The Spear That Smote You: Phoenix (2014)

The danger with allegories, especially historical allegories, is that they can subsume the story with which they’re spun. To defend against this, it’s not enough to offer some telling details, which ultimately only hints at an underlying specificity; such an allegory has to string together coherent narratives in two distinct registers at once in a high-strung balancing act. Phoenix (2014) manages this remarkable feat, and both narratives are outstanding to boot.

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Thoughts on Personal Shopper (2016)

The second collaboration between Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart after the thought-provoking Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Personal Shopper (2016) is a ghost story, erotic romance, and a combination of the two. Or at least it tries to combine them. Though a number of individual scenes achieve greatness, and using a series of missed texts received all at once to build tension is downright ingenious, the film as a whole misses its mark.

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Cinema as Deep Healing: August at Akiko’s (2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is on the 2018 Taoyuan Film Festival.

August at Akiko’s (2018) is the debut feature from Christopher Makoto Yogi, who also wrote and edited, and it’s nothing short of transcendent. Many a time have I felt a film to be limited by its need to follow a plot, which is why Terrence Malick is one of my favorite directors. But Malick’s films still have a plot; he just distracts us from it at every step of the way. His films therefore only come together at the level of auteurist vision, without which they would merely be three-hour-long scattershot images with soundtrack and voiceovers. Yogi gives us the real deal, and nothing distracts us from being immersed in this plotless marvel.

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Thoughts on Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap 1973)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the Golden Horse Bergman Centennial Retrospective.

After seeing Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap 1973), I think I finally get what Bergman is doing.

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Thoughts on The New World (2005/2008)

Of all of Terrence Malick’s transcendent oeuvre, The New World (2005/2008) is the one that has the most fanatic admirers. It’s not hard to see why: The film is the best of Malick’s middle period, when he balanced the convention of his early films with the utter idiosyncrasy of his more recent work. It is, I believe, the best introduction to what a Malick film essentially is.

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Thoughts on The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet 1957)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the Golden Horse Bergman Centennial Retrospective.

At first glance, the two parts of The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet 1957) don’t seem to have much to do with each other. One is the famous story of a knight, Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), playing chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) for his eternal soul. The other is the picaresque tale of a ragtag group of travelers who band together for protection and, having nowhere else to go, follow the knight’s squire, Jons (Gunnar Björnstrand), to the knight’s castle. The A plot is existential, somber, and symbolic; the B plot is witty, satirical, and socially conscious. They don’t seem to fit together at all.

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To Seek and Be Called: Nostalghia (1983)

Nostalghia (1983) is often considered along with Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo / Ива́ново де́тство 1962) to be a minor Tarkovsky, the latter due to its relative conventionality, the former because of how far it goes in the other direction. Written by Andrei Tarkovsky with famous Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, this film is a mood piece in the strictest sense of the term, in that its core theme is the feeling of “nostalghia,” or Russian emigrant longing for the fatherland, and in the fact that every cinematic element is either sacrificed for this theme or indentured into its service. What results is a work of devastating beauty just ripe for the GIFing.

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Thoughts on The Magician (Ansiktet 1958, aka The Face)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the Golden Horse Bergman Centennial Retrospective.

 

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Thoughts on Persona (1966)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the Golden Horse Bergman Centennial Retrospective.

Apparently, Ingmar Bergman’s elevator pitch for Persona (1966) to Kenne Fant went like this: “It’s about one person who talks and one who doesn’t, and they compare hands and get all mingled up in one another.” Though not inaccurate, it’s a bit like pitching Before Sunset (2004) as “the story of a guy and a girl who meet on a train, walk around chatting all night, and agree to meet again.” I’m not a fan of metafiction and think discussions of identity (outside of hegemonic oppression) are much ado about nothing, so I only have a few things to say about this Mount Everest for film critics. (The record for best climb is probably held by Roger Ebert’s Great Movie review, which draws blood in the first paragraph.)

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