Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)

2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
It only seems apt that the two directorial achievements that most impressed me over the last decade are my final two picks of the countdown.  

I have long been interested in the idea of an aesthetic that captures the real with methods that are precise and  formal.  It's a difficult balance to strike as many films aiming for something more formal usually end up distancing themselves from reality.  Meanwhile, films that want to feel real will often end up sacrificing a formal system for something more intimate and immediate.   

When I saw Mungiu's film, I was shocked at how well he was able to achieve this balance as I describe it above.  His film is one of the most technically complex films I have ever seen.  Yet, somehow he is able to insert this approach into something that always feels incredibly real and alive.  

I guess we can chalk it up to many things: acting, writing, production design, lighting, and cinematography.  In other words, filmmaking.  It seems that everything must be working in great harmony for Mungiu to achieve this result.  

All I can say is I can't think of a more harrowing scene than the negotiation with the "doctor".  Nor can I think of a scene more rife with tension than when Otilia and Adi attend the birthday party.  This is filmmaking of the highest order.  Brave, emotional, and one of the most remarkable achievements I can remember seeing in a very long time.      

Other contenders for 2007: From this year, I still have some things to see.  These include:  Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton, Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress, Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth, Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe, and Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako. At some point, I need to revisit Joe Wright's Atonement as I did struggle with it a little the one time I saw it.  But I do really like The Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, Grant Gee's Joy Division, Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises.  I love Tina Mascara and Guido Santi's Chris & Don. A Love Story.  And my closest runner-up is Garth Jennings' Son of Rambow.  

12/22/10 I watched Aaron Katz's Quiet City.  Light and sweet, Katz has heart, and it shows.  I don't find his writing as interesting as Bujalski's, nor his ability to capture nuance and awkwardness as skilled as Bujalski's talents.  But Katz has some of David Gordon Green's feeling for sound/image and creates a couple of tremendous moments here. The scene of the four young adults dancing at the house party might be my favorite scene all year.  I look forward to seeing more of Katz.  It's works like this one that continue to keep me interested in mumblecore and somewhat optimistic about micro-budget filmmaking.  

12/23/10 I watched Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin'.  Some interesting subtext about Americans and their relationship to the outside world.  But the filmmaking all felt a bit sloppy, overlong, and haphazard.  

1/6/10 I watched Andrew Dominik's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  There's much to recommend here, even though a strong emotional connection is not one of them.  Deakins and Cave both do some brilliant work, and Deakins' blurry effect is particularly noteworthy.  Probably most noteworthy though is Casey Affleck.  It's an incredibly interesting performance that makes me think we might see some extraordinary work from him in the very near future. The length of this one is probably my biggest problem with it, although its emotional distance can make it somewhat frustrating, as well.  

1/31/11 I watched Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress.  Breillat does sex and shock very well, but both of these run their course after awhile if the depth and humanity aren't there.  I like some of Breillat's work a good bit, but this one hardly connected at all with me. 

2/6/11 I watched Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton.  It's in the vein of some of my favorite films, The Insider and All the President's Men.  The script here is exceptional, and Clooney is wonderful in the part.  Elswit also shoots with great care and precision.  I just wish they had found someone a little more subtle than Newton Howard to do the score, and I'm completely unconvinced by where they chose to leave things (should have come earlier or later and in a different way).  As is, just feels anti-climatic and a disservice to much of the good work preceding it.

2/25/11 I watched Chris Smith's The Pool.  Only having seen his doc, American Movie, I wasn't sure what to expect here, but it seems like a total departure.  Smith brings a clean, naturalistic style to this tale, and his level of restraint is most impressive.  He never, I don't think, gives us a close-up, when it would be such an easy way out.  After awhile, I didn't feel the tale really built on itself, but I was glad to know that it exists.  It's a very unique American narrative film. 

10/6/11 I watched Jacques Rivette's Don't Touch the Axe.  I'm still trying to fully embrace Rivette.  His approach is pure, rigorous, and entirely admirable.  But it's so leisurely and devoid of any real entertainment value, plus inclined to period work, that I ultimately find it quite distancing. 

10/11/11 I watched Ronald Bronstein's Frownland.  Definitely an indy UFO worth a look and worthy of discussion.  It's like a more abrasive, in-your-face Clean, Shaven.  Disturbing, frustrating, and utterly original, will be interesting to see what sort of career Bronstein will have.  It's much more interesting than Aronofsky's Pi;  just too bad we're no longer in 1998.  

8/2/14 I watched Kent Jones' Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows.  Jones could be an esteemed documentarian or a well known one if that was his desired path.  He is among the most astute and articulate of English-speaking cinephiles and his homage to Lewton is proof yet again (as if he needed anything else to support that claim).  Jones gives us a succinct yet heartfelt essay on the producer who should be far more of a household name.  His two hands full of films deserve to be an even greater part of the conversation and I imagine their reputation will only continue to grow as the years pass.  A required look for anyone interested in knowing more about the great Lewton.  

5/24/15 I watched Gerald Peary's For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism.  Covered a decent amount of familiar ground for me, but I still really appreciated it, particularly for bringing some of the earlier American critics to my attention (Woods, Lindsay and Sherwood) and for finally providing some faces for what are now very familiar names. 

10/26/15 I watched Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain.  The fact that this masterful work is little known in the States sums up the devastated state for the current American cinephile.  To seek out a film like this in 2015 is to be so incredibly marginalized, so alone in your interest and passsion, to survive you might have to focus on the positive of having been able to have somehow spotted Kechiche's achievement among the overwhelming wreckage.  Kechiche's cinema is up to so much all at once.  Formally it is a unique mixing of Dardenne ingredients (non-actors, industrial locations, faded colors, lack of Hollywood coverage) with Cassavetes' nervy, documentary-type editing.  Emotionally it is an odd pairing of Scorsese's visceral moments of discomfort coupled with Rossellini's mystic humanism.  It is a much different film than the only other film I have seen so far from Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Color and yet another modern day classic.  Kechiche is one of the greats, regardless whether our culture even knows who he is.    

10/27/15 I watched Christophe Honore's Love Songs.  Less seemingly interested in Demy's bourgeois milieu and more in sync with the angst and edge of early Carax, Honore is so very French.  While he has some of the early New Wave's playfulness and Desplechin's interest in the twenty set his sensibility veers off into this strange terrain of gothic and poetic alienation.  

12/17/17 I watched Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine.  I loved his film Poetry and was curious to see something else from the filmmaker.  Again, a female character is his focus and his sensibility soft, poetic and acutely perceptive.  This one is tough terrain, the loss of a child, and not always a terribly enjoyable viewing but it always feels honest and actor filmmaking of the highest order.

12/29/19 I watched Eric Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.  I'm not sure enough has been written about the transcendent nature, and effect of Rohmer's cinema.  Although he is known, at least in The States more as the French Woody Allen, the austerity of his cinema is far more akin to the work of Ozu, Bresson or Dreyer.  Sure he is masterful in his simplicity and his work with the actors but his greatest strength is the way he keeps the viewer's desire constantly withheld.  The viewer wants action, consummated emotion, stylistic flourishes that are exciting.  Rohmer refuses, and in so doing, hopes to force the viewer into accepting a different type of experience with his cinema.  As his stories unfold, Rohmer continues to pile complexity onto the situations and emotions of his characters, meanwhile depriving and denying them any real catharsis or climax.  His hope is that by withholding a release until the very end, the final moments take on a power and magnitude that would have never been reached or possible any other way. 

6/24/20 I watched Charles Burnett's Quiet as Kept.  Not top shelf Burnett but another work for anyone interested in one of the most unsung artists still working in American cinema.  


  1. This great Romanian film, which exemplifies the artistry that country has imparted on the cinematic terrain over the past several years, is well deserving of the designation you've given it here, and the film, also on my list here of a very rich year, could be #1 depending on what day you ask me. 4 MONTHS is definitely a Jeffrey Goodman kind of film, and I say that in the best sense possible.

    My #1 Film of 2007:

    Atonement (Wright; UK)


    The Assassination of Jesse James (Dominic; USA)
    Once (Carney; Ireland)
    The Last Mistress (Breilat; France)
    Alexandre (Sokurov; Russia)
    4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (Mungieu; Romania)
    Don't Touch the Axe (Rivette; France)
    The Witnesses (Techine; France)
    Up the Yangtse (Chang; Hong Kong)
    My Blueberry Nights (Kar-Wei; Hong Kong)
    The Edge of Heaven (Akin; Germany/Turkey)
    I'm Not There (Haynes; USA)
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Schnebel; USA)
    Ratatouille (Bird; USA)
    Sweeney Todd (Burton; USA)
    There Will Be Blood (Anderson; USA)
    Mongol (Bodrov; Russia)
    No Country For Old Men (Coens; USA)
    The Counterfeitors (Ruzowitsky; Holland)
    Zodiac (Fincher; USA)
    Juno (Reitman; USA)
    Persepolis (Paranaud; France/Lebanon)
    Song of Sparrows (Majidi; Iran)
    Across the Universe (Taymor; USA)
    Boy A (Crowley; UK)
    Lust Caution (Lee; Hong Kong)
    You the Living (Andersson; Sweden)
    Roman de Gare (Lelouch; France)
    The Lookout (Frank; USA)
    Rescue Dawn (Herzog; USA)
    The Descent (Lugazy; Australia)

  2. Sam, thanks so much for your great words! Yes, I'm dying to see POLICE, ADJECTIVE and expect to have a very positive reaction to that one, as well.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great to have you here!

  3. Great post Jeffrey. Makes me even more sore that I missed this Mungiu theatrically. I also like how you the difficulty to achieve realism while maintaining some degree of formalism. And I agree that when you see it happen onscreen, you are witnessing something very special about the cinema.

  4. Ura Cinematografia Romana!

    A good film, probably the best Romanian film of the past decade (Police, Adjective tailed off for me towards the end).

    The only thing that makes me a little sad about the positive upswing in the (international) coverage of Romanian Cinema is that it has occurred through yet more stories about the negative side of Romanian life.

    Delighted to see it here, Jeffrey.

  5. Andrew, great words! Yes, I too am sad to never have seen this one theatrically. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity at some point.

    Great addition here! Thanks so much.

  6. As for my own choice for 2007:

    Flight of the Red Balloon

  7. Stephen, thanks so much for the great words! I agree with you that the Romanian cinema's reputation has been a bit bittersweet. Good point.

    Glad to know you're also a fan of this one. Thanks, Stephen.

  8. Stephen, I still need to see that Hou Hsiao-hsien. It's definitely on the list, and I'm looking forward to it.

  9. I'm with you on this one Jeffrey. I wouldn't have thought that a film could trump the Coens and Anderson films of this same year, but I'm now leaning towards Mungio's film as being the best of the bunch (I just saw it for the first time a few weeks ago). Simply outstanding stuff.

  10. Troy, great to hear from you! I'm totally with you on this one. I just think some of the filmmaking is completely mind-boggling.

    Thanks, Troy! Always great to have you here.

  11. See THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES immediately, Jeffrey! LOL And, since I don't see it listed in your nearlies, have you seen Fincher's ZODIAC? Those two films are in my Top 4 for the entire decade. I haven't seen your top choice, unfortunately, but definitely need.

    2007 was a huge year in terms of American cinema, the best that I can remember in recent history. The Assassination of Jesse James is incredibly, one of my favorite westerns ever made. Zodiac, I think, is the best movie Fincher has ever made. Here is a Top 10 from me for a great year:

    1. The Assassination of Jesse James
    2. Zodiac
    3. There Will Be Blood
    4. Eastern Promises
    5. No Country For Old Men
    6. Gone Baby Gone
    7. Atonement
    8. The Counterfeiters
    9. Juno
    10. 3:10 to Yuma

    Those top four for the year could potentially all make my Top 20 for the decade.

  12. WAIT - I left off another good one in my Top 10 for the year, so here is a revised list!

    1. The Assassination of Jesse James
    2. Zodiac
    3. There Will Be Blood
    4. Eastern Promises
    5. No Country For Old Men
    7. Gone Baby Gone
    8. Atonement
    9. The Counterfeiters
    10. Juno

  13. Jeffrey, once again I have not seen your choice but with you and others singing its phrase it sounds like a must. My own choice is "There Will Be Blood" though there were four other films that were very close.

    the other top four...

    Assassination/Jesse James
    No Country for Old Men
    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

    …and the rest

    Sweeney Todd
    Michael Clayton
    Before the Devil Knows Your Dead
    Lars and the Real Girl
    I’m Not There
    La Vie en Rose
    American Gangster
    3:10 to Yuma
    A Mighty Heart
    The Kite Runner
    Eastern Promises
    The Great Debaters
    Into the Wild

  14. Dave, yeah I really want to see the Dominik film.

    I know I'm in an EXTREMELY small minority, but I did struggle the one time I saw ZODIAC and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. But obviously this is on my end, as I know both have extremely die-hard fans.

    As for the rest of your list, I still need to see LUST, CAUTION and THE COUNTERFEITERS. I liked GONE BABY GONE although a little less than the ones I mentioned. And JUNO was also one I struggled a little with upon first viewing.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great to have you here.

  15. John, yeah I'd love to hear what you think of this Mungiu film. It's not always the easiest watch, but it's quite impressive, I think.

    At some point, I'll definitely give THERE WILL BE BLOOD another look. I know that I'm one of the few that struggled at all with it.

    Thanks, John! Always great to have you here.

  16. Worth mention are Coppola and De Palma's contributions to this great year. Even though the critical consensuses were atrocious, I've always thought that Youth Without Youth and Redacted were individual masterpieces by the two filmmaking legends- both of whom made splendid comebacks.

  17. Adam, I've seen the De Palma and did really like it although perhaps just a little less than the others I mentioned. The Coppola is one I definitely still need to see. I haven't seen TETRO yet either.

    Thanks, Adam. Great addition here!