J. Hoberman’s Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan will be published in July. (March 2019)

IN THE REVIEW

The Waiting Rooms of History

Paula Beer as Marie in Transit

Transit

a film written and directed by Christian Petzold, adapted from the novel by Anna Seghers

Christian Petzold: The State We Are In

a film series at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, November 30–December 13, 2018
The protagonist of Anna Seghers’s novel Transit (1944)—the source for Christian Petzold’s new film of the same name—is a young German who, having escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and then a French work camp, makes his way to occupied Paris. There he is recruited by another former inmate to …

The House of Anderson

Phantom Thread

a film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
“I find it comforting to think that the dead are watching over the living,” Daniel Day-Lewis happily confides to a new acquaintance several scenes into the writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. It’s an odd thing to say to a young woman whom he seemingly plans to seduce, particularly since …

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 …

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The Ominous Decadence of László Nemes’s ‘Sunset’

Juli Jakab as Irisz Leiter in László Nemes's Sunset, 2019

Sunset, the forty-two-year-old French-Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s follow-up to his astonishing 2015 debut Son of Saul, is a gothic melodrama and a modernist period piece, set on the eve of World War I and shadowed by impending doom. Less dire than Saul but nonetheless alarming, Sunset tracks the quest of its protagonist, the young milliner Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), an orphan arrived in Budapest, to find employment at Leiter, the fashionable, luxury emporium founded by her parents. Perhaps Nemes—an artist far more comfortable discussing his filmmaking than his politics—is speaking through the character who says of Leiter’s elaborate creations: “the horror of the world hides beneath these infinitely pretty things.”

Godard’s Conflagration of Images

The Image Book, 2019

In a fabulously eccentric Skype press conference held after the movie’s première at the last Cannes Film Festival, Godard remarked that “most of the films in Cannes this year and in preceding years show what is happening, but very few films are designed to show what is not happening.” The Image Book, he hoped, would show precisely that dimension—in its method if not its subject matter. Since taking the digital turn some twenty years ago, Godard’s movies have been gnarly ruminations on Europe’s cataclysmic past century, the significance of his chosen medium, and, by implication, his own mortality.

What Makes ‘The Living Dead’ My Film of 1968

From George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, 1968

Night of the Living Dead was a triumph for low-budget, regional, independent filmmaking. A piecemeal production, made with pooled savings, shot in black-and-white on weekends and between jobs, that ultimately took the better part of a year to complete, it demonstrated the power of outré independent films to provide new social metaphors and outgroup fantasies.

Bauhaus in Mexico

Josef Albers: To Mitla, 1940

Josef Albers’s photographs of carved stone façades and symmetrical courtyards pay homage less to the square than to the genius of Mayan or Zapotec engineering—as well as the power of strong diagonals. Mexico provided Albers with an alternate classical tradition. The show includes several rigorous line studies clearly inspired by the ziggurats of Monte Albán and Chichén Itzá. Compared to his best-known work, Albers’s early geometric abstractions and many of the Mexican paintings are distinctly free-form (some, from the 1930s, might be described as jazzy), and are frequently concerned with the representation of three-dimensional space. By 1950, Albers is concentrating almost entirely on flatness, rectangles, and the interaction of color.

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