Wednesday 14 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (8) - Fiona Villella provides her highlights

My 3 top films made it to the top because they inspired me to want to pick up a camera myself and start making films and because they used the medium to make personal and political statements.

In Jackson Heights (Frederick Wiseman, USA)
I loved every minute of this riveting 3-hour documentary. As in every other Wiseman doco, it immerses us in a specific world gradually brought to life, segment by segment, from a supposed 'fly on the wall' point of view. In this case, it is a glorious neighbourhood in Queens awash with colour, diversity and passion. We take all this in via panning shots of shopfronts, streetscapes and intersections; sitting in on formal meetings of local politicians, community activists, and special interest groups; eavesdropping on spontaneous encounters between strangers on the street. Wiseman's camera is there at every 'mundane' moment, building up his detailed portrait. His objectivity is a visage of course. His selection of material highlights the nuances, the struggles and ultimately the humanity of this neighbourhood, which is highly vulnerable in the face of profit-hungry property developers. With Wiseman, we lament the truth that this neighbourhood's vibrancy, cultural richness and activism (everything that makes a place interesting) will inevitably give way to bland, droll middle-class tastes and lifestyle.

No Home Movie
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
Much has already been said and written about this incredibly personal, poignant documentary. For me, it was the combination of personal material with a formally austere cinematic approach that stopped me in my tracks. Akerman's trademark precision about what is within the frame, what is off-frame and the duration of each shot made this a very emotionally moving experience.

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, USA)
What a return to form for Jarmusch! Following the pretentious Only Lovers Left Alive, is this personal, carefully calibrated 'drama' that sees Jarmusch returning to concerns that preoccupied him in his early days: how to live in the world. The loveliest moments are the poetry sequences when our protagonist, Paterson, retreats into his inner world of hyper subjectivity, the screen and soundtrack gushing with an ethereal sensation. In this Trump era, Paterson is essential viewing. Its central tenet - the working class individual as artist is truly magnificent. Beautifully shot against red-brick, industrial-era factory buildings, Paterson is a man of the everyday but filled with feelings, sensitivity and creativity. I love the way Jarmusch highlights a few times in the film how creativity is on fire in the most mundane of places - the laundromat, the steps of a building. The reason this film is so political is that it shows us individuals can control their own lives, can assert their imprint on their environment by interpreting it in any fashion they choose.

Other notable viewing experiences: Fire at sea, A Syrian love story, Down Under, A Month of Sundays, Joe Cinque's Consolation; TV:  Stranger Things, The Kettering Incident, Cleverman, Upper class Bogan, Barracuda and Please Like Me.

Fiona Villella is a writer and teacher. She was a founding Editor of Senses of Cinema  the world's greatest online film site.

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