EASTERN ELEGY (Aleksandr Sokurov, 1996)

Gorgeously photographed by Aleksei Fyodorov, Aleksandr Sokurov’s Vostochnaya elegiya—gray, muted green, eerily slightly out of focus—is a dream of death, perhaps the dream of a dream. Low constant wind suggests the echo of a sound which is vaguely recollected. Faint music; distant bursts of song. Sokurov is the dreamer, a gently inquisitive wanderer who finds […]

THE 400 MILLION (Joris Ivens, John Ferno, 1938-39)

The 1937 Japanese invasion of Manchuria provides the background for Joris Ivens’s film, begun in 1938, documenting one of the few aspects of resistance where the Chinese, the “four hundred million” of the title, prevailed against their aggressors. Narrated by Fredric March, it was financed by March, Dudley Nichols, who had written the commentary that […]

HIP HIP HURRA[H]! (Kjell Grede, 1987)

Painters are a tortured lot—and when they are sculptors, too: hopeless! One of the loveliest, most lyrical films about painters and art, specifically, about Denmark’s Norwegian-born Søren Krøyer (Stellan Skarsgård, magnificent), a Scandinavian icon, Swedish writer-director Kjell Grede’s Hip Hip Hurra! focuses on the community of artists to which Krøyer belonged in the late nineteenth […]

MESSIDOR (Alain Tanner, 1978)

Referencing the crime spree of two French teenaged girls, writer-director Alain Tanner’s dark, corrosive Messidor begins with an aerial tour whose gaze shifts upwards—to the soprano accompaniment of a Schubert song. Freedom; aspiration. Cut to Earth. Marie Corrençon, an 18-year-old Moudon shop clerk, looks out her window onto the street, the camera behind her; down […]

THE BANISHMENT (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2007)

In Andrei Zvyagintsev’s suspenseful Izgnanie, from Armenian-American William Saroyan’s 1953 novel The Laughing Matter, there’s an overhead shot of five children, seated on a living-room floor, working together on an enormous jigsaw puzzle. Feverishly busy, their hands rush to complete the puzzle, which has a religious theme. While they are at work, a kitten slowly […]

DON’T TOUCH THE AXE (Jacques Rivette, 2007)

“The Duchess of Langeais is my mistress!”      Armand, the Marquis of Montriveau, is being premature when he announces this in solitude to whatever is keeping score. Indeed, he will never have Antoinette, who is married, and whose future cloistered marriage will be with Jesus Christ. Beginning in 1823, Armand is obsessed; for him, the consummation […]