A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
A Retrospective of Darius Khondji, Legendary Cinematographer, Begins Sunday November 18 at Metrograph
Beginning Sunday November 18, Metrograph will present a retrospective of legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji. Born in Tehran to Persian-French parentage, raised from a young age in France, and schooled at NYU, Khondji’s international upbringing would prepare him for an equally international career, working with some of the greatest living directors and helping them to express their visions through the language he knows with unparalleled fluency, that of the cinematic image. Through the years Khondji has worked with talents that include David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, Wong-Kar Wai, and James Gray, and while his work for each is as distinct as the worlds they create, he brings to every film a compositional genius and a peerless attention to minute qualities of atmosphere, gifts which allow him to pick and choose his collaborators. To see his finest work united, as it will be in Metrograph’s vital retrospective, is to wander through the gallery of a modern master.
Treasure of the Bitch Islands (F.J. Ossang/1990/108 mins/35mm) A phantasmagoric, definition-defying film from perhaps France’s premier underground filmmaker, Treasure of the Bitch Islands begins with the mysterious disappearance of an engineer who has discovered a new energy source, and follows a post-nuclear Ulysses’ voyage to find the substances used in the engineer’s formula, only to be harvested on an island of mad scientists and headhunters. An anarchic allegory with a punky sensibility, part Guy Maddin pastiche, part surrealist mix-and-match, and pure cult classic.
Delicatessen (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet/1991/91 mins/DCP) The first feature by Jeunet and Caro, who had only completed a handful of shorts when they stunned the world with this antic, stylish debut—a skewed, funhouse mirror vision informed by comic strips, gonzo animation, and silent comedy. In a post-apocalyptic cityscape, an unemployed circus clown finds himself privy to the secrets of a butcher’s shop that has resorted to cannibalism. Shot in hues of burnished gold by Khondji, this deliciously dark debut created an entire fallen world on a shoestring, becoming an art house phenomenon along the way.
The City of Lost Children (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet/1995/112 mins/35mm) Beginning with a Christmas Eve invasion by an army of nefarious Santas, Jeunet and Caro’s warped fairy tale follows a boy (Joseph Lucien) wandering the streets of a fog-shrouded harbor city populated by freaks and carnies, including the circus strongman One (Ron Perlman), and terrorized by Krank, the desiccant leader of a cult harvesting the dreams of kidnapped children. Eerie and imaginative, invested with unforgettable ambience by Khondji’s green-gilled nocturnal photography
Seven (David Fincher/1995/127 mins/35mm) Fincher and Khondji together created a distinctly modern take on film noir style in this genuinely unsettling, hugely influential thriller, in which a duo of detectives (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) together pursue an at-large serial killer through a grim, shadowy cityscape where the rain never, ever stops falling. The journey takes them from a bleak, confined, warren-like urban environment to the blinding bright light of the desert—and a final, horrible revelation unlikely to be forgotten once seen.
Evita (Alan Parker/1996/135 mins/35mm) Khondji’s lone film to date to be nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography, though he has enjoyed plentiful other deserved plaudits, Parker’s powerhouse musical from the concept album by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber was a vehicle for Madonna at the height of her diva superstardom, portraying the glamorous, powerful, and altogether larger-than-life First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón through her hard-scrabble youth, astonishing life, and early death. A rare attempt at making a movie musical on the grand scale with all the glitz of studio era Hollywood, loaded with show-stopping standards like “You Must Love Me” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina."
Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet/1997/109 mins/35mm) Reuniting Khondji with his repeat collaborator Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this fourth film in the Alien franchise catches up with a cloned Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) some two hundred years after the last film, when the military-industrial complex has set its sights on breeding their own aliens—and what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Among Khondji’s references in pre-production were the unsettling paintings of Francis Bacon, whose use of uncertain light sources he sought to mimic.
The Beach (Danny Boyle/2000/119 mins/35mm) A sort of Lord of the Flies for the jet-setting leisure class, Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel is a steamy thriller set in motion when Leonardo DiCaprio’s backpacking beach bum accepts an invitation to a pristine island in the Gulf of Thailand, his arrival in the fragile social ecosystem of permanent vacationers and marijuana farmers initiating a series of events that stir up trouble in paradise. As shot by Khondji, the paradisal green vegetation of the film’s early chapters give way to unnatural, sinister tones, as heaven on earth turns to a living hell.
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait(Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno/2006/90 mins/DCP) Following a firm formal conceit, this collaboration between Parreno and Turner Prize-winning filmmaker Gordon leads to one of the most distinctive and hypnotic sports documentaries ever made, using seventeen cameras—twelve 35mm, two 16mm, and two digital, two of which were equipped with zoom prototypes made by Panavision—to follow the every move of legendary French footballer Zinedine Zidane in real time through the length of a match between Real Madrid and Villareal on April 23, 2005. The result, given a consistent visual tone by Khondji, illustrates how essential every second is on the pitch, and the total concentration demanded by peak performance.
Funny Games (Michael Haneke/2007/111 mins/35mm) Haneke’s English-language remake of his squirm-inducing, audience-indicting home invasion thriller of ten years previous employs a new cast—Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the captive couple, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as the channel-surfing-damaged killers—to deliver the same savage deconstruction of screen violence. Khondji, following an established blueprint, still helps to make something that’s very much its own movie, an austere, anxious, and sometimes awful ordeal unlike anything else in cinema.
Amour(Michael Haneke/2012/127 mins/35mm) For their study of an elderly couple—played by icons of French cinema Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both superlative—facing final separation by cruel death, Haneke and Khondji created a litany of framings that feel brittle in their composed beauty, each marked by an elegant exactitude and slowly suffocating airlessness. Hard and tender, this may be Haneke’s ultimate accomplishment—and, incidentally, a eulogy for the youthful dreams of the 1960s European art cinema.
The Immigrant (James Gray/2012/120 mins/DCP) Marion Cotillard has one of her greatest roles as Ewa, a Polish Catholic immigrant newly arrived in Ellis Island, trying to find the means to free her sister from quarantine in a c. 1921 New York City that’s full of lures and snares, among them Joaquin Phoenix’s smalltime pimp and tinhorn impresario and Jeremy Renner’s Bowery illusionist. A richly-textured film of disarming depths of feeling, whose beguiling closing shot resonates long after the credits roll. “We effectively destroyed the film negative with various techniques,” said Khondji, “to achieve the desired emotional aesthetic of that era.”
The Lost City of Z (James Gray/2016/140 mins/35mm) Gray left his native New York behind—way behind—for this long-discussed dream project about the real-life British adventurer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who disappeared into the Amazon basin time and again looking for the whispered-of City of Z, accompanied by aide de camp Robert Pattinson. Why? “To look for what is beautiful is its own reward,” as one line has it—a statement of purpose if ever we’ve heard one, carried out brilliantly by Khondji, equally at home in the serene English countryside and in chest-deep, filthy river water.
Okja (Bong Joon-Ho/2017/120 mins/35mm) The titular beast is a gentle, lumbering, lovable critter, a super pig bred by big business and then raised peacefully in the South Korean countryside by young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun)—until pet and owner both are swept into a contest between animal rights activists and mercenary corporate forces. Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal round out the ensemble cast of this dark science-fiction fable, a rare instance of Khondji shooting digital, which he does with typical panache and explorative freedom, screening here in a rare 35mm transfer.
Showtimes and Darius Khondji's in-person appearance details to be announced shortly.