Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019, Canada/Norway, Kathleen Hepburn / Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers)

In reference to the cinema of 2019, Girish wrote: "I’ve seen no better new film this year than the Canadian drama The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open, directed by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn." 

Almost a year later, I emphatically second Girish's words. I have not seen a better film this year than The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Had I seen this last year, it would have definitely been competing with Zacharias Kunuk's One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk for my favourite film of 2019. However, I am delighted to have seen this film in 2020 because the global pause in cinema allowed me the time and space to fully appreciate this film.

The technical aspects of the film are excellent and pure immersive cinema. But it is the film’s treatment and perspective that stood out. As Girish points out:

“We well know how the history of cinema has time and again subordinated and short-changed women’s experiences at the expense of men’s stories. This is an injustice that is only multiplied in the case of Indigenous women. Even on that score alone, The Body Remembers is an invaluable work because its protagonists (and players) are both First Nations women.”

The film goes beyond the conventional newspaper articles about abuse. Majority of those articles don’t give a voice to the victim or properly cover their story but instead reduce things to a statistic (an exception being Robyn Doolittle’s Unfounded series). This is where Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ film stands out. By depicting events in real time, and keeping the aggressor off-screen, they highlight abuse from the everyday complex decisions that impact people trapped in such relationships. How does one decide enough is enough? How does help arrive? And if one decides they want to change things, who do they turn to, what are the steps they need to take? Cinema never covers such questions. Instead, we get films that either focus on the violence or revenge/redemption. Real life is hardly tidy when it comes to dealing with this complex issue.

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
is an essential film that deserves to be seen as many people as possible.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

The New York Times Book of Movies

The New York Times Book of Movies: The Essential 1,000 Films to See
selected by Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, Edited by Wallace Schroeder

I am usually wary of “essential films” or “best movies of all time” lists because they are mostly stacked with Hollywood movies and ignore world cinema. However, I had some hopes with the 2019 edition of the NY Times Book of Movies because Manohla Dargis and A.O Scott had selected the list and figured that more world cinema would be included. It is clear from the selections that the two have injected some recent world cinema films but despite these inclusions, the overall global cinema tally still falls short of a proper list. Of course, the two make it clear in the introduction of the book’s purpose:

“But given the sheer plenitude and the limits of one volume, The New York Times Book of Movies: The Essential 1,000 Films to See” is a suggested starting point rather than a comprehensive list. It is also an unapologetically subjective collection. Even the most casual movie fan will quickly notice missing favorites and puzzling inclusions. This is to be expected in an anthology that covers so much history. But the point of a book like this one is to encourage conversations and maybe even provoke debates, rather than to establish an indisputable canon.”

The two of them make it clear that this is a “subjective collection” as one can expect from such lists. Even those who certify to establish a canon of the best movies ever made are governed by subjective tastes no matter how much they argue that their list is objective in nature.

Of the 1000 film reviews included in the book, 678 (67.8%) of the selections are American movies with the rest of the world accounting for 322 films (32.2)%. Out of the world titles, this book predictably follows the trend of including mostly Western European films with 98 French titles (including some co-productions), 52 from Britain, 37 Italian films and 18 German films. Japan is the only non-European country to have titles in double digits with 18 entries. Argentina, Canada, Chile, Portugal and South Korea manage only one entry. All of South America has just 4 films in total, the same as all of Africa. India and Iran only manage 4 titles each. 

Although, I am certain in future editions, South Korea’s count would increase to include Parasite (2019).

Top 10 Country films:

USA: 678 films
France: 98
Britain: 52
Italy: 37
Germany: 18
Japan: 18
Sweden: 13
Mexico: 7
Spain: 7
Taiwan: 7

Note: In the book, Edward Yang’s Yi Yi was marked under China but I have moved that under Taiwan.

Here are some breakdowns from regional perspective:

North America (USA, Canada, Mexico, Cuba): 688 films, 68.8%
Europe: 250 films, 25%
Asia: 50 films, 5%
Africa: 4 films, 0.4%
Oceania (Australia + New Zealand): 4 films, 0.4%
South America: 4 films, 0.4%

Total of North America + Europe: 938 films or 93.8%

That means the rest of the world including South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania only account for 62 films or 6.2% of the total films.
In one way, the world film selections do follow a predictable distribution/theatrical release problem.  Even though hundreds of films are made around the world and shown at international film festivals, those film reviews were not included if the films didn’t open in NY cinemas. Now, even if some of those films did open in a NY cinema, they may not have been seen by the NY Times critics. Case in point, Indian Cinema, which is a glaring omission from this book similar to contemporary North American end-of-the-year cinema lists or weekly reviews. Even though Indian films have been opening regularly in American cinemas from the late 1990s, there are zero Indian films included in this list after 1988, following the negative bias that North American critics have shown towards Indian cinema. For most North American critics, Indian cinema started and ended with Satyajit Ray. That bias is found in this book with 3 of the 4 included Indian films directed by Satyajit Ray. Other North American critics may now include Rithik Gwatak and Guru Dutt but that is apparently the extent of what Indian cinema represents in North America.

I haven’t categorized how many female directors or person of colour directors were included in this list but that is a future task. Also, from the appendix it appears that in earlier editions, the best 10 films from each year were selected and included in the book.

“It should also be noted that not every 10 best choice is included in the book’s 1,000 reviews. Some have been displaced by other titles that from a current critical vantage point seem more important.“

The change from the top list format has clearly resulted in the inclusion of some global entries.

Ultimately, what this book emphatically highlights is that we need diverse voices representing cinema not only critically but also from a historical perspective. This way, we have a chance of worthy cinema from around the world being catalogued so it isn’t forgotten. I appreciate the efforts of Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott to shift the dial slightly from previous editions of these book series to inject a few more global films but it still isn’t enough. Much work still needs to be done in future editions if this series is meant to be an accurate reflection of essential movies.

Here are the non-American titles included in the book:

Argentina (1 film):

Zama (2018)

Australia (3):

Gallipoli (1981)
Max Max: Fury Road (2015)
Sweetie (1989)

Belgium (2):

L’Enfant (2006)
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Brazil (2):

Black Orpheus (1959)
Pixote (1981)

Britain (52):

The Angry Silence (1960)
Barry Landon (1975)
Black Narcissus (1947)
Darling (1965)
The Dresser (1983)
The Duelists (1978)
Frenzy (1972)
Georgy Girl (1966)
The Go-Between (1971)
Hamlet (1948)
Heartland (1981)
Heat and Dust (1983)
Henry V (1946)
High Hopes (1988)
Hope and Glory (1987)
I Know Where I’m Going (1947)
The Ipcress File (1965)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1950)
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1945)
Life is Sweet (1991)
Local Hero (1983)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
The Long Day Closes (1993)
Look Back in Anger (1959)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Mona Lisa (1986)
Moonlighting (1982)
My Beautiful Laundrette (1986)
My Left Foot (1989)
Odd Man Out (1947)
Oliver Twist (1951)
Quadrophenia (1979)
The Red Shoes (1948)
Replusion (1965)
Richard III (1956)
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961)
Secret and Lies (1996)
The Servant (1963)
The Shooting Party (1985)
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Stairway to Heaven (1946)
The Stars Look Down (1941)
Stevie (1981)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971)
A Taste of Honey (1961)
The Third Man (1950)
This Sporting Life (1963)
Trainspotting (1996)
Walking and Talking (1996)
The War Game (1966)
Women in Love (1970)

Canada (1): 

Atanarjuat (2002)

Chile (1):

No (2013)

China (6):

Farewell My Concubine (1993)
Ju Dou (1990)
Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
The Story of Qui Ju (1992)
To Live (1994)
A Touch of Sin (2013)

Cuba (2):

I am Cuba (1964)
Memories of Underdevelopment (1973)

Czech Republic (3):

Daisies (1966)
Loves of a Blonde (1966)
The Shop of Main Street (1966)

Denmark (2): in the book, Babette’s Feast is incorrectly marked under France.

The Celebration (1998)
Babette’s Feast (1987)

France (98): in the book, there are 100 films for France but I have moved Babette’s Feast under Denmark and In Jackson Heights to be under USA.

A Nous, La Liberte (1932)
L’Age d’Or (1930)
Amour (2012)
L’Argent (1983)
Army of Shadows (1969)
L’Atalante (1934)
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)
Au Revoir Les Enfants (1988)
The Baker’s Wife (1940)
Le Beau Mariage (1982)
Beauty and the Beast (1947)
Bed and Board (1971)
Belle de Jour (1968)
Bob le Flambeur (1955)
Le Boucher (1970)
Breathless (1961)
The Bridge Wore Black (1968)
La Ceremonie (1996)
La Chienne (1931)
Chloe in the Afternoon (1972)
Chocolat (1988)
Claire’s Knee (1971)
Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962)
The Clockmaker (1973)
Contempt (1964)
The Cousins (1959)
Danton (1983)
Day for Night (1973)
Diabolique (1955)
The Diary of a Country Priest (1950)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
Diva (1982)
The Dreamlife of Angels (1998)
The Earrings of Madame De (1954)
L’enfance Nue (1968)
Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)
Entre Nous (1983)
Every Man for Himself (1980)
Faces Places (2017)
La Femme Infidele (1969)
Forbidden Games (1952)
The 400 Blows (1959)
Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978)
The Gleaners and I (2001)
Grand Ilusion (1938)
A Grin Without a Cat (1977)
Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1960)
Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie (1988)
I’m Going Home (2001)
Le Jolie Mai (1966)
The Judge and the Assassin (1982)
Jules and Jim (1962)
Lacombe, Lucien (1974)
The Last Metro (1980)
Last Tango in Paris (1973)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1961)
Lola Montes (1968)
Love on the Run (1979)
The Lovers (1959)
The Main Who Loved Women (1977)
Mayerling (1937)
Menage (1986)
Mon Oncle d’Amerique (1980)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1954)
Murmur of the Heart (1971)
My Night at Maud’s (1969)
My Uncle (1958)
La Nuit de Varennes (1983)
Orpheus (1950)
Out 1 (1970)
Playtime (1967)
Red (1994)
The Return of Martin Guerre (1983)
Rififi (1956)
‘Round Midnight (1986)
The Rules of the Game (1950)
Shoah (1985)
Shoot the Piano Player (1962)
The Silent World (1956)
Stolen Kisses (1969)
The Story of Adele H (1975)
Story of Women (1989)
Summer (1986)
Summer Hours (2008)
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
This Man Must Die (1970)
Topkapi (1964)
Two English Girls (1972)
The Two of Us (1968)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Violette (1978)
The Wages of Fear (1955
Weekend (1968)
The Well-digger’s Daughter (1946)
White Material (2010)
The Wild Child (1970)
Wild Reeds (1994)
Z (1969)

Finland (1):

The Match Factory Girl (1990)

Germany (18):

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)
The American Friend (1977)
Berlin Alexanderplatz (1983)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921)
Effi Briest (1977)
Europa, Europa (1991)
Fitzcarraldo (1982)
The Goalie’s Anxiety a the Penalty Kick (1977)
Heimat (1985)
Lola (1982)
M (1931)
The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)
Metropolis (1927)
Stroszek (1977)
The Third Generation (1979)
The Tin Drum (1980)
Toni Erdmann (2016)
The Wings of Desire (1988)

Greece (1):

Never on Sunday (1960)

Hong Kong (6):

Boat People (1983)
Election (2007)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Infernal Affairs (2003)
The Killer (1991)
2046 (2005)

Hungary (3):

Love (1973)
My 20th Century (1990)
Satantango (1994)

India (4):

Distant Thunder (1973)
Pather Panchali (1958)
Salaam Bombay! (1988)
The World of Apu (1959)

Iran (4):

And Life Goes On (1992)
Close-Up (1990)
A Moment of Innocence (1999)
Taste of Cherry (1997)

Israel (1):

Footnote (2012)

Italy (37):

Amarcord (1974)
L’Avventura (1961)
The Battle of Algiers (1965)
The Bicycle Thief (1949)
The Big Deal on Madonna Street (1960)
The Conformist (1970)
The Damned (1969)
Dark Eyes (1987)
Death in Venice (1971)
Divorce-Italian Style (1962)
La Dolce Vita (1961)
81/2 (1963)
Fellini Satyricon (1970)
Fist in His Pocket (1968)
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971)
General della Rovere (1960)
Germany Year Zero (1949)
Gomorrah (2009)
Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
Lamerica (1994)
The Leopard (1963)
Mamma Roma (1962)
Marriage-Italian Style (1964)
1900 (1977)
Open City (1946)
Ossessione (1942)
Paisan (1948)
Rocco and His Brothers (1960)
Seven Beauties (1976)
Shoeshine (1947)
La Strada (1956)
Swept Away (By and unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August ) (1975)
La Terra Trema (1947)
The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1979)
Two Women (1961)
Umberto D. (1955)
Voyage to Italy (1955)

Japan (18):

The Family Game (1984)
Gate of Hell (1954)
A Geisha (1978)
High and Low (1963)
Ikiru (1952)
Kagemusha (1980)
Pigs and Battleships (1961)
Ran (1985)
Rashomon (1951)
Sanjuro (1963)
Sansho the Bailiff (1969)
The Seven Samurai (1956)
Spirited Away (2002)
Throne of Blood (1961)
Tokyo Story (1952)
Ugetsu (1954)
Woman in the Dunes (1964)
Yojimbo (1962)

Mauritania (1):

Timbuktu (2015)

Mexico (7):

Amores Perros (2000)
The Exterminating Angel (1967)
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Los Olvidados (1950)
Roma (2018)
Viridiana (1962)
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)

New Zealand (1):

Smash Palace (1982)

Philippines (2):

Manila in the Claws of Light (1975)
Norte, the End of History (2014)

Poland (3):

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)
The Decalogue (2000)
Knife in the Water (1963)

Portugal (1):

Mysteries of Lisbon (2011)

Romania (2):

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2008)

Russia (6):

Alexander Nevsky (1939)
Andrei Rublev (1973)
Battleship Potemkin (1926)
The Cranes Are Flying (1960)
Little Vera (1988)
Russian Ark (2002)

Senegal (3):

Black Girl (1966)
Guelwaar (1993)
Touki-Bouki (1973)

South Korea (1):

Poetry (2011)

Spain (7):

All About My Mother (1999)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
Talk to Her (2002)
Tristana (1970)
Volver (2006)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Sweden (13):

Cries and Whispers (1972)
Face to Face (1976)
Fanny and Alexander (1983)
The Magic Flute (1975)
Monika (1952)
My Life as a Dog (1987)
The Passion of Anna (1970)
Persona (1967)
Scenes from a Marriage (1974)
The Seventh Seal (1958)
The Silence (1964)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1956)
Wild Strawberries (1959)

Switzerland (1):

The Sorrow and the Pity (1971)

Taiwan (7): in the book, Yi Yi is marked under China

A Brighter Summer Day (1991)
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
The Puppermaster (1993)
The River (1993)
Three Times (2006)
Vive L’Amour (1995)
Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

Thailand (1):

Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his past lives (2011)