Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | Touki Bouki (1973)
I have been trying to watch more international films, and I have not seen an African one in a while, so I watched this avant-grade Senegalese classic. It’s about a young couple trying to raise enough money to leave for Paris. The narrative, however, is not as important as the energetic and musical atmosphere that the images and sound create. Watching this movie will transport you to another time and place with flair, and it will be a journey you will be glad to have taken.
Michaela Owens, editor | Merrily We Live (1938)
Confession time: although a lot of people love the classic film My Man Godfrey, the only thing I truly enjoy about it is William Powell. Godfrey‘s premise — a man who is mistaken for a bum is hired by a wealthy family whose eccentricities charm him rather than scare him off — is similar to Merrily We Live, an enchantingly madcap comedy that was released two years later. However, Merrily We Live isn’t interested in commenting on the Depression or examining class relations the way that Godfrey is. Instead, the film decides to lean into its silliness, giving audiences one of the purest examples of screwball comedy ever made.
As soon as the movie began with a bouncy theme song over its cheery opening credits, I was hooked. Everything about Merrily We Live is fast and furious — jokes practically topple over one another, and the actors literally never stop moving as they briskly go in and out of rooms. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the cast gets a chance to shine. Clarence Kolb’s exasperated patriarch has one of the funniest drunk scenes I’ve ever seen. As his wife, Billie Burke is her typical scatterbrained self, except her flightiness is turned up to an 11. Alan Mowbray plays the butler, as he so often did, except this butler makes funny faces and threatens to leave the crazy Kilbournes every day.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out the performance that delighted me the most, which was Brian Aherne’s as the “tramp” who is taken in by the Kilbournes. Aherne is so wonderfully quirky, and his scenes with stunning leading lady Constance Bennett are so adorable, that it makes you wonder why the actor has been so unfairly forgotten.
Note: trailer unavailable, but you can watch one of the scenes here.
David Carter, contributor | Happy Together (1997) and Laurence Anyways (2012)
As far as love stories are concerned there’s a subgenre I’m a particularly big fan of. This would be “the Doomed Love Story,” stories about the rise and ever so painful fall of the passion two people share. You’ve at least heard of movies that fall into this genre; (500) Days of Summer and Blue Valentine are two famous examples. But what I enjoy even more than that are the stories purely about the end of a relationship. These stories, for me, get to the heart of why two people loved each other in the first place and paints a portrait of how that passion isn’t always compatible with personal growth.
Since it was Pride Month I decided to check out films from my favorite filmmakers about queer romances that I had been putting off for far too long and Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together and Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways were at the top of that list. Both are aesthetically and visually stunning and stylish films about the final years, months and days of incredibly passionate relationships. Happy Together, covered in Wong Kar Wai’s signature acidic visual poetry, portrays a codependent relationship that edges ever closer to dissolving. Dolan’s Laurence Anyways is a fabulous, ecstatic and complicated celebration of a trans woman’s transition and the strain that puts on her partner who still deeply cares about her. Both movies are guaranteed to dig deep down into the parts of your soul and question the virtues of love while also filling your eyes and ears with quality. Seek them out if you can.
Note: the first trailer contains some language.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Annihilation (2018)
Writer/director Alex Garland structured the narrative of Annihilation to mirror the fantastical world inside the Shimmer. Moments echo — replicate — revealing new details and providing variations on what we already know. I love the design of the Shimmer, terrifying and breathtaking at the same time, with a soundtrack that helps define the world.
I’m afraid to say too much, because I think this is a film that you need to discover as you’re watching it. But I will say that Annihilation warrants a second viewing. Go for the 5-night rental, and plan two movie nights so you can take it all in, let your mind digest it, and then watch for all the interesting little details you missed the first time.
Nathaniel Sexton, contributor | First Reformed (2018)
I was struck this week when watching First Reformed by just how many things the cinema can accomplish, and the marvelous and varied ways in which it can go about achieving its ends, or otherwise eschewing them. There are so many movies and each of them, so often, so remarkably different from one another. Seeing Paul Schrader’s film reminds me of why the cinema is my favorite thing and why it’s the unparalleled art form that it is. I recommend that each person make a strong effort to see Shrader’s contemporary masterpiece in a movie theater. And, where the cinema is very different, I want also to point to the ways in which it communicates with itself, reflects itself, combines and multiplies and transforms itself. To do this, I’ll offer a simple series of recommendations for watching First Reformed, a set of movies, each importantly tied to Schrader’s film: Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951), Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Ordet (1955), Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light (1962), Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986).