Erika Balsom is a reader in film studies at King’s College London.
“ENFIN LE CINÉMA! ARTS, IMAGES, ET SPECTACLES EN FRANCE (1833–1907)” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris; curated by Dominique Païni, Paul Perrin, and Marie Robert)
This monumental exhibition examined the rise of the motion picture, not as a machine but as an eminently modern way of looking at the world. The erudition, creativity, and access to collections that informed it were astounding, even if more attention to the tangle of cinema and colonialism would have been welcome.
Co-organized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
MUTZENBACHER (Ruth Beckermann)
Beckermann mobilizes a simple conceit to complex ends as she engages with men who respond to her casting call for a film about Josephine Mutzenbacher, the narrator of an “autobiographical” pornographic novel published in 1906. A generous and nuanced rejoinder to today’s polarized debates about sexuality.
SAINT OMER (Alice Diop)
The pain of identification and displacement swirls through this account of a Senegalese woman’s trial for infanticide in France. From its opening invocation of Marguerite Duras to its closing recourse to the home movie, Diop’s debut work of fiction possesses immense emotional and philosophical power.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (James Benning)
This unfaithful remake of a 1975 collaboration with Bette Gordon delivers a punch line in the credits but is much more than that: a film about landscape, nationhood, and (mis)recognition.
FORAGERS (Jumana Manna)
Combining strategies of fiction and documentary, Manna’s strongest film to date turns to the contested harvest of wild plants like akkoub as a means of confronting dispossession and colonization in Palestine/Israel.
REGROUPING (1976) (Lizzie Borden)
Regrouping spent more than forty years mostly stashed away in Borden’s closet before returning to screens this year thanks to a restoration by New York’s Anthology Film Archives. Exploring the fraught dynamics of a women’s group, it is a crucial reminder that collectivity shouldn’t be romanticized.
“JOHN SMITH: INTROSPECTIVE—50 FILMS FROM 50 YEARS” (Close-Up Film Centre and ICA, London)
This expansive program presented a chronological account of one of the UK’s most enduringly important moving-image artists. Smith’s best-known work, The Girl Chewing Gum (1976), is but the tip of a fascinating, mordant iceberg.
DANCE (1979) (Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, and Sol LeWitt; Lyon Opera Ballet at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London)
It’s called Dance, but it deserves to be considered an essential work of expanded cinema. A mesmerizing plunge into the relationship between the live and the recorded, the actual and the virtual, with projections by LeWitt.
UNREST (Cyril Schäublin)
Anarchist watchmakers in Switzerland’s Jura Mountains are at the heart of this off-kilter historical drama, set in a moment—the late-nineteenth century—when tradition was being eclipsed by forces that some would call progress.
PACIFICTION (Albert Serra)
This desultory Polynesia-set thriller drips with paranoia and allure. What is one to make of the fact that its protagonist, a French high commissioner played by Benoît Magimel, at times seems like a stand-in for Serra himself?