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These are my favorite new films that played in Chicago this season (September 2001 - May 2002):

Great film of the year:

Sobibor, 14 octobre 1943, 16 heures / Claude Lanzmann


      If, like me, you haven't seen Lanzmann's 8-hour documentary Shoah (which is the hebrew word for Holocaust), Sobibor may be the first place to start discovering his very personal sensitivity about Holocaust. Many critics argue that "there is no form in Sobibor but the subject matter makes up for it" I personally believe Lanzmann finds the perfect form for its subject matter. There is no single camera movement that one can remember after seeing the film. However, the overall feeling that is created by the slow pans and by the stillness of the camera when watching Mr. Lerner tell his story can haunt someone for days.

      Hearing the story of a Holocaust survivor while watching long takes (shot in the 1990's) from the cities such as Warsaw makes me think how all that technology and industry was used (and can be used again) for killing more than 6 million people. Moreover, the shots of the seemingly innocent geese whose voices were used to make the sounds coming from gas chambers inaudible makes me think how Nazis also used the nature for their own purposes. As a result, the film proposes that nothing, neither the society nor the nature, can ever be seen ideally innocent again after the Holocaust.

      Lanzmann's refusal to use actual footage from the past is an ethical choice that serves the film's purpose. The experience of the suffering in the camps cannot be recreated on the screen. Even our imagination fails when we try to recreate in our own minds Mr. Lerner's story. Therefore, by defending that Holocaust is beyond images and imagination, Claude Lanzmann achieves to make a very important and sensitive statement about the Holocaust.


Good films of the year:

Ali / Micheal Mann

      I don't care what all the critics say about Ali. Yes, it has imperfections that are mostly related to its rhythm, especially the use of music (that was wonderful in Insider) often conflicts and disturbs the visual flow of the film. However, these are only minor problems compared to its greatnesses. I admire the complexity of emotions Micheal Mann can achieve in any scene. It seems that any situation can become an emotionally intense experience thanks to his style. The boxing scenes were very powerful as every single one of them was the representation of a dramatic conflict that Muhammed Ali faced. Insider was a better movie in many ways, but Ali is the proof that Mann is one of the best directors who work in Hollywood today. There aren't many directors who would be able to tell the story of a great person without simplifying his character at all.

Va Savoir / Jacques Rivette

      Another underrated movie of the year was Rivette's Va Savoir. I believe the reason for that is that it "seemed" simple, especially in its style. But there was a "real style" behind every single scene. The best thing about this movie was the way the relationships between the characters were not only defined by the dialogue but also by the angle of the camera and the use of space.


Worth-seeing films of the year:

Panic Room / David Fincher

            The camera in the Panic Room has its own personality, independent of the characters and the story. It is both conscious of the seriousness of what's happening and of the stupidity of everybody involved. There are times, when it gets really involved in the story and there are times it distances itself from the characters. Obviously, the camera is David Fincher's eye that surpasses all the physical constraints of the camera movement thanks to the special effects. All the style of the film is defined in the first scene in the house, when camera does not simply watch the main story and sometimes actually choose to give us a new insight. The above picture is a great example of Fincher's style. The camera is somewhere it can't physically be and watches the two sides of the game, improving our overall understanding of the events. Moreover, it shows how Fincher amazingly uses the light, colors and camera space to create emotions. I don't think Panic Room is a great film because I couldn't find much more depth in the story than it seems there is and the visual ideas don't seem to have a deeper meaning than they seem to have. Nevertheless, it proves that David Fincher is, along with Micheal Mann, the director who has the most interesting visual style in Hollywood.

           I should also add that, with this film, Fincher proves again (after Fight Club) that he really is the only filmmaker in Hollywood who uses the special effects to create a new visual style. While all the other people use the effects to change the limit of the stories that can be told, Fincher uses it to create new forms and a new art.


Ghost World / Terry Zwigoff

      For Ghost World I'll have to borrow Jonathan Rosenbaum's words: "If, like me, you've been wondering how Terry Zwigoff, the brilliant documentary filmmaker who made Crumb, would negotiate his shift to fiction filmmaking, here's your answer: brilliantly." The beginning of Ghost World was the most original and creative scene I have seen this year. Although the rest of the film was not as visually interesting (except the scenes is Seymour's apartment) the way he built up his story and his characters proved that he has a very personal sensitivity in capturing life and the superficiality of the society in general.


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