Alex Sitaras: November brings us perhaps the most stacked month of new releases that we’ve seen since starting our Most Anticipated column. There’s a number of films from historic auteurs coming this month- Orson Welles and The Coen Brothers– and also a number of films from rapidly rising talent- Yorgos Lanthimos and Barry Jenkins. As well as a slew of excellent home media releases from Bergman, Mizoguchi, and others.
But, at the end of the day, we only select five films each month to be part of our Most Anticipated column and without further ado we’ll dive into them. First up is Yorgos Lanthimos‘s The Favourite. Following his success in the deeply surreal, Lanthimos turns to black comedy/satire with this period film that takes place during the reign of Queen Anne. His film features a number of stars in Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman, the latter of which received great praise for her role when the film first premiered in Venice.
Matt Schlee: The film essentially follows Queen Anne (Colman) and her friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) who is tending to her and her duties while Anne is ill. The plot driver is the arrival of Abigail (Stone), a new servant who quickly ingratiates herself with the Queen. Stone and Weisz have each already put a quality piece of work into the books for 2018, Maniac and Disobedience respectively, so I’m eager to see how they can round out what should be a spectacular year for each of their careers. The film seems to be an interesting departure for Lanthimos. While black comedy has certainly been in his wheelhouse, the trailer looks to be a bit more conventional, if that’s possible for the unique director.
Alex: True- this is Lanthimos’s most severe departure from his previous work in that it (probably?) won’t have surrealist tendencies and there’s also the fact that the screenplay will not be penned by himself and Efthymis Filippou, the pair sharing screenwriting duties for Lanthimos’s films ever since his breakout film Dogtooth. Still, acclaim for this film has been excellent and it will hardly be deemed as a misfire or cookie-cutter. In a manner unusual for period pieces, cinematography looks to have a strong influence on the visual style of the film, Lanthimos and DP Robbie Ryan choosing to use disorienting wide-angle lens for both interior and exterior shooting.
Another film coming this month based on historical figures is At Eternity’s Gate (dir. Julian Schnabel). The film received quite a bit of buzz coming out of the Venice International Film Festival, especially following Willem Dafoe‘s win of the Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his performance in the film. Dafoe plays the ever-discussed Vincent van Gogh (Loving Vincent just last year centered on the life of the historic painter) in the final years of his life, in particular exploring what it is to be an artist and to create art as well as the concept of timelessness. The film looks to be rather thoughtful in terms of both the exploration of these themes as well as in its portrayal of van Gogh’s psyche.
Matt: The buzz for At Eternity’s Gate caught me off guard given my lack of familiarity with Schnabel’s other work, but it’s less surprising when you see that Jean-Claude Carrière is a screenwriter on this film. Carrière has an incredible body of work including The Unbearable Lightness of Being and even further back to frequent collaborations with Luis Buñuel including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Belle de Jour. He got his start working with Pierre Etaix. It’s interesting seeing a director with relatively few credits to his name bring in a writer with such a prolific background, but it seems like the combination works.
Next I’d like to bring up Shoplifters. The 2018 Palme d’Or winning film by Hirokazu Kore-eda follows a couple of petty thieves who take in a troubled teenager. Kore-eda, following in Ozu‘s footsteps, has a long history of beautiful and quiet family and character driven films. Sadly this is among the last film appearances for legendary actress Kirin Kiki who collaborated with Kore-eda a number of times and passed away in September.
Alex: Shoplifters looks to bear some in common with Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son. In both films Kore-eda explores family structures and what it means to have a child within one’s family that isn’t biologically related to the rest of the family, and moreover what it means when that family has to respond to a crisis. In the case of Shoplifters the theme of poverty is explored as well, more likely than not to a somber yet humanistic effect.
Another deeply humanistic film to come this month is Barry Jenkins‘s If Beale Street Could Talk. The follow-up to his breakout film Moonlight, Beale Street tells the story of a young African American couple, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), living in Harlem and experiencing racism at the hands of a police officer who frames Fonny for a horrific crime. The story chronicles the fight that Tish, her family, and Fonny’s family face in attempting to prove Fonny’s innocence. I was fortunate enough to attend an advance screening of the film, and can say that this film does not disappoint. It’s beautifully shot and composed- echoing the attention to these details also seen in Carol– and very much a faithful adaptation of its source material, the James Baldwin novel of the same name.
Matt: I’m naturally very excited about this movie as I was a big fan of Moonlight and I’m a huge fan of the way that Barry Jenkins represents art cinema in general. I’m actually about a third of the way through James Baldwin’s novel and I’m curious how you think it compares both from a story and a message standpoint?
Alex: The way the story is told is very similar between the film and novel. The film alternates between the present and flashbacks, as does the book, and a number of the scenes in the film are drawn very closely from the book, if not word for word. I don’t know the most about Baldwin so I can’t say that I know for sure Baldwin’s explicit purpose or goal(s) in writing the novel; however, Jenkins’s adaptation seems very close in impact- and to some extent message- to the Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary that drew extensively from Baldwin’s quotes. Additionally, a number of historical photos coupled with voiceover are utilized in the film, almost to documentary effect.
While Moonlight was a coming-of-age story that could be seen as universal, I think If Beale Street Could Talk is a story very specific to the African American people. The film for sure has piqued my interested in Baldwin and I’ll hopefully read more of his work in the near future. The moderator at the screening I was at introduced the film with the Baldwin quote below and suggested that Jenkins’s film helps illuminate what the story of African Americans really is:
“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America–or, more precisely, it is the story of Americans. It is not a very pretty story: the story of a people is never very pretty. The Negro in America, gloomily referred to as that shadow which lies athwart our national life, is far more than that. He is a series of shadows, self-created, intertwining, which now we helplessly battle. One may say that the Negro in America does not really exist except in the darkness of our minds.”
Matt: That sounds great. Jenkins is really the perfect director to capture Baldwin’s voice in that he’s proven adept at sending a resounding social message while also crafting a quality piece of high art.
The final item I’d like to bring up is a major release by The Criterion Collection. I’ve been collecting physical media for years, and have hundreds of Criterion discs including almost all of their box sets, and I’m pretty confident in asserting that their upcoming Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema set is their most ambitious and comprehensive release ever. The set includes 39 of Bergman’s films on Blu-ray (nearly his entire filmography) including a number of new transfers on existing Blu-ray titles, over thirty hours of special features, and a 248 page book on Bergman. It’s a stunning item on one of cinema’s great giants. I’m particularly excited to check out the new transfer of Cries and Whispers which seems to have a significantly less heavy red tint than the current Criterion Blu-ray.
Alex: The box set is a monster of a release. As someone who has seen somewhere around 20 Bergman films, this set will be my chance to fill in the gaps I have left in Bergman’s filmography as well as learn more about the direction and production behind the films from the set’s special features. Even though the set is enormous, it doesn’t include Face to Face– featuring outstanding acting from Liv Ullmann– The Blessed Ones, perhaps Bergman’s darkest film, and a select few other of his films. Nonetheless, I can hardly complain given the immense amount of effort, dedication, and admiration for Bergman’s cinema that went into the creation of this box set.