RED DESERT (1964)

RED DESERT (1964)

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RED DESERT | Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni | 1964 | 117 min
Presented in Italian with English subtitles

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960's panoramas of contemporary alienation were decade-defining artistic events, and Red Desert, his first colour film, is perhaps his most epochal. This provocative look at the spiritual desolation of the technological age—about a disaffected woman, brilliantly portrayed by Antonioni muse Monica Vitti, wandering through a bleak industrial landscape beset by power plants and environmental toxins, and tentatively flirting with her husband’s coworker, played by Richard Harris—continues to keep viewers spellbound. With one startling, painterly composition after another—of abandoned fishing cottages, electrical towers, looming docked ships—Red Desert creates a nearly apocalyptic image of its time, and confirms Antonioni as cinema’s preeminent poet of the modern age. – the Criterion Collection

Awards
1964 VENICE FILM FESTIVAL - WINNER (FIPRESCI Prize | Michelangelo Antonioni, Golden Lion | Michelangelo Antonioni, New Cinema Award, Best Film | Michelangelo Antonioni) 
1965 NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS - 2ND PLACE (NYFCC Award, Best Foreign Language Film | Italy)
1965 GOLDEN GOBLETS, ITALY - WINNER (Golden Cup | Angelo Rizzoli , Golden Goblet | Best Actress, Monica Vitti)
1965 ITALIAN NATIONAL SYNDICATE OF FILM JOURNALISTS  - WINNER (Silver Ribbon, Best Cinematography, Color | Carlo Di Palma), NOMINATED (Silver Ribbon, Best Director | Michelangelo Antonioni, Best Score | Giovanni Fusco) 
1967 KANSAS CITY FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS - WINNER (KCFCC Award | Best Foreign Film)

Red Desert is the first work in our FOCUS: LANDSCAPES series.

WALKABOUT (1971)

WALKABOUT (1971)

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WALKABOUT | Dir. Nicolas Roeg | 1971 | 100 min

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960's panoramas of contemporary alienation were decade-defining artistic events, and Red Desert, his first colour film, is perhaps his most epochal. This provocative look at the spiritual desolation of the technological age—about a disaffected woman, brilliantly portrayed by Antonioni muse Monica Vitti, wandering through a bleak industrial landscape beset by power plants and environmental toxins, and tentatively flirting with her husband’s coworker, played by Richard Harris—continues to keep viewers spellbound. With one startling, painterly composition after another—of abandoned fishing cottages, electrical towers, looming docked ships—Red Desert creates a nearly apocalyptic image of its time, and confirms Antonioni as cinema’s preeminent poet of the modern age. – the Criterion Collection

Awards
1971 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL - NOMINATION (Palme d'Or | Nicolas Roeg)

Walkabout is the second title in our FOCUS: LANDSCAPES series.

BADLANDS (1973)

BADLANDS (1973)

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BADLANDS | Dir. Terrence Malick | 1974 | 94 min

The time is late summer at the end of the 1950's and the place a small, placid town in South Dakota. The streets are lined with oak and maple trees in full leaf. The lawns are so neat, so close-cropped, they look crew-cut. Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen) is twenty-five, a garbage collector who fancies his cowboy boots and his faint resemblance to James Dean. Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) is fifteen. Until she meets Kit, she hasn't much interest in anything except her dog and her baton, which she practices twirling in her front yard.

In Terrence Malick's cool, sometimes brilliant, always ferociously American film, Badlands, which marks Malick's debut as a director, Kit and Holly take an all-American joyride across the upper Middle West, at the end of which more than half a dozen people have been shot to death by Kit, usually at point-blank range.

Badlands was presented twice at Alice Tully Hall Saturday night, the closing feature of the 11th New York Film Festival that began so auspiciously with François Truffaut's Day for Night. In between there were a lot of other films, good and bad, but none as provocative as this first feature by Malick, a twenty-nine-year-old former Rhodes Scholar and philosophy student whose only other film credit is as the author of the screenplay for last year's nicely idiosyncratic Pocket Money.

Badlands was inspired by the short, bloody saga of Charles Starkweather who, at age nineteen, in January, 1958, with the apparent cooperation of his fourteen-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, went off on a murder spree that resulted in ten victims. Starkweather was later executed in the electric chair and Miss Fugate given life imprisonment.

Badlands inevitably invites comparisons with three other important American films, Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde and Fritz Lang's Fury and You Only Live Once, but it has a very different vision of violence and death. Malick spends no great amount of time invoking Freud to explain the behavior of Kit and Holly, nor is there any Depression to be held ultimately responsible. Society is, if anything, benign.  READ MORE - The New York Times
*Originally published: October 15, 1973

Awards
1975 BAFTA AWARDS - NOMINATION (BAFTA Film Award, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles | Sissy Spacek)
1974 SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - (Golden Seashell | Terrence Malick, Prize San Sebastián, Best Actor | Martin Sheen)
1993 USA FILM PRESERVATION BOARD - WINNER (National Film Registry)

Badlands is the third selection in our FOCUS: LANDSCAPES series.

I AM CUBA (1964)

I AM CUBA (1964)

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I AM CUBA | Dir. Mikhail Kalatozov | 1964 | 108 min
Presented in Spanish and English, with English subtitles where appropriate

There is a shot near the beginning of I Am Cuba that is one of the most astonishing I have ever seen. Reflect that it was made in 1964, long before the days of lightweight cameras and Steadicams, and the shot is almost impossible to explain.

It begins on a rooftop deck of a luxury hotel in pre-Castro Havana. A beauty pageant is in progress. The camera sinuously winds its way past bathing beauties, and then moves over the edge of the deck and descends vertically, apparently floating, down three or four stories to another deck, this one with a swimming pool. The camera approaches a bar, and then follows a waitress as she delivers a drink to some tourists, after which one of the tourists stands up and walks into the pool - and the camera follows her, so that the shot ends with the camera actually underwater.

As nearly as I can tell, this is all done in one unbroken take. How it was done, I have no idea. It is interesting not only for its technical skill, but also because it betrays a certain interest in la dolce vita that is not entirely in keeping with the movie's revolutionary, agitprop stance.

I Am Cuba is an anti-American propaganda film, made as a Cuban-Soviet co-production, that has been snatched from oblivion, restored, and released in the United States as a presentation of Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola. Since the film's prediction of a brave new world under Fidel Castro has not resulted in a utopia for Cubans, who suffer under one of the world's most dismal bureaucracies, the film today seems naive and dated - but fascinating.

The Soviets fielded a first-class team of advisers to help in the production. The script was co-authored by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, then the USSR's poetic superstar, and Enrique Pineda Barnet, a Cuban novelist. It was directed by the veteran Russian filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov, then 61, whose The Cranes are Flying (1957) had won the Palme d'Or at Cannes a few years earlier. That film featured spectacular camera techniques, but they are upstaged by his opener in I Am Cuba and by some of the other sequences, which owe much to Fellini's influential La Dolce Vita (1960).

The movie is didactic in the best tradition of Socialist Realism. First, it shows Cuba groaning under the yoke of Yankee imperialism. Then it shows resistance, by brave farmers and heroic students. Finally, there is the appearance of a great revolutionary hero, a bearded man of the people who fights in the hills, is sheltered by peasants and represents Fidel Castro.

The anti- American content is handled in a nightclub scene, where gum-chewing Yankees ogle the prostitutes, and one amateur anthropologist announces, "I'd like to see where these women live." Against her better judgment, a girl takes the man home to her shack, where he offends her by offering to buy her crucifix. Worse, they are discovered by her fiancé, a humble fruit peddler, who believed she was a virgin. This sequence, heavy on schmaltz, nevertheless has a real poignancy.

The film is not done with Americans. We see drunken American sailors chasing women through the streets, and follow the story of a hard-working peasant whose lands and home are snatched by the United Fruit Co. Rather than surrender his cane fields, he sets them afire.

Then we see the resistance: students agitating the change, including one who mimeographs propaganda pamphlets and then is shot dead, his body covered in a snow of the revolutionary sheets.

Kalatozov's fancy shots are not limited to the opening extravaganza. There is a sequence later in the film that begins with the streets filling with demonstrators and then seemingly floats, in an unbroken take, into a high-rise cigar factory. His technique seems somewhat at odds with his purpose (you won't find shots like these in Italian neo-realism), but then the movie itself alternates between lyricism and propaganda. Along with the scenes of evil Yankees and brave Castroites, there are astonishing helicopter shots of Cuban landscapes, and poetry and prose are read on the soundtrack (Columbus is quoted: "This is the most beautiful land ever seen by human eyes").

The movie, now in limited distribution before a video release, is of course dated in its politics. Even its depravities and imperialist Yankee misbehavior seem quaint. But as an example of lyrical black and white filmmaking, it is still stunning. If you see it, try to figure out how the camera floated down that wall. - Roger Ebert

 

Awards
1996 FILM INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS - NOMINATION (Independent Spirit Award, Best Foreign Film | Mikhail Kalatozov, Soviet Union) 
1996 NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS AWARDS, USA - WINNER (Archival Award)
2007 SOCIETY OF CAMERA OPERATORS - WINNER (Historical Shot | Alexander Calzatti)

I am Cuba is the final selection in our FOCUS: LANDSCAPES series.

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

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IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE | Dir. Wong Kar-Wai | 2000 | 98 min
Presented in
Cantonese, Shanghainese, French, and Spanish with English subtitles

When it comes to cinema, gentleness - very probably a virtue - is certainly a relief. We are now so used to characters parading their behaviour extrovertly, ideas which bludgeon us with their obviousness, and cameras which move with neurotic frenzy that it is uplifting to witness a story which unfolds in peace and quiet.And quietness, by the way, doesn't mean bland.

What we have here is a beautifully-tailored, low key (but always dramatic) story by Wong Kar-Wai (all of whose films have won awards, including Best Director at Cannes for Happy Together), which details the developing relationship between a young man and woman, both of whose spouses, they eventually learn, are cheating on them. As they are drawn together, initially by a pleasant, warm formality, and eventually by much deeper feelings in a cultural climate where respectability is crucial, they do their utmost to hide their small moves from those around them.

In fact, Wong Kar-Wai - a most intelligent, thoughtful director - only ever has the two key characters in close up so that we absorb the essence of the relationship, and the film. A true master of visual storytelling, he makes close ups of a hand knocking on a door, mustard being placed on a plate, and a quick blink of an eye entirely relevant to the picture's emotional core. Both Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are at one with the director's desire for performances which rely on nuance, and they powerfully express that guilty mix of tension and desire. - BBC Films

 

Awards (with 44 Wins and 43 Nominations, see the whole list here)
2000 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL - WINNER (Best Actor| Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Technical Grand Prize | Christopher Doyle, Ping Bin Lee, William Chang), NOMINATION (Palme d'Or | Wong Kar-Wai) 
2001 BAFTA AWARDS - WINNER (BAFTA Film Award, Best Film not in the English Language | Wong Kar-Wai) 
2001 GRAND PRIX DE L'UCC - WINNER (Grand Prix de l'UCC)
2001 HONG KONG FILM CRITICS SOCIETY AWARDS - WINNER (Film of Merit, HKFCS Award, Best Director | Wong Kar-Wai)
2001 NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS - WINNER (NYFCC Award, Best Cinematographer | Christopher Doyle, Ping Bin Lee, and Best Foreign Language Film, Hong Kong/France)

In the Mood for Love is the first work in our MASTERS: Wong Kar-Wai series.