February Films: To Hong Kong with Love, Films of the Gulf Wars, and Pedro Costa’s Latest
Still in the game, veteran Italian director Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor, shown at the last New York Film Festival, is a fierce, fact-based, intermittently operatic account of a Sicilian mob boss who turns informant and endures a series of actual and metaphoric trials both in the US and Italy. Film Forum and Film Society of Lincoln Center, opening January 31.
The five-Saturday series “To Hong Kong with Love” matches personal documentaries, like the influential cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s 2015 Hong Kong Trilogy, with features, including Peter Chan’s 1996 elegy for crown colony Hong Kong, Comrades: Almost a Love Story, featuring Maggie Cheung. The 2014 occupy movement figures throughout, most significantly in Chan Tze-Woon’s Yellowing and James Leong’s Umbrella Diaries: The First Umbrella, which closes the series. Metrograph, February 1–29.
The dense and provocative exhibition “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011” has a weekend film component with both narrative features and documentaries, including Kathryn Bigelow’s 2009 Oscar-winner, The Hurt Locker; Errol Morris’s 2008 Abu Ghraib documentary, Standard Operating Procedure; and Laura Poitras’s 2006 account of Iraq’s first democratic election, My Country, My Country. The series also includes Iraqi films like Salam Pax’s How to Stay Alive in Iraq (2006) and Koutaiba Al Janabi’s Leaving Baghdad (2010), as well as Werner Herzog’s visionary masterpiece Lessons of Darkness (1992). MoMA PS1, February 9–March 1.
A barefoot Cape Verdean woman arrives in Lisbon too late to bury the husband she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years and decides to stay. That’s the story—although fastidiously composed and gorgeously photographed under impossible low-light conditions, Pedro Costa’s incantatory staged-documentary Vitalina Varela has a conceptual rigor comparable to the films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet and a visual beauty that evokes Rembrandt. Film at Lincoln Center, opening February 21.
A year after his death, the marvelous Yugoslav filmmaker gets a near complete retrospective with “Dušan Makavejev, Cinema Unbound.” Makavejev’s unclassifiable 1971 documentary-essay WR: Mysteries of the Organism (a quasi-adaptation of Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism) may represent the summit of his oeuvre, but his earlier Yugoslav films and short documentaries are no less brilliantly subversive. Anthology Film Archives, February 26–March 8.