Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vivre le cinéma! Long live Positif! (Cannes Critics Week at the Lightbox)

"You like the movies: you also know that film is an art. It took fifty years for the professors to admit it; in another half-century students will be writing theses that attempt to reconstruct lost masterpieces. But whose fault was it that they disappeared? It is up to us to do something against the merchants of the mediocre." - Bernard Chardère

"It's in the darkness of the theater, again and always, where we will like to be." - Fabien Baumann

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Semaine de la Critique, Manager of Film Programmes Brad Deane, who was responsible for the great series Masks and Faces: The Films of John Cassavetes, organized 50 Years of Discoveries - Cannes Critics Week which will take place from January 18th to the 22nd at the Lightbox. Each critic will introduce one film of their choice that has premiered at the Cannes festival sidebar. Some noteworthy guests include Jonathan Rosenbaum (Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia) who will be introducing Anna Karina's Vivre ensemble (1973) Saturday, January 21st at 7PM, and Fabien Gaffez (Positif) who will be introducing Jean Eustache's Le Père Noël a les yeux bleus (1966) and La Rosière de Pessac (1968) on Friday, January 20th at 6:30PM. As well there is going to be a Higher Learning panel, Film Criticism Today on Friday, January 20th from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm.

For their sixtieth anniversary, there have been a few changes at Positif. First off, Positif recently changed publishers from éditions Scope in Paris to Actes Sud and the Institut Lumière in Lyon. Along with the move they have also slightly altered the magazines formatting and layout; as well the magazine is finally in color! On the subject of the Cahiers-Positif film reviewing one-upmanship at the blog Nightswimming, Edouard S. writes, "The eighties saw Cahiers catching up with Positif and, finally, if Positif is continuing to lead the way, the tendency is that of equilibrium."

What can you find going through the new issues from six-hundred-and-seven to six-hundred-and-nine? The filmmakers that they interview include Almodovar, Sorrentino, von Trier, Refn, Miller, Dumont, Wiseman, Soderbergh, Schoeller, and Ceylan. There are interesting comments on films like how Valérie Donzelli's La guerre est déclarée is "one of the years best French films," or on the filming techniques in Crazy Horse, "On the other hand the camera never places the spectator in a judging or voyeuristic position, it is more one of an admiring accomplice." The Bloc Notes are fascinating as Pierre Eisenreich contrasts scuba-diving with the film-going experience, "the strange feelings, to immerse oneself, and the aesthetic beauty." Michel Ciment writes an erudite and moving memorial for Raúl Ruiz. Positif champions the great actresses Tilda Swinton, Kristen Wiig, and Jessica Chastain. And the books reviews are thorough and vivid. Since these issues three new ones have come out and the films featured on their covers are Shame, Take Shelder, and The Descendants.

What I like about Positif is that you hear about many films first through reading the magazine; where reading the articles creates a palpable desire to then go see the films. It's choices aren't snob and there is an energy and individuality to their writing as they use criticism not as a bases to write synopses but instead as a literary genre - something a lot of English writing disappointingly does not do. Positif is just more in depth, knowledgeable and generous compared to a lot of the film writing going on. While La Maison de la Presse is still three months late (!!!) in getting the new issues (can someone fix this?) and Positif's lack of exposure, to say it quickly, severally isolates their line of inquiry in the world of English language film criticism. Positif continues to explore the contours of the future of cinema, even if sometimes it is at the risk of being out of sync with trends, and at the same time it continues to explore it's history (cf. Positif films) and thematic aspects of the seventh art. It is a benefit to contemporary cinema to have Positif around. People should come to the Lightbox to hear Fabien Gaffez talk.

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