Streaming Recommendations: May 2020


Let the Sunshine In: I have watched this movie (minor Denis, I’m told) a silly number of times. On each new occasion it grows: it becomes more accommodating, funnier, sadder. Binoche’s Isabelle, an artist, suffering through interminable dates with a panoply of men who are either wrong from the start or time their arrivals in her life badly, careens between emotions like one of the lines she paints. It has the talk of A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes’s compendium of love-complaints, and a visual lightness of touch—the camera’s eye caresses all it sees—matched with the musical sense of free-floating, sensual slow-jazz. Binoche’s is an all-time favourite performance; Alex Descas, in a scene near the end, with his shy gaze and trusting gestures, folds me in half; and a surprise appearance in the closing scene, which entails an encircling conversation, and a blast of the title’s sunshine, is an enriching pleasure. There are few films I love more. 

National Gallery: Since no one can roam a gallery currently, Wiseman’s documentary is a great consolation. But of course it’s much more than that. The nonagenarian filmmaker (who is editing his latest now!) is an imperturbable force—he’s fascinated by the way institutions carry out their work, and this is a celebration in part, but he’s katana-sharp on the way representatives of the places in which he films obfuscate purpose and practice. While his more recent Ex Libris: The New York Public Library is one of my favourite documentaries and an inexhaustible comfort, this is equally as accomplished: there’s an incredible sequence detailing what happens when someone vandalises one of the paintings in the gallery’s care.

45 Years: Excellent scenario: married couple (Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay) celebrating 45 years of their union, hear of the discovery of his former lover’s body preserved in the Swiss snow. She’s exactly as she was when she went missing. Time frozen on the occasion of time celebrated. It’s almost too tight. The implications spell themselves out instantaneously. But the performances, and the differences of their psychological trajectories, are exactly right. And the final scene is a screamer. 

Love & Friendship: I know one fictional man, from another world of Whit Stillman’s, who wouldn’t go see this film: he would prefer to read literary criticism about Jane Austen instead. (But seriously: Beckinsale’s performance a stormer; it boasts a truly great rattle; and I love intertitles.)

A happy note to add here: MUBI have added an extensive library, so the worry inspired by the imminent departure of a film I had been meaning to watch will haunt me no more. It’s a lovely thing. I’ve yet to properly dive in, but my first trips into it were for Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s beautiful short Ashes.


Journey to Italy: Like Citizen Kane and Vertigo, too much has been written about Journey to Italy. There’s nothing left to say. And yet: Bergman and Sanders, their expressive rhetorics, are persuasive, callow and alienated; and that ending, which seems so unlikely, is a source of undying rejuvenation. 

My Twentieth Century: I can’t really put words to Ildikó Enyedi’s debut, except to say that Doroto Segda’s performances are extraordinary, and that it’s a film which begins with a lilting kind of cuteness and eccentricity before assuming an astringent kind of cuteness and eccentricity. It is—no pun intended—a blast. 

The Watermelon Woman: Director Cheryl Dunye stars as a video store employee who, with her friend Tamara (the delightful, always-having-none-of-it Valarie Walker), records events and home videos on the side. But she becomes interested in films from early Hollywood, replete with degrading images of Black people, and especially in the work of one (fictional) actor, who is only credited as ‘The Watermelon Woman.’ By having her character document her findings, Dunye, playing with the way the past is packaged, hidden, and moved on from, widens the real, Black and queer, history of the movies.

Yojimbo: When Godard wrote that ‘cinema is Nicholas Ray’ what he meant to write was ‘cinema is Toshiro Mifune scratching his chin while plotting in Yojimbo,’ but I suppose I’ll allow it. 

Sweet Bean: I’ve seen many an eye-rolling dismissal of Naomi Kawase’s recent films (along the same lines as people dismiss late Malick), and having watched Radiance, I kind of understand. But not for this one: Kirin Kiki’s performance is upsetting at an almost atomic level, and for whatever cuteness it may espouse its provisions of pain are step-for-step as large. 


Beach Rats: I have much to say about Eliza Hittman’s second feature. (This will be the subject of a Friday Essay soon.)  

My Neighbours the Yamadas: Isao Takahata uses Ma, negative space, in Only Yesterday only when the images are located in the past to suggest that his character’s memory is filling in only the essential visual information, that the image of the past collected in the mind is already partially faded: he uses it in this film to best catch at the vignettes’ ephemeral qualities, vignettes backed up with snatches of Basho and Buson. My Neighbours the Yamadas looks, with its comic-strip style, like a lark, flatter, less expansive than his other films. But I love it. That banality of incident, the punchline which over- or under-sells itself, the recurring riddle of personality, sharing (negative) space with people whose presences are so familiar and yet so inexplicable, so hard to rationalise. Here’s a film with a genuine sense of stoicism. 

You Were Never Really Here: Ever since Ratcatcher‘s opening scene, with its decisive shift in perspective, Ramsay’s has been a cinema of subjective experience—physical textures as emotional ones, colours as states of her characters’ minds, sound designs as large, sharp, and full as their aural memories. T.S. Eliot: ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality.’ And right enough, this is, suffused by trauma as it is, a fractured film: because how is anyone meant to bear any of that

Shirkers: Sandie Tan’s documentary, in which she explores the production and theft of a feature she made with friends as a teenager in Singapore, under the aegis of her mentor who fled with the reels, is a different kind of film about “recovery.” The footage incorporated here looks sparky, and it warms me how generous Tan is to her younger self. 

Mistress America: Not a massive Baumbach person but: screwballish confectionery; a university campus magazine which is bound like (and has the same typeface as) The Paris Review; Gerwig’s champion-level line readings; a line about a Blu-Ray of Apocalypto that makes me giggle even beginning to think about it. Oh, god. I wish I didn’t like it this much. 


The Goddess: Here’s full-bodied acting: Ruan Lingyu’s character, each time her circumstances worsen, seems to shift or wobble on her axis, as though her centre of gravity is about to give way. Which is to say nothing of her pain-stricken face, her weary walk before sitting and lighting a cigarette, or the loving looks she casts towards her character’s son. Shivers. (YOUTUBE)

Illusions: Julie Dash’s short film, about a Black woman who passes for white, who is second in command at a Hollywood film studio, encapsulates its designs in a shot: the camera is backing away from her into an empty sound stage, while she considers the weight of her task, pondering not the work of the “dream factory” (whose dreams are these?) but the distortion factory, the illusion factory of American movies. (YOUTUBE)

La Chambre: Chantal Akerman’s ten-minute short, in which a camera pans 360 degrees around a bedroom. That’s all. And yet this film made me jump when I first saw it. Read nothing more. (YOUTUBE)

Brief Encounter: Buttoned-up reserve, a train station, exemplary voice-over narration, Celia Johnson’s voice, gusty Rachmaninoff-piano blasts, Trevor Howard’s jawline….David Lean’s film contains multitudes, I’ll say that much. (BBC IPLAYER)

And on a special note: BBC IPLAYER have added a freight of RKO titles to their service, including two of my favourites (Bringing Up Baby and The Magnificent Ambersons); but the major surprise among the selection is Leo McCarey’s Love Affair, a have-your-hankies-ready movie if one ever existed.

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