Every month, A Place for Film brings 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 reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates 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.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Tampopo (1985)
Have some ramen ready when you watch this movie, because it’s going to make you hungry. With a narrative structure recalling 1960s French New Wave, Tampopo follows the title character on a journey to transform her ramen shop into the best around.
While the core narrative is an absolute delight, Juzo Itami (who also wrote the screenplay) brings our attention to the wider cultural significance of food through a series of asides. First, a wealthy man in a white suit and hat brings us into the narrative, directly addressing the audience and, later in the film, explores the erotics of food with his girlfriend (also dressed in white). He is our commentator, but also somehow finds himself in his own, tragic gangster film.
Second, another scene shows a women in an Italian restaurant teaching Western etiquette to a group of younger women. Her instruction is punctuated by slurps from a middle-aged white man gobbling a plate of spaghetti, violating all her rules. With absurd fun, the whole sequence satirizes the arbitrariness of food etiquette.
Lastly, the film wanders away from the narrative for a longer sequence moving through the city. It culminates on a dying mother and her grieving family. As her last act on earth, the mother makes fried rice for her husband and children. She collapses on the floor, and they sob as they eat the last meal she would ever cook, pouring their grief into the labor that represents her love.
None of these scenes are connected to Tampopo’s efforts to assemble her team and perfect her broth, but like French New Wave, the narrative asides bring us out of the story to consider a social context beyond our main narrative.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Apartment (1960)
I’ve always loved unconventional holiday movies, and The Apartment is one of the best of its kind. It deals with such serious subjects as infidelity and depression, while never forgetting to show the joys of human connection and acts of kindness that can brighten the darkest nights of the year. I’m always in awe of its tonal shifts. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s precise yet innovative screenplay enables The Apartment to be a combination of a comedy, drama, Christmas movie, New Year’s Eve movie, as well as a very human love story. Often acclaimed as Wilder’s masterpiece (and the film that won him Oscars for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Film), The Apartment remains an unconventional holiday classic.
David Carter, contributor | Strange Days (1992)
The word “dystopia” gets tossed around a lot these days and if the past year is any evidence, it’s easy to see why. Even barring the pandemic, the year has put America into sharp focus as to where our values lie and the work that still needs to be done. As the devolution of human life became clear — be it from companies and the federal government forcing people back to work, nihilism about the foreseeable future, people of all identities fighting for basic human rights or the rampant and systemic violation of human rights by the nation’s police forces — I kept coming back to the realization that we as a nation have long since crossed over into a very specific form of dystopia, one of the cyberpunk variety, a branch of sci-fi storytelling focused on narratives about people seeking personal freedom where everything’s been commodified by corporations at best and completely used up at worst.
There are a handful films that capture the aesthetic and themes of the cyberpunk subgenre incredibly well and Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 neo-noir Strange Days is certainly near the top of that esteemed list of movies. It’s a movie so deftly designed, shot, performed, and realized that it’s truly a tragedy that it was a box-office bomb and has all but disappeared from the conversation about sci-fi cinema and cinema that tackles the age-old issue of police brutality against Black people. It’s nihilistic, it’s gnarly, and in 2020 it still feels as new as the day it plopped into theaters.
Michaela Owens, contributor | Holiday Affair (1949)
In the charming rom-com Holiday Affair, Janet Leigh’s world is turned upside down when she meets store clerk Robert Mitchum. A war widow with a young son (Gordon Gebert) she adores, Leigh is also engaged to steady, reliable Wendell Corey. But things aren’t as perfect as Leigh wants them to seem, and soon her continual, accidental encounters with Mitchum make her see that maybe Corey isn’t the right man for her — and her son — after all. Holiday Affair is a lovely gem of a film that boasts beautiful, lived-in performances, witty direction from Don Hartman, and a wonderful script by Isobel Lennart that explores the theme of loss with laugh-out-loud humor and genuine heart.
Jack Miller, contributor | A Tale of Winter (1992)
Éric Rohmer’s 1992 parable about a young mother torn between two men and a cherished, romantic memory forms the second part of his “Tales of the Four Seasons” cycle. Like many other Rohmer movies, this film deals with a protagonist circling around a decision of great personal importance. Rohmer shows nothing less than complete tenderness and empathy toward his unwavering heroine in this deeply moving work, and some of his decisions about narrative structure reveal a great deal about his artistic concerns.