July 2022: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Jean Vigo and Fruit of Paradise
Monthly Roundup Post
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July brought more than a few firsts: I attended my first European film festival in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, filled more blind spots, and filled out my first Sight & Sound ballot. A few hints with regards to Sight and Sound: My selections were very Black ,with a couple surprises along the way. I think anyone who regularly reads me will be able to figure out more than a few. But I do want to make note of how fortunate I feel to have been asked. It’s a once in a decade honor that I don’t take lightly. And I can’t wait to share my list (and some of the reasoning behind my picks in November).
Here’s what I worked on during July:
Among the 72 films I watched, there were more than a few noteworthy movies, especially in a month filled with the works of Jean Vigo, King Vidor, Barbara Loden, Věra Chytilová, Clint Eastwood, and Chantal Akerman. Here are a few of the highlights:
Alma’s Rainbow - Recently restored by Milestone Films, writer/director Ayoka Chenzira’s feature debut is a coming-of-age film about a trio of African American women living navigating life, love and family in Brooklyn during the 1990s. Expressly Black and vibrantly rendered, it’s a treasure.
L’Atalante - Jean Vigo was a glaring blind spot for me (I’d only watched Zéro de conduite before). This French romantic masterwork, featuring poetic compositions and lyrical editing, tracks a young couple learning to live with one another as they travel to Paris on a cargo barge.
Bad Day at Black Rock - I’ve been working to become a Robert Ryan completist (I’ve watched eleven of his movies). This Western-Noir starring Spencer Tracy as a WWII vet arriving at a little traveled-to plains town only to find the viciously racist Ryan continues the latter’s propensity for portraying vitriolic characters in films meant to denounce them.
The Champ - I was a puddle of tears by the end of King Vidor’s boxing flick, wherein Wallace Beery portrays the titular washed-up, gambling champ trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his devoted young son Dink (Jackie Cooper).
Fruit of Paradise - Managed to catch this Věra Chytilová classic as KVIFF. A psychedelic adaptation of the Adam and Eve story, Fruits of Paradise is similar to her better-known classic Daisies in its experimental and surreal sensibilities.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles - Another blind spot for me, Chantal Akerman’s slice of life masterpiece follows a single-mother as her once regimented daily routine unspools to reveal the difficulties in her life. Though it’s 201-minutes long, it flies by in a flash.
Mystic River - I haven’t watched Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River in over a decade. It’s a difficult-to-watch drama that I returned to on my flight to KVIFF. I had forgotten how incredible Tim Robbins is here as the broken and troubled rape survivor Dave Boyle. Eastwood finds the tender center of this Bostonian story where there are only losers in a life where there are so few ways of winning.
The Ordinaries - Sophie Linnenbaum’s debut narrative feature film didn’t make my KVIFF coverage, but it’s a movie that hasn’t left my mind. A meta-quasi-Holocaust-musical about a young girl dreaming to be a main character away from the discriminated extras is at once about moviemaking and freedom. I’m not sure if Linnenbaum lands every component, but I know I’ve not seen anything like it.
Out of the Fog - Ida Lupino portrays the wide-eyed daughter of a humble fisherman (Thomas Mitchell), who’s smitten with a devious and violent local gangster portrayed by a ruthless John Garfield.
The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman - While Cameroonian director Rosine Mfetgo Mbakam’s trio of documentaries just left Criterion Channel, they’re still available on VOD. One I want to highlight is The Two Faces of a Bamileke Woman, which chronicles her mother’s experiences dealing with repressive French colonizers and the travails of living in a patriarchal country.
Wanda - Barbara Loden’s seminal portrait of an unhappy housewife pairing up with an abusive criminal to escape her humdrum existence carries the same urgency as John Cassavetes but through an unflinching feminist lens.
Westfront 1918 - Few films since have fully captured the bleak horrors of war as well as Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s raw World War I picture Westfront 1918. Certain images, such as a broken, hallucinating soldier being dragged from the trenches, will remain seared in your mind forever.