SAMURAI MARATHON 1855
2019, 103 min, Dir: Bernard Rose

Bernard Rose’s astounding take on Japanese jidaigeki, or “period drama,” is set in the year 1855. After decades of isolation, Japan has started receiving trade ships from the rest of the world; amidst the new arrivals is an American merchant captain who brings with him whiskey, photography, and most importantly, pistols. These weapons are seen as a threat to the ancient Samurai and their code of honor, so the Annaka clan devise a test to determine if their men are ready should battle be necessary: a marathon in which the winner may ask of the master anything he may desire. But the Shogunate is fearful of the Annaka daimyo (feudal lord) and awaits word from their spy clan’s to see if they need to deploy their full might to crush the clan to smithereens. The stage is set for one spellbinding confrontation and an awe-inspiring marathon race against time. With a mesmerizing score by Philip Glass.


I AM CUBA
SOY CUBA
1964, Milestone Films, 141 min, Cuba/Soviet Union, Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov

Started only a week after the Cuban missile crisis, this film was designed to be Cuba’s answer to both Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN and Godard’s BREATHLESS. But I AM CUBA turned out to be something quite unique - a wildly schizophrenic celebration of Communist iconography, mixing Slavic solemnity with Latin sensuality. The plot, or rather plots, explore the seductive, decadent (and marvelously photogenic) world of Batista’s Cuba - deliriously juxtaposing images of wealthy American tourists with scenes of ramshackle slums. Cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky’s gravity-defying camera glides effortlessly through long, continuous shots, but beyond its bravura technical accomplishments, I AM CUBA succeeds in exploring the innermost feelings of the characters and their often desperate situations.


ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T
L’UNE CHANTE L’AUTRE PAS
1977, Janus Films, 120 min, Venezuela/France/Belgium/Soviet Union, Dir: Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda’s unsung feminist anthem is both a buoyant chronicle of a transformative friendship and an empowering vision of universal sisterhood. When 17-year-old Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) helps struggling mother-of-two Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) procure the money for an abortion, a deep bond forms between them, one that endures over the course of more than a decade as each searches for her place in the world - encountering the dawning of the women’s movement, dreamy boho musical numbers, and an Iranian adventure along the way.


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