J. Hoberman’s books include Film After Film (Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?) and An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War.

IN THE REVIEW

Orphan of History

Victor Serge, Mexico, 1944

Unforgiving Years

by Victor Serge, translated from the French and with an introduction by Richard Greeman
Singular and solitary, the novelist Victor Serge (1890–1947) appears as an orphan of history, a chance survivor improbably clinging to the coffin of the Bolshevik Revolution. The main characters of Unforgiving Years, Serge’s final novel, written in Mexico, the place of his own final exile, are his fictional brothers—disillusioned Soviet …

NYR DAILY

Acting Natural

From Miguel Gomes's Our Beloved Month of August, 2008

The camera, just by its presence, altered human behavior. The motion picture camera changed the nature of acting. Among other things, it created that apparent oxymoron, the non-actor, the subject of an unusually rich and stimulating series now at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Programmed by Dennis Lim and Thomas Beard, “The Non-Actor” is predicated on the idea that all camera-based movies are documents and that filmed acting is perhaps synonymous with behavior. In this sense, the first movie actors—the workers filmed leaving the Lumière factory or the family that the Lumière brothers documented in Feeding the Baby in the mid-1890s—were the also the first non-actors.

If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Disney

Bria Vinaite as Halley and Brooklynn Prince as Moonee in Sean Baker's The Florida Project, 2017

The Florida Project is a snapshot of chaos, focused on a heedlessly dissolute young mother and her rambunctious six-year-old daughter. Each wonderfully inventive in her way, the two are living week to week during summer vacation in a shabby $38-a-night motel on a strip just beyond the perimeter of Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The film is not hallucinatory but, for almost its entirety, Disney World can only be sensed as something that has irradiated the local landscape.

A Carnival of Desecration

Peter Saul: Quack-Quack, Trump, 2017

Donald Trump has the most recognizable profile of any American president since Richard Nixon. Yet, as a cartoonist of my acquaintance has complained, artists are having a hard time caricaturing Trump, mostly likely because he already is a caricature—one reflected in mass culture’s fun-house mirror for close to forty years. We’re sick of Trump and we’re sick of being sick of him. Well-populated by images of the president, Peter Saul’s new show “Fake News” is hardly a palliative, but it does illustrate the crass absurdity of the current moment.

The Terrorists Go Shopping

A still from Bertrand Bonello's Nocturama, 2016

A shabby-chic cadre of photogenic young Parisians coordinate a series of terrorist attacks, blowing up or setting fire to buildings and monuments throughout the city, then take refuge after nightfall in an empty department store. Nocturama, the French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello’s daring and controversial follow-up to his 2014 Yves Saint Laurent biopic, is at once timely and timeless. It sets the aftermath of two centuries of French history to a hypnotic, trancelike beat.

The Snake in the Schoolhouse

Nicole Kidman as Miss Martha, Colin Farrell as Corporal McBurney, Elle Fanning as Alicia, and others in Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled, 2017

Don Siegel’s 1971 The Beguiled, starring Clint Eastwood, is a masterpiece of misogyny. Sofia Coppola has remade it, and where Siegel’s Beguiled was an expression of male hysteria, Coppola’s version is a dark comedy of manners. In Siegel’s movie the women are vivid types; in Coppola’s they are humanized.

The End of an Artist

Bogusław Linda as Władysław Strzemiński  in Andrzej Wajda's Afterimage, 2016

Few filmmakers meant as much to his country as Andrzej Wajda did to Poland. Both a world-famous director and a national conscience, Wajda—who died last October at age ninety—was a singular artist. It is appropriate then that his final film, hauntingly titled Afterimage, would be a drama concerning the last years of another Polish artist, the abstract painter Władysław Strzemiński.

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