News to Me: Claire Denis, Mike Leigh, and Nathan Fielder
Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu, 2020)
1. We kick things off this week with some (almost) in-house news, FC publishers Film at Lincoln Center making two big announcements. The first brings word of the new NYFF leadership, with Eugene Hernandez named as Director of the festival and Dennis Lim as Director of Programming. The two will work together “on a number of innovations to the selection process and structure of the festival,” with the expanded selection committee to be announced in spring. The second big announcement is the lineup for this year’s New Directors/New Films festival, which includes Rotterdam’s top-prize-winner The Cloud in Her Room, among others.
2. Claire Denis’ next film, The Stars at Noon, was recently picked up by A24 for a North American release. The film sees Denis reunite with High Life star Robert Pattinson to adapt Denis Johnson’s novel of the same name, the story of an English businessman (Pattinson) and American journalist (Margaret Qualley) who fall in love during the Nicaraguan Revolution. “They soon become embroiled in a dangerous labyrinth of lies and conspiracies and are forced to try and escape the country, with only each other to trust and rely on,” writes Deadline. (Denis had said previously that she hoped to work with Pattinson again and again—this Film Comment Podcast offers a good example of their chemistry.)
3. Another new film, another novel adaptation: Leto director Kirill Serebrennikov is teaming up with the producer of Wasp Network to tell the story of Josef Mengele’s years in hiding. The Nazi doctor found refuge in South America in the aftermath of World War II, and the film follows his travels from Paraguay to the Brazillian jungle as he slowly comes to terms with his crimes. Serebrennikov, who was placed on house arrest in 2017 for “fraud” (more likely the Russian government’s girdling of artistic freedoms), is currently in post-production on his forthcoming Petrov’s Flu, a film “about a flu-ridden family of nobodies in post-Soviet Russia, who live out their ordinary days with extraordinary secrets.”
4. “We’re now at a point where the Forum has to re-examine the story of its success, as success can easily gallop off again . . . Putting on midnight screenings hardly makes any sense today, as that type of rare, culturally charged cinema doesn’t exist anymore. How and where films are seen and thought about has changed massively.” As the 70th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival kicks off, its parallel sidebar, the Forum, also celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founded to “advance the development process of the medium of film and make new functions of film within society visible,” MUBI Notebook has posted a roundtable with Forum programmers new and old, discussing how the event has evolved over the years.
5. On the topic of Berlinale, keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for podcasts and interviews from the festival. Jordan Cronk prepared something of a primer, taking stock of the various sea changes taking place within the festival itself—a new director (Carlo Chatrian), new programming team, new vision, and new sections. “We invited some films knowing that they may not please everyone,” Chatrian told Cronk. “But we never chose in favor or against one film in order to state a difference from the past.” The Film Stage has compiled a list of all the most notable films set to debut, with trailers for Cristi Puiu’s Malmkrog, Abel Ferrara’s Siberia, and Christian Petzold’s Undine.
6. Wes Anderson has begun rolling out his next film, The French Dispatch, starring all the usual suspects. The film follows the weekly doings of a fictional, New Yorker-inspired magazine, and looks to be split into chapters: Bill Murray as an emotionless editor-in-chief modelled on Harold Ross, TNY’s founding editor; Benicio del Toro as a straightjacketed artist and Léa Seydoux as his prison guard; and Timothée Chalamet as a May ’68 protester. TNY has posted a preview/rundown of all these inspirations, with the film’s trailer available here.
7. For The New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith goes long on the work of Kara Walker, honing in on her unique vision of American history. “Walker’s particular mode of engaging with our attention spans—her visual and conceptual provocations—have often caused furor . . . For when it comes to the ruins of history, Walker neither simply represents nor reclaims. Instead she eroticizes, aestheticizes, fetishizes, and dramatizes. With the consequence that she is accused of an unnecessary or inappropriate cultivation of the grotesque, of a prurient interest: ‘salaciousness.’” A short video on one of Walker’s works referenced in the essay, Fons Americanus—“a piece about oceans and seas, traversed fatally; an allegory of the black Atlantic”—is available via Tate.
8. In an unexpected (but not unwelcome) collaboration, the brothers Safdie and entrepreneurial savant Nathan Fielder are teaming up to produce a half-hour comedy series for Showtime. The Curse, co-starring Fielder and Benny Safdie, will function as a show within a show: exploring how an “alleged curse” disrupts the relationship of a newly married couple who are the focus of the reality television series “Filanthropy.” Tending more towards Fielder’s style of protracted awkwardness, Deadline writes that the project will go ahead with the Safdies as executive producers, but not as directors, which they had initially pitched.
9. Two more new projects on the horizon, both from the British Isles: Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisheer will see the Irish writer-director re-team with In Bruges duo Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, “two lifelong friends who find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship.” Filming is set to begin this summer, with Film4 financing the film. Film4 is also involved with Mike Leigh’s next film, a yet unnamed project set to begin shooting this year. After a perfectly amiable (but not so financially viable) collaboration with Amazon, the director will collaborate once again with Cornerstone Films (no doubt looking to pitch internationally at Berlin’s European Film Market). Bleecker Street has taken up U.S. distribution, their first time working with Leigh.
10. In the aftermath of Parasite’s historic Oscar win, David Hudson at Criterion has compiled a list of critical responses, from the Times’s morning-after debrief to Adam Nayman’s prognostication: “imitators are inevitable, and duplication is doubtful.” (Since publishing, one other noteworthy critic has weighed in.) At Another Gaze, Rebecca Liu writes on the film’s class politics (and how confused they have become in the overlong mainstream-ification of its Palme to Oscar glory): “In the West, rising anticapitalist sentiment continues to be articulated in a world shaped by postwar liberalism, an ideology that celebrated the self-possessed individual by moulding the world through the strength of their convictions, reasoned debate, and wilful actions. Attempts at structural critique, then, are often filtered through these individualist categories of agency and complicity, and consequently defanged.”
We leave you this week with the 7-minute-long trailer for Khalik Allah’s forthcoming film, I Walk On Water. In the video’s description, Allah writes: “But yo, this film, with the title, IWOW, is for niggas that’s sinister. Not all truth is square. Every angle that’s right isn’t an Angel; that’s the criteria of the selection of my editing. An agency of Seraphic host edited through me mentally carefully. Channeling, working high as the Elohim on this project for only 6 months. The kid with the JanSport sustained by the Love of God.”