Featured: Contemporary Criterion Films
The Criterion Collection is not just old films or foreign films. They are also about preserving the new ones, films that don’t get the extensive exposure right after its release. They are hidden indie films that need to be appreciated with the artists still with us to tell their story of their journey and of the current creative mindset in a place we don’t know about and is a blind spot to our appreciation of these works. Here some of the contemporary films which I define as within the last four years since release; my apologies to fans of 2013’s Blue Is The Warmest Color and 2014’s Boyhood.
Heart Of A Dog (2015)
Musician/visual artist Laurie Anderson, who was the long-time partner of the late Lou Reed, reflects the meanings of life and aftermath of death centered around her beloved dog and the aftermath of 9/11 in New York within the themes in Buddhism. She narrates it in such a calm tone with the various images that it becomes a dream, even with the infusion of the tragic events in Manhattan, but comes up with a gorgeous, lyrical sound as if it were one of her concerts with the help of her furry friends she is a lover of.
The Lure (2015)
It’s an odd mix of music and horror, but it’s not like Sweeny Todd. Two sister mermaids come to the surface where their beauty and soothing singing voices make them a perfect fit for a rock band. However, in its adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” and unlike the Disney version, the bond between the sisters and their overall survival is challenged when one of them falls for another human. The music is catchy, the girls are beautiful and only come to an awakening of their sexual power, and the imagery is hypnotic with its moments of magic and bloody horror towards the end.
Certain Women (2016)
Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone live in an isolated town in Montana as different women who have various struggles. It is flat and wide, but the women face disappointment within this cocoon that still does not allow them to meet each other directly. Kelly Reichardt is an underrated director who has not gotten the full recognition she deserves, especially with her way of directing the performances in her past work (Wendy And Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) that just feel natural along with each scene of composition that engulfs the events taking place.
Romanian maestro Cristian Mungiu gives outsiders a look at what the modern state is almost twenty years after the fall of communism. The father is competitive in seeing his daughter get a scholarship to a major university in England, but the aftermath of a sexual assault compromises her final exam, leading the father to go to lengths, including cutting across moral standards to make sure she gets in anyway. The realism of Romania is seen where nothing affluent is working in the pro-EU society and people still have to go behind people’s back to make it through. Even the father, an upstanding citizen, is not immune to it all.
Personal Shopper (2016)
Kristen Stewart has been an indie darling after the Twilight series and her second performance with Olivier Assayas (after 2014’s Clouds Of Sils Maria) shows a more delicate version of herself as the American assistant of an actress. It is also a supernatural tale infused with celebrity – like Sils Maria – and it does not get way ahead of itself by making a heavy-handed thriller as any ghost story would do. Stewart’s character is rarely even out of shot and she becomes personal with the fact that it may be her dead twin who is trying to communicate. It is very subtle and spiritual, but not in a religious way. Communication is a key life, and for this instance, possibly death.
I, Daniel Blake (2016)
Ken Loach returned to form with his protest against Britain’s cruel austerity and the failing health care system about a 59-year-old who survives a heart attack and is ruled unfit to work again by his doctor. However, a government test says he can work and thus is denied disability pension, but when he tries to file an appeal, a complicated, backlogged process makes his struggle even harder. During his fight, the man befriends a single mother who struggles to find a home. As a lifelong socialist, Loach has been a director about social realism tackling many issues and a continuing crisis in Britain’s welfare system makes a perfect strike at the country’s failures helping the citizens it strives to protect. Loach, who initially retired before agreeing to do the project, won his second Palme d’Or.
The Other Side Of Hope (2017)
Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s swan song – he stated that this was his last movie in a notable 35-year-career – is heartfelt about a Finnish man in a mid-life crisis and a Syrian refugee is not granted asylum. Their lives change when they meet one day and the Finish man hires the refugee for his restaurant while also promising to go and find his hiding sister. At a time where people have become ignorant and cruel, here’s a story of warmth and humanity where only a small thing can make up a long way. Even with its melancholy ending where the fate of the refugee is left unresolved, Hope is a nostalgic reminder of what the continent was once and can be again in the face of intolerance.
24 Frames (2017) / Let The Sunshine In (2017)
This was the final film by Iranian film legend Abbas Kiarostami, who died in 2016. His son edited the final cut and it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Here, Kiarostami mixes animation and still-frame photography using twenty-four images to show a before and after as it happened live to his eye with digital animation, each frame showing four minutes each. His goodbye was a touching one, making us realize that wherever we are and wherever we take a snapshot of, it hands us a moment of beauty held forever.
Let The Sunshine In, a film that is a blind spot to me, unfortunately, director Claire Denis (White Material) directs this story of a painter in Paris who lives a highly independent life but lacks romance she really wants. Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, who begins a series of flings and affairs with different men as she goes on her personal exploration to fulfill the last thing that is missing in her successful life. Criterion will continue to go for history but will put out its more contemporary works that reflect the growing art from all over the world.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrianSusbielles (Cine-A-Man)