Insanely Erotic: The Piano Teacher (La pianiste 2001)

Editor’s note: This is an old piece by my friend Chienn Tai, originally published on October 14, 2017.

A demanding and high-strung mother, a devoted artist in a classical field, plus a tinge of sanity-driven passion—these are the components of Austrian director Michael Haneke’s film, The Piano Teacher (La pianiste 2001), which features Isabelle Hupert as Erika Kohut, a piano tutor at Vienna Conservatory.

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In the Cold Light of Day: Midsommar (2019)

Misommar‘s (2019) trailer might be misleading—as though it’s just another hit horror film soon to be forgotten in the rapidly-changing film industry. But to my surprise, it’s not so much of a typical thriller as its trailer would make it seem. It’s indeed experimental, ambitious, and at times unsettlingly charming.

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The Journey Is the Reward: In Transit (2015)

For one glorious week, documentarian and pioneer of direct cinema Albert Maysles’s last film, the posthumously released In Transit (2015), was free to watch online. In a fine bit of irony, it was Maysles’s death that threw the film’s distribution into limbo. Co-directed with Lynn True, David Usui, Nelson Walker III, and Benjamin Wu (everyone also shared cinematography duties, except True, who edited), the film boards the Chicago-St. Paul/Minneapolis-Spokane-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, the busiest cross-country train in the US, in search of passengers’ stories. You think you know where this is going (sorry), and you do—but knowing is one thing, experiencing another.

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False Prophet: Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało 2019)

Did you know that Poland has a fake priest problem? You’d think parishioners would catch on pretty quickly, but apparently some of these impersonators are sincere in their ministries, lacking only the credentials. What would drive someone to be a sincere fake priest? How might they handle their duties? Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało 2019), a religious high-wire act based on a true story, offers one tantalizing example.

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The Lucky One: Miss Americana (2020, aka Taylor Swift: Miss Americana)

People often say that you need to be objective to be a good critic, but I’ve often found that being invested in a work can illumine more pathways into what it’s trying to do and how well it succeeds. Of course, it’s not necessarily a “better” perspective, whatever that means, just a different one. Being a Swiftie, I find the Taylor Swift on screen in Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana (2020, aka Taylor Swift: Miss Americana) to be a familiar presence from all of the interview and behind-the-scenes footage of her that already exists, some of which is used in this documentary. As Swift suggests in an early interview, also included, fame and career longevity have always been on her mind, and the film grounds such abstract musings in raw and emotionally vulnerable moments, captured as they happen.

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The Moral Arc of the Universe Bends Toward Compassion: So Long, My Son (Dijiutianchang / 地久天长 2019)

Chinese New Year is almost upon us, a time for family and reflection—the perfect context in which to see Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son (Dijiutianchang / 地久天长 2019). The Chinese title is also the title of the Chinese translation of “Auld Lang Syne,” and the two feel similar. And this is film whose (Taiwanese) trailer accurately reflects its feeling as well. It was my best theatrical experience of 2019.

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Ceci n’est pas un film: Cats (2019)

I don’t understand the visceral hate of Cats (2019), the latest offering from Tom Hooper. It’s a perfectly respectable recording of a stage musical performance, touched up with a bit of CGI.

What? It’s meant to be a film, you say? Well, that does change things considerably.

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Review of The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead (The News Lens International)

My review of The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead (Jianghu Wu Nanshi / 江湖無難事 2019) has been published by The News Lens International. Though it isn’t a festival review, I caught the 2019 Golden Horse Film Festival screening, and the review benefits from a post-screening Q&A with the director, female lead, and one of the male leads. Check it out here!