As Qinawi — our despondent, hobbling, would-be protagonist in Cairo Station — retreats to his shed outside the train depot to rest, he shifts the pants hanging from a ramshackle clothesline to block the midday sun from his eyes. It’s the kind of Neorealist detail that the great Egyptian director Youssef Chahine excels at here, in this, his arguable masterpiece.More
Great Movies: The Counter Programming
Every programming choice needs its counter, and every canon should be challenged. The Great Movies: The Counter Programming series seeks to undermine the ongoing Great Movies Project. By recognizing the glut of white, European and Anglo-American, straight dudes who generally constitute what we think of as “the masters,” it becomes necessary to widen the frame.
This is an ongoing project to watch a set of films from non-white, non-Western, non-straight, and/or non-dudes. It will be ongoing, probably, forever. Please feel free to chime in about titles and movements I have overlooked, as I know beyond all doubt there are many. The point is not to slam universally loved and respected films. The point is simply to broaden a conception of where films have been made, by whom, and to what ends or concerns. The larger point, as always, is to discover hidden gems in the rich history of cinema. I hope you enjoy it.
At a crucial moment in Ritwak Ghatak’s Ajantrik (frequently translated as The Pathetic Fallacy), our hero Bimal strokes the most important person in his life and says, “Never mind, Jaggadal. You and I … we’re together.”
It’s a poignant moment, this Bengali portrait of devotion and erotic desire in the face of widespread mockery and community derision.More
The furious quote in the title, courtesy of our tortured poet protagonist Vijay (director/producer/star Guru Datt), arrives near the end of 1957’s Pyaasa. Spurned by a world that privileges commerce over art, that elevates duplicity over sincerity and integrity at every turn, Vijay has had enough.More
A stern judge, obsessed with questions of lineage and social order, casts out his pregnant wife for supposed infidelity. A fatherless child born to the slums falls in love with a girl impossibly out of his league, only to meet her again under much different circumstances as an adult.More
Shirō Toyoda’s The Mistress is based on Mori Ogai’s Romantic novel Wild Geese (and sometimes referred to by the title of the original, as Criterion does). The film is in some ways a familiar melodramatic narrative about the crushing of a woman’s desire under patriarchy — a treatment dismissively summarized in 1959 by Bosley Crowther of The New York Times as “a morally mawkish situation upon a tear-misted screen.” But this (ironically patriarchal) scorn misses so much of the film’s nuance and historical context, not to mention the beauty of its images.More
Un Chant d’Amour is Jean Genet’s only film: a 26-minute, black-and-white, imagistic collage and fantasy of ideas. It’s startlingly beautiful, sensuous, and animated by themes — homosexuality, transgression, dominance, voyeurism — that characterize all of the mercurial artist’s work.
The short is also fairly, and hilariously, summed up by Letterboxd user Tyler, as “Almost definitely the best film ever made about gay men masturbating in prison.”
Frequently banned and famously litigated after an unauthorized attempted showing in Berkeley, CA in 1966, Un Chant d’Amour is arguably remembered now more for its notoriety than its content.More
A crumbling city wall runs along the hillside above the Dai estate, a once-great residence in similar disrepair. Through its cracks, we see the empty skyline stretching forever, and stones are scattered among the weeds. It’s an image of loneliness, faded glory, and nostalgia, and it forms the metaphorical centerpiece of Fei Mu’s 1948 masterpiece Spring In A Small Town.More
Towards the end of Fernando de Fuentes’ 1936 epic Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!, Miguel Ángel del Toro ‘Becerrillo’ (Ramón Vallarino) asks, “The Revolution will triumph. Why do we stay?”
It’s the central question in this stridently anti-authoritarian, anti-militarist, and (possibly) anti-Revolutionary drama, considered to be the first Mexican “super-production”.More