Film festivals can be frustrating experiences for those who don’t live near them, but Mubi is helping soothe FOMO by streaming movies from this year’s New York Film Festival online. You’ll still have to wait for “Carol” and “Bridge of Spies,” but several titles from the festival’s cutting-edge Projections lineup have been streaming for the last week, and today, Mubi added a big one: “Junun,” the latest movie from Paul Thomas Anderson.
“Junun” marks several departures for Anderson: It’s his first documentary, his first pronounced experimentation with shooting on digital, and his first non-narrative work. Even Anderson’s music videos have more story than the hour-long “Junun,” which documents the recording of an album by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood with Israeli composer and singer Shye Ben Tazur and a collection of Indian musicians dubbed the Rajasthan Express. But rather than privileging Greenwood’s POV and making a movie about a Western musician discovering the wonders of the East, Anderson treats him as an incidental figure: An early shot spins in a lazy circle as the musicians sit cross-legged on the floor playing a hypnotic riff en masse, with Greenwood unremarked among them. None of the other musicians are identified until the closing credits, either, a democratic gesture somewhat undercut by the fact that Greenwood and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich will still be recognizable to the film’s likely audience. Anderson obviates his own POV as well; he’s not even credited as the director, only as one of five cameraman, although you can occasionally hear him posing questions offscreen.
While “Junun” is a experimental for Anderson, it’s not a notably ground-breaking work, but it still sucks you in, and captures something of the wordless collaboration between musicians who don’t need to speak each other’s language to communicate. Mubi’s $4.99 monthly fee is less than you’d pay to stream an hour-long movie through many other services, and it also gets you access to its ever changing lineup — the site adds, and loses, a movie every day of the month — which right now includes Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Stray Dogs,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Conformist,” Roy Andersson’s “You, the Living,” Curtis Harrington’s “Night Tide” and John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence.”
Reviews of “Junun”
Nick Schager, Variety
With no contextual onscreen information provided, and interview and conversational dialogue kept to a bare minimum, “Junun” functions as an experiential documentary, one in which all meaning and emotion is derived from being wholly submerged in the music on display. Favoring long, unbroken takes that allow the rhythmic, full-bodied songs to breathe as they ebb and flow from beginning to end, Anderson’s aesthetics unobtrusively capture the magic of Greenwood and company’s global partnership. It’s a reverent tribute, and one that articulates its underlying themes in subtle, piercing snapshots.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
As the sonically rich album comes alive, “Junun” eschews context and lets the audiovisual design speak for itself. Concise yet wandering in its structure, it doesn’t rise to the level of narrative complexity found in Anderson’s many other projects, but compensates with a series of lush sights and sounds. While not interested in fleshing out their personalities, Anderson gives the musicians a precise identity as humble servants in the spiritual act of collaboration. On occasion, they just lounge around, killing time whenever the electricity flares out. There’s never any sense of urgency or professional motivation. Aided by three other credited camera operators, the filmmaker follows the ambling quality of these sessions by shifting from static shots to roaming drone cameras that capture the majestic fort alongside the adjacent cityscape.
Leslie Felperin, Guardian
It’s an austere but stylishly packaged work, serious and respectful, which studies the performers as they play with mostly long unbroken takes that run through to the end of each song. There’s a tiny bit of travelogue stuff, background colour showing the city below the fort where locals mill about and craftsman fix out-of-tune instruments while birds wheel in the sky overhead. But, following the Fred Wiseman school of documentary-making, which eschews naming and explaining, the emphasis is squarely on the music itself, not the people who play it. Comparisons might be made with Wim Wenders’ tribute to the music of Cuba, “Buena Vista Social Club,” but that was a much more accessible, populist work and it’s doubtful this will do for the Indian folk artists featured here what that older film did for its charismatic, elderly stars.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
There’s a beautiful, multi-tiered exchange among artists happening in “Junun.” Jonny Greenwood’s unconventional dramatic scores have enriched the last three features by Paul Thomas Anderson, and the director now reciprocates by bringing along his camera to document the unique recording adventure this past spring of an album of devotional music — alternately plaintive and ecstatic, trancelike and propulsive, invariably stirring — on which the Radiohead guitarist collaborates with Israeli composer and singer Shye Ben Tzur, producer Nigel Godrich and a populous band of Indian musicians and vocalists dubbed the Rajasthan Express.
Anderson shares shooting duties with Godrich and three other operators, and there’s something distinctly joyous and celebratory about the way the camera flies in and out of the ornate architectural structure to connect the music to the people, places and spaces surrounding the fort. Glimpses of musicians catching a few winks during breaks or power outages add to the flavorful observation. Andy Jurgensen’s editing echoes the changeable rhythms of Ben Tzur’s spectacular, surging music in a transporting film that places us right there in the room, living and breathing a singular artistic experience. Trying to remain still in your seat is futile.
Vadim Rizov, Filmmaker
“Junun” splices Anderson’s previously characteristic high formality and Big Event shots with Inherent Vice‘s handheld looseness and some other modes, both familiar and new. Between helicam ascents, Anderson executes some faux-Steadicam coups, roaming at virtuosic and kinetic will through the old fort (shades of “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” moves he’s removed from his visual vocabulary for some time), or slowly panning over to rest on whatever musician he finds most compelling at the moment, confirming them as the most interesting person in the room at that moment. There’s a well-balanced tableau shot of the musicians mid-song from another room, disrupted and reframed by three different archways in the middle ground. After a few minutes of this impressive composition, the camera is suddenly hoisted up for a closer-up view, briefly lapsing into grab-your-phone-and-stare-at-the-ceiling chaos; this is the work of someone who’s going to do whatever they want, even if it’s momentarily disruptive and borderline amateur hour.
Nick Newman, The Film Stage
This is generally a modest work, perhaps only requiring a theatrical outlet when it comes to the excellent soundtrack, and Anderson mostly uses its loose framework as a playground for new-to-him forms — the documentary, first and foremost, but also (and more interestingly) the possibilities afforded by digital filmmaking. The images of a far-away land are genuinely curious (never just pretty-looking and postcard-like), the performers making the music at its center are terrific, the work they’ve produced is booming and unique, and, above all, everyone seems to be having a good time. If your expectations call for a new benchmark in his career, you might want to come back down to earth before diving in.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
“Junun” is Paul Thomas Anderson at his most laid back. Not bothering with instructive context, the picture finds him absorbing the energy of the musicians through their instruments and personas. A scrappy film that never feels precious about itself or its subject matter, there’s room in it for Anderson to ask a question off camera, catch a musician dozing off in the middle of a jam, or track the whimsy of a pesky pigeon that continues to make sound problems for the album’s producer Nigel Goodrich. “No toilets, no showers, but full 24 hour power,” one of the musicians jokes, the irony being the haphazardness of India means lots of power outages. And so the doc improvises, wandering outside, and in a way, makes it all up as it goes along.