This week on the telly, PBS’s POV series brings the reigning queen of documentary film to the small screen. Agnès Varda’s “The Beaches of Agnès” (criticWIRE rating: A-) makes its debut on PBS tonight. On this site, Michael Koresky noted, “For all its whimsy (some forced, some elegant, all winning), ‘The Beaches of Agnes’ will probably be most fondly remembered for its director’s candid remembrances of her late husband, that creator of timeless cinematic valentines Jacques Demy…It’s doubtful that any other living French New Wave master (Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol) would make such an unabashedly nostalgic trip to their cinematic pasts.” Also on the tube this week, HBO debuts “No One Dies in Lily Dale,” a film about a community of mediums in upstate New York, this coming Monday.
Michael Haneke’s Golden Globe winner “The White Ribbon” (criticWIRE rating: B+) gets its release today. The film, a dark and subtle mystery shot in black-and-white centers around the miserable children in a small German village before WWI. iW‘s Eric Kohn raves, “Despair haunts every moment of Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.” The director’s dour, Bergmanesque black-and-white portrait of enigmas and familial discord in a Protestant German village at the beginning of the twentieth century peddles in the art of downbeat expressionism.” Blogger Leo Goldsmith’s take on the film takes a moment to note Haneke’s aesthetic vision: “One of the hallmarks of Haneke’s aesthetics is this sharp, pristine image, the precision with which he blocks, composes, and cuts his sequences. This style is one that announces itself to the viewer: We sense not only Haneke’s mastery of his craft, but also that we ought to be noticing it, that we are entirely in his authorial hands.”
Two film’s become immortalized in the Criterion Collection this week: Jan Troell’s “Everlasting Moments” (an IFC release from last year) and Carol Reed’s 1940 British thriller “Night Train to Munich.” The “Everlasting Moments” package includes a few features detailing Troell’s career and craft as well as a doc short about the film’s subject. In a review that “highly recommends” the discs, DVD Talk‘s Thomas Spurlin describes the film: “Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments elegantly tells the lengthy story of the Larsson family in 1900s Sweden, where a housewife discovers her calling as a photographer at what could be argued as both the best and worst time imaginable. She’s forced to try and maintain her craft amid financial strife and an abusive bread-winning husband, building into an involving decade-long true story that shows how Maria Larsson — as well as her family — evolves around her newly-discovered “gift” for capturing life in her trusty Contessa [camera].”
In The Baltimore Sun, Mike Sragow compares Reed’s use of his “Night Train to Munich” actors to Hitchcock’s use of them in his “The Lady Vanishes”: “[Reed] brings a variety of tones and a virtuoso control to this suspense film. Hitchcock and the screenwriters might have used the same two Old School clowns (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)…but Reed gets more out of them here. Their very foolishness begins to seem an emblem of a humane democracy. And if Reed gets less out of Margaret Lockwood than Hitchcock did…he compensates with his super-smart handling of Rex Harrison. Harrison not only demonstrates why he was nicknamed ‘Sexy Rexy,’ but also balances gravity and suavity.”
“It Came from Kuchar,” the biographical doc about the offbeat filmmaking brothers George & Mike Kuchar, comes home this week. Breck Eisner’s Romero remake about an Iowa town that goes insane after a contaminant enters the water supply, “The Crazies,” is on this week’s slate. Also on DVD: Sundance NEXT alum “Bass Ackwards” (crticWIRE rating: C-), Yair Hochner’s Israeli gay dramedy “Antarctica,” Thomas Hayden Church-starrer “Don McKay,” Darwin biopic “Creation” (criticWIRE rating: C), Nahid Persson Sarvestani’s interview with the former Iranian queen “The Queen and I,” and this week’s title winner: “Suicide Girls Must Die!,” a horror romp starring nude models from SuicideGirls.com.
Bryce J. Renninger, an indieWIRE contributor in the New York office, is also the shorts programmer for Newfest and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Media Studies at Rutgers University. He can be reached via Twitter.