30 septembre 2006

DIGEST : Septembre 2006

Unreviewed screenings, current reading, links, recommendations, free talk, questions, thoughts, informal conversation, anything... comments welcome

>> updates below (sticky entry for a month)

NYFF 2006

The 44th New York Film Festival
September 29 – October 15, 2006 - Official Website


  • 49 Up (2006/Michael Apted, UK) 1
  • Amitiés Maléfiques / Poison Friends (2006/Emmanuel Bourdieu, France) 1 2
  • August Days (2006/Marc Recha, Spain) 1
  • Bamako (2006/Abderrahmane Sissako, Mali/France) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Belle Toujours (2006/Manoel de Oliveira, France) 1 2 3 4
  • Climates (2006/Nuri Bilge Ceylan,Turkey) 1 2 3 4 5
  • Coeurs / Private Fears in Public Places (2006/Alain Resnais, France) 1 2 3 4 5
  • Election 1/2/3 (2006/Johnnie To, Hong Kong) 1 2
  • Falling (2006/Barbara Albert, Austria) 1
  • Inland Empire (2006/David Lynch, France/USA) 1 2 3 4 5 7
  • Jardins en Automne / Gardens in Autumn (2006/Otar Iosseliani. France) 1 2 3
  • Les Matins / A Little Bit Under The Weather (2005/Annick Raoul, France)
  • Little Children (2006/Todd Field, USA) 1 2 3 4 5
  • Mafioso (1962/Alberto Lattuada, Italy) 1 2 3 4
  • Marie Antoinette (2006/Sofia Coppola, USA) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
  • Offside (2006/Jafar Panahi, Iran) 1 2 3
  • Our Daily Bread (2006/Nikolaus Geyrhalter. Austria) DOC 1 2 3
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006/Guillermo del Toro, Spain/Mexico) 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • Paprika (2006/Satoshi Kon, Japan) 1 2 3 4
  • South of Ten (2006/Liza Johnson, USA)
  • Syndromes and a Century (2006/Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria) 1 2 3 4
  • The Go Master (2006/Tian Zhuangzhuang, China/Japan) 1 2
  • The Host (2006/Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006/Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, Canada) 1 2 3 4
  • The Queen (2006/Stephen Frears, UK) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
  • These Girls (2006/Tahani Rached, Egypt) DOC 1
  • Volver (2006/Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) 1 2 3 4
  • Woman on the Beach (2006/Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) 1 2 3 4 5 6


  • A Drop of Water (2006/Deniz Gamze Erguven, France/Turkey)
  • Alice Sees The Light (2006/Ariana Gerstein, USA)
  • Chronicle of A Jump (2005/Zohar Lavi, Israel/USA)
  • Cubs (2006/Tom Harper , UK)
  • Fourteen (2005/Nicole Barnette , USA)
  • Lump (2006/Faye Jackson , UK)
  • In The Tradition of My Family (2005/Todd Davis, USA)
  • Innocence (2005/Arnaud Gautier, France)
  • Jimmy Blue (2006/Joseph Infantolino, USA)
  • Salt Kiss / Beijo de sal (2006/Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa , Brazil/USA)
  • The Caretakers (2006/Elisabeth Subrin, USA)
  • The Day I Died/El Dia que mori (2005/Maryam Keshavarz, Argentina/USA)
  • The Naked Race (2005/Benoit Forgeard, UK)


  • Insiang (1976/Lino Brocka, The Philippines) 1 2
  • Reds (1981/Warren Beatty, USA) 1
  • El Topo (1970/Alejandro Jodorowsky, Spain/Mexico) 1
  • The Holy Mountain (1973/Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mexico/USA) 1
  • Brand Upon The Brain! (2006/Guy Maddin, Canada) 1
  • Scenes from the City: 40 Years of Filmmaking in New York
  • Looking at Jazz
  • Picturing Development: The Case of Bamako


Stephen Frears
Michael Apted
Guillermo del Toro

AVANT GARDE www 1 2 3 4 5


  • Jules and Jim
  • The Rules of The Game
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Children of Paradise
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Knife in the Water
  • Cria Cuervos
  • Monika
  • WR: Mysteries of the Organism
  • The 400 Blows
  • Antoine et Colette
  • The Cranes are Flying
  • La Strada
  • The Organizer
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • Wild Strawberries
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • Viridiana
  • Cleo From 5 to 7
  • Zéro de conduite
  • The Seven Samurai
  • The Earrings of Madame de...
  • L’Avventura
  • Ballad of a Soldier
  • Sansho the Bailiff
  • Day of Wrath
  • High and Low
  • Kwaidan
  • Fires of the Plain
  • Walkabout
  • The Phantom Carriage
  • Death of a Cyclist


I've only seen 6 films from this impressive line up. I will watch Amitiés Maléfiques soon (released here this week). So there are more titles on my anticipation list, than in my recommendations.
MUST SEE : Our Daily Bread; Climates
WORTHWHILE : Bamako; Volver; Marie Antoinette
DON'T BOTHER : Jardins en Automne

Roughtly in preferential order my anticipation list:
Inland Empire; Syndromes and a Century; Woman on the Beach; The Go Master; These Girls; Belle Toujours; Coeurs; Pan’s Labyrinth; The Queen

The sidebar retrospectives also offer some great gems, like Jodorowsky's El Topo and The Holy Mountain (which I saw recently on its new remastered print from Cannes Classics). Lots of praise around Philipino's Insiang by Brocka too. And the Janus sidebar is like a list of historical canon masterpieces! Notably the rare silent swedish film The Phantom Carriage. And from what I need to see for a long time : Cria Cuervos; WR: Mysteries of the Organism; The Makioka Sisters; Fires of the Plain; Walkabout; Ballad of a Soldier; Sansho the Bailiff.

Jim Emerson at Scanners puts into question the relevance of the NYFF. And comments AO Scott's article of the festival in the NYT.

* * *

Online Reports :

For more reviews check out my posts for Cannes and Toronto

23 septembre 2006

Critical Fallacy 3 : Simplification

Critical Fallacy 3 : SIMPLIFICATION

Jim Emerson : "One of my favorite propaganda techniques -- used in politics, journalism, criticism, you name it -- is to present evidence (or, better yet, opinion polls cited as if they constituted evidence) refuting something that was never true -- or even widely thought to be true -- in the first place. (...) This is that kind of story that is based on "overturning" assumptions that never were. "
The death of film criticism has been greatly exaggerated, Part I

Continuing on the idea of Manipulation, but less of a Deception is the intentional omission of certain aspects that would disprove the point the critic strives to push. Simplification of facts could remain in the realm of truth, but a selective truth, therefore giving a partial and inadequate perception of the whole. It's easy to list only the good points, or even embellish them through lyrical rhetoric, so the reader gets a positive impression. The key in criticism is that the reader only builds a judgment from the elements delivered by the review. By ignoring the evidences that contradict our opinion, the reader is prone to conditioning, and it also reflects a blatant disregard for journalistic impartiality. Conversely, mentioning a couple of bad points in the film without balancing with its overall redeeming quality is enough to put off readers disingenuously.

This is not about "objective" criticism (this hot controversy will be for a later entry in this series). Asserting a subjective opinion, siding frankly in the detractor's camp (or proponent's) is part of reviewing, but what constitutes a flaw of the critical duty is to fail to provide a representative rendition of the entire film by eliminating obvious counter arguments that the reader might want to contemplate before falling back behind the writer's ready-made mindframe. Afterall a review isn't a partisan manifesto aiming at recruiting sheep followers.
Shouldn't film criticism balance good and bad points equally to invite the reader to participate to the evaluation of the film's potential? Especially since every viewer has a different tolerance for flaws, and different expectations/needs. I believe to offer readers the most accurate rendition of the film, in terms of narrative arguments and artistic achievements, is more helpful to let them figure if the film is what they are looking for or not. Why should critics decide what is good for you and go extended lengths to persuade you they are right?

Klaus Eder : "But in general I would say it's your job as film critic to know as much as possible about all different sorts of backgrounds, not only backgrounds concerning the film, but also the country, its history, its culture. For example, I have problems understanding certain Japanese films because my understanding of Japanese society is not perfect. I think you should know about everything around a film, the conditions it was made in, the script, where it came from, the subject, as much as possible. What you use for your writing is another thing."
Undercurrent #1 critics' roundtable

A film review doesn't have to sound theoretical and intellectual, but we should at least be able to notice there was a thought-out preparation resulting in what we read. The reason why anybody cannot be a film critic is that the risk for misconception and oversimplification is higher with people without any kind of cinema culture or artistic knowledge. The audience's personal appropriation of the film and the crazy interpretations running through word-of-mouth are part of the immediate film experience, but they shall not constitute a critical judgment. The critic who sentences a final judgment in print cannot bring up on a whim whatever crosses his/her mind (or guts) for everyone else to believe. Fantasies and speculations should stay within the unverified street noise and not pretend to pose as criticism.

Jim Emerson: "So, for me, reviewing is the crudest level of film criticism -- just one basic building block in the edifice. There are critics who can elevate it to an art, but the form itself is by nature extremely narrow and limited in scope. You would hope that a film critic, or reviewer, brings a broad knowledge of the history and traditions of film, to what they write, but that's not often the case. But we all bring our experiences and knowledge to the viewing of a film -- including what we know about all the other films we've seen, books we've read, subjects we've studied, ideas and conversations we've had, and so on."
What we talk when we talk about film criticism - Scanners

Adding savvy insights to the film experience is the duty of a film critic, a valuable commentary that the general audience will not likely be able to imagine on their own. The point of journalism is to bring information, not to share the kind of unreliable incompetent impressions that anybody can get anywhere. We don't need hasty generalizations, shallow stereotypes, ridiculing caricatures, dumbing down puns, narrow viewpoints, ignorant statements, vulgarization, superficial judgments, trivial chattering... Tossing buzzwords to raise controversy, bringing up big theory labels without demonstrations without direct obvious relations to the film reviewed are "smarty" fills and easy cope outs.

Straw Man is another common fallacy :
The critic would fabricate a dubious issue extrapolated from one of point developed in the film, by making it sound more extreme, more indefensible than it actually is. Therefore sidestepping the important argument of the film, failing to address the real question and turning onto an easier flaw to pan. Once the Straw Man is debunked, the critic will use this conclusion, which was proved out of context, and assume the film can thus be dismissed altogether. Again this is a shameful rhetorical technique to obfuscate a critical argument for gullible readers who don't pay close attention to the articulation of a critic's train of thought. But if a reader hasn't seen the movie, it could be difficult to notice a Straw Man diversion at all... Which makes it even more unethical for a critic to go down that way.

We see this at work mostly for innovative, challenging movies, or extreme genres, the ones pointed at by the rating board of censorship, and all critics follow, resorting to big words like "fascism", "nihilism", "misanthropy"... Violence is bad for kids therefore a violent scene should be banned regardless for its role in the film, the meaning of its representation. Sometimes there is a subtext that criticizes violence by overdoing it or through the irony of the violent character arc involved. If the film ends on the victory of evil characters (anti-happy ending) it doesn't imply it condones this type of agenda. The bitter aftertaste of seeing justice unresolved is much more powerful and educational. The film itself might be reprehensible, aggressive, offending, immoral, but more important than its face value is the analysis of the situation it puts the audience in. Are we passive? Are we involved? Are we accomplice? Should we judge the fictitious characters or our complacency towards them? Are we invited to take a stance? Are we provoked to react to manipulative storytelling? That's why critics should discuss the moral implications beyond the apparent synopsis.

Contributions, disputes, examples are encouraged as always.

Coming up, Critical Fallacy 4 : Burden of Proof

15 septembre 2006

Etrange Fest Report

First report from L'Etrange Festival :

Missing the DR9 documentary really annoyed me, and I kinda neglected the festival thereafter and couldn't catch everything I had planned (Unfortunately I also missed Wavelength and Serene Velocity!). Anyway still saw a few:

The Act of seeing with one's own Eyes, a grossing out silent documentary by Stan Brakhage, on the daily routine of a coroner, opening up corpses like if on a conveyer belt. Disturbingly it reminds me of Geyrhalter's documentary on food processing industry, Our Daily Bread, and seeing inanimate human bodies being disemboweled, trepanned like pigs is not something I enjoy watching in a comfortable theatre as if it was entertainment. This questions more than the simple voyeurism of art. Brakhage over-uses obscene close ups, the only thing he was not allowed to film was the eyes of corpses, but looking at their sex and inside their skull was ok apparently.
The title is the literal translation of the Greek etymology of "autopsy". Diamanda Galas, who selected this film in her Carte Blanche, and was projected along with Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage (some people thought it was a clever choice apparently), quoted Franju saying about his documentary Le Sang des Bêtes/Blood of the Beasts (made 22 years before Brakhage's) that filming it in color would have been offending. So Franjupreferredd to use sound for animal necropsy, and Brakhage used silent color for human autopsy.
In one of his early documentary, Kieslowski also filmed an operation room at work with patient's flesh being ripped open and their bones exposed. a really difficult experience to watch.

Les Yeux sans visage / Eyes Without a Face (1960/Georges Franju/France) is a much better film than I expected from this type of low budget exploitation flick. Excellent noir cinematography, and a strong atmosphere. For instance the facial mask act is amazing. Unfortunately the ending is a little hasty and clumsy. Despite the approximate script, the mythological content is profound and powerful (a near female Oedipus). A father figure who "kills" his daughter because she's promised to a young man (who is doctor like the father!). A daughter held prisoner by her father and a "step-mother" (the real mother died), because she lost her face in an accident. The father experimenting to reconstruct his daughter's face turns into a serial killer. Ultimately the daughter rebels and kills her step-mother and her own father.

The Hawk is Dying (2006/Julian Goldberger/USA), a small budget "indie", was at Sundance and Cannes, but is very badly written IMHO. The premise largely comes from Ken Loach's Kes (1969) and Barry Hines' novel. Here, transposed in southern Americana (with caricatural rednecks),adaptedd from anAmericann novel (Harry Crews), the hawk lover is adult and lives with his obese sister and her (allegedly autist) son. The autist son is a disposable melo character who is discarded after 20 minutes. Everafter his uncle parades around his hawk, in an attempt to train it, instead of attending the funeral. All this is so artificial, contrived, shallow,incrediblee, just a pointless caricature (or mockery). This could be used in film school to point every wrong possible decisions a director can make. The only worthwhile aspect is Giamatti's moderated performance and his acting with a real hawk throughout the film.

Two funny short films that won awards at this festival:

Counter (2004/Volker Schreiner/Germany) A frantic montage of quick glimpses at numbers seen onscreen through the catalog of cinema history, counting down from somewhere around 280 to 0. Room numbers on the doors, clock, timer, building level, speedometer, bank note, telephone number, ticket, bill, handwriting... And the brief context of these numbers, the location, the set, the photography or the actor hints at what film it comes from, but it goes so fast it's difficult to remember them all.

A Half Man (2005/Firas Momani/Canada) A stop-motion claymation of a human body cut in half from head to toes so it looks like a medical cross section, where we can see all organs inside. Ironic scene when he goes to the doctor and faces an anatomy poster in the waiting room that looks just like him. Really interesting work on the lighting and shallow focus.

08 septembre 2006

TIFF 2006

  • TIFF 2006 - 31st Toronto International Film Festival
    Sept 7-16 2006 - Official website

Programmes range from Canadian cinema, Documentary, Contemporary World Cinema (partly from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and Venice), Short films, Avant Garde and a series of lectures with projected films by other filmmakers. Tallying up to 352 films from 61 countries.

I've already seen 23 films (updated) in Paris from this long list. And my recommendations go as follow, roughly by preference order (check numbered links for external reviews, and the hyperlinked titles are my reviews) :


But there are much more titles I wish I could watch if I was down there in Toronto. This is the top10 I'm really looking forward to (whenever they get distribution in Paris) :

  1. Colossal Youth / Juventude Em Marcha (Pedro Costa) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
  2. Hana (Hirokazu Kore-eda) 1
  3. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang) www 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  4. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) www 1 2 3
  5. Nachtstück (Peter Tscherkassky)
  6. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo)
  7. Dong (Jia Zhangke) DOC 1 2 3
  8. Roads of Kiarostami / Farsh-e Irani (Abbas Kiarostami)
  9. Red Road (Andrea Arnold) vdo 1 2 3 4
  10. Chronicle of an Escape / Buenos Aires 1977 (Israel Adrián Caetano) www
  11. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke) 1 2 3 4 5

  • Summer Palace (Lou Ye) vdo 1 2
  • Golden Door (Emanuele Crialese)
  • Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal) DOC
  • Offside / Hors Jeu (Jafar Panahi) 1 2 3 4
  • The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (Ann Hui)
  • Hamaca Paraguaya (Paz Encina) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  • Remembering Arthur (Martin Lavut) DOC
  • Very Nice, Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett)
  • The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky)
  • Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu) vdo 1 2 3
  • Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog) 1 2 3
  • Time (Kim Ki-duk)
  • Black Book / Zwartboek (Paul Verhoeven) www 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • Cœurs (Alain Resnais) www 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Belle toujours (Manoel de Oliveira) 1 2 3
  • Day Night Day Night (Julia Loktev) 1 2
  • Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence) 1 2 3 4 5
  • The Violin / El Violin (Francisco Vargas Quevedo) 1 2 3 4 5 6
  • The Bothersome Man / Den Brysomme Mannen (Jens Lien) 1 2 3
  • To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die (Djamshed Usmonov) 1
  • These Girls / El Banate dol (Tahani Rached) DOC 1
  • When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts (Spike Lee) DOC
  • Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin)
  • Iran: Une Révolution cinématographique (Nader Takmil Homayoun) DOC
  • Psychiatry in Russia (Albert Maysles)
  • Mon Colonel (Herbiet)
  • The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Sophie Fiennes) DOC 1 2
  • Requiem (Hans Christian Schmidt) 1 2
  • Times and Winds (Reha Erdem) 1 2 3
  • Half Moon (Bahman Ghobadi) www 1 2
  • Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Torro) 1 2
Great pre-festival discussion at Girish in the comments section (155 comments so far!)
Also my 3 top choices get mentionned on the Toronto Star in Peter Howell's article 49 buzzed-about movies (Sept. 2 2006), thanks to Ray at tiffreviews. And the Toronto Star critics selection from 80 films previewed : Fest Quest: What to see


Online cinephile reports from TIFF :

And hopefully some podcast or YouTube videos from the festival by the inside bloggers...

Resources :

05 septembre 2006

Critical Fallacy 2 : Manipulation

Critical Fallacy 2 : MANIPULATION

Unlike the previous installment (Deception), Manipulation purports an agenda, to control and swing the reader's understanding of the film. It's similar in every aspect to Deception, but the writer will resort to other tricks to bend the rendition of the film to suit a particular worldview, be it driven by a religious/political/ideological bias. The manipulation can be positive or negative, respectively to make the film look better (which is the P.R.'s job) or worse (which is gossip trashing) than it actually is.

Manipulation involves several possible fallacies, separately or in concordance :

  • "Ad Hominem" attacks disparaging detractors (free bashing on a personal level of the filmmaker, actor, producer or critics) based on false premise, assumptions, unfounded accusations, gossips.
  • "Poisoning the Well", appeal to spite, bringing back past mistakes or previous bad movies to somehow justify the pan at hand. Or its positive corollary, "Appeal to Pity", recalling a struggling production, last minute cast change, budget cuts, censorship, directorial debut (appeal to novelty), whatever hardship that would justify to overrate the film's achievements and ignore its blatant flaws.
  • "Slippery Slope", dismissing an argument with nebulous arbitrary concepts by dragging them out of context in an endless discussion, to the extent of making one thing mean its opposite. For instance the infamous argument between what is a good film and what is a bad film. Or objective/subjective, popular/elitist, successful/unsuccessful, fun/boring, good/evil, leftist/rightist, timeless/disposable, masterpiece/bomb...

This is the basis for propaganda by shaping up facts on purpose, and pretending that any other interpretation of the film must be wrong. This is very dangerous because a clever and skillful manipulator with an imposing rhetoric can fool everyone. Especially since the source material was only seen by the critics. Thus readers facing a manipulative argument between polarized critics shall take sides with the most persuasive writer, or the one who serves the bias we want to hear, which is not necessarily faithful to reality (what the film actually says).

To engage with a film and confront it with our worldview is really interesting, but this should take place between the viewer and the film, where each can state their own stance very clearly. If this argument is settled by the critic and forced as fact onto the viewer before getting a chance to experience the film... the true dialogue with the film is lost and spoiled by critic. The critic's job isn't to digest and spin the theses of a film, but on the contrary to present its elements as plain as possible to let the readers, and subsequent viewers, to form their own opinions.

Pushing to consumption or influencing viewing decisions should also stay out of (pure) criticism ("go see this" / "don't watch this") because critical scrutiny is meant to bring questions to the reader/viewing, not to give ready-made answers and play the role of a taste-maker.

"A question for all of you — where does film criticism end, and knee-jerk reactionary political diatribe begin? (...) Do Armond's inaccuracies and false charges (which he never bothers to back up with examples) add up to a film review, or is it merely an angry political screed?"

asks Filmbrain at Like Anna Karina's Sweater, describing very well how Armond White manipulates the reality of Winterbottom's film The Road to Guantanamo (2006), for political purpose. Excerpts from his review's review below Film criticism or Op-Ed piece: Armond White and the smugness of torture victims :

"But his contempt for the three young men that exposed some ugly truths about our country's policies is further revealed when he criticizes them for remaining "arrogantly defiant" throughout the whole ordeal. I guess Armond would rather they confessed. To something. Perhaps he forgot that they were released without any charge." [Appeal to spite fallacy]
"Allegations of smugness aside, White also appears to be justifying the use of torture on al-Qaeda suspects, for chaining somebody to a hook on the floor and bombarding them with strobe lights
and death metal is not nearly as bad as the barbaric acts of the Taliban. Huh? Does one have anything to do with the other?" [Straw Man fallacy]

This is a conscious deception to discredit the film based on false premise. This is worse than a mereplot holee argument (like in the Deception fallacy), here the deception goes beyond narrative logic, this manipulation intends to misrepresent the intentions of the filmmakers to build an imaginary charge.

Note : I'd like to add that Manipulation doesn't depend on the stance we assume as a reader. This is a misleading use of a flawed logic. This isn't just the exposition of a (political) view we happen to disagree with. It has nothing to do with a disagreement on content. Here the logical link between one fact and the other is forged and malicious. So the facts brought up might be considered correct under othercircumstancess, but the conclusions drawn from this fallacious presentation of the situation is incorrect and manipulative.

Readers should be cautious of such manipulative techniques. And critics should keep high standards by submitting their thesis to their peers' scrutiny. Or else films and viewers get caught in the crossfire of a wit battle between critics who don't care for whatever films they review as long as they can subdue them.
It's not because critics holds the higher literary ground on their readers that they can get away with clever rhetorical tricks to misrepresent the film and to publicize their own ideological agenda (whatever it is)... for criticism is precisely meant to scrutinize FILMS for flaws and manipulations they commit.

Contributions, disputes, examples are encouraged as always.