Cutting-edge film criticism cuts with a double-edged sword. The relentless search for quality often discovers work off the beaten path of typical film distribution, or, more likely than not, without any distribution whatsoever. To read about an important film you can't see leads to sheer frustration. This series aims to remedy the situation. The editorial staff of Film Comment took a look through both the last year of the magazine and our notes from various festivals and screenings and made a selection of personal favorites and outstanding works that never got the exposure they deserved. A few of them, like Alan Rudolph's Investigating Sex, have been featured in the magazine's Distributor Wanted column. Many of the others come from discoveries made at Cannes, Venice, Sundance, and beyond. The second week of the series consists of a special Focus on New Japanese Cinema, featuring New York premieres of work by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, and a number of other new voices. (For an in-depth examination of the topic, see the special pull-out section of the Jan/Feb issue, “High and Low—New Japanese Cinema: A User's Guide.”) Over the course of this two-week series audiences will finally get a chance to enjoy some of the hard-to-see idiosyncratic gems Film Comment raves about.

Sandrine Veysset, France, 2001; 97m
Revisiting the fertile terrain of provincial working-class miserablism first explored in her haunting debut, Will It Snow for Christmas?, Sandrine Veysset confirms her status as a major talent with an uncompromisingly bleak vision. A highlight of last year's Cannes Directors' Fortnight, this harrowing film, haunted by the specters of mental illness, trauma, and infanticide, depicts the downward spiral of a woman living just above poverty level with her husband and little girl. Valérie Donzelli gives a no-holds-barred performance as Martha, a woman who's her own worst enemy.

Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 1999; 81m
There's a strong feeling of gamesmanship in To's thrillers, and it finds full expression in this revisionist genre film—an action movie that is essentially motionless, and that emphasizes in-depth characterization alongside crowd-pleasing setpieces. The plot deals with a group of bodyguards hired to protect a Triad godfather whose life is threatened by an internecine conspiracy. In its central setpiece is a stunning sequence inside a shopping mall as it closes down for the night, building an atmosphere of airy suspense. A cerebral action film that is as fine as -and by virtue of its purity of “stillness in action” perhaps even surpasses—anything from Jean-Pierre Melville or John Woo. —Stephen Teo, “Hong Kong Journal,” Film Comment, Nov-Dec 2000

Alan Rudolph, USA, 2001; 107m
In the late 1920s a group of Surrealist artists and thinkers (including Dermot Mulroney, Alan Cumming, and Jeremy Davies) assemble in the mansion of a crackpot tycoon (Nick Nolte) to compile an objective and clinical study of male sexuality, their sessions recorded by two female stenographers (Neve Campbell and Robin Tunney). The action is loosely inspired by the “Surrealist Research” surveys conducted by André Breton, and along with The Moderns and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, this makes a trilogy of Alan Rudolph films about intellectual groups of the 20s. But this being a Rudolph movie, the clinical survey soon gives way to the director's specialty: bumpy, messy romance, buoyed by Rudolph's trademark giddily crafted dialogue, with rapid-fire exchanges that approach screwball comedy. One of the most enjoyable movies of the year and still seeking distribution. —Robert Horton, “Distributor Wanted,” Film Comment, Nov-Dec 2001

Claire Denis, France, 2001; 100m
The director of Beau travail returns with a unique contemporary take on the vampire film that's guaranteed to polarize audiences. Vincent Gallo and Tricia Vessey are American honeymooners in Paris. Spending his time searching for an old colleague, he is neglecting his new bride. It turns out that Dr. Semeneau is living in obscurity to protect his wife (Béatrice Dalle), who, despite being kept under lock and key by her husband (Alex Déscas), keeps slipping away to indulge an unhealthy appetite. Pushing the sexual dimension of the vampire myth to truly harrowing levels, Denis's film is a model of unsettling atmosphere, slow, deliberate buildup and narrative economy.

Christopher Münch, U.S., 2001; 94m
Frances (Jacqueline Bisset, in a very moving performance), who's dying of cancer, suddenly feels the need to see the baby girl she gave up for adoption long ago. Rebecca (Martha Plimpton), a grown woman with an Ivy League affect and a sharp business sense that she wears like a shell, leaves New York to visit her adoptive parents in Boston and then travels to Baton Rouge to preside over the acquisition of a small radio station. Bob (Seymour Cassel) wants to make himself whole by reuniting with Frances, his former lover, reincorporating himself into her life. Filmmaker Christopher Münch lets his three principal characters slowly achieve a painful insight: the past never dies, but it's also never to be repeated.

Michael Haneke, France/Austria, 2001; 130m
Based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek and set in contemporary Vienna, THE PIANO TEACHER tells a harrowing story of sex, fascism, and the ties that bind and sometimes throttle. Isabelle Huppert plays the title character, a frustrated fortysomething musician who still lives with her mother and becomes involved with a cocky young piano student. Deviant sexuality is the order of the day as Erika debases herself in porno emporiums and casual sex encounters. It's a spot-on vision of female masochism that proceeds to address larger ideas of societal cruelty. Huppert's stunning performance won the best actress award at the 54th Cannes Film Festival.

Image Innovators

Curated by Mark McElhatten and Gavin Smith

The Entity

Outer Space

Dream Work Peter Tscherkassky

Dream Work

Forever Mine

Sidney J. Furie, USA, 1982; 125m
showing with
Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 1999; 14m
Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2001; 10m
In this special event, two optically printed CinemaScope found-footage films by experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky, both highlights of recent NYFF Views from the Avant-Garde programs, are presented for the first time with the little-known feature that provided the source material. Starring Barbara Hershey, veteran director Sidney J. Furie's truly disturbing high-concept shocker sparked controversy and protests upon its original release. Here's horror movie authority David Pirie's original review: “Perhaps any movie with such a wretched central idea (woman sexually assaulted by an invisible demon), supposedly based on fact or not, deserved the feminist picket-line which attended its screenings. But for reasons that may be fortuitous, THE ENTITY doesn't emerge quite as one-dimensionally nasty as its synopsis suggests. The film's men are uniformly creepy, and its heroine so strong and sympathetic, that, apart from a couple of unpleasant moments, the story seems less like horror than feminist parable, especially when Hershey (giving a fine performance) is reduced to a laboratory subject with her home recreated in the psychology department.”

Paul Schrader, USA, 2000; 115m
Denied a commercial release when its production company went bankrupt, Paul Schrader's FOREVER MINE had its premiere on Starz Encore television. The Sirkian story of one man's (Joseph Fiennes) fated, obsessive love for a corrupt politician's wife (Ray Liotta, corrupt politician; Gretchen Mol, wife) here appears as it was meant to be seen, projected and in Cinemascope. According to Film Comment contributor Howard Hampton, FOREVER MINE is what would happen if the terrorists of La Chinoise took over American Movie Classics and programmed it according to the slogans of Chairman Sirk instead of Chairman Mao: 'Give All For Love.'

Film Comment Selects Focus on New Japanese Cinema

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 1999; 95m
A post-industrial landscape contains wind-borne plant spores deadly to anyone over the age of 29. A young boy fades in and out of reality, both literally and figuratively. A ten-year-old message in a bottle is discovered near a skeleton on a beach. These are a few of the keys to the puzzle that is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film, a prime example of the director's penchant for exploring near-future dystopias. The 47-year-old Kurosawa has made an enormous body of work, most of which is impossible to see. And with titles like Agonized Addict to Letters: Miso-Flavored Dictionary of Hell, our imaginations are reeling. —Chuck Stephens, “Another Green World,” Film Comment, Jul-Aug 2001

Makoto Shinozaki, Japan, 2000; 120m

Heihachi, Ito and Kijima are forgotten men in contemporary Japanese society—WWII veterans who go through every day remembering the horrors they suffered so long ago. As they face the infirmities of age and the looming shadow of death, they're suddenly blindsided by a new, alien threat: a cult called Utopia, in which young people are recruited to bilk old people out of their money through a subtle form of humiliation and terror. So the old soldiers valiantly band together one last time and give everyone something to remember them by. Makoto Shinozaki's supremely lucid film is by turns funny, touching and terrifying, and manages a penetrating look at modern Japan through the eyes of both its rootless youth and its sadly ignored elderly population.
– Kent Jones

Hideo Nakata, Japan, 1998; 95m
A megahit that spawned multiple sequels, RING is to “J-horror” what The Exorcist was to American cinema's 1970s horror boom. Fusing the traditional ghost story with Cronenberg's Videodrome and emphasizing atmosphere and dread over gore and atrocity, its bewilderingly complex plot circles around the ultimate anti-piracy device: a mysterious videotape that kills anyone who watches it. Look out for the Hollywood remake starring Mulholland Drive's Naomi Watts. —Alvin Lu, “Ghost in the Machine,” Film Comment, Jan-Feb 2001

Takeshi Miike, Japan, 2001; 129m
Japan's reigning chaoticist, the prolific Takeshi Miike (Audition; Dead or Alive) returns with his newest underworld bodice grinder. “There's enough love in your violence,” quips Ichi's antihero, an albino sado-masochist with a crocodile grin and a passion for lavender leatherwear, played by Gohatto's Tadanobu Asano. He's surely not talking about his director, who never shies from impassioned closeups of battered hookers or oil-boiled flesh. Those who've resisted the nauseating pleasures of Miike's cinema thus far—waiting, perhaps, for him to grow up—have been looking in the wrong direction: the lower this bowel-jerking dervish goes, the better he gets. —Chuck Stephens, Vancouver Film Festival Report, Film Comment, Nov-Dec 2001

Nobuhiro Suwa, Japan, 2001; 111m
Nobuhiro Suwa's film features Suwa himself, Béatrice Dalle, and the film's entire cast and crew playing themselves unsuccessfully attempting to remake Hiroshima mon amour. Dalle becomes involved with one of the film's supporting actors, and together they drift through the non-memory-scape of contemporary Hiroshima and its people's quest for an expression of the inexpressible. A masterpiece of wistful disruption. —Olaf Möller, new New Wave Japanese cinema, Film Comment, Jan-Feb 2001

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2001; 118m
A computer geek has gone missing. Perhaps he's killed himself; perhaps he lives on as a mysterious dark stain on a living room wall. His colleagues search through piles of floppy discs left behind and unwittingly unleash Pulse, the cryptic force behind Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest low-tech/high-science/zero-budget extravaganza. Shadowy Internet ghosts are seeping out of their hardware to wreak havoc in the flesh-and-blood realm. There's talk of the relationship between computer memory and the afterlife. Where does data go when all the hard drives are full? What happens when your “file” is erased?

Akihiko Shiota, Japan, 2001; 129m
Shiota, a former assistant director to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, depicts the life of a 13-year-old student with a missing father, a destitute mother, and a former teacher/lover exiled to a distant town for obvious reasons. She finds a like-minded group of compatriots, briefly gets it together, but finally abandons herself to violence and estrangement. The exquisite camera style turns mundane daily routine into fatalistic ritual; and the film's insistence on keeping the young lead in a state of perpetual emotional distance is especially poignant. One of the gems of the 2001 Venice Film Festival. —Chris Chang, Venice Film Festival report, Film Comment, Sept-Oct 2001