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  1. #1
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    New York Film Festival 2023

    61st New York Film Festival 2023


    Links to the reviews:

    Opening Night - May December (Todd Haynes 2023)
    Centerpiece - Priscilla (Sofia Coppola 2023)
    Closing Night - Ferrari (Michael Mann 2023)
    About Dry Grasses (Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2023)
    All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson 2023)
    All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh 2023)
    Anatomy of a Fall Anatomie d'une chute (Justine Triet 2023)
    The Beast/La Bête (Bertrand Bonello 2023)
    The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki 2023)
    La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher)
    Close Your Eyes/Cerrar los ojos (Víctor Erice 2023)
    The Delinquents (Rodrigo Moreno)
    Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude 2023)
    Eureka (Lisandro Alonso 2023)
    Evil Does Not Exist 悪は存在しない (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 2023)
    Fallen Leaves/Kuolleet Lendet (Aki Kaurismäki 2023))
    Green Border (Agnieszka Holland)
    Here (Bas Devos 2023)
    Hit man (Richard Linklater 2023)
    In Our Day (Hong Sangsoo 2023)
    In Water 물안에서 (Hong Sangsoo 2023)
    Janet Planet (Annie Baker 2023)
    Kidnapped/Rapito (Marco Bellocchio 2023)
    Last Summer (Catherine Breillat 2023)
    Maestro (Bradley Cooper 2023)
    Menus Plaisirs-Les Troigros (Frederick Wiseman 2023)
    Music (Angela Schanelec 2023)
    Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado)
    Perfect Days (Wim Wenders 2023)
    Pictures of Ghosts (Kleber Mendonça Filho 2023)
    The Pigeon Tunnel (Errol Morris 2023)
    Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos 2023)
    La Práctica (Martín Rejtman 2023)
    Prince, A (Pierre Creton 2023)
    The Settlers Los colonos (Felipe Gálvez 2023)
    The Shadowless Tower 白塔之光 (Zhang Lu 2023)
    Strange Way of LIfe/Estraña forma de vida (Pedro Almodóvar 2023)
    Taste of Things, The/La passion de Dodin Bouffant (Trân Anh Hùng 2023)
    Youth (Spring) 青春 (Wang Bing 2023)
    The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer 2023)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2024 at 10:13 AM.

  2. #2
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    A great French restaurant gets the Wiseman treatment

    The meticulous observational documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has lived in France lately, and since the nineties made films in France - where it turns out he developed a connection living for two years when quite young, after military service. Is he, in his early nineties, going to defect, like Eugène Green? The most memorable Americans who appear in this four-hour film about the legendary three-star Michelin restaurant Maison Troigros in Roanne, near Lyon, are an absurdly pretentious group of youngish men holding forth about wine with adjectives the French don't use.

    But there is no rancor here, and this is a quietly admiring portrait of a social institution one can't but admire: in French there is a saying, "À bien manger, le sage met sa gloire." Roughly, it means, For the wise man, eating well is a big deal." Eating chez Troigros, or any restaurant like that, which will set you back in the vicinity of four hundred dollars per person per meal, not counting wine or the fee for a room at the posh adjoining inn, is a very big deal. But eating is also one of the most fundamental human pleasures. At best, eating at such a place is a wonderful experience, worth the time, attention, and financial outlay. The presence of many return customers is evidence of this. But it is also a great luxury, an outrageous self-indulgence. Such restaurants are very costly and labor-intensive to run; the bill is not actually a ripoff. I at least however, toward the end of the four hours, began to long for a hot dog, in a crisp roll, with a dash of mustard, and a Coke. You may remember that the way high-end dining can tilt toward the absurd, even the nightmarish, was exploited in Mark Mylood's recent feature The Menu.

    This is, naturally, being from Wiseman, an intensive account of its subject, to the point at times even of being a bit repetitive. "Menus Plaisirs" means "small pleasures" but also was the rather ironic name for a department of service to the French king in the ancien régime, besides punning on "menu" (not the French word for that, which is "carte.") This reminds one of an earlier documentary about a similarly elite and fanatical and impressive French Michelin starred restaurant, Paul Lacoste's 2011 Entre les Bras, also a punning title, since it refers to passing on control of the establishment but also to the name of the family, Bras. (The English title achieved a pun too with Step Up to the Plate.)

    Lacoste's film is austere, but more focused. It defines the plant-based focus of the dishes, focused on fresh herbs and edible flowers, and also delves in depth into the personalities of the father and son chefs and carefully details the difficult process of passing on responsibility for running the Bras restaurant - almost like pulling teeth. There is a hint of that, but only a hint, when Michel Troigros, the father and current scion of the restaurant here, tells a customer, a retired vigneron who has completely turned over independent control of his winery to his sons, that he doesn't find it so easy to do that, even though one son is officially in charge of the kitchen.

    Like Lacoste's film, this one begins with buying fresh food in the local market. It is a truism that the quality of what goes on the plate of a restaurant begins with the local, seasonal freshness of ingredients. The film then focuses on many aspects of the restaurant. A lot of time is spent on such things as briefing servers on the day's menu; the importance of draining the blood from brains before cooking; creating new dishes and debating their combination of ingredients and sauces; the somelier's discussion of new wine stock, presold bottles for up to 15,000 euros, very high prices of even recent vintages for prestigious labels; coaching staff to treat other employees more fairly and equally and avoid teasing and using mocking names; the open design of the kitchen (a very interesting aspect), which Michel says means César, his son, can therefore control activity without shouting, because everyone is in sight.

    An engrossing side issue is the suppliers. There are informational meetings with several livestock farmers who explain their natural and earth-preserving methods, free of fertilizer and pesticides. For me the most surprising digression is a visit to a cheese-ripening center. Who knew that many of the famous (and not so known) cheeses of France, soft and hard, large and small, offered on a big cart to diners, are skillfully ripened not at home where produced, but in this hand work factory where they are washed, scraped, chilled, and moved about to the exact point when they need to be sold.

    The cheese ripening plant is an enlightenment, but departs from Wiseman's "fly on the wall" style, since we are simply following around a man providing a tour of the place. Wiseman's own editing of the sometimes jumpy camerawork of James Bishop, which gives a vérité effect, leads us from one sequence to the next, hypnotically. This is a talky film, relying very much on explanatory scenes. And yet its best moments are wordless. We are inspired and informed by the sight of the deft, graceful manipulation of tools, the flipping of meat in pans, the folding and smoothing out of sauces, the wordless tap on pieces of meat to assess their consistency. This is where we see how much all this is done carefully by hand, and where cooking enthusiasts and pros may learn things even Escoffier and Larousse Gastronomique, may not cover.

    Something that seems new (or risen to a new extreme) is more elaborate catering to whims and needs of diners, whose allergies, intolerances, and preferences are gone into in tireless detail. Hours before the meal, the servers are briefed oh customers, which tables they will be at and which servers will be assigned to them, and all those special needs. This may seem an odd development in a world where the chefs are famous and thought to call the shots. The Triogros family were influential in the development of the "nouvelle cuisine" movement starting in the sixties which revolutionized French cooking style. Now however it seems they must rearrange deserts because someone doesn't like cream, and these special requirements seem to be very numerous indeed. One customer, more down to earth, declares the only thing he's allergic to is the bill.

    Something old fashioned that emerges is how male-dominated this whole scene is. Women are there, but very under-represented in key kitchen positions. Mostly they are seen serving at table or making up rooms of the inn (which Michel's daughter, however, runs). Conversations between Michel and customers are man-to-man; any women customers are observers, or just put in a word here and there as the men do the talking. But they talk politely. We see a strong hand, but no tyranny, abuse of underlings or substance, no tirades. Everyone is dedicatedly at work. Professionalism reigns, which is impressive, and suits Wildman's focus on social organisms. But only Michel Troisgros gets enough attention to seem colorful, eating too much of a new dish while repeating the same thing over and over, striving to explain his ideas to American customers and finding his English falls short of the task.

    That key fact about Troigros and nouvelle cuisine you will find if you look up the restaurant elsewhere. You will not get it from Wiseman's film. He relies rather heavily here on people explaining things - the farmers describing their methods, the tour guide in the cheese ripening plant, Michel Troigros talking about himself and his sons to customers. It's through the latter that we learn the main current restaurant, known as Le Bois sans feuilles (The Wood Without Leaves), dates only from six years ago, and is in the country, replacing the old one in town - a big shift in style, look, and experience. The look of the new place, more casual than formerly, without white linen, with big windows opening up to landscape and grazing animals, resembles that of the Bras family, and may show its influence.

    Watching this film after Paul Lacoste's one can see that Troigros is more "conventional" in serving up lots of meat and fish of many varieties. We learn it departs from old style French cooking in such things as Japanese influence (pioneers in that, Michel Troigros says), use of hot spices and passion fruit. But what distinguishes the Troigros style doesn't emerge. This is a film that has a lot to give us, but still leaves us hungry - as fancy restaurants themselves do.

    Menus Plaisirs-Les Troigros, 240 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 3, 2023, also shown at Toronto, followed by New York. It was screened for this review as part of the NYFF, where it had its US premiere Oct. 7 and 9, with Q&As with Frederick Wiseman. US theatrical release Nov. 22, earlier screenings at Film Forum, Nov. 7, with Wiseman Q&A; Nov. 14. Metacritic rating: 88%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2023 at 01:10 PM.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    ALL OF US STRANGERS (Andrew Haigh)



    A powerful gay ghost story from Haigh

    All of Us Strangers, a propulsive and intense film about loneliness, loss, and love, was adapted by Haigh from the Japanese novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, translated into English by Wayne Lammers (already filmed in Japanese), "possibly tilting away," Bradshaw wrote at Telluride, from the the original’s "tone of disturbing possibilities towards a melancholy sweetness." (Also translating from straight to gay.) Well, you can take this picture of a middle-aged gay screenwriter in London, played with his usual relaxed intensity by the Irish born Andrew Scott (of "Fleabag" and "The Pursuit of Love") either way - as sad and disturbing, a nervous breakdown, or simply as a man coming to terms with both the saddest and the most hopeful thinking and feeling of his highly imaginative and emotionally vulnerable self.

    There is a certain amount of return by Haigh to the wonderful sense of gay connectedness he achieved in his first film, Weekend, to which this has been called "a companion piece." Bradshaw calls this a "mysterious, beautiful and sentimental film." Or it is an overweening episode of "Black Mirror." Though I was thrilled by Haigh's fluency, I could not fully relate with the film's in-your-face intensity and was following one step behind. But I had a feeling it would come to get me later. The young New York audience at a press screening watched raptly, but seemed withdrawn at the end - and the ending is a bit much to take. Haigh remains a powerhouse filmmaker. And once again he has brought wonderful performances out of a quartet of the best actors in the business.

    In The new feature Adam (Scott), a screenwriter, lives in a new building that's not occupied. An intense, handsome younger man, Harry (Paul Mescal), approaches him when he is drifting, uneasily at work on a screenplay based on his life with his lost parents, who died in a car accident when he was twelve. Harry comes to the door with a bottle, already plastered but inviting fun. He anticipates that Adam is "queer" - the different word denotes younger years, but Adam cautiously but politely declines the offer and closes the door.

    What happens after that I'm not certain; and finding out should be left to the viewer anyway. Adam goes to his old home in the country outside London (Dorking) and meets - his parents, Dad Jamie Bell and Mum Claire Foy. The most arresting sequence is the one in which he carefully informs her that he's gay. she does not take it well; later, his dad is much more understanding, and later declares Harry, with whom now Adam has a relationship, to be "a handsome fella." Whatever elseis going on here Haigh eventually works through the experience of being gay and dealing with AIDS and post-AIDS attitudes as a young gay man; going over Harry's own approach to coming out,

    Haigh goes over the ways the experience is, and is not, different now. We can also say as PEter Debruge does that All of Us Strangers "is therapy for the audience," or "at least that specific segment of us" who "desperately need" our fathers to apologize for not coming into our room when we were crying. This is also mainstream gay emotional therapy for a younger generation than the ideal one for Brokeback Mountain (mine). As a gay writer, Haigh writes for the LGBTQ person who knows that "everything is different now," yet is also aware that in some ways, in some places, it is not different. To say this is a "ghost story" (a very likely kind of tale to come from Japan) is to say this is a movie about dealing with people and emotions that have changed or gone and yet are still present in our hearts and minds.

    Despite the "Black Mirror" comparison, which is there, Andrew Haigh works like nobody else. He paints with a broad brush, and has ways of using events with utmost simplicity to deliver visceral, intense cinematic experience. Not only the Guardian's Bradshaw but Variety, The the Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, and the Los Angeles Times'Justin Chang have delivered absolute raves. Awards consideration, especially on the UK side, is assured.

    All of Us Strangers, 105 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 31, 2023. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it showed Oct. 1 abd 2; it will also scheduled for London BFI and Chicago. Theatrical release scheduled for Dec. 22 in the US and Jan. 26, 2024 in the UK. Metacritic rating: 98%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-01-2023 at 10:43 AM.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2002
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    A woman is tried on suspicion of her husband's murder, and their blind son faces a moral dilemma as the sole witness. (Cannes: Palme d'Or, 2023.)

    You will see no more warmly engaging and beautifully well made new film this year than Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall. Nothing radically new here. In fact Park Chan-wook's Decision to Leave from last year starts with the same ingredients: a man falls to his death in the mountains and his wife is suspected of pushing him. Only there the point was the police detective falls in love with the woman suspect. Here, the focus is on the woman, notably played by the great Sandra Hüller, who's also featured in another of the year's best films, the German-language The Zone of Influence. And it's a courtroom drama in which the couple's young vision-impaired son Daniel (the stunningly good Milo Machado Graner) winds up playing a key role in the trial.

    The cast also includes the under appreciated Swann Arlaud as Maître Vincent Renzi, the chief defense attorney for Sandra Voyter (Hüller), also a friend, and somethihg more.

    "Something more" applies to this whole movie. Even the family dog, Snoop (Messi) - an engaging, funny name - a guide for the son, winds up playing a far greater role than you'd expect, though that role manages to feel perfectly natural. Nothing seems contrived here - not at the moment, anyway: courtroom dramas are inherently stylized films, because they are dramas. The thing is to play that drama well, and this Anatomy of a Fall achieves.

    This latest accomplishment makes French director Justine Triet a major player. Her evolution over a decade has been remarkable. She showed ambition and prowess in her debut with The Age of Panic in 2013, which combined relationship drama with complex street action. Her hilarious 2016 comedy In Bed with Victoria was a triumph for her and for her stars Virginie Efira and Vincent Lacoste - though the anglophone critics didn't think so, and equally panned Triet's Sibyl , featuring Efira, on which I agreed. Anatomy of a Fall has even more intensity and complexity than these comedies and much more seriousness, without losing the earlier warmth and an undercurrent of humor that flavors the courtroom histrionics. This time while digging into the deepest emotional pain anyone can feel, the loss of a parent and a spouse, with a mother and her son's lives and futures uncertain, this winds up in a strange way being a kind of feel-good movie.

    Literally "feel-good" because focused on the senses of seeing and hearing. One of the outstanding features seems to be the in-your-face intensity of its sound. The action begins at a mountain chalet in the Frenc hAlps, where Sandra, a successful writer, a is having a jokey chat with a younger woman who's come to interview her. Music gets played so loud that after a struggle Sandra calls off the interview, even though they were enjoying a drink and having fun. It was more than an interview. That is why her musician husband, in his studio on the attic floor, has jealously turned up the volume.

    We find out early that Daniel can't see. His optic nerve was damaged beyond repair in an accident with his father at age eight. This is true even though he runs around freely with Snoop as his guide on the snow-covered slopes and paths surrounding the chalet. Then he discovers his father's fallen, bloody body and cries for help.

    But we learn more about this sequence later, of course, in the over-and-overing of events that follows when a death leads to an investigation and the trial of Sandra Voyter for the murder of her husband. It's suspected that she may have struck him and pushed him out the window.

    Language plays a distinctive role here. Sandra is German; her husband was French. They spoke English, and Daniel learned both. Early on, as Sandra and Maître Vincent Renzi walk around the chalet and he questions her about events leading up to her husband's death, she says she has to speak English because her French isn't good enough to convey the complexity of what she's trying to say. In the courtroom the trial is conducted in French but testimony flips back and forth between French and English when Sandra speaks. This helps give us a sense of how unstable the situation is for her, not to mention for Daniel.

    Speaking of sound, a major moment late in the trial is the playing of a recording the dead man made of a big fight between him and Sandra the day before his death. It's very loud, and played with the text of it shown on a screen above. Daniel, who had a habit of leaving when his parents argued, has heard none of it. It's disturbing, and he hears it all, because he has insisted on being present in the courtroom for it. It's as if we hear it with the hyper-sensitive auditory sense the boy's early blindness has developed in him. Retrospectively we hear that extra-loud music in the opening sequence that way too, causing us to feel the traumatic events sympathetically. Sympathy is part of Anatomy's sense of warmth. The film keeps us on our toes.

    The essence of the courtroom of course is the theatricality of the proceedings, with a flamboyant, shaven-headed attorney for the prosecution in flowing red robes (Antoine Reinartz} who is a real piece of work, and brings in several experts to present information that is damning, at least when bolstered by their theories. We are discovering about the dead man, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), who turns out to be a work in progress, a musician who wants to write a novel but is blocked, and saddled with a restoration of the chalet he took on himself but can't complete. The boy is discovering things about his father he didn't know. Some of this may feel contrived, at least in retrospect, as if the screenplay is making up the dead man and the prosecution case as it goes along. But the spirit of discovery keeps the action alive and riveting from first to last.

    This is where young, floppy-haired Daniel comes in to play a decisive role - aided by Snoop (though Snoop doesn't get to testify, not in person anyway). Daniel is, after all, the primary witness, his blindness only intensifying the sense we always have that everything is uncertain in any trial, particularly the most crucial and life-threatening ones. Daniel doesn't really khow what happened to his father, but he has to do some serious thinking about whether his mother could be guilty: this is why some viewers consider this very emotional film to be a think piece. But it's much more about feelings, words, and performances throughout.

    This is a richly entertaining film. Like all courtroom dramas it's very like a sports movie. All events lead up to the big final "game," i.e., testimony - here, by Daniel - where the team wins or loses. But Triet and her cowriter and regular collaborator Arthur Harari burst the chains of this convention by carrying the action beyond the trial. The real finale comes when Sandra sees Daniel again back at home. The point wasn't after all winning or losing, but delving deep into these lives. What a nice contrast this is to the absorbing but frustrating recent French courtroom drama, Mati Diop's Saint Omer. Triet never forgets the audience's need to be entertained that Diop chooses to ignore.

    Anatomy of a Fall is one of the year's best films, and Sandra Hüller likewise is guaranteed attention at awards time.

    Anatomy of a Fall/Anatomie d'une chute, 150 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes wher it won the Palme d'Or and the Queer Palm, as well as the Dog Palm for Messi as Snoop. It has shown in many international festivals through the rest of 2023. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival where it shows Oct. 7. It will be released in the US by Neon Oct. 13. Metacritic rating: 88%. Released Aug. 23 in France, the film received an AlloCiné critics rating of 4.4 (also 88%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2023 at 05:15 PM.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Almodóvar's polished short gay English-language "Western" is too talky and fails to ignite

    This is a short film "Western" in English by Pedro Almodóvar with a gay theme. One of the stars is Ethan Hawke. It premiered at Cannes. Perhaps the best (and most generous) criticism of of this unsatisfying work is to say as Michael O'Sullivan does in his Washington Post review that it's "both too good and not long enough." The film is made up of a present day moment many years later between the two men who in youth had a brief fling, plus a lengthy flashback to that earlier moment. More specifically in his analysis O'Sullivan points out that too much time is lost in expository dialogue.

    "There is so much exposition of past and present," writes O'Sullivan, "that Jake (Ethan Hawke) and Silva’s (Pedro Pascal) love story "gets crowded out by conversation that’s only meant to bring us, and not the main characters, up to speed."

    The actors (including and José Condessa and Jason Fernández as the young Silva and Jake) do well and look good and the cinematography is polished, however. It's just the writing (and the whole structural conception) that doesn't take off, and it's over before it really gets started. As has been known to happen, a great director has scored a misfire when he swithed to another language.

    Strange Way of LIfe/Extraña forma de vida, 31 mins., debuted at Cannes May 17, 2023, opening in various European and Spanish speaking countries. Its US debut was Sept. 30, 2023 at the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review (Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar on Sept. 30), and it opened in limited release in the US Oct. 6;
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2023 at 01:49 PM.

  6. #6
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    Jul 2002
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    THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Jonathan Glazer 2023)


    The surreal made real

    This is about the cozy family of the man who runs Hitler's worst extermination camp, at Auschwitz, in Poland. With Sandra Hüller, whose other starring role at Cannes this year was in Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall, winner of the Palme d'Or, making her, Sandra, at 45, this year a European cinematic "it" girl. Zone of Interest was adapted, very freely, from the eponymous novel of Martin Amis, who sadly died on May 19, the very day of its premiere in competition at Cannes, where it won the Grand Jury Award and FIPRESCI Prize. An excellent review is the one by Robbie Collin for The Telegraph.
    As the family eats dinner together, the rumble of industrialised murder can be heard faintly in the background, sometimes punctuated by a pistol crack. Later, as Rudolph contentedly smokes a cigar in the garden, the glow of its tip mimics the flames which claw at the night sky from the crematorium smoke stack behind.
    That is good; but it's difficult to describe Zone of Interest in a review because Glazer's film has its own unique skin-crawling oddity and spot-on specificity -- a combination hard to convey.

    The premise, almost but not quite a violation of the rule against directly representing the Holocaust, is to focus primarily on the household of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz camp. Sometimes the best way to show the un-showable is to approach it crabwise, shine the light on what's next to it, which is just what is done here. English director Jonathan Glazer (in his first film since the admired but off-putting sci-fi film Under the Skin in 2013) conveys the death camp from the commandant's house - and gardens, and greenhouse, and stable; it's a luxurious spread - though thrown up only three or four years ago, right on the other side of the 12-foot barbed-wire-topped wall surrounding the camp. We see the tops of buildings, but mostly we see nothing, we hear.

    The film begins even further away. First there is the long din of an ominous droning score behind a faintly glowing blank screen, then a scene of the family bathing at a wooded river nearby. There are attendants, the wife Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller) and Rudolf (Christian Friedel), and five children: when they return home down the sylvan road, it's in two shiny little black forties cars.

    At the swim, the roar of the death camp seems inaudible, but this is a beginning of the film' spot-on conveyance of period in clothes and mannerisms, even the unathletic German forties body of Höss himself, and his hitched-up black swim briefs, his white skin. The house is luxurious, if seen through the ample grounds, the well-tended garden, and the staff; but it's also rinky-dink, no ancestral mansion. Everything looks chintzy seen from the viewpoint of 21st-century manufacturing amplitude, and we realize Nazi officers probably wore uniforms of not-so-good cloth.

    The space next to the unspeakable place is made more contained and intense in Glazer's film through having every room in the house as Robbin Collin describes it "rigged with multiple static cameras which coolly survey the family’s daily routine." Their black dog rambles around among them. Their behavior too seems quite random at times, making the rectilinear spaces the more dominant. The clothes, the bedding and the uncomfortable looking beds, the generous German-made "oriental" rugs, the boys' room and their toy soldiers and toy "Heil Hitlers," the garden bare and empty out of season - everything conspires to strengthen our sense of this place, and by that indirection the ominousness of the other space right on the other side of the wall.

    By not talking about the elephant the elephant is made present for us as something that could only exist because so many pretended it didn't. By depicting an "ordinary" family next door, it has shown how surreal, impossible, and inhuman Auschwitz was.

    Our sense of the sleazy and impoverished grows when Hedwig's mother comes for a visit, her first time. She extravagantly admires the big room she's to sleep in, and the flowers in the vase, the garden outside. "You've really landed on your feet," she tells her daughter. We learn she used to clean the house of a rich Jewish woman: she wonders if the latter is now on the other side of the wall, and wishes they had gotten hold of the lady's lovely curtains. Hedwig jokes about how friends misunderstood when she told them her nice new fur coat came from "Canada." "Canada" was the name for the warehouse where Jewish seized possessions were stored. Hedwig and her mother are up from poverty. They are lowly thieves or would-be thieves enjoying the fine possessions whose owners, their betters, are being exterminated.

    Hedwig's mother disappears, leaving a note, tossed by Hedwig into the stove without explanation. One gathers she may have turned out to be more sensitive to the crackling gunshots and roaring crematoriums than her daughter; realized she "landed on her feet" at too great a cost.

    Through its precise period detail the whole aim of this movie up to a point is simply to convey the queasy, sick-making Gemütlichkeit of this house next to Auschwitz with maximum surreal intensity. But the bureaucratic focus of Martin Amis' source book comes through too, starting with a phone call in which Höss learns he's to be transferred.

    When she first gets word of this a week later, Helga freaks out, running after him to insist he go right to Hitler to request he keep the house for the family even if himself working elsewhere. This security, the comfort for the children, this stolen fur coat, mean more to her than her husband's status - and when Rudolf says a farewell to his horse, it's clear the latter means more to him than his wife - or than his long-haired mistress, doubtless an attractive female prisoner.

    More of the bureaucratization of evil comes when some time later we see a huge meeting - the number of camps and their commandants now staggering, and seen from above around a huge table - where it turns out Höss has actually been promoted and will return to Auschwitz to run a greatly enlarged "Hungarian" operation. It is such good news he excitedly calls his wife to tell her of it. But as he climbs down the stairs to leave the government building, he repeatedly retches. Either he is dying or the enormity of what he's involved in has finally gotten a grip on his body. There have been other stunning pauses of ominious sound and a blank screen, and a glimpse of attendants cleaning the displays for the present-day Auschwitz museum, with its shoes piled high. The crabwise echo of enormity will haunt us in a new way after Zone of Influence . An original and thought-provoking stunner full of controlled passion and great mastery of detail. One of the year's best films.

    Zone of Influence, 105 mins., debuted at Cannes May 19, 2023 winning the Grand Jury award and FIPRESCI Prize; also Telluride, Toronto, Deauville, Zurich, Mill Valley. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, Sept. 29-Oct. 15, 2023. Showing in the NYFF Oct. 8 and 9; Q&As with the director and stars. Other festivals. Coming in limited US release Dec. 8, 2023. Metacritic rating: 95%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-26-2023 at 11:00 PM.


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