Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Continuing our short trend of films with messages that coincidentally speak to some of the darkest positions of American society today, mostly because they critique aspects of human interaction that, sadly, bubble up every so often in any civilization (and almost always exist at at least a low simmer). Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) -- our first from the renowned German -- is an homage to the melodrama of Douglas Sirk, in particular a retelling of All That Heaven Allows that takes that films class-divided love story and transfers it to a West Germany divided by class, race, religion, and immigration status.

Night and Fog

A concentration camp is built like a Grand Hotel.
You need contractors, estimates, competitive bids
And no doubt friends in high places.

These were the lines of Night and Fog that may have hit me the hardest. Someone, some company, built the barracks, the guard towers, the ovens. And no doubt that company beat out other companies for the contract.

Alain Resnais' 1955 short documentary subtly twists the knife as the audience is called out for its part in the Holocaust (and all other holocausts) whether active or passive. Maybe you didn't place the noose around the neck, but maybe you sold the rope to the hangman, maybe you built the gallows, maybe you sat idly by because the people being led up the stairs didn't look like you.

But it's not about guilt; it's about responsibility.

When the Allies open the doors,
All the doors,
The deportees look on without understanding.
Are they free?
Will life know them again?
"I am not responsible," says the Kapo,
"I am not responsible," says the officer,
"I am not responsible."
Who is responsible then?

And it is not just a question of who is responsible for what happened, but of who is responsible for what may happen.

The skill of the Nazis is child's play today.

Someone builds the walls. Someone guards the gates. Someone fires the furnace.

Someone drops the bombs.

Someone steers the drones.

Someone writes the checks.

But also someone speaks the dehumanizing rhetoric: "they only want money", "they're all rapists and murderers," "they can't be trusted in a public restroom", "they're ruining this country." 

And someone listens.

Rhetoric has consequences.

Resist being one of these someones. Do what you can to help others resist being these someones.

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Hiroshima mon Amour

The same amazing non-linear storytelling that we saw in masterful use last week kind of makes its cinematic debut here, in Alain Resnais' 1959 drama Hiroshima mon Amour. Sure, as we point out, other films had used flashback, but none in quite this way, a much more literary way to be sure (we cite To The Lighthouse, but Slaughterhouse Five is perhaps the literary codifier of the method). In any case, though, Hiroshima mon Amour's technique became THE film narrative for flashback. And we're all lucky for that.

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I Fidanzati

Another great episode where halfway through talking about it we finally start to understand it fully. I Fidanzati (1963) is a film about memory: how memories shape what we’re perceiving in the present, and how our feelings in the present affect how we remember things. Ermanno Olmi is brilliant, no doubt, and the way the flashbacks in this film playout were extremely influential. (And also entertaining, which is just bonus I guess?)

Il Posto

Though he was working a decade after the movement "ended" Ermanno Olmi's films have all the hallmarks of Italian neorealism even though he claims his film style is a response to (and rejection of) Italian neorealism. That is absurd on it's face, but not the same type of absurd as Il Posto. Olmi's 1961 film is a coming of age tale that the director claims is semi-autobiographical, though we've heard that before. True to life or not, Il Posto is true-to-life with all the hilarity and disappointment that comes with life.

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Quai des Orfrevres

We here at Lost in Criterion are firmly on board with any and all films of Henri-Georges Clouzot. He is a master of suspense in many forms. Quai des Orfrevres, his 1947 police procedural and the earliest of his films we've seen in the Collection, is no exception, even while the central crime fades out of importance and the entirety of the suspense instead rests on just how our lovable protagonists are going to find a happy ending, or at least the happiest ending possible given the circumstances and their certain PTSD. They do find it, though, which I think technically makes this a comedy. Though so do the actual very funny moments.

Coup de Grâce

The year after their brilliant film The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, married moviemakers Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlondorff split their duties with Schlondorff staying behind the camera for Coup de Grace while von Trorra does double duty as co-writer and star. Filmed in 1976 and set in 1919, the filmmakers split the difference and rather successfully made a film that seems to have been made in 1939 for all it's melodrama and technology, though with its graphic depiction of war and its emotional consequences perhaps not in America in 1939. Oh goodness the emotional consequences.

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Jubilee

Derek Jarman's Jubilee is complicated.

It started life as a documentary about Jordan, a movie "about punk rock", and slowly grew into the post-apocalyptic time travel weirdly pro-Monarchy-ish critique of punk rock and British society. As an openly gay man in London in 1978, perhaps Jarman was an outsider outside other outsiders, further anti-establishment than the punk movement he saw around him. At least that's the argument I try to make against Pat and guest Donovan Hill, who really just think Jarman's thesis -- whatever it is -- doesn't land. I don't necessarily love the film, personally, but it's definitely more interesting than I think my cohosts give it credit for.

Of course I could very well be wrong -- certainly Jarman doesn't hit his critique out of the park -- but we manage a pretty great conversation about punk rock, politics, ideals, and selling out. One of my favorite episodes to record, hope you love it as much as I did.

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Throne of Blood

There's an old theater superstition that you should not utter the name Mackers, er, MacB. The Scottish King? MacBeth.

If we shadows have offended

Akira Kurosawa seems to have taken the Scottish Curse a bit too literally, transposing his adaptation of the Bard's play into his usual feudal Japanese setting, infusing it with Noh theatre tropes, and editing profusely, the last of which everyone needs to do when adapting Shakespeare to film.

Good thing, too. Because if 1957's Throne of Blood had been cursed, our beloved Toshiro Mifune definitely really would have died during his final scene.

Oh, and friend of the show Donovan Hill stops in for this episode, as well. What a treat!

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Love on the Run

The final film in Francois Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series (and, not coincidentally, Criterion's The Adventures of Antoine Doinel boxset), 1979's Love on the Run is a capstone and a bit of a clip show, editing in flashbacks not just to the previous four films, but recontextualizing other Jean-Pierre Leaud films in order to add more backstory. Pat isn't necessarily impressed, but that doesn't stop us from fantasizing about what this film would have been like if it was made, say, last year, with the rest of Leaud's career to pull from.

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Bed and Board

We next meet Antoine Doinel in 1970's Bed and Board. This time director Francois Truffaut has his character slightly more married but just as restless as ever before. Unfortunately, this manifests in some pretty demeaning tropes about Asian women in general, and Japanese women in particular. C'est la vie, as the French say, but perhaps more apropos: C'est la vie quand vous comptez sur les stéréotypes raciaux.

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Stolen Kisses (and Antoine and Colette)

This week we start The Adventures of Antoine Doinel boxset, a collection of films by Francois Truffaut. We've already talked about the first film in the set, The 400 Blows, quite awhile ago. When Truffaut came back to the character -- and cemented the troupe that would star in all 4 (and a half) films lead by original star Jean-Pierre Leaud -- he took a markedly different course, leaving behind the gritty coming of age tale that defined the French New Wave and creating something a bit more lighthearted, if still brilliant.

We kick things off with Stolen Kisses (1968), in which Antoine meets and courts his future ex-wife Christine. For the sake of completeness and continuity we also roll in a short film -- 1962's Antoine and Colette -- which is on The 400 Blows disc and makes me think too much about how I used to interact with women. Hopefully I've changed! Antoine (barely) does!

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By Brahkage: An Anthology, Volume 1

This week's episode is a long one solely for the plethora and variety of material we're tasked with talking about. Stan Brahkage was an experimental filmmaker and a long-time film professor at the University of Colorado, who principally focused on non-narrative film. By Brakhage covers work from six decades of his career. With over four hours of material in 26 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 74 minutes long, there's a lot to digest: a lot to love and some, well, not to.

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Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

Robert Bresson is French, and therefore I apologize for pronouncing the T in Robert throughout this episode. Jean-Luc Godard once wrote that "Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoyevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music." Though as it turns out Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) may have come before Besson really became Bresson. His amazing propensity for when and how to use music is there, yeah, but this is also his last film to use professional actors, and it's only his second film. It'll be interesting to see more from him moving forward, and given his stature in French film, we certainly will.

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Straw Dogs

Dustin Hoffman's character in Straw Dogs (1971) is not a pacifist. If director Sam Peckinpah was trying to set up a conflict between David's values and the violent world in which he found himself, he does a terrible job of establishing David's values as any thing more than "conflict-avoidant" which is not the same thing as pacifistic. Since Pat and I really are pacifists, this distinction plays a central role in our response to the famously violent film. It doesn't help that the violent world -- where the long arm of the law is broken and religion and sleight-of-hand magic are one in the same, where a Batman villain is a peripheral character -- is a bit unrealistic. But then again, maybe that's just wishful thinking one the part of us two idealists.

All that, though, and we still really did like it.

(A warning for this episode: not only is this an extremely violent film, but it also contains a very controversial rape scene, which we discuss.)

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I am Curious...

Vilgot Sjöman made one of the most controversial films ever with I am Curious (Yellow) and a not very controversial at all film with I am Curious (Blue). Originally meant to be released as one film in 1967, the two are really companion pieces, telling versions of the same story Rashomon style. Or maybe not? It's all a bit confusing, not helped by the meta-narrative in which the film is being made (Sjöman plays himself, or perhaps "himself", but then that's true of star Lena Nyman as well.)

We originally planned to do an episode for each movie, but it became apparent very quickly that it would be a disservice to both to talk about them in a vacuum -- they're too intertwined, too related, parallel films more than sequels or prequels. But that does make this for a longer-than-normal episode.

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My Life as a Dog

Lasse Hallström had quite a career, getting his start directing a plethora of ABBA music videos and going on to direct The Cider House Rules, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat, and a few other awards-season darlings, though Hallström himself has never won an Oscar

Somewhere in there lies My Life as a Dog, his 1985 coming-of-age tale about life in a Swedish small town. More Amarcord than the coming-of-age films we've seen more recently -- significantly less child death than, say, Ratcatcher -- My Life as a Dog is a hilarious and heartwarming film

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The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum

There's a lot of talk in US politics lately of criminalizing womanhood, but then men have always had a tendency to use prison or mental wards to control women who don't act the way the patriarchy would like. You know, when we weren't just burning them at the stake.

If that last paragraph has you scoffing or rolling your eyes, you may want to avoid this week's Lost in Criterion as we take on Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975), a tale of a woman criminalized for normal behavior to the nth degree. But Blum is more than that, as it also tackles the corrupting relationship between law enforcement and the media, and how both forces spread fear through the masses, decimating civil rights under the guise of "anti-terrorism". It's brilliant, hard to watch, and teaches lessons that we continually need reminded of.

On second thought, if you were rolling your eyes, definitely watch the film in question. And learn a thing.

The Killers

A great story, perhaps especially a great short story, leaves the reader to answer some of the questions. A bad one does, too, mind you, but a good one does it well? I digress. Ernest Hemingway's The Killers is a great short story that leaves a lot of questions for its readers, and for some reason people making film adaptations seek to answer them all. We're watching two such adaptations this week, and a third that leaves well enough alone. Andrei Tarkovsky's short student film version from 1956 is the most straightforward adaptation of the bunch, for better or worse. Likewise, Robert Siodmak's 1946 version starts with a straightforward retelling then veers into wildly unlikely directions with it's solid Noir adaptation. Meanwhile Don Siegal's 1964 version veers so wildly it would be nearly unrecognizable as an adaptation if it weren't for the title. But then, Siegal's is the only version with Lee Marvin as an anti-hero and Ronald Reagan in his only villainous roll. Watching any of them is a great way to spend your time, watching all three is a, well, something we did.