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Posts Tagged ‘Emin Alper’

In October, I submitted a festival report on the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (mostly about the Wavelengths section) to the online journal Offscreen, and the editor, Donato Totaro, was kind enough to accept it. The new issue just went up and you can read my article there.

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If anything, lists — which were already beginning to matter in the ’50s and ’60s (via Sarris’s The American Cinema, for example) — are even more important today because of the widening of many choices (as well as the narrowing of certain others, such as the choices made today by Turner Classic Movies and the various studio divisions who release box sets devoted to Old Hollywood versus the wealth of what used to be shown on network TV, albeit with commercial interruptions and other nuisances that may or may not be operative now).
— Jonathan Rosenbaum

As the title suggests, I didn’t get out to the theaters much this year, in large part because there seemed to be so few worthwhile movies playing in Hangzhou — especially when you compared what was shown in multiplexes with what you could get on video. To be sure, there were a couple exceptions, but even as much as I enjoyed The Grandmaster and Gravity, neither film was as interesting to me as my ten clandestine favorites listed below. (I haven’t seen the state-sanitized version of Django Unchained that opened here in the spring shortly after the integral version became available on DVD, and I’ve yet to catch up with Cloud Atlas in any form.) To make matters worse, on those rare occasions when I did venture outside of my apartment to see a movie, it was almost invariably a video projection rather than a 35mm print.

Two notable exceptions were Loin du Vietnam (1967) and Sans soleil (1983), which I saw at the Hong Kong Arts Center in May during their Chris Marker retrospective. But as wonderful as those films are, the single most euphoric moviegoing experience I had all year — and one that’s more representative of the times we live in — was seeing Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959) the same week at the Hong Kong Film Archives, where it was projected digitally. Having previously seen the film several times on DVD, I already knew that there was a lot of humor in it, but it wasn’t until I saw the movie with a large, engaged audience that I realized just how funny it really is. None of the new films I saw this year were as pleasurable as that great movie, but there was still plenty to see if you were willing to compromise. Indeed, there are still a great many films that I haven’t had time to watch, though I don’t think this fact in any way diminishes the stature of my ten favorites, all of which I can recommend without reservation.

1 Modest Reception (Mani Haghighi) A pair of affluent Tehranis drive through a war zone handing out bags of cash to the impoverished locals, though it’s hard to say whether this is charity or a cruel joke. As the movie only gradually reveals who the characters really are and what they’re up to (they tell a different story to everyone they meet), we have to constantly reassess how we feel about them.

2 Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) Freud said that we go to the movies to watch our parents have sex but it’s even more fun when they get into an argument about how Mom is subtly being oppressed by Dad. In the 18 years since Before Sunrise (1995), Linklater has evolved from an amiable independent with a causal approach to story construction into a first-rate dramatist.

3 Beyond the Hill (Emin Alper) A kind of Turkish Western about a divided family coming together to fight a common enemy, this could almost be a film by John Ford or Anthony Mann except for the terse, elliptical storytelling that takes its time revealing information about the characters and leaves a slew of unanswered questions.

4 Tabu (Miguel Gomes) Taking its title from F.W. Murnau’s tale of the South Seas, this three-part narrative about the legacy of European colonialism is more than just a tribute to a great film. Each of its stories is fascinating in its own right, but taken together, they add up to something more than the sum of their parts.

5 Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas) The experience of watching this movie, which consists of a series of loosely related, non-sequential vignettes, is a bit like trying to assemble an Ikea furniture set without the instructions. Some people may find this frustrating, but personally I was excited by the challenge.

6 Betrayal (Kirill Sebrennikov) An ordinary man learns that his wife is having an affair and the shock seems to throw the entire universe out of whack. While most narrative films give one the comforting impression that everything happens for a reason, this enigmatic marital drama is disquieting precisely because its plot doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

7 La Cinquième saison (Peter Brosen and Jessica Woodworth) Unsettling and hilarious in roughly equal measure, this apocalyptic parable about the unraveling of a tightly knit farming community is so spare and economical that it’s an implicit rebuke of the flabbiness of most features.

8 The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson) Anderson’s next film is to be an adaptation of Inherent Vice (2009), but after this monumental curiosity about a weirdo sailor getting wasted on darkroom chemicals and cavorting with an orgy-loving prophet, an official Thomas Pynchon adaptation seems rather superfluous.

9 Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu) Based on actual events documented in two nonfiction books and shot in a dispassionate long take style, this absorbing convent drama purports to be an impartial account, thereby obscuring how artfully Mungiu has shaped the facts of the case into a coherent narrative.

10 Here, Then (Mao Mao) More than most films, this inscrutable Chinese art movie contrasting the lives of disenfranchised hick teenagers and bored yuppies feels like the work of a director consciously testing the limits of how much information he can withhold from viewers without alienating them completely.

Some other movies I can recommend — nearly all of which I’ve written about on this blog already — are Behind the Candelabra, 5 Broken Cameras, La Folie Almayer, Holy Motors, Keep the Lights On, Mud, Neighboring Sounds, No, Paradise: Love, Searching for Sugar Man, Silver Linings Playbook, Starlet, To the Wonder, Voice of My Father, and Wreck-It Ralph.

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Not to be confused with the new Cristian Mungiu film Beyond the Hills, Emin Alper’s Beyond the Hill (Tepenin Ardı) (also 2012) is a kind of Turkish Western about a divided family coming together to fight a common enemy. The family patriarch, Faik (Tamer Levent), lives in the countryside on an isolated farm, and during a visit from his two sons and their families, fault lines begin to emerge within the clan. The eldest son, Nusret (Reha Özcan), is a professor of literature who lives a comfortable life in the city, in contrast with his brother, Mehmet (Mehmet Ozgur), a heavy drinker who spends half the year on the farm helping his father — though Faik is equally disappointed in both of them. Meanwhile, the old man is involved in a turf war with some gypsies who’ve been grazing their goats on his land since the time of the Ottoman Empire. This could almost be a film by John Ford or Anthony Mann except for the spare, elliptical storytelling, which takes its time revealing information about the characters and leaves a number of unanswered questions.

The movie begins by aligning us with Faik in his dispute with the gypsies and then complicates our identification with him without ever quite overturning it. In the film’s opening sequence, an unseen attacker (possibly a gypsy) thrashes some saplings with a stick, though it’s only much later that we learn his probable motive. Accordingly, it seems that Faik is a good man defending his property against a band of savages until Mehmet’s wife, Meryem (Banu Fotocan), reveals to Nusret that Faik beat a shepherd and took one of his goats a few days earlier when he caught the man trespassing on his land. What’s more, our certainty in the gypsies’ guilt is undermined when Mehmet — who’s also angry with Faik for snatching his goats — takes his revenge on what’s left of the saplings. Later in the movie, there are three separate shootings, but as they all occur off camera, we can’t be sure if it was a gypsy or a member of the family who pulled the trigger, leaving open the possibility that the family is responsible for all the violence in the story. Beautifully framed in ‘Scope and full of unresolved ambiguities, this is the kind of Western that Michelangelo Antonioni might’ve made.

A much gentler family drama, Yoji Yamada’s Tokyo Family (2013) begins with a teenage boy coming home from school to find that his mother has moved his desk into his little brother’s room, and when he asks her what’s going on, she tells him that his grandparents are coming to stay with them for a short visit. Shot for shot and line for line, this sequence duplicates an early scene in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), but it’s already apparent that this isn’t simply going to be a carbon copy of the original. For starters, Yoji eliminates the opening scenes in Onomichi introducing the grandparents, Shukichi (played here by Isao Hashimuza) and Tomiko (Kazuo Yoshiyuki), and reduces the number of children they have from five to three. But while none of Yoji’s changes to the story strike me as improvements, it’s worth comparing this film with Ozu’s as it demonstrates how two movies can be very similar, and at the same time, fundamentally different.

The most significant change Yoji makes is to revive the grandparents’ third child, Shoji (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who in Ozu’s film was killed during the war. Yoji makes him a struggling set designer who Shukichi regards as a failure, and in doing so, he subtly shifts the story’s overall emphasis. Where the earlier movie judged the children according to how they treated their parents during their trip, this film is primarily about Shukichi coming to accept his son’s mildly unconventional lifestyle. Accordingly, Noriko (Yo Aoi) is Shoji’s girlfriend rather than his widow and she has a very different function in the narrative. In the original, it was Noriko who went out of her way to accommodate the grandparents during their trip (something none of their biological children were willing to do), but here it’s Shoji who picks up the slack. However, it’s only after meeting Noriko that Tomiko can die in peace, knowing that Shoji has a good woman to look after him. Consequently, even though it includes the sort of emotional deathbed scenes that Ozu elided, this film is generally lighter and more optimistic than the original. To be sure, this isn’t a great movie like Tokyo Story, but the comparison makes it more interesting than it would be viewed in isolation.

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