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Advocacy and Promise

On Film / The Daily — Mar 13, 2020
Chantal Akerman’s Hotel Monterey (1972)

Hours before French president Emmanuel Macron spoke to the nation on Thursday night about efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux told Le Monde: “We have a tradition of saying that the Cannes Film Festival is the first sign of summertime. To remain optimistic and keep our fighting spirit, let’s say that this year Cannes will be the first world event where we’ll rejoice life again.” Then, as Elsa Keslassy reports for Variety, Macron announced the shutdown of all schools and universities in the country “for an undetermined amount of time.”

So this morning, Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman got in touch with a Cannes spokesperson, who told him organizers have not set a date for a decision on whether or not to call off this year’s festival. “Against a backdrop of European cinema closures and mass gatherings being cancelled across the continent, some are asking at what stage optimism and stoicism become foolhardy,” writes Wiseman.

In the States, yesterday seems to have been a watershed day as the realization of just how the abstract notion of social distancing will actually play out on the ground began to sink in. Thursday saw a cascade of announcements of postponements or cancellations from festivals ranging from the TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles to Tribeca in New York, from theaters and other venues, and from studios that had scheduled major releases over the next few weekends.

Here are some of the other highlights of the week, but first: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and flatten that curve.

  • There’s a lot ailing cinema—the art and the business—so “why am I feeling that we’re heading into a good, maybe even inspiring moment in the history of the movies?” asks Michael Koresky in Film Comment. He’s got a few answers, of course, but here’s the gist: “We can’t depend on the studios, especially in their current state; aside from turgid biopics of safely dead political figures, ‘doing the right thing’ just isn’t their style. What we as cinephiles can continue to rely on is the same thing we’ve always had, and which will never go out of fashion: our passion. Our love, our need, our exultant advocacy for films, not products.”
  • Koresky has written several of the essays that accompany our releases, particularly those in the Eclipse series. In 2010, he wrote about the “minimalist yet rich” Hotel Monterey, Chantal Akerman’s hour-long 1972 experiment. The Chiseler has just posted a brief but dense piece on the film by Martin Billheimer which focuses on historical context and the milieu of the “old New York flophouse” where Akerman and cinematographer Babette Mangolte spent fifteen hours shooting. Here’s a taste: “The halls and doors of this little hotel conceal a grand machine: the basement is the menial heart, near the end of the film, under decades of express feet. Off Bowery, the year of the pig draws to a close.”
  • Recent work by filmmakers associated with Romanian New Wave—Radu Jude (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians), Corneliu Porumboiu (The Whistlers), and Cristi Puiu (Malmkrog), for example—proves that the movement remains as lively and inventive as ever. But what sort of cinema preceded it? “After the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime in December 1989, the intellectual community in Romania justifiably scrambled to massively re-evaluate the cultural output of the last four decades,” writes Flavia Dima in an illuminating survey in the Notebook. Critics were suddenly no longer looking for “healthy moral messages that aimed at the moral education of the communist workers, but rather the complete opposite: from minute, subtle anti-regime dog whistles to unsubtle allegories about abuses of power and lack of (social) perspective, a cinema which had been mostly marginalized and only whispered about was now recovered as a locus of resistance in the midst of an oppressive dictatorship.”
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which won Eliza Hittman a special jury prize at Sundance and a Silver Bear in Berlin, is a “low-key knockout,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. At Vulture, Rachel Handler has an outstanding profile of Hittman, whose previous two features, It Felt Like Love (2013) and Beach Rats (2017), also focused on struggling teenagers. “I always think of my films as being like outtakes from other teen movies, showing these private moments that aren’t exposed in more conventional narratives,” Hittman tells Handler. Her next film, she says, will be about “a family that’s middle class that is incapable of making final decisions about the matriarch, who’s in her late nineties. They somehow haven’t emotionally prepared themselves for the end.”
  • Throughout last year, from its premiere in Berlin through its run along the festival circuit and its eventual move to Netflix, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn’s The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019) picked up a good number of strong reviews and a spot on TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten of 2019 list. But Girish Shambu finds that too few people have seen it or even heard of it. In his latest Film Quarterly column, he considers aspects of The Body Remembers and its making in light of the ways we evaluate films and argues that those ways need to be revised: “If a traditional, auteurist model of film evaluation largely confines its attention to the encounter with the film text—while producing a canon that is overwhelmingly male—then rethinking film evaluation in more expansive terms may offer the promise of valuing more highly films made by marginalized people, particularly women.”
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