Statement of Intent

An essay in the now-abandoned A Personal Consideration of Silence essay series.

In my limited experience, there are two types of “favorite” films. This does not apply just to films that the viewer relates to on a personal level (although that plays a significant part) or to the towering masterpieces of cinema, but to a very particularly moving form of connection that the experience of watching and subsequent reflection activates in a viewer. These two types, described in terms of what each individual lover has to say, are as follows:

1. It is immensely difficult to articulate the nature of the film’s greatness or general quality for whatever reason. Usually, this seems to stem from more intimate movies, ones that are difficult to evaluate from an impersonal lens. They are usually films that lie closer to real life, in the small interactions and little snippets of dialogue.

2. The viewer has an inordinate amount of things to say about the film from a variety of self-imposed perspectives and aspects. This more often than not occurs concerning mammoth films that are clearly great, grandiose productions (not to be conflated with Farber’s conception of white elephant art, as these are usually incisive works), whether they be in the canon or not.

Obviously, this binary is, as all binaries are, reductive, and there are many of my favorite films that fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Nevertheless, all of them are aligned somewhat with these dual categorizations. More importantly, never have I felt the urge of the second type as strongly as I have with Silence, Martin Scorsese’s depiction of incredible, purposeful, and troubling faith in the most hostile of locales. It is a film that gives no quarter, leaves no stone unturned in its repeated questioning of its central character and by proxy the viewer, and what results is a kind of affirmation, a complicated ambiguity that feels irresistible.

It is perhaps only fair to lay out my rather considerable shortcomings in undergoing this venture of writing multiple long essays on this great film. I have seen a grand total of—at this time of writing—six Scorsese films, and among the unseen are a good deal of films both relevant (The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun, The Wolf of Wall Street) and not but still essential (Mean Streets, The Age of Innocence). I also have not seen Masahiro Shinoda’s version of Silence, nor Shūsaku Endō’s original novel, though I do know the context in which the latter was made. And of course, I am a neophyte of cinema at best, whose cursory knowledge vastly outstrips any benchmark of actual viewing.

So why do I want to tackle such an extraordinary film in such a brazen manner? The film’s majesty, of course, speaks for itself and even for someone as unlearned as me I want to discuss it. The decidedly mixed response of the consensus as a whole (in that the detractors have stated their opinions as vociferously as the supporters) is another reason. But certainly the strongest is my identity as an Asian Christian and the ways in which it deals with that ideal. Silence challenged and moved me in ways even religion cannot, and I relish any attempt to grapple with it further.

This project of sorts will take some time, and I anticipate that posts will come out irregularly. There is no set outline at this time, but each essay will attempt to tackle some different facet of Silence, some focusing on more technical sides and others on more theological issues.

For now, this is what I have to say about Silence. There will be many, many more words forthcoming, and I pray that they will not come in the form of unadulterated fawning, but as a testament to the glory of this truly monumental work.

A Few Immediate Thoughts on The Before Trilogy

So many echoes, both conscious and (I presume, though putting anything past these three geniuses is risky at best) unconscious. Each film has a scene of “acting” in a certain way, and the rhythms and often content of the walks are admirably similar, but each feels so differentiated by the ravages of time and love. A car ride that forms the climax of Sunset becomes the first act of Midnight, the glory of Sunrise becomes more and more attenuated until it acts as a divider, and through it all Linklater grows ever more confident, as vital as ever; the sense of worldly weariness comes from the roles, not the collaborators.

2016 Film Poll #4: Film Comment Readers’ Poll

Top 20 Films of 2016

1. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
Every shot, every action in this film is profoundly coded with faith and religion; it is on all levels a groundbeaking achievement.

2. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
The most achingly moving film of the year, but also delightful, shocking, and sensitively interior.

3. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
Both a grandiose affair and a slow-burn melodrama, it is multi-faceted and heartbreaking in a way that grows in the mind with each passing day.

4. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
There is no doubt that these are the images that have marked Kirsten Johnson, but they are also the images of humanity: life, death, destruction, and beauty.

5. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Both the madcap comedy and the heartfelt drama as promised, and so much more.

6. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)
A wonderfully nostalgic film as beguiling as the subject’s undying love.

7. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
While most of the other films on this list aim for subdued minimalism, this film sounds the call for maximalism loud and clear, marrying a delightfully twisted narrative with the most pleasurable romance of the year.

8. Happy Hour (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
Even more than most long films, this luxuriates in its length, never sacrificing intimacy while exploring the gamut of emotions and moods.

9. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)
The most conversational and confessional film of the year, twice.

10. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
Simultaneously provocative and sympathetic, this is a challenge to the idea of documentary carried out on all fronts.

11. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)
A microcosm of a very specific, unexpectedly humane climate from so many perspectives.

12. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
The hoopla over whether this is a film or miniseries misses the point; it is a monolithic work, a pointed exposé of the state of the union through the lens of one of its most infamous figureheads.

13. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
It is a testament to the unbelievable prowess of all involved that this incredibly questionable premise resulted in this ravishingly clear-minded portrait of obsession.

14. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
As much as anything, this is remarkably quotidian even in its triptych structure as it moves more and more into the realms of unfathomably deep emotions.

15. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
A portrait of a woman constantly in motion.

16. SPL II: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang)
This is practically giddy on its own daring, on its wondrous and furious kineticism.

17. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Appropriately mesmerizing filmmaking on every level, woven in with a history that always seems just out of reach.

18. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)
Endlessly relatable and wonderfully, agonizingly unvarnished.

19. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
A brilliant masterclass in sustained, mounting tension, culminating in one of the most unexpectedly soul shreddingly cathartic acts of the year.

20. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
Blissful, supremely assured reflections on the bittersweet things in life.

2016 Film Poll #3: The Muriel Awards

Best Feature-Length Film
1. Silence
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. Cameraperson
4. Toni Erdmann
5. My Golden Days
6. The Handmaiden
7. O.J.: Made in America
8. Mountains May Depart
9. Happy Hour
10. Right Now, Wrong Then

Best Lead Performance, Male
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann
3. Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro
4. Hidetoshi Nishijima, Creepy
5. Andrew Garfield, Silence

Best Lead Performance, Female
1. Kate Lyn Sheil, Kate Plays Christine
2. Zhao Tao, Mountains May Depart
3. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
4. Sônia Braga, Aquarius
5. Sandra Hüller, Toni Erdmann

Best Supporting Performance, Male
1. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
2. Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
3. Teruyuki Kagawa, Creepy
4. Issey Ogata, Silence
5. Laurent Lafitte, Elle

Best Supporting Performance, Female
1. Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
2. Sylvia Chang, Mountains May Depart
3. Michelle Williams, Certain Women
4. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
5. Laura Dern, Certain Women

Best Direction
1. Jia Zhangke, Mountains May Depart
2. Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden
3. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Creepy
4. Martin Scorsese, Silence
5. Kirsten Johnson, Cameraperson

Best Screenplay
(original or adapted)
1. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
2. Hong Sang-soo, Right Now, Wrong Then
3. Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann
4. David Birke, Elle
5. Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women

Best Cinematography
1. The Handmaiden (Chung Chung-hoon)
2. Mountains May Depart (Nelson Lik-wai Yu)
3. Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
4. Sunset Song (Michael McDonough)
5. Kaili Blues (Tianxing Wang)

Best Editing
1. Cameraperson (Nels Bangerter)
2. Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lame)
3. The Handmaiden (Kim Jae-Bum & Kim Sang-beom)
4. O.J.: Made in America (Bret Granato & Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski)
5. I Am Not Your Negro (Alexandra Strauss)

Best Music
(original, adapted, or compiled)
1. The Handmaiden (Cho Young-wuk)
2. Mountains May Depart (Yoshihiro Hanno)
3. Manchester by the Sea (Lesley Barber)
4. Elle (Anne Dudley)
5. Julieta (Alberto Iglesias)

Best Documentary
1. Cameraperson
2. O.J.: Made in America
3. Kate Plays Christine

Best Cinematic Moment
(best scene or sequence)
1. Cameraperson – Violence montage
2. Silence – The voice
3. Manchester by the Sea – The accident flashback
4. Kate Plays Christine – Christine in living color
5. The Handmaiden – Throw away your books, run away in the fields
6. SPL II: A Time for Consequences – Emoji texting
7. Creepy – The interrogation
8. Mountains May Depart – “Go West” reprise
9. Happy Hour – Nightclub conversation
10. Cemetery of Splendour – The movie theater

Best Cinematic Breakthrough
(vague explanation: a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made a notable debut in film, took his/her career to a higher level, or revealed unforeseen layers to his/her talent during the year 2016)
1. Lily Gladstone
2. Kim Min-hee
3. Kirsten Johnson
4. Andrew Garfield
5. Kelly Fremon Craig

Best Body of Work
(a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made superior contributions to multiple films released in calendar year 2016)
1. Isabelle Huppert
2. Kim Min-hee
3. Andrew Garfield
4. Michelle Williams
5. Kristen Stewart

Best Ensemble Performance
1. Happy Hour
2. The Handmaiden
3. 20th Century Women
4. Love & Friendship
5. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

Other remarks:
It is a great honor and pleasure to contribute my first ballot to the Muriels.
There were a ridiculous amount of extraordinary performances and technical achievements that I didn’t have the space to acknowledge, so here are some very honorable mentions: Things to Come, Sully, Paterson, The Edge of Seventeen, The Shallows, Shin Godzilla, Everybody Wants Some!!, Moonlight, and The Other Side.

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 2006
1. Inland Empire
2. Miami Vice
3. Old Joy
4. Syndromes and a Century
5. Woman on the Beach

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1991
1. A Brighter Summer Day
2. The Double Life of Veronique
3. Barton Fink
4. Until the End of the World
5. Raise the Red Lantern

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1966
1. Persona
2. The Battle of Algiers
3. Black Girl
4. Au hasard Balthazar
5. Masculin féminin

Top 23 of 2016

2016 definitely wasn’t my first year of cinephilia, but it feels in many ways like the first concrete step towards it becoming my all-consuming passion. From joining and becoming immersed in Twitter to watching more and more to writing on here, Seattle Screen Scene, and Brooklyn Magazine, it’s been rather extraordinary.

The following list is formed from the reds, oranges, greens, and blues that I have seen at time of writing that were commercially released in New York City in 2016. It is woefully inadequate and incomplete, but nothing ever is in cinephilia.

1. Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

2. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)

3. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)

4. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)

5. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)

6. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)

7. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)

8. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)

9. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)

10. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)

11. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

12. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)

13. SPL II: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang)

14. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

15. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)

16. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

17. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)

18. Sunset Song (Terence Davies)

19. The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra)

20. Sully (Clint Eastwood)

21. Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno)

22. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)

23. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

My Top 10 Discoveries During 2016 (for first-time viewings of films made before 2000)

  1. A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang)
  2. Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-wai)
  3. Trust (1990, Hal Hartley)
  4. Wavelength (1967, Michael Snow)
  5. Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann)
  6. The Devils (1971, Ken Russell)
  7. Carlito’s Way (1993, Brian De Palma)
  8. Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette)
  9. Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa)
  10. Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai)

In conclusion:

2016 Film Poll #2: Senses of Cinema

Ryan Swen
Freelance film critic, Seattle.

Based on 2016 New York City commercial releases.

1. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016)
O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman, 2016)
Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene, 2016)
If there was one genre of film that felt truly innovative this year, it was documentary, and these three films stood out as revolutionary in their own way; even more importantly, all are intensely passionate and emotional.

2. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)
The most achingly moving film of the year, but also delightful, shocking, and sensitively interior.

3. Shānhé gùrén (Mountains May Depart, Jia Zhangke, 2015)
Both a grandiose affair and a slow-burn melodrama, this film is multi-faceted and heartbreaking in a way that grows in the mind with each passing day.

4. Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (My Golden Days, Arnaud Desplechin, 2015)
A wonderfully nostalgic film as beguiling as the subject’s undying love.

5. Agassi (The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook, 2016)
While most of the other films on this list aim for subdued minimalism, this film sounds the call for maximalism loud and clear, marrying a delightfully twisted narrative with the most pleasurable romance of the year.

6. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
L’Avenir (Things to Come, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016)
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)
A triple bill of women living their quotidian lives, impeccably and empathetically looked upon by masterful, quietly audacious directors.

7. Jigeumeun-matgo-geuttaeneun-tteullida (Right Now, Wrong Then, Hong Sang-soo, 2015)
The most conversational and confessional film of the year, twice.

8. Rak Ti Khon Kaen (Cemetery of Splendour, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2015)
Appropriately mesmerizing filmmaking on every level, woven in with a history that always seems just out of reach.

9. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone, 2015)
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016)
Two films about teens that feel wholly, agonizingly authentic.

10. Shā Pò Láng Èr (SPL II: A Time for Consequences, Soi Cheang, 2015)
Kurîpî (Creepy, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2016)
The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2016)
Shin Gojira (Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno, 2016)
Four great arguments for genre filmmaking, all executed with brutal precision and their share of thrilling highs and only slightly less amazing lows.

2016 Film Poll #1: Seattle

1. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
2. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
3. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)
4. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
5. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
6. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
7. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)
8. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
9. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
10. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)

Honorable Mentions: Sunset Song (Terence Davies), Sully (Clint Eastwood), SPL II: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang), Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho), The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig), The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra), Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno)

Films That Didn’t Receive a Seattle Release: O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman), Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)

Thoughts on an Aborted Viewing of Evolution of a Filipino Family

A large part of what made Out 1 such a compelling, mesmerizing experience was the fact that I saw it in a theater and with other people. Watching such a film of notorious duration in a place where I couldn’t just get up or pull up another screen helps, certainly for every film but especially one of this kind. Leaving aside the fact that the two and a half hours of Evolution of a Filipino Family didn’t impress me nearly as much as the first episode of Out 1, I feel that the meditative pace of Evolution would have played significantly better in a theater where the rewind button was not an option.

The rewind button, however, helped little when it came to the surprisingly convoluted plot. Neither the Boyhood-esque portrait from Robert Koehler’s review at TIFF nor the non-linear style I had read from someone online, it is instead two parallel storylines, roughly speaking, a fact gleaned later on after I had taken numerous breaks and rewinds in an attempt to figure out the plot. Out 1 offers numerous pleasures aside from its relatively inconsequential plot, but the contours that I found most informed Evolution seemed fragmented. If I had gotten further, and been more in tune with Lav Diaz’s elongated rhythm, then things could have been different, but as is…

It must also be mentioned that Diaz’s style seemed rather different from expected. Though in the first half hour there are some long takes of landscape and people moving through it similar to that of Weerasethakul (in my limited experience) much of the film proceeds in a rather uninhibited vein: the shooting style is the same but the comment is filled with violence and intimations of the surrounding world, along with those rather odd radio stories; whether they are meant to echo the narrative or not seemed inconclusive.

Kwaku Ananse

“Kwaku Ananse” perhaps demands to be seen in its specific cultural context. Its narrative is rather opaque, following a young woman (that the notes say is American, though this isn’t mentioned in the short proper) as she journeys into a rural area of Ghana for some sort of funeral. This is intertwined with the myth—explained by the woman—of a spider that gathered all of the world’s knowledge into a gourd, and at a funeral for what appears to be the spider the short collapses into itself, putting in almost surreal touches as the woman ventures further into the jungle. “Kwaku Ananse”‘s pleasures lie mostly in its cinematography, which is almost unnaturally vibrant. The way it weaves in and out of the funeral and brings out the liveliness of the jungle and natural organisms seems nothing less than hypnotic.

MUBI’s New York Film Festival Projections 2016 Selections

The first short of the selection, “Regal” achieves the feat of conforming exactly to the viewer’s idea of what it is and sneakily suggesting something more. It is in effect a showing of an immensely degraded print of a Regal Theaters preshow advertisement, and there is a certain thrill in watching these images broken down to their elemental colors, but Karissa Hahn complicates this by foregrounding how it is being shown—on a laptop screen. There is much buffering and playing/pausing, coupled with the amusing sounds of the space bar and a computer alert, though it is complicated further by having the play/pause icon that pops up look as degraded as the ad. The short is capped off by showing a download button, and though Hahn’s point doesn’t necessarily come across cleanly, her images are a delight nonetheless.

“Now: End of Season” also pulls off a similar mixture, though to slightly less successful results. Using footage of Syrian refugees in Turkey and overlaying it with an archival telephone call of former Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad trying to reach Ronald Reagan as the latter is horseback riding, Ayman Nahle mixes the present and past in a somewhat oblique way. This juxtaposition is further displayed by the focus on things of the present that act as extensions of the various figures: cell phones, suitcases, clothing, and other such items. If Nahle is attempting to imply some sort of political message related to modern day Syria (e.g. on American intervention), it is mostly lost under the just-too-long running time and the inexplicably ominous thrum of the electronic score, but the short remains engaging throughout its run.

On the other hand, “Cilaos” goes for extreme artifice, combining a ’70s blaxploitation aesthetic, a capella musical numbers, and a rigorous style to tell the story of a woman searching for her father. The moody celluloid look is matched by the soulful singing of the three actors, especially Christine Salem, and Restrepo frames them often against empty backgrounds as they look directly at the camera. Throughout, a spirit of experimentation is as present as the narrative, using the same actor to play two different roles in the same shot and framing. In the final third, Restrepo abandons the narrative in favor of pure celebration, as the woman seems to assume her father’s role and the short breaks down. It is a wonderful, mystifying short all around.

Almost certainly the most exciting of the entire program (from both parts) is “Foyer”, by Ismaïl Bahri. The setup is simple enough—a blank piece of white paper is placed in front of a camera filming a street in Tunis—and even if the sole content of the film was to capture the way the light and wind subtly change the color and texture of the shot, it would remain thoroughly absorbing for at least a good portion of the runtime. But Bahrain uses the sound to an astonishing extent, using what appears to be unscripted conversations with random passersby as they ask the purpose of his filming the paper and, especially in the earlier parts, about how it relates to the traditional conception of cinema. Consequently, the short remains more than lively throughout, with only a few lulls in between certain conversations. The second half takes an unexpected but even more delightful turn, as police officers ask Bahri to take his camera to the station to be examined. The tension is quickly dissipated after the officers quickly realize the contents of the recording (the sound continues even as the filming is ostensibly stopped, which leads to some question over whether everything is as is) and gradually the short turns into a study of the mindset of Tunisia in the current decade. At once a study of the image and a unexpectedly expansive piece of ethnography, “Foyer” is even more rewarding than initially meets the eye.

In stark contrast, “Indefinite Pitch” seems to almost provoke the viewer with its confrontational approach. Beginning as a pitch for a film set in Berlin (originally unspecified), the short quickly devolves into an extended reflection on the Northeast, the town of Berlin, New Hampshire, and even the culture of today, all using the pitch that has been reconfigured from a 1927 silent movie filmed in Berlin. The monologue itself is surprisingly dense, and perhaps takes on too many topics in such a short timespan, but the deftness with which Wilkins returns to certain points seems almost too clever. Unfortunately, as a result of a possibly jaundiced worldview on the part of the narrator (whether or not Wilkins fully shares the views he is espousing is unclear), there is a strong tinge of nastiness that is only amplified by the continual escalation then deescalation of the pitch modulation that, at the halfway mark, turns into an alarm-like whine which does dissipate after less than a minute. The still images are visually pleasing enough, occasionally echoing the narration, but their purpose only becomes clear towards the end, as Wilkins continues his game of metaphorical cat-and-mouse with the viewer.