Close Up

1 January - 1 December 2024: Histoire(s) du cinéma

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Children of Paradise
Marcel Carné, 1945, 190 min

“Poetic realism reached sublime heights with Children of Paradise, widely considered one of the greatest French films of all time. This nimble depiction of nineteenth-century Paris’s theatrical demimonde, filmed during World War II, follows a mysterious woman (Arletty) loved by four different men (all based on historical figures): an actor, a criminal, a count, and, most poignantly, a mime (Jean-Louis Barrault, in a longing-suffused performance for the ages). With sensitivity and dramatic élan, director Marcel Carné and screenwriter Jacques Prévert resurrect a world teeming with hucksters and aristocrats, thieves and courtesans, pimps and seers.” – Janus Films


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Letter Never Sent
Mikhail Kalatozov, 1959, 96 min

“The great Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov, known for his virtuosic, emotionally gripping films, perhaps never made a more visually astonishing one than Letter Never Sent. This absorbing tale of exploration and survival concerns the four members of a geological expedition, who are stranded in the bleak and unforgiving Siberian wilderness while on a mission to find diamonds. Luxuriating in wide-angle beauty and featuring one daring shot after another (the brilliant cinematography is by Kalatozov’s frequent collaborator Sergei Urusevsky), Letter Never Sent is a fascinating piece of cinematic history and a universal adventure of the highest order. – Janus Films


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Black Orpheus
Marcel Camus, 1959, 107 min

“Winner of both the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (Orfeu negro) brings the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the twentieth-century madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its eye-popping photography and ravishing, epochal soundtrack, Black Orpheus was an international cultural event, and it kicked off the bossa nova craze that set hi-fis across America spinning.” – Janus Films


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Andrei Rublev
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966, 183 min

"Originally titled The Passion According to Andrei, Tarkovsky’s second feature remains a wholly original epic, a life of the medieval icon painter encompassing the full horror of history. The culminating vision of Rublev’s Trinity only emerges from the yoke of Tartar occupation, mystic rites, excommunications, and nearly unrelieved suffering. In attempting, as Tarkovsky told an interviewer, "to trace the road Rublev followed during the terrible years [in which] he lived," the film is besieged with lucid visions of violence and cruelty – a panorama worthy of Brueghel. The Goskino authorities found Tarkovsky’s hallucinatory staging of history sufficiently dangerous to shelve the film for five years." – Harvard Film Archive


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Five Easy Pieces
Bob Rafelson, 1970, 98 min

“Following Jack Nicholson’s breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, director Bob Rafelson devised a powerful leading role for the new star in the searing character study Five Easy Pieces. Nicholson plays the now iconic cad Bobby Dupea, a shiftless thirtysomething oil rigger and former piano prodigy immune to any sense of responsibility, who returns to his upper-middle-class childhood home, blue-collar girlfriend (Karen Black) in tow, to see his estranged, ailing father. Moving in its simplicity and gritty in its textures, Five Easy Pieces is a lasting example of early 1970s American alienation.” – Janus Films


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Two-Lane Blacktop
Monte Hellman, 1971, 102 min

"At one level a vivid documentary of American road fever and the obsessive world of street racing, Two-Lane Blacktop is also a sustained meditation on film acting as one of the most dangerous games, a form of high-stakes gambling where everything, including the film itself, is on the table. The film's fable-like story of a spontaneous cross-country race between two cars thus gives way to an extended and explicit showdown between two distinct modes of performance – with the musician non-actors James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in their stripped-down Chevy pitted against the ultimate actor's actor, Warren Oates, driving the decked-out orange GTO that gives him his name. At once a visually brilliant art film and an intoxicating road movie, Two-Lane Blacktop is often cited as the last film of the Sixties, a lonely farewell to the free spirit innocence and rebellious naivety of the ultimately defeated counterculture.” – Harvard Film Archive


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The Panic in Needle Park
Jerry Schatzberg, 1971, 105 min

"One of the quintessential expressions of early 1970s American cinema, Schatzberg’s second feature centers around a fragile woman who, like the characters its co-screenwriter Joan Didion’s early novels, has been set adrift by recent trauma and overly dependent relationships. Shot on location in a wintry and desolate New York City, Panic in Needle Park offers an undaunted and fascinating vision of the secret world of drug addicts with an electrifying Al Pacino – in his first starring role – as a small time hustler and addict and newcomer Kitty Winn as the naive Midwesterner enraptured by his energetic charm. Panic in Needle Park is both a poetic and deeply touching love story and a vivid, documentary-style rendering of the squalor and fear felt by addicts drifting like ghosts through the dirty flophouses, cheap diners and trash-strewn sidewalks of the Upper West Side. Eschewing a music track and any direct appeals to sentimentality, Schatzberg imbues the film with a verité quality that lends an air of wrenching, tragic inevitability to the doomed lovers’ tale." – Harvard Film Archive


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Eraserhead
David Lynch, 1977, 89 min

David Lynch’s 1977 debut feature, Eraserhead, is both a lasting cult sensation and a work of extraordinary craft and beauty. With its mesmerizing black-and-white photography by Frederick Elmes and Herbert Cardwell, evocative sound design, and unforgettably enigmatic performance by Jack Nance, this visionary nocturnal odyssey continues to haunt American cinema like no other film.” – Janus Films


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The Riddles of the Sphinx
Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, 1977, 92 min

Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s visually accomplished and intellectually rigorous Riddles of the Sphinx is one of the most important avant-garde films to have emerged from Britain during the 1970s. The second collaboration between Mulvey and Wollen, both of whom are recognised as seminal figures in the field of film theory, Riddles of the Sphinx explores issues of female representation, the place of motherhood within society and the relationship between mother and daughter. Composed of several discrete sections, many of which are shot as continuous circular pans, the film takes place in a range of domestic and public spaces, shot in locations which include Malcolm Le Grice’s kitchen and Stephen Dwoskin’s bedroom.


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A Grin Without a Cat
Chris Marker, 1978, 180 min

Marker’s incomparable editing skills attained a new level of sublimity and subtlety in his epic chronicle of the international New Left’s spectacular rise and fall. At turns mordant and mournful, A Grin Without a Cat uses an extraordinary range of source material – newsreels, propaganda films and Marker’s own footage – to construct a polyphonic, immersive and critical history of political struggle. “I am not boasting that I made a dialectical film. But I have tried for once (having in my time frequently abused the power of the directive commentary) to give back to the spectator, through the montage, “his” commentary, that is, his power.” – Chris Marker


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Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick, 1978, 94 min

“One-of-a-kind filmmaker-philosopher Terrence Malick has created some of the most visually arresting films of the last century, and his glorious period tragedy Days of Heavenfeaturing Oscar-winning cinematography by Nestor Almendros, stands out among them. In the mid-1910s, a Chicago steelworker (Richard Gere) accidentally kills his supervisor and flees with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and his little sister (Linda Manz) to the Texas panhandle, where they find work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). A love triangle, a swarm of locusts, a hellish fire – Malick captures it all with dreamlike authenticity, creating a timeless American idyll that is also a gritty evocation of turn-of-the-century labour.” – Janus Films


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Querelle
Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982, 108 min

"Emphasizing through the use of studio sets the heightened artificiality that fascinated Fassbinder late in his career, Querelle tells the story of tangled and nightmarish erotic passions set in the underworld of the French port of Brest. The script is based on Jean Genet’s infamous novel Querelle de Brest, concerning a sailor’s discovery of his homosexuality through rape. As in much of Fassbinder’s work, sexuality is a force employed ruthlessly to maintain power over others. The sailor Querelle (Brad Davis) visits a waterfront brothel where he engages in a game of dice to sleep with the madam (Jeanne Moreau). Losing, he must endure the attentions of her husband instead, an encounter which opens up a new world of previously forbidden attractions and increasingly brutal pleasures, all ruled by the arbitrary laws of the strange establishment in which he finds himself." – Barbara Scharres


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Short Cuts
Robert Altman, 1993, 187 min

“Prefiguring a string of turn-of-the-21st-century multi-narratives through which a large cast of characters crisscross, Short Cuts remains the most richly woven of the era – not due to a cleverly circular precision or overarching moral message, but rather because of its open, improvisational structure allowing for even more overlapping layers of connective tissue. Revising his ensemble method for a new age, Altman’s disconcerting symphony of several Raymond Carver stories and one original strand ingeniously creates links between the different tales’ disaffected, alienated denizens of Los Angeles – including a phone sex operator, a make-up artist, a news commentator, an artist, a doctor, a baker, a waitress, a chauffeur, a police officer, a pool cleaner, an alcoholic jazz singer and her suicidal daughter, a young boy, and an anonymous dead body found floating in the river. If anything, they are united by a faulty central nervous system of emotional and sexual repression expressed indirectly, inappropriately, or violently. Altman’s miraculous ability to elicit natural performances from his large cast of actors and musicians combines with his orchestral sense of life’s construction – a delicate balance of the haphazardly entropic and the uncannily synchronous.” – Harvard Film Archive


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Underground
Emir Kusturica, 1995, 170 min

This epic tale of friendship, betrayal and romantic entanglement, set against the backdrop of 50 turbulent years of Yugoslavian history earned director Emir Kusturica’s his second Palme d'Or in 1995. A deeply moving and masterful tragic-farce, Underground tells the story of Marko (Miki Manojlović) and Blacky (Lazar Ristovski), two charming rogues making a living on the black market by stealing arms to sell on to the Partisans. Both men are in love with actress Natalija (Mirjana Joković), and in the chaos of war, Marko orchestrates a way to eliminate his competition, by hiding him away in a cellar – for over 20 years – by means of an elaborate charade that the war is still going on.


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Lost Highway
David Lynch, 1997, 134 min

"Most of Lynch’s later films straddle (at least) two realities, and their most ominous moments arise from a dawning awareness that one world is about to cede to another. In Lost Highway, we are introduced to brooding jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) while he lives in a simmering state of jealousy with his listless and possibly unfaithful wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). About one hour in, a rupture fundamentally alters the narrative logic of the film and the world itself becomes a nightmare embodiment of a consciousness out of control. Lost Highway marked a return from the wilderness for Lynch and the arrival of his more radical expressionism – alternating omnipresent darkness with overexposed whiteouts, dead air with the belligerent soundtrack assault of metal-industrial bands, and the tactile sensations that everything is happening with the infinite delusions of schizophrenic thought." – Film Society of Lincoln Centre


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The Piano Teacher
Michael Haneke, 2001, 129 min

“In this riveting study of the dynamics of control, Academy Award–winning director Michael Haneke takes on Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek’s controversial 1983 novel about perverse female sexuality and the world of classical music. Haneke finds his match in Isabelle Huppert, who delivers an icy but quietly seething performance as Erika, a piano professor at a Viennese conservatory who lives with her mother in a claustrophobically co-dependent relation­ship. Severely repressed, she satisfies her mas­ochistic urges only voyeuristically until she meets Walter (Benoît Magimel), a student whose desire for Erika leads to a destructive infatuation that upsets the careful equilibrium of her life. A critical breakthrough for Haneke, The Piano Teacher – which won the Grand Prix as well as dual acting awards for its stars at Cannes – is a formalist masterwork that remains a shocking sensation.” – Janus Films


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Gerry
Gus Van Sant, 2002, 98 min

Perhaps director Gus Van Sant at his most minimalist and avant-garde, Gerry – set in New Mexico’s Rattlesnake Canyon – pairs Matt Damon and Casey Affleck for what develops into a staggering dual character study. An austere, existential, enigmatic drama – influenced by Chantal Akerman and Béla Tarr!


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The Headless Woman
Lucrecia Martel, 2008, 87 min

“DP Barbara Alvarez imparts a restrained – and very strange – spatial texture to Lucrecia Martel’s excitingly splintered third feature, about a woman (a stunning María Onetto) in a state of phenomenological distress following a mysterious road accident. Martel’s rare gift for building social melodrama from sonic and spatial textures, behavioural nuances, and an unerringly brilliant sense of the joys, tensions, and endless reserves of suppressed emotion lurking within the familial structure is here pushed to another level of creative daring.” – Film at Lincoln Center


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Tabu
Miguel Gomes, 2012, 118 min

After Our Beloved Month of AugustMiguel Gomes returns with Tabu, an engaging, provocative, and poetic film set both in Portugal and in an un-named African location. Bearing the same title as F. W. Murnau’s classic Tabu, shot in black and white and taking place at least partly in a distant land, Gomes’ third feature film is divided in two distinctive yet complementary storylines. Whilst the first part, shot in 35mm and in the present time, portrays a society wallowing in nostalgia, the second part, shot in 16mm, goes back in time, and plays with history, sound, the concept of linear narration, as well as the ideas of melodrama, slapstick, passion and tragedy. Both parts feature Aurora at two different stages of her life: an older Aurora regrets a past long gone while a younger Aurora dreams of a more passionate life. A virtuoso film, Tabu also offers a reflection on Europe’s colonial past.


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Bacurau
Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles, 2019, 137 min

Bacurau, a small settlement in rural Brazil, is shaken by the death of its elderly matriarch. But something strange is happening in the village, and there’s little time for mourning. The water supply has been cut off, animals are stampeding through the streets, and empty coffins are turning up on the roadside. One morning, the villagers wake up to find their home has disappeared from satellite maps completely. Under threat from an unknown enemy, Bacurau braces itself for a bloody, brutal fight for survival. With unforgettable turns from Udo Kier and Sonia Braga, this is an audacious, original and violent blend of neo-Western and political allegory.


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Long Day's Journey into Night
Bi Gan, 2019, 133 min

Oozing atmosphere with its noirish neon glow, the film chronicles the return of Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) to Kaili, the hometown from which he fled many years before. Back for his father's funeral, Luo recalls the death of an old friend, Wildcat, and searches for lost love Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), who continues to haunt him. A hushed, hypnotic study of hazy memory, lost time, and flight – and featuring the formidable Sylvia Chang as Wildcat's mother – Long Day's Journey into Night leads the viewer on a nocturnal, labyrinthine voyage, one that both reveals and conceals a world of passion and intrigue.


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EO
Jerzy Skolimowski, 2022, 88 min

“Legendary director Jerzy Skolimowski created one of his freest and most visually inventive films yet with this story of a grey donkey named EO. After being removed from an itinerant circus, EO begins a trek across the countryside, experiencing cruelty and kindness from a cast of characters including an Italian countess (Isabelle Huppert) and a Polish soccer team. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, and featuring stunning cinematography by Michał Dymek coupled with Paweł Mykietyn’s resonant score, EO presents the follies and triumphs of humankind from the perspective of its four-legged protagonist on a quest for freedom.” – Janus Films


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Fallen Leaves
Aki Kaurismäki, 2023, 1981

Aki Kaurismäki returns with his latest deadpan gem Fallen Leaves, a luminous ode to romance and moviegoing. In modern-day Helsinki, two lonely souls in search of love meet by chance in a local karaoke bar. However, the pair’s path to happiness is beset by numerous obstacles – from lost numbers to mistaken addresses, alcoholism, and a charming stray dog. Moviegoing dreamers, there is hope for us still in this timeless, tender romance. Imbued with the Kaurismäki’s idiosyncratic playfulness and deadpan humour, this bittersweet comedy won the Jury Prize at Cannes.


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Samsara
Lois Patiño, 2023, 113 min

“In Buddhist philosophy, the word “samsara” refers to the nature of life as a cycle of deaths and rebirths. It is this process that Lois Patiño evokes to breath-taking effect in Samsara, a film with a triptych structure that follows a soul from the body of Mon (Simone Milavanh), an elderly woman in Laos, and later into the form of a baby goat in Zanzibar. It is a voyage that probes spiritual and cinematic boundaries to create a deeply moving meditation on what happens after we die and is, at times, a transcendent experience.” – Ben Nicholson


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Evil Does Not Exist
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, 2024, 105 min

Urban ambitions clash with nature in a quiet village near Tokyo in this eco-fable from the director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. Takumi and his daughter Hana live in Mizubiki Village, close to Tokyo. Like generations before them, they live a modest life according to the cycles and order of nature. One day, the village inhabitants become aware of a plan to build a glamping site near Takumi’s house, offering city residents a comfortable ‘escape’ to nature. When two company representatives from Tokyo arrive in the village to hold a meeting, it becomes clear that the project will harm the local water supply, causing unrest. The agency’s mismatched intentions endanger both the ecological balance of the nature plateau and their way of life, with an aftermath that affects Takumi’s life.