The 300 Week 15: One Hundred Down, Two Hundred More to Go


Hey, compañeros, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my imprudent attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, hidden gems, and festival films to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. I hope there’s something here for you to enjoy and share as well.

As always, there are three rules for The 300:

  • The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
  • I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
  • While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.

You guys, I have hit 100 movies.

It’s a testament to the incredible film programming in New York City that I saw a lot of stuff in theaters and yet missed out on so much more. If it wasn’t for MoviePass, independent cinemas, and excellent repertory programming, I wouldn’t have hit triple digits at this rate. Here’s a shoutout to my go-to theaters. Thanks for being awesome.

The next two installments of The 300 will be dedicated to coverage of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off tonight and runs through April 29th. Jesse Lab and I will be reviewing many of the films screening at the 17th year of the fest. Be sure to visit Flixist for the next three weeks for all of our Tribeca Film Festival coverage.

And so, onward.

93 of 300: The Headless Woman (2008)
(aka La mujer sin cabeza; La mujer rubia)

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: María Onetto, Claudia Cantero, César Bordón
Country: Argentina
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Wednesday, April 11th

Watching The Headless Woman again for the first time in several years, I had a much deeper appreciation for the way Martel plays with the audience’s gaze. The film centers on a woman who believes she killed a child and a dog in a hit-and-run accident that she never reported. Each shot draws our attention to Onetto’s guilt-concussed performance while also hinting at the emotional processes that are occurring internally. Martel is so good at finding sensory manifestations for psychological moods. She uses extended takes to allow a sense of haunted unease to linger, and her division of the frame creates these staggeringly artful compositions.

94 of 300: La Ciénaga (2001)
(aka The Swamp)

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Graciela Borges, Mercedes Morán, Sofia Bertolotto, Leonora Balcarce
Country: Argentina/Spain/France
Seen at IFC Center (New York, NY)
Thursday, April 12th

La Ciénaga, Martel’s first feature film, is a fascinating watch even just from a formal standpoint. The camera is much more free flowing and handheld. While many shots are well-framed, the obsessive degree of blocking seems like it really came into its own in her subsequent film, The Holy Girl (The 300 Week 14). Yet these observations aside, La Ciénaga is scathing view of Argentinian provincialism. A family of racist bourgeois drunks spend their days by a disgusting pool as their manor rots away around them in the sweltering summer heat. I watched the film simultaneously interested and yet put off by this vulgar clan suffering from ennui.

95 of 300: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Director: Nagisa Oshima
Starring: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano
Country: UK/Japan/New Zealand
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Friday, April 13th

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is so earnest in its feelings. Set during WWII, British POWs in Java suffer indignity after indignity imposed by their Japanese captors. Bowie is a fascinating watch here, and while I don’t know if I buy him as a soldier, he’s magnetic regardless, whether racked with regret or eating flowers. Sakamoto’s score is lush, particularly his memorable theme song for the film. While the majority of the movie takes place in the camp, there’s a flashback that comes in the latter half of the movie that lends even more pathos and color. The movie is also notable for being Takeshi’s first major film role.

96 of 300: Zama (2017)

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele
Country: Argentina
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Saturday, April 14th

Zama is still my favorite movie from 2017. This existential trek through colonial purgatory and thwarted dreams is a rich feast for the eyes and ears. The constant cricks and wails of the jungle bleed into every scene, and each shot is so carefully considered and crafted to allow some access into the inner life of our pathetic hero. This is Martel at the height of her formal and philosophical skill, and makes me wonder how she’ll continue to top herself with her next project, whatever it may be.

I am still amazed at how beautiful Zama looks, and am amazed that the animals in the movie perform the way they do. I noticed this time around that Martel never explicitly mentions how much time has passed in the story, and yet the passage of time is visible in Zama himself—that dirty hat, those browning spats, the tattered jacket, that bedraggled face.

97 of 300: Light Years (2018)
(aka Años luz)

Director: Manuel Abramovich
Country: Argentina/Brazil/Spain
Seen at Film Society of Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Saturday, April 14th

Light Years is a such a disappointingly inert documentary. Meant to be a making-of for Zama, we’re given no insight into the movie, the novel it’s based on, or Martel’s thought process on directing an adaptation. Instead, Abramovich merely trains his camera on Martel as she’s directs. That’s all. It’s mostly 75 minutes of watching someone watch something more interesting off camera. It’s a shame since Martel is such a funny, witty, perceptive filmmaker, and her public appearances and Q&As are so entertaining by comparison.

98 of 300: Flash, the Teenage Otter (1961)

Director: Hank Schloss
Starring: Otters, Dogs, Bobcats, A Wise Old Carp
Country: USA
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Sunday, April 15th

Flash, the Teenage Otter is less of a nature documentary and more of a fictional narrative comprised of nature footage. The narrator’s voice oozes with hokey Disney-fied folksiness, and he anthropomorphizes the entire situation to an absurd degree. (Do otters really listen to rock and roll music or know what a Ferris wheel is? Oh, whatever.) The artifice becomes surreally hilarious, especially when the story takes a surprisingly harrowing turn with the appearance of a surly fur trapper. I laughed throughout this kitschy little gem, though I’m a bit worried to read what happened behind the scenes to the animals.

99 of 300: Black Sunday (1960)
(aka La maschera del demonio; The Mask of Satan; Revenge of the Vampire)

Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Ivo Garrani, Andrea Checchi
Country: Italy
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Monday, April 16th

Black Sunday is gothic horror at its most gothic. Every shot is overflowing with shadows, crooked branches, aged stonework, and cobwebs, so many cobwebs. This is a vintage horror delight, where Satan, vampires, and other lurid ghoulishness wander about. Black Sunday was a landmark outing from Bava, who by the end of the 1960s would be one of Italy’s maestros of the horror genre. This is also the film that made Steele one of the biggest scream queens in horror movie history. Her large eyes are so transfixing, and she can convincingly switch from tender to sinister with just a subtle adjustment of her gaze.

100 of 300: The Conformist (1970)
(aka Il conformista)

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Yvonne Sanson
Country: Italy/France/West Germany
Seen at Quad Cinema (New York, NY)
Tuesday, April 17th

The Conformist isn’t just one of the best movies I’ve seen for The 300, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The film’s condemnation of complicity and conformity during Mussolini’s dictatorship are timely today given this crummy world we live in. Perhaps the person in the MAGA baseball cap or the unrepentant Orbán stan are just echos of the weak-willed Italian petty bourgeois. What a time to be alive.

Storaro’s cinematography is stunning, from the camera movements to the color schemes. I loved all of the unexpected lightning choices—an apartment full of slanting shadows from the slits of the Venetian blinds—and expressionistic flourishes—the rear projection in a train window where the landscape is an emotional space. So much about the movie is so visually memorable, and certain images reminded me of the painter Giorgio de Chirico. Even when the hops back and forth in time left me a tad tangled, it was the images and their power that kept me enthralled from beginning to end.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.