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Joel Mayward

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Everything posted by Joel Mayward

  1. If the digital/streaming films were made available in the UK, I would gladly participate in TIFF from afar. But I don't think that's happening; the digital TIFF Lightbox website says "not available in your country."
  2. My neglect persists. I'll see if I can make this happen ASAP.
  3. This is so lovely. Huge thanks to Jeremy.
  4. I have been neglectful in writing my blurbs due to a near-obsession with finishing an academic article I'm writing on Malick's A Hidden Life. Hopefully I can get those done this week.
  5. Good luck, Joel! Didn't know about that Weezer project, which sounds fascinating. Though there's no way to tell, I'm curious as to whether the current global situation will affect the final number of submissions.
  6. This is helpful and clarifying, and perhaps the nature of Zoom conversations vs. written or (per the Dardennes) face-to-face encounters may affect the perception of how such comparisons come across. I am going through a personal Dardennes rewatch before viewing Young Ahmed again, but I have notes written from our Zoom conversation. Like Jeff, I was excited by some of the questions and ideas being raised, and want to take another, closer look at some of the framing of relationships and pacing.
  7. Joel Mayward

    Shirley

    I think I was a bit more positive on Shirley than you both, Christian and Andrew, but I did think it was more an impressive exercise in acting from Moss and Stuhlbarg rather than something I found especially profound or affecting.
  8. Joel Mayward

    Da 5 Bloods

    This subplot of the story brought, for me, the strongest affective reaction I experienced with the film in the reunion scene in the coda. Other aspects of the film impressed me; that scene moved me, and that the Spike Lee signature double dolly shot was reserved for that scene suggests to me that for all of Delroy Lindo's bluster as Paul, it's Otis's character arc that may be more significant.
  9. Beau Travail is coming to the Criterion Collection in September on Blu-ray. *Begins fervently dancing in front of a mirror*
  10. Maybe this feels too obvious, but one such binary/dichotomy might be the "transcendent" and the "immanent," where the former suggests or recognizes (maybe even overtly depicts) a larger outside/exterior force much bigger and beyond us which is bringing about the events (2001, The Seventh Seal, The Tree of Life, Spirited Away, Embrace of the Serpent, perhaps even Chariots of Fire) and the latter is more about the this-ness of the spiritual experiences in a material world (Do the Right Thing, Babette's Feast, Ikiru, This Is Martin Bonner). Many of the films challenge this binary or walk a fine line; e.g., how would we classify Ordet?
  11. I can take Cameraperson and Amazing Grace. I'll try to have something written up this week.
  12. I've now written blurbs for The Tree of Life, The Kid with a Bike, and Secrets & Lies. What else needs blurbing?
  13. So, I watched this a second time this evening, and I loved it even more. The final scene left me weeping the first time, and I couldn't quite understand why. I went into this rewatch anticipating where the film was headed...and it left me weeping even harder than I had done previously. I mean, when *that scene* happens, I was totally overwhelmed. I'm not entirely sure I can explain how or why this affects me so strongly (which is perhaps true to the film's very themes); I can only to say that Harrill has done something magical here, and I am very much still on his wavelength.
  14. This is a fair point, and perhaps "the" film is too strong, but here's Luc in a 1994 entry from Au dos de nos Images: "Saw Germany, Year Zero again. Still the same intensity, the same sharpness. This is our model." The phrase "this is our model" as they were exploring how to create their signature Dardennean filmmaking style strikes me as foundational for all of their films from La Promesse onwards. Edit: I forgot that in a 2005 "favorite films" list from Telerama, the brothers list Germany Year Zero as their #1 favorite film, with Sunrise as #2.
  15. Christian, I had a similar (unvoiced) response in the phone call to comparisons made not only to The Son, but to films like Timbuktu and its own exploration of religious fundamentalism within Islam (IIRC, I think Jeff made the Timbuktu connection in relation to teaching the film in class). I understand the comparison, and in some ways, such comparisons are a strength, as Ken noted when he described the role film festivals play in our experience of a film, but I think what Timbuktu and Young Ahmed are attempting to do, both in terms of form and content, are strikingly different. So, it seems to be that making a comparison can be helpful in distinguishing how filmmakers might go about addressing the same or similar themes and topics in different ways (i.e. Islam or religious violence), but becomes unhelpful when these comparisons become strict qualitative categories defined by some external common theme placed upon the films. In other words, to say that Timbuktu addressed fundamentalism better than Young Ahmed, and therefore is a qualitatively better film raises questions in my mind about whether or not (a) that each film has the same goal regarding questions of fundamentalism, and (b) why this one apparent thematic commonality has become the defining category for appraisal rather than the plethora of other qualities each film contains. Still, if we are going to make comparisons, I think Young Ahmed can (and should) be considered alongside Germany Year Zero. That's the film I think the Dardennes have in mind whenever they make a movie, and it's the one I think has the strongest parallels (particularly in the final scene).
  16. Not to keep bringing things back to my PhD dissertation, but this question hits on one of the major points I aim to make: that the Dardennes are operating in a post-secular paradigm which is in-between and beyond both traditional religion and post-Enlightenment secularism. I think they're exploring this very question not only in Young Ahmed, but in every single one of their films: is it possible to retain the moral codes and values of human life, particularly the divine command "thou shalt not kill", without necessarily having to affirm traditional orthodox beliefs? And I think the Dardennes are leaning towards "yes" in answering the question, that it is possible, but are also unwilling to take a didactic approach where their films say "and this is how we do this." I think this is one of the strongest distinguishing factors between them and, say, Ken Loach: both are operating in a social realist vein and with underlying political agendas or views, but where Loach goes for the bleakly heavy-handed critical approach (while not often offering much hope or a solution to any of it), the Dardennes have a hopeful open-ended view, a sense that more is possible. Back to Ahmed: I'm working on a paper to present at the American Academy of Religion this upcoming November where I draw some comparisons between Young Ahmed and A Hidden Life, and one aspect I want to tease out is the nature of religious commitment or fundamentalism. I imagine many Western audiences will consider Ahmed's religious extremism to be unhealthy and detrimental, whereas Franz is lauded as a martyr for his unwavering religious strength in the face of fascism. Both character are loners in their convictions, where most everyone around them tries to convince them to ease up on their religious/moral convictions, to compromise somehow. In this sense, both are fanatics or radicals—they are both (apparently) willing to sacrifice a human life for their commitment to God. So, while the primary difference may be that Ahmed tries to kill someone else, whereas Franz allows himself to be killed due to his unwillingness to kill, I still have to wonder: are there "good" and "evil" forms or practices of religious fanaticism? When is it virtuous to stick to your convictions and beliefs no matter what, and when is it virtuous to compromise or repent of those beliefs? An obvious answer might be "when those beliefs are right, stick with them; when they're wrong, repent," but I think both films might be challenging such simplicity by showing how the issue is more complex and nuanced.
  17. This is a good point, and I don't mean for the "flat niceness" to be wholly pejorative. But it does seem like they're mostly ineffective on shifting Ahmed's rigid position, yes? Which brings me back to Steven's question on the call last night—how many of the events or relationships leading up to the final "repentance" moment are significant or effective in bringing Ahmed to that turning point? It's really hard to discern, which may be intentional. On the one hand, I can see how the film can be interpreted as being a failure of these systems, that even at their best and most kind-hearted, they can't change religious fundamentalists. On the other hand, I can also see how the film is suggesting a both-and approach, where the dichotomy between "secular" and "religious," or "public" and "private," is blurred or breached (in a good way). In one view, the film is very critical of both "religious" and "secular" spheres in their failure with Ahmed; in the other, the film seems to see genuine goodness in both spheres and has a more hopeful vision.
  18. On another note, I am definitely using the phrase "flat niceness" about the "secular" state in my PhD dissertation. The observation that the state-run therapies are genuinely good, yet ineffective, strikes me as important—even with caring and compassionate caretakers, there seems to be a limit the secular state comes up against regarding fundamentalism in this film. So now I have to figure out how to properly cite a Zoom call.
  19. I think what I heard from folks on the call who were less positive on Young Ahmed with the initial viewing was less "dismissal" and more "disappointment," with a desire to contemplate and understand why they felt that disappointment. And while I didn't say this on the call, my first viewing was marked by a bit of disappointment too, a sense of "that's it?" when the film ends, because it's just so short and intense. But my second viewing opened up a lot of the interpretations I have now about the film (and everyone's insights have only added more complexity to those interpretations!). Still, if I had to rank the Dardennes' nine major films, from La Promesse to Young Ahmed, the latter would probably be ranked lowest. The film is both very Dardennean, while also having these anomalous qualities (the farm sequences, the overt depiction of religion, the absence of some key "regulars") that make it stand out to me. I also think it's significant that the brothers won "Best Director" at Cannes; it really is a very well-directed film, even though it's not very ostentatious about its directorial flourishes, and the jury at Cannes recognized that. FWIW, back to Schrader for a moment, I argue in my PhD dissertation that the Dardennes' distinct cinematic style is what I call "transcendent realism," borrowing from both Bresson (Schrader's transcendental style) and Rossellini (Italian neo-realism) while remaining distinctly Dardennean (or Dardennian).
  20. Christian, I have thoughts about Schrader's "transcendental style" and its application to the Dardennes' distinct aesthetic, even as I also think that what they're doing has some clear differences from what Schrader is describing. And there have been good critiques of Schrader's understanding of "transcendence" and "style" (I know Ken has his reservations about it), and your quote hits on one of those: "stasis" as a feature of "religious art in every culture" simply isn't true. But I do think that climactic moment of apparent transcendence within the context of the concrete and everyday is definitely a feature of what the Dardennes are doing in each of their films. Which is partially why the climactic scene may feel unsurprising or predictable, a criticism that has been leveled at the film in a few reviews. One film critic at Cannes in 2019 described these scenes as "boring" and "mundane" in his review, which struck me as saying much more about him than it did about the film.
  21. Sorry for the delay on my blurbs, I'll get to work on those today and tomorrow. One question I had about sharing and social media: I've made a list of the Top 100 on Letterboxd, but it's currently private. When should I make it public, and what should I link to for the blurbs/list?
  22. I noticed this too. And the two Jesus films—The Miracle Maker and The Gospel According to St Matthew—are still next to each other, but have switched places in this final vote.
  23. It does indeed. Thanks for all your work on the polls and stats, Darren.
  24. I am considering writing on what I am tentatively calling a "new wave in religious cinema," focusing on some of the films which are more directly and overtly "religious" (mainly Christian) on our list from the 2010s: The Tree of Life, Silence, First Reformed, Calvary, Of Gods and Men, and perhaps Selma and This Is Martin Bonner. I'd try to focus on films which would/could not have appeared on previous iterations of the Top 100 list. It seems to me that parallel to the rise of the "faith-based film" in American cinema following the popularity of The Passion of the Christ, there has been an increased interest in artful cinematic depictions of Christianity and Christian theology/spirituality which has been more evocative, contemplative, and even critical of traditional religious views or practices. I'd hope to address some films which didn't make our final list here too: Ida, A Hidden Life, Last Days in the Desert, The Innocents, maybe even Spotlight and Hail, Caesar!. I think this would be less of a deep dive into individual films and more a thematic approach noting similarities/differences between these films, and perhaps speculate as to where this renewed interest in overtly religious-but-not-faith-based film is emerging from in our social imagination. There is a category observed in film studies and film-philosophy called "postsecular cinema," and this is somewhat similar to the postsecular—religious films which aren't traditionally "religious" in a very particular way, kind of like the piece I wrote on Silence for Bright Wall/Dark Room.
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