We’re heading into Oscar weekend, and to make sure our attention is fully trained on Hollywood’s annual celebration the major studios have kindly ensured that — unless the idea of watching an animated dog become a rock star appeals to you — there’s precious little in the way of new releases opening at your local bijou.
Pacific Film Archive, of course, is happy to swim against the tide. This week they’re offering us a very rare opportunity to appreciate the work of Belorussian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, whose work has always performed well at festivals but never had a general release in the United States – not even on the art-house circuit.
The Archive’s short-but-sweet series Afterimage: Sergei Loznitsa corrects this oversight, with eight of his films screening over the course of a whirlwind three days. As an added bonus, the director will appear in-person throughout the series.
Blokada (Blockade, 2005), a remarkable newsreel ‘recreation’ of the 900-day siege imposed on Leningrad during World War II, begins the series at 7 p.m. on Wed. Feb. 22. Assembling 52 minutes of archival footage into a coherent ‘story’, the film foregrounds the suffering and fortitude of the city’s citizens, who’ve primarily served as cinematic wallpaper in countless narration-driven WW2 documentaries.
Blockade eschews voiceover in favor of carefully crafted and expertly applied sound effects. These effects draw our attention to what is actually happening onscreen: the city going about its normal affairs in the early days of the siege, the terrifying experience of a fiery air raid, and the cruel and deadly realities of life in a besieged city, where corpses on the street became a normal sight. Accompanied by Loznitsa’s 2015 short The Old Jewish Cemetery, Blockade is a unique and powerful viewing experience.
While thematically not entirely dissimilar, V Tumane (In the Fog, screening at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24) couldn’t be much different stylistically. On the surface a traditional drama about Belorussian partisans and their underground war against Nazi occupiers, the film takes on issues of resistance, loyalty, and betrayal that elevate it far above the run-of-the-mill war movie.
Beautifully shot and composed by cinematographer Oleg Mutu (who’d previously filmed 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days for Romanian director Cristian Mungiu), In the Fog focuses on two partisans assigned the task of executing a rail worker suspected of collaborating with the Germans. The fact that the man is a friend – and that he stubbornly insists on his innocence – doesn’t make their mission any easier, but wartime circumstances demand a swift and emotionless resolution.
‘Me Estas Matando Susana’ (‘You’re Killing Me Susana’)
I’ve been writing a lot lately about the continuing renaissance of Mexican cinema, and was eager to scope out Me Estas Matando Susana (You’re Killing Me Susana), opening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater on Friday, Feb. 26. Does the renaissance extend into the domain of the mainstream comedy-drama?
Apparently not. Though Susana features an excellent performance from the ubiquitous Gael Garcia Bernal as Eligio, a jealous husband whose wife (Verónica Echégui) has left him without warning to attend a writing workshop in Iowa, the film fails to cohere as either drama or romantic comedy. We’re supposed to laugh at Eligio’s stereotypical macho posturing and absurd behavior, but he simply comes across as an asshole, and the film’s final scene inexplicably rewards his misbehavior. For Bernal fans only.