting character<br />

might be the gigantic cetacean creature (a “tulkun”) named<br />

Payakan, truly an object <strong>of</strong> sublimity — both magnificent and<br />

terrifying. The Way <strong>of</strong> Water does something radical by granting<br />

an animal so fundamentally “unhuman” such depth and pathos.<br />

Cameron uses Payakan’s tragic backstory, selfhood, and<br />

emotionality to deliberate ends, drawing the audience into a<br />

drama that recalls our real-world whaling industry and the<br />

endemic horrors therein.<br />

If The Way <strong>of</strong> Water is a crucial work <strong>of</strong> tech Romanticism, then<br />

another <strong>of</strong> its richest central dissonances is that between past<br />

and future: it imagines a world that stands a chance against<br />

modernity’s most brutal and oppressive machinations, thus<br />


situating itself in the past, but it also uses its genre modality to<br />

speculate a future that exceeds postmodernity’s politically<br />

flattening failures. As in George Lucas’ Star Wars films, The Way <strong>of</strong><br />

Water’s plot and characterizations are broad and familiar, driven<br />

by mythic tropes and archetypes, deliberately maximizing on the<br />

“ancestral” collective psyche to help envision possibilities in<br />

futurity. There is value in aesthetics alone, and as an aesthetic<br />

object, The Way <strong>of</strong> Water is transcendent. — MIKE THORN<br />

#6 — EO<br />

Jerzy Skolimowski<br />

Plenty has already been written about EO, Jerzy Skolimowski's<br />

very strange, <strong>of</strong>ten exhilarating new film. And while the director<br />

himself has confirmed what most viewers detected immediately<br />

— that EO is a loose adaptation <strong>of</strong> Bresson's Au hasard, Balthasar<br />

— there are actually similarities to another Bresson film. In<br />

L'Argent, Bresson follows the movement <strong>of</strong> a counterfeit<br />

500-franc note as it's passed from person to person. This is, <strong>of</strong><br />

course, the essential structure <strong>of</strong> Balthasar as well, but EO helps<br />

to highlight this similarity. Foregrounding the movement <strong>of</strong><br />

objects is a fundamental premise <strong>of</strong> many <strong>of</strong> Bresson's films, but<br />

EO focuses on one <strong>of</strong> the key philosophical postulates inherent in<br />

this approach. The donkey is private property.<br />

We first see EO cast out <strong>of</strong> his own limited view <strong>of</strong> paradise — a<br />

circus where he performs with Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska),<br />

who treats him with love and respect. The reason EO has to leave<br />

is because the circus management has defaulted on its bank<br />

loans, and EO, along with the other circus animals, is seized as<br />

collateral. This is not just a narrative problem, although it<br />

certainly generates a sad irony. Animal rights activists are seen<br />

protesting the abuse <strong>of</strong> animals in circuses, and they are not<br />

wrong, but EO was living his best life under the big top. His<br />

particular circumstances cannot be accounted for when<br />

protesters are trying to improve the lot <strong>of</strong> "animals" in general.<br />

The real crime, then, is not that EO is here rather than there. It's<br />

that, like the banknote or the wallets in Pickpocket, he is a unit <strong>of</strong><br />

exchange, the trajectory <strong>of</strong> his life determined by human<br />

economic factors he can never understand. He exists in a<br />

23<br />


twilight between subject and object. He is property, but he is<br />

alive. (Incidentally, in his essay "Art as Technique," Viktor<br />

Shklovsky cites a story by Tolstoy in which the narration, from a<br />

horse's point <strong>of</strong> view, muses on the mystifying question <strong>of</strong><br />

ownership.) And so, like Balthasar, EO is forced to be a passive<br />

observer to his own fate.<br />

We see animals in movies and TV all the time, and we usually<br />

think nothing <strong>of</strong> it. That's largely because cinematic grammar<br />

regards them as plot devices, as instrumentally defined as if they<br />

were working on the farm. Simply by using reaction shots and<br />

point <strong>of</strong> view, Skolimowski sutures us into EO's perspective,<br />

demanding that we empathize with him. As we recall from Cast<br />

Away, Robert Zemeckis was able to humanize a volleyball. There's<br />

nothing so strange about this. But when we are inserted into EO's<br />

point <strong>of</strong> view, we cannot avoid<br />

occupying it from our uniquely<br />

human perspective. So, when EO<br />

is being transported to his next<br />

owner, we see him gaze out the<br />

window at a herd <strong>of</strong> horses<br />

running free beside the road. We<br />

cannot know how EO feels about<br />

this, or if he even notices. But we feel for him, regarding the<br />

scene as an unavoidable representation <strong>of</strong> freedom vs. slavery.<br />

Like Bresson, Skolimowski recognizes that animals can function<br />

as mirrors <strong>of</strong> our own subjectivity. We don't identify with EO so<br />

much as identify at him, allowing his mute, stoic plight to reflect<br />

our own values back at us. (Eisenstein once wrote that the<br />

abattoir scene in Strike, meant to parallel the Czar's butchering<br />

<strong>of</strong> the peasants, didn't play well in the countryside, where animal<br />

slaughter is an unsurprising fact <strong>of</strong> life. It’s fair to wonder how EO<br />

might play down on the farm.) Unlike a human protagonist, EO<br />

elicits both our sympathy and our recognition that it's never<br />

really possible to know "the other" at all.<br />

This being a <strong>2022</strong> production, Skolimowski understands that he<br />

cannot simply remake Balthasar. EO is not just a donkey story<br />

but a story about seeing and feeling, interrogating the ways that<br />

cinema has historically encouraged or discouraged our empathy.<br />

There are numerous cinematic allusions in EO, some <strong>of</strong> which are<br />

very much about cinematic identification. One scene mimics the<br />

final shot <strong>of</strong> The Searchers, where the subject is forced to remain<br />

outside <strong>of</strong> society. Another sequence, in which EO travels by<br />

night along a river shimmering in an eerie, consecrated<br />

moonlight, recalls a similar scene in The Night <strong>of</strong> the Hunter. Both<br />

<strong>of</strong> these speak to cinema's capacity for isolating the perceived<br />

outsider.<br />

But other sequences are more cinematically primal. Several<br />

shots <strong>of</strong> EO and a white horse he encounters, cantering in a<br />

circle in a training ground, resemble the motion studies <strong>of</strong><br />

Muybridge, something Skolimowski amplifies with a pulsating<br />

“The real crime, then, isn’t that<br />

EO is here rather than there. It’s<br />

that, like [L’Argent’s] banknote or<br />

the wallets in Pickpocket, he is a<br />

unit <strong>of</strong> exchange.<br />

flicker. Another late scene,<br />

with EO wandering down the<br />

central aisle <strong>of</strong> a stable, uses<br />

undulating lighting to replicate<br />

Ernie Gehr's Serene Velocity.<br />

These moments disrupt<br />

empathy, replacing it with an<br />

examination <strong>of</strong> cinema's raw<br />

data, the illusion <strong>of</strong> movement that is the precondition for<br />

identification, and also refutes it in favor <strong>of</strong> a stark, materialist<br />

look at the world.<br />

These scenes, like several others, are demarcated by a crimson<br />

filter, something which forcibly removes us from EO's diegetic<br />

space. At first, these red segments seem to be EO's memories, or<br />

his impassive gaze out at the world around him. But at other<br />

times, the red scenes do not correspond to any available point <strong>of</strong><br />

view, except the camera's and perhaps God's. In this way,<br />

Skolimowski asserts the camera's helplessness with regard to EO.<br />

Neither we nor the film can intercede on his behalf, and so<br />

Skolimowski asks us to exist alongside the donkey in a<br />

consideration <strong>of</strong> our own smallness. It strands us all at the<br />

intersection <strong>of</strong> the mundane and the sublime. — MICHAEL<br />



#5 — STARS AT NOON<br />

Claire Denis<br />

Stars At Noon begins as encompassing, in<br />

media res as a Claire Denis film can be: a supple, slightly<br />

menacing Tindersticks score, shards <strong>of</strong> locational imagery, transactional sex,<br />

the internal rhythms <strong>of</strong> a protagonist only half-registered beneath a layer <strong>of</strong> caprice. Even if<br />

we’re familiar with the methods <strong>of</strong> this director three decades and change into her remarkable<br />

career, Denis unglues the most basic <strong>of</strong> filmmaking tenets from one another so that the ground is<br />

always shifting, fumbling cuts, camerawork that is seasick one moment, stately the next, the<br />

nigh-astonishing John C. Reilly cameo, and stilted line reads pulling us in closer as much as they push us<br />

away. Taken from one <strong>of</strong> Denis Johnson’s more flawed texts (The Stars At Noon, to be exact), Stars At Noon<br />

forgoes scene-setting for a more abstract languorousness, the relationship between deposed “journalist” Trish<br />

Johnson (Margaret Qualley) and British oil-(con?)man Daniel Dehaven (Joe Alwyn) lubricated by rum and carnality, a<br />

runaway train <strong>of</strong> a union that only slows down for earthly pleasures, even when surrounded by a contemporaneous<br />

transposition <strong>of</strong> the Nicaraguan revolution.<br />


The feat here, beyond all the beloved Denisisms, is the sympathy derived by way <strong>of</strong> total stupidity: Qualley and Dehaven are the<br />

flummoxed, underhandedly careerist white foreigners, and their fate is practically sealed from their first encounter in a mostly<br />

emptied-out hotel bar. Their chance <strong>of</strong> endurance, much less survival, is in perpetual flux, until the screen goes dark at the end. With<br />

no tangible stability, these two retreat into one another, while simultaneously trekking across a landscape <strong>of</strong> hotels and jungle to<br />

reach the Costa Rican border; the more they acquaint themselves with one another’s bodies, the more inscrutable the motivations get.<br />

If Stars At Noon is an argument for anything, it’s unequivocal love without trust, a diaphanous entity, which can dissolve with the<br />

slightest push from a third-act Benny Safdie. The critical shorthand for describing Denis has always fallen short: at a certain point,<br />

words like “tactile” and “intimate” lose both their purchase and purpose when flanked by heady inscrutability. The last thing the<br />

transient Trish and Daniel should feel in the company <strong>of</strong> one another is safety, and yet, Denis seems at least partially convinced by the<br />

two — touchingly so — telegraphed by a certain mutual perseverance. If one gives up, the whole thing will topple; <strong>of</strong> course it’s<br />

inevitable, but you still hope that somehow they’ll make it. — PATRICK PREZIOSI<br />


#4 — TÁR<br />

Todd Field<br />

Following his fictional and peculiar protagonist Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the ambitious and eminent U-Haul lesbian conductor <strong>of</strong> the<br />

prestigious Berliner Philharmoniker, Todd Field’s third directorial effort is a rare depiction <strong>of</strong> inside and behind the classical music<br />

scene: a highbrow artistic world, usually male-dominated, triumphed by some <strong>of</strong> the most respected maestros (Bernstein, Karajan,<br />

Abbado, etc). But it’d be insufficient if we consider TÁR as merely a film about music. In fact, the greatness <strong>of</strong> TÁR is that it consciously<br />

interweaves an attentive soundscape as an integrated part <strong>of</strong> both its narrative and aesthetical rhetoric, a highly-refined audiovisual<br />

experience that is most essentially conceived as a piece <strong>of</strong> music itself and reveals its entire spectrum <strong>of</strong> emotions and meanings<br />

through its gradual and patient becoming. But as much as the minuscule acoustics play a crucial role in constituting TÁR’s exceptional<br />

ambiance — an exemplary combination <strong>of</strong> subtle sounds and noises with the most pr<strong>of</strong>ound silences in accordance with Lydia’s<br />

surroundings and subjectivity (most notably during her obsessive and paranoid illusions) — Field’s visual virtuosity in composing,<br />

harmonizing, and arranging his elegant and eloquent elitist aesthetic (specifically in vivid correlation to the architectural spaces<br />

present in every scene) and his unique orchestration <strong>of</strong> glances (<strong>of</strong> passion, jealousy, and heartbreak) proves a delicacy. TÁR’s<br />

crystalline imagery, in a direct response to the film’s overall atmosphere, embraces a clearly conceived color palette: the cold hues,<br />

especially, and the blacks and whites (also recognizable in Lydia’s clothing) recalling a piano’s clavier, all exhibit a certain minimalist<br />

stylishness as they reveal Lydia’s somber, almost clinical interiority in contrast to the warmer colors used during the relaxed,<br />

passionate evenings between Lydia and her life-partner, Sharon (Nina Hoss) or her ignored and<br />

mistreated assistant Francesca (Noémie Merlant). Perhaps, as Lydia<br />

states in her Juilliard masterclass — “Good<br />

music can be as<br />


ornate as a cathedral or bare aspotting shed” — it’s fair to understand Field’s work here simultaneously as a fine balance between both<br />

maximalist and minimalist strategies (compare the two restaurant scenes in Berlin and NYC, for instance), one that through tranquil<br />

observation moves alongside his (anti)heroine’s state <strong>of</strong> being from tonality to atonality.<br />

It’s thus possible to describe TÁR in quite a similar way as Friedrich Nietzsche once explained the art <strong>of</strong> the ancient Greek tragedians to<br />

be the perfect fusion <strong>of</strong> Apollonian and Dionysian impulses: the former as cerebral, harmonious, transparent, and the latter as<br />

passionate, ecstatic, chaotic. On the other hand, as the looking glasses in Field’s mise-en-scene indicate, it’s a film <strong>of</strong> continuous<br />

counterpoints, dilemmatic dualities — specifically, classical music within the postmodernist age <strong>of</strong> Wikipedia, social media, cancel<br />

culture, etc. — and occasional mirrorings, one <strong>of</strong> the most striking <strong>of</strong> which can be found in two different car scenes: first, with Lydia<br />

and Francesca, and then, with the desperate maestro and young Russian cellist Olga (Sophie Kauer), who among all <strong>of</strong> Lydia’s affairs<br />

holds extra significance since she both reflects the ill-fated romance which supposedly inspired Mahler’s 5th Symphony and recalls<br />

Aschenbach’s fatal attraction for the ethereal, juvenile Tadzio in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice. It’s as if there’s a rupture between<br />

Lydia’s true self and her persona — her frequent jogging and driving in her luxurious Porsche suggests that she’s constantly running<br />

from herself and a haunting sense <strong>of</strong> guilt that lingers after her ex-mentee’s suicide — and behind her ostensibly stable and clearly<br />

manipulative facade we get glimpses <strong>of</strong> a defenseless, awkwardly childlike adult. It’s no wonder, then, that in the final act she finds<br />

herself revisiting her childhood home, before heading to the green landscapes and South Asia (markedly different from a gray and<br />

autumnal Berlin), ultimately conducting music for teenage cosplay audiences. The grandeur <strong>of</strong> TÁR as meticulous psychological<br />

character study and philosophical scrutinization <strong>of</strong> our modern-day society comes from its gradual expansion from everyday<br />

questioning <strong>of</strong> one’s identity to more essential existential concerns, while it's inexplicable beauty lies in Field’s tuning <strong>of</strong><br />

emotion through which his megalithic structure finds its culmination. — AYEEN FOROOTAN<br />


#3 — THE FABELMANS<br />

Steven Spielberg<br />

For an oeuvre so relentlessly dedicated to (and associated<br />

with) a commercial cinema, full <strong>of</strong> thrills and cheers, Steven Spielberg’s<br />

fantastical and earthly worlds alike have always carried an undercurrent <strong>of</strong> pain. His latest<br />

film, The Fabelmans, a semi-autobiographical portrait <strong>of</strong> the artist as a young man, foregrounds this searing<br />

emotion across the few forces that have defined his mammoth shadow on the American film industry: his awe at the<br />

power <strong>of</strong> the moving image, his parents’ divorce, and his Jewish heritage.<br />

It’s certainly no mistake that The Fabelmans possesses only Spielberg’s fourth writing credit (shared with Tony Kushner), as his first<br />

three entries all rank among his most evidently personal and feed into their successor’s DNA: Close Encounters <strong>of</strong> the Third Kind, about<br />

a man who forsakes his family for a spectacular adventure; Poltergeist, concerning the spectral histories menacing a suburban home;<br />

and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which brazenly mixes science-fiction fabulism with Oedipal reveries.<br />

A similar level <strong>of</strong> daring animates The Fabelmans, necessarily transforming what could be a nostalgic evocation <strong>of</strong> movie magic into<br />

something far knottier. Even something as simple as the trick that his stand-in Sammy Fabelman (an uncannily vivid Gabriel LaBelle)<br />

uses to simulate a grenade explosion is thrown into doubt by the discerning viewer, a question <strong>of</strong> whether the veteran director added<br />

a little something extra despite the air <strong>of</strong> amateurism. The opening scene, a recreation <strong>of</strong> Spielberg’s first experience in a movie<br />

theater — equal parts wonder and terror, more real than real — is followed by a scene <strong>of</strong> Sammy in bed, trying to calm himself with the<br />

dull thrum and green glow <strong>of</strong> an oscilloscope; much later, that sound and image will accompany the last moments <strong>of</strong> his grandmother,<br />

in sync with the pulse he can see in her veins immediately before she dies.<br />


Such privileged images and dramatically ironic touches help structure The Fabelmans, which could come across as neat were its gaze<br />

not so sprawling, were Spielberg not willing to dive down rabbit holes into his past (real or imagined). Case in point: two exhortations<br />

by near-mythic figures — in a film already dominated by Michelle Williams’s deliberately stylized performance as Sammy’s mercurial,<br />

otherworldly mother Mitzi — speak both in unison and at cross-purposes. Sammy’s lion-tamer great-uncle Boris (Judd Hirsch) stresses<br />

that the artist will be torn in two by art and family; John Ford (brilliantly embodied by David Lynch, in one <strong>of</strong> the greatest bits <strong>of</strong> stunt<br />

casting <strong>of</strong> the century) begins his abbreviated conversation with the budding director by exclaiming that the movie business will tear<br />

him in two. Two old hands, one justly described “the greatest film director who ever lived” (an appellation that movingly rings true for<br />

both the signifier and the signified) and the other a possibly real, possibly fictional perennial outsider; together they reach toward the<br />

balance <strong>of</strong> art and commerce that has provided Spielberg with some <strong>of</strong> his greatest successes and most vehement criticism. Boris’<br />

warning becomes a test that gets applied to practically every scene to follow; Ford’s bitter reflection is left unaddressed but hangs in<br />

the air, even managing to render the jubilant ending and its sublime meta-joke with a slight foreboding, maybe even regret.<br />

Second-guessing and the unknown lie everywhere in The Fabelmans, so many little threads and insinuations that are ultimately<br />

unanswered. Burt Fabelman, as embodied by Paul Dano with ultimate poise, generosity, and sad fatalism as a counterbalance to<br />

Williams’ pronounced vivaciousness, is perhaps the most poignant figure <strong>of</strong> all. Sammy bases his greatest triumph, Escape to<br />

Nowhere, on his father’s war stories, something which the elder doesn’t comment on, instead choosing to throw himself headlong into<br />

his electronics and computers. In a relative paucity <strong>of</strong> screentime, Spielberg sketches out a storyline that comes within striking<br />

distance <strong>of</strong> The Magnificent Ambersons, capturing a genius ushering in the future which will have consequences both positive and<br />

negative. Sammy (and Spielberg), <strong>of</strong> course, is no George Amberson Minafer, and there’s very little comeuppance that he deserves. But,<br />

despite the fact that Burt, not Mitzi, gets to bestow the final blessing on the genius-in-the-making, it’s hard not to recall that his<br />

invention will one day help birth the systemic degradation <strong>of</strong> the industry his son has worked so hard to maintain.<br />

It is to The Fabelmans’ credit that such considerations are both text and subtext, that its ideas about creativity and the march <strong>of</strong> time<br />

are so hammered home amid an exhilarating and touching experience, that the most sobering and tragic ramifications appear only in<br />

hindsight, when looked upon from a distant vantage point. If that isn’t movie magic, what is? — RYAN SWEN<br />


#2 — BENEDICTION<br />

Terence Davies<br />

The biography, an imagined communion with the living in<br />

recognition <strong>of</strong> the dead, is <strong>of</strong>ten a consecration <strong>of</strong> meaning, a<br />

way <strong>of</strong> laying to rest the ambiguities and uncertainties <strong>of</strong> futures<br />

now past. One imagines events, having taken concrete shape,<br />

now woven and engraved into the narrative stone <strong>of</strong> posterity;<br />

and biographers, for the most part, work within the margins <strong>of</strong><br />

an already predestined space, rendering the historical lucid and<br />

the personal tragic — not in the purely cataclysmic sense <strong>of</strong><br />

tragedy, but with a pathos cognizant <strong>of</strong> life’s perpetual and<br />

unyielding finitude. Biopics embellish this distinction even<br />

further: their pictorial medium serves as an outsider’s<br />

voyeuristic gaze into time already past, while the pointillistic<br />

gathering <strong>of</strong> sounds, images, and words all suggest time as lived,<br />

projected from the resolute determinism <strong>of</strong> fact and onto the<br />

living dynamism <strong>of</strong> the future. What attracts the gaze <strong>of</strong> the<br />

present viewer, more so than words alone, is the cinematic<br />

interplay <strong>of</strong> words and experiences that constitutes a biopic’s<br />

convocation <strong>of</strong> living and dead: the dead recite their pages, and<br />

the living relive them.<br />

In Terence Davies’ Benediction, the dead hold similar sway as<br />

conduit for the aims and afflictions <strong>of</strong> a previous age.<br />

Dramatizing the life and times <strong>of</strong> the English war poet Siegfried<br />

Sassoon (Jack Lowden) from his military service in World War I to<br />

his conversion to Catholicism in old age, Benediction imbibes the<br />

poet’s lifelong search for higher meaning amidst a prevailing<br />

senselessness. Noted for his valor as an <strong>of</strong>ficer — for which he<br />

was awarded the Military Cross — but more famous for voicing<br />

his antipathy towards what he deemed “a war <strong>of</strong> aggression and<br />

conquest,” Sassoon escaped the firing squad but was consigned<br />

instead to psychiatric observation at a hospital, where he formed<br />

a brief if defining relationship with his contemporary and poet,<br />

Wilfred Owen (Matthew Tennyson). The subsequent post-war<br />

years saw Sassoon enter and be entrenched within the roaring<br />

beau monde, engaging in trysts and heartbreak with its prickly,<br />


lavish characters, Ivor Novello (Jeremy Irvine) and Stephen Tennant (Calam Lynch) among others. But the time<br />

passes mercilessly, and all the sensuality <strong>of</strong> life — in loving and in poetry — will soon leave Sassoon behind,<br />

stranded along the road to middle-aged perdition and cloaked in the twilight embrace <strong>of</strong> a love “that dare not<br />

speak its name.”<br />

Benediction, then, is a work steeped in muted regret, a regret over a life not quite lived and over possible lives not<br />

quite known; unlike Owen, who died one week prior to the war’s end, and unlike the many members <strong>of</strong> high society<br />

who chased and conquered Romanticism, Sassoon’s legacy as a master <strong>of</strong> both words and hearts dwindled in the<br />

decades that followed, a stasis that seems, to our modern eyes, almost antithetical toward the progressive tides<br />

<strong>of</strong> history. “Since 1918, your poetry has gone from the sublime to the meticulous,” a spiteful Ivor brandishes.<br />

Fuelled with a richness for being but scorned by the acerbic cynicism <strong>of</strong> beauty, Sassoon retreats into embittered<br />

solitude, betraying his heart for the enviable peace <strong>of</strong> society by marrying a woman, Hester Gatty (Kate Phillips), and<br />

settling down. A half-century past the film’s opening — depicting Igor Stravinsky’s entreatment to Modernism in a<br />

performance <strong>of</strong> The Rite <strong>of</strong> Spring — we find the couple (now played by Peter Capaldi and Gemma Jones, respectively) in<br />

their wintry years, strained by the silences they once basked in during the time <strong>of</strong> mortar and trench fighting.<br />

Yet the film proves more than a straightforward biography <strong>of</strong> Sassoon; in many ways, it mirrors Davies’ own. The aesthetic<br />

inner worlds <strong>of</strong> poet and painter — for Davies, more than filmmaking, paints his images with stark, indelible memory — share<br />

the joy and burden <strong>of</strong> loneliness, pleasurable when constructing the persona <strong>of</strong> genius but painful when critiquing it. More<br />

tellingly, the denial <strong>of</strong> gay desire (a recurrent theme in Davies’ overwhelmingly beautiful oeuvre <strong>of</strong> his childhood) worms its way<br />

into Benediction’s center, a miasma <strong>of</strong> gazes and cloudy afternoons through which the aging biographers examine their lives and<br />

only partially fulfill Søren Kierkegaard’s dictum, that life “can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”<br />

Through a blend <strong>of</strong> dissolves — archival footage <strong>of</strong> the war interspersed with flashbacks and fast-forwards — and digital<br />

manipulation, Davies strips away space and time to reposition memory’s ever-present place in the imagination: memory nostalgic,<br />

and memory ominous, <strong>of</strong> the retroactive representation <strong>of</strong> the inevitable once unknown.<br />

More than his autobiographical trilogy, for which Davies is arguably most well known, Benediction displaces sentimental reverie for a<br />

wounded one, tempered with dyspeptic conversations and frosty exchanges which, upon Sassoon’s release from duty, comprise the<br />

bulk <strong>of</strong> the film. The whittling <strong>of</strong> the years down to the razor wit <strong>of</strong> Modernism and bourgeois indolence, trifles by idealism’s heroic<br />

young side, lends the film an air <strong>of</strong> mournful weariness: to what end did pacifism, or the pugnacious battles <strong>of</strong> young hedonism in its<br />

thirties, lead after all? Benediction’s stylistic realization <strong>of</strong> psychological interiority, through quotations <strong>of</strong> Sassoon’s own poetry, is an<br />

immense undertaking staid in ambition and sorrowful in actualization, unpacking with deep feeling the eternal quiet passion <strong>of</strong> the<br />

poet’s earthly journey. When he converses with God at the altar, enjoining Him to speak, it is a moment <strong>of</strong> clarity in a sea <strong>of</strong> noisy<br />

silence, but clarity is all the blessing Sassoon, and by extension Davies, may hope to achieve. Thus Benediction, in committing to its<br />

subject’s life, understands that the enduring place <strong>of</strong> the ephemeral, despite all <strong>of</strong> life’s perceived glories, is here to stay. Sassoon,<br />

tellingly, in a conversation with his son who states: “Most people live for the moment. You live for eternity.” “Don’t say that. [...]<br />

Because I’m afraid I might believe it.” — MORRIS YANG<br />



David Cronenberg<br />

The great mad scientist <strong>of</strong> body horror has returned after a long absence, just in time to bear witness to a world irrevocably altered in<br />

pr<strong>of</strong>oundly disturbing ways. It’s been eight long years since David Cronenberg’s last feature film, the unfairly maligned Maps to the<br />

Stars; difficulties finding funding, a scuttled streaming project, and the death <strong>of</strong> his spouse all suggested the very real possibility <strong>of</strong> a<br />

surprising retirement. Thankfully, this proved to be only a hiatus, and Cronenberg’s Crimes <strong>of</strong> the Future finds the master overflowing<br />

with ideas and concepts, drawing influence from his own extensive body <strong>of</strong> work while forging ahead and trying vigorously to make<br />

sense <strong>of</strong> this ever-elusive “now.” The film is a collection <strong>of</strong> fascinating contradictions — an ostensibly futuristic setting that appears<br />

to have been filmed in old, abandoned factories and bunkers (actually Greece), an espionage tale that makes no sense, an emphasis<br />

on tactile, physical touch coupled with a distant, almost hollow mise en scène. Typical for Cronenberg, there’s curiosity tinged with<br />

disgust at our squishy insides, so fragile and malleable. There was much chatter about so-called “late style” making the rounds on<br />

social media this year, and if that slippery term is ultimately too vague to be useful as a broad critical rubric, there are nonetheless<br />

unmistakable similarities between this and Ferrara's Zeroes and Ones, Argento's Dark Glasses, and Hill's Dead For a Dollar — all fairly<br />

small-scaled but ambitious projects from aged auteurs made cheaply under various Covid restrictions. It’s a terrifying new zeitgeist,<br />

full <strong>of</strong> mysterious potentialities.<br />


In Cronenberg’s conception <strong>of</strong> a hypothetical near-future, ecological disaster has progressed unabated while mankind has begun<br />

experiencing “Accelerated Evolution Syndrome,” an increasingly common disorder resulting in the spontaneous manifestation <strong>of</strong> new<br />

organs inside the body. Humanity as a whole has also begun losing the capacity to feel pain, creating a new culture <strong>of</strong> body<br />

modification and other extreme endeavors. Crimes begins with a prologue <strong>of</strong> sorts, as we meet a young boy who eats plastic and is<br />

promptly smothered to death by his mother. We then turn to Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen, playing a hunched over, asthmatic Rene<br />

Falconeti), a performance artist who is renowned for his ability to produce the aforementioned organs. He works with Caprice (Lea<br />

Seydoux), a former surgeon who cuts these foreign objects out <strong>of</strong> him in highly ritualized exhibits in front <strong>of</strong> a rapt audience. The duo<br />

wind up meeting two employees <strong>of</strong> the National Organ Registry, an organization run by Wippet (Don McKellar) and his assistant Timlin<br />

(Kristen Stewart, in a bizarre, frequently hilarious performance). Eventually, we are introduced to Lang (Scott Speedman), the father <strong>of</strong><br />

the dead boy, and Detective Cope (Welket Bungue), who is investigating the shady underground group that Lang runs.<br />


This is all fairly vague and opaque, a series <strong>of</strong><br />

encounters that border on the abstract. Indeed,<br />

Cronenberg seems interested in narrative only<br />

inasmuch as it allows him to convey some key<br />

philosophical ideas and display all manner <strong>of</strong><br />

delightfully grotesque production design. The<br />

performers all engage to varying degrees in<br />

halting, even monotone speaking patterns,<br />

awkwardly enunciating words while indulging<br />

strange mannerisms and gestures. It’s equal<br />

parts <strong>of</strong>f-putting and comedic, and further<br />

distances the proceedings from any sense <strong>of</strong><br />

“realism.” In true Cronenberg fashion, Saul sleeps<br />

in a bed that looks like a womb, complete with<br />

tentacled umbilical cords that attach to his skin.<br />

There’s a feeding chair that looks like the skeletal<br />

remains <strong>of</strong> one <strong>of</strong> the Mugwumps from Naked<br />

Lunch, and a sarcophagus that’s actually an<br />

automated autopsy machine. A few themes<br />

emerge in all this: namely the nature <strong>of</strong> art and<br />

what it means to create, as well as what human<br />

evolution means in the face <strong>of</strong> ongoing<br />

environmental catastrophe. In other words, in a<br />

poisoned world, wouldn’t a human capable <strong>of</strong><br />

ingesting plastic be more “fit,” in the Darwinian<br />

sense?<br />

It’s all so claustrophobic and disorienting, just<br />

skirting along the line <strong>of</strong> what a “normal” film<br />

should look like without actually conforming to<br />

that ideal. This is style stripped to the barest<br />

minimum, Cronenberg honing in on the essence<br />

<strong>of</strong> each scene to convey an idea and tossing out<br />

the rest. There’s still plenty <strong>of</strong> viscera here for<br />

those looking for wounds and flayed flesh, even if<br />

Cronenberg contextualizes it in more intimate,<br />

less horrific emotions. Echoes abound <strong>of</strong> Crash<br />

(pleasure & pain commingling), Videodrome<br />

(vaginal abdomens & old CRT TVs), Dead Ringers<br />


(the tools here resemble the gynecological “instruments for<br />

operating on mutant women”), and especially eXistenZ (a labyrinthine<br />

conspiracy plot that ultimately adds up to nothing; fleshy, squishy bio-mechanical<br />

controllers). But somehow, none <strong>of</strong> this ever feels threatening. Indeed, most <strong>of</strong> the characters<br />

frequently discuss the nature <strong>of</strong> consent, so much so that when two lovers embrace under an automated slicing machine, it feels not<br />

horrific but tender (hilariously, distributor Neon tried to market the film using the image <strong>of</strong> a man covered head to toe in ears, surely<br />

trying to entice horror fans. In the film, the “ear man” is actually mocked as a try-hard poseur).<br />

It's fitting that Crimes <strong>of</strong> the Future is InRO’s number one film <strong>of</strong> <strong>2022</strong>, a year which finds society still struggling with an ongoing<br />

pandemic, an increasingly dire ecological outlook, and new, hitherto unknown physical maladies — Cronenberg couldn't have known<br />

before embarking on this feature that its release would roughly coincide with the discovery <strong>of</strong> microplastics not only in the human<br />

body, but even in the blood <strong>of</strong> unborn babies. In an interview with critic Amy Taubin in the Summer <strong>2022</strong> issue <strong>of</strong> Art Forum,<br />

Cronenberg refers to Mortensen's character as “a body that is trying to adjust to new inputs and intakes... your body is constantly<br />

responding to the environment.” For her part, Taubin suggests that the film's setting, Athens, Greece, is notable because “what you see<br />

is the crumbling relics <strong>of</strong> the cradle <strong>of</strong> Western civilization.” Both sentiments feel particularly pertinent to our present times, with so<br />

many old edifices giving way to a “new normal.” The film ends on an autopsy, the results <strong>of</strong> which might reveal the next stage <strong>of</strong><br />

human evolution while releasing Saul from the pain <strong>of</strong> his existence. Cronenberg leaves it ambiguous, choosing to linger over a cryptic<br />

smile and a fade to black. It's arguably his most cautiously hopeful ending, a vision <strong>of</strong> ecstatic transcendence in the face <strong>of</strong> imminent<br />

catastrophic change that might nonetheless herald a bold new step forward for humanity. “My interest in the body is because, for me,<br />

it's an inexhaustible subject — and <strong>of</strong> the essence <strong>of</strong> understanding the human condition,” Cronenberg told critic Adam Nayman in a<br />

wide-ranging New Yorker interview earlier this year. Long live the new flesh, indeed. — DANIEL GORMAN<br />





Laura Poitras<br />

“Poitras, then, aims to use the quite large<br />

scope <strong>of</strong> her documentary to thread this<br />

needle: To show how Goldin’s life has been<br />

defined by an interconnected series <strong>of</strong><br />

public and private crises, and how at<br />

seemingly every turn our institutions have<br />

failed and Goldin’s trauma (expressed<br />

through her art) has accumulated…<br />

[Poitras] has a knack for turning complex<br />

legal and political minutiae into taut,<br />

procedural-oriented cinema.” — SAM C.<br />

MAC<br />


Qiu Jiongjiong<br />

“In a sharp break from the documentaries<br />

that have made up Qiu’s work to date, A<br />

New Old Play instead opts for an approach<br />

that emphasizes artificiality and<br />

stylization <strong>of</strong> these spaces <strong>of</strong> the past and<br />

the supernatural. Seemingly every scene<br />

takes place on a set, each crafted to<br />

maximize what feels like a handcrafted<br />

quality to the film, where the distressed<br />

and flat personality permeates the<br />

backdrops <strong>of</strong> man-made structures and<br />

landscapes alike. ” — RYAN SWEN<br />


Mia Hansen-Løve<br />

“Hansen-Løve’s latest production, One Fine<br />

Morning, has the director reestablishing<br />

the rhythms and pacing essential to her<br />

best work… [the film] concerns itself with<br />

a significant swath <strong>of</strong> its protagonist’s life,<br />

but moves through it with a sort <strong>of</strong><br />

deliberate casualness that condenses and<br />

approximates our real world relationship<br />

with memory and time’s passage.” — M.G.<br />



Kogonada<br />

“After Yang, in this light, arrives with great<br />

pathos and acuity, its inert yet subtly<br />

shifting frames echoing the almost<br />

metaphysical Zen <strong>of</strong> Columbus. Whereas<br />

the latter’s careful compositions and<br />

employment <strong>of</strong> negative space <strong>of</strong>fered<br />

sociological and personal ruminations on<br />

change and continuity, Kogonada now<br />

explores in greater detail the technological<br />

subject: its subjectivity, consciousness,<br />

and fundamental place within greater<br />

civilization..” — MORRIS YANG<br />

ELVIS<br />

Baz Luhrmann<br />

“Elvis is, on its surface, empty spectacle<br />

thematically concerned with a rather<br />

specific breed <strong>of</strong> American excess located<br />

and perpetuated within this country’s<br />

cultural iconography… It’s <strong>of</strong>ten thrilling,<br />

but also exhausting, usually at the exact<br />

same time, and so boredom can never<br />

really set in. In short, it’s a Luhrmann<br />

picture, bearing all <strong>of</strong> the baggage and<br />

pleasures that come with that headline.” —<br />



CLASS<br />

Maria Speth<br />

“It’s an experience we all know, the<br />

exhaustion <strong>of</strong> classroom time, as edifying<br />

and educational and revelatory as it can<br />

<strong>of</strong>ten be. And so, there will likely be a<br />

point in Speth’s film that viewers will have<br />

to trust in Mr. Bachmann’s lively,<br />

charismatic presence to re-engage,<br />

another hour or two to go, an opportunity<br />

to feel and explore more if one can settle<br />

back into the film’s casual lessons and<br />

mostly rewarding rhythm.” — AYEEN<br />



Kiro Russo<br />

“Gradually, as the film proceeds down its<br />

trajectory <strong>of</strong> bodily decay, the ruptures in<br />

the carefully drawn aesthetic become<br />

ever more frequent and unexpected,<br />

culminating in a furiously and<br />

rhythmically edited sequence that<br />

appears to mix footage from both films,<br />

along with a flurry <strong>of</strong> faces and streets.”<br />

— RYAN SWEN<br />


Ted Fendt<br />

“Fendt’s latest feature, Outside Noise,<br />

goes even further in removing itself from<br />

notions <strong>of</strong> “motivated plotting,” foregoing<br />

legible conflict in order to craft a hazy<br />

16mm malaise film that pursues those<br />

moments in life that we generally think to<br />


e uncinematic… Outside Noise takes on<br />

the classic subject <strong>of</strong> ennui, but with an<br />

interest in observing it as opposed to<br />

reveling in it.” — M.G. MAILLOUX<br />


Joseph Kosinski<br />

“Slotting squarely into the recent formula<br />

<strong>of</strong> every new Tom Cruise movie going even<br />

deeper than the last as a subtextual<br />

referendum on his superhuman screen<br />

persona, Top Gun: Maverick is a blistering<br />

piece <strong>of</strong> pop art, an all-timer Dad movie<br />

stealth masterpiece, and maybe the<br />

ultimate legacy sequel.” — MATT LYNCH<br />


Claire Denis<br />

“While the term late style may be bandied<br />

around too much these days — is cinema<br />

itself, facing the death <strong>of</strong> movie theaters,<br />

in a period <strong>of</strong> late style? has it always<br />

been? — there is something apt in affixing<br />

it to the 76-year-old director’s film… Unlike<br />

the jittery jumps through time and space<br />

or the poetic montages <strong>of</strong> bodies and<br />

landscapes graphically arranged to<br />

externalize dense psychic geographies,<br />

Both Sides <strong>of</strong> the Blade exhibits an<br />

understated languor unique amongst her<br />

films.” — JOSHUA BOGATIN<br />

MAD GOD<br />

Phil Tippett<br />

“Packed with a maelstrom <strong>of</strong> grandiosity<br />

and chaos for the entirety <strong>of</strong> its 83-minute<br />

runtime, Tippett’s labor <strong>of</strong> love comprises<br />

stews <strong>of</strong> steampunk, body horror, and<br />

religious mythology, <strong>of</strong>fering nothing less<br />

than a ravishing sensory experience <strong>of</strong><br />

lurid phantasmagoria… This ahistorical<br />

film pr<strong>of</strong>fers, in fact, a historical thesis <strong>of</strong><br />

pessimism concerning humanity’s cyclical<br />

violence, as its hellscapes span both<br />

antiquity and modernity, beginning with<br />

the wrath <strong>of</strong> God in Leviticus and tracing<br />

the anachronisms <strong>of</strong> plagues, trench<br />

warfare, slavery, sexual depravity, medical<br />

institutions, and so on. ” — MORRIS YANG<br />


Wai Ka-fai<br />

“It’s thrilling to watch Wai put all these<br />

puzzle pieces together, juggling various<br />

narrative threads and weaving together an<br />

intricate web <strong>of</strong> deceit and obfuscation…<br />

Even the film’s final shot, ostensibly a<br />

moment <strong>of</strong> triumph, suggests an ongoing<br />

madness that cannot end. Wai is a<br />

magician and has here crafted one <strong>of</strong> the<br />

year’s best, most kinetic action movies,<br />

one that leaves you absolutely miserable<br />

once it’s over.” — DANIEL GORMAN<br />


TRUE<br />

Andrew Dominik<br />

“Cave has always presented something <strong>of</strong><br />

an eccentric front, and in tandem with a<br />

post-Vegas persona that slides easily<br />

between swagger-rich and deeply earnest,<br />

it’s not surprising that this sustained<br />

portraiture <strong>of</strong> the past decade continues<br />

to hold appeal and strip away layers…<br />

there’s less happening here than in<br />

previous Cave documentaries, its reason<br />

for existence less pronounced but<br />

perhaps more explicable after three<br />

previous ones: there’s pleasure to<br />

watching Cave perform and to bearing<br />

witness to his musical creations.” — LUKE<br />

GORHAM<br />


Rob Zombie<br />

“Indeed, something <strong>of</strong> a mishmash <strong>of</strong><br />

influences reflecting its author’s broad,<br />

endearingly unhip taste, and with a comic<br />

sensibility several decades removed from<br />

accepted contemporary standards, The<br />

Munsters is a gonzo standout in a<br />

landscape otherwise populated by<br />

dispassionate, lifeless IP retreads.” — M.G.<br />



James Gray<br />

“There may be eye-roll notes <strong>of</strong> liberal<br />

apologia in Gray’s treatment <strong>of</strong> how the<br />

discovery <strong>of</strong> his own privilege also<br />

became the beginning <strong>of</strong> disillusionment,<br />

but he’s also too smart a filmmaker to<br />

wallow in pity or simple political<br />

messaging. Gray resists settling on any<br />

proper moral position… choosing instead<br />

to make a general skepticism toward<br />

American society the ultimate landing<br />

point <strong>of</strong> his film.” — JOSHUA BOGATIN<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Paramount Pictures; Page 1 - DVV Entertainment; Page 2 - Jonathan Hession/Searchlight<br />

Pictures; Page 3 - Mubi; Page Page 4 - National Geographic; Page 5 - A24; Page 6 - Primeira Idade;<br />

Page 9 - Lupo Film; Page 10 - KimStim; Page 11 - Universal Pictures; Page 12 - Zürcher Film; Page<br />

15 - Mubi; Page 16 - Alamy; Page 17 - Lilies <strong>Films</strong>; Page 18 - Paramount Pictures & MTV<br />

Entertainment Studios; Page 20 - Jeonwonsa Productions; Page 21 - Cinema Guild; Page 22 - 20th<br />

Century Studios; Page 23 - Sideshow & Janus <strong>Films</strong>; Page 25 - A24; Page 26 - Curiosa <strong>Films</strong>; Page<br />

27/28 - Focus Features & Everett Collection; Page 29/30 - Merie Weiswiller Wallace, Universal<br />

Pictures, & Amblin Entertainment; Page 31 - Roadside Attractions; Page 33-36 - Nikos Nikolopoulos;<br />

Back Cover - Icarus <strong>Films</strong>

Hooray! Your file is uploaded and ready to be published.

Saved successfully!

Ooh no, something went wrong!