From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2016). — J.R.
Son of Saul ****
Directed by László Nemes
“The sense of being lost is what we wanted to convey. That is what was missing before [in most earlier movies about the Holocaust]: one individual being lost.” — László Nemes to Andrea Gronvall, Movie City News
László Nemes’ Hungarian debut feature, Son of Saul, opening this week at the Music Box, is easily the most exciting new film I’ve seen over the past year, and a casual look at the prizes and accolades it’s received over the past eight months, starting with the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes, shows that I’m far from alone in feeling this way. Even my colleagues who dislike or dismiss the films concede that it’s a stunning technical achievement. But the moment one starts to describe what the film does, or even what it’s about, a certain amount of dissension sets in.
Nemes and his lead actor Géza Röhrig have consistently described their intentions as wanting viewers to experience viscerally and as accurately as possible what Sonderkommando members went through in Auschwitz in October 1944. These were the Jewish prisoners obliged to lead other Jews into the gas chambers, search their clothes for valuables before, during, and after they were being gassed, and then dispose of their bodies — carting them off, burning them, and then shoveling away their ashes, receiving in return slightly better food and quarters before eventually being exterminated themselves. Read more
My column for the April 2016 issue of Caimán Cuadenos de Cine. — J.R.
1. I can easily understand why some of Abel Ferrara’s biggest fans have certain reservations about his Pasolini, available now on a splendid region-B Blu-Ray from the BFI. Even if it’s a solid step forward from the stultifying silliness of Welcome to New York, it lacks the crazed, demonic poetry of Bad Lieutenant, The Addiction, and New Rose Hotel; most disconcertingly, it’s a responsible, apparently well-researched treatment of one of the most irresponsible of film artists, made by another film artist generally cherished for his own irresponsibility. And stylistically, it’s almost as if Ferrara has moved from being the great-grandson of F.W. Murnau to being the grandson of Vincente Minnelli — although one could argue, more precisely, that this isn’t really an auteur film at all. Yet as a portrait of the great and uncontainable Pier Paolo Pasolini, filtered through the last day of his life –- a day focused on new creative work (a novel in progress and a film in preproduction) as well various other activities, at home and on the street -– it carries an undeniable conviction and emotional authenticity in which the prosaic strengths of Lust for Life may finally be more relevant to this film’s serious ambitions than the poetic flourishes of a Faust or a Tabu. Read more
I’ve been trying for years to track down and see Susan Sontag’s fourth and final film, Unguided Tour (1983), and now, quite by accident, I’ve discovered that it’s available online, here. If, like me, you can’t follow the Italian without English subtitles, perhaps the best solution would be to read Sontag’s original story, the final one included in her 1978 collection I, etcetera. [3/6/2016]
A lengthy postscript: Thanks to the generosity of David Heslin and the wonders of the Internet, there are the complete English subtitles:
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by Susan Sontag
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A tourist city different from
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Different from Florence.
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Different from Siena.
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Different from Rome.
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Different from Athens.
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Because there’s an imaginary kingdom
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of which this city is the capital.
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of which this city is the centre.
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There was a very dear friend of mine,
an Argentinian film-maker in exile
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who fled to save his skin. Read more