Ben Reiser is Director of Operations for the Wisconsin Film Festival and a Programmer for the Cinematheque.
Ben Reiser’s Fourteen Favorite Movies Seen in Movie Theaters in 2022
In alphabetical order
AFTERSUN (2022, Charlotte Wells) – A sense memory piece that miraculously balances precise details with a fathomless sense of the unknown. Somehow both achingly sad and filled with dread yet beautiful and strangely comforting.
AMSTERDAM (2022, David O Russell) – I’ve rarely connected with a movie so quickly and so completely. I was sold within the first thirty seconds, and after two viewings, I’m ready for a third. Featuring terrific, effervescent turns not only from Christian Bale, Margot Robie and John David Washington, but also by actors I don’t normally enjoy, including Rami Malek and Mike Meyers.
ARMAGEDDON TIME (2022, James Gray) – Like an atom bomb dropped directly on my adolescence, James Gray’s fearlessly honest and clear-eyed account of a Jewish family living in 1980s Queens features another late-career highlight from Anthony Hopkins that left me in tears.
BABYLON (2022, Damien Chazelle) – A swing for the fences that ultimately gets caught at the warning track, but man is it ever fun to watch it’s long slow descent down to earth.
BARBARIAN (2022, Zach Cregger) I had a lot of luck this year with films I’d heard negative things about in advance, but this one lived up to all the positive hype and then some. Barbarian weaponizes our knowledge of horror movie tropes against us in all the best ways.
BONES AND ALL (2022, Luca Guadagnino) – Guadagnino, like James Gray, is a director whose work I’ve admired more than loved, but I was completely hypnotized by this YA tale that somehow taps into the emotionally devastating vibe of George A. Romero’s Martin and milks it for all its worth.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022, David Cronenberg) – I love David Cronenberg and this is my favorite film of his since Existenz.
THE FABELMANS (2022, Steven Spielberg) – How amazing that we got both Armageddon Time and this in the same year? My favorite Spielberg since A.I..
FUNNY PAGES (2022 Owen Kline) – I haven’t laughed this long and hard since our Cinematheque screening of What’s Up Doc?, and that is rarified air.
HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE (2022, Daniel Goldhaber) An urgent political tract dressed up as a big, dumb, ridiculously entertaining action movie. Oceans 11 written by Abbie Hoffman.
LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG (2022, Antonio Lukich) – This Ukranian comedy about two brothers – one a cop, the other, a ne’er-do-well - is consistently funny and surprising, and ultimately, quite moving.
PETER VON KANT (2022, François Ozon) – Is it heresy to admit I prefer this funny, lighthearted remake to Fassbender’s original, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant? Well, I’m on record.
RIMINI (2022, Ulrich Seidl) – Ulrich Seidl’s latest is a typically disturbing, funny, sad, brilliantly observed character piece. It’s almost a remake of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but better.
A WOUNDED FAWN (2022, Travis Stevens) – This giallo meets The Evil Dead mashup has a first half that might be even more terrifying than the first act of Barbarian. And then it gets freaky.
Movies I wish I’d seen in a theater, but enjoyed quite a bit at home:
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (2022, Guillermo Del Toro, Mark Gustafson)
RRR (2022, S.S Rajamouli)
SPEAK NO EVIL (2022, Christian Tafdrup)
Favorites of 2022: Jim Healy
Friday, December 30th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
Jim Healy is Director of Programming for the UW Cinematheque and a Programmer for the Wisconsin Film Festival.
In 2022, I saw 443 feature films from throughout cinema history that were all new to me. These 10, presented in alphabetical order, were my top favorites:
These notes on Jean Renoir's Toni (1935) were written by David Vanden Bossche, PhD candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at UW-Madison. A 4K restoration of Toni will screen in our series of recent French film restorations on Friday, December 9 at 7 p.m. in the Cinematheque's regular screening venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. Admission is free!
By David Vanden Bossche
Which ‘Renoir’ is the most influential: father Pierre-Auguste Renoir, impressionist painter known for masterpieces such as Dance at Bougival and The Umbrellas, or son Jean Renoir whose films Rules of the Game (La Règle du Jeu, 1939) and La Grande Illusion (1937) regularly feature on lists naming the greatest films of all time? It’s a question that remains up for debate, preferably over a good glass of French wine or absinthe.
Whatever the case, there’s no denying Jean Renoir’s standing as one of the most important French filmmakers of the twentieth century, his towering achievements as a director far outnumbering the limited amount of titles that found their way into the public cultural memory. Few directors can boast ever having made a film like La Bête Humaine (1938) let alone line that one up with the aforementioned classics and films like The River (1951), The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), The Golden Coach (1952) or arguably his most famous film among casual movie viewers: A Day in the Country (Une Partie de Campagne, 1946).
Missing from that list – among many others – is Toni from 1935, another one of Jean Renoir’s master classes in filmmaking.
In his book Film History, Peter von Bagh labeled this rural drama as a direct predecessor to the Italian neo-realism that would revolutionize film art about a decade later. To a certain degree that is true – Renoir admitted that he wanted to convey a high degree of naturalism in Toni – but if we look at Italian neo-realism along the lines of Gilles Deleuze’s ideas of this being the moment when cinema drastically re-conceptualized the notion of ‘time’, then Toni is a different beast altogether. ‘Time’ and ‘Temps Mort/ Dead Time’ became the main element around which films like Bicycle Thieves (1948) and Umberto D. (1952) were centered – a notion recently powerfully reiterated in Jordan Schonig’s book The Shape of Motion – and this element is decidedly absent from Toni’s dramatic arc, which is much more akin’ to classic storytelling than anything that came out of Italian neo-realism. Much more than a predecessor to the Italian movement, Toni, with its penchant for heightened lyrical realism, is part of the ‘French Poetic Realism’ that would go on to dominate the next decade with such famous titles as Marcel Carné’s Port of Shadows (Quai des Brumes, 1938) and Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du Paradis, 1945).
Toni’s plot is based on the writings of Jacques Levert (who plays a minor uncredited part), a retired French police commissioner from the Martigues region near Marseille – the same region where the film was shot – and tells the story of a tragedy that unfolds among the migrant populace in the south of France. This is primarily a love story, but the grim social reality and hostile environment in which the drama takes place is an integral part of the cinematic universe Renoir creates here. Anchored in a bleak view of humanity, Toni surely is one of Renoir’s most pessimistic films, offering little redemption for the characters, or the viewer for that matter. Focusing on the love story between an Italian migrant worker (Charles Blavette) and a local young girl (Celia Montalván), the film brings questions to the fore about race, class and economical hardship that certainly struck a chord with contemporaneous French audiences but also proved to have a universal appeal for 1930s audiences worldwide. In a 1956 issue of Les Cahiers du Cinéma, Renoir addressed this success by stating that ‘I would be happy if you could fathom just a little bit of my love for this Mediterranean community’. It seems he did more than that, as viewers anywhere were more than willing to sympathize with the tragic protagonist.
The black and white cinematography in Toni is by Claude Renoir, the director’s nephew who would subsequently work with him on a few more projects and become a prolific director of photography signing off on high-profile titles like The French Connection II (1975) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The most remarkable name attached to this project, however, is Luchino Visconti’s , the future director of bona fide classics such as Rocco and his Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971), to name but a few. Visconti served as an uncredited assistant director on Toni and later never ceased to mention how much he had learned about cinema and directing from the great Jean Renoir.
Toni may not contain the ‘bravura’ shots that people have come to associate with Renoir based on La Grande Illusion or La Règle du Jeu, but the more timid register in which the director works here is just as interesting and visually overwhelming, drawing from more painterly influences that would remain a mainstay in Renoir’s oeuvre, through his ‘Hollywood’ period (1941's Swamp Water being a prime example) and later on in movies like The River, or his homage to his father’s work in 1959’s Picnic in the Grass (Déjeuner sur L’Herbe, 1959).
These notes on Planet of the Apes (1968) were written by Lance St. Laurent, PhD candidate in UW Madison’s Department of Communication Arts. A double feature of Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes will conclude our series, "Damn You All to Hell: Charlton Heston and the End of the World," on Saturday, November 10 beginning at 6 p.m. Two 35mm prints will be shown! The screening takes place at 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Avenue. Admission is free!
By Lance St. Laurent.
“God damn you all to hell!” So ends one of Hollywood’s most unlikely franchise-starters. After decades of sequels, remakes, reboots, and endless parodies, it is easy to forget what a strange piece of work the original Planet of the Apes really is. A pitch-black piece of sci-fi nihilism released the same year as Stanley Kubrick’s awe-inspiring 2001 and only a year before Apollo astronauts would touch down on the lunar surface, today Planet of the Apes is probably best remembered for its shattering twist ending. On the off chance anyone is going in fresh tonight, I won’t delve deeper other than to say it’s a masterclass in actorly histrionics from an actor who specialized in such displays. Charlton Heston, in one of his most iconic roles, stars as George Taylor, an astronaut hoping to escape the drudgery and petty squabbles of his own time (1972, we’re told) to seek possibility elsewhere, only to crash land on a foreign planet sometime in the late 3900s. Taylor is the exact opposite of the bright-eyed, clean-cut image of American astronauts. Heston’s clenched jaw and slightly stilted delivery here curdle into the sneer of a man driven by his cynicism and misanthropy, a belief that any planet out there has to be better than home. Of course, that misanthropy is immediately challenged by his new hostile world where, as the title suggests, apes have evolved into the dominant species of life and human beings have been rendered mute, animalistic, and subjugated. Although Heston’s Taylor would return briefly in the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (also screening tonight), his final moments here remain the definitive statement from the character and of the long franchise it spawned.
Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote the novel The Bridge Over the River Kwai) and directed by journeyman filmmaker Franklin J. Schaffner (later of Patton and Papillon), Planet of the Apes perhaps best represents the sensibility of its co-screenwriter Rod Serling. Already well known for The Twilight Zone, it is Serling’s adaptation (rewritten by Michael Wilson) that gives the film its ironic punch, reworking the original text into a parable of man’s hubris. However, the film’s high-minded sci-fi ambitions never get in the way of its entertainment. Buoyed by groundbreaking makeup effects from John Chambers—who won an honorary Academy Award for his efforts and later worked in the CIA operation that inspired the film Argo—Planet of the Apes presents a credible world turned upside down, one where the natural order has been upended but the small-minded pettiness of those in power still remains. 55 years on, the technological limitations of Chambers’ work are certainly more evident, but his designs remain iconic and surprisingly expressive, a high bar that the franchise has repeatedly tried to top, first with Tim Burton’s ill-begotten remake (though featuring terrific makeup from the master, Rick Baker), then through the technological wizardry of WETA’s performance capture technology in the recent reboot trilogy. Despite these advancements, though, none can quite match the charm and personality of Chambers’ original, even if one may let out a chuckle watching Zira and Cornelius’s stiff kissing.
Speaking of Drs. Zira and Cornelius, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell shine here as our primary ape protagonists, with Zira’s open-hearted pursuit of truth clashing well with Cornelius’s prickliness and caution. In a dystopian world of oppression, they are two bright lights of decency, love, and humanity (or whatever apes might call it). Hunter would return as Zira in the next two sequels, and beginning with the third film Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the series was reoriented around McDowell, first reprising his role as Cornelius before stepping into the role of Caesar, Zira and Cornelius’s son. Perhaps most memorable, though, is Shakespearean and Bewitched actor Maurice Evans as the vainglorious villain Dr. Zaius, a figure of unwavering close-mindedness and dogmatism whose stonewalling belies deep secrets about his world. Other notable cast members include Linda Harrison, making the most of the thankless role of Nova, mute human eye-candy meant to soften the troublesome Taylor, and legendary character actor James Whitmore, later of The Shawshank Redemption fame, as the obstinate President of the Ape Assembly.
As 20th Century Studios begins to prep yet another reboot of the Apes franchise, currently titled Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, it is worth asking why Planet of the Apes has so thoroughly endured as a cultural touchstone. It is more than just the ending, though that is a huge part of its appeal. Perhaps it’s the way the film’s fundamental premise toes the line so expertly between the uncanny and the absurd through strange images like fully dressed apes on horseback capturing primitive humans in nets. Perhaps it’s the world’s casual disregard for human life, or the way Taylor’s misanthropy gives way to a sense of pride in humanity before the ultimate rug-pull. Maybe it is simply studio persistence. Planet of the Apes stays with us because Fox and now Disney-owned 20th Century Studios keep making new ones, and the series remains largely sturdy, thoughtful entertainment, a rarity in the current franchise marketplace. As with any long-lived cultural phenomenon, the answer is ultimately complex and incapable of being fully unpacked here. What is certain is that the original film remains a startlingly nihilistic piece of popcorn entertainment, a dystopia of human bondage that proved to be fun for the whole family. For that alone, Planet of the Apes remains an essential text rife with contradictions, at once allegorizing the cultural tensions of its era while also retaining a timeless quality as both a work of challenging genre fiction and accessible studio entertainment. It’s a delicate balance that many have attempted to imitate (including within this very franchise), but few have been able to successfully replicate. It’s the apes’ planet, and we’re all just living on it.
Please Give to the Cinematheque
Tuesday, November 29th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
Hello Movie Lovers,
In the ever-evolving landscape of movie culture in Madison, the Cinematheque at the University of Wisconsin has maintained its status as the place to discover new works of international cinema and classics of film history. While corporate-run multiplexes are closing and more movies are demoted as “content” for home viewing on streaming platforms, the Cinematheque programming staff of knowledgeable cinephiles continues to curate excellent programs and series, all showcased in a proper cinematic setting, and presented without the price of admission.
The consistency of this quality programming requires the support of movie lovers like you. Beginning in September of 2022, the Cinematheque was able to extend its weekly programming to Thursday evenings, when we presented three months of regular premieres of exciting new films from around the globe, including popular titles such as Sara Dosa’s documentary Fire of Love, Owen Kline’s comedy Funny Pages, and the first Madison-area screening of Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave. The entire Premiere series was made possible through a donation from an anonymous cinephile.
In 2022, Cinematheque viewers saw the first Madison screenings of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar-nominated Drive My Car and Sara Polley’s acclaimed Women Talking. Through the support of UW Madison’s Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies (LACIS), in February we brought you three features from the era of “La Movida Madrileña,” including Pedro Almodovar’s Dark Habits. In March, we played six kung-fu classics, each individually presented by Grady Hendrix and Chris Poggiali, authors of the book These Fists Break Bricks. Our popular “Age of Cage” series in April and May let audiences see three off-beat gems from the first decade of Nicolas Cage’s career, all screened on 35mm prints. The Cinematheque was only the second venue in the world (after NY’s Museum of Modern Art) to screen Peter Bogdanovich’s funny and star-filled final narrative feature, Squirrels to the Nuts, commencing our summer Bogdanovich series. In October, celebrated screenwriter and director Nicholas Meyer joined us in person to present three of his movies, including Time After Time; and we concluded the year with an action-packed series of apocalyptic adventures starring Charlton Heston.
Our programming goes on hiatus mid-December as we prepare for an exciting 2023 Cinematheque season that will begin in late January, with a continuation of the Thursday night Premiere series! If you enjoy Cinematheque programming and would like to see it thrive and grow in the new year and beyond, please consider a donation today.
The now-recognized-as-classic futuristic suspense thriller Soylent Green gets top marks for dystopian escapism. The world in 2022 (!) is rapidly approaching a totally poisonous atmosphere, and a detective sets out to track down the assassins of a wealthy and powerful member of the board of directors of Soylent, the company that supplies most of the nation’s now-synthetic food. The detective uncovers a secret so devastating that no man who knows it can live, except for the millions who love the film and its panic-stricken forewarning of a 2022 that isn’t exactly what they portended, but isn’t that far off, either...
Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young, Chuck Connors, Joseph Cotten, Paula Kelly, Brock Peters and Edward G. Robinson star in the 1973 MGM production directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Boston Strangler) and adapted by Stanley R. Greenberg (he also wrote Heston’s Skyjacked) from Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room, Make Room!. Soylent Green may not prove superior to Heston’s Planet of the Apes, but, in this writer's opinion, it beats Heston’s The Omega Man, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and other such competitors as Silent Running, Damnation Alley, and Logan’s Run as standard bearer for the period’s trendy, dystopian, and nihilistic sci-fi product.
Why do so many filmgoers relish this cinematic representation of the termination of mankind as we know it? Well, the outré metaphor Green provides, rebuking our contemporary decadent lifestyles, is seductive, and the richness and skill of the set design submerge us –provisionally—in pure misery without wholly crippling us in existential despair. Heston plays well against type here – his relentless manliness and grim-faced resilience are twisted in a knot by his having to play an “innocent” in Soylent Green – an archetypal “tough guy” who has no clue what came before and what comes ahead, whose protective love for his “book” (the researcher who helps him close cases played by the aged Edward G. Robinson), catapults Green into a hemisphere that the competing 1970s sci-fi yarns don’t approach. If Heston falls behind on his cases, he’ll lose his job and join the seething, starving masses sleeping in stairwells, church pews, and on the streets, yet he refuses to replace the ever more inefficient “book” Robinson. There are no elements of adolescent fantasy in Green’s depiction of their relationship, and the old hand filmmakers and actors recognized this and thankfully proved up to the challenge of fashioning this cinematic relationship in the face of Robinson’s own imminent demise (the studio couldn’t get insurance for him, and he passed away before the film was released).
Every Tuesday is Soylent Green day, and the teeming multitudes line up to receive a ration of the green wafer, which, other than the black-market food reserved for the very rich, is the only staple food available. At the time of the film’s release, MGM focused publicity on the rising meat prices resulting in scientists looking more and more toward synthetic meats and other foodstuffs, with “at least 25 firms in the United States…producing artificial meat, mostly from soya-bean flour. Japan is reported to turn out 24,000 tons a year…In Britain, a major textile group has begun marketing a synthetic meat made from bean protein…in the film, the Soylent Corporation, manufacturers of the principal food supply for half the world, is purportedly making the film from high energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.” Producer Walter Seltzer labeled Soylent Green as “science-fact.”
In support of this, MGM’s press materials took the unusual step of bringing in “Technical Consultant,” Frank R. Bowerman, Director of Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California and President of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers to sound the alarms: “I am of the firm conviction that uncontrolled population expansion and its concomitant pollution of the air and the seas is the gravest problem facing mankind…inevitably it must foster a vast proliferation of riot, crime, murder, poverty and starvation….Unless steps are taken today, I see our cities teeming with masses of jobless, homeless citizens, existing on government subsidies…our sources of food are waning,…our seas are dying,...our air is being poisoned…our mineral resources are being exploited far beyond the national replacement process….While I share the dread most people have of a nuclear holocaust, I deplore the fact that the same people ignore the rapidly growing dangers of overpopulation. There is still time to reverse the trend. With action. The alternative is that ‘Soylent Green’ will be more than a warning. It could become the epitaph for mankind’s gravestone.”
The leads shared his existential despair, with Heston opining at the time in the film’s press materials “No one in the story is terribly upset about the human condition at the time. Edward G. Robinson plays a character that laments the lost civilization but everybody else has a sad sense of acceptance…lethargy…nothing takes on any importance except food and miserable shelter. It’s a lethargy we don’t need now to avoid it then, if you know what I mean…we live in an era when group responsibility is the thing. Group responsibility and group guilt. In such a situation, then, the individual doesn’t have to take any action to bring about a better world or take action to preserve the good things in the one we’ve got.” Robinson added “[it] takes place in New York City in the year 2022 when man has been inhumane to nature and the population explosion has 41,000,000 people living on Manhattan. I play an old codger named Sol Roth, who happens to be a hangover from a better day. He saw this terrible plight coming on and he feels a sense of guilt that he hadn’t tried hard enough or shouted loudly enough to help prevent it.”
As Fleischer recounts in his memoirs, “Heston was already committed to play the lead, and we all wanted Robinson to portray his mentor/sidekick. But there were difficulties. One of them was his health. It was fragile. He was eighty, and he had cancer. [Robinson] wanted more than Metro was willing to pay. They offered him a lower fee, with a deferment for the remainder. Eddie’s answer to that was, ‘At my age, I’m not sure I’d be around to collect it.’…Acting was his life. He was happiest on a sound stage. Soylent Green was his salvation. He loved the script. It was not only a wonderful role in an important film, but, as he kept telling his wife, Jane, it was about something. He knew he was dying and he knew this would be his last picture, and he was happy.”
Heston told Fleischer, regarding Robinson’s stirring euthanasia scene, “As we played it out, I rose to his performance. When we finished, I thought ‘OK…if they want it better than that, they have to get another fella.” And as Heston added in his book The Actor’s Life “the film is very good, not least because of Eddie Robinson’s superb performance. He knew while we were shooting, though we did not, that he was terminally ill. He never missed an hour of work, nor was late to call…I’m still haunted, though, by the knowledge that the very last scene he played in the picture, which he knew was the last day’s acting he would ever do, was his death scene. I know now why I was so overwhelmingly moved playing it with him.”
LA GUERRE EST FINIE: A Political Movie in Popular Form
Wednesday, November 9th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
The following notes on Alain Resnais La guerre est finie were written by Pate Duncan, PhD Candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at UW-Madison. A new 4K restoration of La guerre est finie will screen at the Cinematheque on Friday, November 11, at 7 p.m. as part of our New French Restorations series. Admission is Free!
By Pate Duncan
Alain Resnais’ 1966 cut-up political thriller La guerre est finie, heretofore lacking the wide availability and hallowed reputation of his earlier works in the New Wave-era, is as playfully complex in form and radically political as any of his more infamous films. Straddling the border between France and Francoist Spain, the film finds its unstable center in Communist militant Diego (answering also to the aliases Carlos or Domingo, but always played by the authoritative Yves Montand) who, after a run-in with Spanish authorities at the border, becomes caught in a tangled web of political intrigue, left-wing extremism, and slipping identities. Along for the ride is his wife Marianne (played by the formidable Ingrid Thulin, known for her devastating work in the films of Ingmar Bergman), strained by her husband’s precarious vocation, yet devoted to him all the same. Throughout the film, Diego meets Nadine (a coquettish Geneviève Bujold), the daughter of a sympathetic militant who lends out his passport to members of the group, and her own cohort of young, increasingly violent radicals whose ideals clash with his own.
Alain Resnais’ intensely varied filmography, aligned with Left Bank compatriots Agnès Varda and Chris Marker, is known for its meticulous attention to form and confrontational political content. From the critique of colonial appropriations of African art in Statues Also Die (1953), his early short film with Chris Marker, to the landmark 1955 film Holocaust documentary Night and Fog (a film censored by the French government for its acknowledgement of French complicity in concentration camps), to Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and its poignant exploration of the bombing of its titular city and the global implications thereafter, Resnais’ political commitments are well-documented.
Less visible to audiences is his potential for levity and love for popular forms. Resnais, who almost always wore a signature red button-down shirt, had one of the largest private collections of comic books in France and, later in life, kept up a correspondence with Stan Lee (which nearly resulted in a collaborative film between the two about a monster made entirely of pollution). This persists in his filmmaking too; Le chant du styrene (1959) is a colorful documentary on the making of plastics, while Same Old Song (1997) is a jukebox musical in which actors incongruously burst into a few lines from popular French songs. Resnais’ political emphasis and formal exactitude do not negate his love for the popular, especially evident in the genre elements present in La guerre est finie.
From plot summary and a few individual scenes, La guerre est finie reads like many of the contemporaneous New Wave pictures that surround it. It has the nocturnal atmosphere of Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958), the group intrigue of Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us (1961), the topical political concerns of Jean-Luc Godard’s Le petit soldat (1963), and the analysis of leftist militancy seen in La Chinoise (1967), sharing with each of these a genuine engagement with genre film elements. What sets La guerre est finie apart from its counterparts, and indeed, from Resnais’ prior films, is its precise, dizzying form. Sharp attention to editing is a hallmark of all of Resnais’ films up to this period, but the radical intrusion of scene-disrupting editing in Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963) gives La guerre est finie its radical starting point.
The film opens on Diego’s driving along a bridge, a voiceover orienting the sequence somewhat obliquely, and then sees a montage of new, spatially distinct events before returning to the scene at hand. These radical intrusions persist throughout the film and, as David Bordwell points out, are cued neither as flashbacks nor as cross-cutting to simultaneous events, though later confirmed to be a series of anticipatory potential flashes forward in time. Disorientingly, these moments align the viewer with Diego’s imagining of how future events might unfold, creating a sense of canny game-playing and genuine suspense.
This lapidary construction is nothing new for Resnais, whose Last Year at Marienbad (1961) remains one of the great puzzle films of European art cinema. First-time viewers should not, however, mistake this formal complexity for a pretentious hostility towards spectators. You will get the hang of the editing structure, whose patterning never fully obscures the narrative at hand. Unlike Marienbad, this film grounds its flourishes in perhaps Resnais’s closest adherence to genre conventions up to this point, the espionage thrillers of Hitchcock feeling particularly instructive in Diego’s game of cat-and-mouse with authorities and growing unease with his own militant comrades. Following the New Wave tradition of Hollywood genre pastiche, Resnais’ masterful attention to form does not leave the viewer behind on its journey.
The film also includes a few audacious love scenes, developing off of Hiroshima Mon Amour’s similar attention to the human figure. One of these scenes diverts into complete abstraction, Diego and his lover enveloped in a blinding white light completely unmotivated by any realism in the scene. The other recalls Malle’s 1958 film The Lovers, whose frank sexuality made it the subject of the 1964 court case Jacobellis v. Ohio that gave us the famous adage, “I know it when I see it.” Though La guerre est finie never crosses borders into the obscene, its approach to sexuality is tasteful and contemplative in typical Resnais fashion.
La guerre est finie has, since its release, remained unfortunately relegated to minor status in Resnais’ filmography, depriving viewers of a rewarding experience and essential development in the auteur’s oeuvre. Fresh off of its appearance in the Cannes Classics section of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, the film is perfectly situated for a reappraisal among larger audiences, especially those looking for something both challenging and rewarding. Even for those new to Renais or art cinema, the film is still a treat, one of the filmmaker’s most accomplished works in a popular genre.
Just Added!: WOMEN TALKING Sneak Preview Screening
Friday, October 28th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
The Cinematheque has just added a special sneak preview screening of Sarah Polley's latest movie, Women Talking. The free screening will take place on Sunday, November 13, 7 p.m., in our regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall.
Acclaimed by critics and audiences at this year's New York, Toronto, and Telluride Film Festivals, Women Talking is the latest feature from writer-director Sarah Polley. The story centers on several generations of women in an isolated religious colony, who have gathered in a hayloft to discuss their future after a series of sexual assaults. Grappling with their faith after confronting reality, the women must decide between leaving their community or staying and fighting. An adaptation of a novel by celebrated writer Miriam Toews, who grew up in a Mennonite family, Women Talking puts the spotlight on several of contemporary cinema's finest actors: Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, and Ben Whishaw. This special free sneak preview is presented courtesy of Orion Releasing and Allied Global Marketing.
The Unsettling Audacity of SEVEN BEAUTIES
Thursday, October 27th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
These notes on Lina Wertmüller's Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze ) were written by John Bennett, UW Cinematheque Project Assistant and Programmer, and PhD Candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at UW Madison. A restored DCP of Seven Beauties will screen on Friday, October 28 at 7 p.m. in the Cinematheque's regular venue, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. Admission is free!
By John Bennett
Seven Beauties, the 1975 chef d’oeuvre of Italian auteur Lina Wertmüller, opens with a montage of World War II archival footage. The very first image of the film depicts Mussolini beaming as he warmly shakes hands with Hitler. The montage goes on to intercut images of the former strutting about his famous balcony and the later screaming into a microphone like a monstrous baby. Interspersed between them are images of plane crashes, building collapses, and fiery explosions. On the soundtrack, such images are not accompanied by, say, Barber’s Adagio for Strings or the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony or other such compositions that we have grown accustomed to hear as portentous anthems of the memory of war. Instead, we hear on the soundtrack the alt-rock strains of Enzo Jannacci’s “Quelli che…”, a song that is by turns mischievously playful, politically ambiguous, and strangely sad. There could be no better opening for Seven Beauties, a film that miraculously blends rebellious humor and ghastly horror to show one man’s frantic attempts to survive in a Europe torn apart by fascism and war.
This man is Pasqualino (brilliantly played by Giancarlo Giannini, Wertmüller’s expressive muse), a small time Neapolitan thug. When we first meet Pasqualino, he wanders though a dark and foggy German forest after having deserted the Italian army. He muses on a murder he committed in Naples—the victim being the man who coerced his older sister into prostitution—before he is apprehended by the German authorities. In the hell of a Nazi POW camp, Pasqualino determines that his best odds for survival involve seducing the icy, cruel female Commandant of the camp (Shirley Stoler, best known for her star turn in the cult classic The Honeymoon Killers (1970)) even as one fellow prisoner (Fernando Rey, fresh off several Buñuel collaborations as well as his villainous turn in The French Connection (1971)) whispers demoralizing aphorisms in his ear. Alternating back and forth in time, Seven Beauties charts Pasqualino’s prewar and postwar tribulations, relaying his desperate bids for survival in a milieu where human life is unspeakably cheap.
The major achievement of Seven Beauties is its ability to nimbly balance tones that are both exaggeratedly cartoonish and devastatingly grim. Wertmüller’s chief means of achieving this effect is through seesawing back and forth in time, intercutting two lines of action. In one, Pasqualino reckons with his crime and his sisters’ honor in the light and color of Naples; in the other, he games out how to best seduce the Commandant amid the unrelenting violence of the dim German camp. The presentation of two tonally disparate lines of action allows Wertmüller to cut from the prison scenes just as their darkness threatens to engulf the film, just as she can cut away from the Naples sequences right as they teeter on falling into farce.
Subtle stylistic choices help to enhance the incongruence of these tones. Wertmüller revels in the supreme expressiveness of eyes shot in close up. In the Naples sequences, Pasqualino’s eyes glimmer with lively fantasies of revenge against the man who compromised his family’s honor. The scene depicting his trial is remarkably devoid of dialogue; ardent looks of longing and regret shot in extreme close up propel the narrative better than sound could. In the POW camp, conversely, the extreme close ups reveal eyes in the throes of fatigue and fear, or, in the case of the Commandant, eyes betraying a terrible, indifferent cruelty. Wertmüller even makes Naples and Germany sound different: note how the film’s sound design gives Pasqualino’s shoes a comic squeak in Naples, a sound that is replaced by somber, echoing footsteps in the German prison. Similarly, the energetic chatter of Pasqualino’s sisters that dominates many of the Naples sequences yields to the repeated, mournful knell of a distant whistle somewhere outside of the infernal camp.
These two tones converge in the pivotal seduction scene between Pasqualino and the monstrous Commandant. The hot red lighting of a Naples cabaret and the steely gray of Germany converge into a sickly green light that washes over the office and cruel countenance of the Commandant. Pasqualino’s frantic movements as he desperately attempts to romance the Commandant have all the frenetic fleetness of his swaggering pre-war attitude and all the wide-eyed existential panic he experiences once thrust into the war. Indeed, this scene—dense with both humor and horror—serves as the keystone of this intricately architected film, synthesizing as it does Wertmüller’s preoccupation with honor, sex, power, and survival.
Audiences may be struck that Pasqualino lacks the traces of heroism or gallantry that we’re accustomed to seeing in war film protagonists. In fact, he often behaves nearly as violently and cruelly as his eventual German captors. From the outset of the film, Wertmüller takes pains to convey Pasqualino’s wily, less-than-honorable opportunism when we learn that he has pilfered bandages from a dead man in order to fake a war injury. He does little to redeem himself from there. In Naples, he violently manhandles his sister, Concettina (played by Wertmüller favorite Elena Fiore) and has no scruples about his mob connections. Later in the film, he professes a casual, unstudied admiration for Mussolini’s authoritarianism. Most disturbingly, he proves to be all too ready to commit sexual assault when he is held in an asylum after pleading insanity to lighten his sentence. With Pasqualino, Wertmüller and Giannini don’t attempt to present a sympathetic hero on whom we can pin our hope for humanity in times of crisis. Instead, they flesh out a psychologically complete character, however despicable he may be, in order to show how war profoundly transforms even the least noble among us. In Pasqualino’s final, weary gaze into the camera, we can see how a world of horrors wore down his wide-eyed, scrappy, rough-hewn swagger into something more unfathomably sad. Horrible people, Seven Beauties seems to argue, are not immune or inured to horrible events.
Seven Beauties is a rich, bold work in and of itself, but it also occupies a unique position in film history. Throughout the early 70s, Wertmüller had a hot streak with The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), and Swept Away (1974)—films whose sex-as-power narratives appealed to a movie-hungry intelligentsia with the tenets of second-wave feminism ringing in their ears. Her films were by no means met without controversy, but this very controversy helped to make her films buzzy theatrical events. By the time Seven Beauties was released internationally, Wertmüller was at the peak of her popularity; she earned the remarkable distinction of becoming the first female director to be nominated for a directing Oscar for Seven Beauties. In a testament to how large Wertmüller loomed in the 70s film scene, Laraine Newman even donned a pair of the director’s trademark white-framed glasses to parody her exuberant, exaggerated manner on an episode of Saturday Night Live. Nearly half a century later, Wertmüller’s work may not be as canonized as that of, say, Agnès Varda or Chantal Akerman, but that should not take away from her singularly playful, libidinous, unsettling, and audacious contributions to the art form.
SUSPIRIA: A Sublime Symphony of Light and Color
Wednesday, October 26th, 2022
Posted byJim Healy
These notes on Dario Argento's Suspiria were written by David Vanden Bossche, PhD candidate in the Department of Communication Arts at UW-Madison. A recently restored 4K DCP of Suspiria will screen at the Cinematheque's regular venue (4070 Vilas Hall, 821 UniversityAve) on Saturday, October 29, at 7 p.m. Admission is Free!
By David Vanden Bossche
When asked about the names of horror ‘auteurs’ – the director as ‘auteur’ obviously being derived from texts in Les Cahiers du Cinéma and the channeling of the same ideas into American film criticism by Andrew Sarris – many a horror fan will passionately disagree with critics or scholars, which means that the list of names that most anyone can agree on is rather short. Jacques Tourneur would be there for sure and so would Sam Raimi. One name that would pop up on everyone’s shortlist would definitely be that of Italian horror maestro ‘par excellence’ Dario Argento. If you were to follow up with a question about which of Argento’s films people hold in highest regard, there’s little doubt that Suspiria (1977) would win out. Forget the truly dismal recent remake by Luca Guadagnino – a film that tried so hard to infuse the source material with some kind of misguided ‘gravitas’ that it completely destroyed what makes this original so great – and grab a chance to see on the big screen why Suspiria still packs quite a punch, almost half a century after its initial release.
Dario Argento started his directing career in 1970 with L’Ucello dalle Piume di Cristallo/The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, one of the key early films in a genre that would become known as ‘Giallo’ films. The literal translation of that term is ‘Yellow’ and it referred to the color of the pages used for printing sensationalist crime stories in Italy at the time. While many different directors would shape the ‘Giallo’ genre in the seventies, Argento remained one of the most prolific amongst them with such titles as Il Gatto a Nove Code/The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971) and Tenebre/Unsane (1982). With Suspiria, Argento started a very different project that was conceptualized as a series of films that would deal with ‘the three mothers’ - three modern-day witches. Inferno from 1980 was the second part of this triptych, but it would take the Italian filmmaker 27 years to finally complete the trilogy in 2007 with La Terza Madre/The Third Mother. Of these three films, Suspiria is without any doubt the best and still remains one of the towering achievements of the European horror scene of its decade.
Radiating an almost suffocating atmosphere of dread from its first images – the arrival of a young girl in Germany during an especially ominous stormy night – the film tells the story of Sarah, a ballerina (Jessica Harper) who comes to study at a renowned dancing academy located in the woods of Badem-Württemberg in Germany. The student she meets at the door – fleeing the school in terror and turning up brutally murdered mere hours later – is but the first sign that things are not all well at the prestigious ‘Tanz Akademie’. It isn’t before long that Sarah starts realizing that the school harbors very dark secrets that are related to an ancient convent of witches. Setting up a striking contrast between the seemingly perfectly organized world of the school and the festering evil lurking within its walls, Argento goes all out in the kind of extreme baroque imagery that would become his signature in years to come. The term ‘horror-opera’ comes to mind when watching some of the exuberant murder scenes in Suspiria, scenes that completely refuse to adhere to any kind of verisimilitude and instead stylize the happenings to a point that renders them as almost abstract uses of shape, color and light. The latter element is one of Suspiria’s most distinguishing features, making prominent use of colored filters and gels that bathe some of the movies’ most memorable moments – the unforgettable finale chief among them – in pools of colored light.
As Mark Cousins and Barry Salt point out, this tendency in European cinematography (the French coined as ‘le cinema du look’) would heavily influence Hollywood style in the next decade and in the work of Argento, it finds some of its most striking use. Dario Argento had already used colored lighting to great effect in his much-admired Profondo Rosso/Deep Red (1975) but the way in which he and director of photography Luciano Tovoli here use the light as a strictly formal element – the equivalent of striking patches of paint that shape the aesthetic of such artists as Francis Bacon or Barrett Newman – is breathtaking. Tovoli would later work with Michelangelo Antonioni and Maurice Pialat (and again with Argento) before moving on to a career in Hollywood that saw him lens films for the likes of Julie Taymor and Barbet Schroeder.
Nearly fifty years after it started building its reputation as one of the finest horror films to come out of its decade, Suspiria is still a film able to baffle its audience with the daring way in which it pushes the envelope of extreme stylization. Throughout the film, there is a true sense of dread and foreboding of doom, but in retrospect one sees that none of this comes from the use of (the now fashionable) jump scares or extreme use of gory imagery (in a way the actual killings are restrained in their execution, albeit imaginatively weird and baroque). The real feeling of unease and dread is derived from strictly visual elements that give the film its unique tone of voice and rethink the concept of a horror film from a purely aesthetic angle. A notion of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s take on ‘the sublime’ creeps in here in the way the use of aesthetic and beauty can harbor the truly awe-inspiring just as much as the frightening, mesmerizing the beholder. Schopenhauer never had the chance to test his ideas against the aesthetics of cinema, but Suspiria surely holds up as a vivid illustration of this idea and still stands as a masterpiece within its genre – or any genre.