December Films: Kubrick’s Loveliest, ‘Toni Erdmann,’ ‘Neruda’

The Whitney Museum’s ambitious exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016 (through February 5) is in some ways the culmination of the twenty-first-century incorporation of motion pictures into gallery spaces. While the recent, computer-based installations are often most impressive for their technology, and hence somewhat gimmicky, a number of primitive examples are surprisingly resonant—including Stan VanDerBeek’s 1968 Movie Mural, Jud Yalkut’s 1967 Destruct Film, and, most compelling, Oskar Fischinger’s three-screen Raumlichtkunst (Space Light Art) from 1926.

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A theatrical movie that has the presence of an installation, Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 Barry Lyndon is being revived in 35mm for three days (December 7, 8, and 10) at the New Beverly in Los Angeles. Adapted from William Thackeray’s first novel, Barry Lyndon visualizes the late eighteenth century as a death-haunted realm of perpetual summer. The verdant landscapes recall Constable and Watteau, but the idyll is haunted by inane military pageants and inhabited by the zombie likes of Ryan O’Neal and Marisa Berenson. Harold Rosenberg wrote disapprovingly of the movie in the New York Review but, growing in stature over the years, Barry Lyndon is the loveliest of Kubrick films (and, indeed, the lone Kubrick movie to invite that adjective).

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Another sort of period piece, The President’s Analyst—wherein James Coburn plays a New York shrink recruited as confidant for the world’s most powerful man and is consequently driven mad—is screening, at the behest of graphic novelist Daniel Clowes, December 8 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, the city where I first saw the movie during the summer of 1968. Theodore J. Flicker’s exercise in comic paranoia impressed me mightily then (if less so thereafter); it remains a reasonably funny artifact from the age of grooviness, providing a candy-colored bridge between The Manchurian Candidate and the conspiratorial thrillers of the early Seventies.

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Two of the strongest films included in the last New York Film Festival have theatrical openings this month. Pablo Larraín continues his examination of Chile’s recent political history with Neruda (opening December 16 at the IFC Center). Larraín’s account of Pablo Neruda’s months on the lam after the Chilean Communist party was declared illegal in 1948 is a witty, noir-ish political thriller that, albeit poetic, owes more to Jorge Luis Borges than it does to its subject.

Once it clicks into gear, German director Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, which opens at Film Forum on Christmas Day, is an increasingly wild and wooly—and ultimately quite moving—comedy about the difficult relationship between a disreputable aging hippie and his severely buttoned-down daughter, a polished paradigm of the corporate world. That most of it is set in Bucharest, Romania adds to the strange fairytale ambience.

Category: Film