Radio Micropsia - Episodio 11

Por Radio Nacional (FM 93.7), domingo de 20 a 22hs.
O por internet, entrando por aquí.

Tras dos domingos de vacaciones --los que se cubrieron con una buena selección musical--, regresa el programa en vivo, otra vez con invitados. Celina Murga y Juan Villegas (no, el de la foto no es Juan, ya saben...), directores, productores, guionistas, marido, mujer y padres, estarán en el piso para contarnos, bueno, varias cosas. Desde la experiencia de Celina con Scorsese en el rodaje de "La isla siniestra" (película que ambos vimos y de la que vamos a hablar) hasta su nuevo proyecto, pasando obviamente por "Una semana solos", para mí la mejor película argentina estrenada en 2009 y nominada al premio Fipresci. Juan terminó de rodar "Ocio", junto al colega Alejandro Lingenti, filme basado en un texto de Fabián Casas. Y hablaremos de eso, claro. Además de analizar el cine argentino del año que pasó y del que se viene, y del fenómeno de las mujeres directoras en la Argentina. ¿Será por CFK?

Además, música, claro. Desde el nuevo disco de David Bowie en vivo y el de covers de Peter Gabriel, hasta una selección musical femenina --haciendo honor a uno de los "ejes" de la noche-- que va de Ingrid Chavez a Rose Melberg, pasando por Emma Pollock, Scout Niblett y... Sade. Sí, Sade, que a los 51 años (por Dios, cómo pasa el tiempo!) tiene disco nuevo y está buenísimo.

Además, se regalarán entradas para curioso documental argentino con nombre brasileño y tema boliviano.

One Conflict, Many Views, No Actors (The New York Times)

January 31, 2010



THE Israeli movie industry, once a sorry mix of ethnic melodrama and soldier slapstick, has come distinctly into its own in the past decade with a crop of admired writers, directors and actors. For two years now an Israeli film of subtlety and power has made the Oscars’ final five for best foreign picture: “Beaufort” in 2008 and “Waltz With Bashir” last year. So the fact that yet another Israeli film is among the shortlisted nine this year comes almost as no surprise.

But everything else about the film, a tribal crime drama called “Ajami,” is utterly unexpected: It is mostly in Arabic; it was co-written and directed by two novices, a Jew and an Arab; the actors were not professionals, they had no scripted dialogue, and the budget came in at under $1 million.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the movie, however, is what it does to viewers. In a conflict where each side lives and breathes its own victimhood, feeling the hurt of the other is a challenge. “Ajami” meets it. When a Palestinian youth turns to drug selling to help pay for his mother’s surgery, Jewish filmgoers here have wept. When the family of a kidnapped Israeli soldier breaks down over his murder by Palestinians, Palestinians in the theater have had tears in their eyes.

“I consider that our biggest achievement,” said Scandar Copti, the Arab member of the directing pair.

His Jewish colleague, Yaron Shani, elaborated: “People live in bubbles unaware of each other. Each side has its narrative, each side has its dreams and sees the other as threatening those dreams. But if you enter the other’s bubble, you see his dreams, his inner world and his values. Our idea was to make the audience experience what it meant to be the other.”

There are many competing narratives in “Ajami,” not just those of Jews and Arabs but also of West Bank Palestinians under occupation versus Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, Christians versus Muslims and urban Arabs versus Bedouins. The action takes place inside Ajami, a poor Arab but increasingly Jewish and gentrified part of Jaffa, the ancient port that abuts Tel Aviv to its south.

The story begins when a member of a prominent Bedouin family demands protection money from the owner of an Arab restaurant, leading to a shooting and vendetta against the men of the restaurant family. Along the way there is a doomed love affair between a Christian girl and a Muslim boy, a tough Jewish policeman whose soldier brother is kidnapped in the West Bank and an illegal West Bank Palestinian restaurant worker whose mother needs that expensive operation. Each tribe is seen in its deepest frailty by the viewer but feared as the powerful enemy by the others.

All the characters in the film are portrayed by nonactors. Many, like the cops playing cops or a Bedouin judge playing a Bedouin judge, act as versions of themselves. The directors trained them during a year of workshops where they were placed in dramatic situations and urged to react as they would in life. For the film itself, many scenes were shot without the actors knowing what was about to happen, only their general circumstances. A child is murdered, creating pandemonium. Dialogue in Hebrew-flecked Jaffa Arabic comes straight off the streets. The result is a film that feels at times like journalism.

Mr. Shani, 37, said that while in film school at Tel Aviv University 12 years ago he came upon the idea of steering away from professional actors.

“I had written a script and had gotten actors to act in it,” he recalled, sitting at an editing table in his Tel Aviv studios. “When the scene ended, and the camera stopped, I watched the interaction among the actors, and I realized that was what I wanted, the genuineness of the way they were talking at that moment rather than the acting that had gone on before.”

Mr. Shani began to explore documentaries as well as the work of directors like Ken Loach, the English social realist who has made films about homelessness and working-class struggles, and who largely prefers unknown talent to established actors.

Within a few years Mr. Shani became the director of a student film festival and wanted to get young people to make short films about their lives and surroundings. He was fascinated by Jaffa because of its history, crime and tensions. Thousands of years old, a once-glorious port known for its citrus industry, Jaffa is now well known for its underworld ways and rejection of Israeli law.

In recent years, due to its commanding location of the sea, Jaffa has attracted well-off Israelis, and its traditional cramped apartments are being replaced by the local equivalent of McMansions, producing keen tensions with the local Palestinians (also represented in the movie). “The place itself is unique and had never been portrayed in Israeli cinema before — an Arab ‘ghetto’ inside the main Jewish center of Israel,” Mr. Shani said.

In Jaffa he was introduced to Mr. Copti, an Ajami native, Christian and graduate of Israel’s top engineering college, the Technion in Haifa.

“I knew I didn’t want to be an engineer, but all the men in my family do it, so that is what I studied,” Mr. Copti, 34, said. The chance to make a short film about his neighborhood intrigued him, and along with a friend he made a 12-minute mockumentary about local myths called “The Truth.” He also co-starred in it.

Mr. Shani, the son of a high school teacher and jewelry maker, realized he had found a major talent as well as a creative soul mate, and he suggested that he and Mr. Copti write a script together and base the story in Ajami. He had a structure he wanted to employ: events told from several points of view and not in chronological order, so that the audience only fully discovers the truth at the end.

For four years, with Mr. Copti working as a waiter and Mr. Shani as an assistant to the respected Israeli film director Eran Riklis (“Lemon Tree,” “The Syrian Bride”), the two, both still unmarried (each has since married, and Mr. Shani has a child), would meet at each other’s places and develop story ideas and ultimately a script.

Then they solicited the actors. Mr. Copti, whose mother is a social worker and school founder in Jaffa, used his connections to find the people and settings. Posters were put up around the neighborhood, and clubs and social centers were canvassed. Mr. Shani did the same in search for those who would play a Jewish policeman and his family.

From hundreds of volunteers, the pair chose their cast and began the workshops.

“One of our tasks was to liberate them from the tendency to perform in front of a camera, so that they could become themselves,” Mr. Copti said, speaking at a favorite bookstore-cafe at the edge of Ajami.

Money was a nagging concern; the pair found little interest among investors for their experiment. In the end some money came from Germany, some from France and the rest from the Israeli Film Foundation.

They shot for just over three weeks, and all the locations were lent by locals, notably the restaurant where Mr. Copti had been working as a waiter. Hundreds of others in the neighborhood also lent a hand or a car or made meals for the cast and crew.

When the picture opened at the Jerusalem Film Festival last summer, after some seven years in preparation, it was widely hailed as a production of rare texture and truth. And last September, it took all the major awards (best picture, directing, screenplay, editing) in the Ophirs, Israel’s version of the Oscars.

In a way it was the ambition of two unknowns that was most impressive — a narrative with Faulknerian perspective shifts, a compelling cast of amateurs and a story whose loves are indistinguishable from its tragedies. It is a film that brings Middle East peace no closer but explains why it is so far away.

Kathryn Bigelow gana el premio DGA (Director's Guild Award)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary
Louie Psihoyos, The Cove

Premios del Festival de cine de Sundance (IndieWire)

Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic:
Winter’s Bone, directed by Debra Granik (film page).

Grand Jury Prize, Documentary:
Restrepo, directed by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (film page).

World Cinema Jury Prize, Dramatic:
Animal Kingdom, written and directed by David Michôd (film page).

World Cinema Jury Prize, Documentary:
The Red Chapel (Det Røde Kapel), directed by Mads Brügger (film page).

Dramatic Audience Award:
happythankyoumoreplease, written and directed by Josh Radnor (film page).

Documentary Audience Award:
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, directed by Davis Guggenheim (film page).

World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award:
Contracorriente (Undertow), written and directed by Javier Fuentes-Leõn (film page).

World Cinema Documentary Audience Award:
Wasteland, directed by Lucy Walker (film page).

The Best of NEXT:
Homewrecker, directed by Todd Barnes and Brad Barnes (film page).

Directing Award, Dramatic:
3 Backyards, directed and written by Eric Mendelsohn (film page)

Directing Award, Documentary:
Smash His Camera, directed by Leon Gast (film page)

World Cinema Directing Award, Dramatic:
Southern District directed and written by Juan Carlos Valdivia (film page).

World Cinema Directing Award, Documentary:
Space Tourists, directed by Christian Frei (film page).

Waldo Scott Screenwriting Award:
Winter’s Bone, written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini. (film page).

World Cinema Screenwriting Award:
Southern District, written and directed by Juan Carlos Valdivia (film page).

Documentary Editing Award:
Joan Rivers—A Piece Of Work, edited by Penelope Falk

World Cinema Documentary Editing Award:
A Film Unfinished, edited by Joëlle Alexis (film page).

Excellence in Cinematography Award, Dramatic:
Obselidia Cinematographer: Zak Mulligan (film page).

Excellence in Cinematography Award, Documentary:
The Oath Cinematographers: Kirsten Johnson and Laura Poitras (film page).

World Cinema Cinematography Award, Dramatic:
The Man Next Door (El Hombre de al Lado) Directors and cinematographers Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat (film page).

World Cinema Cinematography Award, Documentary:
His & Hers Cinematographers: Kate McCullough and Michael Lavelle (film page).

Special Jury Prize: Dramatic:
Sympathy for Delicious, directed by Mark Ruffalo (film page).

Special Jury Prize: Documentary:
GASLAND, directed by Josh Fox (film page).

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary
Enemies of the People, directed by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath (film page).

Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking:
Drunk History: Douglass & Lincoln, directed by Jeremy Konner

Jury Prize in International Short Filmmaking:
The Six Dollar Fifty Man, directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland (New Zealand)

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic for Breakout Performance:
Tatiana Maslany, for her role as a starry-eyed teenager in “Grown Up Movie Star.”

Honorable Mentions in Short Filmmaking:
Born Sweet, directed by Cynthia Wade (USA, Cambodia)
Can We Talk?, directed by Jim Owen (United Kingdom)
Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No, directed by James Blagden (USA)
How I Met Your Father, directed by Álex Montoya (Spain)
Quadrangle, directed by Amy Grappell (USA)
Rob and Valentyna in Scotland, directed by Eric Lynne (USA, United Kingdom)
Young Love, directed by Ariel Kleiman (Australia)

Alfred P. Sloan PrizeL
Obselidia, directed by Diane Bell

Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Awards:
Amat Escalante, Heli (Mexico)
Andrey Zvyagintsev, Elena (Russia)
Daisuke Yamaoka, The Wonderful Lives at Asahigaoka (Japan)
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA)


Oscars Try to Navigate Through Babel (The New York Times)

January 31, 2010

THERE was a time when the Academy Award for best foreign-language film reflected the state of world cinema: Fellini films won back-to-back Oscars in the mid 1950s, as did Bergman films in the early ’60s. But the category has come to suggest a peculiar gulf between Academy opinion and the tastes of critics and audiences alike.

Some Oscar-nominated foreign titles from the past decade will leave even committed art-house audiences drawing a blank: “Zelary” from the Czech Republic, “As It Is in Heaven” from Sweden, “Zus & Zo” from the Netherlands. Meanwhile critical favorites and festival hits have often gone unacknowledged; a list of conspicuous omissions might start — but certainly would not end — with “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Caché,” “Silent Light,” “Gomorrah,” “The Edge of Heaven,” “Secret Sunshine” and “Volver.”

This incongruity has much to do with the category’s submission and nominating process, which is more byzantine than for any other, involving nominating bodies in various countries and several Academy committees. This year’s nine-film shortlist, announced this month, was whittled down by two committees from 65 submissions; the final five, to be determined by a third committee, will be revealed along with the other Oscar nominations on Tuesday. Mark Johnson, a veteran producer (“The Notebook,” “Ballast,” the “Narnia” films) and chairman of the Academy’s foreign-language committee since 1999, said that he has been striving in recent years to improve a process that, he acknowledged, often left the impression of an out-of-touch voting body. “We’ve attacked some of what I think have been real legitimate problems and criticisms,” he said.

While Mr. Johnson’s efforts have been largely focused on arriving at a more credible group of nominees, they have not streamlined the complex, multistage procedure. At each phase “there are always surprises and disappointments,” said Michael Barker, the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing three of this year’s nine shortlisted films: Michael Haneke’s “White Ribbon” (Germany), Jacques Audiard’s “Prophet” (France) and Juan José Campanella’s “Secret in Their Eyes” (Argentina).

The rule changes have not eliminated controversy. This year some critics pointed to omissions like “Police, Adjective” (from Romania), “Mother” (South Korea) and “I Killed My Mother” (Canada), all of which were the submissions of their respective countries, and films like “The Maid” (Chile) and “Vincere” (Italy), which were not selected in the first place.

Jonathan Sehring, the president of IFC Entertainment, an active distributor of foreign films, called the nominating process “terribly flawed” and singled out for criticism the one-film-per-country rule.

Some countries arrive at their choice by polling an Academy-like professional organization with hundreds or thousands of members; countries with less robust film industries might have more ad-hoc groups, sometimes with as few as a dozen voters. While the system is designed to allow even the smallest of film-producing nations a shot, it also ends up punishing relative powerhouses like France and Italy, which have many more acclaimed releases in a given year than, say, Iceland or the Ivory Coast, but must pick only one.

The emphasis on national origin means that international co-productions (like “The Motorcycle Diaries”) tend to fall by the wayside. Until recently the Academy also insisted that the foreign language match the foreign country; for instance, Mr. Haneke’s “Caché,” a French-language film by an Austrian director, was deemed ineligible. And two years ago “The Band’s Visit” was disqualified from being Israel’s official candidate because too much of the movie was in English.

At the national level the decisions are often tangled in internal politics. “Some countries approach the process in terms of ‘Whose turn is it?’ ” Mr. Sehring said, adding that personal agendas can come into play. Some questioned Italy’s decision this year to submit Giuseppe Tornatore’s big-budget period epic “Baaria” over Marco Bellochio’s “Vincere,” a film about Mussolini’s secret lover that has been received with greater enthusiasm at festivals (and is being released in the United States by IFC this year); it has not gone unnoticed that one financial backer of “Baaria” is Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.

Voting bodies are apt to consider, sometimes above all other factors, how well a film might travel. Mr. Barker of Sony recalled being at an Academy-related panel at a film festival in Norway and hearing the question come up in the bluntest terms: “Do we pick what we think is the best film, or do we pick what we think the Americans will vote for?” France has fielded suspiciously treacly fare like “Merry Christmas” and “The Chorus,” ignoring work by better-known auteurs like Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas.

The record in the foreign-language category suggests a weakness for stodgy, conservative films, and the Academy members who vote in the category are usually older.

Gary Palmucci, general manager of Kino International, attended a few Academy screenings two years ago, when one of his films, “Beaufort” (Israel), was up for an Oscar. With a few exceptions, he said, “it looked like everybody was over 65.” (Kino has another Israeli film on this year’s shortlist: “Ajami,” which opens in New York this week.)

This demographic quirk can be partly chalked up to the rigors of the nomination process. Every year the submitted movies are divided into four groups; an Academy member who wishes to participate in the nominations must see at least 80 percent of the films in one group (which usually works out to more than a dozen films). All films must be seen in theaters; since most of the titles are not in commercial release, that usually means attending special Academy screenings.

“The people who have that kind of time are often the older members who are retired,” Mr. Johnson said. And they tend to favor what Mr. Palmucci described as “a more meat-and-potatoes kind of film.” Mr. Sehring noted that movies with relatively challenging subject matter (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” about abortion in Ceausescu-era Romania) or form (the hand-drawn animation of “Persepolis”) have often been overlooked.

Such criticisms are hardly new, but they intensified two years ago when the Academy snubbed “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” a Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. Mr. Johnson responded by introducing an intermediate step in the nominating process to try to create a safeguard measure against glaring oversights.

“I don’t mean to be critical of the general committee because it’s older,” Mr. Johnson said, “but I wanted to make the selection process reflect more the Academy at large.”

Instead of entrusting the general membership with arriving at the nine-film shortlist, the Academy now takes the top six choices of the voting members (an average of 300 every year, Mr. Johnson said); the remaining three are wild-card selections by an executive committee appointed by Mr. Johnson, including the director Curtis Hanson, the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, whose film “The Lives of Others” was a foreign-language winner. (The shortlist is narrowed to the final five by yet another committee’s members, who watch all nine films in a three-day period.)

Last year — the first time the shortlist was determined by two separate committees — the eventual nominees included well-reviewed art-house hits like “The Class” and “Waltz With Bashir” as well as an under-the-radar critical favorite, “Revanche.” This year’s list includes the Berlin festival’s top prizewinner, “The Milk of Sorrow” (Peru), and two Cannes hits, “The White Ribbon” (Germany) and “A Prophet” (France), films that might be too dark or difficult to have made it this far under the old system.

But there is nothing Mr. Johnson can do once the nominees are set and the vote is opened to the entire membership. Last year his rule changes produced the category’s most respectable lineup in some time. But it was the Japanese film “Departures,” which many considered the most conventional and sentimental of the five, that won.

That decision may not stand the test of time, but in a sense it is in keeping with tradition. In 1981, when Mr. Barker and his partner Tom Bernard were at United Artists, they had a foreign-language Oscar frontrunner in François Truffaut’s “Last Metro.” The other prime contender was thought to be Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha.” But the eventual winner was a Russian film, long since forgotten, called “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.”

“It was a surprise to us that this could happen,” Mr. Barker said. “But then we realized this kind of thing has been happening for generations.”

Syndromes of a new century (Sight & Sound)

Film still for Syndromes of a new century

As the century’s first decade ends, ‘Sight & Sound’ assesses the directors, the countries, the trends and technological changes that are shaping the new global cinema. First, Nick James introduces 30 key films that illuminated the last ten years

One aspect of the phrase “a camel is a horse designed by committee” is that no one knows who said it first (apparently it was either Vogue magazine, Sir Alec Issigonis or philosophy professor Lester Hunt – I like to think they came up with it together). When it comes, however, to the list of 30 films of the 21st century published here, I can name the guilty parties.

Having recently polled the critical world for the most impressive films of 2009, the S&S editorial team decided, as far as the past decade was concerned, to tether our own camel to the masthead. Kieron Corless, James Bell, Isabel Stevens, Nick Bradshaw and myself met, having each first selected our own ‘top 20’. Yet the debate we had led to a list that we feel reflects the cultural significance of the films better than our own subjective tastes; it took 30 titles to satisfy us that we’d touched on the important themes of the decade.

The list’s conception was, in any case, supplementary to our desire to publish a collection of articles about those themes, and to pick out the decade’s six most influential directors. Overleaf you’ll find Shane Danielsen’s overview of the significant national cinemas of the past ten years – particularly those of Romania, Argentina, Korea and Mexico. Further on, Mark Cousins revels in the new, addictive ways of consuming films that developed over the decade; Michael Atkinson is sceptical about the potential deterioration of American cinema; Hannah McGill charts the decline of the movie star; Jonathan Romney considers the peculiar aesthetic dominance of ‘Slow Cinema’; and Nick Roddick argues for the noughties as the decade of the digital revolution. What I want to do here is to show how those trends are reflected in the 30 films and six key directors we have chosen.

Certain restrictions were put on the list. First, you won’t find any television drama series – The Sopranos, The Wire and the like. It’s a partisan gesture on our part, because we think that 2010 may be the last significant moment at which one can still argue for the complete distinction of the feature film. Second, a half-dozen of the most important directors have each been allotted only one representative film. So Jia Zhangke’s Platform also represents Unknown Pleasures and Still Life, Michael Haneke’s Hidden counts for Code Unknown et al, Claire Denis’ 35 Shots of Rum for White Material, The Son for the Dardennes’ equally excellent The Child, Talk to Her for the whole golden run of Almodóvar’s noughties films, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady stands also for Syndromes and a Century (2006).

Getting a grip

Looking at our list of films overall, we have undoubtedly left ourselves open to accusations of purism (although we don’t care). Only a minority of the titles would supply a relaxed Friday night out, and most of those play with genre in some way. Spike Jonze’s Adaptation., scripted by Charlie Kaufman, stands not only for the experimentation with chronology and intertextuality that informed Kaufman’s run of fine, experimental mid-budget American films – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Synecdoche, New York (2008) – but also for the fragmentary narratives of screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga that helped fire the Mexican cinema revival with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores perros (2000), only to be absorbed by Hollywood for Iñárritu’s creditable 21 Grams (2003) and Tommy Lee Jones’ splendid Western The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005).

Hollywood blockbuster cinema finds scant representation here – I’m afraid there’s not even a Pixar film. The one Pixar consensus reached was for the first half-hour of WALL•E (2008), after which, it was felt, the film disappoints. (Personally, I’d have been happy with 2004’s The Incredibles.) Miyazaki Hayao’s groundbreaking Spirited Away is therefore the only animation included.

American action cinema’s increasing reliance on comic-book superheroes and such behemoths as the Transformers series amounts to an aesthetic nadir – although The Dark Knight (2008) is an exceptional achievement in that field. The constantly changing viewpoint and fast-cutting style of ‘intensified continuity’ has made watching the best American action dramas – such as Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009) and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) – a more fragmentary pleasure, and seldom a psychologically satisfying one. The current speed of cutting destroys much of an actor’s performance; we only have time to register facial expression fleetingly. It’s arguably this negligence towards performance and screen presence (not to mention the use of the performance-inhibiting drug botox) that’s causing the decline of the movie star, as much as the exposure of their private lives to constant media scrutiny that Hannah McGill describes in her article.

That’s not to argue that US cinema has totally abandoned a sense of performance. Some think that Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood shows too much indulgence to Daniel Day-Lewis as the monstrous Daniel Plainview, but we disagree. It is easily the most vivid and powerful Hollywood drama of recent years, and its portrayal of the sort of greed that brought the banking system to the verge of destruction is palpable.

Despite our professed dislike of Michael Bay-style editing, there is one exception. When that approach is taken to really brutal extremes, as it is in Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum, we beg leave to contradict ourselves. The incessant image bombardment here presents an abstract rush of adrenal stimuli that suits a narrative predicated on a trained semi-automaton remembering he’s human in a world dominated by surveillance. It was the film that had the best feel for the experience of living solipsistically in the globalised city under post 9/11 rules.

The gripping psychological action cinema that America seems to have forgotten how to make is alive and well in France, in films such as Jacques Audiard’s The Beat that My Heart Skipped (preferred to his A Prophet simply because the latter wasn’t released in the UK until 2010). An innate empathy with the people portrayed is present in other French films, such as Laurent Cantet’s magnificent The Class (2008), which also sits just outside the list.

Other genre pleasures were to be found in subversions of the archetypes. What more oblique and fascinating approach to the police genre could there be than Bong Joon-ho’s haunting chronicle of an unsolvable mystery, Memories of Murder? The Dardenne brothers, too, have not become the quintessential poetic social realists of the age merely by reflecting grim social situations, but by embedding the structure of a revenge thriller into The Son, or that of the chase thriller into The Child (2005). Their influence was felt everywhere, particularly in another ‘bubbling under’ title of our list, Valeska Grisebach’s Longing (2006).

Mexican triple jump

If, as Nick Roddick argues in his article, digital cinema was truly born in this decade, then some of its ur-texts are here. To take the most obvious, Sokurov’s Russian Ark explored St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum in an extended tableau vivant of Russian historical characters, taking in paintings, crowds and debates, all in one sweeping take – a feat only made possible by digital cameras. Abbas Kiarostami, one of the most influential directors of the 1990s, used digital cameras to free himself from political and funding restrictions. His astonishing 10 simply alternates between two camera angles on the interior of a car: one on the driver, the other on the passenger. The same technology made it possible for David Lynch to dispense with a cinematographer for his most bizarre feature yet, Inland Empire. And Pedro Costa went one further by making his films almost on his own, amid the Cape Verdean people of what was Lisbon’s Fontainhas slum. Their lives and memories became the very stuff of his narratives, especially our list’s Colossal Youth.

Memories of Murder stands for Korea’s magnificently diverse cinema, just as – to represent the blossoming of Romanian cinema – Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu is preferred to Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), Cristian Nemescu’s California Dreamin’ (2007) or Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), because it was the film that set the style. The Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness was preferred to his later Bamako (2006), and ends up representing the entire undervalued cinema of a continent, largely through lack of consensus as to which other titles should qualify. We should have done better.

Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven represents the Mexican renaissance that was so quickly absorbed into the globalised mainstream. As a prime exponent with Japón (2001) and Silent Light (2007) of the Slow Cinema Jonathan Romney investigates in his article, Reygadas’ career sets him apart from his fellow countrymen Iñárritu and Arriaga, as well as Guillermo del Toro, maker of the wonderful fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Alfonso Cuarón, who – in the strangest triple jump of the decade – went from directing the terrific Mexican road movie Y tu mamá también (2001) to the Brit-Hollywood franchise number Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and then to the fine, British-set dystopian drama Children of Men (2006).

British cinema gave us the biggest headache. It is a peculiarity of the last decade that, while some British films impressed, they rarely broke new ground. Thus there is only one out-and-out British film in the list, Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void, which recreates the gruelling but inspirational experiences of two climbers after an accident on the peaks of the Siula Grande in Peru. Arguments were made around the table for Pawel Pawlikowski’s heartbreaking Last Resort (2000), Jonathan Glazer’s gripping Sexy Beast (2000), Terence Davies’s exquisite The House of Mirth (2000), Edgar Wright’s devastatingly funny Shaun of the Dead (2004), James Marsh’s tense documentary Man on Wire (2007) and Steve McQueen’s powerful Hunger (2008), but none gained sufficient purchase over the others. Worst of all was the discovery, after we’d all agreed on Shane Meadows’ A Room for Romeo Brass, that it was made in 1999; we couldn’t agree on another Meadows film, not even the editor’s favourite, This Is England (2007).

Real lives

Part of Jia Zhangke’s significance is that he best exemplifies Godard’s dictum that “all great fiction films tend towards documentary, just as all great documentaries tends towards fiction” – as indeed does Touching the Void. Slippage between the two forms has become more pronounced in recent years. According to Sebastian Veg of China Perspectives, Jia’s documentary In Public (2001) is related to Unknown Pleasures (2002), while Still Life (2006) is an outgrowth of a documentary, Dong, he originally set out to shoot. Our selection from Jia’s body of work, Platform, is more of a generational history of changing times, but it remains wedded to the director’s sense that, as he puts it: “It is easier to show certain realities in fiction, and they appear more authentic.” Jia’s 24 City (2008), with its intermingling of interviews with real people and actors playing real people, is probably the ultimate example of keeping the balance between fiction and reality invisible.

A different take on the same sensibility may have inspired the iconoclastic Wakamatsu Koji to begin his epic United Red Army with an archive-footage documentary section telling the history of Japan’s student movements of the 1960s and 70s, before he uses actors to recreate the formation and training of the Red Army, of which he himself was part. This astonishing film has yet to receive distribution in the UK, but it is a unique testament to a crucial time. Playing with the documentary form is also at the heart of The Five Obstructions, the teasing game devised by Lars von Trier in which he forces his victim, fellow Danish director Jørgen Leth, to remake his 1967 short film The Perfect Human five times, each time under a different set of difficult rules. In films like Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005), von Trier shoots fiction without the fripperies of setting, but the essence of his playfully challenging outlook is best captured in The Five Obstructions, a genuine intellectual treat.

The same can be said for Agnès Varda’s altogether more sympathetic The Gleaners and I, as succinct an example of the essay film as you could wish for, in which the director follows people in France who find their daily food amidst the garbage. Others at the most chaotic reaches of human existence are depicted in Austrian documentarian Michael Glawogger’s Workingman’s Death, which presents Indonesian sulphur miners, Pakistani ship-breakers and Chinese steelworkers all at backbreaking work, or talking without narration in stunning images.

When it comes to considering the relationship between reality and fiction, however, no director has found a more sophisticated approach than Michael Haneke. His ability to present aspects of genre as entrapment games for a thinking viewer began the decade strongly with Code Unknown (2000), a multi-strand narrative that entangles its liberal French protagonists in the troubles of immigrants. His adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s novel The Piano Teacher (2001) explored more personal forms of psychological and physical harm. His dystopian imagining of a post-apocalyptic world without water, Time of the Wolf (2003), was perhaps too realistic to make a gripping drama, but his film-making reached arguably its highest point with his unlikely hit Hidden, the exemplar of this director’s talent for exploring liberal guilt by inculcating it in the viewer while presenting the spectacle of racial and ideological confrontation from unsettling perspectives.

Slowly does it

Though his films occasionally test the audience’s patience, Haneke plays little part in what for the sake of this issue we are calling Slow Cinema. Its key progenitor was probably Tarkovsky, but Béla Tarr, a film-maker who could hardly be more different to Haneke, has undoubtedly been a central figure too. If Tarr’s epic seven-hour Sátántangó (1994) remains the biggest beast of an achievement in this area, Werckmeister Harmonies, his adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel The Melancholy of Resistance, is a worthy companion. A strange allegory that brings a stuffed whale in a truck to the centre of a small town, its strain of middle European weirdness puts it in stark contrast to much of the Slow Cinema Jonathan Romney discusses.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady, for instance, is mysterious in a completely different way. Offering, among many other treats, a sincere belief in shamanism, this portrait of a romance stands here for a more delicate form of experimentation than Tarr’s or Haneke’s – and also for those film-makers who have found crossover opportunities in gallery-based work, another phenomenon which gained ground in the last decade. Weerasethakul (or ‘Joe’, as his friends and colleagues call him) has benefited, too, from the kind of world cinema curation that exemplifies the new influence of festival funds, and of special projects like Vienna’s very successful New Crowned Hope commissions.

The sense of thematics that governs some of our thinking doesn’t extend to every choice, however. In the end, S&S remains primarily an auteurist magazine, and there are certain film-makers and films chosen simply because they are the best. We couldn’t leave out what may be Jean-Luc Godard’s last great film, Eloge de l’amour. We include Lucrecia Martel’s potent reminder of the strangeness of Catholic adolescence, La niña santa, not because it is Argentinian, but because it’s brilliant. Nuri Bilge Ceylan is very much his own man, and so his jewel-like Uzak, the final instalment of his semi-autobiographical trilogy, is chosen for itself, not to represent Turkish cinema. Claire Denis has been a consistent genius throughout the decade with films like Vendredi soir (2002) and The Intruder (2004), but it’s her recent double of the elegant alternative family portrait 35 Shots of Rum, set in Paris, and the tough beleaguered family portrait White Material, set in Africa, that makes her our film-maker of the decade.

I want to end, though, not with Denis but with two Chinese diaspora films that are unquestionably masterpieces (not a word I use often) of a contrasting kind. The late Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s poignant wedding-day drama A One and a Two… (pictured at top) understands better than any film I can think of the ideal relationship between the camera angle, the subject, the shot’s duration, the shot before, the shot after, and the emotion of the scene. And Wong Kar-Wai’s Hong Kong paean to his mother’s generation, In the Mood for Love, understands better than any film I can think of the vivid, seductive power of setting, costume, lighting and the expressive faces of attractive actors. As we hope our list demonstrates, these are the elements of an artform with a rich future.

Read the list of Sight & Sound’s 30 key films of the decade

"Outrage", de Takeshi Kitano (trailer)

The story begins with Sekiuchi (Kitamura Soichiro), boss of the Sannokai, a huge organised crime syndicate controlling the entire Kanto region, issuing a stern warning to his lieutenant Kato (Miura Tomokazu) and right-hand man Ikemoto (Kunimura Jun), head of the Ikemoto-gumi. Kato orders Ikemoto to bring the unassociated Murase-gumi gang in line, and he immediately passes the task on to his subordinate Otomo (Beat Takeshi), who runs his own crew. The tricky jobs that no-one wants to do always end up in Otomo's lap...

‘Avatar’ Faces Traffic Jam at 3-D Screens (The New York Times)

January 30, 2010

LOS ANGELES — Will it soon be time for 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” to surrender the 3-D stage? Walt Disney Studios certainly thinks so.

“Alice in Wonderland,” a 3-D adaptation from Tim Burton and Disney, is set to replace “Avatar” in all commercial Imax theaters and in many multiplexes that operate 3-D screens on March 5.

The problem is that “Avatar” is still playing like gangbusters — especially in 3-D theaters, which charge premium prices for tickets and have been instrumental in making “Avatar” a box office phenomenon — and exhibitors are grumbling at having to let go of a sure winner to pick up an uncertain new prospect.

Fox executives are now quietly talking about fighting to hold some of the big-format screens for “Avatar,” perhaps by giving more favorable financial terms to theater owners who keep it. Disney is set to take over the 3-D real estate just two days before the Academy Awards, a situation that would make it hard for “Avatar” — a front-runner for best picture — to get the traditional Oscar box office bump.

A similar showdown is brewing between, on the one side, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures, which plan to release the animated “How to Train Your Dragon” in 3-D on March 26, and, on the other side, Warner Brothers. Warner has just decided to convert its sword-and-sandals fantasy “Clash of the Titans” to a 3-D format and release it on April 2. “How to Train Your Dragon” will have to make do with fewer 3-D seats, which sell for a $3 to $5 premium.

The 3-D bottleneck is likely to grow worse. Michael Lewis, the chief executive of RealD, which equips theaters that account for about 90 percent of 3D screens in the United States, said about 60 films were set for 3-D release over the next three years.

“As audiences experience more 3-D movies, scheduling challenges for theater owners and studios will naturally increase while there is a temporary shortfall of 3-D screens,” Chuck Viane, Disney’s president for distribution, said in a statement. Another Disney executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said the studio did not see “Avatar” as a problem because early interest in “Alice in Wonderland” was quite strong.

“It will beautifully draft off of ‘Avatar,’ ” the executive said.

Fox, Imax and DreamWorks Animation declined to comment. Spokesmen for the Cinemark and AMC theater chains, which operate 3-D screens, did not return telephone calls. A spokesman for the Regal chain had no comment.

Imax long ago promised almost all of its 179 domestic and 82 foreign theaters to Disney for the opening of “Alice in Wonderland,” which stars Johnny Depp. At the time, few suspected that “Avatar” would still be racking up ticket sales that have made it the best-selling film in history, with more than $1.9 billion at the worldwide box office so far. In fact, the flagship Imax theaters in places like the AMC Loews Lincoln Square in Manhattan are still selling out weekend shows with no sign of a slowdown. More than 70 percent of ticket revenue for “Avatar” has come from 3-D.

The owners of Imax’s commercial theaters appear to be bound by their commitment to Disney — although contracts have often meant less in the world of movie exhibition than pragmatic decisions based on the leverage of the players involved. Under pressure from Fox, for instance, Imax might well ask Disney to permit the large-screen theaters to hang onto “Avatar” for midnight screenings during the three-week run promised to “Alice in Wonderland,” according to one executive who was briefed on the situation but spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid further conflict. Another possibility might be to re-release “Avatar” in the large-screen format sometime later this year.

Disney could have a harder time maintaining its anticipated number of 3-D screens that are not Imax. Decisions about what movies play on those screens are generally made on the local or regional level, based on how well tickets are selling. Given the staying power of “Avatar,” theater owners are speculating that it could monopolize 3-D screens into April. The number of tickets sold for “Avatar” is thus far about the same as that for “Titanic” over the same length of time. “Titanic” ran for nine months after its release in 1997.

The collisions among movie studios for 3-D theaters stems from a shortage of screens equipped with the technology. By year’s end the number of 3-D screens in the United States will have expanded to about 5,100, according to the National Association of Theater Owners. But that is still too few to accommodate dozens of big-budget movies released in the format. Mr. Lewis said his company had contracts to install an additional 5,000 screens worldwide. But much of the expansion, he said, has been waiting for a loosening of capital markets.

Eventually, multiplexes that now operate one or two 3-D screens will have five or six. “By the end of the year, I think it’s going to be a nonissue,” Mr. Lewis said of the shortage.


And then there were nine... (Screendaily)

Nine films are on the foreign-language film Oscar shortlist this year. Mike Goodridge assesses what was left off the list and which might go forward to the final five

The Oscar shortlist of nine films for the best foreign-language category, whittled down from 65 official submissions, saw some surprise inclusions and some shutouts but was generally without the embarrassing omissions of previous years, such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days in 2008.

Cannes heavyweights The White Ribbon (picutred) (Germany) and A Prophet (pictured) (France) – both widely acknowledged as the year’s masterpieces - both secured slots in the final nine, while Claudia Llosa’s The Milk Of Sorrow from Peru, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin last year, and two other Cannes critical darlings, Samson & Delilah from Australia and Ajami from Israel, also made the shortlist.

The Academy foreign-language committee’s mainstream sensibility also embraced popular hits Winter In Wartime from Netherlands and The Secret In Their Eyes (pictured) from Argentina, while perhaps the two eye-openers in the selection were Ermek Tursunov’s Kelin (aka The Daughter-In-Law) from Kazakhstan, a harsh but beautiful tale of nomadic life in the fourth century, and Stephan Komandarev’s The World Is Big And Salvation Lurks Around The Corner from Bulgaria, a dramatic story of a German man with amnesia on a journey to his Bulgarian past.

Even though Academy foreign-language chief Mark Johnson has worked tirelessly to ensure outstanding submissions were not snubbed by the committees, there were some notable omissions. One has to assume the committees, largely composed of aged AMPAS members who have the time to see the alloted films, scowled with disapproval at daring, artful or quirky pictures such as Police, Adjective (Romania), The Misfortunates (pictured) (Belgium), I Killed My Mother (Canada) or Terribly Happy (Denmark).

China’s safe ploy of submitting Chen Kaige’s Forever Enthralled over the brilliant City Of Life And Death did not work. Nor did Chile’s decision to submit DawsonIsla 10 by Miguel Littin over Sebastian Silva’s popular The Maid, which previously won a Golden Globe nomination. Likewise the perennial Spanish snub of Pedro Almodovar, this time for Broken Embraces, failed to yield a place on the shortlist in favour of The Dancer And The Thief from former Oscar-winner Fernando Trueba.

Other fine films which failed to strike a chord included Bong Joon-ho’s delirious mystery Mother, Asghar Farhadi’s powerful About Elly from Iran and Ursula Meier’s Home from Switzerland, all three 2009 festival favourites. And Espen Sandberg and Joachim Roenning’s rousing Second World War drama Max Manus from Norway had all the ingredients of an Oscar contender.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the failure of Oscar stalwart Giuseppe Tornatore to make the final nine with his Sicilian epic, Baaria. The lavish production, probably the biggest in Italy’s film history, may not have received unanimous critical affection but it features all the warmth, humanity, colour and cinematic sweep for which Tornatore, a former winner in this category, is famous. Still without a US distribution deal, the film would have surely benefited from an Oscar nod.

Too good to overlook

As to whether The White Ribbon or A Prophet will go forward to the final five, that is a question that can only be answered on February 2, since this particular Oscar category is never short of shocks and can never be second-guessed.

That said, those two epic films have been playing face-off since they emerged as clear favourites in competition at Cannes where The White Ribbon won the Palme d’Or and A Prophet the Special Jury Prize. Subsequently the Michael Haneke film has also beaten Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet to the European Film Award and the Golden Globe, although neither film is particularly Oscar-friendly. The White Ribbon is an enthralling mystery but, being a Haneke film, it refuses to give any conclusive answers as to who-done-it, and A Prophet is a hard-hitting and violent 150 minute drama about a North African in a French prison which is about as far removed from the ageing Oscar voters’ experience as could be imagined.

Perhaps 2009 is one year in which AMPAS voters will fall in line with every other jury that has had these two films in its selection. Perhaps these particular pictures are just too good to overlook.

Sony Pictures Classics (SPC) has domestic rights to both films, but the Oscar-savvy SPC also has rights to Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes, a leisurely thriller about pensioners falling in love while revisiting an old murder case. Now there is a film which has Oscar written all over it.

Don’t Smirk, Sundance’s Roots Do Show (The New York Times)


PARK CITY, Utah — The spin was hotter and the vibe somewhat warmer at the 26th annual Sundance Film Festival here, while the movies were much the same, with good and bad entries promising much and sometimes delivering. Each year the festival, which ends Sunday, takes over this ski town in northern Utah, flooding the snowy, icy streets with some 40,000 attendees. This year, though, it also has a new director in John Cooper, a low-key, long-time Sundancer who took over from another veteran, Geoffrey Gilmore.

For almost as long as it’s been in existence, the Sundance Film Festival has fended off criticism that it has gone Hollywood. It’s no surprise then that its public face, Robert Redford, who created the Sundance Institute in 1981, used Mr. Gilmore’s departure for the company that runs the Tribeca Film Festival to declare again Sundance’s independence. It’s going back to “our roots,” Mr. Redford said at a press conference.

A cynic might note that this return to independence was convenient given the economic crisis: in the last few years half the six major studios have shut down or absorbed their specialty divisions. It is, after all, easier to declare your independence from Hollywood when Hollywood has already walked out the door.

But let us not be (entirely) cynical. For all its problems, the festival remains one of the most important in the world and the foremost launching pad for American independents. The stars were still out in formation, as were the paparazzi, who gave chase to Sandra Bullock (or maybe it was Nicole Richie) one afternoon on the town’s main drag. Yet this year there was also more room for micro-budget filmmakers in a new section called Next.

The idea that Sundance needs to create a sidebar for movies made on the cheap might sound paradoxical if not ridiculous, as was noted by a filmmaker, Daniel Harris, writing on the blog for the rival Slamdance Film Festival (slamdance.com), which takes place at the same time in Park City. “To sidebar low-budget films for their lack of finance makes them look like Special Olympics kids competing in the big show,” Mr. Harris wrote, before going on to encourage filmmakers to boycott the Sundance sidebar in question. As a matter of fact, the Next section did not register as an afterthought: audiences and distributors gravitate to selections with famous names, but as the mostly full theaters show, attention and love — if not always the large deals and press — are lavished on no-name titles too.

Nothing attests to Sundance’s commitment to off-Hollywood more than its documentary selections, which year to year remain its most qualitatively consistent suit. That much was reconfirmed by “Last Train Home,” a beautifully shot, haunting and haunted large-scale portrait by Lixin Fan about an astonishing migration involving 130 million Chinese workers who each year travel by train, boat and foot to return home for New Year’s. Working in a classically unobtrusive documentary style, Mr. Fan, who was an associate producer on an earlier Sundance entry, “Up the Yangtze,” conveys the enormity of this exodus while bringing you close to a family whose fraught efforts to reunite — the parents work in a city, the children are in the country with a grandmother — are symptomatic of a deeper struggle affecting China.

Two other documentaries would make an apt if harrowing pairing: “The Tillman Story,” about the death of Pat Tillman, the National Football League star turned Army Ranger, and “Restrepo,” about an Army outpost in Afghanistan. Directed by Tim Hetherington and the journalist Sebastian Junger, who served as their own cameramen, “Restrepo” takes you deep into the trenches and almost as deep into the mind-set of a platoon that was stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley in 2008. The movie doesn’t push an obvious agenda. But because it establishes such an intimate view of the soldiers, it nonetheless provides plenty to consider, whether the filmmakers are trudging alongside the platoon as it tramps over eerily quiet dirt roads or frantically scrambles during a firefight where bullets and screams eventually give way to tears.

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev, “The Tillman Story” continues the push, initiated by Tillman’s family, to uncover the details surrounding his death from so-called friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004. Even a familiarity with the case — the military initially claimed that he died during a heroic charge against the Taliban, a spurious narrative embraced by reporters and President George W. Bush — does not blunt the power of the movie, which makes its arguments with talking-head interviews, news reports, home movies and redacted documents. The movie hits its political notes well, but its finest achievement is to humanize Tillman, an unassuming man who read Noam Chomsky and, aware that his death might be exploited, smuggled a document to his wife in which he clearly indicated he did not want a military funeral.

The pleasure of discovering other people is one of the great appeals of documentary, as was also touchingly evident in “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” from Tamra Davis. Using videos she shot of Basquiat (who died from a drug overdose in 1988) as her creative jumping-off point, Ms. Davis creates a vivid if somewhat rough-edged portrait of an artist who was also a friend. Her familiarity with Basquiat, his struggles as a black artist working in an overwhelmingly, at times hostile white world — there’s a nasty swipe here from the art critic Hilton Kramer that should make your stomach turn — and especially her sense of the downtown New York scene from which Basquiat emerged in the late 1970s give the movie a vibrant pulse.

Ms. Davis’s intimate knowledge of the art and music world of that legendary scene gives her documentary the authentic tang missing in a fiction movie about a different 1970s legend, the rock band the Runways. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, “The Runaways” traces the rough and ready days of this all-girl band, primarily through the relationship between its two star teenage attractions, Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart, very fine) and Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning, often just as good). While the movie opens on a suitably punk note with a close-up of a drop of menstrual blood hitting the ground, a hopeful sign of some bad-girl attitude, it soon settles into a middle-of-the-road groove turning down the volume when it should go to 11.

Another blast to the 1970s past comes from “Night Catches Us,” the strong feature debut of Tanya Hamilton. Set in Philadelphia in the summer of 1976, the movie centers on two uneasily reunited former members of the Black Panthers, Marcus (Anthony Mackie), a recently returned wanderer, and Patricia (Kerry Washington), who stayed to nurse her wounds. Unfolding in the aftermath of the black power movement but before the mainstreaming of identity politics, the movie wonderfully weds the political to the personal. Like some of the recurrently finest selections at Sundance, this one makes sensitive use of its locations, including the wooden house where Patricia lives and, in one stunning moment that encapsulates cinema’s ability to capture loveliness in a single image, sits on her front porch in a bright orange dress.

The theater wasn’t completely full for Ms. Hamilton’s first public screening, which was disappointing given that Mr. Mackie, who’s emerging as one of the finest actors working in American movies right now, and Ms. Washington, alone should have filled the house. (Mr. Mackie has been at the festival before, appearing in “Half Nelson.”) Sundance might be the premiere showcase for independent cinema, but it’s hard to encourage people to stray from the familiar.

Witness another sturdy directing debut, this one from the actor Mark Ruffalo, whose terribly titled and wanly received “Sympathy for Delicious” is a laugh-spiked drama about a disabled D.J., Dean (a terrific Christopher Thornton, who wrote the script), who wakes one day with the power to heal. Either a modern-day Jesus or a fraud, Dean embarks on a wholly original adventure that is by turns moving, funny and surreal.

Mr. Ruffalo, who plays a priest in “Sympathy for Delicious,” also shows up in “The Kids Are All Right,” from Lisa Cholodenko, the director of “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon,” who returned to Sundance with her best work yet. Pitched between drama and comedy, the movie centers on two lesbians, exquisitely played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, whose world is rocked, with equal amounts of dread and pleasure, when their children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) contact their biological father, a sperm donor turned restaurateur (Mr. Ruffalo, as excellent as the rest of the cast). With characters who are as honest as the movie’s Los Angeles locations, Ms. Cholodenko has created a generous, nearly note-perfect portrait of a modern family that is, as its title suggests, political and insistently independent.

Mumblecore Auteurs Get Ready for Their Close-Up (The New York Times)


Let this be a lesson to budding filmmakers everywhere: if you make low-budget, scruffy comedies with a distinct point-of-view long enough, you will eventually attract … other people who like low-budget scruffy comedies with a distinct point-of-view. At least that’s what happened to the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, the Austin, Tex.-based auteurs of the mumblecore genre (“The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead”). They hit Sundance with their first mainstream film, “Cyrus,” developed for and distributed by Fox Searchlight, this year. The feature, their first to crack 90 minutes (“only because our credits are like five minutes long,” Jay said) was largely improvised; it stars John C. Reilly and Marissa Tomei as a couple whose relationship is threatened by her adult son, Jonah Hill, in the title role. The Bagger liked it and so did many others at Sundance; it won unofficial best-of polls and even had some watchers talking Oscars – pretty heady stuff for a couple of dudes who made their Sundance entrée with what they called their “$3 movie” and cast their parents in the follow-up. The Bagger spoke with them in the plasticized courtyard of a hotel in Park City.

Q: How is Sundance different for you this year?

Mark: We don’t have to sell our movie this year and it’s a lot less stressful. So our only real concern coming in was, are our friends and our existing fans going to like what we did with a lot of money as much as they liked what we did with a little money.

Q: When you say a lot of money, how much are you talking about?

Mark: I don’t think we can say, but the least amount of money a studio can make a movie for. Everyone else in the studio world says cheap, really low budget, but for our it us it was hundreds of times the budget we’d worked with before, thousands of times the budget of what we worked with before.

Q: So how did that affect your filmmaking, aside from the names involved?

Mark: We were maybe even overly careful about maintaining our process, because it’s been me and Jay and four or five other crew members for our other movies. The actors have always outnumbered the crew members, and that puts just an inherent importance on them. We didn’t want to walk onto the set where 80 people are dabbing on them and pulling at their clothes and so we had to basically establish that we’re going to treat every scene as if it’s a nude scene. This is a closed set. Only Jay and I and the other camera operators and a boom op are allowed on set. Everybody else was outside. And then as soon as we start the scene, no make-up touch-ups, no prop touch-ups. Nothing. We’re going to shoot and let our actors finish out.

Q: What did your actors think about that?

Mark: In theory, at the front of the movie, it was YES, that sounds so fun, let’s explore, everybody loves it. Then they get on set and they realize, oh, even though the Duplass brothers’ movies look like we’re all just smoking pot and hanging around, it’s actually an emotionally excruciating process. When you’re improvising and throwing away the dialogue and the script it’s a constant state of exploration, which sometimes is all pistons firing, lighting is striking, it’s beautiful, and sometimes we’re swimming in the sea of infinite possibility and it feels like no one knows what we’re doing. And that state of confusion yields great results but it doesn’t feel good a lot. So it wasn’t all fun but it was very rewarding.

Q: How did this film fit into your other work?

Jay: When we were making this film, a week into it, we were like, man, I don’t even know what this is going to look like or feel like, because the set was so big. And you know, John C. Reilly had this, like, giant head – I was almost awestruck by holding the camera in front of him sometimes. The whole, the tactile experience of making this film felt so utterly different than what we did. Then we watched the dailies and were like, oh yeah, that’s our stuff.

Mark: It’s one of our movies with some famous people in it.

Q: Did you ever have a trailer on a movie before for yourselves?

Mark: No. Oh my God, no.

Jay: We didn’t have a place to sit. I mean it was literally like Mark and I would be sitting in an ally behind a dumpster figuring things out.

Mark: For “Baghead” we rented a house in the woods. We lived in the house. We shot in the house.

Jay: We got bedbugs in the house.

Q: How are you going to stop yourselves from becoming all Hollywood?

Mark: There’s two of us, you know, so we’re never really operating alone. If someone starts to douchinate, I think the other person is going to be pretty quick to call it, and our wives tend to be good with us as well. I gotta say, though, walking around Sundance the last couple days, getting the press we’ve gotten on Cyrus,” the compliments, I didn’t realize it was happening but yesterday, someone wanted to take a picture with me because I was on “The League” and his friend said, I saw your movie, and I was like, oh what’d you think? And he said, I thought it was O.K. And it shocked me so much, and I had my feelings hurt so much. And I was walking away, I was like, that’s because my head has swelled in the last 48 hours, like, immensely. So, checks and balances.

Jay: I’ll take a picture with anybody. And I’ll be naked too.

Los premiados de NHK/Sundance (Indiewire)

Sundance Institute and NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) have announced the winners of the 2010 Sundance / NHK International Filmmakers Awards.

The winning filmmakers and projects are: Amat Escalante, “Heli” from Mexico; Andrey Zvyagintsev, “Elena” from Russia; Daisuke Yamaoka, “The Wonderful Lives at Asahigaoka” (written with Yugo Eto) from Japan; and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (written with Lucy Alibar) from the United States.

The four winners were selected from 12 finalists by members of an International Jury which included: Violeta Bava, John Carney, Michael Lehmann, Rebecca Miller, Jose Rivera, Elena Soarez, Pablo Stoll and Wesley Strick; and a Japanese Jury that included Masato Harada, Shin-ichi Kobayashi and Bong-Ou Lee.

“This year’s winners unsettle, delight and move audiences with their innovative and inspiring work. We celebrate each of their distinct styles and the unique lens through which they view the world”, said Alesia Weston, Associate Director of Sundance’s Feature Film Program, International, in a statement.

Originally created to celebrate 100 years of Cinema, the annual award recognizes and supports four visionary filmmakers from Europe, Latin America, the United States, and Japan on their next films. Each winner receives approximately $100,000 ($10,000 as a cash award and a guarantee from NHK to purchase the Japanese television broadcast rights). In addition, Sundance Institute staff works closely with the winners throughout the year, providing creative and strategic support through the development, financing and production of their films. The awards are presented at the Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony on Saturday, January 30, 2010.

Past recipients of the Sundance / NHK Filmmakers award include: Alex Rivera, The Sleep Dealer (USA); Miranda July, Me and You and Everyone We Know (USA); Andrucha Waddington, The House of Sand (Brazil); Lucrecia Martel, La Cienaga (Argentina); Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll, Whisky (Uruguay); Walter Salles, Central Station (Brazil); György Pálfi, Taxidermia (Hungary); Fernando Eimbcke with Lake Tahoe (Mexico). The 2009 recipients were: Diego Lerman, Ciencias Morales (Moral Sciences) (Argentina); David Riker, The Girl (USA); Kenji Qurata, Speed Girl (Japan); and Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Evolution (France).
The Winners of the 2010 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award are (with descriptions provided by the festival):

Amat Escalante / Heli (Mexico) In a small Mexican town, where most citizens work for an automobile assembly plant or the local drug cartel, Heli is confronted with police corruption, drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, love, guilt and revenge in the search for his father who has mysteriously disappeared.

Born in 1979, Amat Escalante is a self-taught filmmaker from Guanajuato, Mexico. At age 15, he began to devote himself completely to cinema. His first feature Sangre premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival 2005, where it received the Fipresci Prize. His second feature film Los Bastardos also premiered in the Official Selection Un Certain Regard Cannes in 2008 and won numerous awards including Best Film at the Morelia, Sitges and Mar del Plata film festivals. It has been distributed worldwide, including Mexico, USA, France and Canada.

Andrey Zvyagintsev / Elena (Russia) An elderly woman who has lived with her rich husband in a large, comfortable home tries to rescue her alcoholic son from poverty and give his family the opportunity for a better life that she alone could not provide.

Andrey Zvyagintsev graduated from The Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (GITIS) where he was trained as an actor, then worked on independent theatre projects and acted in TV series and films. In 2000 Andrei made his first short TV fiction films as a director. His first motion picture The Return was nominated for the Golden Globe after winning the Golden Lion and the Lion of the Future for the best director’s debut at the Venice Film Festival. His second feature film BANISHMENT premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival where Konstantin Lavronenko won the award for Best Leading Actor Award, the first ever for a Russian actor.

Benh Zeitlin / Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA) (written with Lucy Alibar) In the Louisiana Delta, a ferocious ten-year-old girl refuses to evacuate her home without her dying father as the Southern Apocalypse descends upon them.

Raised by two folklorists in Queens, NY, Benh Zeitlin is a director, animator, and composer for the Court 13 coterie. Director of award-winning shorts Eggs, Origins of Electricity, I Get Wet and Glory at Sea, Filmmaker Magazine recently named him one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Zeitlin participated in the 2009 June Screenwriters and Directors Lab and is the recipient of a Sundance grant from the Annenberg Foundation. He currently resides in New Orleans where he is developing two feature films and transforming Glory at Sea’s ship, the U.S.S Jimmy Lee, into a rolling, pop-corn making, movie projector cum Mardi-Gras float in preparation for Carnival 2010.

Daisuke Yamaoka / The Wonderful Lives at Asahigaoka (Japan) (written with Yugo Eto) A young woman’s suicide attempt leaves her in a coma but stirs up the lives of the people around her in the sleepy riverside town of Asahigaoka.

Daisuke Yamaoka worked for production companies before completing Lost Girl in 2007. Lost Girl was released in 2009 and exhibited in Shibuya’s Eurospace Theater and screened at the Dresden International Film Festival in Germany. Mika and Seijun screened at the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, Austin International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and won the Toru Murakami Award at the Yamagata International Movie Festival. His film Death: The Only Cure for Idiots from Kanagawa University was a runner-up in the Kanagawa Film Concours Grand Prize.

Preguntas a Scorsese y DiCaprio...

DreamWorks has lauched a pretty cool campiagn on Twitter, where fans have a chance to ask both director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio questions about Shutter Island. In the film Leonardo DiCaprio plays one of two U.S marshals who are investigating the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane on an island in Massachusetts. Trouble arises when they are deceived by the hospital’s chief administrator. Then there is a hurricane which traps them on the island and then to top if off the inmates start rioting.

If you are interested in asking a question use the hashtags #AskLeo and #AskScorsese. For example, you could ask them both why they work with each other so much, and whether they are trying to beat Johnny Depp and Tim Burton in the collaboration department.

Their questions and answers will be weeked on Friday.


J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91 (The New York Times)


J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger’s literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, announced the death, saying it was of natural causes. “Despite having broken his hip in May,” the agency said, “his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.”

Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”

“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, “Catcher” became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn.

With its cynical, slangy vernacular voice (Holden’s two favorite expressions are “phony” and “goddam”), its sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America and quickly attained cult status, especially among the young. Reading “Catcher” used to be an essential rite of passage, almost as important as getting your learner’s permit.

The novel’s allure persists to this day, even if some of Holden’s preoccupations now seem a bit dated, and it continues to sell tens of thousands of copies a year in paperback. Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, even said that the explanation for his act could be found in the pages of “The Catcher in the Rye.” In 1974 Philip Roth wrote, “The response of college students to the work of J. D. Salinger indicates that he, more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture.”

Many critics were even more admiring of “Nine Stories,” which came out in 1953 and helped shape later writers like Mr. Roth, John Updike and Harold Brodkey. The stories were remarkable for their sharp social observation, their pitch-perfect dialogue (Mr. Salinger, who used italics almost as a form of musical notation, was a master not of literary speech but of speech as people actually spoke it), and the way they demolished whatever was left of the traditional architecture of the short story — the old structure of beginning, middle, end — in favor of an architecture of emotion, in which a story could turn on a tiny alteration of mood or irony. Mr. Updike said he admired “that open-ended Zen quality they have, the way they don’t snap shut.”

Mr. Salinger also perfected the great trick of literary irony — of validating what you mean by saying less than, or even the opposite of, what you intend. Orville Prescott wrote in The Times in 1963, “Rarely if ever in literary history has a handful of stories aroused so much discussion, controversy, praise, denunciation, mystification and interpretation.”

As a young man, Mr. Salinger yearned ardently for just this kind of attention. He bragged in college about his literary talent and ambitions, and wrote swaggering letters to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine. But success, once it arrived, paled quickly for him. He told the editors of Saturday Review that he was “good and sick” of seeing his photograph on the dust jacket of “The Catcher in the Rye” and demanded that it be removed from subsequent editions. He ordered his agent to burn any fan mail.

In 1953, Mr. Salinger, who had been living on East 57th Street in Manhattan, fled the literary world altogether and moved to a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, N.H. He seemed to be fulfilling Holden’s desire to build himself “a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life,” away from “any goddam stupid conversation with anybody.”

He seldom left, except occasionally to vacation in Florida or to visit William Shawn, the almost equally reclusive former editor of The New Yorker. Avoiding Mr. Shawn’s usual (and very public) table at the Algonquin, they would meet instead under the clock at the old Biltmore Hotel, the rendezvous for generations of prep-school and college students.

After Mr. Salinger moved to New Hampshire, his publications slowed to a trickle and soon stopped completely. “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam,” both collections of material previously published in The New Yorker, came out in 1961 and 1963, and the last work of Mr. Salinger’s to appear in print was “Hapworth 16, 1924,” a 25,000-word story that took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker.

In 1997, Mr. Salinger agreed to let Orchises Press, a small publisher in Alexandria, Va., bring out “Hapworth” in book form, but he backed out of the deal at the last minute. He never collected the rest of his stories or allowed any of them to be reprinted in textbooks or anthologies. One story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” was turned into “My Foolish Heart,” a movie so bad that Mr. Salinger was never tempted to sell film rights again.

In the fall of 1953, Mr. Salinger befriended some local teenagers and allowed one of them to interview him for what he assumed would be an article on the high school page of a local paper, The Claremont (N.H.) Daily Eagle. The article appeared instead as a feature on the editorial page, and Mr. Salinger felt so betrayed that he broke off with the teenagers and built a six-and-a-half-foot fence around his property.

He seldom spoke to the press again, except in 1974 when, trying to fend off the unauthorized publication of his uncollected stories, he told a reporter from The Times: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

And yet the more he sought privacy, the more famous he became, especially after his appearance on the cover of Time in 1961. For years, it was a sort of journalistic sport for newspapers and magazines to send reporters to New Hampshire in hopes of a sighting. As a young man, Mr. Salinger had a long, melancholy face and deep soulful eyes, but now, in the few photographs that surfaced, he looked gaunt and gray, like someone in an El Greco painting. He spent more time and energy avoiding the world, it was sometimes said, than most people do in embracing it, and his elusiveness only added to the mythology growing up around him.

Depending on your point of view, he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy, who had turned silence itself into his most eloquent work of art. Some believed he was publishing under an assumed name, and for a while in the late 1970s, William Wharton, author of “Birdy,” was rumored to be Mr. Salinger, writing under another name, until it turned out that William Wharton was instead a pen name for a writer named Albert du Aime.

In 1984, the British literary critic Ian Hamilton approached Mr. Salinger with the notion of writing his biography. Not surprisingly, Mr. Salinger turned him down, saying he had “borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime.” Mr. Hamilton went ahead anyway, and in 1986, Mr. Salinger took him to court to prevent the use of quotations and paraphrases from unpublished letters. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and to the surprise of many observers, Mr. Salinger eventually won, though not without some cost to his cherished privacy. (In June 2009, Mr. Salinger also sued Fredrik Colting, the Swedish author and publisher of a novel said to be a sequel to “The Catcher in the Rye.” In July, a federal judge indefinitely enjoined publication of the book.)

Mr. Salinger’s privacy was further punctured in 1998 and again in 2000 with the publication of memoirs by, first, Joyce Maynard — with whom he had a 10-month affair in 1973, when Ms. Maynard was a college freshman — and then his daughter, Margaret. Some critics complained that both women were trying to exploit and profit from their history with Mr. Salinger, and Mr. Salinger’s son, Matthew, wrote in a letter to The New York Observer that his sister had “a troubled mind” and that he didn’t recognize the man portrayed in her account. But both books nevertheless added a creepy, Howard Hughesish element to the Salinger legend.

Mr. Salinger was controlling and sexually manipulative, Ms. Maynard wrote, and a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for dinner). Ms. Salinger said that her father was pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.
But was he writing? The question obsessed Salingerologists, and in the absence of any real evidence, theories multiplied. He hadn’t written a word for years. Or like the character in Stanley Kubrick's film “The Shining,” he wrote the same sentence over and over again. Or like Gogol at the end of his life, he wrote prolifically but then burned it all up. Ms. Maynard said she believed there were at least two novels locked away in a safe, although she had never seen them.
Jerome David Salinger was born in Manhattan on New Year’s Day, 1919, the second of two children. His sister, Doris, who died in 2001, was for many years a buyer in the dress department at Bloomingdale’s. Like the Glasses, the Salinger children were the product of a mixed marriage. Their father, Sol, was a Jew, the son of a rabbi, but sufficiently assimilated that he made his living importing both cheese and ham. Their mother, Marie Jillisch, was of Irish descent, born in Scotland. The family was living in Harlem when Mr. Salinger was born, but then, as Sol Salinger’s business prospered, moved to West 82nd Street and then to Park Avenue.
Never much of a student, Mr. Salinger, then known as Sonny, attended the progressive McBurney School on the Upper West Side (he told the admissions office his interests were dramatics and tropical fish). But he flunked out after two years and in 1934 was packed off to Valley Forge Military Academy, near Wayne, Pa., which became the model for Holden’s Pencey Prep. Like Holden, he was the manager of the school fencing team, and he also became the literary editor of the school yearbook, Crossed Swords, and wrote a school song that was either a heartfelt pastiche of 19th-century sentiment or else a masterpiece of irony:

Hide not thy tears on this last day
Your sorrow has no shame;
To march no more midst lines of gray;
No longer play the game.
Four years have passed in joyful ways — Wouldst stay those old times dear?
Then cherish now these fleeting days,
The few while you are here.

In 1937, after a couple of unenthusiastic weeks at New York University, Mr. Salinger traveled with his father to Austria and Poland, where the father’s plan was for him to learn the ham business. Deciding that wasn’t for him, he returned to America and drifted through a term or so at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. Fellow students remember him striding around campus in a black chesterfield with velvet collar and announcing that he was going to write the Great American Novel.

Mr. Salinger’s most sustained exposure to higher education was an evening class he took at Columbia in 1939, taught by Whit Burnett, and under Mr. Burnett’s tutelage he managed to sell a story, “The Young Folks,” to Story magazine. He subsequently sold stories to Esquire, Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post — formulaic work that gave little hint of real originality.

In 1941, after several rejections, Mr. Salinger finally cracked The New Yorker, the ultimate goal of any aspiring writer back then, with a story, “Slight Rebellion Off Madison,” that was an early sketch of what became a scene in “The Catcher in the Rye.” But the magazine then had second thoughts, apparently worried about seeming to encourage young people to run away from school, and held the story for five years — an eternity even for The New Yorker — before finally publishing it in 1946, buried way in the back of an issue.

Meanwhile, Mr. Salinger had been drafted. He served with the Counter Intelligence Corps of the Fourth Infantry Division, whose job was to interview Nazi deserters and sympathizers, and was stationed for a while in Tiverton, Devonshire, the setting for “For Esmé — With Love and Squalor,” probably the most deeply felt of the “Nine Stories.” On June 6, 1944, he landed at Utah Beach, and he later saw action during the Battle of the Bulge.

In 1945, he was hospitalized for “battle fatigue” — often a euphemism for a breakdown — and after recovering, he stayed on in Europe past the end of the war, chasing Nazi functionaries. He married a German woman, very briefly — a doctor about whom biographers have been able to discover very little. Her name was Sylvia, Margaret Salinger said, but Mr. Salinger always called her Saliva.

Back in New York, Mr. Salinger moved into his parents’ apartment and, having never stopped writing, even during the war, resumed his career. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” austere, mysterious and Mr. Salinger’s most famous and still most discussed story, appeared in The New Yorker in 1948 and suggested, not wrongly, that he had become a very different kind of writer. And like so many writers, he eventually found in The New Yorker not just an outlet but a kind of home, and developed a particularly close relationship with the magazine’s editor, William Shawn, himself famously shy and agoraphobic — a kindred spirit. In 1961, Mr. Salinger dedicated “Franny and Zooey” to Mr. Shawn, writing, “I urge my editor, mentor and (heaven help him) closest friend, William Shawn, genius domus of The New Yorker, lover of the long shot, protector of the unprolific, defender of the hopelessly flamboyant, most unreasonably modest of born great artist-editors, to accept this pretty skimpy-looking book.”

As a young writer, Mr. Salinger was something of a ladies’ man and dated, among others, Oona O’Neill, the daughter of Eugene O’Neill and the future wife of Charlie Chaplin. In 1953, he met Claire Douglas, the daughter of the English art critic Robert Langdon Douglas, who was then a 19-year-old Radcliffe sophomore who in many ways resembled Franny Glass (or vice versa); they were married two years later (Ms. Douglas had married and divorced in the meantime). Margaret was born in 1955, and Matthew, now an actor and film producer, was born in 1960. But the marriage soon turned distant and isolating, and in 1966, Ms. Douglas sued for divorce, claiming that “a continuation of the marriage would seriously injure her health and endanger her reason.”

The affair with Ms. Maynard, then a Yale freshman, began in 1972, after Mr. Salinger read an article she had written for The New York Times Magazine called “An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life.” They moved in together but broke up abruptly after 10 months when Mr. Salinger said he had no desire for more children. For a while in the ’80s, Mr. Salinger was involved with the actress Elaine Joyce, and late in that decade he married Colleen O’Neill, a nurse and the director of the Cornish town fair, who is considerably younger than he is. Not much is known about the marriage because Ms. O’Neill embraced her husband’s code of seclusion.

Mr. Salinger is survived by Ms. O’Neill; his son, Matt; his daughter, Margaret; and three grandsons. His literary agents said in their statement that “in keeping with his lifelong, uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy, there will be no service, and the family asks that people’s respect for him, his work and his privacy be extended to them, individually and collectively, during this time.”

“Salinger had remarked that he was in this world but not of it,” the statement said. “His body is gone but the family hopes that he is still with those he loves, whether they are religious or historical figures, personal friends or fictional characters.”

As for the fictional family the Glasses, Mr. Salinger had apparently been writing about them nonstop. Ms. Maynard said she saw shelves of notebooks devoted to the family. In Mr. Salinger’s fiction, the Glasses first turn up in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” in which Seymour, the oldest son and family favorite, kills himself during his honeymoon. Characters who turn out in retrospect to have been Glasses appear glancingly in “Nine Stories,” but the family saga really begins to be elaborated upon in “Franny and Zooey,” “Raise High the Roof Beam” and “Hapworth,” the long short story, which is ostensibly a letter written by Seymour from camp when he is just 7 years old but already reading several languages and lusting after Mrs. Happy, wife of the camp owner. Readers also began to learn about the parents, Les and Bessie, long-suffering ex-vaudevillians, and Seymour’s siblings Franny, Zooey, Buddy, Walt, Waker and Boo Boo; about the Glasses’ Upper West Side apartment; about the radio quiz show on which all the children appeared. Seldom, in fact, has a fictional family been so lovingly or richly imagined.

Too lovingly, some critics complained. With the publication of “Franny and Zooey,” even staunch Salinger admirers began to break ranks. John Updike wrote in The Times Book Review: “Salinger loves the Glasses more than God loves them. He loves them too exclusively. Their invention has become a hermitage for him. He loves them to the detriment of artistic moderation.” Other readers hated the growing streak of Eastern mysticism in the saga, as Seymour evolved, in successive retellings, from a troubled, suicidal young man into a genius, a sage, even a saint of sorts.

But writing in The New York Review of Books in 2001, Janet Malcolm argued that the critics had all along been wrong about Mr. Salinger, just as short-sighted contemporaries were wrong about Manet and about Tolstoy. The very things people complain about, Ms. Malcolm wrote, were the qualities that made Mr. Salinger great. That the Glasses (and, by implication, their creator) were not at home in the world was the whole point, she said, which said as much about the world as about the kind of people who failed to get along there.