Stanley Kauffmann

Rough Routes

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.

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Making His Way

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Matters of Fact

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.

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Matters of Fact

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.

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Films Worth Seeing Araya. Made in 1959, acclaimed at Cannes but skimpily released, this exceptional documentary is very deservedly brought forth again. Shot in stunning black and white, this account of salt workers on the coast of Venezuela tells the truth about their lives in quasi-poetic style. (Reviewed 11/4/09) Chelsea on the Rocks. For a hundred years the Hotel Chelsea in New York has been a haven for artists of every kind, some of them quite eminent.. Now that this cherished hostel is in danger of disappearing, a documentary goes a great way to preserve, mostly with interviews, its atmo

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Disgrace Paladin The Other Man Image Entertainment   J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace has been made into a film that, in good measure, is faithful to it. Along with the admiration that obviously drew them to the book, the film-makers had to deal with some heavy data. Coetzee is a Nobel laureate; Disgrace won a lofty British award called the Booker Prize; an English newspaper poll lately named Disgrace as the best novel of the last twenty-five years.

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David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men has been adapted for the screen. Well, parts of it have been adapted--chiefly, the four parts that bear the same title as the book and the film. Wallace’s book is a miscellany of prose outbursts, some that soar in known styles, some that fling aside known styles, some of deliberate wildness. The book evokes much the same reaction as does Godard.

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