Feb 2, 2015

Oscar's Foreign Film Nominees Among the Best Movies of 2014 (Links to my Interviews with Two of the Filmmakers)

A still from Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida shows the title character, a nun who, on the verge of taking her vows, discovers her Jewish heritage.(Courtesy of Music Box Films)

The finest Oscar-nominated films of 2014 are in the Best Foreign Film category: Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and Abderhamme Sissako’s Timbuktu, the last of which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2014. Most movies in this category are “art house,” and these three are no exception. While they may not have received wide distribution originally, their Oscar nominations have led to re-releases in some cities. In New York City, for instance, Timbuktu and Leviathan are now screening at Film Forum, (http://filmforum.org/now_playing) and Ida recently reopened at Cinema Village (http://cinemavillage.com/chc/cv/).
In this still from Andrei Zvyaginstev's Leviathan, the isolation of the protagonist in a vast, empty landscape perfectly illustrates his predicament, as well as his sensibilities. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics).
All movies should be seen on the big screen, and this is especially true of Ida and Leviathan where the settings and the mise-en scène (the visual style of the film) do so much of the storytelling. The starkness of Pawlikowski’s 1960s-era Poland, and that of Zvyaginstev’s modern Barent seacoast of Russia, place in high relief the interior struggles of their respective protagonists, a novice nun who discovers she is Jewish, and a mechanic who is battling a corrupt politician attempting to seize his land. In the case of Sissako’s Timbuktu, based on the real-life Islamist occupation of that Malian city, the director’s sense of color and his excellent use of music and ambient sound, is best experienced in a theater. My review of this film appears in the upcoming issue of Cineaste.

My New York Film Festival interview with Sissako, a Mauritanian-born writer-director, "Defying Jihad: Abderhamme Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Dramatizes a City Under Siege," appears in the print version and on Film Journal International's website: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3ie83416ef2c00c3e3b59097c4170142f7. (Film Journal International is launching a new website design and there may be problems viewing the images attached to this article and the one below.)

I also interviewed Zvyaginstev, a Siberian-born filmmaker, when he was in New York City this Fall. That interview, "In the Belly of the Beast: Andrey Zvyaginstev's Acclaimed 'Leviathan' Depicts One Man's Fight Against Corruption in Modern Russia," may be seen here: http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/content_display/esearch/e3i8d383049914604678e9d38d153e1272a. These two movies, along with Ida, would have been at the top of my "Best Films of 2014" list, which I did not have time to write this year. More about the project that prevented me from posting in my next entry . . .