1. Loin du Vietnam / Far From Vietnam (Agnès Varda & a bunch of French dudes, 1967)
A film I really needed to watch when more awake - and certainly will want to see again, this is a many-part documentary on America''s war in Vietnam with a quite explicitly anti-war agenda that seems remarkably modern and up-do-date in it's depictions of protests, the clear antipathy between the anti-war and pro-war agitators on the streets of New York, and even in the astonishing scene where a young man lecturing a young woman (mansplaining, not a word or maybe even concept then) about how we care about the people of Vietnam, but why not the Kurds, the Yemenis, the Sudanese - keep in mind, this is 1967! All in the midst of a speech declaiming among other things that war never ends...
2. La musica / The Music (Marguerite Duras & some French guy, 1967)
Duras' first feature as (co-)director seems to get less attention and to be less regarded than some of her other work - though to be sure she remains a pretty marginal/cult figure overall with India Song her only real "hit" - but I was pretty wrapped up in this relatively simple on its surface work about a divorcing husband and wife, meeting again, picking apart old wounds,mostly in one long scene that occupies about half the film. To be sure the photography by one of the great masters of monochrome, Sacha Vierny, is a big part of this, the music from Schubert, and Delphine Seyrig as "Elle" (unnamed characters, already a given in Duras), but there is a certain intensity, brought on by the various shorter sequences, of missed connections and reveries, before the intense confrontation that is the bulk of the work. Ultimately it's the passion of love expressed with only some passion, long after real passion has passed. Passionate about regaining, or reliving passion? Another film where close attention - and close feeling - is required.
3. Go-yang-i-leul boo-tak-hae / Take Care of My Cat (Jae-eun Jeong, 2001) (re-watch)
6th viewing or so, maybe 7th. First seen in 2006 I think - thanks to an IMDb Classics Board regular named kerpan - wherever he is, thanks again - I watched this two days in a row initially. It wasn't my first Korean film but it was one of the first, and it was really the film that kindled an interest in this cinema, and helped increase my interest in contemporary East Asian cinema in general. I have a long review of this on IMDb, if anybody by the slightest chance is actually reading this they can look that up, I don't feel like re-writing it now but I'm also not entirely happy with it so I'm not going to bother re-printing it here. Suffice it to say that I love this as much as ever and it continues to resonate with me as one of the most emotionally real films about being 20 or so and not knowing where to go or what to do with your life, and the way that Jeong shoots cityscapes (something she also does extremely well in her second feature Taepungtaeyang / The Aggressives (2005) - no wonder she went on to make architecture documentaries) continues to be extremely evocative for this ex-megalopolis dweller who misses it
4. Yeoseot gae ui siseon / If You Were Me (Jae-eun Jeong/Soon-rye Yim, 4 other Korean directors who happen to be guys, 2003)
Six short films put together at the behest of a Korean human rights commission on the theme of prejudice - in it's widest sense. The first segment (Soon-rye Yim) involves an overweight young woman who wants to both lose weight and get her eyes "fixed" (so they look more western), the second (Jae-eun Jeong) involves both a bed wetter and a sexual predator - I think; this segment has an odd SF-dystopian-oppressive feel to it and was easily the weirdest and most difficult of the pieces; another segment revolves around death and a funeral, and Chan-wook Park's, the only segment in (mostly) b/w around the years of struggle a Nepalese woman had to deal with to simply be comprehended while in custody in South Korea. The first two segments and Park's were the most interesting to me, but the other three aren't at all bad and this is overall a pretty solid program; there have been several further "If You Were Me" anthology programs and it seems worth looking them up.
5. Détruire dit-elle / Destroy, She Said (Marguerite Duras, 1969)
Much more challenging than La musica which I watched a few days earlier, this certainly has a lot of similarities to the early parts of that film, the sort of mysterious elements when the nature of the relationships of the man and woman were unknown, unpredictable, changing. Here we have a group of men and women in a hotel - or maybe it's not a hotel? - talking about relationships, about illness, playing cards; a woman is blind apparently, but she's not; another woman has a husband, and there's another man who might also be her husband or at least seems possessive - the older woman and the younger have similar names, and there are suggestions that they are the same person; it's all quite abstract. It's not as beautiful or as formally precise in it's sets and editing as the earlier film, instead seeming almost on the verge of blowing apart - hence the title - of admitting that the characters, and perhaps we the viewers, are insane and institutionalized, and living out or more properly dreaming about and talking through fantasies. And then there's the ending and in particular the use of sound, where Duras really seems coming into her own and looking forward to later works... I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, even more than most of Duras' tough films this left me rather at loose ends. But I think that's a good thing all in all and I hope to get to more this month.
6. Pájaros de verano / Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & this bloke she's married to, 2018)
Cinema. I liked Guerra's previous El abrazo de la serpiente though it didn't blow me away like it did many others. On the surface this latest film is a bit more conventional - it's in color, and it's set close to the modern day (1968-80 or so), and it's essentially a crime film about drug dealing along the lines of any number of gangster movies involving families, i.e. The Godfather. But look carefully and there's certainly another element just as strong as the betrayals, lust for money, and the way in which one or two psychos can fuck up a good thing - the criticism of capitalism and the way in which money and American lifestyles ultimately corrupt a small indigenous village, leaving everybody - at least, everybody that survives - worse off than before. This is the first film in which Gallego, who is married to Guerra, is credited as director and I wonder if the stronger focus on women - who seem to be equal partners or perhaps slightly superior in the culture of the Wayuu people on whom the film is centered - is attributable to this. In any case they are an interesting filmmaking team and while I haven't quite loved the two films I've seen they are both visually outstanding and certainly have plenty to say from a perspective that I don't as an American ever see without really looking for it.
7. L'adolescente / An Adolescent Girl (Jeanne Moreau, 1979)
Cinema, 35mm. Very cool to get to see this quite rare film - less than 10 votes on ICM as I write this - and see plenty of others coming out on a cold late-winter night to sit in excruciatingly uncomfortable seats to see it as well. And it was worth the effort though I can't say it knocked me out or anything like that. It's essentially a very well mounted coming-of-age story that might well be autobiographical - our young girl, Marie, is 11 or 12 in 1939, is Parisian and spending a summer in the country, not far from Moreau's own story. Laetitia Chauveau is pretty terrific as Marie, just discovering sexuality and the possibilities of first love; unfortunately it was her only film, she must have been Moreau's discovery - most of the other actors, most notably Simone Signoret as the fountain-of-wisdom grandmother, range from famous to at least career actors. It's beautifully shot with lots of natural light on location, and there are moments that really spoke to me in a way that typically French films set in rural areas - the first segment in Rohmer's 4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle is another prime example - do better than films from anywhere else; I can almost smell the fresh hay, the honey, the apples. It doesn't quite add up in the end to greatness, but it''s a lovely period portrait of a "lost time" as the director's narration informs us in bittersweet reverie at the end.