Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 2014 and it's been a month, not bad actually but rather trying in terms of (once again) health issues. The beginning of April saw a spate of medical appointments, and everything's checked out: the problems resulting from my kidney stone have all abated. But then, i got this cold which seems to be going around, and it seems to linger, three weeks now!

However, back to the movies. In the last month, there haven't been as many screenings as in the past two months. For one reason, most of the screenings were connected to the Tribeca Film Festival, but it's been three years since i've attended the Tribeca Film Festival, so i have no idea how the festival has been developing. During the times when i got to go to the Tribeca Film Festival, there were always a few notable foreign films which somehow had fallen through the cracks, films from China or Thailand or Iran, but that doesn't seem to be the case now. There were always a lot of documentaries, and evidently the documentary section remains quite strong. 

One subgenre in the documentary field that seems to be flourishing is the art documentary. Some that i've seen recently include "Breaking the Frame" (about Carolee Schneemann), "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton", "20,000 Days on Earth" (about Nick Cave), Tacita Dean's "JG", "Visions of Mary Frank", "Sol LeWitt", and "Llyn Foulkes One Man Band". One documentary which played at Tribeca that garnered attention was "Regarding Susan Sontag". (Evidently, Robert De Niro Jr. has finished the documentary he's been working on about his father, and it's supposed to air soon on HBO.) The question with these films is whether or not they make the creative impulse comprehensible, if they find a way to create a cinematic equivalent for the creative act.

One film which i finally got to see was Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida"; it's rather a surprising film, since i'm familiar with Pawlikowski's previous feature films, "Last Resort", "My Summer of Love" and "Woman In the Fifth". Pawlikowski's family emigrated from Poland to England when he was fourteen; he attended university in England, where he studied film, and then worked in documentary before making his first feature film, "The Stringer", in 1999 (it's the only one of his feature films i haven't seen). But "Ida" is a taut, highly concentrated study of a young novice who is required to spend time with her family before she takes her final vows: her family turns out to be an aunt she doesn't know. The film is in black-and-white, it's set in Poland in the 1960s, and it deals with the repercussions of the Polish treatment of the Jews during World War II. It's quite a resonant and haunting film, bracingly unsentimental, and with flashes of humor. 

Seeing "Ida" after seeing films from Rendez-vous With French Cinema, New Directors/New Films, and The Art of the Real, it reminded me of two things: 1) films have always been quite seductive in terms of bringing specific cultures to us, and the strength of "Ida" is in the details of Polish society which are presented; 2) many films are made in a post-nationalist context, in which filmmakers find stories in other cultures. Pawlikowski had been developing a career in Great Britain, but "Woman In the Fifth" (which is the least successful of his films) indicated that he was looking beyond Britain (it's set in Paris), and now he's made a film in Poland (where he was born) which has proven to be his most impressive film to date.

But the question of nuance, of the specific details which provide the impetus for a film, is as important in documentary as in fiction, and too often, these are being eroded. "Ida" shows how engrossing a film so enveloped in nuance can be.


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