Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
I’m still walking around with a cough that I picked up in Park City, Utah, so at least for some of us the Sundance Film Festival is not yet entirely a thing of the past. For those still hoping to make some sense of this year’s festival, to figure out what the equation of the movies themselves and the media and industry response adds up to, Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed wrote a piece of startling clarity.
As she wrote, “Women are making movies, and some of this year’s were genuinely great .… Everyone is eager to say that they support women, that they’re listening to women, that it’s more urgent than ever to give work and equal pay to women in addition to assuring their safety. But when it comes to taking chances on women-directed work and seeing it as commercially viable, Sundance 2018 mostly felt like a long lesson in just how far we still have to go.”
In honor of Black History Month, the esteemed critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott of the New York Times compiled a list of 28 movies that convey the history of black Americans in the cinema.
It’s an exciting, surprising list that finds room to move from Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 “Within Our Gates” on through Ossie Davis’ 1970 “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” Charles Burnett’s 1977 “Killer of Sheep,” Kathleen Collins’ 1982 “Losing Ground,” Spike Lee’s 1992 “Malcolm X” and Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 “The Watermelon Woman.”
We should have some more screening events and Q&As to announce soon. For updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.
‘On Body and Soul’
One of the five films nominated for the foreign language Academy Award, the Hungarian film “On Body and Soul,” from writer-director Ildikó Enyedi, moves between nature, a slaughterhouse and a dreamworld where two lonely workers (Alexandra Borbély and Géza Morcsányi) struggle to connect.
In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan called the film “the most quietly mind-expanding, out-of-the-ordinary romance to appear in quite some time,” while adding “For lovers of the theatrical experience, the only sad note in all this is that in Los Angeles ‘On Body and Soul’ is only available on Netflix, the first time in memory a foreign-language film of this quality has not had even a token moviehouse playdate. Finally, however, we’re grateful to have something so memorable to experience, no matter what screen it’s on.”
Reviewing the film for the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw said, “The disconnect between mysterious dreamy visions of deer and gruesome scenes of cattle slaughter creates a space that the film utilizes .… They exist in tandem with those captivatingly romantic dream moments and the elegance and nobility of the deer. These imagined beasts are in a way the ‘soul’ of the film and the hacked-to-pieces cows the all too obviously carnal ‘body.’ And yet the blank horror of agribusiness dismemberment paradoxically refocuses the mind.”
Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, “A Ciambra” earned something of a surprise nomination for Jonas Carpignano for best director at the Spirit Awards. Set in a small town in Southern Italy, the film follows a 14-year-old boy (Pio Amato) navigating the world as he is torn between the demands of his rough family life and his desire for something else.
In her review for The Times, Sheri Linden said, “Carpignano immerses the viewer in Pio’s experience .… The director’s connection to his characters and setting is never in doubt. Whether the gathering is a raucous family supper, a solemn funeral procession, or a comic interplay among cursing, smoking kids, the movie is an act of discovery, spirited and unflinching.”
Writing for the Village Voice, Abbey Bender added, “‘A Ciambra’ is at its best when Carpignano captures the textures of everyday life, suggesting the neorealists with his use of nonprofessional actors and on-location shooting. The performers playing the Amatos are a real family (with even the same surname), and Carpignano gives us a close-up view of busy dinners and children teasing one another.”
Andrei Tarkovsky is a name that can put a chill through even the heartiest of arthouse adventurers. So it’s exciting that a number of his films have recently found their way back to theaters so that theatergoers can grapple with them anew, and a new generation can discover their spiritual inquiries are not as intimidating as they may first seem. Tarkovsky’s final film, 1986’s “The Sacrifice,” made in Sweden, has been released in a restored version. It is the story of a middle-aged man (Erland Josephson) reflecting on his life on the occasion of his birthday, while also fearing the impending threat of World War II.
In his original 1986 review for The Times, Kevin Thomas said of the film, “By the time ‘The Sacrifice’ comes full circle it emerges itself as a symbolic gesture of great emotional impact. We may share Alexander’s sense of impotence, but Tarkovsky turns such feelings into a work of art. In the face of despair, the ‘hope and confidence’ with which Tarkovsky dedicates his film to his own son, he makes ‘The Sacrifice’ a gift to us all.”
Richard Corliss wrote for Time magazine at the time, “To see ‘The Sacrifice’ after a junk-food diet of Hollywood movies is like ducking out of a carnival to visit a medieval crypt. You are pulled out of time and into a sacred stillness.”
Dennis Lim wrote about the film for The Times in 2011 and compared Tarkovsky’s spiritual interests to those of Terrence Malick, adding “More than most filmmakers, both have molded the language of cinema to their own ends. Their ultimate project — to find concrete expression for the spiritual — is perhaps a perverse one. It’s telling that they have inspired similar responses, a mix of cult-like reverence and hostile derision .… Both belong to the increasingly rare breed of artists who dare to think of art as a spiritual quest, who risk ridicule as they search for the sublime.”