PHOENIX (Christian Petzold, 2014)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Saturday, December 1, 6:45 (introduced by director)
Sunday, December 9, 6:30
Festival runs November 30 - December 13
In conjunction with the release of Christian Petzold’s latest film, The State I Am In, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is presenting the two-week series “The State We Are In,” consisting many of the German filmmakers’ previous works, including early television movies, as well as films that influenced him. Screening on December 1 at 6:45 (introduced by Petzold) and December 9 at 6:30, 2014’s Phoenix is a mesmerizing noir set in 1945 Berlin, where an Auschwitz survivor tries to reestablish her identity, but going home turns into a strange, painful, and dangerous journey. Nina Hoss is riveting as Nelly Lenz, a nightclub singer who is the only member of her family to have made it out of the war alive. Reentering Germany from Switzerland, she seems like a ghost or a mummy, her face swathed in bandages after having been severely disfigured by a gunshot wound. Wealthy enough to afford special facial reconstruction surgery, she is offered the chance to look like anyone she wants; the doctor gently suggests an entirely new appearance would be best, but she defiantly demands her own face back. Cared for by a companion, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a fellow Jew who helps Holocaust survivors and wants to move to Palestine with her, Nelly seems psychologically frozen, tentative and frightened of the future. Instead of looking forward, she decides to go back to her non-Jewish husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), now called Johannes. He has disowned his past so thoroughly that he doesn’t recognize Nelly as his wife, returned from the concentration camp, instead believing her to be a survivor who resembles her just enough to enable him to cash in on Nelly’s inheritance. As he grooms her to walk and talk like Nelly, reminiscent of what Jimmy Stewart does to Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, she begins finding out things about him that are deeply troubling, including the nightmarish possibility that he might have been the one who betrayed her to the Nazis.
Tense and unnerving, Phoenix was inspired by Alexander Kluge’s An Experiment in Love, Hubert Monteilhet’s Return from the Ashes, Harun Farocki’s “Switched Women,” and oral histories from the Shoah Foundation. (Farocki, who passed away in July 2014, collaborated with Petzold on the screenplay.) Hoss and Zehrfeld, who previously worked together in Petzold’s gripping 2012 psychological thriller, Barbara, have an appropriately uneasy chemistry, keeping things off balance as former lovers who pursue an unusual courtship, he unwilling to acknowledge what’s right in front of him, she desperate to be recognized for who she was, and is. It’s a kind of eerie cat-and-mouse game, with more than a touch of Stockholm Syndrome, that intelligently examines a fascinating German amnesia about the war and its victims on a very personal scale. Kunzendorf (Scene of the Crime, Years of Love) is excellent as Lene, a forward-thinking woman who wants to start a new life with Nelly yet is unable to drag her away from her obsession with Johnny, while Zehrfeld (Finsterworld) has just the right amount of trepidation as Johnny pursues his selfish goal. But Hoss, in her sixth film with Petzold (Jerichow, Something to Remind Me), is simply extraordinary, her every movement utterly captivating, portraying complex emotions with remarkable skill. And the ending is simply brilliant, unforgettable. Once it gets past a few minor incongruities, Phoenix rises high, a spellbinding story of a twisted relationship in 1945 Germany that calls upon ancient myth, modern psychology, a nation’s guilt, and love and longing for the past to evoke universal themes — while posing some very difficult questions for everyone.
BARBARA (Christian Petzold, 2012)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
Tuesday, December 11, 7:00, and Thursday, December 13, 9:00
Christian Petzold’s Barbara is a gripping, eerily slow-paced psychological thriller that explores fear, paranoia, and responsibility. Nina Hoss, in her fifth film with writer-director Petzold, gives a subtly powerful performance as Barbara Wolff, an East German doctor who has been shipped off by the government to a country hospital run by Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld). It is 1980, and Barbara has done something to get on the GDR watch list, causing her to be under near-constant surveillance. She carefully looks around everywhere she goes, wondering if the woman on the bus, the man out for a smoke, or the person on the pay phone is working for the Stasi. She is most suspicious of Andre as he attempts to get close to her, asking her personal questions and trying to spend more and more time with her. Meanwhile, Barbara has secret meetings with various people, including her West German lover, Jörg (Mark Waschke), who wants to get her out of the east. But as much as Barbara wants to live a free and open life, she is also a dedicated doctor who has become attached to two patients: Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a pregnant woman who does not want to be sent back to a labor camp, and Mario (Jannik Schümann), who has suffered a potentially fatal head injury following a suicide attempt. Petzold (Something to Remind Me, Wolfsburg, Yella), inspired by the likes of Claude Chabrol, To Have and Have Not, and The French Connection, drapes Barbara in a compulsive feeling of paranoia and dread, creating a blanketing atmosphere of mystery and imminent danger in which one wrong move can result in capture, imprisonment, or worse. Wrapped in a cloak of suspicion, Barbara evokes for the viewer what living in 1980 East Germany might have been like. The complex relationship between Barbara and Andre is handled with great skill by Petzold, balancing their individual needs with their responsibilities to their profession and the state. Germany’s official submission for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film, Barbara is a tense tale that examines the cold war in unique and fascinating ways. It is screening on December 11 at 7:00 and December 13 at 9:00 in “The State We Are In,” which features such other Petzold works as Pilots, Cuba Libre, The Sex Thief, Something to Remind Me, Ghosts, and Jerichow in addition to works he selected, including François Truffaut’s The Woman Next Door, Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running, Xavier Beauvois’s The Young Lieutenant, and John Berry’s He Ran All the Way with Jean Renoir’s A Day in the Country; Petzold will be on hand for several introductions and Q&As.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 1, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum celebrates the world’s preeminent borough again in its monthly free First Saturday program in December with the second part of “Best of the Borough.” There will be live music by Deva Mahal, Roze Royze of Set It Off, the Soul Summit Music Festival, and Jimi Tents; a curator tour of Egyptian art with senior curator Ed Bleiberg; Cave Canem pop-up poetry readings by Hafizah Geter, Cynthia Manick, and Nicholas Nichols; the artist talk “Something to Say” with Kameelah Janan Rasheed and Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine; a screening of Brooklyn Film Festival “Best Brooklyn Project” winner Catch One Bedroom (Darien Sills-Evans, 2018), followed by a Q&A with members of the cast and crew; a tour of the museum’s history during the Black Power era with archivist Molly Seegers; a screening of Digging for Black Pride (Philip Burton Jr., 1971) sponsored by the Weeksville Heritage Center and followed by a discussion with Zenzele Cooper and Obden Mondesir; pop-up gallery talks with teen apprentices on “Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection”; a hands-on art workshop with figure drawing of live models inspired by Kehinde Wiley; and two Day With(out) Art screenings of Alternate Endings, Activist Risings, featuring short films from ACT UP NY, Positive Women’s Network, Sero Project, the SPOT, Tacoma Action Collective, and VOCAL NY, presented by Visual AIDS. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” “Kwang Young Chun: Aggregations,” “Syria, Then and Now: Stories from Refugees a Century Apart,” “Half the Picture: A Feminist Look at the Collection,” “Rob Wynne: FLOAT,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and more.
ALIEN (Ridley Scott, 1979)
Symphony Space, Peter Jay Sharp Theatre
2537 Broadway at 95th St.
Thursday, November 29, $29-$40, 7:00
I recently went on an Aliens binge, watching Alien, Aliens, Alien³, Alien Resurrection, and Alien: Covenant. Afterward, I was exhausted and exhilarated, frustrated and flummoxed. On November 29, Symphony Space will be celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Ridley Scott’s 1979 franchise starter, in which warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), engineering technician Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), executive officer Kane (John Hurt), science officer Ash (Ian Holm), and chief engineer Parker (Yaphet Kotto) are aboard the cargo ship Nostromo, with a special little guest who undergoes a special kind of gestation. The genre-redefining film made a star out of Weaver, who will be at Symphony Space to participate in a conversation with Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers after a screening of the movie, whose marketing campaign coined the phrase “In space no one can hear you scream.”
Who: Maira Kalman
What: Book signing and exhibition
Where: Julie Saul Gallery, 535 West 22nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., sixth floor, 212-627-2410
When: Saturday, December 1, free, 3:00 -6:00
Why: Artist Maira Kalman will be at Chelsea’s Julie Saul Gallery on Saturday for the opening of her latest exhibit, “Bold & Brave,” in the project gallery, consisting of twenty-nine gouache paintings made in association with the book Bold & Brave: Ten Heroes Who Won Women the Right to Vote (Knopf, November 13, $18.99), written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and illustrated by Kalman. Kalman will be signing books from 3:00 to 6:00. (She will also be signing copies of Sara Berman’s Closet, which she wrote with her son, Alex Kalman.) Among the heroes depicted in the book are Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Alice Paul, Inez Milholland, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Jovita Idar, and Lucy Burns. “They fought so women could be heard,” writes Gillibrand, who also pays tribute to her grandmother Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, who was recently portrayed by Edie Falco in the New Group world premiere of The True. Also on view at the gallery is Sarah Anne Johnson’s “The Cave.”
AFERIM! (Radu Jude, 2015)
BAMcinématek, BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Ave. between Ashland Pl. & St. Felix St.
Sunday, December 2, 6:30
Series runs November 26 - December 2
BAM’s weeklong “Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema” series began November 26 with Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner Touch Me Not and concludes December 2 with Radu Jude’s Silver Bear winner Aferim! Romania’s 2015 submission for the Academy Awards is a savagely funny blacker-than-black comic Western about bigotry, infidelity, and frontier justice in 1835 Wallachia. Lawkeeper Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son, Ionitā (Mihai Comānoiu), are galloping through the local countryside, searching for runaway Gypsy slave Carfin (Cuzin Toma), who Boyar Iordache Cindescu (Alexandru Dabija) has accused of having an affair with his wife, Sultana (Mihaela Sîrbu). The surly Costandin leads the hunt, verbally cutting down everyone he meets, from random old women to abbots to fellow lawmen, with wicked barbs, calling them filthy whores, crows, and other foul names while spouting ridiculous theories about honor and religion; he even batters his son, saying he’s “a waste of bread” and that “if you slap him, he’ll die of grief.” It’s a cruel, cholera-filled time in which even the monks beat the poor and where Costandin regales a priest with the telling riddle, “Lifeless out of life, life out of lifeless,” which the priest thinks refers to the coming doomsday.
Cowritten by Jude and novelist Florin Lăzărescu (Our Special Envoy, Numbness), who previously collaborated on the short film The Tube with a Hat, and shot in gloriously stark black-and-white by Marius Panduru (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective), the Romanian / Bulgarian / Czech coproduction is an absurdist combination of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, and John Ford’s The Searchers, skewering everything in its path, either overtly or under its wide-reaching breath. Even Dana Pāpāruz’s costumes are a genuine riot, especially the boyar’s majestically ridiculous hat. But Aferim! is more than just a clever parody of period films and nineteenth-century Eastern European culture and social mores; it is also a brilliant exploration of the nature of racism, discrimination, misogyny, and the aristocracy that directly relates to what’s going on around the world today as well as how Romania has dealt with its own sorry past of enslaving the Romani people. Jude was inspired by real events and historical documents, setting the film immediately after the 1834 Russian occupation, which adds to its razor-sharp observations.
“Aferim! is an attempt to gaze into the past, to take a journey inside the mentalities of the beginning of the nineteenth century — all epistemological imperfections inherent to such an enterprise included,” Jude says in his director’s statement. “It is obvious that such an effort would be pointless should we not believe that this hazy past holds the explanation for certain present issues.” Aferim! is screening December 2 at 6:30, followed by a Q&A with producer Ada Solomon. The series also includes such other recent Romanian films as Monica Lãzurean-Gorgan and Andrei Gorgan’s Free Dacians, Mona Nicoară and Dana Bunescu’s The Distance Between Me and Me, and Ivana Mladenovic’s Soldiers: A Story from Ferentari in addition to Jude’s “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” The Dead Nation, The Happiest Girl in the World, Scarred Hearts, and Everybody in Our Family.
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2018)
Museum of the Moving Image, Redstone Theater
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Thursday, November 29, $15, 7:00
Costume exhibition continues through May 26
The Coen brothers honor and subvert the Western as only they can in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-part anthology film they made for Netflix. It also was shown in two theaters for a week — making it eligible for Oscars — and is having a special screening on November 29 at the Museum of the Moving Image. Over the course of the last quarter-century, Joel and Ethan Coen wrote a handful of short movies that they thought would never get made, but they eventually decided to put them together into one omnibus film. Each segment tackles a different subgenre, involves at least one death, and begins with the turning of pages in an illustrated book, as if these are old classic Western fables, although that’s just a cinematic conceit: Only “The Gal Who Got Rattled” and “All Gold Canyon” were inspired by real works, by Stewart Edward White and Jack London, respectively.
The anthology opens with the title tale, about singing cowboy Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), who casually takes on all challengers with his remarkable shooting prowess, speaking directly into the camera as he creatively disposes of one gunslinger after another. In “Near Algodones,” a cowboy (James Franco) thinks it will be easy pickings to rob a bank in the middle of nowhere, but then he runs into a teller (Stephen Root) who is not about to surrender any cash. In “Meal Ticket,” a traveling impresario makes money by putting a limbless man (Harry Melling) on a stage on the back of his wagon, reciting Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and other famous writings and speeches. Tom Waits is nearly unrecognizable as an old prospector in “All Gold Canyon,” panning for valuable nuggets until a young man (Sam Dillon) sneaks up on him. In “The Girl Who Got Rattled,” quiet Alice Longabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is on her way to meet a suitor chosen for her by her earnest brother, Gilbert (Jefferson Mays), accompanied by his noisy dog, President Pierce. They are part of a wagon train led by the handsome Billy Knapp (Bill Heck) and the tough-as-nails Mr. Arthur (Grainger Hines), but trouble awaits when Gilbert falls ill and an Indian appears in the distance. And finally, in “The Mortal Remains,” a grizzled old trapper (Chelcie Ross), erudite Frenchman (Saul Rubinek), and proper lady (Tyne Daly) are sharing a stage coach with a pair of bounty hunters, an Englishman (Jonjo O’Neill) and an Irishman (Brendan Gleeson), who are transporting their latest capture on the roof.
Written, directed, edited, and produced by the Coens, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a fabulous journey through the Old West, as the brothers play with genre tropes and stereotypes while paying tribute to John Ford, John Wayne, William A. Wellman, Gene Autry, Howard Hawks, Walter Brennan, John Huston, and many other Western stalwarts. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel lovingly shoots the vast landscapes and blue skies using a digital camera, a first for a Coen brothers film, while the inimitable Carter Burwell provides the period soundtrack and Mary Zophres the historically accurate, mostly handmade outfits. Despite the six different stories, the film flows together quite naturally, with the last entry a sly commentary on everything that came before it; essentially, the characters played by Rubinek, Daly, and Ross represent the audience, as the Englishman mesmerizingly describes the art of storytelling itself, something the Coen brothers have mastered yet again. (Now, if only they could fix the typo on the first page of “Meal Ticket.”)
The Museum of the Moving Image screening will be followed by a Q&A with longtime Coen brothers costume designer Zophres, moderated by MoMI senior curator Barbara Miller; it is being held in conjunction with the new exhibition “The Coen Brothers Go West: Costume Design for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” The display, which consists of sixteen costumes (including the fab one worn by Nelson and the protective one donned by Root), ten costume boards, and several hairpieces, will be open after the MoMI screening. For more Coen magic, IFC Center’s “Weekend Classics” series continues on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings at eleven with The Big Lebowski (November 23-25), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (November 30 - December 2), No Country for Old Men (December 7-9), True Grit (December 14-16), The Hudsucker Proxy (December 21-23), and Inside Llewyn Davis (December 28-30).
BLACKkKLANSMAN (Spike Lee, 2018)
MoMA Film, Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Sunday, November 25, 2:00
Series runs through January 8
BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s best fiction film since 1989’s Do the Right Thing, a comic thriller inspired by the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a Colorado cop who went undercover with the KKK. “Dis joint is based upon some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t,” the movie announces at the start. Stallworth, wearing an impressive natural afro, is hired by Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) to diversify the force. When the police hear that Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, now using the name Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Colorado College Black Student Union, the chief and Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito) send Stallworth in to scout out the situation. There he meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a dedicated activist fighting the racist system, with a particular dislike for cops. Seeing an ad for the KKK in the local paper, Stallworth proposes to his bosses that he infiltrate the secretive organization, and they come up with a plan in which Stallworth will gain intelligence over the phone, speaking with local KKK leaders. The only problem is that Stallworth, in a major rookie mistake, used his real name when first talking to Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold), which complicates the operation. But they proceed, as Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) insinuates himself into the group in person, applying for membership and trying to find out about any future marches, cross burnings, or other attacks, gaining the trust of the straightforward Breachway and the goofy Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser), while the nasty Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen) quickly grows suspicious of him. In the meantime, Stallworth develops a phone friendship with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) and begins dating Dumas, while Kendrickson’s wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson), desperately wants to prove her racism by participating in the KKK’s schemes — which are explicitly limited to “white Christian men.”
Written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Lee, BlacKkKlansman takes plenty of liberties with the facts — for example, Stallworth has never identified his white partner, Dumas is a fictional character (although based on Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver), and the time shifts a few years ahead — but the heart and soul of the story is true, and Lee captures it with gusto. The film is wickedly funny and frighteningly realistic, all too relevant to today’s rising racist hatred around the world. As Dumas teaches Stallworth about his responsibility to the black race, Stallworth does the same with Zimmerman about his Jewishness. “Why you acting like you don’t have skin in the game?” Stallworth asks him. Photographed by Chayse Irvin and edited by Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman is also one of Lee’s best-looking, most-accomplished films, featuring a terrific score by Terence Blanchard along with songs by such diverse musicians as James Brown, Prince, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Looking Glass, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Washington — who played a student in Lee’s Malcolm X, starring his father, Denzel Washington — and Driver have a great chemistry that propels the film, which was released on the first anniversary of the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
Several lines of dialogue specifically evoke what his happening in America today, and Lee seals the deal with a finale that includes footage of Duke and President Trump refusing to condemn what went down in Virginia on August 12, 2017. (He also has Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin play a not-too-bright white supremacist; actually, none of the racists is endowed with much intelligence.) As is his trademark, Lee pulls no punches; especially effective is how he switches between Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) relating the true story of the lynching of Jesse Washington and the Klansmen watching D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Because, of course, we all have a skin in this game. BlacKkKlansman is screening November 25 at 2:00 in MoMA’s annual series “The Contenders,” consisting of works the museum believes will last the test of time, which continues through January 8 with such other 2018 films as Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (followed by a discussion with Neville and producer Nicholas Ma), Paul Dano’s Wildlife (followed by a discussion with Dano, cowriter Zoe Kazan, and actors Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal), Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (followed by a discussion with Shrader and Ethan Hawke), and John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (followed by a discussion with Krasinski).