Stanley Kauffmann

A Pawn, A Queen
February 04, 2010

Police, Adjective IFC Films The Young Victoria Apparition   The Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu shows once again that, for him, film is a means of looking at an idea. The operative word is “looking.” The subtitles of Police, Adjective convey that his dialogue is reasoned and seasoned, but it rarely seems primary. Chiefly, it enhances what we are watching. Ideas are hardly a novelty in films, but some such works present their ideas visually, as do Porumboiu’s. He provides just enough plot to assure us that he hasn’t forgotten about it.

January 30, 2010

The White Ribbon Sony Pictures Classics Creation Newmarket Films   Michael Haneke, whose new film is called The White Ribbon, has given it a subtitle: A German Children’s Story. That is warning enough. This Austrian director is by now so distinctively established as a connoisseur of darkness--with Funny Games, about neighborliness as murder; with Caché, about the past seeping into the present; with The Piano Teacher, about the animal in the civilized--that his dainty subtitle must be seen as a deadpan tease.

Kauffmann: Films Worth Seeing
January 12, 2010

Films Worth Seeing Before Tomorrow. Imperfect film-making but a warm and interesting experience. Life among the Intuits in their Arctic homeland as it was before the white man came. Ice and snow and harpooning and primary eating never seemed so congenial. (12/30/09) The Messenger. This truly memorable war film takes place entirely in the U.S. We follow two veteran soldiers who are in the bereavement notification service. The drama is less in the notification scenes than in the slow but sinuous way that the work affects these two. Excellent performances, lithe dialogue, knowing direction. (12/

Rough Routes
December 19, 2009

An extraordinary Iraq war film takes place at home-at homes--and moves through wartime experience known generally yet generally disregarded. The Messenger is about the Army’s Casualty Notification office. When a soldier is killed, two uniformed soldiers, usually decorated veterans, are sent to the soldier’s home to notify the next of kin personally.

Making His Way
December 11, 2009

The Sun Lorber Films The Wedding Song Strand Releasing Act of God Zeitgeist Films   The pace is adagio, the temper contemplative, so it is all the more surprising that the subject is Emperor Hirohito of Japan during the brief period between Hiroshima and surrender. The Sun was made by the Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who is noted, among other reasons, for the slow tempo of his films. Except for his feature-length careering through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Russian Ark), he has often chosen to meditate on shots, making that meditation part of the picture’s progress.

Kauffmann: Films Worth Seeing
November 17, 2009

Films Worth Seeing Before Tomorrow. Life among the Inuits in arctic Canada . Not a documentary, a fascinating film that recreates life among these people around 1840, before the white man came. The story is so simple -- about an elderly woman and her young grandson -- that it is especially pleasant to be gripped by it. Disgrace. Not often is a first-class novel made into an equivalent film. This is an exception. In this version of J. M. Coetzee’s well-known book, John Malkovich, as a South African professor who gets in trouble with a female student, is superb.

A Painting, A Portrait
November 07, 2009

Rembrandt’s J’Accuse Film Forum The Maid Elephant Eye Films  Peter Greenaway, the British director who was educated as a painter, first came to wide attention in 1982 with The Draughtsman’s Contract, a silky comedy about seventeenth-century aristocrats. Greenaway then promptly set out not to build on this success, undertaking one eccentric film project after another. It was almost as if he were determined not to grow cumulatively, as most of the best directors have done. Of the Greenaway works that I have seen, only two of them--quite unlike each other--stand out in memory.

Kauffmann: Films Worth Seeing
November 03, 2009

Films Worth Seeing Chelsea on the Rocks. A friendly, slightly woozy documentary about a famous New York hotel. The Chelsea, for a hundred years, has been a special haven for all kinds of artists--some very eminent--and has preserved an old-time air. Now that it is at risk of going, this film is a kind of freehand memorial. (11/4/09) Disgrace. If there is such a thing as a quietly major film, this is one. J. M.

Matters of Fact
October 24, 2009

In the mid-1950s, a photographer named Robert Frank, lately emigrated from Switzerland, drove around the United States to see and to join his new country. He shot pictures. The results, or his choices among them, were published in a book of eighty-three photos called The Americans, which was an immediate and lasting success. The book was not only a unique way for a newcomer to learn about his new home: in some ways it showed a social candor that was as yet unusual in photography.

Matters of Fact
October 24, 2009

Chris & Don: A Love Story (Zeitgeist) My Winnipeg (IFC) 19th Annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival   In 1964 Christopher Isherwood published A Single Man, a novel about a homosexual man and his state of spirit after his lover dies. Now comes Chris & Don, a documentary film about Isherwood's lover and his state of spirit since Chris's death. The subtitle of the film is "A Love Story." The picture makes the worn term fresh, moving. The principal place is the couple's home in Santa Monica, where Don Bachardy still lives.