Posted tagged ‘Film Comment Selects’

THIS MONDAY! Film Comment Selects Director Park Chan-wook’s THIRST

July 17, 2009


Model Catholic priest Sang-hyun (Song Kong-ho, The Host (2006)) has a calling to serve those teetering on the edge: dying hospital patients, the suicidal. Restless, powerless to strike back against death, Sang-hyun signs up for a high-risk vaccine trial meant to combat a deadly virus. As the doctor who receives him at the clinic explains, to exhibit symptoms is to die. The doctor asks the priest why he has come: Sang-hyun answers, “I want to save people.”

And yet despite his faith, the disease takes Sang-hyun. While performing a Bach cantata — Cantata BWV 82, one ending with the aria “Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod” (“I look forward to death”)) — a firehose of blood flutes from the wooden recorder. Drained of blood, at the edge of death, Sang-hyun receives a transfusion shortly before coding in the clinic’s ICU. But then comes the miracle: from beneath the sheet issues Sang-hyun’s voice with a bizarre inversion of the Leper’s Prayer translating as something like “Make everyone avoid me as a leper whose skin rots;/ Make me immobile like a person whose limbs have been amputated.” Out of 500 volunteer test subjects, only Sang-hyun survives.

But back in Korea, abnormalities to his startling recovery begin to surface for Sang-hyun. There are those who embraces him as a saint and beg him to pray for them. But what can explain his sudden sensitivity to sunlight, and his gnawing craving for human blood?

Director Park Chan-wook‘s Thirst speculates: what if the priest doesn’t survive the disease because of faith, or because of the vaccine trial? What if instead of a cure, he receives another, far stranger disease? What if the transfusion of blood in the clinic carries within it … vampire blood?


Park Chan-wook is a highly-regarded, mid-career film director in Korea who in the past decade has gained a massive international reputation due to his stylish “Vengeance Trilogy”, particularly festival/cult film favorite Oldboy (2003). (My pick of trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002).) It is significant that Oldboy, though an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga title, gains a great deal of its icky, disturbing power directly from Park’s own preoccupations as a re-interpreter of the work — for example: the (in)famous twist at the end of the film. (Expect that the upcoming Will Smith adaptation will chicken out and source the less provocative manga instead.) While there exist fans who enjoy Oldboy solely for the extremity of its style and violence, I believe  situating it within the context of Park’s work as a whole, the film is much more critical of the impotence of violence/revenge than a celebration of it. (Provocative article here!)

From powerful political thriller J.S.A. (2000) to unfairly neglected I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK (2006), Park leverages his high-concept-crossbred-with-adaptation plots to examine human behavior and the effect of man’s actions on others, tracing a line from characters’ well-meaning initial intentions all the way to (often horrifying) unintended consequences. As with I’m a Cyborg, Thirst doesn’t exist solely to resolve its conceptual premise, but continues to deepen and complicate all the way into the final minutes of the film. Thirst both is and isn’t a vampire film; while Park draws metaphoric strength from the vampire tale, the power of the film lies with the human personalities trapped within it.


Thirst is also an adaptation of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, the novel/play that through grim, gritty, “scientifically detached” portraiture of its haunted, murderer protagonists, introduced the style of “Naturalism” to the Western world. While vampirism is something that “happened” to Sang-hyun, how he chooses to respond to the new conditions of his life takes shape after he encounters his childhood acquaintance, Kang-woo (Park regular Shin Ha-kyun) and his once-adopted-sister-now-wife, Tae-ju (the lovely Kim Ok-vin). Tae-ju comes to Sang-hyun for help, seeking an escape from her mother-in-law and sickly, needy husband. And she offers Sang-hyun help in return. (“I wish to help the needy,” she tells him. “And you are a single, needy man.”) And as anyone familiar with Thérèse Raquin expects, their plans to save each other at the cost of those “deserving” revenge will not proceed smoothly, trapping them more tightening clutches of their predicament.

Matthew Griffin

Monday, July 20, 2009 at 7:30pm Buy tickets

Bloodsucking mania takes a bite out of the Film Society this Monday with Thirst

July 16, 2009

In case you aren’t getting out much, vampire mania is everywhere:

trueblood_postertwilight-movie-posterBut on Monday, June 20th, Film Comment Selects a vampire movie of a very different stripe with Thirst. Directed by Park Chan-wook of Old Boy fame (rent it now if you haven’t seen it!), Thirst is a “gory but goofy grand guignol take on the vampire film—a genre hybrid that takes its horror-romance premise and shifts gears into black comedy and screwball farce with an adultery-and-murder intrigue plot lifted from Zola’s Thérèse Raquin,” in the words of Film Comment editor Gavin Smith.

Check out the trailer below–it’s in Korean, but does give you some idea of the visual gloss you can get out of a Park Chan-wook film.

The director will join us in person at the event!

THIRST Monday, July 20, 2009 at 7:30opm

Favorite Jim Jarmusch moments (The Limits of Control screens Thursday 4/30 with filmmaker Q & A!)

April 22, 2009

Set in the striking and varied landscapes of contemporary Spain (both urban and otherwise), shot by acclaimed cinematography Christopher Doyle, and featuring music by cult Japanese psychedelic metal band Boris, Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control is the story of a mysterious loner (played by Isaach De Bankolé) whose activities remain meticulously outside the law. And it’s screening Thursday, April 30 at the Film Society, with an onstage Q & A with the filmmaker and party afterward!

In honor of this highly anticipated new film, we reached out to a Jim Jarmusch expert to take us through some of his more notable cinematic moments. We found Brynn White, a Film Comment contributor and Film Forum repertory programming assistant. Below are her picks and commentary.


BW: A visiting Hungarian gets a taste of ”America” (and its TV dinners) from the confines of her hangdog cousin’s Lower East Side apartment in Jarmusch’s revolutionary evocation of the profoundly mundane. The formalist camera remains as consistently heavy-lidded and immobile as its central trio of deadpan hipster-vaudevillians.


BW: A bayou-set jailbreak fable… but the bona fide liberation occurs early on as cellmates John Lurie and Tom Waits abandon their scowlful posturing and ego-bumping when anachronistic clown Roberto Benigni makes a rapturous selection from his ledger of American pop culture discoveries.


BW: Johnny Depp rides the purgatory rails to the end of the line in Jarmusch’s sublime Western fever dream. Neil Young’s abrasive rhapsodies punctuate an exposition so simultaneously unsettling and gleeful that Crispin Glover seems a natural byproduct.


BW: The adroit capstone of Jarmusch’s mix tape paean to the last great tabletop democracy: former Warhol-superstar Taylor Mead, a sort of Noel Coward of the New York underground, whimsically ruminates on life in its twilight stage.

ADDED BONUS: afro and denim vest-clad Lou Reed extemporizes on NYC and nicotine, while Jarmusch drolly ponders his priorities regarding sex & cigarettes and celluloid Nazis’ smoking techniques in Paul Auster and Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face.

You can read more of Brynn White’s writing at Stop Smiling.

An evening with Jim Jarmusch and screening of The Limits of Control is a co-presentation of Young Friends of Film and Film Comment Selects. Admission includes the screening, a Q & A and party with open bar afterward. You can buy tickets here.

Grunge is back at the Film Society: two top 10s from the early 90s

April 22, 2009

In honor of our special presentation of 1991: The Year Punk Broke, the filmlinc blog asked the DJs who will be providing the soundtrack for the evening’s festivities to suggest playlists that will get us primed.

We hope these tracks will take you back to the days of flannels and Chucks, the last recession, and the moment when Nirvana was but an opening act to Sonic Youth. Feel free to share your own favorite early 90s tracks in the comments.


Picks from Michael Goodstein, Choking on Cufflinks (WFMU):

1) Pavement – Circa 1762
2) Dinosaur Jr. – Tarpit
3) Beat Happening – Bewitched
4) Unrest – Suki
5) Bikini Kill – New Radio
6) Superchunk – Throwing Things
7) Ciccone Youth – Tuff Titty Rap/Into the Groove(y)
8 ) Leaky Chipmunk – Our Secret
9) Velocity Girl – Warm/Crawl
10) Mercury Rev – Carwash Hair


Picks from Max Wowch, Burger Time (Viva Radio):

1. Nirvana – Sliver
2. The Nation of Ulysses – A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid Is a Dead Kid
3. Polvo – Can I Ride
4. Butthole Surfers – Human Cannonball
5. The Jesus Lizard – boilermaker
6. Dinosaur Jr – The Wagon
7. Mudhoney – Sweet Young Thing (Ain’t Sweet No More)
8. Gaunt – Jim Motherfucker
9. Ween – Doctor Rock
10. Wipers  – Is This Real? (90s Subpop reissue)

Be sure to join us for the screening of 1991: The Year Punk Broke and afterparty on Monday, May 4th at 8:15. You can dance, mosh or just scowl to the vintage tunes the DJs select, plus enjoy complimentary beverages during the afterparty from Stella Artois and 42 Below Vodka.

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The Week Ahead March 5-11: Rendez-Vous, C’est Magnifique

March 4, 2009

wamar51Oh la la! It’s another edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. “The best in years” raves the New York Times’ Stephen Holden of the contemporary French film showcase that premieres intimate new works and impressive debuts from the crème de la crème of French directors. The series marks The Film Society’s return to the newly renovated Alice Tully Hall, with the opening night premiere of Christophe Barratier’s Paris 36.

Film Comment Selects Closing Night: The Hurt Locker. Tomorrow, catch Kathryn Bigelow’s smart retake on the action genre, and the closing night of the spectacularly eclectic, always provocative Film Comment Selects.

Film Comment Selects: Interview with Paradise director Michael Almereyda

March 2, 2009

Michael Almereyda and Film Comment's Gavin Smith, photo by Godlis

At what point in collecting material for Paradise did you decide that this would become a stand-alone project in which you collage your footage together? And once you came to this awareness how did it affect the way you continued to collect material?

Michael Almereyda:  In 2004, as I was finishing my portrait of William Eggleston, I applied for a Guggenheim Grant with the idea of making a movie scrapped together from the DV tapes I’ve been accumulating over the years.  And then of course the process of reviewing and distilling the footage was far from simple, or quick.  But in reviewing footage I began to recognize certain patterns and blind spots, certain proofs of how circumscribed my life is.  I mean, I’ve seldom been exposed to much hard physical labor, or even simple, down and dirty, working class activity.  So some of the most recent material was shot with a view towards addressing this.  The episode in the furniture factory in Krakow, for instance.  (A couple friends have named this as their surprise favorite.)

What is/was your relationship with this camera? Do you constantly have it with you and get it out when you feel inspired, or do you occasionally grab it on your way out the door thinking, “I’ll bring it with me tonight, something could come up”?  Are you continuing to collect material in this manner?

MA:  The camera has become like an old, slightly infirm pet – a pet that has to be fed with images.  Sometimes it seems I can’t live without it.  Sometimes it’s just a nuisance.  Now, having finished this version of the movie, I’m content to leave it at home more often than not – though this usually guarantees that something interesting will happen, something unrepeatable that I wish I could document.

Why did you decide to open and close the film with music over the scenes rather than with ambient sounds like in the rest of the film? What were your intentions with the coda?

MA: The movie is seemingly chaotic, so I felt it was good to provide a frame, with those airport shots and Paul Miller’s music – a threshold to cross into and out of.  And I like the way the music loops this one surging string section — the sense of anticipation, the circling quality.  It’s meant to relate to the searching and circling movement of the various episodes.  As you noticed, ambient sounds take over and provide another kind of music.

Your film is structured into four thematic parts, symmetrically containing eleven scenes each. Why and how did you decide to create a specific structure to you film?

MA: Well, it’s good to organize your thoughts, even if the thoughts are fragmentary, and even if one of your central ideas is that experience doesn’t necessarily organize itself into tidy narratives.  All the same, the film’s structure is fairly intuitive, organic.  (I’ve been reading a terrific book, “The Delighted States” by Adam Thirlwell, about literary forms, literary history, and a great deal of it can be applied to film and, for that matter, life: “Truth is fleeting, and fragmentary,  It is stashed away…  It is something that can only be recovered through upending normal values.”)

Does this film mark the beginning of a new trajectory for you?

MA: When you consider that the movie involves ten years’ worth of home video tapes, it’s hard to think of it as a new trajectory.  I’ll probably always be shooting DV on the side, but I think I can still put a spin on old-fashioned narrative filmmaking.   I’m working now on a biopic about the experimental psychologist Stanley Milgram.  He was keenly interested in human behavior, the relationship of individuals to various social networks, and fundamental questions about the basic ingredients that make a person an individual.  Actually, Paradise has something to say about these things, so maybe it’s not a terribly different direction after all.

-Aily Nash, Film Comment

Film Comment Selects: Guy Debord Retrospective

February 25, 2009

Tired of following the crowd?

Film Comment Selects is presenting a complete retrospective of Guy Debord’s rarely shown and hard-to-find films. Debord, born 1931 in Paris was a writer, filmmaker, and founder of Situationist International, an experimental group functioning in art and politics to revolutionize the everyday. Theoretically founded in Marxism, the Situationists played a large role in the political movements of the sixties, notably in May ’68. Their primary goal was to critique the capitalist system and make apparent the detrimental influence it exerts over society as a whole. Mostly renown for his book, The Society of the Spectacle (1967), and later the film (1973), Debord opens the famous text, “In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into representation”. Debord holds capitalism responsible for an illusion of freedom and fulfillment caused by a culture dominated and mediated by images. He observed that social relations have been replaced by reverence to the spectacle, leading to the isolating condition of modern life. His films function to critique this appropriation of everyday life by altering found footage (including film historical heavyweights, Potemkin and Johnny Guitar) to exaggerate and subvert his subject of critique, a method he called détournement. All six of his films will be shown on Sunday March 1st: In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978), The Society of the Spectacle (1973), Réfutation de tous les jugements (1975), Hurlements en faveur de Sade, (1952), On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time (1959), Critique de la separation (1961).

-Aily Nash

Tickets here