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December Films: Antonioni, International Melodrama, Errol Morris, Early Animation, and more

 

The Other Side of Hope: Almost single-handedly and with sardonic good humor, the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki continues to celebrate the international solitary of underdogs. His latest film is the saga of a contemporary undocumented refugee, but it might have been made under the auspices of the IWW or the Popular Front. At Film Forum, opening December 1.

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“Michelangelo Antonioni”: Maestro of impeccable angst and elegant alienation, poet of sterile architecture and bad breakups, Michelangelo Antonioni was not just a great movie director, but a major European artist—one of the very few filmmakers ever recognized as such. His noncommunicative characters did not have personalities so much as drives; his most substantive movies feature, as the embodiment of spiritual anguish, the 1960s icon Monica Vitti. Thanks to her and his English-language success Blow-Up, Antonioni put the mod, as well as the modishness, in modernism. The retrospective is complete, with nearly forty 35mm prints and digital preservations, including Antonioni’s long unseen and controversial Chung Kuo—China (1972), a post-Cultural Revolution, pre-Nixon travelogue showing for a week in its original three-hour-plus version. At the Museum of Modern Art, December 7 – January 7.

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“Emotion Pictures: International Melodrama”: Sam Fuller famously defined cinema as “emotion,” and just about every variety of it may be found in this mammoth international survey of movie melodrama. In addition to the acknowledged masters Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Todd Haynes, the series includes silent classics (F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise and Victor Sjöström’s The Wind, arguably Lillian Gish’s greatest vehicle), as well as movies from Argentina, Mexico, Italy, England, Egypt, Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and India—a special plug for the Bengali filmmaker’s Ritwik Ghatak’s majestic weepie The Cloud-Capped Star. At the Film Society of Lincoln Center, December 13 – January 7.

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Suspira: A forty-year-old movie, shot in widescreen and lurid color, that makes sense only to the eye, Dario Argento’s sumptuous giallo sends a naïve young American student (the preternaturally wide-eyed Jessica Harper) to dankest Germany to study ballet in a Kafkaesque academy plagued by maggot slugs and administered by scary harridans. In the splendid extended finale, the student stumbles on the coven’s black mass, precipitating a fantastic light show of lysergic apparitions and exploding chandeliers. At the IFC Center, December 15-16.

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“A Stop-Motion Bestiary: The Films of Ladislas Starewitch”: The great, under-appreciated pioneer of stop-motion animation, whose earliest puppets included reconstituted dead beetles, Starewitch (1882-1965) gets a rare US retrospective. The emphasis is on his early work, such as the magnificent all-insect Cameraman’s Revenge (1911), produced in Warsaw, and the pre-Snow White animated feature The Tale of the Fox (1929-30/1941), made in France. At Anthology Film Archives, December 15-19.

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Wormwood: It’s taken Errol Morris over a quarter century to find a protagonist and case to equal his 1989 masterpiece The Thin Blue Line, but here it is. A four-hour mix of documentary interviews and dramatic reconstructions, Wormwood gives full vent to Morris’s particular epistemological genius and eccentric film noir sensibility. At once a chilling Cold War story and an examination of obsession, it entwines the case of Frank Olson, the army biologist who, perhaps the unwitting victim of the CIA’s LSD experiments, dove to his death (or was defenestrated) from a New York City hotel window in November 1953, with that of his brilliant son, who has devoted his life (or thrown it away) in an attempt to know the unknowable. Morris makes strong connections to the Korean War, Hamlet, Richard Rogers, and The Fugs. There are cameos by the youthful team of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and, shown at various stages of his career, journalist Seymour Hersh provides some illumination. Netflix will begin streaming Wormwood in six episodes on December 15; the entire work can be seen, starting December 15, at Metrograph.

Category: Film