BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR (2004-2005)
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Sshtoorrty / Michael Snow
Short Story, or Sshtoorrty, or actually the words "Short" and "Story" written on top of each other, is about one minute and forty seconds long, and its supposed to be shown on a loop. I have rarely seen any two minutes of cinema as intense as this, and although I sat in front of it for about 45 minutes, I found new things to discover in each viewing. It is actually narrative, with a Snow-twist. (*formal spoilers follow*) The second half of the narrative is shown superimposed with the first half, so we are watching both at the same time. It seems like all of it was shot once, since the camera is situated at the same place all the time. The camera only pans twice; or once in each half; the moment the camera movement in the second half ends, the movement in the first half starts. Remember, both halfs are superimposed. To make things even more complicated, the dialogue is in Farsi and to help us understand it, there are subtitles. Sometimes there is dialogue in both parts, so the subtitles are superimposed too, so we can't understand anything. The story is very much like a soap opera, with lots of Snow-twists, and I won't spoil your fun; it is one of the funniest things I have seen on the screen. In my opinion, while it was being shown at the Jack Shainman Gallery, it was the best film playing in New York. The impossibility to grasp the totality of what's on the screen is taken to such an extreme that it becomes the subject of the film.
(Thanks to Mani Mazinani, who worked on the film as translator, for the correction.)
Here is Michael Snow's own description of the film, from the Canyon Cinema website:
"It's a 'painting' about a painting. I was very concerned with the mobile color mixing that would eventually happen. Colors were carefully chosen as I tried to predict how they would mix and interact. I make 'pictures' and the experience of looking at them is more important than the 'elsewhereness' of a story, even in this, my most 'story-telling' film. In that respect, part of the perception or 'reading' of the film involves one's choices of what went before and what came after in the actual pre-filmic event. The use of Farsi and the over-laying of the English subtitles were ways of adding two other layers of complexity. The film was designed to be seen several times, not just once. In my 1974 four-and-a-half-hour film Rameau's Nephew, I used many different languages. Ones hearing of an unfamiliar language tends the mind toward the ways in which one listens to music. Speech is then more purely sound than sense. Meaning doesn't cancel hearing. A modest political edge: adultery and drinking alcohol can be severely punished in Iran. Part of the original conception was that one could satisfyingly see / hear the episode-on-episode several times. Repeated viewing reduces the strength of the realism and makes it possible for one to see truly the artifact (or, the construct), the artificiality, the art. There are, literally, layers to it and I believe that each time one sees 'it' one sees it differently. One may concentrate for example, on the moving color-mixing, or what happen to the painting or the subtitles, or the way the speech and music are superimposed on each other. And as memory can be questioned, one may question ones memory as to whether each repeat is in fact the same. Were alterations made?"
Collateral / Michael Mann
What can I say? Michael Mann, by far the greatest director working in Hollywood today, did it again. Collateral is not only his best film to date, it is also the best action film ever. It is visually so complex and so dynamic that from the first shot until the last one my eyes were wide wide open to inhale its beauty. One of the rare recent American films that actually expresses any real emotions. It deserves to be seen again and again and again.
A Talking Picture / Manoel de Oliveira
Click here to read my comments on A Talking Picture and its politics.
Return to the Land of Wonders / Maysoon Pachachi
Pachachi has no claim to be a great artist and her modesty in using the camera actually makes the video much better than most new films I've seen this year. There is a sensitive person shooting and cutting the film and that is immediately apparent.
The last shot in Iraq is looking outside from the window of a car in a bumpy road, zigzagging (because of the roadblocks). Don't know if she is aware of the metaphor (the way it's done is so subtle), but it works, and quite powerfully. There is much more stuff like this in Return to the Land; I love the way she keeps the camera running just a bit longer after the interview with the child or the way the electricity keeps going on and off (something totally outside Pachachi's control) in a scene where an Iraqi talks about the human rights abuses by US soldiers.
The limitation of Pachachi arises from the fact that her work does not expand much, stylistically or narratively. She is not a great filmmaker in any way but I would not miss her next documentary, if she makes one. Would be nice to see her dealing with a subject different than Iraq too.
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