Close-Up

Like Someone In Love

One of my favorite aspects of Abbas Kiarostami’s films is how thoroughly he realizes the world within and around his characters. You hear the “world of the film” used often to describe the visions of directors attendant to detail, but no other filmmaker manifests a world of the film at quite the intimate yet expansive scope that Kiarostami does. His films make the camera feel almost incidental, as if this is simply the character or the moment that Kiarostami decided to focus on amongst a great many incidents and possibilities happening around that character or that moment. The world of his films offers glimpses into the lives of supporting characters, any of whom could be the focus of a Kiarostami film all their own. Take his latest, Like Someone in Love, for example. At one point Akiko (Rin Tanakashi) has her cab driver circle a roundabout while she looks on at her grandmother at a transit stop, who obliviously waits for a family visit that will never occur. Kiarostami sticks with Akiko, but we carry that glimpse into the world of other possibilities that surround her life for the rest of the film. It takes incredible craftsmanship to make films feel as seamless, realist, and spontaneous as Kiarostami does. Last week, Kiarostami stopped by the Indiana University Cinema to discuss filmmaking with Richard Peña on the occasion of the Cinema’s retrospective of his career. So here is some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) shared by the internationally renowned director.

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Close-Up Movie

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they appreciate the nuance of a meta movie that’s part documentary, part real-life recreation using people playing themselves. In the #43 (tied) movie on the list, Abba Kiarostami becomes interested in the story of a young man pretending to be a famous director in order to take advantage of a family, and decides to jump into the middle by making the situation into a movie. Close-Up rings with dozens of moving parts, but it still takes the time to appreciate an empty can rolling down a hill. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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Les Miserables and Joan of Arc

What is the very best way to use of the close-up? Is it best to save close-ups for the emotional arcs of a film, or to introduce a character? Can too many close-ups leave audiences feeling claustrophobic, and can too few prevent us from properly identifying with characters? Much has been made of Tom Hooper’s controversial use of the close-up for Les Miserables. The lack of critical consent over the film’s close-ups could be a major reason why Hooper has been on few shortlists for directing awards, even as the film garners attention fin other categories. Hooper’s use of the close-up perhaps reaches its apex early on, in an extended shot of Anne Hathaway as Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a sequence that has been generally celebrated as the film’s strongest moment and ostensibly ensured Hathaway’s lock for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. But Hooper’s isn’t the first filmmaker known for implementing the close-up liberally and controversially. How does Hooper’s use of the close-up for a film musical compare to one of cinema history’s most famous close-up-structured films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc?

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Flashback to the spring of 1998 — yours truly is living in Philadelphia and desperately looking for another city to call my home. I am not ashamed to admit that I plan on basing a significant part of this decision on the quality of programming at movie theaters in each city. Austin is the clear favorite in this category. I fondly remember falling in love with the Alamo Drafthouse during SXSW 1998 (beer! food! movies!), but it is my virginal foray into the Paramount Theatre that remains emblazoned upon my mind. Despite earning a masters degree in cinema studies, I never had access to a repertory cinema before. Sure, I studied the history of cinema but I watched all of the films on television. Now, I am finally experiencing those films in the way that they were intended to be seen! It might be hard to believe, but up until that fateful summer, I had never seen a film released prior to 1975 on the big screen. Flashforward 14 years — I find myself at the Hideout Cafe sitting across the table from the Paramount’s film programmer, Jesse Trussell, on the eve of the official release of the 2012 Summer Classic Film series schedule.  Trussell hands a photocopy of the schedule to me. I scan it quickly. My jaw drops.

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It’s that time of the year again: that brief span of time in between Christmas and New Year’s when journalists, critics, and cultural commentators scramble to define an arbitrary block of time even before that block is over with. To speculate on what 2010 will be remembered for is purely that: speculation. But the lists, summaries, and editorials reflecting on the events, accomplishments, failures, and occurrences of 2010 no doubt shape future debate over what January 1-December 31, 2010 will be remembered for personally, nostalgically, and historically. How we refer to the present frames how it is represented in the future, even when contradictions arise over what events should be valued from a given year. In an effort to begin that framing process, what I offer here is not a critical list of great films, but one that points out dominant cultural conversations, shared trends, and intersecting topics (both implicit and explicit) that have occurred either between the films themselves or between films and other notable aspects of American social life in 2010. As this column attempts to establish week in and week out, movies never exist in a vacuum, but instead operate in active conversation with one another. Thus, a movie’s cultural context should never be ignored. So, without further adieu, here is my overview of the Top 10 topics, trends, and events of the year that have nothing to do with the 3D debate.

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Criterion Files

Anytime a face is shown on screen, and we see that face speak, a host of questions – implicit or explicit – are automatically present. What is the authority of this speaker? Not in regards to any authority of the topic they are discussing, but rather, are they speaking on behalf of themselves, or are they a representative for another source of ideas? What is there relationship to the camera? If their words aren’t scripted, then how does their awareness of the camera change them? Typically, we are conditioned to giving speakers the benefit of the doubt, part and parcel of the suspense of disbelief necessary to enjoy any given film without being overwhelmed with questions of authorship. Even when we watch a film that blends fact and fiction and blurs the already arbitrary line between narrative and documentary film (in works like the Criterion Collection’s F for Fake (1972) or the more recent Exit Through the Gift Shop), suspense of disbelief is still fully applied in that we can enjoy such a film because we think we know where fiction ends and fact begins, and vice versa (even if we go about this knowledge differently upon revisitation in these tricky narratives). Our own need to delineate reality from scripted façade is implemented whether or not it is appropriate or accurate because of the need of a starting place in order for our minds to be able to assess and understand a given film.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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