Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Favorite (four), part thirteen

Just like in my other twelve posts thus far in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  I'm trying right now to take in almost a film a day.  Most have been first-time viewings, and most I have been glad to finally see.  But only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two of these will be good to someone else, too).

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger
Antonioni's incredible talents are all over -- his meticulous framing, his daring yet languid camerawork, and his feel for spaces that the medium has yet to capture.  Still very slow and cerebral like almost all his work, but The Passenger gains some warmth from its summer exteriors and more rustic locations.  One of the cinema's great road movies, and in the same family as Wenders' Alice in the Cities and Kings of the Road

Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life
Malick is looking at different ways for cinema to work.  Although his connection to nature may not jump off the screen like it did in The Thin Red Line, his incredibly specific memories of childhood allow him to wash connections over us.  He does it in very short brush strokes, and as he swims through his own fleeting images, we see so much of ourselves. His work with the children is extraordinary.  And I think his style really gains, with many of the jump cuts remaining in the tool box. Full of narrative courage and exploration (the first time the animated sequences break the narrative it seems as though a new prototype for story is being offered), and a work of tremendous ambition.  I think there are flaws.  Sometimes his elliptical wanderings go too far and end up feeling more elusive than illuminating.  And after seeing the film twice, I'm still not convinced he wouldn't have benefitted from a stronger actress than Chastain.  But it's a dense film, inviting discussion and multiple visits.  

Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid   
A loose, mournful western from one of the late masters.  Peckinpah meanders, ponders loyalty and lost ideals, and delivers what might be the most personal of all his works.  The loss of a lifestyle, the onset of civilization, and a western about not fitting in, that doesn't really fit into anything that's come before or since.  

Ermanno Olmi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs 
An incredibly ambitious venture that is acutely observed and warmly rendered.  Ambles and captures the countryside in ways that remind of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, sans Altman's quirky stylings.  Never have I seen the rural parts of Italy look so alive.  Olmi asks for patience, but his eye is as natural and unobtrusive as the glory days of Kiarostami in Iran.  


  1. Your thirteenth installment of this terrific series examining quartets of films well worth celebrating has yielded more gems yet. Malick's visionary abstract masterwork broaches themes that reach the essence of our existence and the defining cycle of life. It's one of the year's greatest film, and perhaps the best yet from this master of cinema. Love the use of the word "mournful" in describing the ever-important western PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID, and much appreciate teh passion affored Ermanno Olmi's most famous film. The reputation of Antonioni's THE PASSENGER has risen (rightly so) in recent years, moreso than any other work in his treasured catalogue.

  2. Thanks so much, Sam! Such a great addition you make here. I particularly like what you say about the Antonioni. Interesting that of all his work this is the one that's enjoying the greatest re-discovery. I really loved all four of these films. Definitely one of my favorite quartets yet!