What We're Watching

What We’re Watching – June 2022

June’s edition of What We’re Watching contains a variety of films including a war film, a thriller, and two Palme d’Or winners. Read below to continue:

This Land Is Mine (1943)

sWZfaaUoZ8MvC9egX2uqP9trlwqDuring the occupation of his beloved homeland during World War II, famed French filmmaker Jean Renoir directed This Land is Mine. With an A-list cast led by Maureen O’Hara, Charles Laughton, and George Sanders, the film told the story of the homefront. In his occupied French town, teacher Albert Lory (Laughton) refuses to resist. If the Nazis tell him to rip out pages from the school books, he does it and if somebody spreads resistance literature, he sees no problem with them being arrested. He is called out as a coward, but will find his courage as the film progresses. It is a propaganda film, aimed at showing the fight in every French town living under Nazi occupation while people weigh trying to survive with taking a stand and the deadly risks that entails. However, what makes This Land is Mine so powerful is its portrayal of the spread of Nazis. A Nazi officer speaks directly to Albert and the audience when he says, “America thinks of invasion in terms of armies and aeroplanes, but they are already invaded.” Whether it is through greedy or power hungry individuals, Nazism finds welcome hosts in every nation it visits. The fight in This Land is Mine is in France, but where Renoir’s film finds its power is in its endless prescience as it foretells the shifting nature of the conflict with Nazis and shows how the individual can resist. If nothing else, it is a film that shows compliance and acquiescence are the enemies of freedom. The film is heavy-handed, but between the excellent cast, strong political relevance, and Renoir’s usual high-level of work, This Land is Mine stands as one of the best 1940s propaganda films. – Kevin Jones

Taste of Cherry (1997)

In contrast to Abbas Kiarostami‘s preceding and vigorously humanistic films, his 1997 touchstone Taste of Cherry centers a middle-aged man in the depths of mortal hopelessness.

1NEsPzxmiucxRxvaly7UHMYIANjBadii (Homayoun Ershadi), an affluent man with no presentable explanations for his sadness, travels through the Tehran hillside to find someone with the nerve go bury him after he plans to commit suicide. He offers a large sum for the job, a meaningful amount for those living in the hill’s shantytowns but not enough to overcome the terror of the employment or the sin as proscribed by the Qur’an. A chance meeting with a taxidermist seemingly moves Badii’s plans forward, though the old sage’s rehashing of his own suicide attempts bring clarity to the torment Badii faces and meaning to Kiarastomi’s long-drawn focus on the sometimes trite machinations of life.

Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or-winning film removes the fluff in favor of a greater contemplation. The central premise, Badii’s controlled desire for a complete, erasing demise, is one that invites in the viewer a certain aching powerlessness. It is a watch that is worth the torment. – Lauren Mattice

Passion (2012)

Brian De Palma is let loose in the postmodern landscape of surveillance technology and hyper-disposability, crafting a tale of two business rivals (Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace), whose rivalry escalates from stealing ideas to murder, fully immersed in the high-tech, image-driven world of corporate advertising. As a devotee of Powell and Hitchcock, De Palma has always had an understanding of the voyeurism inherent to cinema but with Passion, the New Hollywood legend’s artistic impulses find their home in the post-9/11 era of CCTV and social media, where voyeurism is not only tolerated but celebrated. The film’s genre trappings are characteristically embraced by the director, who uses them as a jumping-off point to display his technical proficiency and musings on a rapidly accelerating world mediated by images on screens. Passion showcases De Palma’s unmistakable visual flair, propensity for twists and ability to effortlessly deconstruct the genre he operates in, perhaps even more so than his underrated 2002 neo-noir Femme Fatale.

fAItfCxTxKzNRkNsyVRvvcuSwSNLike Femme Fatale, Passion also takes place in a rootless, flat, glitz-and-glamor realm, wherein language or nationality are entirely incidental and economic and social capital are the only currency with which to define one’s place in the world. Reflecting that flatness is the icy, digital look of the cinematography (an effect somehow achieved on 35mm), creating a hazy, dreamlike atmosphere, which intensifies as the film goes on and the narrative shifts from soap opera backstabbing to paranoid murder-noir – complete with dutch angles and light sliced by venetian blinds. Of course, De Palma is not alone with his preoccupations, as his 2012 thriller is a fascinating extension of what Abel Ferrara and Olivier Assayas were up to with New Rose Hotel and Demonlover, respectively. Like Ferrara and Assayas, De Palma dives head-first into the digital age and unearths the ugliness hidden behind its smooth and glossy veneer. Passion is extremely vital and intriguingly idiosyncratic work from an old master with a lot left to say and it easily ranks amongst some of the best films of the 2010’s, despite the critical drubbing it received upon release. – Fred Barrett

The Square (2017)

Involuntary and Force Majeure‘s renowned director Ruben Östlund stepped further away from his Swedish roots when it comes to cinema and directed The Square starring Elisabeth Moss, and his efforts were not in vain. The film follows an art curator in Stockholm who tries to set up a new exhibit that is fairly controversial.

bYZM4DoHrmzY3oq2qrcXAYQmLNpI remember watching the film for the first time in 2017, which had a limited release at a local festival. At times, the film had such absurd scenes that at the hands of any other director, it would have been irritating. Though combined with Östlund’s stylish depiction of said absurd events, they only strengthen the core of the film. The fact that Östlund was also the sole writer probably helped him make the scenes so unforgettable. Moss, who was mostly known for her role in Mad Men up until then, does a phenomenal job in the film, thus it is a surprise that the role did not land her a few awards at the very least. Nevertheless, The Square has won over thirty awards, and taking into consideration that Östlund’s next film Triangle of Sadness starring Woody Harrelson is going to be released later this year, it is a great time to revisit this comedy drama. – Alper Kavak

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