Film Comment Selects at 13

Features A scene from "Miss Lovely"; source: Film Society of Lincoln Center

Published on February 18th, 2013 | by John Oursler


For more than half a century Film Comment magazine has explored the ways in which film became a cultural movement, a medium through which society both sees itself and learns about others. The magazine, published bi-monthly, takes the pulse of cinema’s landscape while providing must-read highbrow film criticism in an era when the commercially released academic film publication is all but extinct. The fact that the magazine continues to thrive is a testament to its smart editorial decisions and keen grasp of the evolution of its reader: the cinephile.

It took a while, but in 2000 the editors and writers at Film Comment, perhaps in the zeitgeist of the film festival movement, curated the inaugural Film Comment Selects, a carefully culled presentation of films from talent both emerging and entrenched. Since then, the festival has continued to act as the filmic manifestation of the magazine’s written content by critically engaging with both past and present international and avant-garde film. This year’s selection is another fantastic journey through forgotten classics, auteur offerings, and international festival favorites. Film Society of Lincoln Center hosts the annual gathering of films, the majority of which will likely never be released in theaters, and if you’re a cinephile of any sort there’s plenty to salivate over. From the opening night selection of Antonio Campos’s twisted new film “Simon Killer” to an unreleased Bergman classic, they’ve got you covered.

Miss Lovely” (Tue. 19, Wed. 20) is among the very best of the festival’s offerings. Brothers Vicky (Anil George) and Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) have a dream of making it big. They produce monster movies and hardcore porn the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find now except for in the video collections of enthusiasts. Set amidst India’s underground porn industry in the mid-1980s, the film has the feel of an American drug tale. Director Ashim Ahluwalia creates something of a seedy dreamscape as the film shows rather than tells what it was like to operate under dangerous circumstances in an era when making porn was federal enemy number one. Sonu wants to make a clean break by producing a commercial love story with a girl he’s fallen in love with (the titular character), but personal freedom is a hard sell when you’re controlled by an iron-fisted moneymaking machine. Similar in tone to last year’s outstanding “Neighbouring Sounds,”“Miss Lovely” operates on a sensory level rather than an emotional one, the product of which is an outstanding tale of love, crime, and unlikely dreams in a seldom-seen environment.

On the other end of the spectrum is Ingmar Bergman’s “From the Life of the Marionettes”(Tue. 19, Tue. 26), a forgotten offering from an incomparable auteur. Released in 1980 and made during Bergman’s tax evasion exile to West Germany, the film’s content is somewhat inexplicably similar to those in “Scenes from a Marriage,” notably the complicated dynamics of a frayed relationship. What makes the film stand out is its expressionistic style and theatricality, elements that might be more at home in a Fassbinder film from the same period. The opening scene packs a wallop: lovers engage in a sadomasochistic tango that goes horribly wrong, leaving one dead and another, Peter (Robert Atzorn), morbidly incomplete. A non-linear cat-and-mouse murder mystery follows wherein the rationale behind Peter’s murderous act is put under scrupulous interrogation. Though the film is ultimately not among his best work, its obscurity and fascinating formal invention make it an absolute must see.

If you’re looking for something slightly less austere, turn to Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers” (Thu. 28) and Michel Gondry’s “The We and the I”(Thu. 28). Hot off the success of his cult thriller “Kill List,” Ben Wheatley lightens things up a bit with “Sightseers,” a British black comedy in the American tradition of “Bonnie and Clyde”and “Badlands.”Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are newly acquainted lovers who take a road trip across the British countryside while Chris struggles to write a new novel. What transpires is equal parts macabre killing spree and fanciful road trip, as the film coalesces into something singularly Wheatley: tragicomedy that raises the bar while simultaneously skirting under it. Similarly, Michel Gondry is a filmmaker known for infusing genres with a unique flair. His newest release, “The We and the I,” is a quasi-documentary look at a group of Bronx teenagers on their bus ride home from school. In a similar vein to Kiarostami’s“Ten”(incidentally now playing at Film Society), “We” exploits a claustrophobic environment for dramatic effect in the hopes of revealing truths about its inhabitants.

Going strong at 104, Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira delivers a deceivingly simple look at the life of a lower-class accountant and his family in “Gebo and the Shadow”(Mon. 18, Tue. 19). Adapted from a 1923 play (when de Oliveira was already 14!), “Gebo” continues the kammerspiel tradition of Murnau and Pabst by intimately looking at an ordinary family’s life and a turning point that shakes them to the core. In true de Oliveira style, an element of supernatural whimsy becomes part of the conceit, but works in such a way as to elevate a simple narrative structure with something of a transcendent effect.

Of the more experimental, convention-breaking ilk is Antonio Campos’s “Simon Killer”(Mon. 18), a film as divisive as 2013 is likely to see. Brady Corbett (“Funny Games,”“Martha Marcy May Marlene”) stars as a young American tourist in the Paris sex district who falls in love with one of the region’s sex workers. When the film premiered at Sundance two years ago, reactions were heavily divided, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Gaspar Noe’s“Irreversible.” While the spoiler-laden title may give a bit of insight into what comes next, don’t be fooled: Campos provides a banquet of stylistic musings that make this a crazy ride you’ll want to take just so you can say you did.

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About the Author

is a freelance film critic based in NYC. He has a master's degree in nonprofit management, which he hopes will lead to a career in programming or fundraising at a film festival.

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