I AM CUBA (SOY CUBA) (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)
209 West Houston St.
The Revivals section of last year’s New York Film Festival included a rare screening of Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 political epic, I Am Cuba, in a 4K restoration from Milestone. It’s now back for a one-week run beginning at Film Forum on February 15. In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union wanted to cement its hold on Cuba and celebrate its new Communist regime by making a propaganda film celebrating the Cuban Revolution and the end of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorial reign. The Soviets actually disowned the result, considering it too arty and inaccessible for their needs. But it’s quite a film, a lavishly photographed black-and-white gem that was championed by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola when it was resurrected at the Telluride Film Festival in 1992.
I Am Cuba is divided into four sections that tell the story of the nation from different points of view. The film opens in a casino where American men degrade Cuban prostitutes; one of the men demands to see the home of one of the women, Maria, so he trudges with her through a poverty-stricken region and meets an unexpected man. Next, Pedro, a tenant farmer, is told that the land he has been working for decades has been sold to the American company United Fruit, so he takes dire action while protecting his family. (“I used to think the most terrifying thing in life is death,” he says. “Now I know the most terrifying thing in life is life.”) In the third story, a university student named Enrique is overeager to get involved in a campus rebellion, especially after saving a young woman from drunk American soldiers and witnessing a cold-blooded shooting by the police. The final part deals with a pacifist villager named Mariano who is being goaded by a soldier to join the military fight for freedom.
I Am Cuba is one of the most visually stunning films ever made. Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, who had previously collaborated on the extraordinary Palme d’Or winner The Cranes Are Flying, create breathtaking tracking shots from virtually impossible angles, high in the air and underwater, assisted by camera operator Alexander Calzatti, who was practically a stuntman to achieve whatever was necessary. A joint production of the Soviet company Mosfilm and the new Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, the film was written by Soviet poet and novelist Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Cuban director and writer Enrique Pineda Barnet and features interstitial narration by Havana-born actress Raquel Revuelta as the voice of the nation. “Is this a happy picture?” she asks. “Don’t avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, the hotels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me.” Later she encourages her citizenry to take up arms, softly stating, “I am Cuba. Your hands have gotten used to farming tools. But now a rifle is in your hands. You are not shooting to kill. You are firing at the past. You are firing to protect your future.” The film, of course, takes on added relevance today given the US government’s relationship with Cuba and the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016; there are also scenes that seem to prefigure the coming civil rights and peace movements in the US that occurred after the film was made. [Note: The 6:40 screening on February 15 will be introduced by Amy Heller and Dennis Doros of Milestone Films.]
BLAME (Quinn Shephard, 2017)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, February 14, 4:00
Series runs February 14-21
Last summer, MoMA presented “The Future Is Female,” a week of independent features and shorts written, directed, and starring women, dealing with important issues of inclusivity and gender. The series is back for its second iteration, running February 14-21 and beginning with a recent head spinner. Twenty-two-year-old Quinn Shephard proves herself to be a sextuple threat in the daring, sexy teen thriller Blame. The New Jersey native wrote, directed, edited, produced, and stars in the film, in addition to writing the lyrics for several songs performed by Peter Henry Phillips. Her mother, Laurie Shephard, also produced and cast the movie, which takes place in a New Jersey high school where Abigail Grey (Shephard) has returned after a mysterious psychotic incident. She is immediately targeted by mean-girl leader Melissa Bowman (Nadia Alexander) and her trusted bestie, Sophie Grant (Sarah Mezzanotte), while the third member of the clique, Ellie Redgrave (Tessa Albertson), might be on the outs for showing sympathy for Abigail. Melissa sics her boyfriend, T.J. (Owen Campbell), and Sophie’s beau, Eric (Luke Slattery), on Abigail, taunting and teasing her, calling her Sybil, after the book and movie about a woman with multiple personalities. When Jeremy Woods (Chris Messina) takes over their drama class, he switches the play they’re presenting from Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, casting Abigail as protagonist Abigail Williams, who might be involved with witchcraft, and Eric as John Proctor, a married man she might be having an affair with. Melissa, who wanted the lead role, is furious when she is named Abigail’s understudy. When Eric doesn’t take things seriously, Jeremy steps in to play John, angering Melissa further as Abigail gets to spend more time with the rather attractive teacher, especially as she watches Abigail and Jeremy grow very close. And Melissa doesn’t like to lose.
Blame is a carefully crafted, intimate tale of lust, jealousy, and obsession, capturing the complicated zeitgeist of high school life, the fear and trepidation along with the experimentation and confusion. In shifting from The Glass Menagerie to The Crucible, Shephard equates mental illness with witchcraft as seen through a feminist lens as her story parallels Miller’s, much as Amy Heckerling’s Clueless follows Jane Austen’s Emma (only without the laughs) and Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions is based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses. The scenes between Shephard (Hostages, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) and Messina (The Mindy Project, Damages) are sizzling hot as teacher and student teeter on the edge of a major taboo. Shephard, who appeared in a high school production of The Crucible, also gets to show off her fab eyebrows, which are a character unto themselves. She is one talented filmmaker deserving of attention in an industry that must do a much better job cultivating, acknowledging, celebrating, and rewarding films by and about women. Blame is screening February 14 at 4:00 with Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel’s fourteen-minute Happy Birthday, Marsha!, about trans artist and activist Marsha P. Johnson, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. “The Future Is Female, Part 2” continues with such other pairings as Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods and Crystal Kayiza’s Edgecombe, Kate Novack’s The Gospel According to André and Catherine Lee’s 9at38, and Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline and Eleanor Wilson’s Low Road, all followed by discussions.
I DIARI DI ANGELA (ANGELA’S DIARIES) (Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi, 2018)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
In February 2009, MoMA hosted a retrospective of the work of Italian visual artists Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi. Ten years later, MoMA is presenting the US premiere of their final film, I Diari di Angela (“Angela’s Diaries”), which Gianikian completed following the death of his longtime partner; Lucchi died in February 2018 at the age of seventy-six. The film, running through February 13, is an homage to both their private and professional life together, incorporating archival footage with scenes they shot during their travels to Moscow, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other locales, often tied to recent war and political and climate turmoil, in addition to home movies of Lucchi cooking and gardening. Throughout the film, Gianikian reads random pages from Lucchi’s extensive diaries, his aged fingers turning the pages filled with her attractive handwriting and drawings. “This is my memory of Angela, of our life. I reread these notebooks and discover others I didn’t know about,” Gianikian explains in his director’s statement. “Reexamining all the notebooks of Angela’s infinite Diary and the backward look of our private films, which accompanied our research. My desperate attempt to bring her back to my side, to bring her back to life, the continuation of our work as goal, as mission, through her notebooks and drawings, a sort of map for action in the present, containing its guiding principles and envisaging its continuation. Angela and I have prepared new and important projects to carry out. The promise, the oath, to continue the work.”
It is often difficult to tell which footage is old and which is new, as the pair hand-tinted much of the archival material and eschewed the latest high-def technology for the newer shots, layering together the look of the past and the present. Early on, Lucchi describes one of their canvases, which includes watercolor images and handwritten text: “I want to use my work to express my indignation, our indignation. This is like our manifesto. It took shape during a period of great despair for today’s world, with so much upheaval. So, I wrote that our world is not political, is not aesthetic, is not pedagogical, is not progressive, is not cooperative, is not ethical, is not consistent. Above all, it’s the contemporary world, it’s contemporaneity. And I think many artists, nowadays, focus more on getting into the market and making money. We began, and go on, working out of passion. And I say that if other artists focused a bit more on these things, then maybe the world would be less wretched.” Despite such dire pronouncements, the film is a soft, touching, poetic work, told in their trademark avant-garde narrative style. Men dangerously saw wood. Gianikian and Lucchi (Dal Polo all’Equatore; Oh! uomo; Pays barbare) visit a friend’s studio. They go through canisters of old, decaying film. They tell a serious story about a terrible accident Gianikian suffered. But through it all, even with the slow pace, they display a passion for life, for justice, for love. It’s a one-of-a-kind documentary, a work that eventually sweeps you up into its welcoming atmosphere, a fitting finale for a one-of-a-kind team.
MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Saturday, February 9, 7:00
Series runs February 6-14
BAM is paying tribute to controversial and innovative Texas-born filmmaker Marlon Riggs in conjunction with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death with “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs.” Riggs, who was gay and black, died in April 1994 at the age of thirty-seven from AIDS complications, leaving behind an important legacy of films, poetry, and essays. Many of his works had major impacts on the next generation of African American writers and directors, as evidenced by this program. On February 9, the series pairs Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight, which was nominated for eight Oscars and won three (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney), with Riggs’s ten-minute 1990 short, Affirmations, about the dreams and desires of gay black men. In Moonlight, Jenkins tells the powerful and moving story of Chiron, a shy, troubled boy growing up in Liberty City, Florida, in three chapters as Chiron goes from a young boy (Little, played by Alex Hibbert) to a teenager (Chiron, played by Ashton Sanders) to a twenty-seven-year-old man (Black, played by Trevante Rhodes). The semiautobiographical film is based on playwright and actor McCraney’s In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and Jenkins’s own experiences; both men are from Liberty City but did not know each other there. In the first section, Little is chased by bullies and runs into an abandoned building, where he is found by Juan (Ali), a drug dealer who brings him home to his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe). They become a kind of surrogate family, as Little’s mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), is a crack addict who will do just about anything for her next score. Little also finds solace in his friendship with Kevin (Jaden Piner, later played by Jharrel Jerome and André Holland). In the second chapter, Chiron is taunted and bullied by Terrel (Patrick Decile) while trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation. In the third section, the passage of time reveals how much has changed, although the film turns overly melodramatic at the end.
Taking its inspiration from the source material, Moonlight is beautifully photographed by James Laxton, who has previously shot Medicine for Melancholy and Jenkins’s 2003 shorts, My Josephine and Little Brown Boy, and 2011 “Remigration” episode of Futurestates, bathing the film in lush blues. Jenkins’s subtly paced style is accompanied by a gorgeous classical-inspired score by Nicholas Britell (The Big Short). Moonlight is anchored by superb performances by Emmy nominee Ali (House of Cards, Hidden Figures) as the cool and caring Juan; Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, 28 Days Later) as the drug-addicted Paula, who has lost control of her life; Monáe (Hidden Figures, The Electric Lady) as the sweet and understanding Teresa; and Sanders (The Retrieval) as the in-between Chiron, who feels overwhelmed by all the maelstrom swirling around him. Moonlight and Affirmations are screening at BAM February 9 at 7:00; “Race, Sex & Cinema: The World of Marlon Riggs” runs February 6-14 and includes such other evenings as Riggs’s Tongues Untied and Anthem with Isaac Julien’s The Attendant; a fifteenth-anniversary screening of Rodney Evans’s Brother to Brother, followed by a Q&A with Evans; Su Friedrich’s Hide and Seek and Cheryl Dunye’s Janine; and Lynn Hershman Leeson’s The Complete Electronic Diaries, Peter Rose’s The Man Who Could Not See Far Enough, and Jeanne C. Finley’s I Saw Jesus in a Tortilla.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, February 2, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum honors Black History Month in the February edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Winard Harper, YahZarah (“I’m Taking You Back”), and Toshi Reagon with violinist Juliette Jones and bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Ganessa James; curator tours of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room” with Ashley James; a Learning Lesson discussion with artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed inspired by Octavia Butler’s idea of “primitive hypertext”; pop-up gallery talks of “Soul of a Nation” with teen apprentices; a screening of Mr. Soul (Melissa Haizlip & Samuel D. Pollard, 2018), introduced by the directors; a hands-on workshop in which participants can create wearable activist patches inspired by the messages of the Guerrilla Girls and AfriCOBRA; an artist talk featuring Shani Jamila’s new podcast, Lineage, with photographers Ming Smith and Russell Fredrick of the Kamoinge collective; “Soul of a Nation”–inspired poetry with Karisma Price, Naomi Extra, and Stephanie Jean of Cave Canem; an “Archives as Raw History” tour with archivist Molly Seegers; and Black Gotham Experience’s immersive Magnetic Resonance, consisting of a photo studio by Kamau Ware with styling by Charles Johnson, video collage by Kearaha Bryant, and music by GoodWill, P.U.D.G.E., and Rimarkable. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” “Eric N. Mack: Lemme walk across the room,” “One: Do Ho Suh,” “Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “Something to Say: Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, Deborah Kass, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, and Hank Willis Thomas,” “Rob Wynne: FLOAT,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” and more.
French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve will be at Metrograph on February 4 to introduce a special screening of her third film, an infuriating yet captivating tale that runs hot and cold. Goodbye First Love begins in Paris in 1999, as fifteen-year-old Camille (Lola Créton) frolics naked with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), her slightly older boyfriend. While she professes her deep, undying love for him, he refuses to declare his total dedication to her, instead preparing to leave her and France for a long sojourn through South America. When Camille goes home and starts sobbing, her mother (Valérie Bonneton), who is not a big fan of Sullivan’s, asks why. “I cry because I’m melancholic,” Camille answers, as only a fifteen-year-old character in a French film would. As the years pass, Camille grows into a fine young woman, studying architecture and dating a much older man (Magne-Håvard Brekke), but she can’t forget Sullivan, and when he eventually reenters her life, she has some hard choices to make. Créton (Bluebeard) evokes a young Isabelle Huppert as Camille, while Urzendowsky (The Way Back) is somewhat distant as the distant Sullivan. There is never any real passion between them; Hansen-Løve (All Is Forgiven, The Father of My Children) often skips over the more emotional, pivotal moments, instead concentrating on the after-effects and discussions. While that works at times, at others it feels as if something crucial was left out, and not necessarily with good reason. Still, Créton carries the film with her puppy-dog eyes, lithe body, and a graceful demeanor that will make you forgive her character’s increasingly frustrating decisions.
LITTLE MURDERS (Alan Arkin, 1971)
209 West Houston St.
Thursday, January 31, 4:20
Friday, February 1 2:40, 7:00
Series runs through February 14
Alan Arkin’s directorial debut is a hysterically absurdist foray into the urban paranoia that haunted a lawless New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s. Based on Jules Feiffer’s first play, which was a Broadway flop in 1969 but became a hit in London and off Broadway, Little Murders centers on the offbeat relationship between the determined and domineering Patsy Newquist (Marcia Rodd) and the calm, easygoing Alfred Chamberlain (Elliott Gould). They first meet when Patsy tries to save him from getting beaten up yet again by a group of thugs, but he doesn’t want any help; he never fights back, instead letting them tire themselves out. A former successful commercial photographer, Alfred now spends his time taking artistic pictures of feces he finds on the filthy streets. He and Patsy sort of start dating, but Alfred, who regularly says, “I don’t know what love is,” is too passive for Patsy, who makes it her project to mold him into a stronger man, as if he were one of her interior design projects. The black comedy reaches new heights when Alfred meets Patsy’s rather eccentric family, played by the three actors who originated the roles on the stage. Vincent Gardenia is her high-strung father who laments what has become of the city, Elizabeth Wilson is her prim and proper mother who only sees what she wants to see, and Jon Korkes is deliciously funny as her crazy brother, who finds humor in just about everything. Meanwhile, wherever Patsy goes, a heavy-breathing phone caller follows.
Little Murders is one of the great unsung films of the 1970s, a wickedly funny, at times manic examination of love, fear, family, faith, and violence. The story is highlighted by several riotous monologues about the state of the world, including an epic rant delivered by Lou Jacobi as an angry judge and an oddball hippie speech by Donald Sutherland (Gould’s M*A*S*H costar) as an alternative minister. Arkin also appears as Lt. Practice, a cop stuttering about how many unsolved murders there have been in the past six months. The film is shot in a beautifully subdued, lurid palette by Gordon Willis, who photographed such other seminal New York–set ’70s pics as The Landlord, Klute, The Godfather I and II, Annie Hall, and Manhattan. A genuine underground cult classic, Little Murders is screening January 31 and February 1 in the Film Forum series “Far-Out in the 70s: A New Wave of Comedy, 1969–1979,” which continues through February 14 with such other period comedies as Hal Ashby’s Being There, Milos Forman’s Taking Off, a double feature of Art Carney in The Late Show and Harry and Tonto, and Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom! in addition to The Landlord and a double feature of Annie Hall and Manhattan.