Up first in my series of Criterion films that I picked up from the Barnes and Noble sale are the ones that did not have more than one per country. These countries include Japan, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Iran. Let’s get to it:
#22. An Autumn Afternoon
By the end of his career, Yasujiro Ozu had been cranking out a film per year, totaling an astounding 53 films in his 34-year-long career. He was one of the Golden Era directors, making films at the same time as Kurosawa, but his films did not have samurais or epic battles. They focused on the everyday lives and situations of families. They are as intimate as can be, always filmed at or just below eye level as if we were just sitting in the room watching these events unfold. With Tokyo Story in 1953, he crafted one of the greatest films of all time. Though it would take a while for this to be established since his international success was overshadowed by films like Rashomon and Seven Samurai.
His final film, An Autumn Afternoon, was not planned to be his last. Ozu died shortly after its release from cancer in 1963. Like Late Spring, a film I covered in my Winter Series, it follows a widowed father who struggles with the concept of marrying off his daughter whom he spends most of his time with. It is a somber, hopeful story about a man who not worries about his daughters happiness, but his own. At times, though, you can feel a sense of hope and happiness. The establishing shots are filled with beautiful cinematography and an uplifting score, but deep down we all anticipate the eventual wedding. The final moments are tender and heartbreaking, a truly remarkable farewell from one of the greatest of all time.
#23. Here is Your Life
Up next is an incredible debut film out of Sweden that follows the life of a boy growing up in WWI Sweden (they were neutral). Jan Troell directed this nearly 3-hour-long epic, edited it, helped write the screenplay, and also did the cinematography. Eddie Axberg plays Olof, a boy who continually finds himself doing hard jobs as he grows from a logger into a politically enthralled activist.
I wonder if Richard Linklater was inspired by this film in his making of Boyhood. Though it was not on the same scale, we still see a boy experiencing various parts of his life through a camera lens. The cinematography is stunning, with haunting black and white photography with occasional spurts of color that represent dreams and epiphanies. Much like Boyhood, we only see a fragment of Olof’s life. We do not know where he came from or where he goes, and that is indicative in the wondrous and bittersweet final shot that somehow encapsulates the future and its uncertainty in one breathtaking sweep of the camera.
#24. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Most of the time I research the Criterions I buy so as to ensure that I will have a strong chance of enjoying it. Yet, times like this, I read the synopsis and HAVE to buy it. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a surreal Czech film from 1970 about a young girl who encountering vampires, evil priests, bizarre dreams, and even more stranger things as she experiences her first period.
Yes, it’s as weird as sounds, if not weirder..
It is a completely transfixing and absorbing films. Clocking in at only 75 minutes or so, it begs for you to watch it multiple times. The entire film feels like a dream–or nightmare–as Valerie wanders about a medieval city that only adds to the oneiric qualities of the film. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is one that I haven’t even grasped fully and will probably be watching it one more time this summer. But man, is it a trip.
What? You want to watch it? Well Youtube has the entire film, so here you go:
(unfortunately, the subtitles are in Portuguese so you can just look at the mesmerizing visuals)
Finally, we arrive in Iran where we meet the supposed “greatest Iranian film of all time.” Close-Up is an anomaly of cinema. It follows a “truth is stranger than fiction story” in documentary style about a man who impersonates a famous Iranian director and befriends a family who he promises to include in his next movie while also receiving funds from them to finance it.
What makes this movie entirely unique is that every character is played by the actual person from the story.
Yes, it is strange. While the trial footage is the actual trial, the scenes involving anything that had happened prior was reenacted by those involved in the story. It is subversive, compelling, and almost too strange to be true. But somehow, it engages you up until the very end as you wonder what exactly happens to the people involved after the events of the trial.
So, there we have it. Up next I will be visiting the 4 films I got from two of the greatest Italian directors of all time: Fellini and Antonioni.