19 August, 2012

Rediscovering The Quay Brothers

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Among the filmmaker iconoclasts who have influenced many a film and visual artist, one of the least heralded in their native United States are re the identical twins known as the Quay Brothers. All that is hopefully about to change as New York’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art opens Prescription for Deciphering the Quay Brothers, a gallery exhibition and accompanying film retrospective which will be the first presentation of the Quay Brothers’ work in all their fields of creative activity. The exhibition opened this past weekend and continues through the end of the year.

Born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the Quay Brothers reside and work in England, having moved there in 1969 to study at the Royal College of Art in London. Starting off as painters and illustrators, they drifted into the world of experimental film, forming Koninck Studios in 1980, based in the trendy neighborhood of Southwark in South London. For over 30 years, they have been in the avant-garde of stop-motion puppet animation and live-action movie-making, drawing influence from the Eastern European tradition of filmmakers like Walerian Borowczyk and Jan Svankmajer.  Most of their animation films feature puppets made of doll parts and other organic and inorganic materials, often partially disassembled, in a dark, moody atmosphere. Perhaps their best known work is STREET OF CROCODILES, based on the short novel of the same name by the Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz. With very few exceptions, their films have no meaningful spoken dialogue—most have no spoken content at all, while some, like THE COMB (1990) include multilingual background gibberish that is not supposed to be coherently understood. Accordingly, their films are highly reliant on their music scores, many of which have been written especially for them by the Polish composer Leszek Jankowski.

Most recently, the 65 year old twins were commissioned by Leeds Canvas, a group of eight cultural organizations in Leeds, UK, to create in May 2012 a major city-wide art installation, OverWorlds & UnderWorlds. The commission was one of twelve Artists Taking the Lead projects that are being featured this week in the cultural programs surrounding the London 2012 Olympiad. In all, the Quay Brothers have produced over 45 moving image works, including two features, music videos, dance films, documentaries, and signature personal works. They have also designed sets and projections for opera, drama, and concert performances, as well as recent site-specific pieces based on the work of Bela Bartók and Franz Kafka. In addition to showcasing their films, the MoMA exhibition will include never-before-seen moving image works and graphic design, drawings, and calligraphy, presenting animated and live-action films alongside installations, objects, and works on paper. For more information on this comprehensive and provocative series, visit:

10 August, 2012

Hommage To Claude Sautet

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Even the most avid of French film lovers may not be as familiar with the career and oeuvre of Claude Sautet. Well, the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York is about to address it, offering the iconic French director a well-seeded retrospective of his major and minor works, most not seen in theaters for over 30 years. This is the kind of homage that brings the French auteur to the forefront along with his better known contemporaries and allows American audiences the chance to discover a formidable film talent. CLAUDE SAUTET: THE THINGS OF LIFE ran from August 1 to 9 and  showcased the director’s films, including his masterpiece MAX ET LES FERRAILLEURS which will have its long awaited US theatrical premiere with a one week run beginning August 10th at the Society’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, in a new 35mm restoration from Rialto Pictures.

Hailed as a master filmmaker by Jean-Pierre Melville, Francois Truffaut and film critic Pauline Kael, Claude Sautet ranked among the most popular French directors of his generation at home and abroad, though today his body of work has slipped into anonymity. The 13-film lineup – complete save for Sautet’s disavowed debut feature BONJOUR SOURIRE – includes a new digital restoration of the 1965 thriller THE DICTATOR’S GUNS starring Lino Ventura; the Venice Film Festival award winner A HEART IN WINTER, a brilliantly acted relationship drama set against the world of classical music; the Oscar-nominated A SIMPLE STORY, featuring a stunning performance by longtime muse Romy Schneider; and his international breakthrough THE THINGS OF LIFE, remade in the U.S. decades later as the Richard Gere/Sharon Stone starrer INTERSECTION. The series also includes an intimate look at the filmmaker himself in the documentary, CLAUDE SAUTET OR THE INVISIBLE MAGIC, culled hours of audio interviews in which he discussed his body of work in extraordinary and candid detail.
Claude Sautet was a master of la vie quotidienne, whether that happened to be the lives of petty criminals or of his favorite subject, the haute bourgeoisie,” said the Film Society’s Associate Program Director Scott Foundas, who programmed the series. “With an unshowy style and keenly observed detail, he captured the ways people sit in cafés, browse in bookshops, talk around the dinner table. Above all, he peered deeply into the mysteries of attraction, creating a rich body of unconventional, unpredictable, vividly human love stories.” For more information, visit:

21 June, 2012

Euro Docs Dominate At Silverdocs

VIRGINAL TALES (Switzerland/Germany/France)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The flowering of European documentaries is in clear evidence at this year’s AFI-Discovery Channel Silverdocs Documentary Festival. With what have been strong local funding support and the financial involvement of state-run television, documentarians have been able to take advantage of a wealth of resources to produce works that are not only intriguing but artistically inventive. Of course, the completed films on view here this week were committed to before the current pressure on the European Community. Austerity measures across the continent are slashing cultural budgets and film funding is among its biggest casualties. How European filmmakers will cope is still an open question but for the moment, at least, we have a bumper crop of films to relish and enjoy.

Silverdocs offers a competition for strictly non-American films, and many of the strongest Euro docs are to  be seen in the Sterling World Features section. A number of the films examine the tension and resilience of family bonds, as well as relationships that endure beyond simple blood ties. Acclaimed Polish director and cameraman Wojciech Staron captures the experiences of his family during a one year stay in Argentina in the nuanced film ARGENTINIAN LESSON. Family connections are also explored in PRIVATE UNIVERSE, a richly detailed Czech film by Helena Trestikova that explores the intimate evolution of a family over four decades of change. While they are not related by blood, octogenarian best friends Bella and Regina share a lifetime of intimacy, a passion for cooking and a shared memory of surviving the Holocaust in the spirited OMA AND BELLA by German director Alexa Karolinski. Also creating a family out of friendship are the mentally challenged punk rockers who revel in their roles as social outcasts in the Finnish film THE PUNK SYNDROME by the directorial team of Jukka Karkkainen and JP Passi. Attempting to pierce the closed society of evangelical Christians in the United States, the Swiss/German/French co-production VIRGIN TALES by director Mirjam Von Arx looks at the phenomenon of Purity Balls, a ritual in which young girls pledge their pre-marital virginity. 

Bringing light to injustice or changing social patterns are among the themes of the other Euro docs in the section. In SPECIAL FLIGHT, Swiss director Fernand Melgar explores the legal limbo of illegal immigrants in his country who are entrapped in a system of detention, even after living there for more than a decade. Belgian director Jerome Le Maire focuses on the societal upheaval in a small mountain village in Morocco where new technology and the building of a major dam project harbor unwelcome changes in TEA OR ELECTRICITY.  In the unusually broad-based eco-documentary VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS, acclaimed Russian director Victor Kossakovsky reveals the kinetic and visual splendor of some of the most remote corners of the planet, all of which are undergoing rapid changes due to overpopulation and climate change. 

European documentaries that have won awards at other events are also strongly represented in the non-competitive Silver Spectrum section. Directors Omar Shargawi and Karim el Hakim bring viewers into the heart of the Arab Spring in their visceral account of the first chaotic days of the Egyptian revolution in the Danish-financed film ½ REVOLUTION. Denmark is also represented by the IDFA winner THE AMBASSADOR, a hilarious yet pointed look at the underbelly of Third World diplomacy, directed by Danish provocateur Mads Brugger. In CANNED DREAMS, Finnish director Katja Gauriloff examines the inner workings of the global food industry and the exploitation of human laborers whose rights are held ransom by the need for cheaper food and bigger profits. In the award-winning THE IMPOSTER, UK director Bart Layton unfolds the strange-but-true story of a young man who returns to his family after several years and the growing suspicion that he is not who he claims to be. Mystery also surrounds the identity of Rodriguez, a “lost” 1970s rock icon who mysteriously disappeared from public view, and whose story is unraveled in the Swedish/UK co-production SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN  by Malik Bendjelloul. Sisters Louise and Martine Fokken are exactly who they claim to be……elderly prostitutes who wield their trade in Amsterdam’s red light district with no shame and a contempt for society’s judgmental condemnation of their professions in the Dutch film MEET THE FOKKENS by Rob Schroder and Gabrielle Provaas

An obsession with cooking and a chef’s determination to  hold on to its Michelin rating fuels the French film STEP UP TO THE PLATE by Paul Lacoste. The stakes are equally high in the Norwegian film WHEN BUBBLES BURST by Hans Petter Moland, as a small picturesque Norwegian village feels the weight of the global economic crisis that does not spare even a small remote town in a mostly prosperous nation. As if this list is not enough, European documentaries also are strongly represented in the Festival’s many short film strands. One can only hope that this blossoming of the documentary form will not be unduly harmed by the current financial drama enveloping the continent……itself a great resource for future documentaries (and dramas, I might add). To learn more about these films and others at Silverdocs, visit: