June 2, 2011 / Filmwell
One wuxia film has withstood the test of time, and, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above the rest of its peers, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon included: Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002).
One problem I have always had with year-end list making is that it forces me to break up the little thematic and emotional connections that develop between films, directors, and genres over the course of a year of new cinema and rank films according to a different metric. Rather than a list, I would like to somehow begin producing a map of my year in cinema. Maybe next year.
But if I had to pick one word to sum up my experience of this excellent year of cinema, it would be: confession. Kicking off this theme, Kiarostami’s Certified Copy unfolds the origami of marriage in such a way that we are able to see its creases and folds – which, as it turns out, always seem to bend in both directions. The most affecting movements of the film pivot on moments in which its two characters realize, disclose, or even confess hidden corners of their stories to each other. Later in the year I ran across a drastic foil to the gentility of Kiarostami’s puzzle; Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur features a far less abstract moment of confession that, if I had a map of this year of cinema, would probably lie directly at its emotional center.
Around this are arranged Ayoade’s surprising Submarine, Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, Fedorchenko’s Silent Souls, and Radu Muntean’s Tuesday After Christmas – all films in which we find husbands, wives, and children confessing things to each other that would otherwise lurk like poison in the subtext of each storyline. In Barnard’s film, these confessions are vivid, after the fact recitations of an entire family history. In Tuesday After Christmas, the great confession just appears and leaves us all a bit stunned through the end of the film. But the current that binds all these films together is the process of verbalizing things that are very difficult to say. We then, in different ways, bear witness to what happens when such words are loosed upon these films. This theme appeared again with alarming scope while watching Pruitt-Igoe Myth with several different audiences in St. Louis, during which we toyed with the idea that cinema could even serve, for certain audiences, as a place to begin breaking loose and verbalizing long-held local stereotypes.
And of course, in the great eschatological grudge match of the year, von Trier’s apocalyptic undoing of human vulnerability challenges Tree of Life’s hushed whisper of confession. Oddly, Meek’s Cutoff serves as an interesting companion to these films, as it draws our attention to the possibility that all three are full of people who are having difficulty admitting: We have no idea what we are doing.
Looking back on this year of cinema, the above conversation is what I will most certainly keep returning to. But otherwise, here are ten (with Le Havre remaining to be seen) to take a look at:
1. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
3. Of Gods And Men (Xavier Beauvois)
[I always wondered if there was such a thing as a “missional” cinema. Yes there is, and this is it.]
4. Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)
[I don’t have much to say about this one other than that it very well conveys that certain sense of shock Godard has been developing throughout his last few films in tricky subtitles, lengthy language games, and vibrant washes of color across vignettes lobbed like cannon fodder across several of Godard’s ideological lines.]
5. The Arbor (Clio Barnard)
6. Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
7. Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)
8. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
[So much accomplished with such relatively little funding. I felt like I was watching an early Carpenter film, built from the ground up with sheer ingenuity and enjoyment.]
9. Pruitt-Igoe Myth (Chad Freidrichs)
10. [Reserving for Kaurismaki]
Others that very well could be on this list:
Submarine (Richard Ayoade), Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul), Poetry (Chang-dong Lee), Tuesday, After Christmas (Muntean), Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin)