James Quandt is a film critic and curator based in Toronto.
WHERE IS THIS STREET? OR WITH NO BEFORE AND AFTER (João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata)
In this most poignant of pandemic films, the directors return to the Lisbon locales of Paulo Rocha’s The Green Years (1963), an epochal work of Portugal’s Cinema Novo, to find the streets, parks, and byways now depopulated, emanating recent loss.
THE NOVELIST’S FILM (Hong Sangsoo)
Even for the literary, logorrheic Hong, language takes an unusually prominent role in his stinging portrait of a stalled novelist turned amateur filmmaker.
THE ADVENTURES OF GIGI THE LAW (Alessandro Comodin)
The Italian director’s sly depiction of a middle-aged policeman—apparently affable but often irritating and occasionally appalling—whose sleepy beat is a sun-punished village in Friuli where suicide is rife becomes an ambiguous assay of the unknowability of others.
UNREST (Cyril Schäublin)
Schäublin’s elegant sophomore film features Russian geographer and anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin, who arrives in a Swiss village in the 1870s to survey the surrounding area only to be obstructed by local politics. Schäublin does his own intricate mapmaking, investigating complex ideas about the interrelations of time and space and the instruments that measure each.
PACIFICTION (Albert Serra)
“I love action!” cries the high commissioner for French Polynesia, the protagonist of this paranoid thriller about colonialist hubris in Tahiti, but the film’s languorous rhythms and proliferating non sequiturs indicate that Serra has other ideas.
STONEWALLING (Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka)
Not since Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin (2013) has a film so powerfully limned the transactional nature of quotidian life in Xi’s neocapitalist China.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY (Makbul Mubarak)
Mubarak’s ferociously controlled debut feature analyzes the relationship between a retired army general turned politician in rural Indonesia and his loyal young servant, increasingly tested by his boss’s recalcitrant fascism.
THE LONG FAREWELL (Kira Muratova)
At any other time, I would have chosen Jacques Tourneur’s Canyon Passage as the restoration of the year, but Muratova’s daring 1971 psychodrama about the fraying bonds between a divorcée and her restive teenage son deserves the accolade.
PASOLINI IN NEW YORK (Agnès Varda)
Varda’s brief interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini as the two ambled down Forty-Second Street in 1966, only recently discovered and preserved, offers four minutes of sheer cinephilic exhilaration.
DRY GROUND BURNING (Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós)
This powerful anti-Bolsonaro feminist allegory about women who run a gas-siphoning racket in a Brazilian favela aims to be incendiary and immersive but is ultimately stymied by its needless repetitions and sixty-seven endings.