Film critic stars show how to keep pace with changes in the industry

Critics take center stage: Laura Mulvey addresses a packed house during the Locarno Film Festival. Locarno Film Festival / Alessandro Crinari

The Locarno Film Festival does not just attract movie stars. The crème de la crème of the world of film criticism are also present at this year’s prestigious festival in southern Switzerland.

This content was published on August 12, 2022 – 14:12

Gabriel Linhares Falcão, Academy of Critics of Locarno

Film criticism is an old, ephemeral activity, which has always adapted to its territory. Like Serge Daney, legendary film critic for the French magazine Cinema Notebooks, once said, the critic must be aware that once published, his text can be used to package fish in a market. This was when newspapers were only printed on paper; nowadays they tend to disappear once online.

This year, the 75th edition of the Locarno festival saw the presence of three of the most eminent masters of the ephemeral art of film criticism. Bernard Eisenschitz (France), Laura Mulvey (UK) and Miguel Marías (Spain) shared their in-depth knowledge with the public who attended a Douglas Sirk retrospective and masterclasses with young critics and writers, including the Locarno Critics Academy.

Miguel Marías, 75, former director of the Filmoteca Española (Spanish Film Archive), expressed great optimism about the profession which, in his own words, is based on “unabashed curiosity and historical knowledge”.


The critic Miguel Marías Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Gettyimages

The critic is a hungry animal, capable of digesting all manner of film and art forms, then drawing comparisons between works, establishing the contexts in which they were made, and helping the reader to see the many layers behind every moving image.

On the lookout for “the next big thing” or “pearls” of modern French cinema, for example, the critic needs to be aware of what is happening in this country, in this particular production environment, to point out exceptions, deviations and highlights, said Marías.

Conversations

Bernard Eisenschitz, meanwhile, is one of the most respected film critics in France and beyond. He organized the Douglas Sirk retrospective in Locarno and is the author of the book Douglas Sirk, born Detlef Siercklaunched at the Festival.


French critic Bernard Eisenschitz Christopher Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

The history of cinema, says Eisenschitz, is a continuous process. Film criticism is not only good writing, but also conversations. Exchanging ideas is just as important as taking notes. Reviews must constantly migrate from one discipline to another, and from one language to another, he comments.

In a debate with Marías, he disagreed with his Spanish colleague, saying “the historical context is important, but sometimes exaggerated”. To which Marías replied, in a playful tone, that “the conversation [in critical dialogue] it’s amazing, but it’s also awful because it shows that you are lost”.

The underlying lesson here is the importance of listening to others and considering different points of view that you don’t necessarily agree with. You don’t even have to say if a movie is good or not. For example, Marías explains that he did not like The passenger (1975), a seminal film by Michelangelo Antonioni, starring Hollywood star Jack Nicholson. Despite that, he didn’t stop thinking about the movie for about a year — a quality that makes the movie all the more meaningful, he says.

Perceptual changes

In the male-dominated world of film criticism – something that is changing – Laura Mulvey cuts an impressive figure. She is considered one of the most important feminist theorists in cinema. Mulvey is the author of Visual pleasure and narrative cinema (1975), required reading for anyone interested in film criticism.

She pointed to three key turning points that changed her perception as a film critic. The first is when she fell in love with Cinema Notebooks in the early 1970s and his articles on American cinema. The ideas developed by the French magazine find many agreements with the feminist theories that are close to her heart.


Laura Mulvey (right) celebrating the launch of the Independent Film Council at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA, London), with French performer and designer Michèle Lamy. David M. Benett / gettyimages

The second came with the arrival of the VHS tape, and later DVD – a time of discovery and experimentation with the remote control that allowed movies to be paused, fast forwarded and rewound. The third, and most recent, is the rise of video essays, says Mulvey. These new critical formats allow him to explore isolated fragments of a film. For the British critic, digital marks a turning point in the viewer’s power over the film.

In his masterclass, Mulvey presented one of his own video essays on the work of Douglas Sirk impersonation of life (1959). It’s one of Sirk’s masterpieces, the melodramatic story of a black woman and her daughter, a white father, who tries to hide his blackness in his social circles.

Mulvey’s ideas were put into practice when analyzing the first four shots of impersonation of life coming and going in sequence at different speeds, highlighting the social, racial and gender relations laid out transparently in the scenes.

This format is more subjective than ordinary writing, says Mulvey, but it still offers critical analytical tools, namely the story, the idea and the documents, with which we must dig into the past and search further. But in the end, after opening and dissecting a film, you have to close it, return to what it is: an entertaining experience.

From the Academy of Critics of Locarno


Gabriel L. Falcao

Gabriel Linhares Falco is a Brazilian film critic, curator and researcher, specializing in experimental cinema, Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer. He collaborates with magazines El Cine ProbablyExternal link External link(Mexico) and Revista LimitedExternal link (Brazil), and is a film tutor at the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF, Rio de Janeiro – Brazil). You can also follow his blog Belo é o SentimentoExternal link.

Since 2018, SWI swissinfo.ch has been a partner of the Locarno Critics Academy, a parallel program for young critics and writers from all over the world, offering a platform to publish their work during the festival. Many participants have become regular collaborators.

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