News to Me: Berlinale, Mati Diop, and Céline Sciamma
There Is No Evil (Mohammad Rasoulof, 2020)
1. The Berlin International Film Festival has announced this year’s award-winners, with Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil taking home the Golden Bear for Best Film. Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always won the Grand Jury Prize (Hittman will be present to discuss the film for one of our upcoming FC talks), with other winners including Hong Sangsoo for Best Director, Undine’s Paula Beer for Best Actress, and Hidden Away’s Elio Germano for Best Actor. For more on these films, check out one of our many Berlinale dispatch podcasts, including this interview with Undine director Christian Petzold. In further awards news, Lincoln Center recently held its ceremony for Emerging Artists, during which Film Lincoln Center celebrated the burgeoning career of Akosua Adoma Owusu. With her most recent film, White Afro, winning awards at the Locarno Film Festival and elsewhere last year, Owusu’s next project—announced in a short pre-award video—will mark her first foray into feature-length filmmaking. (One of Owusu’s short films, Intermittent Delight, is available for free thanks to the Freewaves archive.)
2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire director Céline Sciamma has given two insightful interviews of late. For Vox, Sciamma names her film a “manifesto about the female gaze,” and speaks of her responsibility to carve out new narratives and images of sorority. She continues this line of thought for The Independent, referring to her choice to make the film (almost) man free: “I wanted to use the tools of cinema so you would feel patriarchy without actually having to embody it with an antagonist.” (As an aside: at the recent César Awards, where the film won Best Cinematography, lead actress Adèle Haenel left in protest after Roman Polanski was named Best Director, yelling “Bravo pedophilia!” on her way out. Haenel had recently spoken about being abused on set at age 12.)
3. With the announcement of Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch coming last week, it’s worth revisiting this essay from novelist Michal Chabon (originally written as the introduction for Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection). In it, Chabon makes two comparisons through which we might better understand Anderson’s work. The first is to Vladimir Nabokov’s miniature epics of family sorrow, referring to the “paradoxical power” of the scale model as that which intensifies “our experience of brokenness and loss by compressing them.” The second is to the boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell. As with these two artists, Chabon writes, Anderson’s films “understand and demonstrate the magic of art . . . [which is] honest only to the degree that it builds its precise and inescapable box around its maker’s x:y scale version of the world.”
4. Cahiers du cinema’s entire editorial staff resigned last week, citing “an immediate conflict of interest problem” between the magazine and its new owners. We reported a few weeks back that Cahiers had been bought out by “twenty cinephiles” with radical plans for the magazine—chief among them the want to make Cahiers “chic” again. In a press release, the outgoing editors note that many of these new owners are themselves film producers, or otherwise “business people close to power”—a position at odds with the magazine’s founding principles. (The editors make a point of mentioning François Truffaut’s famous 1954 essay, “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” which asks, “What then is the value of an anti-bourgeois cinema made by the bourgeois for the bourgeois?” Their position might aptly be categorized by replacing “cinema” with “criticism.”)
5. Staying somewhat Cahiers adjacent, Paul Grivas has made Film Catastrophe available for free online (the password is just below the video). The film responds directly to Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme—for which Grivas served as co-cinematographer—revisiting footage from the making-of (a rare insight into Godard’s working style) and adding civilian-shot footage from the Costa Concordia, which tragically sank in 2012. The critic Pascale Cassagnau writes that Film Catastrophe “inhabits the interstices” of Film Socialisme, drawing forth “its own theoretical narratives about images” and “the mise en abyme of cinema by photography” while challenging Godard’s ideas of political ruination.
6. “The kind of intellectual attracted to Godard’s cinema has often remained uninterested in Karina, beyond the superficial planes of her face. In the catalogue of the National Library of France, there are 152 critical studies taking on his work, and seem to be none devoted to Karina. In the books on Godard, she is featured exclusively during his so-called Karina Years, disappearing after their last collaboration.” For The Paris Review, Madison Mainwaring writes on the elusive legacy of Anna Karina, who passed away late last year. In an effort to undo this prevailing Godard-centricity, Spectacle will be showcasing a series on the Danish-born actress—“deep cuts only”—hoping to “further illustrate Anna Karina’s worldwide reach and international stardom.”
7. Only a few months after Cronenberg decried that “Netflix is the future,” negotiations between the two parties to produce a mini-series based on Cronenberg’s 2014 novel Consumed have officially stalled. In an interview with The Playlist, Cronenberg stated that Netflix have passed on multiple script ideas, and that he would be shopping them elsewhere in the near future. He is also hard at work on a “very personal” film script, but no further details were given. Though he maintains hope for an eventual adaptation of Consumed, the director seemed a little burnt out, referring to the ordeal as a “long, difficult process even in the era of streaming . . . You’re accumulating possible investors, people lose interest, more investors. You talk to maybe Canal+ or a broadcaster, and you wait, and you hope.”
8. After the breakout success of Atlantics (covered extensively in these hallowed pages), Michael Sicinski at Criterion looks back at the early work Mati Diop. (All five of her shorts are now streaming on the Criterion Channel.) Covering both A Thousand Suns, Diop’s 45-minute documentary on her uncle Djibril Diop Mambéty’s film Touki Bouki, and Atlantiques, the shorter, more experimental precursor to Atlantics, Sicinski writes: “Diop’s cinema is riven with contradictions that she is too intelligent an artist to resolve with reassuring images of ‘homeland’ or ‘development’ . . . These are films that speak to a primal loss but also take that unsteady ground as the foundation for new, tentative identities. Within this landscape, ‘home’ is an unreachable ideal.”
9. “Dušan Makavejev, Cinema Unbound” is screening at Anthology Film Archives until the end of the week, the director’s “first major North American retrospective in 25 years.” Makavejev, who passed away last year (the series marks the one-year anniversary of his death), was a proponent of the Yugoslavian “Black Wave” film movement, which spanned the late 1960s and early ’70s. For 4Columns, Sukhdev Sandhu writes that this moniker—“so refusenik, so nihilist”—was actually the label of Yugoslavian authorities, “a pejorative term for films they regarded as anarchic, as cultural viruses, imaginative pornography.” Categorizing the director as a “merry, sagacious prankster,” Sandhu writes that, “with all Makavejev’s films, melancholia must wrestle with mirth. There’s an ongoing tension between the sadness of everything and a joy formidable.”
10. Another 4Columns piece left unmentioned last week (blame their rare film-column double-up, which also brought us Andrew Chan on Vitalina Varela): Melissa Anderson covered the still-screening MoMA series, “It’s All in Me: Black Heroines.” Anderson singles out Angela Bassett as the “perhaps the biggest star” in the series, writing that watching Bassett “negotiate her character’s various selves reveals a performer exquisitely balancing still-searing shame and rage with hard-won self-regard.” Black Heroines continues to run until the end of the week, with Nice Coloured Girls, Support the Girls, and Jackie Brown still to play.
And on the topic of Black Heroines, we leave you this week with a film by Sara Gómez, De Cierta Manera (1974), a docu-fiction hybrid that examines the poorer neighbourhoods of Havana following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.