Cinema Scope Issue 86 - Spring 2021

With unparalleled depth and breadth, Cinema Scope is one of the most respected English-language publications on film worldwide. Cinema Scope unites experienced critics from across North America with up-and-coming writers. Packed with reviews, essays, festival reports, and interviews, we’re geared to cinephiles looking for an intelligent forum on world cinema. “Advocates for a passionate, poltical and purist engagement with the movies”—The New York Times

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4 Issues

in this issue

3 min
editor’s note

When called upon to comment on a group of films, whether as a critic summarizing a festival or writing a year-end round up, or a programmer being grilled before a selection is presented to the public, inevitably the T word will enter the conversation—by that, I mean “trend.” To wit, “What trends have you seen in the program this year? What is the greatest trend in contemporary cinema? Do you see any trends coming out of Eastern Europe? Yadda yadda yadda.” I think I speak for most people in saying that nobody thinks trends are interesting save fashion journalists, but with the recent batch of premieres at Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin, one “trend” has indeed monopolized the conversation, for obvious reasons: pandemic cinema. Is pandemic cinema a trend? Sure, because it…

24 min
en plein air

Following a run of creative setbacks and course corrections, Denis Côté returns to magnificent form with Hygiène sociale, a piercingly funny and exquisitely shot work that finds the Québécois filmmaker casting a critical eye on the nature of his art and the era in which it is now being asked to thrive. No mere pandemic film (the script was largely written in 2015), Côté’s latest instead turns our current circumstances into a means for reflection, analysis, and confrontation with the very tools and convictions that have made him into one of contemporary cinema’s most prolific and unclassifiable directors. At a time when the very concepts of serious-minded filmmaking and theatrical exhibition are being called into question by streaming giants and IP managers with zero investment in the sustainability of the…

17 min
journey to the centre of the earth

Fern Silva’s films cannot be described as ethnography, personal/mythopoeic film, or essay filmmaking, although they often partake of all of those modes. Though his films are rooted in particular places and cultural spheres, they assiduously avoid the rhetorical or declarative traps of typical nonfiction filmmaking. Instead, they envelop the viewer in a diffuse but concrete ambiance, conveying the palpability of land and water, the weight of the air surrounding hills and trees. They represent a doubled physicality—the world as unavoidably there, inseparable from the cinematic substrate of 16mm filmmaking itself—and the result is a hybridized form of documentary “fiction,” in the classical Latin sense. Silva’s films are made, formed in the interface between reality and those human and mechanical processes that bring it into being. Fittingly enough, Silva’s feature debut, Rock…

21 min
the primacy of perception

I will never know how you see red, and you will never know how I see it; but this separation of consciousnesses is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is to believe in an undivided being between us.—Maurice Merleau-Ponty Near the midpoint of The Girl and the Spider—Ramon and Silvan Zürcher’s overdue, much anticipated follow-up to their masterful debut feature, The Strange Little Cat (2013)—a character launches into another of the Zürcher brothers’ distinctive anecdotal monologues. Mara (Henriette Confurius), who is as close as this film gets to a protagonist, describes for her neighbour, Kerstin (Dagna Litzenberger-Vinet), an incident that occurred the previous day between herself and her newly ex-roommate (and perhaps ex-girlfriend) Lisa (Liliane Amuat). “I was in my room while Lisa was on the…

21 min
we can’t go home again

Consider the strange history of the lyrical film. We can, according to its christener and chief exegete, identify the advent of this form with uncommon specificity: the creation by Stan Brakhage, in 1959, of Anticipation of the Night. “The lyrical film,” P. Adams Sitney writes, “postulates the film-maker behind the camera as the first-person protagonist of the film.” Its means of achieving this are, again, gratifyingly specific: “it proposes camera movement as the elementary figure of filmic structure.” And while Sitney’s investment in both Brakhage’s centrality to American film culture and his own role in promoting that narrative are enough to prompt second thoughts, I can nonetheless see little reason to argue with his claim that the lyrical mode came to be so common within the New American Cinema—the avant-garde…

23 min
learning to swim

Some of the posters lining the city walls visible in the background of scenes admonish the reader to “Learn to swim!” while others illustrate the political frontlines of the time (“Hitler–Against Hunger!”). The setting is Berlin, 1931, and the protagonist, Jakob Fabian, is trying to stay adrift in the capital of the doomed Weimar Republic, making a somewhat rhetorical if not outright ironic case for “the victory of decency” in the midst of an era marked by sexual escapades and social breakdown. Fabian has a doctorate in German studies and talks about writing the great novel of his time, but survives by filing advertising copy by day while touring hot spots at night with his best friend Stephan Labude, a rich kid pushing the communist cause. Will Fabian learn to…