Best of Criterion’s New Releases: May 2023

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

Wings of DesireYear: 1987
Director: Wim Wenders
Stars: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 128 minutes

Wings of Desire moves with a tension of opposites—not a dualistic, competitive tension, but one that seeks balance and synthesis, and that recognizes that one aspect completes the other. Foremost is the tension between spirit and flesh. Society usually elevates one above the other, tending toward hedonism or Gnosticism, but Wim Wenders suggests life is fullest in their union. Two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, watching over a divided Berlin, love their ethereal existence and notice the spiritual longing of humanity. But they, in turn, need the material world to complete themselves. Approached with a spiritual openness, there’s profound joy in the embrace of a soulmate or a simple cup of coffee. Life’s minutiae are juxtaposed with its grand questions, giving equal consideration and substance to both. An operatic score and the majestic cityscapes mix seamlessly with rock clubs featuring Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Life moves at the same pace, and both are settings for contemplation. The angels speak poetically, and the people’s thought monologues are ponderous, if not poetic (with both sets of lines written by German playwright Peter Handke). But then Peter Falk, playing himself, improvises his lines and brings a plainspoken levity. He also brings a sense of peacefulness and a steady, reassuring presence. He exemplifies the balance being sought—simple but profound, a spirit fully enjoying the flesh with both childlike exuberance and adult responsibility. Wings of Desire is a masterful work that’s part tone poem, part philosophical treatise and part love story—not a dramatic tale of love writ large, but an exploration of the tiny things that can make life worth loving. This story of angels is really an examination of what it means to be human—in the most profound sense but via the smallest, most trivial details. As it turns out, there’s a lot more than the devil in those details.—Tim Regan-Porter

Branded to KillYear: 1967
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Stars: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa
Rating: NR
Runtime: 91 minutes

After directing nearly 40 films inside the Nikkatsu studio system, turning pulp into art house splashes of sharp color and surreal super-cool, Seijun Suzuki made Branded to Kill, a kind of perfect culmination of everything he’d been trying to do with Youth of the Beast, Tokyo Drifter, and even Gate of Flesh. In it, Japan’s “#3 Killer” Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido) murders his way towards #1, concocting a series of assassinations as illogical as they are balletic, in the process falling in love, going ever-insane, and influencing a generation of cult directors, from John Woo and Chan-wook Park to Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch (who loving lifted one of the assassination setpieces for his Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai). Sometimes vulgar, and yet always seethingly gorgeous, Branded to Kill epitomizes the kind of brilliant work directors of Suzuki’s caliber were churning out within stiflingly commercial systems—they weren’t so much destroying tradition as just totally owning it, upping the stakes of the studio game in Japan by almost effortlessly transcending it.—Dom Sinacola

TargetsYear: 1968
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Stars: Tim O’Kelly, Boris Karloff, Arthur Peterson, Nancy Hsueh, Monte Landis, Peter Bogdanovich
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes

Influenced equally by the sobering sniper massacre at the University of Texas (back when mass shootings were sobering) and the cheapskate ways of producer Roger Corman, Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut is an amazing example of cinematic serendipity. The meta thriller about an aging horror star and a clean-cut gun nut, which blew Quentin Tarantino’s mind, was a perfect storm: There’s Boris Karloff’s two-day acting debt to Corman, met by Bogdanovich’s salivating adoration of old-school film, enhanced by an American culture about to be shocked by back-to-back assassinations. Few first films are as hungry to impress, and fewer still impress under such spartan conditions. DP László Kovács and Bogdanovich (wearing all hats as director, writer, producer, and actor) come up with all sorts of clever, cheapo tricks, but few stick in your nagging nightmares like the empty, adjacent-to-life style in which they film the home life of Bobby Thompson (Tim O’Kelly). He wanders through suburban surrealism, a hateful and isolating doll house that’s locked him up inside his own Andy Griffith-styled head. The industry subplot (more clever than engaging) sharply uses footage from other films to its financial advantage, but the underplayed terror generated by Targets‘ straight-laced veteran is amazing in its spot-on ’60s commentary and continued relevance. A thriller as efficient as it is effective.Jacob Oller

Petite MamanRelease Date: April 22, 2022
Director: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne, Nina Meurisse, Margo Abascal
Rating: PG
Runtime: 72 minutes

A year or two ago, I asked my mom whether she feels like her age, or if she feels younger. I told her that I still don’t feel like I’m an adult, that I feel like a teenager disguised as a person in their mid-twenties. I wanted to know if my mom had ever felt this feeling, and if she had, if it ever goes away–if people ever reach a point where they know that they’ve finally, officially stepped into adulthood and shed their adolescence. She admitted that sometimes she does feel like she ought to: Like a woman in her early sixties. But most of the time, in every way that isn’t physical, she still feels like a kid. In Petite Maman, Céline Sciamma’s follow-up to 2019’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the French director returns with a much smaller affair by comparison: A compact, 73-minute (yet nonetheless affecting) portrait of grief, parenthood and the constant dialogue between our past and present selves. Following the death of her maternal grandmother, eight-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) travels with her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) to her mother’s childhood home. By all accounts, little Nelly seems to get on well with her mother. During the journey from the nursing home, Nelly attentively feeds her grieving parent cheese puffs and apple juice from behind the driver’s seat, then slides her tiny arms around her mother’s neck in an embrace to comfort her as she steers the wheel. But grief is a concept largely foreign to a child wise beyond her years and eager to play pretend as an adult, yet still distant to the reality of death. In the wake of her grandmother’s passing, as her mother clears out her old family things from the house, Nelly laments with more annoyance than anything that she bid a farewell to her relative that wasn’t the right kind of goodbye. She would have given her a better goodbye if she had known it would be her grandmother’s last. “We can’t know,” her mother tells her, and the two of them fall asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. But when Nelly awakes the next morning, her mother is gone. It’s a discovery less crushingly felt due to an implied absence that Nelly is familiar with. And her spacy yet well-meaning father can’t give Nelly a straight answer as to where her mother has up and left, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it. The grieving process is something he’s acquainted with, but something he’s reluctant to impart upon a young kid. So, Nelly, an only child, goes off to play in the woods by herself to occupy her time during this confusing interlude. It’s there in the wilderness behind her mother’s old house that Nelly discovers a little girl about her height, about her same hair color and face shape, who lives in a home exactly like the one just beyond the path in the woods where Nelly came from. A little girl named Marion (unsurprisingly, Joséphine’s twin sister, Gabrielle Sanz) who’s building a branch fort in the woods; the same branch fort that Nelly’s mother had once made when she was around Nelly’s age. With a gentle touch, Sciamma crafts a profound, easily digestible film that takes heavy themes and makes them bite-sized. She looks at the way we speak to one another, and to ourselves, at every age, and how these conversations are inevitably dulled in the schism between a child and their parent. Our parents only know one sliver of our own personhood just as time has robbed us of knowing our parents, their proximity to changing our diapers and teaching us to drive stunted by the lives we create as we become our own people, and as we grow to understand that our parents are people, too. Petite Maman is about this dialogue we create with our families that is just as meaningful, if often frustrating, amidst the fractures inherent to our relationship with them.–Brianna Zigler

Thelma & LouiseYear: 1991
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel
Rating: R
Runtime: 130 minutes

Sweet, doll-like Geena Davis and the tough scarlet-lipped matron Susan Sarandon make perfect odd couple besties in this classic feminist road movie. Handling domestic constraints, male condescension, sexual assault and a litany of other women’s issues—without ever seeming heavy-handed or anything less than great fun‚ Thelma & Louise is the perfect girl power introduction for a younger sister. Nearly all the men in the film are intentionally caricatured as foolish or secondary—a clever rejoinder to typical onscreen treatment of women. Besides, you can’t beat Thelma & Louise’s explosive revenge on a catcalling truck driver.–Christina Newland

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