Streamers: Cinema Unbound Awards, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Townes Van Zandt

The big news this week was the announcement that, as of Friday, February 12, Portland’s movie theaters, like its restaurants, will be able to reopen on a limited basis. None of the metro area theaters have announced plans to sell tickets or rentals to the public immediately, but it is at least a small symbolic step back toward normalcy. Let’s not screw it up this time, eh?

Cinema Unbound Awards

With the 44th Portland International Film Festival on the virtual horizon, the Northwest Film Center has announced the recipients of the second annual Cinema Unbound Awards, which will be presented at a drive-in ceremony on March 4 (which will also be streamed live online). Gus Van Sant, the director who put Portland on the independent cinema map, will get one. So will British filmmaker and artist Steve McQueen (“Small Axe,” “12 Years a Slave”), filmmaker and artist Garrett Bradley (whose “Time” is one of the best documentaries of the year), producer Mollye Asher (the Oscar contender “Nomadland”), and animation producer Alex Bulkley (currently overseeing Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion, Portland-shot “Pinocchio”). Presenters will include del Toro, “Nomadland” director Chloe Zhao, and Portland icons Walt Curtis and Thomas Lauderdale (gee, I wonder who they’ll be presenting to?).

‘Two of Us’

Martine Chevallier and Barbara Sukowa in “Two of Us”

This Golden Globe nominee, Oscar contender, and late-career highlight for star Barbara Sukowa centers on two women who’ve been neighbors, and secret lovers, for decades. Now that Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) has been widowed, they have a chance to move from Paris to Rome and live out their lives together. But Madeleine, despite pressure from Nina (Sukowa), hesitates to reveal the truth to her adult children. When she suffers a debilitating stroke, Nina undertakes a bittersweet masquerade to remain close to the woman she loves, and who she knows loves her.

Sukowa made her debut in 1982 for Rainier Werner Fassbiner, and she’s been a reliable, intense resource for various European auteurs ever since, including Lars von Trier, Volker Schlondorff, and especially Margarethe von Trotta, for whom Sukowa has played both Hannah Arendt and Rosa Luxembourg. (She was also, I have only just now learned, a regular cast member on the SyFy TV series based on the Terry Gilliam movie “12 Monkeys.”) Here she’s utterly compelling, inscrutable and mercurial, Nina’s love and her desire to be near Madeleine spurring her to heedlessness and also a form of redemption.

This is the first feature from Italian writer-director Filippo Meneghetti, who creates a convincing portrait of a relationship between people decades his elder and refuses to prettify the conundrum Madeleine and Nina find themselves in. There are moments of quiet tension in “Two of Us” to rival any thriller, and an unironic depiction of true, lasting love that makes you wish there were more of those in the movies. (currently streaming via The Hollywood Theatre, Cinema 21, and the Kiggins Theatre)

‘Heartworn Highways’

Townes Van Zandt in “Heartworn Highways”

You can watch Ken Burns’ recent PBS series to learn the factual history of American country music, but this rarely seen, newly restored documentary will teach you what it felt like at a particular, crucial moment for the genre. Director James Szalapski went to Nashville and Texas in the mid-1970s and captured some generational talents at the beginning of their careers: Steve Earle, Charlie Daniels, David Alan Coe, Guy Clark, and especially the singular, tragic Townes Van Zandt. The performances Szalapski captured are intimate, raw, and sometimes hilarious, and the interviews are just as spontaneous and genuine.

The film was shot in 1975, then sat unreleased until 1981. Bootleg video copies circulated for years among musicians, and when an official DVD release finally came in 2000, the movie’s cult broadened. (That DVD, by the way, included a passel of bonus performances, which one hopes will be replicated on an eventual physical media release of this restored edition.)

Perhaps appropriately, the movie is a slapdash affair. It doesn’t provide any context as far as the impact of these young rebels on the established country-music establishment, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to the order of the performances, other than a fitting finale capturing a Christmas Eve (into Christmas Day) party at Guy Clark’s house. For biographical data and cultural commentary, we have Burns. For an ineffable, you-are-there experience, though, “Heartworn Highways” is a must-see. (currently streaming via The Hollywood Theatre, Cinema 21, and the Kiggins Theatre)

‘Mirror’

A scene from Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Mirror”

If you want to start a fight among film snobs, get them talking about which of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s films is the greatest. His breakthrough biopic about the 15th century painter “Andrei Roublev”? One of his cerebral, surreal, science-fictional epics, “Solaris” or “Stalker”? Or his final, elegiac masterpiece “The Sacrifice”? Just as worthy of the title is Tarkovsky’s unique, semi-autobiographical fourth feature, “Mirror.”

The term “cinematic poem” gets thrown around a lot, but that’s what “Mirror” is: a nonlinear, memory-driven experience incorporating a variety of visual motifs to communicate a poet’s impressions of his life as a child, an adolescent, and an adult. The cinematography and structure are intricate, sometimes baffling, and ultimately transcendent. Like “Heartworm Highways,” (now there’s a comparison surely never made before!) it struggled to find an audience after its mid-1970s creation, but has grown in esteem ever since. The most latest Sight & Sound directors’ poll ranked it the ninth best film ever made, so don’t just take it from me—this newly restored Janus Films release (which would be even more of a must-see on the big screen) is well worth your time. (Streaming via Cinema 21)

Also of note:

“You Go to My Head”: Attention all skeezy middle-aged architects who find beautiful amnesiac women wandering in the Sahara, take them home, and tell them you’re their husband: do NOT leave her Hello Kitty wristwatch with her and her real husband’s names engraved on the back lying around. It’s bound to complicate things. That’s neither the only, nor (obviously) worst mistake that Jack (Svetozar Cvetković) makes in this languid, moderately exploitive, slow-burn psychodrama, but it’s the silliest. As the amnesiac in question, delicately trying to piece together why her new life doesn’t quite ring true, Belgian model-turned-actress Delfine Bafort gives an intriguing, enigmatic performance, and the desert landscapes are stunningly photographed. There’s not much more to this picture, but it’s enough.

“M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity”: The patron saint of dorm room posters gets a worshipful documentary treatment, as Stephen Fry narrates a chronicle of the Dutch mathematician-cum-artist’s life, and various luminaries weigh in on their experiences with the man and/or his art. Where did the inspiration for all this geometric psychedelia come from? What did the relatively ascetic, sixty-something Escher think of his work’s appeal to the counterculture? Are those black birds turning into white birds or vice versa? At least some of those questions will be answered. (Currently streaming via Cinema 21 and the Kiggins Theatre.)

About the author

Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since. As the former manager of the landmark independent video store Trilogy, and later the owner of Portland’s first DVD-only rental spot, Video Vérité, he immersed himself in the cinematic education that led to his position as a freelance film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became apparent that “newspaper film critic” was no longer a sustainable career option, Mohan pursued a new path, enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in the fall of 2017. He can’t quite seem to break the habit, though, of loving and writing about movies.

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