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The Ten Best Films of 2021 | Features


6. “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection”


I teach a course in Language of Film at New York University, and the Fall 2020 and the Spring 2021 classes were held remotely. This made for some arguably inhumane conditions for students who were dialing in from Asia or South Asia at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time (do the math). But having students participating from their home environments was refreshing, because (and this is only something I intuited, I can’t actually prove anything) they felt freer to be frank and fully themselves during and after classes. Anyway. One of my students in the Spring was calling in from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Extremely well-versed in a lot of the material I was showing, he was also vocal in his dissatisfactions about the corporate soullessness of contemporary cinema (not to mention the stodginess inherent in a lot of the so-called canon). His cinematic model is the bold Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha.

One day after class, he was bemoaning the lack of true radical cinema, so I suggested a film to him. It was one that I had seen at the Venice Biennale, and indeed I weighed in on it from there, both as a correspondent for RogerEbert.com and a panelist assessing the movies commissioned and funded by the Biennale College. When asked to describe the College, I tell people it’s kind of like a combination of Sundance Labs and “Project Greenlight,” only without the reality TV component. And a genuine commitment to internationalism and diversity. One ought not take a film’s production circumstances under consideration as a critic, I often think. But the fact that its director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese made this rich, dense, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes confounding film in well less than a year, on a budget of 150,000 Euros, speaks not only to his technical facility but to his passion, vision and commitment. It’s a story about a mother, and about the land to which she is connected—indeed, the narrative is not too far from that of Elia Kazan’s beautiful, under-appreciated “Wild River”—but it’s also about colonialism, injustice, life, and death. One of my observations, writing from Venice, was: “The specificity with which it pursues its most dazzling, hallucinatory conceits is kind of startling. Along with the images, the score by Yo Miyashita and its accompanying sound design constitute a challenge to conventional Western film language. It’s a welcome and necessary one, I think.”


So this was the movie I recommended to my student: “This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection.” As it happens, my student had already seen it. But as I was pronouncing its title, he practically leapt out of the chair he was sitting in, in Rio. “That’s it! That’s the film! That’s the only film doing anything new or real!” 

So there’s your recommendation. (Glenn Kenny)  


5. “The Green Knight

At once dreamily beautifully and darkly nightmarish, “The Green Knight” is one of the most confident films of the year, but it’s also tantalizingly open to interpretation. Writer/director/editor David Lowery offers a bold vision in his version of the ancient poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But while his film takes place in the 14th century, the themes he explores couldn’t feel more contemporary.


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