Plenty of films, indeed much of modern art and poetry, has sought beauty in apparent hideousness. At least since Baudelaire fondly remembered a romantic stroll among the graceful swarm of putrid maggots inside “that superb cadaver / blossom[ing] like a flower,” it’s been a constant theme.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.
It would be easy, accurate, and a little reductive to call Ritwik Ghatak “the poet of Partition.” But it’s inescapable. Ghatak’s films are obsessed with that existential trauma, even in something like previous Counter-Programming entry Ajantrik. Here is a guy who can make a love story about a man and his car, a sort of fart-filled Herbie, and still conjure up deeply-felt anxieties about colonialism and territorial integrity.More
There are no doubt a number of reasons why the name Germaine Dulac is not as immediately familiar to most folks, including cinephiles, as her contemporaries Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, or her collaborator-turned-detractor Antonin Artaud. Here are two: the casual misogyny of the Surrealist Boy’s Club, and the fact that Dulac’s films don’t really fit the Surrealist mold very well in the first place.More
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
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