Best of Criterion’s New Releases, September 2019

Movies Lists Criterion Collection
Best of Criterion’s New Releases, September 2019

Each month, Paste brings you a look at the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, Criterion has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something to give the discerning (raises pinkie) cinephile this month, find all of our Criterion picks here, check out some of our top titles this September, and, hey, maybe sign up for Criterion’s Criterion Channel to stream many of the titles we talk about here.

Also out this month: Ritwak Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star and one of John Waters’ many masterpieces with Divine, Polyester

fists-in-the-pocket-criterion.jpgFists in the Pocket
Year: 1965
Director: Marco Bellochio
As much an ejaculation of pure contrarianism in the face of all Italian cinema to come before as it is an unblinking glimpse of in vitro psychopathy, Fists in the Pocket marks the shit-eating grin of a debut from Marco Bellochio, a figure who’d go on to loom large in the canon of Italian directors picking up the post-war detritus of neorealism. We witness young Alessandro (Louis Castel) as he interacts with his family, writing love notes to his sister Lucia (Paola Pitagora) or reading obituaries to his blind mother (Liliana Gerace) or generally resenting his developmentally disabled brother (Pierluigi Troglio) or attempting to break up his older brother’s (Marino Masé) only adult relationship apart from his demanding, dysfunctional family—we watch helplessly as Ale spins pointlessly out, filled with feelings far too large for his mundane life. Whether their lives are hiding a much deeper trauma, or their father simply died from old age, or what, we’re flummoxed at every turn by Bellochio’s refusal to provide much context, or reason, as to why this family is so uncomfortably strange. Ale inevitably commits unspeakable acts—dipping his toes more readily into matricide than incest, though both are on his bucket list—and tries his best to justify them, though one imagines he’s coming up with excuses to test his mettle, and like any given exploration of a self-proclaimed Ubermensch, we’re rarely convinced of his methods. Likewise, the film rarely does what we expect of it, at every turn denying reason, abiding by nothing but not doing what anyone could have guessed it’d do. A melange of unpredictable cuts and offputting drama, hung from a weirdly a-chronological frame, Fists in the Pocket’s form follows function, an avant garde flick in its simple denial of easy answers. Why would this ever happen? Who could ever do something like this? Because it can. Because they could. —Dom Sinacola

local-hero-criterion.jpgLocal Hero
Year: 1983
Director: Bill Forsyth
Bill Forsyth, the Scottish auteur of dry British comedies, and thus a leading carrier of Ealing Studios’ flame, has a distinctive knack for taking kooky characters that borderline on cartoonish and turning them into warm and curiously relatable examples of the human condition. His Comfort and Joy was about two Italian ice cream trucks warring for dominance in a Scottish suburb, used as a simple springboard for a sweet and grounded character study. His Local Hero is about a corporate drone named Mac (Peter Reigert) sent by his oil tycoon boss Felix (Burt Lancaster) to a humble Scottish village—because Felix thought the Hungarian Mac was Scottish based solely on his name—to convince the locals to sell their land so a refinery can be built. One can easily imagine the usual Hollywood execution of this premise, but in Forsyth’s hands, we get a lot more depth and refreshing detail. At the beginning of the film, Mac’s a product of ennui and general disinterest in everything brought on by the corporate grind; he doesn’t want to go to Scotland, not because the yokels will ruin his $500 suit, but because he’s used to getting deals done over the phone without having to actually face people. Accordingly, the townspeople carry an unironic matter-of-factness to them—“We serve breakfast at eight. Seven if it’s fishing season. It’s not fishing season.”—but that doesn’t mean that the promise of bundles of cash for their previously worthless land won’t disrupt their loyalty to their roots. In fact, as Mac falls in love with the town and wants to stay, the townspeople gradually turn into greedy capitalists yearning for their piece of the oil-rich pie. Supported heavily by Chris Menges’s lush cinematography of the open Scottish countryside, Mark Knopfler’s mellow, string-heavy music (that works as a precursor to his similar score for The Princess Bride), a cast of talented then-unknowns (including a shockingly young and profanity-free Peter Capaldi), Local Hero is the kind of insightfully droll comedy, prioritizing character over traditional plotting, we can’t seem to get enough of anymore. —Oktay Ege Kozak

Year: 1928
Director: Charlie Chaplin
And now, a masterclass in comedy by way of an altogether miserable human experience: Failure. Nobody likes to fail, but we like it when other people fail, especially in service to our amusement, and few performers in movie history (apart from, say, the Muppets) understand how funny failure can be quite like Charlie Chaplin. The Tramp is a character born to fail, a fuck-up made flesh and cursed to duck-walk his way through all manner of mistakes and accidents and bumbles and stumbles, solely for the delight of Chaplin’s audience. He literally cannot do anything right. He can’t even successfully defend his honor when framed for pickpocketing. In fact, making a royal ass out of himself appears to be all he can do, but when people crave the basest of entertainments, maybe making an ass out of oneself is a virtue rather than a sin. Circus sees Chaplin turning self-mockery into a nearly spiritual event, pratfalling and punching and tripping his way toward enlightened morality as the film draws to a close. Being a clumsy schlemiel isn’t such a bad fate when everyone else you encounter, with two exceptions, is plain old awful; when the two options are “awkward clown” and “abusive asshole,” determining which is preferable is an easy chore. Turns out there’s actually one thing he can do right: Behave like a well-adjusted, selfless man. —Andy Crump

cluny-brown-criterion.jpgCluny Brown
Year: 1946
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
In 2019, Cluny Brown, the final film from the great German-American director Ernst Lubitsch, boils down to dialogue that drops in its first 10 minutes: “Nobody can tell you where your place is. Where is my place? Where is everybody’s place? I’ll tell you where it is. Wherever you’re happy—that’s your place. And happiness is a matter of purely personal adjustment to your environment.” So says Adam Belinski, Charles Boyer’s Czech refugee hanging out in 1938 England, to Cluny Brown’s title character (Jennifer Jones), a gal in possession of more pluck in her pinky finger than most grown human beings have in their whole dang bodies. Belinski’s words of wisdom are meant to encourage Cluny as she works her way through a man’s profession in a man’s world; she wants to be a plumber, a daffy enough aspiration to turn the heads of any dude in earshot, whether high society basketcase Hilary Ames (Reginald Gardiner) or her own uncle Arn (Billy Bevan). Maybe all a woman with dreams of unclogging overstuffed drains needs to hear is that her place is wherever she damn well pleases, and maybe that message, 73 years after the film’s release, is even more fresh today than it was in the 1940s. Maybe that’s all anyone needs to hear. —Andy Crump

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