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Films from the stacks

A Criterion release of a film is akin to being knighted. Their seal of approval is the benchmark of excellence that is encapsulated by their logo on the spine of the packaging. The idea of DVD extras were ruined by the lack of purpose most extras came with; Criterion cuts out the garbage and treats every release as a thesis project with extras that reinforce the need for the particular release. The HIL has a large selection of great Criterion releases you should check out. They even have Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) Dir: John Cassavetes

I’m not one for bold claims, but one, arguably two, of the best performances found at the HIL are found here. Mabel (Gena Rowlands) and Nick (Peter Falk) are a married couple going through the motions of domesticity. Mabel begins to descend into a madness that Nick doesn’t understand and believes can be “fixed.” Rowlands is running on all cylinders as a woman who never had any support and struggles to align herself with domestic expectations. While Rowlands breaks your heart, it is easy to not recognize how great Falk is as well. As a blue collar man who knows life’s trajectory, he captures the desire and inability to save the one he loves. A tough, rewarding film.

Z (1969) Dir: Costa-Gavras

If political corruption is your cup of tea, might I suggest Z. In a Greek city in the 1960s, the leader of the political opposition is attacked on the streets during a rally and later dies in the hospital. The dead politician was against any type of foreign intervention in national affairs and was considered a threat by the right wing power. The film is a satire of sorts on politics although the humor may be lost in the deadpan presentation. Your patience may be tested in the first 20 minutes but wait it out, it gets pretty kooky.

Cries and Whispers (1972) Dir: Ingmar Bergman

With their sister Agnes dying of cancer, Karin and Maria come together for the first time in ages. As Agnes’ condition deteriorates Karin and Maria seem incapable of empathy, reserving their time for long-repressed feelings between the siblings. Agnes’ only saving grace is her maid Anna, a long serving maid who is closer to Agnes than her sisters will ever be. Lies, deceit, guilt, callousness, forbidden love: this is a downer you should watch.

Branded to Kill (1967) Dir: Seijun Suzuki

If you threw a bit of Russ Meyers in with the coolness of Jim Jarmusch you would probably get Branded to Kill. The third best hitman in Japan is given a job by a mysterious woman. He botches the hit and loses his ranking while becoming a hit in the process. The number one hitman is hired to take out the formerly ranked number three which results in a surreal nightmare. Things to note, number three has a fetish for sniffing rice and uses a dead bird for a rear view mirror.

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