By happy coincidence, Mexico in 2016 yielded two expert and moving documentaries on women, sex, and aging: María José Cuevas’s Bellas de noche (Beauties of the Night) and Maya Goded’s Plaza de la Soledad (Solitude Square). Both are first-time features by female directors. And both are attempts to reclaim previously neglected subjects: showgirls of the 1970s and sex workers in their seventies, respectively. Moreover, lengthy production processes in which the filmmakers cohabitated with their subjects have resulted in films that are clearly love letters to their protagonists.
FQ columnist Paul Julian Smith reflects on his recent trip to Madrid and the films he saw while there. The financial crisis is grinding into its sixth year in Spain, with youth unemployment reaching a record fifty percent. Given these urgent problems, it would be little surprise if Spaniards were to turn away from the investigation of the troubled legacy of the past that preoccupied their politics and cinema until recently. Yet I myself was in Madrid to take part in a new collective research project on cinema of the 1980s. And during a chilly January three theaters were showing period pieces set in different historical moments, revealing different attitudes to those moments, and aspiring to different levels of cultural distinction. Varied in form but surprisingly similar in content, three of my favorites that winter week were a crowd-pleasing comedy, a worthy middlebrow drama, and an experimental art movie.
Paul Julian Smith on Almodóvar’s return to the comedies of his early period.
Paul Julian Smith discusses the Spanish Film Screenings, including No Rest for the Wicked, The Sleeping Voice, and Wrinkles.
Paul Julian Smith on alternate and layered realities in Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and NBC’s Awake.
Summer in Paris and, so we are told, the city closes down. And indeed the excellent Cinémathèque, with its theater, museum, and archive, is shuttered for the whole of August. But my visit brings a chance to see those seasonal releases that never make it to Cannes (much less to foreign festivals), the genre movies to which locals flock, heedless of awards and international distribution.
The 40th annual New Directors/New Films festival at the Museum of Modern Art and Film Society at Lincoln Center (March 23–April 3) brought together a pair of features from Egypt, telling tales of two cities and two sexes on the edge of a volcano.
Two period pictures at the New York Film Festival (September 24–October 10) investigate history from an oblique viewpoint. Pablo Larrain’s Post Mortem replays 1973’s bloody coup against Marxist president of Chile Salvador Allende from the perspective of an autopsy clerk; Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, set in 1845, tracks a wandering wagon team on the Oregon Trail at a time when that territory’s ownership was yet to be established.
With Pan’s Labyrinth, however, writer-director Guillermo del Toro has built on his proven skills in fantasy (Hellboy in 2004) and Spanish history (The Devil’s Backbone from 2001) to produce a work that is at once a logical development of his artistic trajectory and a wholly unexpected masterpiece from a director identified with such low-status genres as horror