Have you seen films originating from 30 different nations? I found myself pondering this question when a challenge was posted by a fellow user on Letterboxd.com. Dubbed “March Around the World,” the challenge is exceedingly simple (or so I thought), watch one film a day, for 30 days; the crux of which is the constantly changing country of origin. This “adventure” into world cinema truly peaked my interest because, while I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of films, I cannot, with absolute certainty, say that I have seen films from 30 different countries. Aided by their proximity to one another, the similarities and differences present in each of the films would become much more apparent. A breakneck-pace, world cinema masterclass, the challenge proved to not only expand my cultural worldview, but to introduce me to films that I may have never otherwise discovered.
Drawing from his background in law, Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, is an arresting courtroom procedural, which, despite its length (160 minutes), is sharply focused on its task. Preminger’s disregard for immaterial exposition removes needless fluff to deliver a tense, and impeccably paced film.
From the onset of Preminger’s film, the audience is greeted with excellence via an exquisitely designed opening title from the legendary Saul Bass. Set to a quick tempo-ed jazz piece written for the film by jazz great Duke Ellington, Anatomy of a Murder is decidedly imbued with talent. Paul Biegler (Jimmy Stewart) drives happily home from yet another fishing trip. The recently deposed District Attorney has spent the last few months stocking his refrigerator with fish and drowning in a bottle of bourbon, with fellow lawyer, Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell). Receiving a late night phone call from Laura Manion (Lee Remick), Biegler is offered the opportunity to defend Manion’s incarcerated husband. Coerced into taking the case by bourbon, McCarthy, and the need to pay his loyal secretary (played by the sharp-tongued Eve Arden), Biegler accepts a meeting – knowing no concrete details – with presumed-killer, Lieutenant Manion (Ben Gazzara). Looking no further than the front page of his local paper, Biegler reads that Lt. Manion is charged with first-degree murder for the brutal shooting of Barney Quill in response to Quill’s sexual assault of Mrs. Manion. A through-and-through straight shooter, Biegler is determined to assemble the facts, and present the most solid case the evidence allows.
Interconnection is what lies at the heart of Noah Baumbach’s triumphant Frances Ha, and as Baumbach posits, at the heart of life itself. A film that is equally riveting and hard to watch, profound and yet silly, Frances Ha is a story about the challenges of finding a life you can live with, and what it takes to find someone with which to spend it.
Frances (the endlessly charming Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) have been best friends since college. Moving to New York City after they graduated, the duo spends most of their days together completing a series of secretive and silly routines from which they derive untold, personal meaning. Frances and Sophie “are the same person, but with different hair,” as Frances bluntly puts it. Inside jokes are spoken like interjections of a foreign language, only Sophie and Frances can understand. Baumbach intently focuses the exposition of his film on this, very important, relationship. None of the jokes are explained, and neither are their “rituals,” but the connection that Gerwig and Sumner emit is so pure that no heavy-handedness or explanatory dialogue is necessary – Baumbach points his camera (the discussion of the talent behind this pointing will happen later), and lets the magic of the relationship speak for itself. Frances is one of the last “poor” artists in New York, an apprentice dancer at a floundering dance company, and Sophie has lofty dreams of journalism, quickly working her way through the ranks of Reuters. As with most post-collegiate relationships, Frances and Sophie’s interdependence is slowly withering, and Sophie cannot pass up an opportunity to move to TriBeCa. “Alone” and unavailing in her dreams of becoming a famous dancer, Frances must come to terms with adult life, and learn to judge success based on her own happiness, and not the perceived happiness of those around her.
Perhaps the most bi-polar director working today, David Gordon Green has used his eye for natural beauty in films like George Washington and Snow Angels, and something quite else (perhaps devotion to friends) for his more comedic pursuits like Your Highness and The Sitter. In Prince Avalanche, Green’s pensive appreciation of beauty evokes the likes of Terrance Malick (sans magic hour) and creates a tone of otherworldly introspection; heightening the impact of the film.
Set in the summer of 1988 in the backwoods of Bastrop, Texas, contemplative Alvin (Paul Rudd) and the absent minded Lance (Emile Hirsch) work for the state of Texas repainting roads after a massive fire destroyed thousands of acres of woodland. Alvin has been working on the road crew since the spring, and recently brought on Lance as a favor to his girlfriend, Lance’s sister. As the two struggle to adjust, Alvin to the companionship of the dim-witted Lance, and Lance to the isolation of life on a remote road crew, they each discover a unique friendship they once deemed impossible.