February Films: ‘Anatahan,’ Andrzej Wajda, ‘I Am Not Your Negro,’ Paz Encina

The strangest release of the young year, The Lure—a first feature by Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska—is a disco musical concerning a pair of carnivorous mermaids who come ashore in late Communist Warsaw. The movie is uneven and the allegory meanders but it is a remarkably assured debut, often quite funny and with some truly startling images. Opens February 1 at the IFC Center.

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An even more exotic hot-house flower than The Lure, Josef von Sterberg’s final film—and arguably his most personal—Anatahan (1953), an independent production made in a Japanese studio, returns in a new DCP, playing at the Metrograph (February 3-9). Inspired by the stories of Japanese stragglers, unaware that World War II had ended and holding out on Pacific islands, Sternberg conjured up a mysterious jungle in which the soldiers wage their own struggle for possession of the island’s only woman.

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The most universally admired documentary shown at the last New York Film Festival, I Am Not Your Negro, by the Haitian director Raoul Peck, is an exemplary and moving film-essay that draws on James Baldwin’s life and writings—mainly his unfinished manuscript Remember This House, a reminiscence of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, and his book on American movies, The Devil Finds Work. Opens February 3 at Film Forum.

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The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which is also screening I Am Not Your Negro, has organized an eleven-film tribute (February 9-16) to the great Polish director Andrzej Wajda, who died at age ninety late last year. In addition to the local premiere of Wajda’s last film, Afterimage, the show includes his best-known films—the harrowing existential drama Kanal, the harbinger of the East European new wave Ashes and Diamonds, and his portrait of a Stalin-era model worker, the Polish Citizen Kane and political event, Man of Marble (1977)—as well as his 1960 youth film Innocent Sorcerers, with Zbigniew Cybulski; and the bruising, quasi-autobiographical Rough Treatment (also known as Without Anesthesia) from 1978, and its pastoral follow-up, Young Girls of Wilko (1979).

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A younger political filmmaker, Paraguayan director Paz Encina will be showing her work at the Museum of Modern Art (February 10-12). Rather than coaxing a narrative from a documentary situation, her willfully primitive, conceptually rigorous Paraguayan Hammock (2006) uses voiceover and editing to impose one. Her new films, Memory Exercises and Sorrows of the Struggle, are also assemblages—juxtaposing archives kept by long-time dictator Alfredo Stroessner with the testimony of Stroessner’s victims.

Category: Film