I’ve been spending the last few days checking out various selections at the Nashville film festival. My assistant, Antonia Oakes, came up with a preliminary itinerary of films to which I’ve added a few of my own choices. The flicks I’ve seen so far highlight various countercultures and outsider aesthetics in one way or another. Most of the films only screened once so I haven’t felt the need to be super timely in my reporting since the fest started. That said, I wanted to file this report so that we could start the discussion regarding the first half of the fest. For those of you not in Nashville, let these capsule reviews serve as teasers as all of these films will be popping up in theaters on disc and online over the next 24 months or so. Here we go…
6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia – Catching the first screening of the fest last Thursday evening, 6 Desires is the latest documentary by Mark Cousins whose The Story of Film series is required viewing for any contemporary student of cinema. This latest project finds Cousins recounting a 1921 trip Lawrence and his wife took to Sardinia and it uses Lawrence’s book about the place as a map. Along the way Cousin’s illuminates Lawrence, his book and the land and people of Sardinia along with the political and cultural history of the place. Fans of Cousins will love the conversational tone of this one and it also marks the first movie Cousins has made that relies primarily on original footage. 6 Desires is a film about an author and a place, but it also documents the raw sensibilities of a filmmaker coming into his own.
Goodbye to Language: Antonia found an online synopsis for this Jean-Luc Godard film in 3D: “The idea is simple / A married woman and a single man meet / They love, they argue, fists fly / A dog strays between town and country / The seasons pass / The man and woman meet again / The dog finds itself between them / The other is in one, / the one is in the other / and they are three / The former husband shatters everything / A second film begins: / the same as the first, / and yet not / From the human race we pass to metaphor / This ends in barking / and a baby’s cries / In the meantime, we will have seen people talking of the demise of the dollar, of truth in mathematics and of the death of a robin.” —Godard in a handwritten synopsis written in verse and first posted on Twitter. As far as the film’s “meaning” goes, I don’t have much to add. I’d need at least another viewing to find something more comprehensive to say and I already feel lucky having had the chance to see this at all. I can tell you the movie is full of unforgettable images, statements and ideas. I can also tell you that all these years since Breathless Godard is still a provocateur and a prankster, and for all of its seeming incomprehensibility there is no doubt that there is a very firm hand on the wheel of this poetic, vivid, silly, infuriating, dizzying journey of a film.
(T)error: This documentary lets viewers peek through a keyhole at an F.B.I. domestic terrorism sting in progress. The movie captures the day-to-day life of Shariff, a former Black Panther and a Muslim turned informant. The movie unwinds with the tenseness of a thriller, blurring the lines between right and wrong, and hero and villain, and highlighting the controversial tactics the F.B.I. has used since 9/11 in their quest to stop another terrorist attack. The film is an indictment of contemporary law enforcement and anti-terrorism tactics that prey on vulnerable ex-felons to inform on their friends and neighbors to make convictions whether the threats uncovered are real or simply created by the bureau. Required viewing for anyone concerned about the balance between safety and freedom in America.
The Boy and the World: This trippy, wordless, psychedelic cartoon tells the story of a young boy in rural Brazil who journeys to a big city in search of his father. The idyllic surrounds of the boy’s country life are drawn in colorful crayon scrawls, but the industrial city and its squalid slums are rendered in the sharp lines and clashing juxtapositions of grotesque collages that make this movie one of the most vividly audacious films I’ve seen at the fest. Add to that a gorgeous soundtrack that ranges from samba to hip-hop and this tale about poverty, oppression and the love of family adds up to a truly moving and memorable film. Definitely a don’t miss selection for fans of animation.
L’il Quinquin: This intense, three hour film was originally a French miniseries. It tells the story of a group of young kids living on a coast in rural France where a series of grisly murders upsets the everyday life of their small town. Featuring an amazing cast of non-actors the flick features a seductive combination of sensibilities that I think Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene described as the Coen Brothers meet Bresson. What starts off as a whodunit gradually unwinds into an existential exploration of the evil that lies in the hearts of men, and children.
The Black Panthers – Vanguard of the Revolution: This PBS produced Independent Lens film tells the history of the Black Panthers who grew from a self-defense organization in Oakland, California to become an international force for anti-capitalist revolution. The movie also documents the F.B.I.’s ruthless and illegal Counterintelpro tactics that were used to destroy the group through systematic harassment, spying and perhaps even political assassination. I’ve seen every Panther doc I’ve ever been able to get my hands on and this one is full of footage and interviews I’ve never seen. It’s a comprehensive summing-up of what I consider to be the most important revolutionary group of the 1960′s as well as a chilling indictment of current relations between cops and African-American populations where the same wanton violence and oppression seems to be back with a vengeance.
Here’s an interview with Jean-Luc Godard from the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 where the master discussed Goodbye to Language…