Best of Criterion’s New Releases: August 2023

Movies Lists The Criterion Collection
Best of Criterion’s New Releases: August 2023

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 presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films for over three decades. You can explore the complete collection here.

In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something, anything, to discover, find all of our Criterion picks here, and if you’d rather dig into things on the streaming side (because who’s got the money to invest in all these beautiful physical editions?) we’ve got our list of the best films on the Criterion Channel. But you’re here for what’s new, and we’ve got you covered.

Here are all the new releases from Criterion, August 2023:

DreamsYear: 1990
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Akira Terao, Martin Scorsese, Chishū Ryū, Mieko Harada, Mitsuko Baisho
Rating: PG
Runtime: 119 minutes

About to be an octogenarian, Kurosawa decided to look inward as a way to chronicle his considerable life experiences, using the various dreams he actually remembered throughout his life as a conduit to communicating the way he saw the world. An anthology of eight dreams, split into eight short films vastly different in style, tone, and even genre, hold together beautifully care of Takao Saito’s and Shôji Ueda’s striking cinematography and the sometimes enchanting, sometimes haunting spiritual mood that envelops every frame. Each segment is memorable in its own right, but the one that stands out is a terrifying nightmare wherein a World War II veteran has to face his dead platoon and rationalize why he survived while the others perished. This section’s effortless success in filling the audience with fear maybe implies some Kurosawa could have found more success in horror had he been interested.—Oktay Ege Kozak

Dim Sum: A Little Bit of HeartYear: 1985
Director: Wayne Wang
Stars: Laureen Chew, Kim Chew, Victor Wong, Ida F. O. Chung, Cora Miao, Amy Hill, Joan Chen
Rating: NR
Runtime: 88 minutes

A loose Ozu riff with a different and lesser power than that found in Wayne Wang’s breakout comedy-noir Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart still showcases the filmmaker’s winning familiarity with his San Francisco immigrant community. Though centered on death, loneliness and responsibility, Dim Sum is colloquial both in its mix of languages and its atmosphere. Real-life mother-daughter duo Laureen and Kim Chew make up its emotional backbone, though Victor Wong’s performing experience provides the film’s most charming (and breezily mournful) moments. Rarely have speeches about losing recipes hit so hard, but Wang imbues them–like he imbues the rest of his scenes of the everyday–with the utmost importance. If the little pleasures of life fade, then what could we possibly have left? The grand ideals of the old ways? Sorry, but in Wang’s ’80s, especially in its New Year’s setting, those old acquaintances have all but been forgotten…even if we still feel lingering guilt about forgetting them.—Jacob Oller

The Baby CarriageYear: 1963
Director: Bo Widerberg
Stars: Inger Taube, Thommy Berggren, Lars Passgård, Ulla Akselson
Rating: NR
Runtime: 95 minutes

The jazzy debut of ex-film critic Bo Widerberg, The Baby Carriage is a direct retort to ’60s Swedish filmmaking. Its tale of Britt (a radiant, youthfully vigorous Inger Taube), caught between a pair of lovers and an unexpected pregnancy, is a brash bit of feminist, working class, salt-of-the-earth storytelling, directly in conflict with what Widerberg saw as Ingmar Bergman’s biggest weaknesses. It’s not a morose bit of soul-searching, but immediate, accessible and political. Combining modern attitudes towards work and sexuality with kitchen-sink Brit realism and the formal inventiveness of the French New Wave, The Baby Carriage offers a sweet and sassy (and sometimes silly) blend of indie influences. Like any first movie, it’s forged from familiar parts, but adding in gorgeous, crisp cinematography from Jan Troell and a pair of easy, cool, charismatic performances from Taube and Thommy Berggren. The Baby Carriage engrosses with its romance, based so much in unspoken moments, and strikes your heart with its bittersweetness, especially in a bold, glaring, light-in-your-eyes finale.—Jacob Oller

Raven’s EndYear: 1963
Director: Bo Widerberg
Stars: Thommy Berggren, Keve Hjelm, Emy Storm, Ingvar Hirdwall
Rating: NR
Runtime: 101 minutes

Bo Widerberg’s second film, Raven’s End, was the filmmaker’s international breakout. Competing for the Palme d’Or and receiving an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Language Film (though losing out to Vittorio De Sica’s Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), the personal period drama looks at a working-class wannabe writer trying to break free from cyclical poverty, alcoholism and young parenthood. It won’t surprise you to learn that before he was a director, Widerberg was a novelist and author of short stories, who married young, in Malmö, where Raven’s End is set. It also won’t surprise you that Raven’s End owes plenty to De Sica, who defeated it for an Oscar. De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves is one of the best-known examples of Italian neorealism, which is just one of the contemporary styles Widerberg injects into his new, socially-focused take on Swedish cinema. As Anders (Widerberg’s regular collaborator Tommy Berggren, who stuns as his idealism weathers assault after assault) confronts his miserable parents and the systems that confine them, the criticism is bitingly familiar–yet totally fresh in its transportation to 1936 Sweden. Nazism is closing in, and its reactive conservative threat is just as sharp as Keve Hjelm’s performance as Anders’ defeated drunk of an old man. Jan Lindeström’s bright black-and-white photography makes the struggle all the more stark, finding the hard edges even of hope and love.—Jacob Oller

Elvira MadiganYear: 1967
Director: Bo Widerberg
Stars: Pia Degermark, Thommy Berggren
Rating: PG
Runtime: 91 minutes

Bo Widerberg’s first two films are sharp, tough-yet-humorous dramas about modern living. Elvira Madigan applies some of their rebellious, pessimistic ’60s spirit to a painterly romantic tragedy between beautiful fools. Filmed in lush, bright, sun-hazy color, the lovestruck goofing around done by tightrope-walker Hedvig AKA Elvira Madigan (Pia Degermark) and AWOL lieutenant Sixten (Thommy Berggren) is quintessentially young, free-spirited, and unself-conscious. They yelp and tease and interrupt each other—Sixten bears half a beard for a scene after he simply can’t bear to stop making out so he can finish shaving. Their clearly doomed affair (Sixten not only abandoned the army, but a wife and two children) lives in its magic bubble courtesy of two infatuated performances and an equally infatuated camera. Berggren bears the boyish grins and stubborn pride of an Austen lead; Degermark is simply radiant, her beauty and guilt hypnotizing the lens. The sweet, lulling, omnipresent lilt of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 only intoxicates us further. As the couple move from their Impressionist picnics in brushstroke grasses to more practical concerns, starving in rundown housing, the emotions follow suit. It’s heartbreaking to watch a passionate mistake crash back down to earth, but only because we’re caught up so deeply in the pair’s escape from the world. A friend tells Sixten that when you hold a blade of grass close to your eye, the blade is clear but nothing else is. “I believe one blade of grass can be the entire world,” Sixten replies, “and the world is nothing without grass.” Widerberg’s runaways (hitting theaters the same year as Bonnie and Clyde, with which it shares plenty) try to sequester their entire worlds into each other, but he couldn’t allow such a pretty sentiment to go without sourness.—Jacob Oller

Adalen 31Year: 1969
Director: Bo Widerberg
Stars: Peter Schildt, Kerstin Tidelius, Roland Hedlund
Rating: NR
Runtime: 120 minutes

A rowdy, haunting drama about a real-life Swedish labor strike where soldiers gunned down unarmed workers, Adalen 31 sees Bo Widerberg’s sociopolitical coming-of-age fascinations (boys confronting their parents; boys knocking up the neighbor girl; boys repeating the cycle of poverty) crash headlong into a town’s fiery resistance. While not as well-stocked with engaging actors as some of Widerberg’s earlier, more focused work, Adalen 31 increases its scope to create a lush sense of community. Through different, striking symbols of need (like the sheer joy displayed when Peter Schildt’s teenager Kjell surprises his family with two loaves of bread, or the blackly comic reveal that a murder victim had a hole in the toe of his sock), Widerberg takes a more collective approach to his storytelling. This can lead to less engaging characters, but moments of sublime solidarity, like when the fanfare of factory whistles becomes the mourning, howling heartbeat of the town. It can lean mawkish, but the moments of truth are so searingly vital that they retroactively color the sentimentality with cynical nuance.—Jacob Oller

DrylongsoYear: 1998
Director: Cauleen Smith
Stars: Toby Smith, April Barnett, Will Power
Rating: R
Runtime: 86 minutes

A scrappy, endearingly punk passion project about an aspiring Black photographer living in Oakland, Drylongso has the energy of a film shot undercover. That fits, because filmmaker Cauleen Smith broke UCLA’s rules and shot it while she was a grad student there. The 16mm grain, the vitality of the locations, the DIY detail poured into every inch of the lo-fi production design–it all contributes to the get-what-you-can-when-you-can charm and immediacy of Drylongso. In turn, that aesthetic, living on the brink of failure, supports its subject matter. Toby Smith’s Pica is trying to capture Black men on film as they live, while they still live; April Barnett’s Tobi has opted to pass for a man after escaping an abusive relationship; Will Power’s Malik is just trying to sell some cool t-shirts. It’s a tough existence, fringed by violence and immersed in need. Smith’s rare ability is in making it all so warm, youthful, hopeful and run through with magic, even in its saddest moments.—Jacob Oller

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